Topical Issue Debate

Fire Stations Provision

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire, Deputy Hogan, sa Teach inniu chun an cheist thábhachtach seo do Chonamara theas a phlé, an ceart atá ag daoine eile i nGaillimh stáisiún dóiteáin a bheith acu sa cheantar. Níl a fhios agam cén fáth gur tharla sé go bhfuil seacht stáisiúin dóiteáin i nGaillimh thoir ach nach bhfuil ach ceann amháin i gConamara, sa Chlochán, agus an príomh stáisiún i gcathair na Gaillimhe ag freastal ar Chonamara theas. Níl mise ná aon pholaiteoir ó Chonamara nó Gaillimh thiar sásta leis an tseirbhís seo.

Nílim ag cur aon mhilleán ar an Aire faoi seo, mar ní bhfuair an Roinn aon iarratas ó Chomhairle Contae na Gaillimhe maidir le seo. Bhí an cás os comhair cruinniú de Chomhairle Contae na Gaillimhe Dé Luain agus rinne na comhairleoirí cinneadh iarratas a sheoladh chuig an Roinn Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtais Áitiúil faoi seo. Bhí cruinniú againn sa Cheathrú Rua cúpla seachtain ó shin agus dúirt mé ag an gcruinniú sin go bhféadfadh an chomhairle contae airgead a thabhairt ó lá go lá chun seirbhís a chur ar fáil agus chun pá an fhoireann dóiteáin a íoc. Nílim cinnte an bhfuil an bainisteoir nó an fhoireann bainistíochta sásta é sin a dhéanamh fós.

An cheist atá agam don Aire ná an bhfuair sé iarratas fós ón gcomhairle contae. Freisin, nuair a chuireann an chomhairle contae iarratas isteach, an mbeidh an tAire in ann breathnú air i gcomhthéacs airgead caipitil chun stáisiún nua a thógáil? Chomh maith le sin, an mbeidh sé in ann breathnú ar chead a thabhairt don chomhairle contae chun foireann don stáisiún nua a fhostú, cé go bhfuil moratorium nó stop curtha ar daoine nua a fhostú sa seirbhís poiblí? Tá sé ráite ag príomhfheidhmeannach Údaras na Gaeltachta go bhfuil sé sásta suí síos leis an chomhairle contae agus an Roinn chun suíomh feiliúnach a aimsiú. Tá sean foirgneamh ag an gcomhairle a bheadh feiliúnach freisin.

There are seven fire stations in the eastern part of County Galway, only one of which, Clifden station, is in Connemara. The main station in Galway city serves part of south Connemara. By comparison, there are five stations in County Leitrim and 16 in County Donegal. The southern part of Connemara is one of the most poorly served areas in the country in terms of fire service provision. I do not blame the Minister for this. I understand no application from the local authority has been received by the Department. A meeting of the council took place last Monday, however, at which a decision was made to submit a formal application for a fire service in the area.

I was in Carraroe some weeks ago for a public meeting which more than 200 people attended. It was organised by Coiste Cearta Chonamara, which has been campaigning for 20 years for the provision of a fire service. I stated at the meeting that the day-to-day running costs of any new fire station would have to be borne by the county council from its budget, with the capital costs being a matter for the Department. The principal officer of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Steve Ó Cúláin, indicated at the meeting that he would be happy to discuss a suitable location with the authority and the Roinn. He told the meeting that Údarás na Gaeltachta has buildings and units that are not in use and might be suitable for a fire station.

That is a positive in terms of the cost.

Let us consider the geography of Connemara. According to AA Route Planner the journey from Carraroe to Galway City via Furbo is one hour and 13 minutes and the journey from Lettermullen to Galway via Furbo is one hour and 36 minutes. That is too far a distance for the provision of a safe fire service for the people of south Connemara.

