About Brendan Smith

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan Monaghan, Chairman of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party. Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence, Member of the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, Member of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association.

Unacceptable delays in assessments and follow-up treatment for children with additional needs in Cavan/Monaghan – Brendan Smith TD

Action needed 

Dáil Éireann Debate

Thursday, 14th November 2019

Progressing Children’s Disability Services: Statements

Deputy Brendan Smith 

I appreciate that the Minister of State has taken the opportunity on a number of occasions to meet groups and individuals on my request. Nevertheless, there is a large backlog of assessments of need and follow-up treatment in Cavan-Monaghan. Recently, two additional occupational therapy and physiotherapy posts were appointed for Cavan-Monaghan and both therapists have commenced their employment, which I welcome, but we want to examine the background of the large backlog and delays in providing necessary assessments and follow-up treatment for children. It was only at the beginning of November that the assessments of need commenced for Cavan-Monaghan. 

Currently, the wait for access to assessments and treatment by the child development team in Cavan-Monaghan, from the date of referral for occupational therapy and physiotherapy, is four years and six months. The figure for speech and language therapy is ten months, while in the case of psychology, treatment is provided only for children and young people in crisis, due to the increasing demands and complexity of the current caseload. That is the up-to-date position as of the end of last month, according to the HSE. It is clear the service is in crisis and additional resources, therapists and clinicians are needed to provide even a modest level of service to children and families in desperate need of securing necessary supports for their children. 

We in County Cavan are fortunate to have an Enable Ireland service that covers the Cavan-Monaghan area. Some 275 children access Enable Ireland services in counties Cavan and Monaghan, while a further 162 children wait to be assessed. The figures paint a stark picture of the need for a massive improvement in the delivery of assessments and follow-up treatment, if needed. I have brought the Minister of State to meet groups. He visited the area and we appreciate his personal commitment, but we need promises to be honoured, resources delivered and clinicians put in place because far too many families are desperate due to the lack of services provided for their children. In recent weeks, a number of families have contacted me to say that even though they cannot afford to do so, they are sourcing private services. It is unfair in the first instance that the children who need treatment do not get it, and it is further unfair that families have the additional burden of trying to source private assessments and follow-up treatment because the State fails to deliver it. 

There is an urgent need to improve dramatically the services currently available in my constituency and I recognise there are problems elsewhere throughout the country.

Questions still to be answered into the death of Shane O’Farrell – Smith

cropped-Shane-OFarrell_Logo-Lock-up-01-2

-Minister should adopt the terms of reference as drafted by Judge Haughton-

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Brendan Smith, says the Minister for Justice should adopt the terms of reference, as drafted by Judge Haughton, to ensure an adequate investigation and proper inquiry is carried out into the death of Shane O’Farrell.

Deputy Smith made his comments as a Fianna Fáil Private Members Motion brought this matter to the Dáil chamber.

He commented, “My sincere sympathy as always goes to the O’Farrell family on the tragic loss of Shane, their son and brother.  Shane’s passing is an immeasurable loss to his beloved family.  As well as being a much loved son and brother, Shane was a highly respected member of his local community. 

 “It is so important that there is an adequate investigation and proper inquiry into the death of Shane O’Farrell. The O’Farrell family has been failed by this State and that failure continues today.

“Every right-thinking person wants justice to be done.  The terms of reference are essential to get to the truth.  It is truly shocking that it has taken so long to get to the truth in regard to the death of a 23 year old cyclist in a hit-and-run accident quite close to his own home.

“The terms of reference as drafted by Judge Haughton should be adopted.  The terms of reference as they currently stand do not reflect the spirit of the earlier Dáil vote.  Those terms of reference would not enable this State to get the full facts in regard to the dysfunctionality of some elements of our criminal justice system.

“Curtailing the terms of reference is not acceptable.  The scoping exercise process should not be undermined, which is what our party motion seeks to prevent.

“As we know, the driver who caused Shane’s death would not have been at liberty if the criminal justice system had been functioning properly.  That is the sad summation of the entire tragedy surrounding Shane’s loss of life,” concluded Deputy Smith.

Fianna Fáil Private Members Motion

Our Fianna Fáil Private Members Motion has just been passed in Dáil Éireann calling on the Government to ratify the terms of reference as drafted by Judge Haughton in relation to the investigation/inquiry in to the death of Shane O’Farrell.

MY CONTRIBUTION

Our party spokesperson, Deputy Jim O’Callaghan, outlined very clearly again this evening the absolute need to have an adequate investigation and proper inquiry into the death of Shane O’Farrell. The motion before this House merits the approval of Dáil Éireann. I take this opportunity to convey again my sincere sympathy to the O’Farrell family on the tragic loss of Shane, their son and brother. Shane’s passing is an immeasurable loss to his beloved family. As well as being a much loved son and brother, Shane was a highly respected member of his local community. I know very well that the community in the wider Carrickmacross area, south Monaghan and adjoining counties hold the O’Farrell family in the highest esteem. It is also a source of great regret in south Monaghan and adjoining areas that a young man of Shane’s standing and outstanding ability lost his life in such awful and preventable circumstances.

Unfortunately, the O’Farrell family has been failed by this State and that failure continues today. I was glad to be able to contribute to the previous Fianna Fáil Private Members’ motion on this issue of such importance, not just to the O’Farrell family but to all of us who want to see our criminal justice system do justice to every family and individual in our State. Every right-thinking person wants justice to be done. The terms of reference, as outlined so coherently by Deputy O’Callaghan, are essential to get to the truth. It is truly shocking that it has taken so long to get to the truth in regard to the death of a 23 year old cyclist in a hit-and-run accident quite close to his own home.

Deputies Jim O’Callaghan and Niall Collins, and other Members of the House, spoke earlier of the great dignity of the O’Farrell family in their campaign for justice for their son, Shane. I have heard Shane’s mother, Lucia, speak on national radio and on our local radio in Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath. She has always spoken so eloquently and with such dignity of the awful tragedy that has beset that family and of their quest for the truth. That campaign has been courageous and tenacious, and has commanded the attention, interest, sympathy and empathy of people throughout all of our island.

In the previous Private Members’ motion, we spoke about the need for proper cross-Border policing strategies and the appropriate sharing of information between the criminal justice systems, North and South. None of us wants to see tragedies in the future arising from the dysfunctionality of systems. It is deplorable that such a series of incidents were permitted, causing the death of such a fine young man, son and brother. It is essential, as outlined so eloquently and in detail by Deputies O’Callaghan and Collins, that the terms of reference as drafted by Judge Haughton should be adopted. The terms of reference as they currently stand do not reflect the spirit of the earlier Dáil vote. Those terms of reference would not enable this State to get the full facts in regard to the dysfunctionality of some elements of our criminal justice system.

The work of the O’Farrell family has been tireless in seeking justice for Shane. The State investigation into Shane’s death has failed the family, and it is similar with the prosecution and also the handling of the family’s complaints. This failure will continue if these terms of reference are limited. Curtailing the terms of reference is not acceptable. The scoping exercise process should not be undermined, which is what our motion seeks to prevent.

As we know, the driver who caused Shane’s death would not have been at liberty if the criminal justice system had been functioning properly. That is the sad summation of the entire tragedy surrounding Shane’s loss of life.

I take the opportunity to again commend the O’Farrell family on the great dignity, perseverance and tenacity they have shown in seeking justice and the whole truth regarding the awful and preventable death of their loved Shane.

