Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Tax Reliefs

The matter I raise relates to owner-occupiers who find themselves in what can only be termed desperately distressing circumstances where they face bills of up to €50,000 to address fire safety defects in their apartments. These problems are not of their own making. Many landlords are also facing these costs but they are able to offset the cost of maintenance, repairs, insurance and, crucially, management charges against their rental income. Those reliefs are not available to owner-occupiers. When Deputy Nash asked about the ability of local authorities and approved housing bodies to offset these costs, particularly the cost of remediating fire defects, it emerged that they are also excluded.

What tax reliefs and financial supports are available to owner-occupiers to help them defray the cost of remediation? Do we think it just and fair that a landlord can offset these massive costs but a homeowner, local authority or approved housing body cannot do so? What message does this send about who the Government is looking after?

I am conscious that the Government failed to do anything in this budget regarding this matter. It argued that it was premature to act in advance of the working group recommendations, which we hope to see next year. I believe there is a very clear responsibility to ensure in the Finance Bill that owner-occupiers and landlords have access to the same tax reliefs.

I am conscious that this issue is emerging at a time when we have a massive housing crisis and there are thousands across this city and country who can only dream of owning an apartment or house. Those who own apartments would say they feel very fortunate to have bought during the 2000s but they are now living in a nightmare where the apartments they call home have become a source of such stress and cost. In my constituency, Dublin Central, I know of at least six blocks with over 1,000 units that are affected by these fire defects. In some ways, this is a drop in the ocean compared with what is happening in south Dublin and other places across this country. While the issue of defects came to light in the past three or four years, it was really only this year that management companies have had to ramp up management charges to an enormous degree simply because they will have no access to insurance or will face a colossal increase in insurance.

They are being forced to deal with those potentially life-threatening construction defects that exist in the apartment block. I know of one block where the owners' management company, OMC, has had to ask owners to stump up almost €50,000 over the next year. In another block, the demand has been to stump up €15,000 between now and the end of the year. Think about that. How many of us would be able to write a cheque in the morning or do a bank transfer for €15,000, between now and Christmas? Another OMC has demanded a 16-fold increase in management charges. Tax relief in itself will not help defray the totality of the costs and we know the State will have to step in. We also know that the construction industry will have to foot some of that bill, because many of its members are responsible for what is going on, but we need to see action now. The clock is ticking. People are facing these bills. They cannot let these costs and bills go into next year or the year afterwards. They need support now. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Táim buíoch as an deis an freagra seo a thabhairt don Seanadóir.

As the Senator has said, there are currently no specific tax-based measures targeted at the owner-occupiers of apartments with defects. However, the programme for Government does commit to examining the issue of defective housing in general. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, who generally deals with these matters, has established an independent working group to examine the issue of defects in housing. Officials from the Department of Finance participate in the working group. The objectives of the group are to identify the scope of relevant significant defects in housing, to evaluate the scale of housing affected including what the Senator has spoken about, to propose a means of prioritising defects, to evaluate the cost of remediation, to recommend appropriate mechanisms for resolving defects and to consider financing options in line with the programme for Government commitment to identifying options for those impacted by defects to access low-cost, long-term finance.

I understand that the working group has already agreed in its terms of reference to establish the nature of significant, widespread fire safety, structural safety and water ingress defects in purpose-built apartment buildings, including duplexes, constructed between 1991 and 2013. It will consider the wide-ranging and complex issues involved, including the scale of the issue, the nature of the issues, the methodology for characterisation of defects and the prioritisation of remedial action.

As the Senator has noted, these issues, of course, must be considered in the context of the legal rights, duties and obligations of all parties, including developers, builders and owners. This is a complex matter and deliberations of the group will be informed by consultation with a range of interested parties, homeowners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals, among others. It is likely that if there is any role for the tax system, as envisaged by the Senator, that this will fall to be considered by the Minister for Finance.

