Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 5

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Road Projects

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. I know this is not her area, but I acknowledge that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is at an important meeting and could not make it.

I want to raise the issue of the funding for the N11-M11 scheme. It was a project that was being funded under the Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, allocation announced recently. It was funded for phase 1 and phase 2. Phase 1 started in 2018. The project was to deal with the huge traffic congestion on the N11 we experience in Wicklow. It has been acknowledged by TII that the N11 is not fit for purpose, that the traffic volumes exceed efficient operating capacity, that there are issues with safety and that the road is hazardous, having a collision rating twice the average. That is why it was so fundamental that there was funding.

As I said, an initial project, comprising phase 1 and phase 2, was funded. When we saw the allocation for 2022, it appeared that the funding for the project had disappeared. There was no mention of it. It has completely fallen off the radar and there is no clarity on what happened with the funding, why it was pulled and whether it will be reinstated.

The issues with the N11 are interesting because major consultation on the project was carried out. The public clearly said from the start of the process that they did not want more road; rather, they wanted the road to be made safe and they wanted public transport. Public transport is a major issue for people in north Wicklow because we do not have enough of it. It appeared that was the conclusion reached by the consultants that carried out this project, in conjunction with Wicklow County Council.

That seemed to be the conclusion they were coming to as well. At the end of phase 2, they expressed their belief that this project was about maximising the existing infrastructure, making it safe and ensuring there was suitable public transport alternatives, such as bus corridors. Now it seems that has all disappeared which is a concern for people in the area. In particular, the issue of the bus route is a major concern.

There is a parallel project, the interim bus corridor project, because obviously the major scheme would take several years to complete. I am also unsure as to what is happening with the funding for that interim bus project. It would appear that €1.2 million has been set aside for it but I believe that is only for the area within the remit of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and will not lend itself to any major expansion of a bus corridor in the Wicklow area which again is a major issue. Anyone who has travelled that road will know that there are major roadblocks there. The congestion causes major problems to commuters every day.

As I mentioned, public transport needs to be a major part of the solution. Unfortunately, Government Members within the constituency appear to be using this as an opportunity. There is considerable spin, indicating that there is major investment in public transport in Wicklow. There is no major investment in public transport in Wicklow. There are no timelines or funding plans for the major initiatives. They are essentially just words written in a document that stretches out to 2042. There is major development in north Wicklow and in Wicklow in general. We need the public transport and the infrastructure to match that development.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. She has acknowledged that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is away. The response I have comes from him and his Department.

The national roads programme is managed by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and is delivered in line with Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework and the national development plan. Once funding arrangements have been put in place with TII, the planning, design, improvement and upgrading of individual national roads is a matter for TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

A key priority in the NDP is to maintain the quality and safety of the existing national road network. The NDP foresees an Exchequer allocation of approximately €2.9 billion for the protection and renewal of existing national roads over the ten-year period to 2030, excluding about €1 billion on public private partnerships, allocated evenly across the decade.

Furthermore, approximately €5.1 billion will be spent on new national road projects across the lifetime of the revised NDP to 2030. This funding will enable improved connectivity across the country, particularly in rural areas, as well as compact growth in town centres, which are core components of the revised NDP. This funding will allow for new national road projects which are at or close to construction stage to proceed. The greater share of the funding will become available in the latter part of the plan, with €4 billion to come on stream in the second half of the decade and €1.1 billion earmarked for the period 2021 to 2025.

Proposed national road projects that are at earlier stages of development by TII are subject to further approvals in advance of a decision to construct. When evaluating the progression of these projects and to deliver on strategic objectives, a prioritisation of expenditure between and within TII's "protection and renewal" and "new projects" categories is required, including which new projects should progress. That prioritisation is in line with the programme for Government commitment for a 2:1 split on funding for new public transport and new roads, the national investment framework for transport in Ireland, NIFTI, the national planning framework and the requirements of the climate action plan. The N11/M11 upgrade project is included in the list of projects to be progressed during the period covered by the NDP.

