Dan Danaher asked Taoiseach Micheál Martin about some key Clare political and social issues
DD: Clare home owners affected by pyrite have been excluded from the latest mica scheme. There is a lot of frustration in the county over this. What do you say to these people?
MM: I think there is further information to come, is my understanding, and there is further engagement with the minister and the department. On the receipt of that information, I understand the minister will be positive in his response to that.
Our view is to work with groups locally with a view to inclusion, that is the general approach. My understanding is there has been interaction and engagement, which will continue.
DD: It is taking a long time to approve a scheme, can you understand the frustration if your house is crumbling?
MM: The manifestation of this in terms of the presentation to the minister was a lot longer in Donegal. We are going to bring this in other counties to a conclusion much quicker in terms of inclusion in a scheme that is now being developed.
“It is very difficult for people in terms of defective bricks and blocks. Our overall strategy and response is to help the home owners rebuild their homes in a very comprehensive way.
DD: So you are not ruling out support for Clare home owners affected by pyrite?
MM: No we are not, we will be looking at it more positively to see how we can help people.
DD: How important is it for Fianna Fáil to win two seats at the next General Election?
MM: It is always important to win two FF seats in Clare, that is always our ambition. Politics has become more fragmented over the last number of General Elections, which makes achieving two seats generally more of a challenge. We have very strong political representation in Clare and a very strong councillor base.
We have two very strong Oireachtas members in Clare. Cathal Crowe is very impactful, energetic, busy TD, while Timmy Dooley is a very experienced and hard working senator. We have a strong team all round, locally and at national level.
DD: You have a strong Independent Deputy and a Sinn Féin deputy in Clare. Do you agree it will be tough to win two seats?
MM: It will be challenging but we are up for it.
DD: In view of the bed capacity report published ten years ago why didn’t the government increase the number of ICU beds by 150 or 200 and we may not have required the same level of Covid-19 restrictions?
MM: We have put in 850 to 900 extra beds across in the country in the last 12 months. Bed capacity has increased more in the last 12 months more than at any time.
DD: I am talking about ICU beds.
MM: We have gone from 255 to 301 ICU beds by the end of this year. We provided money to go to 321 but the HSE wasn’t in a position to recruit enough staff to get to that 321 figure. We will go to 350 by the end of 2022. There has been a very significant expansion of general and ICU bed capacity. That will continue at pace.
This government has made health a priority. We also believe we need to learn lessons from Covid-19 and accelerate reforms within the health service in primary care, community-based diagnostics.
DD: About ten years ago, a national bed capacity review stated we needed between 450 to 500 ICU beds long before Covid-19 was an issue.
MM: This government has moved from 255 to 301. The issue with Covid-19 is there is a certain level of disease in the community irrespective of where you are in the hospital situation. In Germany, they are flying patients to different states.
Across Europe, the EU had to introduce mechanisms in countries where hospitals were overwhelmed by Covid-19. We have managed to develop surge capacity in our hospitals. We have been under pressure but managed to hold the line.
There comes a stage when Covid-19 causes severe illness, you simply can’t have a situation where people become severely ill so that is what necessitates the restrictions.
It is more about the impact of Covid-19 itself on people’s health.
DD: ICU consultants are looking for more ICU beds and staff.
MM: It is not just about beds, it is about an entire team. We have recruited 11,000 extra people for the health service in the last two years. We will continue to expand and recruit.
DD: There were 95 patients on trolleys in UHL recently, Do you agree it is unacceptable to have elderly people lying on trolleys for days?
MM: It is not acceptable. The HSE are looking at the historic allocations to Limerick, Galway and Cork. We do need to improve capacity. Last year, we provided five million extra home care hours to improve the flow through hospitals.
There are particular issues that need to be addressed in University Hospital Limerick, and we will work with the team to do that. Hospital flow is about not just about beds, it is about the primary care side and community diagnostics and how we can help to discharge people promptly.
UHL has remained a challenge not withstanding the investment in the new ED.
DD: How do you address the huge increase in waiting lists in the Mid-West?
MM: Covid-19 has resulted in a curtailment of elective procedures, which has happened all over the world. All the medical device companies in the world are under pressure because their devices can’t be used due to the slowdown in procedures. There will be big backlogs coming out of Covid-19.
DD: How do you address the backlog?
MM: You get out of Covid-19 and reduce the level of transmission. We put in extra resources to get elective procedures done quicker and will put in new elective facilities.