Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 10 Feb 2022

Vol. 1017 No. 7

Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

I again ask Deputies for their co-operation. Each speaker has up to one minute and then everybody will get in.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. We know the Tánaiste is more in line with the Tories and Boris Johnson in London than the Executive in the North but for the information of the House, my colleague Deirdre Hargey has already approved a €240 payment - not a loan - to individuals as a targeted support. That legislation is going through the Executive. The Tánaiste is mixing it up with Boris Johnson's plan for Britain.

I raise the mica and pyrite defective blocks scheme. There are serious concerns in Donegal and elsewhere about the timeframes and how long it will take. There are suggestions it could be close to the end of the year. We need urgency from the Government on this. Those concerns are only being added to now due to the upcoming Society of Chartered Surveyors in Ireland, SCSI, report on the cost of the defective concrete blocks scheme. It is simply unacceptable. The SCSI must be allowed to provide a fully independent and true assessment of the costs of rebuilding homes and replacing foundations.

I thank the Deputy.

The Tánaiste's colleague, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, gave a commitment that foundations would be included. It appears they have not been.

I thank the Deputy and ask the Tánaiste to respond.

Will the Tánaiste explain to the House why he is asking thousands of homeowners to rebuild their homes to standards that for some will be a quarter of a century old-----

-----given what the Government is demanding and the SCSI standards

I thank the Deputy. I am going to have to come back to him on the SCSI standards as I do not have a note on that at the moment.

As I understand it, the €240 being offered in Northern Ireland has not been paid to anyone yet.

The legislation has gone through.

Yes, but the Deputy is critical of------

The Tánaiste said it was a loan. Will he just accept he was wrong? He said it was a loan.

I accept that. Will the Deputy accept-----

And it is for individuals, not households.

Yes. Will the Deputy accept that Sinn Féin is not giving it to everyone in the North? It is only giving it to-----

-----a limited number of groups.

Second, would the Deputy accept that it is hypocritical of him to criticise us for not yet paying the energy grant that has been announced, when exactly the same thing is happening in the North? An energy grant of £240, or whatever the amount is, was announced but has not been paid because the legislation has not gone through, yet the Deputy criticises us for the exact same thing. That makes no sense.

Will the Tánaiste acknowledge that he was wrong?

I am moving on to the Labour Party.


There is no response to the mica issue.

The question was on mica.

I was wrong on that point, but the Deputy is a hypocrite.


Both sides are unacceptably using up the time of colleagues.

I wish to raise the issue of inpatient services for young people with eating disorders who are in crisis mental health situations. Grace, who is 13 years of age, has been in Tallaght Hospital since 6 January with an eating disorder. She is currently being fed through a tube and her mental health is deteriorating. Tallaght Hospital has said she needs the specialist care of the Linn Dara facility in Cherry Orchard. Unfortunately, the waiting list means she will not be there until May at the earliest, which is three months from now. What are the Government's plans for increasing capacity in our services for people with acute eating disorders and in mental health crises?

I am very sorry to hear about that situation. The Government has plans, and has put aside additional funding, to improve services for people who suffer from eating disorders. I will arrange for a detailed note on that to be sent to the Deputy from the Department of Health.

Between one in 100 and one in 200 women will suffer from hyperemesis during pregnancy, a debilitating condition that causes extreme levels of nausea and vomiting. The national guidelines for the treatment of hyperemesis specifically refer to the drug Cariban as the first stage in its treatment algorithm. However, in Ireland, there is a complete lack of affordability when it comes to Cariban. A treatment can cost up to, and more than, €3,000 over the course of a pregnancy.

I have asked several parliamentary questions on the issue. The reason given for the high cost and lack of support was always that Cariban is an unlicensed drug and, therefore, not available under the drugs payment scheme or medical card. An exemption can be applied in exceptional circumstances for unlicensed drugs in Ireland, but it has recently been reported that Cariban is considered a food supplement rather than a medical product. The medicines management programme has been tasked with looking into this matter. What is the timeline? When will it report back? Will the Government put in place exceptional arrangements now to fund the drug in individual cases? People with hyperemesis cannot wait.

