Topical Issue Debate

Road Projects Status

This subject is dear to the hearts of all Deputies in County Kildare, north and south, and I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to raise it once again. It is a matter of huge importance for alleviating the traffic chaos that currently exists in this location. It will also serve to address the problem of accidents, of which there have been many in the last couple of years due to over-crowding on the motorway. There is an under-capacity in the road network to meet the traffic challenges.

Everybody is aware of the chaos that existed at Newlands Cross for many years. People said that the overall problem would not be solved if the situation at Newlands Cross was dealt with but would only be moved further into the city or down the country. That was not true. The problem was solved in a dramatic way. The same applies to the Naas and Newbridge bypass, the Newhall interchange and the Sallins bypass. Each is a critical element in the alleviation of the traffic chaos that currently exists.

Obviously, it is the busiest motorway in the country and is probably the busiest of the motorways in a number of countries. In addition, the demands of Kerry Foods are coming on stream. It is located immediately adjacent to the motorway. The company is very concerned about the extra traffic generated by its development which will have to be facilitated. It is a prime industry that has moved to the area in recent times and it must be facilitated in so far as possible. Similarly, on a recent trip back from Cork late at night I counted 190 trucks travelling in the opposite direction. At various times of the day, and the transport business really gets going in the evenings, the number of heavy vehicles on the motorway multiplies dramatically.

I am aware that the Minister is faced with competing demands, but this demand is not simply local. It is also a regional demand. It will facilitate the traffic going between the city and County Kildare and Cork, Limerick and Waterford. The traffic chaos that has been a feature in the area in the past couple of years is generated by two factors. The first is volume, for which the motorway was not originally intended to cater, and the second is the increased traffic generated by business in the area. We are delighted to have the business and investment, which are hugely important for employment. However, it is equally important, now that the investment has occurred, that we put in place the necessary ancillary facilities to ensure its effective and efficient operation.

The Minister is well aware of the case I am making. It has been brought to his attention by all representatives from County Kildare in the past year or so. It is a priority issue for Kildare County Council and for businesses in the area. It would be of huge benefit for both heavy vehicular traffic and domestic traffic in the area if it could be found possible to approve the projects concerned. They are all intrinsic to the area and equally important. When approved, they will have a dramatic impact on easing traffic flows.

I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this matter. I have had the opportunity to respond to him about this on a number of occasions. It is a matter he is pursuing very strongly on behalf of his constituents and all of the employers in the area. As he has acknowledged, the project has significance beyond County Kildare and his constituency. Indeed, some of my constituents have raised the issue with me because it has a significant impact on one's ability to get up and down an important road in our region.

I also appreciate the Deputy's comments about the big changes that were made at Newlands Cross. It has had an effect on the ability of commuters to get through an important junction in our road network. I commend everybody involved in it because the project came in below budget and on time.

The Deputy is fully aware of my role in regard to the projects. While I am responsible for policy on these matters, it is the National Roads Authority that makes decisions, in consultation with local authorities, on particular projects. The Osberstown interchange and Sallins bypass fall within the remit of the local authority in the area. Works on these roads are funded from the local authority's own resources, supplemented by funding made available by the State. The Naas bypass widening is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Act 1993.

The Deputy is well aware of the financial circumstances we have come through and has spoken about them many times. In 2008, funding for local, national and regional roads stood at €2.3 billion. This year, there is €730 million. That said, however, I am very aware that the projects the Deputy is raising, and which Deputy Wall has raised with me on a number of occasions, have very considerable merit. They are interconnected but would have a significant total cost.

