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Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard O'Donoghue: Information on Richard O'Donoghue Zoom on Richard O'Donoghue] This helps, as people do not go into nursing homes because they get the respite care they need during the year and can be catered for at home. We need to invest in our older people and help them. The community around the likes of Dromcollogher district respite care centre need it to reopen. It will not be able to reopen, however, unless it gets proper investment and unless this legislation is changed. I ask for the Minister's to help do anything he can to change this Bill and get investment into these rest homes in order that people in the areas of Limerick, north Cork and north Kerry will get the help and investment they need to care for their elderly in the future.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I am delighted to get an opportunity today to speak on the stimulus package and the issues that still concern people. In fairness, there is no point in being altogether critical of the package. It contains measures that in time will begin a roadmap for people to try to get back to some normality and employment, which is of huge importance.

I want to home in on the expenditure regarding hospitals and the whole issue of the Covid-19 situation. Clonakilty Community Hospital was struck heavily, unfortunately, with Covid-19. At the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing staff or management can do in that hospital if the issue is that the hospital is not up to a standard it needs to be at. It has been quite some time since HIQA produced a strongly-worded report on that hospital and I recall that in 2016, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, signed a statutory instrument to the effect that all hospitals had to be brought up to 80% single-bed occupancy. Unfortunately, the statutory instrument pushed out the standards for those hospitals to 2021.

My problem is that Clonakilty Community Hospital expects funding. Will it get the funding? The HSE is more or less stating that some of these hospitals may not now come up to standard. Reports last week indicated that the HSE and HIQA are going to court about Clonakilty Community Hospital. The bottom line, however, is that does not deliver the funding that is needed regarding the hospital being brought up the standard to which every community hospital needs to be brought. I would appreciate it were the Minister to look into that.

I brought up these issues last week with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, regarding Bantry General Hospital and was promised a written response. That was a week ago and I have not received a written response. When I look at the programme for Government, there is nothing written on Bantry General Hospital. It serves a population of more than 80,000 people in Cork South-West. If one does not get into Bantry, in some cases in the peninsulas, one effectively is three hours away from the nearest hospital. The funding is needed and obviously it has been a great protection to the people of Cork South-West with regard to the Covid-19 crisis we have today. A new full-time anaesthetist was promised and has not been delivered. It is a serious concern to the people of Cork South-West. There also was a promise of an endoscopy unit when the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, visited the hospital in 2018. That has not been delivered to date and this needs to be looked into.

On the issue of schools, I must give credit where credit is due to the Minister, Deputy Foley, who, in the short term she has been inside the House, has delivered on a number of schools in south-west Cork that urgently needed works to be carried out. As I said, credit where credit is due.

I am aware that schools like the one in Ballydehob need urgent funding because I was there last week and it was scandalous to see buckets around the rooms trying to catch the dropping water. It is an issue that needs to be taken up. However, we also need to look at the private schools, such as Bandon Grammar School, which I have been in contact with, and a lot of schools in west Cork, as well as the public schools. With regard to the private schools, a document published in the pathway recently made clear that fee-charging schools such as in Bandon and other places will not receive any assistance under the minor works grants for necessary changes to classrooms, toilets, etc. to enable social distancing and enhanced hygiene. They will not receive any staffing alleviation for either spreading out classes or for guidance counselling for the many children who are experiencing mental health challenges due to the current situation. I appreciate that is not under the aegis of the Minister's Department but funding needs to be made available. The private schools are going back into the pockets of the parents. They cannot keep hitting the parents any further than they already have done to deliver these essential works in the school. I would appreciate it if the Minister would talk to the Department of Education and Skills. I have questions tomorrow for that Department and I will raise this issue because it is of serious concern to the school there. I would appreciate that. Other schools, such as the one in Castletownbere, have contacted me because everybody is trying to carry out urgent works to deliver a safe place for the children to return to school.

I happen to fully agree with Deputy Mattie McGrath and his sentiment regarding the publicans. Many of them face ruin. I have a conflict of interest in that my two brothers are publicans and my daughter works in a pub but, perhaps, I know first-hand the crisis that their door is shut. They have no aid, as such, and continue to have no aid and really do not have an ear. It looked to me as if, in continuation to the position prior to Covid-19, there was an attack on the publicans. They employee 50,000 people. The attacks seem to have continued. These are rural pubs and what the Government has done now, unfortunately, is to push in parties all over the place. I know it from my own constituency and it is sad to see large, uncontrolled parties happening up there now. We have a new crisis after keeping the door of the publicans shut. They need to be put on a fair and level playing pitch.

I also want to speak about the over-66s. They have been treated terribly. I ask the same question I asked last night: what did people over 66 do to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil? They have completely ignored them. The only little bit of comfort they might have got in the stimulus package was if they could have got the €125 holiday relief. They will not get it. As far as I can see, they cannot get it because they are not paying tax but are getting a pension. These people have paid tax all their life but they are now being squeezed out. The poor man and woman who was working and who was over 66 years of age got nothing, as such, in terms of compensation through Covid-19. We even suggested making up the difference between the pension and the Covid-19 payment and they were refused that. Now, such people will not be able to get the little bit of holiday relief - which others are going to find difficult to get but we will not go down that road as they are, at least, entitled to it - and that is terribly unfair. The Minister must answer the question as to what these people have done to deserve this type of treatment. They need to be respected. They are the people who made us who we are today.

Other issues in my own constituency include serious concerns on infrastructure for the greater good and a massive broadband crisis that needs to be looked into. However, we also have road issues and I want to talk about the unfinished southern relief road in Bandon. Despite promise after promise for the past ten or 15 years, nothing has happened. The northern relief road is now going to be half of a northern relief road, if it ever goes ahead, which is another shambles, as it will lead to further gridlock and further closures of businesses because it will come right down almost into the middle of Bandon town.

There are a lot of issues. The Minister might say I am pressing on the critical issues but they are the issues that concern the people of my constituency and the people of the country in its own right.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I will begin by welcoming what the Minister intends to achieve with this Bill, which is to continue to provide support for people as the economy reopens and to provide an injection of economic stimulus. I also will begin by saying that the Bill is a missed opportunity and demonstrates a lack of connectedness with the real economy, at least, the economy I come from and the area that I represent.

New Deputies are frequently told to watch out for the Leinster House bubble because sometimes what goes on there is little connected with the real world. We are not in Leinster House now and we are not in a Leinster House bubble. To me, however, this Dáil looks increasingly like a bunch of rare orchids in the National Botanic Gardens protected from the realities of where they live.

In a couple of months' time, we are going to ask pupils and teachers to go back into schools, and rightly so. Our children deserve an education. We are going to ask our medics, doctors and nurses, to go back into overcrowded hospitals and provide a health service, not just a Covid-19 health service, but a general health service, and rightly so. We deserve as a nation, like every other nation in Europe, a functioning health system. Somehow, however, we are different.

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