Adjournment Debate.

Flood Relief.

I wish to refer to two separate floods in Dublin, one on 1 February 2002 and the other some two years later. On both occasions, the East Wall, the North Strand, Ballybough, Botanic Avenue and the area around St. Luke's in Drumcondra were badly flooded. The flooding was of such a degree that boats were needed in the East Wall area.

As well as on the Richmond Road.

As boats were also needed in the neighbouring constituency of Deputy Callely, I am sure he will support my motion. Thousands of people were affected by the flooding. We all saw the remarkable photograph of the Taoiseach in his wellies outside St. Luke's, directing the activities to help the good citizens of the north side of Dublin in their hour of need.

Where was the Deputy?

I was in Ballybough at the time. I did not realise the Taoiseach was in Drumcondra.

The Deputy missed a good photo opportunity.

Unfortunately, I did not have my wellies with me. However, I think we all agree the Taoiseach was a picture.

The Deputy was on dry land.

No, I was not. I did my bit. I was filling sand bags at the local depot in Ballybough, helping local residents when the local authority left them a little short of sand bags. In fact, I was out virtually the whole night working to alleviate the flooding.

The flooding was severe. Homes were invaded by water and many people were imprisoned in their homes as the water flooded in. The flooding was very sudden, particularly in the area of Ossory Road where the water came from the Royal Canal, and it caught many residents unawares.

Various surveys have suggested that, statistically, this type of flooding should not happen more than once every 50 or 100 years. However, we have already had two similar occasions of flooding in the space of two years. There is no guarantee that it will not happen again within another couple of years. Therefore, it is particularly important that preventative measures are put in place.

Dublin City Council and the Office of Public Works are working together in this regard. I understand there was a sharing of costs between them with, I presume, the lion's share of the cost being taken by the OPW. Perhaps the Minister would enlighten us on the cost of the work that must be done.

Can the Minister clarify the flood prevention measures that have already taken place? What level of dredging has occurred? What can be done about the flood plains that previously took away the surplus water which has now begun to flood through tight channels into Dublin causing flooding?

The East Wall road is very low, about two feet high, and this is a source of grievance for those living the area. People feel that flooding similar to that of the 1950s might occur if there is a high tide and the Tolka floods. There is also a danger of flooding to the Royal Canal from the sea and high tide as has happened before. What measures are being taken to alleviate the possibility of flooding occurring again?

Householders are experiencing real problems in obtaining insurance, in particular from Hibernian and Cornmarket brokers. If somebody sells their home, the newcomers will be unable to get insurance. The insurance is not being carried on because of the fear of future flooding and premia are being raised. It is one thing not to have flooding but quite another to have the fear of flooding impact in an adverse financial manner when people seek insurance at a decent rate. It is important that measures be put in place and that the Minister does something to ensure that insurance companies do not increase rates on the one hand and refuse to insure on the other.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The last major flood in Dublin occurred in November 2002 when there was substantial flooding from the Glasnevin and Drumcondra area of the city to the Clonee area in County Meath as a result of the Tolka river breaking its banks. Analysis has shown that this flood exceeded the scale of any previous flood on record in the catchment area. There was widespread flooding on Dublin's north side from Glasnevin to Ballybough. Since that flooding, the Office of Public Works, in co-operation with Dublin City Council and Fingal and Meath county councils, has implemented flood alleviation measures as recommended in the River Tolka flooding study that was under way at the time of the 2002 flood.

Most of these works have been constructed by the OPW's direct labour force as part of a scheme which, when completed, will provide protection against a flood event with a design return period of 100 years or, to put it another way, a 1% probability of occurring in any year. The OPW and Dublin City Council have pursued a policy of completing work in areas at highest risk of flooding. The works undertaken to date cover an area from Glasnevin Bridge to Luke Kelly Bridge in Ballybough and include provision of new walls and embankments on Botanic Avenue, provision of embankments at Griffith Avenue, replacement of Woodville Road footbridge, provision of walls downstream of Woodville Road footbridge to Drumcondra Bridge, provision of walls and embankments at Tolka Park Cottages, raising of the wall from Drumcondra Bridge to Tolka Park, protection works at the corner of Tolka Park, provision of walls and embankments from Tolka Park to Distillery Weir, widening of the bank on Clonliffe College grounds, the removal of Distillery Weir, the repair of scour damage at 112 to 114 Tolka Road, provision of new walls downstream of Distillery Road Bridge on the northern bank, and general channel maintenance.

