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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 205-224
 Header Item Disease Management
 Header Item Air Pollution
 Header Item Community Intervention Teams
 Header Item Covid-19 Tests
 Header Item Home Care Packages
 Header Item Long-Term Illness Scheme
 Header Item Disability Services Provision
 Header Item Departmental Communications
 Header Item Cannabis for Medicinal Use
 Header Item Hospital Services
 Header Item Disability Services Provision
 Header Item Legislative Measures
 Header Item Horticulture Sector
 Header Item Forestry Sector
 Header Item Departmental Staff
 Header Item Forestry Sector
 Header Item Proposed Legislation
 Header Item Forestry Sector

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 997 No. 5
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 83 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 205-224

  Questions Nos. 205 and 206 answered with Question No. 199.

Disease Management

 207. Deputy David Cullinane Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his plans for tackling asthma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24607/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Air Pollution

 208. Deputy David Cullinane Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his plans for acting on smoky coal and air pollution and their impact on health; the extent of his cooperation and engagement with other Departments on the matter to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24608/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Policy responsibility regarding smoky coal and air pollution is a matter for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

My colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, signed regulations in July to add thirteen new Low Smoke Zones (LSZs) to the existing LSZs, the first of which were introduced in 1990. The effect of this latest important step is that all Irish towns with populations in excess of 10,000  are now LSZs within which the marketing, sale, distribution and burning of certain fuels is prohibited. This will have a positive impact in terms of reducing particulate matter and sulphur dioxide levels in the areas selected, with consequent public health benefits for residents of these new zones.

I am informed that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is also taking the first step in preparing new solid fuels regulations. This includes the development of a public consultation document which recognises the need for a more comprehensive approach to the regulation of solid fuel, with a view to ensuring a transition to lower polluting fuels for residential heating. My Department will provide input to the consultation as appropriate.

Community Intervention Teams

 209. Deputy Verona Murphy Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly when provision will be made to introduce community intervention team services to County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24610/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Tests

 210. Deputy Verona Murphy Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly the plans in place to allow for non-appointment drive through Covid-19 testing throughout Country Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24611/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Home Care Packages

 211. Deputy Verona Murphy Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly the provisions being put in place to fund additional homecare hours to persons already approved for and awarded hours but unable to receive the hours due to no available funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24614/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Mary Butler): Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler The Home Support Service is a core service for older people and is highly valued by service users, their families and by the Health Service Executive. It provides supports which assist older people to live independently in their own homes for longer and enables large numbers of people to return home following acute hospital admission who otherwise would remain in hospital or would be admitted to long stay residential care.

The HSE has advised that the spread of COVID-19 throughout our communities has posed significant challenges for many areas of our Older Person’s Services, including Home Support Services. As a result of the impact of COVID-19 and the national effort across all Community Healthcare Organisations throughout the country, some aspects of normal monthly reporting have been delayed with data coverage issues in some areas   therefore available data is preliminary and may be subject to change.  Preliminary data currently available reflects the period to the end of July 2020. As of this date:

  - over 9.8 million home support hours were delivered nationally to 51,571 people

  - Almost 165,000 home support hours have been delivered to 148 people through intensive home care packages.

  - there were 4,550 people waiting for funding for new or additional home support 

  Winter 20/21 is expected to be particularly challenging due to the presence of COVID-19 and the uncertainty around the level of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 health care demands.

  The HSE is finalising a Plan, in line with Sláintecare principles, for winter planning within the COVID-19 pandemic.

  The initiatives in the Plan are aimed at increasing hospital and community capacity, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions by enhancing alternative community care pathways, and enabling timely discharges from acute hospitals, and consequently reduce waiting times in hospital emergency departments. There will be a focus on targeted actions to shift care to home and ambulatory care environments, especially for high-risk cohorts such as elderly patients and those with chronic illnesses.

  The resources for the Plan will be sought as part of the 2021 estimates process. In advance of this, Government has allocated €600m to support the early roll-out of the Winter specific measures in this Plan. This will facilitate the commencement of priority measures from an operational perspective.

