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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 6

Ceisteanna ar Pholasaí nó ar Reachtaíocht - Questions on Policy or Legislation

Families are living in crumbling homes in counties Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Clare and right across many other counties. They have waited and waited for a just scheme - one that is fit for purpose and that allows them to start to rebuild their lives. The defective concrete blocks grant scheme, which has been in operation since 2020, has, by the Minister's own admission, fallen far short of what is required. It is almost a year since thousands of people came to the street outside this building to protest and appeal for justice and fairness. They should not have to do that again.

I know the Minister is in discussion with representatives of the homeowners. When will he publish the legislation for the updated scheme? Will he ensure there is proper scrutiny of it, including pre-legislative scrutiny? Will the scheme deliver genuine, 100% redress for these families?

I thank the Deputy for raising this really important issue. I have met with homeowners from Donegal, Mayo and other affected counties on a regular basis and my team continues to engage with them. The Bill to address this issue is in its final stage of preparation and I intend to bring it to the Government very shortly. I asked all parties in the Dáil, including the Deputy's party, to make submissions. I wrote a detailed letter to Sinn Féin asking for Deputies' input into the scheme. Even though the party's housing spokesperson said publicly that he would respond in detail, we never received a response. Deputy Gould can shake his head but it is a fact.

We have engaged directly with homeowners on the matter. What I am interested in is helping people to get their homes and their lives fixed. The scheme we bring forward will be a substantial improvement on the scheme that was in place from January or February 2020. I expect the legislation to come to the Government very soon. I will be seeking the co-operation of all parties across the House to make sure the Bill is passed before the summer recess in order that there be no further delays.

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I represent the Dublin Fingal constituency, which is the only local authority area in the country that does not have a municipal swimming pool. When I was a councillor, I worked to have an objective included in the county development plan calling for the delivery of public swimming pools, ideally including one in Balbriggan and another in Swords. Unfortunately, Swords has the unenviable title of being the largest town in Ireland without a primary care centre, a rail link or, indeed, a public swimming pool. What is the Government doing to drive the delivery of public swimming pools in areas like Swords, Balbriggan and elsewhere in the country where they are badly needed?

As a constituency colleague of the Deputy, I know Swords very well, as does he. The town has now grown to the size of a city and it is a fantastic community. In both Swords and Balbriggan, there are two very strong campaigns in place for municipal pools. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, recently launched a new initiative in the Donabate area providing for a temporary pop-up pool, as is happening elsewhere. Of course communities want to see permanent facilities in place. I will continue to advocate for that on behalf of the residents of Dublin Fingal and people right across the country.

I refer to the Government's plans to give €450 million in State subsidies to private developers to build apartments. The scheme is designed to cater for people in the highest income brackets - the top 15%, according to analysis by the Business Post. Will the Minister tell us whether the provision of €450 million in State subsidies for developers complies with European Union state aid rules? Has the Government applied to the European Commission for an exemption to the state aid rules in respect of the scheme? Why has he announced and launched the plan without an exemption being in place?

To reiterate, the supports under this proposed scheme go directly to the homeowner or purchaser, not to the builder. It is about activating dormant, inactivated planning permissions. We want to see good, compact urban growth in our five major cities. The difference is we are doing something about it. What I want to see in this space is that we target the delivery of 5,000 apartments for homeowners.

Will the Minister answer my question about EU state aid rules?

Will the Deputy let the Minister speak?

We had a debate on this last week and I went through the number of things the Social Democrats are against, which is pretty much everything.

You will not answer the question.

Will the Deputy let the Minister answer?

There have been expressions of interest for the scheme, which is about activating dormant planning permissions, of which there are 80,000 in this country and the majority of which are built to sell. The purpose of the scheme is to support people into home ownership. That support goes directly to the homeowner and can be used in conjunction with the affordability measures, which, by the way, the Social Democrats voted against. The party's Deputies voted against the Affordable Housing Act 2021 and the Land Development Agency Act 2021.

The Minister has not answered the question about EU state aid rules.

You oppose anything we bring forward, Deputy. That is just the way it is.