The N11/M11 junction 4 to junction 14 improvement scheme is included as a major project to be progressed in the NDP. The TII peer review of the emerging preferred option took place on 24 June 2021. Wicklow County Council commenced the public display of the preferred option on 30 August 2021 and this ran until 4 October 2021. The options selection report was published in December and is available on the project website.

A component of this scheme, the bus priority interim scheme, has been allocated €1.2 million in 2022 to progress the provision of a dedicated bus lane between N11/M11 junction 3 and junction 6, between Loughlinstown and Bray. The allocation is intended to progress the bus priority measures toward statutory approval. This will be the initial phase of the overall proposed improvements to the N11.

Allocations for all national road schemes, including those in the NDP, are considered on an annual basis and planning and design on the subsequent phases of the scheme will be progressed in that context.

I am still confused because the Minister of State has said that the projects under TII are being allocated to align with the Government commitment to a 2:1 ratio of funding on new public transport and new roads. She also said that the upgrade is still included in a list of projects to be progressed under the NDP. I am not sure whether it means that project will still go ahead and it did not get funding this year or whether it has just fallen off. Perhaps the Minister of State could ask the Minister for clarity on that.

I fully support the need to have public transport and that is where the focus should be. Unfortunately, we are not seeing that public transport being made available in Wicklow. Locals and commuters are having major problems with the 185 bus in Enniskerry. There are capacity issues and timing issues. They are looking for that to be resolved and it is not being resolved. There are issues like that throughout the county. The Connecting Ireland plan is this great scheme for the entire country. Only €5 million has been allocated for County Wicklow this year. That is not the kind of transformative investment we need in public transport. The DART to Wicklow town has been mooted as if it is a certainty. Again, there is no plan, funding or timeline for that.

Some €3 million has been spent on this road project already and I imagine that several consultant reports have been done on it. I would be interested to know exactly how much has been spent. I know that €250 million has been spent on the metro with no infrastructure to show. I wonder if the N11 will be our equivalent where we pump all this money in and do not see any improvements.

There is a very local issue relating to this as well. Any houses on the route will not be able to get planning and people not be able to sell their properties. We need to find out exactly what is happening with the project. It cannot be allowed to hang around for the next year or two before there is clarity. People need clarity.

As I mentioned the full N11/M11 junction 4 to junction 14 improvement scheme remains on the list of projects included in the NDP. The bus priority interim scheme represents an initial phase of this wider scheme. While funding has not been provided to progressing planning and design on the main scheme within the current year, the subsequent phases will be progressed later in the plan. Approximately €660 million of Exchequer capital funds have been provided to TII for national roads in 2022. In line with the NDP and Government policy, TII is allocating national road funding to local authorities for 2022 in a manner which seeks to achieve the following: protection and renewal of the existing network, progress of major projects in or near construction and progress of major projects which are pre-construction.

The Deputy has asked three separate questions. She asked for clarity, which I will seek. She asked about plans and funding for the DART to Wicklow. She pointed out that €3 million has been spent to date but asked about the plans to spend in the interim for the people of Wicklow given the problems with planning.

Disability Services

The next item is in the name of Deputy Pringle. Before I call him, I need to bring some matters to the attention of the House. His issue relates to the Brandon report. He has given the Ceann Comhairle notice that he intends to name persons in his contribution.

The Ceann Comhairle has advised Deputy Pringle that he is obliged to abide by the rulings of the Chair, which preclude the naming of persons outside the House.

I am advised that the Deputy has given private notice of intention under Standing Order 71B to the Ceann Comhairle. I must advise him of the long-standing rules of the Chair, which preclude the naming of identifiable individuals in such a manner as may affect their reputation. Notwithstanding the notice he has given under Standing Order 71B, he is required to abide by these rulings in his contribution to the House. Persons outside the House are not in a position to defend their good name when utterances involving serious charges against them are made. For this reason, it is incumbent on all Members to use the privilege of the House in a responsible and fair manner.

This is not in any way intended to curtail what the Deputy has to say but once he has been advised of the situation, he knows if he proceeds regardless he may find himself with limited privilege, which could have consequences. He is an experienced parliamentarian. I will have to interrupt him if he names individuals. He will have to find another way to do it and we will all be happier as a result.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his warning in regard to my contribution. While names may be mentioned, no aspersions will be cast on their character in what I say. I will outline facts in relation to the situation.

