Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Hospital Services

The need for expanded cardiac services in the south east has been a big issue for people who live in the region. On foot of a number of meetings with Members of the Oireachtas of all parties from across the south east, the Minister for Health agreed to carry out a national review that would look at the provision of primary percutaneous coronary intervention, PPCI, or emergency cardiac care not just in the south east but across the State.

The south east is the only PPCI centre that has a single catheterisation laboratory. The clinicians and consultants say that it is neither viable nor the best method because it is a single point of failure. When the laboratory runs into difficulty at any time or needs to be repaired, the service is shut down. In fact, the catheterisation laboratory has closed on three occasions in the past month because of maintenance problems. Funding has been made available to upgrade the catheterisation laboratory at University Hospital Waterford, but hospital management cannot do it until it has a contingency in place because it would mean closing the laboratory for approximately three months. Having no emergency cases going to the hospital at any time of the day and especially during the busy weekdays for that length of time would be unacceptable.

I am anxious to know the current position regarding the national review. When it was established, the Minister stated that he hoped it would take 15 months but that it might take 18. It has certainly been in place for longer than that. I accept that it has a great deal of work to do. It involves public consultation and going to all the regions and meeting all the stakeholders, including consultants, in each of the PPCI centres. However, we must have an indication of when it will conclude its work, and some certainty must be given to patients across the region that there is a safe and accessible service. Clinicians must guide policy in this area.

To transition to a 24-7 PPCI service will require additional specialist staff and we all accept that. However, people in the south east deserve to have the same opportunities as anybody else and, from a logical perspective, it is not safe that patients who experience an emergency heart attack outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday have to travel to either Cork or Dublin for care because it is not provided 24-7 in the south east. A second catheterisation laboratory is being progressed and is at design stage. That it has taken so long even to get it to that stage is just adding to the frustration of people in Waterford and the south east. They were expecting far more progress on this and to see its delivery more quickly. The commitment has been given, the funding is available and it is at design 2 stage. A private hospital is constructing another catheterisation laboratory so, hopefully, we will end up with three such laboratories operating in Waterford in the next 12 months or so. With that in place it makes perfect sense to expand the service to a 24-7 one. That cannot happen overnight, however. It is important that the review group concludes its work and makes it recommendation, which hopefully will be a positive one that Waterford should become a 24-7 PPCI centre. For that to happen it must recruit the staff and have the interventional cardiologists, support staff, radiographers and so forth. That is why I am anxious that the report would be concluded and make its recommendation. If it is positive, the groundwork can be done and we can deliver this service for the people of the region.

I thank Deputy Cullinane for raising the important issue of the national review of specialist cardiac services and for giving me an opportunity to update the House on the latest position in this regard. The national review of specialist cardiac services commenced in January 2018 under the chairmanship of Professor Philip Nolan and a steering group was formed from nominations from interested stakeholders representing medical, professional-technical staff and nursing and patient representatives. The aim of this review is to achieve optimal patient outcomes at population level with particular emphasis on the safety, quality and sustainability of the services that patients receive by establishing the need for an optimal configuration of a national adult cardiac service. As set out in the National Development Plan 2018-2027, investment in cardiac catheterisation laboratories and other cardiac services infrastructure nationally will be informed by the outcome of the national review.

Since the steering group first met at the end of January 2018, a large volume of its work has been completed. A total of 13 steering group meetings have taken place with a further two meetings scheduled to take place. To date the national review has completed a public consultation survey and collated and analysed information on activity levels in each of the hospital groups and all hospitals within the groups. A successful and well-attended stakeholder consultation was held in November 2018. The Health Research Board Collaboration in Ireland for Clinical Effectiveness Reviews, HRB-CICER, has completed an evidence review of specialist cardiac services looking at international standards for PCI centres, international models that might be applicable to the Irish healthcare system and the relationship between volume and patient outcomes for PCI. The evidence review has provided important guidance for the steering group thus far and arising from discussions at the steering group, the services have been asked to complete one additional evidence review question. Site visits to PCI centres around Ireland are under way and two international site visits are being planned. These site visits have included meetings with stakeholders in clinical, administrative, nursing and allied health professional roles. Further research is being undertaken by the health intelligence unit of the HSE with regards to geospatial analysis and mapping of networks of cardiac services from a national perspective.

