Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Some 14 Deputies wish to put questions but there are only 15 minutes available.

It is already well into the winter and, for the first time since records began, the number of hospital patients without beds during 2018 has exceeded 100,000. It is not yet 1 December. However, throughout the country home care packages and home help hours are being curtailed or are being awarded but not funded due to the lack of funding. They are one solution to this problem. The Government cannot even blame doctors and nurses because the Christmas holidays have not started yet. Will the Tánaiste comment on the position with home care packages and home help hours, which would help alleviate the crisis in accident and emergency departments?

The Deputy will be aware that a €30 million package was announced last week and that there are 550 additional home care packages. On foot of the debate last week, we are aware of the many initiatives that are in place. We are trying to have a long-term plan for a fair deal-type scheme for 2021. I have spoken about this matter on numerous occasions in the House. We hope to publish the plan in 2020 in order to give people a look at what it will involve. Until we get to that point, we will not be able to meet the demand that exists. There is no point in pretending that we will. Last year, we delivered 17 million home help hours and I hope to improve on that this year. The service plan will be agreed in the next week to ten days. We certainly will improve on that figure but we will not get to where we need to be. The current system is not fit for purpose and involves sending people 7 miles north or 8 miles south for half an hour here and half an hour there. We cannot get the people we need to deliver the service either. There are challenges on a number of fronts. We are making every effort to try to allocate whatever resources are available, but we are competing with other areas. Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on health is seeking equalisation for consultants, home help and other items, all of which cost €20 million, €30 million or €40 million. We cannot provide it all. We can only continue incrementally to do the best we can.

Last night the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 passed Committee Stage in the Seanad. As today is International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, I welcome that progress. The Bill is supported by all parties in the House except Fine Gael, which urgently needs to get on board with what is a progressive and human rights-based legislative measure. Nothing will change in Gaza or the West Bank until the international community moves from empty rhetoric to putting pressure on Israel. Next week marks the fourth anniversary of a Sinn Féin motion that was agreed unanimously by the House and that called on the State to formally recognise the state of Palestine. The Government has dragged its heels on this matter despite a commitment in the programme for Government. It is time to make a principled stand for peace and progress in the Middle East. The continued mantra from Fine Gael that the time is not right is simply not good enough. Will the Tánaiste accept that this is the right time to afford recognition to the people and state of Palestine?

The Deputy's time is up.

I wish to say to the people of Palestine that this House recognises the official state of Palestine-----

The Deputy is taking time from his colleagues.

-----as do the majority of its elected Members.

Will Members please learn to read the clock? When leaders take a long time, they are taking time from their colleagues. Those colleagues will not have an opportunity to ask their questions.

I have outlined on the record of the Seanad and publicly why we cannot support the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. We do not believe it to be legally sound or capable of being implemented. I understand the political frustration that produced the Bill. Palestinians and the Palestinian National Authority have strong advocates in both Houses, and I am one of them. I have probably spent more time on the Middle East peace process than on anything else aside from Brexit and EU issues since being appointed as Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. We will continue to try to impact positively on trying to find a way forward that will protect Palestinians and support a sustainable two-state solution for both Israel and Palestine. However, I will not be bounced into anything that I believe is the wrong thing to do.

I call Deputy Howlin.

The Dáil voted for it unanimously.

Please, Deputy.

That is democracy.

My question is about the contingency planning that is under way by the Government for a no-deal Brexit in the event of that unwelcome eventuality. I will focus on one narrow element. During the week, there was an easterly wind which briefly closed Dublin Port and which caused traffic to be backed up from the port and out towards the airport. This is the main entrance and egress point for the bulk of our trade so we must have specific plans to deal with the imports and exports coming to and leaving this country. The other port is Rosslare Europort. That port needs specific funding to complete the M11 access and to ensure the port is reconfigured to deal with the new circumstances. Will the Tánaiste share what planning is taking place for these specific points, which could be catastrophic if we are not prepared?

I brought an updated report to the Cabinet this week, with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on the state of preparedness regarding contingency for-----

Is that including these matters?

Yes. It is important to say that those contingency plans are based on a central case scenario. This assumes that we would have a transition period for at least 21 months and that we would have a withdrawal agreement signed off and ratified. Of course, if we have to put in place contingency planning for a more urgent situation involving a no-deal Brexit, we have been working for months on this, but we do not believe that it is prudent to publish anything in that regard-----

Will the Tánaiste share it with some of us in the House?

I believe that I have been pretty open on this with everyone who was on the-----

On the Brexit stakeholders' forum.

-----Brexit stakeholders' forum, which the Deputy is a member of, and I will continue to be very open in that forum.

Does the Tánaiste think it is now time to pass legislation banning outsourcing in healthcare, given what we can read in today's Irish Independent? There is a backlog of 80,000 tests from women who underwent cervical screening in recent months. CervicalCheck has issued a warning on its website about a wait of more than five months in a small number of cases. This follows revelations that an additional laboratory in the UK, which is run by MedLab Pathology and which screens tests in Dublin, is being asked to reduce some of the backlog. During this entire scandal, tests are being sent to private companies abroad who then outsource the tests. As was discovered recently, in many cases CervicalCheck did not even know where the tests were going. It is clear that lives are being put at risk for profit and for cost. Is it now the time to re-nationalise the screening of all of these important diagnostic tests and bring them back into the public health system?

