Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Ceisteanna (4, 5, 6)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if meetings of Cabinet committees were held in October 2019. [45243/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the number and types of Cabinet committee meetings held since June 2019. [46523/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee meetings held in October 2019. [46683/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (37 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, together.

In June, I chaired a meeting of Cabinet committee G on justice and equality issues and, in July, I chaired a meeting of Cabinet committee B on social policy and public services. On 25 July, the Government decided to reorganise the Cabinet committee structures and established committees on the economy; social policy and public services; infrastructure; Brexit, foreign and European affairs; the environment; and security. In September, I chaired meetings of the committees on the economy, on social policy and public services, on infrastructure, on Brexit, foreign and European affairs, and on the environment. In October, I chaired meetings of the committees on social policy and public services and on security. On 4 November, I chaired a meeting of the committee on infrastructure.

I understand from the reply that there were two committee meetings in October.

Every time there is a major new announcement by the Government we are told that the videos full of drone shots of the Cliffs of Moher and the regional advertising campaigns will be followed by concrete actions, one of which is always that a Cabinet committee will be very vigorous in overseeing implementation and make sure all targets are hit, but the evidence suggests this is not working. We were told, for example, that implementation of the national development plan, NDP, would be closely monitored at Cabinet committee level to control costs and update timings. However, despite a series of major overspends and delays, no updates have been issued. Will the Taoiseach explain why we have not been provided with the promised reprofiled NDP? Is it still the case that the billions of euro in cumulative overspending will not delay or threaten any project?

We were also told that health spending and service developments would be overseen directly by a Cabinet committee, with the Department of the Taoiseach playing a major role in providing for enhanced oversight. In spite of this, the failure to deliver agreed services and funding has continued and the Government repeatedly refused to give an accurate and up-to-date picture of the sector's finances until days before the budget. Will the Taoiseach tell us if he and the Cabinet committee which is overseeing the health services accept any responsibility for the failure to deliver on clear service commitments or be open about the levels of overspending?

We were also told that a Cabinet committee would ensure the targets set for Rebuilding Ireland would be fulfilled, yet the core target of building an average figure of 25,000 new houses every year has been missed every year. The simple question is why have the core targets set for Rebuilding Ireland which the Taoiseach reaffirmed during his leadership campaign all been missed. I asked this question yesterday, but it was not answered. Does the Taoiseach accept that the figures from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the CSO show that, even based on the most optimistic of projections, the core housing targets of Rebuilding Ireland, as well as its homelessness targets, have been missed?

I am not familiar with the committees. Will the Taoiseach give me a flavour of who sits on them? I know that he chairs them. Exactly what kind of work is done by them? Do they purely have an oversight role focused on implementation or do they consider the issue of policy development? Perhaps the Taoiseach might outline some of the background to the committees for me.

I heard the Taoiseach respond to the question about Cuisle, the holiday centre in Roscommon, to the effect that he had responded to it previously, but I did not hear that response. Given the size of the protest outside and the fact that wheelchair users, their families and supporters have gathered in large numbers outside Leinster House today, does the Taoiseach recognise that a mistake has been made, that the decision of the Irish Wheelchair Association and the HSE to close Cuisle and replace it with talk of people going to hotels is a completely retrograde step? One of the protestors has said to me that every year he brings 30 people from Keenagh, County Longford to Cuisle. He says it is the one time in the year when the wheelchairs users feel like they do not have a disability such is the design and purpose-built nature of the place. People are appalled by the decision and also by the attitude of the Irish Wheelchair Association in not providing transport to bring people to today's protest. It begs the question of whether those making the decisions are out of touch with wheelchair users that they can make such a mistake. I would like the Taoiseach to comment on the matter. What the protestors aoutside would love to hear is the Taoiseach saying he will intervene and make sure Cuisle is not closed.

Yesterday I expressed my frustration that none of my three questions had been answered. I will, therefore, put one of them again as the opportunity to do so has been afforded to me.

It has been reported that the Minister for Health is to tell the Cabinet this week that eliminating the practise of private medicine in public hospitals would free up 2,000 beds across the country and reduce waiting lists by 25%. Given the real crisis in hospitals and the numbers of patients on trolleys, this is a significant opportunity to take action. It is important that the House receive a clear response on whether the report has been brought to the Cabinet committee. Has the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, indicated the benefits, as outlined in the analysis, to the Cabinet and will it act on it? Yesterda, the Taoiseach said to the House: "Sláintecare does not prescribe which model we should follow." The Sláintecare document states clearly that our objective across all parties is universal, single-tiered healthcare which guarantees access based on need, not income. Has the Minister for Health brought the report to the Cabinet outlining the benefits of removing private beds from public hospitals and will the Cabinet act on it? What model of healthcare does the Taoiseach envisage Sláintecare arriving at?

