Deputies Martin and O'Brien have four minutes, or two minutes each.
Topical Issue Debate
Local Government Reform
In the brief time available to me, I would like to articulate my view that the majority conclusion of the Smiddy report is fundamentally wrong in terms of the future of Cork City Council and Cork County Council. I happen to agree with the thrust of the minority grouping report, which is that cities drive regions. I think the amalgamation of Cork city and county councils would have a very negative impact on the capacity of the region to attract foreign direct investment into the future. I am particularly in favour of a governance structure for the city that would be focused on the development of the city in the cultural, economic and social spheres. I think the solution that has come forward is an unworkable one. I believe the Minister, Deputy Kelly, was unduly hasty in accepting this particular proposal. I note that one of his colleagues on the Government benches, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, has strongly criticised the officials in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. He has blamed that Department for the momentum towards the amalgamation process.
I disagreed with the decision of the Minister's predecessor, Phil Hogan, to abolish town councils. I still disagree with it. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, displayed breathtaking cynicism when he arrived on the scene and said that the decision to get rid of the urban and town councils was a bad mistake and that he would reinstate them if he had his way all over again. He suggested that the Labour Party might even consider reinstating them in a new Government. For how long more will the public be treated to this kind of theatrics and be taken for fools? This whole agenda is politically driven. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, has clearly driven this particular agenda in relation to Cork. I happen to know from talking to people in Kilkenny that the amalgamation of city and county is not working there.
It is working in Tipperary.
It is not working in Waterford. The people of Waterford city are very upset about the declining capacity of the urban centre of the city to market itself. I refer the Minister to the submission to the review panel that was made by William Brady, Jonathan Hall and Brendan O'Sullivan of the UCC department of planning. I do not believe they had discussions with the review panel. They have spoken publicly and in detail about how they believe the recommendations will not work. They have emphasised the need for Cork to concentrate on carving out a niche urban identity, as its competitors are doing. They suggest that this urban identity will be lost if the merger goes ahead. They have said that the second challenge is to maintain an identity with Cork's large rural agriculture and food sectors. They suggest that the towns, villages and coastal communities must equally be considered. They believe there needs to be a rural counterweight to represent these citizens.
I ask the Deputy to conclude as his colleague's time is being eroded.
Fundamentally, the planning people in UCC are saying that this will provide the worst of both worlds: an oversized and unworkable entity that will never be able to meet fully the needs of the two core constituencies.
Deputy O'Brien has a shrinking two minutes.
Unfortunately, some of my time has gone, but I would agree with everything that Deputy Martin has said. There is no doubt that this is fundamentally wrong for Cork. Like Deputy Martin, I believe this is being driven by the Minister, Deputy Kelly. He arrived down to Cork the night before a press conference. He called people in when he was down in Carrigaline. He asked them to attend the press conference the following day and to row in behind the decision that had been made.
That is not-----
That is the information we have got from people who were in the room.
They would want to declare it.
The Minister has pushed this agenda since this report came out. I remind the House that the report was only passed on the basis of the chairperson's casting vote. In an unprecedented step, the CEO of Cork City Council came out and outlined the reasons this should not happen. I accept that the chief executive of Cork County Council, Tim Lucey, is now saying he is in favour of it. Just two years ago, when he was the chief executive of Cork City Council, he was saying the best option for Cork was to look at a boundary extension. He was producing maps and writing to the Department to urge those responsible to get off their backsides and look at extending the city boundary.
Now we have a situation where Cork City Council is taking legal action. The council has directed the chief executive to take legal action through a section 140. It has been debated a number of times in Cork City Council and there is total agreement in the council regarding this issue.
Cork County Council has not even debated the issue in public yet. The council has not even debated the issue in public and the Minister is determined to bring it to Cabinet and push it through as quickly as possible.
I thank the Deputies for their question. The timing is optimal because this topic is being debated a lot at present. I established the Cork local government committee on 15 January 2015 to carry out a review of local government arrangements in Cork city and county, including the boundary of Cork city and to make recommendations with respect to whether the boundary of the city should be altered or whether Cork City Council and Cork County Council should be unified.
Since receiving the report on 2 September 2015 I have had an opportunity to consider it and on 8 September 2015, after a lot of analysis, I signalled my agreement with its main recommendation to establish a new unified Cork local authority. I am persuaded that a unified local authority for Cork has the potential to achieve important benefits, above all strengthening local government. Other anticipated benefits include eliminating administrative duplication, securing greater efficiency through economies of scale, promoting economic and social development and, ultimately, improving service delivery. The case for unification rests primarily in stronger more effective local government speaking with one voice that can deliver a much better future for the people of Cork in terms of social and economic progress and quality of life and I presume that is what we all desire.
