Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Electric Vehicles

Before I call my colleague and friend, Senator McGahon, I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Mary Butler, to the House. She is always refreshingly honest and open with us and a good conversation ensues.

I welcome the Minister of State for coming to the House. I know she has a very busy portfolio and that this is not in her brief. I appreciate her taking the time to answer this Commencement matter. Before I start into the merits of it, I will give the Minister of State the context of it. I am a big advocate of electric vehicles and of the charging infrastructure, and I was amazed a couple of weeks ago when I came across what I found to be a strange anomaly, that is, in Ireland one can only avail of an electric vehicle home charging point if one has a private driveway. That is simple enough because if one has a private driveway, one can take the car in and plug it in. However, that rules out thousands of people in this country, including people who live in apartment blocks, on terraced streets or anybody who does not have a private driveway.

We are at the beginning of this type of technology but we have seriously ambitious targets to have 1 million electric vehicles on our roads by 2030. That is just eight years away, within approximately 20 days' time. What I hope to get from Government is a solution to the problem. What are we planning to do to try to ensure people who live in apartment blocks or terraced houses and who do not have access to private driveways can access charging points?

Some of the new regulations, as the Minister of State will be aware, include regulations under which newly built apartment blocks must have a certain number of electric vehicle charging points, and that is fair enough. That goes perhaps some way in trying to solving the problem in private housing estates. Another thing that can happen is that a management company can decide to put in a couple of charging points, although this can be very difficult because management companies do not want to do it. We want to get to a stage where everyone in this country has an electric vehicle, so it is not going to be feasible for hundreds of charging points to be put into estates. We need something where every home owner can have access. If it is the case that it cannot be physically attached from the home to the car, we need to come up with new forms of technology to get around this.

Talking about new technology, one thing we could look into is what they are doing in Germany at the moment which is interesting. There have been trials where an electric vehicle can connect into an electric light on a street and charge from that light. That means somebody living in a terraced house in Dundalk or anywhere in the country who is not able to block a public pathway or footpath by connecting the car to the house could plug into an ESB pole and take some of the electricity from that for a point in time. It is a new technology in Germany and it is something that could resolve the problem.

The future is bright for electric vehicles. I have no doubt that in the next couple of years we are going to see a reduction in the cost of electric vehicles and an increase in the range of electric vehicles and the distances they can go. When the ranges in electric vehicles increase it will reduce the need for chargers at the same time. The reason I brought forward this Commencement matter today is that we are excluding many thousands of people in this country from the use of an electric vehicle and from having a home charging point by their lack of a private driveway. I hope the Government can offer some solutions on what its plans are and how we hope to resolve this anomaly at some stage in the future.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the warm welcome, as always. I also thank Senator McGahon for raising this important matter. The Senator outlined very well how access to a driveway or garden system rules out electric vehicle ownership for thousands of people and homeowners. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, and Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, who are unable to be here as they are both in Cabinet.

The Government' s policy regarding the increased usage of electric vehicles, EVs, is primarily driven by the Climate Action Plan 2021, which sets a target of 945,000 EVs by 2030. The Government is fully committed to supporting a significant expansion and modernisation of the electric vehicle charging network over the coming years. A national charging infrastructure strategy is due for publication early next year and will set out a pathway to stay ahead of demand over the critical period out to 2030. An effective and reliable recharging network is essential to enabling drivers to choose electric. Not having access to a charging point cannot be a deterrent to people owning an electric vehicle. Where it is, people are certainly not going to consider moving to an electric vehicle when choosing a car. Charging at home is the most convenient and cheapest way to recharge. Targeting the installation of smart home chargers is a priority as we look to move towards more energy-efficient and sustainable ways to charge.

The EV home charger grant scheme is available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and has been in operation since January 2018 to support the installation of home chargers for purchasers of new and second-hand battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The grant provides generous support towards the full cost of installation of a home charger up to a maximum of €600. However, as stated by the Senator, there are houses and dwellings in Ireland where home charging is not an option due to the lack of a driveway or garden. As such, there is also a need for a seamless public charging network that will provide for situations or instances where home charging is not possible, including on-street and residential charging, destination charging and workplace charging.