I thank Deputy Kyne for raising this matter with me, as he has done several times. The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs, the provision of premises and the making of other such provisions as it considers necessary or desirable, is, in the first instance, a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the provisions of the Fire Services Act 1981 and 2003. Furthermore, under section 26 of the Fire Services Act 1981, each fire authority that maintains a fire brigade is required to prepare plans for fire and emergency operations and revise them as occasion requires. These plans include provision in respect of fire stations. The making and revision of these plans is a reserve function of the local authority, in this case, Galway County Council, and I, therefore, have no function in that part of the decision. My Department supports fire authorities through the setting of general policy and guidance and the provision of capital funding, including the recoupment of costs incurred by fire authorities relating to the approved purchase of fire appliances and specialist emergency and communications equipment as well as the construction and upgrading of fire stations.

In 2010, the Galway city and western environs fire review group was established to consider fire cover in Galway city and the western environs, which includes south Connemara as well as the west Connemara area. The group comprised representatives of Galway City Council, Galway County Council, the Chief Fire Officer for Galway City and County, representatives from the national directorate for fire and emergency management and an external advisor from Strathclyde Fire and Rescue in Scotland. As part of the review, the group specifically examined the adequacy of fire cover in the south Connemara and Oughterard area.

The group used a risk-based approach which had regard to the risk categorisation process as set out in the Keeping Communities Safe document. The document was adopted as national policy in February 2013 and is based on a risk management approach which addresses the critical elements of fire prevention, protection and response. It sets out an integrated approach to fire safety and fire services in Ireland generally in keeping with international best practice. All fire authorities are currently undertaking risk categorisation for their areas.

The group finalised its review in June 2013. It considered three years of fire incident data, including the number of emergency calls, the emergency type and the locations. It also considered potential changes in demographics and the various potential fire station permutations throughout the western environs area. The group found that there is not a conclusive case for an additional fire station in south Connemara or Oughterard. The group recommended a series of community fire safety measures to further enhance the safety from fire of residents of the area. These include fire safety awareness on all fire safety issues, such as home fire safety, controlled burning, wildland and gorse fires, community safety advocates and a smoke alarm campaign. I understand that a report on the matter has been made to Galway County Council outlining the findings of the group and several required future steps.

The matter of adequacy of fire service provision for the south Connemara area is a statutory function of the fire authority and plans for fire and emergency operations in the area are a reserve function of Galway County Council. I am somewhat surprised that Galway Council has not prioritised this matter over the years in its fire services planning. Many public representatives in the Connemara area could have made money available for this facility over the years but chose not to do so.

Perhaps Galway County Council could engage with my Department and be mindful of this facility in the context of the 2014 Estimates. Ultimately, any request to my Department from the council for financial assistance for fire services provision will have to be assessed in the context of the overall budgetary situation of the council. We do not have much money for fire services for any part of the country at the moment and in particular we do not have much by way of capital moneys. Any assistance provided would have to be part-funding. We will have to see the commitment of the county council in the first instance to demonstrate project development and the commitment from local funding provisions in the 2014 Estimates.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Nolan, who has expressed a good deal of interest in this area as well. I appreciate the Minister's response and I understand the position. I stated at the meeting in Carraroe that I was unsure of the commitment of the manager and the management team to this area and whether they would be able to come up with the running costs and day-to-day costs of any new station as well as the wages of any retained fire service personnel. I understand where the Minister is coming from in terms of the county council having to show commitment in its budget.

The Minister is right with regard to the report issued. The option of building a new station was examined. Several advantages were stated, including that the unit would be located in the western environs area and would give a quicker response and that public expectation would probably be met. Disadvantages included that it would be difficult to withdraw once a decision was made and that it would take a considerable amount of time to become functional. However, people have waited this long and need to see the station built as a matter of urgency. Another issue related to the considerable cost implications, both initially and on an ongoing basis.

I stated earlier that Údarás na Gaeltachta is willing to engage with the county council and the Department with respect to investigating the possibility of using some of the old buildings that it has in the area, a welcome initiative and something that should be considered. When an application comes I urge the Minister to engage positively with the county council and Údarás na Gaeltachta and local community groups to provide the service.

The Minister is right. I am unsure why the service has not been provided heretofore. There is an obvious gap in the provision of fire service within the county and it is difficult to justify. I referred to the journey times of up to an hour and a half or one hour and 36 minutes from Lettermullen to Galway city on a poor road with a high historical level of accidents.

