Outrageous refusal by NTA to carry out review of private licences issued on public loss-making bus routes as strike looms – Imelda Munster TD

Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Transport, Imelda Munster TD, has questioned what the National Transport Authority (NTA) has to hide, in response to the refusal of the CEO of the NTA to carry out Deputy Munster’s request for a review of licences to private operators on public bus routes.

Speaking at a meeting of the Transport Committee today on the ongoing crisis in Bus Éireann, Deputy Munster requested that the NTA carry out a review of all licences issued to private operators on all bus routes, with a particular focus on routes that have been identified by Bus Éireann as being loss-making.

Deputy Munster raised this issue following the refusal by the CEO to accept that the NTA had a significant role to play in the current crisis, in that too many licences have been issued on some routes, leading to over-saturation and loss-making for the Expressway service.

The CEO said that such a review could not be carried out as the information sought was commercially sensitive, or it was not available to the NTA.

Deputy Munster said:

“I find that incredibly hard to believe. The CEO is saying that the NTA has not asked Bus Éireann which routes are making losses. The NTA and government refuse to acknowledge their role in this situation, and now the NTA claims it has no idea what is going on in Bus Éireann. The NTA is tasked with over-seeing public transport, so I am amazed that today its representatives are saying they have no idea what is going on in Bus Éireann in this time of crisis.

“I am very wary of the lack of information available to us here, and apparently, to the NTA. People’s livelihoods, the public transport network and the needs of many people in rural areas are at stake here. Given these circumstances, the attitude of the NTA is astonishing!”

Pearse Doherty TD says government has forgotten about mortgage crisis

Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD, has said the government has forgotten about the 80,000 families in mortgage arrears. He said the promises in the programme for government have been watered down, put on the long finger or simply dropped altogether.

Speaking at a Public Meeting in Swords organised by Louise O’Reilly TD, Deputy Doherty said:

“In December the Central Bank published its latest figures on mortgage arrears. A total of 79,562 (11 per cent) of accounts were in arrears. This is still a huge crisis happening day in day out for the thousands of Irish people affected, yet it barely gets a mention any more from the government!

“421 properties were taken into possession by lenders during the third quarter of 2016. That is over 4 homes a day being taken over. The government think this issue is gone away, they think it’s in the past. They are wrong.

“Promises to review the insolvency thresholds and set up a new Special Mortgages Court sit on the legislative programme 6 months after they were due to be published. A commitment that the Central Bank would amend the Code of Conduct seems to have been rebuffed altogether by Governor Lane.

“The Abhaile MABS service is up and running but is only scratching the surface in the number of people in arrears it has helped out. This government in permanent crisis has well and truly taken its eye off the ball when it comes to mortgages.

“Sinn Féin will put in place real solutions, not promises.

“We will protect the Family Home in law to a greater degree. My legislation to do exactly that was voted down in 2013. We also do not accept that vultures are part of the solution. If we can’t get rid of them they need to be taxed, regulated and not fed by the State’s own banks.

“The 80,000 families in arrears deserve to be front and centre in political debate. This is not an issue that has gone away.”

Gerry Adams TD raises Orkambi with Taoiseach

Sinn Féin Party leader and Louth TD, Gerry Adams, has urged the government to resolve urgently the crisis around the provision of the cystic fibrosis drugs, Orkambi and Kalydeco.

A major demonstration is being planned for next Wednesday March 1st outside the Dáil.

Deputy Adams said:

“Before Christmas Oireachtas members heard distressing first-hand accounts of CF sufferers and their families. Orkambi and Kalydeco can save lives. They can dramatically improve the well-being of hundreds of patients.

“At the beginning of February media reports suggested that HSE drug committee had not recommended the use of the drug Orkambi for more than 550 Irish CF sufferers.

“Today, I raised the availability of Orkambi with the Taoiseach. His response was deeply disappointing and failed to clarify the current state of discussions between the HSE and the drug company Vertex.

“New evidence has now emerged to support the case for approving Orkambi. According to Cystic Fibrosis Ireland this new data shows Orkambi will save the health system even more than was previously estimated.

“Whatever decision the HSE makes the ultimate decision on the availability of Orkambi and Kalydeco will rest with the Minister and the Government.”

Sincerity of Bus Éireann management’s approach to finding a resolution is questionable – Imelda Munster TD

Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Transport ,Imelda Munster TD, has today criticised Bus Éireann management for their approach to talks with transport unions in the Workplace Relations Commission on the matter of the crisis in Bus Éireann’s Expressway service.