However, I would like to stress that the model that is being proposed for Cork involves more than just a merger as in the cases of Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford, which are working well. I know this because I am representative of one of those counties. The report points out that there would be a strong case for major devolution of powers to what would be by far the largest unit of local government within the State. Fragmentation and weak local government structures have inhibited devolution up to now. Stronger, more coherent local authorities can help to reverse this and reduce centralisation. The report also sees scope for stronger leadership of a new authority and I see a continued role for the Lord Mayor of Cork in providing civic leadership and underlining the status, customs and traditions of the city, of which I am well aware.
Since publication, much has been made in public commentary of the fact that the report was a "majority" report. However, this masks important aspects about which the committee was in full agreement, for example, the conclusion that retaining the status quo is not a realistic option and the need to acknowledge and develop Cork city as a driving force in the economic and social development of the region. The requirement for a new enlarged metropolitan area was also a matter of agreement but the committee differed on how best to achieve such an extension. I believe a boundary extension while maintaining two authorities would really mean the city taking a substantial share of the county's population and resources, with implications for the future viability of the county. Equally, the suggestion that Cork city would suffer economically or socially in a unified authority is simply not well founded.
It is essential that there is a clear overall vision for Cork and an approach that will achieve added value and strengthen local government. Unification can, I believe, achieve all of the benefits of addressing the boundary issue while avoiding the disadvantages and complexities for both authorities which would arise with extending the city boundary only. A unified authority with improved strategic capacity can act as a leader and facilitator of change to support and develop Cork and the wider region in social, economic and environmental terms and can facilitate the delivery of efficient and effective customer services through innovative local government.
I remind the House that, in signalling my agreement with the main recommendation to establish a unified authority rather than simply extending the city boundary, I indicated that I would give further consideration to all of the details in the report. A considerable amount of work remains to be done to develop further the committee's high-level recommendation. The detail of what a unified system of local government in Cork would involve needs to be fully developed, including governance arrangements, functions, arrangements to maintain the status of the city and indeed addressing, as necessary, issues raised in the minority report. I will be making a submission to Government on the approach to be followed in light of this further consideration.
I expected better, to be frank - more than just a bureaucratic presentation by the Minister in terms of Civil Service speak----
The Deputy will get more.
Fundamentally, there is a fundamental flaw in it----
Fundamentally there is a fundamental flaw.
Cork County Council and Cork City Council worked exceptionally well in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, in terms of the land use and transportation study. Officials in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government confirmed that. It was an exemplar in terms of how to do planning. That was followed by CASP, the Cork Area Strategic Plan, another excellent model in terms of how to do planning and proving that there can be efficient, harmonised synergies between two local authorities serving side by side. Historically, the attraction of FDI into the city and county has worked, in terms of the pharmaceutical industry, for example, in the Lower Harbour, Ringaskiddy and across the county and with technology companies such as Apple and EMC. This is all mythology, the idea that a new unified structure will somehow create a Nirvana and give a better outcome. The proof of the pudding lies in the fact that very significant results have been achieved in key macro areas. The waste water treatment development plan, for example, for Little Island came out of synergies, as did the main water drainage scheme, with massive investment by both county and city. At the heart of this----
I agree with Deputy Kieran Lynch on one point. I do not know whether he has spoken to the Minister or not. So far he has absolved the Minister of any criticism but has blamed everyone else. I accept his point that fundamentally there is an anti-politician attitude at the core of this. Let us abolish politicians. It is like that headline that Fine Gael had with regard to the Seanad election----
Thank you Deputy. Deputy O'Brien will soon be abolished if he does not----
"Vote Yes - less politicians". Urban councillors are gone----
The Deputy has the wrong party.
I said Fine Gael.
Urban councillors have been abolished across the length and breadth of the country.
Deputy Martin is sharing time----
It is the myth that better local government means less politics or fewer politicians.
The Deputy has overtaken----
I would like the opportunity to have more time to debate this issue----
I have no problem with that but it cannot be now.
----because two minutes is pathetic and is not a reasonable amount of time.
It cannot be now. Deputy O'Brien.
I agree with everything Deputy Martin has said. There is a number of falsehoods being put out there by independent people who are in favour of it and I will point them out to the Minister. The chief executive of Cork City Council, Ann Doherty, has taken the unprecedented step of releasing a statement in order to debunk some of the myths, one of which is the assertion that a merger would produce significant economic growth while a boundary extension would not. There is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support that assertion. In fact evidence-based research in other areas indicates that a very strong metropolitan city of between 250,000 and 350,000 promotes significant growth in itself and also has a profound impact on its surrounding hinterland. These are the types of issues which need to be discussed.
The consultation period was extended by a week and only one political party in Cork put forward a submission.
The people of Cork, the ordinary citizens, had no opportunity. There were no town hall meetings organised. No one went out and discussed it.
Anyone could have put forward a submission.
Anyone could have made a submission.
In all fairness, now.
We are talking about the largest county in this State and about merging the city and county councils at the whim of your boyos. It is not acceptable.
It is not acceptable.
The Minister to reply.
Maybe it is because the Labour Party does not have any councillors on Cork City Council.
I am sorry Deputy, you have gone well over your time.
