1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the British-Irish Council in Guernsey; the meetings he held; and the issues raised. [29006/18]
1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the British-Irish Council in Guernsey; the meetings he held; and the issues raised. [29006/18]
2. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the British-Irish Council in Guernsey. [30087/18]
3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council. [30412/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
I attended the 30th British-Irish Council, BIC, summit in Guernsey on Friday, 22 June, hosted by Chief Minister Gavin St. Pier. I was accompanied by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.
The BIC is an institution created under the Good Friday Agreement and brings together representatives of the eight member administrations: the British and Irish Governments, the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and the governments of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. It works to promote harmonious and mutually beneficial relationships across the islands and provides an opportunity to consult, co-operate and exchange views on common policies or on areas of shared interest.
The discussion at the summit covered key political developments for the administrations since the previous summit in November. The discussion focused largely on the implications of Brexit, particularly for relationships across the islands. The council also discussed the current political situation in Northern Ireland and I reiterated my regret that Northern Ireland, until the Executive is restored, is without political representation in this important forum.
The council also endorsed plans for a future programme of work proposed by environment Ministers and agreed to a new area of work on social enterprises.
The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, took part in a thematic discussion on the issues that collectively impact on the marine environment of these islands.
David Lidington MP, Cabinet Office Minister, and Karen Bradley MP, Secretary Of State for Northern Ireland, attended for the British Government along with the First Ministers from Scotland and Wales and the heads of administration from the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.
I took the opportunity to have bilateral meetings with the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, and the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. In both meetings we exchanged views and perspectives on issues of mutual interest and continued co-operation, with discussions focusing mainly on Brexit and its impacts on business and citizens and on developments in Westminster and Brussels. In my meeting with the Welsh First Minister, Mr. Jones, I confirmed our intention to reopen our consulate in Cardiff as part of the Global Ireland 2025 plan.
I also held brief discussions with David Lidington and Karen Bradley on Brexit and on the absence of an agreement between the parties on re-establishing the Northern Ireland Executive. I underlined the importance of the restoration of the institutions in the context of full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and undertook to continue to work with the British Government to support the Northern Ireland parties to achieve this outcome.
I note that the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, did not attend the summit. In his conversations with Mrs. May, has the Taoiseach suggested that her attendance at the British-Irish Council could be valuable for understanding the difficulties and likely impacts of a difficult Brexit for the island of Ireland, North and South, and Scotland and Wales, which were represented by their First Ministers? In that context, I note the Taoiseach had discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Mr. Lidington.
Having met Prime Minister May at the meeting in Salzburg last week, does the Taoiseach believe that the backstop is becoming more illusory, as there appears to be little chance of the British Government reaching a deal either in regard to the Single Market or the customs union? There are also issues arising from the Belfast Agreement regarding personal freedoms and rights and the rule of law, particularly in Northern Ireland. What is the Taoiseach's assessment of where we stand in terms of, potentially, a difficult Brexit? We do not have any great detail from the Government as to how it plans to protect Irish businesses and Irish situations in light of a difficult Brexit. There are various schemes for grants and so on for businesses but little preparation has been made by Government on the details of how Brexit will impact on businesses north and south of the Border.
In July, the Taoiseach said the talks in respect of the Northern Ireland institutions and the re-establishment of them would reconvene in the autumn. I would like him to set out if this is still his proposed timetable. What action does he propose to take in respect of the rights that are still outstanding in the North? I refer to marriage equality, Acht na Gaeilge and the struggle of so many families to secure inquests. As the Taoiseach will be aware, for many of these families, these sagas have been decades long and this struggle is not defined by, or confined to, Orange or Green, but a dilemma right across society. The Taoiseach will also be aware that I have challenged Mrs. May many times on the ethic or the morality of withholding inquests from families, which is after all a basic democratic norm and a basic right for anybody who purports to have any interest in the rule of law.
