We have 30 minutes for questions on promised legislation. I ask Members to consider their colleagues, not me, because the time will be up in 30 minutes. We have a long list of speakers from yesterday to whom I have given a commitment and again today. I urge Members to preface their remarks with a reference to the item of promised legislation or aspect of the programme for Government they wish to raise.
Questions on Promised Legislation
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the Finance Bill which I understand is due to be published tomorrow. I understand the Cabinet considered it today. One issue which has drawn quite an amount of attention is the increase in the rate of non-residential stamp duty from 2% to 6% and concerns about its impact on the farming community and farm transfers, in particular, within a family. Issues have been raised about consanguinity relief and also about the young trained farmer's exemption. Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the Bill to be published tomorrow will address any of these concerns and provide for changes to what was announced on budget day?
We had a vote on budget night and Deputy Michael McGrath voted against.
The Cabinet met this morning and approved the publication-----
It is another case of brass neck.
We did not vote on the issue at all. The Deputy must have been on the wine.
Members should, please, be quiet. This question is to be answered by the Taoiseach.
The Cabinet met this morning and agreed to the Finance Bill which will be published tomorrow. It was agreed to make a further change to taxation for farmers on consanguinity relief, to remove the age limit for a period of time to encourage and facilitate the intergenerational transfer of land within families from older to younger farmers. That was agreed to this morning and the Bill will be published tomorrow.
I wish to refer to the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill which was passed this morning and, in that context, to the Government's commitment to support victims. Two years ago this month Garda Tony Golden was murdered in Omeath. Siobhán Phillips was grievously wounded and Crevan Mackin took his own life. I wrote to the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, four times. I also spoke to him a number of times about the case. I wrote eight times to the Tánaiste, who was Minister for Justice and Equality at the time. I also spoke to her on many occasions. I gave information to the senior Garda officer who was investigating the case. I also wrote to GSOC. I wrote to the Taoiseach in July about the concerns of the Phillips family about the response of the Government to its demand for a public inquiry, but I received no reply. I wrote again two weeks ago and also received no reply. Seán Phillips, father of Siobhán, will be in the AV room today at 4.30 p.m. to brief Oireachtas Members on the case. In the context of victims and their treatment by the State, I urge Teachtaí to attend. When does the Taoiseach expect the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill to be commenced and when will he answer my letters?
I might be of help to the Deputy in this case. I acknowledge receipt of his correspondence which will be replied to at the earliest opportunity. He is aware that two independent investigations are under way, one in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I assure him there will be no delay in having the investigations completed. I expect to receive an early report on completion of the investigations and we will then see what action is warranted in the circumstances. I acknowledge the seriousness of certain matters surrounding the issue. I again assure the Deputy that there will be no delay in having the matters investigated and reaching a satisfactory conclusion. As far as the victims of crime legislation is concerned, it was under deliberation prior to Leaders' Questions at 12 noon. Amendments made in the Seanad have been approved by the Dáil and the Bill has been returned to the Seanad for a brief debate. With the co-operation of all parties in this House, I expect to have the legislation completed in a matter of days and duly commenced at the earliest opportunity.
What about the failure to answer letters?
That question is to the Taoiseach, not the Minister for Justice and Equality.
I assure Deputy Gerry Adams that the subject matter of his correspondence is being fully addressed.
I am asking about the letters to the Taoiseach.
I will ensure the Deputy will receive a reply.
More than a year has passed since the Dáil accepted on Second Stage my Bill to outlaw rogue crisis pregnancy agencies. In March 2017 officials of the Department of Health met representatives of the Labour Party and gave a firm commitment to consider an alternative approach, namely, the regulation of all counsellors giving advice on pregnancies. The regulations were to be placed before the Dáil before the summer recess, but nothing has happened since. I have raised this matter on a couple of occasions in the meantime and it has been referred to the Minister for Health, but nothing concrete has happened. Last week the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment heard further evidence of the ongoing abuse by some individuals purporting to give independent counselling advice. When will this matter be addressed and when will we see the regulations that we were promised?
I know that this issue is of real importance to the Deputy and that he has raised it on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, I do not have an update for him since he last raised the issue, but I will ask the Minister for Health to provide an update for both of us. I think everyone in the House agrees that we want to ensure women who are experiencing a crisis pregnancy will receive the best possible counselling available, that it will come from proper counsellors and that it will be non-directive in nature.
