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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 1 Oct 2015

Vol. 891 No. 2

Topical Issue Debate

Public Service Obligation Services

I appreciate the selection of this issue for debate and acknowledge the presence of the Minister.

Over the past number of years, I have been a member of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications and from time to time we have had the pleasure of discussing the future of broadcasting, its funding and structures and what constitutes a public service broadcast. In the past 20 years, the advent of commercial radio stations, particularly in provincial Ireland, has revolutionised broadcasting across the country. Until the advent of commercial radio stations, the local voice or the voice of somebody outside of the M50 was probably as rarely heard as the corncrake. In my part of the world, the advent of commercial radio stations has brought local news into the hearts of homes and into kitchens.

Over and above this, we have seen the creation of independent television stations, all of which I believe provide a public service broadcast remit. However, there is no acknowledgment of that. I am disappointed that at a stage when the Government is heading into an election, we have not considered reform of this area. We have not looked at defining what we regard as public service broadcasting or at supporting those people engaged in it. I will defend RTE when it needs to be defended and have no problem in doing that. It produces high calibre programmes. However, I will also criticise RTE when it needs criticism. The fact it is getting in excess of €180 million from the public every year means there should be some accountability for that money.

In the recent past there has not been the required accountability with regard to the TV licence fees. We need a greater level of scrutiny and oversight. We also need a greater determination of what is considered public service broadcasting. Let me cite two examples. The Fr. Kevin Reynolds situation was a scandal because his reputation could have been absolutely destroyed. The other example concerns the debate broadcast in advance of our most recent presidential election. I was never going to give Seán Gallagher a vote and do not make any bones or apology for that. However, I believe the programme broadcast on that night played a major part in the determination of that election.

From the point of view of a person who pays €160 for a television licence for a public broadcasting service - there is no significant coverage given to the cost of the television licence in comparison with the coverage given to the cost of another commodity, namely water - I am interested in ensuring the service is properly funded and regulated. We need to examine the level of oversight and accountability in this regard. I do not believe that in 2015 it is acceptable that it is only three years after somebody takes up a position in a semi-State company, that the salary details on that position are released. Can the Minister imagine this happening in other companies that fall under his remit, whether Bord na Móna, the ESB or whatever? Can he imagine the outcry there would be if he, the Minister, appointed somebody as CEO of ESB and told the people he would only reveal that person's salary in three years time? That is not acceptable.

Government policy is to encourage and support a diverse media that serves all the people. Public service broadcasting is provided for by Part 7 of the Broadcasting Act 2009. The Act sets out the principal objects of the public service broadcasting corporations, RTE and TG4. These statutory objects and requirements encapsulate national policy in terms of public service broadcasting.

Licence fee funding for public service broadcasting provides an independent and reliable income, which allows the two public service broadcasters to meet their public service objectives with a high level of editorial independence. Under the dual funding model, RTE is statutorily obliged to use its commercial revenues to further subsidise its public service obligations. Commercial broadcasters, while bringing choice and competition to the market, are privately owned and funded companies that have entered the market on the basis of a commercial proposition.

All public, community and independent commercial broadcasters can access public funding from the broadcasting funding scheme, which encourages programming on Irish culture, heritage, adult literacy and global issues. Funded by 7% of net TV licence fee receipts, Sound & Vision II funded 477 projects, worth over €3.6 million, from commercial radio stations. This represented 40% of the total radio allocation. By contrast, allocations to public service broadcasting stations in the same period were worth less than €1.6 million, or 18% of the total allocated.

I fully recognise the contribution that the commercial sector makes to broadcasting in Ireland, but the question of further distribution of public funds to independent commercial broadcasters, beyond the supports that already exist, would constitute a major change to broadcasting policy, would have to be justified, and would of course require legislation. The net effect of such a move would be to reduce the amount of funding available to all other broadcasters, community and public.

It is my intention to put forward a number of proposals for amending the current regulatory framework for advertising. In regard to commercial radio advertising, I propose to give the BAI oversight and control of the amount of advertising minutes allowed to such broadcasters. I will also bring forward amendments to ensure that the BAI’s reviews of public service broadcasting funding will always take account of the impact of its recommendations on the broader advertising market. I believe that these proposed changes, along with others I intend bringing forward in respect of licence fee collection and the database, will lead to a more sustainable advertising regulatory framework for all broadcasters, which in the context of an improving economy should assist in delivering a viable future for everyone in the sector.

