Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Questions (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

Paul Murphy

Question:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [40066/20]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

7. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the mechanism by which his Department will review the progress of the current programme for Government. [41493/20]

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Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [41634/20]

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Bríd Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [41635/20]

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Alan Kelly

Question:

10. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made on implementing the programme for Government. [41647/20]

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Mick Barry

Question:

11. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [42078/20]

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Oral answers (27 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.

Alongside the State's response to the Covid-19 pandemic and preparations and planning for Brexit, the Government has been working hard to implement the commitments in the programme for Government across a wide range of issues in all Departments. Departments are currently preparing strategy statements for the next three years, which will define their high level goals and objectives as well as the strategies to be used to achieve them.

These strategy statements will reflect the key national priorities as outlined in the programme for Government. Ten Cabinet committees have been established by this Government reflecting the full range of policy areas it will work on during its lifetime, and which are set out in the programme for Government. Government policy is formulated and implemented through this Cabinet committee structure. Cabinet committees meet regularly, consistent with the provisions in the programme for Government.

Some of the key programme for Government commitments that have been progressed in the past four months or so include ongoing monitoring and management of the impact of Covid-19 on the provision of both Covid and non-Covid healthcare, the launch of the HSE's winter plan, which is supported by the allocation of an additional €600 million this year; the establishment of shared island unit in my Department - its work is under way; the launch of the job stimulus package in July; the establishment of a unit in my Department to help co-ordinate future social dialogue; the achievement of a number of key climate action commitments, including the publication of the draft text of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020; the allocation of €3 billion in budget 2021 for housing along with additional funding in the July stimulus package; the announcement of a €118 million skills package as part of budget 2021 to help workers to reskill and retrain in certain areas; the announcement of a €121 million budget package for Tusla for direct provision services for youth and childcare services and for Traveller and Roma community initiatives; the announcement of a suite of support for the arts and culture sector; and ongoing negotiations at European Council level deal with the multi-annual financial framework, the seven-year budget for the EU and the next generation EU recovery package. I anticipate the Government will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government in the new year.

I believe the Taoiseach is guilty of quite cynical obfuscation around the question of student nurses to try to cover up the reality of the refusal to pay student nurses and midwives for the work they do. Part of that is the suggestion they are not really doing work. I will outline a few examples from a student midwife:

I've dressed and laid out babies who have passed away to be shown to their parents for the first time. I've cried with women who have been told that their baby has died while they are alone in hospitals with the current restrictions. I have taken a caseload of 12 women and babies recently to cover for staff who are out sick without having time to use the bathroom, and only half an hour break.

I could go on. When those student nurses listened to the radio this morning and heard the Government had agreed a pay increase, it rubbed salt in their wound because the pay increase agreed by the Government is not for them. The Taoiseach is going to continue to refuse them. Instead, it is for the judges. Across the board, therefore, there are pay increases for the judges of 2%. For Supreme Court judges, which includes Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe, that is worth €4,000 per year. It is quite a substantial Christmas present for them and a lump of coal for student nurses.

We are talking about a small group of approximately 4,000 student nurses helping to keep our health service running during this crisis. We can afford to pay them a living wage but refuse to do that. Even the fourth-year students are on less than the minimum at wage, a fact the Taoiseach does not talk about. He must backtrack now. He should agree to pay them.

I ask each speaker to keep to the time because there will only be a minute left for the Taoiseach to respond.

The programme for Government commits to investigate the provision of domestic violence paid leave. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, has also called on the Government to ratify the International Labour Organisation, ILO, convention No. 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work.

Article 18 of the accompanying recommendation details measures Governments should take to mitigate the impacts of domestic violence at work, which includes leave for the victims of domestic violence, flexible work arrangements and the inclusion of domestic violence in workplace risk assessments. ICTU has also called on employers to work with trade unions to develop workplace policies to ensure appropriate supports are in place.

We know the emotional and psychological cost of domestic and gender-based violence is devastating. There is, however, also a significant economic cost, which includes the cost of services such as health and justice as well as lost productivity and absenteeism.

There is also a need to mainstream workplace awareness of domestic violence. Managers need guidance on how to recognise the signs of domestic abuse and how to respond to a staff member's disclosure. Workplace policies can assist co-workers to support their colleagues, and most critically, work can provide a safe and supportive environment for victims of abuse.

Will the Government parties support Sinn Féin's domestic violence paid leave legislation to Committee Stage? What consideration has the Taoiseach given to the ILO convention No. 190? Will the Taoiseach come back regarding the review of the programme for Government and whether that will be published in the new year? I missed that.

First, the Solidarity-People Before Profit motion on student nurses was drawn up in direct consultation with hundreds of nurses at meetings we organised online . It was, therefore, their words, not ours. When the Taoiseach insults the motion they effectively wrote, he is insulting them. He is also insulting their intelligence when he plays politics because the following are his words to me on 20 October in terms of:

... student nurses working on the wards in the current context. As they were earlier, they should be paid in accordance with the agreement arrived at earlier in the year. I will follow up on that.

That was just six weeks ago. As for the nonsense that their education is being protected, Melissa said:

Seeing as I am regularly moved away from my preceptor to another nurse in a different section of the ward because the second nurse in that section has called in sick, do you think my education is the priority in that decision? Do you think I am doing real work?

That is directly to the Taoiseach. Róisín has worked four nights in a row on a ward so understaffed she had a patient load of seven and there was no shadowing or supervision. When one of the seven patients became aggressive towards her with their dinner knife, she was told it was "her responsibility to call security and the doctor as they were her patient". Will the Taoiseach admit that this is work and commit to paying her for this work? I could go on. He is invited to the next meeting with those student nurses if he wants to talk directly to them.