As Deputies are aware, the Cabinet meets every week and sometimes twice a week. Cabinet committees tend to meet quarterly. There are standing items on the agenda, usually a review of the implementation of overarching Government strategies such as Sláintecare, the climate action plan, the Action Plan for Rural Development, Project Ireland 2040 and Global Ireland 2025. We will often discuss one or two other issues that require further scrutiny, for example, auto-enrolment or pension reform or big strategy documents due to be brought to the Cabinet, as it gives us a little more time to explore them in a little more detail than on a Tuesday morning. The difference between a Cabinet meeting and a Cabinet committee meeting is that the relevant Ministers of State are present. Officials and advisers are also present, although not everyone is. People are there on the basis of need. The meetings are preceded by a meeting of the senior officials group which tees up the agenda and documents for discussion at the meetings.

Therefore, after many years the Taoiseach has come round to the established way of doing things.

As they have been working since 2011, there has been no fundamental change.

The Taoiseach stopped the adoption of that approach for a while.

No, I did not.

The Taoiseach refined them.

We reshaped them. We have been having Cabinet committee meetings every month or every other month for seven or eight years, with the senior officials group meeting before them.

I can recall the Taoiseach saying he did not agree with them, that he wanted to have full Cabinet meetings.

The Deputy's recollection is wrong.

The one that deals with security, for example, allows us to bring in the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and the Garda Commissioner, whom we cannot bring to a Cabinet meeting. There are many ways to do business: at the Cabinet, Cabinet committees, meetings with Ministers and meetings with people not under the umbrella of a Cabinet committee. Sometimes officials, in particular, favour Cabinet committee meetings because they fall within Cabinet confidentiality, whereas bilateral meetings between Ministers do not. Sometimes the latter can be more transparent than Cabinet committee meetings. The Government accepts responsibility for all of what it achieves and does not achieve. When we do not achieve things, we continue to work on them. I do not think it is correct to say none of the housing targets set in Rebuilding Ireland has been met. I think some of the ones for the supply of housing have been met and also some of the social housing targets, but as I do not have the figures in front of me, I do not want to swear to that.

The target is the supply of 25,000 new houses a year.

To respond to the questions about Sláintecare, what I was referring to specifically was eligibility. Sláintecare sets out an all-party vision for universal healthcare, in which healthcare is provided on the basis of need, not on the ability to access it. However, Sláintecare does not state it would be totally free for everyone. It leaves open the possibility of co-payments, social insurance payments and other payments. It does not state healthcare will be free at the point of use. It allows for us continuing to have some charges and co-payments.

It stated there would be a single tier.

The point I am making is that it may be free for a lot of people but not for everyone and that it may be subsidised for others.

The de Buitléir report on how we can remove private practice from public hospitals was brought to the Cabinet. It is Government policy and what is recommended in Sláintecare. The de Buitléir report makes for a very good read. I have read it twice and the documents attached to it, including on the impact on the cost of health insurance and other such issues.

It lays out what can be achieved but also the limitations. Approximately 15% of the work done in public hospitals is for private patients. The number has decreased considerably in recent years. As Dr. de Buitléir points out, when we remove private packages from public hospitals, it is not as simple as that freeing up 15% more capacity. Those private patients might just decide to be public patients. While there will be a more equal system in our hospitals, removing private patients does not necessarily mean that more patients will be seen or that more operations will be done. It just means that there will be more equality in how long people wait for operations and appointments in our hospitals. That is valuable in itself. To say that it increases capacity would not be in line with what is said in the report. The report also outlines the costs. Approximately €600 million per year of income to our public hospitals would be lost once it is completed, which is €3 billion over five years or €6 billion over ten years. That lost income would have to be replaced with money from taxpayers.

They are paying it in health insurance.

It also suggests that we would have to negotiate with and compensate consultants for changes to their contract and lost income. All of these are difficult issues. We will make a start on it. We had a good meeting involving the Ministers, Deputies Harris and Donohoe, and I on how we can make a start on it and we should be in a position to make a start on it soon.

What about the reprofiling of the national development plan, NDP?

We are not reprofiling the NDP.

We have been promised a reprofiled and updated NDP.

The summer economic statement providing a reprofiling. The Deputy is correct about that. That provided an extra €200 million, mainly for health and communications. There was a further reprofiling in the budget where some money was moved back and forward because we did not need as much in health as we thought, broadband was delayed and there were movements related to transport. If that is what the Deputy means by reprofiling, we do that every six months at budget time and also at the summer economic statement.

Schools are being cancelled and delayed in the real world.

That is entirely incorrect. No schools are being cancelled or delayed.

Is the Taoiseach joking?

Nobody believes that.

There are not.

If the Deputies want to give me an example of a school that has been cancelled, give it to me now.

What about the flood prevention scheme in Glanmire?

If anybody in the Chamber wants to give me an example of a school that has been cancelled, they can do so now.

The time is up and we will move to Questions Nos. 7 to 12, inclusive.