Road safety for all users is an important part of the programme for Government. However, trees are growing out of control along every roadside and leaves are falling into and blocking drains.
Landowners and farmers should get assistance to clear these trees because clearly it is not safe for anyone to go out on the road to cut trees or clear the sides of the roads.
What is the relevant promised legislation?
It is in the programme for Government. It relates to safety for all road users, and we cannot achieve that. We saw what happened last Monday. Moreover, whole rivers are flowing onto roads in times of flood because the rivers have not been cleaned out. I call on the Taoiseach to address these important road safety issues to ensure the safety of all our road users.
Taoiseach, please respond if the issues are in the programme for Government.
This is an important issue but it is principally an issue for local authorities, or councils. As I indicated yesterday, I will ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to take it up with county and city chief executives as part of his regular engagement with them to see what can be done to remove potentially dangerous trees.
The programme for Government commits to the next generation protecting and enriching our young people. Bearing this in mind, I raised this issue with the Taoiseach last year when he was Minister for Social Protection. I wonder whether the Taoiseach can commit to extending child benefit to children who are over 17 years of age and who remain in full-time second level education. This is a big issue for families. It is an expensive year – it is normally leaving certificate year. Obviously, it would be very positive if child benefit could be extended to children who are over 17 years of age while they remain in full-time second level education.
I have spoken to the Deputy about this before. I think it would be something that would be nice to do. It would be nice to extend child benefit to people who are 18 years of age and still in education. However, when it comes to the social protection budget, we have to prioritise. Obviously, providing another year or two years of child benefit to people who are 18 or 19 years of age would be extremely costly. We have to prioritise. When it comes to supporting children and young adults, the major ways to do this include ensuring that there is no increase in college registration fees and targeted measures, such as increasing the family income supplement and the dependent child payment, which we have done in this budget. It is like many things: it is something that would be really nice to do, but there are other priorities at the moment.
I would like to start by thanking the emergency services, the councils and the ESB.
We are dealing with the programme for Government.
It would be under health and safety, I suppose. I thank them all for their excellent work in recent days.
In west Cork along the coastline we had a storm with winds reaching a peak of 190 km/h and waves at 50 ft high. Fishing equipment has been severely damaged and lost, such as pots and so on. It cannot be insured. Will there be a replacement compensation package put in place for these fishermen, who have lost equipment worth tens of thousands of euro?
Is it in the programme for Government or promised legislation?
I would have to ask the line Minister to come back to the Deputy on that. There is nothing promised in legislation or the programme for Government.
The programme for Government refers to road projects being done. It also refers to Transport Infrastructure Ireland being encouraged to plan other road projects to complement the national Action Plan for Jobs. Is there any plan to upgrade the N2? There was always a plan to build a dual carriageway between Dublin and Donegal going through the Border and which would include the Slane bypass. In my constituency of Meath East, in particular, there are severe traffic problems every morning for commuters getting into Dublin. This is leading to dangerous rat runs on other roads and causing danger to schools. Is the N2 on the Government list for the capital plan? Is TII working on any other road projects like the N2, as is referenced in the programme for Government?
These are really matters for the ten-year capital plan, which we hope to have published by the end of the year.
On Monday night the Spanish high court jailed without bail two Catalan civil society leaders. They are being prosecuted for organising peaceful demonstrations in the run-up to the 1 October independence referendum. This is totally reprehensible and a serious escalation of the Spanish state's clampdown on the Catalan people. As the Bills that had been scheduled for today have been cleared, I call on the Government to make provision for a debate. Sinn Féin has written to the Business Committee asking for statements to be allowed on this serious and escalating matter to be held this evening. I appeal to the Government to make provision for such a debate this evening. I am also seeking a response from the Taoiseach as to whether he will condemn these actions by the Spanish state.
The Government view on this is that the way in which issues in respect of Catalonia are being dealt with by the Spanish Government must happen within the law, within Spanish law. While there is significant tension in respect of these issues, we have repeatedly said that we want to encourage sides towards dialogue to reduce tension. That is where the focus should be. This is primarily an issue for a sovereign member state within the European Union to behave within the law and the Spanish Constitution. This is the approach we have taken and we will stick with it.
