Throughout General Election 2016, I gave a commitment to the people of Tipperary that if re-elected, I would talk to all parties and independents interested in forming a government to ensure that I fulfil my mandate as a strong Independent Voice for the people of Tipperary and to ensure that your concerns were heard by whoever would form the next government.
Over the course of the last 70 days, I have engaged extensively with FG, FF and other Independents to ensure that the issues that I have been raising over the last five years could form some part of the next programme for Government.
There are many and varied issues that I worked hard on throughout the talks. Thankfully, following tough negotiations, I achieved commitments on many of these issues, however, there were others that we fought hard for but were unsuccessful with.
I believe that my involvement in these talks was worthwhile as my stamp is well and truly left on this programme for government and I now look forward to holding the government to account to ensure that these commitments are realised.
The following is a list of the issues which I fought hard for and achieved commitments on. I will continue to work with the relevant Ministers to ensure that these commitments are realised and for those where I was unsuccessful, the fight will continue from the opposition benches:
HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS:
• The Voluntary Sector: A renewed commitment to the Voluntary Housing Sector who have a proven track record of delivery of social housing and who can deliver if given sufficient support from the state. The Government will now work with the voluntary sector through a central coordination support section in government and will look to support a special purpose vehicle to provide long term finance for the sector
• Supporting families being evicted avoid Homelessness: The Government will support housing associations to purchase houses being sold by investors and vulture funds, in such situations where a sale and vacant possession could lead to families becoming homeless.
• Supporting security of Tenure for HAP Tenants: Families housed through the HAP Scheme can often be disadvantaged and efforts will be taken to enhance security of tenure which is essential for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme to be an effective means of delivery for tenants.
• Proactive Land Management: The state has available to it, large parcels of land throughout the country which if managed proactively can be used to develop social and affordable housing where needed and be available for use and transfer to voluntary and housing associations. The new action plan for housing will reinforce proactive land management to increase the pipeline of suitable land for social and private housing development in partnership with local authorities.
REVITALISING TOWN AND VILLAGES
• A living town: We must attract people back into main streets and town centres to truly have living towns, however, planning restrictions mean that many potential homes remain vacant above ground floor premises in towns. (E.G. The main street in Clonmel now only has one family living above shop units with many others lying vacant- with real housing potential) The Action plan for housing will seek planning reforms to incentivise the use of underutilised or vacant areas over ground floor premises in towns, for both residential and commercial use.
• Supports for vital local services and enterprises: Over the last number of years we have witnessed our small villages and town centres being decimated by closures of shops, businesses, filling stations and post offices etc. In a town the size of Clonmel, it is hard to believe that you can not purchase your basic groceries in the town centre. Many Communities are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel to keep services open in a Co-operative manner but need supports. Within the new Department of Regional Development, the Government will task a coordinating unit to work with communities to develop co-operative structures to keep vital local services in place and to retain and develop vibrant local enterprises.
SME’s, THE SELF EMPLOYED AND WORKING FAMILIES
• Self Employed Social Welfare entitlements: – Those who are self employed and have small businesses must be rewarded and not penalised through the Social Welfare System during their time of need. The Government will seek to introduce a PRSI Scheme for the self-employed and provide a supportive tax regime for entrepreneurs and the self employed.
• Government Procurement and Smaller Businesses: Currently a local authority which charges huge rates to small businesses in its area cannot purchase it’s basic equipment from that business due to the strict rules on government procurement. Along with other measures the Government will continue to develop measures to support SMs in accessing the public procurement market by finding new ways to allow procurement locally.
• Commercial Rates: While they are an essential revenue stream for local authorities, commercial Rates are crippling businesses right across the Country while the revaluation of rates process by the Valuations Office moves at a snail’s pace. The government will implement the Valuation Act, which is designed to speed up the cumbersome revaluation process, and will closely monitor its effectiveness and will introduce further measures if we do not see sufficient improvement. The government will also instruct all county councils to publish the breakdown of how all commercial rates collected are spent, facilitating comparisons across different local authorities. This provision will encourage local authorities to adopt commercial rates policies that help sustain existing businesses and encourage start-ups. Urgent action is required on commercial rates and I will continue to work in this area.
• Working Family Payment: Currently many social welfare schemes supporting low income families discriminate against the self employed and farming families. The Government has committed to ensuring that the Self employed and Farming families will no longer be discriminated against.
• Local Roads Funding: Our local roads have been decimated over the last five years. Together with my colleagues, we worked to ensure a commitment to increase local roads funding by 50% in the lifetime of this government. The Local Improvement Scheme will also be extended to include the taking in charge of non-council roads with a view to having this scheme up and running by the end of 2017. While this increase is most welcome, I fear that the funding increase needs to be made more urgently as more and more roads are deteriorating rapidly. Emergency measures are required to improve our local roads.