Last February, we achieved an accommodation, not perfectly formed to the nationalist or republican eye but an accommodation nonetheless, that we believed had sufficiency to allow us to proceed to re-establish the Executive but the DUP walked away from it. The DUP's toxic relationship with the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has given them safe haven at Westminster. No incentive or pressure has been exerted to encourage the DUP to do what needs to be done to re-establish the institutions. Now, as the drama of the renewable heat incentive inquiry, RHI, unfolds, we are witnessing the absolute neurotic behaviour of so many within the DUP leadership. I would not give the Taoiseach much hope for the future. That said, we need to move forward. As stated by the previous speaker, the Brexit dilemma will reach its crescendo and the jeopardy is very great for Ireland, North and South. In regard to the Taoiseach's timetable for talks, what has Karen Bradley told him because she has told us damn all and will he set out his plans in this regard
I will allow two brief supplementaries from Deputies Calleary and Boyd Barrett. I ask the Deputies to be brief otherwise the Taoiseach will not have time to reply.
The meeting in Guernsey was held up by the Tánaiste in particular, as, possibly, a game-changer or a major meeting in the context of the continued vacuum around the Northern Ireland Executive, yet the British Prime Minister did not turn up to it. The strength of the British-Irish Council, BIC, over the years has been full participation and full sharing of information around the table among all the taoisigh and prime ministers on the island. What plans does the Taoiseach have to reinvigorate the BIC? While I accept that the focus of London right now is on Brexit, urgency needs to be injected into addressing the vacuum in the Northern Ireland Executive. With respect to Deputy McDonald, she is not necessarily an impartial observer either because her party is part of the problem and it needs to come forward with solutions to address the vacuum otherwise we will return to the situation we had.
In the context of Brexit, what is the Taoiseach's reaction to the speech delivered this afternoon by Sir Keir Starmer in which he said that the Labour Party would be unlikely to vote for any deal in the UK Parliament, if such a deal is arrived at, once again throwing huge uncertainty into the Brexit process?
It goes without saying that we cannot trust the Tory right - the Tory Brexiteers - in terms of the consequences of, and negotiations around, the British exit for obvious reasons. We have always said that we do not necessarily trust the EU to look after Irish interests on the issue of the Border if those negotiations do not go well but the Taoiseach has always said that we will not accept any hard border. While that reassurance is welcome, is there a contradiction in his references to the recruitment of customs officials and his statement that we will not accept a hard border because the former would appear to suggest that the State is preparing to erect trade and customs barriers? Can he give us an assurance that those customs officials will not be deployed at any point along the Border, regardless of what happens, or what deals do or do not happen, between Europe and Britain? While I do not trust the Tory Brexiteers, I also do not trust the EU to not insist on a border to protect the Single Market, which would be unacceptable. Can the Taoiseach gave us an assurance that the State will not deploy customs officials along the Border between the North and South?
The Prime Minister, Mrs. May, did not attend the BIC and I understand she has never done so. While former Prime Minister Cameron attended one such meeting during his six year tenure, the practice since the early days of the Good Friday Agreement has been that the Taoiseach attends on behalf of Ireland and the Secretary of State attends on behalf of the UK Government. I have not spoken to Prime Minister May about her attending the council but I have spoken to her about the need for a new mechanism by which the British and Irish Governments can engage on a structured basis. We do this well at the moment because both countries are in the EU and every Minister and his or her UK counterpart attends EU Councils three or four times a year, which is always a good opportunity for bilaterals. We will now move from a situation whereby we see each other at least four times a year in Brussels to a situation whereby we will not. This will happen from March next year and I have spoken to Prime Minister May about how we might deal with that and put in place a structured mechanism by which the two sovereign governments could meet more regularly. Perhaps, the mechanism for doing this is not the BIC, but the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, BIIGC, which can meet in different formats. The Good Friday Agreement may have been more foreseeing than any of us could have imagined in that, perhaps, this mechanism for east-west co-operation between the two sovereign Governments could be reinvigorated and used an opportunity for us engage Minister to Minister and Prime Minister to Prime Minister on a structured basis after the UK leaves the European Union in March.
On the backstop, or the protocol in Ireland and Northern Ireland, Prime Minister May once again restated her commitment to having a legally operable backstop as part of the withdrawal agreement. In Salzburg, the other 26 member states reiterated their solidarity with Ireland and restated our position that there will not be a withdrawal agreement and no transition period for the UK if there is not an Irish protocol - a legally operable Irish backstop - as part of that agreement. I believe we will get there - and in November - because nobody wants us to end up in a no deal scenario. The damage for the UK would be immense. The damage for Ireland would also be immense and it would have a serious impact on other countries like Belgium, Holland, France and Denmark. As I said, I believe we will get there in November but we are in uncharted territory.