My question relates to the programme for Government. As the Taoiseach knows, phenylketonuria is where sufferers carry a gene that inhibits them from breaking down the protein. The inability to break down the protein and the resulting build-up of it in the brain to toxic levels can lead to brain damage, seizures and behavioural problems. Kuvan is the only treatment available for PKU, but it was recently rejected as a candidate for funding by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics. In The Kerryman today, I read about the Quilter family from Lixnaw, County Kerry. The daughter, Maeve, who is only 11 years of age, is a PKU sufferer. This drug would help her and many more. What does the Taoiseach propose to do to help those who are suffering from this rare disorder, especially the young children?
The programme for Government refers to breakthrough treatments, the availability of new drugs and their cost. The previous Deputy mentioned that Kuvan is the only treatment for PKU, a disease that is prevalent in Ireland. Ireland has the highest incidence in the world at one in 4,500. Many countries throughout Europe have already approved this drug for supply. We have not done it here because it has failed the NCPE test on two occasions, in 2009 and 2017. This is largely because for orphan drugs and rare diseases our system is in effect, or would appear to be, designed to fail and such drugs have no chance.
Will the Government approve the provision of Kuvan for sufferers of PKU? Will the Government immediately reform the approach taken by the State to rare diseases? Will the Government amend the current assessment processes? They would appear to be designed to fail and do not take adequate cognisance of the benefits of these important treatments for patients.
The Government does not decide which medicines are reimbursed and which ones are not. There is a process in place to do that involving the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics and the HSE. The decisions are based on objective criteria. To date, there have been two applications for reimbursement. It was determined by the medical, clinical and economic experts that this particular medicine was not sufficiently effective at the cost proposed.
In the programme for Government a specific commitment was given to support small and medium-sized enterprises in Ireland. The volume of imported cars from the UK has risen from 45,000 in 2015 to 69,000 in 2016 and will reach a projected 92,000 in 2017. In other words, there has been a 100% increase from 2015 to 2017. This is having a significant effect on the second-hand car market and a knock-on effect on the new car market. What are the Taoiseach and, in particular, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, doing to combat this serious issue?
This largely relates to current currency fluctuations. That is why more people are importing cars from the UK rather than purchasing them here in Ireland. We have no specific proposals to deal with it at present. Currency fluctuations between sterling and euro, unfortunately, are beyond the control of Government.
If the Deputy or the motor industry have specific proposals in mind, we would be happy to examine them.
As the Taoiseach is aware, page 42 of the programme for Government commits to work with local authorities, local action groups and local communities to ensure that Leader funding delivers the maximum possible potential and indeed benefits for the communities. A main concern with the new programme designed for Leader is its bureaucratic nature. Groups find it very difficult to access funding and I am sure the Taoiseach is aware of this. Recent figures from the Department show that just 335 approvals for projects have been given so far, compared with 2,800 projects approved under the previous programme. There is clearly a problem with the process. Only €8.25 million of the Leader budget of €250 million has been approved for funding. There are difficulties. How will the Taoiseach address this and does he acknowledge that there are problems with this new system?
I may have to ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, to reply to the Deputy in more detail. I have heard from people around the country that there are delays in administering Leader grants. There has been a meeting at ministerial level with all of the Leader companies about this specific issue and an outcome of that was a decision to streamline the process and ensure that payments are made more quickly. I am not sure if that has been effective yet but I will ask the Minister, Deputy Ring, to engage with Deputy Nolan on it directly.
As the Taoiseach is aware, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to deal with the issue of tax evasion and to resource the Revenue Commissioners appropriately for that. I raise that issue in the context of an incident in Malta this week where a journalist, a woman named Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed in a bomb explosion. She was instrumental in the release of the Panama papers, which exposed a number of very wealthy individuals living in Ireland and others who have business interests in Ireland using this mechanism to hide their vast profits away from the tax collectors of not just Ireland but many places in the world. The death of this person is an attack on ordinary taxpaying people everywhere in the world and this Government and every government has a responsibility to do something about this. While we are not in a position to do anything about her death, we are in a position to do something about the issues raised in the Panama papers.
Will the Taoiseach assure the House that the Revenue Commissioners are pursuing those named in the Panama papers and give us a report, if not now then sometime in the future, on the progress on that? Will he also give us a report on the fourth EU anti-money laundering directive, which is instrumental in trying to tackle this particular issue? Will he outline why the Government has not implemented it and if it intends to implement it shortly?