• Rural Transport: In recognition of the value and benefit of rural transport to many communities, in particular for older people vulnerable to social isolations, the Government will examine how best to improve integration of services in the rural bus network within regions including public buses, school transport and the HSE Transport Networks. Changes by the previous government put schemes such as Ring a Link in jeopardy. A report will be provided to the relevant Oireachtas committee within 6 months examining how existing routes can be made more sustainable and accessible to the public, the potential for new routes and reflecting best international practice.
• Wind Turbines and Pylons- The rights of Local Communities: Communities across the country have huge concerns about both Wind Turbines and Pylons and the net value of such plans are questionable. I sought a Moratorium on all wind projects pending proper protection for communities; until full analysis is completed to justify these developments and until an inquiry be carried out on how such developments were carried out without the analyses required. This was rejected, however, the new government understands the divisions and distress caused in local communities who feel that new energy infrastructure, like wind farms and pylons are imposed on them. As a matter of urgency the new government will update the wind farm planning guidelines, within 3 to 6 months, to offer a better balance between the concerns of local communities and the need to invest in indigenous energy projects. These new planning guidelines will be informed by the public consultation process and best international practice.
• Flood Response: Following the unprecedented flooding in December 2015 and in recognition of the work of thousands of volunteers and goodwill throughout the country, the office of Emergency Planning, will examine the potential for a rapid response unit, which could be deployed when necessary, to coordinate offers of help and assistance, to those experiencing hardship following a severe weather event.
• Home Care Packages and Home Help: Commitment to increase funding for homecare packages and home help every year. The government agrees to a timely review of the management, operation and funding of national home help services.
• Medical Cards: In order to improve the Medical Card application process for those with cancer and other serious illness the Government will request the Clinical Advisory Group on Medical Cards to examine the guidelines for the awarding of discretionary medical cards for patients undergoing treatment for cancer.
• Eye Care: In order to improve waiting times for eye care and Cataract treatment- The Government will update the national eye care plan, including evaluation of the Sligo model for Cataract Surgery.
• Perinatal Hospice Care: Appropriate care for families who have received a diagnosis of a life limiting condition during pregnancy is essential to ensure that mothers are supported through the pregnancy and birth when such complex prenatal diagnosis exist. With a push to Repeal the eight amendment and introduce abortion the Government must ensure that those who continue their pregnancies are given all supports necessary and that the right to life of the unborn is fully respected and cherished.
After much difficulty we received the following commitment: The Government will ensure appropriate care pathways are in place to improve cancer services and invest in end of life care, including the provision of hospice and ‘end of life care’ during the perinatal period, infancy, childhood and adulthood.
• St. Theresa’s Community Hospital Clogheen & Community Funded Hospice Units: Many communities throughout the country have come together to raise funds for the construction of hospice units but continue to have difficulties dealing with the HSE causing huge delays in proceeding with the projects. St. Theresa’s Hospital in Clogheen in one such hospital where despite the funds being available, the construction cannot proceed. The Government has given a commitment that they will bring into operation further hospices, the construction of which local communities have funded. I will continue to work with St. Theresa’s Hospital and the HSE to ensure that this project proceeds without delay.
• Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS): Currently those aged between 16 and 18 suffering with mental health difficulties fall between too stools. They are considered too old for CAMHS and too young for adult services. A Review will be carried out to advise on how best to build further capacity in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to ensure that all children and teenagers receive the appropriate care.
• Supporting people with Mental Health Difficulties and their families: There is currently a severe lack of residential places for people with enduring mental health issues, particularly for those who have other disabilities (dual diagnosis). Families have been left neglected by the system and are often left with no choice but to admit their loved ones to acute services if they are no longer in a position to care for them in their homes without sufficient supports. I raised this matter in the dail debate on Mental Health Services recently and the programme for government includes a commitment to provide more residential places for people with enduring mental health issues, including forensic and dual diagnosis patients.
• Improved Interagency working arrangements: There are many voluntary organisations working throughout the country to support those suffering from mental health difficulties, social isolation etc. Without these voluntary groups, the state of our mental health services would be far worse and better linkages between these agencies and the Health Service are essential to ensure maximum success. The government will introduce improved interagency working arrangements with other services to ensure access based on need as swiftly as possible (e.g. linkages between HSE, TUSLA, Local listening services and voluntary services).
• Transport Service Provision: Many Service Users of disability day services cannot access appropriate transport. For example, many service users of the REHAB CARE facilities in Clonmel have no transport and their families must drive miles twice daily to ensure their family members can access these essential services. The Government will examine transport service provision for young people with disabilities to ensure that the service is fit for purpose, consistent with their needs.