 

 

 

Need to support Cavan and Monaghan Drug Awareness Programme – Brendan Smith TD

 

drugs task force.png

I spoke in Dáil Eireann on the Fianna Fáil Private Members Motion in relation to the need to provide adequate financial support to community based task-forces to deal with the scourge of drugs.

At present the response from Government is totally inadequate.  Confidence must be restored in the national drugs strategy and the partnership approach that has been the hallmark of this strategy over many years must be protected.  I know that An Garda Síochana value the work done through local services.

I highlighted the difficulties facing the Cavan and Monaghan Drug Awareness Programme if adequate financial support is not forthcoming and time for the Minister and Government to  listen to these services who are providing essential and much needed support to persons with addiction difficulties.

Below is an extract from my contribution in Dáil Éireann.  Also below replies to  Parliamentary Questions I tabled on these important issues.

BRENDAN SMITH

Colleagues have said that the scourge of drugs is in every community. At one time we used to think it was only the major urban centres that were afflicted by this scourge. No longer are the problems confined to any particular age group or to persons in any socio-economic sector, they are now causing difficulties in all strata of society. We are all aware of individuals, families and communities that have been devastated by this scourge. The Government’s response at present is a totally inadequate. This was very much highlighted by the intervention of the nine former Ministers of State who each had responsibility for the national drugs strategy. My colleague, Deputy John Curran, did an excellent job when he held that brief. The Government and the Minister must take seriously the concerns of the former Ministers of State. They have outlined very clearly their concern about the lack of engagement with community groups and about the centralisation of decision making. This is the exact opposite of what is needed to provide the necessary supports for person with addiction problems. I have been in contact directly with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, on the Cavan-Monaghan drug and alcohol service. It had forwarded the Minister of State a very detailed letter outlining that it would have to wind down operations and dissolve the company by the end of 2020. That organisation has provided excellent support to many individuals and families over the past years throughout Cavan and Monaghan. Garda management at senior level very much values the support this organisation has given to individuals, families and communities. I appeal to the Minister of State again, as I have done through correspondence.

While I acknowledge the Minister of State’s prompt reply, we must get a response to the effect that it will get the necessary financial support to continue the good work it has been doing over many decades with some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan)

I listened with interest to the comments of the Deputies proposing the motion and welcome the opportunity to have a discussion on this important issue. The use and misuse of drugs is an international issue that needs to be tackled in a co-ordinated way and addressed in a global context. I very much share the view of the UN General Assembly’s special session on drugs in 2016 which stated:

The world drug problem remains a common and shared responsibility that should be addressed in a multilateral setting through effective and increased international co-operation and demands an integrated, multidisciplinary, mutually reinforcing, balanced, scientific evidence-based and comprehensive approach.

Europe’s drug problem is going through a particularly dynamic phase. Analysis by the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction shows that people are using a wider range of substances than in the past. Many are poly-drug users, which increases the risk to their health. Although the use of heroin and other opioids in Europe remains relatively rare, these are the drugs that cause highest rates of fatal overdose in Europe. Europe has also experienced an increase in deaths and other harms from newer types of drugs. Ireland is not immune from these trends with 9% of the population using drugs in the last year.

The national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017 to 2025, adopts a health-led approach to substance misuse. It commits to treating substance misuse and drug addiction as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter. Together with the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who is in attendance, I announced recently the introduction a health diversion programme for persons in possession of drugs for personal use. This is a hugely important step in developing this public health approach. I am very pleased that we are delivering on this key commitment in the national drugs strategy. I welcome Deputy Catherine Byrne’s work as Minister of State in spearheading the matter within the Department of Health.

In adopting a health-led approach, it is important that we do not send out the message that drug use is acceptable or normal. It is not and never will be. Already this year, the HSE, through its drugs.ie website, has developed two campaigns aimed at the student population and festival goers. Next year, the Department of Health is providing additional funding of €100,000 to develop a national harm reduction campaign to raise awareness of the risks associated with drug use. This will include information about club drugs, festival drug use, newer drugs as well as cannabis.

The national drugs strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to the problem of drug and alcohol use in Ireland. It draws on a range of Government policy frameworks in order to reduce the risk factors for substance misuse. It also commits to addressing the harms of drugs markets and reducing access to drugs for harmful use. My Department has responsibility as the lead agency or partner in a number of actions, including keeping drugs legislation under review as the joint lead agency the Department of Health.

Tackling the sale and supply of drugs is a key priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána. A core focus of the work carried out by An Garda Síochána is aimed at tackling drugs and organised clime. The roll out of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future and will increase the number and visibility of front-line gardaí to combat criminal activity, including tackling drugs. This model is the norm in many other countries and I am confident that it will serve Ireland well by providing a agile, localised and responsive police service nationwide.

The operating model is being introduced at a time of record investment in An Garda Síochána. For 2019, €1.76 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote along with capital investment amounting to €92 million this year. I am pleased to have secured an overall increase of €122 million to increase An Garda Síochána’s budget for 2020 to an unprecedented €1.882 billion in addition to €116 million in capital investment. This investment is supporting the ongoing and sustained recruitment of Garda members and staff. We now have more than 14,200 gardaí nationwide, supported by over 2,800 Garda staff. The organisation is still growing and a programme of accelerated recruitment is ongoing with a view to reaching 15,000 gardaí in an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021.

Additional resources have enabled An Garda Síochána to continue to assign resources to specialist bureaus. These include the Garda national drugs and organised crime bureau, which leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. Collaboration at an inter-agency and international level remain key in tackling this issue. The bureau also works with Garda divisional drugs units nationwide in demand reduction and supply reduction at local level. In addition to the 105 gardaí assigned to the Garda drugs and organised crime bureau as of 30 September 2019, the Garda divisional drug unit membership for the years 2017 to 2019 has been stable. Divisional drug unit staff numbers stood at 236,222 and 232 personnel in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively.

In addition, An Garda Síochána remains committed to tackling the supply of drugs by supporting local communities through preventative and detection initiatives and engagement with local and regional drug and alcohol task forces, the Garda youth diversion programme and projects, the Garda schools programme, joint policing committees and community policing fora. My Department’s budget for Garda youth diversion projects has been steadily increased over the last number of years from €11.3 million in 2015 to €15.3 million this year. This provision includes funding to support the operation of 106 Garda youth diversion projects. These important projects are community-based multi-agency crime prevention initiatives which primarily seek to divert young people who have become involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. Moreover, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is developing a new youth justice strategy with the assistance of an interdepartmental and inter-agency steering group. The new strategy will address the full range of issues relevant to youth justice, including how best to prevent young people getting involved in criminal activity, including drug dealing. Uniquely across EU member states’ strategies, drug-related intimidation is also a focus of the new strategy in Ireland.

I listened to the passionate contribution of Deputy Cassells and assure him, as I assured Deputy Breathnach earlier, that I agree these are extremely serious issues in local areas and they need to be dealt with. Drug-related intimidation in communities is a very serious issue which involves the targeting of persons who use drugs or their family or friends in relation to a drug debt. An Garda Síochána will continue to take action in relation to drug-related intimidation, particularly where there is a risk of harm or to the life of a person. A drug-related intimidation reporting programme developed by An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network has been in place since 2013 to respond to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug-related intimidation. An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network have concluded separate evaluations of the reporting programme and jointly agreed a number of actions to enhance its effectiveness through training, knowledge-sharing and awareness raising.

