The Order of Business is No. 1, address to Seanad Éireann by MEPs representing the European Parliament Dublin constituency, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude at 6.30 p.m. in accordance with the arrangements set out in the order of the House on Thursday, 15 September 2022; and No. 2, the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 - Report Stage (resumed), to be taken at 7 p.m. and to adjourn at 9.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I concur with the Order of Business outlined. I wish to raise three topics on the Order of Business. The budget next week will probably be the most important in my lifetime in terms of its gravity and impact on people's lives. We are expecting not only the ordinary budget but also a cost-of-living package. I am sure many people will have been speaking to local businesses across the country and will know the pressure they are under. While we need to help households, families and citizens, we must also assist small businesses.
I spoke to one small retailer in Ballinrobe in Mayo. Their energy bill in August of last year was approximately €17,000 for the year. This year it is €47,000. That shows the colossal increases that businesses have sustained in a short period of time. As was put to me bluntly by this particular business, if something is not done soon, difficult decisions will need to be taken. I take that to mean that they may not be able to continue trading or to continue to employ people locally which of course would be of huge significance to any small town, right across the country. I have spoken to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, about this. Obviously, none of us has any details specifically about next week’s budget, but I understand that the Government has committed to a significant package for businesses. I look forward to the details of that and to that much-needed easing of pressure on small business.
The second issue I would like to raise is dealing with the stress on families, which merits a wider debate in this House when we can facilitate it, perhaps with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman, at some point. I would like to see an increase in or an extension of parents’ leave and subsequently parents’ benefit. It went from five weeks to seven weeks last year. This was the leave that mum and dad, or either parent, can take up to the first two years of a child's life. With all the talk about childcare, the cost of childcare and if, as rightly we should, we are putting huge funding into childcare, we also have to focus on facilitating parents to stay at home for longer if they choose to do that and on trying to take a little pressure off families by facilitating mum and dad to get much more extra time in that first year of life, which is needed. We as a country should be aspiring to a year’s leave for mum and a year’s leave for dad. Ultimately, this is about investing in children, about investing in families and about taking the stress off parents. For many households, both parents are working, they are like two ships passing in the night. They are seeing their child early in the morning and late at night and it is putting much pressure and strain on families. One way to alleviate that pressure is to give parents more time off in those early years. Again, this is something that I have raised directly with the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, who I believe is raising it with the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, in the context of next week’s budget.
I, too, would like to speak about next week’s budget. There are many worthy asks that will affect every family and household in the country. I have spoken about those in the past and I hope to do so again during the week.
I will raise a couple of specific cases. This morning, the Neurological Alliance of Ireland, NAI, held a briefing across the road. We have spoken in this House before, I think it was on a Private Members’ Bill, about the worthy asks the alliance has, including the appointment of 20 additional nurse specialists across adult neurology and to fully resource at least four of the seven community neurorehabilitation teams that are required.
The Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte, is working actively regarding these issues and is pursuing these issues with the Minister for Health and within the Government. Neurology waiting lists now stand at over 24,000, which is a 20% increase over five years. This is a real issue for those families and individuals who are impacted. Only one fifth of people with Parkinson's disease have access to a nurse specialist and Ireland has less than half the number of recommended specialist nurses for people with multiple sclerosis. Those are worthy and necessary asks. I met a young girl from Offaly at the briefing today who has an acquired brain injury and who has to travel to Dublin for private care. She has been told that her future will be in a nursing home. I know that extra resources have been put in over the last number of years to ensure that young people's places will not be in a nursing home, but in other settings. That is important as well.
The other area I would like to acknowledge relates to a briefing that was organised by Senator Sherlock this morning on behalf of section 39 workers, which is a long-running saga. It was organised by our representatives from SIPTU. These are representatives of organisations who care for some of the most vulnerable across our society. They have not seen pay increases in over a decade because they are not being paid directly by the State but by the organisations. It is a worthy cause, and it is necessary that they are supported. In groups like Ability West in Galway, this is having an impact on recruitment, because people are leaving their organisations to go to the HSE or to section 38 organisations. These organisations have a high number of vacant positions. The retention of staff is an issue as is staff morale.