I thank the Minister for his response.

The Minister is correct that the sound and vision fund represents 7% of the total licence fee. However, half of that 7% went to RTE and TG4 last year, which increased the amount going into that area to well over €180 million, with less than half of it available to all broadcasters across the country, commercial, community and everybody else. The sound and vision fund is currently wholly inadequate in terms of the amount available to those who are not protected under the €179 million that RTE gets.

This is not an anti-RTE thing. What I want is fair play. I welcome the fact that the Minister is going to look at the amount of advertising minutes allowed because it is something which has been raised with us continuously in terms of fairness and the level of the playing field. Contrasting, for argument's sake, RTE's situation with that of the BBC, there is no advertising in the BBC. I know there is a smaller population base here and that the licence fee base is smaller, although the level of expectation in terms of the service is the same. That level of service is the same for every commercial radio station as well. The commercial stations are competing against RTE in a very competitive market, while RTE has a cushion of €180 million.

It is not beyond reason that we start a national conversation. I do not know what the great panacea for the future of broadcasting will be, but there is a discerning market. The joint national listenership research, JNLR, figures show that the public has moved away - across all age profiles and in the tens of thousands - from the traditional, established radio and television stations of RTE and towards a different market. Those who are paying their €160 a year have a right to know that what we regard as public service broadcasting is properly funded. Whether the news is on a commercial station or a publicly-owned station, it is still a public service. I am asking that we start a conversation, using the Oireachtas committee to lay out a definition for 2015 of what we expect our public service broadcasters to do in return for what is a substantial amount of money.

I would be very much in favour of having that conversation. One of the difficulties with the notion of what constitutes public service broadcasting, in terms of a programme, is that when one analyses practically any programme or programme strand, there are very few that could not be defined as a public service programme. For example, sport, which attracts very high commercial interest and can very often bring in huge income to a broadcaster, is also essentially a public service. Would we be analysing each and every programme broadcast by every station and trying to define whether it is public service or commercial? How would we determine the threshold between the two? It would actually be extremely difficult, although the conversation is still worth having.

The traditional approach has been to fund the public service broadcaster rather than funding individual programmes that are regarded as public service. That has been the case right across Europe. I am quite happy for that to be opened up and for us to have a debate about what constitutes public service broadcasting. I think the independent broadcasters have a good case, particularly those very strong, vibrant local radio stations outside the main cities which do struggle. There is a financial issue for many of those stations and they perform a huge function, particularly but not only in rural Ireland. Can we find ways to assist the independent sector?

The other question which I would ask the Deputy to consider, and which I am not going to answer, concerns the 20% requirement for news and current affairs that was introduced in the 1989 Act for the commercial sector. Is it desirable or necessary for that to continue? I remember being involved in the debate at the time. There was a concern that commercial radio stations would just be pure, wall-to-wall music. If there is a demand for music stations, why would there necessarily be a statutory requirement for them always to have 20% news and current affairs? That is an issue which we could debate.

Hospital Waiting Lists

Back in June, I raised the issue of outpatient appointments at Waterford University Hospital, which is the closest hospital for many people in south Kilkenny. At that time, I was highlighting the fact that 10,000 were waiting more than a year for an appointment. During June - I must praise someone for this - that dropped by a remarkable 6,000 plus at a rate of around 300 per day. Whether that was due to people actually getting appointments, or simply resulted from a re-checking of the list, I do not know, but it was welcome. Maybe it was a case that I raised it here or maybe something happened and we got some work on it. However, there are still 855 waiting for more than 18 months and I hope progress is made on that.

Today I want to raise the inpatient-day case list in Waterford. As the Minister of State knows, Waterford University Hospital is part of the South/South West Hospitals Group. A lot of people were not happy with this, as the Minister of State also knows, but that is how it happened.

New figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund for August 2015 indicate that the number of people on the inpatient-day case waiting list now stands at 4,409 in Waterford University Hospital. This is the highest figure in the South/South West Hospitals Group. It represents almost half the numbers waiting in that group. This also represents an increase of more than 80% in Waterford since August 2013. For the group at large, there has been an increase of 20.17% over the past two years. The percentage increase in Waterford is around four times the rate for the group as a whole and about double the national average increase.

