Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 15 Dec 2005

Vol. 612 No. 4

Adjournment Debate.

Hospital Accommodation.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter. I was amazed to read in The Irish Times last week that Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda was closing and that the new hospital “would not be built in the Drogheda borough area”. This flies in the face of everything stated on the record by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and the Health Service Executive. However, the fact that this story appeared in The Irish Times lent credibility to it. There are forces working to get Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital moved to a new location but the people of Drogheda will not allow this to happen. No Fianna Fáil Deputy or election candidate will receive votes in Drogheda if the Government attempts to move this hospital.

Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital is a centre of excellence in the north east, although Deputy Kirk does not seem to be aware of it as he has called for such a centre to be established. The feasibility study examined some of the issues surrounding the building of a new hospital on the same site or moving it elsewhere. The Health Service Executive owns a 16-acre site within the borough of Drogheda on which the new hospital can be built. If the hospital must be moved from the existing site, this should be the first site considered for the new hospital as it is the best.

Over 52 consultants work in the Health Service Executive, north eastern region, 40 of whom work in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. It is, therefore, clear that Drogheda contains a regional centre of excellence which employs the best and largest number of consultants in the north east. The hospital provides a regional service to the former North Eastern Health Board area and Balbriggan and its hinterland. There is no justification for moving the hospital from Drogheda.

A total of 1,500 people in various grades and occupations are employed by Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. It would not make sense to move these jobs anywhere else. I wish to put a marker down. There will be no votes for the Government in Drogheda and its hinterland if an attempt is made to move Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital from the area in which it is currently situated.

I will be taking the Adjournment on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising this matter as it provides an opportunity to outline to the House the position with regard to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. The Health Service Executive has advised the Department that there are no immediate plans to close Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. I take this opportunity to outline to the House the background to recent media reports.

In 2002, the former North Eastern Health Board established a steering group to oversee an examination of all five acute sites in that region. A project team was appointed for each hospital site, which included members of the medical and nursing staff of each hospital. With regard to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, the steering group decided to commission a site feasibility study, given the particular nature of the site.

Last year, a design team was appointed to establish the feasibility of the site to cater for current priorities and future requirements. The study has now been completed. The Health Service Executive has advised that the conclusions of the study are, given the likely disruption over a prolonged period and the additional costs associated with major development on the current site of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. It is now necessary to examine the costs and benefits of developing hospital services on alternative sites.

With regard to current hospital services, the Department is advised by the Health Service Executive that it is seeking to progress significant interim developments at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. In this regard, developments are proposed in theatres, CSSD, pathology, physical medicine, pharmacy and radiology. The extension and upgrade of the accident and emergency facilities at the hospital is underway and is scheduled to be completed next year.

In conclusion, the findings of the recent feasibility study will help to inform future planning in respect of the development of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. Proposals in this regard must be progressed by the national hospitals office of the Health Service Executive in the context of its development plans for the region.

Industrial Relations.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important matter. I also raised this issue yesterday with the Taoiseach. Earlier this week, Senator Tuffy and I met a large delegation of hauliers and drivers from Roadstone plc. These hauliers and drivers have contracts to deliver concrete blocks from the company's facility in Belgard to construction sites in the Dublin region, including the massive new urban region being constructed in my constituency. More than 25 years ago, Roadstone took a decision to abandon direct employment of drivers and to turn them into self-employed contractors and hauliers. Senior drivers from that era were part of the recent delegation to the Oireachtas that met Labour Party representatives. It now appears, on spurious cost-cutting grounds, the company has bought a fleet of trucks and has brought in a new migrant workforce to drive them. The local workforce now finds that as the days and months go by, its services are requested less and less as the new workers work a six day week. Many of these men have young families, large mortgages and repayments on their vehicles. They are now being placed in a desperate situation. Their valuable experience and local knowledge of the Irish distribution system is effectively being cast aside and they are very fearful for their families' futures. As several of them repeatedly stressed to Senator Tuffy and me, they welcomed the new workers when they arrived and assisted them with directions and so on around Dublin. However, anyone placed in a situation where his livelihood and family is threatened, might feel opposed to the introduction of foreign workers on those grounds.