I raise the issue of bogus self-employment, which leaves many workers without their rights and costs the State up to €1 billion a year in lost tax revenue. The use of test cases to determine the employment status of large groups of workers by the Social Welfare Appeals Office has facilitated this abuse. There is no legal basis for categorising employment status purely based on occupation. We are now reaching the end of the line for the denials by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, that test cases are being used by the Social Welfare Appeals Office. It is reported in the Irish Examiner today that a musician has refused to attend his appeal with the office on the basis that it uses test cases. Instead, he will take a case to the Circuit Court. It is similarly reported that an RTÉ worker will do likewise. Can we now have an admission by the Government and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, that test cases have been used by the Social Welfare Appeals Office, and a commitment to end their use?

A new work group was set up by the Tánaiste in recent weeks to look at the whole area of self-employment. It brings together all the members of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF. The first meeting took place took two weeks ago, which I chaired. The work group is reviewing all of these issues and will bring forward recommendations, through LEEF, to my Department and the Department of the Taoiseach. I may make some changes on foot of that, if needs be.

My question, which is for the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, relates to child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. In both north Wexford and south Wexford, we do not have a full complement of staff in CAMHS. In recent weeks, as I have raised in the House before, the clinical nurse specialist, who has 13 years' service, moved to the Wexford north service. There was no proper handover and no transfer of his computer or any of the other things he requires. I had a very distressing telephone call this morning from the mother of a patient with anorexia who cannot be seen because of there being no handover, which meant the clinical nurse specialist has no files. A total of 400 patients in north Wexford CAMHS were placed with one clinical specialist while two acting clinical nurse specialists were sent to south Wexford CAMHS, where there are 170 patients. If this is the extent of the planning in CAMHS and the HSE, it is no wonder there is a recruitment and retention problem. Can the Minister of State tell me when this patient with anorexia will be seen?

I am familiar with the Deputy's question as she raised it with me as a Topical Issue matter two weeks ago tomorrow. As I said to her then, the HSE manages operational issues. It is not unusual for staff in multidisciplinary teams to be moved into different areas, whether it is from Cork south Lee to Cork north Lee, or from south Wexford to north Wexford. I am not able to comment on the young girl in question but if the Deputy send me on the details, I will look at them.

I raise the serious situation regarding mental health and people with psychosis problems in County Tipperary. We do not have a single long-stay bed in the entire county, which extends from Carrick-on-Suir up to Lorrha. A Vision for Change promised so much. We lost St. Michael's psychiatric unit, St. Luke's Psychiatric Hospital and much else. Kilkenny hospital is full and cannot accommodate patients from south Tipperary while those from north Tipperary have to go elsewhere. I ask the Minister of State for an update on the crisis. We need long-stay beds for people who are down on their luck and at times down, and who, for different reasons, are suffering ill health and mental illness and need to be supported. We do not have the services.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue which he has raised several times before. Many young people are suffering with psychosis. We see it especially among those aged between 18 and 25. There are strong links between the consumption of cannabis and psychosis. We have several very good teams on the ground. We have fantastic pilot programmes under way in Cork and Sligo and I hope to extend them. A bed capacity review is under way and I am due to have the report by next week. It has been promised for a while. There is, however, capacity in the departments of psychiatry at Ennis and Kilkenny hospitals.

Almost three and a half years ago, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine made an announcement that vessels over 18 m would no longer be able to trawl within the six-mile limit. That followed a consultation period during which 900 submissions were received. All of the important State and non-governmental organisations were in agreement that trawling within six miles of the coast was unsustainable on every level - in terms of biodiversity, the destruction of sprat and sustainable fishing. Unfortunately, on one aspect the High Court found that the Government was wrong. That was in regard to the consultation process. Since then, this case has gone on and on. We have had an appeal, delays and no announcement from the Government. The important point is that it is totally unsustainable for vessels over 18 m to continue fishing unsustainably in different seasons, notwithstanding that we have declared a biodiversity crisis. Will the Minister update me?

I will give a commitment that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will respond to the Deputy directly on the matter. I know there was a legal case on how the public consultation was conducted. I will relay the Deputy's comments directly to the Minister and ensure he responds promptly to her.

I have been contacted by many constituents who are very concerned about the situation at Dublin Airport. There have been regular reports of delays for passengers going through security screening, which have sometimes resulted in them missing their flights. Over the weekend, there were worrying reports about the airport failing the European Aviation Safety Agency audit and last night, we saw reports on social media of a brawl in the departure lounge. I know staff on the ground are doing their best in difficult circumstances but we were promised by the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, that 300 new staff would be employed by the end of June. Will the Minister request an update from the DAA? Will he engage with it about the management of the airport?