The increase in Waterford means that its share of the group total has risen from just 32% to 45% since August 2013, when the Waterford total stood at 2,433 out of 7,688 patients. By contrast, Cork University Hospital, which had a higher number of inpatient-day cases than Waterford in 2013 - 2,576 out of 7,688 - now stands at 1,447 out of a group total of 9,360, just over 15% of the total. Over the past two years, a situation has developed whereby Waterford, which previously had fewer people on its inpatient-day case waiting list, now has three times as many as Cork University Hospital. Why is this happening? Why is Waterford doing so much worse in the group?

As Waterford University Hospital represents the catchment areas of Counties Kilkenny, Wexford, Carlow, south Tipperary and Waterford, it is a very important regional hospital. Why have the numbers quadrupled? This is a serious situation and we need to do something about it. I ask that the Minister for Health investigates this immediately and puts in the man power and resources we need in order to reduce the list. We want for Waterford what has happened at Cork University Hospital. I ask the Minister of State to give me some guarantees in his reply.

May I belatedly congratulate Deputy Aylward on his re-election? I served with him on the agriculture committee under a previous mandate and warmly welcome him back.

I am taking this issue on behalf of the Minister for Health and I thank the Deputy for raising it. Improving waiting times for scheduled care for patients is, of course, a key priority for the Government. Under Future Health, significant structural changes are envisaged for the acute hospital sector, with the formation of the hospital groups and the reorganisation of services to improve both quality and access. These structural changes are under way, but will take some time to fully implement. In the meantime, operating pressures remain on acute hospitals. In January, taking into account current pressures on acute hospital services, the Minister for Health put in place maximum permissible waiting times for inpatient-day case treatment and outpatient appointments of 18 months by 30 June and 15 months by year end. The HSE was provided with additional funding of €51 million to ensure that these maximum waiting times would be achieved. In June, the HSE reported a performance against the 18 month maxima of 99.6% for inpatient day cases, IP-DC, and 92% for outpatients, OPD. In order to maintain progress and to make further improvements to achieve a 15 month maxima by the end of December, the HSE has directed that hospitals which breach the 18 month maximum waiting time in August are to be fined.

The fines will be calculated on the basis of the activity-based funding cost of each procedure and are being imposed from 1 September. The HSE, in conjunction with hospital groups, is focused on delivering the improvements in waiting lists through maximising the use of internal capacity within and across hospital groups in the first instance. Hospitals have been requested to produce waiting list clearance plans in this regard. The HSE has already put in place specific measures to address waiting lists more efficiently in collaboration with acute hospitals, the special delivery unit and the National Treatment Purchase Fund. These include observation of the national waiting list protocol of 2014, adherence to relevant HSE national clinical programme guidelines and prioritising day-of-surgery admission where clinically appropriate. The latest published National Treatment Purchase Fund waiting list figures, from 27 August, indicate there were 306 patients waiting over 15 months for inpatient or day-case treatment in University Hospital Waterford. The hospital is working with all relevant parties as regards meeting the national targets. It has now developed and is implementing a plan to reduce the longest waiting times to 15 months by the end of December 2015. This will be achieved by the treatment of patients in routinely available hospital theatre sessions, the provision of additional weekend sessions and the possible outsourcing of the balance of patients.

The hospital is also in the process of reopening theatre sessions that were closed for cost-containment purposes previously. The Department of Health will continue to work with the HSE to ensure that all issues relating to hospital waiting lists are resolved.

I will not need my two minutes to re-emphasise what I have already said. I do not like repeating myself. However, as I said, the catchment area of Waterford Regional Hospital is big. How come there was so much success in Cork? Why is the system not working in Waterford? Is the Minister of State blaming the administrative staff in Waterford hospital for not being able to reduce the numbers? We are not talking about a small increase but about an increase of 80% since 2013, which is two years ago. It is a massive increase. Not being a health professional, I do not know why the inpatient number has risen so much. I complimented the Minister on the success with outpatient figures this year. The figures do not lie. I can give them to the Minister of State on the way out. Why, if there was success with outpatient numbers, was there no success with inpatient numbers? Was it a question of money? Did available resources reduce the outpatient number? Why is the trend for inpatients the opposite? Based on my having raised this matter today, can we find out the reason for the increase of 80% in Waterford? Can we do as was done for outpatients?

