This will be a very challenging year for the Irish health service and to state otherwise would be misleading of me. This will be the case, particularly, for the many hospitals currently carrying a deficit from last year.
What we are ultimately working towards is to fundamentally alter existing structures in order to provide a health system which this country can be proud of and which we believe will be in the best interests of our people. This will not be without its challenges, but is necessary in order for us to have a health service which works well for all.
But the Government’s plans for reform are not all about cutbacks.
This year, for the first time, €35 million has been ring-fenced for the provision of mental health services in this country, an area that has been overlooked for far too long. This funding will go towards the development of community mental health teams and services across the country.
For too long, sufferers of mental health problems have been forced to contend with a system that was wholly inadequate for their needs. For too long they have been sidelined. This move is a clear demonstration of this Government’s real commitment to reduce the stigma long associated with mental illness, and is a first step in addressing what was the neglect of Irish mental health services over many years.
The value of the agri-food industry to Ireland should not be underestimated, and I have spoken in the past of the very prominent role I anticipate this sector performing in Ireland’s future economic recovery. It is an industry which should be nurtured carefully, and that was the message I conveyed to the IFA AGM in Bewley’s Hotel, Ballsbridge on Wednesday evening which was attended by the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolo.
In spite of the current economic climate, the value of Irish food and drink exports actually increased by 12% in 2011. That translates to an increase of €1 billion, which brings the annual export value to all-time high of €8.85 billion. From those figures, it is clear that our future recovery will be increasingly reliant on this industry’s continued success.
It is therefore crucially important that ongoing negotiations on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will result in a satisfactory deal for Irish farmers and this is something Minister Coveney is working solidly towards. This may have to be dealt with during the Irish Presidency of the EU next year, 2013.
Next week, I will travel to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the annual meeting of The World Economic Forum. On the agenda, unsurprisingly, will be the issue of Europe’s future and amongst those in attendance will be European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen. It is my hope that we can have a full and frank discussion on the issues currently dominating the politics of Europe and, indeed, reflect on the future direction of the Union itself.
This morning, I addressed a conference on women and politics in Dublin Castle entitled ‘ How to Elect More Women’. At the core of this conference is the fact that only 15% of current Dáil Deputies are female. Today, the focus will be on ways in which this figure might be increased in the future. Various academics, politicians and political activists, both from Ireland and beyond, will continue to discuss this important subject for the remainder of the day.
The Government will shortly launch our ‘Pathways to Work’ activation plan. This plan will contain a series of measures to completely overhaul the way in which the State supports the unemployed and encourages them back into the workforce. This will be another step towards getting thousands of Irish people to where they want to be – off the dole and back making a meaningful contribution in the workforce.
As I write this I am conscious of the fishing tragedy in Glandore, County Cork and my thoughts and prayers are with the members of the families involved.
Very best wishes
Enda Kenny TD