The Taoiseach said earlier that if the nurses are working, they should be paid. This morning, he said that he does not believe they should be working, or perhaps, it is the other way around. He has, however, said they should be paid if they are working and he does not believe they should be working. He must verify it. I am shocked that he has not verified it because the HSE is telling him that is not the case. He has not, however, verified it; we have.

We have spoken to hundreds of people like Zara, a second-year student nurse who does a 13-hour shift with a one-hour break. She does everything from emptying bedpans to washing patients, taking their vitals to comforting them.

Linda is second-year student on placement. Her preceptor was a ward manager, which meant that as ward manager, her preceptor was in meetings all day. She was left unsupervised. She started at 7.30 a.m. and finished at 8.30 p.m.. She washed and recorded observation of ten patients daily. I call that work. I do not know what the Taoiseach calls it but I call that physical, stressful, vital and important work.

The Taoiseach seems to be taking this debate about their education out of the context of a severe shortage of staffing in our hospitals in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis. The Covid-19 crisis has not gone away. The hospitals are short-staffed. In fact, in Linda's case, they were told later that one of the nurses had rung in sick and the response of the ward manager was to say they were not going to get cover because they had a student nurse. That is what is going on. Will the Taoiseach verify that, please?

Government Senators will also have an opportunity to show where they stand on the issue of student nurses as my colleague, Senator Annie Hoey, has published a Bill that will be going through the Seanad to legislate for student nurses to be paid while they are doing their training. It is an even different perspective on it, which will give the Taoiseach a new opportunity to do what is right. We all know what is right. The Taoiseach, however, will have an opportunity again next week.

With regard to the programme for Government, basically, a range of different deadlines have been missed. I particularly want to ask the Taoiseach about three different ones. Can we get some detail on where we are as regards the retrofitting of homes? We all know the climate change Bill is being delayed with regard to climate change targets, many of which have been missed despite the Green Party being in government.

Where is the Government at on the promise to prioritise early diagnosis interventions for those with disabilities? I have raised this issue numerous times previously. Where is the Government at on commitments to look at non-statutory sick pay?

Last week, the Arcadia group of companies went into liquidation, with 900 jobs on the line. Clearly, a retail jobs massacre is under way in this country. I believe that the Government should intervene to save jobs. If it does not, Mandate, the shop workers' union, needs to consider a one-day national strike to put pressure on the Government on this issue.

There is also a broader issue in society. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, where we heard from representatives of banking workers that 6,000 jobs in the banking sector are potentially on the line. There should be, and could be, a debate and a discussion in the trade union movement in this country at Irish Congress of Trade Unions level about a one-day national strike of all workers to put pressure on the Government on the issues of jobs and workers' rights.

There is also the question of decent redundancy. There must be no more workers cheated out of their redundancy rights in the way that there has been an attempt to so do with the Debenhams workers. The programme for Government states that it will aim to improve workers' rights in respect of liquidations. The Taoiseach gave me an update on that recently but there is fresh urgency with the latest round of redundancies and I am looking for an update on the position.

The Taoiseach has just two and a half minutes to respond to all the Deputies.

To respond to Deputy Paul Murphy on the student nurses issue, and to Deputy Bríd Smith, who asked me what I would call what happened, I call it an instance of abuse of student nurses. It should not happen in our hospitals-----

It is happening.

It should not happen, and in my view, it calls into question the very essence of what the nursing degree programme was about. In my view, the HSE should be written to. I do not know whether complaints have been made to the HSE in respect of those individual cases but if not, they should have been and someone should pursue that on behalf of those student nurses. It is not acceptable in any shape or form. Particularly the case that Deputy Murphy spoke about, which presumably was in the maternity wards, should not happen. No undergraduate student should ever be put in that position. That is what the anger should be about-----

They are all being put in that position.

They should never be put-----

They are all being put in that position.

Let me speak. I listened to the Deputy. They should never be put in that position. I am of a view that if someone is told to work a roster, he or she should be paid for working that roster. If we allow that to happen, we will undermine the whole basis of the degree programme - that is the point. We should not allow lazy or wrong practices by those who are meant to supervise and be in charge in our hospitals. They are resolutely denying that, by the way, and nursing directors up and down the country are saying that is not happening. There is an issue here. The directors of nurses have been asked and are saying this is not happening in their hospitals. The point is-----

The issue is staff shortages.

-----1,400 additional nurses have been employed and recruited since Covid began. That is not the excuse. It should not be an excuse-----

The issue is staff shortages.

Undergraduate students should never be abused like that. That was not the purpose of the nursing degree programme. That is a very important point. Otherwise, we are regressing backwards to earlier times from which we thought we had sprung free. We invested a great deal in a nursing degree programme to make it better for younger generations to apply for and study nursing, and to aspire to have a nursing degree and a postgraduate degree as well. That was the whole purpose of it. That is why I am saying now-----

What about the Taoiseach's words six weeks ago?

-----that in addition to the reviews of allowances that will happen before the end of December, and in addition to the pandemic unemployment payment, pay for fourth-year nursing students will also be reviewed. The results of that will be available in November and we will pay higher allowances after those reviews. Of that I am certain.

And back pay for people who have been working.

Equally, however, and separate to that, there should be a comprehensive review now of the degree programme and how it is operating on the ground. Deputy Boyd Barrett talked about the preceptors and he is correct. A whole range of management posts were created and resourced by the State to supervise the degree programme in our hospitals for a reason, namely, to prevent the exploitation and abuse of student nurses in wards.

I am sorry but we are well over time.

I apologise that I could not get to all the questions.

I will send the Taoiseach an invitation to that meeting. He can meet a few student nurses. They are good people to talk to.

Sitting suspended at 4.15 p.m. and resumed at 4.35 p.m.