Mr. Jim Farrell of Roadstone PLC contacted me a few minutes ago and informed me that the new workers are paid Irish wage rates and that they have good conditions and are unionised. Mr. Farrell effectively threatened me not to come into the House and raise this issue. I find that a very sinister development. As Members know, it is our absolute right, given by the electorate, to come into the House and give our opinions about any subject we feel needs to be aired. It is my duty, as it was the duty of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle throughout his long great career, to stand up for the rights of workers who were in difficulties. The fears and concerns of the local workforce I met last Tuesday were palpable. They really believe they are being phased out. The recent Irish Ferries struggle has highlighted the widespread phenomenon of the displacement of Irish workers across the economy, often replaced by lower paid workers from abroad. Besides the maritime and construction areas, we have had similar reports from the hospitality industry, the retail distribution industry and across food processing, fishing and farming.

The Taoiseach, the president of SIPTU and the general secretary of ICTU have all said that if we are to have a new social partnership, we must come up with some approaches to regulating the treatment of our migrant workers to ensure that they get decent wages and conditions and to ensure that there is no simple replacement of experienced, decent, hard working Irish workers by a new workforce, allegedly at lower rates of pay. This must be a key concern in any forthcoming talks in social partnership. I would expect the Minister of State, who is from a similar background to many of us, to take a strong stand to ensure that Irish workers are not treated badly and do not end up fearful for their jobs.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and for taking very seriously the points he made regarding the approaches made to him. Ireland is now part of a closely integrated European labour market. On the occasion of the most recent enlargement of the EU in May 2004, the Government decided that, because of the very buoyant economy and the continuing need for labour force participants from overseas, the Irish labour market should be fully opened to nationals from the new member states. A corollary of this was that the number of new work permits issued for non-EU nationals has been reduced very significantly since EU enlargement. Irish employers are now free to hire personnel from any of the 25 member states and Irish workers are free to seek employment elsewhere in the European Union on the same basis.

This economy remains very buoyant and there are plenty of opportunities here for Irish and other EU workers. We continue to enjoy what is, effectively, full employment. The existence of a large labour market is one factor helping to attract high-quality investment from abroad, which is essential for the continuing modernisation of the economy and the related opportunities for young people coming into the labour market. We already have a comprehensive body of employment rights legislation which has among its objectives the protection of employees against arbitrary behaviour by employers. Usually, one would expect the composition of a workforce to reflect the broad population of the local catchment area, provided appropriate personnel are available for the specific vacancies arising. However, as far as Ireland is concerned there is now an EU labour market and nationals of other member states have the same right and freedom to come and work in Ireland as do Irish nationals. Accordingly, employers can choose to hire such workers without regard to nationality. It is important that this be appreciated.

I view with great concern the potential social implications of the displacement of workers on established conditions in favour of those willing to do the same jobs on much poorer conditions. The Taoiseach is on record as stating that we want to see greater productivity and enhanced competitiveness based on new products and services, up-skilling of staff, new work practices and technological innovation. We do not want to see people building competitive advantage based on poor wages, casualisation of labour, low health and safety standards or other poor compliance practices. EU workers coming to work in Ireland under a contract of employment are covered by EU Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services. These workers have the same protection under Irish employment rights legislation as their Irish counterparts.

However, a recent development, not just confined to Ireland, has occurred whereby workers from Eastern Europe are being recruited on the basis of a contract for service, that is, on a self-employed basis. In such circumstances, Irish legislation protecting employees would not apply, as entitlements under such legislation are based on the premise of an employment relationship between an employee and an employer on a contract of service basis. It may be the case that some hauliers from overseas are on a contract for service, that is, on a self-employed basis, as are some Irish hauliers. Any company in Ireland is free to hire whomever it chooses, be it as an employee on a contract of service or on a sub-contract basis, that is, contract for service. This also applies to Irish personnel. Unless the law is being flouted or unless there are abuses of employment rights, there is no basis for the State to interfere in the affairs of private sector companies or to seek to dictate who they might employ from inside the EU, or the amount of business they might give to sub-contractors.