The Minister's speech clearly sets out the work of the review group. The group has done a lot of research and has met with many stakeholders. Its members are visiting PCI centres in this State and internationally. I support the group's work because the decisions made will have to be underpinned by clinical evidence and good clinical governance. I asked for the Minister to give us an indication of when the group might conclude its work. There is urgency to this as it is a huge issue for people in the south east. There have been a large number of protests about the issue and, on the most recent occasion, 10,000 people took to the streets in the south east because they were fearful of not having the service.

I have never been alarmist about this issue and I am not going to raise people's fears. I did not promise to deliver it but to raise the issue as much as I can, in an honest and earnest way, to get the best outcome for the people who live in the south east. Those people will not, however, see anything in the Minister's reply on when the work will be complete. The work of the steering group is very extensive and welcome but it would be good if the Minister could follow up with a letter or some other indication as to when there might be an interim or, indeed, a final report. People are waiting for the recommendations and for a sense that this work will conclude. They are waiting to find out what services will be put in place in each region. I asked about a timeframe for delivery and it is no surprise to me that this was the one question that was not answered. That raises concerns for me so I respectfully ask the Minister of State to communicate some estimation of a timeframe for me.

I acknowledge the bona fides of the Deputy opposite and thank him for his constructive approach and assistance with this matter. I appreciate that he does not wish to be antagonistic or political about it but that he wants to get it sorted, as do all Oireachtas Members from the south east. The chair has indicated that he hopes to have the review completed by the end of this year. The Minister will be made aware of any changes to this timeline. I acknowledge the detailed work that has been undertaken by the review group and I thank its members and stakeholders.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

I want to talk about some shocking statistics. Some 78% of all children, particularly those with disabilities, wait more than the statutory maximum of three months for an assessment. There has been a 50% increase in children waiting more than 12 months for a speech and language initial assessment or therapy appointment. The figures for Kildare, which were released to me recently, show that waiting times for interventions for children were up to 60 weeks. If a child required a diagnostic assessment for ASD, he or she could be waiting for a year. This is absolutely outrageous. The Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for disability must recognise these shortfalls in order to overcome them.

We are not talking about luxuries but, literally, a passport for life for children because it would help them develop their own skills. A child who needs a special needs assessment when starting school has absolutely no opportunity of having one. It is absolutely shocking that there are delays of 12 months and more. A number of parents have been in contact with me and it is heart-rending to hear of parents trying to save money to pay for treatment to help their children. We all know that early intervention is key to ensuring children with disabilities and difficulties can live the best life possible. In order for schools, the community and the State to be able to support children, we need to have these assessments on a timely basis, to be followed by the necessary interventions.

I am disappointed that the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Finian McGrath, is not in the House for this important matter but I acknowledge his engagement with me, on a one-to-one basis and alongside the different groups I have brought in from my constituency.

I represent Kildare North, which is in the CHO 7 area. There is an assessment of need and there are then follow-up services and care, based on what was identified in the assessment of need. The assessment takes approximately two years from the application date to the appointment date. What is of most concern is that when the assessment of need is carried out, the programme of supports and services identified as critical to help a child meet his or her full potential, whether it is occupational therapy, speech and language therapy or physiotherapy, particularly in the area of ASD, is not provided for two years or more. That is completely and utterly unacceptable and unfair because these children are the most vulnerable in society. They are being cared for and loved by their parents who have to fight every step of the way for everything. The whole process needs to be reviewed and an intervention, either with funding or better accountability, is required.

Parents have come to me having borrowed between €1,600 and €2,500 from loan sharks to cover the cost of an assessment of need for their children. This is unacceptable.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I thank Deputies O'Loughlin and O'Rourke for raising this important issue today. The Disability Act provides for an assessment of need for people with disabilities. Any child born on or after 1 June 2002 who is suspected of having a disability is eligible to apply for an assessment of need that will detail his or her health needs arising from the disability. Since its commencement in 2007, there have been significant year on year increases in the number of children applying both for assessment of need and disability services generally. Unfortunately, these increases have led to the extended waiting periods currently being experienced. Both the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, on whose behalf I am speaking today, and the HSE recognise that assessments of need and early intervention services are essential in supporting children with disabilities and their families. I am aware that the HSE has undertaken a number of initiatives to address the excessive waiting times. To improve the assessment of need process and ensure that children receive an intervention as soon as is possible, the HSE has developed a new standard operating procedure for the assessment of need process. The purpose of this is to ensure children with disabilities and their families access appropriate assessment and intervention as quickly as possible. In addition, it will ensure that the approach to assessment of need is consistent across all HSE community healthcare organisation, CHO, areas.

