Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 25 Mar 1992

Vol. 417 No. 6

Adjournment Debate. - Environment and Health Matters.

Thank you, Sir, for allowing me raise this matter. I also thank the Minister for coming into the House at this hour. Out of a total national roads allocation of almost £200 million announced last week by the Minister, less than £7 million is being allocated to County Donegal, one of the largest and most rural of our counties. When one considers that Cork is to get in excess of £35 million, Kildare almost £36 million and Louth, our smallest county, £15.5 million, one realises the complete inadequacy of the allocation of £7 million to Donegal.

Donegal is dependent on its road network to a greater extent than almost any other county. We have not one yard of railway, we have no major air terminals except Carrickfin and we have no developed seaports except the fishing port of Killybegs. A properly developed network of roads is crucial to the industrial development and economic wellbeing of our county.

Vast areas of north and west Donegal are without primary routes which are so vitally important in the development and maintenance of industrial employment. During the past month in one part of the Donegal Gaeltacht over 120 workers have been made redundant in industries that are developing and expanding in other parts of the country along the eastern seaboard where the major road allocations recently announced are concentrated. This is a most serious development and if the trend continues we could have an industrial wasteland, not only in Donegal but throughout the west.

Donegal is a huge county stretching from Bundoran to Malin Head and from Arranmore and Tory Islands to Castlefin and Killygordon. It has excellent industrial and tourism potential. Its main handicap and disadvantage is inadequate access. An allocation of £7 million per annum will not solve our problem.

I am appealing to the Minister to increase our share of the national roads allocation to match our size and difficulties so that our county, which is unique in its location and situation, can reach its full economic potential.

The overall allocation for national roads in 1992 amounts to £188.18 million, an all-time record provision for these roads. This total figure comprises £131.65 million for major improvements on the primary routes and £21.03 million for other improvements on these routes. The sum of £12.9 million will be spent on improvements to national secondary route and grants totalling £20.9 million are being provided for maintenance works on national roads. The balance of £1.9 million will be spent on technical assistance measures.

I am satisfied that the 1992 grant of £2.186 million for national roads which was allocated to Donegal County Council represents a fair share of the available funds, having regard to priorities throughout the entire network of national roads. This total includes £1.134 million for maintenance works and over £1 million for improvement works at a variety of locations.

As regards non-national roads, Deputy McGinley will be well aware that primary responsibility for funding works on these roads rests with the local authority concerned. Traditionally work on these roads was financed from local resources, with only very limited state road grant assistance. However, because of concern about the deterioration in parts of the network of county roads, in particular, the Government have provided significantly enhanced levels of road grants in the years since 1987 to supplement local authority expenditure on them. This year has been no different.

The Donegal grant allocation of £4.669 million for non-national roads is a 4 per cent increase on last year's allocation of £4.496 million, exclusive of flood damage grants. This compares with a total of only £2.127 million paid to Donegal County Council under equivalent headings in 1986. Here again, I am satisfied that due recognition has been given to the road needs in County Donegal in the allocation of these grants.

Before a decision was taken in relation to these allocations, I had representations from the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, and from Deputies Coughlan and McDaid and I tried to take account of the strong representations made. It is grossly unfair in the context of these allocations to spell out allocations to individual counties as if to indicate some preference. Expenditure on the roads in Kildare, for instance, is quite important along the routes to airports and sea ports.

Deputy McGinley will understand that on the national road network our priorities relate to through traffic. Considering that we are an exporting economy, a major consideration is to get our products out. The whole country would benefit from an improvement in the national network and the removal of bottlenecks. With the resources available to me I intend to continue to improve the national road network and to meet all the obligations in County Donegal as well as in all other counties. In five years we have doubled the resources available for road development in County Donegal.

The level of effluent emptying into the River Lee in Tralee from domestic and industrial sources is equivalent to that flowing from a town with a population of 45,000 people. The raw sewage enters the river in a totally untreated state. The stench of river where the sewerage main empties into the River Lee and Tralee Bay must be the most polluted in Ireland. At one stage the River Lee was recognised as a prime fishing river, but that has not been the case for some time.

Tralee bay is not considered to be seriously polluted. However, the condition of the north side of the bay at Spa-Fenit is giving rise to concern, especially because of the threat to the oyster beds. As a result of the EC ENVIROG programme there will be an increasing emphasis on improved water quality along our coastline. The likelihood is that the level of pollution in Tralee Bay may soon be above that laid down in EC water quality regulations. Tralee Urban Council have acquired a ten acre site for a treatment plant and are waiting for permission from the Department to draw up contract documents and bills of quantity so that the project can go to tender.

I understand that the Minister has been considering the findings of an environmental impact study with respect to this project. I would urge him to complete his deliberations on that study as soon as possible so that the contract documents can be prepared and tenders invited. This project, when completed, will be a major boost to the development of the Leane Valley and will add further to the various developments that have taken place in Tralee town in recent times.

