Topical Issue Debate

Rural Transport Services Provision

I am very pleased the Ceann Comhairle has selected the issue of the rural transport scheme for debate. This scheme is one of the most successful schemes rolled out by the previous Government in terms of the impact it has had on rural communities. As the Minister is aware, a leaked document is in circulation with regard to the restructuring of the scheme and this document has been circulated to more than 30 schemes throughout the country.

The rural transport initiative has been an exceptionally successful policy platform. It provides much needed transport to shops, pharmacies, health centres and hospitals for a vulnerable sector of our community. The elderly, the infirm, people with disabilities and young people all use these services on a weekly basis. The initiative brings together voluntary organisations. Many of the schemes are operated by voluntary organisations who combine the small amount of money they receive from the State services and leverage that against philanthropic organisations and fund-raising in local communities, all to the success of the service.

I would have thought that was the essence of what Government funding is about. The Government provides a small amount and gets local communities to co-operate. I am most familiar with Clare Accessible Transport, which developed from East Clare Accessible Transport in an area I am very familiar with. Last year, Clare Accessible Transport carried 50,000 passengers on nine low-floor, easy-access buses. Approximately 250,000 services were provided on 30 routes at a total cost to the rural transport fund of approximately €280,000. If that does not represent value for money, I do not know what does. I fail to see why the Government needs to restructure the service as it is currently aligned. I would have thought that the co-operative environment in which small rural groups avail of the best voluntary effort and a small amount of State funding should be maintained.

This group has raised funds in local communities and drawn down funds from philanthropic organisations. It provides nine buses at no cost to the State. The Government's restructuring proposals will give responsibility to local authorities. Local authority members have told me they have no experience in this regard and do not want this increased responsibility. It is apparent to everyone what is at the root of this. The Government's plan is to pass responsibility to local authorities, cut State funding and expect local authorities to take responsibility for the cutting of the service. That is the fear that exists. That is the concern in the minds of the elderly, the infirm, the people with disabilities and the young. They are deeply worried about this Government's efforts to dismantle the rural transport service.

As Deputy Dooley has said, this debate has been prompted by a discussion document that has been received by all the rural transport groups. It is important to record our feelings about the contents of the document. Contrary to the Deputy's suggestion, the groups involved in the rural transport network recognise that restructuring is required.

I want to ensure the social inclusion element of the rural transport programme, which is the root of its success, is retained when the restructuring takes place and the regional groups are formed as proposed in the document. The social inclusion element of the programme meant that people went from door to door to provide information about the availability of a facility that allowed residents to access health services and travel to local towns. We want to retain the bottom-up integrated approach to rural transport that we have had to date.

I was involved in the establishment of the west Offaly rural transport programme, which has expanded to cover most of County Offaly. I was there at the beginning when we talked about the need for rural transport in the area. I went down boreens and knocked on doors to tell people that this fabulous facility was being made available to them. We had to break down barriers and explain to people who viewed this with suspicion that something good was being done in rural areas. We did all of that.

I will conclude by mentioning that in my experience, the administration costs of these programmes account for between 13% and 14% of the overall cost. A higher level - in the order of 30% or 40% - is referred to in the discussion document.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this subject for discussion. The importance of this issue is illustrated by the fact that it is being raised by four Deputies this afternoon. I am concerned that the efficient service which is provided at present is to be dismantled. The previous speakers have referred to the leaked report that has been in circulation in recent weeks. I will highlight some of the issues arising from the details in the report.

I am delighted that the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, is in attendance. He is familiar with the Ring-a-Link service that exists in my part of the country. It serves counties Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary. The eight very efficient routes in County Carlow provide a great service to the people of the areas in question.

While I accept there is a need to re-engineer some of the structures that exist at present, we will lose track of the aim of the service if we go down the road that has been suggested. Under the new structure that has been proposed, there will be eight co-ordination units. This will have far-reaching consequences for services in local areas.

In my local area, it has been proposed that counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford will form a single area with a rural population of more than 250,000. It is not sustainable. Such a large area would be too cumbersome. The group in Deputy Dooley's area covers one of the biggest rural areas in the country. We are in danger of losing sight of what the whole rural transport service is for.

The proposal to integrate the rural transport service into the local authority structure will have a detrimental effect. Local authorities have no experience of dealing with this issue. We must not lose the experience that has been built up in rural transport services.