The sustainability of their organisations is impacted by this issue. I ask the Leader to make representations to the Ministers, Deputies Stephen Donnelly and Michael McGrath, on this issue.
I would like to remark on the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II yesterday. My God, the British forces know how to do ceremony. As I was sitting watching them with their medals on their chests yesterday, I was mindful of how mean we are in this country when it comes to recognising valour and the issuing of medals. We are still fighting our way through the Jadotville situation and various other acts of valour that have gone unrecognised in this country, and that is really sad.
I congratulate the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG members who took their certificate in continuing professional development, CPD, in the climate crisis and local government, through University College Cork. That was a tremendous initiative by the AILG to bring forward CPD courses like that for its members and it professionalises the local government members, which is a good thing.
My two colleagues have spoken on the forthcoming budget and it will be a tough time for Government. What we saw last week outside the gates of this building, where a group was there offering violence to Members of this House as we were trying to come in to do our work, was just unacceptable. I know there will be statements next week about the budget and there will be criticism of it, and I may be one of those criticising parts of it myself, but it is extremely important, given the level of tension there is in the State and the level of pain and poverty people are suffering, that we all restrain ourselves and not feed the machine. Things are bad enough without making them worse, and I am saying that to myself and everybody else who will have an opportunity to speak on the budget next week. It will not be an easy time when we hear about electricity bills going from €17,000 to €47,000. My electricity bill has doubled from the €100 per month I have been paying for I do not know how long to €200 per month, and I expect to reach €250 shortly. The bottom line is families will suffer, so it is important we do not fuel the machine and that we deal realistically with what has to be done.
With that in mind, I put some photographs on my Facebook page of food being served to Ukrainian refugees and there was a disgusting level of comment from citizens of this State, saying they are all right, they have roofs over their heads and to hell with them because they are getting a meal, even if it did not look the best. We in this country, the taxpayers of this country and this Government, have paid dearly for these hotels, so the least they might do is produce food and in a way that is presentable for people to eat. I wrote to one of the hotels and I noticed it moved from polystyrene to plates - not a big ask, really.
I will leave it at that. Let us not fuel the machine as we go through these bad times.
A recurring theme is budget 2023, and the single crisis facing us is the cost of living, whether that be for an individual, family, household, community or business. If we can support businesses, we can support employment and a family income. My issue is the second biggest issue in the State, namely, housing, affordable housing and providing pathways to affordability and aspiring to your own home. One of the key measures in that has been the help to buy scheme, which has proven hugely successful for families aspiring to own their homes. More than 32,000 families have availed of the scheme and are living in their homes. In my constituency of Wicklow, 1,354 families are living in their homes because of the help to buy scheme. While the scheme is under review, it is imperative it is maintained in budget 2023. It might need to be tweaked to get over some of the anomalies but it must be maintained, and I am asking the Leader to have a word with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to ensure the help to buy scheme is maintained in budget 2023. We all follow the aspiration of owning our own home, and the help to buy scheme has proven to be a critical pathway to homeownership, which must be maintained.
I begin by welcoming the news that a tender has been issued for the Narrow Water Bridge. Senators will know this is a long-standing commitment by the Irish Government and the Executive in the North. I know the Taoiseach and several other Ministers joined John O'Dowd, the Infrastructure Minister in the North, at a recent event at Narrow Water. It has huge potential to transform the whole Carlingford Lough area and the south Down and north Louth areas in terms of tourism and community development and so I welcome that step forward.
I would welcome the opportunity to hear from the Minister on promoting all-Ireland tourism in the time ahead, particularly as the Seanad voted recently to oppose a measure. We see potential implications of things like the British Nationality and Borders Act, which would mean non-British and non-Irish citizens would have to apply for a visa when travelling from the South into the North.
Senator Craughwell and other colleagues were right in saying that we will have a significant opportunity to talk about the budget over the coming days, and we will take that opportunity. Before the budget issues begin to dominate, I again call for statements from the Minister for Health on the issue of organ donation and, in particular, for an update on the human tissue Bill. In the North, we recently passed legislation, appropriately called Daithí's Law, named after Daithí Mac Gabhann, a young boy from Belfast who was born with hyperplastic left heart syndrome. Daithí has campaigned vigorously, inspirationally, colourfully, loudly and really positively for a change in law in the North to ensure organ donation is on the basis of a soft opt-out. This would mean we would all become organ donors unless we specifically sought to opt-out from it.
