Topical Issue Debate

Disease Incidence

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me this opportunity to raise a most important issue that has arisen on foot of the HIQA report into a possible outbreak of legionnaires' disease at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia which can affect anybody but which principally affects those who are susceptible because of age, illness, immunosuppression or smoking. Legionella bacteria are found in many types of water systems. They multiply in warm and stagnant water such as that found in air conditioning cooling towers and certain plumbing systems, especially showers. Approximately ten cases are reported in Ireland each year on average. This HIQA report is very worrying for the patients and staff at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask the Minister of State a number of questions. How often are the water systems at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and other hospitals in the country checked in order that the threat of Legionnaire's disease can be prevented? What immediate action is the Minister taking in relation to the legionnaires' disease outbreak at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital? On a national level, how does this country deal with an outbreak of legionnaires' disease? What are the contingency plans? What are the roles of hospital management and the Department of Health? What are the protocols for dealing with legionnaires' disease? How do we deal with problems facing Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital? Where is the Minister's five-point plan for hospitals generally?

I am aware that we have a general election coming up. I do not doubt that promises will be made. I urge the Minister of State to find a workable solution to the problems at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. It is basic common sense. The HIQA report states that shower heads were removed from patient bathrooms 18 months ago and not replaced. This is simply not good enough. I concur wholeheartedly with the statement in the HIQA report that it is "essential that management of legionella risk at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda is effectively managed, with a particular focus placed upon protecting patients who may be especially vulnerable to infection". There is a need for further care for the patients of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. Just last week, I spoke in the Chamber about the crisis in the hospital's emergency area. This week the issue is different. The hospital seems to be continually in the news for one reason or another.

I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy English, that we need an action plan for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. We cannot continue to play politics with people’s lives. The Minister of State is well aware that the total population of the two counties served by this major hospital - my county and his county - is approximately 300,000. In addition, many people from north County Dublin and counties Monaghan and Cavan come to Drogheda in emergency circumstances. We need action in this regard. I am sure capital expenditure is required with regard to the plumbing system. I recognise that some money has been spent on it over a period of time. It is quite clear that more money needs to be spent. It is unsatisfactory that the shower units do not have a proper dispersal system at the end. It is certainly not suitable for the people in the hospital who are using them. This sends out the wrong message and needs to be addressed. If additional capital is required to address the issue, the Government should provide it immediately.

I am responding to this Topical Issue matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar. I thank Deputy Kirk for giving me an opportunity to address the House on the important issue of the HIQA report on the threat of legionnaires' disease at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. I would like to apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, who generally tries to be present to respond to Topical Issue debates that relate to his area of responsibility. I hope the Deputy understands that he is unable to be present today. The Minister will communicate that to the Deputy as well.

HIQA identified a number of issues during an unannounced inspection of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda on 11 June last. A re-inspection was carried out on 16 July. The hospital has acknowledged the issues raised in the HIQA report relating to the national standards for the prevention and control of health care associated infections following inspections of the hospital in June and July 2015. The Minister is pleased to note that the hospital management team and the staff of the hospital have made a number of improvements and a great deal of progress in respect of all issues raised during HIQA's initial visit. The hospital has a robust governance structure in place for the management of all aspects of the national standards for the prevention and control of health care-associated infections. It has developed a quality improvement plan to address the remaining outstanding issues raised in the HIQA report. I understand the hospital has a system in place to manage actively all the processes that minimise the likelihood of legionella bacteria being in the water supply. This is to ensure a high level of protection for all patients and staff. I am also informed that the hospital is compliant with the legionella L8 approved code of practice. It is worth noting that there have been no hospital-acquired infections associated with Legionella bacteria at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

I would like to mention some of the measures that are in place at the hospital to ensure the quality of water supply. Water quality at the hospital is managed and governed by a multidisciplinary group that includes a consultant microbiologist. Copper-silver treatment of water is undertaken to eliminate legionella bacteria. The flushing of all low-use outlets is in place on a daily basis. The efficiency of treatment processes is subject to ongoing measurement, with monthly sampling of water. The Deputy asked how often it is sampled. Additional external independent sampling of the water supply for legionella takes place in accordance with the national standard. Monthly random testing is done at the point of water supply. I understand that in the past year, three samples have returned with a bacterial level that is higher than accepted norms. In all cases, the reasons for this have been identified and remedial action has been taken. The hospital has taken other steps to address issues arising from the HIQA report, including completing minor maintenance works, undertaking risk assessment in relation to access to sinks and making improvements with regard to staff training, audit and information display to ensure compliance with hygiene standards.