Any proposals in relation to tax expenditure measures directed at owner-occupiers of affected apartments that may arise from the working group's work would be assessed by the Department of Finance in accordance with its tax expenditure guidelines, which make clear that these should occur in limited circumstances and where it would be more efficient than a direct expenditure intervention. Under the guidelines, the introduction of new tax incentive measures should only be considered in circumstances where there is demonstrable market failure and where a tax-based incentive is more efficient than a direct expenditure intervention. Furthermore, the Minister for Finance must be mindful of the public finances and the many demands on the Exchequer. Tax reliefs lead to a narrowing of the tax base.

Finally, and again the Senator has mentioned this, any consideration of tax expenditure measures would have to occur in the context of the annual budget and Finance Bill process at the appropriate time in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I am conscious that he is here today having to read out a pre-prepared script from the Department of Finance on behalf of the Minister of Finance. To be honest, in the response, there is a lack of urgency and of recognition that there are real families and individuals facing enormous bills between now and the end of this year. This is alarming. I invite the Minister of State or any other member of the Government to come and meet these families. My big fear stems from what we know about Priory Hall. It only came to public attention and was dealt with when a man took his life. There are people here facing incredible bills. They need something urgently.

Of course the Minister for Finance must be mindful of the public finances and of course any tax expenditure needs to be taken into consideration. However, it cannot just be the case that a landlord can avail of a tax relief and an owner-occupier cannot.

As I mentioned, this is possibly the first Government to have a comprehensive approach to the issue of defective housing. The working group is examining all options, including tax. Famously, with the issue of mica, it is direct expenditure which is being looked at and not tax relief because the latter would not be sufficient for the campaigners. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, including when he was a Member of this House, has been a champion for people affected by pyrite. We have a Minister who has huge experience in trying to address the difficulties that arise in this regard. Indeed, this is a huge issue in my constituency. The matter the Senator has raised is an issue in certain areas. Pyrite in general has been a significant issue for the past number of years. As such, we are well aware of all of this and we really want to see what can be done across Government in respect of the matter. I am sorry the Minister for Finance cannot be here today but the Senator will also understand there is a range of different Ministers here who will be giving consideration to all these matters, especially the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. We are concerned about the position people find themselves in through no fault of their own. This really is a matter of concern to everybody across this House. The entire Government supports the process the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has put in place through the working group.

Tax expenditures are one thing, and consideration should be given to them, but other ways of dealing with this are also being examined. Fiscal decisions will be taken in a budgetary context, but this is something the Government is very committed to and is working on. I hear what the Senator is saying. I know families in my constituency that have been affected by these issues. When the shelter a family has suddenly turns out to not be fit to shelter them, which is the basic requirement we have, it is possibly the worst thing that can happen to a particular family. I will take that back to the Minister for Finance and will continue to advocate, as I think all of us will, for families in these situations.

Foreign Birth Registration

I welcome the Minister of State. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to address him since his elevation, so I would like to congratulate him in that regard. He was a very decent colleague when I first came to this House. I wish him well as he goes forward in this ministerial role.

I gave the Senator a stroke on the ballot paper in his first election.

The Department paused the processing of foreign birth registration applications last year when level 5 restrictions under the national framework for living with Covid-19 were in place. The Minister indicated last year that applications were being held securely and would be processed when normal services resumed at level 3 of the framework. It is now 2021. Restaurants, pubs and restaurants are open but foreign birth registrations remain paused and new and existing applicants have no indication when theirs will be processed. At a conservative estimate, the current backlog of applications stands at 32,000. Even before the pandemic, the waiting period for a foreign birth registration was up to two years. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in two periods in 2020 when processing of foreign birth registration was paused in order to assist other essential work, such as providing consular assistance to Irish citizens overseas. This resulted in the processing of foreign birth registration applications being suspended for 26 weeks. Given the importance of foreign birth registration to people's lives, surely other staff could or should have been deployed in this role and the processing of applications should have continued, especially when the Department was aware of the high volume of applications due to Brexit. I fully understand that the foreign birth registration process is complex and complicated, involving documents over several generations and multiple jurisdictions but applicants invest considerable time in gathering, authenticating and submitting legal documents and then are left in legal limbo due to the service being suspended.