I will have to interrupt him if he names names.

I cast no aspersions at all.

I thank the Minister of State for taking this Topical Issue matter; I believe it is very important. I asked that this matter is taken because of the ongoing issues, which I know the Minister of State is heavily involved with, around the Brandon report and the continuing situation in Ard Gréine Court, Ballybofey, County Donegal. The Attorney General came out earlier this week with his view that the Minister of State is not allowed to publish the report, but the HSE can, and should, publish the report. I call on the HSE to do the right thing and publish the full Brandon report. It is the least the families deserve in this regard.

The reluctance to publish the report leaves me questioning why. What occurred in Ard Gréine and the lack of action taken by the HSE to deal with it was appalling, but it has at this stage been widely reported on. Much of what is in the report is on the public record anyway, so what is left? In my mind, it is the HSE cover-up and the inaccuracies in the report that would be exposed by publication that now motivates the executive.

I want to give the Minister of State a timeline of my interactions on this issue and ask her if it raises any questions for her. On 7 October 2016, I met with the whistle-blower. He had previously brought the allegations to another Deputy in Donegal, but did not hear anything further from him, and he wanted action taken in relation to them. On 4 November, I met with Ms Denise Curran and handed her copies of documents that outlined the allegations. I have these documents to hand, which are important as well. According to parliamentary question replies, the HSE held four meetings on the issue between then and the middle of July 2017. After that there were no meetings until March 2018. Coincidently, I was on sick leave during this period. In early February 2018, I attempted to contact the head of social care, Mr. Frank Morrison, without success. I then raised the matter-----

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy. I must bring it to his attention that the Ceann Comhairle has already ruled on this. The Deputy cannot name names. I do not wish to be unpleasant. I know what the Deputy is trying to do but he has sufficient latitude and is sufficiently experienced to be able to continue to talk to the matter without naming names and still have the same effect.

I will take the Acting Chairman's views on board.

I attempted to contact the head of social care without success. I then raised the matter with the then Minister of State, Finian McGrath - I can say the then Minister of State's name - and provided the same documentation to him.

The then Minister of State is not a Member of the House anymore.

So I cannot say his name either?

You can say "the then Minister of State".

Eventually we will come to it together.

He then sent the correspondence to the head of social care and, lo and behold, a flurry of meetings started to happen. There were more than 20 meetings in 2018 alone. What strikes me when I compare the content of the Brandon report with information I have garnered from freedom of information, FOI, requests and my email records is that some things do not add up. The head of social care told me in an email on 4 May 2018 that he had the final draft of the report by look-back review investigation team. Yet the HSE, according to FOI requests, said that the first draft only existed from 31 July, nearly 3 months later.

Community healthcare organisation, CHO, 1 officials told the national independent review panel, NIRP, that the first time it knew of allegations of rape was from Mr. Finian McGrath’s correspondence. It also told him that there were no allegations of rape in the documents I gave them, which I referred to earlier. Yet these are the same documents. Is it a simple coincidence that the HSE now tell me that the original copies I gave it do not exist? There is no record of any of the documents that the HSE based this whole investigation on within the organisation at this time. These documents were not disclosed to the NIRP for more than a year into its investigation. The panel had to write to CHO 1 officials to request them after I was interviewed by the panel investigators. The emergence of either the lost documents or the new information from the Minister was also never mentioned to me in my interactions with the head of social care throughout 2018.

After the report was finalised in November 2018, I had a meeting with the head of social care and the chief officer of CHO 1, in which they showed me a report that I was not allowed to read or even handle. It was a farcical encounter bordering on the bizarre. There are many more examples I want to highlight but I do not have the time to do so. The chief executive officer of the HSE, Mr. Paul Reid, said that the HSE did not want to publish the Brandon report in full because it did not want to compromise the scoping review into whether disciplinary action was required. Does anyone here really believe that excuse? Does anyone believe that the HSE intends to take any disciplinary action on foot of the Brandon report? It has been around for a number of years and nothing has happened. It needs to be published and published in full.

