Topical Issue Debate

Accident and Emergency Department Waiting Times

I welcome this opportunity to raise the issue of overcrowding in the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick, especially the incident that happened last week. The concern is not only about what happened last week but the cart before the horse approach that has been taken to the reconfiguration of health services in the mid-west. I thank the Minister for being present to reply to this matter that I and my colleague, Deputy O'Donnell, are raising.

Last June, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, warned that the emergency department at Limerick regional hospital was not fit for purpose as overcrowding there had reached critical proportions. According to the INMO trolley figures, 561 patients were on trolleys in the hospital in September. That is the highest figure recorded since statistics on this were first gathered back in 2007. A comparison of the figures for September 2014 and 2013 shows a 60% increase, which is an alarming increase.

I visited the emergency department at the hospital last Tuesday to see at first hand the numbers there. Before I describe what I saw, I pay tribute to the dedicated and hard-working staff who have to work in such an appalling and stressful environment having regard to what they have to endure, day in, day out. What I saw was disturbing. It was not a pretty sight. When I arrived, 23 patients were being treated on trolleys. It was almost a nightmare. Trolleys were lined up in the narrow corridors with family members gathered around their loved ones and many other patients were on their own wondering when a bed would become available. There was no dignity afforded to patients and little room for staff to treat them. It was bordering on unsafe. My thoughts turned immediately to the previous day when 50 patients were being treated on trolleys. I saw the emergency department when there were 23 patients on trolleys and it was a nightmare. At 7.30 a.m. on the previous Monday, 50 patients being treated on trolleys in the emergency department and they were waiting to be admitted.

The alarm bells are ringing on this issue. That is the reason Deputy O'Donnell and I are raising this issue. The trolley figures are a concern. Having regard to what happened throughout the summer with high trolley figures and with the influx of patients coming through in the winter period, the situation in the accident and emergency department will be unsafe. It will have to be closely monitored.

What would have happened if an emergency had occurred in the region on that morning where such a large number of patients were being treated on trolleys? It would have led to a serious situation in the region. I hope an interim solution can be found to the overcrowding in the department between now and when the new emergency department opens. We have been told some spare beds are available in the hospital. Will the Minister clarify the position with regard to the availability of spare beds? When I was there I was told that there were no spare beds as those beds were being used.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Varadkar for being present to take this matter. He is fully aware of the difficulties. I have had discussions with him in recent weeks on a particular issue related to the gross overcrowding at the University Hospital Limerick. An interim solution is needed to this problem. We know a new state-of-art accident emergency department will not be ready and open to take admissions until early 2016. We have two winters to overcome between now and then. My main concern is for the patients in the accident and emergency department and the staff working there and dealing with this persistent problem. It has arisen due to the reconfiguration of services whereby 18 beds were taken from the accident and emergency departments at Ennis, Nenagh, and St. John's hospitals, the number of accident and emergency beds were almost halved to seven, and 17 beds are in operation in Limerick regional hospital. The emergency department there cannot deal with the numbers coming in.

We need a short-stay bed unit with 20 to 30 beds that would relieve the overcrowding and overflow from the accident and emergency department. It would allow people to access the accident and emergency department with dignity and avoid people being treated on trolleys for hours on end. People are entitled to such a service. I am not looking for anything new here. It is fully recognised that there is a major problem in accommodating the current level of capacity at the accident and emergency department. A new accident and emergency department is under construction and it is hoped it will be open in 2016. We need an interim solution with the provision of a 20 to 30-bed unit. As we approach the winter period, I hope an immediate solution will be found to address this problem and that beds will be made available to ensure the accident and emergency department can function in a normal way both for the patients who attend it and for the staff. I very much look forward to hearing the Minister's observations on this matter. I know he has looked into the matter in great depth. He commissioned a report with the HSE in this regard and I very much await his deliberations on this matter.

I thank Deputies Breen and O'Donnell for raising this issue and for giving me an opportunity to outline in the House the current position on this matter. In regard to trolleys, it is important to recognise that while there has been a deterioration in recent months in the number of patients on trolleys waiting to be seen, the situation throughout the country remains much better than it was in 2012, 2011 or during any period under the previous Government.

There are significant pressures on the University Hospital Limerick emergency department which arise from the restrictions of the physical infrastructure of the department. Many of these pressures were noted in the recent review by HIQA of the University of Limerick hospitals group. To address this situation, an extensive capital project is under way for a new emergency department for Limerick which will open in 2016. I understand from the HSE that there is no scope for speeding up this development without introducing significant risks for procurement, cost, health and safety.