I have sought a lot of advice on this over the past couple of weeks and over the summer. I have met many wise old heads who know Europe, British politics and Northern Ireland and all the issues around it and I came away from those meetings with the advice that it is uncharted territory and unpredictable and I was advised to do my best. That was probably the best advice I could have got. We will have to stay engaged and stay vigilant and that is what we will do in the period ahead.
In terms of talks on getting the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly back up and running, the Tánaiste and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are in touch about new talks. There have been suggestions around the possibility of having an independent chair for these talks but I understand that proposal has not found favour with the DUP and it will not be possible to form an Executive in Northern Ireland unless the DUP and Sinn Féin can come together and come to an agreement. Northern Ireland unfortunately now holds the international record for failing to form a government, which is a real shame. Clarity around Brexit could help so perhaps by the October or November summit, if there is one, we will have a road map as to how Brexit will work and what the new relationships will look like. We might then be in a better position to bring the parties together again and Government stands ready to do exactly that.
I did not have a chance to hear Sir Keir Starmer's speech so I cannot really comment on it but it is the case that any withdrawal agreement will have to be ratified by both Westminster and the European Parliament so while we may assume that because something is agreed by the European Council and the UK that it will go through both parliaments, we should not actually make that assumption. There is the possibility that the Heads of Government in the European Council and the UK will come to a decision in October or November and we may find that it runs into ratification problems in Westminster or the European Parliament. We will have to manage that and see how it develops.
On Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, we are recruiting customs and revenue officers for the ports and airports, particularly Dublin Airport, Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort. It must be borne in mind that when the UK leaves the European Union, whether it is in March next year or at the end of the transition period at the start of 2021, it will be leaving the Single Market as well so there will be changes. The rules of trade and the trading relationship between Britain and Ireland will not be as it is now. We need to make provision for those changes and that is what we are doing but we will not be deploying any of them along the land Border with Northern Ireland.
4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee E, health, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [30410/18]
5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee E, health, last met. [30674/18]
6. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee E, health, last met. [37438/18]
7. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee E, health, will next meet. [37536/18]
8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee E, health, will next meet. [37538/18]
9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee E, health, last met; and when it next plans to meet. [37752/18]
10. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee E, health, last met. [38378/18]
11. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee E, health, last met. [38530/18]
12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he is satisfied that his Department has sufficient expertise to ensure that it can effectively service the preparation of Cabinet committee documents relating to health policy. [38687/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 12 together.
Cabinet committee E last met on 11 April 2018. The next meeting of the Cabinet committee has not yet been scheduled. In addition to the meetings of the full Cabinet and of Cabinet committees, I meet with Ministers on an individual basis regularly to focus on particular issues. In this regard I meet regularly with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to discuss issues related to our health service, including last week.
Support for Cabinet committee E is provided by the social policy and public service reform division of my Department. The Minister for Health has primary responsibility for the preparation of documents relating to health policy. Government is committed to enhancing the quality of the health system. This year has seen the highest ever level of health funding in the history of our country and the Government has also allocated significant capital funding of almost €11 billion for health over the past ten years. That is double what was provided for the previous ten years. This is investment in new buildings, equipment and ICT.
However, in order to ensure meaningful and sustained improvements in the health service we also need to deliver a major programme of reform. Important milestones have been reached in recent months. The Minister for Health launched the Sláintecare implementation strategy in August. This provides the framework within which a new system-wide reform programme can be advanced. The new programme office has been established and is now led by Laura Magahy and a Sláintecare advisory council has been established, which will be chaired by Dr. Tom Keane who led the reform of the cancer services in Ireland some years ago. The new structures will support and drive the implementation of the reform programme. Work is also under way to establish a new HSE board to strengthen the management, governance and accountability of the executive. Ciarán Devane has recently been nominated as chairperson designate of the HSE. He is chief executive of the British Council and was a chief executive of the UK health charity, Macmillan Cancer Support. He is also a former member of the board of the National Health Service England.
There are so many questions grouped here that I have to insist that we stick to the time allocated. I call Deputy McDonald.
