We will now deal with questions on promised legislation or the programme for Government. This is not an opportunity to deal with issues more suitable for parliamentary questions or Topical Issue matters. I ask Deputy Micheál Martin to set a good example.
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I was reminded, during the last discussion, of the wonders of the free travel initiative in the late 1960s, which continues to have such a revolutionary impact on the quality of lives of many senior citizens in the country. That is the kind of innovation we require for senior citizens.
An interesting piece of research was published this morning, entitled Building Community Resilience, by Dr. Johnny Connolly from the centre for crime, justice and victim studies at the University of Limerick, with research support from Ms Jane Mulcahy in University College Cork, UCC. The research identified a terrible trend whereby ganglords of drug gangs are using children for the distribution and selling of drugs. It is a chronic situation that young children and teenagers are being attracted into this kind of atmosphere by unscrupulous people. We must mobilise the full capacity of the State to stop this in the interests of children.
We are discussing the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill, tabled by Deputy Curran, this week, which would make it an offence to buy drugs from a minor and make it an offence to use a minor or cause a minor to sell or distribute drugs. It is a short, tight item of legislation that will clearly signal to those who are unscrupulously using and abusing children in this manner that the State will provide a robust response to those actions. I ask the Taoiseach to signal that the Government will support the passage of this legislation this evening. That would show the Oireachtas responding in a telling manner to this appalling scourge.
Can I contribute on the same topic?
Each leader has a right to put a question and receive a reply. When it is the turn of Independents 4 Change, Deputy Broughan will have a right to raise the matter, even if it is a repetition of a previous question. I would be breaking with precedent to allow Deputy Broughan to come in now, even though it would suit me fine if a number of Deputies asked the same question.
I thank the Deputy. I am concerned and worried that so many children and teenagers are getting involved in drug gangs. Our response must be one that is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. That means more resources for the Garda and tackling poverty and deprivation. We are doing both of those things, and will continue to do so.
We discussed Deputy Curran's Bill at Cabinet on Tuesday and the Government will support it. We think there are some issues with it and we do not want to inadvertently criminalise children, which I acknowledge is not the intent of the Bill. The intent of the Bill is to strengthen the law and make it absolutely clear that children should not be used to sell drugs. We support the thrust of the Bill and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, will work with Deputy Curran to refine it on Committee Stage.
I also wish to raise the Building Community Resilience report by Dr. Johnny Connolly. It stated in the report that just over 1% of people in the community concerned were involved in this criminal activity and that is an important lesson because this report reflects many other communities around the country that are in a similar position and that are often termed "gangland". It is not; only a tiny proportion of people are involved in this and a targeted response is needed.
In each year between 2008 and 2014, there was a cut in the funding to the drugs task force. Since 2014, there has been a freeze in the money for the drugs task force. While we cannot freeze rent, it seems that we can freeze the money we give to the drugs task force. That is a lesson to which we need to respond. The Building Community Residence report states that much of this is down to putting the targeted response in the right place.
I invite the Taoiseach to make a commitment from Government that the funding will be restored to the drugs task force and we will ensure that these communities get the kind of funding they require and that we see the type of community policing response that is required in these communities to give confidence to ordinary people who are afraid to ring the Garda when they see these kinds of activities happening.
The Deputy makes a valid point that the report shows that only about 1% of people in these communities are involved in gangland crime. That is why we, I include myself, should not use the term "gangland" because 1% of a community is a very small minority and the term potentially demonises and casts aspersions on entire communities of which 99% of the people are hard-working and law-abiding. We should all avoid using that term and I ask the media to also avoid using it.
The Deputy is correct to say that the budgets for the drugs task forces were reduced until 2014 and have been held at that level since. This is something on which the Minister of State with responsibility for communities and the national drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is working at the moment. She has received some reports on reviews done into drugs task forces indicating that in some cases, there are problems with governance and in some cases, money has been spent on projects that are not about tackling drugs or alcohol addiction. We have concerns about that and need to ensure that we sort out those issues before we increase budgets again. The Deputy should look at those reports.
There are over 700 defined benefit pension schemes in the State covering more than 100,000 people. These workers thought they had made provision for their retirement but in recent years there have been worrying precedents. The UK has enacted a law to prevent solvent companies from walking away from their obligations to their employees in respect of occupational pension schemes. In October 2017, the Government's Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill was referred to the select committee. Proposals to protect defined benefit schemes were promised in that legislation in response to a number of items of legislation put forward by the Deputies in Opposition. We have been waiting two years for the Minister to bring forward amendments that have been long-promised to protect these pension payers. Tomorrow, the Dáil will debate a Private Members' Bill in the name of Deputy Willie Penrose to achieve the objective I believe there is consensus in the House to achieve. Will the Taoiseach support that Bill?