I thank the Minister for his response and I urge him to engage with the county council positively and proactively to determine whether we can find a solution to ensure that the provision of a fire service is achieved in as fast a time as possible.

Deputy Kyne understands well that I have inherited many legacy issues relating to rural areas, one of which happens to be south Connemara fire station. It is remarkable that I have to resolve many of the issues at a time when we have a difficult financial position, when others, who had plenty of money, could not do so. In the first instance, Galway County Council should engage with the Department on the basis that it has new information to offer or new resources to put to the case of providing the service. However, the case has to be justified as well.

Deputy Kyne referred to the fact that Údarás na Gaeltachta is keen to get involved and assist Galway County Council in providing a fire safety and fire service facility for south Connemara. That is new information. I advise Deputy Kyne to get a comprehensive plan in place among all the State agencies and bodies that have an interest in providing a fire service in south Connemara. They should put it on paper, get agreement from the local authority which, in the first instance, must make an application to the Department. Of course, given the reserve function of local authority members they must approve it first. Then, I will consider the application in the context of the 2014-15 financial programme.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

The Minister of State is aware of the work at Rosedale School and he has visited it. It is a wonderful school that provides amazing services for young people throughout Galway city and county. Public representatives who have visited there with be familiar with it. I visited several months ago with Deputy Kyne. We toured the school and saw the amazing work people are doing under difficult circumstances.

The number of pupils in Rosedale School this year has increased to 26 from 20. This has put additional pressure on resources and facilities. As many of the children get older, their demands increase. There is an increased demand for what are called changing benches. These are used for children who spend the majority of their time in wheelchairs. They give the children a break from the confines of the wheelchair and allow them to stretch their arms and legs and be comfortable. They are also used to change children. The children in question cannot walk, talk, feed themselves or go to the toilet. The wonderful staff in this school must do that work. They need extra beds to be able to perform the simple function of taking children out of their wheelchairs and changing them.

Some of these children can require changing four or five times a day, which can take up to 15 minutes each time and requires two people. This issue pertains to people with severe to profound difficulties, both physical and intellectual, and the help they require.

In September 2013, Rosedale special school applied for funding for five additional beds to accommodate the school's additional needs on foot of the difficulties some of its students were facing and because of its new intake of five additional pupils. However, the school still has not received an answer from the Department. Initially, its application was refused and the school appealed. It has gone back to the Department but the staff members are at the end of their tether. It is appalling that this has happened to people who have been doing such incredible work in such difficult circumstances. A constituent of the Minister of State spent an hour and a half travelling on a bus from Gort to Rosedale special school. He was in pain because the bus journey is very difficult and confining and can cause distress. When he reached school, he could not be taken from his chair for quite some time because no spare bed on to which to bring him was available. Despite this, the back-and-forth nonsense continues, to the effect that this is not something that will be provided or that the Department should provide. The school authorities actually have been asked to change the name of the bed they require. While it is exactly the same bed, they have been asked to change the name in order that it sounds more educational. This is unacceptable and must be fixed. Last Friday, the school had in place a queueing system. People were obliged to queue in order that the children could be changed and this must stop.

The Minister of State should return to the Department and tell whoever is dealing with this fracas, this absolute nonsense of a process, this bureaucratic nightmare through which these children must suffer, to get this issue fixed. The Minister of State should tell those responsible that the school requires €10,000, in the overall scheme of things. It also is scandalous that €30,000 already has been spent by the Department to put in place the hoist that is necessary to lift the children out of the wheelchair to put them on the bed. Although the hoist is in place, there are no beds and although the hoist has been paid for, the Department will not pay for the beds. This must stop and while the Minister of State's intentions and motivations in this regard will be just as positive as are mine, he should return to the Department and get whoever is causing this nightmare and nonsense to fix it and solve this problem for these kids.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter because it gives me the opportunity to outline to the House the Department's policy on providing furniture and equipment for special needs pupils in general and the present position with regard to a request for five therapy beds for pupils in Rosedale school, Galway. My Department provides funding for furniture and equipment that is required for educational purposes. However, the provision of therapeutic equipment has been and remains outside the remit of the Department. When requests for loose furniture and equipment are received, the school authority is requested to provide justification for the provision of such equipment. This justification often is provided by means of a child-specific report, on the basis of an assessment by the occupational therapist or a special education teacher. It is not always possible to distinguish between educational and therapeutic uses for equipment, as often one piece of equipment can fulfil both needs.

