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Cabinet Committee Meetings (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny] Will the Taoiseach use whatever emphasis is required in speaking to the Minister for Health to ensure that this unique infrastructure, the only facility in the country offering a holiday home for people with disabilities and providing for all their care needs, remains open? The users of the service are determined that it is where they want to go. The offer has been made to put them in hotels and other facilities, but they do not want to use them.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We agreed that the Deputy would have one and a half minutes. His time is up.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny These people have few choices in life. They should be given a choice as to where they avail of respite services. I implore the Taoiseach to use whatever influence he can to make that happen.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Yesterday, the Taoiseach came out with another of his increasingly desperate attack lines, with the bizarre claim that we, on the Opposition side, are calling for the re-profiling of capital projects and to delay them. His memory is, again, very selective. The statement that capital projects would be re-profiled was made by his Government. For example, on 4 April, the Minister for Finance announced that he had decided to re-profile money allocated to Project Ireland 2040, the new marketing name for the national development plan, NDP. One of the direct cuts involved in this was a €24 million reduction in funding for repairs and renovation projects in the health sector this year. I am looking for some honesty about the timing of projects on which the Government has spent millions of euro in public money marketing to national and local audiences. When the now inevitable video with drone shots of the Cliffs of Moher was published at the start of this marketing campaign, we were told there would be absolute transparency about funding and timing. Yet, when we seek clarity following billions of euro in overruns, the Taoiseach comes out with this nonsense that we are seeking cutbacks.

It takes a special form of almost childish brazenness to sign a contract rapidly to make a project irreversible and then attack others for not proposing to incur massive costs for the State by reversing it. This appears to be the core Fine Gael strategy now, so we will all have to get used to it. The Government not only wants to pretend that it is funding projects, which will not be planned or funded for many years; it wants to deny the impact of overruns. It should be noted by the House that each of the major overruns has been hidden from the public until the last moment. The Taoiseach accused us of conspiracy theories about broadband and the children's hospital when we said the cost in each case would be what it has turned out to be.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy's time is up.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin When will the Taoiseach publish the reprofiling timetable and costs under the plan? I note his indication that the code for public spending will be updated. I note, too, that the Secretary General said in a memorandum to the Taoiseach and Cabinet that the Government had breached existing spending codes.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is more than a year since the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, promised that the new national maternity hospital would be publicly owned and run. Twelve months on, there has been absolutely no legal clarity on the matter. In fact, a bizarre situation is ongoing whereby the Vatican, apparently, can veto the new hospital set to be built with public money and determine which procedures may be carried out there. It is reported that this €350 million project - that is the current estimate; it could be a lot more than that - may not be put out to tender until these matters are determined. Even when the hospital is finally built and funded, with a significant outlay of taxpayers' money, we have no legal certainty in terms of its public ownership. Put simply, we will have to negotiate for a place on the board of a hospital for which the public has paid and which the public should rightly own. It is time for absolute clarity in this regard. We have gone around this issue during several debates. Will the Taoiseach indicate clearly to the House when the national maternity hospital will be built, confirm that the commitment made by the Minister that it will be publicly owned and run will be fulfilled to the letter, and tell us when the tendering process will begin?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Taoiseach advised me yesterday that, in his view, the problem with air quality in Dublin is down to diesel cars. A promise was given by the Government of which he and I were both members, as had been given by the previous Government, to electrify the railway lines to Maynooth. If the Taoiseach is concerned about diesel cars, the only way of getting a significant number of those cars off the road is to develop public transport. However, there has been neither sight nor sound of a project to electrify the Dublin to Maynooth railway line. It seems to have been put out to the back end of 2040. The Taoiseach probably knows, as he uses the line from time to time, that when one gets to stations such as Ashtown and Pelletstown, it is almost impossible and even physically dangerous in the case of a pregnant woman, for instance, to get on the train and access the railway carriages. It is also impossible to board at Broombridge.

  I do not want a list of the things the Government of which we were both members did. It did quite a lot, including extending the Luas line to Broombridge. That project was championed by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and me over a long period of time. When will the capacity of the railway lines increase, given that can only come about if they are electrified? It would also enable significant numbers of houses to be built in the Kildare area at a much cheaper price than is currently available in Dublin city. The Government is sitting on its hands with promises of "mañana, mañana" and no action at all is being taken.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Paul Murphy's name is not attached to these questions because they were carried over from yesterday. Under Standing Order 39(1)(e), it is necessary to advise the Questions Office in such instances. However, I will use my discretion and allow the Deputy to contribute.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I wish to follow up on Deputy Howlin's point regarding the ownership and management ethos of the national maternity hospital. The Religious Sisters of Charity own the land on which the new facility is being built and the Government is negotiating with the order through its company, St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. That group will have a majority on the hospital's board of management and will chair it. If things do not change, the reality is that women's healthcare will be at risk, as well as the State's finances. Ethos will follow ownership. It is unrealistic to expect a Catholic maternity hospital owned by the nuns' company to provide a full range of services, including contraception, sterilisation, abortion, IVF, etc., because those services contravene the Catholic code. There must be a review of the contract agreed between the Minister for Health and the Religious Sisters of Charity and measures proposed to bring the hospital into public ownership with a secular ethos and a secular board of management.

I have a question regarding the carbon emissions specifications to which the national maternity hospital and the national children's hospital are being built. When I asked about this in a parliamentary question to the Minister for Health, I received an answer from the HSE stating that the maternity hospital is being built to A3 standard. The expert advice I have received on the matter makes clear that this is nowhere near the near-zero energy building standards required for all new public buildings from 1 January 2020. In fact, the building is being designed to 2008 building regulations rather than the 2019 regulations. If it continues to be built in the current way, the hospital will need to be retrofitted at up to ten times the cost of building it to near-zero standards from the outset, if a deep retrofit is even possible. That change must happen urgently while the building is ongoing.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Taoiseach has five minutes to reply.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank Deputies for their questions. The Cuisle holiday home is operated by the IWA but is not owned by that body, as Deputy Martin Kenny mentioned. I acknowledge that there are real concerns from people with disabilities who have used the home in the past for their holidays and want to be able to do so again. Local people, too, are concerned because the facility provides employment and is a large part of the economy in the area. We do not want to see that lost because it is a part of the country in which, unfortunately, there are not many other economic or employment opportunities. In terms of grant aid from Government, we would need to know that there is a long-term lease in place, as is always the case when it comes to Government capital funding. We do not want a situation where we provides hundreds of thousands or millions of euro for works to be done only to find out a year or two later that the owner has decided to do something else with the property. I am sure the issues can be resolved by way of a long-term lease being provided. I will raise the matter again with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who is responsible for disability services.

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