I wish to quote something to the Deputies:
I do not want Cork to repeat the mistakes of other Cities with the result of a continuous urban sprawl at the expense of an identifiable city centre core... I believe that the option of a major extension to the City boundary, while retaining two separate authorities would not be the optimum recommendation. There would be a real concern about funding base available to the County authority in that scenario... In my view, the most convincing case can be made for a single Cork authority with a robust divisional structure.
That is the view of Deputy Martin's own party colleague, from the same constituency, in an article for The Irish Examiner, Deputy Michael McGrath.
I do not agree with him.
Wait a second. That is his view, as opposed to Deputy Martin's view.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch has another view.
Deputies, one voice please.
In relation to the submission from Sinn Féin----
What about Deputy Ciarán Lynch?
In relation to the submission from Sinn Féin----
Has the Minister read it?
Yes. A strategic----
Sinn Féin proposed a strategic authority with a county-wide, regional approach to strategic planning and development, with "full executive powers".
That is not what we said.
The Deputy should read his party's submission.
That is a lie----
I am sorry Deputy----
That is a lie. The very second line of our submission----
Deputy O'Brien cannot make an allegation----
Wait one second.
The second line of our submission refers to the need for an economically viable local authority. The Minister should not come to the House and tell stories.
The Deputy is out of order.
He should read his party's submission.
Deputies cannot accuse a Member of lying.
I just have.
The Deputy is out of order.
Regardless of whether I am out of order, the fact is the Minister just told a lie.
The Ceann Comhairle will deal with that tomorrow morning.
That is fine.
The committee was set up and gave careful consideration-----
What about Deputy Ciarán Lynch?
The Deputy had his time. Will he allow me to respond?
Deputy Martin had a good innings.
I want to know if Deputy Ciaran Lynch spoke to the Minister.
He is totally out of order. As a long-serving Member, he should know better.
Evidence rather than emotion should dominate this debate.
With all due respect-----
Please stop interrupting.
All I am saying is that Deputy Ciarán Lynch should speak to the Minister. Can the Minister not tell him that-----
As a long-standing Member, does Deputy Martin understand the way the protocols of the House work?
I certainly do.
Good. In that case, please refrain from interrupting.
I will wrap up. The proposal has been made in the best interests of Cork city and county.
That is not true.
It is the best option for Cork. The group of five individuals considered the matter for nine months and I respect the report it produced. Its objective is to put Cork in a position in which it can compete on a regional basis with the conurbation around Dublin. That is what has been proposed. I stand fully behind the proposal and commend Alf Smiddy and his group on the work they did. Incidentally, they agreed on many issues, including that doing nothing would be the worst scenario.
The group did not ask the Minister to do nothing. The only issue on which the group agreed was that a large metropolitan area-----
Deputy O'Brien is out of order. It is in his interest that he remember that.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue. I also thank Deputy Niall Collins for sharing time.
I do not propose to discuss the national issues that arise in this regard in the short time available to me. My concern is focused on my constituency, particularly the Littleton-Thurles area, which is experiencing a severe crime epidemic. Members of the public have expressed serious concerns about this epidemic and I ask the Minister of State to set out the Minister's plans to address it. I regret the Minister is not present, although I understand she is engaged in negotiations in Brussels and I wish her well in that regard.
As I stated, there has been serious concern about crime in the Littleton-Thurles area for some time. Chief Superintendent Kehoe of the Tipperary division has done excellent work. While crime detection has increased, the level of crime is extremely high and the chief superintendent is operating with her hands tied behind her back. Thanks to the previous Government, the Tipperary Garda district is short 37 gardaí. The division covers six districts, two of which were merged to make the position look better. Counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford each have three Garda divisions. The Tipperary division is experiencing a severe manpower shortage and Garda visibility on the ground is a serious problem. People in the area want this matter addressed. Garda operations such as Operation Infinity and Operation Anvil should be extended to the Tipperary area.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue as it is highly topical. On the first day of a new Dáil term, people look to Deputies to provide some hope and positivity on the issue of dealing with crime. As I have stated previously, the Government is failing to address crime in rural areas and in the capital. People need to be given hope, particularly with regard to the crimes of burglary and assault.
Since the Dáil last met in July, shocking statistics have come to hand which show that crime is out of control. The Central Statistics Office, an independent body, reported that the incidence of burglary increased by 8% in the 12 months to the first quarter of 2015. Persons who had been freed on bail were found to have committed 8,077 burglaries in the period from 2011 to date. The issue is not only one of statistics, however, as there are real human stories behind these crimes. The previous speaker noted the unacceptable level of crime in Littleton, County Tipperary. A couple of weeks ago, a tragedy occurred in Doon in my constituency when a man by the name of John O'Donoghue came across a burglary being committed in his house in broad daylight and died as a result of the shock of being confronted by the two burglars. The garda who apprehended the persons carrying out the burglary had to use his own car, which is far from acceptable. It was reported in the news yesterday that a 90-year-old woman in County Wicklow, Ms Eva Sutton, had spent the past two weeks in hospital after being beaten up in her home. We are told she may not return home.
