Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 16 Jul 2013

Vol. 225 No. 2

Adjournment Matters

Noxious Weeds

It is appropriate that the Minister is taking this matter as I bring it before the House following a letter that appeared in The Irish Times recently from a constituent of his, a Ms Jane Jackson. Based on the information she provided, I felt it a matter appropriate to the Adjournment. Japanese knotweed grows vigorously and it out-competes all other plants beneath it. It is spread in Ireland not by seed, as only the female plant is present in the country, as far as we know, but by crown, stem and underground root. Any cut pieces are capable of regenerating into new plants, and it is imperative that councils around the country are made aware of this, as crews cutting hedgerows are the main cause of the spread. This is evident as one drives along roads and such an exponential spread could otherwise only happen with seeds. The current practices of local authorities are unwittingly leading to the proliferation of this noxious weed.

Along river banks, the knotweed quickly spreads as pieces are broken and drift downstream. In winter, as foliage dies back, there is no undergrowth to protect river banks and therefore erosion readily takes place, with pieces of the root further infecting banks. It is quite alarming how fast this particular weed has taken over not just hedgerows but entire fields and gardens, and something must be put in place to deal with the safe disposal of the plant. The longer this is ignored, the more expensive this problem will become, and in the United Kingdom there is an environmental code of conduct applying to the abolition of knotweed. As that is absent in this country, I would be grateful for the Minister's observations as to whether he recognises and acknowledges the problem and if he could outline attempts to have it eliminated from our countryside.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter. The species referred to by him was first introduced to Ireland over 100 years ago. It forms dense thickets along roadsides, waste grounds and waterways, reproduces by vegetative means and is difficult to kill off once it becomes established. This plant is included in the list of the 100 most invasive alien species of the world. It forms dense cover causing native plant species to die off. It also grows to heights of 2 m to 3 m and reduces visibility along roadsides while also making access to sites difficult for walkers and anglers. In some instances its roots can damage paths and walls.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department has been working with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to fund and manage the Invasive Species Ireland project since 2006. This initiative provides advice and guidance on the management of a range of invasive species, including the species referred to, which can negatively impact on the environment and on property on the island of Ireland. Best practice management guidelines for the species in question have been published and can be accessed on the project website. These guidelines provide practical advice to persons and organisations, including local authorities, on the removal and disposal of Japanese knotweed. A central requirement when dealing with Japanese Knotweed is to ensure that any viable rhizomes, the main means by which the plant spreads, are not given the chance to escape into the wider environment. It is recommended to spray the plant with a systemic herbicide prior to transport, to ensure no material is lost en route, and finally that the material is deeply buried in a properly managed landfill with an effective pest control management system which can deal with any regrowth.

The National Roads Authority has produced guidelines which can assist local authorities on the management of noxious weeds and non-native invasive plant species on national roads, which includes a section on the treatment of Japanese knotweed. The European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 includes provisions relating to controlling the possession and dispersal of ecologically harmful and invasive species of animals and plants, including Japanese knotweed. Regulation 50 of these regulations, which include provisions relating to the banning for sale of invasive species listed in the schedule to the regulations, is not yet in effect. It is necessary for my Department to carry out risk assessments on those invasive species subject to trade before I can bring this element of the regulations into force.

My Department is keeping abreast of initiatives under way in Britain using a specific insect to control Japanese knotweed. It is possible that such controls could be applied to Irish conditions without risk to native or economically important plants here.

I am grateful for the comprehensive reply and I am particularly encouraged that the regulation referred to is being evaluated. I hope it will not be too long before it is put in place. As the Department is keeping abreast of initiatives under way in Britain, is it within the Minister's remit to encourage local authorities, through his Department, to address the issue and become more aware of the guidelines? The Minister has indicated the guidelines in place, but it seems that local authorities are not aware of the manner in which this weed proliferates and that they must be careful about the manner in which they disassemble, transport it and bury it. Does the Minister have any role in that regard?