I acknowledge the points raised by Deputies, all of which have been taken on board and noted by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne and me. A number of Deputies raised concerns regarding the need to strengthen legislation relating to children involved in drug crime. I have stated previously that I consider the grooming of children by those who control criminal activity to be an extremely serious matter. I have asked my Department to consider an effective response, which may consist of policy, legislative or operational measures or a combination of all three. The national drugs strategy recognises the importance of supporting the participation of communities in key decision making structures so that their experience and knowledge informs the development of solutions to solve problems related to substance misuse in local areas.

In addition the development of the strategy has involved a wide range of stakeholders and interests working together as working collaboratively, we can deliver on its ambitious goals. My ministerial colleague, Deputy Catherine Byrne, will address the House further on the strategy in the course of the debate. However, I acknowledge the initiative undertaken by Deputy Curran, who has some experience in this regard. I assure Members of the seriousness with which the Government is taking this motion and its content.

 

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 05/11/2019
Question Number(s): 562 Question Reference(s): 44689/19
Department: Health
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Health if urgent consideration will be given to a request in relation to the delivery of services by an organisation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Details Supplied) email sent 24/10/19 at 16:05

REPLY
The correspondence provided by the Deputy identifies two key issues:

  • Delays in the transfer of funding from the HSE.
  • Communication difficulties between the HSE and the North Eastern Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force.

Officials in my Department have requested a report from the HSE in relation to these issues.

The Deputy is advised that the Department of Health is providing an additional €190,000 over a three year period (2019-2022) for Young People’s Substance Use Support Services in Cavan and Monaghan. This strategic health initiative will improve access to health services for young people whose lives are affected by problematic use alcohol and substance use in the two counties.

I would encourage the organisation referred to by the Deputy to engage with the North Eastern Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force and the HSE as to how it can participate in the Young People’s Substance Use Support Services.

 

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 05/11/2019
Question Number(s): 670 Question Reference(s): 45265/19
Department: Health
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION
To ask the Minister for Health the measures he proposes to implement to restore confidence in the National Drugs Strategy; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the decision making authority is being taken away from the partnership structures of the strategy and being centralised in his Department and the HSE; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that necessary consultation is not taking place with communities; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the strategy at local and regional level is perceived as being undermined; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

Maintaining a partnership approach between statutory, community and voluntary bodies is a core value of the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025.
 
In addition, Action 39 of the strategy is to support and promote community participation in all local, regional and national structures. In line with this, 11 community and voluntary representatives are included on the oversight structures of the strategy, which give leadership and direction to support the implementation of the strategy.

I am the chair of the National Oversight Committee which has a cross-sectoral membership from the statutory, community and voluntary sectors. The Committee meets every three months and held its most recent meeting on 20th September 2019. There is also a standing sub-committee which promotes coordination between national, local and regional levels.
 
Drug and alcohol task forces that play a key role in assessing the extent and nature of the drug problem in local communities and in ensuring that a coordinated approach is taken across all sectors to address substance misuse based on the identified needs and priorities in their areas. Again, the task forces are made up of community, voluntary and statutory representatives.

The Department of Health provides annual funding of €225,000 to support, develop and facilitate the involvement of communities in the local and national structures for implementing the national drugs strategy. This includes supporting community representatives on Drug and Alcohol Task Forces, organising a national community representatives’ network and participating on the national oversight structures for the national drugs strategy.

The Task Forces oversee an annual budget of €28m from the Department of Health and the HSE. This funding supports over 280 community projects, in local areas and communities throughout the country, to support initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol use and misuse.

Additional funding of €1m has been provided in 2019. This included €480,000 to provide an additional €20,000 for each of the 24 Task Forces, €10,000 of which will be on a permanent recurring basis. It also funds 13 strategic initiatives to respond to emerging trends in substance misuse and to improve access to services for people with complex needs. The funding was allocated following a national consultation with the 24 Task Forces and 9 community healthcare organisations. I am confident the new strategic initiatives will have a positive impact and make a difference to people’s lives as they journey to recovery.

I am committed to working in partnership with statutory, community and voluntary sectors in implementing the national drugs strategy.

 

TOPICAL ISSUE DEBATES ON POLICING IN BORDER REGION AND ATTACK ON KEVIN LUNNEY

TOPICAL ISSUE DEBATE – TUESDAY 5TH NOVEMBER 2019

POLICING ISSUES

Deputy Brendan Smith

I appreciate the opportunity to raise this issue and I welcome the fact that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is in the House to take it. The issue is self explanatory and barely requires further expansion from me. At midday yesterday the Independent Reporting Commission reported on progress being made towards ending continuing paramilitary activity. The commission’s core finding is concerning, namely that “paramilitarism remains a stark reality in Northern Ireland” that continues to be a serious obstacle to peace and reconciliation. Some 21 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, this is a worrying assessment and it should remind us all that implementing the agreement is still a work in progress and that progress in recent years has been slow, to put it at its most diplomatic. It is indeed ironic that the Independent Reporting Commission now operates under the mandate given to it by the Fresh Start agreement of 2015. If the other bodies and institutions took the mandate to start afresh and focus on their own roles as seriously and assiduously as the Independent Reporting Commission, we would all be in a better place on this island.

In their assessment, the four members of the Independent Reporting Commission state clearly and unambiguously that ending paramilitarism can only be sustainably brought about by means of a twin track approach which combines policing and justice responses alongside systemically tackling the serious socioeconomic deprivation facing the communities in which paramilitaries operate. The commissioners specifically recommend that tackling paramilitarism be made a new dedicated outcome in a programme for Government. They view this as the best way of achieving the whole-of-system approach that is needed in Northern Ireland. As a representative of a Border community that has enjoyed the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement that have been allowed to flow, I agree wholeheartedly with the commissioners in this judgment and urge both Governments and the political parties in Northern Ireland to put the eradication of the scourge of paramilitarism and paramilitary criminality at the core of any future programme for Government of a future Executive in Northern Ireland. Such an Executive and a Northern Ireland Assembly is sadly lacking at present.

There is much more we can do now, however, starting with making all of the necessary resources and manpower available to An Garda Síochána and the PSNI without delay. Indeed, the Independent Reporting Commission specifically calls for increased and enhanced neighbourhood policing and for urgent action to address the delays in cases coming before the courts. I do not know of a single person in Cavan or Monaghan who would not endorse that call 100%. Co-ordinated action is needed now to tackle the wanton intimidation of whole communities by paramilitary gangsters that we have seen over the past few weeks and months. I had the opportunity some weeks ago in this House to outline my abhorrence and that of the people I am privileged to represent of the cruel terror that was inflicted on Kevin Lunney. There were also other despicable and cowardly incidents perpetrated on other Quinn Industrial Holdings executives that were intolerable. These are a challenge to our local communities and to this State but the rule of law must prevail at all times. I must emphasise the fact that this is the view of more than 99.99% of the people that I represent in the Border communities. Previous Governments and Ministers for Justice and Equality have shown how this State is prepared to use all its resources to stand up to the gang lords and thugs. Over a decade ago in Limerick such necessary action was taken with a successful outcome. We need to show the same level of seriousness and resolution today. The first step must be to dramatically increase the resources available to An Garda Síochána in the Border areas to show that this State will not tolerate the intimidation of individuals or communities, regardless of the jurisdiction from which the perpetrators come.