The fleet operators who are part of the system must be retained because they know where the demand is. Their experience is essential if we are to ensure the system develops. The voluntary sector also plays an important part in this service. It must be kept involved so we can ensure the rural transport service is viable for the future.

I will conclude by asking about the timeframe that is involved in these changes. A great deal has happened in recent weeks since this report was released. A number of meetings have taken place. I would like the Minister of State to tell us where exactly we are at the moment. Will he consult the various organisations throughout the country to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved?

Like the previous speakers, I am an enthusiastic supporter of rural transport. I know the Minister of State is as well. He has visited my constituency to see the work of Clare Accessible Transport, which is one of the most successful community transport companies in the country. It was founded in 2003 and its headquarters are in Feakle. It provides a network of bus routes that are available to everyone in the community. Priority is given to people who do not have access to their own transport. I consider its work to be invaluable for the rural community it serves.

The benefits provided by Clare Accessible Transport have already been alluded to. It has its own fleet of buses, which were acquired at no cost to the State. Unlike many other fleets around the country, the Clare Accessible Transport fleet is specially designed. Its low-floor buses can accommodate wheelchairs. We are not talking about the addition of a hoist at the back of a normal minibus. As these buses are specially designed, their acquisition came at a particular expense. The service provided by Clare Accessible Transport is open to everybody. It is not confined to certain sections of the community. Ministers could avail of the service if they needed to go to Ennis from many parts of County Clare. It is a door-to-door service.

I am concerned that Clare Accessible Transport's particularly sophisticated dispatch system could be threatened by the proposals which have been leaked. I appreciate that the proposals were in draft form when they were leaked. It is particularly unfortunate that they were leaked. I suspect that they were leaked to frighten people, perhaps as part of a political agenda. The reality is that they have caused a great deal of fear in rural communities. People in such communities have come to rely on these valuable rural transport services to get to HSE appointments and to get around rural Ireland.

I thank the Deputies who have collectively raised this issue of genuine concern. I wish to make it absolutely clear that there are no plans to abolish the rural transport programme. On the contrary, the intention is to strengthen the programme by ensuring a more efficient delivery structure and maximising integration with other State transport services. My ambition is to ensure the programme and its services form a sustainable part of the public transport system - this is critical - in line with the commitment in the programme for Government to maintain and extend the rural transport programme along with other local transport services. The Government recognises that the rural transport programme plays a major role in combatting rural isolation and enhancing the mobility, accessibility and community participation of local people, particularly those at risk of social exclusion. Therefore, I assure the House that any future delivery model for rural transport will continue to address the social inclusion objective.

Since I became Minister of State with responsibility for public and commuter transport, I have initiated developments aimed at ensuring rural areas will have a more complete and cost-effective transport service that better meets the transport needs of all users. To this end, national responsibility for the integration of local and rural transport services, including the rural transport programme, has been assigned to the National Transport Authority since 1 April 2012, thereby putting such services in a broader transport context.

I also established the National Integrated Rural Transport Committee in April 2012, comprising key stakeholders and chaired by the National Transport Authority, NTA, to oversee and manage a partnership approach to implementing integrated local and rural transport. I am very conscious of the scope for and desirability of achieving greater levels of transport integration and co-ordinated delivery across a range of Exchequer-funded local and rural transport services, such as school and HSE transport services. Indeed, I have been working with my Government colleagues, including the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, on these issues.

I am aware of the very valuable work done on the ground by the RTP groups in ensuring that the transport needs of their local community are being identified and delivered within available resources. However, given resources are limited and that the value for money and policy review of the RTP, published last year, recommended organisational restructuring to achieve efficiencies and the establishment of better alignment between the 35 RTP groups and local authorities, it is necessary that the current delivery mechanisms and structures are examined and revised.

Under the NTA and Pobal, the administration costs to the programme were reduced by 33.5% by the end of 2012, which happened without major disruption to services. Combined with the reduction in Pobal's costs, the threshold administration proportion of 17% recommended in the VFM review was also achieved by the end of 2012. In order to achieve the recommended administration costs of 13%, restructuring of the RTP is required. Therefore, the current structures of the RTP are not sustainable if the required efficiencies and savings are to be achieved and if the RTP is to be sustainable in the long run. If these are not achieved, then, within the limited resources available, services will decline. I am not prepared to allow this to happen.

