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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Jan 2016

Vol. 903 No. 2

Topical Issue Debate

Inshore Fisheries

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for attending this afternoon to address this topical issue. I also thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this matter. It is topical and is causing some distress for the inshore fishing fleet throughout the country, in particular those along the south-west coast who have been hit extremely hard.

The Minister of State will be aware of the extreme weather events we have had since November 2015, including storms Clodagh, Desmond and Frank. It has been an unprecedented time of adverse weather events. Will the Minister of State pass on my gratitude to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for his Department's response to those who were affected by the floods and for the response of the Defence Forces in particular for its help to many households, businesses, towns and communities right around the country? I acknowledge the scheme that has been put in place for the first time to compensate business owners and ratepayers who have been adversely affected by the recent bad weather. One sector that has been particularly hard hit is our inshore fisheries fleet. They have simply not been able to put to sea since November. Under normal circumstances they expect bad weather at this time of year and they try to deal with it as best they can. They have been now tied up at the quays for almost seven to eight weeks without an income. As the Minister of State is aware, there is no social protection for these fishermen. The owners are self-employed and those who work on deck are self-employed share fishermen. There is no fishing or catching and, more specifically, there is no income. Many are now facing very serious financial consequences because of the weather events.

One of the issues, which the Minister of State may be aware of, is that the quota system, which allows the inshore fishing fleet to work, is operated on a monthly basis. It puts extreme pressure on fishermen to catch the quota of fish within a calendar month. It sounds a bit archaic and somewhat anomalous that one has to catch the fish within a calendar month. If the weather does not allow this, in many cases the quota cannot be rolled over to the following month. The knock-on effect on fishermen is that they put to sea when they would be advised not to and so take risks. It is a dangerous occupation at the best of times but if they are under financial pressure as a result of adverse weather and if there is fish to be caught and rather robust prices as relatively little fish is being landed, the temptation is real and leads to extreme danger.

I call on the Minister of State and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to give serious consideration to the administration of a compensation scheme through BIM for fishermen who can prove they have really suffered financially because of the adverse weather. A precedent has been set by the flood victims, particularly by the introduction of a grant scheme for ratepayers. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is unable to attend today and has asked me to reply to the Deputy.

It is important that the fishing industry takes every precaution to avoid risk of injury or worse during storms and has full regard to local weather warnings before venturing to sea. I think we are all agreed on that. Inshore fishermen who may be experiencing financial difficulties while ashore due to the adverse weather should contact the Department of Social Protection which offers income support payments, subject to certain eligibility criteria.

In May 2014, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, announced the establishment of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum based on a structure of regional inshore fisheries forums to give inshore fishing communities a platform to become involved in policy formulation and decision making. The NIFF will be meeting for the sixth time on Thursday, 21 January 2016, and has invited the Department of Social Protection to discuss social protection policies relevant to the inshore fishing sector. The new seafood development operational programme under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund was adopted by the European Commission in December 2015. That programme provides a comprehensive range of supports for the seafood sector, including a dedicated scheme of supports for the inshore sector to address the various economic and sustainability challenges facing the sector.

Last Thursday, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, was pleased to have the support of the European Commission to launch the initial tranche of eight schemes at the Government press centre. These eight schemes include the sustainable fisheries scheme, which makes available up to €16 million to encourage practices that lead to reduced catches of juvenile or over-quota species with the ultimate aim of improving fisheries sustainability. The inshore fisheries conservation scheme will make €6 million available overall. The initial phase of this scheme is a specific initiative providing up to 75% of market price for lobsters which are v-notched and returned alive to the sea to contribute to maintaining the lobster stock. The fisheries local development scheme will provide up to €12 million to local groups who establish fisheries local action groups and prepare local development strategies to identify economic development needs and opportunities in their fishing communities and in turn provide financial supports to local sectors to develop business opportunities and infrastructure to deliver on that potential. The sustainable aquaculture scheme will provide up to €20.6 million to support investment to promote the sustainable growth of output, value and employment in the aquaculture sector. The knowledge gateway scheme will provide up to €8.2 million to support applied research, training and the provision of environmental and business planning advice to the aquaculture sector. The seafood capital investment scheme makes up to €13 million available for capital investment by seafood processing enterprises to focus on reducing energy costs, improving safety, health, hygiene and traceability and also adding value through processing, presentation and packaging.