I am very familiar with Dublin Airport, it being in my own constituency. I know many of the people who work there directly and there is no question that they do a very good job. I absolutely condemn the thuggish behaviour that happened in Dublin Airport last night. I commend the Garda resources and airport police who had to respond to it on the work they have done. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, has been holding regular and ongoing briefings with the CEO of the DAA and other senior DAA staff. Recruitment and training of approximately 200 new security staff are under way. That is needed. There is no question that Dublin Airport needs to make sure it has the capacity to ensure that passengers arriving or leaving the airport are able to do so in a prompt manner. In terms of the importance of Dublin Airport for our country, 3% of GNP comes from the airport campus. The airport provides some 20,000 direct jobs and 114,000 indirect jobs. That is without mentioning the importance of the connectivity issues. To be fair, the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, has been in regular contact with the DAA and is driving it forward on its recruitment campaign for new staff to increase capacity.

I recently met the Irish Wheelchair Association to discuss housing, universal design, Part M and wheelchair-liveable accommodation. Do housing need and demand assessments carried out by local authorities take account of the number of wheelchair-liveable properties that should be included? Liveable is a slightly higher design than just accessible. I want to know whether those numbers are taken into account.

I work directly with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, on designs for those with disability and require disability access. I have seen in most local authorities that we are designing for all stages of life in many of our homes. We have asked local authorities, through the housing need and demand assessment, HNDA, process to be able to assess in each of their areas demand among people with special needs and disability, especially around access. We seek that within the HDNA. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and I have worked directly on this. We have five specific designs in place. The design template has gone to the local authorities which will also help to speed up the process for approval of new social housing schemes and, indeed, private schemes.

For almost a year and a half now, Charles Murray in Athlone has been living in a nursing home following a stroke because his private rented accommodation is no longer suitable. Despite representations and interventions by occupational therapists, physiotherapists and a medical social worker, the response from the local authority to date has been that there are no properties available but that the family qualifies for homeless housing assistance payment, HAP. This family is not homeless. Tragic events have resulted in a long-term medical need that requires adapted housing. The reality now is that a family is separated by the loss of a parent from the family home. Mr. Murray is missing out on proper recovery from his stroke. His recovery is stalling because the nursing home cannot provide the therapies he urgently needs. I ask the Minister to intervene in this case. Mr. Murray wants to go home. His children want him home. In the words of his own wife, he belongs at home.

I ask the Deputy to submit details of the case to my Department. As Minister, I am precluded from intervening in an individual case. However, I will ask my Department officials to engage with the local authorities to find out what is happening for this gentleman in question and to do their level best to ensure the accommodation he requires is provided and he can be reunited with his family. If the Deputy can submit the details to my office through my Department, we will revert to her.

Killian has had no services in three years. His teacher in the special school in Carrigaline says he needs occupational therapy, OT, and speech and language therapy. When he was three, he could speak six words. He is six now and cannot speak any words. Warren suffers from Hurler syndrome for which he attends six hospitals. It is a life-limiting condition but he receives no therapies, which he desperately needs. Both of these children are in north Cork city and Blarney's children's disability network team, CDNT. There is one occupational therapist, OT, currently working and there are 893 children on the waiting list. This is destroying children's lives and it is heartbreaking for their families. Will the Minister of State and this Government provide services for Killian, Warren and the thousands of other children in the same situation?

As the Minister of State with responsibility for special education, I have been liaising very closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, on the provision of adequate therapists in special schools. We have approximately 127 special schools. There is a progressive disability network and I know the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has been working intensely with stakeholders on that. It is an issue in special schools. We need to make sure that children have adequate speech and occupational therapists and all of the professionals they require. I am working very closely with the Minister of State. If the Deputy lets me know the details of a particular case, I will liaise with the Minister of State on it.

On 18 May, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, welcomed that 92% of early learning and care and school age childcare providers had signed up to the transition fund which would allow for a freeze of parental fees. That means that 8% of providers have not signed up to it. We do not know how many childcare places those 8% represent. It means that many are forcing parents to pay increased fees. Some in my constituency have nowhere else to go. It is the only childcare provider in the area. Some working parents are paying an extra €500 a month. Can we establish how many childcare places 8% of providers represent? What will we do to alleviate the hardship for parents who are being forced into this situation when we do not have a proper universal childcare system?