In the meantime, pending completion of the new emergency department, a number of initiatives are in place to help address the limitations for patients and staff in the emergency department. In particular, a dedicated paediatric emergency area is now open. This means children are seen separately in a child-friendly space. In a major step for acute hospital services in the region, a new critical care unit has opened which allows for better patient flow for seriously ill or injured patients presenting to the emergency department. The acute medical and surgical assessment units are open, and these take direct referrals from GPs and the emergency department. A 17-bed short stay unit opened in April 2014. This unit is managed by the acute medicine physicians and aims to complete treatment or assessment of patients within 48 hours of admission. Three patient flow managers are in place who co-ordinate the transfer of lower acuity patients from University Hospital Limerick to Ennis, Nenagh and St John's hospitals to release capacity for emergency department admissions in the main hospital.

All hospitals within the University Limerick hospitals group take part in a daily teleconference, chaired by an executive management team member, to discuss the bed situation across the group. The group is raising awareness among GPs and the public about the local injury units in the other hospitals in order that patients can make better use of these. They will be seen much quicker if they have minor injury and they go to Nenagh or Ennis hospital.

In parallel with these measures, the special delivery unit will support the University of Limerick hospitals group, with interim and long-term sustainable solutions to deal with bed capacity, excessive trolley waits and overcrowding in the emergency department.

Analysis by the SDU indicates a requirement for additional bed capacity at UHL. The hospital and the HSE are in discussions about increasing capacity on the hospital site, with a range of measures being considered in the 2015 service plan process. This process must take account of the financial constraints facing the hospital and the HSE's budgetary limitations next year.

At a national level, the HSE is establishing a winter planning group, with representation from social care and acute hospitals. The group will identify immediate actions to address winter pressures in acute care. It will also examine medium term plans for delivering sustainable solutions. The SDU will also participate in this exercise. I look forward to the ongoing development of emergency services in the Limerick group, both in terms of the new facilities and modernising the way in which these services are provided. These will be of significant and lasting benefit to patients in the region and to UHL staff.

While there is a serious problem, as referred to by Deputy Breen, with 47 patients on trolleys on Monday, 29 September, requiring emergency action, yesterday morning at 8 a.m. there were six people on trolleys in the entire hospital, only one of whom had been waiting longer than nine hours. This morning there were ten people on trolleys, only six of whom had been waiting for nine hours. For whatever reason, the situation is the best it has been in several weeks, which is encouraging. It is of concern that UL hospital group is 16% over budget. It is more over budget than any hospital group in the country. Spending is up, not down, and while one might be able to justify higher spending if we were seeing shorter waiting lists and fewer people on trolleys, it is very disturbing to see a hospital group with an increasing budget overrunning its budget but not achieving the goals that patients would expect.

I thank the Minister for his reply and am glad to hear the hospital and HSE are in discussions about increased bed capacity. The primary issue is the care of patients, and while money is an issue, it should not be an issue in the care of patients. I spoke to staff in the emergency department last Tuesday, and this is about an interim solution. The Minister said a winter planning group is being established. I hoped this group would have met before this winter and have an interim plan in place. Some of the staff’s suggestions on the day I visited the hospital included using the spare capacity in St. John's Hospital to establish a temporary geriatric accident and emergency unit or the provision of a prefabricated building adjoining the accident and emergency department in Limerick.

The Minister visited a hospital in Dublin some time ago and I suggest he visit UHL at some stage. The number of medical assessment beds in Ennis and Nenagh hospitals should be increased by two in each hospital. It is important the Minister listens to the staff, who are enduring the problems and who are stressed. They were very stressed that morning because they could not move in the hospital. I hope the winter planning group is meeting as we speak and that an interim solution will be put in place because we have heard the alarm bells over the summer. The trolley numbers over the summer indicate that we will have a major influx of patients over the winter period.

I thank the Minister. I welcome the fact the SDU’s indicator is calling for additional bed capacity at UHL in the accident and emergency department. A number of interim measures are required. First, the Minister should examine the existing hospitals in the network, including Nenagh, Ennis and St. John's, to see what additional capacity exists. I understand a 20-bed unit in St. John's Hospital that was temporarily closed in recent months has been re-opened in the past 24 hours, which will alleviate pressure. I would like the Minister to confirm that this is the case and that it will remain open to relieve pressure on the accident and emergency department. A medical assessment unit in UHL could be converted temporarily into an overflow unit to relieve pressure on the accident and emergency department. The requirement is for beds.

