I appeal to the Minister of State and the HSE to continue the funding of the five steps to living well with dementia project in south Tipperary. In 2012, south Tipperary received funding to develop a new and innovative dementia project for a three-year period. The project was jointly funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and the HSE through the Genio trust. It is time to put the funding for the project and services on a permanent basis. A core principle of the project and the services in south Tipperary is to provide flexible, person-centred care in the home and allow people to remain at home for as long as possible. The project has been a great success. It has already transformed the life experience of many people with dementia and their families in south Tipperary and is an ideal template for the national dementia strategy. Crucially, the development of the services included dementia sufferers, their carers, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the Carers Association, Muintir na Tíre, the South Tipperary Community and Voluntary Forum, GPs and representatives of the HSE. I acknowledge the vital input of people such as Dr. Caitríona Crowe, consultant in the psychiatry of old age, and Professor Eamon O’Shea of NUI Galway.
It is a five step programme, the key elements of which include a media campaign. The campaign was to raise awareness among the public about dementia, dispel myths and reduce stigma. There was buy-in to the programme by all the local media such as local radio stations, including Tipp FM, Tipp Mid West Radio and the print media. A community connector was appointed to liaise with organisations across the county and raise awareness in general about dementia and in particular about the services and supports available. Volunteers were largely provided by the Carers Association.
The single most important element of the programme was establishing a single point of contact to ensure people could access the information, supports and services they needed. The appointment of dementia support workers was also important. These people support people with dementia in their homes and ensure they can live at home for as long as possible and delay the need for long-term care. A further development at South Tipperary General Hospital is the memory technology library which provides a large range of assistive technology products to support people with memory loss. The programme in south Tipperary has been significant and successful and I compliment all those involved. I again ask the Minister of State to put permanent funding in place to continue it.
HOUSING CRISIS AND FAILED CLONLARA EVICTION
The proposals in respect of social housing in this budget are grossly inadequate. Housing is a fundamental right of human beings but shamefully the Taoiseach has written to the EU seeking permission to borrow the money required to build social housing. Ireland does not have the sovereignty to house its own people.
There are 140,000 people on local authority waiting lists and in the first four months of this year an additional 3,527 have been added to that figure. This probably underestimates the situation because people now availing of the housing assistance payments, formerly rent supplement, are being removed from local authority lists. We need an emergency house building programme of at least 10,000 houses per year to address this situation. The Government’s target of 47,000 houses to be provided between now and 2021 will fall far short of dealing with the problem. In 2021 we will be, as we are today, in a housing crisis. There is an absolute necessity to declare a housing emergency. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, said publicly in July that he believed we had a housing crisis. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, signed off on an emergency measure to ensure that public service pensioners were deprived of their pensions under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2015 but this Government refuses to declare a housing emergency which is absolutely necessary to halt evictions generally and in rented and mortgaged properties. The Government, through the banks it owns, Allied Irish Banks, AIB, and Permanent TSB is effectively allowing evictions. It is also allowing them through other banks, and landlords, including vulture funds. These evictions are continuing. As a result, many unfortunate families have been devastated by suicide.
MINISTER MUST INVESTIGATE CLONLARA EVICTION
A shocking eviction was attempted last week in Clonlara in County Clare. I demand that the Minister for Justice and Equality instruct the Garda to investigate the conduct of security companies at that failed eviction of a family. Will the Minister establish what security companies were involved and did those security firms possess an execution order for taking possession of that family home? Did they present an execution order to the owners of the property? If they had no execution order or did not present it to the family, were they guilty of trespass? Were all the security firms involved in this horrific event licensed according to the law? Had all the individuals involved in this attempted repossession legal authority for their actions? Were all the individuals registered employees of the security firms. Were children unlawfully detained during that incident? Were all involved acting on behalf of the Bank of Ireland in which the State has a significant shareholding? This was a shocking and horrific attempted eviction. Thankfully, it failed. In a year when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of 1916, when we promised to cherish all the children of the nation equally, what would Pearse and Connolly and the signatories to the Proclamation think of the eviction battering ram of 2016?
