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 Header Item Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2014: Fifth Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Friendly Societies and Industrial and Provident Societies (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 845 No. 3

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Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debates on the various Stages of this critically important legislation which incorporates a public health initiative, of which we can be proud. Despite the great financial constraints and retrenchment that have marked recent years, most notably in the health service, the legislation highlights the fact that we are taking a first step together to reform the health system and put in place, beginning with those under six years of age, universal access to GP services. I thank Deputies for taking in good faith my assertion that the legislation is, in accordance with commitments in the programme for Government, only the first step in the introduction of this necessary service.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has stated what we are doing is taking place against an unhappy backdrop and I am inclined to agree with him in that regard. We have, to some extent, been struggling to address the issue of medical cards awarded on a discretionary basis and decisions made in that regard. I agree with the Deputy that this is not the context in which we would want to be discussing and deliberating on a universal system of health care. The first priority of the health service must be to deal with those who are ill and need immediate access to care and services. It must be stated that in trying to deal with the various anomalies, contradictions and injustices that arise and the real need among families with sick children and adults with particular medical conditions, we must also begin to consider how best we might introduce a universal system of health care. For many people, including me, the introduction of such a system is ultimately the only way to address the issues to which I refer. We are trying to operate on two fronts and I accept the Deputy's assertion to the effect that this is not the ideal backdrop to what we are seeking to do. However, that fact is not a basis for stating we will delay the introduction of a universal system of health care. Notwithstanding the contradictions, anomalies and injustices that have been thrown up in the context of the existing medical card system, I remain convinced that we are right to proceed with introducing the universal system.

  In the context of appeals, those who have not heard from the PCRS by mid-July should contact the HSE about the return of their discretionary medical cards. The PCRS is working through the cases it has in hand in respect of individuals and families and I am advised that it is making good progress. It is anxious to expedite matters, but if people have not heard from it by the middle of July, they should seek to make contact.

  What Deputy Denis Naughten said is true in many ways. He referred to institutionalising discrimination, but, as he acknowledged, there was already that discrimination. In that context and if I recall the figures correctly, the rate for the awarding of discretionary medical cards in Cork was 71% above the national average, while in County Meath it was in the order of 68% below the average. The position differed in all other counties in between. That simply cannot be right, fair or just. Some people have stated the rates differed so significantly as a result of, for example, the strength of the advocacy in various areas. I do not know whether that is the reason. No one is ever going to criticise a local health officer for helping a family. Why, in all humanity, would anyone do so? At the same time, however, we, as legislators, and the Government must ensure fairness and see to it that resources are allocated properly. I hope I am not interpreting her words incorrectly, but Deputy Róisin Shortall stated resources should be allocated in a fair and just way, not to the person who shouts loudest. I agree with her in that regard and, ultimately, that is what we are seeking to do.

  Deputy Denis Naughten was right when he referred to the problem vis-à-vis people whose medical cards had been withdrawn and then returned and those who never had them in the first instance. That problem has been ongoing for some time, but it will ultimately be solved.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten It is being copperfastened.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White It is not because we have signalled our intention to develop a policy which will ensure we can actually supply necessary services to people on the basis of their medical need. That policy will be standard throughout the country and it will mean that children in Roscommon and their counterparts in County Westmeath will be dealt with on the basis of their needs rather than, as was historically the case, on the basis of where they live, who is their local health officer, the strength of advocacy or anything of that nature.

I again thank Deputies for their extremely valuable contributions and input. I am delighted to see this landmark legislation being passed by the House.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall A Cheann Comhairle-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I am sorry, but the debate has concluded because the Minister of State has replied.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I just wanted to ask him if he would consider correcting the record.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett We cannot enter into a debate on that matter. Unfortunately, the Deputy was not present before I called the Minister of State to reply and it is not possible for her to make a contribution now.

  Question put and agreed to.

Message from Select Committee

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has completed its consideration of the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2014 and has made amendments thereto.

Friendly Societies and Industrial and Provident Societies (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett As the Deputy who was in possession is not present and as no other Members are offering, I am obliged to call the Minister of State to reply to the debate.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy John Perry): Information on John Perry Zoom on John Perry I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate on the Bill. It is clear that many of them have a significant interest in the co-operative sector, in particular, which is testament to the important role co-operatives have played in Irish society during the past century. The Bill is designed not to solve all issues affecting the co-operative sector bur rather to address the particular problems which have been identified by the sector as the ones of most pressing concern. There is a need to update the legislation which governs co-operatives. As matters stand, the legislation does not define what is a co-operative and does not even include the term "co-operative". When the Companies Bill is enacted and the new arrangements for companies are up and running, the Government intends to turn its attention to the non-company forms such as co-operatives and friendly societies and put in place a new, modern structure for these entities.

I thank Deputies for their generally positive contributions and welcome for the general thrust of the Bill. While welcoming the Bill, Deputy Peadar Tóibín was somewhat critical of the Government's role in the development of co-operatives. I remind Deputies of the significant reduction in fees charged by the Registrar of Friendly Societies introduced during 2012, the UN-designated International Year of Co-operatives. These reductions - up to 70 % in some instances – mean that the issue of financial cost as an obstacle to establishing a business as a co-operative rather than as a company has been removed.

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