Hospital Facilities

Questions (950)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

950. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Health the capital works carried out at Limerick maternity hospital in 2019 and to date in 2020; the duration of such works; the estimated costs of such projects; the capital works that are scheduled to commence at the hospital in 2021; the estimated cost of each project; when each project will commence; the duration of each project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38820/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As the Health Service Executive is responsible for the delivery of public healthcare infrastructure projects, I have asked the HSE to respond to you directly in relation to this matter.

Mental Health Services

Questions (951)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

951. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Health the number of new development posts within mental health that were approved in 2018 and 2019 that have yet to be filled; the timeframe for those posts to be filled on a permanent basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38826/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Disability Support Services

Questions (952)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

952. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Health the care plan and funding for a person (details supplied); if intellectual disability services are involved; if not, the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38831/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

Maternity Leave

Questions (953)

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

953. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Health if health and safety leave will be granted to teachers who are 28 weeks pregnant and more given that research has found those at this stage of pregnancies are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill should they contract Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38832/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Given the role of the HSE’s National Women and Infants Health Programme in the dissemination of pregnancy related clinical guidelines, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Maternity Leave

Questions (954)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

954. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Health the research the HSE has conducted for women who are at least 28 weeks pregnant who work in close contact professions in which social distancing is not possible and health and safety leave is advised at 28 weeks of pregnancy by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38856/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Given the role of the HSE’s National Women and Infants Health Programme in the dissemination of pregnancy related clinical guidelines, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Drug Treatment Programmes

Questions (955)

Gary Gannon

Question:

955. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Health the number of persons, by month, who have used the Keltoi facility to self-isolate since it was repurposed in March 2020, in tabular form. [38861/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Vaccination Programme

Questions (956)

Gary Gannon

Question:

956. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Health if teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, and school staff will be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccination in the eventuality that a vaccine becomes available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38868/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Ireland is currently involved in an EU Procurement Exercise being operated by the European Commission on behalf of Member States to procure a portfolio of suitable, safe and effective vaccines, in sufficient quantities, to combat COVID-19.

I can assure the Deputy of the Government's commitment to the timely implementation of a COVID-19 immunisation programme, as soon as one or more vaccines in the portfolio are approved for use. In this regard, a cross-Government High-Level Taskforce has been established to support and oversee the development and implementation of the programme.

The most appropriate approach to deciding on the order on which the population should be offered vaccination is amongst the matters my Department is currently considering, together with relevant stakeholders, in order to bring forward proposals for decision at Government level.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (957)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

957. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Health if he will update the HSE's advice on Covid-19 and pregnancy to take into account the joint occupational health advice (details supplied) for employers from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, which highlights women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond as at increased risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38889/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Given the role of the HSE’s National Women and Infants Health Programme in the dissemination of pregnancy related clinical guidelines, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme

Questions (958)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

958. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if individual farmers will receive an explanation as to why certain parcels were not reclassified following ANC appeals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37756/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation), Member States were required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. Previously, my Department had been identifying eligible areas using a range of socio economic indicators such as family farm income, population density, percentage of working population engaged in agriculture, and stocking density.

From 2019, eligible areas were instead required to be designated using the following list of bio-physical criteria:

- Low temperature

- Dryness

- Excess soil moisture

- Limited soil drainage

- Unfavourable texture and stoniness

- Shallow rooting depth

- Poor chemical properties

- Steep slope

In tandem with the process to designate relevant lands under these biophysical criteria, Member States were also required to undertake a fine-tuning process. This process was required to identify areas where significant natural constraints were identified with reference to the above-listed biophysical criteria, but where objective criteria, such as arable land use or stocking density levels, would indicate that these constraints have been overcome.

Finally, Member States could also identify areas for inclusion as Areas of Specific Constraint where it is necessary for land management to be continued in order to conserve or improve the environment, to maintain the countryside, to preserve the tourist potential of the area, or to protect the coastline.

This three-phased process was a lengthy project, involving protracted technical engagements with the EU Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Joint Research Centre in the EU Commission. The technical process was completed in late 2018 and, at that time, further to a series of consultation meetings with key stakeholders, my Department published full details in relation to the outcome of the review project.

The vast majority of land that was previously eligible under scheme remained eligible under the new approach. Some 700 townlands that would have previously been eligible were deemed not to be eligible under the new designation. Farmers impacted financially by this change were enititled to receive a degressive phasing out payment in 2019 and 2020. Over 2,000 townlands were designated as eligible under the new approach and were eligible to receive a payment for the first time in 2019.