I compliment the family, their friends and neighbours, and the anti-eviction task force which successfully stopped this eviction. People power stopped this eviction. People power will force this Government to stop evictions and to declare a housing emergency. The sooner the Government does that, the better.
In the very short time available to me, I will concentrate on primary education. Young people get one chance at primary education. They can re-sit their leaving certificate and do secondary education as part of a second chance programme or as a mature student. Third level is similar but they get only one chance at primary education. That is why it is vitally important that students get a good grounding and support at primary level. Primary education is the basis for all further learning and education. Every euro invested in primary education is invested in students and their future and will stand to them through the rest of their lives. Ensuring that every student is supported to reach his or her potential in primary school has lifelong benefits for employment and health prospects. Unfortunately, budget 2017 has failed primary education. There was no improvement in class sizes.
There is an average number of 25 pupils in our classes, as opposed to the EU average of 20. We have the second most overcrowded classrooms in Europe. Indeed, 100,000 of our children are being taught in classes with more than 30 students. Those students, in particular, have been abandoned by this Government. I remind the Minister that, despite the commitment in the programme for Government, the budget has failed to change class sizes for the better. All research shows that smaller classes work well for children and that no class should have more than 20 students.
Time and again, we are told that we have free education. The reality, of course, is very different. The failure to increase the daily funding for primary schools will leave them dependent on voluntary fundraising and parents’ contributions. The Government’s funding of 92 cent per pupil per day does not cover the basic running costs and puts huge stress on parents and principals, with them having to run quizzes, cake sales, church gate collections and race nights. This budget should have restored the pre-cut rate of €200 for capitation at the very least. That would have been a first step.
The budget does not deal with the restoration of lost posts, increased release time for teaching principals or parity of pay. Special needs children also do not appear to have been a priority in the budget. They still wait far too long for assessments. In fact, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has had to pay for these assessments on numerous occasions. The failure to fund and support primary schools properly is very short-sighted and must be reversed immediately.
Deputy Seamus Healy T.D.
In his Budget Statement, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, told us the budget will create a fairer society. This is dishonest claptrap. The budget maintains and widens the rich-poor gap in our society. Under the tax and the universal social charge changes alone, the wealthiest 5% of people in our society, those on average incomes of €186,000 a year, will get a €15 per week increase and, of course, they will get it from 1 January. They are not subject to any wealth tax and neither are they subject to any assets tax, even though net financial assets have increased and are now higher than peak boom levels. They have increased threefold from €69 billion in 2008 to €192 billion in 2015.
The budget also provides for outrageous increases to politicians, to which I am opposed. It provides for an increase of €15,000 for the Taoiseach of the day, an increase of €11,000 per annum for a Minister and €5,500 for a Deputy in the House. Compare this to how our old age pensioners were treated in the budget. Pensioners on a little over €12,000 per annum will receive an increase of €5 a week, but not until March. This is less than what they received last year. Despite the promises of the so-called Independence Alliance, there is no return of the telephone allowance, no increase in fuel allowance, no increase in the household benefits package and no increase in the living alone allowance.
This budget is socially divisive and deeply unfair.
It means that a total of 750,000 people continue to live in poverty in this country; one in five children will live in households with incomes below the poverty line; one in four of those living in poverty is a child; almost 20% of those whose income is below the poverty line are working and they are the working poor; since 2007 the deprivation rate has almost doubled; and, therefore, that 1.3 million or 29% of the population live in a state of deprivation.
This budget, once again, protects and supports the rich and powerful in our society while low, middle income and poor families are doomed to live from hand to mouth.
This budget is a pretence. In it, the Government is pretending to determine public expenditure and taxation in the State. The reality is that revenue from all sources will be approximately €50 billion. The House is determining the disposal of only less than €2 billion or 4% of the total. The EU powers, through the fiscal treaty, have determined the disposal of the other 96%. The charade being enacted here tonight flies in the face of the 1916 Proclamation, which declared “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible”. The Government, similar to the outgoing Government, has sold our sovereignty to the EU.