It is intended that the procedure will be implemented nationally from the fourth quarter of 2019. Both the HSE and the National Disability Authority have identified that an increase in therapy resources is required to meet current unmet need and projected future needs in children's disability services nationally. Budget 2019 provided funding for an additional 100 therapy posts to help to reduce the long waiting times for assessment of need and enable children with disabilities to access timely assessment and intervention. Some of these posts are in place and many others are at varying stages of the recruitment process. The HSE expects to have all new posts in place by the end of this year. In addition, HSE disability services is currently engaged in a major reconfiguration of its existing therapy resources for children with disabilities into multidisciplinary geographically based teams, as part of its national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people under 18 years of age. The key objective of this programme is to bring about equity of access to disability services and consistency of service delivery, with a clear pathway for children with disabilities and their families to services, regardless of where they live, what school they go to or the nature of their difficulties. Evidence to date from areas where this has been rolled out shows that implementation of this programme will also have a positive impact on waiting lists both for assessments of need and therapy provision. While not addressing all needs, I am confident that these initiatives will have a significant positive impact in reducing waiting times for assessment of need over the course of the next year. I hope this clarifies matters for the Deputies.

The Minister talks about equity of access, consistency of service delivery and a clear pathway for children with disabilities and their families to services regardless of where they live. That is simply not happening anywhere. It is certainly not happening in County Kildare. The reality is that children, especially those with disabilities, are missing out on vital treatments, services and supports which are crucial to improving their quality of life. As of April this year, there were 591 children awaiting speech and language services in County Kildare. Children wait for months for appointments, meaning that they are losing precious months or years in language development. Being able to communicate and develop one's communication skills to the best of one's ability is a basic human right. It is shocking to see the figures stacking up and increasing. Some 910 children are waiting for occupational therapy, of whom 80% have been waiting for more than 30 months. It is simply not good enough and it has to change.

I am sorry to cut the Deputy short on such an important issue but I have to keep to the times allotted.

I thank the Minister of State for his statement. It would be great if it was true. Unfortunately, none of what he is saying reflects reality. In recent years, we have not seen any improvement in waiting times in this area. That is fact. I am not here to play politics but to reflect the real issues we are encountering with the most vulnerable in society. We have to get real and deliver at the coalface for these children, who are the most vulnerable in society. They need this help to reach and maximise their true potential. We must reduce the burden for parents, guardians and families who have to fight 24-7 for their basic right. That is fundamentally wrong. We have to acknowledge that and get better at making things happen for them. It takes up to two years to have an assessment of need done and a further two years for services or therapies to be delivered, which is wrong. That is the reality, notwithstanding the contents of the Minister of State's statement. We have to look at what is happening on the ground, put measures in place to address the issue and direct the funding to where it needs to go to help the most vulnerable in society. This is critical because a group of people in society who are most in need is not reaching its true potential, which is unfair.

I thank the Deputies and assure them that their frustration and concern for children is shared on this side of the House. We understand the impact that this continues to have on children who want to access an education and be treated as equal citizens. As a parent, former teacher and former member of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills under the current Chair, Deputy O'Loughlin, I understand well the impact that these delays are having on people's right to equal access. That is why, in budget 2019, the Government provided funding for 100 new therapy posts across all specialties, not just speech and language therapy but also occupational therapy and physiotherapy. These posts are being assigned on the basis of need. The recruitment of 100 additional therapists is being completed as we speak. I regret it will take some time for that to have an impact on the system. The HSE has adopted a standard operating procedure which should result in a more efficient and equitable allocation of resources such that wherever a child lives, whether Kildare, Cork or Kerry, he or she will not experience a postcode lottery. I am confident that the new standard operating procedure will address that issue but time is needed to see the impact of these steps. We will do more in the coming year for children with special needs. I thank the Deputies for their continued support in this area. The continued focus on it is very welcome for the sake of all children with special needs.

