Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 7 Feb 2007

Vol. 631 No. 1

Leaders’ Questions.

Prior to the 2002 general election, the Taoiseach and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs promised that a CAT scanner would be delivered to hospitals in Dundalk and Monaghan. On my way here this morning, a pedestrian handed me a copy of the Daily Mail, which has a front page picture of boxes containing a CAT scanner in a laundry room in the hospital in Dundalk. Is this the delivery of the world class health service that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs committed to provide the good people of Dundalk in 2002?

I understand the HSE has now indicated that this machine will be operational in the hospital in approximately a month. It is time to take stock of the effort made by the voluntary fundraising committee there. I will wait until the Minister for Foreign Affairs finishes his briefing. Has the Minister told the Taoiseach the answer to the question?

He was not happy. He would have it done.

I am providing the correct details. The Deputy is ill-informed.


Is it a washing machine?

If I am ill-informed about a matter as serious as this——

The Deputy is ill-informed.

——I assume the Taoiseach will give us the answer when he replies to the question.

He has a much better source than the Daily Mail.

Prior to the 2002 general election, both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs committed themselves to delivering the CAT scanner but it now lies in a laundry room in the hospital in Dundalk. Humidity may well affect it.

The Minister is off again.

There are further briefings from the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The medical experts.

The newspaper asks what is going on and I would like to know the answer. People in Dundalk raised €350,000.

He is at it again.

A further briefing.

Perhaps the Minister would like to take the Order of Business.

He is correcting the Deputy.

I am sure he would.

Deputy Kenny's time is concluded.

The Deputy is pathetic. It is a good story and Deputy Kenny is trying to ruin it.

If the Minister for Foreign Affairs has finished briefing the Taoiseach, I will continue.

Deputy Kenny, without interruption.

The Minister should stand up.

He is making a point.

People in Dundalk raised €350,000 voluntarily for the delivery and service of this CAT scanner. However, people in Dundalk are now travelling 20 miles to Drogheda to an overworked system for X-rays. We have been told by the Government that the service will be up and running in less than 12 months.

Mr. Finbar Fitzpatrick is sending texts to the Deputy.

The Deputy is part of a tabloid party.

I would like to know from the Taoiseach and on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs what is going on. Is this the delivery of the promise made by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs? A CAT scanner worth €1 million is in a laundry room in the hospital in Dundalk when people are queuing for necessary treatment. People have to travel to Drogheda to a system that is already clearly overworked.

The Deputy's time is concluded.

What is going on in view of this presentation of another promise by the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government?

A tabloid party.

The Minister's party is all washed up.

Allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

A tabloid party.


Does the Minister know what zero means?

I request Ministers and Members on the Opposition benches to allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

A tabloid leader of a tabloid party.

The Government is investing €10 million in Louth County Hospital in Dundalk, with two theatres and significant other facilities going in there. It is all very good for the patients and community in County Louth. There was no issue about 2002 and the Minister for Foreign Affairs was informing me of the fundraising committee set up two years ago. I acknowledge the €350,000 raised by the excellent members of that committee and everybody who supported them.

The CAT scanner cost €2 million and was delivered in November. It requires work totalling approximately €700,000 before installation. The work, involving an electrical upgrade, is under way and the scanner will be fully installed next month.

Will it be in before the election?

Will it be installed before the election?

That would depend on when the election will be.

It will be obsolete.

The Taoiseach, without interruption.

The CAT scanner will be operational next month.

Before the election.

That is a promise.

I have no doubt the excellent report in this morning's newspaper will be repeated tomorrow with the same headline, giving the facts.

Hear, hear.

I thank the Taoiseach for clarifying the extent of the required upgrade and the electrical rewiring that must take place. This exemplifies that there appears to be no synchronised plan at all for the training of staff or for the delivery of the dates of service. Neither is there any cohesion in terms of the approach to the management of trauma in this or other hospitals.