In the light of what I have said, it is important for all workers coming to Ireland to clarify the status of their employment relationship in Ireland for employment rights, social welfare and taxation purposes. I appreciate that the issues arising here are sensitive in light of recent developments in the economy and consequently are likely to come up for consideration in any forthcoming social partnership talks.

National Drugs Strategy.

Thank you, Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me the opportunity to raise the issue of the resignation of Mr. Fergus McCabe from the National Drugs Strategy team. Mr. McCabe was involved with the foundation of the drugs strategy and the local drugs task forces since I established them, as Minister of State, back in 1996. He has immense experience and the support of the community sector. His enforced resignation is testament to the rift that has developed between the community sector and the statutory agencies and the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern.

When I put the drugs strategy in place in 1996, it was built on the principle of partnership between the community sector and the statutory agencies like the gardaí, the probation service, the health boards, schools and so on. For 30 years before that, the professionals were in charge. For those 30 years, the drugs menace took hold in our communities. When the community sector representatives gave their allegiance, support and active participation to the drugs strategy, we saw the progress that could be made. It is ironic at a time, for example, when cocaine has been linked to the drugs menace cocktail, we should for the first time have a Minister of State who has come into conflict with the community sector. He has followed a course of action that has diminished the influence of the community sector, squeezed out its influence, leading to the resignation of Mr. Fergus McCabe.

We cannot afford this and the Minister of State should know that. I am not arguing that we do not need the involvement of the professionals, far from it, I am merely saying that when the professions were in control over 25 years, we let the drugs menace take hold in this city and it got out of hand. Only when we stopped the exclusion of the community sector did we begin to get a grip on matters and replace conflict with co-operation between the statutory agencies and the community sector. Now all that is threatened by the direction of Government policy being pursued by the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern.

For example, at the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign function yesterday, the organisers who have done so much in this area, as an umbrella for the meeting brought the drug activists together from across the entire city. It was apparent that the emerging needs fund, which has been furnished €1 million by the Minister of State seems to be deliberately designed to diminish the influence of the community sector. It is entirely inadequate, given the emerging needs that we know exist. Clients are being deliberately diverted from community treatment centres to GPs and other arrangements.

In my constituency for example, I am aware there is spare capacity for the first time in some of the community treatment centres, while at the same time clients are being diverted deliberately to GPs and elsewhere. I am aware of a young woman in a wheelchair, for example, who has to travel to what used to be the health board clinic, when she could be accommodated at her adjacent local community treatment centre, where there is a willingness and a track record second to none, in terms of quality, care, understanding of the problem, embeddedness in the community etc.

I do not know why the Minister of State is doing this. I am not here in any partisan or political way. I pay tribute to former Deputy Chris Flood, the man who followed me in that job. Nobody up to the present Minister of State has aggravated the community sector. I do not know why he is doing it, whether he is consciously doing it or does not know he is doing it. After the resignation of Mr. Fergus McCabe he can no longer be unaware of it. I sincerely hope Mr. McCabe's resignation will force a change in direction in Government policy.

I thank Deputy Rabbitte for raising the issue and I acknowledge the contribution that Mr. Fergus McCabe has made through his membership as community representative of the national drugs strategy team. He has been involved, as Deputy Rabbitte said, since the start of the drugs issue. His efforts against drugs misuse over many years have been known and that work is greatly appreciated.

Furthermore, I acknowledge the efforts made by community workers generally, many of them in a voluntary capacity, on the ground over the past ten years or so. That input at local level forms a key part of the Government's overall efforts against the misuse of drugs.

Drug misuse remains a major challenge for us all. The pain and damage arising from it remains a very real and urgent problem in many communities. Work between the statutory agencies and voluntary communities must go on, as it is doing. There are many encouraging signs as well, as I am sure the Deputy recognises, such as drugs seizures, the expansion of treatment services, targeted prevention programmes and the setting up of the regional drugs task forces. There is no room for complacency, however. It might be more relevant to address some of the points made by the Deputy.