Long-Term Illness Scheme

 212. Deputy David Cullinane Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his plans to include asthma on the long-term illness scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24615/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly The LTI Scheme was established under Section 59(3) of the Health Act 1970 (as amended). The conditions covered by the LTI are: acute leukaemia; mental handicap; cerebral palsy; mental illness (in a person under 16); cystic fibrosis; multiple sclerosis; diabetes insipidus; muscular dystrophies; diabetes mellitus; parkinsonism; epilepsy; phenylketonuria; haemophilia; spina bifida; hydrocephalus; and conditions arising from the use of Thalidomide. 

  Under the LTI Scheme, patients receive drugs, medicines, and medical and surgical appliances directly related to the treatment of their illness, free of charge. 

  There are no plans to extend the list of conditions covered by the Scheme at this time. However, a review of the current eligibility framework, including the basis for existing hospital and medication charges, will be carried out under commitments given in the Sláintecare Implementation Strategy.  

  In the meantime, for people who are not eligible for the LTI scheme, there are other arrangements which protect them from excessive medicine costs. 

  Under the Drugs Payment Scheme, no individual or family pays more than €124 a month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals with ongoing expenditure on medicines. 

  Persons who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependents may be eligible for a medical card. In accordance with the provisions of the Health Act 1970 (as amended), eligibility for a medical card is determined by the HSE. In certain circumstances the HSE may exercise discretion and grant a medical card, even though an applicant exceeds the income guidelines, where he or she faces difficult financial circumstances, such as extra costs arising from illness. 

  The HSE afford applicants the opportunity to furnish supporting documentation to determine whether undue hardship exists and to fully take account of all relevant circumstances that may benefit them in assessment, including medical evidence of costs and certain expenses. 

  In circumstances where an applicant is still over the income limit for a medical card, they are then assessed for a GP visit card, which entitles the applicant to GP visits without charge. 

  Further information on the medical card scheme and the application process are available at www.hse.ie

  Patients may also be entitled to claim tax relief on the cost of medical expenses. This includes medicines prescribed by a doctor, dentist, or consultant. Relief is at the standard tax rate of 20%. Details on how to claim are at www.revenue.ie.

Disability Services Provision

 213. Deputy James Lawless Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly the backlog or waiting list of appointments for each of the service areas managed by a service (details supplied) at a location; the details of the current employment levels; the number of unfilled vacancies the HSE has; the future recruitment plans to fill the vacancies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24616/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Anne Rabbitte): Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte The Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, recognises the needto improve services for both children and adults with disabilities through better implementation and by working together across Government in a better way.

   The Government commits to prioritising early diagnosis and access to services for children and ensuring that the most effective interventions are provided for each child, to guarantee the best outcomes.

  As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Departmental Communications

 214. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if his Department or bodies working on behalf of his Department are monitoring social media for those that criticise Government policy. [24660/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I can confirm that my Department are not monitoring social media for those that criticise Government policy.

WHO Outbreak Communication Planning Guides state that “Understanding the public’s risk perceptions, views and concerns is critical to effective communication and the broader emergency management function it supports. Without knowing how people understand and perceive a given risk and what their existing beliefs and practices are, decisions and required behaviour changes necessary to protect health may not occur and societal or economic disruption may be more severe.”

I can confirm that, as per WHO guidance, my Department has been actively listening to public views and concerns from the outset of this pandemic, collating commentary on social and traditional media. My Department is also conducting surveys among the general public through the Amarach survey, published regularly on the Department’s website.

Cannabis for Medicinal Use

 215. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his plans to introduce legislation to premiere the medical uses of cannabis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24661/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly On 26th June 2019, the Minister for Health signed legislation to allow for the operation of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme on a pilot basis for five years. 

  The Programme will facilitate access to cannabis-based products for medical use in line with legislation and with the clinical guidance for the scheme. 

  Cannabis products will only be listed in Schedule 1 of the Regulations once they have been considered as suitable for use under the Medical Cannabis Access Programme. 

  The Medical Cannabis Access Programme will make it possible for a medical consultant to prescribe a cannabis-based treatment for a patient under his or her care for the following medical conditions, where the patient has failed to respond to standard treatments:

  - Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis

  - Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy

  - Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy.

