Topical Issue Debate (Resumed)

Suicide Bereavement Support

I am pleased to have an opportunity to raise this issue. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for her attendance and her record in contributing to mental health awareness and suicide prevention during the lifetime of this Government. Over the past 25 years, there have been many changes in how we address the issue of suicide in Ireland. Suicide was decriminalised in 1993 after I had brought three Private Members' Bills to the Seanad. The publication of the report of the national task force on suicide in 1998 was followed by the national strategy for action on suicide prevention, Reach Out, which covered the period from 2005 to 2014. These reports, along with the more recent Connecting for Life strategy, have contributed to our knowledge and understanding of suicide. I hope this will lead to a reduction in suicide levels and an improvement in the supports provided to those who are suicidal and those who have been bereaved by suicide.

Over many years, community groups have been working to support people in crisis and to reduce the suicide rates in their communities. Some of these groups operate on a national basis and support communities through local branches. Other groups were set up in response to local tragedies. Regardless of the size and structure of these groups, all of them make an invaluable contribution to reducing the risk of suicide in Ireland. It has been established that as many as 250 or 300 groups provide support to those who are at risk of suicide. The truth is that we do not know the actual figure because the sector is fragmented, with many groups working in isolation. Parts of the country are over-subscribed with support organisations, while gaps in support services exist in other parts of the country. Over the past 25 years, national and regional forums and networks have been established to share information and provide support to one another in the work they do. If we are to tackle this issue, we need to take the next step in developing our response to suicide prevention. We can do this by pulling together the collective knowledge of all the groups working in the sector and by creating a national forum into which regional networks can make an input and from which such networks can learn.

In 2013, the Irish Association of Suicidology invited the University of Ulster to draw up a report on the establishment of an accreditation model for groups working in suicide prevention. This was supported by the National Office for Suicide Prevention. The aim of the establishment of such a model would be to create a sector that can offer an improved response to those who require the services of voluntary organisations, to ensure voluntary suicide prevention groups look after their volunteers and staff and to create a forum in which experience, innovation, knowledge and the mistakes made by the voluntary sector can be shared. The idea of accreditation is not new. The American Association of Suicidology has had such a model in place since 1976. It has been talked about in Ireland since 2007. It is proposed to allow the sector to develop its own model, rather than having a model imposed on it by the State. Under the model that is proposed, the sector sets standards based on best practice within their own organisations. Groups are encouraged and supported to reach the standards they have set. With the Minister's support, funding to develop this model and commence work was agreed with the National Office for Suicide Prevention.

In March 2011, a small group of organisations working in the area of suicide prevention and operating accreditation models were consulted to see if and how the accreditation model could work in the suicide prevention sector. Over 100 organisations that provide suicide prevention services were consulted. The outcome of both consultations endorsed the need for such a model and emphasised the importance of the model being developed and run by the sector itself. There is no quick solution when such a model is being developed. The suicide prevention sector, like any other sector, has its own particular nuances that need to be addressed by the model being put in place. The development of this model will take approximately a year. A further two years will be required to allow groups to make the transition from their current operating practices to the accredited model. The benefits for service users and groups will reward the effort and time that will have to be put in over a period of three years. We envisage that the accreditation model will advise, support and assist established groups and those that will get involved in this area in years to come. This is happening on an ongoing basis. Best practice is to be advised when suicide prevention organisations are being set up and operated. This is in the interests of ensuring maximum assistance can be provided at local and national levels to voluntary organisations that seek to prevent suicide, to create an understanding of the issues around suicide and mental ill-health and, of course, to assist the suicidal and advise the bereaved on how to deal with these tragic cases.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue for discussion. It has been and continues to be a priority of the Government to deal with the current high levels of suicide and deliberate self-harm. While we will never eliminate suicide completely, we can and must make every effort to reduce the number of lives lost to suicide by ensuring a broad range of Departments, State agencies, non-statutory organisations and - perhaps most importantly - local communities are involved in a co-ordinated partnership with the aim of tackling this issue. Equally, I believe we should have a zero tolerance approach to suicide. As the House will be aware, the Government published Connecting for Life, which is Ireland’s national strategy to reduce suicide, in June of last year. The strategy, which covers the period from 2015 to 2020, sets out a vision of an Ireland where fewer lives are lost through suicide and where communities and individuals are empowered to improve their mental health and well-being.