Gabhaim buíochas don Taoiseach as ucht a chuid freagraí. The Taoiseach recently visited the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam where hundreds of babies are buried. As the Taoiseach knows, the survivors of the home and the families of those who resided or died there have expressed disappointment that he did not meet with them during his visit. I wrote to him in August asking that he meet with Catherine Corless and the Tuam mother and baby home survivors and I ask that of him again. We owe a lot to Ms Corless for her research which uncovered the deaths of 796 children at the home. When the Taoiseach meets with Ms Corless and the survivors, he will hear first hand of their particular healthcare needs. One child died every fortnight when the home was in operation. Many of those who survived a regime of malnutrition and neglect where measles, tuberculosis and pneumonia were rife now suffer very significant ill health and yet the Government has yet to provide a scheme specific to their needs. Three years have passed since the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was established and its timeline for reporting has been extended to February 2019. We know from the industrial homes and the Magdalen laundry scandals that the State moves at a glacial pace in providing redress and access to supports and services when it finally accepts wrongdoing. Survivors of the home need access to health services today. Many of them are elderly and many of them are very unwell. I ask that the State has healthcare provision in place for these survivors and I ask that the Taoiseach acts on that with all due haste.
Has the Cabinet committee on health met to discuss the health budget? There are constant leaks to the newspapers that the likely level of deficit in the health service will run anywhere from €800 million to €1 billion this year. I do not know how a functioning Minister for Health can be in charge of a Department where that level of overspend, that lack of control and that lack of involvement in the management of the Department is such a regular feature of it, and Fine Gael has run that Department for over seven years.
It means that the situation for children with scoliosis, for example, will always be out of reach of being addressed. When I was Tánaiste I secured extra funding which the Taoiseach used to build the additional facilities and yet I read harrowing accounts every week from families, particularly those with children with special needs who are also affected by scoliosis. The numbers are growing and the patients are getting further away from having their surgery. How can the Taoiseach countenance a Minister in his Cabinet being entirely unable to even influence the level of the budget? How can he talk about Sláintecare happening if there is no concept of what a proper budget for the Department is? It is a total failure and shambles on the part of his Government.
The last meeting of the Cabinet committee on health was almost five months ago and the Sláintecare implementation body was launched in August in a quiet news month. I wonder if that was the reason it was launched in that month but we have to look at a number of issues. I have raised the home care packages twice on the Order of Business since we have come back. The home help system is providing an excellent service the length and breadth of the country but there is major frustration for families who are trying to get care for elderly people and who are trying to bring those elderly people back to their community where they can have a quality of life. The home help teams providing this service are saving the State millions of euro. If it is looked at in the context of the fair deal scheme or the nursing home subvention, it is clear they are saving the State millions.
The Minister of State said the staff were not available but that is not the information I have. The hours of people working on home help teams around the country are being cut. New contracts are being entered into and there are negotiations in the HSE on their pay and conditions. It is not that there are no people available to take them up.
With regard to waiting for services, particularly for young kids waiting for diagnostic services and interventions, there is a huge crisis.
I have raised this issue numerous times in the two and half years since I was elected to the House. I understand that over the summer the Minister for Health brought a memorandum to Cabinet on the medical cannabis access programme. Over the summer the Department of Health issued guidelines on the access programme, some of which are quite flawed. It has been going on for a long time and the situation has become ludicrous. A man called Kenny Tynan, a father of four from Roscommon, was granted a licence one month ago from the Department of Health which was signed by the Minister. Today he was sent an email by the medicines management programme to say it would not reimburse the licence. The licence system is unworkable. People are getting licences when they cannot afford them. On average, it costs tens of thousands to go to Holland four times a year to get the medication. The system is completely flawed. In Britain the Tory Government has changed its policy. It is very restrictive but people are at least gaining access to medical cannabis. It saves them going to the black market or going abroad. The situation is unworkable. The Taoiseach has to show leadership. This has been going on for years now. There has to be some sort of clarity either on the licence system, the medical cannabis access programme or the legislation I have put forward.