I assure the House that the senior management team at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital has an internal audit programme to assess compliance with the standards. The hospital is committed to providing health care services in an environment that maximises safety, quality and accountability and drives a culture of responsibility and accountability among all staff involved. The Deputy raised a number of additional questions that were not necessarily outlined in his initial submission for this Topical Issue debate. I will try to get all those answers for the Deputy over the next day or two and I will bring back his requests to the Minister.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. It would be advantageous when Topical Issue debates are taken in this Chamber if a Minister or Minister of State representing the relevant Department could be present. I do not mean that as a criticism of the Minister of State, Deputy English. I know he is deputising for the Minister. I fully accept that Ministers and Ministers of State can be drawn away somewhere else. Their non-attendance can pose a problem, however, when we are discussing important issues. There is no point in minimising this one.

The subliminal message from the phrasing of the text of the reply read by the Minister of State is that we should move on because there is nothing to worry about or see here. The reality is that there is. The HIQA report identified issues that need to be addressed urgently. I am sure it involves the expenditure of money on the plumbing and water supply and distribution systems within the hospital network. I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Minister the sentiment of the House that this matter needs to be addressed urgently. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital is one of the busiest hospitals in the country. It caters for a huge population in its catchment area. It is simply unsatisfactory in this day and age to have the threat of legionnaires' disease hanging over the patients and staff of the hospital. I ask the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to address this.

The Deputy has raised a matter of the utmost concern. He will accept that the Minister always tries to be here for Topical Issue debates when he can. His diary did not permit his attendance here today. He is certainly taking this issue very seriously. I will bring back to him the Deputy's additional questions and requests for information. It is important to point out that the hospital has implemented step changes since the report in July. Additional follow-up analysis has been done by HIQA. There are other steps being taken as well. I will certainly keep the Deputy updated on these matters. I will ask the Minister to engage with him with the full information as well. I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.

Misuse of Drugs

While I appreciate that this topic has been chosen, I would have liked one of the Ministers or Ministers of State directly involved in this matter to be here to provide answers. I do not mean any disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy English, when I say that. It was rather difficult to find a relevant Minister this week. Given that next week is budget week, I did not want to take the chance of losing this Topical Issue matter completely by deferring this debate.

While this is certainly a health issue, it is much more than that and it requires co-operation between the Departments of Health, Justice and Equality and Social Protection. I know this is not confined to Dublin but that is what I will speak about because that is what I know. The reality in Dublin is that communities are flooded with what are known as Z-drugs. These tablets are being used with other drugs and with alcohol and are causing havoc and distress. They are pushing people further into addiction and causing an awful lot of distress and pain for families and the wider community. They contribute in a major way to anti-social behaviour and criminality.

Communities are looking at young men - and it is mainly men, some of whom are only in their late teens - openly selling these Z tablets. I could bring the Minister of State right now to a number of places in the north inner city where this open dealing is going on and he could buy whatever number of Z tablets he wanted. I could also bring him to the people who are living beside this open dealing who will tell him about the nightmare of living beside it. A very fine report was published some time ago, which all of the stakeholders in the various communities bought into, called A Better City for All. While it makes wonderful suggestions and recommendations, glaring gaps persist, such as this one regarding tablets. There is a lot of talking but no action on this matter.

The Minister of State might say that this is a matter for the Garda, and it is, but its hands are completely tied because of the lack of appropriate legislation. Gardaí are being asked by the communities why they are allowing this drug dealing to continue. The answer is that they are powerless to do anything. Emergency legislation is needed, and I am reliably informed that if legislation were enacted to deal with Z-drugs, places could be cleaned up in a week. We would all like to see more gardaí on our streets, but in this case more gardaí is not the answer unless legislation is enacted which will enable them to do their work. Unfortunately, it would appear that these working class communities that are devastated by drugs are not high on the priority list.