I will not go through all the figures again. There is no use blathering across the floor of the House. Can we take some action to reduce the number on the waiting list? There has been an increase of 80%. I referred to 4,400 inpatients on the list. This is too many and there is something seriously wrong somewhere along the line. I ask the Minister of State to investigate this or ask the Minister to do something about it.

The Deputy mentioned a figure of 4,409. I just had a brief chance to analyse some of the figures. A figure of 3,066 is related to ophthalmology, for instance. This is a significant number. If one parses out ENT, one gets a figure of approximately 556, assuming that the figures I have are right up to date. With regard to gastroenterology, breast surgery and general surgery, the figures seem to be a bit more manageable. Further investigation is definitely needed into why the vast bulk of those on the list are associated with ophthalmology, for instance. We must determine where the lag is in this regard.

I assume the administrators in the HSE and hospital group are watching this debate. I do know that they tune into these debates. I would be very surprised if they were not in a position to provide the Deputy with an actual breakdown of the figures and where the time lags are being generated across the disciplines. Certainly, the matter has now been raised on the record of the House. I could tell the Deputy that I will raise it directly with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, but the facility exists for Deputy Aylward to do it himself. The matter is on the record of the House.

I believed he would be here today.

I apologise for his absence. It is significant that a significant figure is attributable to one particular discipline. That needs to be interrogated closely.

Building Regulations

This is a matter of grave and urgent concern to the 900 residents who occupy 298 apartments in the Longboat Quay development. I am really annoyed and very disappointed that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is not here and has been glaringly absent over the past 48 hours since this story became prominent in the national media. There has been virtually no response from the Government, which is really disappointing. It is useful, at least, that we have social media to track the whereabouts of Ministers these days. I note the Minister has been busy hoisting flags and engaging in such activity this afternoon. This is inappropriate. The whole point of the Topical Issue debate was that Ministers would come to the House to be accountable to Deputies on all sides. I do not blame the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, but believe the Minister himself should be present to address this matter.

In the past hour, Dublin Docklands Development Authority has made what I regard not only as a derisory offer to the residents concerned but also one that involves a certain degree of funny accounting. Having met the residents and attended the public briefings on this, I am aware that the authority and the receiver involved in this case, which has taken over from developer Bernard McNamara, have both contributed in excess of €1 million already in this case. They have essentially tried to repackage that in an act that is, unfortunately, not unfamiliar on the Government benches. A contribution of €2.75 million towards the cost has now been announced. I assume that can only include the €1 million that has already been effectively paid out. Therefore, in reality, it is a sum of €1.75 million, not €2.75 million. This needs to be clarified. We know Dublin Docklands Development Authority has a history of dealing with funny money and strange forms of accounting but it must take us all for fools by trying to repackage the money in its announcement this afternoon.

A number of points are pertinent in this matter. First, the crisis in Longboat Quay is not unique, unfortunately, as there have been similar examples. We are all familiar with Priory Hall and many other cases. The cases point to a complete and utter absence of accountability in corporate Ireland. This is a trend that has been exposed beyond any doubt over the past seven or eight years. Mr. Bernard McNamara has been through a bankruptcy process and there is no legal recourse to him. That is the legal position. The project architect, the individual who certified the construction as being safe, left Ireland in 2011 and now operates in Ghana. It is highly likely that the issues identified at Longboat Quay will crop up in developments across the country again, and there will be an increasing number of victims of light-touch building regulations.

I have spoken about this in this Chamber and elsewhere before. On the day of the tragedy in Berkeley during the summer, when, because of shoddy development and irresponsible behaviour on the other side of the Atlantic, young Irish citizens sadly lost their lives and many of their friends were injured very seriously, our Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and his Minister of State were writing to Dublin City Council asking it to relax the building regulations in the city. This is scandalous. The matter I am raising shows just how scandalous it is.

The response of the Government to incidents such as that at Priory Hall was to introduce new building control regulations in 2014. These require assigned certifiers, namely, surveyors, architects, engineers etc. to approve all construction projects. However, this system is deeply flawed and does not address the problem the people of Longboat Quay are facing. The certifiers' independence is greatly undermined by the fact that they are frequently either the designer of the building project or an employee of the developer; they are not independent.