I thank the Deputy. This is a problem we have been working on for quite some time. We are struggling to come up with a solution, one that I am very familiar with from my time as Minister for Social Protection. There are many defined benefit pension schemes that currently have very large deficits. The solution, as I understand it from Deputy Penrose's Bill, is to make the employer liable for any deficit. There is a real difficulty in that because we could have a company with thousands of employees that is working well and making a profit but if we load on that company a pension deficit of hundreds of millions of euro, it might become insolvent. In trying to protect the pensions of some, therefore, we may cause hundreds of people to become unemployed.
We have a difficulty with the semi-State organisations as well. Quite a number of them have very large deficits and if those deficits are put on the balance sheets of those companies, they would have to curtail their investment plans. That would include companies like ESB, for example, and if ESB cannot invest in the energy network and renewable energy, we have some serious problems. While I believe the Bill is well-intentioned, the unintended consequences could be very serious in terms of closing down businesses, job losses and us having to curtail our infrastructure plans. I ask the Deputy's party to reflect on that.
I believe there is a way of achieving both objectives. It is not to make companies insolvent but to protect people by ensuring that solvent companies do not walk away from their obligations.
We do not want to put them in a situation where they have to cancel their capital plans because their balance sheets have changed.
That is not an excuse to abolish all defined benefit schemes.
It is not, but it is a complicated matter.
The programme for Government promises improved intervention for children with special needs but the reality is that we have a national crisis, with hundreds of children on waiting lists for years not getting the early intervention that everybody acknowledges is needed. The State is failing families. There are particular black spots. Tallaght and many other areas of Dublin are among those. I will give one example to make this real for the Taoiseach. A young mother came to me a few weeks ago about her son who was diagnosed with autism when he was younger. He was in mainstream school until he was 11. Following that, his condition deteriorated. He became reclusive and has been out of school since May 2017. In the past few months, his condition deteriorated further. He is refusing to eat most food and is rapidly losing weight. His family is extremely concerned that he will starve himself to death. He was under the care of the Lucena Clinic. He was discharged in April. The clinic said it would refer him to the disability services. However, the disability services said they did not the referral. Effectively, this young man is left in limbo and there is no indication of him getting the therapy he desperately requires.
I thank the Deputy. I am very sorry to hear about that case. I do not know the details but if the Deputy passes them on to my office or the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, we will have them looked into.
My question is on mental health services. We were delighted recently to hear the announcement from the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, that Jigsaw would be rolled out in Tipperary. Unfortunately, our delight has dissipated because we are now told that the main hub will be in Thurles, which we accept. Outreach centres were to be delivered in Clonmel and other areas but we are told now that they will be delayed for a year or more. It will be a year before we have the Thurles hub up and running. Towns like Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel, in south Tipperary, and other areas are experiencing a suicide epidemic. I refer to clergymen like Rev. Michael Toomey, Rev. Paul Ward, Fr. Jimmy Browne and many others, and community groups such as suicide watch, the River Suir suicide patrol and Taxi Watch. The number of young people losing their lives to suicide in Tipperary is now an epidemic. We cannot wait for another two years to have these outreach services delivered. We will have the hub in Thurles but outreach services are desperately needed in Carrick-on-Suir, Roscrea, north Tipperary and other areas. I ask the Taoiseach please to act on this because we are losing lives by the dozen year-in, year-out.
The Minister of State is before a committee this morning so the Deputy may wish to take his question to him directly in the committee. If that is not possible, I will certainly let him know that the Deputy raised the issue and ask him to reply to him in writing.
I ask the Taoiseach about Dr. Johnny Connolly's report, Building Community Resilience. The reality is that the Taoiseach is neither tough on crime nor tough on the causes of crime. In terms of the Dublin South-Central constituency, that report is an indictment of the failure of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Minister and policing to be able to keep law and order and protect the youngest generation in that entire region. We could have a similar report on the constituency I represent highlighting a similar type of failure. A particular failure, for which the Minister for Justice and Equality has to answer, is that the report identifies the weakness of the joint policing committee, JPC, system. We have heard about the lack of funding for drug task forces and the weakness of the support for communities that are valiantly fighting back. We have had five unsolved murders in the region I represent. This report lays bare the total failure of Fine Gael and the fact that it is so soft on serious crime.
