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Thursday, 25 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 364-380

Primary Care Centres

Ceisteanna (364)

Martin Browne

Ceist:

364. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Health the number of primary healthcare centres in CHO 3 and CHO 5 in each of the years 2017 to 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [58239/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Primary Care Services

Ceisteanna (365)

Martin Browne

Ceist:

365. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Health the number of primary healthcare centre staff employed in each of the years 2017 to 2020 and to date in 2021, on a whole-time equivalent basis, in tabular form. [58240/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy on this matter, as soon as possible.

Disability Services

Question No. 367 answered with Question No. 362.

Question No. 368 answered with Question No. 363.

Ceisteanna (366)

Martin Browne

Ceist:

366. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Health the number of persons who have accessed day disability services in each of the years 2017 to 2020 and to date in 2021 in CHO 3 and CHO 5, in tabular form. [58241/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Question No. 367 answered with Question No. 362.
Question No. 368 answered with Question No. 363.

Mental Health Services

Ceisteanna (369)

Martin Browne

Ceist:

369. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Health the number of whole-time equivalent professionals who have been working in mental health services in CHO 3 and CHO 5 in each of the years 2017 to 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [58244/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

General Practitioner Services

Ceisteanna (370)

Martin Browne

Ceist:

370. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Health the number of general practitioners contracted in a service (details supplied) in CHO 5 in each of the years 2017 to 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [58245/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

The organisation concerned is a private company and as such I have no role with regard to its staffing. However, at the service level the HSE has a relationship with the organisation concerned and may have information relevant to this question. As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Hospital Waiting Lists

Ceisteanna (371)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

371. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the waiting list for paediatric orthopaedic care (details supplied); and the solution offered by his Department to rapidly tackle the crisis in providing paediatric care. [58246/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

I sincerely regret that children can experience a long waiting time for hospital appointments and treatment, and I remain conscious of the burden that this places on them and their families. My priority as Minister for Health, and that of this Government, is to improve waiting times for all patients accessing hospital treatment. Reducing the paediatric orthopaedic waiting list remains a priority within that.

In recent years there has been an increased investment in paediatric orthopaedics, which has enabled improved access to surgery and outpatient appointments. In 2018 CHI (previously the Children’s Hospital Group) was provided with an additional €9 million in funding to address paediatric orthopaedic waiting lists, including the provision of scoliosis services. This funding is recurring and has been provided in the base HSE allocation each year since 2018 to fund orthopaedic services.

The additional funding supported the recruitment of approximately 60 WTEs in 2018 and 2019 to enable the expansion of paediatric orthopaedic services. The posts relate to the multi-disciplinary team at diagnosis, pre-assessment, during surgery in theatre, and post operatively. The posts included a number of grades and specialties, including Consultants, Registrars, Radiographers, Clinical Nurse Managers, Staff Nurses, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, and associated administrative posts.

Most recently. a new Orthopaedic Consultant with a special interest in neuromuscular conditions was appointed to Temple Street in September, which should enable the use of additional theatre capacity and support additional capacity as part of the Cappagh Kids programme.

As part of CHI’s paediatric orthopaedic service, children with the most complex needs are treated at Crumlin and Temple Street. The National Orthopaedic Hospital at Cappagh provides additional capacity for the treatment of less complex orthopaedic patients, including routine scoliosis procedures. In terms of the provision of Spina Bifida services, CHI have advised my Department that the majority of children under 16 years of age in Ireland with Spina Bifida attend CHI at Temple Street. During 2021 CHI at Temple Street doubled capacity from 2 Multidisciplinary(MDT) clinics to 4 MDT outpatient clinics per month. The Spina Bifida MDT clinics involve clinicians and specialties in Neurodisability, Neurosurgery, Orthopaedics, Urology, Occupational therapy, Physiotherapy, Neuropsychology, Medical Social worker, and Clinical Nurse Specialists.

CHI has advised the Department that this capacity increase is expected to provide each child with an annual review and will reduce the waiting time for follow up appointments. These clinics are based around a child-focused, enablement approach to disability. Patients see the above clinicians on the same day allowing for a shared and collaborative approach to care.