I am not threatening partnership in any way. Co-operation between statutory and voluntary groups is a key strategy for what we are trying to do. I am not threatening, neither do I need to, that which I regard as fundamental to the issue. Mr. McCabe indicated some months ago that he wanted to resign. It may be that he wants to move on or wishes to reduce his involvement which has been considerable over the years. That is a matter for Mr. McCabe. The task forces, however, are doing great work locally.

It is important to emphasise that since Deputy Rabbitte set up the project in 1997, about €200 million has been allocated to support the work. There are a couple of hundred community based projects operating under the young people's services funds. As regards the professionals being in charge, there are 600 staff working in this area. In Deputy Rabbitte's early days, I do not believe he ever dreamt that 600 people would be employed under programmes that started through his original plan. Whether one calls them professional they are performing a key role.

The emerging needs fund was proposed last year to deal with emerging need". Suddenly it has been blown up into a major "round tree" and all sorts of plans have been submitted. Some people do not like the fact that while €1 million was proposed, €9 million worth of projects are being advanced. We cannot meet all those in the short term.

However, there is no breach of trust or partnership whatsoever. I very much want to continue to work as we have been doing. I accept that a campaign has started, for what reason, frankly, I do not know. As regards some of the issues the Deputy spoke about concerning treatment in community clinics, if there are other underlying issues to do with the HSE I would like to have them documented. From the Department's and my viewpoint, however, I very much believe in working with the community. The work we are doing with the local drugs task forces and now the regional drugs task force is important. I hope we can get matters back on the road.

People are talking about cutbacks and all sorts of nonsense. This year the funding for the drugs area was increased by 18%. The preliminary figure for next year is for another 8% increase. When the Revised Estimates are done in January I am confident there will be extra money. However, just because there is an 18% increase in one year does not necessarily mean that this can be matched every year. There is a limit to what can be spent, regardless of whether the country is doing well. I accept that the ambitions of some people on the emerging needs fund has been blown out of all proportions. However, I am confident that we will be able to meet a number of the good projects that have come forward, though not necessarily all of them. Many of the suggestions do not relate to emerging needs. They reflect people wanting more and more for different programmes. That was not the intention and we cannot do that.. Nonetheless, I am very hopeful we will be able to fund many of the ideas coming forward to meet the emerging needs that exist.

Climate Change.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue of major historical importance, namely, the agreement that was reached last Saturday in Montreal under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the outset I warmly welcome that historic agreement, which will be seen in time to be enormously significant in the development of this issue.

I hope the Government's understanding of the agreement will be outlined in the Minister of State's reply. My understanding is that, in a sense, it sets the signatories to the Kyoto Agreement, particularly the developed countries, including Ireland, on a path towards reviewing what deep cuts may be made in emissions in advance of the ending of the Kyoto provisions in 2012, to allow for a seamless transition, so this country can provide a lead internationally for the effective change.

Perhaps the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, will dust down our Climate Change Targets Bill as it provides an outline framework for a gradual, measured and targeted response to that task that must now be undertaken.

It was remarkable to see the Minister go on what can only be described as a rant during a public debate where he lost his own composure and stated that our proposals were madness. However, we proposed the very thing that he had agreed to as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the European Council. This included cuts of 60% to 80% by 2050 and cuts of 15% to 30% by 2020. The European Environment Ministers, of whom he is one, had recommended these measures and that is all we sought. He became agitated and ill-tempered about that proposal.

A 15% to 30% reduction by 2020 is recommended. Under this Government, Ireland is likely to be 30% above our 1990 levels by 2012. This calls for huge requirements for change and for preparation to begin now. Is this the direction the Government will take as part of the international agreement?

I will cite the reasons the Minister, Deputy Roche's reaction was so off the mark, to put it charitably. The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, has responsibility for housing and he will recognise that some of the major changes in reduction of emissions will take place in the housing sector. The heating of houses accounts for 40% of the total CO2 emissions.