The seafood innovation and business planning scheme makes available €7 million to support investment to enable entrepreneurs and seafood companies to innovate and grow business and to build capability in the sector through improved leadership, as well as management and business planning practices. Supports will be focused on new product and technology development, research and development and business planning. Finally, the seafood scaling and new market development scheme makes available €4 million to support investment to promote scale and collaboration in the sector and to fund projects that address key sector issues such as industry collaboration forums, joint ventures between companies, producers and processors and projects that address common sector issues. The inshore fishing sector is eligible for and will benefit from the implementation of many of these schemes.

The Government is fully committed to the seafood sector and the coastal communities that are dependent on fisheries and aquaculture. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has provided almost €36 million in 2016 to his Department and a range of implementing agencies to begin implementing the new seafood development programme. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has also provided Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, with €22 million in 2016 to implement these eight schemes, as well as other new schemes that will be announced over the coming weeks and months.

If it is all right, can Members take the rest as read?

I thank the Acting Chairman.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. I note that what was not read into the record from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine's report to the Dáil was the establishment in the near future of a mutual fund based on funding from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF. I congratulate the Minister on achieving a €240 million fund for the fishing sector over the next five years and I understand this is twice the size of the fund that was available over the course of the last Common Fisheries Policy period. In the aforementioned report, the Minister mentions this fund will be established to assist inshore fishermen who will be adversely affected through climatic or weather events in the future. In light of that part of the Minister's response, I ask the Minister of State to make a case to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine regarding fishermen who already have been affected. I ask that the Department should consider in good faith how this fund should be established and how contributions will be made to it. However, in effect, I seek some compensation to be made in advance of that to support fishermen who were hit really hard in 2015 and the early part of 2016.

In addition, I ask the Minister of State to ask the Minister and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to allow for administrative roll-over of quota from those months that were affected, that is, November and December 2015 and parts of January 2016, for those fishermen who were unable to catch the quota allocated to them. I ask that the quota be rolled over into the early months of 2016, perhaps up to March or April, to facilitate those fishermen who could not catch the fish they were allocated and to give them a chance to at least claw back some of the income lost during the storm events. A further small measure the Department could take, albeit one that would show good faith, would be a deferral of harbour charges for fishermen who were tied up at the quays for such a long time. While it would not make much monetary difference, it would show good faith and acknowledgement of the inshore fishing fleet, which has been badly affected. The Minister is even more aware of this point but it is no coincidence that this sector has been particularly hard hit and those in the fleet are practically on subsistence. For example, in respect of the recent controversy on the migrant non-national fishermen in the fleet, it is no coincidence that the vast majority of them are working in this sector or that such conditions are being experienced in this sector.

To be brief, although I will relay the Deputy's concerns, I am not certain the Minister or any Minister in the Government can ask that. Most harbours now are controlled and governed by private companies or semi-State companies.

I was referring to the Department's own harbours.

They are few enough in number. In respect of the fund and the specific measures to support inshore fishermen affected by significant losses arising from adverse weather events, the EMFF and the operational programme provide for the establishment by fishermen of a mutual fund for adverse climatic events and environmental incidents, which when established, can provide aid to fishermen affiliated to the fund in line with predefined rules. The operational programme will co-fund the mutual fund, together with subscriptions from member fishermen. In that case, the viability of such a mutual fund is dependent on the extent to which fishermen commit to membership of that fund. Incidentally, the Minister will discuss with fishing representatives how they may establish this mutual fund over the coming year. As the Deputy rightly points out, it is important that people in this industry are not simply regulated, as they are but that also, in times of adverse weather conditions when they simply cannot work, they should be treated as would be all other industries, that is, when they cannot work there must be some safety net or fallback position for them. This is one step and there may be others because the Department of Social Protection has been invited to a meeting in the near future at which all these matters will be discussed.

