Financial Resolution No. 9: General (Resumed)

Debate resumed on the following Financial Resolution:
THAT it is expedient to amend the law relating to inland revenue (including value-added tax and excise) and to make further provision in connection with finance.
- (Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government)

As Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin is not present, I call Deputy Michael Moynihan.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The budget debate has always been an opportunity for Deputies to discuss relevant issues both around the country and in their own constituencies. I would like to discuss a few issues.

There has been huge frustration over the summer months at farm gate level regarding agriculture and the prices farmers or primary producers are getting for their food. We have made great strides on regulations over the decades, in the last 25 years in particular. Going back to the late 1950s and even before that, the product produced at farm gate level in Ireland has been of the highest quality and we can always market it globally as one of the better food products. We must have food security and hold a proper and meaningful discussion about balanced diets, which everyone needs, and the amount of quality food people are eating. Some people say emerging patterns show that consumers will pay for everything bar food. I refer to the food basket. One of the reasons the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, was set up was to ensure food security and that Europe would never again go hungry. We have to make sure the product we are producing has a marketplace and that we can stand over it. Those who work hardest and who as farmers would say are getting their hands dirty must be rewarded for the work they are doing.

The real challenge for us is to make sure this is the case. When one looks at all the factors within the agriculture industry, the perception is that everybody seems to be getting their fair crack of the whip but the farmer is not. We look at prices, particularly in the past 12 to 18 months and particularly for beef farmers. Costs have escalated enormously. I have had discussions with many agricultural advisers over the past while and some accountants who have gone through the figures forensically and they have said the margin is not there on the beef side. We talk about young farmers. If one looks at any parish, be it in Donegal, Cork, Galway or the east coast, one can see that the number of young people participating in farming is dwindling every year. If a reasonable living could be derived from agriculture, it would be attractive to young people. We must make sure that at the core of the policies we pursue is the protection of the primary producer, that is, the person who gets his or her hands dirty and produces the excellent food we all have had the benefit of eating.

Regarding the threatened cuts to the CAP, we need to assess the European project and look at food security. Many people are talking about the green agenda. First and foremost, we make sure that the product we put on our shelves and eat is of the highest quality. We must look at how the CAP is funded to ensure farmers can derive a proper living from agriculture.

It was reported last week after a Topical Issue raised by Deputy O'Keeffe that discussions are ongoing regarding the exact route of the Cork-Limerick road, which will connect the second city of the Republic with the third. This road has been much promised and there has been much discussion about it, for example, in Project Ireland 2040 and every other document that has been brought forward, yet it is not moving apace. It is important for the south west that this project is prioritised and funded to enable it to go from its current stage to planning. There is a long way to go on this. With regard to discussions with various interested parties in places like Charleville, the people involved ask when this project will go ahead, throw their eyes up to heaven and say this is the long finger of the long finger of the long finger.

Kanturk Community Hospital has submitted an application for an extension that is going through the county council. Further information has been requested. While there was talk that the project would be delivered in 2019, the latest indications are that it will be delivered in 2021 or 2022. This includes both the community hospital in Millstreet and Kanturk Community Hospital. These are vital pieces of infrastructure for elderly people who need step-down facilities after being in acute hospitals along with top-of-the-range medical treatment. It is important that these projects are pushed. It is proposed that we have a debate tomorrow afternoon on the cost of the national children's hospital and where that is. Information is coming from people within the HSE that a raft of community hospital projects were promised in 2017 and 2018. For some reason, these projects have been delayed. They did not even show up in the capital plan. I know the 2019 capital plan was announced in September. Normally, if we were doing a job, we would be talking about it in January but it was September in order that there was a document out there. I do not think anybody accepted that there was anything meaningful or genuine in it.

The situation regarding applications for the fair deal scheme is crazy. People are waiting seven, eight, nine or ten weeks. This has escalated from the middle of April when it was three to four weeks. It is now seven, eight, nine or ten weeks, which is costing families with a loved one who needs full-time care. These families are making very difficult decisions about the continuing care of their relatives. They are filling in the fair deal application form, which then goes to the HSE and is not processed for seven to eight weeks. This costs the families €7,000, €8,000 or €10,000 - money ordinary working families simply do not have. There was nothing about it in the run-up to the local elections but at the end of May, letters were circulated within the HSE to say that no extra home help hours would be made available until November. These letters were correct because throughout the summer, it was nigh on impossible to get home help care for any person who needed it. There are people who can be looked after in their own homes with a home care package but this was not offered throughout the summer, which was a disgrace. Extra home help hours were negotiated in the budget, particularly because our negotiating team looked hard for them, but this will not be enough to match the need within communities. The more home help care is put into the system, the more people we can keep in their own homes and the fewer people will be in nursing homes. When one looks at the number of hours we provide in home help and the fact that almost €1,000 is spent every week on fair deal scheme packages, one can see it does not make sense in any way, shape or form. One often looks at the budget for the HSE and wonders whether anybody from the HSE, the Department of Health, the Minister for Health or the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has considered trying some common sense first and seeing whether they can make savings and whether if they invest in a particular aspect of the budget, they will be able to make savings in respect of other aspects. Deputy O'Dea has a Bill before the House to say that if somebody is waiting for the fair deal, the funding that is there should be used for a home care package. It would certainly help because it is very much needed.