The Minister stated in the Dáil earlier this year that additional resources would be introduced in order to facilitate the processing of applications. How many new staff are working in the foreign birth registration office and what progress has been made in expediting the significant backlog?

Many citizens have contacted my office about foreign birth registrations. Some need to get Irish passports to travel throughout Europe to work and visit sick family members. Others cannot leave the country with their newborn children as their own situation has not been legalised. I know of retirees whose parents and grandparents were Irish and now wish to spend the remainder of their lives in their home country - people for whom time is of the essence. I am aware of children stuck in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria who are prevented from travelling to Ireland until the applications of foreign birth registration are processed and they can apply for an Irish passport.

The closure of the service has seriously impacted family reunification and causes trauma to many families. This is not just a matter of inconvenience, it is a matter of citizens' rights and they are being denied access to the service to which they are legally entitled. It is only a matter of time before a legal challenge is mounted. The year 2021 is drawing to a close and the service is still paused. I hope the Minister of State will have some good news for the thousands of people whose lives are regrettably paused as a consequence. I look forward to his reply.

Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Seanadóir Ó Creachmhaoil. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is in Israel today and has asked me to speak on his behalf. The Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for citizenship by descent through the foreign birth register under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004. As the Senator will be aware, people may apply for Irish citizenship through foreign birth registration if one of their grandparents was born in Ireland or one of their parents was an Irish citizen at the time of their birth, even if the parent was not born in Ireland. Once a person is entered on the foreign birth register, he or she is an Irish citizen and as the Senator has said, entitled to apply for an Irish passport. To protect the integrity of this process, foreign birth registrations require careful processing to validate the identity of the applicant and the entitlement to citizenship. The applications undergo rigorous and detailed checking by experienced staff at the passport service.

Demand for foreign birth registration reached unprecedented levels following the Brexit referendum in the UK. Prior to that, we had approximately 5,000 to 6,000 applications for foreign birth registrations every year. After the referendum, we had a peak in 2019, of 32,000 online applications received. Prior to the pandemic, the processing time stood at 18 months, due to the huge increase post-Brexit. Of course, that peak coincided with Covid-19. Operations at the Passport Office were severely disrupted. During this period, it was necessary to pause the foreign birth registration process to focus on urgent passport services.

When passport services were scaled up in May 2021 to more normal operational levels, foreign birth registration staff were redeployed to help with the delivery of essential passport services and have continued to do so in light of continuing strong demand for passport services. They are not the only people in the Department redeployed to what we might call normal passport services. A huge number of staff have been redeployed from various quarters of the Department to deal with that.

The foreign birth registration service continues to consider urgent requests to expedite applications on a case-by-case basis, such as expectant parents or stateless persons. A number of them are processed in Afghanistan, but if there are any particular cases, the Senator can let me know. Some 5,000 emergency cases have been processed in 2021. Expectant parents and other emergency applicants should make contact with the passport service customer service hub to advise of the circumstances.

The passport service is actively preparing to resume processing foreign birth registration applications as soon as possible. I can assure the Cathaoirleach, the Department is fully committed to allocating the necessary resources to this service to help with the high volume of applications with a focus on reducing that backlog the Senator has rightly described. In the medium term, changes to the foreign birth registration process to increase efficiencies and improve the customer experience will be delivered under the next phase of the Department's ongoing passport reform and under which huge work is ongoing to generally reform the process and make it much more efficient.

This is not directly related to what the Senator spoke about, but online renewal of passports is taking place quickly.

There is certainly a major backlog in paper applications so I encourage people to apply online for passports insofar as they can. I outlined earlier the situation regarding foreign birth registration.