The Minister referred to the overrun, however this is a legacy issue from when reconfiguration took place. Some 35 accident and emergency beds were in operation between Ennis, Nenagh, St. John's and UHL. This was more than halved to 17 beds. The new accident and emergency department being built will provide the 35 beds required. This is a short-term, interim measure until the new accident and emergency department is operational. The people of Limerick and the mid-west region are entitled to nothing less. Can the Minister confirm that the 20 beds in St. John's Hospital have been re-opened to take the pressure off? Will he continue to examine other initiatives regarding extra beds at UHL?

The 20 beds that were closed due to a virus in St. John's Hospital have been reopened and this may explain the considerable improvement in the numbers waiting on trolleys in the past few days. As Deputy O’Donnell said, a new emergency department is being built in Limerick, which will provide additional bed capacity. While the HSE will consider interim solutions in the meantime, interim beds cost interim money and a hospital group that is running so far over budget will be further down the list for receiving additional funding and capital than those that are running on budget. Increasingly we will pursue a policy of rewarding those who come in on budget, not those who overrun.

I have worked in three emergency departments and have visited two since I became Minister, so I know a fair bit about them. When I visited Tallaght Hospital, I was pleased to see how much better it was than when I worked there. When I worked there, trolleys were strewn down the corridors and, thankfully, it is no longer the case. This is not to say there are no problems. Based on public commentary, one would not think things are so much better than they were three or four years ago, but they are. I have received approximately 50 invitations to visit 50 different acute hospitals. If I visit one per week we will be well into the election campaign. While I will do my best to get around to as many hospitals as possible, it would be very naïve to think that my walking around an emergency department looking at people on trolleys is going to solve the problem. All these hospitals have CEOs, management teams and clinicians. Throughout the country, better patient flow and management can considerably improve the situation. The responsibility ultimately lies with the CEOs, clinicians and management to make best use of the resources they have before they seek more.

Services for People with Disabilities

I thank the Minister for taking this matter, which was originally tabled for last Thursday. This year, St. Christopher’s Services in Longford celebrates 50 years in operation. It was founded by parents and friends of people with intellectual difficulties and provides a community-based, high quality, efficient and innovative service to the people who use it based on identified, individual needs enabling these people, our citizens, to reach their full potential. The centre is renowned locally and nationally for its excellence. One example of the services it provides is Marian Avenue, a six-bedroom purpose built community home in Ballymahon, opened in November 2011, which is home to six people with varying levels of sensory, physical and intellectual disability. Residents are supported to learn new skills such as cookery and money management by being an integral part of the daily activities of a household. They are encouraged and supported to access resources and activities within their community. They are supported to ensure their independence is promoted and developed at all times.

However, St. Christopher's is facing a severe cash crisis and there is genuine concern for the future. It could reach crisis point this year due to a deficit of almost €500,000. Almost 3,000 people – mothers, fathers, children and adults with disabilities, members of the business community and religious leaders – were out last Friday in torrential rain and bad weather due to the level of concern for St. Christopher's.

Since 2008, St. Christopher's has absorbed cuts totalling €700,000. The majority of these cuts were implemented through various efficiencies, but there are no more efficiencies to be made. It is €0.5 million in the red. It urgently needs Government intervention to ensure that the HSE engages in a meaningful manner to ensure that this additional funding is made available so that St. Christopher's can carry on the good work that it has done for the past 50 years and provide a critical service for the service users.

I thank the Minister for being in the Chamber today to take this important motion.

The issue of funding St. Christopher's Services is my highest priority and close to my heart. My mother, Mrs. Marcella Bannon, was on the founding committee 50 years ago. She was the first treasurer of the association and she spent her lifetime fund-raising for St. Christopher's. I have spent the past 35 years attending AGMs and supporting the services at St. Christopher's. It is my duty to keep telling the Government how important the services of St. Christopher's are to the hundreds of families in the midlands who use the services.

To understand how important this issue is, one need look no further than Friday last when 4,000, or 12% of the population of County Longford, marched through Longford town to protest about the issue. I was proud to walk alongside the service users, parents and staff on Friday last. After taking up this issue with the Taoiseach and the Minister on several occasions, I am again raising this serious matter on the floor of the Dáil.

Since 2007, St. Christopher's has absorbed €800,000 in cuts. Despite these cuts, it has managed to provide additional services and continue to provide top-class care for their service users. The management and staff should be applauded for being able to achieve this when the purse strings were so tight. The current financial deficit is projected to rise to €470,000 by the end of the year. This deficit has arisen due to the need to increase staffing levels to meet the needs and care requirements of service users. These service users are a group of elderly patients, eight in Morlea House and six in Marion Avenue, Ballymahon. It is my firm belief that the HSE is not recognising the changing needs of this elderly group of service users in these two locations. If we cannot offer proper care to the elderly, we must look at ourselves as a Government and a nation.

