Topical Issue Debate

Before moving on to Topical Issues, I wish to say on my own behalf in particular that we are reaching the end of a very long term. I pay tribute to all our staff, who are in need of a well-deserved break. I refer to those in my office, the Acting Clerk of the Dáil and Mr. Errity who looks after the pounds, shillings and pence, the clerks who assist us in the Chamber, including those in front of us recording the proceedings, the Captain of the Guard, the Superintendent and the usher staff who serve us so well, those in the restaurants and bars who feed us and make sure we are not thirsty, and all the staff throughout the Houses, especially in the Library Service, which is second to none.

Last but not least I wish all Members a well-deserved break. If at times I was a bit cross or sharp with people it is never permanent and I hope people understand my shortcomings. I hope everybody has a pleasant break for the summer months. I thank Deputy Ó Cuív and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, for the last item before we reach Topical Issues.

Human Rights

I first raised the case of Asia Bibi in 2011 and I have raised it a number of times in the years since then. She has been imprisoned for the past five years since she was accused of the offence of blasphemy in Pakistan. I raise it today because I have read newspaper reports recently that she has been suffering ill health and I understand her solicitors made representations on her behalf that she be transferred to a prison in Lahore so that she can be nearer to her family and can get medical treatment. If she is suffering from ill health I wish her a speedy recovery and I hope whatever assistance is needed is provided. I hope that matter will be raised by the Irish Government with the Pakistan Government on her behalf.

This is a very important case on account of the humanitarian issues involved. I understand that Ms Bibi is the first woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan. Over 1,000 people have been accused of this offence since 1987 so it is a big issue in Pakistan. She has appealed her case and has been awaiting the verdict on an appeal to the Supreme Court for a long time now so it would be appropriate for the Government to make strong representations to the Pakistan Government and to request that her case be treated with compassionate consideration. At the very least, we should press for the matter to be brought to court as soon as possible. We should seek for her to be released in the meantime and that her case be given as much humanitarian treatment as possible.

The Irish ambassador-designate to Pakistan, who is based in Turkey, visited Islamabad last year and made representations relating to this case and to the blasphemy laws. The European Union High Representative has also raised the blasphemy laws with the Government of Pakistan so I ask the Minister of State to give an update on our Government's actions in this case.

The plight of Asia Bibi, who is detained in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy, remains of great concern to the Government. Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade avail of every possible opportunity to raise Ms Bibi's conviction. Ireland does not have a resident embassy in Pakistan but the embassy in Ankara, Turkey, is accredited to Pakistan. Our embassy in Ankara continues to monitor the situation in Pakistan generally, and the embassy remains in regular contact with the EU delegation in Islamabad.

During official visits to Islamabad, the Irish ambassador has conveyed our concerns at this conviction on a number of occasions. In the course of a series of meetings there in November 2014, the then ambassador met with a senior official in the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan and raised this case, noting that it is a matter of grave concern in Ireland. Officials in my Department have also raised this case, and our concerns regarding the blasphemy laws and persecution of Christians generally, with the Embassy of Pakistan here in Dublin, and they will continue to do so.

The European Union also continues to raise this conviction with the Pakistan authorities, including through the EU delegation in Islamabad. In the course of a statement made on behalf of the EU High Representative at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg in October 2014, it was noted that the EU, particularly its delegation in Islamabad, would continue both to follow the case of Ms Bibi closely and to advocate for the verdict to be overturned. While not trying to intervene in an ongoing court case, the statement also noted that the EU would use any opportunity to raise this case and the wider issues of the death penalty and blasphemy law with Pakistan. The EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis, visited Pakistan in October 2014 for an indepth dialogue with the Pakistan authorities on key human rights issues.

Ireland strongly condemns all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur or who the victims are. We attach great importance to combatting all forms of discrimination based on religion or belief and incitement to religious hatred. We firmly believe in tolerance, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief. Ireland is deeply concerned by the persecution of Christians. I assure the House that Ireland will continue to support actively freedom of religion or belief across our foreign policy. In the case of Ms Bibi, officials in Dublin and Ankara will continue to monitor her case closely and to raise it as appropriate with the Government of Pakistan.