To be fair, the heads of Bill and the general scheme of the Bill were published by the previous Minister for Health in 2019, I think. Substantial time has passed since then and while I fully appreciate the impact of the pandemic, an update would be timely. There are many wee boys and girls like Daithí all across Ireland and this list would operate luckily on an all-Ireland basis for all those who are waiting for organ donation. It would be a welcome opportunity for us to talk about that specifically but to talk about the issue and its importance more generally as well. Sin mo chuid, go raibh maith agaibh.
I want to raise two issues today. We are all talking about the upcoming budget. I was in with Mental Health Reform earlier, as I am sure others were, on its pre-budget submission and on what it wants to see in the budget. I spoke to two mental health advocates, Blessing and Justyna, about their personal experiences of mental health while navigating the supports in the system in Ireland. It will be no surprise when I say it was not a great experience for either of these two people. It was not just a difficult experience for them due to the mental health supports but it was also difficult because of systemic issues, which potentially led them into a situation of mental health struggles, or the system not supporting them to live a life and be able to recover or go forward. They were faced with issues around losing their home. One was already homeless and the other lost their home while in hospital as the landlord threw them out and packed up their stuff. For one, there was a language barrier and they were misdiagnosed. They had to try to find someone to translate, to get a different diagnosis and then get back into the system. There were cultural misunderstandings of their experiences with people saying their parents came here to give them a good life and effectively saying to buck up and get on with it. There was, therefore, a real misunderstanding of what even led them to be in a mental health situation and how to support them to get out of it.
Mental Health Reform's asks are not enormous. They are actually very modest. When we are talking about millions of euro, it seems silly to talk about things being modest but when we have a surplus of billions, not investing in mental health is such a bad business proposal. It has long-term, knock-on consequences for not only the individual but also for society.
If we have to speak in business language, then not investing in mental health services is a bad investment. Mental Health Reform has called for investment of €10 million for priority groups that tend to have a higher incidence of mental health difficulties, particularly LGBTI+ people, black and minority ethnic communities, the prison population, etc. It is asking for an investment of €2 million in child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. Some of our most vulnerable young people are falling between stools and ageing out of the mental health system because they are waiting so long. That €2 million would not be a large amount of money. What Mental Health Reform is asking for is small in light of the affirmative and positive impact that it could have on individuals who are struggling with their mental health, on those who care for and support them and on society. Many people are looked after by volunteers, be they their friends, families or communities, and that is not how it should be.
I was going to speak about another matter, but I will end there. I encourage people, particularly Senators on the Government side, to consider Mental Health Reform's submission and advocacy. In the grand scheme of things, it is a small amount of money for an enormous impact.
Like many of my colleagues, I wish to discuss the importance of next week's budget in the context of the cost of living, which is one of the most critical challenges facing this generation. Families are struggling with the cost of living, including increased energy prices. Other Senators referred to the issue of small enterprises. I hope that, in next week's budget, money will be put into people's pockets so that they can make choices and we can reduce the cost of living in a costed and sustainable way.
I wish to reference the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector. That sector does not just comprise hotels, but also restaurants and pubs. I appeal to the Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the rest of the Government and those who frame the budget. This VAT rate is about jobs in rural and regional Ireland outside of Dublin. We know about the gargantuan price increases in hotel rates in Dublin, but Dublin is not Ireland. I wish to give Members a small insight into a particular hospitality establishment. For every €1 in food revenue, 45 cent goes on labour, 35 cent goes on food costs and 9.5 cent goes on VAT, with that last potentially increasing. That is almost 90 cent of the €1 gone. Add into that energy bills, commercial rates, consumables and insurance. When discussing jobs and the cost of living, let us also remember the people who provide employment in our country, particularly those in the hospitality sector.
I wish the Ministers well this week and next in the framing of the budget. I hope that they will listen to the voices of some of us in this House. If the Ministers could attend the House before the budget, it would be great, although I presume that will not happen now.