The difficulty is that there are two relevant Acts here, one being the Irish Medicines Board Act, which was amended in 2006, and the other being the Misuse of Drugs Act, but they contain loopholes. Neither Act is appropriate to deal with tablets because tablets are not controlled drugs. At the moment, if a garda has a reasonable suspicion that somebody is engaging in drug dealing, he or she can search that person. However, if tablets are found, the garda must give one third back to the person so that he or she can do his or her own individual testing. The issue of tablets has never been addressed and in the meantime it continues. It is causing havoc in communities. People are looking at this open drug dealing going on in their areas but they are not overly concerned as to whether it is heroin, ecstasy, cocaine or cannabis. They are concerned about the actual dealing, which is all part of that same milieu or world of drugs. It is open and blatant, but the hands of gardaí are tied.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this issue. She will be aware that the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, is out of the country and unable to respond personally. The Government's response to the problem of drug misuse in our society is set out in the National Drugs Strategy 2009-16. The Minister of State is aware that in recent years the nature and scale of drug misuse has changed, with an increased prevalence of polydrug use and the use of Z-drugs, benzodiazepines and other prescription or non-prescription tablets, as Deputy O'Sullivan has just outlined. Treatment figures for 2013 indicate an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for benzodiazepine use.

Z-drugs are prescription medicines and, as such, may be supplied by a registered pharmacist only on foot of a prescription. It is an offence to supply them by mail order. While it is not an offence to receive them, recipients are not entitled to possess them, and this provision is availed of by customs officers and the Health Products Regulatory Authority to confiscate such medicines. Some medicines, including Z-drug Zipeprol, are subject to stricter controls under the misuse of drugs regulations because of their high potential for abuse and misuse.

A substantial amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1988 to introduce additional controls on benzodiazepines and Z-drugs was the subject of a consultation process. It included the introduction of import and export controls and tighter prescribing and dispensing rules. While substantial work was done on drafting these amended regulations, departmental resources had to be reallocated to deal with a challenge to the constitutionality of section 2(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, under which the Government declares substances to be controlled under the Act. The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 was enacted in March 2015 following an adverse finding by the Court of Appeal.

The 2015 Act also reconfirmed existing ministerial regulations and orders made under the 1977 Act, including the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1988. This means that amendments are required to the Misuse of Drugs Act before any new regulations can be made. Work is under way on drafting a second Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill to amend sections of the 1977 Act. The Bill is listed in the Government's legislative programme for publication in 2016.

Of course, it is important to point out that the problem of abuse of Z-drugs will not be solved by regulations alone and that prescribers need to ensure that these controlled substances are only prescribed as appropriate and for a very limited time. Clinical guidelines are set out in the Department of Health's document, Good Practice Guidelines for Clinicians, for the prescribing of benzodiazepines. The HSE's addiction services provide a comprehensive substance treatment service orientated towards those with polydrug issues. Consequently, problem drug users attending such services who are dependent on benzodiazepines or Z-drugs have this addressed as part of their treatment. Clinical protocols for benzodiazepine treatment are currently under consideration by the national clinical effectiveness committee, and some HSE addiction services are piloting these protocols. The Department of Health is beginning work on the development of a new national drugs strategy. The process will include a comprehensive consultation with key stakeholders and the public on the current national drugs policy and future priorities, including treatment. Along with my colleague, the Minister of State Deputy Ó Ríordáin, I urge all interested parties to engage in the process.

Deputy O'Sullivan is right that there is no one solution to this problem. It will require a combination of efforts from several Departments. It is not just a question of more gardaí or more legislation. A co-ordinated effort is required to tackle this problem. I do not have all of the answers to the Deputy's questions today, but I am sure that the Minister of State will respond to her in person in the coming days.

I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, is aware of this because he has attended meetings of quite a number of community projects in the north inner city, as well as meetings of the North Inner City Drugs Task Force. Last September, I put a question to the Minister for Justice and Equality on this matter. At that time I was told that this is acknowledged as a problem in the Dublin city centre area. That was the gist of the answer I received. I was also told that An Garda Síochána continues to work closely with all of the relevant State agencies, but I have just outlined what gardaí are saying to me. I got that reply over a year ago, and in the meantime the situation has become much worse. We are not seeing the urgency that is needed here. I want to acknowledge the work of the drugs squad in Store Street and the sterling work of Inspector Des McTiernan for the urgency he has brought to this matter, but his hands are tied. That is the bottom line here.