I will raise the issue of Sophia Daly. It is a case with which the Taoiseach is familiar. She is 12 years old and has cerebral palsy, arthrogryposis and scoliosis. She was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2013 and put on an urgent waiting list for surgery in April 2017. In August, 17 months later, she was taken off that list and is now not on any list even though the Minister claims only 20 people have been waiting longer than the four months which he said was the longest anybody would be waiting. I talked to Sophia's father today and she is in increasing pain. The screws in her back and hip are loosening. She may have to be taken into emergency surgery because her condition is deteriorating. Her internal organs have been affected. Her curvature has significantly increased. It is completely unacceptable. Her father, Aaron, said he has asked on several occasions to meet the Minister. The Minister, Deputy Harris, is refusing to meet Aaron. He asked me to ask the Taoiseach what he is doing about the backlog, apart from, it would appear, manipulating the figures on the extent of the backlog. What is being done with the treatment abroad scheme to clear the backlog in order that people like Sophia can get the surgery they urgently need?
Will the House agree to give five minutes from Question No. 13, which is a single question, to allow the Taoiseach to respond to these questions because otherwise he will only have two minutes to respond to quite a lot of questions? Is that agreed? Agreed.
I made a private visit to Tuam on my way home from a conference in Galway. It was an opportunity for me to pay my respects to the children who were buried there and to see the site for myself. It was not quite what I expected. I expected to see the grounds of an old abandoned institution. It is not that at all; it is a very small site, almost within a housing estate, beside a large playground. I only had about 30 minutes. I would have liked to meet with Catherine Corless, representatives of survivors, residents who have concerns and the local authority but in the period I had, about 30 or 40 minutes, it would not have been possible to do that or to do any of them justice. It was a case of either postponing my visit for a later point in a few months' time or taking the opportunity to stop by and pay my respects and see the place for myself, which I did. I have replied to Catherine Corless and I will meet her with the Minister, Deputy Zappone, because the Minister is the person who is dealing with this issue for the Government and who understands it in a depth that I do not. I will meet her in due course when we are ready to make a decision on the next steps.
The Cabinet sub-committee on health has not met to discuss the HSE budget overrun but it has been discussed at Cabinet. As Deputies will know from my previous replies to questions on this issue, I tend to discuss more things with the full Cabinet than in the past. In the past, bodies such as the Economic Management Council, EMC, or smaller groups were used to discuss important issues. I decided to do it differently and to include the entire Cabinet more and to be more collective in decision-making rather than using bodies such as the EMC which excluded Ministers from decision-making in the past. I am glad to have made some changes in that regard. It has been discussed with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Health. We are trying to get an accurate fix on the likely overrun. We often talk in healthcare about how money should follow the patient and money should get to the patient. We are not in a very good position at all to follow the money in the health service due to the very outdated financial systems so we are trying to calculate what the likely overrun is going to be for this year. As things stand, notwithstanding the fact that health has a huge allocation of €16 billion, which is the biggest ever in the history of the State, health spending is running 9% ahead of what it was last year so that overrun could be quite substantial. It could be in the region of the figures people have seen in the newspapers and that certainly limits our room for manoeuvre when it comes to the budget in two weeks' time because much of that overrun will have to be accommodated in the base for next year as well. Much of it is happening for good reasons. Recruitment is happening apace. There are 1,000 more nurses working in our public health system than we had this time last year. There have been pay increases across the board for 115,000 healthcare staff. Our children's hospital is flying up. The urgent care centre in Blanchardstown is almost roof on at this stage. We have extended things such as free GP care to carers because they need to be cared for too. We are also seeing substantial reductions in the number of people waiting for operations and procedures in our hospitals. Whether it is hips, eyes, knees, cataracts, angiograms or skin lesions being removed, there are 10,000 fewer people waiting for an operation or procedure now than a year ago. The average person is waiting less than six months now for an operation or procedure. We want to get that down to three months over the period ahead.
In terms of medical cannabis, as I understand it, it is required that one has a prescription from a consultant and that one has a licence from the Minister for Health. That is an unusual situation and not one that is desirable or workable. I can guarantee the House that the Minister for Health, while he has signed all except one of the requests for a licence, does not want to be in a situation where he is doing that. It is not the role of a politician to be signing licences for individuals to have their medicines. That is why he is developing the cannabis access programme to do it better. I understand they are running into difficulties with sourcing. If this is a medicine, it needs to be treated like a medicine and we need to make sure it is at pharmaceutical and medicine grade. They are running into difficulties in sourcing it.
On Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, I am not in a position to talk about individual cases or patients in the House. I do not have access to patients' files or records. No politician does or should. There are issues of confidentiality and privacy involved in any individual case. What I can say more generally is that patients can be moved to what is called the suspended list. A patient who may be on a waiting list for surgery may become unfit for surgery for any number of reasons for a period.