Schools Designation

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and his office for allowing me to raise this issue. This is a simple case of bureaucracy gone mad and in so doing, it has affected the chances of the approximately 450 students of Coláiste Pobail Acla. This school is the product of an amalgamation in 2011 of McHale College, Achill, which had 450 students, and Scoil Damhnait, which had far fewer students. It is a fantastic school and is the only secondary school on Achill Island. However, prior to the merger, McHale College, the bigger school with more than 450 students, had been designated as a Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, school and therefore had the important advantages and supports that go with such a designation in respect of this successful scheme. After the merger, the DEIS status was removed and while the transitional supports for a DEIS school that is moving were put in place for the leaving certificate cohort of students, that transition has now come to an end. Nothing changed about the profile of the students or the economic position in the area, which had worsened considerably. All that changed was the name over the door and the roll number on the Department's roll, which appears to be where the difficulty lies. As no new DEIS status has been issued since 2006, the putting in place of a new roll number meant that DEIS status could not be extended to the new school, which I reiterate was the amalgamation of two existing schools. Mayo VEC, which had been the patron of McHale College, gave guarantees that DEIS status would be retained on the basis of assurances from the Department of Education and Skills. However, it was confirmed in July 2014, through the Higher Education Access Route, HEAR, programme, that the new entity was not in fact a DEIS school and was not entitled to the DEIS supports. When I questioned the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, late last year in this regard, she confirmed this and stated the transitional supports would be in place for six years.

This is a crazy situation for a school with 450 students that had DEIS status but which merged, in the interests of educational opportunity, with a school that on its closing day had 30 pupils. The 450 students lost their DEIS status through no fault of their own and through no fault of the boards of management or the fantastic staff. It makes no sense and is a case of bureaucracy gone mad and of no one willing to take ownership of the issue. All the feeder national schools are designated as DEIS status, and the entire island and the community around it are designated as areas of high disadvantage, particularly in respect of rural disadvantage. I have consistently and constantly made the point that DEIS struggles to capture rural disadvantage in particular. This problem with DEIS, which is a fantastic programme, has extended through the lifetime of several Governments.

The Minister is reviewing the entire DEIS scheme at present and I note that another anomaly has arisen on the other side of the county, that is, in Inver national school, Erris. There are 22 national schools in Erris, all of which - with one exception - have been designated with DEIS status. The reason Inver national school is not so designated is the school did not apply in time. It has nothing to do with the profile of its pupils or with the disadvantage it faces. While I acknowledge the Minister of State will not be in position to provide it to me today, I would appreciate an update on that school.

I reiterate this is a case of bureaucracy gone mad. All that changed here was a roll number. Nothing else changed but the students are now paying for that mistake.

The staff are also paying for the mistake, although they continue to provide a fantastic education in spite of it. Will the Minister of State knock some heads together in the Department and bring some sense to the equation?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The school referred to by him is a new school which was established in September 2011 on foot of an amalgamation agreed to by the patrons of two existing post-primary schools, one DEIS school and one non-DElS school. I was not familiar with the issue before today, but it is something I will discuss with our colleague, the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who cannot be here.

In line with current policy on all such amalgamations, the new school in question was not designated a DEIS school. Also in line with policy dating back many years, the new school receives certain additional DEIS programme supports in respect of the number of eligible pupils from the former DEIS school. These supports will continue until that pupil cohort has left the school. The Deputy referred to a term of six years, but they will continue until the relevant pupils have left the school. The Minister has addressed the issues raised in respect of the school in numerous parliamentary questions, while officials of my Department have also engaged in direct correspondence to clarify my Department's position on the matter. I clarify again that on no occasion was any assurance given by my Department to the school that it would be included in the DEIS programme following the amalgamation.