In conclusion, this House should express its gratitude to the four members of the Independent Reporting Commission, Mr. John McBurney, Mr. Tim O’Connor, Ms Monica McWilliams and Mr. Mitchell Reiss for their continuing service.

 Deputy Charles Flanagan

There is no more consistent an advocate for Border security and policing than Deputy Brendan Smith. I say that not only in respect of my time as Minister for Justice and Equality, but also previously as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Deputy and others will acknowledge that policing the Border region has always presented particular challenges and these necessitate a collaborative approach to policing between law enforcement agencies North and South of the Border. There is ongoing close co-operation between An Garda Síochána in this Republic and the PSNI in Northern Ireland. The importance of this ongoing high level of co-operation has been emphatically demonstrated again in recent weeks by the abhorrent attack in County Fermanagh to which Deputy Brendan Smith referred. I visited the area and was briefed by the Commissioner and the investigation team in Cavan. It is clear that elements of this horrific crime took place on both sides of the Border and a joint investigation is ongoing, including ongoing sharing of information and evidence between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.

I am sure the Deputy will join me in welcoming the Commissioner’s decision to establish an additional armed support unit in Cavan town. This unit will complement the work of units already based in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, close to the Border and in Dundalk, County Louth, the home town of Deputy Breathnach, in the northern region. The northern region has benefitted from the accelerated recruitment to An Garda Síochána and the unprecedented €1.76 billion budget provided to the force for 2019.

Since the end of 2017, Garda strength in the northern region has increased by 150 to approximately 1,500, with Garda staff in the region also increasing by approximately 150, which represents an increase of almost 30% over the past three years. The ongoing recruitment will provide the Garda Commissioner with the resources needed to deploy increasing numbers of gardaí to the region to deliver a visible, effective and responsive policing service. These requirements will be kept under ongoing review by Garda management with a view to addressing any policing requirements for the Border region which may arise from time to time. In the event that a no-deal Brexit gives rise to additional requirements in Border areas, further resources can and will be provided through redeployment.

I acknowledge what Deputy Brendan Smith said about the Independent Reporting Commission, IRC, report. In November 2015, the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures under the Fresh Start agreement as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross-jurisdictional crime. These measures included the creation of the joint agency task force which is led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and UK Revenue and Customs. This joint agency task force meets regularly and did so most recently this week in Belfast. Both Governments are determined that, regardless of the political outcome of Brexit, the excellent ongoing level of co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI must and will continue. It is important that every resource be made available, as Deputy Smith rightly says, to combat the threat posed by dissidents and criminals of an organised and ruthless nature who seek to exploit the policing challenges faced in the Border area.

 Deputy Brendan Smith

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. As he knows, the Independent Reporting Commission report is very clear that ending paramilitary activity is made immeasurably more difficult by two issues, namely, the vacuum created by the absence of devolution and uncertainty over Brexit. A return to political decision-making in Stormont is essential in order to comprehensively address these issues, which are multifaceted and deep-rooted. I have often said in this House that the one political mandate that all of us on this island have is to implement the Good Friday Agreement, having been given that mandate through the referenda held both North and South in May 1998. Sadly, we do not have a functioning Executive or Assembly in Northern Ireland, for which both Sinn Féin and the DUP should be ashamed as they have held up the restoration of those necessary institutions. A non-functioning North-South Ministerial Council has also been a huge loss to this country, as it could have been central to the preparations for Brexit in an all-Ireland context.

The residue of paramilitary activity must be eliminated. Great emphasis must be placed on dealing with these criminals who masqueraded for decades under so-called political ideologies, resulting in destruction and loss of life. That must be ended once and for all.

The Minister correctly pointed out that I have consistently raised the need for additional resources for the Border region in this House. I have often said that there are unique policing demands in the Garda Border division. The Minister used that phrase on television the other night. I have always highlighted the need for additional resources because of cross-Border criminality. It hurts me and 99.9% of the people I have the privilege of representing when we hear ill-informed commentary that our region is lawless or that its people do not subscribe to the rule of law. Sadly, a very small number of criminals both North and South have inflicted damage on the area. I reiterate that more than 99.99% of the people living in the Border region are law-abiding. They work hard, the same as people in every other part of our country, pay their mortgages, rear their families, pay their education and health bills and are looking to the future. They want to be secure in the knowledge that they are safe when going to and from work. That does not take away from the fact that a very small number of people can do a lot of damage to a region, but the people I represent believe in the rule of law.

An anniversary mass for the late Paul Quinn, a young man who was murdered in horrific circumstances by thugs and criminals, was held only a few weeks ago. Recently, my colleague, Deputy Breathnach, launched a report on cross-Border crime on behalf of committee A of the British-Irish Parliamentary Association. The report noted that there had been an increase in the number of criminal groups with cross-Border operations over the past five years, rising from approximately one in five groups in 2014 to one in three in 2018. Cross-Border criminality, in which people are involved in illicit trade in drugs, fuel products and so on, must be tackled with every possible resource available to the State and its agencies both North and South.

 Deputy Charles Flanagan

It is both appropriate and timely that Deputy Brendan Smith should make specific reference to the second report of the Independent Reporting Commission, which was published yesterday by the British and Irish Governments. It draws attention to a recent upturn in paramilitary activity and paramilitary-related murders over the past year. I think of Jim Donegan, Ian Ogle and Lyra McKee. The report also makes clear that the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive is a hindrance to progress. There is an urgent need for the re-establishment of the institutions in Northern Ireland and for political leadership to be restored. A key recommendation of the IRC report is that tackling paramilitarism should be properly placed within the Northern Ireland programme for government. This placement should address the complex and interconnected social deprivation factors, such as educational under-attainment, which strongly correlate with the legacy of paramilitarism in many areas. This recommendation cannot be implemented while an Executive is not sitting in Northern Ireland. I join Deputy Smith in his call in that regard.

I spoke recently to the UK Home Secretary and met the recently appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I assure Deputy Smith that I took both these opportunities to reaffirm our deep commitment to continuing the close working relationship we have with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and the UK on matters such as security and risks in the Border region. I remind Deputies that this co-operation and intelligence-led policing is producing significant results in addressing cross-Border criminality. Last Thursday, for example, gardaí attached to the national drugs and organised crime bureau intercepted a commercial haulage vehicle in Dundalk and recovered cannabis herb with an estimated value of €3.2 million, subject to analysis. Two men were arrested and investigations are ongoing.

I reaffirm that An Garda Síochána has the full support of the Government in its ongoing work addressing cross-Border criminality. We are providing record resources to enable it to perform this critical role. I welcome the interventions of Deputies Breathnach and Brendan Smith from the Border area, not only this evening but on a consistent basis. It is important that we all work together towards ensuring that the scourge of violence and criminality of an organised nature in the Border area is by no means tolerated.

TOPICAL ISSUE DEBATE – 19TH SEPTEMBER 2019

Garda Investigations

Deputy Brendan Smith

I am glad the Minister for Justice and Equality is present for this important debate. Yesterday morning it was chilling to hear of the barbaric attack on Mr. Kevin Lunney, a decent family man who has contributed greatly to the economic development of the Cavan-Fermanagh area, the much wider Border region and further afield. It was a violent and sinister attack on a good man, whom I have known well for more than 20 years.