As for Rosedale school, my Department already has provided funding in excess of €104,000 for specialist furniture and equipment, €72,682 of which was approved this year. In July 2013, the school authorities submitted four applications for therapy beds and one application for a changing-therapy bed for five pupils, three of whom were starting in the school in September 2013 and two of whom already attended the school. All five applications were supported by the senior physiotherapist attached to the school and the letters of support outlined that all five pupils concerned required daily one-to-one physiotherapy. The senior physiotherapist also stated that to assist staff to carry out this programme, therapy beds were required. The letters of support also stated that plinths also could be used for day-to-day personal care.

The school authority was informed in September 2013 that its application for funding was refused as the type of equipment being sought was outside the scope of educational equipment funded by the Department. The school authorities submitted an appeal in respect of this decision and while it accepted that the plinths provided a place for essential therapy, they also would be used to provide a toileting facility. My Department advised the school authority again that the provision of therapy beds was outside the remit of the Department but that it was open to the school to submit applications for additional changing beds, which also would be suitable for toileting facilities. On 11 November, the school authority submitted an application for five changing benches. As the quotation submitted in support of this application was for the same therapy beds for which the original submission was made in July, the school authority again was advised to submit a quotation for changing benches. These applications and the three quotations were received last Monday and are being considered actively by the Department at present. I assure the Deputy that the school authority will be informed of the outcome in the very near future.

I thank the Minister of State. I do not normally use the Topical Issue debate for this kind of subject, as I like to use it for raising more policy-orientated issues. However, the reason I raised this matter was I thought it might put a bomb under someone in the Department who finally would wake up. While the Minister of State's response notes that in July 2013, the school authority submitted an application for therapy beds, I have just outlined the conditions in which the children currently find themselves in their educational facility. They are queueing to get changed and having soiled themselves, they must sit and wait to be changed for the sake of €10,000. The school applied last July for permission for therapy beds but was obliged to submit a further application in November. It is now the end of November and yet this situation persists. This is not the first time that such equipment has been provided and the Department of Education and Skills has funded these beds previously. Moreover, it has provided a hoist to lift children out of their wheelchairs and into a bed and I was hopeful that today's debate might induce someone to decide this involves €10,000, which no one can question is needed, and simply to provide it. To be frank, I am somewhat disappointed by the answer from the Department of Education and Skills. I will make this point to the Minister of State and to the Minister, Deputy Quinn, when I see him. I will make this point to anyone from the Department of Education Skills on whom I can get my hands, because I simply will not accept that this issue should continue and roll on for as long as it has. It is completely unacceptable and is completely wrong. It is morally wrong, as the people to whom I refer cannot talk, walk or feed themselves and they need to be changed. At present, they are sitting in their wheelchairs, having soiled themselves, and are waiting for an opportunity to change themselves . However, I am stuck with a letter telling me that an application was made in July 2013 that still has not been sorted out by the end of November but that if the school holds on, it still will be considered at some time in the future. This is not acceptable and in his response, I ask the Minister of State to take personal ownership of this matter as someone with a vested interest in it, because his constituents attend the school, and to ensure the matter is solved sooner and is not allowed to drag on again in perpetuity without resolution.