We need to move to the system in the UK where there is independent certification which is controlled by the local authority. It is not left to dodgy and cowboy developers and their employees to certify, often falsify, this type of buildings. We will see further instances of this again and again.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. It was raised during Leaders' Questions by Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh when the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, responded to his queries. I have been supplied with a response on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, who is unavailable. I should say at the outset that it is not inconceivable that Ministers are unable to take these debates in the House from time to time. The Deputy, as a former Minister of State, should-----

Sorry, may I interrupt the Minister of State? The Topical Issue debate was a very good introduction by the present Government. In recent months, I have had Ministers not being available, and we are losing slots. This Topical Issue matter must be taken seriously and it is irrelevant if it was raised on the Order of Business. The Department and the Minister were advised this morning, before the Order of Business, that this Topical Issue matter was granted. I would appreciate if the Minister of State would convey to the Department that we do not want any of those excuses.

I regard it as the right of a Deputy to raise a Topical Issue matter in this House. The Topical Issue debate has been very successful and with respect to this House, while we all have our jobs and our duties, the first duty of a Minister is to this House. The Topical Issue debate is one of the main ways for Deputies, backbenchers in particular, to raise matters of grave importance.

This should not be allowed to happen and, with respect, I ask the Minister of State to bring back to the Department that it is not doing us any favours by telling us that this was already raised on the Order of Business. This is the Topical Issue debate and everybody knows it takes place on a Thursday at this particular time, 4.42 p.m. to be exact.

I mentioned the fact that this issue was raised on the Order of Business merely to make the point that it was a matter that was before the House already today not, a Cheann Comhairle, with all due respect, to make a political point. I am just saying it was raised by Dublin Deputies and was stating that for the record. If you will grant me some leniency on time, I agree absolutely that Ministers should be present, but a further charge was made by the Deputy in respect of the relaxing or control of building regulations. I cannot answer for that charge as it has been raised here as an Adjournment issue. Perhaps the Minister should answer that for himself but, nonetheless, the charge is made.

I understand that Dublin Fire Brigade has no plans to evacuate residents from their homes and intends, rather, to serve an enforcement notice requiring that a schedule of works be carried out to ensure an acceptable level of fire safety provision is achieved at the development. I preface my further remarks by saying this is the script I have been given to deliver. If some development has taken place in the past hour or so, a Cheann Comhairle, I am not aware of that.

I appreciate the Minister of State's position.

The issues which have emerged in Longboat Quay are a matter for the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, the receiver to the developer, residents of Longboat Quay and their management company as well as Dublin Fire Brigade to resolve collaboratively. I cannot answer for the charges that have been made by the Deputy in respect of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government understands that all parties are actively engaging to find a resolution to the situation that has arisen. While Dublin Fire Brigade has been proactively engaging with all concerned for several months it cannot wait indefinitely for matters to be resolved and has, accordingly, this week signalled its intention to serve an enforcement notice. I do not know if events today have overtaken that.

Local authorities have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Fire Safety Act 1981, the Building Control Act 1990 and the Planning and Development Acts, all of which may be relevant in relation to fire safety arrangements in residential developments. Compliance with the statutory requirements in regard to a building is, first and foremost, a matter for the owners, designers and builders concerned. A charge has been made here against the architect and the designer. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has no function in assessing or checking compliance, or otherwise, of specific works or developments, nor can the Department or the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, influence or interfere in the handling of specific cases by local authorities who are at all times independent in the use of their statutory powers.

The Minister has a role in ensuring that adequate arrangements are in place to avoid the recurrence of such problems elsewhere. In this regard a number of legislative reforms have been put in place since the Longboat Quay development was built which greatly strengthen the arrangements in place for the regulation and oversight of such developments. The statutory registration of key construction professionals under the Building Control Act 2007 means that such professionals may now be subjected to professional conduct proceedings where instances of professional misconduct or poor professional performance arise - ultimately this may lead to removal from the statutory register which would affect the professional's ability to earn their livelihood. Building control regulations were amended to require on and from 1 March 2014 greater accountability in regard to compliance with building regulations in the form of statutory certification of design and construction by registered construction professionals and the Multi-Unit Development Act 2011 further requires developers to supply a certificate of compliance with fire safety from a registered construction professional in each such development.

