I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin and Sinn Féin for tabling this motion under Private Members’ business. The issue needs to be dealt with. I fully support elements of the motion, and especially that unequal pay and conditions between the workers of section 38 and section 39 organisations must be ended. Full pay restoration for these workers must be delivered as a priority.
In his contribution earlier the Minister of State said that the people who are employed by section 39 organisations are not public servants and not subject to the terms of the public service stability agreements. They were, however, treated the same way as section 38 workers when their wages were cut and when funding was cut under FEMPI. I reiterate that these workers should have their pay restored as a priority.
I am not convinced that the level of outsourcing of essential public services – and healthcare in particular- to charities, voluntary hospitals, NGOs and religious bodies, is the best way to provide these essential services. I believe we need to establish which public services are essential and must be provided by the State as a right. The failure of the State to do this contrasts sharply with other European states, and especially in the post-war period, and it is a key factor as to why we have such poor public services generally in contrast to similar European states.
In 2015 I fully supported the Sláintecare all-party report, which has been quietly shelved by the Minister for Health and by the Government. The failure to deal with the numbers of charities, religious bodies, NGOs and State agencies was a major weakness in that report. As a member of the committee I tried to establish how many section 38 and 39 bodies were receiving funding from the HSE. I have never received a clear answer from the Minister, the Department of Health or the HSE. The HSE did provide a list of up to 550 to 560 agencies in receipt of more than €100,000 in 2015. Some digging around, however, shows that some 3,000 section 38 and section 39 agencies received some €3 billion from the HSE in 2015. This is almost one quarter of the overall HSE budget for that year. The scale of this level of outsourcing is staggering and it is a fundamental problem in the provision of a proper health service, fit for purpose, where workers can work and deliver services properly, and the provision of good public services generally. Until we confront the situation and introduce radical change in how we provide and fund front-line essential services we will not get the services we need for our elderly, our sick, our children, or for those with a disability or suffering from a mental health issue.
This is not to say there is not a role for advocacy groups that are independent of the State, and grant aided by the State. Advocacy groups have a key role in identifying problems and weaknesses in public services. Rather than the forum as proposed in the motion I would support a forum for advocacy groups to develop a broad campaign to fight for public services as a right, and to break once and for all with the Victorian notions of the poorhouse and the deserving poor. We need high quality, adequately funded public services that are fit for the 21st century, and fit for section 39 workers to work in and deliver services.
I want to make it clear that there is no criticism in these remarks for the thousands of volunteers who give up their time freely to provide services that the State – in the main – should provide, or those workers who work full time in section 39 bodies. I commend the motion and I will support it when we vote for it.