I am concerned that the Minister does not understand, or perhaps the HSE does not understand or accept, the gravity of the situation. If this situation is not resolved, we run the risk of the HSE tendering out the services St. Christopher's for profit. I do not want to see this happen. The staff and service users of St. Christopher's, and the people of Longford, do not want to see this happen.

Deputy Bannon can respond to the Minister.

I urge the Minister to act and let the staff of St. Christopher's continue the important work they have been doing for the past five decades.

I thank Deputies Bannon and Troy for raising this matter. I am pleased to take this opportunity to outline the Government's position on the matters raised by the Deputies. I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

Under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive, HSE, is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services, including disability services. St. Christopher's provide disability services locally on behalf of the HSE that are subject to service arrangements which are monitored and reviewed at quarterly meetings with HSE disability management.

St. Christopher's Services is funded under section 39 of the Health Act and is expected to receive €8.24 million from the HSE in 2014. Like all non-statutory providers, St. Christopher's is responsible for the management of its resources within the allocated funding. The HSE has been notified by St. Christopher's of its financial difficulty, particularly in services at Marion Avenue, Ballymahon and Morlea House, Longford. I have been assured by the HSE that it is working closely with the board of directors of St. Christopher's to address its funding concerns.

A number of measures to reduce the funding deficit have been proposed and meetings are ongoing in this regard. The HSE is committed to working with St. Christopher's to assist it to find efficiencies within its service and, therefore, come in on budget. I have been assured that the HSE's priority is to support adults and children and their families who rely on disability services provided by St. Christopher's in the Longford-Westmeath area and to ensure that a sustainable service will be in place for the future.

The programme for Government committed to putting national standards for residential services for persons with disabilities on a statutory footing to ensure that services could be inspected by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. The introduction of registration and inspection represents a significant advance in terms of developing consistent and high quality services for persons with disabilities in residential services, including St. Christopher's. The purpose of the regulations is to safeguard and support the delivery of person-centred care to vulnerable persons of any age who are receiving residential care services and ensure that their health, well-being and quality of life is promoted and protected. This will empower providers to deliver even higher quality services in future.

The Minister stated it is the responsibility of the management to work within the resources of the allocated funding, but this does not take account of the additional staff needed over the past number of years due to the debilitative nature of the patients in these houses. These patients are getting older, their disability is getting worse, and the management and staff had to hire additional staff to ensure that there was a safe level of service being provided. HIQA recently carried out a monitoring inspection of St. Christopher's and deemed that the staffing levels at all facilities are adequate. The staffing levels are not high or low; they are merely adequate.

The Minister talked about the HSE engaging with the management of St. Christopher's. The last contact St. Christopher's had from the HSE, before Monday last, was on 5 August. Over two months elapsed in which there was no contact.

The proposal from the HSE was to take these patients out of their homes and put them, under the fair deal scheme, in nursing homes. That does not make economic sense.

It certainly does not made sense to take these individuals with special needs and disabilities who cannot stand up for themselves from their own homes and put them into nursing homes, and have them wait 15 weeks for the fair deal scheme to be approved.

I ask the Minister to intervene and ensure at the minimum that the HSE engages in a real and meaningful way with the board of directors of St. Christopher's. They have proved they can provide a cost-effective efficient service over the past number of years.

Deputy Troy's point is made.

They have absorbed €700,000 in cuts and continue to provide an invaluable service to those who use it. The Minister should let the HSE engage in a real and meaningful manner with the board or directors.

I thank the Minister.

This funding crisis goes back to 2007. Those most at risk here are those in need of respite services. They are the most vulnerable in society and we must do all we can to protect them. If the funding crisis is not resolved, I am concerned about a vast reduction in services or even the closure of St. Christopher's Services.

The uncertainty surrounding the respite services at Morlea House and Marion Avenue is having a detrimental effect on everybody associated with St. Christopher's. There are a considerable number of volunteers involved in St. Christopher's, and I applaud them. I urge the Minister to act on their behalf.

It is not acceptable to pass the buck on the funding crisis facing St. Christopher's to the HSE. I want the Minister to take action. This ongoing crisis has had a significant impact and it has taken its toll on essential support services for adults with disabilities, the elderly patients and their families. This is a vital service for persons with learning disabilities in the midlands and I urge the Minister and the Government to meet the funding deficit-----

Deputy Bannon is part of the Government.

-----and allow persons with a learning disability to have a greater degree of independence.