Bord na Móna

The third issue in the name of Deputies Naughten and Stanley is very close to my own heart. I welcome the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton.

Local Deputies, including Deputies Eugene Murphy and Stanley, met representatives of the Bord na Móna group of unions yesterday. They informed us that the company is currently borrowing money from day to day to pay its staff. The public service obligation finishes for Lough Ree power station on 9 December and for West Offaly power station on 31 December. The situation is completely unsustainable. We are facing an economic catastrophe across the middle of Ireland in just 68 days, with the loss of 2,000 direct jobs and another 2,000 jobs that are dependent on the wage packets of these employees. We need the Minister to take three urgent and immediate steps. The Government must make a clear and unambiguous statement reiterating its support for the co-firing of the two plants with both peat and biomass as per the unanimous request to the Minister made by all Deputies for the area in Tullamore last July. The Minister must immediately call in the chief executives of Bord na Móna and the ESB to get absolute clarity on the intention to submit a new planning application for West Offaly power station and to deal with the 3 million tonnes of milled peat that are currently on the bogs and have the potential to cause serious environmental harm if not removed from the bogs. The Government must immediately release funds from the climate action fund to start the rehabilitation of the decommissioned bogs across the midlands. I have written to the Minister directly on foot of correspondence I have received from the Taoiseach, who is supportive of the release of funding from the climate action fund to start the rehabilitation and allow for immediate employment of staff in Bord na Móna across the midlands.

I thank Deputy Naughten. He is always spot on with his speaking time, which I appreciate.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I acknowledge that he was also present at yesterday's meeting. The unions asked me to call that meeting last week. I believe it was very fruitful. We are facing a dire situation in respect of Bord na Móna. There are huge problems and it is facing a perfect storm. Workers are uncertain. They are not sure whether they will have jobs in two or three weeks' time, let alone in two or three months. Senior management has said that seismic changes will take place. This will have a very significant effect right across the midlands, particularly in Laois and Offaly. As the previous speaker said, the public service obligation, PSO, for the two peat-burning stations at Shannonbridge and Lough Ree will end in December. There are 3 million tonnes of fuel on the bog. I am advised that no price per tonne has been agreed with the ESB for that fuel. An Bord Pleanála has refused permission for co-fuelling at Shannonbridge. The licence for that ends in December 2020. No judicial review of that decision has been sought. We raised this issue with the Minister on 30 July, when we met him in Tullamore. The future of the briquette factory in Derrinlough is also threatened because it needs modernisation and also faces threats arising from carbon tax increases and smokeless fuel bans. With regard to the horticulture sector, Coolnamona and Kilberry are hanging by a thread. Peat is stockpiled on the bogs; I saw it again last Sunday. The decision by the British retailer, B&Q, to refuse compost partially composed of peat also poses a threat. Workers in Laois and south Kildare cannot be thrown on the scrapheap either.

What is needed is €30 million from the climate action fund to secure jobs and to commence the rehabilitation of bogs. This needs to be done and we need a proper plan for each bog. As part of a just transition, we need to finance the voluntary severance fund because we have workers who have no work. We need investment in alternative employment and training and upskilling in new industries. We also need to protect reasonable conditions of employment and to underpin the company's pension scheme. This is very important because there are almost more pensioners than workers with Bord na Móna because of the historical context in which Bord na Móna employed multiples - many thousands more - of what it does now. Time is of the essence in this regard.

I thank both Deputies for raising this issue. I am aware of their intensity of feeling in this regard. I will just say a few things. Just transition is at the very heart of the climate action plan and Government has recognised that those who are most exposed to the impact of the climate transition that is under way have to be protected and that we have to support people. The co-firing plan was Government policy and was supported. It would have allowed for a phased withdrawal from peat. The result of the decision of An Bord Pleanála is being intensely reviewed. I point out to Deputy Stanley that judicial review is a very particular type of challenge to a decision. It relates to a failure in procedures. Clearly, that is different from what is now being assessed, which is whether a planning application can be made which would meet the requirements of the board. That is what the ESB is currently evaluating.