The Minister for Finance recently told the Committee of Public Accounts that the EU powers insisted on the rapid sell-off of NAMA properties, even though retaining them would have led to higher prices being achieved for the taxpayer. Together with the sell-off of assets by banks, it is probable that there is now greater foreign ownership of Irish assets than when British landlords owned all the land. Effectively there is no sovereignty residing in the State.
The various proposals in the budget in respect of health, housing and education are grossly inadequate. Housing is a fundamental right of human beings, but, shamefully, the Taoiseach has written to the EU seeking permission to borrow the money required to build social housing. Ireland does not have even the sovereignty to house its own people. The Government has also refused to formally declare a housing emergency, something that is necessary to deal with the housing crisis. It is essential under the Constitution but the Government through banks it owns, other banks, and landlords, including vulture funds, is continuing to evict people. As a result, unfortunate families have been devastated by suicides.
Unnecessary deaths will continue in our hospitals despite heroic efforts by staff. According to the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, hospitals are now operating in “the death zone” where occupancy levels are in many cases more than 92.5%, which is leading to significant increases in mortality rates. Despite the intense efforts of front-line staff, in particular, once occupancy rates reach this level, deaths occur that would not otherwise happen. Ireland needs an additional 3,500 inpatient hospital beds immediately to bring us in line with the western European average. By abiding by the fiscal treaty, the Government is causing unnecessary deaths and unnecessary pain.
With regard to education, class sizes in the primary sector are the highest in the Eurozone. The programme for Government makes a specific commitment to smaller classes, but the budget proposals are inadequate. The pre-cut capitation rate should be restored immediately. In primary and second level schools, the full pre-cut quota of assistant principal and special duties posts must be restored in the interest of pupils. Our third level system is grossly underfunded and being continuously damaged. Today’s measures are grossly inadequate to solve these problems.
At a time the Government cannot deliver safe hospitalisation or housing, or halt evictions and related suicides, it is farcical that an additional €255 million must be contributed to the EU budget this year.
In his presentation to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, the Minister for Finance confirmed that the financial emergency is over. This was also recently re-certified by the Minister for the Public Expenditure and Reform. The confiscation of public service pensions under the FEMPI legislation is, therefore, unconstitutional. The right to private property of pensioners in their pensions must be fully restored immediately. This is not provided for in the budget. In addition, the pension reductions imposed on occupational pensioners in State bodies and in the private sector must be restored.
The budget is a joint effort by Fine Gael, the so-called Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil has taken responsibility for this shameful and socially divisive budget. The problems relating to health, education, housing, roads and various other public services will not be resolved until Irish sovereignty as set out in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil of 1919 is re-established. This requires the political defeat of the austerity parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, and those prepared to support or to coalesce with them in the framework of the fiscal treaty. It is important to recall what the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil said. It stated, “We declare in the words of the Irish Republican Proclamation the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be indefeasible, and in the language of our first President, Pádraig Mac Phiarais, we declare that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation, and with him we reaffirm [remember this] that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.”
That sentence is particularly relevant to the housing crisis and the need immediately to formally declare a housing emergency.
Seamus Healy T.D.
Tel 087 2802199
I will be supporting this motion (“That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to abolish household water charges and fund investment in water and sanitation infrastructure through progressive taxation.”), indeed, I have signed it. People power strikes fear into the heart of the establishment. That is what has been happening over recent years through the Right2Water and Right2Change protests. Hundreds of thousands of people have protested locally and nationally over two years. They have brought about circumstances in which three out of every four people are refusing to pay water charges. Water charges are an austerity tax and represent double taxation.
At every hands turn, the establishment was expecting the movement would go away. It has not gone away. Last Saturday week, the marching of tens of thousands of people in Dublin sent a very strong message to the establishment, the Government and Fianna Fáil that we want abolition, not suspension. We want Irish Water abolished and a referendum to enshrine public ownership of water into the Constitution. Privatisation is the objective of the Government, as it was of the previous Government. It is the objective of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party and it has to be stopped. The agenda has been driven nationally and from Europe. We are now in a position in which a majority in this House is for the abolition of water charges. We should abolish them now, and do so through this motion this evening.