As the Deputy is aware, last year the Minister announced a process for a review of the DEIS programme. This process is under way, with the majority of the work programme being undertaken during the course of the current 2015-16 school year. It is envisaged that a revised framework of supports will be in place for the 2017-18 school year. The overall scope of the review is to assess the existing DEIS programme in the context of evaluations to date and relevant policy and other developments in order to inform future policy on educational disadvantage.

The Minister invited all education partners to make submissions on their experience of the DEIS programme and suggestions for future interventions. The submissions are available on my Department's website and will feed into the overall DEIS programme review. I presume a submission was made on this case also. A technical working group within my Department is considering appropriate eligibility criteria to assist with the identification of the level of need in schools. This work is under way with a view to completion during the current school year. Any revised identification process for schools will be clearly set out and communicated to all schools concerned.

An advisory group has also been established. This group is reviewing the current supports available under the DEIS programme and will make recommendations for a new framework of appropriate supports, as well as a monitoring and evaluation framework. Socio-economic differences and the link with poorer educational outcomes cannot be viewed in isolation from the broader social context. The Minister has, therefore, established an interdepartmental working group to ensure a more joined-up and consistent approach to service delivery in the future. Representatives of relevant Departments and agencies are reviewing their current inputs to the DEIS programme and will contribute to the overall framework of supports to combat educational disadvantage.

Pending the outcome of the review process, the Minister does not intend to make any change to current DEIS policy. The policy predates the Government and has been in place for many years. That is the reason for the review of the overall policy. We will be able to see where we can make relevant and needed changes. We consider it best to deal with the matter raised by the Deputy as part of the review of the overall scheme.

I am disappointed with the reply. As I have consistently said, this has nothing to do with school identification or the identification of need. It is not so much an amalgamation but a takeover. A DEIS school with 450 students amalgamated with a non-DEIS school with 29 students and the status was lost. Nothing changed in terms of the student cohort. If the amalgamation had not proceeded, the 450 students would continue to have DEIS supports. All that happened was a Department policy was pursued, which was to strengthen schools and go down the route of amalgamation. Assurances were definitely given. The minutes of board of management meetings are available. The Minister of State knows schools well enough to know that a board of management would not have signed up to something such as this unless assurances were given during the process.

It is welcome that the DEIS programme is being reviewed. It is an important and successful programme, but in this specific instance there is a bureaucratic issue. The profile of the students has not changed. To use the Minister of State's own phrase, the "appropriate eligibility criteria" have not changed. In terms of identifying the schools and socio-economic differences, they did not change either. In line with what is happening in all rural areas, they have, in fact, got worse. It is beyond me why someone cannot knock heads together in the Department and point to the reality that nothing has changed except a roll number. As a result of the change in the roll number, DEIS status and all that goes with it has been lost. That is stupid and silly. I encourage the Minister of State to return to his officials and knock their heads together. On the basis of his timeline, it will be another two academic years before the supports kick in. There is no guarantee either of the result of what is a bureaucratic issue.

The Deputy has stated again that assurances were given. I am led to believe by my officials that that is not the case. They are and have been very clear in the replies to parliamentary questions and on other occasions too that assurances were not given because it was not in their gift to give them. They are very clear on that point and they are usually right on these things. They are also very good at keeping notes, as the Deputy knows because he has also been dealing with them for a long time. They are very clear that there was no discussion at the time on the DEIS status of the new school. Strange as it might seem, they are very clear on that point. As I said, I have always found them to be correct in their reports on meetings to me as Minister of State and everything else we do also.

It is not correct to say there are no supports available to the 450 pupils. I do not have the details of all the supports that are in place, but under the rules of the scheme, certain supports have been left in place for the number of eligible pupils. The Deputy said 450 students came from the DEIS school and that this would be recognised in the supports provided. I do not have the detail with me, but I will get it for the Deputy. However, I imagine substantial support is given to allow and cater for that position.