As the Deputy knows, the first thing I did when this information became public was not only to meet with the public representatives, including the Deputies, involved, but to meet with the worker directors of the company, the Oireachtas Members representing the midlands, the midland regional transition team, the regional enterprise team, and the regional skills forum. I recently also met with representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. On foot of our July Cabinet meeting, we have set up an interdepartmental group, led by the Department of the Taoiseach, to work on the just transition plan, that is to say, to prepare for different contingencies that may arise in this context. That work is ongoing. There will be several strands to the Government's approach. There will be elements of diversification within Bord na Móna. I acknowledge Deputy Naughten's submission which dealt with particular elements of that diversification. There will also be a focus on an accelerated programme of bog restoration. Many recognise that this is an area on which we can work, perhaps not only in respect of Bord na Móna bogs, but bogs further afield. There is also a need for other regional initiatives in respect of urban and rural enterprise developments that can support the transition not only for the individual workers concerned, but for the wider communities.

I assure the Deputies that Government is giving this issue very intensive attention. In addition, we have secured agreement that the midlands will be part of the platform for coal and other carbon-intensive regions. A team from the EU will be visiting to provide advice on the supports that may come from that direction. At this point, the EU has not committed to any funding in this regard but the new Commission is certainly looking at it more favourably. I recognise that we have to show our capacity to breathe reality into the words "just transition" for those working in the midlands and for the many people who are dependent on those workers as part of the operation of the midlands economy. We are working on the issue. The Deputies' raising of it is timely. Deputy Corcoran Kennedy also raised it last week. I understand that there is intense concern about these developments in the constituencies involved. I assure the Deputies that it is getting very considerable attention from Government as we prepare for the contingencies that might arise.

By Christmas Day, 2,000 people across the midlands could be without a job, with a further 2,000 people looking to the New Year in despair in light of the likely loss of their own jobs. Will the Minister give a commitment here, on the floor of the House, that he will bring in the chief executives of the ESB and of Bord na Móna and provide the public with absolute clarity with regard to a new planning application and what is to be done with the 3 million tonnes of peat currently on the bog? Will he clarify to the House that we have already missed the boat with regard to a judicial review, because the date has now expired, and that we are now talking about a new application? We are all committed to a just transition, but it must be backed up by cash. Cash must be put into next week's budget to implement that just transition. It must be provided next week, not next year or the year after. We need to put a just transition plan in place. It should be something along the lines of the plan in place in Spain, where the coal industry is being decommissioned. I will present the Minister's office with a copy of that plan. It could be used as a template for doing what urgently needs to be done across the midland counties.

I concur with what the previous speaker has said; time is of the essence. What we heard about the situation yesterday demonstrates that time is not on our side, as those of us who have been following the issue and making representations on it know. We are literally trying to catch up by 25 or 30 years. As has already been said, this issue needs to be dealt with in the budget next week. With regard to the climate action fund, funding needs to be released. Workers need some certainty. They do not know whether they will have a job in two, three, or four weeks' time. That is the reality. I have met workers in the last week who do not know. We declared a climate emergency; we accepted that we have one. Bord na Móna is now part of that emergency. The programme for Government says that "The Departments with responsibility for Agriculture and Energy policy will explore, with Bord na Móna, the potential of energy crops, which can be grown in the vicinity of Bord na Móna plants". I have been hammering this issue for years. Has that happened? Is that under way? The Minister needs to sit down with the CEOs of Bord na Móna and the ESB, because the two companies are linked on this issue, in order to set out a way forward, of which the Minister can then inform us. He needs to make a statement regarding co-firing as it is Government policy to co-fire peat and biomass. The Government needs to give a clear policy direction with regard to biomass, biogas, wind, solar, and forestry. These are the new industries that will be needed to replace peat.

I assure the Deputies that I have already met with both CEOs. The ESB in particular is intensively assessing its options in light of An Bord Pleanála's decision.

The decision An Bord Pleanála has made has been made in respect of west Offaly. The application from Lough Rea is with Longford County Council. Edenderry has permission for co-firing up to 2023. That was not clear from the contributions.

I am very much aware that this is a serious threat and that we have to take it seriously. We must seek the best outcome for the workers. I have met them and am very much aware of their concerns and expectations of work based on the co-firing approach. If that approach cannot be adopted, we need to consider the contingencies associated with replacing it for the workers involved. We are examining all the options to ensure we will be in a position to make decisions in the interest of the workers and the region and in the context of the climate action plan on which we are working. I assure the Deputies that this is a top priority in my Department and that it is receiving the attention it deserves.