We can certainly send a communiqué to local authorities, which we do on a regular basis, advising about the proliferation of the knotweed around the country. It is more prevalent in some areas than others and, for example, it grows on river banks etc. It is presenting as a major nuisance and I have seen how it can adversely affect paths and river eco-systems. I will advise my officials to deliver the message to various local authorities through county managers, and particularly how it can come to terms with the proliferation of Japanese knotweed. I will take the Senator's advice.

I thank the Minister.

Medical Card Eligibility

I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter. A medical card has been issued to the patient in question since I submitted the matter but it is only right to allow this debate continue because the lady in question is representative of many people who have had a medical card withdrawn, particularly patients suffering with cancer. As I have all the figures, I know nearly 2 million people qualify for the general medical services scheme and the Department must prioritise its scarce funding. I appreciate that and we all know that funding is currently scarce. There were changes introduced nonetheless, such as income assessment and elimination of travel expenses.

The withdrawal of a discretionary medical card from a cancer sufferer is wrong. The lady I am talking about was terminally ill and had her card withdrawn. The Minister of State will know that a person diagnosed with cancer will be worried, anxious, frightened and vulnerable. He or she should not have the added worry of wondering whether he or she can afford medical care. The lady's family went to collect her medication because she was unable to do so but were informed they could not have it because the card had been cancelled. It was harsh and cruel to do that to somebody at that stage of her illness. It was despicable.

I hope the Minister of State will tell me tonight that cancer patients will be looked after. I do not want him to say that if a person is terminally ill he or she will get a card. As someone else said last week, receipt of a medical card is like a death certificate because it confirms that one is terminally ill. I want to hear his response and will comment further at that stage.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter. As the Senator and the House will be aware, under the provisions of the Health Act 1970, assessment for a medical card is determined primarily by reference to the means, including the income and expenditure, of the applicant and his or her partner and dependants.

While people with specific illnesses such as cancer are not automatically entitled to medical cards, the legislation provides for discretion by the HSE to grant a medical card where a person's income exceeds the income guidelines. The HSE takes a person's social and medical issues into account when determining whether there is "undue hardship", the phrase used in the Act, for a person in providing a health service for himself, herself or his or her dependants.

The HSE has an effective system in place for the provision of emergency medical cards for patients who are terminally ill, or who are seriously ill and in urgent need of medical care that they cannot afford. For persons with a terminal illness, no means test applies. Emergency medical cards are issued within 24 hours of receipt of the required patient details and the letter of confirmation of the condition from a doctor or a medical consultant. Once the terminal illness is verified, patients are given an emergency medical card for six months. Given the nature and urgency of the issue, the HSE has appropriate escalation routes to ensure such people get their cards as quickly as possible.

With the exception of terminally ill patients, the HSE issues all emergency cards on the basis that the patient is eligible for a medical card arising from their means or undue hardship, and that the applicant will follow up with a full application within a number of weeks of receiving the emergency card. As a result, currently emergency medical cards are issued to a named individual with a limited eligibility period of six months. The HSE ensures that the system responds to the variety of circumstances and complexities faced by individuals in these circumstances.

The person referred to by the Senator was issued an emergency medical card in July 2012 for a period of one year. In March 2013 she was issued a renewal notice as she then became eligible for the over-70s scheme. Based on her declared income she qualified for a GP visit card, but her application was referred to the medical officer for consideration on medical discretionary grounds. The medical officer recommended that her full medical card be retained and remain valid until 31 January 2014. I am informed that at no stage was the person without medical card cover during this process.

Does Senator Moloney have a final question for the Minister of State?

Yes. I thank the Minister of State. Whoever composed his reply did not give him the correct information. The woman was without medical cover last week and her medication could not be accessed by her family at the chemist. The reply is incorrect.