I thank the Deputy for raising this. As she is aware, a new funding model, or core funding, was adopted by the Government in December and will be in place from September. The purpose is to support quality provision, to improve pay and conditions for staff and to manage fees. As part of that core funding, about €221 million was provided to the sector. A transition fund is in place between 2 May and 31 August. This will be paid to all participating providers to ensure no increase in parental fees from the September 2021 rates. Some 92% of early learning and care and school age childcare providers have agreed to operate a freeze on parental fees by coming into the contract under the transition fund, which is effective between 2 May and 31 August. I will ask the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to update the Deputy directly.

What about the 8% who have not signed up, not the 92% who have?

As Minister with responsibility for local authorities, Deputy O'Brien will be well aware of the role that local authorities play in reducing emissions and achieving our climate action targets. An important part of that is the installation of electric vehicle charging points across different parts of Ireland. A specific fund has been set up, the electric vehicle public charging point fund, for local authorities to avail of to install these electric vehicle charging points. I was astonished to learn, in response to a parliamentary question I tabled to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that Cork County Council has installed no electric chargers under this fund and it has applied for none. It will be an important part of our future, particularly for peripheral areas such as peninsulas that rely heavily on tourism. I ask the Minister to communicate with chief executives of local authorities to encourage them to avail of this funding.

All of our local authorities need to play their part and to be supported to do so to reduce emissions and help us to achieve our climate action plans. I will send a further communication to all 31 local authorities on this matter. I will consult the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to make sure there are no other issues in the system. I will keep the Deputy apprised of progress.

Inflation has become an ever-increasing feature in our economy and society, especially in the construction sector. I appreciate the measures being taken by the Minister. Will his Department undertake an audit into the impact that unavailability and reliability of the provision of utilities such as water, sewage and utility connections on individual sites across the country is having on the construction sector and inflation?

I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this matter. The provision of homes is dependent on us having the requisite services in place. I have worked directly with Irish Water on that. For the first time, we have published a capacity register that covers every town, village and city across the country, so we can clearly see the capacity in each area. We have a €6 billion capital plan between now and 2026 for Irish Water to deliver the water infrastructure that we require. The Government has, through the Housing for All plan, asked utilities to focus on ensuring we are able to raise the housing targets that we have set. That is crucially important. That is regularly reiterated to them. We work with our partners in the utilities to ensure that is done. We have seen some improvements on the water side over the last months.

Today, the HSE announced a good initiative for the reduction of harmful drug use at festivals. It is a good, progressive step. There is a major anomaly in what the Government has done previously compared with now. I do not think it has the stomach to tackle drug use in Ireland. The citizens' assembly on drug use has been delayed, nearly two years into the term of this Government, which is incredible. I do not get a sense of urgency or that this is an important issue. At the same time, people are dying because of the failed policy relating to drug use in Ireland. Somebody should say that it has failed.

Engagement is ongoing. Testing for drugs at festivals is a welcome move. We are working with all stakeholders to introduce that. There are many emerging trends. On 14 January, €815,000 of recurring funding was announced for a HSE initiative to address harm associated with the use of cocaine and crack cocaine. The Deputy brought those emerging trends to our attention. At all times, the resources and funding are there to work with all stakeholders to address these issues. Two citizens' assemblies are ongoing and work is happening to enable a citizens' assembly on the use of drugs. I suspect that it will be completed early in the new year.

I raise the issue of valproate. Hundreds of families across this State have been impacted. Children have been born with disabilities as a result of valproate. It is not confined to this State but it is also in Britain and France. The Minister promised an inquiry in December 2020. We are still awaiting its terms of reference. The financial and other supports promised to families have not been delivered. When will we commence the inquiry into the scandal of valproate?

I will speak directly with the Minister for Health to get him to revert to the Deputy on this important issue. The Minister may have referred to it in here. I am not certain. I will get the Deputy an update and ask the Minister to engage directly with her.

