Brexit presents enormous challenge for border communities – Gallagher

Brexit presents enormous challenge for border communities – Gallagher

Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher says the Government needs to move fast to protect Ireland’s trading relationship with the UK in the aftermath of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Senator Gallagher also pointed out that Brexit presents an enormous challenge for border communities, and says the Government needs to put continued cross-border co-operation at the heart of its negotiation strategy.

“We are now four months on since Britain voted to leave the European Union and there is still great uncertainty as to the knock on effect associated with that decision. Farmers have been particularly hit by this uncertainty, and there are fears that Brexit could have a detrimental impact on the strong trading relationship between Ireland and Britain,” said Senator Gallagher.

“The British Government has indicated that it will start the formal process of leaving the EU early next year. Our Government needs to move fast to minimise the disruption caused once this process gets underway. Britain is our nearest neighbour and largest trading partner and it is important that this relationship is maintained post Brexit.”

“The biggest barrier to development in border communities is the threat associated with the introduction of a ‘hard border’ between north and south. The Government needs to ensure that this does not come to pass. It would cause severe economic hardship for border communities, and would have a detrimental impact on the agricultural and tourism sectors in particular.”

“It is vital that the Government works with our European and UK colleagues to minimise any disruption to border communities. I firmly believe that a new Minister should be appointed to Government with the sole responsibility of dealing with the fallout associated with Brexit. We need to ensure that our strong trading relationship with Britain is maintained,” concluded Senator Gallagher.

WATCH: Ireland’s Student Accommodation Crisis

Here in Ireland we have the highest participation in third level education in the EU. However this has become overshadowed by a student accommodation crisis which is causing a huge amount of stress and financial burden to young people and their families throughout the country. USI have reported that 58% of students go without 1 meal a day in order to cut costs and to be able to afford to stay in college. To solve this issue we could create a bank fund for universities to build more housing for their students and also start to decentralize third level institutes to outside our cities.

WATCH: “tonight 2,121 children will sleep in emergency accommodation” – Senator Gallagher

Speech

I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well with this brief, probably one of the most important any Minister of State could now have. Much good has come out of this debate. We can all look back with hindsight but this is a case of looking forward, although we have to learn from the mistakes made by all concerned. Who in this room can say they have not made mistakes or done things they might regret today? I agree with Senator Devine that this is an emergency. We throw out statistics: tonight 2,121 children will sleep in emergency accommodation, 1,700 of those in this city alone but as the Senator said, behind each of those is a family. We can only look in horror at what the repercussions of that situation will be in years to come.

There are two ways to tackle this emergency. First, introduce emergency measures, such as increasing rent allowance, which is all we can do. There is no silver bullet solution to the housing crisis. We need a strategy and a vision. In my county we talk about the number of hectares zoned for housing. How much of that zoned land could be built on tomorrow? How much infrastructure is there? In my county there is a serious shortfall in infrastructure. Without the infrastructure, zoning land is a waste of time.

Second, we also must explore what type of housing we need. Families today are much smaller than they were 20 or 30 years ago. There are more separations and divorce, partners move out and need accommodation. Those are all factors. We need to consider long-term leases on property. For a long time the mentality in this State was that renting a house was a short-term measure, for six months or a year. Now people can end up renting for 20 years. Families need to be protected and perhaps we need legislation to give them long-term security, so that they will know where they will be and will not get a letter one day telling them they have two or three months to vacate the property.

I was at a conference last weekend where a gentleman quoted a statistic from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, that every week 200 houses go out of commission in this country. That is a frightening statistic. I was not aware of it before then. What do we do about that? Do we tax that property? Do we give the owners an incentive to bring them back into commission? We need to consider all these issues.

The tenant purchase scheme is back in vogue, whether we like it or not and we can argue about its economics. Those in Part V housing are precluded from purchasing their houses. The Minister of State might consider that.

WATCH: “58% of students go without 1 meal a day to afford to stay in University” – Gallagher

Ireland has the highest level of participation in third level education in the EU, this is something we should be very proud of. However student accommodation in our capital in particular is a continuous crisis issue which is effecting families throughout the country who have children going to university here. In 2014 57,000 accommodation spaces were needed to meet demand, this figure is growing and is coupled with sky-high rents.

According to the USI 58% of students miss 1 meal each day to be able to afford to stay in University. 34% go without heating. 

Something needs to be done to relieve this problem which is spiraling out of control. A bank fund could be set up to fund colleges to build more student accommodation. There is also the option of de-centralizing University courses to outside the capital.

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WATCH: Senator Gallagher Questions Health Minister on lack of Emergancy Services in Monaghan

On the 12th of July I addressed Minister for Health Finian McGrath regarding emergency service in Monaghan. Ten years ago Monaghan Hospital lost its acute services and locals have had to travel to Cavan or Drogheda ever since for emergency services. At the time when this service was taken away the HSE said they would fast-track a primary care centre for North County Monaghan, there is still no sign of this promised centre.

Response:

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I congratulate Senator Gallagher on being elected to the Seanad and wish him the best of luck. I thank him for raising the development of the primary care centre for Monaghan town and I welcome the opportunity to outline the current position on this important health infrastructure development.

Over the past number of years work has been under way to deliver and manage health care as far as possible within a primary care setting, with patients less frequently requiring admission to hospital. The development of primary care is central to the Government’s objective of delivering a high quality, integrated and cost-effective health care system. Enhancing and expanding capacity in the primary care sector is crucial to ensuring delivery of a preventive, joined-up approach to the management of the nation’s health and the modernisation of primary care delivery. The programme for a partnership Government sets out a clear vision for health services in Ireland that is community-based, responsible and accessible to patients. The development of primary care is central to this by shifting the balance of care from a hospital-centric system to one located in the community, enabling users to access easily a broad spectrum of care services through their local primary care team. I have outlined the principle behind the system and the broader vision involved.

The delivery of primary care infrastructure is, however, dependent on a number of factors, including suitable locations being available, successful planning processes and a commitment by GPs to sharing accommodation and delivering health care services with HSE staff. The HSE is looking to provide a new primary care centre in Monaghan town to best provide for the needs of the population of Monaghan and I strongly support the Senator’s view on this matter. The primary care centre for Monaghan town is included in the HSE’s multi-annual capital plan and is currently at the design stage. The proposed location is the Monaghan hospital campus and it is presenting certain technical challenges – hence the delay. The HSE is examining these matters with the design team and all options for the delivery of the project are being considered. This process to identify a satisfactory solution to address these design challenges has not yet concluded. After the design issues have been dealt with, I hope to come back to the Senator and we can see what can happen from there.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: I thank the Minister of State for his response. I plead with him to use his good offices to try to ensure this project is fast-tracked as a matter of urgency. I will not go over the same ground again. Suffice to say this facility is badly needed. It would be very much appreciated by the people of County Monaghan, and by me, if the Minister could use his good offices to assert the case for the primary care centre for Monaghan town.