Regarding the carer's allowance section of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, when a person applies for carer's allowance, we are talking about waiting between 14 and 16 weeks for that application to be processed. In response to a number of questions I asked, the Taoiseach told me that the delays relate to anything involving medical reports or assessments. We are talking about 16 weeks from the time an application is made, bearing in mind that the family has now decided that somebody will apply for the carer's allowance and has made preparations to either reduce his or her working hours to 15 hours or give up work completely. It is the same with carer's benefit, a PRSI-based payment that was brought in by former Minister Tom Kitt way back. If there is a review of an application that takes up to two or three more months on top of the waiting period and if there is an appeal that is successful, we are talking about a 12-month period from the time that family made the decision to care for its loved one in his or her own home and the time the carer's allowance is granted. In some instances, the person who needs full-time care has passed on to his or her eternal reward without having carer's allowance paid to his or her carer.

The reality is that no money is being saved by the State in any way, shape or form. We need to look at that. We need to look at the reviews and processing of applications of social welfare allowances, including disability allowance, which take up so much of the time of Deputies' constituency offices.

On the HSE, there have been various negotiations through 2019 regarding the availability of Tagrisso, a lung cancer drug. In August, there were indications that it was being blocked because there was no funding for it in the 2019 budget. It is unacceptable for people making decisions regarding the treatment of cancer and who are awaiting the drug to be told that it will not be available until early 2020. If we are still here in early 2020, I will raise this issue again. I will do so in the coming months to give prominence to the issues facing people looking for this drug to safeguard their quality of life for them and that of their families. Yesterday, the Taoiseach offered an apology on behalf of the State. We will be examining situations involving drugs such as Tagrisso which are not being processed through the system.

On education, the Government has made many promises regarding an amalgamated school in Kanturk. It was announced in the summer that the project had gone to tender. There was much fanfare and trumpet blasting. However, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, informed me in reply to a parliamentary question I tabled a couple of weeks ago that it has not gone to tender and is still awaiting some technical amendments to the tender documents. I am unsure from where the fake news story that it had gone to tender came. The people of Kanturk deserve the truth about the project because it has been going on long enough. When it goes to tender, we can then have trumpet blasts and shouts of joy.

I will turn to the funding crisis being experienced by St. Joseph's Foundation, COPE Foundation and the wider disability sector. As for waiting lists, we were promised 100 extra therapists last year to carry out assessments of need. In some cases, it can take up to four years for a child to receive the appropriate interventions, including an assessment of need and the appointment of a therapist. That is simply not acceptable and it is going under the radar. I could not be more passionate about this issue. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, answered questions in the House yesterday. I do not doubt her good intentions. However, she is completely invisible in the crisis relating to children in Ireland in 2019. All Deputies saw the photo of the homeless boy, Sam, which was published in recent days. The Minister is not directly responsible for housing and so on, but she is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs under the Constitution. I predict that whoever is in these Houses in 25 years' time will have to apologise for what is going on now in terms of services being provided for children. It is totally deplorable. The media focuses on this issue and it is the responsibility of several Departments but I have never seen an article appraising the performance of the Minister, Deputy Zappone. There is no input from her in respect of the crisis facing children in every aspect of Irish society. Historically, the issues faced by previous generations were raised in the Dáil and often ignored. This Minister is absolutely ignoring the plight of children in 2019.

On disability services, last week, the chief executive of the COPE Foundation stated that it needs €34 million in additional investment. It took significant effort for him to go public on the issue because he wanted the foundation to continue working on its programmes and ensure it is doing the best it could. However, he was forced to cry for help. What is happening in the disability sector is deplorable. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, is a fine person and so on. Some €10 million was allocated to respite care last year, but it had no effect whatsoever. It was far easier to get respite care in 2017 than it is in 2019. Respite care is currently non-existent. The Government referred to shared care plans. I have been in negotiations with the HSE to try to put shared care plans in place. Senior HSE executives have told us that the Government and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, are at sea in terms of the crisis coming down the tracks in respect of people with disabilities. We are not getting any traction on the issue. I read an article published during the summer in which Ministers were given a score out of ten. It did not reflect the crisis in the disability sector. We will be indicted for the lack of compassion and understanding of the crisis within the disability sector and the organisations charged with trying to provide care and services for young people.

On planning, I note there is a homeless crisis and discussions are ongoing on homelessness and on the challenges in respect of high-rise nine or ten-storey apartments. There is discussion of further development on the east coast and the significant growth of urban populations. We are neglecting the west coast. The job losses in Shannon and Cork announced today are significant blows to those communities. The Shannon Airport issue is an indictment of policy in this area. We must address planning regulations and the ability to object to planning applications, sometimes on the basis of a non-planning issue. There should be grounds in legislation to turf out such objections and a limit on the distance between the property of a person wishing to make a planning objection and the site in question. We must examine the decisions of An Bord Pleanála, particularly in regard to one-off houses. Any house that is given full planning permission by a council, by God, when it goes to An Bord Pleanála, that is the end of that. An Bord Pleanála is not paying sufficient regard to regional or balanced development. We will end up with a huge population on the east coast. It has been said that we will tilt into the Irish Sea unless there is proper development and proper planning on the west coast.

The "Claire Byrne Live" programme on Monday night dealt with the issue of children who are constantly homeless and their ability to swallow. Surely to God, that will not be the image of Ireland in 2019. There is a significant number of issues that need to be tackled and a significant number of Ministers who are not on top of their brief in respect of the serious social challenges in communities. We will pay for the lack of foresight long into the future if the issues I have outlined are not tackled in the short term.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 9.58 a.m. and resumed at 10.30 a.m.