When the Minister spoke in response to a motion earlier, he talked about visiting an institution. I plead with him, as I have in the past, to visit and see for himself the fine unique services that are provided at St. Christopher's Services in Longford. I am passionate about it. My mother and four or five other women started up this organisation 50 years ago this year and I do not want to see it collapse.

I thank Deputy Bannon for his kind offer of a half-day trip to visit a particular service in another part of the country. He will be aware from the debate that I get such invitations almost every ten minutes. I will try to make as many visits as I can, but even responding to them is starting to become a full-time job.

A full day trip to Longford would be required.

I had a meeting with the directorate of the HSE this morning. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, was also present. We asked the officials to engage again with the board of directors on the matter. If it is the case that there has not been engagement since August, there certainly should be soon, but it must be about finding savings and not securing additional money, as there is no additional funding. The HSE budget will overrun this year and, unfortunately, no additional funding is available.

As Deputy Bannon is aware, the HSE gets funding from what is voted to it by the Oireachtas. I do not decide how much money the HSE gets. It is the Oireachtas which decides. The budget voted to the HSE is voted by the Oireachtas, of which Deputy Bannon is a Member.

In terms of funding and governance for St. Christopher’s Services, I am advised by the HSE that the allocation was €7.6 million in 2010, €7.96 million in 2011 and €8.236 million in 2012. There was a cut to €8 million in 2013 and a slight increase to €8.182 million this year. Needless to say, I am sure there are rising demands and rising costs but it is also the case that budgets for St. Christopher’s have increased since the change of Government in 2011.

Flood Prevention Measures

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue and for the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, for coming to the House to respond to it. I look forward to a positive response from him. Templemore flood relief scheme is going on a long time and there is a long history attached to it. I will not go into all the details, but suffice to say that a public exhibition on a proposed solution to deal with the flooding problem for the long-suffering people of Templemore was held between 30 January and 4 March 2009. The Minister of State is aware of the difficulties flooding places on people. There is not just the damage to property, inconvenience and the horror they experience at the time but the subsequent problems, such as lack of insurance and the real fear that it will happen again. Flooding is occurring more often and must be addressed.

Issues arose following the exhibition and on-site inspection, some of which related to landowners and commercial property owners in the area, and it was decided to review the scheme. Following the review it was decided that the technically preferred route should be adhered to, but that did not happen. Once the decision was made, further public consultation and another exhibition were required. The exhibition took place in March of this year. We were told by the Office of Public Works that a complete property owner review would be carried out, interference notice schedules would be prepared by mid-March 2014 and a public exhibition would be held at the end of March 2014. In fairness to the OPW, it adhered to its timetable.

The timetable also specified that confirmation would be obtained by the end of June 2014, a detailed design of works would be ready by mid-July 2014 and on-site work would commence in mid-August 2014. That has not happened and I seek a reason for that from the Minister of State. We were given assurances by the Minister of State’s predecessor, Mr. Brian Hayes, and Mr. Michael Collins of the OPW, who announced the scheme at the then Templemore Town Council in 2011 to the great delight and relief of the people of Templemore. The Minister of State and other senior officials came again following the review in 2013 to re-announce the scheme. They said it was one of five schemes that was going ahead in the country. They were delighted to state at the time that following the review and the option for the technically preferred route, the scheme had reduced from €13.8 million to €8.9 million and that it would go ahead.

Will the Minister of State explain why the then Minister of State and the officials from the OPW told the people of Templemore that the flood relief scheme would go ahead when it did not and that, subsequent to the review, people were again told the scheme would go ahead but it did not? Will the Minister of State outline the reasons for the delay and provide a clear commitment on his behalf and on behalf of the OPW that the scheme will go ahead sooner rather than later?

I thank Deputy Coonan for raising the Templemore flood relief scheme today and on a number of occasions during the two and a half months I have been in office. I accept it is a very important issue to him and his constituents. I had an opportunity to meet the Deputy and a number of residents in Templemore prior to my appointment to my current post and I know the importance of the issue for the people of Templemore. Before I outline the detailed response to the question, I wish to make clear that as Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, I am fully committed, as is the OPW, to the delivery of the Templemore flood relief scheme. The funding is in place and it is a priority project which will be delivered.

I will provide some background, much of which the Deputy outlined, but I will put it on the record. The proposed flood relief scheme works for Templemore include the construction of a new bypass channel, along with road and property access bridges, flood defence walls and embankments, and some channel widening downstream of the town. As Deputy Coonan outlined, the proposals were placed on formal public exhibition from 30 January to 4 March 2009. Additional engineering and route complexities arose in relation to a section of a culvert that is a key element of the scheme. Two alternative routes had been identified for this culvert section in the initial design stage of the project. The route which was technically preferred would necessitate the demolition of a commercial premises. While the other route would involve a significant impact on commercial properties, it would not involve permanent closure of the businesses. For that reason, the latter option was chosen and shown in the proposals that were exhibited to the public.