  The following specified controlled drug products (cannabis-based products) have been accepted as being suitable for use under the Medical Cannabis Access Programme:

  - Aurora High CBD Oil Drops

  - CannEpil Oral Solution

  - Tilray Oral Solution THC10:CBD10 25ml

  The HSE is currently engaged in pricing and supply negotiations with manufacturers and suppliers of the products listed above, for this reason the programme is not yet operational. Pending the conclusion of these negotiations I am not in a position to put a specific date on the commencement of the programme.

  Pending full operation of the MCAP and for medical indications not included in the MCAP, doctors may continue to utilise the Ministerial licencing route pursuant to Section 14 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2016 to prescribe cannabis-based products for their patients, should they wish to do so.

  In line with the Chief Medical Officer's advice, the granting of a licence for cannabis for medical purposes must be premised on an appropriate application being submitted to the Department of Health, which is endorsed by a consultant who is responsible for the management of the patient and who is prepared to monitor the effects of the treatment over time.   

  Further information on medical cannabis is available on the Department’s website.

  It is important to note that the medical decision to prescribe or not prescribe any treatment, including cannabis treatment, for an individual patient is strictly a decision for the treating clinician, in consultation with their patient. The Minister for Health has no role in this clinical decision-making process.

Hospital Services

 216. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly when external providers of additional therapies will be allowed to resume in community hospitals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24662/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Mary Butler): Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Disability Services Provision

 217. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his views on the impact of the redeployment of HSE therapists to work as Covid-19 testers and contact tracers on the services provided to persons with disabilities. [24663/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Anne Rabbitte): Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte The Programme for Government,  Our Shared Future,  recognises the need to improve services for both children and adults with disabilities through better implementation and by working together across Government in a better way. 

   The  Government commits to prioritising early diagnosis and access to services for children and ensuring that the most effective interventions are provided for each child, to guarantee the best outcomes.

  As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Legislative Measures

 218. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly the status of measures via amending legislation or statutory instrument to ban smoking in outdoor areas including in locations food is consumed; the person or body that would be responsible for the implementation and enforcement of such a measure; the location the jurisdiction of same lies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24681/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly In April 2018 the Government agreed to support a Seanad Private Members’ Motion to legislate for the introduction of a smoking ban in areas where food is consumed, including in outdoor areas, and to address this measure on completion of the current tobacco control legislative programme.

The current tobacco control legislation project is the Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill. The Government approved the drafting of the Bill in October 2019. The Bill will introduce a licensing system for the sale of tobacco and nicotine inhaling products, prohibit the sale of tobacco products at events and locations primarily intended for children and prohibit the sale of nicotine inhaling products to children.

The promotion of tobacco free environments through the use of voluntary measures or by the introduction of bye-laws is a key component of Tobacco Free Ireland - Ireland’s national tobacco control policy. Initiatives creating tobacco free environments in healthcare settings, sporting facilities, playgrounds, educational campuses and in towns and cities have been successfully developed through consultation with stakeholders including local authorities, educational bodies, the HSE and the Department of Health.

The responsibility for enforcement of current tobacco control law rests with the Environmental Health Service of the HSE therefore it is likely that any measure to ban smoking in outdoor areas would be enforced by that body.

Horticulture Sector

 219. Deputy Jackie Cahill Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue his plans to compensate plant nurseries which recently saw significant damage to stock as a result of poor weather conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24469/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I am fully aware of the effects caused by recent challenging weather conditions and its impact on the agri sector generally including the specialised nursery sector. This is most regrettable as many of the affected growers were facing very strong market demand for their produce after a number of challenging years. 

The Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Horticulture Sector is a mechanism that can assist growers to help businesses rebuild and address the challenge of climate adaptation. My Department is prioritising payment of grant aid to approved applicants under the 2019 Scheme and it is expected that the full budget of €6 million will be drawn down by the end of 2020. 

This Scheme is due to re-open towards the end of October 2020 and grant aids capital investments in specialised plant and equipment as well as emerging technologies specific to commercial horticulture production. Under this scheme, aid at a rate of 40% (or a maximum rate of 50% in the case of young farmers) is payable on the accepted cost of approved capital investments or equipment. This Scheme is 100% funded by the Irish Government.