The objective of the Naas bypass widening scheme is to increase capacity and improve traffic flow on a national road, the Dublin-Cork road. The interchange and Sallins bypass projects are both intended to increase connectivity between the same road and the towns of Naas and Sallins. I am very much aware of the job creation potential that exists, particularly considering the Kerry Group premises near Millennium Park and the work that is under way there. Unfortunately, because of the continuing financial challenges the country faces, we are in a constrained position regarding the number of new projects that can be progressed. I do not have funding available to make progress on the projects under discussion but I assure the Deputy that I am very much aware of their importance. I am very much aware of their importance to the Deputy’s county and what they could do to promote job creation. I face considerable pressure to try to deliver particular projects across the country. I assure the Deputy that I am fully aware of the regional and national significance of the projects in question. The Deputy has emphasised that very clearly to me here this evening.

I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive reply. He clearly understands the significance and importance of the projects concerned and their likely benefit to County Kildare and the country at large.

With regard to the Sallins bypass, at rush hour the traffic from Monread is jammed as far as Sallins. On a Friday evening, it is impossible to get in or out of the area. We anticipated this some years ago, obviously, but the downturn in the economy meant developments that should have happened did not happen. We accept the constraints within which the Minister must operate but I believe it would be strategically and economically beneficial if he could indicate as soon as possible whether it is intended to make the necessary approvals in respect of the entire package. Although the projects are different, they are inter-related and integrated, and they benefit one another. The projects are expensive; we accept that. However, it is important to recognise that the impact of the projects will be felt nationally, not just locally. The Minister has acknowledged that.

There has been significant investment in the area, for which we are very grateful and acknowledge readily because not every part of the country has been as lucky. Given the investment that has been made and the job creation, it is important that we respond positively by providing the required infrastructure. The infrastructure is vital and I ask the Minister to use all his influence to ensure the projects will be approved at the earliest possible opportunity.

I fully take on board the points the Deputy has made to me. I made a point of responding to the Deputy myself because I genuinely accept the merit of these projects extends beyond the Deputy's county as they would have an effect on the region overall. The Deputy correctly stated the projects would need to be carried out in an integrated manner because, if they were carried out in isolation, there could be negative consequences for the communities in the area and for the operation of the roads. Therefore, we need to find a way to make progress on the projects together.

The combined total cost of the projects, if they were to go ahead together, would be approximately €110 million. I am sure this is comparable to the amount of private sector investment that has taken place in businesses and business parks in the area. That said, I take the Deputy's point on the beneficial effect the projects could have. I accord to them very high priority among all the competing demands in the Deputy's constituency and the rest of the country in terms of transport and others factors. I acknowledge that the projects could have a very beneficial role in terms of connectivity and job creation. I assure the Deputy that I recognise the projects' merit and I am working on determining how progress on such projects could be made.

I thank the Minister for his response and for attending.

Which Minister is responding to Deputy McEntee?

The Minister for Education and Skills has agreed to postpone my Topical Issue matter until next Wednesday.

Health Services Provision

According to Rape Crisis Network Ireland, it is the only independent body for rape survivors in Ireland. It is the only voice for Irish women who have been raped. The organisation is the national representative body for 11 of the country's 16 rape crisis centres. It provides them with oversight services and governance, training, research and legal support, in addition to running educational campaigns and lobbying on the centres' behalf. The organisation receives approximately €250,000 per year from Tusla, which is 70% of its overall funding. That 70% is now gone. The people who depend on the network will still require its services and they will be the ones to suffer, having already survived an ordeal. The cut is fundamentally anti-women. It gives the message clearly that services for victims of sexual violence, particularly women, are less important than other services and consequently open to cuts. This latest move, which would strip Rape Crisis Network Ireland of all its funding, will be utterly devastating. It will bring to an end the severely damaged vital services that the network provides.

The Labour Party committed to tackling and eradicating domestic violence and to protecting front-line services in its 2011 election manifesto. How is cutting the funding for the network going to protect the service? The Rape Crisis Centre’s most recent published figures show a substantial increase in the number of people seeking its assistance. Recent years have put even more stress on the services than the centre could cope with. Instead of increasing funding to groups such as Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Women's Aid and refuges across the country, we are now faced with a total cut to the network's funding.

