I thank Deputy Barry for his question. Voluntary and non-statutory service providers, including religious orders, have a long history of providing health and personal social services in Ireland and of receiving State funding to provide such services. I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of all such providers to the delivery of these essential services. I remarked earlier in this House that were it not for some of those voluntary service providers, one wonders how many of our people would have been cared for throughout the years in this country in terms of disability services, mental health services and other services.
The HSE, however, has a statutory responsibility - one cannot delegate that - for the management and delivery of health and personal social services. As well as providing services directly, the HSE enters into service agreements or arrangements with service providers to provide such services on its behalf. As Minister for Health, my priority is ensuring that all of the resources available to the HSE are used in the most beneficial, effective and efficient manner to improve, promote and protect the health and welfare of the Irish public. To that end, the HSE has a formal national governance framework which governs grant funding to all service providers under sections 38 and 39 of the Health Act 2004. This framework seeks to make sure that governance systems are sufficiently robust and effective to ensure that both the HSE and the grant-funded agencies, be they religious orders, irrespective of denomination, or other voluntary or non-statutory service providers, meet their respective obligations. The most critical issue for me, regardless of whether the service provider is a religious organisation, is whether the service is being provided for which we the taxpayer, through our health service, are paying.
I do not have an ideological position on the involvement of religious organisations in the delivery of health care. I believe there is scope for diversity in the range of service providers delivering health care - that has always been the way in this country - but that service must be delivered and, let me be clear on this, in line with Government health policy, legislation and the responsibilities attaching to the use of public funding. Once an organisation is complying with our health policy, the Government's policy, the legislation passed by this House and the responsibilities attaching to the use of the public money, the matter of whether the service provider is a religious or non-religious organisation is not something that keeps me awake at night.