The Minister of State said: "While people with specific illnesses such as cancer are not automatically entitled to medical cards..." Anyone that I have ever dealt with in my area has always received a medical card the moment they commenced active treatment for cancer, as the Minister of State knows, and they were assessed through the system. They have always been given the discretionary medical card. This is the first time I have heard of a cancer patient being refused a medical card. It is a harsh decision. The withdrawal of medical cards from cancer patients is an all-time low. It is unacceptable. How can one say to a cancer patient who is terminally ill that he or she must apply for a medical card? Most people diagnosed with cancer want to fight the disease. They want to fight it hard so will not admit even to themselves that they are terminally ill. Often, doctors do not tell a patient his or her diagnosis is terminal until after every course of treatment has been tried first. A doctor will not tell a patient straight out that he or she is terminally ill unless the cancer is extremely aggressive. A doctor will fight to save the life of a patient even though the end result may be the same. I find it harsh that we have resorted to removing medical cards from cancer patients.

I will allow the Minister of State a final word.

It has never been the case that people with cancer were automatically entitled to a medical card. That has not ever been the case and that is the position.

Perhaps people in the Kerry area were very generous.

That is the position. I know this is a sensitive matter. I agree with the Senator that people who receive a diagnosis of cancer will be in a distressed state and the last thing they should be dealing with is the question of entitlements, etc. Without taking at all from that statement, people are diagnosed with other catastrophic illnesses and conditions that are not cancer and we should consider them in the context that the Senator has raised. When I say it is not just cancer, I am not trying to diminish the awfulness of a diagnosis of cancer.

The Government, the HSE and I must have a system - I shall not repeat the figures because the Senator appealed to me not to - that is credible and transparent in order that everybody knows where he or she stands and what the score is. I do not mean to trivialise the matter by using the term "knows what the score is". I mean that there should be clarity in regard to the matter. We have introduced clarity in that respect and there is also an appeals system. For example, if a person receives a letter asking about their means in order to review a medical card, and co-operates, which is the case in most situations, he or she does not lose the medical card. It has been suggested that people are having cards whipped from them, but that is not fair. Where there is engagement with the system, the card is not taken from the individual.

I thank the Minister of State and Senator Moloney.

Missing Persons

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank the Acting Chairman.

My Adjournment matter is on missing persons. Last February I published a Private Members' Bill on the matter and I am anxious to proceed. The Bill follows on from the report of the Law Reform Commission that was published in January. The 160-page report clearly sets out very good proposals to deal with the issue and recommends making specific provisions in law to deal with two categories of missing person: first, where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that death is virtually certain; and second, where the circumstances and length of the disappearance indicate that it is highly probable that the missing person has died and will not return - for example, if the disappearance occurred in dangerous circumstances. There are other circumstances in which loss of life may be presumed, such as a person going overboard while at sea, or there is a clear indication that a person has died.

I have approached the matter from a legal point of view. The problem is that nothing can be done with the estate of a missing person. The Law Reform Commission, and my Bill as published, recommended that we set up a structure to allow for an application to be made to the County Registrar or the Circuit Court for a presumption of death order. The order would allow for a management system to be put in place to manage the missing person's affairs. The Bill is detailed and sets out how the issue can be dealt with. It means we are keeping it within the courts system as regards setting up a proper procedure and one that is properly supervised.

At present people are in limbo. We had the recent sad case in Tipperary where a man who had been missing for two years was found in a slurry tank. In that case issues relating to the estate have had to stand still for a period. It is important that proper structures are put in place here as has been done in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, given that the Law Reform Commission has seriously researched the issue and has made definitive proposals as to how we should manage it within the legal system. As I have published a Private Members' Bill in this area, the homework is done and it is case of trying to move on it. I am concerned that when the Law Reform Commission publishes reports we have a tendency to put them on the shelf for a period. That was the reason I published the Bill in February and the reason I am raising the issue again. I am anxious that we move it on and that it is not parked for three or four years before dealing with it.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who is unable to be here, I thank the Senator for raising this topic on the Adjournment. The Minister is aware of the Senator's keen interest in this area as evidenced by the fact that he has previously brought forward a Private Members' Bill on the subject and I am pleased to be given the opportunity to respond to the intervention which he has just made.