Kidnapping and abducting an individual has no place in society. It is most reprehensible and I condemn in the strongest possible terms the deplorable act. Those of us who grew up in a Border community and have had the privilege of representing a large Border constituency believed that the era of kidnapping innocent people, throwing them in the boot of a vehicle, driving them to an isolated place and inflicting serious injuries was long past and that such thuggery, violence, attacks on persons and general lawlessness will not be tolerated in our area of County Cavan and the neighbouring area of County Fermanagh. I appeal to anybody who has any information about the attack or the previous serious incidents to speak to An Garda Síochána or the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI. The thugs, who are obviously dangerous criminals, must be brought to justice without delay.

It is the latest in a series of attacks on members of Quinn Industrial Holdings, all decent men playing an important and positive role in the local community and economy. I am particularly concerned that no arrests have been made to date on either side of the Border. It is a campaign of intimidation. An Garda Síochána and the PSNI must work closely together on a daily basis to ensure that it ends immediately and bring those responsible to justice. The thugs who carried out the deplorable attack on Kevin Lunney must be caught and brought to justice as a matter of urgency. There is a serious moral obligation on anyone who has any information on the incidents to pass it on to the authorities either in our jurisdiction or in Northern Ireland. People in my community of Cavan-Monaghan and in the neighbouring community of County Fermanagh are outraged at the attack on Kevin and condemn strongly the other sinister attacks on his colleagues and the damage to property.

The latest attack is very worrying in light of the many other violent incidents of recent years. I wish Kevin Lunney a speedy recovery from the horrific injuries inflicted on him. I think of him and all his family, his friends and colleagues, during what must be a frightening time. I reiterate that the reprehensible thugs must be brought to justice and feel the full force of the law, whether here or in Northern Ireland. As I noted, it was chilling to hear the reports yesterday morning of Kevin’s abduction. Reading the newspapers today was even more terrifying in view of the injuries inflicted on an innocent, decent, good man who has contributed handsomely to the development of our country.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan)

I acknowledge the importance of the issue and thank the Deputy for raising it in the House. People on both sides of the Border were appalled when news of the vicious attack on the Fermanagh-Cavan border emerged in recent days. The Deputy, along with all other Deputies, will understand that the incident is now the subject matter of a significant investigation by the PSNI and An Garda Síochána. It would not be appropriate, therefore, for me to engage in detailed discussions at this stage, although I clearly and unequivocally condemn the utterly disgraceful attack that took place on Mr. Lunney. It was a reprehensible and cowardly act by barbarous thugs who have no regard for human decency or the rule of law on either side of the Border. I assure the Deputy and the House that An Garda Síochána and the PSNI will leave no stone unturned in seeking to identify and bring to justice those responsible for the sinister and reprehensible act. I take the opportunity to wish Mr. Lunney and his family well as they begin the process of recovery from the horrific and traumatic incident.

Over the past 24 or 30 hours I have spoken to a number of people in the community. I agree with the Deputy there is widespread revulsion at what has taken place in his constituency. The Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, addressed the matter briefly yesterday at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and I have been in contact with him directly.

I have asked him to keep me fully informed on the progress in this important investigation. I appeal to anybody who may have information on this terrible incident to please contact An Garda Síochána or the Police Service of Northern Ireland as soon as possible in order to assist their inquiries and investigation. I ask Deputy Brendan Smith to use his influence in his constituency to spread that message, and I know he will do so. Gardaí may also be contacted by using the Garda confidential line at 1800 666111.

I am aware that the question of Garda resourcing has been raised. Yesterday, at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, the Garda Commissioner, who is responsible for the deployment of Garda personnel and resources, confirmed there has been a major uplift in capability in the Cavan and Monaghan division. The northern region, like other parts of the country, continues to benefit from increased Garda recruitment. As of 31 August this year, there were 372 gardaí assigned to the Cavan and Monaghan division, supported by 43 Garda staff and eight members of the Garda Reserve. Over the past three years and due to Government funding for ongoing recruitment, Garda strength in the northern region has increased to approximately 1,500, which is an increase of 150 since the end of 2017. These gardaí are supported by approximately 150 Garda staff in the region, compared with 116 staff at the end of 2016, meaning there has been an increase of almost 30% in Garda staff in the northern region over the past three years. This means additional gardaí can be and are being redeployed from administrative to operational policing duties in the region where their training and policing expertise can be used to best effect.

I acknowledge the importance of the new operating model for An Garda Síochána announced recently by the Garda Commissioner, as this will see more gardaí on the ground protecting and supporting communities. I thank Deputy Smith for raising this matter and I join him in appealing for anybody with any information on this heinous crime to come forward to the PSNI and An Garda Síochána.

 

Deputy Brendan Smith

I thank the Minister for his reply. During numerous debates in this House on legislation from the Minister’s Department and during Question Time, we have discussed the unique policing demands of a border region. We do not know if those criminals were from our jurisdiction or North of the Border. I do not know at any rate. Wherever they are from, they must be brought to justice. Mr. Kevin Lunney is a senior executive in a company that provides 830 jobs in the Cavan and Fermanagh area. It is a very considerable level of employment. He and his colleagues must be assured that they can be safe going to work and people must feel safe in their communities. Recently, the High Court in Belfast was told of many incidents, including attacks on Mr. Lunney and his colleagues, as well as the property of the company.

I hope the Minister can address satisfactorily the concerns that have been expressed by the chairman of Quinn Industrial Holdings. He states it is “inexplicable that not a single arrest has been made north or south of the Border despite dozens of incidents”. I know a large number of the 830 people who work in those companies. They are decent and honourable people who do an honest day of work. They want to be assured that no threats will be made to enterprises or colleagues going about their daily work.

I know An Garda Síochána, with limited resourcing – that is, unfortunately, always the way – is working assiduously in the Border region to deal with criminality, whether it arises from people in our jurisdiction or those outside it. I repeat that there must be a conscious decision made when resources are being allocated by An Garda Síochána that there are unique policing demands on a border Garda division. Please ensure that An Garda Síochána have the relevant personnel, equipment and resources to root out this criminality and deal with these thugs.

These thugs have no support in the communities that I am privileged to represent in this House. I come from that immediate area. I know where Mr. Lunney was abducted in Kinawley and where he was dropped off in Cornafean in Cavan. I know the area very well. I speak for those communities and they will not tolerate that behaviour. They are absolutely appalled by what has happened to a decent man.

Deputy Charles Flanagan

Deputy Brendan Smith from Cavan-Monaghan and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle from Donegal would be more aware than most people that policing the Border region has always presented unique challenges that necessitate a collaborative approach to policing within law enforcement agencies north and south of the Border. Fortunately, we have never seen such a positive relationship between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána and I am confident that this close co-operation will enable both to continue to combat the threat posed by criminals who seek to exploit the policing challenges posed by the Border.

I am very much aware of the concerns that many communities close to the Border have about recent criminal-related events and the impact of Brexit. There is no question about the lethal terrorist intent of paramilitary groups and the persistent threat they present, as well as the cross-Border efforts of mobile organised crime groups responsible for multiple incidents, including burglary. This is the wider context for the increase in Garda resourcing in the area that I referred to earlier. It is also the context of the Garda Commissioner’s operational decision to establish another armed support unit in Cavan. The Garda Commissioner has now established armed support units in all Garda regions to provide an armed response capacity on a regional basis to support and supplement the national emergency response unit. In the northern region, armed support units are based in Ballyshannon and Dundalk, and arrangements are now in train to provide for the establishment of a unit in Cavan.

