Wednesday, 27 October 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
1. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the publication on 1 August 2004 of the Government’s progress report on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government, especially in regard to those areas for which his Department has direct responsibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21324/04]
2. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the full cost of the production, publication and media launch of the Government’s progress report on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government on 1 August 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21569/04]
4. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach his views on the progress report published in August 2004 on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22479/04]
5. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the cost which accrued to his Department in respect of the publication of the Government’s progress report on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government on 1 August 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24028/04]
Progress on the Government programme is kept constantly under review. Deputies will be aware that for every full year of the previous Government’s term of office, we published an annual progress report. Deputies will also be aware that last year we published the first annual progress report of the current Administration. The second annual progress report of this Administration was published on 1 August. The report sets out the progress to date in implementing every commitment contained within the programme for Government.
As in previous years, the report was put together to a large extent by my advisory staff. In most instances, they sought material from other Departments, largely through ministerial advisers. They would have edited and redrafted this material to fit the chosen format for the progress report. Accordingly, no additional staff costs accrued to my Department, in terms of staff costs or other matters. The Government press office and Government information service were not involved in the preparation of the content of the Government progress report. As has been the practice in previous years, the Government press office received the material and liaised with printers and designers regarding proofreading, production and delivery.
The total cost of printing and publication was €1,933. This relates to the design of the cover and layout. The document was printed in-house in the Department of Finance. Some 1,000 copies of the document were printed in English and a further 250 copies were made available in Irish. Translation costs amounted to €15,277.46. The Government press office distributed the document to the national and local media in the same way all reports are disseminated to the press. Copies were also issued to Deputies, Senators, Departments as well as members of the public on request. A full copy of the report, in Irish and English, can also be accessed on the Department of the Taoiseach website. There was no media launch.
Mr. Rabbitte: I refer specifically to the promise in An Agreed Programme for Government: “We will expand public hospital beds in line with a programme to increase total capacity by 3,000 during the period of the Strategy.” The Taoiseach will recall that on 19 October he told me that he had put 900 beds in place. He said that with a straight face with the Minister who tells no fibs, Deputy Harney, sitting beside him. Contrary to the correction he subsequently issued stating that approximately 590 beds had been put in place, it turns out that only 299 inpatient beds have been put in place.
Mr. Rabbitte: Is it not the case that only 299 inpatient beds have been provided and not 900 as the Taoiseach told me in the House in answer to a question? A further 284 exist in the form of couches, chairs and reclining beds. This is the total contribution. Will the Taoiseach take the opportunity to correct the record and tender appropriate regrets for misleading the House? What is the intention of his new-look Government in respect of the pledge in the programme for Government for 3,000 public hospital beds?
The Taoiseach: I refer back to what I stated. I saw what the newspapers reported on the issue. I said that bed capacity funding was in place for an additional 900 acute beds. I was told afterwards that 600 of these beds are now in use and 300 will come on stream in the coming months, mainly in the first half of 2005. I do not have any precise information as to where those beds are located. However, they were the figures I gave. There is funding for 900 beds. As Deputy Rabbitte will appreciate, I tend to look at what we have funded and what we are doing rather than check whether they are all in place. Once we provide the funding, I accept it takes a period to roll them out.
If Deputy Rabbitte wants to query what types of beds these are, I do not have that information. I have a note from the Department of Health and Children stating there is funding for 900. Some 600 of these beds are in use and 300 will come on stream in the coming months. That is the information I have been given and I have a list of locations for some of these. However, they are different issues and may not all be beds. That is the information I have. I believe the Deputy will accept that 900 additional beds have been provided for.
On the figure, the commitment in the health strategy is that we will provide 3,000 beds by 2011. The 900 represent part of those 3,000, whatever kinds of beds they may be. The location of those beds is a matter for the Department of Health and Children.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am trying to work out the mathematics of this extraordinary situation. Apart from discussing when a bed is not a bed, would the Taoiseach like to elaborate on that matter? He gave the wrong information to the House. There are only 299 inpatient beds. If the Taoiseach has the locations, it would be helpful if he would be prepared to advise them to the House.