In terms of existing supports for public charging, the public charge point scheme has been in place since September 2019 and continues to be available during 2021 to provide local authorities with a grant of up to €5,000 to support the development of on-street public chargers. I note with interest the Senator’s point about Germany’s use of lamp-posts for the purpose of charging EVs, which appears to me to be a perfectly reasonable aspiration. The primary focus of the scheme is to provide support for the installation of infrastructure, which will facilitate owners of electric vehicles who do not have access to a private parking space but who instead rely on parking their vehicles in public places near their homes, to charge their EVs.

The Department of Transport is currently reviewing the scheme to ensure that it is as effective as possible in driving forward the national decarbonisation effort and is working closely with a number of key stakeholders, including local government, to ensure that the charging infrastructure stays ahead of demand. This includes developing appropriate guidance for local authorities in line with the programme for Government, which will ensure that we can continue to expand our national charging network through supports for on-street chargers.

The Department is aware that a report was published by the County and City Management Association which contains guidance to local authorities on the provision of charging infrastructure. The document is available for viewing online. Meanwhile, work is being progressed to expand the EV home charger grant in such a way as to include shared parking in apartment blocks and similar developments. The Department is working closely with the SEAI and expects a scheme for apartments to open in the near future.

I thank the Minister of State for the very comprehensive reply. The primary focus of the scheme is to provide support for the installation of infrastructure. We need to provide an increased public charging network for those who do not have access to a private driveway.

The Minister of State mentioned that the Department is working closely with the SEAI and expects a scheme for apartments to open in the near future. That goes a long way towards trying to resolve the very issue that I have raised. I am glad to hear that response from Government today. However, as stated by the Minister of State, we have to make sure that we minimise the deterrents. For a person to choose to purchase an electric vehicle, it has to be as simple as possible. If I want to buy an electric vehicle but I note that my nearest charging point is half way up the town or two estates away where there are only two spaces that are always in use, I will not make the move to an electric vehicle. We need to increase the public infrastructure for charging vehicles but it would be really useful for us to look at some of the best practice on the Continent and see what is being done there.

Germany is one example. We need to be able to think a little outside the box about how to provide what is not necessarily public infrastructure. I have gone over time but the Minister of State gets the point I am making. I am interested in hearing her response.

The EV policy pathway working group, consisting of seven Departments and the Sustainable SEAI, considered a mix of policies to enable Ireland to meet the climate action plan target which will require a significant ramping up of EV sales. At the end of October, there were 46,600 EVs registered for taxation. We committed €10 million from the climate action fund to support ESB investment in the charging network. This has leveraged a further €10 million investment from the ESB, with the infrastructure to be in place by the end of 2022. This intervention alone will result in 90 additional high-power chargers, each capable of charging two vehicles, 52 additional fast chargers that may replace existing standard chargers and 264 replacement standard chargers with more modern technology and each consisting of two charge points.

I take the Senator’s point on people living in apartments and people without driveways. I look forward to the report we will have in the new year because if we want to meet our target, we cannot have this being a deterrent to people buying EVs. Having an EV must advantage people.

Northern Ireland

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire Stáit as a bheith linn. Tuigim go bhfuil an tAire, an Teachta Coveney, gnóthach ar maidin agus tá me ag súil go mór le comhfhreagras a dhéanamh leis maidir leis an ábhar seo. I appreciate that the Minister is at a Cabinet meeting this morning and otherwise engaged but this is an issue of fundamental concern to, I think, all of us. As I said last week, there are tens of thousands of journeys made across the Border each day. There are thousands of people living in this State who are non-Irish EU citizens and, indeed, many who are not from the EU. The Nationality and Borders Bill could be quite severe in its implications for their ability to freely move across this island.

We must remember that although the component parts of the approach to the withdrawal agreement and Brexit were multifaceted, one of them was that there would be no return to a hard border on this island. I am of the view there should be no Border on this island. The sooner we get rid of the Border, the better it will be for all of us. That is especially apparent now. The approach was not that there would be no return to a hard border for some. That there should be no return to a hard border for the Minister of State or me but that there would be a hardening of it for others should cause us all deep concern. While I find the broader aspects of this particular legislation going through Westminster especially repugnant with respect to what it seeks to do, this has a direct implication for people living in this State and it is crucial the many citizens this could impact on hear what the Government has to say. There a range of human rights organisations that are also keenly interested in hearing what the Government and, by extension, the EU have to say on this.