The Taoiseach has stated the scanner will be operational within a month, or 7 March. Will he confirm that the necessary staff are in place to run the service? I understand there is a shortage of approximately 15 to 20 radiographers in the Dundalk hospital, so are these people in place or have they been trained? I understand at least three consultant radiologists are required for 24-hour cover seven days a week. Are these people in situ to provide the service by 7 March? I understand that anaesthetic cover and nursing cover is also needed. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the necessary staff are in place to provide the service by 7 March, the date, he has stated, this machine will be operational? It appears as if the delivery of the promise, in so far as the purchase of the equipment is concerned, is the easiest part. That is what the Government has been doing for the past ten years in spending €60 billion, much of which was wasted, and now a €2 million machine lies idle in a laundry room.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that the training, the cohesion, the radiologists, the 15 to 20 radiographers, the anaesthetic cover and the nursing cover have been put in place to provide 24-hour cover seven days a week for the people of Dundalk and that part of the north east who have been obstructed and given an inferior service for so long, not only in this area but in others?

When the Taoiseach is at it, he should tell us about the Monaghan CT scanner.

Is Deputy Crawford a leader?

If we had not provided the €2 million for equipment or the €10 million for the new facilities, that would have been a reasonable argument. I acknowledge the work of the local fundraising committee that raised €350,000. Given that the Government paid fully for the CT scanner machine, the money raised has been used for ultrasound equipment. A CT scanner is a sophisticated and highly specialised machine.

It is in the laundry room.

A Deputy

Like the Government.

If Deputies want to raise serious issues and are in any way interested in the patients in Dundalk, they should at least listen to the facts. If they are merely interested in playing tabloid headlines, that is all right too and there is no point in me answering. If Deputies want information for the people in County Louth, they should at least listen to the facts.

The work was necessary. The CT scanner obviously cannot be brought in and plugged into a wall. A sum of €700,000 was required for necessary work. A committee within the area was set up to look at all the aspects of purchasing a CT scanner and it will be commissioned by March 2007 — I did not state or ask for a specific date. It will be up and running afterwards.

The HSE worked out the agreement and it took some time, as is always the case, to decide the staffing levels required. Those negotiations are finished. Deputy Kenny referred to 24-hour cover seven days a week. I do not wish that our machines worked 24-7 because that would be unreasonable but, as the Deputy will be aware, one of the issues with reform of the health service is that we want to extend the hours in which sophisticated machinery works. Whatever hours are settled on, the matter has been agreed.

In reply to Deputy Kenny's question, €10 million is being invested in Dundalk hospital, we purchased a €2 million CT scanner, €700,000 of electrical work is under way and is to be finished next month, the staff is in place for whatever was agreed between the HSE and the local management for the running of it and it will be operational shortly after it is fully installed in March.

I want to ask the Taoiseach two or three straightforward questions about the nurses' dispute. I read in the newspapers this morning that more Government backbenchers believe that they are likely to lose their seats than otherwise because of the manner of the handling of this dispute. Up and down the country the Taoiseach will have encountered the widespread and acute concern about the state of the health services and the hospitals crisis in particular. I think he will agree that whoever is responsible for the shambles that is the health service, it is not the front-line nurses. Why are these front-line staff so alienated from the social partnership system? Will the Taoiseach give the statistics a miss this morning and say what is Government policy on this issue? Does the Taoiseach support the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, or his backbenchers who want to see the talks convened as soon as possible?

He supports both. He should give up.

In particular, does the Government require the nurses' unions to resolve this matter through the benchmarking process? Is that the only process open to them? If there is an alternative route, will the Taoiseach tell the House what it is?

On the particular claims, does the Taoiseach accept that his friends, the builders, are the people mainly responsible for driving nurses to industrial action because they can no longer afford to live in this city and in parts of the country? What is the Government's attitude towards providing a Dublin allowance for the nurses concerned?

My colleagues on the Fianna Fáil backbenches are entitled, when they receive representations from interest groups, to report what those groups have said to them, and they did no more than that. They raised no criticism whatsoever of the Minister for Health and Children, me or the Minister for Finance, who outlined Government policy in this area. There is not a different viewpoint from the Minister for Health and Children, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. Our stated position has been the same throughout the negotiations on this issue.