Before the decision to make the cut, there were other cuts of up to 30%, which made the job of the network even harder and put more people at risk. The latest cut is a step way beyond that and it is completely and utterly unacceptable. One cannot put a price on the people the network helps. One cannot say one can help so many people and that is that. The network and other such services must be funded to the extent that they are needed in society.

Dr. Clíona Saidléar, the acting director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, said four out of five survivors of sexual violence are voting with their feet and are not engaging with the justice system or gaining access to one-to-one counselling.

Therefore, for the Government to say it is sufficient to fund direct face-to-face services for 20% of survivors as well as work to improve legislation and the justice process is not credible. This is not justice. The RCNI was already underfunded and is unable to meet the demand for its services. Far too many survivors never come forward. They do not seek help but suffer in silence. When they do seek help, it can be a battle to be heard, to be respected or to get the care they need. Cutting this funding sends the message to the women who stay silent that they were right to do so because the State - their State - does not care. I know this is not true. I know that this Government is not made up of bad people. However, with this decision, it has divorced itself from the real consequences and they are not acceptable.

I thank Deputy Ellis for raising this issue and I understand that he is referring to Rape Crisis Network Ireland, RCNI. I welcome the opportunity to clarify the position with regard to the funding of this organisation.

With effect from its establishment on 1 January 2014, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has taken on statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual or gender-based violence in the home or otherwise. Funding of approximately €17 million transferred to Tusla from the HSE on 1 January 2014 in respect of these services. Additional funding of €2.541 million subsequently transferred to Tusla from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in respect of domestic violence refuges and services. Tusla funds 60 specialist domestic violence and sexual violence services, mainly through service arrangements with non-governmental organisations. This year, it will spend more than €19 million in supporting 44 domestic violence services and 16 sexual violence-rape crisis services. Tusla has a total revenue budget of €643 million in 2015, including €631 million in current funding and €12 million in capital. This represents an increase of €34 million or 5.6% on funding provided to Tusla in budget 2014.

This funding increase demonstrates that despite the budgetary constraints, the Government remains strongly committed to delivering the critically important resources and reforms needed to support Ireland's children and families. This additional funding is helping to drive key priorities in the reform of services and is assisting the agency to deliver on its mandate from Government.

Sexual violence services are being developed by Tusla as a national specialist service to enable better outcomes for both children and adults who are survivors of sexual violence. In this regard, Tusla has appointed a national manager to ensure a single line of accountability for all resources in this important area. In addition, Tusla is currently in the process of recruiting eight additional staff to ensure domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services are further developed. Tusla has undertaken a comprehensive review of sexual violence and domestic violence services. The purpose was to identify strategic priorities and set out a roadmap for the delivery of these services.

Tusla considers that there is scope for a more co-ordinated and equitable provision of these services throughout the country. In reviewing the make-up of current services, it is seeking to address any identified gaps in services to avoid duplication and to support effective delivery of front-line services nationally. It is in this context that Tusla has taken the decision to cease funding the RCNI and to take on direct responsibility for what is the development and maintenance of a database of information recorded on behalf of the rape crisis centres.

First, Tusla had a number of concerns with regard to the service provided. Tusla was concerned that this database did not capture information from all 16 rape crisis centres as only 11 centres are affiliated to the network. In addition, Tusla did not always have timely access to the data collected, which I am sure the House would agree is essential to support the planning and delivery of high-quality services across both the domestic violence and sexual violence services sector. To plan properly for the future, Tusla needs access to complete and reliable information. Consequently, Tusla has taken the decision to put in place a comprehensive data system that best meets the current and future data needs of a developing service. I am mindful of data deficiencies across the system and I have raised the issue of how this should be improved with the board and executive of Tusla as a priority for 2015. I support Tusla's efforts to address shortfalls in this area. As part of revised governance arrangements, funded sexual violence services will provide information directly to Tusla, creating for the first time a comprehensive national dataset on all such services funded by the agency. This information is critically important as Tusla continues to reform services to ensure we provide the best possible response to survivors of sexual violence.