More gardaí and tougher legislation are needed. I proposed legislation providing for mandatory sentences for those convicted of assaulting elderly people or committing serial burglaries. It is high time we sent out a strong legislative message to the small number of people who are scouring the countryside and terrorising old people through burglaries that we are serious about this issue. I ask the Minister to do something about this, because Government action in this area has not been good enough.
I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who regrets that she cannot be present as she is attending an extraordinary meeting of European Union justice and home affairs Ministers to discuss the very serious migration crisis. The Minister is, however, grateful to the Deputies for raising these important matters in the House.
The Minister recognises that burglary is a persistent and highly damaging crime, particularly in highly distressing cases in which householders are assaulted by the criminals involved. Several such cases were mentioned by Deputy Niall Collins. The Minister is also conscious of the serious impact of these crimes on families and communities and recognises public concern about crime in Littleton and Thurles, County Tipperary, and elsewhere.
The Minister is in close contact with the Garda Commissioner to ensure the policing response is effective and Garda operations take account of evolving trends and patterns in burglary offences in both rural and urban areas. Earlier this year, the Minister initiated a broad and urgent review of the criminal justice system's response to the problem of burglaries. This included a focus on inter-agency measures for the management of prolific offenders, visible policing, crime prevention support for communities and an examination of legislative issues. One important fact which emerged during this review was the finding of the Garda Síochána analysis service that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burglars. Targeting this cohort of repeat offenders has the potential to significantly reduce the number of burglaries being committed.
In response, the Minister recently published the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015. This legislation targets repeat burglary offenders through bail measures and provisions concerning the imposition of consecutive sentencing for repeat burglary offending. The key objective of this legislation is to target a cohort of persistent offenders who prey on law-abiding householders and clearly have no concern for the damage and distress that they inflict on others. It is hoped to have this new legislation enacted as soon as possible.
A newspaper opinion piece published in The Sunday Times on 20 September reflected on the effects of burglaries in rural communities and concluded that the Minister's new Bill would be a lever for change which would have the effect of "...obliging the criminal justice system to lock up violent, repeat criminals, while dealing more humanely with non-violent offenders - it should be welcomed as a progressive measure. And rural Ireland will be a safer place on winter nights."
In recent times, Garda strategy to counter burglaries and related crimes has been co-ordinated under Operation Fiacla, which is a national operation targeting burglary by using an intelligence and analysis led approach. In support of Operation Fiacla, there are burglary-related operations in place in each Garda division.
Special targeted patrols have been implemented with the assistance of Garda national support services against criminal groups. These arrangements have also targeted the use of motorways by criminal gangs and have contributed to the arrest of a number of high-priority suspects.
The sustained Garda response to criminal activity under Operation Fiacla has produced many successes. As of 31 July 2015, Operation Fiacla had led to 14,050 arrests, with 7,996 charges being brought against suspects. In addition, €700,000 has been allocated for new specialised vehicles to support gardaí in responding to current and emerging crime threats, including burglaries committed by highly-mobile gangs. This Government has invested nearly €29 million in new Garda vehicles since 2012, with 370 new vehicles coming on stream this year. The Government's investment in new Garda vehicles clearly supports the delivery of highly-mobile Garda patrols which must be the priority for rural policing.
Of course, the fight against burglaries and crime generally will be aided greatly by the Government's decision to recruit new gardaí. Since September 2014, 400 new gardaí have entered the Garda College in Templemore. Of these, 295 having already attested and are now working in communities nationwide. In addition, 150 more recruits are due to enter the Garda College next month. This additional recruitment will bring to 550 the total number of gardaí that will have been recruited under this Government between September 2014 and 2015. In addition, a series of reforms are helping to free up more gardaí for front-line policing. For example, the civilianisation of Garda immigration functions and the transfer of certain functions to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service will release 125 gardaí for other duties. All of these measures, including new legislation and targeted Garda operations, will strengthen the Minister's carefully considered approach to dealing with serial offenders and supporting improved community safety.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply and welcome all the positive things that are happening. Certainly, I welcome the recruits in Templemore. However, the reality is that of those who have graduated, only five have gone to the Tipperary division. Since then, they have been deployed to areas such as Kilkenny city and Waterford. While I know those areas want them as well, it is a sign of the neglect of rural Ireland. I ask the Minister of State and the Commissioner to address the issue of sending newly-graduated officers to Tipperary.
Second, there is an issue with the Judiciary which must have a greater understanding of the effects of crime on rural areas and the people who live in them. They must be more alert and more aware of that effect when they dismiss cases on incidental grounds and release people. There must be a greater awareness among the Judiciary on the implementation of the law. Finally, the public must be alert, vigilant and more careful with and enhance their security. Some of the inflammatory language that is used is more of an assistance to the criminals than to anybody else. It portrays a story to them.