As the Deputy is aware, there is a significant difference between a changing bench, which is provided primarily for the toileting purposes of children with severe and profound special needs, and therapy beds, which are far more holistic pieces of equipment that address issues other than the simple toileting facilities. The application received in July was for therapy benches, which I understand are normally funded by the Department of Health. Had that application been for changing benches last July, that application would have been assessed as such. As those benches had been funded by my Department in the past, one could reasonably expect they already would have been funded and already would be in place. There has been confusion and perhaps a breakdown in communication between the school concerned and my Department. I do not lay blame at anyone's door but changing benches have been funded in the past and I assure the Deputy that changing benches will be funded in the very near future. This will not drag on for anything longer then perhaps two or three more days. The application in question is with the Department now and is being assessed. I fully and wholeheartedly agree with the Deputy that neither children nor adults with special needs should be subjected to those difficulties. The issue will be resolved and perhaps could have been resolved a lot sooner had those differences of opinion not arisen as to how precisely one would describe these pieces of equipment.

Irish Language Issues

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important issue. I wish to use my time to highlight the importance of lifting the derogation for the Irish language in order that it can be used as the official and working language of the European Union. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is aware, Irish became an official and working language of the European Union on 1 January 2007 but since then, only a limited amount of legislation has been translated into the Irish language. This is as a result of a lack of qualified legal translators with the skills to so do. As a result, there is a derogation in place which states that the EU institutions are not bound by the obligation to translate all legal texts. The derogation period to date has provided the Government with sufficient time to ensure that competent and skilled staff are trained and available to undertake the translation work needed in the EU.

Should this derogation be lifted it is estimated that approximately 180 jobs would be created in translating texts as Gaeilge for use in the European Union. There will be excellent career opportunities available for Irish speakers in EU institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg as a consequence.

The derogation was originally in place for five years from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2011 but this was then extended for another five-year period from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2016. I ask the Minister of State to outline the progress that was made in training legal translators during the first derogation period which ended in December 2011. It is my hope that this derogation will be lifted to ensure that Irish is used as an official and working language. If this is not to be, I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the derogation is not extended for another five-year period from 2016 onwards. The Minister of State recently confirmed to me that he hopes that the Government will consider the ending of the derogation in early 2014. I hope that the matter is fully considered by the Cabinet and that the benefits of lifting the derogation are fully examined.

The Government is already planning for the end of the derogation at some point. The 20-year strategy for the Irish language 2010-30, states: "The Government will work to create the circumstances in which a sufficient number of qualified graduates are in place to meet EU requirement needs so that this derogation can be ended during the lifetime of this Strategy". I would be grateful if the Minister of State could confirm what action has been taken thus far to ensure that graduates are skilled in this area and to confirm how many graduates are currently qualified and trained to meet EU requirements should the derogation be lifted soon. Does the Minister of State expect that there will be sufficient numbers of translators trained and available to lift the derogation in the near future?

I am aware that the Department is currently providing funding under the advanced Irish language skills initiative to offer specialised third-level Irish language in translation, etc. I ask the Minister of State to say where these courses are available and I ask the him to confirm what is the take-up for these courses has been to date.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an cheist seo a ardú. I will begin by explaining the background to the derogation. Irish was recognised as an official and working language of the European Union on 1 January 2007. The original derogation with regard to the use of Irish in EU institutions applied for five years from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2011. This was extended for another five years from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2016. As a result of the derogation, the EU institutions are not obliged to translate all legal texts into Irish. Under its terms, only those EU laws made under the co-decision procedure must be translated into Irish. However, the coming into effect of the Lisbon treaty on 1 December 2009, had the effect of making the co-decision procedure the norm, rather than the exception, for EU law-making. This has resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of EU laws that must be translated into Irish.

The Council Regulation 1257/2010, on the derogation, requires a decision to be made by December 2015 at the latest as to whether to extend the derogation for another five years. The EU institutions would welcome a definitive decision by the Government before the end of 2014, in order to facilitate orderly planning of any recruitment requirements that might arise. It is worth noting in this context, that the derogation itself makes reference to the difficulties experienced to date by the EU institutions in recruiting sufficient numbers of qualified personnel for positions as Irish language translators, legal and linguistic experts, interpreters and assistants.

As well as ensuring the availability of people with the requisite skills to take up positions in the EU institutions, the generation of terminology for use in the translation of official documents is also a key factor to be considered. With this in mind, two significant initiatives have been funded by my Department for the past number of years, the inter active terminology for Europe initiative, IATE, and the advanced Irish language skills initiative.