This is a very sensitive topic which, fortunately, only impinges upon a very small number of people. However, for those who experience the pain which is attendant upon a loved one going missing in inexplicable circumstances, there is significant emotional turmoil and distress which is often compounded by the many practical difficulties which have to be faced in the aftermath of that person's disappearance.

The law may not be able to do much to ease the emotional pain but it can ensure that the practical difficulties are mitigated to the greatest possible extent. The backdrop to our discussion is the Law Reform Commission's report on the civil law aspects of missing persons which was published in January this year and which was preceded by an in-depth consultation paper published in December 2011.

As the commission points out, at common law, where a person is missing for seven years, and has not contacted those likely to have heard from him or her, and reasonable efforts have been made to locate the missing person, the High Court may make an order that the person be presumed dead. As the common law presumption is rebuttable, it is not always necessary to wait seven years to make such an application in order that the court may make a declaration of presumed death before seven years has passed. This declaration of presumed death is usually made for probate purposes and does not result in the registering of the death of the missing person in the register of deaths under the Civil Registration Act 2004, and therefore does not result in the issuing of a death certificate. Neither does it affect or alter the civil law status of the missing person, notably their marriage or civil partnership.

Obviously, it is eminently desirable that the maximum possible amount of legal certainty is brought to bear on the very distressing circumstances in which the immediate family and relatives find themselves where a person goes missing, often where death is presumed. The commission recognises in its analysis that, in so far as is practicable, the law should be responsive to the complexity of the consequences that arise in these situations and is of the view that the current law does not meet the requisite standard. The Law Reform Commission's report is being examined within the Department of Justice and Equality. Its proposals would provide a clear legal definition of a missing person which would encompass a number of elements. Those proposals also envisage a statutory framework which would provide for the making of a presumption of death order in respect of two categories of missing persons. The first category would arise where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that death is virtually certain. The second would arise where both the circumstances and length of the disappearance indicate that it is highly probable that the missing person has died and will not return.

Stringent proofs would be required under a range of specified headings where a person seeks a presumption of death order from a court and the court would also have to take account of additional circumstances including, where relevant, the abandonment of valuable property and the presence or absence of a motive for the missing person to remain alive but disappear.

In situations where death is virtually certain, the recommendation is that there be no minimum waiting period before an application can be made to obtain a declaration of death and that such a declaration could be made by a coroner and would be identical to a standard declaration of death. In situations where death is highly probable, the recommendation is that an application be made to the Circuit Court for a declaration of presumed death. While, in this instance, there would be a seven-year reference period this would not constitute a mandatory minimum waiting period and an application could be made at any time where it is established on the balance of probabilities that death may be presumed. The declaration of presumed death would allow a certificate to be issued which would have all the effects of a standard death certificate.

The commission also recommends legislative provision for the limited management of the property of a missing person, in particular in circumstances in which it could not be established that a presumption of death order could be made. This recognises that, when a person disappears, those who are left behind find themselves, along with their distress at the disappearance, with very immediate basic difficulties such as accessing a missing person's bank accounts and discharging his or her financial obligations such as the payment of a mortgage and other bills. Of course, in addition to financial matters, there are also legal issues concerning the spouses or civil partners of those who have disappeared and the need for certainty in relation to the continued existence or otherwise of the legal relationships in either case. Furthermore, any legislation would also have to deal with the legal consequences attendant upon the very difficult and highly unusual circumstances in which a person who is presumed to be dead actually turns out to be alive.

