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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Tánaiste: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] Currently, 42% of the population have medical cards in addition to those who hold general practitioner only cards.

On places in education, I understand the 700 persons to whom Deputy Martin referred who left the education system have been accommodated. There has not been any reduction in the basic payments which are made to people with disabilities and those who care for them. I agree it should be a priority for all of us that provision is made for people with disabilities. There is a requirement that the service plan for the Health Service Executive is produced and submitted to the Minister within 21 days of the Estimates being announced. There is then a period of 21 days within which the service plan must be agreed. This process will be worked on over the next number of weeks and I assure Deputy Martin that, as far as the Government is concerned, provision for people with disabilities and those who care for them is a priority.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The key issue in the service plan is whether it will include a cut in resources to service providers. They believe this may be the case and they have been clear that they cannot take any more. The demographic funding that was provided for school leavers was removed in its entirety last year and not all of the school leavers were adequately dealt with. I raised a complex case in the House concerning a young child who is still awaiting adequate and proper provision by the Department of Health and Health Service Executive. Details of the case have been provided to the Ministers concerned and the Taoiseach. The removal of funding is the reason the child in question is not being properly accommodated. I have spoken to HSE officials about this matter and they are at the end of their tether. This is one example of the inadequate manner in which school leavers were dealt with last year.

The programme for Government states the Government will "ensure that the quality of life of people with disabilities will be enhanced and that resources allocated will reach the people who need them". It continues: "We will facilitate people with disabilities in achieving a greater level of participation in employment, training and education". In 2012, the opposite was the case for people with disabilities and special needs across the areas I outlined. The domiciliary care allowance, in particular, has been the subject of a ruthless review. Many parents of children with autism cannot understand the reason they have been refused domiciliary care allowance. Half of them are being refused the allowance, with 63% of overall applications being excluded under the review.

Will the Tánaiste guarantee the service plan will not include a cut to the funding provided to the service providers? Will he guarantee that the 700 children who will leave second level education in September 2013 will all have a place and funding will be provided to the service providers to ensure these children and young people are provided with appropriate placements?

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The service plan has not yet been completed. As I indicated, there is a process by which the plan is developed. The first part of this is the preparation and submission to the Minister for Health of a service plan by the Health Service Executive, after which the Minister has a period in which to consider the plan. In advance of seeing the service plan, none of us can speculate about what will be in it.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Tánaiste could try to influence it.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I agree that the needs of people with disabilities must be adequately provided for. It is the view and priority of the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, that this should be done. One of the ways in which this is done is to ensure planning is done. This was not the case in the past but it is now being done. It is possible to plan ahead and anticipate what will be the educational and training needs of a person with disability at the different stages at which they need to access services. This is the approach being taken by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is ensuring a plan is in place and is being worked on ahead, rather than being operated on a year-to-year basis. By doing this, we provide certainty for people with disabilities and their families that their needs will be addressed.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Service providers have their plans and know what lies ahead.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I, too, wish everyone who works in the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Deputies gathered in the Chamber and their families and those viewing proceedings at home a very happy Christmas. Nollaig shona daoibh go léir.

On 26 September, Deputy Róisín Shortall resigned her junior Ministry in the Department of Health. On 25 October, almost one month later, I raised with the Tánaiste concerns about a meeting on 20 April last between the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, and representatives of the National Asset Management Agency on the primary care centre in Balbriggan. On that occasion, the Tánaiste defended the Minister and informed me he could not track the diaries of every Minister, the persons Ministers met, when they met them and so forth and nor did he have any wish to do so. It now emerges from the briefing document prepared for the Minister prior to the meeting with NAMA, a copy of which my party acquired through a freedom of information request submitted by Deputy Pearse Doherty, that the specific site in Balbriggan was discussed at the meeting. The site, as the Tánaiste is aware, is owned by a Fine Gael Party supporter, Mr. Seamus Murphy and is to be developed by Fine Gael Party donor, Mr. A. J. Noonan. It was also used by the Minister as an election office. The Minister was well aware that his Fine Gael Party colleagues were concerned to develop the site as a primary health care centre. In contact between the developer and HSE it was indicated that the prospect of developing it was in jeopardy. To use the words of the relevant e-mail, which was sent on 17 April, the developer was making "a last throw of the dice". The site was then discussed on 20 April at a meeting between the Minister and representatives of the National Asset Management Agency. While the specific address is not given, it is very clear where the site is located. The document states: "A developer has identified a site in the town which is being used as a surface car park." Lo and behold, on the night before the priority list of primary care centres was to be announced, the Balbriggan location found its way on to the list of primary care centres. This decision confers considerable financial advantage on both the owner and developer.

The document my party has acquired openly contradicts the Minister's claim that he had no hand, act or part in the selection of the Balbriggan site. Some months on from these events, does the Tánaiste believe the Minister's claim of innocence in this escapade? Does he still believe he is suitable to continue in office as Minister for Health? In light of the information that has since come into the public domain, does the Tánaiste still have confidence in the Minister and does he still give him the balance of credibility over and above that of Deputy Róisín Shortall?

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore This is trawling over material that has been discussed in the House a number of times. I told the House previously that I had discussed this issue with the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, the Secretary General of his Department and chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive who assured me that there was no political involvement of any kind in any individual site.

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