On the contrary, I very much welcome the report by Dr. Johnny Connolly. The author of the report was a valued member of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which reported to me last year, and the implementation of which is well under way. Many of the 157 recommendations have been referred to in the report to hand. I acknowledge that not only is this report welcome but it fits very well into the implementation plan and Government policy. I have not had the opportunity yet to read the report in detail but it is of value not only to me but also to the Garda Commissioner, bearing in mind that this House recently voted a record sum of €1.76 billion to An Garda Síochána, an increase on last year.
You have lost control of the district.
I very much value this report. I look forward to further ensuring that many of the recommendations are dealt with by the Government and not only the Department of Justice and Equality but also the Departments of Health; Education and Skills; and other Departments.
The heads of the communications (retention of data) Bill were approved in 2015 and received pre-legislative scrutiny in 2017. In 2018, I twice asked the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Garda Commissioner about this Bill and I was informed that it had yet to be considered by the Department of Justice and Equality. The 2011 Act requires significant amending following the Graham Dwyer case because it is inconsistent with EU law. What is the priority for this legislation? When are we likely to see it proceeding to the Final Stages?
We expect that it will be published early in the new year.
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna, ach níl sé i láthair. Mar sin, cuirfidh mé an cheist ar an Taoiseach. Under the programme for Government, the Taoiseach committed to enhancing the entire education sector. The provision of secondary school places in Bandon has reached crisis point. There are young boys in Bandon who do not have a school place for next September. One might often hear of that happening in Dublin but it is a first for Bandon. I acknowledge that one of the schools with a large waiting list has been promised four classrooms but, unfortunately, those are to replace four prefabs and they will not be of help in terms of the numbers. I ask the Taoiseach about the long-term plans for St. Brogan's college in Bandon. The four classrooms that are promised will not be enough. I refer also to the need for extra canteen facilities, toilets etc.
We do not expect the Taoiseach to know the details but perhaps he will ask the Minister for Education and Skills.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as a cheist. Tá brón orm nach bhfuil an tAire Oideachais agus Scileanna anseo but I will inform him that the Deputy raised the issue of St. Brogan's college in Bandon and ask him to reply to her directly.
It is Government policy to support older people to stay in their homes with the correct wrap-around supports. I believe it is everyone's policy. Earlier in this year I warned that those waiting for home care supports were facing a winter of discontent. In February of this year there were 6,048 people waiting. Unfortunately, the figure has risen again. As of the end of October it is now at a little under 7,900. In my constituency of Waterford we had 31 waiting in February. We have had a 700% increase as the number is now at 244. We are currently 400,000 hours behind target for 2019. The knock-on effect for carers, family members and late discharges in hospitals means it is a vicious cycle.
The 1 million hours promised in budget 2020 cannot come soon enough. I accept the budget has increased during the past two years and will increase again in 2020 but obviously it is not enough. As we all know, the most cost-effective way of looking after our elderly is at home. When I spoke to the service provider in Waterford, she told me the reason there was a 700% increase was that the budget has run out for 2019.
Apart from people on waiting lists for home help I want to raise an issue relating to HSE community healthcare organisation area 8. When a home help person rings in sick, no one is discharged to the houses that he or she was due to call to. One day, an elderly lady in my constituency was left cold until after lunch in a soiled bed because no home help called out. People in my constituency last week were written to and advised that if their home help person was taking annual leave there would be no replacement. A man who has dementia will be left for three days over Christmas without any home help. Frankly, this is not acceptable. I want the Taoiseach to talk to the Minister for Health to intervene to ensure that people who rely on home help on a regular or daily basis can be assured that if the home help person is sick or takes the entitlement of annual leave, the patient will not be affected.
An extra million home help hours are provided for in budget 2020. Given the massive unmet need, the Minister for Health is examining whether he can start allocating the hours now rather than waiting three weeks. The idea is to pull the money forward and start deploying it now. He should be able to know in the next day or two whether that is possible. Certainly it is desirable - I think we would all agree with that.
We are facing difficulties finding home help staff now. As is often the case, when we have the money we do not have the staff and when we have the staff we do not have the money. As we approach full employment it is difficult to find home help staff. Thus, when someone is off sick or on annual leave, difficulties can arise but we will do our best to resolve them.
