I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue in the House. A number of years ago, the then Southern Health Board approved in principle the phased closure of St. Finan's psychiatric hospital, Killarney. The lands at St. Finan's Hospital, which are currently owned by the Health Service Executive are undoubtedly one of Killarney's best public assets. As I stated many times, when the hospital eventually closes it will be essential to retain this public asset for the public good and to keep it in public ownership.
A statement issued by the Taoiseach in December 2003 committed the Government to exploring the potential to use State-owned lands for housing purposes. The 55 acres at St. Finan's Hospital, Killarney, represent a prime opportunity for the Government to deliver on that commitment and it would be an extremely suitable site for local authority and social and affordable housing. As there are up to 500 households on Killarney's housing list at present, there is every need for a substantial housing programme to be put in place and the site at St. Finan's Hospital is a prime location.
Killarney's town clerk has stated that the lands at St. Finan's are ideal for housing. Killarney Town Council seeks 30 acres of the aforementioned lands for housing and facilities for community and voluntary organisations. Recently, a group called the St. Finan's Community Action Group made a number of positive suggestions regarding the use of the lands on the closure of the hospital. In addition to housing, a number of other organisations could benefit from the site. For example, for many years the south Kerry branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland has been seeking a suitable unit from the HSE for those with multiple sclerosis. This group has recently joined the Irish Wheelchair Association, the National Council for the Blind of Ireland and Kerry Care to campaign for a unit that would house their organisations and allow them to carry out their work in suitable premises. The Killarney rugby and judo clubs are also in need of a site and facilities for their members. The local branch of the Order of Malta is applying to the HSE for sufficient lands to allow them to house three ambulances and to provide training facilities for their staff members.
The Minister of State should note that a wide range of community and voluntary groups, in addition to Killarney Town Council, are in need of central sites and it seems logical to utilise fully a prime location like the lands at St. Finan's when they become available.
I have no difficulty with proposals for a health care centre on the site. While the HSE plans for the site will focus primarily on the provision of health services in the area, I firmly believe that consideration must also be given to a number of other possibilities for the site. I fully support the call from the St. Finan's Community Action Group that these lands should be retained for the use of social and affordable housing, as well as for community, voluntary and sporting organisations.
On the wider issue of State lands and health services, Members are aware the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the Progressive Democrats are hell bent on privatising the health services and selling State assets as speedily as possible, without thought on the consequences. I am certain they would not think twice about selling the lands at St. Finan's. This must not be allowed to happen. As previously stated, up to 500 households in Killarney are on the housing list, not to mention a wide range of community and voluntary organisations that are in need of facilities. This prime opportunity must not be allowed to pass. The Labour Party will campaign actively to ensure the site, which has an emotional attachment for many people in Killarney, will be put to the best use when the hospital is closed, to the benefit of all the people in Killarney.