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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] We will continue to invest. There is an additional €1 billion in the budget for the HSE next year. The Connolly centre has opened and is helping already. We need to open that over weekends and in the evenings as well, which we are working to do in 2020. The urgent care centre in Tallaght for children will open next year, which is a big step forward as well. The main new children's hospital, on the St. James's Hospital campus, with an individual room for every child and space for a parent to sleep in every room, will open in 2023. After so many false starts, including €35 million wasted on the Mater Hospital project, we finally have that hospital at roof level. The windows are already in on one level. We are working on moving speech and language therapy into schools, which I think will work out, but that has only started. We will see how that pilot plays out.

To answer the Deputy's question, there is not a moratorium on recruitment. We have 15,000 more staff in our health service than we had a few years ago. We have more staff in our health service than we had this time last year. Managers can fill positions as long as those positions are budgeted for.

We are working on consultant pay. We are willing to make an offer to doctors with regard to consultant pay - we will give full pay equality for consultants, provided consultants commit to working in the public service and the public service only.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I thank the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar That will be the first step in our plan to remove private practice from public hospitals.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Micheál Martin has one minute.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach acknowledges that it is shocking that so many children have to wait for so long. He referred to the NTPF. That was brought in against his best wishes.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar That is not correct.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The former Minister, Senator James Reilly, got rid of the fund. He did not have to but he got rid of it because of his ideological position on it. It was a disastrous decision and it took confidence and supply to restore the fund.

That said, the Taoiseach is still in denial about the recruitment embargo. I have a copy of an advertisement for an audiology post in July 2018. It is a key post that is needed in the southern part of the country. Moving on to 30 July 2019, an individual had to give up a private sector job under the belief that they had a contractual arrangement. The post could not be processed. We are now coming to Christmas and this continues. According to the HSE: "There is no timeframe as to when the pay bill controls will cease." There has been an active moratorium on key posts. Let us look at Temple Street. I think 30 radiographer posts were approved for Temple Street and we have 19 in position. There is a moratorium and there has been over the past 12 months, which has exacerbated this issue. Pay inequality has gone on for the past number of years. The Taoiseach gets partisan about the children's hospital, its roof level, the Mater and so on.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call the Taoiseach to respond.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin No one in this House can dictate the planning process.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It is not like Deputy Micheál Martin to be partisan.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I am just making a point to the Taoiseach.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call the Taoiseach to respond.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is a serious matter for the parents of the children concerned.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call the Taoiseach to respond. Deputy Micheál Martin cannot go to two minutes for a one-minute question.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Telling them that we are at roof level is of no consequence for a mother and a father who want to get a psychologist appointment-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We cannot go to two minutes for a one minute question.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----or urgent appointments for hospital outpatient treatment and therapy. The Taoiseach should ask anyone in the House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We have to change the rules.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The waiting times for therapists are shocking, appalling and that continues to be the case.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Micheál Martin, please. No wonder I am being criticised.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I apologise.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher That is fine. I am here to implement the rules.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I welcome Deputy Micheál Martin's acknowledgement that there has been a considerable reduction, of approximately 30%, in patients waiting for operations and procedures since the middle of 2017.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Because of our initiative.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar And on a bipartisan basis, I want to acknowledge that the investment through the NTPF has worked. I know those on the left have an ideological objection to using the fund.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The Taoiseach did as well.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Put it into the public system.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It is something that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael did together. I am glad that has worked and I am happy to acknowledge Fianna Fáil's role in encouraging us-----

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin In privatising.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----to increase funding for the NTPF, which has now worked and means that the number of people waiting for more than 12 weeks for a hip replacement, knee replacement, tonsils, veins, angiograms and so on is approximately half of what it was as recently as summer 2017.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Most of those go to Belfast.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar There is not a moratorium. Any post that is funded can be filled. There are more people working in our health service than there were this time last year, which is just a simple fact.

I will answer the question on pay inequality for consultants again. I have discussed this as Taoiseach, working with the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Harris, and we are willing to make an offer to consultants that we are willing to fully reverse pay inequality, but only for what are called type A posts. We want full pay equality for consultants but only if they commit to working in the public service only. That will be the first step towards disentangling the public-private mix that exists in our public hospitals in line with the Sláintecare vision, and I hope they are up for it.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Last week, after the Taoiseach and his partners in Fianna Fáil reasserted their confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I invited people to share their housing stories with me and they did, in their hundreds. Nothing could have prepared me for the trauma and heartache that those stories encapsulated. We have compiled some of those stories in a document entitled, The Humans of the Housing Crisis. I have sent it to the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and their partner, Deputy Micheál Martin. I trust that the Taoiseach has read the document but it is important to place on the record of the Dáil some of the stories that were sent to me. The Taoiseach may have seen Kevin Maughan's letter to Santa Claus, covered in one of the newspapers this morning. He writes to Santa: "Please come to my hotel again with Batman toys." That is what he wants this year. Kevin is seven. He lives in emergency accommodation in County Clare with his parents and little sister. Kevin has developed asthma due to his homelessness because he has stayed in so many cold and damp places. Here is another letter:

Hi, my landlord wants to sell her house, and myself, husband and my two small kids have to be out by February.

We have nowhere to go. I am on the housing list over 13 years.

Here is another:

We both have decent jobs with good incomes...

We rent a tiny studio apartment. We pay just over €1,000 for the privilege of tripping over each other and fighting over space...

Due to the high rents and high cost of living in this city we live pay check to pay check with little or no savings. Saving for a mortgage is simply not possible for us and our insecure housing situation has forced us to put our lives on hold.

Here is another:

Hi, im a student and until recently was living in a converted shed in the back of the landlord’s house.

I was cramped in there with two others. Rent is €500 and he only takes cash.

When I gave in my month’s notice he forced me out immediately and took my deposit.

Here is another:

I am currently living with my partner’s parents. Four years now in an attic with our 11 year old son.

We decided to take this step as the rent was absolutely spine-breaking. We both have really good jobs.

We have been trying to attain a mortgage for the last four years with no success.

This document is a catalogue of heartbreak, trauma and shattered dreams. It has been caused by the Government. What makes matters worse is that it does not have to be this way. All of these stories can be heard and answered with the right policy decisions. At this stage, the Taoiseach needs to accept and recognise the real harm, financial distress, mental anguish and even physical illness that is being caused to families and to children. He needs to change direction, and to recognise that there are solutions and adopt them. Does he now accept that we have a housing crisis that has no equal? Does he accept that we need to start a radical change in policy? Will he accept that we can start by dealing with extortionate rents? Will he commit to supporting the Sinn Féin legislation that has been debated and will come before the House for a vote tomorrow?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar We have always accepted that there is a housing crisis and shortage in the country. Nobody in any party in this House is in denial about that. I have not had a chance to read the Deputy's document yet. I do not think I have received it but it may be in my post bag, which I have not had a chance to look at yet.


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