Concerns for Students future on Social Care Course: Ó Murchú

Serious concerns about the future of students on a social care course at DkIT have been raised by Louth TD Ruairí Ó Murchú.

Around 42 students who have just completed third year of the college’s Social Care course logged onto the examinations results system at DkiT last Tuesday to find their results for the year had been ‘deferred’.

It is understood the issue centres around placement hours, which are a course requirement set down by the social care sector’s oversight body, CORU.

Because of Covid-19, the students were unable to complete their entire placement hours in April and May and the college offered alternative assessment methods.

The students said they believed they would be graded and moved into their fourth and final Level 8 degree year in September, but they were ‘stunned’ to see their grade had been deferred.

In addition, they were told that because of a college error in their second year, a further 100 hours of placement would have to completed in 2021, on top of the hours deferred because of Covid-19.

The Sinn Féin TD has written to the Ministers for Health and Education after receiving a number of representations to his office about how the matter unfolded this week and he has also written to DkIT president, Dr Michael Mulvey.

‘A number of students have contacted my office about this issue and are deeply upset and worried about what has happened.

 ‘The students who wish to go for a Level 8 degree are very worried about how they are going to complete this huge chunk of placement hours, on top of completing their final year assignments and thesis.

‘What is particularly concerning is that the students believed that the alternative assessments that they completed during lockdown were in lieu of the placement hours for 2020. But now it looks like these may not be accepted.

‘On top of that is the startling news that a further 100 hours were not completed in second year, again, without the students’ knowledge.

‘I have written to the ministers with responsibility in the education and social care areas, asking them to intervene in this situation so that there is a satisfactory outcome for the students.

‘I have also contacted Dr Mulvey to ask him to investigate what has gone on here and see if solutions can be found’.

Dentist Patients being Failed by System: O’Murchú

The health system is failing dental patients who have medical cards”, Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú has said after it was revealed a Dundalk dental practice texted clients saying they were no longer able to treat them.

The Sinn Féin TD said he had spoken to the dentist who sent the text and it was clear that ‘a major system failure is on the way unless the HSE gets its act together over medical card contracts for dentists’.

Mr Ó Murchú said: “This is a dreadful situation for medical card patients who need treatment from their dentist through the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS). I have spoken to the dentist concerned and I have relayed patients’ worries to them.

“I do not agree with the way that medical card patients were told, wholesale and out of the blue, about the situation, and I have conveyed that to the dental practice, but the dentists were carrying out what they believed was due diligence and telling patients in time so they can find another practice.

“I have been assured that no patient will be left with incomplete, already started treatment.

“However, the harsh reality is that medical card dental patients are going to struggle to find another place to take them on, such is the level of the issue with dentists across the board.

“There is a major issue with PPE provision. Dentists believed they would have a supply of PPE from the HSE on an ongoing basis. This has not transpired and they have to buy it on a practice by practice basis.

“There have been difficulties with the contract since negotiations stalled in 2008 and there is no doubt, in the post-Covid-19 landscape, the system is about to collapse.

“It is only a matter of time, weeks probably, before other dentists follow and inform their medical card patients that they are no longer able to look after them. It’s happening already – a number have already indicated they are withdrawing from the DTSS.

“This crisis has been brewing long before Covid-19 but now, with additional PPE costs and reduced patient flow, due to social distancing and cross infection measures, the medical card patients are being treated at a loss.

“This is not sustainable. The HSE has to immediately engage with the Irish Dental Association over the contract for medical card patients and immediately address the PPE issue. If they don’t, this is only the start of a major crisis.

“In the longer term, there needs to be a far more sustainable method of providing public dental care.”

Deputy Ó Murchú last week submitted a parliamentary question about the issue to the Minister for Health.

Navvy Bank is For Walkers, not Cyclists: Cllr Meenan

The Navvy Bank in Dundalk is a popular walkway and has become even more so since the Covid 19 crisis as more walkers are discovering this beauty on their doorsteps.

However, Cllr Kevin Meenan has received a number of calls from walkers who have complained of an increased number of cyclists using the walkway path.

On a recent visit to the area, Cllr Meenan started at the bottom of the Point Road end and headed towards Soldiers Point.

Cllr Meenan said “As I was walking along the first thing I seen, because I was looking for it, was a smallish sign on top of a very rusted pole which advised, when I squinted at it, that the bye law stated the Navvy Bank was for pedestrians only and there were no cyclists allowed.”

As Cllr Meenan stopped to take a picture of the sign on his phone, a family walked by him with a child of around 7 years of age on a bicycle. He pointed his phone to take the picture and had to move in to allow two young boys of around 12/13 years of age pass by.

As Cllr Meenan then headed towards Soldiers Point an older couple went by him, also on bikes.

