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Offaly's three TD's had busy 2017 in Dail Eireann

Thursday, 4 January 2018

WITH the Dail currently in recess for the Christmas and New Year break, here are some of the contributions from the Offaly TD's in the first six months of 2017.

In March, Deputy Barry Cowen, Fianna Fail, raised concerns about the impact cutbacks in production at the peat briquette plants in Derrinlough and Littleton would have and he said Bord na Mona continued to be the lifeblood of communities.

"It continues to contribute to education, culture and sport in the region. It is imperative that every effort is made to assist the company in its efforts to diversity and meet the demands of a changing energy and heating regime. These factors and cost of oil have affected the sale of briquettes."

Deputy Cowen said there is an onus and responsibility on elected representatives and the Government to ensure Bord na Mona, a semi-State company, receives State assistance in its efforts to diversify.

"I contend that it was a direct intervention by a previous Government, in introducing a carbon tax on peat products, that led us to the position in which the briquette factories face a live threat," he said. "More important, the Government failed to ring-fence the income generated from peat in an innovation and enterprise fund, which would have assisted the workforce and region and ensured alternative industries could emerge from this process and prosper, said the Fianna Fail TD.

In April, Deputy Carol Nolan, Sinn Fein, told the Dail a vacancy existed for a HSE clinical psychologist post in Offaly since August of the previous year.

She said figures showed that 7,176 children in this State were waiting for over a year for initial therapy or assessment.

"I am sure the Minister (Paschal Donohoe) can agree this figure is both shocking and unacceptable," she said. "In my constituency, there are 921 children in North Tipperary waiting for early intervention while in Offaly the waiting period for so-called intervention is 17 months. That is absolutely scandalous. In addition, the problem in Offaly has been made worse by the fact that the clinical psychologist post is vacant since August. Can the Minister advise when this post will be filled? When will the early intervention teams be put in place, as envisaged in A Vision for Change?"

In reply, Minister Paschal Donohoe, deputising for the Taoiseach, said he was not in a position to update the Deputy on the status of an individual post.  "I can say, however, that the Government, including the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, is very committed to trying to recruit more speech and language therapists," he said.

Also in April, the Dail was told by Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD, Minister of State in the Department of Health, that her department was, in principle, in favour of the upward adjustment in the compulsory retirement age in the interests of workforce planning for the health sector.

"We have seen an increase of 300 consultants in the public health system from January 2014 to January 2017," she said. "Ireland is experiencing challenges in recruiting some specialties. This is an international phenomenon and these specialties have traditionally been difficult to fill. There is recognition that consultant recruitment must continue to be prioritised in line with Government policy. Efforts continue to fill the consultant vacancies. The HSE has changed its consultant recruitment process and has developed a new simplified consultant application form. Work is under way to introduce a system of work planning and an individualised induction programme for consultants on appointment. I am confident that all these efforts will help in the consultant appointment process."

"It is not at all clear," she added, "that there is a high demand among health sector professionals to remain on or return to work having retired. I am aware that there are a small number of individual cases, some of whom have made representations to the Department of Health seeking to remain on in employment. In general, however, following initial inquiries, my sense is that the opposite may be the case for the majority of health professionals currently employed. We know that there are already schemes in place which allow certain professions to retire early."

In May, Minister Corcoran Kennedy told the Dail one in four schoolchildren and one in five teenagers were overweight or obese and that could affect their immediate health, educational attainment and quality of life.

Obesity, she said, carries a stigma in childhood and may be linked with bullying. Children with obesity are likely to remain obese as adults and are at risk of chronic illness.

"Overweight and obesity are significant risk factors for many chronic non-communicable diseases," she said. "The links between obesity and heart disease, stroke, cancers, type 2 diabetes, mental ill-health, respiratory problems and musculoskeletal conditions are well established," she said.

In the same month, Deputy Nolan said she was "shocked" to learn that €4 million was spent by the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group for transportation by private ambulance operators in 2016 alone. 

The cost relating to the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore, at €1.91 million, accounted for almost half of the total amount paid in 2016.

"According to correspondence from the HSE, the requirement for private ambulance use arises from the transfer of non-urgent public patients for various clinical reasons," she said.

Deputy Cowen addressed the Dail on the housing crisis in both May and June, saying that despite the Government's best efforts, announcements and plans the crisis was getting worse rather than better.

Research from agencies such as Focus Ireland, he said, has confirmed that an overwhelming number of homeless families had their last stable home in the private rental sector.

"They had to leave those homes as landlords were selling up and an increasing number of property owners do not accept Rent Supplement," he said.

During a Question Time in June, Deputy Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government if he was open to amending national planning guidelines to allow high-rise development in order to provide apartments in cities, which would mean people could work and live in those cities.

In reply, Minister Simon Coveney said his Department's 2009 guidelines for planning authorities on sustainable residential development in urban areas encourage local authorities to bring about high-quality and sustainable urban development, using their development planning and management functions to deliver quality homes and neighbourhoods where people want to live, work and raise families.

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