In addition, growers and food businesses can also benefit from access to the Government’s liquidity and investment responses to Covid-19 impacts, including the expansion of the Future Growth Loan Scheme for capital investment and Microfinance Ireland loans for working capital.   While the banks have extended their payment break from three months to six months for those directly impacted by Covid-19, the Government has announced an expanded Credit Guarantee Schemes, which will support working capital lending to SMEs, including farmers.

Finally, food businesses are eligible for the Covid Working Capital Loan Scheme, as well as Enterprise Ireland supports to maintain business continuity and liquidity. Bord Bia has provided an additional €1m Covid-19 response Marketing Package for Agri businesses to accelerate eCommerce and expand marketing activities.

Forestry Sector

 220. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the number of staff within the Forestry Office; the number of staff processing forestry appeals: the members of the Forestry Appeals Board; the frequency at which the Board meets: the number of times the Board has met each year since its inception; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24475/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue There are currently 147 staff working across the Department's three Forestry Divisions.   There staff are a combination of forestry inspectors, ecologists, archeologists and administrative staff. 

 I wish to inform the Deputy that the Agriculture Appeals Office is a separate independent Office providing an appeals service for agriculture schemes of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine since 2002. 

In 2018, the Office was assigned responsibility for implementing a new statutory appeals service for appeals against Department decisions on forestry licences. The Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) also operates independently of my Department.

The staff allocation for the Agriculture Appeals Office is a Director, 11 Appeals Officers and 10.5 administrative support staff.  The staff undertake duties in relation to both Agriculture Appeals and Forestry Appeals. All Appeals Officers are members of the FAC.

The FAC is chaired by an independent chairperson, Mr. Des Johnson formerly of An Bord Pleanala. The quorum for the committee is three. Two Appeals Officer who have been assigned full time to the FAC and all other appeals officers are assigned on a rotating basis whilst also carrying out their Agriculture Appeals Officer functions.

The work of the FAC continues on a daily basis in relation to the processing of appeals, circulation of information and publishing the outcome of appeals on the website. In 2018 and 2019, the FAC held 47 and 45 hearings respectively.  To date in 2020, the FAC have held 182 hearings (since 30th March 2020, these meetings have been held remotely).

Since the FAC was established, the number of appeals has increased significantly: the number of forestry licence appeals received in 2019 was 489 in respect of 311 licences which was more than double the combined total of appeals received in 2017 and 2018 (231 in respect of 169 licences). To date in 2020, there have been 689 forestry appeals received against 444 licences. 

We have also proposed new legislation amending the Agriculture Appeals Act which is designed to align forestry licensing appeals process with best practice in other appeals processes.  For instance, it includes proposals for the appointment of Deputy Chairpersons and the creation of sub-divisions of the main Committee which will increase capacity to hold hearings.   Certain other efficiencies in the operation of the committee are also proposed. 

My Department has received almost 9,000 submissions in response to the publication of the draft Bill.  The level of engagement with this legislation is very welcome.  Early analysis by officials of my Department shows a significant majority of submissions received support the introduction of the Bill and the proposals therein.  The careful examination of submissions is continuing ahead of publishing them on my Department's website.  The submissions will inform the updated version of the Bill, which I will present to the House in the next fortnight subject to all procedures being complete. 

Additional resources have previously been assigned to the FAC, including additional administrative resources and personnel with planning expertise, to assist with administering appeals.  These will be added to shortly to ensure their readiness for the implementation of the Bill, subject to its passing in the Oireachtas.

Departmental Staff

 221. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the number of ecologists currently working on forestry licensing within his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24476/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue There are currently 14 full-time equivalent ecologists working on forestry licensing applications for the Department. These are a combination of permanent ecologists employed directly by the Department and ecologists contracted in from outside  This is a very significant increase in ecology resources and a heavy investment by my Department in response to current licencing issues and the need for greater ecological assessment of licences. This situation will be kept under review.