The Deputy will be pleased to know that the budget and resources for the Revenue Commissioners were increased again in the budget for 2018. The Finance Bill, which was agreed by Cabinet this morning and will be published tomorrow, will involve further actions to close tax loopholes, crack down on tax evasion and implement our commitments to the OECD on tax transparency. On the specific matters raised by the Deputy, I suggest he might put them as a parliamentary question to the Minister for Finance.
On the matter of money laundering, I expect the legislation will be submitted to Government for approval in the next couple of weeks, after which it will be published at the earliest opportunity. We will seek full co-operation from Deputy Martin Kenny and his party on all aspects of terrorist financing and money laundering.
There are plans to close the post office covering Glasnevin and Finglas East at the end of November due to the retirement of a postmistress.
This fully fitted post office and Spar shop have a footfall of 8,000 to 10,000 people per week. Over 20 people are employed in them and there are almost 30 other businesses locally. There is no shortage of business people to run it.
I am coming to that. An Post has made a decision solely because it wants a number of post offices closed across the country. It has nothing to do with their viability. The programme for Government states that the Government would actively encourage payments at post offices and enhance the role of services in post offices, which would deliver a wide range of services. When will the Taoiseach do this? Would he and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, intervene and ask what the rationale is for closing a viable post office?
Post offices are not closed by Government decision. When they close, it is generally because somebody retires, as the Deputy mentioned, and the company is unable to find somebody who wants to take up the role.
It has somebody.
The Taoiseach is answering.
It is not an issue I know about in great detail but I know that Deputy Noel Rock held a very successful public meeting on the matter in Finglas-----
-----and I will ask Deputy Rock to keep Deputy Ellis informed of his work-----
It is going to be successful.
-----on the matter.
The Taoiseach knows that valuation orders were signed for the ratings authorities of Cavan, Fingal, Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Tipperary, Wexford and Wicklow county councils this month. Ratepayers are looking for equity and we have the Commercial Rates Bill which has not even gone to pre-legislative scrutiny. Ratepayers in this country are chomping at the bit looking for equity, modernisation and a proper rates system. When will we have a timeline for when this issue will be resolved?
The Deputy's question on the matter of promised legislation relates to a Bill to merge a number of agencies currently under my Department, one of which is the Valuation Office. I would expect that the drafting is at an advanced stage and hope to be in a position to have publication, having been approved by Government, by the end of the year. I would be happy to keep the Deputy informed.
Page 108 in the programme for Government deals with agriculture and the aims of the Food Wise programme for the period 2020 to 2025, which are to increase the value of exports by 85% to €19 billion, increase value-added product by 70% to €13 billion, increase the value of primary production by 65% to €10 billion and support the creation of 23,000 jobs in the agrifood sector. In 2015, a young farmer scheme was introduced with funding of €25 million. Based on that, there are thousands of young farmers who have rented land at a very expensive cost who are tied in for six-year leases. In 2016, there was no funding and we have €5 million in 2017. That is an 80% decrease in support for farmers.
It is about the programme for Government. Many people are struggling and something should be done. I understand unspent funding is available in the rural development programme for 2014 to 2020. Will the Taoiseach confirm to me that money is available in that fund? If it is, could it be put towards young farmers? Otherwise, we will have thousands of bankrupt young farmers by 2020.
Quite favourable tax reliefs are in place in these situations. I do not know the detail of the funds that the Deputy is referring to but I suggest that the best way to get a swift, detailed answer would be by means of a parliamentary question to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I welcome that the Minister for Finance is finally going to bring in the CEOs of the banks. It is ten months after I called on the Government to do that on the Order of Business. Today, I want to ask about the scandal of the victims of Setanta Insurance, which collapsed in 2014. They have been painstakingly through the courts process. There are over 1,500 active claimants. Is the Taoiseach aware that the legal representatives of the insurance compensation fund had been allowed time by the court to seek assurance from the Government that people who were insured by Setanta Insurance would not, in theory, be liable to be sued as a result of the excess amount that the claimant will not get?