Connecting for Life has seven goals: better understanding of suicidal behaviour; supporting communities to prevent and respond to suicidal behaviour; targeted approaches for those vulnerable to suicide; improved access, consistency and integration of services; safe and high-quality services; reduce access to means; and better data and research.

Suicide is a complex problem and addressing suicidal behaviour means supporting people in many different ways. It also requires a co-ordinated effort across many different sectors and levels of society, from service providers, communities, families and friends. Connecting for Life places a major value on partnership and is designed to co-ordinate and focus the efforts in suicide prevention. The National Office for Suicide Prevention helps to support a wide array of work in communities, in partnership with the voluntary sector across the country, that focus on promoting positive mental health and reducing suicide and self-harm by providing very substantial amounts of grant funding each year as well as by assisting in co-ordinating and giving strategic direction to the work undertaken.

One of the objectives in the new strategy is to develop and implement national standards and guidelines for statutory and non-statutory organisations contributing to suicide prevention, which is what the Deputy is looking for. A working group comprising representatives from community, statutory and voluntary organisations was established to progress the development of a set of national minimum standards for organisations working in the area of suicide prevention. The work of this group is well advanced. In December 2015, the group submitted a first draft report to the National Office for Suicide Prevention, and this is currently under consideration. A range of local and national services provide suicide bereavement support to families and communities. The National Office for Suicide Prevention, Console and Turas le Cheile have developed national quality standards for all levels of bereavement support in Ireland. These standards provide a significant resource for those organisations providing support to individuals at a very vulnerable time in their lives. In addition, a number of service evaluations have been commissioned by the National Office for Suicide Prevention, with a view to ensuring that services which receive funding from NOSP are safe, effective and evidence-based and are in line with the goals and objectives in Connecting for Life. It is the Government's hope that the implementation of this new strategy will help us achieve our goal of fewer lives lost through suicide through an improved response to suicide, including improved access to high quality services.

I thank the Deputy. We are coming near to the time an election will be called and I know the Deputy is not standing. On behalf of all those who have had an interest in mental health, whether good or bad, down through the years, I thank him for being one of the pioneers in the area and one of the very first to talk about it in an open fashion in this House.

I thank the Minister of State for her kind words about the work done by many organisations in which I have been involved over more than a quarter of a century, before we decriminalised suicide. We should recognise the advances made in our understanding and the greater openness on the issue of suicide and mental ill-health. We still have a long way to go to full understanding and to destigmatising the area of mental ill-health. Some work has been done but a large amount of stigmatisation still exists, as is shown in research in the past few years by Amnesty International and St. Patrick's Hospital. That work is ongoing and hopefully we will see the fruits of that in the coming period.

It is important that we have and co-ordinate a national relationship with new groups starting up in the area to help them with understanding, knowledge, advice and training. These groups do a lot of very good work in their communities and there is much support out there because a lot of work is done when these groups are sought out for assistance. When one wants to set up a group because of a tragedy in an area, a bereaved family is often very helpful in doing it. They often talk to me about what should be done, how they would do it and where they would take it. The work they want to complete is so important and value can be added to their work by the establishment of a clear set of guidelines and advice on how we could advance and encourage them. Such groups can become very isolated, in time, in a particular area.

I reiterate my thanks to the Minister of State for the work she has done on mental health and for her commitment to it. Hopefully those of us who are involved in the area will have the opportunity to continue in some way. We recognise the work of the Minister of State and her commitment over the period of this Government.

I do not want this to turn into a mutual admiration society but I thank the Deputy and I appreciate his words more than those of most. It is important we continue to develop both national guidelines and standards for people who do what they do out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to do the very best job possible so it is essential that the message which is delivered is both safe and effective. The only people who we can be sure will abide by the standards and the guidelines are those we fund. We do not fund everyone and those we do not fund are very anxious to get the training and insights others have gained. People in this area only want to do their best and everybody comes with clean hands. We have made a difference - I say "we" deliberately because I am talking about the people of Ireland - in attitudes towards mental health and that attitude has probably had a more profound effect than anything else we have done.