While the Minister is very sympathetic to the view that it is important that legislation be advanced in this area, he has asked me to emphasise that time must be taken to examine the Law Reform Commission's recommendations more closely than has been possible in the past six months and to consult properly on them. There are a number of Departments and State agencies potentially involved, not least in relation to the issue of the registration of deaths. Also, within the Department of Justice and Equality, the recommendations raise issues in relation to a range of areas. In family law there are issues arising as regards marriage and civil partnership. In the area of succession there are matters relating to the distribution of the estate of a person presumed dead. Matters relating to court jurisdiction and the powers of coroners also have to be considered.

Once again the Minister has asked me to express his gratitude to the Senator for raising the issue and the Law Reform Commission for its very extensive work on both its consultation document and its 2013 report on this area. The House can be assured that its recommendations, together with the views of the Senator, will receive very close attention in the Department of Justice and Equality.

I thank the Minister of State for a very comprehensive report. I fully understand that in the past six months all Departments have had to deal with the EU Presidency and that this matter would not have been given the priority. Given that we have the Bill and the report and the fact that there is consultation with other Departments - while accepting what he said about the family law issues which, I think, have been dealt with comprehensively in the Law Reform Commission's report - it is a matter on which we could move forward fairly fast at this stage. As the groundwork is done, let us not lose the opportunity.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank the Senator once again for his considered intervention. He has raised issues which are of genuine human concern and where legislative intervention can play some role, however small, in addressing the difficulties faced by those whose loved ones have disappeared.

While not strictly relevant to the need for legislative intervention, I record the fact that the Department of Justice and Equality has provided funding, since 2008, through the Commission for the Support for the Victims of Crime, for Missing in Ireland Support Services, a non-profit organisation that provides support for families and friends of missing persons. The Department also provides accommodation for that organisation.

In so far as the legislative role of the Department is concerned, there are some areas of the law which fall under its remit where it will be necessary to look more closely at the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations. One of these areas concerns coronial law and the role which coroners should have in the provision of death certificates.

Another area relates to the effect of a declaration of presumed death on a subsisting marriage - notably, that on the reappearance of a person presumed dead, the marriage does not remain valid.

This will have to be examined carefully in respect of the constitutional implications. The declaration of presumed death may allow for the distribution of an estate under a will or under intestacy provisions. It is logical and appropriate that closely related provisions under the Family Law Acts and the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act allow a spouse, a civil partner or a cohabitant to apply to the court in respect of the estate of the deceased person.

I thank the Senator who will be aware of the extensive legislative programme undertaken by the Department of Justice and Equality. The Department has been working on, and has brought forward, a number of priority Bills, including the so-called troika measures, including the personal insolvency legislation, the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill and the Legal Services Regulation Bill. Ireland completed a very successful programme up to the end of June but this has inevitably meant this was not possible.

Job Creation

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, for taking this matter which is the very serious situation in which Portumna, County Galway, finds itself as a consequence of a number of factors. As the Minister of State will know, rural Ireland, County Galway and, in particular, Portumna have been hit very hard during this recession with the closure of various businesses and other facilities cherished by the local community.

In recent times, Portumna has had to contend with AIB leaving the town, the health centre being closed due to rat infestation and its one and only hotel burning down, with the loss of 60 jobs. Quite clearly, this has had a detrimental spin-off locally in that many small businesses have closed as a result of the loss of the hotel, in particular. Many of these businesses were dependent on the hotel for ancillary business relating to weddings, concerts, events and conferences.

Many Government economic policies aimed at enterprise and employment do not have enough rural focus. Rural employment and enterprise need to be further up on the policy agenda in the Department. It is clear we need to bring together many of the key stakeholders in Galway east, in particular, with a view to creating jobs and promoting economic development in the area. Any jobs which can be created in Galway East are welcome in light of the high levels of unemployment it is experiencing currently.

We must manage and address the unemployment crisis in the county. Currently, the rate of unemployment in County Galway stands at more than 22,000, with 1,457 people unemployed in Gort, 2,396 in Loughrea and 3,296 in Tuam. I am sure the Minister of State will agree that this is unacceptable and it is quite dangerous to have this high level of unemployment in small rural towns.