During subsequent investigation, further information and details emerged on the costs associated with the exhibited route, including potential claims for compensation from property owners affected by the works. There was also further clarification on the costs associated with the other, non-exhibited route, involving the closure of a commercial premises. This new information necessitated a full review of the economic rationale for each option involving a detailed analysis of the comparative costs of the two alternatives. The review took account of all likely costs, including construction and site remediation costs, property acquisition costs for the technically preferred route, and compensation to other property owners impacted. Following the review, it was concluded that the technically preferred route should be proceeded with. As that represented a significant change from what was included in the scheme that had been previously exhibited, the proposed alternative route was displayed to the public on 28 March this year, as Deputy Coonan outlined, and it was broadly well received.

In further developing the amended proposals, consideration was given to whether the full flow in the existing channel should be diverted into the bypass channel. For technical reasons it is proposed that the existing channel will continue to carry normal flows and the bypass channel will carry flood flows only. An issue also arose in relation to a combined sewage and storm water overflow pipe in the Church Road area of Templemore which is in the path of the proposed bypass. The OPW is in discussions with Irish Water regarding works necessary to circumvent the pipe. It is expected that this matter will be resolved satisfactorily and that it will not delay progression of the scheme.

The next step is that the amended proposals will be put on formal public exhibition, in accordance with the Arterial Drainage Act 1945. That will take place early in 2015. Any observations received from the public or other stakeholders will be taken into account, as appropriate. Following that, confirmation or statutory approval of the scheme will be sought from my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Pending completion of the exhibition and confirmation from the Minister, Deputy Howlin, it is not possible to state definitively what the timeline for delivery of the scheme will be. However, the new scheme will be exhibited early in 2015. The OPW fully recognises the need to implement the scheme for Templemore as a priority. I, personally, and the OPW will do all we can to ensure the scheme commences as soon as possible. To that end, if the scheme is confirmed, the construction work will be carried out by the OPW's direct labour force. The decision will dramatically reduce the time required to commence the project because we will not have to go through a lengthy tendering process, which therefore provides an opportunity to claw back some time.

I can confirm that provision has been made for the Templemore scheme in the OPW's capital budget allocations for flood risk management to 2016. The funding is in place and the scheme is an absolute priority. We must get the scheme exhibited. I am committed to doing everything I can. When I visit Templemore with Deputy Coonan, it will be to unveil the scheme, which will have started at that stage.

I welcome what the Minister of State has said.

I also welcome the confirmation that the scheme will go ahead and money will be provided but I am worried by the fact that the Minister of State said that statutory approval for the scheme will be sought from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, after the review. It seems we must get the Minister's assurance that this scheme will proceed. It seems this is third time lucky for Templemore - there have been three exhibitions and three commitments from Ministers and officials at the Office of Public Works, OPW.

The problem is that people with homes in the area continue to suffer and the same goes for outlying areas. The areas most affected include the Blackcastle Road, The Mall and Richmond but other outlying areas like Priory Demesne have experienced serious flooding. Engineers say the matter cannot be solved until a drainage scheme is in place for Templemore.

I put my faith in the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, and I hope he survives long enough to see this through. The onus is on Ministers and OPW officials not to make promises they cannot keep. I hope the OPW will commit to this and see the project through.

The Deputy knows I do not make commitments I cannot fulfil so I make today's commitment in this House on the basis of information I received from my officials and on the basis that funding has been provided for the scheme in the OPW capital budget up to 2016. The Deputy is correct that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, must give consent to this scheme, as I outlined to the House. This is a normal process and consent cannot be sought until the scheme goes through various environmental processes and has been exhibited. As far as the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is concerned the funding is in place in the OPW budget. The scheme will be delivered by direct labour force and this will enable works to commence more quickly than if the contract and tendering route was taken.

I wish to outline for the record of the House some amendments that have been made to the scheme since it was originally exhibited in 2009. Amendments included the embankments in the Ballyheane bridge area, which will now be constructed by Tipperary County Council in a separate scheme with funding from the OPW, and an alteration of the originally proposed culvert route. Also, the originally exhibited scheme had over 800 metres of closed culvert and the new proposal includes approximately 191 metres of closed culvert with the balance being open channel. The Deputy correctly said that the total cost of the scheme, including construction and various fees, is now €8.9 million, approximately. The next key stage for the scheme is to have it exhibited in early 2015. I will keep in contact with the Deputy on this and I know he will keep the residents of Templemore up to date. The scheme is funded and it is a priority so once it is exhibited I will seek the consent of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, which I expect to receive. The scheme will commence as quickly as possible.