In my capacity as Leader of Fianna Fáil, I met both the INO and the Psychiatric Nurses Association, as requested, to explain the position and try to help them in the difficulties. The Minister, Deputy Harney, has been in negotiations for a number of months and is doing everything she can to help the nurses. There is no criticism whatsoever of the efforts made——

They thought the Taoiseach would back their claim.

Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

——nor has there been criticism from any of my colleagues of the Minister, Deputy Harney.

The position with the nurses is that there have been long negotiations. I have no time to go into the matter in detail, but the INO and the PNA state that they have neither accepted nor rejected the Labour Court recommendation, which urged both unions to progress their claims through benchmarking. They have left the position in limbo. The other unions have accepted the social partnership process.

The INO and the PNA have put forward a lengthy number of claims which more recently seem to boil down to two issues. Both of those issues are extremely costly on the Exchequer. With their knock-on effect, the cost would range from between €500 million and €1 billion. Deputy Rabbitte will accept that nobody can negotiate on that basis.

The Deputy asked what is our position. There is no doubt about the major contribution which nurses make to the health care system. Neither is there any doubt about the Government's commitment to ensuring that nurses are paid properly and fairly for the work they do. We recognise that there are issues of concern to nurses and that they perceive that there are significant inequities in their current position. They have highlighted what those issues are to the HSE and to the negotiating body. I have acknowledged, as has the Minister for Health and Children, that these problems must be addressed. How they are addressed is the only issue in contention.

They have been through the Labour Court process. Nurses form a significant part of the public service workforce and, as in all the discussions on public service pay since 1946, these issues are taken together. We have agreed a basis on which pay and conditions for the public service as a whole should be managed and we have created the benchmarking body precisely to provide an objective means of assessing whether particular groups or professions are properly dealt with. The benchmarking body is due to report in the second half of the year and is in a position to review the problems and anomalies the nursing profession feels strongly about.

Regarding the general pay issue, an increase of 10% is available to nurses represented by the Irish Nurses Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses Association under the terms of Towards 2016. The nurses have refused to sign up to the terms of that agreement, which applies across the entire public service and the private sector. This is the only reason they have not received their first phase increase, as all the other public servants have. Our position on the point made by the INO has been effectively endorsed in detail by the Labour Court. I always agree with the Labour Court, irrespective of whether it suits the Government, and that is the position I take. Members will understand that, apart from the issue of public service pay, setting aside Labour Court recommendations on crucial issues is not a sensible path to follow.

The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, and I have tried to do everything we can to help. We have pointed out to the nurses' unions how they should deal with this issue, as has the Labour Court, and I have explained this to them in our recent discussions.

The Taoiseach has described for the House the role of his backbenchers as messengers and postmen and he has described how the benchmarking process works and what it was set up to do. He has also told us he has met the nurses and sympathises with them. We have all met the nurses and we all have admiration for the work they do. I am trying to establish what the Government's policy is on the resolution of this dispute. When the Taoiseach says he always adopts Labour Court recommendations is he saying benchmarking is the only way forward in terms of resolving this dispute? I think that is a straightforward question. The nurses want an answer to this as do we on this side of the House.

The Taoiseach has avoided the issue of runaway house prices that has led to unrest in many areas among middle and low income workers. He may set this matter aside if he wishes but I will put my question again. Is the Taoiseach saying, in line with requests from backbenchers and the Committee on Health and Children, that the Health Service Executive, HSE, should sit down and do business with the nurses or is he saying this can only be done through the benchmarking process? I will not get a second chance to speak on this matter and the question is straightforward. Is the Taoiseach saying to the nurses of Ireland that their dispute can be resolved, but only through the benchmarking process?

I met the nurses' groups in recent weeks and the leaders of both organisations were there, so they know the answer.

Can the Taoiseach give us the answer?

Tell us.

Tell us.

I will answer Deputy Rabbitte as he asked me the question. I informed the nurses of the position when I met them. They did not ask me to tailor future pay increases based on house prices around Ireland, for example giving greater increases where house prices are higher, so we should stop trying to raise such nonsense.