To recruit 500 gardaí per year is fine, but I ask the Minister of State - and will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality herself - to address the urgent need for a once-off recruitment of 1,000 gardaí to bring the force back up to its optimum level and to facilitate the visibility the Commissioner said today is the answer, namely, visibility in rural areas. Everybody must work together. This problem must be resolved and there needs to be an urgent and prompt reaction to places such as Littleton when incidents happen rather than waiting for legislation.
The ploughing championships are on over three days this week as we are all well aware. The issue of crime is a central theme of discussion at the ploughing championships and, given the nature of the event, crime in rural areas in particular. That is a huge indictment of Government and a statement from rural Ireland as to how bad is the situation. The Government needs to wake up and really take notice of that. In relation to Garda numbers, there were more gardaí outside Leinster House today for a phantom protest than will be found in many rural areas tonight. That is simply not acceptable. We need to have more recruitment to get back up to 14,000. The fact that the moratorium was held in place while recruitment continued in the Defence Forces was not acceptable. The Garda Reserve is being under-utilised. We should increase the number of reserve gardaí and bring more into the mainstream force. Many of them are being locked out as part of the recruitment process, which is not acceptable when they are giving of their time and service. We also need to increase the numbers up to at least 2,000 reserve gardaí. These are issues I want the Minister of State to take on board.
When he is replying, perhaps the Minister of State can address the following question. If he cannot, he might obtain the information afterwards. There have been some suggestions that up to 40% of directions to prosecute and prosecutions taken have resulted in acquittals. This is in relation to burglaries and related offences. Can the Minister of State outline the percentage of prosecutions directed by the DPP in the past 12 months which have not resulted in convictions? He can revert to me afterwards if he does not have the information to hand.
I remind Deputy Collins that rural crime did not commence when this Government took over.
That is acknowledged, but it has increased exponentially.
The Minister of State to reply.
There were other operations by the Garda in the past which were quite effective in coming to grips with rural crime. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Deputies for raising these important matters this evening and for referring to specific cases. I will be very happy to share the points they made with the Minister when I meet her tomorrow. I will certainly bring Deputy Collins's specific questions to her attention and obtain a reply for him.
I have already set out the comprehensive strategy being implemented by the Minister and the Garda Commissioner to confront those who engage in burglary and similar crimes at the expense of the law abiding majority of our people. Before we conclude, I note that in addition to the new legislation introduced by the Minister to target burglary specifically, the heads of the new bail Bill were published in July. This Bill aims to further strengthen the law to protect the public against crimes committed by offenders while on bail. As well as pursuing a robust strategy to disrupt criminal gangs engaged in burglary, An Garda Síochána is working with communities and partners such as the Irish Farmers Association and utility companies to target other crime trends including the theft of electricity cables and metal theft from dwellings, farms and business premises. In conclusion, the Minister wishes to underline her determination to continue to oppose criminals who violate people's homes. She will continue to support An Garda Síochána through improved legislation and the allocation of the increased resources the Government is now providing.
Air Services Provision
Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, tá imní mhór ar phobal Oileán Árainn faoi thodhchaí na seirbhísí aeir chuig na hoileáin. Faoi láthair, tá seirbhís laethúil ann chuig na trí oileán ó Aerfort na Minne atá á reachtáil ag Aer Arann faoin PSO. Tá an tseirbhís sin ann le 40 bliain anuas. D'fhógair Roinn an Aire Stáit go mbeadh seirbhís nua ann ó mhí Dheireadh Fómhair amach agus gur seirbhís héileacaptair a bheadh ann, ag fágáil ó aerfort an Chairn Mhóir, atá suite ar an taobh thoir de chathair na Gaillimhe. Tá an fógra seo tar éis imní mhór a chothú maidir le todhchaí fadtéarmach na seirbhísí chuig na hoileáin. Tá neamhchinnteacht ann faoi thodhchaí aerfort an Chairn Mhóir féin. Ní fada ó shin a cheannaigh Comhairle Contae na Gaillimhe agus Comhairle Cathrach na Gaillimhe é agus ní fios fós cad a tharlóidh ag deireadh na bliana seo. Mar is eol don Aire Stáit freisin, tá ceangal éasca ann idir an tseirbhís ó Aerfort na Minne agus an bád ó Ros a' Mhil agus seirbhísí áitiúla eile sa gceantar ach chuir an t-aistriú chuig an gCarn Mór isteach go mór orthu seo ar fad. Tá ceisteanna ann freisin faoi thodhchaí na n-aerstráicí ar na hoileáin atá in úinéireacht poiblí.
Tá todhchaí na n-oileán ag brath go hiomlán ar aersheirbhís fhónta. Tuigim gur iarr an tAire Stáit ar Aer Arann leanacht lena sheirbhís go dtí deireadh mhí Feabhra. An féidir leis an Aire Stáit insint don Teach anocht an bhfuil sé socair go leanfar ar aghaidh leis an tseirbhís ó Aer Arann go dtí mí Feabhra agus cathain a mheasann sé go mbeidh an cheist seo réitithe agus imní an phobail curtha i léig go hiomlán?