I emphasise that in my discussions this year with Tusla regarding service delivery, I asked that particular priority be given to protecting front-line services. In this context, I am pleased that funding for the 16 rape crisis centres nationwide which provide services directly to rape survivors has been protected in 2015, with funding of almost €4 million allocated to them. The RCNI does not provide services directly to survivors of sexual violence. The RCNI continues to be in receipt of funding from other statutory providers such as Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, and the Commission for Support of Victims of Crime.

I assure the House that the Government and Tusla are strongly committed to providing effective responses to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The agency takes a broad view of its responsibilities in this regard, recognising that these issues are complex and require a whole of Government response. At all times, the first and key priority is to ensure that the needs of victims of sexual violence are being met in the best way possible.

It is not the first time I have seen Tusla causing great problems, identifying areas, putting funding in different areas and taking it from other areas. There is an issue concerning St. Helena's Family Resource Centre and Tusla. The RCNI is very clear that it is losing €250,000. If Tusla is going to recruit eight additional staff, I suggest it puts the money into the front-line services. That is where it should go. This is a front-line service that delivers a massive amount of advice to people. It deals with one in five women in our society. Literally thousands of children associated with the women in our society are witnesses to violence and are affected in some way.

Since 1996, 207 women have been murdered, with 54% of them being murdered by their partners or ex-partners. Staff from the RCNI have visited people's homes, given them advice over the phone and dealt with them on a one-to-one, face-to-face basis. We have seen the effects of this. I have seen the effects in my clinics many times. People have come in as a result of domestic violence, some of whom are in a terrible state. Apart from being beaten, they are emotionally distraught, with children by their sides, and I have witnessed this on a number of occasions. The extent is probably far greater than what is being reported. Many women will not go to the Garda.

I commend the work of Women's Aid, the RCNI and other groups that are tackling this issue. The number of people who have benefited from these services is massive and we cannot underestimate it.

The Minister should not accept the word of Tusla with regard to how it is dealing with funding because I have seen this issue arise in other areas. I am very worried about the approach Tusla has adopted to many projects.

I reassure the House that all 16 rape crisis centres across the country have suffered no reduction in funding. Rape and violence against women is repugnant to all right-minded people. This Government is committed to supporting victims of such heinous crimes and to supporting the rape crisis centres. Tusla is committed to ensuring that we have accurate and complete data so that we can plan ahead and fill any gaps in services across the country. I remind Deputy Ellis that the Government also funds organisations which provide services to the victims of domestic violence, both women and children, to the tune of €17 million per year.

I commend the work of the rape crisis centres, their volunteers and all those who support victims of domestic violence. I commit that this Government will continue to support these services and will seek to expand them where gaps have been found to exist and where services are difficult for victims to access.

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

I am very happy to be able to discuss this issue, although happy is probably the wrong word because I genuinely believe that we are now at crisis point in terms of the functioning or rather the lack of functioning of GSOC. I have come to the conclusion that the departure of Simon O'Brien will represent a turning point in that organisation. A year ago knowledge of GSOC and its role was growing in the public domain but under the new regulations, gardaí going to GSOC with serious concerns about Garda malpractice, incompetence and failure to investigate crime properly are not being dealt with effectively. I wish to put a few examples on the record.