The answer I have just been given does not get to the kernel of the issue. The Minister of State has said that it is an offence to supply these tablets by mail order, but they are coming in all the time through the Internet and various other means. While it is not an offence to receive them, the recipient is not entitled to possess them, but people are possessing them all the time. Even when gardaí find people in possession of these Z-drugs there is nothing they can do about it.

If we ever get around to drafting the legislation referred to, we cannot just try to control the Z-drugs issue, because no sooner will that be controlled than we will have Y tablets or X tablets or some other drug, such is the inventiveness of the chemists and dealers. I have absolutely no doubt that Z-drugs will be replaced by something else, which is why there is a need to get people together who really know what they are talking about to work on the legislation.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for the additional points she has made, which I will relay to the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin. As the Deputy herself said, this is an issue that cuts across several Departments, including Health and Justice and Equality. Unfortunately, the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, could not be here today either. The Government is conscious that a co-ordinated effort is required and there will be an attempt during the drafting of the legislation due in 2016 to involve all of the relevant agencies to ensure that we put the best possible legislation in place. The new national drugs strategy, on which the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, will lead, is important, and it will adapt to the changes in society over the last four or five years. The strategy will ensure that we have the necessary legislation in place and the resources required to target the new phenomenon of abuse of Z-drugs. As Deputy O'Sullivan has pointed out, this will change again in the coming years, so we need to have a drugs strategy that is capable of adapting to current crises in terms of the demand for certain drugs. I will relay all of the Deputy's concerns to the Minister of State at the earliest opportunity.

Community Employment Schemes Funding

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to discuss this important issue. This problem has come out of the blue. Supervisors of community employment schemes are discovering when renewing insurance premiums that the cost of insurance has increased by exorbitant sums. Some have been quoted a threefold increase in the cost of insurance, which is unprecedented. In addition, no indication is being given for the reasons these increases are being introduced at this time.

Community employment schemes employ approximately 23,000 people nationwide. Increases in insurance premiums have become a feature of community employment schemes in the north inner city of Dublin. These increases are of major concern to stand-alone community employment schemes which do not have the wherewithal to pay them, whereas other schemes engaged in a broad area of activity may be able to soak up the increase.

The materials grant provides the funding used to pay insurance premiums. With the allocation of materials grants for 2015 complete, it is not expected that the funding will be increased or extended to cover the unexpected increases in insurance costs that are coming on stream. Certain community employment schemes are finding that they do not have the wherewithal to pay the premium.

I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, is au fait with the issues involved. Allianz is the predominant company engaged in quoting insurance for community employment schemes, at least in the area I represent. This means competition is limited. The insurance industry should be consulted on this matter with a view to ensuring there is greater competition in this area. The Department must engage with the insurance companies to determine the grounds on which a threefold increase in premiums is being sought. To cite one example, the cost of insurance for the Dublin Adult Learning Centre, of which I am a director, has increased from €1,250 to €3,750 per annum. This quote came completely out of the blue. The centre provides schemes which have never lodged claims against the insurance industry. It is not a question of some bad claims being made and the company seeking to recoup some of the expenditure it has made. For this reason, it will be necessary to determine from Allianz the reason for the sudden increase in insurance premiums.

Will it be possible in the short term for the Department to meet some of the additional insurance costs being incurred by community employment schemes? This could be done by extending the materials grant to address the imminent problems a number of schemes are facing.

I thank Deputy Costello for highlighting this issue, which has come to my attention only recently. He provided an example of the Dublin Adult Learning Centre, for which the insurance premium has increased by €2,500. This substantial increase was quoted without warning. I understand the reason the Deputy, as a director of the centre, community activist and public representative for Dublin, is concerned about the issue.