Deputy Michael Moynihan is next. He did not get in yesterday.
The home tuition issue comes under the bogus self-employment legislation. There is an issue for teachers who are appointed to home tuition for children who cannot attend school. One arm of the State, the Revenue Commissioners, has deemed them as employees of the State. According to the scope section of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, they are self-employed. They are in a conundrum at the moment. The taxes and PRSI they have paid are of no benefit to them because they come in as class S contributions. Is there any attempt to remedy this? The State is looking at private companies and bogus self-employment. This issue could be categorised as bogus self-employment. Is there any initiative by the Government to regularise their situation to ensure that teachers under this scheme are properly looked after and paid as per the Department of Education and Skills regulations? They should get the same rates. One arm is saying one thing and the other arm is saying another thing.
I will have to have that checked out. It was my understanding that the final say on whether someone is self-employed was made by the scope section of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection rather than Revenue. If one is saying one thing and the other is saying another, then we have a problem. If the Deputy could give me some examples, we will get them checked out to see if we can resolve the situation.
I wish to pick up on one point. Deputy Michael Moynihan mentioned that people paying PRSI at S class do not receive any benefits. That is not correct. One of the major reforms we have made in government in the past two or three years is to extend to people who are self-employed and who pay PRSI at S class almost all of the benefits that employees get. These include treatment benefit, jobseeker's benefit, invalidity pension, paternity and maternity benefit and the State contributory pension.
Deputy McLoughlin was not in yesterday.
Is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade considering expanding its diplomatic footprint even further next year by increasing the number of Irish embassies throughout the world? Will Georgia be considered as an ideal location for a new Irish embassy? We should consider its strategic importance in the region, its strong values and support towards the EU and its geographical location as a gateway between the EU and Asia.
I am glad we are taking a global perspective this morning. That is always good.
We are going from one extreme to the other.
That is right. Normally you give out to Deputies for raising local issues, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Certainly, this could not be put in that category.
We have been doing an extraordinary amount to expand Ireland's global footprint in the past 18 months or so. We have opened new embassies in Wellington, Santiago, Bogotá and Amman in Jordan. We have opened new representative offices in Vancouver, Frankfurt, Cardiff, Los Angeles and Mumbai. Next year we will be opening an embassy in Rabat in Morocco and in Kiev in Ukraine. We will be opening a new representative office in Florida and probably a second office in the UK in northern England.
We are currently assessing where the next phase will go in the second half of next year and into 2021 so that we complete the ambition of the Global Ireland plan. The plan is due to end in 2025. Certainly, I will take on board the views of Deputy McLoughlin on Georgia. It is certainly a country Ireland is building closer relationships with all the time.
Under chapter 5 of the programme for Government, which relates to emergency departments, there are clear commitments to enhance or build out the capacity of emergency departments to deal with patients in six hours or less. It is a clear commitment in the programme for Government.
As we speak in Cork University Hospital there are 57 people on trollies. Will the Taoiseach seriously consider, as per the programme for Government, the use of hospitals like Mallow General Hospital and Bantry General Hospital to triage patients? Can we ensure that presentations are made through the medical assessments units, local injuries units and urgent care centres? These are also referenced in the programme for Government. Can we classify them as valid centres for people to present to ensure that we stave off the over-crowding that is currently taking place in CUH? We cannot have a situation whereby Dr. Padraig McGarry, president of the IMO, is rebutting the idea coming from management at CUH that GPs need to come in to carry out shifts in the accident and emergency in CUH at a time when primary care centres and GP surgeries are completely over-run.
I think greater use of hospitals like those in Ennis, Nenagh, Mallow and Bantry as well as others, including the hospital in Loughlinstown in Dublin, makes good sense.
Will the Taoiseach take a look at it personally?
Yes. I have done so and I will do so again. It needs to be done safely though, because sometimes going to a smaller hospital for triage may delay treatment for someone who is seriously ill. It needs to be done safely.
This relates to the management of the telephone call list maintained by the Prison Service. I wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality on the matter in September. While the letter was acknowledged, there was no substantive response.
This came to my attention as a consequence of the murder of the late Amy McCarthy, who was killed in Cork on 30 April 2017. Her partner and the father of her child, Adam O'Keeffe, was convicted of her murder. Amy was close to her aunt. Consequently, the aunt appeared on the telephone list of Adam O'Keeffe due to a previous offence and prison sentence. This is relevant because when Mr. O'Keeffe was in prison awaiting trial for the murder of Amy McCarthy the aunt received a telephone call from Mr. O'Keeffe. This was deeply upsetting and traumatic and caused a chill in her. The request I made to the Minister in my letter was simple.