The Minister referred to how the Irish ambassador had conveyed Ireland's concerns over the conviction of Asia Bibi on a number of occasions, including last November when he visited Islamabad. If there is an opportunity to do this again will he raise the issue again, as well as the broader case of the blasphemy laws? I understand there was a proposal from the Pakistan Government for a new law to target false accusations of blasphemy because there have been reports that accusations have been made against individuals, particularly those from minority villages, as is the case with Asia Bibi. Can Government welcome the proposal for a new law to target false accusations of blasphemy and look for an update on its progress? I understand it is just a proposal from the Pakistan Government at this stage.

Given that there have been reports about Ms Bibi's health, can that aspect of her case be raised as well, particularly from the point of view of humanitarian and medical treatment? Can the Minister continue to raise the matter with diplomats in the Embassy of Pakistan?

I have listened with concern to the Deputy's comments. I want to assure the Deputy that the case of Ms Bibi remains of concern to the Government. As I have previously stated, officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and at the Embassy of Ireland in Ankara, have made representations on Ms Bibi's case to the Pakistan authorities.

The EU has also been active on this issue. In light of this debate I will request the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to seek a meeting with the chargé d'affaires of the embassy of Pakistan in Dublin at the earliest opportunity to convey again our concerns about Ms Bibi's case. Our embassy in Ankara will continue to monitor closely Ms Bibi's case in Pakistan and will continue to report back and make representations as appropriate.

Ireland strongly condemns all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur or who the victims are. Ireland consistently presses for effective action to counter the persecution of minorities in all relevant international fora, including at the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council and will continue to do so. Ireland will also continue to raise the issue of the persecution of Christians through its official bilateral contacts with the countries in question.

Planning Issues

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for affording me the opportunity to raise this issue. This relates to the town centre development in Naas, development of which has been suspended for the past seven or eight years much to the detriment of the image of the town. Naas is one of the most progressive provincial towns in the country. It has always been a go-getter in terms of business and it is still. The people of Naas promote their town to best national and international standards and the chamber does likewise in association with them. However, one of the obstacles in the promotion of Naas as a place to live, work, shop and do business are the cranes in suspension over it for a long period of time. This was supposed to be an iconic town centre development and it would have been had it taken place but now it has fallen into decay. This has occurred because the various agencies involved do not seem to be in a position to co-ordinate their efforts to get the operation moving again.

I have tabled a number of questions over the past six months or so in this House in an effort to focus attention on the need for the Minister of State to get involved and to encourage the local authority and various other bodies such as NAMA to get involved. They should be brought together in an effort to convince them of the urgent necessity to get the development moving again. It is not something that cannot be done. It can, will and has to be done. Two things will have to happen. The economic recovery, which applies throughout the country, will have to continue and it will. The other concerns the progress being made and confidence in the system to work.

Local people always look at their own town, main street or particular area to see if things are happening in they way they should. This is a classic example. It is right in the middle of the main street in the centre of the town. It is a showpiece for the town of Naas and it will become much more important in the future. There are a couple of other derelict sites around but this one in particular needs to be dealt with at the earliest possible date. Will the Minister of State use his good offices to engage with the various agencies involved with a view to finding out what is required in order to move the project forward? If there are obstacles that cannot be resolved let us know about them now, but we should concentrate on those that can be resolved and get the development moving again.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to outline the position regarding the town centre development in Naas. The management of issues in regard to town centres is a matter for the relevant local authority. From inquiries made with Kildare County Council in this case, I am informed that its involvement in the Naas town centre development relates to the compulsory acquisition of two small parcels of land. An issue relating to the amount to be paid by the local authority to the landowners involved has arisen and I understand this will go to arbitration in October or November of this year. The rest of the town centre development is under the control of NAMA, with Kildare County Council precluded from involvement. NAMA reports to the Minister for Finance on its activities.