Community employment schemes are required to procure annual liability insurance to cover their schemes. In recent months, sponsors have been advising the Department of increases in insurance premiums for schemes. The main reasons for these increases advised to the Department when this was queried with the insurance companies were claims cost inflation, an increase in claims frequency in recent years, changes in the courts' jurisdiction, and a reduction in income from insurers' investments.

The Department has been in consultation with the main insurers of community employment schemes about the increases with a view to ameliorating them and seeking to limit the incidence of future claims. The Department recommends, in the first instance, that scheme sponsors seek alternative quotes to ensure they obtain value for money.

Insurance premium costs continue to be reimbursed from the community employment materials grants. Sponsors have been asked to be especially mindful of their legal obligations under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and in respect of the supervision of the health and safety environment of their employees.

Materials budgets are allocated on an annual basis and managed at divisional level. In general, the Department is not in a position to allocate additional moneys to the materials budget in 2015. However, if a scheme experiences particular difficulties, the sponsor should contact the local departmental office on the matter.

Like Deputy Costello, I am acutely aware of what community employment does for local communities. Not only do these schemes assist long-term unemployed people to return to work but many also provide valuable services.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I share his concerns about the matter and I will continue to engage on it.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and note the points he made. The industry provided four reasons for the increase in the cost of insurance premiums, namely, claims cost inflation, an increase in claims frequency in recent years, changes in the courts' jurisdiction, and reductions in income from insurers' investments. It would be interesting to have these factors quantified by the insurance companies. The reasons given appear impressive and suggest that there has been a significant increase in the number of claims before the courts and so forth.

Will the Department request a breakdown of the factors allegedly behind the increase in premiums? If it is the case that the cost of claims has increased, why have premiums suddenly increased threefold when one would expect them to increase on a phased basis? Did the increase in claims take place last year? Surely it occurred over a period of years, which would result in a gradual increase in premiums.

The insurance companies involved are trying to put community employment schemes out of business. If a standalone scheme whose only source of income is the moneys allocated under the materials budget is unable to secure an increase in the materials grant to cover the cost of an increase in insurance premiums, it will find itself in difficulty. It will certainly be in a negative position with its bank and the materials grant it receives in 2016 may not cover outgoings it makes in 2015.

This is a serious problem. It would be worthwhile inviting the industry to a meeting and encouraging it to engage more competitively in this area. A number of companies should quote rather than the limited number which quote currently. We must ensure the viability of any community employment scheme is not threatened by increases in insurance premiums. As the Minister of State noted, these schemes provide significant employment, support and experience for approximately 23,000 people. Moreover, participants change every couple of years. Community employment is at the cutting edge in terms of offering people who are unemployed an opportunity to re-engage with employment. Every effort must be made to ensure nothing undermines these schemes.

It would be interesting and helpful to seek a breakdown of the factors cited by the insurance industry, although obtaining such a breakdown may be another matter. Two main insurance companies are involved in community employment. This issue was highlighted to the Department only recently. Until now, insurance for community employment schemes has cost approximately €50 per participant.

It has been brought to my attention that for some participants it has now gone to between €82 and €125. That is an increase of between 64% and 104% in insurance costs. The Department would struggle to deal with that rate of increase. Certainly, the Deputy's questions are very pertinent. In the first instance, I ask the schemes to get another quote if possible and to engage with the individual management structure. It is a cause for concern, and I thank Deputy Joe Costello for raising it in the House today.

Schools Building Projects Status

I thank the office of the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important matter and the Minister for Education and Skills for attending to take it. I have no doubt that she has a list the length of her arm of people who want new schools and new school buildings and I imagine the pressure on her at the moment is severe. However, it would be wrong to fail to raise the issue of Athenry vocational school with the Minister today. The school has been promised a new school building for many years. While the Minister will probably tell me in her reply how much the process has moved on with the location of a site and work to purchase it, the matter has been going on for so long that there is great frustration among parents, students and many others in the Athenry hinterland. We have heard for so long how close we were to getting a new school. At one stage, it was believed that parents, pupils and teachers would walk through the front door of a brand new school on 1 September 2014. That certainly did not happen.

