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 Header Item Hospital Services (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Environmental Impact of Quarries and Incinerators: Motion [Private Members]

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 990 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming] It took a great deal of legal work to establish that. People knew that a child had died at the hospital and HSE senior management covered it up. While there were with no repercussions for the HSE, the reputation of the hospital was damaged. Following on from the HIQA inspections, most people will accept that maternity services at Portlaoise hospital over the past two or three year have been among the safest in the country. I am not aware of any maternal or infant death on delivery in recent times. As a result of a light having been shone on the facility it has improved.

It would be a shame if the Minister were to proceed with the closure of the maternity services and emergency department. If the emergency department is closed, the maternity ward would have to be closed because it would not be safe. We need confirmation that the emergency department will continue to operate 24-7, 365 days of the year, as it currently does. If the Minister would confirm that, we could get on with the future development of the hospital.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I do not have a formal reply to read. I acknowledge the Deputy's concerns. I am happy to pass on his invitation to the Minister to visit the facility and to update all of the Members representing the area on the plans regarding the hospital.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I addressed my opening statement to the Minister, Deputy Harris. People will be shocked that the Minister is not here to respond to this Topical Issue matter, which was selected yesterday for discussion today. I expected the Minister to be here. Not only is he not here, he has not afforded the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, the courtesy of giving him a script to read on his behalf. Shame on the Minister, Deputy Harris, for treating the Oireachtas Members of County Laois in such a manner. I do not have an ego, but I represent 85,000 people who live in County Laois and the surrounding counties. I have never encountered this treatment before.

Approximately 40,000 people visit the accident and emergency department each year. On 17 April 2018, in a written reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister said that he would engage in a consultation process with local GPs. In September 2018, well over a year ago, he told me that the process for that consultation had been agreed and an external facilitator was to be appointed. That has not happened. Nothing the Minister has said to date has happened. I note the Minister of State is being provided with a script. If it is related to this matter, it is welcome, belatedly.

My opening statement on this Topical Issue matter is verbatim my opening statement on a Topical Issue Matter on this issue on 19 April 2018, which means I have been raising this issue for 20 months and the Minister has done nothing but add to the uncertainty by not resolving the issue. This uncertainty is damaging the hospital and public confidence in it. It is also preventing staff taking up positions in the hospital. I reiterate my invitation to the Minister to visit Portlaoise hospital and to confirm that the accident and emergency department there will continue in operation. If the Minister was even to contemplate scaling down services, he would be adding to the already overcrowded accident and emergency departments in neighbouring counties in terms of trolley numbers and queues. The other hospitals could not possibly cater for additional people. The Minister needs to confirm that the services currently provided in Portlaoise hospital will continue to be provided, following which we can focus on the development of services into the future.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I would like to clarify that there was no intention to insult the Deputy or degrade the issue. It was human error that I was given a response to a different Topical Issue matter. I now have the correct script, which, with the indulgence of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I will read.

I thank Deputy Fleming for raising this matter. I would like to reassure him that, as stated previously by the Minister, Deputy Harris, the most important issue in regard to the consideration of services at the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise is that patient safety and outcomes come first. The Minister has committed to securing and further developing the role of the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise as a constituent hospital within the Dublin Midlands hospital group. Since 2014, the focus has been on supporting the hospital to develop and enhance management capability, implementing changes required to address clinical service deficiencies and incorporating the hospital into the governance structures within the Dublin Midlands hospital group.

Significant work has been undertaken to strengthen and stabilise current arrangements for services at the hospital to ensure that services that are not sustainable are discontinued and that sustainable services are safely assured and adequately resourced. Funding has increased by 42% relative to the 2012 budget and staffing levels have risen by 31% from the 2014 base. Governance and management arrangements in Portlaoise hospital have been strengthened, additional clinical staff have been appointed and staff training, hospital culture and communications have improved. The Dublin Midlands hospital group has been working for some time on a draft plan for a new model of clinical service delivery at Portlaoise hospital that takes account of the need to develop services at Portlaoise in the context of developing a model of service provision for the entire hospital group. The draft plan has been submitted to the Department of Health. I would like to emphasise again that patient and public requirements are paramount and have underpinned the Department's consideration of the draft plan.

The HSE group involved in the development of the draft action plan for Portlaoise hospital included eight national clinical programmes, the National Ambulance Service and the HSE national acute hospitals division. This group focused on the risk issues and the interdependencies of the various clinical services across the emergency department, general surgery, general medicine, general paediatrics, obstetrics, gynaecology and neonatology. The HSE consultations took place with the clinical staff and management in Portlaoise general practitioners, the Irish Prison Service, Tallaght Hospital, paediatric surgery and emergency department services, and the master of the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital. As the Minister outlined previously, no decision has been made on the draft action plan for Portlaoise hospital. He has committed to ensuring that local clinicians and the community will be consulted before a decision is made, and he has decided that a comprehensive consultation exercise should be undertaken by the HSE with an external facilitator and involving the key stakeholder groups in Portlaoise hospital. The consultation will involve key stakeholders and local community representatives and provide an opportunity to listen to and address the issues and concerns that stakeholders have highlighted. The consultation will also provide an opportunity to set out the immediate priorities for service development and improvement in the hospital.

Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Select Committee on Health has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2019: Vote 38 - Health.

Environmental Impact of Quarries and Incinerators: Motion [Private Members]

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

recognises:

— the severe and worsening impact on wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystems of some commercial activities which are known to be harmful or potentially harmful to the environment;

— that in September 2019, despite receiving over 4,000 objections, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) upheld a decision by An Bord Pleanála to allow Irish Cement burn used tyres, animal waste, sludge and other waste at its plant in Castlemungret and have claimed that the temperature at which tyres are burned will mean that there is no significant impact on the environment;

— that since 2017, the EPA has received a significant number of complaints about dust deposition from residents of the Mungret and Raheen areas of Limerick City;

— that in 2018 Irish Cement was convicted of two counts of breaching its industrial emissions licence;

 — that the maximum fine Irish Cement faced for these breaches was €4,000;

— that electricity-only incinerators may emit more than 33 per cent more fossil carbon dioxide than gas power stations;

— that this situation has caused considerable concern over Irish Cement’s ability to deliver on its claims that there will be no impact on the environment or public health as a result of its burning of tyres; and

— that Irish Cement has consistently refuted any suggestion of a public health threat from its plans;

further recognises that:

— a recent survey of local authorities has found that out of 1,100 active quarries around the country, 150 are deemed to be unauthorised;

— quarry operators are able to continue blasting and excavating without planning permission;

— some local authorities are customers of these unauthorised quarries, having previously issued enforcement notices against them;

— special areas of conservation have been placed under threat and damaged by these operations; and

— it is clear that some quarry operators continue to operate with impunity despite the actions of both the courts and local authorities;

acknowledges that:

— communities have campaigned to raise awareness of both unauthorised quarries and the issuing of licences to companies who have previously broken with regulations;

— local authorities and the courts have pursued some quarry operators; and

— An Taisce has worked to pursue unauthorised quarry operators;

and calls on the Government to:

— ensure that the right to public participation, including early and open consultation in decision-making, is respected in the context of incineration and quarrying developments;

— ensure that planning applications in respect of incinerators and quarries take into account planning history, site suitability, visual and amenity impacts, health risks, climate targets and obligations to protect biodiversity;

— revoke licences subject to the completion of investigations in cases where individuals or companies are found to have previously acted outside environmental regulations on multiple occasions;

— bring forward legislation to remove the EPA’s absolute right to immunity;

— allow appeals to the EPA to be considered on substantive grounds outside of the courts;

— empower the EPA to use a more robust system of enforcement action against polluters whereby the scale of fines is based on a percentage of licensee turnover;

— expedite the upcoming €5 per tonne Waste Recovery Levy for incineration in order to recover potential costs to society, public health and the economy of pollutants;

— direct revenues generated from the levy and collected in the Environment Fund towards improved recycling infrastructure;

— conduct a review of enforcement orders issued by local authorities which have not been effective to date;

— ensure that any quarries operating without planning approval cease operation and undertake an analysis of any adverse environmental impacts;

— assess the environmental impact of quarries operating without planning permission and ensure an immediate cessation of operations where they are not in compliance with environmental regulations;

— implement a review of the planning process for quarries;

— prioritise the prevention and recycling of waste over incineration;

— implement a community-led zero-waste policy to reduce the consumption of plastic and to encourage alternative forms of recycling, waste disposal and measures to further encourage the development of the circular economy; and

— ensure that plans for residual waste, left over after recycling or re-use, are prepared on the basis that the levels of such will be progressively reduced.

There was a time when incineration was seen as the perfect antidote or alternative to landfill when it came to the disposal of toxic waste. However, those days are long since passed. Public opinion has moved on and science has moved on. The arguments put forward in favour of incineration have been shown by numerous studies and reports to be both self-serving and simplistic. I could give examples but time does not permit me to do so. Incineration is not a very efficient way to produce energy. Three to four times more energy can be saved by a combination of reusing, recycling and composting. Trash cannot be regarded as a renewable resource and incineration cannot be seen as sustainable technology, because when something is burned, we have to go all the way back to square one and extract more virgin resources to replace it.

  Another effect of incineration, as evidenced from studies of what has happened in various countries that have built large numbers of incinerators, is that the focus of policymakers shifts from how to dispose of waste to how to keep the incinerator operating. The net result of this, as we anticipate in Limerick, is that we would have to import other people's waste. In other words, we will be moving from landfill to incineration but we will be burning not only our own waste but other people's waste. As stated by Dr. Ludwig Krämer, former waste director for the European Union:

An incinerator needs to be fed for twenty to thirty years, and in order to be economic it needs an enormous input. So, for twenty to thirty years you stifle innovation, you stifle alternatives, just in order to feed that monster which you have built.

Even if incineration could be made safe, it could never be made sensible. It does not make ethical or economic sense to spend so much time, money and effort destroying materials that we should be sharing with the future. Professor Paul Connett gave evidence on behalf of an organisation in Limerick called Limerick Against Pollution during the recent An Bord Pleanála oral hearing.


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