These works are now mostly completed. There are further works which include the replacement of Distillery Road Bridge and the widening of some parts of the river around the bridge. Arrangements for the execution of these works have been the subject of negotiations between the city council and property owners and developers undertaking a development in that area. These negotiations are being finalised and works are expected to proceed in the immediate future. It is also intended to install a number of pumping stations to deal with any risk from storm water behind the defences during flood events.

With regard to the Royal Canal, flooding in the East Wall area has occurred as a result of tidal influences. The lower reaches of the canal are tidal and at times of exceptionally high tides in the River Liffey, the canal banks have been overtopped. Dublin City Council is constructing a cofferdam at the confluence of the Royal Canal and the River Liffey and this should help to alleviate the problem.

Flooding in this area is one of the many issues addressed in the report of the Dublin coastal flooding protection project which was commissioned by Dublin City Council and Fingal Country Council in association with the OPW and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. It set out to examine the causes and impacts of flooding from Portmarnock to Booterstown and to identify appropriate measures to deal with the flood risk in the area. The report has been received by the OPW in recent weeks. It is a very detailed document and is being examined. It recommends a number of actions, including early flood warning systems and the development of a number of flood defence schemes. The construction costs of the proposals are estimated between €64 million and €95 million.

As the report is large and complex, it will take time to examine. Once this is done, the OPW will meet city council officials and other relevant bodies to discuss the proposals with a view to developing a priority list of measures which could be undertaken in coming years. Any funding which may be required from the OPW will be considered at that stage in the context of the OPW's annual budget for flood relief projects, the large number of flood alleviation projects and non-structural measures being advanced by the OPW and the urgency attached to the various measures recommended in the report.

Regulation of the insurance industry does not fall within my remit and I am not in a position to respond to that element of the Deputy's matter on the Adjournment. However, my officials have had discussions with the Insurance Industry Federation on other matters and it was indicated that insurance companies would take account of the existence of improved flood defences where relief schemes have been undertaken. The OPW is considering the most appropriate way to make this information available to the insurance industry and other interested parties.

Rural Transport Initiative.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter regarding the extension of the rural transport initiative to north Monaghan. This successful national pilot programme is aimed at those who are excluded and do not have available, accessible or affordable local transport. The rural transport initiative should be extended to north Monaghan. I do not need to extol the virtues of this excellent scheme which has proved a phenomenal success. It was piloted but has been adopted as an ongoing programme and funded by the national development plan. It has opened up the lives of many people. There was a time when a son or daughter would be around the house and would be able to take their parents into town, but that time is gone. We must replace it with some form of rural transport initiative.

I understood that there was a transport programme in north Monaghan but then I met a woman who lives four miles outside of town. She explained to me that it costs €8 to take a taxi into town and another €8 to come back out. She was reasonably well off but very concerned about her neighbours in Knockatallon who might have to spend €15 each way for a taxi into town. If one is on a pensioners' income, one will not go into town very often if that is what it costs. The real tragedy is that there was a successful initiative operated by CIE for six or seven years. There were two schemes in the north Monaghan area. The first covered Bellanode, Scotstown, Knockatallon and Tedavnet and the second covered Knocknagrave, Crush, Carrickroe, Clara, Ballyoisin, Mullan, Emyvale and Glaslough. Those schemes were well supported but the head honchos in Dublin decided that the routes were not making enough profit. Are these routes put on to make a profit or to provide a service? It should be a mixture of both. A good mix of people supported these two initiatives, so much so that in regard to the Carricroe-Clara-Emyvale scheme, a private bus operator thought he could keep it going. I spoke to that private operator recently and he informed me that he cannot continue in operation, much as he would like to do so because he has family and other contacts in the area. I asked him about the people with free bus passes and he said he cannot charge them even though he is entitled to do so. People who use the bus as an extra service support him.