My role, as Minister of State, is to develop urban policy in general and not to intervene directly in individual town centre developments. As the Deputy will be aware, national urban policy is progressed predominantly by my Department through the local authority sector. The Department's 2002 national spatial strategy provided a strategic spatial planning framework which aimed to achieve a balance of social, economic and physical development and population growth between regions through the co-ordinated development of gateway cities and hub towns. Work is currently under way on the drafting of a successor to the national spatial strategy, with the legislative basis being prepared to place it on a statutory footing. It is envisaged that the successor strategy, to be entitled the National Planning Framework, will be in place by 2016.

A number of measures have been introduced by my Department in terms of specific urban policy initiatives to rejuvenate town centres in general. Local authorities were requested to reduce commercial rates and local charges to assist local businesses. Revised development contribution guidelines and guidelines on retail planning were introduced. The Government is also considering other urban development initiatives and supports as we speak. As the Deputy is aware, the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill is currently going through the Houses of the Oireachtas and is presently in the Seanad. In terms of wider Government action providing assistance to retail businesses and stimulating economic activity in local communities, a number of measures were taken and have been set out for the Deputy in recent replies to his parliamentary questions.

The management of the stalled development in Naas is a matter for Kildare County Council in the first instance. I understand the frustration felt by the Deputy and many of the people in Naas because this development is stalled. However, with processes under way involving NAMA and arbitration, it would be improper for me at this time to contact the parties as requested. I hope the fact the Deputy has raised this issue on the floor of this House will refocus the minds to try to resolve any outstanding issues on this site.

I feel quite strongly about urban regeneration. We already have infrastructure and services in place in urban areas which have been paid for by the taxpayer. Deputy Durkan is correct in stating it is important that we do not have sites lying vacant in the middle of our towns and cities. I take on board the Deputy's concerns and frustrations but hope he understands, due to the arbitration process currently under way, that I cannot intervene at this time.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. What he has said is correct. The main purpose of raising the issue in this House is to focus the attention of those whose attention is supposed to be already focused on these issues with a view to bringing the matter up the scale to some extent and to encourage those involved in the arbitration process. I understand there is only one arbitrator to deal with cases of this kind in the whole country but I hope that is not the case. If it is there will be long waits for a great many people.

It should not be necessary to wait forever for something like this to happen. Seven or eight years is a long time for the people of Naas to look at an obsolete site, for want of a better description, and to see a crane sitting still on a site that is moving nowhere. It gives a bad impression of the area. It gives a bad feeling to the people who live in the area and it is a bad, although unintentional, advertisement for the area. As far as the people of the area are concerned, it is not their intention to advertise negatively the place in which they live. As I said earlier, Naas is one of the most progressive towns in the country and will continue to be so. However, it would be very helpful if all those agencies to which the Minister of State has already referred got involved and got their heads together as a matter of urgency to resolve the outstanding issues quickly as opposed to dragging them out for the longest possible time.

The Government is introducing the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill which is designed specifically to encourage and stimulate the output of housing supply in our towns and cities. This is logical because existing public services are in place and we need to utilise them to the best of our ability. There are also provisions in the Bill for urban regeneration. The vacant site levy is a new mechanism, and power, for local authorities that identify strategic sites of high potential in town centres and cities.

I recognise what the Deputy is saying. This site has been lying vacant for seven or eight years and a number of outstanding issues need to be resolved.

In fact, there is a similar site on Michael Street in my city of Waterford. Again, it was a victim of the crash. It is an example of urban blight and decay in the middle of our towns. It is unacceptable. I call on the likes of NAMA or any interested agencies which have a stake in these sites to focus on them again and try to up their efforts to resolve any outstanding issues. It is unacceptable to have such sites in the middle of our town and cities. We all agree that proper planning and development should focus on the core of our towns and cities rather than replicate the mistakes of the past. We have seen the sprawling developments that literally affect the footfall in our towns, villages and cities.

I thank Deputy Durkan for raising the matter. I hope he understands that I cannot intervene in this particular case because of the arbitration issues. The Deputy mentioned there was only one arbitrator in the country. That is something I will get clarified for the Deputy. I would be rather surprised if that were the case. The matter needs to be clarified and I will do that for him.