• Early Intervention Services: Currently in Tipperary children with Autism and other disabilities can wait up to 18 months for an assessment of needs before they can even access the intervention services. A month is a long time in a child’s life and while I sought (unsuccessfully) a commitment to ensure that no child waits longer than 3 months for an assessment of needs, I have achieved a commitment to early intervention and prevention services for children. The government will also commence an in-depth review of the variation in waiting lists across the country. I will continue to pursue this matter to ensure that waiting times are reduced dramatically and that all children receive early intervention services as quickly as possible.
• Speech and Language Therapy: Providing earlier access to children and adults to Speech and Language Therapy can make a vital difference to their future opportunities in life. The government will introduce a new in-school speech and language service creating stronger links between parents, teachers and SLTs. They government will also invest additional resources in the National Educational Psychologists Service (NEPS) to ensure earlier intervention and access for young children and teenagers.
• July Provision Scheme: Children with severe and profound disabilities require extra supports particularly during the summer months. Recently many families have contacted me due to difficulties availing of the supports available under the July Provision Schemes. Consideration is to be given to the extension of the July Provision Programme to support families over summer months. I will continue to work on this matter to ensure that families are supported through the summer months when educational facilities are closed.
• Child Care- Stay at home Parents: It is essential that parents are fully supported with their childcare options and those families who choose to stay at home to care for their children must not be penalised but rather supported. The government will develop targeted supports to reduce childcare costs, broaden parental choice and increase supports for stay at home parents. The government will support parents who choose to stay at home and care for their children (through an increase in the Home Carers Credit)
• Free Preschool: Anomalies in the operation of the free pre-school years scheme means that depending on their date of birth, many children can not avail of the full two years. Other operational restrictions means that many families are restricted from availing of this service. The government will review and assess the quality of the first pre-school year which will also include a review to ensure children can avail of a full two years. The government will also seek to streamline the existing schemes to make them more accessible for both parents and providers.
• Afterschool Care: Many areas have little or no afterschool provision despite the presence of an empty building after school hours in most communities. We must utilise our primary school buildings for afterschool care provision for school age children to offer more options and flexibility to parents. The Government will link additional capitation to the provision of buildings for afterschool care, where demand exists. Community groups and Private Providers will be invited to tender to use school facilities (outside school hours.)
• Elder Abuse: Last year I introduced the Vulnerable Persons Bill 2015 to Dáil Éireann to increase legislation relating to elder abuse. In 2014, there were 2592 referrals made to the HSE Elder Abuse Service, with psychological and financial abuse the most frequently reported. The government has given a commitment to review legislation relating to elder abuse. I will seek to re-introduce my bill early in the new Dáil term to ensure this commitment is realised.
• Community Alert: As a lifelong advocate of Muintir na Tíre’s Community Alert Scheme and founding member of Good Morning South Tipperary Listening Service, I worked hard to ensure that The government will support the community listening service and text alert services at local and national level. The government will also consider, with a view of funding, how to extend this and the introduction of national regional support officers in conjunction with An Garda Siochana.
• Senior Alert Scheme: With the closure of many Rural Garda Stations and increased robberies, thousands of elderly people are living in fear. The Government will invest significantly in the Housing Adaptation Scheme and the senior alert scheme, which provide additional safety and peace of mind for those living at home.
• Violent robbery: The government will ask the relevant Oireachtas Committee to consider the introduction of mandatory sentencing for robbery, with violence, in the home.
• Voluntary Housing: – The Voluntary Housing Sector has a proven track record of delivery of Housing for the Elderly and Disabled. Local Community Voluntary Housing Schemes must be given all supports necessary and I have achieved significant commitments in relation to supporting the voluntary sector. I look forward to working with the new Minister for Housing to ensure that these commitments are followed through.
• Fair Deal Scheme: The government will provide additional funding for the Nursing Home Support Scheme and will introduce changes as soon as practicable to remove discrimination against small business and family farms under the Fair Deal Nursing Home Scheme.
• Rural Transport: As a strong advocate for rural transport and former board member of Ring A link Rural Transport Scheme, I am pleased that in recognition of the value and benefit of rural transport to many communities, the Government will now examine how best to improve integration of services in the rural bus network, including public buses, school transport and the HSE transport networks. A report will be provided to the relevant Oireachtas committee within 6 months examining how existing routes can be made more sustainable and accessible to the public, the potential for new routes, and reflecting international best practice.
COMMUNITY & VOLUNTARY, CE AND BACK TO EDUCAITON
• Supports Community and Voluntary Groups: Community and voluntary groups throughout the country are providing essential services which is saving the taxpayer hundreds of thousands every year by fundraising and purchasing essential equipment such as Defibrillators, Busses for wheelchair societies and day care centres etc. Changes in the tax rate for such products would provide huge relief for community groups. In recognition of the difficulties faced by community groups in relation to VAT rates on certain products, the Government will work with their EU Counterparts to seek reform in this area. VRT Relief would also bring huge savings for these groups and the Government has committed to examine the issue of VRT rates on vehicles purchased by Community and Voluntary Groups.