The straight answer to the Deputy's question is "No". We should not ban the outsourcing of healthcare. I do not believe that the system could manage that in the short term.

What of the long term?

If arguments are made to conduct testing here, and if those recommendations stand up to scrutiny, then of course the Government will consider that. Dr. Scally has examined many of these issues. The laboratories that are being used outside Ireland have been shown to be as accurate as laboratories in Ireland.

That is not true.

We need to keep these issues under review so that we provide quality and reliable screening and test results. I do not believe the answer here is to simply ban all outsourcing. That would cause a lot more problems than it would solve.

I wish to raise the issue of the long and sad saga of Clonmel Garda station. It has been raised in the House for the past 40 years and still there are no better facilities for the Garda Síochána, which I salute, under the direction of Superintendent William Leahy. I also pay tribute to one of his colleagues who died recently, Sergeant Martin Hopkins, who was an excellent young garda.

It is just not fair. It has been announced more times, including by previous Ministers such as Deputies Alan Kelly and Michael Lowry and many others. We know some contracts were signed and there is a public private partnership, but when are we going to see any movement towards putting the station on the new site? We had an announcement this week about funding for the site at Kickham Barracks. I welcome that but there has been nothing for the Garda station or the gardaí who work in those appalling conditions. It is time that we had the plans and the JCBs on site to get this moving because the current situation is not acceptable.

I am keen that progress be reported on this issue. I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in the Garda station in Clonmel, along with others. I had the opportunity to visit the existing Garda station and I agree that it needs to be replaced.

The new bundle of public private partnerships for Garda stations has been announced. The Government is committed to ensuring that the bundle, among which is the Clonmel Garda station, will be completed. A number of legal and technical difficulties are outstanding. My officials, together with officials in the Office of Public works and the local authorities, are keen to resolve this with a view to ensuring there will be people on site next year.

I thank the Minister. Ten further Deputies are offering and there are just over four minutes left. I call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.

I wish to raise an important issue whereby couples who earn more than €31,500 are not allowed onto the housing waiting list in Kerry. The maximum net income for any family in this regard is €35,000, beyond which they are out of eligibility for housing supports of any kind such as housing assistance payment, HAP, or rent allowance. At €35,000, or even at €37,000 or €38,000, a person or family does not qualify for a loan for a mortgage. People who earn even as much as €50,000 will not qualify for a loan. I ask the Minister to increase the caps and allow people onto the housing list. It will not cost anything.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has a question on the same issue.

This is a serious problem and it is continuing to worsen because of the scarcity of housing. The Minister has to allow more people to qualify and he has to look at the whole situation around the purchase of local authority houses, which we have asked the Minister to do under the tenant purchase scheme.

The Deputy has made his point.

The Minister has to look at these problems; they are simple issues that can be dealt with in a practical and workmanlike way, if he gets at it.

I thank the Deputies for the questions. The eligibility criteria are currently being reviewed by the Housing Agency. When I have that review, I will be able to publish it and examine the recommendations then. With regard to the affordability of mortgages, the Rebuilding Ireland home loan is there. If Deputies are having any difficulties with that, they should bring them to my attention directly.

Recently the Government, and Fianna Fáil, opposed the Sinn Féin Bill that proposed to regulate the use of quad bikes and scramblers. In the newspapers yesterday, the Minister for Justice and Equality, in response to the wife of a victim of a scrambler accident in a public park, clearly indicated that he is "fully committed to supporting any positive actions that can be pursued to counteract this serious public safety issue". Unfortunately, when the opportunity arose in the Dáil to support such "positive actions", the Government failed to do so. The Minister has stated that he has received detailed legal advice on this matter from the Attorney General. Could he share this advice with the House? What are his plans to bring forward legislation and when does he expect to do it? This is a serious issue.

This was the subject matter of detailed questioning earlier. I would have liked it if the Deputy had been present, or had tabled a question. He is, however, correct that I have received the advice of the Attorney General. A cross-governmental group is dealing with this issue and it involves a number of stakeholders and interested parties. I am keen to bring forward proposals that are workable and which will meet the needs of this serious issue in society.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to carers. A respite care crisis is unfolding in counties Cavan and Monaghan. I have been contacted by numerous distressed, frustrated and exasperated parents who are the sole carers for their children with intellectual disabilities, and who desperately need their very short but extremely important weekend respite care. These parents have reported that their respite care is being cancelled at short notice, which causes further distress to them, as they desperately need a break to recuperate. Will the Tánaiste confirm that he will ensure adequate respite hours and carers will be provided and that he will investigate the crisis unfolding for parents in Cavan and Monaghan?

Last year, right up to when the HSE plan was put in place, the Government kept telling us that additional funding would be available for respite care and for the shared care option, especially for parents of children with intellectual disabilities. There is little or no respite care available; there are only one or two days available in a 12-month period. It is shocking. We need to focus and make sure there is adequate respite care put in place. With the HSE service plan being negotiated currently and about to be launched, will adequate funding be provided to cover the respite care that is needed and that has been lacking for the past two years?

This year, an extra €10 million has been announced in respect of improving respite services provision. This additional funding has provided for 12 new respite houses that have opened. When fully operational, the programme will provide an additional 19,000 overnights and 2,520 home-sharing nights annually. These services are getting a lot more money and new facilities are opening up. I accept, however, that there are parts of the country where respite services are not what they need to be. I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to come back to both Deputies on the matter.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. My apologies to the seven Deputies who have not been reached.