Home Help Service Provision

I thank the Minister for being in the Chamber to take this Topical Issue matter. I know and understand only too well the needs of older people in our families and communities. As I said last night, our senior citizens have been the backbone of our communities and they deserve our support when they get older. Therefore, I wish to highlight the issue of home help and the need to support further the services in our communities. There is considerable demand for these services throughout the country in every village and town. At present, the services are under great strain. While many of our senior citizens are healthy and able-bodied, some need a little help to get through the day, wash, feed, go to the shops and other small chores. Some have more acute needs but they deserve to be able to live at home, if they so choose, with the support of their local health team and home help services to be near family, friends and neighbours.

Home help is not only about sitting down and having a cup of tea, although that part is sometimes as important as any other part. It is also about enabling elderly people to keep their independence and live in dignity at home for as long as they can. I recognise the value of home help and home carers who can be a lifeline to many elderly people. However, in some areas people are being told that no more hours are available. In my area around Inchicore and Ballyfermot, home help service is at a standstill. Currently, a total of 90 people are on the waiting list and it cannot accommodate anyone else. What happens to these people? Many of them end up back in hospital and that is not really necessary. They would be better off staying at home with a small number of hours of home help.

I have also encountered a problem involving one of my constituents. A private company has been contracted to provide the service to the HSE. The company often sends a different staff member every day. This can be upsetting for an older person who may be unfamiliar with the staff member. The staff member may not be a familiar face or someone the elderly person believes she can trust. This lady has half an hour to get up in the morning, get washed, dressed and fed. The lady in question is rather infirm at the moment.

I realise the Government is aware of the needs of older people and I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and the Minister for Health on the work they have been doing. I acknowledge the services provided by the HSE as well. At present, more than 10 million hours of home help services are being provided through the support of 50,000 people. However, we need to invest in home help services to help take the pressure off our hospitals and long-term care services.

Although their hours have been cut, our home help workers continue to meet people in the evenings and go back to ensure the people they work with are all right. Many of the home help people I know personally have started to use money out of their own pocket to upskill themselves and improve the way they care for older people. Many older people want to say at home for as long as they can. Often they are afraid of going into hospital or nursing homes. That is where the home help service can really be a lifeline and take the pressure off all our front-line services.

I wish to make another point about the fair deal scheme. There is great demand for places, especially in the greater Dublin area. I know one group of family members who recently contacted 27 nursing homes on behalf of their elderly mother but only three of the homes would put the person on the waiting list. This situation is urgent and needs to be addressed.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is on Government business elsewhere.

While there will always be a need for long-term residential care, older people have consistently said they want to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible, and the Government is committed to facilitating this. The review of the nursing homes support scheme, to be published next week, will include consideration of the need for continued development of home and community-based services alongside continued support for residential care. The HSE already provides significant levels of home supports. The executive will expend approximately €330 million this year on home-based supports. The HSE's national service plan for 2015 provides a target of 10.3 million hours of home help with a budget of approximately €185 million. This matches the 2014 budget for this area.

In addition to the mainstream home help service, which provides assistance with personal care, such as washing, dressing and essential domestic chores, the home care package scheme provides assistance for those with more complex care needs. As well as helping with the essential tasks of daily living, a home care package may include community nursing, therapy services, aids and appliances and respite care. The 2015 service plan provides for €135 million for home care packages to support 13,600 people at any one time. This represents an increase on 2014, when €130 million was provided to support 13,200 clients. As part of a measure introduced in 2014, a further €10 million has been made available to provide intensive home care packages for up to 190 people at any given time. These people would otherwise have to remain in acute hospital or long-stay residential care settings. This initiative could help to keep up to 250 people with complex care needs at home for longer.

The HSE is progressing a range of measures to improve home care provision overall, standardise services nationally and promote quality and safety. Providers are monitored through service level agreements with the HSE. These are supervised through regular local operational meetings and review of care plans.

The HSE is currently undertaking a full review of home care services with a view to improving services generally. This includes the preparation of national quality guidelines which will apply to all home support services, including those procured by the HSE from external providers.