There is room to extend the rural transport initiative to this area of Monaghan. It meets all the criteria. We have lovely brochures on rural transport initiatives but the transport is not available, accessible or affordable to people locally. Why does the Department bother giving people free bus passes? It is an insult to give them a free bus pass if the transport service is not available. Providing these passes in such circumstances is meaningless. Society is marginalised enough in rural Border areas. We are talking about people who are living ten to 15 miles from town and this service gives them a major lift in that they can go to town every so often.

There are a number of successful examples in the constituency. We have the Balti Bus in the Latton-Ballybay-Bawn areas, which is operated from the Latton Resource Centre. In the Kilnaleck community co-operative, we have another successful example of a rural transport initiative and we also have Rural Lift in Blacklion. The Cavan-Monaghan constituency lends itself very well to that type of initiative. In my area of north Monaghan the rural transport initiative should be put back in place. We should be proactive about this issue. We should do a survey on it. The scheme was operated in the past and it was used. People used the transport system and if they used it in the past I have no doubt they will use it in the future. That is what rural transport is about. It is about opening up people's lives and allowing them travel into town. It is a type of socialisation programme for people. I ask that serious consideration be given to re-adapting this programme for the north Monaghan area because it is very much needed.

I thank Deputy Connolly for raising the matter. He brought back memories to me when he talked about Monaghan, Cavan, the Kilnaleck region and that whole area. It is an area I travelled over many years and I know the highways and byways and the terrain very well.

I never mentioned the victory against Meath.

My Department is funding the provision of public transport in rural areas through the rural transport initiative. This is a scheme my good friend and colleague, the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Seamus Brennan, initiated in 2002 to provide funding on a pilot basis for community organisations and partnerships to address the transport needs of their rural area through the provision of local transport services. The then Minister, Deputy Brennan, was aware of such needs arising from feedback through the national Fianna Fáil organisation when many members raised the issues to which Deputy Connolly referred.

The RTI is now operational in virtually all counties and 34 community transport groups are currently being funded under the initiative. Under the initiative, some 65,000 RTI transport services were provided in 2004 and more than 500,000 passenger trips were recorded on those services. I understand that one of the RTI project groups, the Bawn and Latton rural transport initiative, which operates under the title Balti Bus, provides public transport services in rural parts of County Monaghan to which Deputy Connolly referred.

Area Development Management Limited administers the RTI on behalf of the Department. ADM and the individual RTI groups are solely responsible for all the operational aspects of the RTI, including the destinations to be served, and my Department has no role in these issues.

My Department provided €3 million for the RTI in each of the years 2002, 2003 and 2004. The initiative has been further extended until 2006 and the allocation for this year has been increased to €4.5 million. I am pleased to confirm to Deputy Connolly funding of the order of €5 million for the RTI in 2006 and to put the initiative on a permanent financial footing from 2007. This will result in an overall funding commitment of more than €18 million for the RTI to the end of 2006, which is good news and compares very favourably with the total of €4.4 million originally provided for the RTI in the national development plan.

The increased level of funding for the RTI will facilitate the completion of the pilot phase of the initiative. It will also provide scope for the 34 community transport groups being funded under the scheme to undertake an expansion of services as envisaged in the 2004 evaluation of the RTI. I have asked ADM to work closely with the pilot project groups to maximise the impact of the increased funding and to ensure continued value for money.

It should be borne in mind that the RTI projects also benefit each year from funding provided by the Department of Social and Family Affairs arising from the application of the free travel scheme to the initiative. In addition, some RTI projects are also generating additional funds from the provision of transport services to health boards and from other sources. That is an issue on which I will be happy to assist Deputy Connolly because he raised the question of recipients of free travel. There is scope within the areas I mentioned that may be helpful to Deputy Connolly and if he wants to explore them or raise any problems he should get back to me.