I understand that all cases have now been paused in the courts, which is ridiculous. People are seriously injured and some have life-limiting conditions as a result of their injuries and, because of the Government's assurance, we have a pause in the situation. Will the insurance (amendment) Bill deal with this issue? There is legislation tabled by Sinn Féin and the Government's own Bill. The Taoiseach should do the right thing and say to the victims of Setanta Insurance and those people who were legally covered that their complaints will be met entirely and that those insurance policyholders will not be liable to be sued through the courts.
The insurance (amendment) Bill is prepared and is on the list for publication in this session. Needless to say, I will not be in a position to answer questions on anything involving an ongoing court case or an investigation.
The next three are Deputies O'Loughlin, Murphy O'Mahony and Michael Moynihan.
Ireland has one of the highest birth rates in the world and yet there has been much neglect in maternity services. Geographically, there is certainly inequity, given that 25% of the hospitals do not have scans and the perinatal mental health services for mild-to-moderate issues are practically non-existent. When the Taoiseach was Minister for Health he created the National Maternity Strategy, which was very much welcomed, and stated that he would do everything in his power to ensure implementation. What has been achieved in relation to the recommendations and when can we expect the remaining recommendations to be implemented?
I was pleased to be associated with and involved in the development of the new National Maternity Strategy, which was published when I was Minister for Health. If I recall correctly, it is a seven-year strategy.
Of course, the nature of a seven-year strategy is that it gets implemented incrementally over seven years. I will ask the Minister for Health to provide the Deputy with detail on what is implemented to date and progress on other matters.
I would point out though that while we have a high birth rate in Ireland, it is falling, and notwithstanding the fact that we have a falling birth rate, we now have more midwives than we have ever had before, and more consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists than we have ever had before. I am pleased to note that An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission for a new national maternity hospital which can now be built. It will be the first new maternity hospital built since Cork University Maternity Hospital a number of years ago.
The time is nearly up and I am calling for brevity.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about the official languages (amendment) Bill. As he will be aware, this gives effect to amendments arising from the review of the Official Languages Act 2003. I believe we are at pre-legislative scrutiny phase and I merely want an update.
I thank the Deputy for her brevity. I call the Taoiseach or-----
An tAire Stáit, an Teachta McHugh.
The drafters are working hard on it. There is consultation with the relevant committee. It will not be published before Christmas but we are looking to have it early in the new year.
Under the programme for Government, much was made about providing State services and information about State services and entitlements to citizens but in recent weeks, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has taken the unusual step of writing back to those who have written in for their records to determine their eligibility for the State pension stating that they will have to go online to get their records now. This is a retrograde step. We have letters received back from constituents stating that the Department will not send out a paper record of one's contributions over the years to determine eligibility for a pension and one will have to go online for this. This is the cohort who are reaching pension age who are least likely to have access to online facilities and computers. Also, the Taoiseach should bear in mind that there are many who have no broadband, good, bad or indifferent, and have no access to this. This is disgraceful. I have had lengthy conversations with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection officials over the past couple of weeks and got no solace in this regard. The Taoiseach should rescind this if he is to hold true to his word on having the State services accessible to the citizens as readily as he has said on many occasions.
I am aware of this issue. I have discussed it already with the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, who will examine it. I expect that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will provide a mechanism by which people can get their social insurance record without only having to get it online. It is incumbent on the Department to come up with a solution.
The next three are Deputies Lawless, Munster and Neville.
The programme for Government makes multiple references to public transport. It also alludes to industrial relations machinery where appropriate. I want to raise the ongoing disruption to bus services in north Kildare. I believe it also affects south Meath. In north Kildare, in particular, places such as Kilcock, Clane and Prosperous, buses are literally not turning up in the morning to collect people. When they do turn up they are delayed, but people are being left stranded at the bus stop. I have engaged with the stakeholders, the National Transport Authority, Bus Éireann and other authoritative sources. There appears to be an unofficial industrial dispute, a form of blue flu, among the drivers. I put it to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport via parliamentary question. I put it as a Topical Issue, and the answer has been to fob it off to somebody else, that the NTA can deal with it or somebody else can get involved. These are the people who get up early in the mornings and they are being left stranded by the Minister at the side of the road. Can the Taoiseach direct the Minister to take action and show leadership in this crisis?
I will certainly discuss the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ross. However, if, as the Deputy claims, it is an industrial relations matter, I imagine that would be dealt with in the normal way.