It was that when somebody is charged with a very serious violent offence, the Prison Service should examine any existing phone number lists it maintains for prisoners to see if there are phone numbers of relatives or people connected to the potential victim and they should be removed. That is appropriate. It can be easily done. If it had been done in this instance, that trauma would have been prevented.
Has the Minister any comment? Is it a matter for the Minister?
It does not sound unreasonable to me. I would be happy to engage with the Deputy, seek a report from the Prison Service and see how we can meet the concerns of Deputy Ó Laoghaire.
Deputy Eugene Murphy did not speak yesterday.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The Taoiseach has been asked many questions about insurance and insurance reform. I acknowledge that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, has been in here trying to bring legislation forward but it seems to be very slow. I raise the matter today on the basis that we see now that local authorities have paid out over €43 million in the first nine months of the year which shows that by the end of the year, there will have been a significant increase in payouts this year. If people have a genuine case and a genuine cause, like everybody else in this House, I believe that they are entitled to make their case, but surely this is a crisis situation. Surely more of those cases should be fought in the courts. I merely want to know the Taoiseach's view on it. When can we expect to have the legislation brought into this House that will ensure that we do not have fraudulent situations, wherever that possible fraud may be coming from?
I ask that the response be brief. Is there proposed legislation?
There is lots of different legislation happening in this area. The Judicial Council Act 2019 has been enacted. The Personal Injuries Commission will report, hopefully, sooner rather than later. I will not prejudge the outcome of that, but it is obviously under way. There is some other legislation in train. I refer to Private Members' legislation, originally put through by the former Deputy, Mr. Billy Kelleher, and then also by Deputy Michael McGrath. Legislation by Senator Ó Céidigh is being progressed and supported by Government as well. I welcome that the Law Reform Commission issued a paper today indicating that it may be constitutional for the Oireachtas to cap personal injury awards. We should consider doing that.
I welcome the Minister for Health's announcement that as part of a suite of new measures to alleviate pressure on emergency departments in the country's public acute services, the fees in minor injuries units, MIUs, are to be reduced from €100 to €75. In County Louth, we have Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda which is under severe pressure. The only way to alleviate pressure is to restore the full services to Louth County Hospital. In Dundalk, children and families are passing Louth County Hospital, which had fantastic services but was closed down by the Fianna Fáil Government in 2010. It is time that we reopen and restore all full services to Louth County Hospital.
Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda is under a lot of pressure, as many hospitals around the country are. However, it is a hospital that has improved extraordinarily in the past couple of years and in some ways demonstrates what can be done. If one takes the hospitals in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, hospital group together, namely, Beaumont and Drogheda, that used always top the league tables in overcrowding and adds to them Connolly and Cavan hospitals, there are fewer patients on trolleys in that entire region in those four hospitals than in one hospital in Cork or one hospital in Limerick. It shows what can be done to reduce overcrowding with the right resources, as well as good management and good clinical leadership.
I pay tribute to the staff in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, for turning that hospital around in the past couple of years. When I was Minister for Health, it was always at the top of the league table when it came to overcrowding. Beaumont was too. Now they are the least overcrowded hospitals in the country. It shows what can be done. We need now to do that across the board.
As for Dundalk, another very good hospital, it has a great minor injury unit. I would like to see people use it more. I had the pleasure to visit it with the Deputy a number of years ago. However, the best advice that we have from our emergency consultant doctors is that we still have too many, not too few, emergency departments and that if one spreads one's resources and staff more thinly overall, the position will be worse, not better.
Page 5 of the programme for Government states that the Government will focus on guaranteeing the sustainability of rural GP practices. There is a chronic shortage of GPs in Laois-Offaly. Indeed, I was contacted at the weekend by an upset parent who could not get access to a GP for her daughter who was home from college. We need urgent attention on this. A report showed that 100% of GPs in Laois cannot take on additional patients, while in Offaly, only 20% of GPs can take on additional patients. This is an issue that I have raised in this Chamber previously but we have seen no action. Will the Government convene an urgent stakeholder forum to address this crisis and what other actions will the Government take to ensure that it stands by the commitment in the programme for Government that there is access to rural GPs?