Notwithstanding the significant improvements in the overall economic position that we have seen in recent times, significant pressures continue to apply across the health service and finding the resources to develop home care services in the way I would like continues to be a real challenge. However, there is no doubt that supports delivered in the home and in other community settings will play an ever-increasing part in supporting our older people, and I will ensure home-based services are given adequate priority when it comes to allocating available resources across services for next year.

There is nothing I disagree with in that. I am all about promoting equality and safety. I know the Minister understands the challenges facing us, especially those facing elderly people. Our elderly population is increasing as well. I was at the Joint Committee on Health and Children this morning where we met representatives from the Alzheimer Society of Ireland. The lady who spoke, Caitriona Crowe, is from the south Tipperary dementia pilot project and she explained what they were doing. Among the figures she gave was that there are approximately 54,700 people with dementia throughout the country. The figure is growing all the time.

There is an understanding that if people stay at home, they live longer, they are more comfortable in their home space and more comfortable when surrounded by people they know. Most of the home care teams in my area are made up of people who have worked in the area for a long time and they know the residents. However, we are a far cry from the 90 clients I have in Ballyfermot and Inchicore who are waiting for some home help hours. To me, they are the important people.

It is the small things that matter to most people when their parents get older. The way the home help service has been run down through the years has raised questions and it has been difficult to manage at times. I believe the services are coming to a better understanding of what it is about. I have no problem with anyone having a cup of tea and talking to someone, but not for two hours, something that happened in the past. Thankfully, that does not happen now and we have really committed people.

The Government is pouring vast sums of money into these services across the board. However, I still have 90 clients in the Ballyfermot and Inchicore areas who need these services. That is why I am speaking up today. I believe there is a small group of people in every community throughout the country who need a little extra. It may not involve a significant amount of money when it is calculated, but it matters a great deal to those people who cannot even secure an hour or two of home help in a week.

I cannot dispute what the Deputy is saying.

Although there have not been cuts affecting home care or home help packages in the past couple of years and despite a small increase benefiting home care packages, our difficulty is that we have an ageing population that is getting bigger all the time. Our objective is to allow people to stay at home for as long as possible. This is not only their desire and in their interests, but it is also less expensive than residential care. I am conscious of this and will specifically ask my officials and the HSE for a note on what is happening in Ballyfermot and Inchicore to determine whether the problem is particularly bad there by comparison with other areas. I will undertake to examine the position.

I take the Deputy's point on some of the private providers not providing for continuity of care and sending different staff every day, which is not desirable. Irrespective of whether the recipient is old or young, it is best for him or her to see the same staff all the time. We could potentially write into future contracts a requirement that changes not happen all the time. It may be necessary sometimes, however, if staff are sick, for example.

Thanks to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, an additional €44 million was provided for the fair deal scheme this year. This has reduced the waiting time to four weeks from 11 or 12 last year. Notwithstanding this, in certain parts of the country, including parts of Dublin, the south east and the north east, there is a shortage of nursing homes. As with the housing crisis, there were years in which there was no private or public investment. That is now changing and quite a few nursing homes are under construction or in the planning process. They are very much needed. It is only when they open that people will start to see a freeing up. In Dublin and the north east, in particular, there is a shortage of nursing home spaces, but there is to be a supply.

Architectural Heritage

The Rock of Cashel is a complex of secular and religious structures of national and international importance. It is dramatically situated high above the surrounding plain. It dates from the 4th century AD when it was home to the kings of Munster and was associated with the confederate wars of the 17th century. The buildings include a 12th century Romanesque chapel, Cormac's Chapel, a cathedral, a round tower, a choral hall and a castle. Cormac's Chapel, built in 1127, highlights the significant influences that resulted from the tradition of ecclesiastics travelling throughout Europe and beyond. It incorporates German and English architectural influences, in particular, with Scandinavian decorative influences.

Scaffolding was erected in 2009 to allow conservation works at the 12th century Cormac's Chapel to take place. The chapel is one of the earliest and finest churches in Ireland and was built in the Romanesque style. It contains fresco paintings which are extremely rare in Ireland and its murals are an integral part of our art history. When the scaffolding was erected, it was referred to at an urban council meeting by Councillor Tom Wood as “an alarming mass of scaffolding." The OPW responded to his comments by stating, “It would be non-invasive to the building." The scaffolding around Cormac's Chapel has now been erected for over seven years. The OPW's comment is in stark contrast to comments made by it at its presentation to the former town council. At that presentation the council was told by the architects that the scaffolding would not be in place for any longer than four years.