As the Minister of State is very much aware having engaged with the community, there is huge worry and a sense of imminent catastrophe that the critical air link between Aerfort na Minne, near Indreabhán, and the three Aran islands is under threat.
I understand the Minister of State announced a number of weeks ago that a new helicopter service would go from Carnmore in the east of the city to the islands. As he knows, a number of questions have arisen as to the viability of that service. Both councils are of the view that the future of the Carnmore airport is in doubt. It was purchased recently, but the current operator only has a lease until the end of the year and the plans for its use have not been settled. Therefore, the service that the Department announced as having won a tender seems to be in question. It was intended to replace a service that was operated by Aer Arann from Na Minna airport near Indreabhán for more than 25 years, one with an exemplary record and the trust of those living on the Aran Islands. It operated in a cohesive and integrated manner with the public. There was trust, flexibility, a relationship and a history spanning decades of good service, safety and crucial connectivity for the islands. As the Minister of State is aware, every service that is a fundamental of island life - teachers, nurses, doctors, repairmen to fix washing machines etc. - depends on connectivity, particularly via the air service. There is a concern that the air service will be lost.
I wish to ask the Minister of State two questions. I understand that he has asked Aer Arann to continue the service for a number of months. Will he update the House on that matter? When will we be in a position to sort out this mess - the process has shown flaws - and give certainty and comfort to those on the Aran Islands who desperately need this service to continue?
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Nolan as an gceist seo a chur síos anocht. Ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt do na Teachtaí Kyne agus O'Mahony fosta. Bhí mé i dteagmháil leo thar na seachtaine seo a chuaigh thart. Ní raibh an Teachta Kyne sa tír ar an gcéad lá - bhí sé ar a laethanta saoire thar sáile - ach bhí mé i dteagmháil leis achan lá. Nuair a tháinig sé ar ais óna laethanta saoire, bhí mé i dteagmháil leis fosta. Mar is eol don Teachta Nolan, bhí comhairliúchán cuimsitheach ar siúl le comhlachtaí maithe. Thosaigh an próiseas ag an am sin. I ndiaidh an phróisis sin leis na comhlachtaí, bhí cúpla moladh ar siúl. Níl mé san áit anocht chun an cheist a d'ardaigh an Teachta a fhreagairt ós rud é go bhfuil an próiseas ar siúl. Níl an cinneadh déanta. Mar Aire Stáit, níl mé freagrach as an gcinneadh atá le déanamh ag an OGP. Tá an oifig sin i Roinn eile, atá freagrach as an bpróiseas agus as an gcinneadh. Tuigim na deacrachtaí atá ar na hoileáin go ginearálta, go háirithe muna bhfuil an ceangal tábhachtach ann idir an tír mhór agus na hoileáin fríd an bhád farantóireachta. É sin ráite, chas mé le muintir Árann i rith an phróisis. Bhí mé i dteagmháil leis na daoine atá mar cheannairí ar na hOileáin Árann. Tá an próiseas comhairliúcháin atá idir mhuintir na n-oileán agus mé féin mar Aire Stáit tábhachtach. Thosaigh an comhairliúchán sin roimh an phróisis atá ar siúl anois.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. Since the air service is the subject of an ongoing public procurement process, I have been advised that it would not be appropriate to make any comment on same or say anything that might in any way prejudice it or any appeal that might be made regarding the outcome of the procurement process by way of a judicial review to the High Court.
It has always been my aim to ensure a continuation of an air service for the Aran Islands. As required under the relevant EU regulation, my Department commissioned a comprehensive review of the need for a public service obligation, PSO, service to the Aran Islands in 2014. This review was published in May of last year. It covered the period from 2003 to 2013 and I am satisfied that it was rigorous in its investigations and fair in its findings. The review recognised the importance of the air service to the island communities and its contribution to island life. At the same time, the report recognised that the cost of providing the air service had increased dramatically by 136% during the ten-year period under review, that the efficiency of the programme had deteriorated over the period in question and that the continuation of this trend into the future was unsustainable.
Based on the report's recommendations and mindful of the need for value for money in providing this service, my Department requested that the Office of Government Procurement, OGP, as the agency charged by the Government with administering procurement services for the State, to undertake a tendering process in order to put in place an air service contract for the period from 1 October 2015 to 30 September 2019. Prior to this tendering process being undertaken, my Department met representatives of the island communities to listen to their views in regard to the service.
The tendering process was undertaken in accordance with the requirements of Regulation (EC) 1008/2008, which governs PSO air services. The Deputy will appreciate that, as Minister for State, I had no involvement in the procurement process itself following my decision that a PSO air service should continue to be provided. I am aware that questions have been raised regarding issues relating to the procurement process, such as the type of aircraft to be used, the inclusion of Galway Airport as a mainland departure point and the expertise of the tender assessment committee. I have been assured that proper and appropriate procedures were adhered to at all times throughout the process.