GPs across the country are working hard and they are under a great deal of pressure. Such demand for healthcare is a consequence of a rising population and also an ageing population. However, they are under pressure and they are working really hard, and in my view they are doing a great job.
It is important to put on the record of the House that notwithstanding what one might think from the newspapers or the media, we now have more GPs in Ireland than ever before, more GPs who have a got a General Medical Services, GMS, contract with the HSE than ever before and more GPs on the Medical Council specialist register than ever before. The number of GPs in Ireland is going up, not down.
As for what we will do to make sure that continues, we are increasing the number of GPs we are training every year. The number of training places is now being increased every year. I am pleased to see the number of young doctors applying to get on a GP training scheme was at its highest ever level this year. It demonstrates to me that confidence in medicine and general practice as a career is being restored. More young doctors applied to get on the GP training scheme than in any year in the history of the State, and that is a good sign.
Deputy Neville did not get an opportunity yesterday.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Promised legislation to change the treatment of family farms and businesses under the nursing home support scheme, that is, fair deal, passed pre-legislative scrutiny two weeks ago. When will Second Stage be taken and will it be marked priority legislation in respect of farms and businesses, particularly in County Limerick, for which it has considerable significance?
It is an appropriate question.
Pre-legislative scrutiny took place in November and a report is being prepared. Once that is completed, it will go to the Attorney General's office for drafting.
That is what the Questions on Promised Legislation slot is meant for.
There are three Members who contributed yesterday. There will be no statements. Deputy Michael Collins has no more than 30 seconds, but there could be less.
On the programme for Government, page 122,-----
Thirty seconds now.
Okay. We had severe winds and rain on Sunday night last. Irish trawlers from west Cork came home to tie-up in Castletownbere and other piers.
What has shocked fishermen throughout the country was where dozens of foreign vessels took shelter between Bantry and Castletownbere. No one begrudges any foreign vessel taking shelter in a storm but when up to 50 massive foreign trawlers are in for shelter in Castletownbere it is no wonder this has led to an outcry by fishermen. I will cut my contribution short.
The Deputy will be cut short.
Every fisherman or woman knows he or she is in serious trouble. I have called for a stand-alone Minister for fisheries to concentrate the Government 100% on Irish fisheries. Will the Taoiseach immediately appoint a Minister for fisheries?
Perhaps the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, would get back to his southern colleague.
The Minister, Deputy Creed, is not here but I will ask him to check it out and respond to the Deputy. I would hope that in the event of a storm we would offer a safe harbour and safe port to ships no matter what country they come from. It is the decent thing to do.
Deputy McConalogue has 30 seconds.
In relation to the commitment in chapter 5 of the programme for Government to increase bed capacity in hospitals, I refer to Ms Lorraine Miller, a young mother who is fighting cancer and who has been in Letterkenny University Hospital for 13 days awaiting transfer to the oncology unit in St. James's Hospital. I give her details here in the Dáil today because her husband, Stephen, had to go on Highland Radio this morning, out of frustration and concern for her care, to raise the fact that she has been waiting 13 days for a transfer to the unit where she needs to be. Will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure this lady gets the treatment that she requires and gets an immediate transfer to St. James's?
I understand the Taoiseach already has the details.
I am very sorry to hear about that case and I hope it is resolved soon. It is, of course, illegal for me or the Minister for Health to intervene to direct the HSE to do anything when it comes to an individual case, according to the Health Act which the Deputy's party wrote.
The Deputy is correct in saying that we do not have enough bed capacity. That is absolutely true. We used to have 12,000 beds in our hospital system. We had 12,000 in 2005. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in government, for ideological and policy reasons, took 2,000 beds out of our system and brought it down to 10,000. As soon as we had the money, in 2014-2015, my party and the Labour Party reversed that. We are now back up to 11,000 beds. We need 2,000 more.
Deputy Malcolm Byrne has 30 seconds.
In the context of the commitment in the programme for Government to establish an independent electoral commission, does the Taoiseach envisage that such a commission would have a role in overseeing a situation where a political party distributed fake letters, such as those as we have seen in the Foyle constituency in the North's election?
Does he share my view that this attempt to smear the leader of the SDLP, Colum Eastwood, an excellent candidate who would turn up to represent the interests of this island, should be condemned by all free and fair-minded democrats?
Just on the principle of an electoral commission.
We will bring the legislation to Cabinet, I hope, in the next week.