Thus far, it appears the British Government’s response has been almost blasé. We should not be blasé about this issue. There are people who make that journey from the Twenty-six Counties into the Six Counties for work, leisure, study or whatever. We must ensure those people have the exact same rights as the rest of us. I am sure the Minister of State would be uncomfortable, as would I, that somebody who has come to live here, made their lives here and contributed significantly to Irish life would have lesser rights than she or I. Across the Oireachtas and in conjunction with the Government, we need to collectively and collaboratively work to ensure we are articulating our concerns on the international stage but also work hard to try to reverse, if we can, some of the negative, regressive and punitive implications of this legislation on people living here. They should have the right and entitlement to move freely across all of our Thirty-two Counties in the same way we all do.

As Senator Ó Donnghaile rightly said, the Minister for Foreign Affairs is at the Cabinet meeting at the moment, but he has given me a comprehensive response. I thank the Senator for raising this important matter, which is of great concern.

The Minister stated that we are closely monitoring the UK's new Nationality and Borders Bill as it progresses through the legislative process in Westminster. As the Senator will be aware, the Bill was passed in the House of Commons last week and has now proceeded to the House of Lords.

As currently drafted, the Nationality and Borders Bill would amend the UK's Immigration Act 1971 and potentially provide for a change in the UK's immigration rules, which may require that specified categories of individual - to be set down in the rules - have an electronic travel authorisation, ETA, in order to travel to the UK. This may include local journeys to the UK from within the common travel area, CTA, that is, travel from Ireland to Northern Ireland.

It is important to note that, while the Bill provides that the ETA requirement may be introduced, any such requirement would be introduced by way of future amendments to the UK's immigration rules. The UK Government has spoken about the requirement coming into effect by the end of 2024, although this timeframe may be subject to change.

It is also important to note that the Bill provides that the proposed ETA system will not apply to Irish and British citizens. It will continue to be the case that, for journeys on and across the island of Ireland, British and Irish citizens will not require any travel documents. The UK Government has also made clear that there will continue to be no immigration checks on the land Border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Irish Government has several concerns regarding how the proposed ETA requirement, if introduced, would apply in the context of Northern Ireland, particularly regarding non-Irish and non-British nationals making local journeys across the land Border from Ireland into Northern Ireland. As the Senator will be aware, tens of thousands of people, including many non-Irish and non-British nationals living in Ireland, cross the Border every day as they go about their everyday lives visiting friends and family, going to work, studying, shopping and socialising. It is a shared space.

There are also considerations in terms of supply chains and for tourism on an all-island basis, should this proposed legislation impact on any cross-Border movements for non-Irish and non-British nationals. Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs are therefore engaging with the UK Government to outline these concerns and to seek clarification as to how it is proposed to apply this requirement in Northern Ireland and what changes are intended to be introduced in future immigration rules.

I was privy to a report a couple of weeks ago which explained that 17% of people living in Ireland were not born here, but Ireland is their home. That is almost one in five. This would have a major effect on approximately one in five people who cross the Border on a daily basis for work, education, shopping or whatever else. The officials in the Department are therefore engaging with the UK Government to outline these concerns and to seek clarification as to how it is proposed to apply this requirement in Northern Ireland.

I thank the Minister of State for her response on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney. It is a multifaceted issue. This has the potential to impact on a range of aspects of people’s lives. I think of the healthcare sector, for example, and the range of non-Irish and non-British citizens who work in it. What will happen if someone living in Donegal who crosses the Border to go to work in Altnagelvin has a car accident and is asked by the PSNI to produce this particular visa? Will he or she be deported?

What will happen when we promote Ireland under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement internationally as a single unit for tourism? Are we going to tell the thousands of tourists we want to attract to this island to enjoy the benefits of it that they are going to need to apply for a travel waiver for a particular section of it? It is crazy. The proposed change has implications right across society and Irish life. While I find the nature, approach and intent of the legislation going through Westminster repugnant in terms of what it seeks to do to migrants and refugees, we must be acutely aware of the direct implications for the outworking of this on life in Ireland.