CHI have further confirmed that ultimately, all children in Ireland with Spina Bifida will access the MDT service in the new children’s hospital when it opens as part of the new paediatric model of healthcare services across Ireland.

This Government remains committed to improving access to hospital appointments and procedures. For 2022 an additional allocation of €250 million, comprised of €200 million to the HSE and €50 million to the National Treatment Purchase Fund has been provided in respect of work to reduce hospital and community waiting lists. The €250 million will be used to fund additional activity in both the public and private sectors. The €50 million additional funding provided to the NTPF brings its total allocation for 2022 to €150 million, and as a consequence there will be a budget of €350 million available to support vital initiatives to improve access to acute hospitals and community health services.

In addition, my Department, the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund are also working on a Multi Annual Waiting List Plan to bring waiting lists in line with Sláintecare targets over the coming years. This process will be overseen by a Ministerial Taskforce, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and includes representatives from the HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund. The plan will be informed by the lessons learned from the successful Vaccine Taskforce.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (372)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

372. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Health if the roll-out will be expedited of an enhanced media campaign andor public health messaging in respect of ventilation as a mitigation measure for Covid-19. [58247/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

The Department of Health has launched a new public health campaign. #LayerUp is a social media and public material campaign encouraging the public to ‘Layer Up’ their protections against COVID-19. Advice on all the layers available is displayed including vaccine, face covering, social distance, hand hygiene, and ventilation as a mitigation measure etc. The #LayerUp campaign is being promoted across Government, stakeholders and is visible in public facing premises.

Additionally, the Department conducts regular media briefings and interviews.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (373)

Sorca Clarke

Ceist:

373. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Health if consideration is being given to classifying Covid-19 as a long-term medical condition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58250/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

COVID-19 is a new disease so information on it, its features, incidence and its course are still emerging. The natural history, clinical course and consequences of COVID19 are still not completely understood. It is recognised that most patients with COVID-19 return to baseline after acute infection with SARS-CoV-2, but a proportion report ongoing health issues.

The number of people that are affected with longer term sequelae after acute COVID-19 remains unknown, but published reports indicate that approximately 10– 20% of COVID-19 patients experience lingering symptoms for weeks to months following acute SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Several organisations and societies have proposed different definitions based upon the constellation of symptoms that affect people after acute SARS-CoV-2 infection. To aid recognition and management of those affected, the WHO has recently through a global consensus process proposed a working clinical case definition of Post COVID-19 syndrome occurring 3 months from the onset of COVID-19, with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis. Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction and others which generally have an impact on everyday functioning. Symptoms may be new onset, following initial recovery from an acute COVID19 episode, or persist from the initial illness. Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time. However, the WHO notes that this definition may change as new evidence emerges and our understanding of the consequences of COVID-19 continues to evolve.

Patients with persistent symptoms following COVID-19 infection may be followed up by their GP or in hospital settings as clinically appropriate. People in the community who are concerned about persistent symptoms following Covid-19 should contact their GP in the first instance. Treatment is currently focused on management of specific symptoms.

Specific guidance on the treatment of 'Long COVID' is presently under development both here and internationally. The HSE is currently assessing need and the best way to care for those impacted by Long COVID to ensure the appropriate supports are in place. My Department, through the Health Research Board, continues to fund research into the clinical impacts of COVID-19. My Department will also continue to develop an understanding of the implications of Long COVID to inform policy as appropriate.

Legislative Measures

Ceisteanna (374)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

374. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the amendments that have been made to the proposed Bill to prohibit fur farming (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58064/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Programme for Government 2020 includes a commitment to bring forward legislation that prohibits fur farming in the State.

There are three active farms in the State that breed and rear mink for the purposes of pelting for the fur industry. The statutory prohibition on fur farming will, in particular, impact these three farms who are currently operating a lawful business. For this reason, the draft legislation makes provision for a scheme of compensation that my Department will make available to the three farm businesses affected by the prohibition.

The provisions of the Bill that govern the nature of the compensation scheme, ensure that mink farming operators are to be compensated for losses and costs directly resulting from the prohibition on fur farming in Ireland.

The Bill sets out criteria upon which compensation for income loss, non-income loss and certain costs will be payable. The types of costs that will be covered by any compensation scheme made under the legislation will include redundancy payments to employees, certain professional fees, mink disposal and clean-up costs and the costs involved in the demolition of mink buildings.