Mr. Rabbitte: As it happens, I am pursuing a point on which the Taoiseach gave information to the House. I am trying to get to the bottom of it because, as I am sure the Taoiseach will agree, many people are not interested in considering this from the funding point of view. They are interested in whether they can get access to a hospital bed. What does the Taoiseach mean when he says that the funding is in place for 900 beds? Is he saying that hospital managements cannot put the beds in place? Does he accept that 299 inpatient beds are in place? What are the locations for the numbers he has? What does he mean by not being able to determine what is a bed? I presume he is referring to the other provisions to which I have referred — trolleys, chairs, reclining beds and couches — which accommodate people in accident and emergency departments and elsewhere. Without being particular in any way, on the commitment to expand bed capacity by 3,000, where does the Taoiseach anticipate we will be by the end of this year?
The Taoiseach: On the figure, the information I had last week and the information I have this week are precisely the same. They are talking about the issue of bed capacity as against the figure in the health strategy, which was 3,000 by 2011. They are referring to 900 additional beds. I do not think they are talking about wheelchairs or trolleys. The Government has approved funding for 900 additional beds.
The Taoiseach: For the sake of accuracy, I am referring to a note that was given to me today, dated 27 October 2004, a note for the Taoiseach on the Order of Business on bed capacity. It states that I referred to 900 additional beds and the Government has approved funding for 900 additional beds. Last week I did not say, because I did not know, how many of those beds were commissioned. I am saying 900 beds have been funded.
Deputy Rabbitte asked me when the remaining beds will be put in place. I am told they will all be put in place in the months ahead. The note says most of those will be in place in the first half of 2005. They are not in place, even though the funding has been provided to open the beds, because hospitals need to recruit the additional staff and in some cases they need to purchase additional equipment. In most cases there is a period between the Government decision to fund the beds and the beds being ready for patients. People across the health service, including the management and staff, are doing all they can to shorten the period as much as possible. They are conscious of the requirement to make sure these beds are in place as soon as possible.
An Ceann Comhairle: I will call the Deputy again, I am calling Deputy Joe Higgins. A number of Members have submitted questions and in fairness to them, they are entitled to be heard. The Deputy has already asked two supplementary questions and it is the turn of Deputy Joe Higgins.
Mr. J. Higgins: On the updated programme for Government and the five year plan for State investment of €7 billion in national roads, with up to €1 billion from private sources in public private partnership, will there be a replication under this heading around the state of the monstrous rip-off of the taxpaying public at the Westlink toll bridge over the River Liffey? For a private sector input of €57 million, it is reckoned that by 2020, an incredible €1.3 billion net will have been taken in by National Toll Roads. Is the Taoiseach aware that for that staggering level of exploitation we have the largest obstacle to free traffic flow in the entire country and daily agony for tens of thousands of taxpayers trying to get to and from work who spend an obscene length of time parked on the M50?
Does the Taoiseach agree that the general principle of road tolling is feudal? It was all right over London Bridge when someone went up with a donkey and cart and paid a ha’penny or farthing to get over but in today’s world, automated and under pressure as workers already are, it is completely anachronistic and should be cast aside as an element of Government policy and replaced with the State investment in proper transport infrastructure for which we are paying.
The Taoiseach: There has been good progress in the implementation of the national roads development programme under the national development plan. Exchequer investment in the programme over the period amounts to €5.05 billion and, under the agreed five year rolling budget, State investment of almost €7 billion is guaranteed, with up to €1 billion from private sources in public private partnerships. A number of projects have been listed for public private partnerships, such as the western roadway, the Waterford roadway and others. We have prioritised completion of the motorways to the south and west. The Deputy knows we have not used PPPs to the extent originally envisaged and that has led to a consequential increase in the capital programme.
The Taoiseach: As a result of issues of value, precisely the point the Deputy is making. The Minister has debated this with Deputy Sargent on many occasions. The Department of Finance has the view that in many of these cases better value will be achieved by using the capital programme instead of public private partnership. That is not always the case.
The Taoiseach: ——when it opened and in its early months, there were major questions about the viability of the project. People look back now and wonder how anyone could have thought that but it was the view at the time.
The Taoiseach: It was the view at the time and it was not considered that the Westlink toll would be a windfall. Subsequently, it proved to be so and that is why a number of the other projects are being undertaken by the State.