The Department has to operate the scheme as laid out when it was first put in place many years ago. Everyone agrees that it is worth reviewing the scheme. That is why the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is the first Minister to say we should have a review and implement any change that may be recommended. The review is under way and it is hoped the new, revised scheme will be in place by 2017-18. An important element of the review is the development of a robust and transparent identification process for the inclusion of schools in any programme to support children at risk of educational disadvantage. That is our aim. All schools which meet the criteria for inclusion in any given programme will be included. I assume and hope a submission has been made on behalf of the school in question by the Deputy and others as part of the review process. Certainly, there will be ample time to discuss it as matters move along.

As previously stated in replies to parliamentary questions and other discussions, the review process is under way. There will be no changes to the current scheme, including the addition of new schools, until the review has been completed. It is important to note that, in the meantime, schools established following the amalgamation of a DEIS school and a non-DEIS school, including the school in question, will continue to receive certain additional supports under the DEIS programme in respect of the pupil cohort from the former DEIS school. In this case, 450 students attended the DEIS school. The supports include financial assistance in the form of a DEIS grant and access to home-school-community liaison and school completion services. It is wrong to say there is no recognition of the issues involved or that there are no supports available. The scheme has done its best to recognise that extra supports should follow pupils in the school. It is probably not the full complement of supports a DEIS school would receive, but it was not within the gift of departmental officials to recognise it as a DEIS school under the scheme started many years ago.

We will have to wait for a few moments. If Deputy Áine Collins does not arrive in the meantime and as the relevant Minister is here, Deputy Gerry Adams's Topical Issue can be dealt with first. Is the Minister of State dealing with that issue also?

The Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, was stuck in traffic, but he has now landed. He will be here. He wants to take the Topical Issue himself.

I am reluctant to start the discussion on that Topical Issue until Deputy Ruth Coppinger arrives, given that time is being shared.

I do not know what the position is on the Topical Issue tabled by Deputy Áine Collins. Is the Minister of State dealing with that issue?

Yes, I am. I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, wants to take the issue to be raised by Deputy Gerry Adams. There was a bad crash on the road and we were all caught, but the Minister of State should be here in the next two minutes.

Traveller Accommodation

With the agreement of Members we will deal with the fourth Topical Issue matter from Deputies Gerry Adams and Ruth Coppinger, regarding the ongoing eviction of up to 70 people from a halting site at Woodland Park in Dundalk, County Louth. The Deputies have four minutes in total to make an initial statement and the Minister of State has four minutes to reply. The Deputies have two minutes in total for a supplementary statement and the Minister of State has two minutes for a concluding statement. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey to the House.

Tá mé buíoch as an seans caint ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. Last Friday and with only 48 hours' notice, Louth County Council began a process to evict 23 Traveller families from a halting site at Woodland Park in Dundalk. This was a shameful action. Those evicted included at least 22 children, some of them babies only days old, and two pregnant women. The distress and trauma caused to these families, especially to the children, was unnecessary and unreasonable. This was done without consultation by councillors.

I raised the issue of the halting site with the chief executive of the council in November. I was on the site in December and made representations during Christmas week to the council and other agencies. The basis on which the council said that it carried out these evictions was a fire safety inspection. However, Louth County Council, like all other councils, was given a programme to review fire safety and Traveller accommodation last December. This was initiated after the tragic fire at the halting site in Carrickmines which saw ten people including five children die. The report is very clear that nothing in this fire safety review process is intended to be used to address the broader Traveller accommodation issues in a negative way. However, this is exactly what the council is doing.

The last five families at the Woodland Park site are being evicted today and tomorrow. Some of the women, including at least one pregnant woman, have had to sleep in a car for the past three nights. There is already a homelessness crisis in County Louth, with 5,000 people on the housing waiting list. The chief executive's action has added to this crisis. I ask the Minister of State to intervene and that he urgently agrees to release the necessary funding to upgrade the Woodland Park site. This is the most cost-effective and common sense resolution to the issue.