The main difference however between the current version before the Dáil and the general scheme version is that the specific details regarding the methodology for calculating compensation payable in respect of income and non-income losses and costs incurred are now to be provided for in Regulations, made by the Minister, rather than being set in the primary legislation itself as was previously the position.

Other new provisions include :

- advance compensation payments

- the appointment of an assessor to ultimately determine the amount of compensation payable.

- an appeal mechanism directly to the High Court.

My Department has continually engaged with the farmers effected by the ban on fur farming and has ensured they have been fully briefed at all stages of the process. As you are aware I have committed to provide a fair and reasonable compensation scheme to the farmers and the scheme being designed meets these requirements.

While the Bill going through the Oireachtas at the moment will define a structure / framework to address the loss categories involved, the finer detail will be addressed in the regulations. My officials will continue to engage with the farmers as the regulations are progressing.

Food Industry

Ceisteanna (375)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

375. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if snails that are used in snail farming in Ireland are classed as an animal (details supplied); if so, the reason they cannot be classed as shellfish as in other European Union countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58091/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Snails intended for human consumption are defined in EU food regulations as terrestrial gastropods of the species Helix pomatiaLinné, Helix aspersaMuller, Helix lucorum and species of the family Achatinidae (Paragraph 6.2, Annex 1, Reg EC 853/2004). My Department has no flexibility in respect of the classification of snails for human consumption.

In Ireland, all food intended for human consumption must meet the requirements set out in detailed EU food safety regulations, generally referred to as the 'Hygiene Package'. These regulations are implemented in Ireland under the European Union (Food and Feed Hygiene) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 22 of 2020).

There are two main elements to snail production and harvesting: primary production (rearing snails); and secondary production (processing of snails). Section XI, Annex III of Regulation (EC) No. 853/2004, laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin, sets out the requirements for the killing and preparation for sale (processing) of snails for human consumption. Snail farmers who intend to process snails for human consumption in Ireland must be registered as a meat establishment with this Department's Meat Hygiene Division.

To date, there are no Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine approved Food Business Operators processing snails for human consumption.

Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (376)

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

376. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the estimated number of applicants for the new European Association of Guarantee Institutions who will afforest a part of their farm under the next CAP based on the GLAS and REAP schemes in the current CAP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58157/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I understand that the Deputy may actually be referring to the AECM (which appears to an acronym for the European Association of Guarantee Institutions).

AECM means, in the context of the draft regulation for the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) period, an agri-environment-climate measure and is the working title of a proposed intervention included in Ireland’s draft CAP Strategic Plan (CSP).

The draft CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 and associated Environmental Report and Natura Impact Statement have been published on my Department’s website and members of the public and stakeholders are invited to make a written submission or observation on them by 8 December 2021.

As you will note for the draft Plan, significant tree-planting measures are proposed for inclusion in the AECM, including agro-forestry and riparian planting. This will help deliver co-benefits, along with, for water quality and biodiversity.

As the Deputy may be aware, Project Woodland was launched in February this year and one of its key objectives is the creation of a shared national vision for trees and forests and Ireland and the development of a new Forest Strategy.

This includes an extensive and inclusive public consultation exercise, which has commenced, and I would like to invite everybody with an interest in forestry in Ireland to actively contribute to this consultation process.

The measures that will be taken to make the sector more attractive to new entrants will be discussed as part of this consultation process and the development of the new Forest Strategy, which will be the enabler of the short term goals of the next National Forestry Programme, which is due to commence in 2023.

The new Forestry Programme will focus on the importance of climate smart forestry and new afforestation will be encouraged in pursuit of commercial, climate, water, and biodiversity objectives.

Due to the long-term nature of forestry, it is considered the best option to continue to deliver the forestry programme entirely separately from the CAP Strategic Plan, subject to new State aid rules rather than the requirements of the CSP regulations.

The interlinkages between the CAP Strategic Plan and the new Forestry Programme are well understood. These two significant programmes will provide the mechanisms to deliver for farmers, rural communities and for society as a whole.

Both the AECM and the schemes to be made available under the Forestry Programme will be voluntary and therefore solely at the discretion of farmers, so it is not possible to say how many farmers will avail of these options.

Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (377)

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

377. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to five requests by an association (details supplied) to save Irish forestry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58188/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am aware of the establishment of the Social Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA) and of their requests in terms of Irish forestry.

Let me say how seriously both myself and Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who has overall responsibility for the sector, take the forestry licensing issue. Significant time and resources continue to be devoted to dealing with the backlog and this is beginning to have the desired effect.

We have issued on average 118 licences per week in the last 12 weeks. This means that licences are issuing at nearly double the rate of applications received during this period and every week means a net reduction in the number of licences on hand. I remain confident that we will reach our target of 4,000 licences this year, having now issued 3,500 licences to 19th November.

While we are moving in the right direction, it is acknowledged that we must sustain and increase this momentum in order to address the backlog of licences on hand. As regards felling licences, we have issued over 830 private felling licences. In terms of roads, to date (19th November), the Department has issued 581 forest road licences for 234 km of roads. This is the largest amount by length issued in the last five years and exceeds our target of 125km for the year as set down in the Climate Action Plan.

It is the case that afforestation licences have not issued at the expected rate, we are addressing that and now have 10 ecologists dedicated to afforestation. We intend to increase this number by reallocating resources and recruiting additional ecologists.

We are also streamlining our processes in the afforestation area and we should begin to see an increase in the number of afforestation licences issuing.

SEEFA has asked for full implementation of the Mackinnon report within a defined timeframe. Project Woodland, as you are aware, is our framework for the delivery of the Mackinnon Report and is well underway. Members of SEEFA are also members of Project Woodland working groups and are contributing to the important work being carried by these Groups.

I am pleased to report that substantial work has been undertaken by all Working Groups and the Project Board of Project Woodland, with regular meetings held resulting in a high level of output in both terms of quality and quantity. The Project Board, published its second interim report on the 29th October, which updates on progress to date and is available at:

www.gov.ie/en/publication/642e6-forestry/#project-woodland

Of particular relevance to licensing is the external regulatory review. My Department has placed a contract for the regulatory review with report due by end February, 2022. It will review the existing statutory framework for the licensing of forestry activities in relation to environmental and public participation obligations in order that practical advice can be provided to the Department on how to work more efficiently within the existing legal framework.

In addition, an independent Systems Analyst is conducting an end-to-end process review with a view to licensing process improvement has recently completed an interim report on this work.

There has been significant work carried out on all other aspects of Project Woodland and some of these, along with the process and regulatory review, will inform the setting of definitive timelines for the delivery of forestry licences which has been raised by SEEFA. These include:

- A pilot project for pre-application discussions.

- Payment of an Environmental Planning Grant.

- A new Customer Charter for forestry.

- A Communication Plan that assists in conveying the multi-functional benefits of forestry.

- A review of the organisational structure of forestry within my Department.

- Commission of a Training Needs analysis.

- Definition of the backlog and associated dashboards.

- Actions relating to reduction of the backlog.

Of note also is that the regulatory review will consider the question of statutory timelines for the issuing of licences.

Specifically in terms of the immediate introduction of the environmental planning grant which has been requested by SEEFA, this proposal is currently under consideration by Working Group 4.

Other important work underway under Project Woodland is an inclusive and extensive public consultation on a shared national vision for a new Forest Strategy.

This has already commenced with a community engagement study being carried out by Irish Rural Link and a public attitudes survey taking place next week, with plans for deliberative dialogue and engagement with young people in the first quarter of 2022.

In respect of the integration of forestry and the next CAP, as outlined in the draft interventions that have been published by my Department, several tree planting measures have been proposed to be included in the CAP Strategic Plan.

Due to the long-term nature of forestry, it is not proposed to include forest planting measures in the new CAP measures, but a separate Forestry Programme which will be the successor of the current Forestry Programme 2014-2020 (extended to end 2022) will be developed.

A consultation on the draft interventions of the CAP Strategic Plan was conducted in August and September this year and I would like to thank all stakeholders for the submission of proposals on the further integration of tree and forest planting initiatives in the CAP Strategic Plan.

With the publication of the draft Environmental report on the draft CSP, stakeholders have a further opportunity to express their views on the CSP up to 8th December, 2021.