I am sorry for having interrupted so I allowed a certain amount of latitude because of the interruptions.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue again and pursuing it which he has done so single-handedly for a number of months with me personally. I concur with his opening statement when he again asked the HSE to publish the full Brandon report. I second that. It is important to acknowledge that the Deputy has done great work.

Much like the Deputy, I had hoped that I would be able to publish the Brandon report, after the HSE decided it was not in a position to do so. It is also important to put on record that it was unfortunate the HSE published the report on the final day this House sat before Christmas, which gave us no opportunity to have a comprehensive conversation on it. I welcome the fact that the Ceann Comhairle has said that time would be set aside to have a good discussion and statements on it in early 2022.

Having sought the Attorney General's advice on the matter, it is clear that the Minister for Health or myself may not direct the HSE to publish the report. No legal basis has been identified that would permit the Minister or me to publish the report. The Attorney General is of the view that it would not be permissible for the Minister for Health to publish the report where the HSE, as the body responsible for publication under the NIRP guidelines, has determined the report should not be published. The NIRP guidelines give representations of confidentiality, and persons who participated in the process might rely upon those representations. Undertakings as to confidentiality and non-publication were also given, which might be relied upon. No detail was given as to HR inquiries, but publication of the contents of the report might adversely affect the conduct of any such inquiry or disciplinary procedures. In addition, redaction does not arise given the report should not be published and the Attorney General's office queried whether, in any event, any meaningful reduction was feasible.

Regarding the recent reports published by HIQA, like the Deputy I too was taken aback by the findings, particularly in the context of all we learned from the Brandon report. The recently published reports by HIQA relate to four inspections undertaken in September and October 2021 on the Ard Gréine campus. HIQA inspectors found there continued to be high levels of non-compliance in three of the four centres.

It is important to note that HIQA advises that, in these recent inspections, inspectors did not identify incidents of sexual abuse similar to those identified in the Brandon report. However, they did find that there were behavioural issues that were not being appropriately responded to. Inspectors required the HSE to address the issues immediately and to escalate its programme of change for the centre. I am advised that, in response, the HSE implemented a full reconfiguration of the Ard Greine campus, which it states will give stronger management oversight of the delivery of care. The HSE has submitted detailed compliance plans, and the overall management improvement plan for the campus is updated monthly for submission to HIQA to address these issues. I am told that the HSE plans have been accepted by the regulator and that implementation will be monitored by HIQA and senior management.

Separately, it is important to note that I await an update from the HSE regarding a file review it conducted in the community healthcare organisation, CHO, area for the period from 1991 to 2002, which reflects the period of time during which Brandon was in the care of disability services. Records were screened for all notations referring to any alleged or actual sexual conduct during that time. It is important that the dates the Deputy has mentioned here today also be taken into account as part of that review. I confirm to the Deputy that I will continue to engage with the HSE both locally and nationally on the issues raised by the Brandon report. I will read the rest of my speech in my concluding remarks.

I thank the Minister of State for her response, which was very worthwhile. What is stark in respect of the reports of HIQA inspections which were published last week is that every one of them identified management failures as something that have to be dealt with. The reports are actually very complimentary of the staff, most of whom are agency staff. There is something badly wrong with the management in that facility. That really has to be dealt with.

The history the HSE has given of its interaction with families is inconsistent with my experience of this case and leaves an awful lot to be desired. The chief officer emailed Donegal's public representatives last week on foot of the HIQA report to say that the HSE had informed residents and their families of the inspection findings and the improvement actions and works that were being progressed as a result, yet I know that contact was made with one family the night before the HIQA report was published. That is all. They were just told that a report was going to be published in the morning. That is not acceptable. After all that has gone on, that is not acceptable. If I can get that from one phone call, there is obviously something going on. The chief officer is emailing the elected representative to tell them that this is happening but this is what I can get. There is something badly wrong with that situation.

The national independent review panel, NIRP, has come out of this fairly well so far. I hope it will stay that way but time will tell. How can we be sure that these types of failures have not happened in other facilities? How can we be sure there are not NIRP reports that nobody knows about sitting on a shelf in the HSE gathering dust? How many other Brandon-type reports are there that have not crossed our path?