I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate he is here representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He might bring my message back to the Department. Some of the stories arriving on my desk are about families being split; one parent who has a passport can travel back to Ireland but because his or her child was born overseas the child cannot travel. There are also the retirees I mentioned who want to live here, and it is financially viable for them to do so, in addition to those in various other family circumstances. The Minister of State is in the game of politics a long time and he knows none of these families finds this easy. It is very difficult. I ask that the Minister do something to get the foreign birth registration office up and running again. There are about 32,000 applications outstanding, which is a large number, although the processing system is more complex than the ordinary one. I again thank the Minister of State for his time and I ask him to bring that message back.

I will certainly discuss this matter with the Minister and officials in the Department. It is one that comes across my desk from time to time. The passport service is working very closely with the human resources division in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Public Appointments Service, on an ongoing basis to get more staff in. That is the bottom line for the entire system of passport applications and especially foreign birth registrations. There is major forecasted demand for foreign birth registrations and passports in general. The Government is making large investments in the future of the Passport Office. Over the next couple of years, the Department will replace the technology underpinning the service, which will deliver efficiencies not just to passport services but to foreign birth registration. An additional €10 million from the budget is being invested to help deal with passports.

What will help the situation is for people to apply early for passports, apply online as best they can and, if they can avoid putting in paper applications, to do so as early as possible. There will be a large number of passport applications between now and next summer because we know the number of passports that have now expired. It will help with the process the Senator talked about, and everything in the Passport Office, if everybody could get their applications in early and do so online insofar as they can. We are looking to recruit much more staff to deal with all these issues.

Farm Costs

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber and thank him for taking this Commencement matter. Agriculture has been in the news for the past number of days, or even weeks at this stage. I welcome the climate change COP26 meeting that is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. I know the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Martin Heydon, is there today.

There has also been talk in recent weeks about the ongoing CAP negotiations. In fairness, I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, was in Tipperary last week and spent four hours talking to farmers at Thurles mart. They do not agree with everything he says, but they cannot say he does not give them time. He has been doing that throughout the country and I acknowledge that engagement. The CAP negotiations are hugely important. For a county like mine, Tipperary, it is about how we can support productive farmers. I have said to the Minister that one thing we can do on that is to have more variety in the eco-schemes for productive farmers. In respect of tillage, for example, the only eco-scheme it is possible to go into is one on fertiliser spreaders.

The matter I raise today concerns costs for farmers, which are rising in a range of areas, including wood, steel, oil and diesel. The cost of diesel has gone up dramatically. Everyone speaks about it in terms of their daily lives but, for farmers, there is no alternative to diesel. We do not have an electric combine harvester as an alternative. While we acknowledge carbon budgets and the need to shift our usage in areas of life, in farming there are certain areas where that is just not possible.

One of the biggest costs coming down the line for farmers, and in fairness Pat O'Toole in the Irish Farmers' Journal did a whole article on this last week, is that of fertiliser. In the space of 12 months, the cost of fertiliser has gone up threefold.

We are tillage farmers at home. Buying calcium ammonium nitrate fertiliser in January cost €220 per tonne. We got a price this week of €650, and the expectation is that the price will go up before we need it in December and January. This is a massive issue for tillage and dairy farmers. The price of urea is €850 per tonne. These prices are not viable and will have a major impact on farmers. I know people who say that they will be forced into suckler farming because they cannot afford the price of fertiliser.

I ask that we as a Government recognise that farmers cannot put this cost on anyone else. They have to take the hit. They will be given a price for their material, be it grain, milk or whatever, so they cannot put the cost on anyone else. If any other business had its costs increase by threefold in less than a year, it would not be sustainable. I ask that the Government, in particular the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, introduce a scheme to support the farming sector during this time. It will be a tough six months. Something like this has been done before. The Minister of State will remember the Beef Plan Movement in 2019 when the price of beef was very low. There were protests and long negotiations between the Government and all farming bodies before there was an agreement that the Government would support farmers through bonus payments if they worked with meat factories. As such, what I am asking for is not something that has not been done before. We need to support farmers during the coming months. I call on the Minister of State and his colleagues to do so.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. Notwithstanding what he said about farmers taking the hit, which they often do, there is no doubt that this would have a knock-on effect on food prices and is of general concern around the country. I come from a fertile county and this is no less an issue in Meath than it is in Tipperary, and I am concerned about it as well.