In deciding on the extension of the RTI to the end of 2006, I am conscious that many of the individual projects only became fully operational in 2003 and that continuing the RTI to the end of 2006 will ensure that the lifespan of the initiative will dovetail with the end date of the National Development Plan 2000-2006.

The extension will facilitate a more comprehensive appraisal of the effectiveness of the pilot initiative in addressing the transport needs of rural areas. It will enable the 34 RTI projects to further explore different models of transport provision and to strategically develop new methods of planning, co-ordinating, integrating, procuring and providing transport in areas where it was traditionally considered difficult to do so, as Deputy Connolly outlined in his contribution.

In providing additional time for the RTI projects to fully mature, I am facilitating the emergence of models of best practice in the provision of rural transport services both in terms of operational and organisational management.

Deputies will be aware that my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, officials of my Department and I are currently finalising a multi-annual investment framework for transport. This framework will identify the investment needs and outline the measures required to further develop all elements of our national transport infrastructure. The rollout of a more permanently based RTI will be carried out in the context of this ten year strategy.

I assure the House that in developing proposals for a more permanent RTI, we will pay particular attention to the views of all those involved in the pilot phase of the RTI, especially passengers, operators and managers, to establish how we can develop the scheme beyond the completion phase of 2007 onwards.

Child Care Services.

I am delighted to be able to raise this issue. Tír na nÓg in Ballydesmond is a voluntary group that applied for community based capital funding to put in place this community based project in Ballydesmond, a small village on the Cork-Kerry border servicing the community on both sides of the border. It applied for staffing funding, which was made available. I congratulate the people behind the directors and the board of Tír na nÓg in Ballydesmond for the excellent work they do. Their voluntary work and commitment has ensured this facility has been built and is up and running. I spoke to them on a number of occasions about the paperwork they must complete to comply with health board and Area Development Management Limited regulations. They do excellent work on behalf of the Tír na nÓg project in Ballydesmond. Capital funding was allocated a few years ago, the building is in place and it is up and running.

An initial staffing grant was given over a three-year period to ensure the viability of the project. It does not meet budgetary demands to maintain services. The Department, the county child care committee and ADM need to examine seriously the staffing grants made available to these community-based child care projects.

This is not just about Tír na nÓg in Ballydesmond but all other community-based child care projects that have been funded for building and staffing. The initial idea was that they would be viable after three years but the Department must examine this and increase and maintain funding. I know funding has been put in place until 2007 but many of these projects are concerned about their future. Projects that have been up and running for some time are losing valuable trained staff because they are concerned about their future in community-based child care projects. The groups want to ensure they keep their expertly trained staff.

I want the Minister of State to outline to the House on behalf of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform what is the view of the Department on continued financial support for the staffing of Tír na nÓg in Ballydesmond in County Cork to ensure this project is viable in the future. Many agencies such as the child care county committees and ADM are dealing with child care projects and there are many layers of bureaucracy. We need the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure the financial support for staffing in Tír na nÓg is continued.

I thank Deputy Moynihan for raising this issue. As he knows my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has responsibility for this area but could not join us this evening and has asked me to update the Deputy on the issue of child care.

The programme for Government and the progress of the equal opportunities child care programme are confirmation of the Government's commitment to developing child care services to support the child care needs of the parents of Ireland with a particular emphasis on those who may be in employment or education or training to prepare for employment. The equal opportunities child care programme has an equal opportunities and a social inclusion perspective and aims to increase the supply of centre-based child care places by 55% or 31,000 additional places by the end of the programme. Current forecasts of impact suggest that it will ultimately create at least 36,000 places, more than 24,600 of which have been achieved.

The first meeting of the expert working group on child care established under Partnership 2000 was held within a month of the Government changeover in 1997 and all the evidence shows that child care has been high on our agenda since that time. The Government has consistently moved promptly, purposefully and proactively to facilitate the development of a top quality child care service throughout the country to support parents, the economy and social inclusion through labour market participation.