I will speak a little bit quicker because I have to get two pieces in. Records were screened for all notations referring to any alleged or actual sexual conduct during this timeframe. The content of the file review raised some concerns within the HSE and, in that context, it has been agreed that this report will now remain as a draft while a further validation is completed by a team appointed by the HSE nationally in order to address any queries and concerns. This validation is ongoing and I expect an update on this report at the end of this month. I confirm to the Deputy and to the House that I will be continuing to engage with the HSE both locally and nationally on the issues raised in the Brandon report and its recommendations, as well as these HIQA reports. I will also be monitoring the HSE's ongoing work very closely to ensure it addresses the failures highlighted in the report and that it progresses the actions it committed to, thus ensuring families and service users can have confidence in their services and that such failures do not recur.

I appreciate the view the Deputy has expressed in the House this evening. I would like to be able to assure the Deputy and the House that no such other incidents have occurred or are occurring but, in light of the HIQA reports and other ongoing incidents that are currently being looked at, what I can say is that I have learned a lot from the NIRP process and that, if required to in future, I will utilise a different method of review to ensure the fullest level of openness and transparency is achieved. I can also say that the safeguarding of adults who are at risk of abuse and harm from others in the context of their interactions with the health sector is a key objective of the Department of Health, every statutory body under its aegis and every health and social care service that interacts with such adults. As the Minister of State responsible, I believe that the focus must be on ensuring that the findings and recommendations of the NIRP report are addressed appropriately. It is imperative that lessons are learned and timely improvements are made in the system, where needed.

The NIRP recommendation seeking the appointment of a strategic working group tasked with developing a new vision for disability services in this area in line with national policy is important. It is important to note that the NIRP has stated that this should be chaired by someone who is able to challenge the old order and to hold its membership to account for affecting change. This speaks volumes in respect of the issues that have been unearthed and that need to be remedied in CHO area 1.

Disability Services

I thank the Minister of State for taking this debate. This is an issue I have been trying to raise for some time. Children's disability services in my constituency of Cork North-Central are in crisis. Unfortunately, my constituency is topping the chart in respect of many of the waiting lists. In November, we had the second longest waiting list for an assessment of needs in the State. In December, we had the most children waiting for speech and language therapy, with the numbers waiting for occupational therapy and physiotherapy following close behind. In November, more than 800 children in the Cork north Lee area were waiting for occupational therapy. Behind each of these statistics is a child and a family on a waiting list. That child is probably regressing and is certainly not making any progress.

I was in contact with a lady whose ten-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with anxiety and dyspraxia but who is still waiting on an assessment of needs. Without this, she cannot access much-needed targeted services. In other words, her life is on hold.

I am helping a young boy who was referred for an assessment of needs in October 2019. He was assessed in April 2020 but no service statement was issued until July 2021. He needs occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, psychological treatment and social work. In July of last year, his mother received a letter informing her that her child would begin to receive services in July 2022. For a short period of time, this child was getting services. That is the tragedy here because, in that time, the child began to learn words. He was beginning to communicate with his family but, because of the loss of services, he has now regressed and no longer has any words to speak. Can the Minister of State imagine the devastation that his parents feel when they see how their child has regressed before their eyes?

In another case, a mother has told me that her child is waiting for access to speech and language therapy. This mother has gone on a 12-week course which has essentially taught her how to provide her child with the therapy needed. I have spoken with dozens of parents whose children have special needs.

What all those parents tell me is that as soon as their children need a diagnosis, from that moment on they must fight the State to get the services their children not only need but are entitled to.

I am dealing with parents in my constituency weekly who have children in need of these vital services. It is unbelievable that in 2022, given all we know and all we have learned, that we are allowing children and families to be in these situations. Some parents tell me that they go without themselves because they cannot get the services they need and they are now trying to pay for these services privately. Many families cannot afford to do that. It is tragic when parents are trying to provide services that the State should be providing and that the Government has committed to providing, but has failed to do so.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I also acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan, from the same area of Cork, who would echo Deputy Gould's frustration, and, indeed, he has done so. It is important to acknowledge that the HSE has had considerable challenges implementing the progressing disability services programme. This has resulted in delays for families trying to access much-needed therapies for their children. I regret that, of course, and I once again express my sincerest apologies to any family experiencing such delays and the hardship as articulated by the Deputy this evening. Behind every child is a family and siblings, and all of them are impacted by these situations.