The outcome of the redesignation process was communicated by my Department via letter to farmers who had claimed on the land parcels reviewed under the redesignation process. The details of the new townlands that were determined to be eligible following the re-designation process, as well as the details of the townlands found not to be eligible, were published on my Department's website. A full listing off all eligible townlands under the scheme following the re-designation process was also published on my Department's website.

An independently chaired Appeals Committee was appointed to examine any requests received by my Department for a full review on the outcome of the re-designation process in relation to individual townlands. The work of this Appeals Committee has now been completed. Following the completion of the appeal process, farmers were advised in writing of the outcome of the review carried out by Committee. Where the appeal was unsuccessful and the townland remained ineligible, farmers were advised of their right to make a subsequent appeal to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (959)

Carol Nolan

Question:

959. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of contracts of €25,000 or more that have been awarded by his Department or bodies under the aegis of his Department that were found to be non-compliant with procurement guidelines from 1 January 2019 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37791/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department ensures that there is an appropriate focus on good practice in procurement and that procedures are in place to ensure compliance with relevant guidelines and legislation.

EU and national rules promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers value for money. EU Directives declare that there can be legitimate reasons for awarding contracts non-competitively, such as extreme urgency brought about by unforeseeable events or if there is a single supplier to perform the contract. Therefore, a non-competitive procurement is not necessarily non-compliant with procurement rules.

Circular 40/02 issued by the Department of Finance requires my Department to report all contracts above €25,000 (exclusive of VAT) awarded without a competitive process to the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) by 31 March of the following year.

In 2019, 98 contracts with a value of €14,283,712 were awarded without a competitive process and declared on the Circular 40/02 return as expenditure against those contracts exceeded the reporting threshold of €25,000.

Of this, contracts valued at €10,489,674 were undertaken without a competitive process but are considered compliant, as the justification for awarding these contracts without a competitive process falls within the exceptions to open/competitive procurement permitted in national and EU legislation.

The remaining procurement with a value of €3,794,038 was also undertaken without a competitive process but is not considered compliant as the contracts were not subject to an independent review prior to the award of the contract.

The 2019 information is not readily available in the format requested. Officials in my Department will collate the information and forward it directly to the Deputy.

Information on any instances of non-compliant procurement that arise in 2020 will be available in my Department's 2020 Appropriation Account which will be published by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2021.

Procurement is an operational matter for bodies that come under the aegis of my Department.

Farmers Markets

Questions (960)

Joe O'Brien

Question:

960. Deputy Joe O'Brien asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the recent closure of a market (details supplied); if he has engaged with the licensing body on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37863/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department is very supportive of markets, both urban and rural, that promote local and sustainable foods. In the past, my Department has provided ex-gratia funds to a co-operative society that runs local markets throughout Ireland in order to sell fresh farm, garden and home produce and craftwork of its members. This funding is designed to assist with the day-to-day operational costs of the society. However, the markets themselves are private concerns and my Department has no role in their operation or management.

Legislative Process

Questions (961)

Carol Nolan

Question:

961. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of submissions made to the consultation on the review of the European Union (Birds and Natural Habitats) (Sea-fisheries) Regulations 2013, SI 29/013; the outcome of the consultation process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37887/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

A public consultation on the review of the European Union (Birds and Natural Habitats) (Sea-fisheries) Regulations 2013 (S.I. No. 290 of 2013) commenced on 10 September 2020 and closed on 9 October 2020. Notification of the public consultation was published on the Department website, on FishingNet.ie and in the Irish Independent. Emails inviting submissions were also sent to interested parties and stakeholders. A total of seven submissions were received in response to the consultation.

Officials in my department are currently in the process of evaluating the submissions received and will use these to inform the outcome of the review. I look forward to receiving their recommendations in due course.

Legislative Process

Questions (962)

Carol Nolan

Question:

962. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of all applications made by his Department to the Oireachtas Business Committee to waive pre-legislative scrutiny of primary and secondary legislation sponsored or initiated by his Department from 1 January 2017 to date; the outcomes of such applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37888/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department sought to waive pre-legislative scrutiny on the Forestry Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2020 (then titled the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001). This legislation was implemented to reform the forestry appeals process by bringing it into line with similar planning processes and is one of the commitments in the Programme for Government.

There was, however, extensive consultation on the draft Bill and my Department ran a month-long public consultation process before the Bill was submitted to the Oireachtas. This attracted almost 9,000 submissions each of which was reviewed and studied by my officials as part of the preparation of the final Bill. It informed the final version of the Bill which was presented to the Oireachtas. Each of these submissions was also published on my Department’s website as was an extensive summary report on the submissions received.