Forestry Sector

 222. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the time frame he envisages in implementing the Mackinnon Report on the forestry sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24488/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Mackinnon Review, which was carried out by Mr. James Mackinnon, CBE former Chief Planner with the Scottish Government, reviewed the forestry approval process and related issues in Ireland.  This was similar to an exercise that Mr. Mackinnon had previously conducted for the Scottish authorities.  The Review was published at the end of last year and presented to the Forestry Programme Implementation Group in January.  Its implementation is one of the commitments that this Government made for forestry in the Programme for Government.  

The Review was informed by, among other things, discussions with a range of stakeholders including the forestry sector, farming organisations, the Environmental Pillar, State Bodies, Teagasc and the Forestry Appeals Committee.  In addition, written submissions were received at the time. 

The Review includes 22 “Ways Forward” or recommendations across a range of issues.  I am pleased to say that many of these recommendations have already been taken on board and acted upon by my Department.  For instance, in line with Mackinnon, an amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act has been introduced and guidance on preparing Natura Impact Statements for forestry licence application has been issued.  My Department has also introduced a single consent system for forestry road planning.  

It is of course very important that the Review is implemented in the best way possible and that is why I am currently examining the appointment of an independent chair to oversee the process.  The intention is that this person will report on the feasibility of implementing the Mackinnon recommendations for further consideration.  A review of the Forestry Programme Implementation Group is currently underway to enhance representation so that the membership on the Group is best selected to help advise me and my Department on the implementation of the Forestry Programme.  

There is a huge amount of activity in forestry, especially on the reform of the planning and appeals processes and the introduction of the Agriculture Appeals Amendment Bill to the House soon. Nonetheless, I understand the implementation of Mackinnon is also a priority and I expect to be making further announcements on this issue very soon.

Proposed Legislation

 223. Deputy David Stanton Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the timeline for implementation of the Agricultural Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24492/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue At its meeting of 27 July, Government approved a Memorandum seeking approval to draft an urgent amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001 along the lines of the Heads of Bill presented. This will reform the forestry appeals process by bringing it into line with similar planning processes and is one of the commitments in the Programme for Government.

I published the draft Bill for public consultation on 30 July for a four-week period with a closing date on Friday 28th August. My officials are currently reviewing nearly 9,000 submissions on the draft Bill received by the closing date. I am planning to present the final draft Bill to the Houses of the Oireachtas in the next fortnight subject to all necessary preparations being complete.

Forestry Sector

 224. Deputy David Stanton Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if consideration is being given to the reform of the Forestry #Appeals Committee in view of the crisis in the forestry industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24493/20]

 229. Deputy Joe Carey Information on Joe Carey Zoom on Joe Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if he will consider the allocation of additional resources to the Forestry Appeals Committee in view of the current crisis in the industry and the slow rate of appeals processing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24514/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I propose to take Questions Nos. 224 and 229 together.

I recognise the difficulties that the delays to forestry licensing and forestry appeals are causing. The Government is committed to improvements to the licensing and appeals system as set out in the Programme for Government. It is very clear that the current system needs to be improved so that it can operate more efficiently.

The proposed Bill amending the Agriculture Appeals Act is designed to align forestry licensing appeals process with best practice in other appeals processes. For instance, it includes proposals for the appointment of Deputy Chairpersons and the creation of sub-divisions of the main Committee which will increase capacity to hold hearings. Certain other efficiencies in the operation of the committee are also proposed.

My Department has received almost 9,000 submissions in response to the publication of the draft Bill. The level of engagement with this legislation is very welcome. Early analysis by officials of my Department shows a significant majority of submissions received support the introduction of the Bill and the proposals therein. The careful examination of submissions is continuing ahead of publishing them on my Department's website. The submissions will inform the updated version of the Bill, which I will present to the House in the next fortnight subject to all procedures being complete.

Additional resources have previously been assigned to the FAC, including additional administrative resources and personnel with planning expertise, to assist with administering appeals. These will be added to shortly to ensure their readiness for the implementation of the Bill, subject to its passing in the Oireachtas.

I believe that the proposed Bill, along with our Project Plans for managing the licencing backlog, will greatly improve the overall system and will result in an increase in the number of licences available for planting, forest roads and felling.


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