There are no fertilisers manufactured in Ireland. Rather, fertiliser companies blend a number of imported fertiliser products into different compositions suitable for agricultural use in Ireland. Therefore, indigenous fertiliser companies are dependent on global supply and demand and subject to exchange rate fluctuations.

It is clear that there has been a sharp increase in fertiliser prices over the past year, particularly in recent months. The Senator may be aware of the global supply and demand issues. There are several factors, but the driving forces are the increased demand for fertilisers, rising production costs and certain supply chain issues. An exacerbating factor is the increased demand for fertiliser from large grain-producing countries, which is being fuelled by strong global grain markets. This increased global demand has impacted on supplies and added to upward pressure on prices. Gas is a key input in nitrogen fertiliser production and the increase in its price is contributing further to the upward trend. With the current high cost of natural gas, some nitrogen producers are scaling back production or halting operations. Therefore, it is clear that there has been a confluence of issues over the past 12 months or so, all of which have had an upward effect on global fertiliser prices. I assume that this is the case across a range of industries. Demand decreased a little during the pandemic but has now bounced back everywhere, causing a large number of supply issues and, therefore, price issues. This is having an effect on a wide range of sectors, including farming, as the Senator rightly described.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, tells me that there are a number of initiatives under way to support farmers in reducing their dependence on fertiliser use. I understand that he is at COP26 today. His attendance there is important in terms of representing the country and, in particular, agriculture. The Minister has asked Teagasc to put forward a roadmap for farmers to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers. This will assist farmers in responding to the climate challenge of reducing the environmental footprint of the agriculture sector. It also makes sense.

The recent budget announced a new €1 million initiative to support the planting of multispecies swards in order to reduce dependence on fertilisers. There is considerable science around this area. For example, some research is being done in my constituency. This scheme will support farmers in using multispecies grass when reseeding. It will mean a mixture of complementary species being sown, including clover, which will enable farmers to reduce their use of nitrogen.

The Minister has also announced a pilot soil sampling programme. This substantial programme is aimed at putting soil carbon, soil health and fertility at the centre of our moves to increase sustainability. Our soils will play an important role in meeting our water, air, climate and biodiversity targets under CAP and the green deal.

The sampling programme will provide the farmer with the critical information to make farm management decisions, such as improving nutrient use efficiency and soil carbon levels in our soils. Advisers will be upskilled to help farmers in translating the results of the programme into meaningful guidance. In this way, the pilot programme will realise the potential of managing soils on Irish farms. The Senator will also be aware that the European Commission has been working on a toolbox of measures to deal with rising energy prices. If that is successful, it will have a beneficial knock-on effect on fertiliser prices.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. He is right that there are a number of initiatives under way. The multispecies grass will make a difference and there will definitely be buy-in from farmers on this. Farmers recognise that they need to change many of their ways and they are totally in favour of that but what I am talking about needs to be done immediately. It will take time for some of these initiatives to come in and to get farmers on board. There will be an immediate crisis in the next four or five months, although farmers will not realise it fully until they go to buy fertiliser. We have given supports to businesses right across this country for the past 18 months, whether in the hospitality industry, sport, the entertainment sector or airlines. Every sector except farming has been given supports. Fertiliser costs have been indirectly affected by Covid. All I am asking is that we support farmers with this cost this year. No other sector would accept a threefold increase in costs. The Minister of State understands that from his county. Let us support farmers through this very difficult period.

I appreciate the Senator raising this issue. We hope that for fertiliser prices, as we hope for a range of commodity prices, there will be a levelling off of some of the contributing price factors next year. Huge challenges still remain. The initiatives the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has outlined will support farmers in reducing their overall dependence on fertiliser use.