Deputy Munster said:

“Bus Éireann management did not act in good faith when they sent out provocative correspondence to the workers threatening job losses, pay cuts and changes to terms and conditions on the day that talks were to commence. This is not how talks should be conducted, in what is already a tense environment. We have to ask if this was a deliberate move to destabilize the talks.”

“There are many issues at the forefront of these negotiations, and the number 1 issue is bad policy and decision-making by government and the NTA in relation to over-saturation of profitable routes.”

“How could they not have foreseen that financial loss was inevitable following a policy of oversaturation of certain routes. It’s unacceptable that their primary target now is the workers with no resolve to correct the bad policies.”

“The first thing Bus Éireann management need to do, if they are sincere and genuine about preserving and protecting our public transport network, is to carry out a full review of all licences issued on intercity and rural to urban routes.”

“The government needs to play a part in this too. It’s absurd to think that this can be resolved without government participation, and an admission and re-examination of past policy failures.”

National Reserve measures do not go far enough – Martin Kenny TD

Speaking in Leinster House today, Sinn Féin’s Agriculture spokesperson, Martin Kenny TD, has said that the measures introduced by Minister Michael Creed on the National Reserve were welcome, but do not go far enough.

Deputy Kenny said:

“While I am glad that, at last, the Minister has done something to help young farmers and new entrants to farming for 2017, after leaving them in the lurch last year, these measures do not go far enough to resolve the situation.

“However, €5 million is not enough to deal with the backlog of young farmers who have completed or who are now trying to complete green cert training and who will be seeking entitlements soon.”

John Brady TD to publish Bill calling for the abolition of mandatory retirement age

The Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2016 is being brought forward by Deputies John Brady and Denise Mitchell.

Sinn Fein spokesperson for Social Protection, John Brady TD, will be calling for the abolition of the mandatory retirement age when Sinn Fein’s Bill is debated in the Dail on Thursday, 23/02/17.

Teachta Brady said:

“Every year workers are forced to retire for no other reason than their age.

“This Bill seeks to put an end to this discrimination and gives workers a choice when it comes to their retirement.

“There are a number of exemptions in this Bill for those who work in security related employment such as An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

“This is a Bill about choice for older workers when it comes to their retirement. Instead of being obliged to retire without any choice whatsoever at 65 or 66 years old, workers will be able to decide if they would like to retire immediately or continue working.

“This Bill will also address two major pension issues:

1/ It will end the current practice of those forced to sign on for Jobseekers payments at 65 for one year until they are eligible for the State Pension at 66.

2/ It will give people who have insufficient contributions for the State Pension an opportunity to continue at work to make up the additional contributions to avoid a reduced pension if they so wish.

“Last month, Minister Varadkar announced that it was his intention to make mandatory retirement ages illegal. Fianna Fáil have been consistently in favour of the abolition of mandatory retirement and also tabled a similar Bill after this once it was introduced last December.

“I am calling on both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to support this Bill for the benefit of all workers.”

Social housing output remains low as approvals process stalls delivery- Eoin Ó Broin TD

Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has labelled the government’s social housing delivery for 2016 as “uninspiring and wholly inadequate.” Deputy Ó Broin made the comments on foot of the publication of the Social Housing Construction Projects Status Report for 2016.

He said: “This report shows that only 652 units were delivered in 2016. This is just 8% of the overall number of units currently “in development”. This figure is spread across Local Authorities, Associated Housing Bodies, Capital Assistance projects, rapid builds, regeneration projects, Capital Advance and Leasing projects and turnkey projects.

“Another 21% of the units are on site. However, 34 of the 90 developments described as on site only commenced in the fourth quarter of 2016. The majority of the developments, over 70% of the social housing units announced, are being held up by the cumbersome approval, tendering and procurement rules that the Department of Housing imposes on local Councils. These rules can delay the delivery of social housing by up to 24 months.

“For example, the figures published in this status report worrying show that 89 of the 353 projects stuck in the bureaucratic approvals process have been at the first stage of the process, the capital appraisals stage, since the third quarter of 2015 or before. Over a quarter of the social housing projects currently under development have been stuck at stage one of the approvals and procurement process for 16 months or more.

“This is not good enough given the level of social housing need in this state. Last November I published a document as to how the approval, tendering and procurement regime for social housing could be speeded up. This would consist of a one stage approval process instead of the current four stage process.

“Sinn Féin also recommend that to enable local authorities and Associated Housing Bodies to deliver social housing programmes as quickly as possible the Department of Housing should provide them with, in principle, funding approval for six years to cover the period of the government’s Housing Plan. The Department of Housing must take the time to review its own procedures and see how it can reduce the red tape holding up the delivery of social housing.”