In other projects, such as the road from Kinnegad to Athlone, it is considered that the involvement of the private sector is the best way forward. Out of a roads programme of €7 billion, less than €1 billion will come from private sources under the national development plan.
Mr. Sargent: Listening to the Taoiseach say that he is keeping the programme for Government under review, does he accept there is a need to bring forward an additional review to deal with the hardship being caused in the accident and emergency departments? Cases such as that of an 80 year old man from Swords with two bleeding stomach ulcers who was left to wait, and many other cases, with people spending days in wheelchairs or on trolleys, set new records.
We are still seeking clarification of the statement that the Government will complete a major expansion of the overseas development aid programme, achieving the UN target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007. Will the Taoiseach confirm that is still the Government position? We have been treading water at 0.41% of GNP for the past couple of years. Will he give the sizeable increase in the 2005 budget to indicate that we are still on course to meet the target in 2007?
The programme for Government indicated that the metro for Dublin should be developed by PPP and that there would be a link to Dublin Airport by 2007. Is that definite? The Taoiseach, in a reply to Deputy Gormley, said we must wait to decide on such a project. Which of those statements is true? One contradicts the other. The year 2007 is written in black and white there. Is that still the case?
The Taoiseach also mentioned fully implementing the national climate strategy. Today there was a decision to have two extra incinerators. An incredible amount of CO2 will arise from them. Does the Taoiseach believe additional measures will be needed — it certainly will from our point of view — to achieve the national climate change strategy? Is it another broken promise, in effect?
The Taoiseach: In regard to accident and emergency, as I stated last week, there has been additional consultant staff and targeted funding for accident and emergency initiatives in Dublin hospitals, in particular, where most of the problems are, although not exclusively. There have been improved security measures because of difficulties in some accident and emergency departments, of which Deputy Sargent is aware. The health boards have issued best practice in admission and discharge guidelines. There are new units at accident and emergency in Cork University Hospital, Naas General Hospital and Roscommon County Hospital. There are new surgery blocks, intensive care units, operating theatres and accident and emergency units in James Connolly Memorial Hospital. These were sanctioned some weeks ago. There are the facilities at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Limerick Regional Hospital and in south Tipperary in Clonmel. There has been increased capacity in intensive care, coronary care and high dependency units in Portiuncula and University College Hospital in Galway. There are new wards and surgical wards in St. James’s Hospital and orthopaedic services and trauma and elective services in Galway and Mayo. There are also assessment units at the midland hospital in Mullingar and there are the major developments, including the one under construction in St. Vincent’sHospital in south Dublin, which will be finished next year, and the preliminary works being undertaken in the Mater Hospital plus a host of smaller projects. All these are important. I read a report in recent days on all the issues being dealt with by the high level group on health and about all the other things it is trying to do, some short term, some medium term and some long term.
On the transport side, as I stated before, the preliminary figures for the next phase of a metro are enormous. The Minister for Transport could give the details on this. It is a matter for the Minister to bring forward proposals on whether it should be phased, on the scale and in what order. Even if that project is cleared, it will take several years. The CIE plan, which is perhaps cheaper and more viable, is also being looked at in the Department of Transport but some people are for one and against the other. The Department will have to decide on the long-term strategy, but it is certainly not a three year programme.
The Taoiseach: There are all kinds of preliminary works going on in regard to rail but as far as a direct link to the airport by 2007 is concerned, it will not happen. From a financial cost point of view, the resources required for such a capital programme for the remainder of the decade would swallow nearly all the resources of the State even if we stayed at 5% or 6% of GDP, which is higher than anywhere else.
The Taoiseach: The type of figures required for a metro of the scale put forward, either on a public private partnership basis or otherwise, would soak up all the financial resources. We would not be able to do anything else within the precincts of Dublin city and that would not be right. In Dublin, huge work has been done on the DART, on the rail lines and on the buses. It cannot take up the whole capital programme for the State for the next ten years. That will not happen. The Minister will bring forward his proposals, but we will not get a souped-up metro that will solve all the problems. It just will not happen.