The position is that the Minister for Health and Children wrote to the INO and PNA on 22 December, setting out the Government's viewpoint, suggesting an exploratory meeting between officials from the two unions in the context of the Labour Court's recommendations. That meeting was held on 19 January and the management side confirmed the acceptance of those recommendations and its willingness to hold discussions on the claim for reduced working hours, as recommended by the court.

The Labour Court pointed out in its recommendation that, over and above the matter of pay which was properly covered in Towards 2016 and must be dealt with through benchmarking, engagement on a broad basis should be conducted to enable issues such as the length of the working week to be addressed on a sustainable basis. I want to emphasise that the Government is fully prepared to engage in those discussions.

In recent weeks quite a number of people have visited my clinics to complain about the fact that they are living in houses built to a standard that leaves them quite cold and having to use a lot of gas, electric and open fires. I said I would raise the question with the Taoiseach and I have many examples.

A man in Balbriggan occupies one of eight apartments, all of which use whatever heating can be found because it is constantly cold there. Residents from Ballymun tell me they have moved into brand new houses which are not just cold but damp with mould growing on the walls. Their children are getting sick and the dwellings are generally badly built.

Given the number of people waking up to cold houses, especially in this weather, will the Taoiseach take action on the failure to meet building standards? Last Sunday's edition of The Sunday Tribune stated 98% of houses built in this country fail to meet the Government’s minimum standards on insulation and heat loss. One wonders whether the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway races is better insulated than some of these houses.

We have solar panels.

It is interesting to hear the expertise from beside the Taoiseach on the front bench. Why has there not been a single prosecution under this Government for the massive failure to implement its own minimum insulation standards for house building? As far as the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is aware there has not been a prosecution of any builder, architect or engineer. The Government has no facts on what local authorities are doing in this regard. Will the Taoiseach apologise to the people of this country forced to live in housing that is not built to the standard set down by his Government? Does he agree that houses should be insulated to a far higher standard and what will he do about the implementation of Part L of the building regulations?

It was -3° Celsius at 9 a.m. today; anyone in substandard housing will be in great difficulty in this weather and we all wish to see the situation improved in such circumstances. Having said that, legislation, such as the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and several other Bills we have had here in the past 20 years, have all sought to improve building insulation standards and I think standards have improved dramatically, particularly in local authority houses.

I am talking about enforcement.

The implementation of existing legislation and related prosecutions are matters for the local authorities. This is not something that relates to central Government. There is a new EU energy directive and a Building Control Bill that Deputy Quinn asked me to complete and these will further improve standards of insulation.

The Taoiseach relaxed the standards by a further two years.

They will improve standards of insulation. Resources have been made available in recent years to help local authorities with old people's homes, with insulation grants and energy efficiency grants. Perhaps the Deputy is suggesting this is not enough.

I am not alone in suggesting that is not enough.

The figure of 2% is a bit low.

In fairness, as I understand, the standard of building regulations in this country is high.

A 98% failure represents a dreadful record.

The standard of most houses built in this country in the past 20 years——

They do not comply.

We do not even know if they do.

They are built to high standards. Older houses——

They are new.

New houses.

Who is the leader of the Green Party?

There are four of them.

I believe the Ceann Comhairle knows.

Joint leadership.

It is a collective.

Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

There are four of them.

That is a touchy subject.

Deputy Dermot Ahern wants to be leader.


If Deputy Sargent is asking me to enforce the existing regulations, he should note it is a matter for the local authority. If he is saying the existing regulations are not sufficiently strong, that is another matter. To the best of my knowledge, the only legislative change I know in the area of energy efficiency was put in place by the European Union.

What about an inspectorate?

We have not implemented it. The local authorities are responsible for inspecting in each area.

There are two for the whole city of Cork.

I am sorry to say that response was absolutely pathetic. Not only did not we not receive an apology for the failure or an acknowledgement that 98% is an absolutely abject failure in terms of the flouting of energy rules——

That is not true.

Ninety-eight percent of what?

New homes.

New homes under Part L. These are the Taoiseach's own standards.

It is appalling that in the past ten years——

Who measured that?

That is not factual.


A State agency.

If the Taoiseach does his homework, he will certainly find that, according to Sustainable Energy Ireland, he is not complying.