Funding is provided to Fiontar in Dublin City University to translate Irish language terms for the EU terminology database called IATE. The amount provided by my Department to Fiontar from 2007 to 2012 was in excess of €1.85 million. In addition, funding has been approved for the continuation of this initiative in 2013 and 2014. As a result of this investment, in excess of 50,000 Irish language terms have been provided for the terminology database, which consists of 9 million terms in the 23 official languages of the EU. Of the 23 official languages, Irish is now the 14th biggest language in this EU terminology database.

The advanced Irish language skills initiative was established in 2006 as a response to an identified need to increase the numbers of graduates with skills in specific areas in the context of the Official Languages Act 2003 and with Irish becoming an official language of the EU. The provision of qualified persons with Irish language skills to meet these recruitment needs is being achieved through this initiative. The Department provides funding for a range of specialised third-level Irish language courses in Ireland in areas such as translation, interpretation, IT and law. The fund is administered by my Department in conjunction with the Higher Education Authority. In excess of €11 million has been spent on this initiative to date.

As regards employment in the EU institutions in general, the Government recognises the strategic importance to Ireland's interest of employment for Irish citizens in EU posts, including posts directly related to the Irish-language. Earlier this year, the Government approved new arrangements to facilitate Departments to send officials to work in the EU as seconded national experts. These new arrangements are an indication of how important it is for Irish officials to get an opportunity to work in policy areas within the EU institutions. As those working in language related posts, in particular those working in lawyer-linguist posts, frequently transfer to EU policy areas, the importance of filling these posts cannot be overestimated in terms of the Government's overall strategy of increasing the Irish presence in the EU institutions.

The 20-year strategy for the Irish language 2010-30, contains the following commitment: "The Government will work to create the circumstances in which a sufficient number of qualified graduates are in place to meet EU requirement needs so that this derogation can be ended during the lifetime of this Strategy". For some time my Department and relevant stakeholders, including the EU institutions, have been actively engaged in discussions regarding the issue of the derogation in order to formulate specific proposals on the optimal approach for the future. It is my intention to present these proposals to Government at the earliest opportunity in 2014.

I welcome the Minister of State's response. I appreciate his good work in the area of the revival of the Irish language and in ensuring that the derogation will be lifted. A failure to lift the derogation would send out a bad signal and would result in a recruitment deficit when translators are needed. We need to put supports in place for the Irish language. I ask the Minister of State if he has received feedback on the views of the EU institutions in general about an extension of the derogation.

I understand they do not have a position.

The sooner we can make a decision on this, the better from Ireland's perspective. That this Government is focused on job creation and getting Ireland working again is a good news story in this area. The ending of this derogation will provide an opportunity to create 180 jobs and it will send out a very positive signal in terms of the revival of the language.

Will the Minister indicate who will make the ultimate decision? Will it be the Taoiseach or the Minister's Department? Who will eventually decide on it? Over €8 million has been spent to date in the provision of courses to meet the needs of European Union institutions for assistants, translators, interpreters, lawyers and linguists. Up to the end of 2012, some 243 people have graduated from those courses. It is important to ensure we keep that skill set in Ireland and that these jobs are created. The Minister might indicate when he expects a decision to be made regarding the lifting of this derogation.

The Council Regulation (EU) No. 1257/2010 on the derogation requires a decision to be made on this issue by December 2015. In our opinion, that would be leaving it too late. The Government would like to be in a position to convey whatever decision we make before the end of 2014. However, discussions are ongoing between officials from my Department and EU institutions regarding this matter. I hope to be in a position to bring proposals to the Government early next year to ensure we meet the deadline well before the end of 2014.

I am sure the Deputy will agree that substantial resources have been made available in preparing for the ending of the derogation whenever that occurs. A total of €11 million has been spent already both on the terminology and training people in the necessary skills. We are also conscious of the importance of having Irish people working at the heart of Europe-----

-----in every area, and that includes Irish language related areas.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter and keeping it alive. I assure him it is very much alive with us.

The Dáil adjourned at 4.15 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 December 2013.