My colleague, Deputy Wallace, has mentioned on a number of occasions the very shabby treatment of garda whistleblowers by GSOC. More than a year ago Garda Keith Harrison's case was referred to the new Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan and sent on to GSOC last summer. In September Garda Harrison met Simon O'Brien, the leading commissioner in GSOC, for four hours in Galway. He was told that the matter he raised was serious and that the commissioner would revert to him on it. He reverted back to him in the first week of November and told him that it would be investigated by GSOC and that two senior investigators had been appointed. That was in November of last year. Up until April this serving garda heard absolutely nothing. The issue was raised by Deputy Wallace in the Dáil and subsequent to that Garda Harrison contacted GSOC by telephone three times but heard nothing. He sent an e-mail, copying in myself and Deputy Wallace and then he got a phone call back on 20 April, almost a year from the time he made his original complaint. He received an apology and was told that there were new systems in place and that an investigation would be set up. He was told that someone had been appointed and would be in touch. He has heard absolutely nothing since. During that time, this serving Garda, who lives down a boreen in Donegal, 25 km away from the nearest Garda station had a patrol car at his house 20 times between January and May. He has also had his post opened. If he had been suspended from duty he would be on full pay. He has been out sick because of the stress of the situation and his pay has been reduced. If this is the manner in which GSOC is treating a garda whistleblower, how much worse must it be for members of the public?

There is a double standard in evidence in the contrast between the speedy investigation that was launched into GSOC at the behest of the GRA and AGSI into the tragic death of a garda in Donegal who had been investigated by GSOC and the lack of investigation into other cases. We have a real problem here. The consistent and unrelenting mantra from the GRA and the AGSI against GSOC is intolerable. We now have a Garda body and a Garda representative organisation constantly publicly undermining GSOC. The commission itself has lost the confidence of the general public. Whether it is that GSOC does not know what to do or that it has been set up to fail is, in some ways, neither here nor there. It is not functioning, gardaí are not being called to account and the public has lost confidence in An Garda Síochána and GSOC.

GSOC was established as a statutory independent body under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to provide independent oversight of complaints made against members of An Garda Síochána. It commenced operations on 9 May 2007, as Deputy Daly will be aware. The Garda Síochána Act stipulates that GSOC is independent in the exercise of its functions and I, as Minister, have no role in the processing of individual complaints which are referred for investigation. Indeed, it is this guarantee of independence, I would argue, which is the hallmark of effective oversight.

GSOC has an enormously important role to play in ensuring that public confidence in An Garda Síochána is safeguarded. The commission has extensive powers under the 2005 Act to enable it to carry out its responsibilities. It is important that we all respect the independence of bodies such as GSOC. It would be a travesty if, having established such bodies, this House was then to impinge on that independence. I have no doubt that all Members of the House would agree that it would not be appropriate for Deputies to second guess the commission regarding its investigations.

The House will be aware that there is a mechanism in the 2005 Act to inquire into the conduct of GSOC's designated officers. Arising out of the recent tragic death of Sergeant Michael Galvin, Mr. Justice Frank Clarke of the Supreme Court is carrying out such an inquiry. I will not comment further on that particular matter at this stage.

We recently enacted changes to the legislation to reform, strengthen and clarify the remit and operation of GSOC. This is a key element of our programme for Government. I do not know if Deputy Daly has read the annual report of GSOC which was published recently and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Deputy has made a lot of assumptions and allegations here today but it is very clear from the annual report that 2014 was a very busy and demanding year for GSOC. The commission received 11% more complaints and concluded 8% more cases in 2014 in comparison to 2013. These figures are a sign of greater operational efficiency, contrary to what Deputy Daly has said. It is quite clear from the annual report that GSOC is getting on with its work and is investigating complaints. The message coming from the report is generally positive about co-operation between An Garda Síochána and GSOC. Deputy Daly knows that An Garda Síochána, the Garda Commissioner and GSOC agreed protocols about the exchange of information between the two bodies and those protocols are being adhered to. The timeframes for introducing and giving information are now much shorter than in the past. The 2014 report acknowledges "marked improvements" in efficiency, dialogue and co-operation with An Garda Síochána which the commission hopes will continue in 2015.

The Government is currently seeking expressions of interest from suitably qualified persons for the post of Chairperson of GSOC.

