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 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)
 Header Item Statement by An Taoiseach

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 2
Unrevised

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  1 o’clock

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will have to take that matter up with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, and ask her to get back to the Deputy with a more detailed reply. I imagine the intention will be to enable people to catch up on any lost time or lost training that they missed out on due to Covid. At the same time, that has to be balanced with the need to have a churn of people coming on and off schemes in order that other people get those opportunities as well.

Deputy Duncan Smith: Information on Duncan Smith Zoom on Duncan Smith For many of us, life will return to some form of normality when restrictions ease. For those with profound mobility issues, however, it will not make much of a difference because their lives were the same before the Covid crisis. They live a life of permanent 5 km, or even tighter, restrictions. Acknowledging that there are only 15 changing places toilets in Ireland, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage made a commitment to Senator Wall in the Seanad in December that a working group would be created to discuss this issue and that this group would meet within a week. Has that proposal been brought to Cabinet and is there any update on it? Major public consultations are taking places on plans for the Phoenix Park and other public places. We need changing places toilets to be rolled out across the country, in existing facilities and in new ones. I would appreciate priority being given to this issue by the Government.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I fully agree with Deputy Duncan Smith. I raised this issue with the Taoiseach in the House three or four months ago with reference to facilities in County Cork and throughout the country. The number of special disability toilets in Northern Ireland is double if not quadruple the number in the Republic. The lack of provision is not fair. There are people travelling hours with a person with a disability and there is nowhere they can take that person. When will we be in a position whereby disability toilets are freely available throughout County Cork?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. To my recollection, it has not been brought to Cabinet but I will follow it up with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and ask him to provide the Deputies with a more detailed response.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan The general data protection regulation, GDPR, seems to be cropping up with increased frequency in public administration, most recently in the context of the debate on the report of the commission on mother and baby homes. It has also arisen in regard to the processing of medical cards. There appears to be an urgent need for a definition of precisely what falls within the scope of this regulation. Will the Tánaiste ensure that this be considered as a matter of urgency?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar We are all grappling with the appropriate use of the GDPR in our work as Deputies and Ministers. I know that people working in public administration and business feel the exact same. The more clarity we can provide for people the better. If there is a specific aspect of the regulation that the Deputy has in mind, perhaps to do with medical cards, and he wants to give me more details later, I will be happy to check it out.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I started out with a long list of Deputies wanting to speak and we have run out of time. There are seven people left. If the Tánaiste is willing, I am prepared to go through them all very quickly but they will not have a minute each. If Deputies are ready to ask their questions as quickly as they can, I will call those who remain on the list. I am asking Deputies just to put their question and no more. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú The Irish Cancer Society is asking for car parking fees to be waived for those receiving cancer treatment. I received notice from the Department of Health pointing out that the programme for Government contains a commitment in respect of introducing a cap on the maximum daily charge for patients and visitors at all public hospitals, where possible-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The Deputy has put his question.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis On the same subject, the programme for Government includes an undertaking to look at putting caps on parking fees in public hospitals for patients, their families and visitors. Will the Government not consider abolishing such charges altogether? People are frustrated and find it very unjust-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I am only allowing Deputies to put their questions. I do not mean to cut people short but I ask that they just put their questions. We are way over time.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputies. I am certainly sympathetic to the proposal that car parking should be free for cancer patients. Everyone in this House would be sympathetic to that, although it raises the obvious question of what should happen for people receiving treatments for illnesses other than cancer. Why would they have to pay and others would not? There would be an inequity in that which would have to considered. We also need to bear in mind that not all car parks are owned by the hospitals. Some are privately owned and operated and, in some cases, parking charges are there to make sure people do not use the car parks for commuting purposes or to access nearby bus or train stations. All of those issues need to be considered in the round but the Government plan is to bring in a cap on the fees.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill National Broadband Ireland is tasked with the roll-out of high-speed fibre broadband to most rural parts of the country. There are people living in townlands in County Tipperary who have been told that it will be two or three years before their areas are even surveyed. They will then be looking at a similar timeframe before the network is rolled out in their areas. I acknowledge that this is a complicated process that will take time. However, surveying these areas can surely be done in a faster timeframe than three years or more. I am calling on the Government to direct National Broadband Ireland to hire more employees to carry out these localised surveys in order that rural areas can look forward to having broadband in a far shorter timeframe.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I met with representatives of National Broadband Ireland last week to raise these issues with them. I know Deputies raise them all the time. We all support the national broadband plan, or at least we all do now, and we all want to see it rolled out as quickly as possible. However, even with the best will and the best intentions, there are technical difficulties. It is a project that will take five to seven years. Approximately 100,000 homes, farms and businesses will be connected every year. We are exploring with National Broadband Ireland and Eir any means possible to speed that up but, as with any big project such as this, it cannot all be done in one year or even two.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly There are three speakers left. I again ask that they confine themselves to putting their questions.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny The issue I want to raise is in regard to home help services in the north west. Many elderly people receive that service and benefit from it. However, during the Covid period, as we know, people looking for respite in a nursing home cannot get it as they normally would and are applying for community respite. I have one constituent - there are many people in the same situation - who has sought community respite but cannot get it. There has been no effort made by the HSE to recruit additional people to provide that service. This particular person has been allocated ten hours per week but can only be provided with four.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The Deputy has put his question.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny This is an issue that needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Deputy has raised an important issue that requires a response. I will have to ask the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, to make contact with the Deputy and give him a response. Unfortunately, I do not have any detail on it.

Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I want to raise the issue of headstones. I have been contacted by people in Carlow who are looking to have headstones placed on the graves of loved ones but who are experiencing difficulties in so doing. Particularly this year, it is a very sensitive issue. My understanding is that some local authorities are allowing it and others are not. I am just asking for guidance on this matter. No one wants to break the level 5 restrictions but it is important that people who are grieving are allowed to get this work done.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I think that work is allowed and is exempt from restrictions. I will double check and find out for sure.

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin I want to raise the issue of the urban regeneration and development fund. There was disappointment in some towns this week following announcements that were made. I want to emphasise how important it is, in my own constituency, that Tralee and Killarney would receive positive outcomes. There have been multimillion euro applications made by both towns. Our county has been hit the hardest of all counties in Ireland by the Covid crisis. Now more than ever, these towns need help. I urge both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to ensure they receive positive news when the outcome of the applications are announced later this month.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will let the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, know of his suggestions and his strong support for the projects being put forward by Tralee and Killarney. As it is often the case that only one project in a county can be funded, I will not ask the Deputy to suggest whether it should be Tralee or Killarney. I am sure both are of equal merit.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Tánaiste and Deputies for their co-operation. We got through the list.

  I have received a note from the Chief Whip's office indicating that the Taoiseach wishes to make a statement to the House.

Statement by An Taoiseach

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I would like to congratulate the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and her husband, Paul, on the news that they are expecting their first child in May. Is ócáid speisialta í sin i saol an Aire agus a fhear. Gach dea-ghuí orthu.


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