They are put on a suspended waiting list but can then be put back on the active waiting list when they are fit for surgery again but I do not have the full information on individual cases and it would be wrong for me to comment on them. I am told, however, that the scoliosis figures for the end of January show there are 188 patients of which 109 are spinal fusion patients on the list for spinal surgery. Of the 90 actively waiting, 14 are to come in, which means they have a date for their surgery, 40 are suspended and 44 are on the planned procedural list with an indicative date for their procedure. The Minister for Health has prioritised the development of a sustainable solution for scoliosis and an additional €9 million has been provided to the HSE this year specifically to develop paediatric orthopaedic services including further increasing access to those services.
13. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if commissions of investigation under the aegis of his Department have been allocated additional funding as a consequence of the wind-down of the strategic communications unit, SCU. [29281/18]
The commissions of investigation for which I am the specified Minister under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 are the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, commission of investigation and the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, commission of investigation.
Following consultations with the Opposition parties by the then Minister for Finance, the IBRC commission of investigation was established in June 2015. Mr. Justice Brian Cregan is the sole member of the commission. The commission is required to investigate certain transactions, activities and management decisions at the IBRC and in its first module it is investigating the Siteserv transaction, which has been identified as a matter of significant public concern in Dáil Éireann. Following a number of requests from the commission and further consultation with Opposition parties, its deadline for reporting has been extended to the end of 2018.
The NAMA commission of investigation was established in June 2017 following consultation with Opposition parties by Government. Mr. Justice John Cooke is the commission's sole member. In its first module the commission is charged with investigating matters of significant public concern regarding the disposal by NAMA of its Northern Ireland loan portfolio, referred to as Project Eagle. Following a request from the commission, its deadline for reporting has been extended to the end of 2018.
The commissions are entirely independent in their work and I have no information on the status of their investigations other than in relation to administrative matters for which I am responsible as the specified Minister under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.
At the end of April, a further Revised Estimate for my Department was voted through the House. This reduced my Department's 2018 net budget allocation by €2.5 million from €35.89 million to €33.39 million. This budget reduction followed the decision of Government to wind down the strategic communications unit on foot of the comprehensive review of the operation of the SCU which was completed by the Secretary General to the Government.
I found the Taoiseach's reply on health issues and the health budget overrun to be helpless and hopeless because, notwithstanding his experience of that Department, he is throwing in the towel on being able to influence it.
When the SCU was closed down, there was an indication, as the Taoiseach said in his reply, that there would be significant savings. In respect of the commission of investigation and the Taoiseach's visit to the Tuam site, does he think it would be possible to transfer some of the savings from the SCU to carry out the wishes of the survivors and the families affected, mostly from Mayo and Galway, who may have had relatives, either women who gave birth to children or babies who were born and died there, to have a full excavation of the site? My understanding is that the investigation would be costly. I do not know if the Taoiseach has managed to visit St. Patrick's on the Navan Road in our constituency. More than 2,000 babies died there and, as local people have always said, they "died like flies" from a variety of diseases in the mother and baby home. Most of them are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery but people who lived there or who were born there want a full and proper investigation. Is there any chance that the Taoiseach could divert the savings from the SCU to something that would be an actual reparation for what happened to those in mother and baby homes?
Mr. Justice Cooke's report on NAMA, in particular the module one investigation of Project Eagle, which was to have been published at the end of June 2018, was extended to the end of December because of NAMA's failure to hand over all documentation relating to the sale of Project Eagle. I understand NAMA is now co-operating on that. Will that deadline for publication be met as indicated in the commission's first report?
I am sorry to tell the Deputy that there were not significant savings. The Department's Estimate was voted through the House in April and by then the decision had been made to shut down the SCU. The money was never voted to the Department, thus the voted Estimate to the Department was €2.5 million less than was provided for in the budget and the savings never arose.
The mother and baby homes commission is under way. We look forward to receiving its report as soon as it is ready but these are independent commissions. While there might be an accountable Minister for them, they act independently. We need to allow them do their work and we can consider it when it arrives but I do not wish to interfere in the work of a commission of investigation in any way nor would it be appropriate to do so.
I do not have the date for Deputy McDonald on the other commission but I will see if I can get it and I will write to her if we have it.