The planting of trees has the potential to play a significant part in our environmental priorities especially water quality, biodiversity and climate.

We remain committed to integration between the new Forest Strategy and the next CSP to ensure that measures in both will complement each other and lead to increased levels of tree planting. In support of this, it is worth noting that under the CSP, direct payments remain eligible to be made on areas afforested.

In conclusion, I recognise the momentum and progress made under Project Woodland and the increased momentum in terms of licences issued. I would also like to reiterate my commitment and that of Minister of State Hackett in ensuring that we maintain and improve on our licence delivery for the benefit of the sector, and that we work towards creating a shared national vision for forestry for the benefit of society as a whole.

Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (378)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

378. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he regards the GLAS as having been proven to complement his Department's afforestation scheme; if he will provide the metrics in relation to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58234/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The table below indicates the number of farmer/non-farmer applicants that chose to establish forestry in the years 2015 to 2020. The table shows the overall number of newly established forestry sites has been in decline recently.

There could be many reasons for this as farmers have many options open to them to manage their land, including the lease or sale of lands.

Non-farmer applicants may also be a relative of a deceased farmer, who have chosen to plant inherited land instead of continuing to farm.

It was open to applicants of GLAS to choose some land parcels for that Scheme, while at the same time, joining the Afforestation Grant and Premium Scheme on other parcels. The GLAS terms and conditions outline that afforestation is fully compatible with GLAS and is recognised as contributing to the creation of a valuable landscape mosaic at farm-level.

The Scheme also had the “Planting a Grove of Native Trees” action which has been chosen by over 3,600 farmers and resulted in the planting of over 1.5 million trees.

I am anxious that farmers re-engage with forestry and acknowledge that current licensing difficulties are likely a contributory factor in terms of reduced interest. This is a priority issue for me and my Department and is being dealt under Project Woodland.

Furthermore, the Department is working to ensure that there is integration between Agri-Environment schemes in CAP and the new Forestry Programme. It is intended that tree planting measures will form part of the new Agri-Environment schemes. The transitional REAP scheme (a results-based payment approach for grasslands) has, for instance, complementary tree-planting actions.

Year

Farmer

Non-farmer

Total

2015

852

130

982

2016

652

357

1,009

2017

536

353

889

2018

309

315

624

2019

206

293

499

2020

100

261

361

Departmental Staff

Ceisteanna (379)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

379. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the assistant secretary of his Department with responsibility for GLAS is also responsible for afforestation and forestry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58235/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has appointed a Director of Forestry with direct responsibility for forestry policy and operations on 22nd November 2021.

The newly appointed Forestry Director is reporting to the Assistant Secretary General in my Department who has responsibility for both GLAS and forestry.

Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (380)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

380. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if afforestation and forestry are regarded as an agricultural activity in the current Common Agricultural Policy; if it will be regarded as same in the next CAP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58236/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In accordance with Article 4 of the draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing rules on support for strategic plans to be drawn up by Member States under the common agricultural policy, Member States shall provide in their CAP Strategic Plans the definitions of ‘agricultural activity’, ‘agricultural area’, ‘eligible hectare’, ‘active farmer’, ‘young farmer’ and ‘new farmer’, as well as the relevant conditions in accordance with this Article.

It is set out in Article 4(2) that ‘agricultural activity’ shall be determined is such a way that it allows to contribute to the provision of private and public goods through one or both of the following:

(a) the production of agricultural products, which includes actions such as raising animals or cultivation including by way of paludiculture, where agricultural products means products listed in Annex I to the TFEU with the exception of fishery products, as well as cotton and short rotation coppice;

(b) the maintenance of the agricultural area in a state which makes it suitable for grazing or cultivation, without preparatory action going beyond the use of usual agricultural methods and machinery.

Article 4(3) of this draft Regulation stipulates that 'Agricultural area' shall be determined in such a way as to comprise arable land, permanent crops and permanent grassland, including when they form agroforestry systems on that area.

This means that forestry, except for agroforestry, is not regarded as an ‘agricultural activity’ in the draft Regulation.

However, direct payments are eligible to be made on areas afforested, in accordance with the conditions set out in Article 4(4).c(iii) of the draft Regulation and as part of the determinations of the ‘eligible hectare’.

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