This is probably my last contribution, after 26 years, to a debate in this House. I thank the many people with whom I have been involved and who have supported, assisted and even opposed me over that period. It has been an enormous privilege and an honour to have had an opportunity to make a contribution in our national Parliament. In the year that we commemorate 100 years since the 1916 Rising, it is a marvellous and humbling experience to sit in the Parliament for which they died. I thank the many staff I have had over 26 years, the various leaders of the Fine Gael Party and others who supported the work I do, especially in the area of mental health and suicide. I thank the Fine Gael Party for giving me the opportunity to be a Member of the Oireachtas in that period in both the Seanad, for eight years, and the Dáil, where I have been for almost 19 years. Above all, I thank the constituents of Limerick West, now County Limerick, for their support in sending me to this House and the Seanad electorate for sending me there in the period before this. It was an enormous privilege and I sincerely thank the Acting Chairman for giving me the opportunity to thank my family and my supporters, friends within my organisation and people who voted for me and who worked so hard to keep me here. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

In recognition of the long service Deputy Neville, like many others, has given to the Houses of the Oireachtas, it should be said that it was a service characterised by participation, perseverance and a spirit and goodwill to pursue his objectives in a way that was not offensive to anybody but was inclusive of all. The Deputy can be rightly proud.

Mental Health Services Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue and I thank the Minister for coming to the House to respond. Before I start, I wish to pay tribute to Deputy Neville and to his distinguished record in the House, particularly on the issue of suicide. Like him, I am not contesting the next election, but I hope to get an opportunity later, when I speak on another Bill, to say my farewell. At present, however, I am anxious to raise this issue on behalf of a family in Donaghmede in my Dublin North-East constituency, with their consent to refer to the details of their case.

Their adult son, Igor, who suffers from autism, has been under the care of the HSE mental health and disability services for more than five years, and since last year he has been an inpatient of the acute psychiatric unit at the Ashlin Centre in the grounds of Beaumont Hospital. It has been acknowledged by the HSE mental health and disability services that Igor's needs would be better met by a placement in a residential care setting rather than in an acute psychiatric unit, and his parents have been assured that the HSE is working proactively in progressing this solution. The problem that is causing anxiety to both Igor and his parents is the delay in providing the funding for the provision of a suitable residential placement. His parents were informed on several occasions in recent months that a decision would be made very soon. Most recently, they were told that a decision would be made yesterday, but their hopes, which had been raised so many times previously, were dashed once again. They sent me an e-mail yesterday afternoon, which I will quote with their permission:

We received a call from our social worker today to say Nua [the placement centre] can go ahead with referral but meeting regarding funding is not for another two weeks, when we were told it would be today or tomorrow. We were absolutely devastated over this and cannot understand how disability and mental health cannot meet to discuss our case.

They have also described to me the effect of the ongoing delays on Igor, which is very apparent when they visit him.

The reason I raise the matter in the House today is to try to get clarification of why the decision on funding continues to be deferred in this case.

As Deputy Seán Kenny said, there will be another opportunity to mention the fact that he is not standing in the next election. I will not say he is going away or retiring because I do not believe anybody ever retires entirely from politics.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter today and I am pleased to outline the position. Deputy Seán Kenny and I have already had a discussion on this and, hopefully, we will do more than what is in my formal reply. The modern mental health service, integrated with other areas of the wider health service, extends from promoting positive mental health and suicide prevention through to supporting those experiencing severe and disabling mental illness. It includes specialised secondary care services for children and adolescents, adults, older persons and those with an intellectual disability or a mental illness. The development of a mental health service is a priority for the Government. We have provided an additional €160 million in ring-fenced funding over 2012-16 to modernise mental health services in line with the commitments in A Vision for Change and the programme for Government. This provided approximately 1,150 additional posts to enhance mental health and suicide prevention services generally. Of these, approximately 947 had been recruited as of the end November 2015, while the remainder are at various stages of the recruitment process.