State Airports

I will start by providing background information to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to give context regarding the problem. The technology park in Tralee was built in 2001 as an innovative hub, not an office block, and therein lies the problem. At the moment a number of companies, including Aspen Grove, DCS Energy Savings and Donseed, have vacated the premises. Unfortunately, Altobridge has gone into liquidation and will also vacate the premises.

Initially it was envisaged that the facility in Tralee would be similar to the Digital Hub in Dublin and would allow technology companies to collaborate with each other, with the Institute of Technology Tralee, which is on the same campus, and with agencies of the State to promote, develop and create synergies. Shannon Development was the initial owner and landlord - it looked after the Shannon area but has since devolved and now the Shannon Group exists. Bizarrely, I am talking about jobs and a technology park in Tralee with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport - I cannot see how this fits.

We are in a predicament wherein we have worked against the flow of State agencies for 14 years. We could not give regional State aid similar to what applied in the Border, midland and western, BMW, region but I am proud that I worked hard on this issue for the past three years. We have achieved to the extent that we are now at a competitive foundation level that will allow Kerry to compete with other counties. The crux of the matter is that Kerry Group took 800 local jobs to County Kildare so the focus shifted to the technology park. When Shannon Development was wound down we considered whether the local authority, investors on campus or the Institute of Technology Tralee could take over the technology park and run it with synergies in mind and within the ethos of today's culture.

I am referring to a conversation I had today when I say a person representing the biggest tenant, which has plans to develop, cannot convince senior management to commit to development investment in the technology park because it is not the same institution the tenant first bought into. I can give the Minister the telephone number of the person in question. Members of management of companies in the technology park are completely dissatisfied as it has gone from a digital hub to an office block. They pay premium rents and it is not the same as the environment in which they first invested.

Kerry Technology Park was supposed to be developed as a piece of infrastructure within Shannon Group. The remit of Shannon Group applies to Shannon Airport and related activities so Shannon Group wishes to take business from Kerry Airport and compete with it. Kerry Airport is a lifeline for Kerry Technology Park but the latter is owned by Kerry Airport's competitor. If Kerry Airport sees a downturn the same will apply to Kerry Technology Park and Shannon Airport will benefit. Surely there is a conflict of interest here. I have seen Shannon Group's strategic plan and so have other Members - all of this is in the strategic plan. There is a conflict of interest in the fact that Shannon Group is responsible for Shannon Airport and wants to take business from Kerry Airport while Kerry Technology Park, which is part of Shannon Group, is reliant upon Kerry Airport. At the moment the technology park is the only place providing employment in Kerry.

I thank Deputy Spring for raising this matter and I know he has championed the need for development and employment in his county and constituency. I appreciate the importance of this issue and know why the Deputy has raised it today. The Deputy has given some background information on the bodies involved and, for the benefit of the House and the record, I want to make some points on Shannon Group and its role in Kerry Technology Park.

The facility is owned and managed by Shannon Commercial Enterprises, which was formerly Shannon Development. Shannon Commercial Enterprises is a subsidiary of the newly formed Shannon Group which was established as a commercial State company. Therefore, the management of Kerry Technology Park is a matter for Shannon Group and Shannon Commercial Enterprises and I have no role in the detailed running of the business or its operational decisions.

Following the recent enactment of the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014, Shannon Airport was separated from the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, and a new State-owned commercial entity, Shannon Group plc, was established. It incorporated two main wholly owned subsidiaries: Shannon Airport Authority and a restructured Shannon Development, which was renamed Shannon Commercial Enterprises under the Act.

The Deputy will recall from debates in this House that the rationale for establishing the Shannon Group on this basis was to support a new future for Shannon and the mid-west region, as envisaged by the Shannon aviation business development task force, which reported in November 2012.

An independent Shannon Airport, coupled with a restructured Shannon Development, has the potential to develop and grow passenger traffic and the route network. A major consideration in this decision was the serious decline in passenger traffic at the airport in recent years. In its first year as an independent airport, Shannon has succeeded in reversing this decline and is now focusing on growing passenger numbers. The restructuring of Shannon Development and the streamlining of its activities is complementary to the growth of the airport business. This restructuring involved transferring the part of the business related to indigenous enterprises and foreign direct investment to Enterprise Ireland and the IDA respectively. In addition, the tourism part of the former Shannon Development's business was transferred to Fáilte Ireland. This restructuring laid the foundations for a more focussed role for the new entity Shannon Commercial Enterprises in managing and developing its property portfolio including the Shannon Free Zone adjacent to the airport. Kerry Technology Park, among other properties, was also retained in Shannon Commercial Enterprise's property portfolio, in line with the restructuring strategy.