Last night, we saw frightening lawlessness in evidence in Cherry Orchard, including the ramming of a Garda car. Just before lunch today, the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, condemned the ramming and called it disgraceful and concerning. He stated that the Garda had stood up the public order unit, as it had done over the weekend, and that a full investigation is now under way.
I would like to say that last night was a one-off, that no one had said anything about this to the Government before now and that no one had sought anything from the Garda Commissioner where Cherry Orchard was concerned before now, but that would not be the case. Last February, I started a campaign because we needed a task force for Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard following the appalling attack on a young girl, Ms Alanna Quinn Idris, in Ballyfermot. She lost the sight in one eye. There was also an attack on a local councillor. Time and again, the communities in Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard have been left without adequate policing and local infrastructure. The entire population of Cherry Orchard has a single converted house as its shop.
There is a long-promised town centre plan that has been repeatedly abandoned by Dublin City Council.
We need an apology from the Garda Commissioner. Last February, I received a report on what was supposed to be going into the area and on the entirety of the policing plan, which looked really fabulous on paper. Last night, one car went into Cherry Orchard in response to the incident that took place. That was down to the courage of the gardaí in Ballyfermot Garda station, which is now only a subdivision and has been a subdivision of the Clondalkin division of the Garda Síochána since 2000. The gardaí in that car had to go out and try to face that, and it is right that we condemn how they were treated. The people of Cherry Orchard deserve an apology from the Garda Commissioner. The people of Cherry Orchard live in fear of that kind of carry on all the time, and 95% of not 99% of those people are good, hardworking people who want the best for their children. They deserve the safety and security offered by the State. I call for a task force to be established. I appeal to the Leader to support me in that. I have spoken with the Minister for Justice several times today. I believe we will finally see action, but today is not the beginning of it. I called for such action for the first time last February.
With the budget coming up, we are all looking to the supports that will be put in place. It is really important that we look at the fuel allowance, which the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, has been reviewing. This is hopefully something that we will look at next week.
Along with the supports we put in place for individuals and those who are most vulnerable, it is crucial that we also support businesses. We have all heard this. In our towns, even this morning, businesses have mentioned that they are looking at bills of up to €70,000 just in respect of fuel and heat alone.
The Government has done so much over the past two years in terms of the supports that were put in place through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Those supports were there to assist employers and employees during a really difficult period. With the budget, we need to ensure that we continue that type of support for businesses in order that there is some assistance provided.
There are also incentives around how we can try to manage our fuel costs in the time ahead, particularly around looking at peak hours between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. It will be crucial that the Government look at whatever measures it can put in place, particularly in respect of electricity use during those peak hours.
The Leader will be aware that the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has published another report raising concerns about poor air quality in Ireland. We have known for quite some time that the poor air quality in many of our communities potentially contributes to up to 1,300 premature deaths in Ireland. In addition to poor air quality resulting in premature deaths, there are certain times that those who have respiratory illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, and asthma are trapped inside their own homes. They cannot go outside because of the quality of air in their communities. The Leader might be aware that the UCD centre for human reproduction conducted a study in the final six months of last year outside the three maternity hospitals in Dublin and again found that air pollution levels were higher than would have been accepted by the World Health Organization.
When it came to road safety, the Government decided quite a number of years ago that the number of deaths on the road was completely unacceptable and took very strong action. A very serious campaign was taken to reduce the number of deaths on our roads and, generally speaking, that can be measured as a success. We need to take the same approach towards clean air quality. This is not just for environmental reasons; this is for public health reasons. We must ensure that citizens with respiratory illnesses can go about their lives freely. All of us are entitled to clean air, however. There is a Government clean air strategy but, unfortunately, I do not think it is being pursued with the rigour that is necessary. I ask for a very specific debate in this House regarding the question of clean air.
I will raise a topic I have raised previously, namely, that of members of the Traveller community receiving the electricity credit rebate. While we disagree with going down the road of giving credits again, if that is the route the Government is going to take to support families with their energy bills, then we have to make sure that we learn from the mistakes made in respect of the previous credit. This was where Travellers who live on halting sites, including that in the Owendoher Haven in Tallaght, did not receive the electricity credit because they have a single meter point reference number, MPRN, that all the halting bays log into. In some cases, the local authority did not pass on the €200 credit, while in others it divided it among the number of households on the halting site. In some instances, households got €7 instead of €200 in respect of the credit rebate.