The Senator mentioned multispecies grass swards. I fully agree with what he said about farmers being very interested in this. There is a research facility in my constituency, run by Devenish, and over 1,000 farmers have visited it to see the research that is ongoing on this matter. Not only will it make the soil more fertile but there is potential to trap carbon as well, which is something farmers would like to see because that is a challenge facing us all. The Minister and the Department, as well as the Ministers of State, Deputy Heydon and Senator Hackett, will continue to keep a very close eye on this situation and will listen carefully to the proposals the Senator has made.

Hospice Services

The Minister of State is very welcome to the Chamber. There is just one hospice bed for the whole of County Longford. I am raising this matter on behalf of all the people in our county and all the families who have been affected. I compliment Longford Hospice Homecare, a voluntary organisation that has been operating throughout my lifetime. People have done tremendous work in volunteering their time and fundraising for hospices. I also compliment the fantastic hospice nurses on the job they do.

I raised this issue on the Order of Business in March, May and, most recently, October. In 2019, I, a number of my colleagues and members of the Longford hospice met the then Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, at St. Joseph's care centre. We received agreement that two beds would be incorporated into the €5 million redevelopment plans being proposed at the time and which are being followed through. However, the HSE has not been prepared to follow through on that agreement. According to the most recent correspondence I received from the HSE, which can only be described as outrageous, it is now putting a price on providing an extra palliative bed. It is putting a cost on people and families who just want their loved ones close to them before they pass away.

I would like to read a couple of sentences from the letter I received a number of months ago. It states:

Any decision to re-designate one or more beds in St Joseph's, Longford will have to be made by the HSE at national level. The decision to re-designate any beds in St Joseph's Care Centre will reduce the number of beds available to clients requiring the level of care provided by long stay units. Such a decision will also have a financial impact on the unit, reducing the income to the unit through the Fair Deal scheme and increasing the cost of care.

Any commitment to increasing the number of Palliative Care Support Beds at the expense of a long stay bed would have to be accompanied by an appropriate budget allocation to compensate for the fair deal income reduction in order to maintain services for the current and future residents in St Joseph's Care Centre.

That is a ridiculous reply, to be honest. However, it is the reply that was given, through me, to a voluntary committee that has fundraised hundreds of thousands of euro over the past number of years. The bed occupancy rate since 1 January is 85%.

I will now outline some of the figures relating to deaths in Longford. There were a total of 92 deaths, 60 of which occurred at home, seven in the level 2 bed in St. Joseph's and the remaining 25 deaths occurred in nursing homes and acute hospital settings. In 2021, 11 patients were placed on a waiting list for level 2 beds in Longford, but were unable to avail of them. Four patients received beds in Athlone, three were discharged from hospital to home and four died in nursing home and acute hospital settings. The number of hospital palliative care home visits in Longford is much higher than in any other county. The number of deaths in the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, is higher than in other hospitals. Many of these patients at end-of-life have no other choice but to die in an acute hospital. This is not acceptable and cannot continue.

The availability of a second bed in Longford would allow hospital discharges for people who do not wish to die in the Midland Regional Hospital and who want to be closer to home. Unfortunately, clinical nurse specialists need to hold the bed vacant to ensure that a particular patient with the highest level of need can access it. The availability of a second bed in Longford would mean this would not happen. It would also allow for respite for the families who need that extra support and the opportunity of having a break while looking after a loved one. In Westmeath, there are seven palliative care beds, which includes two community beds in Mullingar, for a population of 80,000. In Longford, we have one bed and a population of 40,000. The following is the Longford Hospice Homecare mission statement: "To provide appropriate physical, emotional and spiritual support to palliative care patients and their families enabling them to manage life-limiting illness and bereavement with fortitude and dignity."