It is also worth noting that the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, in the interests of supporting owners and residents living in developments where concerns regarding compliance with fire safety arise, recently announced a review by an independent fire safety expert to develop a framework for general application in such situations. This review will outline general advice and guidance which can be used by owners-residents and their professional advisers, to ensure that an adequate level of safety is in place for persons in and about their development. This may include making provision for appropriate or enhanced fire detection and alarm measures; checking that appropriate escape routes from the premises are available, designed in accordance with current standards; and ensuring evacuation plans are rehearsed in each premises in the event of a fire incident.

The review is being overseen by a steering group comprised of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and local authority representatives under the chair of Mr. Martin Riordan, former manager of Cork County Council. The steering group will prepare its report by 31 January 2016.

May I conclude by saying I do not want to give political platitudes to anybody. I do not know what it is like and I cannot imagine what it is like for the residents of Longboat Quay except to say that there is widespread sympathy for the plight in which they find themselves at this time.

The first thing to say is that sympathy will not address the fact that the outstanding €2 million amounts, on average, to €20,000 per apartment in that development. Nobody knows how that is going to paid and nobody knows who is going to pay for it.

Has the Deputy a suggestion?

My suggestion is very clear. The receiver and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, which is a State entity, which the Government in its wisdom for populist reasons has chosen to disband - I oppose that completely but I suppose that is a discussion for next week - owns the common areas in this building. It was the partner in the PPP that developed this site. It is responsible in the absence of any legal responsibility falling on the developer because the developer went for one-year bankruptcy in the UK and is now hiding behind the legal personality of his former company. It is the responsibility of the Minister who is in charge of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to ensure that the authority upholds its responsibility. It is about to be subsumed into Dublin City Council. We have the bizarre situation where the Dublin Fire Brigade, which is threatening the notice of enforcement, is another arm of Dublin City Council, and which the DDDA is about to become.

The fact that it is absolving itself and washing its hands is farcical. Residents have been written to by the DDDA and told that it does not have responsibility for this development. This is untrue. The DDDA is responsible and, therefore, the Minister is responsible. I heard the Tánaiste washing her hands of this today and I have heard the Government say that essentially the matter has nothing to do with it. That is untrue and misleading and I guarantee that if enough of a political furore is kicked up about this, the Government will do something.

It is essential that the Government shows some leadership on this matter. The working group and the investigatory group to which the Minister of State referred will have no effect on the residents in the same way that the building regulations that were introduced by this Government in 2014 will have no effect, not only for the people at Longboat Quay but also in the context of any future developments. These regulations lack teeth and they cannot make a difference because there is no requirement for independent certification. Essentially, they allow developers to govern themselves.

The points are made. If I interpret the Deputy correctly, there is a suggestion that the DDDA should act in respect of the common area-----

The entire development.

-----the entire development - and that the €2 million outstanding should be obtained from the DDDA or, the Deputy is saying, vicariously from the Minister. In other words, effectively the Government should pay the €2 million. If I interpret the Deputy correctly, that is essentially what she is suggesting.

Through the DDDA and Dublin City Council.

For clarity and in the interests of the record of the House, I am not fully across this issue but perhaps the Deputy could clarify if that is what she is seeking?

I have been very clear. I believe that the DDDA is responsible for this development. It engaged in a PPP with Bernard McNamara, who is not available to deal with this or pay for any of it, so the DDDA is responsible and ought to pay and the Minister ought to ensure that it does so.

The Deputy is out of order.

So that is the Deputy's position and that will be referred to the Minister in question.

Community Development Initiatives

I appreciate the selection of this issue for debate. I am sorry that the line Minister is not here on this occasion. I think anybody in this House knows Dundrum Town Centre. It is the most modern shopping centre and has the largest footfall in the country. It is the subject of a Project Jewel sale by NAMA. There are three entities on the fifth floor of Dundrum Town Centre that provide hugely valuable community services. The first is Dublin South 93.9FM Community Radio, which has been in operation for 30 years. It has a staff of 13, the majority of whom are community employment scheme employees. It broadcasts to a listenership of 12,000, has approximately 1,000 contributors and covers the gamut of life, including community life and services and political discussion. Dundrum Adult Training and Education is another occupant of the fifth floor. It provides 54 classes to approximately 600 learners aged 18 to 90 who have prepaid for the current session from the middle of September so there are financial commitments and commitments in terms of providing classes. Finally, Dundrum Citizens Information Centre answers in the region of 6,000 queries from citizens every year and has been in existence for almost 40 years. President Higgins visited Dundrum Adult Training and Education this year.