We have raised this matter with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on numerous occasions, and with other Ministers at both the select committee and today's meeting of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities stated it was aware of the situation but it needs the Government to act to make sure we do not repeat the mistake. I would also like confirmation of that. Some €20 million of that household credit scheme was underspent and was used to buy emergency power generation, instead of retrospectively paying those Traveller households we know about that did not receive the €200 rebate.
I would like to hear that we are learning from the mistakes of the past, that Travellers will not be excluded from this payment, and that they will also receive an apology and retrospective payment to make sure they receive the same as every other household in the country.
I will raise the issue of the pandemic recognition payment, which is the tax free once-off payment of €1,000. People working outside the HSE still do not know when they are going to access this payment and their employers cannot tell them. The latest news is that there will have to be a tender for a company to organise how to do this. There is no solution in sight. The morale of those I know working in private nursing homes is at rock bottom regarding this. We are coming out of a crisis, and heading into another crisis, and we have not thanked them for what they did during the Covid pandemic. It is not just private nursing homes. It is those people working in hospices and residential care centres. These are people who never asked for thanks and yet we are withholding this payment.
We need to think about this properly. It is not good enough to say we will tender this out to a company. Solutions are coming from those working in the sectors on how to overcome this. As an example of how it affects them, they are already dealing with having to attract staff when they do not offer the same terms and conditions as the HSE. When they leave to go to a HSE service, the HSE facility can secure the payment on their behalf just by getting in touch with the nursing home to ask its staff to fill out a form. There is a need to meet with the sector to come up with a better solution.
As we are coming up to the budget, I will mention the tax relief for people working from home who do not get the allowance from their employer. They get tax relief of 30% on their heat, electricity and broadband, but that is not a refund for that 30%. When they work it out, the amount is very small. For 30% of their bill, they can claim tax relief on their taxable income, but that is only 20% or 40%. It is 30% and then it is 30% off the 20% and 40% of their taxable income. Again, we can do better. We are in a cost-of-living crisis. Let us sort out the pandemic recognition payment and let us deliver on tax relief for people working from home.
I will raise an issue I raised previously relating to the Revenue Commissioners. They must be the only public service that is not open to the public. Every other public service building in this country is open but all the Revenue Commissioners' offices are still closed. People cannot go into their premises for an appointment. I have written to them and have got the Department to contact them previously.
I was told that they were going to be opening. Five or six people from different places have contacted me about the issue in the last couple of weeks. They are older people who are unable to do things online. We are letting the more vulnerable in society down by not having the building open. Even if it was open for restricted hours, it would help people. People want to be able to go in and to ask their question face to face. It is just not acceptable. I know that Covid was an issue for a long time, but every other public building is open. Why is the office of the Revenue Commissioners not open? I ask for the Leader's support on the matter.
The other issue I wish to raise is that yesterday there was an announcement of funding of €4.9 million for Limerick College of Further Education. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science was in Limerick for the announcement. The funding is for a film and digital media centre. It is going to go a long way. We have Tory film studios, Odyssey Studios and Film Limerick in Limerick. That €4.9 million is going to bring a lot of students to the campus, and will also give people skills in film. It is the way to go.
I wish to welcome the fact that the University of Limerick and Limerick City and County Council are going to give the old Dunnes Stores building, which is going to become the university campus in Limerick city, a facelift. It is one of the ugliest buildings. It is right on the River Shannon near the bridge. It is an iconic area. It is an awful building. For those approaching the city, it is in a deplorable state. Therefore, it is welcome news that this building, which is going to house the University of Limerick city campus, will get a facelift at long last, and will look like a more acceptable and attractive building.
Yesterday, the HSE's emergency department task force revealed some frightening statistics, when it reported that this year alone there have been some 40,000 breaches of over a 24-hour wait time to be seen in our emergency departments. The very same HSE that is failing so miserably in this regard, and the very same agency, at the same time, has been compiling a report to close an emergency department in Navan.