I will cite two examples to demonstrate to the House the positive opportunities and the huge economic advantages to be gained from moving towards this new low carbon future. Our colleagues in Fingal County Council, Councillors David Healy, Robert Kelly and Joe Corr, have succeeded in getting Fingal County Council to stitch into local development plans a requirement that any new buildings built under such plans should have a 50 KW heat requirement per square metre and that 30% of the heat should be provided by renewable sources. The Minister of State has a knowledge of heating and maths so he will know that the average suburban house size of 150 sq.m. with such a high energy standard efficiency would have a gas fired heating bill of €225. This is a dramatic reduction in the cost paid under the current regulations. There would also be a dramatic cut in emissions. This is a positive, good news story which will provide jobs and save money for people.

It is remarkable the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not regard a cut in emissions as a positive news story. The Danish Government has agreed an energy savings initiative with dramatic reductions in emissions. The Danes are setting up what should be done in Ireland, a one-stop shop for the insulation of houses. A standard package for a house built in the 1920s costs €21,000. This investment in insulation and energy efficiency will lead to a 47% reduction in emissions from the house, which is almost half the emissions. The other good news story is that the householders are repaid over a period of 30 years. They will have paid off the loan for the investment of €21,000 and will receive a payback of €53,000. This is an example of positive measures that can be undertaken to halve our carbon emissions without any difficulty and without the need to resort to new technology. This is the action to be adopted in the spirit of the Montreal agreement which will be seen as an historic step in the right direction.

The UN climate change conference concluded last week in Montreal. The Minister, Deputy Roche, and the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, represented the Government and Ireland also had an important role in the EU negotiating team throughout the conference. There is general agreement that the success of the conference is a significant milestone in the effort to tackle global warming. The Canadian Minister for the Environment, who chaired the meeting, defined the objectives in terms of implementing, improving and innovating, and the consensus is that all three objectives were achieved. The Minister wishes to pay tribute to the Canadian Government for the efficient manner in which the conference was conducted.

There were three substantial outcomes to the conference. The first set of agreements relate to the operation of the Kyoto Protocol during the commitment period from 2008 to 2012. The rule book for the protocol, known as the Marrakesh Accords, was formally adopted and a separate compliance regime was agreed to ensure that parties meet their commitments under the protocol. Second, there was agreement to begin consideration of post-2012 commitments for parties who have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and these countries will commence this process in May next year. Third, there was agreement to discussions among all countries, including those who are not party to the protocol, on longer-term co-operative action to address climate change. A dialogue will take place under the aegis of the convention to explore the broad range of actions needed to respond to the climate change challenge. The agreements reached in Montreal provide the framework for further detailed discussions on a concerted global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While it is premature to speculate on the eventual outcomes of these discussions, the Irish Government will play its part both in formulating a post-2012 agreement and in delivering whatever action is agreed. Ireland currently has a target to limit growth in greenhouse gas emissions to 13% above 1990 levels by 2012. This target has been established in negotiations with our EU partners and in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol.

Ireland is working to achieve this target in three ways. First, following a review of the implementation of the national climate change strategy, the Government will bring forward further measures to secure reductions across the rest of the economy.

When will that happen?

Second, a proportion of the required reduction will be allocated to Irish participants in the EU emissions trading scheme. Third, the Government will avail of the mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol, which allow it to meet part of its obligation by purchasing credits for carbon reductions elsewhere in the world.

When will the review take place?

This is a sensible approach to take given the target that Ireland must achieve and having regard to the guiding principles of the national climate change strategy to promote sustainable development, to ensure sectoral equity and to protect economic development and competitiveness.

Ireland, like its fellow EU member states, remains committed to meeting its greenhouse gas emission reduction target in the period 2008 to 2012 and supports the EU position on the need for further action at a global level post-2012. Ireland recognises that the Kyoto Protocol was only a first step, albeit very important one, in addressing global climate change, and the task of achieving the ultimate objective of the convention remains in place and is becoming increasingly urgent. It is encouraging that all participants in Montreal, including those countries who have been noted for their vehement opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, have accepted that they have a responsibility to engage in real discussions about the way forward.

I note Deputy Eamon Ryan's comments and I will relate them directly to the Ministers who attended the conference. They left me at home on this occasion.