I thank the Minister of State. We are under pressure of time.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. Tá súil agam go bhfuil a fhios aige faoin imní atá ar phobal Árann agus go bhfuil suim aige i dtodhchaí na seirbhíse aeir sa lá atá inniu ann. Caithfidh mé a rá freisin go bhfuil a lán oibre déanta agam le mo chara agus mo chomhleacaí, an Teachta Kyne, i dtaobh an ábhair seo.
I appreciate that the Minister of State is restricted and I will not push him about details on which he cannot continue. However, I would like to chase up the point about the continuation of the service from the end of this month. Will the Minister of State update the House on whether there has been engagement between his Department and Aer Arann, the status of those discussions, whether he is confident of an outcome and whether we can be certain that, at the end of this month, we will reach a position whereby, while the details are being teased out through the process fairly, duly and in accordance with the law, the people of the Aran Islands will be given the service they require and on which their schools, sporting life, medical life and every facet of their connection with the mainland is dependent? This is the crucial point that needs to be clarified. The immediate concern is that there be connectivity at the end of the month.
In his good offices, will the Minister of State ensure that the issues I have outlined and that are inherent in the process are dealt with as quickly as possible? His office, the OGP and every party involved should keep the momentum going, get a resolution quickly and achieve certainty about the service's future as soon as possible.
Fuair mé an cheist trí Bhéarla. Tháinig an cheist isteach in Oifig an Cheann Comhairle trí Bhéarla. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil an freagra foirmiúil i mBéarla. Is í an Ghaeilge an teanga is fearr. Ba mhaith liom mo fhreagra a rá trí Ghaeilge.
Cé nach mbeidh mé ábalta cur isteach sa phróiseas, tá sé tábhachtach béim a chur ar an dul chun cinn atá déanta fríd an phróiseas, go háirithe ó thaobh cinnteachta agus leanúnachais. Tá leanúnachas tábhachtacht fá dtaobh den cheangal idir an tír mhór agus na hoileáin. Tá mé ag obair go dian.
Tá mé ag déanamh mo dhícheall mar atá mo chomhghleacaithe, na daoine san OGP agus na daoine i mo Roinn féin. Tá mé ag déanamh mo dhícheall agus ag obair gach aon lá ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo.
Mar a bhí mé ag rá níos luaithe, bhí mé i dteagmháil le muintir Árann. Táimse freagrach as ceantar na Gaeltachta, na hoileáin agus an ceangal idir na hoileáin agus an mhórthír. Táim ag lorg iarracht mhór chun dul chun cinn a dhéanamh anseo. Arís, nílim ábalta mórán a rá agus sin an chomhairle dhlí a bhfuair mé ón OGP. Tá próiseas úr ar siúl san OGP. Thosaigh an chéad phróiseas i 2014. Tá an próiseas ag rith comhthreomhar le mo Roinn féin agus tá an Roinn Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe freagrach as an bpróiseas. Cinnte ní bhfaighidh muintir Árann focal fá dtaobh den phróiseas nó a leithéid ag an am seo. Tá mé ag déanamh mo dhícheall réiteach a fháil. Arís, ba mhaith liom m'aitheantas a ghabháil don Teachta Nolan. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil an Teachta Nolan, Seanadóirí sa Teach eile agus na Teachtaí John O'Mahony agus Seán Kyne ag obair go dian díograiseach ó thaobh an phróisis seo.
School Accommodation Provision
I ask the Acting Chairman to convey my thanks to the Ceann Comhairle for choosing this issue because it is extremely urgent. While I am sorry the Minister herself cannot be present, she spoke to me earlier and is aware of the issue, which in a nutshell is the absence of permanent sites for the four schools that are planned for what still is Dublin South, although it eventually will become Dublin Rathdown. I acknowledge that finding a location for a school is difficult even at the best of times, when the population was not rapidly expanding, when nearly all schools were faith-based and a set procedure was in place that everybody understood and to which they subscribed. The population is now expanding rapidly, we are moving to a new, more varied patronage system and we have a new catchment area basis for pupil selection. There will be problems in this regard and there are additional problems in Dublin South because there is a huge land shortage and what land there is is extremely expensive.
While I am aware this is a problem, from the perspectives of school management and parents, not knowing where the schools will be located is most unsatisfactory. Parents everywhere need to know where their kids are going to school. These are long-term decisions in that it is eight years for primary school and another six years for secondary school and parents must be able to make decisions on how their kids will be transported to school. Major decisions made by families are influenced by the location of schools. They influence job opportunities for the parents and where one buys one's house, not to mention the quality of life issues for children who, if they cannot go to school where they live, may be put into schools remote from home and perhaps condemned to sitting in traffic jams for a good portion of the day over the next 14 years. It really is an important issue to know or to have clarity about where one's kids will go to school.