I have raised the Dursey Island crisis, off Castletownbere, on numerous occasions, mainly because the world-famous Dursey cable car has been suspended for months due to repair works. I fought for funding and we were told by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, that funding would be provided for a ferry service while the cable car was being repaired. The devil is in the detail. The ferry service that the Minister provided funding for only runs on three days a week. On top of this, it only runs for two hours a day, leaving islanders and landowners on the island with little time to look after their cattle or to get to a clinic or to do shopping in Castletownbere and back again. I said at the beginning that the Department should have sat down with the local authority to draw up a plan, but all I got in the Dáil was one person saying one thing and another person saying another. The people of Dursey Island and Castletownbere have been treated disgracefully by this Government, which has funded a three-day ferry service, when they need a proper seven-day ferry service and a cargo ferry service. Will the Minister sit down with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and get funding for a full, seven-day, temporary ferry service for the people of Dursey Island and Castletownbere?

I understand that the terms of the agreement made by Cork County Council are for an average of three return sailings per week for an initial period of nine weeks. The local authority has indicated that it will run another tender competition for a medium-term service that will provide a ferry service until the end of the year. That competition will take two months to complete. I know this is an important issue for islanders. I will speak directly with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and get her to contact Deputy Collins with an update.

There must not be anyone from the local authority living on the island.

I raise Tabor House in Navan, County Meath. It has permission to build a 12-bedroom secondary addiction centre for women.

The plan is in place. It has been gifted a site and the local authority is going to fund the building. Tabor House sent a letter to the HSE in 2019 and while there has been a response, it was not the letter that we want, namely, a letter of promise that the HSE will fund the day-to-day running of the centre, which is about €284,000 a year. It has the plan, the building and everything in place bar this letter of promise. Imagine the difference it would make to families and those in broken homes to be able to deal with 48 women a year in secondary addiction. It is a matter of urgency that this letter is provided as soon as possible so that Tabor House can give it to the local authority and the funding can be released.

The capital plan is due to be announced very shortly. If the Deputy wants to bring some issues to my attention, I will follow them up in the Department.

We face two major challenges at the moment. One is from climate and the other is because of the war in Ukraine. We are seeing energy security issues and rising costs. It is vital that we examine all possible approaches to deal with this issue. Transport is particularly dependent on imported fuels. What plans does the Government have to increase the use of biodiesel, biomethane and ethanol as fuels? What plans does it have to produce as much of those as possible from within the country and not to be importing them? There are significant opportunities for biomethane production in this country but we seem to be moving very slowly. It has two major gains, climate and security.

Ceist tábhachtach is í sin, particularly in respect of ensuring that we can as far as possible provide alternatives within our country. That applies as we manage our way through this current crisis but it is also important that we bring forward measures that will be sustainable into the future and that we reduce our dependency on imported fuels. The Government supports initiatives in that space where it can. I will speak directly to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, following Deputy Ó Cuív's intervention today and ask him to revert to the Deputy.

Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Aire maidir leis an mBille um Athchóiriú Toghcháin, 2022, atá ag dul tríd an Oireachtas faoi láthair. Luaigh mé laigí sa Bhille sin nuair a labhair mé faoi ar an Dara Céim, sé sin, nach bhfuil sé láidir go leor, mar a sheasann sé, maidir leis an nGaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht. An bhfuil an tAire tar éis labhairt le daoine san earnáil Ghaeilge faoi na laigí sa Bhille? An bhfuil sé ar intinn aige leasuithe a thabhairt isteach ar Chéim an Choiste chun an ghné seo den Bhille a neartú?

Bhíomar ag caint faoi na rudaí seo cheana. Bhuail mé le Conradh na Gaeilge sa Spidéal coicís ó shin agus phléamar na leasuithe a bheidh mé ag cur isteach sa Bhille. Táim ag obair air sin anois. Tá súil agam go mbeidh mé in ann leasuithe tábhachtacha a chur isteach sa Bhille, go mór mór ó thaobh teideal an Bhille. Ba mhaith liom an coimisiún um thoghcháin a thabhairt ar an gcoimisiún nua. Tá leasuithe eile ann agus táim ag obair orthu sin. Táim cinnte go mbeidh mé ábalta an chuid is mó de na leasuithe a dhéanamh ar Chéim an Choiste.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 1.14 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 2.14 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 1.14 p.m. and resumed at 2.14 p.m.
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