The Government is committed to the climate change strategy. The Minister recently spelled out the initiatives we are undertaking. I gave the House my response to the question of overseas development aid last week. We will continue to endeavour to move in line with the target. It is enormously costly. People should realise what this country is doing in terms of overseas development aid. We are seventh out of 193 countries. That excludes all the initiatives taking place in research, the voluntary effort and so many other good works. The top three or four countries have oil wells in their front and back gardens. This country is doing extraordinarily well and we should continue to make strides. We will soon pay €0.5 billion in overseas development aid, which is an enormous amount of money. We must make sure we get best value for it and that it is directed well and appropriately. I continue to be a huge supporter of overseas development aid and of the structures around it.
What the Taoiseach said to Deputy Sargent and others amounts to a gross misrepresentation of what is in the programme for Government and a complete fabrication in so far as telling the people the truth about what the Government was going to do. The programme for Government promised a metro from the city centre to Dublin Airport by 2007. That will not be achieved. It was a false promise. The programme for Government promised the break-up of CIE into three separate companies but we do not have any timescale for the implementation of this. It was a false promise. The programme for Government promised the establishment of an independent, dedicated traffic corps but there is no sign of it. It was a false promise. The Taoiseach should say there are elements of this programme that the Government knew it could never implement and that it will bring forward an amended programme or a new draft of what it can achieve rather than have this charade over the next 18 months of Deputies asking questions about elements of the programme for Government that the Taoiseach knew in his heart and soul could never be achieved within the time frame allowed.
The absent Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced with regard to the extra gardaí, that the recruitment would lead to a combined organisational strength of both attested gardaí and recruits making it in training of 14,000. Trainee recruits are not trained gardaí. If one looks at the record of the Minister in this regard, 81 has been the average yearly increase in the number of gardaí during his tenure in office. That means that with retirements running at more than 400 per year, one would want to recruit approximately 2,200 gardaí in 2005 to achieve the Minister’s stated target. Why is it that Minister after Minister stands up in this House, although mostly outside it, and makes these claims that cannot stand up in fact? It breeds cynicism and apathy in people.
Arising from all these promises, that are clearly false, will the Taoiseach bring forward an amended programme for Government that is capable of being realised and about which Members from all sides can ask legitimate questions?
The Taoiseach: If Deputies examined the reply to the question, it sets out in each area, progress on 500 commitments and the current position. I have already mentioned that we are spending more than €7 billion on roads, which is far more than we thought. Deputy Kenny and others in the House will remember when they protested that we would never see the Luas, the railways, the bus stock and the train stock upgraded. This work has all been done, much of it ahead of schedule. It has all been completed successfully.
The Taoiseach: While Deputy Kenny would like to see the road to Mayo improved, my point is that if all the resources are invested in one scheme, he will never see it. Currently, we are involved in 67 projects which are at one phase or another.
The Taoiseach: In the last few years, 37 projects have been completed while 34 are at construction or tender stage and eight will open this year to traffic. Among these eight are some of the largest projects including the Monasterevan bypass which has been the subject of many questions in the House over the years and which will open six months early. The Dundalk bypass is powering ahead, as are many other projects.
The Taoiseach: No, for the first time. We announced the recruitment in the context of the Estimates of another 2,000 gardaí in addition to the large numbers already serving which represent a higher number of officers per 100,000 of population than in most countries.
The Taoiseach: We are honouring our commitment to go ahead with recruitment. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has outlined the programme he has put in place to ensure recruits come through the training college to increase Garda strength to the promised level as quickly as possible.
Mr. Crowe: A commitment in the programme for Government under the “working for peace” heading is to put in place an all-Ireland travel scheme for pensioners resident in all parts of the island. What is the status of the scheme? Given that it is a relatively straightforward provision, why is it taking so long to implement it?
The national development plan features important commitments in the area of child care which have significant implications for society and the economy. Does the Taoiseach realise the programme for Government and the national development plan are being undermined by the lack of child care provision for working parents? People in disadvantaged areas especially are suffering as a result. Will the child care elements of the programme and the national development plan be reviewed and extra funding provided as a priority? While we speak often about skills shortages in the economy, there are clearly people who want to work but cannot in the absence of child care provision.