I am not familiar with that particular medicine, but I am familiar with hyperemesis gravida and how serious and debilitating an illness it can be. I will certainly check with the Minister for Health to see if we can do anything to speed up a decision in that regard.

There is a real drive to increase military spending in Ireland that, in my opinion, is part of a push to completely abandon any notion of neutrality and to instead align with NATO and the permanent structured co-operation push for an EU army. All of that is clear from the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. It is pushing for up to an additional €2 billion in military spending annually. It thinks it is a bad thing that we spend significantly less than other EU countries on the military, whereas I think it is a good thing. For €2 billion a year, we could scrap all college fees, provide free school meals for every primary and secondary school student and still have enough left over to make all public transport free and to lift the basic pay of all Defence Forces staff, or we could spend it on warships and fighter jets. Even if we increased the military budget to €3 billion a year, what would that achieve? Britain spends 20 times that amount, as does Russia. It is about aligning with NATO. Is it welfare or warfare?

The Commission on the Defence Forces published its report yesterday. I have not had a chance to read it from cover to cover, but I have read the executive summary. The commission has produced a very valuable body of work and I encourage Members to give it proper consideration. It is a report that was noted by the Government. We have not adopted it or accepted its recommendations. It presents three scenarios or levels of ambition. Level of ambition one involves trying to do what we are doing now but to do it properly. Levels of ambition two and three are also set out in the report. The Deputy is referring to level of ambition three, which involves increasing defence spending to €3 billion a year. That is not Government policy. We have not made a decision to do that. What will now happen is that we will have a chance to consider and debate that report, at the joint committee and in this House, and decide on the best option for Ireland. To be clear, this is an excellent report but it presents three options. It does not state what the Deputy said it states.

I have raised the issue of planning on many occasions, in particular as it relates to young families who want to build in their local parishes. The number of young people who are being refused planning permission in the local area where they were born and raised is unreal. These people are, in effect, being prohibited from living in their own area. This is diminishing the areas concerned. Let us imagine rural areas with no young families. I know of a family that has been living in an area for more than 30 years. They bought a site in 2006 as an investment for one of their children. No matter how many times they try, they cannot get planning permission. Members of the family have attended the local school, they have their local needs, they play for the local GAA club and they live within 300 m of the area. Their dream is to build a house there. The Government is investing in schools and services. In the future, there will be no young families or services. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy English, for years to help us out. Will the Tánaiste please help to sort out planning?

The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is working on new planning legislation, which we hope to have before the House in the next few months.

At a meeting of Cork County Council's west Cork municipal district last Monday, the people of the Beara Peninsula were dealt a severe blow with the announcement by the council that the very popular Dursey Island cable car will be suspended from use for seven months from 1 April this year until November 2022. The council has carried out a structural review of the cable. It is deemed that the towers are unsafe at present due to adverse weather damage, including that caused by a recent storm.

This is a major blow to locals and to tourism potential in the Beara area. This, coupled with a separate issue where An Taisce and BirdWatch Ireland are forcing a judicial review of planning permission given recently for a €10 million community development in Dursey, is leaving locals who have communicated with me in shock. I have talked to local residents during the week and they are confident that a local, temporary solution to the cable car closure may be possible if the Minister with responsibility for the islands and senior council officials work with the local community. This solution, if worked on, could save tourism and continue to bring locals and tens of thousands of others to this spectacular tourist attraction. Will the Tánaiste communicate to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and the local authority that they should urgently come together to provide necessary funding co-operation to supply a temporary solution?

I will certainly bring this matter to the attention of the Minister. I know the cable car and for it to be down for seven months would be pretty serious, especially during the tourist season. I do not know the details, but I will certainly let the Minister know that the Deputy has raised the issue.

As the Tánaiste knows, yesterday's Daft.ie report showed a shocking rise in rental prices throughout the country. Nationally, rents went up by 10% in 20 counties, with 20 counties seeing double-digit increases. My county, Donegal, has seen the highest rise nationally, with rents increasing by an astonishing 24.3%. Something has to be done. This is not acceptable and is certainly not sustainable. Week after week, I have people in my constituency office who are unable to afford to buy or to rent. Where are they supposed to go? There are no long-term rentals as short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, are taking over the rental market. This needs to be addressed immediately. Many families in Donegal are already facing a devastating mica crisis and are now being forced to face a rental crisis. Have they not been through enough at this stage? The rental crisis is not just a Dublin problem, but one throughout the country. What will happen about it?