I am encouraged to hear that the Government is engaging but we need to be very vocal. We need to bring political clout to bear and ensure that the British Government hears that message on the world stage. We all have an obligation as Irish and EU citizens to ensure that our fellow EU citizens and, indeed, others, are not disproportionately disadvantaged as a result of a decision we did not take.

I have taken note of the Senator’s comments on this very important issue. As he knows, this Bill is an outworking of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union as it plans to tighten its border security and reduce levels of immigration. Brexit always had the potential to be profoundly disruptive for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland as a whole. Along with our EU partners, we have consistently sought to minimise this disruption and we will continue to do so.

The Government is conscious of the cross-Border nature of many people’s lives on the island of Ireland and the continued protection of their way of life remains a priority. Our position is clear that there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland. This legislation remains under consideration in the UK Parliament. We will continue to engage with the UK Government to ensure that our position is clearly heard as the Nationality and Borders Bill progresses. I agree with the Senator that we need to be very vocal on this matter.

Healthcare Policy

The Minister of State is very welcome to the Chamber. The cross-border healthcare directive, as it was once known, was introduced in 2014. It has proved to be a major success. Interestingly, only seven people availed of the scheme in 2014, but up-to-date figures indicate almost 15,000 people have availed of healthcare across the Border.

For many people who are languishing on waiting lists, whether it is for a cataract operation or some other eye procedure, or perhaps a hip or knee replacement, the cross-border health scheme was a complete game changer. It changed their lives completely and improved their quality of life no end. Back then, people could go to any EU state to avail of healthcare but, unfortunately, Brexit came along and there were worries that that would be the end of the scheme. Thankfully, that has proven not to be the case. The Government moved swiftly last year to introduce an interim scheme, the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme, which allowed people in the Republic to avail of healthcare in Northern Ireland, or elsewhere in the EU, including operations and procedures that were available in the South. The scheme has continued and it has proved to be very successful

As I said, the figures speak for themselves. From 2018 to 2021, cataract procedures proved to be the most popular. Some 4,131 people availed of those procedures, while 1,413 people had hip replacements and more than 600 people has knee replacements. On 28 December 2020, the Government moved to sign the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme into law for a 12-month period. There is now concern because that 12-month period is about to expire. People are asking what the future of the scheme will be, whether there will be one and who will be entitled to it. There is uncertainty that needs to be put aside. We hope that the Minister of State will confirm for us, and the Irish people, that the Northern Ireland healthcare scheme will continue so that people who, unfortunately, have been waiting for procedures for many years will be able to avail of this scheme in future.

It is also worth noting that PDFORRA has an arrangement in place with Kingsbridge Private Hospital in Belfast under this scheme. It is also concerned about what the future of this scheme holds for its members. I hope the Minister of State will have good news for everyone in the Chamber and will bring clarity to this issue for many of those people who suffer for years as they wait for healthcare procedures, so that they will know that they will be able to continue to avail of healthcare in the North, if that is what they wish to do.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, who is in a Cabinet meeting.

I understand Department officials recently discussed this issue with the Senator and colleagues at the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. As a result of Brexit, the EU cross-border directive ceased to apply in Northern Ireland. To mitigate this loss, this Government made the important decision to introduce the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme which has been in effective operation since 1 January of this year. Under this scheme persons resident in the State can access and be reimbursed for private healthcare in Northern Ireland by the HSE, provided such healthcare is publicly available within Ireland. Therefore, despite the various consequences and challenges which have arisen as a result of Brexit, this scheme continues to ensure that patients have access to healthcare in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme is currently operating on an interim administrative basis pending the drafting of a general scheme to place it on a statutory footing. In that regard, Department officials have undertaken a comprehensive analysis to inform the design of the statutory scheme, including detailed consideration of the operation of the current administrative scheme, stakeholder feedback and, helpfully, the recommendations of the Seanad Brexit committee's interim report and feedback from Senators at the most recent committee meeting with officials.

