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Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 8

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Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Although we are in the middle of the summer, the perpetual trolley crisis continues. Dr. Emily O'Connor, the spokesperson for accident and emergency consultants, is quoted this morning as saying that extra beds were promised but that there is no sign of them. Since the Taoiseach took office, 106,694 people have spent one night or more on a hospital trolley. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that this is scandalous. A comparison of bed numbers from the health service capacity review, published only a few weeks ago, and the capacity review from 2008 shows that there are about 1,000 fewer beds in the health service now. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, is on record as stating that approximately 1,000 beds were closed due to cuts and the recruitment and retention crisis. When will we see real action to tackle the main issues of the trolley crisis? I refer to addressing capacity through reopening beds, addressing the recruitment and retention of staff, providing adequate step-down facilities, home-care packages and proper investment in primary and community care.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar According to the HSE, the number of patients on trolleys in our accident and emergency departments, and adjoining our emergency departments, was 192 this morning. That is 32% fewer than this day last year and 32% fewer than the year before. The good weather may be a factor but it is significantly lower than the last two years. As always, there is enormous variation from hospital to hospital. There are no patients on trolleys at all in Beaumont Hospital or Portiuncula University Hospital in Mayo but there were 23 on trolleys in Tallaght hospital. This demonstrates that it is about more than simple bed capacity - it is also about how resources are used as well as having them.

To answer Deputy McDonald's question regarding when will we see action, 200 additional beds have already been opened this year. A couple of years ago, as Minister for Health, I reversed the Fianna Fáil policy, made during the boom, to reduce the number of hospital beds and we have been increasing the number of hospital beds ever since. These are as follows: there are 22 in St. Vincent's Hospital; 29 in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda; 17 in University Hospital Limerick; 28 in University Hospital Galway; 18 in University Hospital Waterford; 20 in Beaumont Hospital; 23 in St. James's Hospital; 24 in the Mater Hospital; 11 in Naas General Hospital; two in Cork University Hospital; and 14 in St. Luke's General Hospital in Kilkenny. Those are the ones already opened this year. Still to come are the beds in South Tipperary General Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and Roscommon General Hospital medical assessment unit.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is over a year since the Supreme Court ruled that the ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional. We understand that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, will today announce new proposals to allow asylum seekers to work. This follows on from the highly restrictive and unworkable procedures introduced by the Government in February. They required a €1,000 fee for a permit and a starting salary of €30,000. I understand that one permit was issued since then. We do not know the full details yet because they have not been announced, but reports say that there will still be restrictions. This development has been a long time coming. Ireland is one of only two EU countries not allowing migrants to work. The report of the working group on the protection process and direct provision, the McMahon report, recommended that the right to work be given within nine months and that a decision be made on asylum applications within 12 months. Will this announcement today require new legislation or can it be done by ministerial order? Can the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, also confirm that the new rules will be applicable from today and, if not, what is the start date?

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I hope the new rules that will be announced this afternoon, following the decision of the Government yesterday, will become operative at an early date. I acknowledge what Deputy Howlin has said about these proposals being far reaching, positive and reformist. I am happy to take a Topical Issue, or some such other mechanism, which would allow me give greater detail to the House. I hope that what will be a positive package of measures will be favourably received by all sides of the House.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Will legislation be required?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan No, it will not.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith During the national economic dialogue, the Taoiseach said that Ireland's economic fundamentals remain strong and for the first time in seven years we are on track when it comes to poverty, deprivation and inequality. He should have added - in brackets - except for teachers, nurses, doctors, soldiers and people who work in this House, those employed by the public sector who will not have pay equality restored until 2022 at the earliest. By 30 June, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, is obliged, under legislation, to bring a report before this House - that means he will have to have it to us by tomorrow - indicating and justifying how and why he continues to use financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation as a big sword over the public sector to justify pay inequality. Anyone who steps out of line under FEMPI will not receive any pay increases. Given the Taoiseach's at the national economic dialogue, it is a total farce that this legislation continues to be used to penalise the public sector, which gave the most to facilitate the recovery. Will the Taoiseach please justify that and indicate when the FEMPI legislation will be before the House?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am delighted that Deputy Bríd Smith was at the national economic dialogue and that she was able to pick up some aspects of my speech.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Taoiseach admires Deputy Bríd Smith.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Those figures come from the Central Statistics Office survey of income and living conditions. They show that poverty is falling, deprivation is falling and income inequality is narrowing. I am glad that is no longer disputed by people on the left.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger Rents are rocketing.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As can be seen from the figures from last year and this, there will be even stronger-----