I also want to raise the issue of the eviction of the 23 Traveller families from Woodland Park in County Louth. It is incredible that the first response of the State to Travelling people since the tragedy at Carrickmines is to use that event to evict 23 families, including women and children, from a site on which they have been living. Just so we are clear, this was a halting site in the past. It is not as if it did not function in that capacity before. As we know, there is a housing emergency which even the Government is beginning to acknowledge. For Travellers it is doubly difficult, even if they want to access private rented accommodation.

It was thought necessary for the Garda public order unit to arrive on-site on Friday, only two days after the eviction notice had been posted up. It is very unusual to see a council moving so swiftly to do anything. The council did not feel it necessary to send a delegation to the site, engage with the Travellers or find out what health and safety issues there might be and how they might be rectified. There is no necessity to evict these families from the site to make it safe. All of these safety issues could have been addressed while leaving them in situ, and that was the stated aim of the report that followed Carrickmines. The directive said that nothing in this process is intended to be used to address broader Traveller accommodation issues in a negative way. Instead, these families are being pushed into the settled community against their wishes. That is not meant to be a policy. It involves breaking up extended Traveller families and so on.

That was the action of Louth County Council on the coldest night of the year. The Minister of State should condemn it. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly has been asked to intervene by Pavee Point and should do so.

Louth County Council has informed me that the Woodland halting site in Dundalk was a purpose-built permanent and transient site. However, it has been vacant since 2007, when the last of the two occupants of the site at that time were accommodated by the construction of two dwellings in a group housing site at the edge of the site. The illegal occupation of this site has been ongoing since April of last year and the inspection of Woodland halting site, which gave rise to the eviction of the families last Friday on safety grounds, was conducted prior to the commencement of the review process and the publication of the project initiation document and the Guide to Fire Safety in Existing Traveller Accommodation which was commissioned by my Department after the Carrickmines fire. Legal advice was obtained by Louth County Council and junior counsel appointed. A complaint was subsequently made to An Garda Síochána, which served the notice to evict. Gardaí enforced the direction by moving caravans on Friday last, 15 January.

Since the site was occupied last year it is unclear who, in fact, has been in occupation. However, I understand that recent events have indicated that there were 28 temporary dwellings on site, occupied by 18 households. The original site has been significantly vandalised and requires substantial works to bring it back to a habitable condition. Numerous requests were made by the council over recent months that the families should leave the site but these were ignored. Recent Louth County Council Traveller accommodation programmes have not identified a demand for halting site accommodation at this location. The current Traveller accommodation programme 2014 to 2018 includes only one household which had indicated a preference for Traveller specific accommodation among all forms of social housing support available.

Louth County Council has been actively engaged with the families and their representatives to try to meet their short-term accommodation needs, while also scoping and planning for meeting their Traveller specific accommodation needs in the medium to longer term. Louth County Council met yesterday afternoon with representatives from the Travelling community concerned with Woodland Park. A number of short-term solutions were discussed and agreed at that meeting and the council is committed to continue working with the representatives of Woodland Park towards a longer term solution. At the meeting yesterday evening, a number of short-term solutions were offered which also focus on a review of the Traveller accommodation programme. To that end the council is facilitating all households and families who wish to make applications to be considered for housing or to amend their accommodation type choice. A letting agent has been appointed to assist in the sourcing of private rented accommodation. It appears that many of the households were in the private rented sector prior to their occupation of the site. Also, the council has offered to accommodate households in alternative halting sites in the county which are vacant or semi-vacant.

The local Traveller accommodation consultative committee has been convened to meet tomorrow to commence the review of the Traveller accommodation programme. The council is also commencing the capital appraisal of the Woodland halting site with regard to potentially developing it as a permanent Traveller-specific housing project and has planned meetings for the next number of days with potential partners who may assist in this regard.

The agreement reached between Louth County Council and the Traveller representatives on Friday, 15 January remains in place, and is the central focus of the work of the council in respect of Traveller accommodation. I am satisfied that Louth County Council is committed to working with the Traveller families and their representatives to ensure the provision of accommodation of their choice in which they can feel safe.