The Ashlin Centre is a centre caring for patients with a range of mental illnesses. In view of the sensitivities involved, although I understand that the parents of this young man have given the Deputy permission to speak on the matter, I do not propose to go into great detail about the individual circumstances. However, as I mentioned, I have spoken to the Deputy in a private capacity and he has outlined the young man's circumstances to me. I am informed that the person in question is under the care of a consultant psychiatrist and receiving a high level of nursing and multidisciplinary care. The multidisciplinary team involved will work actively to ensure that whatever supports are required are in place to enable this person to transfer to the most appropriate care setting when they are ready to be transferred or discharged. I understand that north Dublin mental health services are currently working with a provider with a view to assessing and accessing an appropriate residential care package to meet this person's future care needs. The HSE has assured me that it will keep this person's family updated on developments, as the Deputy has confirmed with regard to the communications that have occurred with the family.

It is quite difficult to go into detail when one is talking about an individual case, but I have assured the Deputy that I will make further inquiries. I am sure the resolution to this young man's difficulties will be achieved shortly.

I thank the Minister. I accept that the Government has provided additional funding for this area during its term of office and that additional posts have been created. Nevertheless, the question regarding this young man, Igor, remains, as well as the fact that his family has not received a definite timescale for his transfer from the psychiatric unit to a care placement in a more residential setting. I accept the Minister's statement that there is confidentiality surrounding this issue but I am heartened by the fact that she will make further inquiries. I hope there will be a result quite soon.

On a more general level, and while I have time to raise this, there is the general question of the suitability of an acute psychiatric unit as a place to treat an autism sufferer. I accept that it can be difficult to deal with an autism sufferer but, as a lay person without any medical qualifications, I do not consider an acute psychiatric unit the best place for a person who has autism. I hope that this matter might be addressed again when policy is being formulated.

I will respond on the general point, as it is not appropriate to go into the details of this young man's case. Conditions such as autism, Asperger's syndrome, intellectual disability, acquired brain injury and dementia are not preventatives of poor mental health. Sometimes, a person who has autism or Asperger's syndrome can become acutely unwell mentally. It does not always sit side by side, but it happens. That is the reason we must be very careful to be clear about how we deal with people. Of course, if the only issue is autism, the person should not be in an acute unit. However, we do not know that. It could well be the case that the person has difficulties with their mental health as well.

That is the reason that this year, with the €35 million we have secured in the budget, we will develop a dual diagnosis service, which we have not had previously and do not have at present. We are in the process of developing it. Until now, if a person had a difficulty with his or her mental health and also had a chronic alcohol problem, for example, the people in mental health services could quite correctly say that the person could only come to those services when he or she was dry, while the people who dealing with the addiction could equally say it was a mental health problem. The dual diagnosis element is something we must develop. It could very well be the issue in this case. I am not certain, but it is the case in some instances that people who have an overarching condition could have a mental health problem as well. I believe the dual diagnosis clinical pathway should be able to deal with that.

I also wish Deputy Kenny the very best on his retirement. As one Galway person to another, I bring him good wishes from the county.

Go raibh maith agat.

We will keep in touch.

Seirbhísí Farantóireachta

I will be giving the reply in English.

That is no problem. I understand a little bit of English. With the indulgence of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I note that the Minister of State is in her last week and I wish her all the best also. We have had a series of Deputies in one after another who are in their last active week in the House. To leave the House is a big transition for those of us who have become institutionalised.

I thank the Deputy.

I note to the Minister of State that I have never had any problem with people using English. I have always believed that the policy in the House on language should be the same as that in the European Parliament. People should speak in the language in which they are comfortable speaking. If I go to the European Parliament and do not understand the language, I use the translation facilities and reply, usually in English although I have used Irish at Council of Ministers' meetings. Obviously, I do not speak most continental languages and have always felt that it would be better for the Irish speakers in the House if we could normalise that code of practice here. On the other hand, I will be speaking in Irish on this subject as the Irish language media are very interested in it and need the audio information.

I understand that.