I know everybody in the House appreciates the very serious impact that a crime like this can have on both a victim, his family and the wider community, as outlined by Deputy Brendan Smith. I take this opportunity to wish Mr. Lunney all the best in his recovery and I assure those who live in the Border region, including Deputy Brendan Smith and his constituents, that their safety is being given the highest priority by the State in this regard.

New FF Bill will create a dedicated Cross Border Crime Agency – Smith

RevenueImageNOFEE_large.jpgEnvironmental_Protection_Agency_Logo.jpgGarda logoPSNI logoCriminalAssetsBureauSign_large.jpg

-Agency will have clear powers and dedicated staff for cross border co-operation on organised crime-

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Brendan Smith, has introduced a new Bill to place a Cross Border Crime Agency on a legislative basis. The new agency will have powers to monitor and investigate organised cross border criminal activity in such areas as illicit trade, fuel smuggling, human trafficking.

Deputy Smith explained, “The border area needs a focused agency to stamp out crime. Recent incidents such as attacks and threats on Quinn Industrial Holdings directors or the cross-border involvement in devastating human trafficking show that cross border criminality is escalating. 

“The Cross Border Organised Crime: Threat Assessment 2018, produced jointly by the PSNI and An Garda Síochána shows the scale and changing nature of cross border crime. Brexit represents a new challenge to the border and the distinct security threats in the area. We need a fresh focus on tackling cross border criminality.

“The Bill would strengthen, expand and formalise the existing cross border crime task force which does not have a set staff or legislative powers. The new agency would be composed of officers from police forces both North and South, Revenue, Criminal Asset Bureau, EPA and their Northern equivalents. It would be headed by a Director General and have a dedicated support staff.

“The recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly report on cross border crime noted there had been an increase in the number of criminal groups with cross-border operations over the last five years, rising from approximately one in five groups in 2014 to one in three in 2018.

“The current taskforce needs to be bulked up with clear powers and dedicated staff. Currently it is organised on an ad hoc basis with no full-time staff. Only two reports on the work of the Agency have been issued due to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.This simply isn’t good enough.

“This Fianna Fáil Bill will help ensure we have the tools in place to tackle the changing nature of the criminal threat in the border area including systematic intimidation, human trafficking and illicit trade in tobacco and other products,” concluded Deputy Smith.

Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) (Cross Border Crime Agency) Bill 2019 – Explanatory Memorandum

CRIMINAL JUSTICE (MONEY LAUNDERING AND TERRORIST FINANCING) (CROSS BORDER CRIME AGENCY) (AMENDMENT) BILL 2019

 

Smith raises need to tackle insurance costs with Minister

AIR-logo-portrait-1

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Brendan Smith, says not enough is being done to tackle rising insurance costs.

Deputy Smith commented, “I have raised with the Minister once again my grave concerns regarding the progress being made by the proposals implemented by the Cost of Insurance Working Group.

“Businesses, fairs, marts, and citizens are all feeling the cost of rising insurance costs.

 “Fianna Fáil is the only party which is pushing the insurance reform agenda and has brought forward the majority of legislation relating to insurance during this Dáil term.

 “Our Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2019 will ensure that those who bring fraudulent claims will have to pay the legal expenses for the defendant – this would at least ensure that they will not walk away scot-free when they are convicted.

 “If the Government were determined to tackle this problem they would implement plans for a personal injury claims database which would go some way to curtail fraudulent insurance claims and they would adapt the Fianna Fáil Bill to deter fraudsters in the first place. This would go some way to bringing down insurance claims”, concluded Deputy Smith.

PQ 4547119 Brendan Smith

Dáil Éireann Debate with Minister Ring and Deputy Brendan Smith regarding increase in funding for LIS 2020

landscape

Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil T.D. Brendan Smith told Dáil Éireann that it is not acceptable that people have to wait up to 10 years to have their laneways repaired in this constituency.

The Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil T.D. was questioning the Minister for Rural and Community Development in relation to the need to make a substantial increase in the allocation to local authorities in 2020 for the Local Improvement Scheme.

“As people who represent rural constituencies, the Minister and I are conscious of how important the scheme has been during the years. I am keen to see more money invested to try to reduce the substantial backlogs in many counties.

The funding allocated to my county in recent years has been drawn down. Knowing many of the lanes involved and families who have been the beneficiaries, the work was carried out to a very high standard. I am glad that the Minister has introduced a cap on the local contribution because, in many instances, it was prohibitive, particularly for older people who are surviving on a pension and who would not have money available to contribute. It is important that the scheme not be put beyond people’s reach because of income pressures. In many instances, members of families, often sons or daughters, may want to set up home on a site given to them by their parents. One of the factors taken into consideration when deciding whether to build in a particular location is the quality of the roadway to the proposed home and the quality of the road network more generally. In many parishes, thankfully, there is good quality community infrastructure like football and hurling clubs, soccer clubs and community centres, with, by and large, a great network of primary schools. We want to try to ensure people who wish to remain living in rural parishes will not be denied that opportunity.

I assure the Minister that in respect of both County Cavan and County Monaghan the entire allocations will be drawn down before the end of the year. The local authorities in both counties would be very glad to spend an even greater allocation next year. If the Minister were to double or even treble the funding provided, I assure him that it would be spent very well in both counties. In the past the Minister’s Department, through the CLÁR programme, used to provide a top-up which was funded directly by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

In 2012 the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, now Taoiseach, abolished the scheme, but I would love to see it brought back as a mainstream programme in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, with the Department of Rural and Community Development supporting it in the most isolated areas with a top-up payment. That is the route we should take to ensure isolated communities will have the investment and support they need in order that we can keep as many people as possible in rural Ireland”, stated Brendan Smith.

Minister Ring in his reply stated “since I reintroduced the local improvement scheme in September 2017, I have allocated over €48 million to local authorities for improvement works on private and non-public roads. The scheme is administered by the local authorities which identify the roads to be included in the scheme each year. I have secured €10 million in funding in budget 2020 to continue the scheme next year. However, I also want to review it to ensure it is operating as effectively as possible for the people who use the roads on a daily basis. This year I introduced a cap on the level of contribution which any individual householder or landowner is asked to make to the cost of repairs to a road. However, I am still seeing wide variations in the cost of completing these works across local authorities. I am committed to continuing my support for rural communities in 2020 under the LIS and intend to announce a new round of funding next year when I have reviewed how the scheme has operated to date. I want to ensure we get the best value for taxpayers’ money which is being used to fund the scheme. The exact level of funding to be provided for each local authority will be confirmed when the scheme is announced.