As I stated, the water tax is an austerity tax and is double taxation. It is particularly difficult for ordinary people, those on low incomes and those on social welfare payments. The majority who say they are opposed to water charges have an opportunity to vote in favour of this motion, which has been tabled by Sinn Féin and many Independent Deputies.
I welcome the Private Members’ motion and the debate on the issue of overcharging of pharmacy fees by a large pharmacy chain. It is a very disturbing development and it would appear very senior people in this large pharmacy chain set out to overcharge the taxpayer.
I want to ask the Minister a number of questions.
First, has this matter been referred to An Garda Síochána for investigation? If not, why is that the case and will it be referred? This is a very disturbing development. Individuals regularly come to my office who have bills from the Department of Social Protection for small amounts of money as a result of overpayments that were made to them as far back as ten or 20 years ago. If this matter has not been referred to An Garda Síochána for investigation, it certainly should be, and as a matter of urgency.
I welcome the Minister’s indication that this is not a settlement or compromise figure of any kind, but a definitive figure established following detailed investigation of the claims that were made. It is important to thank “RTE Investigates” and the whistleblowers who came forward and ensured that this development became public. How many other lies are there? Are there further ongoing investigations by the HSE relating to other pharmacy chains? If so, when did those investigations start? Are they proceeding or have they concluded? How many other pharmacy chains are involved, if there is such involvement? Obviously, the Minister and the Members wish to be assured that the HSE has staff and procedures in place to police this issue properly and, indeed, the general issue of pharmacy fees. Is the Minister satisfied that the HSE has proper accounting and audit functions in place as a result of this? Is he satisfied that this could not happen again?
This is a very disturbing development, particularly when one considers the situation with the health budget over the last number of years and the devastation the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government brought to the health service over the past ten years or so. These moneys could have gone towards dealing with many serious and urgent issues in the health sector to which I intend to refer. I make no apology for mentioning South Tipperary General Hospital in my constituency. That hospital had its budget cut by 25% over those years. It lost €13 million and endured staff cuts of over 100. Despite all of that, it is a progressive hospital. The staff make huge efforts by working above and beyond the call of duty but they are struggling to provide a safe service in a underfunded and under-resourced hospital. The activity levels have gone through the roof and the hospital is bursting at its seams, working at a 120% capacity rate every hour of every day. Indeed, in the medical department the rate is even higher at 150% capacity. That is with average length of stays that are comparable to the lowest national levels.
All of this means that the emergency department – as the accident and emergency department is now known – of the hospital is flooded with people each day. There are 23 patients on trolleys in the corridors of the hospital today. On many occasions during the summer months, the hospital had 30 or 35 patients on trolleys. There were 47 patients on trolleys at one stage. The €12 million relating to the matter under discussion could have gone towards supporting the hospital. Indeed, some of it should go towards that. The hospital is absolutely underfunded. The patients on trolleys each day are located in corridors and in public areas of the hospital near the lifts, vending machines and restaurants. It is absolutely unacceptable. The hospital has a shortage of beds. Its difficulties with under-capacity are accepted by everybody. There is a proposal with the Minister for the approval of a 40-bed modular unit as an interim solution to the problem. I call on him to approve that proposal and provide funding for it immediately. He is due to visit the hospital, at my invitation, on 24 October. I appeal to him to ensure that he makes the money for that unit available. The amount is €2.4 million, a fifth of what we are discussing here in these fees. When the Minister visits the hospital, I ask him to announce the funding for that development and, indeed, capital funding for other upgrading and developments at the hospital.
Obviously, there are other areas to which the moneys we are discussing could have been directed. One area is prescription charges. In the general election campaign of 2011, the Fine Gael Party promised that it would abolish prescription charges, which were 50 cent at the time. By the time it left office, the charges were €2.50 or €25 per month. They are payable by people who have medical cards. They have very low incomes and are unable to pay them. The moneys overcharged on these fees could certainly alleviate that problem. We are all aware of the situation with home helps, who are hugely under-funded and whose hours are cut, the lack of home care packages and the withdrawal of medical cards. These are areas that could and should have received funding and certainly could have been supported by this €12 million.
Finally, I support the proposal in one of the amendments for a national State pharmacy to provide medicines and drugs at cost levels similar to those of our European partners.