The county and Portumna, in particular, need a coherent long-term strategy which will align all the relevant stakeholders and agencies which will address the needs of the area and the region, in general. There is no point creating a talking shop in the county for the sake of it, although I am not suggesting the Minister of State would do so. Any task force which may be suggested must contemplate the needs of the area and the people of the area must take advantage of the area's key strengths. Those strengths are tourism, the arts, culture, agribusiness, food production, technology, engineering and the green economy sector. The crucial ingredients are the enterprise agencies which must play a leading role and need to have teeth in addressing this problem. We must join up national policy with local and regional policy and ensure those with responsibility for delivering economic development and job creation specifically deliver for the county in real terms.

As part of a task force, if one is created, targeted assistance should be allocated for small businesses, in particular, and job activation measures. With this method of economic development, we could then provide a new vision for rural Ireland which would be most welcome in these recessionary times in Ireland. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply on the matter.

I thank the Senator for raising this very important issue. From the time of taking office, the ultimate goal and top priority of the Government has been to get Ireland back to work. Job creation is the Government's top priority. However, there is no big bang solution to the jobs crisis built up through years of poor policy choices. It will take a period of hard work by businesses, the Government and people across the country to rebuild the economy brick by brick, reform by reform, and to get back to sustainable enterprise-led growth where more businesses can start-up, expand and create new jobs.

The recent announcement to pay employers €10,000 for taking on people who have been unemployed for two years and €6,500 for people who have been unemployed for one year is a very good start. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to the Intreo office in Sligo with the Taoiseach. It provides a great opportunity to match employers and people who are unemployed. The opportunity for employers to avail of that €10,000 direct payment will be a big benefit. This is just coming on stream and I strongly encourage the Senator to talk to business people about it. There are great opportunities to employ people who have been unemployed.

The Government put together an Action Plan for Jobs, the objective of which is to get 100,000 people back to work by 2016. We are now 18 months into the Action Plan for Jobs process. The approach is new and innovative, designed to mobilise all Government Departments to work towards the objective of supporting job creation. The progress reports, which are published every three months, on the attainment or non-attainment of the quarterly targets set for each action provide a level of transparency which underpins the process. As the Senator will no doubt be aware, more than 90% of all actions were delivered as scheduled in 2012.

All of these individual measures are important. However, it is important to stand back from the detail to consider the impact the Action Plan for Jobs is having on the ground. The litmus test for the Action Plan for Jobs is the impact it will have on employment numbers. I agree entirely with the Senator that small businesses are the backbone of Portumna and that whole region.

The last two quarterly national household surveys have shown signs of a stabilisation in the labour market. There was an annual increase in employment of 1,200 persons in the year to the fourth quarter of 2012, the first annual increase in employment recorded since 2008. This was followed by an annual increase in employment of 1.1%, or 20,500 people net of public sector reductions, in the first quarter of 2013. When one considers that 250,000 jobs were lost before 2011, we are certainly going in the right direction. The unemployment rate decreased from 14.1% to 13.7% in the first quarter of 2013, the first time the unemployment rate has fallen below 14% in some years.

In 2012 IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland created almost 10,000 net jobs. While there is no doubt that the south east action plan is proving successful, it is not considered that the establishment of a similar task force in respect of Portumna would be an effective use of the State's enterprise development resources, rather it would be more beneficial if the State agencies and bodies continue their ongoing work on job creation without the additional requirement of having to service additional groups and committees. Their expertise can be better deployed by focusing on their existing strategies. The south east action plan has to be seen as a one-off action taking account of the TalkTalk site closure, the need for swift action and the fact that a large amount of analysis on the region has been undertaken in the past.

There are 59 IDA Ireland client companies in Galway city and county employing almost 13,000 people in full-time and part-time employment. The primary opportunity for regional locations is in respect of the existing client base and potential further investment opportunities from that client base. Approximately, 70% of all foreign direct investments won by IDA Ireland is from the existing client base. Some 281 Enterprise Ireland client companies employ 6,063 people in Galway.