Acute emergency departments around the country cannot deal with the patients that they have, with over 40,000 people waiting 24 hours to be seen, and the HSE's solution is to close some more. This kind of policy is what is wrong with our health system. I want to praise Phil Ní Sheaghdha, of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, for coming out yesterday and stating that what leads to poorer outcomes for patients is sitting on trolleys in emergency departments. If patients are on trolleys, their care is not optimum. Their private information is discussed in a corridor, where potentially they are receiving bad news. However, the HSE is telling people that their optimum care is not best served by attending an emergency department in Navan and that they will be sent to an emergency department in Drogheda, where they can wait, we are told, for a minimum of 12 hours. According to these statistics, they will be waiting for 24 hours. As I said, there is a review under way. I am calling on the Minister and the HSE to scrap this fairytale review, because no matter what it puts in it, its own reports are damning and showing its review to be a sham.
I look forward to the budget next week, when we will discuss healthcare in the round. As part of the budget discussions I will be scrutinising where we are getting value for money, because on this performance, the HSE is not delivering for the very patients and citizens of this country that it serves to ensure their health.
I want to raise a few issues. The first concerns the HSE, and specifically the children's disability network teams. There is a crisis across our disability network teams. I will cite an example from my own county, which has a population of 45,000.
In terms of posts filled, there is one psychologist, 0.5 in speech and language therapy, 0.5 in occupational therapy, 0.8 in physiotherapy and no social worker for the past two years. There are more than 230 children waiting for an assessment of needs and more than 700 children waiting for services. Somebody needs to explain why these positions are not being filled and why adequate staffing levels are not in place. The number of staff required and the need is well known. A manager of a company presiding over such a situation would have been sacked long ago. Somebody needs to be held accountable for this and it needs to change. Children are suffering and it is not acceptable in 2022.
We need a discussion on the disability network teams because this situation is replicated throughout the country. We must deal with this. The HSE should be working with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to make sure we have sufficient numbers of people qualifying across the various disciplines to fill the vacant posts in the system. That is not happening and it is just not acceptable.
The second issue I want to raise is the N4, which I also raised last year when the project was taken off the plans for 2022. I call on the Department of Transport to continue to fund that project until it gets to the point where planning permission is in place. The emerging preferred route is due to be announced in quarter four of this year and I want assurance that funding is in place to continue that process into 2023. We need to define the route, apply for planning permission and reach the point where planning permission is in place. Then if there is a hold up in the system with regard to funding because of a lot of other larger capital projects, at least we will have the planning permission in place and will know the route. We do not want to see a situation where the project is held up prior to securing planning permission and all of the millions already spent on it goes to waste because the project has to go back to day one again. I call on the Department to prioritise this road which is essential for the north west, the only region not served by a dual carriageway or motorway. We want to bring prosperity to all regions so this must be a priority for the Minister for Transport. Funding must be put in place for 2023.
I thank colleagues for raising a variety of topics today. Senator Carrigy made a request for the continuation of funding for the N4 project until the review is complete. I will drop an email to the Minister but I suggest he also writes to him on behalf of his constituents.
Regarding the issue of disability team staffing within the HSE, I suggest the Senator asks the Minister for Health for the workforce planning report, which might give him a better insight into the reality of the issue we face, not just in Longford but across the entire country. When we look at the statistics, we can then start to look for solutions. One of things of which I am always mindful is that the HSE runs a national recruitment campaign for non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, across Asia and India almost annually and yet we have hundreds of vacancies across the disability and mental health sectors but there is no recruitment. It is as if these people are going to just pop out of the sky and arrive here, looking for work in a sector that is already overworked, underappreciated and criticised considerably by us and by the media. We need a new approach and the workforce planning report might start the ball rolling in that regard.
Senator Cassells spoke very passionately as he represented his county, the accident and emergency department at Navan and the entire hospital service that is being delivered to the people of Meath and beyond by the staff in Navan. I am sure he will fight vigorously once the review is issued by the Department of Health. I thank him for raising that issue again today.
Senator Maria Byrne asked me to raise with the relevant Department the fact the Revenue Commissioners service is not open to the public. Thankfully, most of us have put Covid well behind us, particularly with regard to the delivery of services and the resumption of life as we knew it. It is not acceptable that any public service is still unavailable to the public and I will write to the Minister for Finance on her behalf today.