Work is under way to determine the optimal structure for the delivery of rural transport from an efficiency and service perspective. One of the proposals being examined is that the RTPs be "aligned" with local authorities and that a number of co-ordination units be established. Discussions are taking place with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the County and City Managers Association and the Rural Transport Network in the context of aligning the new structure with the local authority structure. While I would emphasise that no decision has been taken, I am hopeful I will be in a position to recommend a new structure later this year which will allow for the maximising of spend on services and the reduction of administration costs. I will be ensuring that any future structure for the rural transport programme will be based on community input, local flexibility and involving the voluntary sector, which is crucial. Rural transport, by its very nature, is community-based and this will remain under any new structure.

This year, €9.133 million is being allocated to the RTP, some 93% of the 2012 allocation. This represents only a small decrease at a time when very difficult decisions have had to be taken to curtail or postpone other programmes. I want to ensure that we maximise the spend on services and reduce the cost of administration. I should say that, over the past year, significant progress on integration has been made, with considerable engagement at local level with State agencies that provide transport, for example, Bus Éireann, school and HSE services, and so on. Some 26 RTPs are now providing services to the local HSE, while 16 RTP groups are providing some services to schools and preschools. In addition, RTPs are now providing services for other organs of the state, such as Rehabcare, National Learning Network, Kare, IWA, Enable Ireland, Cheshire Homes and the Centre for Independent Living.

I would like to assure the House of my personal commitment to the continuation of appropriate local transport services to those in need in rural areas while achieving the best value for money for the Exchequer through more efficient delivery structures and integrated services. While I can understand and fully appreciate that this creates a level of uncertainty for RTP groups, I am confident that the outcome will be a better service delivered more efficiently. The many members of the rural transport programme whom I have met want to positively influence the discussion around structures and, as Minister of State, I want to ensure that as much as possible of the social inclusion work carried out by the rural transport network is maintained. I will work with all involved over the coming months to make any transition as smooth as possible. The rural transport programme will become a permanent and lasting part of the public transport system. This is my intention and my ambition.

I am always concerned when, among the first lines of a statement, there are "no plans" to do something. That is usually code that there are plans and, ultimately, that abolition will take place. It seems the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly's proposal is to do it by stealth, by moving responsibility gradually away from central Government and putting it in the hands of the local authority. It seems the Government now believes local authorities have the capacity to do all sorts of things, such as deliver transport systems where they have no experience or carry out development work through the Leader companies the Government wants to bring into the local authorities. At the same time, the Government is transferring out functions like the delivery of water systems, which the local authorities have been doing from the very start.

I do not understand the overall strategy the Minister of State is seeking to implement, other than to say I believe it is a proposal that will lead in the long run to a reduced service. It will lead to reduced involvement by the voluntary, charitable and philanthropic sectors, which will also contribute to a diminution of the service. Given the €280,000 it cost to deliver the suite of services I identified, in particular for the area I am most familiar with, I fail to see how any restructuring will be able to deliver the same amount for less money. There is a serious hole in what the Minister of State is telling us.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I ask him to help clear up some uncertainty among the transport groups that are looking at this document and wondering what exactly is going on. They are funded up to June 2013, which is only a few months away, and the passengers are also uncertain, having heard discussion around this issue. It is incumbent on the Minister of State to clarify the position so there is some certainty for these people going forward.

I believe deeper consultation with the Rural Transport Network would be beneficial to everybody because its members are the practitioners of a rural transport service. It is not a public transport service; it is a rural transport service which is community-based, and that is entirely different from a transport service where there is a fixed timetable and people try to find their way to a stop to get themselves to the local town. I appeal to the Minister of State to clear up that uncertainty.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. While I am glad to hear he has no plans to scrap the rural transport scheme, a number of issues need to be addressed. I would have grave concerns in regard to the proposal, despite the Minister of State's suggestion that nothing definite has been decided. There are 35 groups at present and to reduce that to eight groups will have serious consequences from an administrative point of view, given the smallest of those proposed groups will serve a rural population of 240,000.

I have serious problems with the idea of integration into local authority structures, which are under severe pressure at present. They may have an administrative structure but they are under pressure in regard to numbers, which are being depleted, and they may not be able to reach those who need services. In my opinion, it will not be possible to bring services to the level we want unless we have an input from the voluntary sector. It is crucial that this sector is brought into the system because, if not, there will be serious consequences down the line.