Departmental Staff

Questions (963)

Patrick Costello

Question:

963. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the grade at which the chief data protection officer in his Department is employed. [37928/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I wish to advise the Deputy that the role of Data Protection Officer in my Department is assigned at the level of Principal Officer.

Agriculture Schemes

Questions (964)

James Browne

Question:

964. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if new entrants will be accepted to the national organic farming scheme; the position regarding grants for social farming; the position regarding grants for agri-forestry schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37940/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I have successfully negotiated an increased budget for 2021 with an additional €4 million to facilitate the re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) next year. This Scheme cannot open until the transitional regulations, proposed by the European Commission, have been finalised. My Department is, however, currently preparing for the re-opening of the Scheme.

The number of entrants who will be permitted into the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) in 2021 will depend on the cost of applications received but the additional funding should, at average current level of participation, facilitate the entry of 400-500 new farmers. The overall budget will also allow participants whose contracts expire on 31st December 2020, subject to Commission approval, to roll-over their participation in the Scheme for next year if they wish.

Social Farming is funded under the Department’s Rural Innovation & Development Fund. Leitrim Development Company were awarded a contract in 2020 following a competitive procurement process to continue the development of the national Social Farming Network with associated funding of €400,000.

In addition, the following social farming contracts were extended in 2020 with associated funding of €359,853:

- Leitrim Integrated Development Company for a ‘Social Farming Best Practice Model’

- South Kerry Development Partnership for the ‘Kerry Social Farming Project’

- Down Syndrome Ireland Cork Branch for the ‘Fields of Dreams’ project.

Agroforestry gives land owners the flexibility to graze and even cut silage and hay while growing trees for timber in the same field. This system is ideally suited to farmers who are interested in forestry but who also want to avoid taking their land out of agricultural production. Under the current forestry programme a grant of €6,220 / ha is available to cover the cost of establishment; in additional five annual premiums of €660 are also available.

Hare Coursing

Questions (965)

Paul Murphy

Question:

965. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will extend the ban on hare coursing until at least the end of March 2020, in a context in which any extension of the current coursing season into March 2020 would be to allow hare coursing during the height of the breeding season and potentially disrupt the reproduction of the Irish hare population. [37984/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Hare coursing is regulated under the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 chiefly by the Irish Coursing Club (ICC), subject to the general control and direction of Rásaíocht Con Éireann. Hare coursing is managed and regulated by the ICC. Hares can only be collected for coursing by clubs affiliated to the ICC, in accordance with the terms of two licences granted by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

This Department is not responsible for licensing or attendance at coursing events.

Greyhound Industry

Questions (966)

Cormac Devlin

Question:

966. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the business and economic case for providing the greyhound industry with €96 million in 2021; the employment levels in the sector; the projected returns to the Exchequer from income tax, universal social charge, VAT and the betting tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38012/20]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Rásaíocht Con Éireann (RCÉ) is a commercial state body, established under the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 chiefly to control greyhound racing and to improve and develop the greyhound industry. RCÉ is a body corporate and a separate legal entity to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The proposed allocation to Rásaíocht Con Éireann from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund for 2021 is €19.2m. RCÉ employs 125 full time and 112 Full time equivalents, a total of 237. The overall Betting Duty Receipts for 2019 was just over €95 million. An economic review by Jim Power estimated that in 2016, the industry supported 5,058 full-time and part-time jobs. In addition, there were 7,313 active greyhound owners. The number of people deriving economic benefit from the sector was estimated at 12,371.

The most recent assessment of economic impact was undertaken by Jim Power Economics in 2017. The report indicated that “the gross wage bill attributed to employment in the greyhound industry is estimated at €126.5M. PAYE/PRSI paid per annum is estimated at €12.7M. Net incomes generated in the industry are estimated at €113.8M. Based on a conservative income multiplier effect of 0.5 this would result in a total economic impact to the economy of €171M per annum in terms of additional spending"

The COVID-19 crisis poses particular challenges with catering, admissions and tote income virtually collapsing. The only current commercial income is from online wagering activity and media rights. RCÉ is also implementing an ambitious care and welfare programme across the industry.

At all levels of the current Government plan, Resilience and Recivery 2020-2021: Plan for living with Covid -19, racing behind closed doors is permitted but no level offers a commercially viable operation. The budget increase in the Horse & Greyhound Racing Fund allocation for 2021 of €2.4M assists in bridging the gap between expenditure and income.

The overall objective of the Fund is to continue to support the industry as a whole and progress the implementation of the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 including the delivery of the extensive care and welfare programme. The greyhound industry coninues to be an important industry supporting significant direct and indirect employment particularly in rural areas.