Since this Government came into office for the second time, it has further increased the funding provision for the development of child care by more than €60 million. This includes part of the additional capital provision of €90 million made available by the Minister for Finance in the 2005 budget over the period 2005 to 2009 to develop child care infrastructure and brings the allocation for the present programme to €449 million.

On the project in question, in December 2002, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform approved €1 million in capital grant assistance to this community-based not-for-profit group at Ballydesmond, County Cork, to construct and equip a new purpose-built full-day child care facility for children ranging in ages from three months to 15 years. This excellent service offers child care with 57 full time and 20 part time places.

This service in Ballydesmond is one of many child care services throughout Cork city and county which have benefited from grant assistance under the equal opportunities child care programme. To date, the Minister has approved funding of more than €33 million for child care services in Cork city and county which supports the creation of 3,500 new child care places across the county of Cork.

Since the 2005 budget was announced in December 2004, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has announced a record allocation of €67 million in capital funding for community-based not-for-profit groups, in two tranches, one in December 2004 and another on 4 March 2005. The availability of the additional capital funding enables the Minister to make further capital grant assistance available to groups which address significant child care service gaps and where the project proposal represents good value for money.

The Deputy may be aware that the Minister also approved €235,000 over three years to this group as a contribution towards the staffing costs of the project. This phase of funding for the Ballydesmond group will support it until the end of June 2006 and the Minister has already advised the House that following a detailed review of the staffing grants under the equal opportunities child care programme, he has recently extended the terms of staffing grants to qualifying groups to the end of December 2007.

The extension of staffing funding is conditional upon the services continuing to meet the objectives of the equal opportunities child care programme and the service targets set down within their contracts. Staffing grant assistance provided under the equal opportunities child care programme is intended to enable those services which benefit from such support to implement a differential fee structure which would make child care available at reduced cost for the less advantaged members of the client community. Many child care services, particularly in very disadvantaged areas, are likely to offer services to a client group that is unable to meet the economic fee structure and these services will therefore require ongoing staffing grant support to ensure that they can continue to support the child care needs of their disadvantaged client group. This is particularly important in assisting families to break the cycle of disadvantage.

More than 775 community-based not-for-profit projects, such as the one in Ballydesmond, receive ongoing staffing grant assistance and more than €30 million of EU and Exchequer funding goes towards this measure each year. It is only fair to emphasise that the equal opportunities child care programme has been central to the recent development of child care in Ireland which will continue to flourish under the careful stewardship of this Government.

Planning Issues.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle in his absence for giving me an opportunity to raise this important issue that has arisen as a result of the recent guidelines issued by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. Rather than loosening planning, the planning guidelines have tightened planning regulations. I refer in particular to landowners' sons and daughters who want to build on their own farm in rural areas but find they cannot do so because bodies such as the National Roads Authority can object to a planning application.

I know of two applications in my constituency where planning permission was granted by Clare County Council to two local farmers' sons who wanted to build houses with direct access to national secondary roads. I realise safety is an important issue for anyone building a house, particularly if it has direct access to a national secondary route, but both these people whom I know well had gone to great expense in planning applications and safety audits. They satisfied the local authority that there was no danger to traffic emerging onto the national secondary route because they had the adequate site distance to overcome any problems.

Both applicants were granted their planning applications after a lengthy period of consultation with the local authority. I am disappointed to note that the National Roads Authority has appealed the planning applications that were granted by Clare County Council. These young people were born and grew up in their own parish and wish to continue living there. They do not want to relocate to the nearest town because they work and live on a farm. It is part of their job to be on-site in the event of problems arising on the farm.

The National Roads Authority objected to An Bord Pleanála, even after the council planners had satisfied themselves as to the safety aspects of the planning application. This places additional stress and an unfair burden on the applicants. They have gone through the planning process and received permission, yet they find they are back to square one after a year or two. They will now have to go through the long process again of seeking planning permission from An Bord Pleanála, although they do not know what the outcome will be. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, should sort out this mess.