We all understand the need to preserve and restore the fresco paintings in Cormac's Chapel and the importance of the work to conserve the unique Romanesque building. It must be a source of embarrassment that the project is now heading into its eighth year. I have strong reservations and believe the current project will echo what happened in the 1980s, when scaffolding was erected on the Romanesque chapel and remained in place for over 12 years.

The Rock of Cashel has been undergoing restoration works since 1974. The continuing works have effectively turned it into a partial building site since the 1970s. Although the Rock of Cashel has been on a tentative list for World Heritage Site status since 1992, no notable progress has been made in achieving this objective. Between the previous works on the Hall of the Vicars Choral and the unending works on Cormac's Chapel, the Rock of Cashel has effectively remained covered in scaffolding for 22 of the past 40 years. One must ask whether the scaffolding has become an impediment to achieving World Heritage Site status. I understand further works are to take place on the Vicars Choral chapel, possibly in 2016. It would make sense to complete the current works before any other project is commenced.

While the unsightly scaffolding is a visual obstacle facing the Rock of Cashel, there is another pressing issue directly linked with the future success of the rock that remains unresolved since 1959. It relates to the reinstating of what is known as the Rock Field as part of the overall Rock of Cashel site. The Rock Field encircles the Rock of Cashel monument. The Cashel Palace which includes the lands and the Rock Field is for sale. I ask the Minister and the OPW to enter into negotiations with the new purchaser of the Cashel Palace to bring about a resolution of this issue. The Rock of Cashel received 273,000 visitors in 2014. We thank and appreciate the management, staff, tour guides and maintenance staff who provide an unparalleled service for all visitors throughout the year.

The cathedral complex on the Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland's most important early mediaeval monuments and one of its components is Cormac's Chapel, situated on the south-east side of the main cathedral. It is not only one of the most significant early Romanesque buildings in the country, but it also contains fragments of an immensely important scheme of wall paintings that are practically unique in Ireland.

In recent years it became apparent that there was a significant problem at Cormac's Chapel. Despite a long programme of conservation treatment, the paintings continued to suffer deterioration as a result of the severely adverse environmental conditions in the building. As a result, a project was begun in 2001 to investigate and control the environmental conditions causing damage to the chapel and, in particular, the mediaeval wall paintings. The results of the initial study showed that the moisture levels in the building fabric and internal microclimate were extremely high as a result of rainwater penetration through the fabric and uncontrolled ventilation with external air. In short, the building was suffering from extreme damp penetration brought about by failure of the roof and the roof drainage system. Enclosure tests involving a reduction in the external ventilation demonstrated that the internal microclimate could effectively be stabilised, but because of the residual water in the building fabric the relative humidity remains extremely high, resulting in significant condensation and large levels of microbiological growth. This is reflected in green algal growth on the internal walls.

The results of all of the technical investigations demonstrated that while some of the conservation approaches had value, overall, the underlying causes of deterioration of the wall paintings were associated with both liquid water and water vapour and this needed to be tackled at source with a comprehensive building fabric intervention. The most serious damage was associated with liquid water, largely due to the failure to effectively remove rainwater from the chapel, with the result that a significant volume of water penetrated the building structure. This is primarily due to the complex design of the building and lack of any systematic rainwater disposal system. The condition of the building fabric, although structurally stable, was found to be extremely vulnerable to penetration of dispersed rainwater.

Roofed and enclosed scaffolding was erected over Cormac's Chapel in January 2010 in order to allow the building structure to dry and provide access to the roof and protection during the repair work. This was a highly complex operation, not only for structural reasons but also because of the very large volumes of rainwater that needed to be removed from the structure. Careful records of rainwater volumes have been kept by the Rock of Cashel works team throughout the project. In 2012, for example, it amounted to 126,750 litres, and in 2013, 113,200 litres. This provided confirmation of the very high volume of rainfall to which the chapel was subject, in addition to the complexities of successfully removing such a large volume of water from the building structure in the future.