Furthermore, officials have been engaged with our Northern Ireland counterparts, who have introduced an administrative Republic of Ireland reimbursement scheme to enable patients to access care in this State. We are examining the parameters of that scheme. This extensive analysis is continuing at pace and while it will continue into 2022, I assure the Senator that this remains a priority and, importantly, the administrative scheme, which is operating successfully, will remain until a statutory scheme is in place.

I am confident this assurance will provide certainty for patients that they will continue to access care under the administrative scheme beyond the end of this year. Further information regarding how to access the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme and be reimbursed for private healthcare in Northern Ireland is on the HSE website.

It would be helpful to provide the latest data from the HSE. Those data indicate that almost 4,000 reimbursements have been made so far this year for persons who have continued to access healthcare in Northern Ireland under either the cross-border directive transitional arrangements or the new Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme. This equates to a reimbursement cost in excess of €7 million. These schemes are primarily servicing a demand for private healthcare in Northern Ireland across the primary specialties of orthopaedics, ophthalmology, ear, nose and throat, and gynaecology. As with cataract, hip and knee procedures, for which the Senator provided figures, these are the areas where we are most challenged in relation to waiting lists. Many people who travel, especially for a cataract operation, can return home on the same day. That is important.

I reiterate what the Minister said. The administrative scheme, which is operating successfully, will remain until a statutory scheme is in place.

I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive response and for the clarity she has brought to the issue for many people who may have been concerned that the scheme would terminate at the end of this year. For individuals who find themselves languishing on waiting lists, many for long periods where their quality of life is severely affected, this is good news.

Regarding utilisation of the EU cross-border directive, I understand the Senator asked officials at a recent meeting of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU which EU member state patients had accessed treatment in under that scheme. HSE data indicate that the top three EU member states where treatment was accessed so far this year under the directive are Spain, Poland and Germany.

I hope the Senator has found this update helpful and assure Senators that the placing of the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme on a statutory footing remains a priority. Importantly, the administrative scheme will remain until a statutory scheme is in place.

Ambulance Service

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise the important matter of the HSE advanced paramedic motorbike unit in Cork. There are two such motorbikes operational in Cork. The key words are "operational" and "Cork". They have been in use for only two of the last 52 weeks. Why have they been unused and lying idle?

I am asking the Government and, in particular, the HSE to reinstate the advanced paramedic motorcycle unit in Cork as a matter of urgency. It saves lives. Our ambulance service has undergone profound change. Traditionally, it has been about transporting the patient to hospital. Today, it is much different. It is about a care pathway. Our advanced paramedics have been transformative and have saved lives since their introduction. The HSE paramedic motorbike unit has been extraordinary in providing a care pathway for people who need one.

Cork needs these motorbikes back on the road seven days a week. Response times will improve. They are operated and trained by highly professional paramedics. These paramedics can begin treatment and report back before an ambulance arrives. In cities like Cork, the motorbikes allow ease of navigation through narrow, winding streets. More important, as the HSE chief executive, Mr. Paul Reid, said in a tweet in July 2019, “These guys save people’s lives every day". He was meeting some of the team in Cork "Showcasing the new Motorbike unit to support advanced paramedic care in the city."

Paramedic motorbike units provide a rapid response. They allow early life-saving interventions, do scene management when there are multiple casualties, provide treatment and make referrals to doctors, whether by car or to a surgery or hospital. They also provide necessary transport to emergency departments and improve response times for the National Ambulance Service.

Fully qualified paramedics with life-saving skills have saved many lives prior to the arrival of ambulances. One motorcycle paramedic is a supervisor who can act as an officer in the event of a major incident or if there is an issue with staff. There is only one motorcycle paramedic which should make it easy for the National Ambulance Service to replace that person.

A similar situation arose in Dublin but the motorcycle unit there is now back on the road. It is unacceptable that a city like Cork is not afforded the same level of service. This is about saving lives. What is good for the people of Dublin is good for the people of Cork. If the issue is Covid and the redeployment of staff, there is no better illustration of saving lives than our advanced HSE motorbike paramedic unit. I ask the Minister of State to exhort the HSE to resume the services of this unit for the people of Cork as a matter of urgency.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, regarding the provision of NAS motorcycle services in Cork.