There are two aspects to the rental crisis we are facing. One is affordability and the other is availability. When a property goes for rent, within a very short period there could be hundreds of emails from people who are looking for somewhere to rent. On affordability, we have brought in a law that limits rent increases to no more than 2% a year. That has been important for many existing tenants, but the real underlying problem is one of availability. The Deputy will know as well as I do that people are leaving the rental market. A certain amount is being replaced by cost rental, led by the Government, and a certain amount is being replaced by funds, but those everyday mom-and-pop landlords, as they are often referred to, are leaving in their droves. We will need to consider what policies are necessary to turn that around. They may not be politically popular but they are necessary.

I need to raise again the issue of driver licence renewal for those aged 70 to 75. Legislation has been agreed on the withdrawal of the requirement for a medical report for those aged 70 to 75 but it has not yet been implemented. This was expected to happen at the start of last December, but it did not happen. It was then expected to happen at the start of this month, but it still has not happened. In the meantime, people's licences are up for renewal and they are faced with having to obtain medical certification again. Currently, 70- to 75-year-olds who are fit and healthy have to go to busy GP surgeries to get certification that they are fit and healthy. This was a bigger issue throughout the pandemic and during the winter. There is no need for it. The legislation needs to be implemented such that this requirement is done away with. Will the removal of that certification be prioritised such that people are given an opportunity to renew their licences?

I am afraid I do not have an update on that to hand. I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, who is in charge of that area to contact the Deputy directly to explain the delay. I agree with the Deputy that we should have it resolved by now.

The assisted decision-making (capacity) (amendment) Bill 2021 will make a significant difference for many people and institutions, including State institutions. When will that legislation be enacted and operational?

I thank the Deputy. I understand that legislation is currently awaiting pre-legislative scrutiny. It will take time for the committee to complete hearings and a report on it before we can bring it back into the Houses.

I want to raise the urgent need for increased Government funding for Wexford County Council to deal with the critical situation of the chronic structurally distressed roads within the county, as verified in a report by the Local Government Audit Service. The report states that since the start of measurements in 2014 Wexford has ranked bottom of the list for road conditions. A study by the National Oversight and Audit Commission in 2020 found that 31% of primary roads and 44% of secondary roads in County Wexford were structurally distressed and a cause for serious concern. As can be deducted from these figures, County Wexford is genuinely in need of emergency assistance on this matter. Will the Tánaiste consider the National Oversight and Audit Commission findings and examine the case for additional funding for Wexford County Council to deal with this serious situation?

I thank the Deputy. The Minister for Transport will shortly be making allocations for the maintenance and restoration of local and regional roads. There will be an increase in the budget on last year but I do not know how much of it will go to Wexford. There is a formula as to how that is determined. I appreciate the point the Deputy makes and I will make the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, aware that he raised the issue in the House today.

The Tánaiste has often acknowledged the heavy burden that older people have borne during the Covid crisis. We saw the acute crisis in nursing homes, with many vulnerable people and many deaths there. Today, we read that one in five directors of nursing homes plans to quit. We have seen necessary care postponed for older people and isolation hollowing out their lives. Is it now time to rebalance our policy towards older people to put greater emphasis on being able to live independently? I welcome the new carers' policy, the pilot for homecare model, but we need new impetus to drive this so that coming out of Covid we have knowledge that older people need to be cared for in a different way.

It is time to do exactly that. As a Government, we want to make sure older people can live in their own homes for as long as is possible. In the past, we have a lot of additional resources into homecare for that reason. The barrier to receiving those services was a lack of finance, but it is now not a lack of finance but a shortage of homecare workers, which we are really struggling with at the moment. As a Government, we have decided to establish a commission on care. That is in the programme for Government. We were not able to get it up and running because there were a number of other commissions doing work on pensions, defence and the media, but we agreed at party leader level on Monday that we would get the commission on care established before the summer. It will be able to look at some of these issues, which I think will be very valuable.