The Government remains committed to implementing a programme of reform in the area of policing and justice, an issue in which I know that the Deputy has a deep interest. I will continue to be fully supportive of GSOC, as I have shown by the increase in funding and the recruitment of staff to carry out its investigations. All of that work is ongoing.

I replied on the two cases raised by Deputy Mick Wallace previously in the House. While it is not appropriate for me to go into individual details, I outlined the actions that were being taken in both cases. I do not know if Deputy Clare Daly is referring to one of these cases, but I clearly outlined in broad terms what was happening in both cases.

The Minister, obviously, has no role in processing individual cases; she is not responsible for that matter. However, she is responsible for the lack of teeth in the GSOC organisation. We had a unique opportunity in the legislation that was before the House to give it real strength, but that opportunity was not taken. I put it to the Minister that she has allowed the Garda organisations to consistently seek to undermine GSOC in public statements and utterances, for which they have not been called to account by any Government representative. In some ways, we were among the biggest defenders of GSOC for a period of time and still recognise that it is doing its best. However, it is still under-resourced and under-armed in terms of the lack of powers to really call the Garda to account. It has been given increased funding, but it is in part to cover the extra role that was formerly fulfilled by the confidential recipient. It is the receiver of complaints against gardaí. Gardaí who have gone to it have recounted to us experiences of having been treated shamefully. It is not fit for purpose.

The Minister sent me a letter earlier in the week regarding a query I had about the €59 million in taxpayers' money paid out in civil claims to members of the public because of Garda malpractice in a 13 year period up to last year. I had sought to establish how much of that money had been paid by the gardaí responsible for the malpractice, how many of them had been disciplined and how many had had their pensions taken from them. The answer the Minister had obtained for me was that the Garda Commissioner could not provide the information which was not available. The force is behaving in an improper manner if we cannot access legitimately requested information.

While the Minister points to new protocols and a better functioning GSOC, I do not see it. Deputy Mick Wallace dealt with my case. I have a case with GSOC which is two and a half years old. It is not exactly a rocket scientist's case, yet l have still not received an answer from GSOC to the complaint. Many of my constituents who have approached GSOC have also not received replies. That anecdotal and real evidence of real people's experiences has to be factored in to the debate. I reiterate that there is a serious problem which needs to be radically and independently addressed.

The Deputy has raised a number of elements of policing and GSOC's work. She has commented on the role of the representative organisations and their comments on GSOC. She has also commented on the effectiveness of GSOC and its resources and now introduced another comment on a different issue.

Extra resources have been given. Obviously, we are emerging from a very difficult economic situation. I previously indicated in the House that staff had been recruited recently for investigations. An additional €1 million has been allocated in order to do this. Clearly, it is a help in dealing in an efficient and effective way with complaints made to GSOC.

I reject what the Deputy said about the power of GSOC. The Government has done the opposite of what she said. We have given increased powers to GSOC in the 2015 Act. They are important extra powers that were requested by a number of people. For example, we have for the first time brought the Garda Commissioner within the scope of GSOC investigations and we allowed GSOC to carry out an examination of certain Garda practices and procedures on its own initiative. Previously, this could only have been done by the Minister. The Deputy is familiar with the legislation.

When speaking to the GRA or the AGSI or addressing any other public forum on policing, I have consistently said it is critical to have effective and efficient oversight of policing, to which I am absolutely committed. I have said repeatedly that I will strengthen and support GSOC to enable it to do its job efficiently. At every public forum attended by members of An Garda Síochána, I have said it is important to have proper oversight and full co-operation between the Garda and GSOC. That is the message I have consistently given. I do not expect the relationship between GSOC and An Garda Síochána by any means to be easy at all times or without tension. There should be tension because it is an oversight function, but I expect people to co-operate and work together. I am overseeing a complaints body that will be effective and efficient. As the economy improves we will provide more resources in order that it will continue to deal with these cases in as timely a manner as it can.