I am pleased to hear work is under way to determine the optimal structure for the delivery of rural transport from an efficiency and service perspective. My question is what structures are being examined. Among the proposals being examined, are the Minister of State and the Department looking at a direct award process?

Unlike some of the speakers, I do not have a problem with council involvement - for example, who better to identity the services necessary in Clare than Clare County Council? However, the issue is that Clare County Council does not have a fleet of buses and it certainly does not have a fleet of the specialist buses that Clare Accessible Transport has. Once a county council, be it in Clare, Tipperary, Carlow or anywhere else, identifies the need, who will provide the service? While I presume it will be a service provider, to whom will the service provider be contracted? For example, will it be to the council or to the National Transport Authority?

The Minister of State referred to regional co-ordination units. Will this be for all of the country or will a direct award process also be considered for some areas? In this regard, Clare and Waterford are areas that have been mentioned and Kerry has particularly advanced programmes in place at present. What costs will operators be allowed to include if there are direct awards? At present, Clare Accessible Transport already meets the 13% administrative threshold which the Minister of State indicates is desirable.

I thank the Deputies for the passion with which they have represented this issue. Indeed, it is an issue I am also very passionate about. As the House knows, I come from a very rural part of the country.

I am probably one of the most rural Deputies in Leinster House. There will be change but not all change has to be seen as negative. Change can be very positive. In this case, change is necessary. It is unfortunate it was not addressed in the past by the previous Government. We need to look at how we can integrate services more. For example, I am working with the Minister of State with responsibility for training and skills to see how school bus services can work with rural transport. I have said publicly on many occasions that I do not understand why for many years, the reverse routes of school buses were not used as public transport routes for nine months of the year. It just makes sense. The buses are empty, drivers must drive them and diesel has to be burnt. There needs to be greater integration between the HSE and voluntary groups with regard to non-acute services.

A draft document was sent out that is dated but not set in stone. We are considering various different options such as looking at local authority roles and structures. We need greater integration but we also need greater coverage. There are swathes of the country with no possibility of rural transport services because they do not have an RTP, which is not fair on them. This has grown organically and has done very well. I spent this morning with the Meath Accessible Transport Project which does fantastic work. I visited most of the groups referred to by the Deputies and know many of the people who run them. They do brilliant work. This is a challenge. There is an awful lot of work involved and there will be change but I believe it will be positive change. We must look at how it will integrate with other public transport services. There are challenges relating to those who are fleet-owning as opposed to non-fleet-owning and those with Leader group involvement and those without. There is a range of issues involved, all of which must be and are being digested to come up with an optimum structure. We are trying to ensure rural transport has a secure and structured future because doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing will see service drop and I am not prepared to see service drop in the future. I want to protect services and that is the intention of the plans we will draft as a Government.

Site Acquisitions

In looking for a suitable site for a new building, Kerry Education Service and the board of management of Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí were offered a site by Tralee Town Council as part of the regeneration project in Tralee in 2012. Based on the offer and the preliminary consultation with all parties at executive, school and local levels, Kerry Education Service brought the offer to the Department of Education and Skills to progress the request for a new school.

The school operates out of a building that is not fit for purpose in its existing condition. The area of the site and the building combined with protected status does not allow for refurbishment or extension to meet current Department standards on subject-based requirements in an easy manner. The inflexibility of the structure has resulted in a high abnormal capital cost due to the additional planning requirements and construction methods. The ongoing maintenance costs are increased compared to other schools of similar size. The structure as it is today will require a number of capital projects to remain as a post-primary school and will not meet the current Department standards. The school has grown from 263 pupils in 2009 to 314 pupils today. It is estimated that by 2015, there will be in excess of 350 students. A new school building would ensure that growth would continue with the introduction of new subjects as well.

The proposed site offered by Tralee Town Council can accommodate up to 500 students. There may also be the possibility of a campus development to provide primary school and community facilities. The site has been offered for free by Tralee Town Council. There will also be a contribution to infrastructure on the site if it goes ahead. It offers significant potential for the Irish language as well as for the four feeder schools surrounding Tralee - Scoil Mhic Easmainn in Tralee, Gaelscoil Naomh Aogáin in Castleisland, Gaelscoil Lios Tuathail and Gaelscoil Faithleann in Killarney. In addition, 15 non-Irish primary schools send students to Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí. The site offered by Tralee Town Council would be signed over to Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí. The council's offer has potential. The site is at the back of the hospital so access to it is very easy. Two primary schools are in the vicinity and night classes and a campus development could be made available at the site. I hope the Department would look favourably on this application and make the necessary funding available to advance this project.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to clarify the current position in respect of a request for a new school building for Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí in Tralee, County Kerry. The Deputy may find it helpful if I set out the context within which decisions relating to meeting the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years are made. Total enrolments in both primary and post-primary schools are expected to grow by almost 70,000 by 2018 - over 45,000 at primary level and 25,000 at post-primary - and will continue to grow up to at least 2024 at post-primary level.

