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 Header Item Community Care (Continued)
 Header Item Bord na Móna

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pat Deering: Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering] When will the HSE's commitment to make redundancy payments be honoured? I ask the Minister to give a commitment that no one will be made redundant until this issue has been resolved.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy I thank Deputy Deering for raising this very important matter. Cheshire Ireland provides a range of support services to people, often with very complex and high support needs with both physical and neurological conditions in their homes, residential centres, supported accommodation and stand-alone respite facilities. Cheshire Ireland is funded under section 39 of the Health Act 2004, with services based throughout the country, including Tullow, County Carlow. The Health Service Executive has in place service level agreements with these providers, funded under section 39 of the Health Act 2004, which set out the level of service to be provided for the grant to the individual organisation and requirements regarding standards of care.

In 2017, as part of the overall service arrangement which the HSE community health care organisation No. 5 has with Cheshire Ireland, a funding allocation of €1.965 million will be provided to Carlow-Kilkenny community services. The Carlow-Kilkenny disability manager and finance manager reviewed the service level agreement file and advised that, at the service level agreement meeting in 2016, Cheshire Ireland indicated that it would undertake staff redundancies. I am informed, however, that the HSE did not receive any request for funding from Cheshire Ireland for these costs.

As the individuals employed by section 39 organisations are not HSE employees, the HSE has no role in determining the salaries or other terms and conditions applying to these staff, including any pension arrangements. Accordingly, such arrangements offered by individual providers will vary. I confirm to the Deputy and House that the pay and superannuation terms and conditions of the staff concerned are not subject to the control of the Department of Health as the employees are not classified as public servants.

The Deputy asked a specific question on a commitment given by the Health Service Executive at a meeting of the Workplace Relations Commission. I have no information on that matter and I am not in a position to make any commitments on redundancies in the company concerned. I will, however, endeavour to establish what precisely is the position regarding the HSE's commitment.

Deputy Pat Deering: Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering I thank the Minister of State for her response. With the greatest respect, however, I am slightly disappointed and frustrated with it because my information differs entirely from the information provided. A Labour Court decision issued on 16 December 2015 recommended that the Cheshire Ireland engage with the Health Service Executive. It states: "Having regard to the Employer's financial difficulties and substantial dependency on the HSE for funding, the Court further recommends that the employer should engage in early course with the HSE with a view to securing the necessary additional funding required." My understanding, and that of the staff, trade unions and everyone else concerned, is that the HSE, in conjunction with Cheshire Ireland, would facilitate this particular matter. It is disappointing and strange that the HSE appears to have abdicated its responsibility in this matter. I ask the Minister of State to review the issue with HSE officials to determine precisely what the position is. Staff are in limbo and require clarification and certainty.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy The Deputy is correct that the staff in question require clarification and certainty. As I stated, the information provided to me is that the HSE did not receive any request for funding from Cheshire Ireland for costs arising from staff redundancies. As for the recommendation made by the Labour Court that the employer engage with the HSE, while I do not know what efforts have been made by either party, I undertake to establish what the position is on this matter. I will liaise directly with the Deputy on the issue.

Bord na Móna

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I raise this issue on foot of an ongoing review of the peat briquette production end of Bord na Móna's business. The review is clearly the result of a decline in sales of peat briquettes, although production continues by virtue of the need to stockpile. The review is centred on the operations in Littleton and Derrinlough.

Many Deputies are well aware of the history of Bord na Móna in the midlands region, particularly in my home county. The company is the lifeblood of the community and the bedrock of its economic life. It continues to contribute to education, culture and sport in the region. It is imperative that every effort is made to assist the company in its efforts to diversify and meet the demands of a changing energy and heating regime. These factors and cost of oil have affected the sale of briquettes.

Some time ago, I pointed out to the Minister that the previous Government had reintroduced and subsequently doubled the carbon tax on peat products. It did so against a backdrop of Bord na Móna's efforts to diversify into new products and methods which would enable it to thrive given that peat production and excavation is to be discontinued from 2030 onwards. Fianna Fáil sought to have a proportion of the proceeds of the carbon tax generated from Bord na Móna products held in an enterprise or innovation fund to assist with the development of alternative industry and employment in the sector.

Bord na Móna has diversified in the generations since the company commenced operations. Co-operation, negotiation and consultation were engaged in before agreement was reached between the company and the workforce. This shows the goodwill the workforce has shown in seeking to secure the company's future in the face of a number of challenges.

This morning, the Tánaiste stated the role of Government and Minister with responsibility for this area is one of oversight and that policy-making was not directly involved. Policy-making played a role in the past when a Fianna Fáil-led Government saw fit to develop new power plants in Edenderry, Shannonbridge and Lough Ree that would have co-fuel potential. There is an onus and responsibility on elected representatives and the Government to ensure Bord na Móna, a semi-State company, receives State assistance in its efforts to diversify. I contend that it was a direct intervention by a previous Government, in introducing a carbon tax on peat products, that led us to the position in which the briquette factories face a live threat. More important, the Government failed to ring-fence the income generated from peat in an innovation and enterprise fund, which would have assisted the workforce and region and ensured alternative industries could emerge from this process and prosper.

While I do not wish to belittle the obligations imposed on us by carbon policy in general, if one Government saw fit to have a derogation for peat products, another Government should recognise that fact. Instead, it decided to reintroduce and double the tax without establishing an innovation fund to ensure a seamless transfer to alternative opportunities and industry. We have reached a red light and redeployment will be required between the two peat briquette plants, where possible. This is despite the fact that the ash content in the Derrinlough plant is such that production at the site is much more cost efficient than anywhere else. I ask the Government to seriously consider, even at this late stage, establishing an innovation fund using carbon tax revenue from peat industry.

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