I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire Stáit as ucht teacht isteach sa Teach inniu. An fáth go príomha go bhfuil muid anseo ná mar gheall ar an tseirbhís farantóireachta go hOileáin Árann, ach mar is eol don Aire Stáit, bhí raic ann cheana, anuraidh, maidir leis an tseirbhís eitleáin go dtí na hoileáin agus faomhadh réiteach gearrthéarmach bliana ar sin. Go deimhin, ceann de na ceisteanna atá agam inniu ná, cén uair a lorgófar tairiscintí le haghaidh seirbhís bhuan eitleáin go dtí na hoileáin?

I láthair na huaire, tá fadhb ollmhór ann maidir leis an tseirbhís farantóireachta paisinéirí go hInis Mór. Tuigtear dom go bhfuil scéal thart go bhfuil socrú éigin déanta le Island Ferries go mbeidh sé ag leanacht ag cur na seirbhíse ar fáil ó Dé Luain seo chugainn ar aghaidh. Ach tá a fhios agam nach bhfuil léas ag muintir an oileáin ar chéard iad na socruithe seo. Tá éiginnteacht uafásach ag baint leis an gceist seo ar fad. Má tá duine ag cónaí ar oileán, is mar a chéile an tseirbhís báid nó an tseirbhís eitleáin agus an bóthar dúinne atá inár gcónaí ar an mórthír. Go minic, ní thuigtear é sin. Ní féidir le saol oileáin dul ar aghaidh má tá éiginnteacht ann faoi na bunsheirbhísí farantóireachta agus rochtana go dtí na hoileáin.

Tá dearmad mór déanta maidir le seirbhísí go dtí na hoileáin. Mar shampla, d'éirigh an fhadhb seo an t-am seo mar nár cuireadh conradh in áit dhá bhliain ó shin, mar atá ag na hoileáin eile ar fad agus mar a bhí go dtí sin in Inis Mór, ag deimhniú caighdeán na seirbhíse, rialtacht na seirbhíse agus na táillí cearta do na hoileánaigh. Ag éirí as an socrú nua a deirtear linn atá déanta, ba mhaith liom na ceisteanna seo a chur ar an Aire Stáit. Cén socrú atá déanta go baileach? Cén fhad a mhairfidh an socrú nua seo? An bhfuil sé i gceist socrú buan, mar shampla conradh cúig bliana, a chur in áit a dhéanfadh cinnte de go mbeidh seirbhís ag na hoileánaigh? Cén táille atá i gceist? Faoi láthair, i gcás gach oileán eile, táthar ag caint ar €10 do dhaoine fásta agus €5 do scoláirí agus daoine óga.

In Inis Mór, ainneoin gurb é an t-oileán is mó uilig agus go bhfuil an lion is mó paisinéirí ag dul isteach agus amach as, bíonn ar na hoileánaigh €15 a íoc le dul isteach agus amach, agus €8 le haghaidh mic léinn agus daoine óga. An gcuimsíonn an socrú seo laghdú táille i gcomhréir leis na socruithe atá déanta ar na hoileáin eile ar fad, Oileán Thóraigh, Árainn Mhór, Oileán Chliara, Inis Toirc, Inis Bó Finne, Inis Meáin, Inis Oírr agus na hoileáin i gCorcaigh - an tOileán Mór, Oileán Faoide, an tOileán Fada, Inis Earcáin agus ceann amháin eile, Hare Island?

Ba mhaith liom a fháil amach freisin céard iad na socruithe atá déanta maidir leis an gconradh seo. Cé mhéid a chosnóidh sé in aghaidh na bliana nó in aghaidh na míosa? Cé mhéid a bheidh á íoc leis an tseirbhís a chur ar fáil? Tá muintir an oileáin fiosrach faoi conas go bhfuil an Roinn in ann íoc anois ach nach raibh sé in ann íoc go dtí seo le socrú buan a chur in áit.

I thank the Deputy for his comprehensive questioning and for raising this important matter. While I am not sure I will be able to give him all the answers he needs, I will ensure that the questions he asked will be answered. It is a day for compliments and I also thank him for being so courteous about my lack of Irish. I really appreciate that. I am taking the matter on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh.

