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Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue] I want to ask the Taoiseach about comments made in a radio interview in County Donegal by his Cabinet Minister, Deputy Joe McHugh, where he indicated that a number of community hospital projects would be delayed as a result of the national children's hospital mismanagement, namely projects at Carndonagh, Ramelton, St. Joseph's and Lifford community hospitals. Can the Taoiseach clarify today whether the Minister, Deputy McHugh, is correct that those projects will be delayed, or if the position has changed with regard to those areas?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I did not hear the Minister's remarks so I cannot really comment on them. None of those projects is being deferred or delayed as a result of the consequences of the escalating costs of the national children's hospital. They may well be delayed for other reasons but not one euro has been taken from the budget for community nursing units for the children's hospital.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins Last week the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, announced more than €60 million for rural communities in the rural regeneration and development fund. When the Taoiseach launched the fund last year he said that it would provide investment and support for rural renewal for suitable projects in towns and villages with a population of less than 10,000. Some of the recipients of last week's funding were Coillte, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and LEADER groups. These groups have their own funds and are now getting millions from this fund, which is a change from when the guidelines were first published. My constituency, Cork South-West got zero funds in last week's announcement - not one brown cent - in spite of Cork County Council putting forward 48 projects from many of those areas. I spoke with some of the organisations over the weekend throughout west Cork which had applied and they are staggered at the zero return for the whole of west Cork. One of the projects that ticked all of the boxes but got zero funding was the Schull Community Harbour Development Company. It has proposed a project for a marina in Schull and it was put forward by the council. It is a category one, shovel-ready project that would have guaranteed year round jobs in a rural community that is starved for jobs. Why did west Cork, which is one of the most rural constituencies in Ireland, get zero funding in last week's announcement?

Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development (Deputy Seán Canney): Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney The announcement last week was very welcome. It was €60 million for rural Ireland and the projects that got going were projects that went through a process with a review group. If there were particular projects submitted by the county councils that did not get funding or onto the list they will get feedback as to where their applications were not up to the standard. Applicants may be able to address that in the next round.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins That was promised to them the last time and they did not get it this time in Cork South-West. Not one brown cent. We are forgotten people in Cork South-West.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Please Deputy.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I am sorry, Ceann Comhairle, but it is an outrage.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy is certainly not forgotten in this House.

Deputy Pat Buckley: Information on Pat Buckley Zoom on Pat Buckley The spring legislative programme includes the mental health (amendment) Bill. The Bill was first listed by the Government in autumn 2017, and the Government states that work is progressing. In 2018 it said that draft heads of the Bill were in preparation. It is now 2019 and the status of the Bill is still the same. Will the Taoiseach commit to a deadline for publication of the Bill, will he give a timeline for the work ahead and will he confirm that the Committee on Future of Mental Health Care will also be re-established?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I understand that the heads of Bill are currently being drafted but they will have to be sent to the Mental Health Commission, which will be consulted. This may cause a delay.

Deputy Pat Buckley: Information on Pat Buckley Zoom on Pat Buckley With regard to the committee-----

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae The protection of farmers' incomes featured strongly in the programme for Government. Farmers' incomes, however, are now at a new low. The price for sucklers and beef is at a new low. Can the Taoiseach explain why beef or cattle make more in the North of Ireland or on mainland England while at the same time we are being told that beef is coming into Germany and Italy in return for those countries being allowed to sell cars in Argentina and Brazil? Is the beef coming in from South America and is it competing with our Irish farmers? What is wrong that the price of beef is so low in the 26 counties? What is happening? There is only a ditch between us and the North of Ireland.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Can the Taoiseach reply on the price of beef?

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary Seeing as he does not eat it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am not responsible for the price of beef but I do know that the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, will be in Kerry on Monday and he will meet with the farm organisations on these issues.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea One of the commitments in A Programme for a Partnership Government, on page 58 to be specific, is to reduce emergency department overcrowding. Yesterday there were 512 people on trolleys across the State. Of those, 69 were on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick. Will the Taoiseach tell the House when the new 60 bed unit, promised as a result of the reorganisation of accident and emergency services in the mid west, is going to materialise? Is it yet another project that will be put on the long finger, delayed or cancelled as a result of the children's hospital fiasco or for other reasons?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The number of patients on trolleys this morning was 326. That is a 20% reduction on this time last year. We know from January that the numbers were at their lowest for maybe three years. It looks like it may be the same for February's figures. Due to the actions taken by Government overcrowding is, thankfully, going down although nobody is denying for a second that it is far too high. Those actions include additional bed capacity and investment in primary care. I gave an answer to Deputy McDonald on that particular project yesterday.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick A man came into my office yesterday who has been on the council's housing waiting list for more than nine years. He was offered a house with Louth County Council and later on, after filling in the assessment form, the council phoned him up refusing him the house. The council said that he was over the income limit. This man has a child and he had received a promotion only in the last few weeks. The problem is that in Louth County Council the band two income limit is €30,000. I cannot understand it. If this man had gone through the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, there would be no means test and automatically if a house had become available he would have got it. Instead, his family took him into the family home. Are we going to stop people from going back to work and from getting promotions? What are we supposed to do in these situations? This man has been waiting for nine years for this house and he had the offer. To be fair to Louth County Council it will hold the house for a few days to see what will happen in this case. This man pays €70 for child maintenance. If this was taken into consideration for the means test he would be well under the income limit. I ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government please to look at this. This man has waited nearly ten years for this house. What can we do?

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I thank the Deputy for the question. I cannot speak to individual cases but I am very sorry this person has been waiting so long for support. In 2018 we supported more than 27,000 families and individuals into new housing supports through the work of Rebuilding Ireland. Some 8,400 of those supports were increases to the social housing stock, with new homes built, acquired or long-term leased. This is having an important impact in reductions to the housing list, which now stands at just over 70,000 people. This is down about 20,000 since the beginning of Rebuilding Ireland. HAP is a great support if it can work but I also know the income eligibility bands for local authorities have not increased since 2011. When the review was done in 2011 an additional amount of money was put in for the coming period. A review is happening currently by the Housing Agency and when we have the results of the income eligibility review it will then be rolled out across the State.

Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler The Government has made great hay out of the announcement to amend the fair deal legislation to make it fairer for farming families but has done little to progress the Bill to make it a reality. When can we expect to see the heads of the Bill? It will take a significant amount of time to pass the legislation. Due to the wait for the Bill there are many farm families, especially the older generation, locked out of access to a nursing home.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is working on that legislation and we expect to have it published this year.

Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony: Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony As I represent a very rural constituency I have very many questions for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and thus in essence for the Taoiseach. My question today is about accessibility to public transport. There is no bus from west Cork to Cork city with wheelchair accessibility. I have submitted several parliamentary questions and every time I get the answer that 80% of Bus Éireann's fleet is wheelchair accessible. West Cork, unfortunately, comes under the 20%. When will people who live in west Cork and who have a disability be able to get a bus to Cork city?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I cannot give the Deputy a date but recognise that this is a real issue and a point well made. It is very important that people who have a disability are able to use public transport, which is not always the case. I will certainly advise the Minister, Deputy Ross, that the issue was raised in the Chamber today and perhaps he will be able to give the Deputy a timeline for those improvements to be made.

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