• Leader: The Re-structuring of the Leader Programme bringing Leader under the remit of the Local Authorities, has damaged the success of the programme. Leader worked best when projects were bottom up, community led. Together with many of my colleagues we fought hard to get a commitment to revert back to the old system, however, this was not forthcoming. We did receive a commitment that the Government will work with local authorities, local action groups and local communities to ensure that LEADER funding delivers the maximum possible benefit for communities throughout the country. In addition, the government will make available more competitive capital funding to allow Leader Groups bid for additional resources for projects that best support rural economic development.
• Back to Education, CE Schemes and Employment Supports: Operational guidelines for many schemes are preventing maximum benefit being achieved by schemes supporting a return to education or employment. In recognition of the vital role of schemes such as the Rural Social Scheme, Community Employment Schemes, Back to Education Allowance and the Farm Assist in rural communities and in activating the unemployed, the Government will ask the Minister for Social Protection to make suitable recommendations to strengthen provision in this area. I will continue to work with the Minister for Social Protection to ensure that this schemes can be improved to ensure maximum benefit for the participants and their Communities.
• Inspection and Appeals: We have worked hard to try to ensure that the attitude within the Department of Agriculture changes from one where the focus is penalising farmers to one where farmers are fully supported in their work. Among other measures suggested each year, after the inspection process is completed, the Department of Agriculture Inspectors will hold information meetings with farmers to highlight frequently occurring mistakes, to avoid unnecessary errors. The Department will work with farmers in this way to drive down the number of errors and as a result the penalty rate. A review of the independence and efficiency of the appeals office will also take place.
• Trade Deals: During the negotiations I raised serious concerns in relation to both the Mercosur and TTIP Trade Deals. I requested that full details of both deals be made available to the Oireachtas and that a Referendum be held on our involvement in the Trade Deals where serious concern exists. This proposal was rejected, however the government has committed to taking a robust position to defend our offensive and defensive interests in relation to trade negotiations.
• Farm Assist: A review of the farm assist scheme will be carried out to consider increasing the income disregards for the scheme.
• Road Safety: The Government will issue information to local authorities regarding hedge cutting regulations and exemptions for road safety reasons to ensure consistency in the application of procedures across all authorities.
• EU Pesticide regulations: New EU regulations have brought increased cost to farmers in terms of training required. The Government are committed to ensuring that the implementation of the Sustainable Use Directive in terms of training and upskilling is done in a way that is as cost effective and convenient as possible.
SCRAP METAL LEGISLATION
• Scrap Metal Legislation: We have witnessed recently the damage being done to important infrastructure where copper and other metals are removed from old buildings, railway lines and communications infrastructure, causing thousands of euro’s of damage. In the 31st Dáil, I introduced a Scrap and Precious Metal Dealers Bill on three occasions to try and regulate the cash for gold and scrap metal sector. I have now received a commitment that the Government will publish new legislation to introduce the regulation of the sale and purchase of precious metals, along the lines of the 2015 public consultation conducted by the Department of Justice & Equality. The government will work with the Department of the Environment to further strengthen the regulation of the sale and purchase of Scrap Metal.
• Abolition of Town Councils: The abolition of the country’s Town and Borough Councils with the stroke of a pen has been acknowledged as one of the biggest mistakes of the previous government. While I sought real commitments in this area, This Government will examine the matter and prepare a report by mid- 2017 on measures to boost local government leadership and accountability. They will consider Directly elected mayors in cities, devolution of new powers to local authorities, reducing the size of local electoral areas and Establishing town and borough councils subject to a local plebiscite and local funding.
BANKING,THE COURTS & THE RECEIVERS
• Reform of the Country Registrar and Sherriff’s Office: I worked hard for reform of the manner in which repossessions and evictions are carried out. I have huge concerns in relation to this area which has been turned into a lucrative industry for those involved in evictions. I sought reform of these offices to ensure that there was no personal financial gain for the officers and that no conflicts of interest exist. While I was assured that new measures in this area would vastly improve the situation, I am not entirely convinced and I will continue to work in this area and to highlight abuse of the system.
• Register of Interests for the Judiciary: I believe that it is incumbent on all judges to be fully open and transparent in relation to their interests. There have been many cases where a judge presiding over a repossession case, had large loans and connections with the bank seeking repossession. I sought a register of interests for the Judiciary in the same manner as the Standards in Public Office Register of Interests for Members of the Oireachtas. This proposal was rejected by Fine Gael but I will continue to pursue this matter with the establishment of the Judicial Council.
There were many other issues which I worked with and supported my colleagues on during their negotiations and I will continue to pursue these issues and the many other issues contained in the programme for government to try and work for a better fairer society for all.
Mattie McGrath TD
6TH May 2016