Since the enactment of the new legislation the newly formed Shannon Group now has a statutory obligation, under Part 2, section 10(1)(b), of the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014, to optimise the return on its land and property and on its shareholding in its subsidiary Shannon Commercial Enterprises. Significant work has already been carried out in Shannon to prepare the ground for the group to be established on this independent statutory basis, and that effort and momentum must now be maintained if Shannon Group is to make a success of this enterprise, including the full exploitation of the commercial potential of Kerry Technology Park. As I have already said, my role in this was to provide the legislative framework and the statutory footing to enable Shannon Group and its subsidiary Shannon Commercial Enterprises to do this. I have every confidence in Shannon Group's capacity and commitment to fulfilling its statutory obligations and to meeting the objectives laid down for it.

I must point out why this is an unsatisfactory response. I am glad the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is also in the Chamber because I have discussed this with him on a number of occasions. The Minister stated the establishment of Shannon Group was on the basis that it was to support a new future for Shannon and the mid-west region, as envisaged by the Shannon aviation business development task force which reported in November 2012. I repeat this was for Shannon and the mid-west region. I come from Tralee in the south west. It is a two-hour drive from Kerry Technology Park to Shannon Airport. The focus is on Shannon Airport. Kerry Technology Park is not a hangar, cargo house or shop in an airport; it is a technology park with many micro-businesses. It was an entrepreneurial region of excellence, as defined by the European Committee of the Regions, in 2010.

I find it farcical that more than a year and a half after I, along with other Members of the House, voted in favour of the legislation talks are no longer in place and we have bequeathed, or gifted, to Shannon Group an asset with a rental income. It is now in a state of decline but it has no mortgage. We gifted a cash cow to an organisation in competition with the area I represent. I find this quite embarrassing on a political level. The tenants are frustrated as they did not buy into this on day one. There will be no increase of tenants there. There is no existing relationship between Shannon Group, the enterprise boards and IDA Ireland. Why are we looking at a model which has not worked anywhere else? Its focus is on aviation, the mid-west and the Shannon area. We have gifted it a cash cow. This is a Kerryman joke. We are giving it a couple of hundred thousand euro a year so it can clobber our airport in Kerry, which is its stated ambition in its plan. I am quite fed up of it, to be honest.

I have been to the former Minister, Deputy Quinn, the Ministers, Deputies Bruton, Varadkar and Donohoe, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach with this issue. It is not rocket science, but it is the only hope we have of creating jobs. If people tell me they will not expand the number of jobs they have in Kerry Technology Park based on the fact the landlord they have is not the type of landlord they bought into on day one, we have a problem. I urge the Minister to go about fixing it. The Minister told me he did not have a statutory role in the organisation, but I have just read back to him what the role of the organisation is. It is the mid-west and Shannon and not Tralee or Kerry. There is a problem. If the Minister wants to amend the legislation, I will be happy to work with him on it but this must be addressed. If he discusses it afterwards with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, they will see the essence of the problem. We must fix this.

I will respond to a number of the points made by the Deputy. I appreciate why he has raised this issue. We all have the objective of trying to increase employment and jobs in our communities and constituencies. This is clearly what is motivating the Deputy.

I have been informed that a number of attempts were made to agree a jointly acceptable valuation of the property but these have not yet concluded successfully. I have also been informed in preparation for this debate that meetings and engagement have taken place between the tenants and current owners and landlords of the property regarding what will happen to the facility to try to allay any concern employers or tenants might have about its development. A process has taken place, I have been informed, on looking to agree a valuation of the property. I have been informed meetings have taken place and a process has taken place between the tenants and the owners of the property.

I acknowledge all of that but it is a problem.

I will pass on the points made by the Deputy to the individuals involved because I share his objective of ensuring employment is maintained and, regardless of what part of the country we were speaking about, that everybody has the opportunity to grow more employment and future jobs. I am aware, as is the Deputy, of the role of Kerry Airport and the contribution, as he has stated, it makes to the economic development of the community and region. It has been said to me that efforts have been made to reach a fair valuation for the property and bring this to a conclusion. I must emphasise the boards involved, in the Shannon Group and elsewhere, are independent and their job is to run their operations under the framework of the legislation we passed in the Oireachtas-----

They have been gifted a cash cow, which is unfair.

-----and we all need to respect this.