Recent birth rate data published by the Central Statistics Office shows there were nearly 20,000 births registered in the first quarter of 2011. This is the highest number of births registered in any quarter since the series began in 1960. The birth data also show that 19,313 births were registered for the first quarter of 2012 and indicate a continuation of the high birth rates experienced in the past number of years. Given such recent population growth, we will have a much increased enrolment at all levels of education which is expected to continue in the medium term.

To ensure that every child has access to a physical school place, it is vital that there is sufficient school accommodation to cater for these pupil enrolments. The delivery of school projects to meet the increasing demographic demands will be the main focus for capital investment over the duration of the five-year plan, particularly in those areas where it has been identified that most demographic growth will be concentrated. In this regard, Tralee has not been identified as an area of significant demographic growth. Pupil enrolment projections for Tralee indicate that enrolments will remain relatively stable for the foreseeable future.

In respect of Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí, I wish to advise the Deputy that Kerry Education Service approached my Department last September with a proposal for the relocation and the provision of a new school building on a site to be provided by Tralee Town Council. In this context, a technical inspection of the site has been carried out by my Department to establish its suitability. The visit identified a number of issues that require clarification such as the size and extent of the site available for education purposes; how the site, which is currently landlocked, can be accessed; the potential impact of proposed access roads on the available proposed site; and how these works will be funded. My Department is liaising with Kerry Education Services regarding these aspects.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I beg to differ with him because post-primary schools in Tralee are at bursting point. People are queuing up well in advance to get their child enrolled in Mercy Secondary School in Mounthawk. I mentioned the four feeder schools for Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí. There are also 15 other primary schools who are prepared to send students there. If one looks at the figures, the projection is that student numbers will increase to in excess of 350 by 2015.

The Minister is also aware that the current building was built in 1912 or 1913. It is totally unsuitable for refurbishment or upgrading. There are many problems, particularly with regard to planning issues.

In a short time there has been significant growth in pupil numbers in the Gaelcholáiste in Tralee. North Kerry has the second highest level of unemployment in the country per head of population, with many unemployed as a result of the collapse of the building boom. Construction of a school would provide employment in Tralee town, as well as providing a state-of-the-art facility for young people who wish to be educated through the medium of Irish.

The Minister of State referred to the fact that the site was land-locked. From my information I am certain that there is an entrance at the back of Kerry Co-Op. I hope the Minister of State will look favourably on the application and give it the political support necessary to bring it over the line.

I wish to clarify once again that the Department is liaising with the Kerry Education Service and the authorities in the Gaelcholáiste regarding the clarification that needs to be provided about the site. This relates to issues concerning current site restrictions and who will fund the provision of road access to the site. I refer to the case being made by the Deputy about the growth in demand for school places in Tralee. The school building unit of the Department of Education and Skills in Tullamore is using very scientific data to establish where there is demand, now and in the future. The Department uses two distinct sources of data, the census data from the CSO and data for children's allowance from the Department of Social Protection. The combination of these two data sources allows us to paint a very accurate picture of the future demand for school places. For the foreseeable future, there will not be significant increased demand in Tralee. There is no school provision in other locations throughout the country in which there is an urgent need to create places. For the next few years the major element of the Department's funding will be directed at these locations.

Child Safety

I raise this matter in the public interest following another very sad and tragic death of a child on the island. Three year old Daniel Grant from Mayobridge, County Down died in a tragic accident involving a window blind cord. I take the opportunity to convey my sympathy and that of other Deputies to Daniel's parents, Brian and Paula, on their tragic loss.