The provision of a modern sewage treatment plant for Tralee town has been identified as a priority proposal under the water and sanitary services programme. This major sewerage scheme would provide a level of treatment consistent with the objectives of the Government's Environment Action Programme and of the EC Directive on Urban Waste Water Treatment. The existing sewerage system for the town is unsatisfactory in that untreated effluent is discharged into the river.

Given the importance of Tralee town as a major population and tourist centre, it is desirable that a suitable system for treating effluent should be put in place, subject of course to the proposal meeting with the requirements of environmental impact assessments. Tralee Urban District Council have carried out the necessary environmental impact study for the treatment plant and this has been submitted to my Department for assessment. The assessment is being urgently carried out, taking account of the views received on the EIS and I hope to be in a position to give a decision on the matter as soon as possible.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this matter and I thank the Minister for coming into the House at this late hour to hear the complaint. Knowing his commitment to the health services I am sure the Minister will take on board the points I make and will make every effort to resolve the problem.

I have in front of me what I can only describe as a file of frustration. Much effort has been made to resolve the problem of a constituent of mine who has been waiting for three years for an appointment at the Meath Hospital. Despite my efforts and the best efforts of this person's GP and the consultant urologist in Cork Regional Hospital there has been no success to date. This is causing extreme distress to my constituent. I can furnish to the Department details from the Meath Hospital and from the consultant urologist concerned, with regard to this person. I earnestly request the Minister to intervene in this case and to expedite an appointment for this unfortunate public patient. I hesitate to suggest that if this individual was a private patient he would have been treated long before now.

The Deputy is absolutely correct in that it is totally unacceptable that anyone should have to wait so long for treatment. The urologist or kidney surgeon in Dublin put this person on the list as an inpatient when he was sent to the hospital for an out-patient evaluation, and that caused confusion in the hospital. Second, the person need not have been sent to Dublin because adequate treatment facilities are available in Cork Regional Hospital. However, it is very annoying that this person has been on the waiting list for three years, especially in view of the fact that a number of representations have been made on his behalf. I will speak to the consultant surgeon concerned to make sure that this patient is treated. If this is not an urgent case the person should not have been put on the list. Some system must be devised whereby a review committee should decide the order in which patients should be treated. When a patient is put on a waiting list he becomes anxious and as time goes by the anxiety grows. In this case the patient must have suffered intolerable anxiety. I promise the Deputy that I will consult with the urologist in question and ensure that the patient is treated.

I would like to thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this matter of grave importance to my constituency. I wish the new Minister for Health every success and congratulate him on his long overdue elevation to the Cabinet. St. John's Hospital in Sligo is an excellent institution which provides loving care for the elderly in a way unsurpassed in any other similar hospital in the country. This is the result of extraordinary dedication by nursing and non-nursing staff alike, but are the North Western Health Board, asking too much from these people.

The nurses at this hospital have voted and mandated the Irish Nursing Organisation to take industrial action on 15 April because of inadequate nursing staff levels. Obviously there is something seriously wrong when nurses, with their history of care and dedication and considering their organisation's history of never taking industrial action, have balloted for industrial action. There is a dispute as to whether or not there has been an increase in the number of nursing staff in St. John's in recent times. The chief executive officer of the North Western Health Board says there has been an increase while the nurses say there has been no increase. However, the nurses are certain that the nursing staff is simply not adequate to maintain a proper standard of care. For instance — I understand that this matter is not in dispute — there is only one nurse to 50 patients in four of the units from 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. the following morning, a 15 hour period, and the position is even worse in another unit. The nurses say that there should be a minimum of two nurses working together in these units at these times.

Nurses have explained that the present patients are much more dependent than previously because of a change in admission policy. They say they are working under great stress and strain and that the inadequate staffing is now a crisis. Quite obviously there is a major problem here which basically derives from inadequate Government funding and health cutbacks. By common consent the North-Western Health Board have been the most efficient board in the country in regard to administration. Now is the time for the Department of Health and the Minister to acknowledge the good work done by funding the extra nursing staff so badly needed at St. John's Geriatric Hospital.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Under the personnel policy that applies in the health services it is a matter for the North-Western Health Board to determine the appropriate staffing levels in each of their institutions and other services, within their approved employment ceiling and financial allocation. Discussions between the Irish Nursing Organisation and the North-Western Health Board are ongoing with a view to reaching a satisfactory resolution to the staffing levels at St. John's.

Negotiations between the North-Western Health Board and the INO on the introduction of the 39 hour week at this hospital were prolonged and failed to reach agreement. The matter was then referred to an adjudication committee. At the final hearing before the committee the health board put forward revised rosters and improved nursing cover as a solution to the implementation of the 39 hour week. The adjudication committee, having heard arguments from both sides, eventually issued their recommendation. The committee recommended that the INO accept the proposals made by the board.

In further discussions between the board and the INO, the INO sought "a full root and branch examination of the present staffing levels in St. John's". In the course of those discussions, the INO also sought the creation of 22 additional nursing posts. the cost of meeting that demand is estimated at approximately £400,000.

Because the discussions are ongoing and because there is a very good chance that agreement will be reached, I am not prepared to comment further. I hope that good counsel will prevail and that industrial action, which would be very regrettable, will not be taken.