In the period since the cover was erected on the building, extensive and continuous monitoring has taken place. In essence, this reveals that the building is drying out well but extremely slowly. There was an initial sharp decrease in most areas in the first six months and then a slower decrease in subsequent years. However, some areas of the croft appeared to have dried less well.

Artificial conservation ventilation undertaken during this period also showed a more significant effect on the internal micro-climate, causing a slow but cumulative reduction in air moisture content. However, this process is highly sensitive as any too-rapid change in micro-climatic conditions would potentially be very damaging to the paintings and the entire building must be monitored on an ongoing basis.

In tandem with the environmental monitoring, the OPW National Monuments Service is currently carrying out consolidation and repair of the sandstone roof. This entails removing the cement bedding mortar and the careful repair and replacement, where necessary, of damaged roof stones. The long-term rainwater disposal system is also being fashioned as part of the work. This will allow the removal of liquid water from the roof of the chapel safely for the future. Due to the complexity of the project, the OPW envisages that the scaffolding will remain in place for approximately the next 18 to 24 months.

In conclusion, I would like to make a few specific points in response to the Deputy's comments. The project could not, as the Deputy states, have run over its time-frame by four years since no definitive projection of project duration was ever made and even the speculation that did exist said that the work would take an absolute minimum of five years from its start on site in 2010. Second, the work at Cormac's Chapel is clearly at the forefront of conservation practice in Ireland. Lessons are being learned on this project which will serve to protect monuments all over the country in the future. This project is not, however, one that can be precisely planned to every last degree. As it is so novel and because the building is reacting so slowly to the ministrations of the technical team, it would have been impossible to speculate definitively in 2010 how long this project would take. Equally, I should reflect that if there is the slightest suspicion that we could damage the monument or these paintings in any way by rushing the project to its conclusion, we should exercise caution and not take that risk.

I also point out that, notwithstanding the fact that the presence of the scaffold on the Rock of Cashel is visually intrusive, it has not adversely impacted on visitor numbers. Visitor numbers have increased from 204,270 in 2010 to 272,503 last year. Additionally, the OPW guide management on site reports that it is not experiencing high levels of complaints in respect of the issue and indeed many visitors express keen interest in it and an appreciation of the effort being made by the Irish State to safeguard its heritage.

The conservation architect to the project briefed the urban council in Cashel, particularly Councillor Tom Wood, and gave a commitment that the scaffolding would be in place for a maximum of five years. We are now into the eighth year. There are people in Tipperary who do not remember seeing the Rock of Cashel without scaffolding. That is how long it has been in place.

Nothing proved that the scaffolding is now almost as enduring as the Rock of Cashel itself than the visit two years ago by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. At that time, the people of Tipperary held their breath and thought that the scaffolding would surely come down but it did not. Many visitors on that weekend commented on the scaffolding. Many people who comment on the scaffolding and the fact that there is no accessibility to Cormac's Chapel are visitors from the US, Germany and the UK who feel that they have paid to see something and have left without seeing it entirely.

Whatever the explanations offered by the architectural gurus in the OPW, there is no excuse for the length of time taken to complete this project. If this was a private project or the Rock of Cashel was a private building, somebody would be facing bankruptcy. We need the Minister of State to call a halt, take the scaffolding down and give the Rock of Cashel back to the people of Tipperary and the rest of Ireland. Will the Minister ask the Minister of State to convey to the OPW the need to give these works priority; provide the necessary resources, personnel and skills that are required; and fund and expedite a conclusion to these works? Everybody understands the sensitive nature and the delicacy of the work involved but there are many people who cannot understand why it has been running over for so long and why we do not have a compact programme to conclude it.

I hear what the Deputy is saying. I have remarked on occasion when I have passed through Cashel that the scaffolding seems have been there for a very long time so I was curious to know what the story was. I will undertake to discuss this matter with the Minister of State. I will be seeing him in the next couple of days and I will of course mention the fact that this was raised here. I might ask him to contact the Deputy directly about it.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.45 p.m until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 22 September 2015.