The street credibility of the Taoiseach and Government is not great on energy performance. The energy performance directive should have been implemented in January 2006 but the Government has said it wants more time, until 2009. There has been much lobbying by the hollow block manufacturers and construction industry to try to ensure that feet are dragged for as long as possible to prevent compliance with the standards.

That is not true.

Meanwhile, local authorities — it seems the Taoiseach does not even know what they are doing——

Prove it.

Fingal, Wicklow and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councils are exceeding the Government's minimum standards, with which it is not even complying, and insisting that there be higher standards because of the need for energy insulation in addressing climate change, quality of life, the cost of living and many other issues. Given the Taoiseach's record, which is appalling, and his belief that circumstances should be better——

The Deputy's time has concluded.

It is important that the Taoiseach answer——

Facts are important also.

——why the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is saying to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council that the Department's own system should be introduced in January 2007 as it provides a better basis for expressing the required performance of buildings and that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's proposed targets are quite onerous. It is suggesting one should not go there.

If the Taoiseach is actually asking local authorities not to install proper energy insulation, he has got some answering to do.

It is not what we are saying.

Not only are people freezing in their homes and not only will climate change cost this country dearly, the Taoiseach is seeking to prevent local authorities from improving the standards. He must answer for this. Why is he preventing the introduction of higher standards by local authorities?

It is disgraceful.

The same authorities made a mess of the register.

There are building standards and legislation, and the legislation should be implemented. If people want to go beyond that, it is another matter.

Local authorities are the bodies that arbitrate in these matters in their own areas and they cannot be stopped. It is a function——

The Department is trying to stop them.

I am not coming in here to answer for Fingal, Kerry or Wexford county councils.

The Taoiseach should answer for himself.

There are standards and they should be implemented.

Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.


Let the truth seep through.

Deputy Sargent should raise a question with the line Minister.

Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

Deputy Sargent should stick to the truth for a change.

I ask the Minister to allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government——

The Deputy is deliberately misleading the House.


Please, Deputy Sargent. The Deputy should control the three Members around him also.

I have good reason to be angry.

He is jumping out of his seat.

They are the same crowd that made a mess of the register of electors.

I do not want to argue unnecessarily with Deputy Sargent but he knows himself that it is nonsense to quote figures such as the statistic that 98% of houses in the State are cold or below standard. He knows it is not factual.

It is the truth.

It is not the truth.

The Taoiseach without interruption.

It is entirely——

The Taoiseach should read the report.

Did the Deputy write that himself?

I did not write it myself.

He should not be showing me authority facts.

The truth hurts.

If Deputy Sargent is saying 98% of the new houses built in this country are in breach of the existing guidelines, it is not true.

That is the result of a study.

It is true.

It is another study of ten houses picked by the Deputy himself.

I ask Deputy Sargent to be quiet. He had his opportunity and he went well over the time allotted to him. He cannot take up the Taoiseach's time also. This is a democratic Assembly and the Taoiseach is entitled to be heard.

Every time we check a figure thrown up by Deputy Sargent, we find it has no basis, is not factual and does not stand up in any area of the city.

Who did the Taoiseach ask?

Both local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government bear this out. When we check the figures to determine their basis, there is never a basis.


The Deputy should be very careful.

I ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

There are standards and legislation and local authorities arbitrate on these and carry out the inspections. I concede that the standards and specifications of the local authorities are very high. When people seek mortgages, clearings or valuation certificates, the issues in question are checked. The standards are high but not so high in some of the old properties.

The Government has given money for both senior citizens' accommodation and local authority accommodation to improve the standards. We have given money to Energy Ireland and have invested considerable resources to make the grants available. If in the new European directive there are even higher standards, I concede we should move on them.

The Taoiseach's Minister is saying "No".

The Deputy should tell the truth.

The Minister said it.

It was the Minister.

The Deputy is making it up.

The Deputy should not be saying 98% of all new houses in the State are insufficient in this regard — it is nonsense.


That is the crowd that made a mess of the register of electors.

That concludes Leaders' Questions. We will move on to questions to the Taoiseach.

Gulliver's travels.