Oirteachtas report

Michael Healy Rae
Michael Healy Rae

Tim Ryan

The lack of funding for group water schemes was raised in the Dáil by Independent Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. "People are waiting for group water scheme connections, as well as group sewerage schemes, but no funding has been made available in this regard," he said.

"This is a direct let-down for people in rural Ireland. The people of rural Ireland deserve a safe and adequate water supply, the same as people in urban areas."

He asked if the Taoiseach would make funding available to local authorities to ensure they can upgrade their group water schemes and allow them to take them in charge because they have not been allowed to do that either.

Replying on behalf of the Taoiseach, Minister of State Damien English said increased funding has been set aside under Project Ireland 2040 for improvements in the water infrastructure, including group water schemes. "That sector is happy with the capital plans," he said. "Naturally, we want to get these implemented as quickly as possible."

Call for arbitration in pension scheme for retired semi-state workers

The need for arbitration in relation to a demand for an increase in pensions for the ESB Retired Staff Association, which encompasses the Civil Service, RTÉ, ESB, Bord na Móna, Bord Gáis, CIÉ, Eircom, pensions associations and observers from the aviation sector and airport workers was raised with the Taoiseach by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.

"They are seeking an increase in their pensions and see arbitration by Government as the only solution to assist them in their quest," he said. "Will the Taoiseach and Government look at this group to see if there is any possibility of increasing their pensions because people on the State pension have rightly received an increase since 2018 and this group is seeking the same?"

In response Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the State has no role in increasing occupational pensions paid by companies.

Call for change in farm inspections

Independent Deputy Danny Healy-Rae called for a change in the inspection regime under the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, where the farmer would be given the chance to rectify any problem identified in each year.

Speaking in the Dáil he said farm incomes are at their lowest level in eight years. Indeed, they have reduced by 30%, and it is expected they will drop by 30% this year. At the same time, there has been a 60% increase in the number of farmers who have failed inspections.

"We are asking that Ireland, if it participates in the new CAP, would be given discretion in this regard to allow farmers to rectify any problems identified rather than penalising them," he said.

In response, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the new CAP will not come into effect until 2021, but he was sure that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine could take the views of the Deputy on board in the negotiations between now and then.

Details sought on current status of smear checks to be rechecked

The current status of approximately 3,000 cervical cancer smear tests that were to be rechecked was sought in the Dáil by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.

Over the past couple of weeks, he said news filtered through which suggested that a new contract was entered into with a US laboratory at the centre of the smear scandal, and clarification must be sought publicly as this is of huge importance for the health of the daughters of Ireland. "Is it the case that a new contract was recently signed with the US laboratory, Quest Diagnostics?" he asked. "Is there any truth that the laboratory wanted an indemnity clause in the contract for fear of future cases, and will the Taoiseach give a clear, detailed statement?"

In response, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was happy to say that heads of an agreement have been signed with the contracted laboratories to extend their contracts pending introduction of the new HPV-testing programme, which allows for the continuation of the existing service without interruption. "This follows on from detailed negotiations undertaken by the HSE," he said. "Agreement on the extension of these contracts was reached on 13 October but this is subject to formal conclusion of the contract, which has not yet taken place. In these negotiations, discussions focused on extending the capacity of the laboratories to deal with the backlog of smears, which arose as a result of significantly increased demand for repeat smear tests that was seen in recent months for understandable reasons. We must catch up on that backlog, notwithstanding the shortage of cytologists."