I am sure Senators will join me in paying tribute to the incredible work the NAS has done and continues to do in delivering testing and vaccination services and helping to protect us all since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This work is done in addition to its primary emergency response functions and the dedication of NAS staff to maintaining normal operations wherever possible has been immense. I think specifically of the early phase of the vaccine roll out when the NAS travelled the byroads of the whole country, administering the vaccine to those who were housebound.

During periods of normal operation, the NAS has a motorcycle response unit in Cork staffed by two paramedics. I understand that in order to allow the NAS to maintain essential Covid-19 testing and vaccination work it has been necessary to redeploy both paramedics back to their emergency ambulance response roles, in support of the overall emergency response. While the motorcycle response unit is not in scheduled operation, the NAS has advised that provision is being made for additional newly qualified staff to be allocated to the NAS south region. On that basis the NAS anticipates that the motorcycle response unit service should be able to recommence in the short to medium term.

As well as this specific initiative, I would like to use this opportunity to emphasise to the House the very significant process of reform and modernisation that the NAS has undergone in recent years and continues to undergo. Several important service innovations aimed at improving emergency ambulance response times and resource availability have already taken place. This includes the development of alternative pathways of care such as "see and treat" and "hear and treat" whereby medical staff based in the National Emergency Operations Centre can advise callers on accessing treatment at home, self-care, or referral to other appropriate medical services. These pathways of care help to divert lower acuity patients away from busy emergency departments and enhance emergency capacity. In addition, the NAS has developed the intermediate care service to provide lower acuity hospital transfers which frees up emergency ambulances for more urgent calls. Current data indicates that more than 80% of all inter-hospital transfer requests are now being handled by this service. These are just a few examples of initiatives that are helping to improve the availability of emergency ambulance resources.

This year an unprecedented €187 million has been invested in the NAS, of which €10 million is funding for new developments. This includes the recruitment of some 125 additional staff, which is providing for both increased front-line emergency capacity and enhanced community healthcare initiatives. As part of budget 2022, €200 million is being invested in the NAS. This includes a further €8.3 million in new development funding which will help to provide for further capacity resilience in the service as well as in the expansion of alternative care pathways. This additional investment means that NAS annual funding will have increased by about €30 million since 2019 which is a measure of this Government's commitment to overseeing the successful strategic development of the NAS into a highly agile, mobile medical service in line with the overall aim of Sláintecare, which is to provide the right patient care at the right time in the right place. In that context, Senator Buttimer’s point about having a highly agile and mobile medical service is relevant. I welcome the fact that the NAS anticipates that the motorcycle response unit service should be able to recommence in the short to medium term. We are all aware of the rapid response these paramedics are able to provide while on motorbikes. As the Senator said, they can get down very narrow streets and get around blockages, enabling them to respond very quickly.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. I also want to thank the members of the NAS in Cork for their work and commitment. The response is positive in so far as it contains a commitment to resume the service. While this is not the Minister of State’s area of responsibility, I ask her to ensure that we receive a resumption date. A definite date is required because, as we all know, with the greatest respect, this could linger in HSE never-never land and might never happen. The service might never resume and we want to avoid that because the HSE paramedic motorbike unit saves lives. If such a service is allowed to continue in Dublin, despite staffing issues, then the same should apply in Cork. I ask for equity of treatment because this is about saving lives. It is about providing this service seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I ask the Minister of State to go back to the HSE to get a definitive date. As Paul Reid tweeted on 18 July 2019, “These guys save peoples lives every day”. They sure do.

I could not have put it better myself, and nobody would disagree with Senator Buttimer's last point. It is regrettable that the motorcycle response unit has had to cease scheduled operations for the time being but as the Senator and this House will appreciate, we have been living in extraordinary times over the past two years.

In addition to its primary emergency response function, the NAS has been at the forefront of efforts to combat the pandemic. We are incredibly grateful for this. To accommodate these testing and vaccination functions, it has been necessary to redeploy some resources to ensure the continuity of critical front-line emergency services. As I highlighted previously, with the provision of additional newly-qualified staff to the NAS south region, the NAS has confirmed that it anticipates that the motorcycle response unit service will resume shortly. I will take on board the Senator's request. If a resumption date could be provided, that would indeed be helpful.

Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.