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs has had discussions and is progressing the travel scheme. Deputy Crowe is aware that the issue is not necessarily one of costs, it is to design a scheme which is compatible with structures on the whole island and which features an integrated ticketing system. The Government supports the scheme for which support exists in the North also. Work is progressing on an effective all-island system and integrated ticketing. The Minister has met with the relevant organisations.
The National Children’s Office has prepared the first comprehensive progress report on child care which outlines all of the actions necessary. I do not need to go through them as the report spells out the various schemes and funding requirements for child care initiatives.
Mr. Rabbitte: I confine myself to the point the Taoiseach has dodged in terms of the commitment he gave the House. I am in possession of the relevant text and can inform the Taoiseach that he said three times, though I quote only once, “While there is a longer-term plan to have 3,000 beds, 900 are in place”. That is perfectly straightforward English which is only capable of one meaning. I ask the Taoiseach to correct the record, concede he misled the House and, far more importantly, misled people outside who are queuing for beds in virtually every accident and emergency unit in the country. I ask the Taoiseach to state truthfully how many of the beds are in place. Is the Taoiseach saying the target for mid-2005 is now 900 beds?
The Taoiseach: To the best of my knowledge, in response to Leader’s questions asked without notice, I try to answer as accurately as I possibly can. To be frank, I am good at that. I said there were 900 beds because I knew funding for 900 beds had been provided.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Ryan should allow his leader to ask a question and stop interrupting. I said 900 beds were in place when, more correctly, 900 beds have been provided for financially. I do not check when precisely beds are put in place nor do I receive a note with that level of detail. I readily admit that they were not in place last Wednesday when I answered the question. According to my information, 600 beds were in place.
The Taoiseach: For the second time and so that I am not accused, according to the note to the Taoiseach from the Department of Health and Children of 27 October 2004 on bed capacity, when I spoke in the House last week I referred to 900 additional beds. The Government has approved funding for 900 additional beds, 600 of which are in use. The remaining 300 will be opened in the coming months, mainly in the first half of 2005. To open the new beds we fund, hospitals must recruit and appoint additional staff and, in some cases, purchase additional equipment. There is always a period between the Government’s decision to fund new beds and their availability to patients. People across the health service are working to shorten this period as much as possible. That is the note I have.
Mr. Crawford: That is the real issue I want to come at. What is the point in putting down a question to a line Minister? On 7 July 2004, I put down a question to the Minister for Health and Children which was not answered. I put down another question asking when it would be answered on 29 September but still received no response. I put down another question last week and was told I would receive a reply on 26 October. Putting down a question to a line Minister is not the answer.
Mr. Gormley: The Taoiseach has told the House he is committed to a climate-change strategy. Does he agree the strategy must be a multi-faceted approach which is not just about the reduction of CO2, but is about getting the simple things right? Does the Taoiseach agree that many of the gullies in this town are blocked because of builders who should be penalised as a consequence? Does he agree climate change will result in increased rainfall and a rise in sea levels? If the Taoiseach does not do something about flood defences and blocked gullies, he will once again be standing in his wellingtons in Drumcondra.
Mr. Gregory: In the context of the commitments on climate change, will the Taoiseach say if the special emergency plan is ready to roll this evening if, as has been forecast, there is flooding on the eastern and south coasts?
Mr. Gregory: The question is relevant in the context of progress on the programme for Government. It is also relevant to the Taoiseach and this House. Will the Taoiseach say if the emergency services and local authorities are properly equipped and resourced to deal effectively on this occasion with any flooding that might occur? We hope there is no flooding. Promised works have not been completed on the River Tolka in the Clonliffe and East Wall areas and at Spencer Dock.
On Deputy Gregory’s point, I am aware there is considerable concern in the port area given the warnings of high winds, heavy rain and high tides. The matter was discussed by the Cabinet this morning and I am informed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, that the local authorities have been involved in clearing shores, not only in Dublin but throughout the country. The emergency services are on call and will have many people on call late at night when the high tide is in. Obviously they and we hope no action will be required.
Deputy Gregory will be aware that an enormous amount of, if not all, remedial work has already been done. I am advised that all the necessary services and actions have been put in place. I hope the system works.
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