The next issue is in the name of Deputy Kelly, who wishes to discuss the decision to move the new Tipperary-Clare regional Garda headquarters to Ennis. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, be taking it?

The practice in this House is that a relevant Minister answers the questions. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, but he is not a Minister in the Department of Justice and Equality. If he were a Minister of State in that Department, it would be fine. As a former Minister, I know that all Ministers' first duty is to this House. I believe there are four Ministers in the Department of Justice and Equality. There are certainly three. Where are they?

I am deputising as Chair and I have no responsibility for the Minister or Ministers of State.

I am not saying that.

I advise the Deputy to take it up with the Ceann Comhairle. This has arisen before. All I can do is advise-----

I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, who is a fine Minister of State in his own area, but to be fair he will only be reading a script. This is about a very serious issue, namely, the loss of the regional headquarters of An Garda Síochána in Tipperary. They are being moved to Ennis. To be fair to the Minister of State, although he knows my county well, he would not have knowledge about this topic. I have many serious questions. I find it extraordinary that the Department of Justice and Equality cannot honour this House by having a Minister available to deal with such a serious issue.

I understand the Deputy's frustration. It is not the first time this has happened. All I can say is that I will talk to the Ceann Comhairle. I now ask the Deputy to proceed.

No. I will not be proceeding. This is disrespectful to the House.

I am here chairing. If the Deputy does not wish to raise his matter, I will suspend the House for the next few minutes.

That is fine. I am entitled to make my point. I mean no disrespect-----

I allowed the Deputy to make his point.

I mean no disrespect to the Acting Chairman. There is no point in my coming in here to raise a topical issue if there are Ministers available and if not one has the courtesy to answer a serious question pertaining to his or her Department. It is just not acceptable. The custom and practice here is that if a Minister from the Department is not available, the Department contacts the person asking the question, in this case me, to seek agreement on another arrangement. That never happened. This is insulting to this House and to me as the questioner.

I do not dispute the case the Deputy is making and I understand his frustration but if he wishes to withdraw his issue, he may do so now.

What is the point in asking my question? I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State who is present, Deputy Canney. What is the point?

I presume that if the relevant Minister is not available, a Minister of State takes the question. We do not like it but that is the procedure.

The procedure is to make a Minister of State from the relevant Department available. In this scenario, none of the three Ministers of State seems to be available. In this case, the procedure is that the questioner should be asked whether it is acceptable for another Minister or Minister of State to take the question. I was not asked. I expected to have a Minister from the Department of Justice and Equality here today. It is the norm.

The Deputy has made his point. If he wishes, he can defer the matter. I cannot do anything else for him.

I understand that. I have no issue with the Acting Chairman. What I am saying is accurate. This is insulting and wrong. That the Department of Justice and Equality could not bother its backside to make one Minister or Minister of State available, or extend to me the courtesy of telling me they were not available, reflects on how seriously it takes the issue of policing in County Tipperary. I would like to know where the Ministers' diaries are. I would like to know where they all were today. They had not the courtesy to come into this House and talk to the people of County Tipperary, through their public representative, about why these policing changes are being made in the county. I will not be proceeding with my topical issue. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State who is present. It has nothing to do with him at all, to be fair to him. Through the Office of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, who has just entered the Chamber, I wish to find out why a Minister or Minister of State was not made available or why his or her absence was not communicated to me beforehand.

As I said, I totally understand the Deputy's frustration and can see the point he is making. I will talk to the Ceann Comhairle.

It is more than a point. It is the custom and practice.

We are not going to start arguing over words. All I can say to the Deputy is that if he wishes to defer his matter, he should do so and take the matter up with the Ceann Comhairle. I will also speak to the Ceann Comhairle about it.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

To clarify what was said by the Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy, if a Minister or Minister of State from the relevant Department is not available or will not be available, it is normal to tell the Office of the Ceann Comhairle.

Did it happen in this instance?

I cannot say categorically but I doubt if we were told. If we had been, the officials would have dealt with it. It is the Deputy's right to request a deferral. I will ask the Ceann Comhairle to consider the matter for tomorrow or the next day the Deputy is available.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.