A disability package was promised to people affected by Valproate, which is a drug prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy but causes serious developmental disorders and congenital malformation in children exposed to it in the womb. A number of years ago, the affected people and families obtained a report from a genetics doctor which was submitted to the CHO area in which they live. They were told a liaison officer would be appointed to engage with those concerned to identify the supports required to address their needs. Despite this announcement of a number of years ago, no packages have been put in place. We are talking about approximately 1,200 people, although there could be over 3,000 potentially impacted. Why promise something that is not going to be delivered? I ask the Tánaiste to follow up with the HSE in regard to these packages for the people affected.

The Deputy has raised an important issue. I do not know what the situation is, but I will follow up with the HSE and the Department for an update not only for the Deputy but for myself because there are some people affected in my constituency too.

I am sure the Tánaiste is aware of the vicious and shocking attack on Tom Niland in Skreen, County Sligo, when his home was burgled last month. We all send our very best wishes to Tom, who remains critically ill in hospital. Many other burglaries and aggravated assaults never make the news. Many people have contacted me on this issue. For example, a man from Swinford alerted me to the fact that 200 homes were burgled and trashed in two months last year between Donegal and north Galway. As he said, there are a lot of devastated people. When one is a victim, a certain innocence is lost forever. I want the Tánaiste to act on two issues. First, will he look at revising the sentencing and bail guidelines, especially for repeat offenders? The second ask is in regard to an issue I have raised previously. Sligo-Leitrim is the only division in the north west and west without an armed support unit. We urgently need such a unit.

My thoughts are with Thomas Niland who was a victim of a horrific attack in his home. As there is an active Garda investigation under way, the Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment in detail on the specific case, but I believe I speak for all in the House in sincerely hoping he makes a full recovery. I join with the Garda in appealing for any person who noticed anything unusual in the wider N59 Skreen locality to contact An Garda Síochána with information.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Minister, Deputy McEntee launched the next phase of Garda recruitment today, continuing the increase in the strength of the Garda force and its resources. The issue of the armed support unit for Sligo is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, but as the Deputy has raised it here today, I will raise it with the Minister, Deputy McEntee. I agree that we need to look at the bail issue again. We passed a referendum in Ireland 20 years ago to tighten our bail laws. For whatever reason, that has not happened in practice. We need to examine that again.

I was going to bring up a particular issue, but having listened to earlier remarks from the Tánaiste I do not believe he or anybody on the Government benches realises how low and middle income families in this country are struggling. They have no experience of it. I hear Members opposite say that they get it and they understand it, but they do not. I will give an example. A couple of months ago, I received a telephone call from a pensioner who on that Monday had only €5 left. She was crying and she did not know whether to use the €5 to top-up her pay-as-you-go meter to heat the house and have lights, or to feed herself until she was paid again the following Thursday. Members opposite do not understand it.

I will give another example. Married couples, both of whom are working, are being hit with the rising cost of petrol, food and so on. Every day of the week they are struggling. They are paying childcare fees that are equal to a second mortgage. The Members opposite do not understand it. They need to stop putting out the message that they do. Couples are looking at us in this House.

The Deputy has only two seconds remaining.

They see that we are getting €100 and millionaires are getting €100. It will assist those couples in the short term, but long-term it does nothing at all for them.

Thank you Deputy. I call the Tánaiste to respond.

The Tánaiste and the Members opposite need to realise they do not understand what is going on out there in real life.

That is a cheap shot.

Like the Deputy, we come from our communities. We are elected by everyday people and we hear the concerns of our constituents and their real-life experiences every day, just as he does. The Deputy is on the same salary as everyone here behind me.

I know that and I do not need the €100.

I ask the Deputy not to pretend he has a monopoly on knowledge or understanding. That is not fair.

I would give back the €100 but the Government will not let me.

It is a cheap shot. It is populism and it is exactly what this country does not need.

It is not populism. I do not need the €100.

I call Deputy Michael Moynihan.