In Cork, and indeed around the country, one of the issues with the reconfiguration has been staffing. To get a proper insight into the shortages that children's disability network teams, CDNTs, were facing, I asked the HSE to conduct a staff census across the network. I confirm to the House that it has found that 24% of posts are vacant because of statutory leave and unfilled vacancies. This means that the teams are, essentially, operating at 75% before considering any of the additional posts they need. The reality is that there are recruitment challenges due to the significant availability of new posts across the wider HSE, in areas such as primary care, services for older people and acute hospitals, as well as in the private sector. Coupled with this are temporary absences on some teams related to maternity leave and, in other instances, Covid-19-related sick leave.

This is not to make excuses, but to be open with the Deputy and the House regarding the issues I am trying to address to get the service to a level where children are receiving therapies, rather than languishing on waiting lists. In Cork specifically, as the Deputy will be aware, the children's disability network teams have been reconfigured since April 2021. I travelled down with Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan and met representatives of Enable Ireland during the summer. There are 14 CDNTs in the Cork-Kerry community healthcare area and the location of each aligns with the 14 community healthcare networks. Each network team is managed by a lead agency, namely, the Cope Foundation, the Brothers of Charity, Enable Ireland, Co-Action or St Joseph's Foundation. I met representatives of all those organisations in the last three months to articulate exactly the issues the Deputy raised this evening, namely, how we are going to get the interventions, how long children are waiting and when we can cut the waiting lists to ensure there are timely interventions. I want to get rid of this situation where securing assessments of needs has turned into an industry. What families need is intervention.

In 2021, I secured an additional 100 posts as part of the HSE national service plan 2021 to bolster the teams across the country. Teams in Cork and Kerry received an additional 7.5 posts from this overall pot. In addition, another 85 posts were added under the special schools allocation mid-year last year. An additional 5.8 posts were also added. This was a total uplift of 13.3 posts in 2021, six of which have now been filled. I will share with the Deputy what I found out yesterday, which is that of 180 posts, recruitment has only successful filled 50. That is my challenge. I know what needs to happen but I cannot magic people into posts. The Government has provided the funding, we have done the reconfiguration and the staff are working at 150%. I hear from all my colleagues around me the frustration of the families. The problem is that we do not have enough therapists to fill the posts. As I said earlier, there are considerable challenges, and the filling of the vacant posts will be my priority for quarters 1 and 2 of 2022.

I have no doubt that the Minister of State's comments were made sincerely. The issue in Cork now, however, is that there are 11 children's disability network teams but only one of them is fully staffed. More than 800 children are on the occupational therapy waiting list in Cork north Lee, but there is only one occupational therapist, OT, for all of them. Is it any wonder that we are having huge problems with staffing in a health service where the staff are working under these conditions? The pressure and the stress these staff and the therapists are under must be only immense. With two psychologists funded, less than half, 0.4, of the posts have been filled in Cork north Lee. This is a disgrace, because this is a vital service. Children are losing their childhoods while they are on waiting lists. The situation in Cork has reached the stage where there is no longer a postcode lottery. No matter where people live in Cork now, the services are in crisis. The question is how bad the crisis is.

I have heard the Taoiseach, in particular, talk often and loudly about the importance of early intervention. Where is the early intervention for the 293 children who have been waiting for more than two years for speech and language therapy? More than 717 children have been waiting for longer than 12 months for occupational therapy. This situation is not getting better. It is actually getting worse. As for the point the Minister of State made about the challenges, surely someone has looked at the number of children who need support and therapies and has put a plan in place. I say that because there seems to be an ongoing delay in recruitment. When positions come up, it seems to be months before they are filled. We need proactive planning and organisation to fill these posts. The Minister of State, or the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, needs to sit down with the colleges, point out that we have a shortage of therapists and ask those institutions if they can provide the courses to help to fill these posts. We must do something. People, including children, are in crisis. I sincerely ask the Minister of State to do everything she can.