On 24 September 2015, letters were received by Dundrum Citizens Information Centre and Dublin South 93.9FM Community Radio telling them they had four weeks to quit. That is uncivil in any developed society, particularly when so many people are involved. If one adds them up, approximately 18,600 people - between listeners to the radio station, people taking classes and citizens coming for information, advice and advocacy services on a range of issues - will be directly affected by what is happening. A total of 25 local volunteers man that high-quality service.

Part of the planning permission for Dundrum Town Centre was that there would be 2,700 sq. m of facilities for a crèche, a performance arts area and areas for community groups. It is the fifth floor of the shopping centre that provides the facilities I am talking about here. It is just not right that in a modern civilised society, firms of solicitors can do this because of a unilateral decision of the town centre management acting on behalf of Crossridge Investments Limited. It is not on. When they asked me what I would do, I said that, first of all, I would not move and, second, I would be there to help them to stage a lock-in if it came to that.

Thank you, Deputy.

I have five seconds left. I know I have been a bit naughty in other areas on the Order of Business. It behoves the Minister to put a brake on this and to insist that civil discussions are opened.

On behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. By way of background, the Department Of Education and Skills funds further education and training provision through SOLAS. The latter provides funding to the education and training boards, ETBs, through an annual budgetary process for a wide range of further education and training services. The ETBs are autonomous bodies and are responsible for the organisation of provision in their functional areas.

Dundrum Adult Training and Education, DATE, is a voluntary group that was founded in 1984 and has been supported by Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB and, prior to the latter's establishment, County Dublin Vocational Education Committee for many years. DATE moved to its current location in Dundrum Town Centre in 2006. The ETB took out the lease of the unit and DATE has operated its services from the centre since. The partnership between DATE and Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB, DDLETB, has seen the adult education programme available through DATE grow and develop to meet the needs of those who want to attend day-time adult education classes. In 2014, DATE enrolled 1,990 learners for a range of courses in areas including computers, arts, crafts and languages. Classes are held on a daily basis, mornings and afternoons. In addition to DATE, the Citizens Information Service and a community radio station are tenants in Unit 2, Floor 5, of Dundrum Town Centre. DDLETB leases the unit and the two tenants sublease from the ETB. The tenants do not pay rent for the lease of their accommodation, although they pay the service charges arising. The ETB meets the services charges arising for DATE.

The landlord has recently issued a notice to quit the unit by the end of October. It is understood that an issue has arisen in respect of the lease terms and conditions which the landlord has sought to have addressed. DDLETB has informed the Department that it is in discussions with the landlord to resolve the outstanding matters. The Minister is very anxious that these discussions are concluded quickly to the satisfaction of all parties so that the valuable service provided to learners and other service users continues to operate without interruption.

I acknowledge what the Minister of State says. The important thing here relates to a letter to me from Gerry Ashe, the chair of the board of directors of the Citizens Information Service which deals with 6,000 queries.

I think he summarises it well. His letter stated:
The CIC had previously held a sublease from the Education and Training board who also rent space in the Town Centre, but earlier this year, the Town Centre informed us that they would issue a lease directly to the CIC and its parent company the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Citizens Information Service. However while we were in negotiation for this lease, the Town Centre decided unilaterally to withdraw the offer of a lease and has demanded immediate vacant possession. We also understand that the ETB has not secured a lease so they are not in a position to offer a sub-lease either.
As I said in my first intervention, we need to put a brake on it all and bang heads together in a civilised and civil way, and then let solicitors articulate in law or in contract what civilised discussion has achieved. Some 18,600 people are affected which is too many people to be affected in a very non-civil and very rude, abrupt and discourteous way. That is the point of the whole thing.
I again thank the Ceann Comhairle for taking the issue.

That is the purpose of the Topical Issue debate.

We are ahead of time, I think.

It is a record for me.

I note the Deputy's closing comment and the quote from Mr. Ashe. I reiterate that what the Deputy has said is now on the record and I am hopeful that the powers that be in the Department of Education and Skills are listening. Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB has informed the Department that it is in discussions with the landlord to resolve the outstanding matters. I hope that the Deputy's intervention today will add to that case.

The key is that one does not want the Project Jewel temptation to eliminate or obliterate courtesy in the conduct of life.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.35 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.