Issues surrounding the primary medical certificate are raised week after week by the groups who appear before the Joint Committee on Disability Matters. There is an intransigence in the system. The appeals board resigned a few months ago. There is no mechanism for appeals. A court case was taken in June 2020 and new legislation was passed but the system does not seem to be working. On behalf of the committee and on my own behalf, I would like raise the future of the primary medical certificate and how we are going to make it more adaptable to ensure the people who really need it are being targeted.

I thank the Deputy. I understand the Minister for Finance is working on that at the moment, both in terms of putting new members on the board and coming up with a long-term solution because it is important that we get that system up and running again. I will ask the Minister to provide more details to the Deputy in writing.

The latest daft.ie report makes sobering reading. It confirms what we on these benches have been saying for a long time. Rents in Dublin West are up 11%. A lone parent in our constituency contacted me this week to say a landlord had increased the rent well beyond the rent restrictions. How is that landlord doing it? The landlord is charging my constituent €400 for a parking spot that the landlord does not pay for. The tenant does not even own a car. A person in receipt of a housing assistance payment, HAP, who recently came out of homelessness is now terrified of going back into homelessness.

I have also been contacted by Clare, a young woman living with a disability, who expressed her concern and fear that she will never be able to live independently with ever-increasing rents. She has been on the housing list for years and is giving up hope in that regard as well. The Government's policy is failing to deliver anything but misery, fear, anxiety and anger. Does the Tánaiste agree that we need stronger legislation to ensure unscrupulous landlords cannot secure massive increases through the back door, a rent freeze to prevent rents increasing and to ease the pressure on those already renting by putting a month's rent back in the pockets of renters?

I thank the Deputy. We have brought in stronger legislation to protect tenants. We have also provided additional resources to the Residential Tenancies Board to ensure those rights are enforced. I have not heard before of a landlord charging for a parking space as a way to get around HAP. That is an interesting and rather devious approach. I am not sure whether it is legal or not. I will check that out because if it is not legal, we would need to take action on that.

It has been two years since the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, gave a 100% commitment that he would have an inquiry into the valproate scandal. Fourteen months ago in the Dáil, he promised that inquiry would commence but it still has not. When is it going to commence? I remind the Tánaiste that when an inquiry was conducted in the UK by Baroness Cumberlege, she stated: "I have conducted many reviews and inquiries over the years, but I have never encountered anything like this; the intensity of suffering experienced by so many families, and the fact that they have endured it for decades." Some of the families who endured for decades are in the Gallery today. I want the Tánaiste to tell them when that inquiry is going to start. That is the least they deserve.

I honestly do not know when the inquiry is going to start but if it was committed to, it should start. I appreciate Deputy Tully also raised the issue. I will make contact with the Minister for Health and provide the Deputy with a proper answer as soon as I can.

The Tánaiste will be aware from his time as Minister for Health of the challenges faced by children with spina bifida and their families in their daily lives. One such family, Tanya and Colin Boyce from Dún Laoghaire, recently shared the story of their four and a half-year-old daughter, Cara, and the impact the waiting lists and delays are having on her health. Children and adults with spina bifida and hydrocephalus need to be prioritised. I am aware of the recent multi-annual funding of €4 million from the Government, along with an additional €1 million to Children's Health Ireland. However, the medics and parents are unsure about the allocation to spina bifida specifically. I ask the Tánaiste to raise the matter with the Minister for Health and to engage with Professor Connor Green from Cappagh Hospital, who has a plan to clear 80% of the waiting lists. I ask the Tánaiste to raise that matter directly.

I thank the Deputy. As he will be aware, additional finance has been provided. In the past, additional money has not solved the problem, although, hopefully, it will on this occasion. I would not like us ever to be in a position where we are prioritising or pitting children who need different types of spinal surgery against each other. Children who need scoliosis surgery need scoliosis surgery; children who need spinal surgery as a result of spina bifida or hydrocephalus also need it. I would not like us to be in a position where we are saying one should be prioritised over another. We need to sort out the situation around spinal surgery for children once and for all. I can absolutely guarantee the Deputy it will be neither a lack of finance nor a lack of political will that will hold that back.