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith What about teachers, nurses, doctors and public servants?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The issue of different pay scales within the public service is a somewhat different one to poverty and deprivation-----

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I referred to inequality.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----and income inequality but we will come back to that. I do not know if that report is ready but I will check with the Minister and ask him to write to Deputy Bríd Smith.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I was not at the national economic dialogue but I am concerned about the economic situation of housing tenants in Tipperary. I raised this matter with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy - who is in the Chamber - on a number of occasions and I have written to him three times in respect of it. Tipperary County Council has unilaterally merged nine differential rent schemes. Only in the past two weeks have people received letters notifying them of huge increases of up to 50% that will take effect on 1 July. This is underhanded and it is disrespectful to the tenants and their tenancy rights and agreements. Will the Minister ask Tipperary County Council to have a moratorium on those increases until there is proper meaningful engagement with those tenants? They are good tenants, in the main, paying their way but those kinds of increases are savage. Surely, different standards of houses should have different rates of rent if they have a lower energy ratings, etc. Will the Minister ask Mr. Joe McGrath to postpone this until there is discussion and a lead-in time and people have time to adjust?

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy There is a national review of rents happening at the moment and it will conclude shortly. This issue that Deputy Mattie McGrath has raised is one for the local authority. It is an executive function and not a reserved function. The executive consulted the local authority members and it is a matter for them, not me. However, I have correspondence to send back to the Deputy today explaining that in more detail.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I too was glad to be at the national economic dialogue. I heard the Taoiseach's speech setting out the vision for the country. I thought it was disgraceful that the Taoiseach never once mentioned the need to protect our environment or change our reputation in that regard. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who also spoke, tried to restore the Taoiseach's reputation when he stated that the Government is going to be great at the environment and that we are going to be particularly good at recycling. Does this mean that the Taoiseach will allow the Waste Reduction Bill, which was introduced a year ago, by the Labour Party and ourselves, to proceed to Committee Stage? The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, is throwing around all sorts of figures and arguments in respect of this matter but no one knows what he is saying. We need to debate the Bill to which I refer, which is a core measure in the context of tackling the recycling issue. That is one of the many environmental issues which we need to tackle and which the Taoiseach completely ignored this morning. Will the Taoiseach issue the money message and allow us to debate the Waste Reduction Bill and try to restore some kind of reputation for this country?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The House will appreciate that no matter how long a speech one makes, there will always be something that one either does not mention or does not mention enough.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan It is a small thing.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar That is a standard criticism of any speech that anyone makes. I am not a person for long speeches. I did, of course, refer on several occasions to Project Ireland 2040 and Deputy Eamon Ryan will know that the biggest-----

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan It is really small.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----single aspect of that is €22 billion to be invested in climate actions.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan There are many others.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar In respect of making time available for a debate, the Deputy has been back in this House for over two years now and he must know at this stage it is the Business Committee that makes those decisions, not me.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy It is undemocratic.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae There is a promise on page 56 of A Programme for a Partnership Government to the effect that equal and fair treatment will be given to sick and vulnerable people and children. That is why Ms Noreen O'Neill from Kilgarvan and her friends are climbing Croagh Patrick next weekend. They are highlighting the need for tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, to be made available.


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