Great progress has been made over the past number of years in improving the lives of islanders. Deputy Ó Cuív and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle can both take some credit for that. Since the 1990s, there has been a basic increase in the number of State-funded ferry services. Of course, transport services have long been identified as having the utmost importance for island communities and various Governments have invested massively in infrastructure and ferry services to ensure that islanders could live in their own area. Currently, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has 26 ferry contracts in respect of 19 islands and these contracts cover passenger, freight, bus and air services. The Department has spent in excess of €100 million on island infrastructure projects over ten years. Much of that expenditure related to the redevelopment of Cé Chill Rónáin in Árainn, which port is undoubtedly very important to the island and the region. Over 250,000 passengers, including islanders and tourists, use the port at Cill Rónáin each year. I am satisfied at this point that good infrastructure is available to the inhabited offshore islands and that good progress has also been made with regard to the development of sustainable communities on the islands notwithstanding restricted resources.

I will focus now on the matter of the ferry service to Árainn. As the Deputy is undoubtedly aware, the passenger ferry contract to Árainn, Inis Mór, came to an end on 31 January 2013. At that time, the Department undertook a public tendering process in the usual manner to agree a new five-year contract up to 31 January 2018. However, no tender for the service was received by the Department at that time. In the absence of a tender, discussions were held between the Department's officials and the ferry operator providing the service to explore the possibility of a new contract on the same terms as the previous contract. While those talks failed, the service continued at the existing frequency. Again in 2014, the Department decided to seek public tenders in the usual manner for a contract to end on 31 October 2017 to coincide with the expiry of the contract with Aran Ferries Teo for the Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr services. One tender was received from Aran Ferries Teo and a committee was formed to assess it. As part of the negotiations, a meeting was held between the Department and the company on 22 October 2014.

Following much discussion, the company decided to leave matters as they were, that is, without a contract with the Department, and that Aran Ferries Teo would continue to provide the service throughout the winter as well as the summer. The ferry operator was happy to continue the annual service at the same frequency without a subsidy from the Department.

The current difficulty arises from the by-laws to be implemented by Galway County Council at Cé Chill Rónáin. I understand that talks have taken place with Galway County Council regarding these difficulties. The ferry operator had stated that the service was to discontinue at the end of this month. The Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, held meetings with community representatives from Árainn and with Galway County Council and his Department was in touch with the ferry operator on a number of occasions. The last of these meetings took place yesterday, 26 January, and I am delighted to inform the Deputy that, as a result, agreement has been reached with the ferry operator that the service will now continue until the end of April 2016 and thereafter throughout the summer. The operator has agreed that he is willing to provide the same service as had been in place until the present difficulties arose.

In welcoming this development, I emphasise that it has always been the Minister of State's intention to ensure the community on Árainn has an adequate and regular ferry service throughout the year, winter and summer, and his Department's intervention has guaranteed that this will be the case. I understand the islanders in this instance are eager to have a regular and dependable ferry service and the Department will examine the possibility of assisting with the provision of such a service for the Árainn community in order that islanders can promote the sustainable development of the island and share equally in the economic and social life of the nation. It is important that our islands be supported and that their communities continue to live on them.

Bhí orm gáire a dhéanamh faoin gcéad phíosa den oráid a tugadh don Aire Stáit, mar ceapaim gur mé féin a chuir ann na seirbhísí breise ar fad atá luaite maidir leis na hoileáin idir 1997 agus an t-am ar fhág mé an Roinn in 2010. Go deimhin, chuir mé ceist Dála maidir le caiteachas ar infreastruchtúr na n-oileán lá amháin agus níor tosaíodh oiread agus togra amháin de luach €1 mhilliúin nó níos mó ar na hoileáin sa gcúig bliana go bhfuil an Rialtas seo i gcumhacht. Caitheadh an €100 milliúin sin a luaigh an tAire Stáit, nó rinneadh socruithe an €100 milliúin sin a chaitheamh, i rith mo thréimhse mar Aire, ach níl ansin ach scéal thairis.