I am very disappointed with the Minister of State's answer. There is no point coming in here and reading a prepared script on an issue he knows nothing about. I asked him whether he would intervene to ensure the money which the Government has supplied is made available to refurbish the halting site up to appropriate health and safety standards.

Louth County Council is not working with the Traveller families and their representatives to ensure the provision of accommodation of their choice, as the Minister of State indicated. That is not the case. I want to remind the Minister of State that last year, the Minister of State with responsibility for equality promised that Traveller ethnicity would be a reality. The Government also promised equality and social inclusion for the Traveller community. Given it was the coldest night of the year, can the Minister of State stand over and justify the forced mass eviction of these families, comprising up to 70 people, with some of them now on the side of the road?

The way to sort this out is common sense and is cost-effective, as the money is within the Minister of State's Department, and that is to have the site brought up to health and safety standards and then to work out with the Traveller people in that constituency appropriate tigíní or other accommodation in keeping with their cultural needs.

I have heard replies in my time but I have to say this takes the biscuit. First, the Minister of State told us the reason the council acted in this way was that the directive was issued before the Carrickmines report came out. That is unbelievable. The Carrickmines report has been known for weeks and should have been respected. It is pathetic. It was said that numerous requests were made by the council over recent months for the families to leave the site but these were ignored. That could be because they have nowhere to go.

The Minister of State has the brass neck to tell us there is no demand for Traveller-specific accommodation in County Louth and that everything is hunky-dory for Travellers in County Louth. These families are living proof that there is a huge demand for accommodation, in particular Traveller-specific accommodation. Is the Minister of State seriously suggesting they just did not bother registering their interest with the council? We all know of the failure of successive Governments and councils to accommodate Travellers in any sensitive or meaningful way - I saw this myself in the 11 years I was on Fingal County Council and it is no worse or better than any other council. Travellers have been utterly failed by this State. Now, we have a situation where 23 families are homeless and where the Government has added to the homeless lists. I assume those 23 families will have to be accommodated in bed and breakfasts or hotel accommodation at huge cost to the State.

They could have been asked to comply with health and safety regulations and they could have been given the means to remain on-site until there was proper, permanent accommodation for them. Think of the money, the time and the energy that has been spent by the State and the Garda. All of that should have been and can be used to refurbish the existing Traveller site and provide them with long-term accommodation. I hope the Minister of State will ensure the representatives of the Travellers, who were ignored when they brought a lawyer with them, are now accommodated by the council.

While I acknowledge and recognise the concern of the Deputies, who rightly raise the issue, I want to reject some of the charges they have made. The statement I have made to the Dáil is factual and correct and is the current situation in terms of the history of the site and what is going on in regard to it.

No, it is not.

I also remind Deputies that Louth County Council, as the housing authority, is the responsible statutory authority in law for ensuring the implementation of the Traveller accommodation programme. I assure the Deputies that I, the Department and the Government are committed to ensuring that Traveller accommodation needs will be met in a safe and sustainable way. I also have confidence that Louth County Council will work with the Traveller families and all those concerned to ensure that the short, medium and long-term solutions will be found to the issues the Deputies have raised today.

I also wish to put on record that safety has to be paramount. We need to offer reassurance that steps are being taken by my Department in the context of the review of fire safety programme in Traveller accommodation. Local authorities have been instructed to undertake site-specific appraisals and apply the appropriate fire safety measures in accordance with the approach and the recommendations of the guide to fire safety in existing Traveller accommodation. They are also required to submit an interim report on the progress of the review to the national steering group which was established to oversee the review process by the end of this week.

I want to reassure the House that my Department will continue to work with the local authorities and the national Traveller representative groups to ensure the continued provision of safe and secure accommodation for Travellers, in accordance with their choice and through the comprehensive local and national collaborative structures which are already in place.

The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills was present earlier. As he is no longer available, it will not be possible to deal with the matter raised by Deputy Áine Collins.

I accept that. I apologise for being late.