As Deputy Brendan Smith said, my Department reintroduced the LIS. However, I have been saying since its reintroduction that I need support from local authorities and other Departments. The Deputy is correct in saying I should only be topping up the money available under the LIS”, concluded Minister Ring.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Questions (9, 28)

Brendan Smith

Share

Brendan Smith

Question:

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to set out the likely timescale for the allocation of funding to local authorities in 2020 for local improvement schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43822/19]

View answer

 

Brendan Smith

Share

Brendan Smith

Question:

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to set out the level of funding to be allocated to local authorities in 2020 for the local improvement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43821/19]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Rural)

 

Deputy Brendan Smith

Share

As the Minister knows and Deputy Browne put it so eloquently earlier, the local improvement scheme is particularly important for many rural parishes. It is not simply for one or two houses sited along individual lanes. In many instances, it can serve up to six or more families. In my county there is a significant backlog of applications running to almost ten years. In County Monaghan there is an eight-year waiting list. I am keen to see a substantial increase in the funding provided for this important scheme in 2020. It is a highly valuable scheme which represents is a great investment in rural communities. It is important that this infrastructure be protected and receive investment in order that families can live along laneways that are drivable and to a decent standard up to their homes.

Deputy Michael Ring

Share

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 28 together.

Since I reintroduced the local improvement scheme in September 2017, I have allocated over €48 million to local authorities for improvement works on private and non-public roads. The scheme is administered by the local authorities which identify the roads to be included in the scheme each year. I have secured €10 million in funding in budget 2020 to continue the scheme next year. However, I also want to review it to ensure it is operating as effectively as possible for the people who use the roads on a daily basis. This year I introduced a cap on the level of contribution which any individual householder or landowner is asked to make to the cost of repairs to a road. However, I am still seeing wide variations in the cost of completing these works across local authorities. I am committed to continuing my support for rural communities in 2020 under the LIS and intend to announce a new round of funding next year when I have reviewed how the scheme has operated to date. I want to ensure we get the best value for taxpayers’ money which is being used to fund the scheme. The exact level of funding to be provided for each local authority will be confirmed when the scheme is announced.

 

Deputy Brendan Smith

Share

I thank the Minister for his reply. As people who represent rural constituencies, the Minister and I are conscious of how important the scheme has been during the years. I am keen to see more money invested to try to reduce the substantial backlogs in many counties.

The funding allocated to my county in recent years has been drawn down. Knowing many of the lanes involved and families who have been the beneficiaries, the work was carried out to a very high standard. I am glad that the Minister has introduced a cap on the local contribution because, in many instances, it was prohibitive, particularly for older people who are surviving on a pension and who would not have money available to contribute. It is important that the scheme not be put beyond people’s reach because of income pressures. In many instances, members of families, often sons or daughters, may want to set up home on a site given to them by their parents. One of the factors taken into consideration when deciding whether to build in a particular location is the quality of the roadway to the proposed home and the quality of the road network more generally. In many parishes, thankfully, there is good quality community infrastructure like football and hurling clubs, soccer clubs and community centres, with, by and large, a great network of primary schools. We want to try to ensure people who wish to remain living in rural parishes will not be denied that opportunity.

 

Deputy Michael Ring

Share

To be fair, County Cavan was allocated €269,254, but, to date, not one penny has been drawn down from my Department. It is sad that it has to telephone local authorities to ask them to draw down money. County Monaghan was also allocated a substantial sum of approximately €250,000, but, to date, not one penny has been drawn down. I was delighted to be able to reintroduce the LIS. There had been no scheme in place for a number of years as it had been closed down. My Department has played a major role in that regard. A total of €48 million has been allocated for the scheme since it was reopened two years ago. However, I am not getting any support from anybody else. The time has come for other Departments to consider contributing some funds to the LIS. One issue that really annoys me about the scheme which is under review is that local authorities are charging between 10% and 13% in administration costs for delivering the scheme when they should be matching the funding I am providing.

Deputy Bobby Aylward

Share

Can some of the money be redirected to counties Carlow and Kilkenny?

 

Deputy Brendan Smith

Share

I assure the Minister that in respect of both County Cavan and County Monaghan the entire allocations will be drawn down before the end of the year. The local authorities in both counties would be very glad to spend an even greater allocation next year. If the Minister were to double or even treble the funding provided, I assure him that it would be spent very well in both counties. In the past the Minister’s Department, through the CLÁR programme, used to provide a top-up which was funded directly by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. In 2012 the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, now Taoiseach, abolished the scheme, but I would love to see it brought back as a mainstream programme in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, with the Department of Rural and Community Development supporting it in the most isolated areas with a top-up payment. That is the route we should take to ensure isolated communities will have the investment and support they need in order that we can keep as many people as possible in rural Ireland.

 

Deputy Robert Troy

Share

I support what my colleague said about the need to reallocate the scheme to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and have a top-up payment made by the Department of Rural and Community Development. It is worrying to hear that certain local authorities are not availing of the scheme and not drawing down the allocated funding when county councils such as those in counties Longford and Westmeath have schemes that are oversubscribed every year. Is there an opportunity for the councils that are proactive and deliver in the early part of the year and have schemes that are oversubscribed to avail of moneys allocated to other councils that have not been used by the end of the year? The last thing we want to see happen is money not being used and going back to the Department.

 

Deputy Michael Ring

Share

In response to Deputy Troy, Longford County Council has not drawn down any of the funding allocated to it this year, although Westmeath County Council is a credit, having drawn down 100% of its allocation. As Deputy Brendan Smith said, my Department reintroduced the LIS. However, I have been saying since its reintroduction that I need support from local authorities and other Departments. The Deputy is correct in saying I should only be topping up the money available under the LIS. Local authorities should be providing some funding. They have revenue and the elected councillors, regardless of who they are, can make decisions on budgets. They could use some of their own discretionary moneys and some of the funds generated in rates and so on and put them into the LIS. I will continue with the scheme for next year—–

Deputy Brendan Smith

Share

In fairness, the counties that most need the LIS are also the ones with a smaller rates base, unfortunately.

 

Deputy Michael Ring

Share

Yes, but at the same time, local authorities have access to lots of money. They are always able to find it when they want to find it and want to become involved in particular schemes. I have respect for the local authorities, but I do not like the fact that they charge my Department for administering the scheme. The revenue raised from charge should be put into the scheme.

 

Unacceptable delays in Orthopaedic services in Cavan-Monaghan – Smith

HSE.jpg

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Minister for Health to increase orthopaedic capacity for patients in Cavan/Monaghan due to unacceptable delays in having assessments and procedures carried out.

Deputy Brendan Smith commented, “Through Parliamentary Questions in Dáil Éireann I highlighted to Minister Harris the urgent need to reduce waiting lists for orthopaedic assessments and procedures.  It is not acceptable that people have to wait a considerable length of time to even have assessments undertaken to determine what treatment or procedure they may need.

“While I commend the hard work of the team in Cavan/Monaghan Hospital and in the Orthopaedic Dept. in Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan they require greater resources.

 “The response from the Minister and the RSCI Hospitals is disappointing. We have a hospital needing resources and there are people on long waiting lists for orthopaedic services.

 “I am calling on the Minister for Health to increase orthopaedic capacity and I am determined to pursue this matter with the Minister.  Patients deserve better and more timely services,” concluded Deputy Brendan Smith.

-ENDS-

Please see PQ reply attached.

RCSI HG PQ ref 40404-19 – Orthopaedic Service – Cavan and Monaghan Hospital

Need to protect CAP funding POST 2020 – Brendan Smith TD

agricultural-policy-fb

Report of my most recent Parliamentary Questions in Dáil Éireann in relation to the critical need to protect CAP funding post 2020 –

Brendan Smith

Question:

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the plans he intends to propose at the EU Agriculture Council meeting regarding the need to protect the CAP budget post 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41952/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

Deputy Brendan Smith

As we all know, payments under CAP are the backbone of Irish farming. They are important for the farming community, the rural economy and the overall national economy. Farm families are very concerned about the present proposal to reduce the post-2020 CAP budget by 5%. When a low level of inflation is factored in, this reduction will equate to a 15% reduction over a seven-year period, which is not sustainable. The Irish agriculture community would be very concerned about any such proposed reduction in an essential income support for this sector.