The new guidelines were introduced to reverse rural decline by facilitating members of the rural community who wish to build homes in their localities. We find, however, that while council planners are implementing the guidelines, the National Roads Authority is operating a different strategy. The NRA should be mandated to work closely with local authorities on road strategy, not in opposition to them.

The Minister should examine that situation seriously having regard to the guidelines he introduced recently. He said he recognises the strong and continuing tradition of people living in rural areas. He also said that the guidelines should promote and support vibrant rural communities, but exactly the opposite is happening. People connected to the land find that they must fight their cases every inch of the way, even after they appear to have won.

According to the guidelines, housing should take into account the efficient ongoing development and safe operation of key transport arteries such as roads, particularly national primary and secondary routes, and the rail network. The NRA, however, appears to be at loggerheads with Clare County Council on the issue. The NRA wrote to the council last March stating that it was disappointed with Clare County Council's approach to the county development plan. The situation is serious considering that the new guidelines were meant to facilitate a more liberal regime. There is an urgent need for the Minister to clarify the position now. The Minister of State may say in his reply that he has no control over the NRA and the Minister for Transport would say the same thing, but what is the point of the new guidelines if an independent statutory body can overrule them? I ask the Minister to examine this situation with a view to allowing people to remain in their local areas.

I thank Deputy Pat Breen for raising this matter and I apologise for the absence of the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who is unavoidably absent. He was most anxious to respond to this Adjournment matter on which he could probably provide more enlightenment than I can. However, I thank the Deputy for giving me this opportunity to clarify that the recently published guidelines for planning authorities on sustainable rural housing are, as provided for under the Planning and Development Act 2000, specifically for planning authorities.

Local planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are required to have regard to such guidelines in the performance of their functions under the Act in making or varying development plans and in the day-to-day consideration of planning applications. Statutory planning guidelines do not extend to public bodies other than planning authorities. The guidelines are intended to facilitate people who are part of the rural community in getting planning permission, provided their proposals meet the normal standards in matters such as the proper disposal of waste water and road safety.

On the question of road safety, the guidelines deal with the issue of development along national primary, national secondary and key regional roads. In this regard, the guidelines call for key objectives to be included in development plans, which focus on the efficient ongoing development and safe operation of such roads.

The guidelines recognise that many development plans contain objectives regarding future road proposals and, in certain circumstances, the need to protect the routes of future roads from development and recommend that this practice should continue.

In addition, as regards the assessment of proposals on existing roads, the guidelines refer to policy on development involving access to national roads. They also refer to policy on development along such roads as set out in the documents entitled Development Control Advice and Guidelines and Policy and Planning Framework for Roads, which were issued in 1982 and 1985 respectively by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

That policy is given practical expression in the Department's 1982 document which stipulates that "as a general policy, the location of new means of access to the national primary roads, or residential, commercial, industrial or other development dependent on such means of access, should not be permitted except in areas where a speed limit of 30-40 mph applies". That would now be 50-65 km/h. The 1982 document points out that the same considerations also apply to national secondary roads.

The guidelines on sustainable rural housing state, therefore, that the objectives and policies of the development plan should make it clear that direct access from future development should not be permitted to national roads outside the speed limit zones for towns and villages.

Development control policy should also seek to channel traffic from new development on to existing local roads and in this way use established access points to gain entry on to national roads. The guidelines add that the development plan should make such policies clear as regards designated national routes in the planning authority's functional area.

The primary concern of the policy I have outlined is one of road safety. We are all only too well aware, for example, of the danger posed to drivers and passengers, and other road users, by cars or other vehicles stopping to make a right turn into a house entrance on a main road where the speed limit is 100 km/h.

I reiterate that the guidelines apply only to planning authorities and there is specific reference therein to development along the national primary, national secondary and regional road network, primarily for safety reasons. If other bodies choose to lodge an objection to a planning application for particular reasons, it is open to them to do so under the planning regime in place. When making a decision on a planning application, a planning authority is restricted to considering the proper planning and sustainable development of its area, having regard, inter alia, to the provisions of its development plan.

I hope that reply has provided some enlightenment for the Deputy.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 May 2005.