I have sat down and met everybody the Deputy spoke about just now. To recruit and get speech and language therapists into posts takes five years. It is the same in the case of occupational therapists and physiotherapists. Along with the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, I am working with the HSE on access to care. I refer to getting people off the 24-month waiting list. A plan is being devised, which I look forward to announcing with the Minister later. The Taoiseach has always spoken about early intervention and that is why he has allowed me to undertake the progressing disabilities services programme. The simple reason is that we want no child to age out of these services. We do not want children to be on one queue, only to fall off it when they turn six years old and have to join another queue. In the context of this progressing disability services strategy, this time last year there were only 30 of them. Today, I have them all reconfigured. There is no more aging out of children in this State. When children are on a waiting list, they now stay on that one waiting list.

The Deputy opened his contribution with comments regarding children waiting for autism spectrum disorder, ASD, assessments. Majella Daly is the head of disability services in Cork. I met her on all my calls with the providers. I and Ms Daly, and her team, are putting in place a comprehensive and bespoke action plan in CHO 4 to ensure that we move people off waiting lists. I thank Ms Daly and all the staff and therapists, because they are always willing to change to meet the needs. That is the case at all times. There will be a plan for the parents, not just in CHO 4, but in every CHO around the country.

We are going to cut waiting lists this year. This is my priority. I am prepared not just to rely on our recruitment process to deliver services. I am prepared to look at alternative models.

It should not be up to a parent to provide a service either. The Minister of State might look into that as well, please.

Disability Services

I raise the issue of the Cope Foundation facility in Bandon, which is closed at the moment, and the impact this is having on the Cope facility in Clonakilty. As the Minister of State knows well, at the start of Covid disability services were scaled back and closed in certain instances. The Minister of State fought really hard to ensure that those facilities were reopened to the fullest extent they could be at the time. During subsequent lockdowns she rallied to keep those facilities open. That is really important. However, in the Cope facility in Bandon during one of those lockdowns a refurbishment happened. Since then, and we are talking a good while ago now, Cope has not reopened that residential facility for adults with intellectual disabilities and very high needs. It has remained closed. It is that old chestnut that keeps cropping up, namely, the difficulty in recruiting staff.

This has severely impacted the provision of services to people with high needs in the Bandon-Clonakilty region. The decision was made to relocate some of the service users into the facility in Clonakilty. I would not have an issue with anybody receiving any type of service. However, it meant that certain residents who had been in the Clonakilty facility for years had to be cared for at home. I mention one gentleman whose name I have permission to use, Liam Sheehy. He is a gentleman from the Clonakilty area who was availing of the residential services in Clonakilty. As a result of the situation in the Cope facility in Bandon, he is no longer doing so. The stress and strain that change in circumstances has caused to Liam are huge. Furthermore, the stress and strain of the family now having to care for Liam's needs have had an enormous impact. That is the reality on the ground created by the simple closure of a facility that has not been reopened, although it has been refurbished to a very high standard by all accounts. Other service users who have availed of residential facilities in Bandon and Clonakilty find themselves in the same situation. It is not good enough.

I appreciate the Minister of State's very quick correspondence when she wrote to me about this matter, which she escalated. However, the fact of the matter is that the service in Bandon remains closed. I urge the Minister of State to do everything she can and leave no stone unturned to ensure that services reopen and the likes of Liam Sheehy can return to some form of routine and avail of the services he had availed of previously in Clonakilty. I spoke to the family just before coming in here. We are hearing talk of a potential February date for reopening the Cope facility in Bandon, which would be very welcome if it were the case. I would appreciate if we could get some type of confirmation on that.

I thank the Deputy for giving us the opportunity to have this very important conversation. We can use Liam Sheehy's name. He represents an awful lot of other Liams around the country, which is unfortunate. When Covid hit, providers had to be agile in their approach and they made changes to ensure they could deliver services to as many people as possible with the staff they had. Time has moved on in respect of Bandon. I met the CEO of the Cope Foundation only recently. His real challenge is in recruitment of staff. We met Gobnait Ní Chrualaoí of CoAction as well. Her challenge is staff. That is not an excuse but the real, hard reality.