Senator Byrne also welcomed the announcement of €4.9 million in funding for Limerick College of Further Education. In the context of the huge new film studio development just announced for Mullingar, it is very welcome to see €4.9 million being invested in Limerick, which has done so well in this area, especially with Troy Studios. I thank her for raising that.
Senator Currie raised the €1,000 pandemic payment that has been the subject of news reporting since it was first announced, to great fanfare. Nearly one year later, there are still people within the health service who have not got it.
We cannot explain why they have not got it. There are people in the health service who have got it twice and we are asking them to give it back. I have never seen a good news story of rewarding people for their commitment during a time when everybody had to step up being screwed up so royally by the HSE. That body needs to get its act together and sort the matter out because the people who will be admonished for it are politicians and Ministers, none of whom have any truck here. They gave the money to the HSE many moons ago and it is not good enough that, as we face into what might be a very hard winter, we have not even rewarded people for their efforts during the last two years.
Senator Boylan spoke about another issue regarding money from the State that was not necessarily managed properly. While I appreciate there is only one MPRN and therefore only one bill goes into Traveller halting sites, it is not rocket science to find a way around it and it is not acceptable that the €20 million that should have gone to householders has been diverted and spent somewhere else. I will raise that with the Minister and come back to the Senator with the response.
Senator Malcolm Byrne asked for a debate on clean air strategy. I will arrange that as quickly as I can in the first couple of weeks after the budget.
Various colleagues, including Senators Buttimer, Dolan, Hoey, Ó Donnghaile, Casey, Craughwell, Kyne and Chambers, raised the cost of living and next week's budget. I will send out the schedule tomorrow as soon as it is confirmed, but I hope to have two full days of statements from ourselves in the presence of our two Ministers so they can hear our responses to what is announced next week and, in many cases, our praise for the response from the State. Any of us with concerns about things not in it or not up to standard can raise them at that stage.
Senator Seery Kearney raised an issue that is probably not just relevant to the videos that went viral on social media last night and are reported in every news outlet today. This issue is not new to Cherry Orchard. The glee and entertainment value seen by all of our eyes last night shows this is a far greater problem than has been acknowledged and respected by the management of An Garda Síochána. It is a shame the Senator was not listened to in February because maybe last night the two guards in the car would not have been subjected to the treatment they were subjected by completely lawless individuals. The people up and down that street who were videoing events, cheering and jeering had no fear, concerning their foul behaviour, of any actions in response from the State. There was no rule of law in evidence in any of the videos I saw last night. The Senator suggested that there was only one car available from what she described as a subdivision of Clondalkin, which explains the delay in the car getting there.
To put it alongside another community, I live in a relatively quiet little town. Very little happens most of the time, with the exception of one or two odd break-ins, which we have all accepted to be normal. Three machete-yielding young fellas broke into our Tesco Express last night and within ten minutes two cars and an armed response unit arrived and the three lads were captured. Compare that response to the response given in Cherry Orchard yesterday. It is far more than an apology that Drew Harris needs to give. He needs to provide an action plan to show a proper detailed response in respect of the people who live in Cherry Orchard and Ballyfermot, a community that is as hard-working as any other and deserves respect from the policing force and to date has not got it. I support the Senator in her call for a task force to be established. I will contact the Minister for Justice this afternoon.
Senator Hoey spoke about Mental Health Reform and the money it seeks, which is small in comparison with the amount we spend on the overall mental health budget.
Senator Ó Donnghaile welcomed the tender for the Narrow Water bridge project, which will hopefully be among the more successful projects in the Taoiseach's shared island initiative.
Senator Casey asked me to contact the Minister for Finance on retaining the help-to-buy scheme. I will do that.
Senator Craughwell referred to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. He also mentioned the AILG members who have just graduated from University College Cork, which is a welcome development.
Senator Kyne asked me to raise the lack of neurological nurses in the system. I will write to the Ministers, Deputies Stephen Donnelly and Michael McGrath.
Senator Chambers spoke about help needed not only for households but also for all the businesses that support the incomes of the people we in these Houses serve.