I appeal to the Minister of State and the Department of Health to meet with this committee locally, reverse the decision in question immediately and make sure that we have that second bed for families in County Longford.

I thank Senator Carrigy for raising this important issue and for outlining the position in such a comprehensive manner. Palliative care can be highly emotive for people because it is end-of-life care. We all accept that.

The Government is strongly committed to providing high-quality, evidence-based palliative care in Ireland. The Department of Health, in line with the national palliative care policy introduced in 2001, is committed to ensuring that the hospice sector is sustainable and that specialist palliative care services are provided in every region of the country.

As stated by Senator Carrigy, St. Joseph's Care Centre, Longford, provides 24-hour nursing care for up to 68 residents. It is an invaluable service that is imbedded within the community. These beds can be used to provide care to a range of needs, including dementia care and cognitive impairment, acquired brain injury, palliative and palliative respite care. A newly refurbished lodge at St. Joseph's Care Centre includes one bedroom allocated for palliative care use, as stated by the Senator. The nub of the issue is the occupancy rate for this palliative care bed, which was 54% for 2020. I understand that in 2020 the numbers relating to palliative care were down everywhere. We were in the middle of Covid and there were situations whereby a person might be admitted but could not have a visitor for two weeks, until the 14 days passed and that was following by a restriction under which no visitation was allowed. As I said, all over the country numbers decreased as people preferred to receive palliative services at home because they were surrounded by their families.

Current plans do not include an increase in the number of beds available for palliative services and any decision to redesignate one or more beds in St. Joseph's, Longford, will be made by the HSE based on local need. This Government will continue to work with the HSE and hospice organisations to ensure people with life-limiting conditions receive the level of palliative care they require.

I know the Senator will be disappointed with the response. As he said, it is one bed for 40,000 people. The Minister would have looked at the 54% capacity in 2020, which was an unusual year, and the 64% capacity in 2021 to date. Those figures would determine that one bed seems to be sufficient.

I am disappointed. The response stated "based on local need". The facts are there about the local need and the numbers. This year alone, until the end of October, 11 patients and their families looked for the palliative bed but it was not available. In some cases, the bed was being used and in others it was being held for someone who might have had a higher need. It is not the case that there was not a need there. The figures I have got for this year differ on the percentages in the response. I believe it is higher. The facts are there of the number of patients and their families where it was not available. As I mentioned earlier, it is important to note there is a large number of families looking after elderly people at end-of-life in their homes and they need a break too, if it is for a prolonged time. The opportunity for a break is not there. I appeal to the Minister of State's better judgment. We are not dealing with people who have not been prepared or have not invested into this service. There has been a huge contribution from the people of Longford through Longford Hospice to support this service.

St. Joseph's care centre provides 24-hour nursing care. The newly refurbished room allows palliative and palliative-respite care to be provided. The HSE is committed to a continued review of the occupancy of the palliative-care supported bed with the option to increase the number of designated beds required, which is welcome. I imagine it will examine the statistics at the end of the year.

The programme for Government aims to improve access to specialist palliative inpatient services through the development of a hospice to serve every region in the country. The midlands has been identified as a region for the development of a new specialist inpatient palliative care service. The Department of Health is actively engaging with the HSE to progress plans for this development. The development of this unit will ensure that those with palliative care needs and their families living in the midlands counties, including Longford, can access the services they need to improve their quality of live. The Government's commitment to improving palliative and end-of-life services is laid out in its programme for Government.

From my perspective, we have a new unit in Waterford, the Dunmore wing, in University Hospital Waterford. It was completed two years ago but was used for Covid. It opened recently for palliative care. It is led by a consultant for people at end-of-life. It is a fantastic facility. Other beds were closed in different areas. This is acute care for end-of-life. I take comfort from the statement that there is commitment to a review of the occupancy of the palliative care supported bed with the option to increase the number of designated beds if required.

That is probably the best the Senator is going to get at the moment. The statistics say 54% and 64%. I am happy to talk to him again because I know how important these beds are.

Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.