In the period since 1999, 25 deaths have occurred in the United Kingdom and Ireland in accidents involving window blind cords, with many more near misses. This should not be allowed to happen. Looped cords on window blinds are used to open and close blinds. They pose an inherent danger and risk to children in thousands of households around the country, as they are a strangulation risk. Children and toddlers will climb onto low window sills and are attracted to the blind cord. There is an urgent need for a safety awareness campaign to address the issue. If the Government were to take the lead, community groups, sports associations and schools could be mobilised to assist in raising awareness among parents of the dangers of window blind cords. I also ask the print and broadcast media to afford this issue the coverage it deserves.

The National Standards Authority of Ireland has provided information and simple advice on how to remove these hazards. It is a case of cutting the looped cord or hanging it high out of reach of children. I refer to Irish safety standards I.S. 386 and I.S. 387 which are not included in European standard EN 131-20 which has been in place since 2009. I understand it is due for revision this year. I urge the Minister to address this matter with his European colleagues to see if a European-wide regulation can be devised. Improved safety standards and increased public awareness can help to save the lives of young children.

I join the Deputy in offering my sympathy to the family so cruelly affected in this case. The National Consumer Agency, as part of its market surveillance responsibility for public safety, runs information campaigns, including a number of campaigns about this hazard. I refer to its website, www.consumerconnect.ie, which hosts a video and a list of safety precautions such as keeping beds, cots and furniture away from windows and cords and chains out of reach. It advises that existing blinds should be made safe.

In addition to providing information and advice on its website, the agency has also issued regular public statements on the dangers cords and chains attaching to window blinds can cause to young children. The latest of these statements were issued in August and November 2012.

In so far as the issue of regulation is concerned, there are no specific safety regulations on window blinds. However, there are a number of European and national standards which apply to the design and safety of window blinds. The Deputy has referred to an EU standard dating from 2009 which is weak in some aspects. In 2012 the NSAI moved to introduce two standards which would serve to increase the obligations in respect of blinds manufactured after the date of the coming into effect of the standard. The difficulty is that they may not apply to blinds manufactured elsewhere in the European Union. The Irish standards provide additional safety protection not specified in the European standard which is being revised. At that point the NSAI standard will be withdrawn. The introduction of the revised European standard is being steered by the SEN, the European standards authority. It is hoped this will be completed within the next ten months.

The European and national standards are intended to represent best practice in the design and safety of window blinds. They are not, however, statutory obligations or requirements. It is not open to Ireland to unilaterally introduce statutory regulations in this area. The introduction of any regulation would require approval from the European Commission and other member states. The advice in this regard is that such approval is unlikely to be granted, given the work being undertaken to revise the existing European standard.

I share the view that the Government can connect with other interested groups to promote this information. The NSAI issues regular press releases and advertisements and conducts awareness campaigns. It also contacts the various retail outlets to ensure their awareness of their responsibilities in this regard. It must be noted that products are still in use which precede the new standards and that there is a problem with some of the embedded products.

I understand the possibility of difficulties arising in the area of regulation and implementation. I acknowledge the work of the NSAI in creating the standards and pushing the boat out, so to speak, with regard to European standards. I note the information available on the websites of the National Consumer Agency and the NSAI. Unfortunately, parents would have to proactively seek out this information. We need to consider conducting different awareness campaigns similar to what is being used to promote road safety. We need to mobilise and utilise the existing networks in place. The Minister's colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, could assist in this regard, either by means of using schools, playschools and county child care committees which grant-assist thousands of schools and crèches.

It is with facilities of this nature that young parents engage directly. A simple newsletter or information brochure should be issued to those parents and I would even go so far as to say that there should be a television advertising campaign to raise awareness about the fact that cutting these looped cords can save children's lives. I have toddlers and I have the type of window blinds to which I refer. I cut the cords on the blinds in our house a couple of years ago and now they just hang downwards. This removes the hazard. Parents cannot monitor the activities of their toddlers every minute of the day. It only takes a couple of seconds for a tragic accident to occur.

I appreciate the Minister's reply. I request that a circular be issued in respect of this matter. Perhaps his Department could take the lead and could engage with the Department of Education and Skills in the context of circulating information to crèches, Montessoris, schools and all relevant associations. This would be of assistance in raising awareness in respect of the issue to which I refer.

I thank Deputy Coffey for his suggestion and I will bring it to the attention of the National Consumer Agency, NCA, which engages in campaigns on quite a regular basis and which is in contact with over 200 businesses in the sector. In addition, it has issued press releases aimed at families. They may perhaps, as the Deputy suggests, be some connection within the education database which could bring the relevant information to the attention of those who might be directly affected.