A great deal of good work has been done in the background, and I pay special tribute to Councillor Peter Feeney, who spent so much time trying to find the site for the new vocational school, but there is a great deal of frustration out there that this is not moving as quickly as it should. We are getting a lot of people saying it is very close or nearly there, but no one is willing to say what the timeline is, when the land will be purchased, when building will commence and when the school will move in. After meeting two weeks ago with the principal and some of the teachers, I note that what we really want today are answers. A further consideration is that in a town the size of Athenry, the Presentation school and the Gaelscoil are also looking for new buildings. The CSO figures show that Athenry is a booming town, the population of which continues to grow. Apple is going to make a massive investment in the next year. This is an area that is going places, but Athenry is short of the new schools it desperately needs. We must start to set out a very clear plan for the town of Athenry's building programmes and when they will start. We must move away from hearsay and maybes. The site is there and we need it to be purchased. We need to know when it will be purchased and when building will start. That is the only way to alleviate the frustration that parents and students face.

I thank Deputy Connaughton for raising the matter, and I take the opportunity to clarify the current position in relation to the major capital project for Gairmscoil Mhuire, Athenry. The Deputy is aware of the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years. Funding under my Department's five-year construction plan is focused on meeting demographic demands to ensure that every child has access to a physical school place and that our school system is in a position to accommodate increasing pupil numbers. This involves prioritising school building projects in areas where demographic demand is projected to exceed the level of accommodation available.

Athenry has been identified as an area of demographic growth. In that regard, a major project to provide a new school building for Gairmscoil Mhuire, Athenry, to cater for 1,000 pupils has been included in the current five-year construction plan announced in 2012. A new site is required to accommodate this new school building. The Deputy will be aware that I signed a memorandum of understanding between my Department and the County and City Managers' Association in 2012. The memorandum of understanding fosters increased levels of co-operation and formalises the role of local authorities in identifying and securing sites for educational use. In general, the first step in a site acquisition process is the identification of a number of suitable sites by the relevant local authority. The identified sites are then technically assessed on a joint basis by officials from the local authority and my Department. Subsequently, a valuation of the preferred site is procured and negotiations with the landowner are opened. Such negotiations may encompass the resolution of complex technical issues and, in that context, can be lengthy. Once agreement in principle with the landowner has been reached, the legal conveyancing process commences.

In this instance, my Department has worked closely with Galway County Council towards acquiring a permanent site to meet the needs of the school. In the course of the site acquisition process, some matters arose which required further technical assessment and consideration. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that all of these technical matters have now been addressed to the extent that the site acquisition can proceed. I have been informed by my officials that, subject to no issues arising, it is expected that contracts can be signed shortly. I am afraid I have to use the word "shortly," even though the Deputy wants something more specific. It will then be possible for the project to proceed to architectural planning. I assure the Deputy that the project to provide a new permanent building for Gairmscoil Mhuire, Athenry, will be progressed as soon as possible. Officials from my Department will be in contact with Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board in that regard as soon as the site acquisition is completed. I thank the Deputy again for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Dail the current position regarding the site, although I am not sure I have told him anything he did not already know. It is important to note that "shortly" means "in the very near future."

I thank the Minister for her reply, although the word "shortly" will cause some frustration among people in Athenry tonight. I welcome the fact that a lot of the technical issues have been sorted out and that we are very much nearing the end of the process. However, I ask the Minister and her officials to redouble their efforts to get this over the line as soon as possible. Having met parents and, in particular, teachers, I note that although this is a school with a proud history and a bright future, they are teaching in a school that is not fit for 2015 and are in desperate need of a new premises. They grow frustrated daily at words such as "shortly." I understand that conveyancing can take time and that legal issues can arise, but it is important to get around them as soon as possible. If possible, we should put timelines in place within the next month or two.

The Minister noted in her speech that Athenry is a booming town, and I invite her to visit the three schools in the town to make herself aware of the concerns people have. It will be an ideal opportunity for her to see that the town is going places. We need to bring these schools up to the necessary standard, and I urge the Minister and her officials to get the matter over the line as soon as possible. Let us get building this school, because Athenry and Gairmscoil Mhuire deserve a new school in 2015.

Certainly I know that Athenry is a growing and thriving town. I thank the Deputy for the invitation and will try to get there. We are very much aware of the needs of this school. I assure the Deputy that we will progress the project as soon as we possibly can.