Under the programme for Government, developing an enhanced primary care system and improving waiting times, what effort has been made to recruit paediatric occupational therapists for primary care services in County Louth? Currently, we have only one part-time occupational therapist and in order to clear the sheer backlog that is there at present we would need eight full-time occupational therapists, and just to run a normal service we would require four. Letters were sent out to parents across County Louth from the HSE stating that there would be a minimum 24-month waiting time before a child could be seen. A child has to wait over two years before he or she gets to receive occupational therapy. That is a shameful record for any Government but particularly a Government that has been in power for over seven years. What plans or active steps has the Taoiseach to rectify the shameful record of waiting times?
I have no doubt of the need for a good paediatric occupational therapy service in County Louth and I understand the concerns of parents who may have children who are waiting for those services. The Deputy will, of course, be aware that I am not involved personally in recruiting paediatric occupational therapists in County Louth or any other county and the best way to get a substantive answer to her question would be by contacting the HSE directly or a parliamentary question to the Minister for Health.
On page 79 of the programme for Government regarding the capital plan for new and refurbished Garda stations, I welcome the addition of Newcastle West Garda station in County Limerick in that plan. In reply to a number of parliamentary questions that I have put down, the OPW has stated that it is progressing the appointment of a design team and that construction will take 18 months. What I am looking for is a timeline as to when that design team will be put in place and how long the design process will take so that we can deduce exactly a start date of construction.
Does the Taoiseach have the information?
The Deputy has been pursuing the matter of the Garda station in Newcastle West for quite some time. We are keen to get the work done. I am unable to give the Deputy the timeline but I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, to contact him as a priority and provide any information that he can.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about the status of the health (transport support) Bill. Slow progress has been made on this legislation. I would like to ask the Taoiseach to outline its current status, when it will come before the House and when he expects the provisions contained therein will come into operation.
The Bill is currently being drafted and the Department of Health expects to publish it next year.
The final two are Deputies Eugene Murphy and Alyward.
In the programme for Government, there was considerable hope given to those of us who were speaking about the development and upgrading of the national primary routes. I refer to the national primary routes, the N4, which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Scanlon, myself and others have spoken about, and the N5. Both of those are in a deplorable state and they need to be upgraded. Those are two vital organs, east to west. As the Taoiseach probably will be aware, many of the businesses in the west are complaining about the state of the N5. We heard a lot of talk in recent days about the Dublin metro plan being brought forward, which is a €2.5 billion plan. We have to keep developing the infrastructure in Dublin, but I want to know from the Taoiseach today - he spoke in the leadership battle about developing these networks and getting them upgraded - if the N5 and the N4 are included in the capital plan.
The upgrading of the N4 and the N5 are included in the capital plan. We are very keen as a Government to see both roads upgraded as soon as possible because access to Sligo and Mayo in particular, and to Roscommon, is essential. It is one of the few parts of the country that is still quite remote from the motorway network. It is intended to bring these projects forward but I am not in a position to give the Deputy a timeline today. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, will do that as soon as they have the profiling done.
One final question from Deputy Aylward.
Page 108 of the programme for Government states that the "next generation of farmers must be supported, to generate farm income, while positioning Ireland as the highest quality food producing nation in the world". There is huge concern in Kilkenny and elsewhere that the six remaining veterinary laboratories may be under threat of closure by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This is a question that I have been asking the Minister for more than 12 months. We have a laboratory in Kilkenny that serves the whole of the south east down as far as Waterford, taking in Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Laois and south Kildare. We have been awaiting a report on the matter for over 12 months. There is a shadow hanging over the laboratory and the people working in it. These laboratories provide an essential service for the farmers of this country and must be retained. Why is the Minister dragging his feet on this? Why is he not publishing the report and putting the matter to bed for once and for all? It is an essential service that must be retained in Kilkenny to serve the area to which I referred.
Deputy Tony McLoughlin has a similar question.
I support the points made by the previous speaker. I am concerned about the veterinary laboratory in Sligo. It is the only such facility in the north west and the only laboratory north of the line from Dublin to Galway. It is vitally important that we secure that facility and I would welcome clarification in that regard.
I ask the Taoiseach to answer that if he can.
I am afraid I cannot answer it but I will ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to contact the Deputies and to provide them with some information.