An áit a bhfuil an fhadhb anseo ná nach bhfuil conradh buan ann. Tá díomá orm nach bhfuil an tAire Stáit tar éis a rá go bhfuil i gceist conradh buan a chur in áit le déanamh cinnte de go mbeidh seirbhís ar phraghas réasúnach do na hoileánaigh ar fáil go hInis Mór. Tá sé aisteach gurb é an t-oileán leis an daonra is mó go bhfuil an costas is mó ar dhul isteach agus amach ann do na hoileánaigh. Creidim gur cheart go gcuirfí é sin ina cheart.

An bhféadfadh an tAire Stáit dul ar ais agus an t-eolas a fháil amach agus a thabhairt dom de bharr na ceisteanna seo a bheith tógtha sa Dáil inniu le gur féidir an t-eolas a thabhairt chuig na hoileánaigh? An bhfuil conradh aontaithe le Island Ferries nó an socrú é mar a bhí ann cheana, socrú ó lá go lá, nó an mbeidh aon rud sínithe a chinnteoidh go mbeidh an tseirbhís ann? An mbeidh na rialacha céanna ag baint leis an tseirbhís agus a bhí ann cheana? Céard iad na táillí a ghearrfar ar na hoileánaigh? An mbeidh an táille náisiúnta i gceist, is é sin €10 fillte do dhaoine fásta, nó an bhfuil i gceist faoin socrú nua seo go leanfaidh siad ag íoc €15?

Caithfimid cuimhneamh ar dhuine a bhfuil clann aige a bhíonn ag dul isteach agus amach, nó cuimhneamh ar scoil atá ag iarraidh gasúr a thabhairt chuig cluichí peile. Déanann an táille breise an-difríocht go deo dóibh. Ní bhfuair mé mórán freagraí nó ní bhfuair mé aon soiléiriú faoi chéard atá ar bun. Sílim go bhfuil sé thar am ag an Aire trédhearcacht a thaispeáint agus a rá go díreach céard é an socrú atá déanta aige. Céard iad na sonraí den socrú atá déanta aige ó thaobh táille, minicíocht agus caighdeán an bháid? An bhfuil an socrú sin buan nó an bhfuil muid ag maireachtáil le socrú nua eile ó lá go lá nach bhfuil aon chinnteacht ann go mairfidh sé?

As I stated, the last of these meetings took place yesterday, 26 January. I understand that there is a lack of detail concerning the cost, but that is easily addressed. My reply was self-explanatory. I stated that I was delighted to inform the Deputy that agreement had been reached with the ferry operator to the effect that the service would continue until the end of April 2016. While this is not into the ever-lasting distance, it may give us enough breathing space to reach a more structured and concrete arrangement. The agreed service will continue throughout the summer of 2016. The operator has agreed that he is willing to provide the same service as had been in place until the present difficulties arose. I am assuming that this entails frequency, times, scale, cost, etc. The same service-----

There is a problem. The nub of the issue is whether there is a verbal agreement that does not include payment and, therefore, the islanders on Inis Mór will pay €5 more per round trip than islanders on other islands.

I understand the question.

We do not know whether this is some kind of understanding or a firm legal contract. That is what we are trying to find out.

I do not have that level of detail-----

The Minister of State to conclude.

It is cynical of the Department to-----

-----but I will do my best to get it for the Deputy.

I am not blaming the Minister of State.

The Department is being less than open about its arrangement. Sooner or later, we will winkle the information out of it. Why could it not explain whether this was a verbal or concrete arrangement?

The only commitment I can give the Deputy is that this type of detail refers to the gap between now and the end of the summer, which I assume will be mid-September to late September depending on how good a summer we have, something that is debatable in this country. I assume the time will be used to put a firmer commitment in place.

I do not have details on the cost, but the service is to be provided in the same way it used to be until the difficulties arose. I assume the cost, times and frequency will be the same, but I will try to get the details for the Deputy.

I am disappointed. I thank the Minister of State, but it will be disappointing for the islanders if the service has the same cost. They will be paying 50% more per round trip than any other islander. This point seems to have been missed.

When I mentioned the same cost, I meant the cost before "the present difficulties arose", which is what my speech read.