It is not right to displace any person from his or her community into another community when he or she has built up relationships and got to know people. No stone can be left unturned to ensure Liam can return to his rightful place in Clonakilty. When we are doing that, we are also displacing others. At the same time, we have to be the advocates for persons with disabilities. They sometimes do not have that voice. These are their homes and what they know. We would not do it to a person who had the ability to articulate for themselves. There would be a protest on the streets if we were moving people out of their homes and relocating them to different hubs. I will leave no stone unturned for any Liam around the country. I have exactly the same problem further down in the Beara Breifne Way, as the Deputy is aware, where we have relocated three people out of their home in order to make it work for their provider. We have to make it work for the person with disabilities. We have to acknowledge their needs, their home. It is their picture, their chair that they sit in, their bed that they go to bed in.

We have not forgotten that but we had to work in a pandemic. Now, as Omicron and Covid are subsiding, I have no doubt that everyone of my providers will leave no stone unturned because they have the person with a disability at heart. I have no doubt that Cope will work with us to ensure that Liam is returned to the service in Clonakilty and all his other colleagues are as well. We also have a problem with the hub in Macroom for our school leavers. I have no doubt the Cope Foundation will ensure that the hub in Macroom will open now the works have been done on it, and that the school leavers, who have not had a full opportunity to participate as school leavers transitioning into that space, will be able to access that service.

The topic the Deputy has raised has a real human side to it. It is a person's home, what he or she knows and his or her community. I will work with the Deputy to ensure it happens.

I thank the Minister of State. I am delighted with what she has said. She hit the nail on the head and mirrored exactly what Liam's family said to me before I came into the Chamber, namely, that Liam does not have a voice. He needs a voice and people like him need a voice. The Minister of State is right that if the same thing was happening to someone who was able to articulate issues, it might not have got to this. Liam does not have a voice. I am trying to be that voice for Liam to ensure his needs are met. Perhaps we could double-check on the potential reopening of the Cope service in Bandon in February. That would solve a lot of problems.

Since the Minister of State mentioned it, the issue of the residential houses in Castletownbere is still lingering on. The Minister of State has highlighted the issue, which is one of recruitment. I would like her to touch on one thing, as it came from her. It would be a fantastic idea not just for CoAction but also for Cope. During the pandemic, public sector HSE nursing home staff were transferred to private nursing homes to fill the gap. It was done very effectively. We are in a similar situation here. It is not a pandemic but it is a crisis where we cannot get staff for our disability services. Could something similar be looked at whereby public healthcare staff who are experts in caring for people with high needs could be reallocated to the likes of the Cope facility in Bandon or the CoAction service in Castletownbere?

The Deputy mentioned that the Minister of State had hit the nail on the head. She is always very accurate with her hammer.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of some residential disability services in line with public health advice. The Deputy knows how many there are in Cork. He is representing them, as is his colleague, Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan. They are doing a phenomenal job in bringing this matter to my attention and working with Ms Majella Daly, the local HSE and various providers on trying to get this matter addressed.

The Government is committed to supporting people with disabilities to live ordinary lives in ordinary places. As the House will be aware, officials in the Department of Health are working on an action plan to progress the implementation of the capacity review of disability services that was published last year. The action plan will help to guide the Government in planning to meet changing needs and demographics and ensure that people with disabilities can get the right services in the right places at the right time.

Regarding residential services in Bandon, I am assured that the Cork-Kerry community healthcare disability services will continue engaging with the Cope Foundation in order to expedite the resumption of services. If we are told it will be in February, then we will hold to that timeframe and get it done in February.

What the Deputy mentioned is important. It relates to a conversation that he and I had previously and it is important that I share it with the House. Where there are services that have closed and as society opens up after the pandemic, we need to consider the HSE's skill set. It may be able to assist us in redeploying some of its staff. When we talk about the place down at the very south-----

I get them all mixed up. If we could find a person to act as the whole-time equivalent, it would mean that all the other care assistants could come in and the three or four residents could return to their home. That would be a welcome development on the part of the HSE in ensuring the reopening of all services.

I thank the Minister of State and the Deputies who raised Topical Issue matters.