Since 2011, Enterprise Ireland has approved more than €9 million to its client companies in Galway to help them accelerate their growth and make sales overseas thus creating and retaining employment. In addition, Galway County Enterprise Board has supported 14 projects so far this year in the form of priming business expansion-feasibility study grant-aid. The total amount of money approved for these 14 projects is €393,802 and this will create 41 full-time jobs.

In October 2012, as part of SME week, Galway CEB organised a Big Business Idea Roadshow. Five towns across Galway were visited, one of which was Portumna and 47 people attended the event in there. If the Senator believes it would be advantageous, I would be happy to bring the agencies together for a meeting in Portumna in September or October. I had an event in Cork quite recently where I brought all the State agencies together. The roadshows are very important. If the Senator contacts my office, I would be delighted to arrange this for September.

As I have said, job creation is the Government's top priority but jobs cannot be created by the Government alone.

This is all about the role of the community, social enterprise, the voluntary sector and business people. The Government's purpose is to create the environment for sustainable, enterprise-led growth in which more businesses can start up, expand and create new jobs. While by no means complacent, my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Government generally are satisfied with progress on the Action Plan for Jobs and the efforts of the enterprise development agencies in delivering new jobs and investment.
I am very impressed by Enterprise Ireland, the enterprise boards and the newly rolled out local enterprise office services. The new service will be a great catalyst as a one-stop shop for business. While statistics are encouraging, there is much to be achieved to reach the action plan's objective of getting 100,000 people back to work by 2016. The Government is conscious that 62% of all unemployed people have been out of work for 12 months or more. That is the reason the Minister for Social Protection announced a direct cash grant of €10,000 for employers. Of 15 to 24 year olds in the labour market, 27% are without a job. That is why we continue to make every effort through the Action Plan for Jobs to create an environment in which business can operate more effectively and create jobs.

I thank the Minister of State for a very detailed response. I acknowledge fully the mess the Government inherited from the last Fianna Fáil-led Government which has seen tens of thousands lose their jobs. It is not a mess that was of our making, but we are here to clean it up. I accept that the Government has made significant efforts in this regard. It is great to have the Minister of State in the Department to steer policy, given his vast experience in the SME sector.

It is regrettable for the people of Portumna that they will not benefit from a task force. I commend the Minister of State for offering to bring agencies to Portumna to assist in directing people towards job creation possibilities and to help businesses. The ancillary matter of rates is a massive issue nationally for business owners. Something must be done in the forthcoming budget, if possible, but certainly by the succeeding budget. Many businesses are closing. In my home town of Athenry 35 commercial units are empty, which scenario is replicated nationally. I ask the Department to do something constructive in the budget negotiations on rates for the SME sector.

A major consultation process is under way with representative bodies on the budget. The question of rates and valuation involves great discretion on the part of local authorities. Many local authorities have exercised their discretion to encourage enterprise in town centres. I visited Youghal recently to meet enterprise agencies, tourism bodies and State officials, which visit was very worthwhile. While we have very effective agencies on the ground, I am happy to facilitate a visit to Portumna to look at the potential there. I do not know if there is a community economic enterprise in Portumna, but several in the region have been very successful at creating economic renewal and regeneration. Social enterprise, business partnerships and State agencies work together.

I understand a meeting is arranged for September and I will be very happy to bring in the State agencies. I will meet all concerned bodies to discuss the issues raised and establish what action plan can be formulated to mobilise the resources that are available. Equally important are the roll-out of the one-stop shop for business and significant local government reform, which is fundamental. By next June Galway County Council will have significant autonomy. I am very happy to support the plan and mobilisation in any way I can.

We might swing that roadshow into Ballinasloe also.

The Chair is supposed to be impartial.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 July 2013.