 

Second Cath Lab a Medical Necessity for Waterford – David Cullinane TD

Today after being questioned by David Cullinane, Sinn Féin TD for Waterford, the author of the Herity Report all but confirmed that a second cath lab is a medical necessity for Waterford and the South East.

Deputy Cullinane said:

“Niall Herity was before the Health Committee and I was able to pin him down on his report.

“We can now see that one lab is not sustainable. It is not possible to have one lab for both planned procedures and for emergencies nor is it feasable in the long-term to have all emergency cases flown or driven to Cork.

“We need to go back to the Higgins Report and implement its findings. University Hospital Waterford needs to be treated by the HSE as a regional hospital.

“The present plan, which appears to be to downgrade facilities at Waterford and treat it as a general hospital, simply doesn’t make sense form a clinical and regional point of view.

“I will continue to fight to have the Higgins Report put in place and for Waterford and the South East to be given the resources it needs to sustain and grow as a region.”

Taoiseach must clarify contingency plans in respect of transplant patients – Gerry Adams TD

Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams TD, speaking in the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon raised recent revelations relating to children waiting for heart and liver transplants at Crumlin Children’s Hospital, not being guaranteed transport for transplant surgery. Teachta Adams has said that “the Taoiseach should clarify what contingency arrangements are in place for the transport of transplant patients.”

He said that this is “another shocking case that highlights the utter incompetence and inability of the government to manage our health service.”

Teachta Adams said:

“Yesterday, I raised with the Taoiseach the scandal of tens of thousands of patients being omitted from official waiting list numbers published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

“Today, I want to raise with him another shocking case that highlights the utter incompetence and inability of the government to manage our health service.

“The Taoiseach will recall the case of Meadhbh McGivern and the failure to transport her for a liver transplant in July 2011. An enquiry was put in place into the circumstances that led to the failed transportation of Meadhbh and the inter-agency arrangements in place for people requiring emergency transportation for transplant surgery.

“Among the recommendations of the enquiry was the need for co-ordination of land and air logistics, including all State assets and private charters for patients requiring transplants and also for patients requiring emergency aeromedical transportation.

“On the 22nd December 2016, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin was told by the National Aeromedical Command Centre that the transport of ‘Priority 1’ children for heart and liver transplants could not be guaranteed over the Christmas period.

“This matter was brought to the direct attention of Minister Simon Harris.

“On the 3rd January, the hospital was informed that the situation had worsened and that the four hour timeframe for heart transplants was likely to be ‘unachievable’ and the six house timeframe for liver transplants was also in doubt.

“This affects seven children whose lives are at risk and whose families were not informed of these developments.

“On the 16th January, the hospital was told that the situation will remain unchanged until the end of May this year, at the earliest.

“The Department of Health said it will continue to raise the issues with the Department of Defence, and the Taoiseach is the Minister responsible for Department of Defence.

“So I want to know, has the Department of Health raised these issues with the Department of Defence, and if so, can if the Taoiseach will provide the details of this contact and if the Taoiseach will clarify what contingency arrangements are in place for the transport of transplant patients?”

Responding, the Taoiseach said that:

“This was brought to my attention at the weekend and I have asked for a report from the Department of Defence.  I am the Minister for Defence, but I have given statutory responsibility for many areas in the Department to the Minister of State, Paul Kehoe.

“He is meeting the Minister for Health today. As soon as I have that report I will make it public in order that parents of children, in particular, will have the comfort of knowing that if a call comes in respect of their child, it will be answered with available transport within the time period.”

Government’s reckless budget choices starting to unwind – David Cullinane TD

David Cullinane TD, Sinn Fein Spokesperson for Public Expenditure and Reform, said that reports of drastic reductions across all departments shows the folly of Fine Gael’s tax-cutting budget and opens up serious questions around the competency of Ministers Donohoe and Noonan.

Deputy Cullinane said:

“Last October the government was warned not to cut USC at that time. It went ahead and did it anyway. We now see the results of this folly.

“This government refuses to invest in public services, focusing only on undermining the tax base, at a time when we have critical pressures in health, housing and education.

“Sinn Féin, in its alternative budget, was able to show that it is possible to invest in housing and address the issue of equal work for equal pay.

“Every budget decision needs to be funded. That is just a basic rule.

“I have consistently asked the minister to show us how he would fund the measures the Minister and his colleagues have announced since the start of the new year.

“I got no answer until it was leaked to the newspapers today.

“This government overspent in the previous budget through its destabilising tax-cutting agenda.

“At the same time Minister Donohoe refuses to answer questions put to him by the Budgetary Scrutiny Committee.

“This government is serving from press launch to press launch, doing damage along the way.

“We need a real alternative in government. Only Sinn Féin can provide that alternative.”