Deputy Michael Creed

As part of multi-annual financial framework, MFF, for the period 2021 to 2027 the European Commission has proposed a reduction of approximately 5% in the CAP budget post 2020. As this proposed reduction is unacceptable for Ireland, during discussions on the post-2020 CAP at EU Agriculture Council meetings I have taken every opportunity to call for the CAP budget to be maintained.

Yesterday, I joined 16 ministerial counterparts in reiterating the call we made in mid-2018 for the post-2020 CAP budget to be maintained at current levels. While I acknowledge that many people believe this degree of ambition is not overwhelming, it reflects the reality that there are insufficient levels of support for increasing the budget. That is why we are seeking to have it maintained at current levels. During a discussion on potential CAP measures to support carbon sequestration at an informal Council meeting in Helsinki at the end of September, I made the point that higher levels of climate ambition must be matched by a strong CAP budget post 2020. We cannot keep asking our farmers to do more for less money. At previous Council meetings, I called for an adequate CAP budget to meet the increasing demands being placed on Irish and European farmers.

I have held a large number of bilateral meetings with my ministerial counterparts on this issue. I have participated in joint initiatives with other member states, such as the joint memorandum that was agreed in Madrid in May 2018. I have discussed the matter with Commissioner Hogan on a number of occasions. These efforts will continue over the coming months as negotiations on the post-2020 CAP and the future budget intensify.

Deputy Brendan Smith

I am glad the Minister has reiterated that the current proposals are unacceptable. I understand that there are 15 or 16 like-minded member states. I hope the Heads of Government or Heads of State of those member states are of the same opinion as their Agriculture Ministers. Perhaps the Minister will let us know the Taoiseach’s opinion on adequate funding for CAP. As the Minister quite rightly stated, it is not acceptable that a greater onus is being placed on farmers to do more for less money. We are all very conscious of the significant income pressures being faced by people in all sectors of farming community. Does the Minister think that an urgency is being attached to finalising the budget by the end of the year? Under a contingency that was put in place by Commissioner Hogan, the budget might be rolled over by a year if the MFF is not complete. What is the outlook at present? What is the likely timescale for the completion of the MFF level of funding and the CAP budget? Are we likely to see those issues being prioritised and finalised in early in the lifetime of the new Commission?

Deputy Michael Creed

The existing CAP is going to roll over for a period of 12 months. I raised the necessary delegated acts to facilitate that with the Commission yesterday during a bilateral meeting. I hope that will happen quite shortly. We need to ensure that the systems within the Departments are prepared as quickly as possible in order that payments can continue to be made. The position of the Taoiseach and the Government on the funding of the EU is very clear. When the Taoiseach addressed the European Parliament, he made it very clear that we are willing to pay more to support projects that are really important to us, including CAP. We are making this commitment from our position as one of the highest per capita net contributors in the entire EU. It is not simply a case of calling for more money. We put more into the EU than we get out of it. Much of what we get out of it comes through CAP. I agree strongly with the Deputy’s point that farmers are being asked to do more and more. It appears that almost on a daily basis, nearly every one of this country’s 5 million citizens tells farmers what they should do and how they should do it. Farmers seem to be admonished if they do not do things to the highest standard. It is the same right across Europe, where every day of the week 450 million citizens seem to tell farmers what to do. We need to be careful not to have a kickback against that. Farmers are operating to very high standards by international and global comparison. If we are asking them to do more, we need to given them the necessary resources to help them to do more.

Deputy Brendan Smith

I accept the final remarks made by the Minister. CAP, which was established in 1962, is important not only as a means of supporting the farming community, but also as a means of ensuring the citizens of Europe can access a secure supply of safe food. It supports 22 million farmers across the EU, as well as 44 million people in the overall food industry. It is important to keep emphasising the partnership that has existed between CAP and European society as we seek to ensure that the CAP budget is prioritised at all times. It is not just about transferring funds to the farming sector – it is also about ensuring we have a vibrant rural community. When people suggest that a greater onus and additional demands should be placed on the farming community, they should bear in mind that if we are not careful to ensure proper supports continue to be given directly to the farming community, we run the risk of land not being farmed and land being abandoned. If those supports are provided, all of society will benefit accordingly.

Deputy Michael Creed

I agree entirely with the Deputy’s analysis. The point is well made. It is not just about supporting farmers – it is also about supporting rural communities. I think CAP has worked really well for us across Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 in terms of the supports it gives. The challenge is that not everybody shares the Deputy’s view. As he knows, unanimity is required for an EU budget. We have to convince some other member states that have differing views on how Europe, and new challenges in Europe, should be funded. Our view is that Europe should not be funded by raiding CAP, which has been a successful common policy in the area of agriculture. The obvious challenges that need to be addressed collectively in other areas, including migration and security, which are readily recognised as important challenges we need to face together, should not be used as a reason to rob the budget for CAP, which is working really well to deliver safe food and many other public goods that are demanded by society in respect of matters such as biodiversity and water quality. The policy needs to reflect the fact that farmers are the solution rather than the problem here. Given the demographic challenges being faced in the agriculture sector, it is not inconceivable that in a very short space of time we could be outsourcing our food requirements. Our food security could be compromised in that context if we do not support agriculture in the way that is needed.

Questions (90)

Brendan Smith

Question:

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the outcome of discussions at recent EU Agriculture Council meetings regarding CAP funding post 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41953/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

 

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

The European Commission has proposed, as part of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021 – 2027, an approximate cut of 5% to the CAP budget post-2020. The proposed cut is unacceptable for Ireland, and I have used every opportunity in the course of discussions at EU Agriculture Council meetings to call for the CAP budget to be maintained.

It is important to note that funding for the CAP is outside the remit of Agriculture Ministers. Negotiations on the MFF proposals are running in parallel to the CAP post-2020 negotiations, and agreement requires unanimity at the EU Council. There are diverging views amongst Member States on the appropriate level for the budget, and further discussion is required before agreement can be achieved. The impact of Brexit further compounds the budgetary issue, with some €12 billion per annum in UK net contributions being removed from the EU budget post-2020.

I have been working with my European counterparts to raise awareness and build consensus around maintaining a strong CAP budget post 2020:

– In May 2018, I co-signed a Joint Memorandum in Madrid, calling for the CAP budget to be retained at current levels for the EU 27 post-2020. The memorandum has been supported by up to 20 other EU Agriculture Ministers.

– I have consistently called for an adequate CAP budget to meet the increasing demands being placed on farmers, in particular in achieving greater climate ambition. I have held multiple bilateral meetings with my European colleagues and have also raised the matter on several occasions with Commissioner Hogan.

– Yesterday, at the Agrifish Council in Luxembourg, I joined with 16 Ministers from a number of EU Member States to reiterate the call for the CAP budget to be maintained post-2020, to meet the new challenges faced by European agriculture and forestry.

I will continue to work with my European counterparts with a view to maintaining the CAP budget as the negotiations for the CAP post-2020 and its budgetary allocations progress.