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Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1006 No. 3

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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Matt Carthy: Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy] In most cases, the only information that their families can get is that there are extensive waiting lists. What will the Government do to ensure that, as we emerge from the pandemic, autism services and other services for our children do not just return to where they were, which was clearly not good enough, but become worthy services that can deliver the much-needed supports these children deserve?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As the Deputy will be aware, the Government is developing our first autism-specific strategy. It will be an important step forward. Work on that is under way. I am sorry to hear about the individual cases that the Deputy raised, but the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who has responsibility for disability services, is taking a real interest in this matter and will do her best to improve matters over the coming years.

Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan: Information on Pádraig O'Sullivan Zoom on Pádraig O'Sullivan The programme for Government seeks to work to protect customers during and after Covid-19, with particular emphasis on business disruption insurance and supporting the Central Bank's direction on compensating businesses with disruption cover for infectious diseases. In recent weeks, FBD's attempts to deduct State supports like the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and rates waivers from the overall awards to its clients have been highlighted repeatedly in the media. I would like to hear from the Tánaiste on this matter. Will he detail how the State will ensure that supports provided by it will not be deducted and essentially pocketed by insurers? What steps would the State take in such an eventuality?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, speaking authoritatively on it a few weeks ago. The PUP is paid directly to the individual and should not fall into this at all. However, there is a basic principle that, when it comes to an insurance policy, one cannot be compensated for the same thing twice. That is why insurers will, in some cases at least, deduct Government grants from insurance payouts. However, that money should therefore be paid by the insurance company to the State. That is done with other insurance policies and we will pursue the issue.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I congratulate the Minister, Deputy McEntee.

I heard some of the Tánaiste's responses in which he referred to the division in opinion on the efficacy of rapid testing. Does he agree that there is also an even sharper difference in opinion on the whole notion of a vaccine passport, or an immunity certificate as it is being called? Does he not agree that the introduction of such a system would in effect create a two-tiered society where people who could not take the vaccine for any number of a variety of reasons would be the new underclass and be excluded from significant areas of public life? Does he not agree that this would constitute blatant medical apartheid? In the event of the introduction of such a system, what will be the position on people's right to worship? Are the clergy of any denomination expected to turn away people who want to exercise their right to worship on the basis that they have not been vaccinated?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar This is a fraught area and it requires some discussion, including perhaps in this House. Using vaccine passports or vaccine green passes could have the benefit of allowing us to open up our society more quickly and allow more people to return to work and businesses to open. On the down side, it would create a division in our society between people who are vaccinated and people who choose not to be or cannot be vaccinated. These issues have to be teased out. If this were a temporary measure for a few months while we got a chance to be vaccinated, the majority of us would not begrudge those who were vaccinated additional freedoms or begrudge the opportunity for businesses to reopen or people to return to work. However, no one would like to see it becoming a new feature of society in the medium or long term. At the moment, the Government has no proposals to do any of this. The reopening of businesses that the House will hear about today will not be contingent on people being vaccinated, but there will be a vaccine bonus for people meeting up privately.

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan: Information on Maurice Quinlivan Zoom on Maurice Quinlivan There is concern in my constituency about the overcrowding in University Hospital Limerick. I have raised the issue countless times in this Chamber and the previous Dáil and communicated with the Ministers, yet nothing seems to have been done. University Hospital Limerick, which serves the mid-west region and is located in Limerick city, averages 1,000 patients per month lingering on trolleys, which is unacceptable in the middle of a pandemic. The issue has escalated to such proportions that the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, has called for an investigation into it. Staff are at their wits' end and the INMO has raised concerns that, while there has been significant recruitment and 100 new acute beds have been opened, the hospital still faces runaway overcrowding. This is unacceptable and has to stop. It is not good enough for the patients and staff. A 96-bed unit was committed to, but only half of those will be new beds. The delivery of all 96 needs to be expedited.

Day after day, the figures show that University Hospital Limerick remains the most overcrowded hospital in the State. The INMO wants to know what is going wrong, as do I.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan: Information on Maurice Quinlivan Zoom on Maurice Quinlivan I back the call for HIQA to visit, investigate and make recommendations. Will the Tánaiste support that call and commit to acting on whatever recommendations HIQA makes?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Deputy, we are over time.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar This is the first time in a long while when the issue of trolleys or hospital overcrowding has been raised with me in the House. It used to be something that was raised nearly every week when I was on my feet. That tells a story in itself. The problem of trolleys and hospital overcrowding has not gone away by any means, but it is considerably less than it was before the pandemic. Even though emergency department attendances are back to 2019 levels, we have seen a considerable reduction in the number of people who have to wait on a trolley for a bed. I do not have the exact figures, but it is down more than half on what it would have been in 2018 or 2019. That is due to the additional investment, changes in pathways and reforms that have been made by the HSE in recent years. This is not to say that we do not still have big problems in some hospitals. Limerick is one of those. It will require more capacity in the years ahead.

Deputy Emer Higgins: Information on Emer Higgins Zoom on Emer Higgins It is encouraging that we are preparing to ease restrictions. We are only able to do that because of the success of the vaccination roll-out plan and the sacrifices made by people up and down the country. Young people in particular have made significant sacrifices and lost out on many rites of passage. That is why it is so important that driving lessons are considered in the context of easing restrictions. Young people are among the 80,000 waiting on driver theory tests and the 50,000 waiting on driving tests. It is important that we consider how to better resource our capacity in terms of increasing driving testers and implementing the roll-out of online theory tests. Will the Tánaiste provide an update on how the Government plans to support people who want to get motoring?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank Deputy Higgins for raising this issue. It is something on which the Government is working. Young people in particular need to be able to get on the road, especially in rural areas but also in urban areas, such as our shared constituencies in west Dublin. We are keen to see a return to driving lessons and driving tests and to enable theory tests to be done online, which would help. Some work is being done on this matter by the senior officials group on Covid. We should be in a position to issue some positive news, if not today, then in the near future.

Deputy Imelda Munster: Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster The Tánaiste is well aware that several applications for funding for the port access northern cross route have been rejected, the most recent one under the urban regeneration and development fund. I wrote to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, almost six weeks ago seeking a simple answer to a simple question on whether there was an appeals process under which local authorities could appeal. Almost six weeks later and he still has not bothered to respond and give clarification. I do not know whether he is dodging the question or this is a delaying tactic, but it was a simple question. If there was an appeals process, it would allow Louth County Council to resubmit a revised application. There is still several hundred million euro left unallocated in the fund. This is not the Tánaiste's brief, but is he aware of an appeals process under the fund?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Deputy, but we are over time.

Deputy Imelda Munster: Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster If not, could he ask the Minister to do his job and respond to a simple straightforward question and give the local authority an opportunity to apply while there are still moneys left in the fund?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Deputy, we are running out of time.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am not aware of whether there is an appeals process. I will ask the Minister to respond to the Deputy's letter. I am aware of this issue.

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