Two of the schools are primary schools that already have been in existence for three or four years and five years, respectively. One is in Stepaside, the other is in Ballinteer and the school in Stepaside has been in two temporary locations since it was set up. I need not explain how unsatisfactory this is from the point of view of the school and the parents. It is difficult for the school to plan ahead or to attract pupils and it jeopardises the school's viability if nobody knows where it will be located. A post-primary school is planned and thank goodness it is, because it is really badly needed. It is even more pressing because it is due to start in 2016 and neither a temporary nor a permanent location has been identified yet. Obviously, any sensible parents will be making decisions about where their children are to go to school, if they have not already long since made them. It offered hope that they could go to school in the constituency but now they are being put into schools far from home and this really is jeopardising the long-term prospects for the school. I appreciate that a secondary school takes a fair amount of land but this issue must be put to bed for parents in order that they can plan where their children will attend school.
As for the fourth school, briefly I appreciate the Department has only recognised the need for it in the last couple of months. While it is to meet the serious needs in the Stillorgan-Goatstown area, I can tell the Minister of State parents are absolutely frantic to know where that school will be located. Even though parents are told a school will be provided, unless they see physical evidence that a site has been identified, they cannot have any faith that it will turn up and this jeopardises the school, as parents will search elsewhere for locations. Consequently, I would appreciate it were the Minister of State to bring clarity at least about some of these schools.
On behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline the current position in respect of the permanent locations for Ballinteer Educate Together primary school, Stepaside Educate Together primary school, the new primary school to serve Stillorgan-Goatstown and the new post-primary school to serve Ballinteer-Stepaside. The Department of Education and Skills uses a geographical information system, GIS, to identify where the pressure for school places will arise. The GIS uses data from the Central Statistics Office, Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Department of Social Protection in addition to the Department's own databases. It also uses data from the local authorities. With this information, the Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises at primary and post-primary level to determine where additional school accommodation is needed. The need for the four schools in question was identified as part of this analysis. Ballinteer Educate Together primary school opened in September 2012 and is in temporary accommodation at present. The Department has identified a potential site for the location of the permanent accommodation and is in ongoing discussions with the local authority regarding its suitability.
The Minister is pleased to inform the Deputy that a site identified as being a suitable location for the permanent school building for Stepaside Educate Together primary school has been acquired with the assistance of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Officials will be in contact shortly with the patron body in this regard and the Department is working to advance the proposed building project for the school. The new primary school to serve Goatstown-Stillorgan was one of the new primary schools announced by the Minister in February 2015 to open in 2016. The patronage determination process for this school will take place later this year or early in 2016. In the meantime, officials in my Department are working to find a suitable site for the school. Options for interim start-up accommodation are being examined at present and discussions will take place with the patron body in that respect. A suitable permanent site for a new post-primary school to serve the Ballinteer-Stepaside area has been identified and the acquisition process is under way. Given the commercial sensitivities associated with land acquisitions generally, the Minister is not in a position to provide further details at this time. The Minister can, however, assure the Deputy the acquisition of a new site for the school is a priority for the Department and the patron body, Educate Together, will be informed of the location for the school as soon as it is possible to do so. Options for interim start-up accommodation are being examined at present and discussions will take place with the patron body in this respect.
I thank the Deputy again on behalf of the Minister for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the current position regarding the permanent location of the four schools in question and thank her for her comments. The provision of permanent accommodation for the four schools to which she refers is a priority for the Department of Education and Skills and the schools in question provide critical school places to meet specific demographic demand.
I thank the Minister of State for that information and I am particularly pleased to note that a permanent site has been acquired for the Stepaside school, which is welcome. My main concern, if I have one, is about the secondary school. The Minister of State has indicated that a site has been identified but due to commercial sensitivity, it cannot be indicated.
I have been getting that answer for a long time now and I wonder if that site is ever going to be acquired or if there is a problem that is insurmountable. Huge problems are arising because of the lack of knowledge around where the school will be located. In regard to the reference to the catchment area problems, while the catchment area is supposed to include Stepaside and Ballinteer, both are diverse areas and very far apart from one another. Parents in one area are concerned that their children will not be able to get to the school. Identification of a location for the school could result in the release of places for children living near the school even though they may not be in the catchment area. This issue is causing a lot of angst in the area. I am asking that the Minister ensure there is a sense of urgency about acquiring that site and making an announcement in that regard.
Having said all of that, I appreciate the problem of identifying land in a constituency like mine, where land for any purpose is not only scarce but extremely expensive. In recognition that our population is growing and there will be need for more schools all over Dublin for a number of years to come, will the Minister consider the introduction of legislation which would allow for compulsory purchase orders in respect of land for schools, as is done in respect of land for the provision of roads? I believe educational infrastructure is at least as important as roads infrastructure.
I will convey the Deputy's sentiments to the Minister for Education and Skills. The process of acquiring sites in my own county is similarly lengthy. The ETB, as a patron body, works closely with the local authority under the new systems now in place. That is a national directive. Clearly there are commercial sensitivities around the acquisition of properties. It is a lengthy process. I am aware of the use of compulsory purchase orders in situations where issues arise in relation to road infrastructure. There is a public need for educational infrastructure also, particularly in the city where land is at a premium and the population is expanding. As I said, I will convey the Deputy's sentiments to the Minister.