Councillor Meenan said “this was on Monday evening and the weather was beautiful. I’m not saying the bikes were going fast or were reckless but they should not have been on the walkway at all and I’m not sure if they were even aware of that because I walked all the way down to the outdoor Gym before going back onto the Point Road and didn’t see another sign about the bye laws.

“Bearing in mind that the pedestrian footfall has increased and that many walking alone have earphones in, I would be concerned that they wouldn’t hear a cyclist coming up behind them. I would ask that cyclists stay off the walkways and pedestrians stay off the cycle lanes in return.

“In the meantime I will be asking for increased and improved signage pointing out the bye laws because I really don’t believe there is any deliberate intention to flaunt the bye laws, it could be a case that people just don’t realise.”

New Approach Needed for Forest Fires: Ó Murchú

The recent fires in the Cooley Mountains, and the need for a co-ordinated, multi-agency response to any future incidents, were raised last week in Leinster House by Dundalk TD Ruairí Ó Murchú.

The Sinn Féin TD was speaking during statements on climate change and he said that the government has to recognise that forest fires, such as those that devastated swathes of the Cooley Mountains earlier this month, were going to be more frequent.

Mr Ó Murchú said consideration needs to be given to a more ambitious afforestation plan, including on State-owned lands, while also offering farmers more imaginative schemes and incentives for growing trees.

But the recent fires, which burned for over a week, ‘highlighted the need for a co-ordinated and planned State response’.

He said: ‘Louth County Council Fire and Rescue Service did incredible work in battling the fires on the Cooley Mountains. They worked so hard, day and night, to control the blaze. There was assistance from the Coillte helicopter, but the Air Corps made the difference on the uplands and brought it under control, eventually ensuring it was put out.

‘It has highlighted the need for a multi-agency, cross-border response to future fires and to that end, I am writing to the government to outline some of the ways this can happen. I have discussed some aspects of this with Cllr. Antóin Watters, Louth County Council, the fire service and others who agree that a forest fire plan needs to be put in place to minimise the damage caused by these incidents.

‘There was huge pressure on Louth’s fire service that week with multiple call-outs to other blazes in Dundalk, which they had to deal with while battling the fires on the mountains.

‘At a local level, there also needs to be better signage at forest parks and mountain walk entrances in order to ensure that people are fully aware of the damage that lighting a barbeque or carelessly discarding a cigarette can do when, because of climate change, there is less rain and the gorse is far drier.

‘This would be in addition to State-wide fire prevention measures, following best practice, and including the creation of firebreaks.’

Dundalk Microcosm of State’s Drug Problem: O’Murchú

Ruairí Ó Murchú, Jackie and Gwen McKenna, FASN and Sinéad Hussey, RTÉ at the FASN centre, Lios Dubh, Dundalk.

Dundalk is a microcosm of the State’s drugs problem and the resulting violence, according to Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú.

The Louth deputy was speaking after it was revealed that a citizens’ assembly, focusing on a better response to the drugs problem, is believed to be included in the programme for government.

The recently-elected TD is a former member of the Louth Drugs and Alcohol Forum and has spoken out numerous times about the effects drugs are having on the constituency, particularly in Dundalk.

While he welcomed the idea of a citizens’ assembly focusing on drugs, ‘the government is already aware of some of the actions needed’ and he called again for a minister with responsibility for tackling the drugs problem to be at Cabinet.

He said: ‘Without a minister at the Cabinet table with specific responsibility for this area, the drugs problem will continue to fall between departments such as health and justice and there will continue to be a scatter-gun approach’.

Drug taking continues to be a problem in Dundalk, with the latest remnants found following a large house party in Bay Estate on Friday night. Neighbours in the estate found empty blister packs of tablets, along with ‘silver bullets’, laughing gas canisters that are also known as ‘hippie crack’ and which has seen a spike in use during the pandemic.

There have also been, Mr Ó Murchú said, a number of violent incidents in Dundalk over the past week, some related to drug debt and ‘they are happening with regularity now’.

He said: ‘If you take what has happened in Dundalk over the last week, there have been a number of serious incidents around the town, including a fire at a Garda’s house in Bay Estate.

‘There have been multiple drugs raids, arrests and a heroin seizure which plainly show the continuing, successful outcomes that can be had when there is a dedicated drugs unit in Dundalk.

‘There have been instances of attacks on other homes, where drug debts were visited upon the wider family who were not necessarily responsible for racking up the alleged debt in the first place.

‘There was a petrol bomb attack on a car at a house in Clontygora Court; there was a further attack here the next day and windows were smashed at a house in Muirhevnamor’.

Mr Ó Murchú said drug-related violence and intimidation ‘are complicated issues that require a properly resourced response’ but ‘this is not happening’.

He said: ‘’Last week, I visited the Family Addiction Support Network (FASN) at Lios Dubh and spoke again about how under-resourced they continue to be, like many of the vital services are. There are also concerns about how under-resourced local courts continue to be, meaning interminably long periods between people being charged and cases going to trial’.