Adjournment Debate

Public Sector Staff Recruitment

I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to investigate irregularities regarding e-mails from and the subsequent interview selection process for candidates for temporary summer work. I know of many young people who applied for temporary work in the Department of Social Protection. It affects my constituency more than any because we have a social welfare office in Sligo. Many people, particularly young people, who applied for temporary summer positions and who were called for an aptitude test were called for interview but quite a few were not. Many of those who use Hotmail did not receive a request to come for an interview.

I raise this issue because it has affected many people. Many who were watching what was happening made contact with the relevant authorities and managed to be called for an interview but there were those who were not since they were not as aware as others of what was happening. This is very unfair.

I contacted last week on behalf of some of the applicants only to be told they would not be called. I understand circumstances have changed slightly since then. There are still people I know of who have not been called for an interview. It is very unfair that because of a glitch in the system, certain applicants were not notified about an interview. They did not receive the information and some of them have still not received it. It is very unfair. Everybody who did the aptitude test should be given the chance to complete the interview.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I note his genuine concern for those affected. The Public Appointments Service is the independent centralised recruitment agency for the Civil Service and public service and conducts regular recruitment competitions for the Civil Service. I understand from a parliamentary question asked today that the Deputy is primarily interested in the temporary clerical officer competition.

As he will be aware, the Public Appointments Service recently advertised for a temporary clerical officer competition to fill vacancies which may arise during the year in various Departments and locations nationwide. The current temporary clerical officer competition was advertised on 23 February 2016 and closed for applications on 1 March last. When the campaign was advertised an information booklet was published on to provide candidates with all the necessary information about the role and the application and selection process. The information booklet is still available on for candidates to reference at any time. Information booklets are issued with all competitions.

The current temporary clerical officer competition attracted more than 11,500 applications. Candidates were required to complete a questionnaire for the first stage of the selection process. On the basis of their performance in the questionnaire, candidates were ranked and an order of merit created for each location. Candidates are invited to interview in order of their ranking from stage 1. The number of candidates invited to interview depends on the likely number of vacancies for the location in question. To date, 2,599 candidates have been invited to interview, of which 916 have been assigned to vacancies. A further 574 candidates have been successful at interview and are awaiting assignment as vacancies arise.

The Public Appointments Service informed candidates in the information booklet that they could expect to receive most communications in regard to the competition to the e-mail address provided on their application. Personal e-mail accounts may have filters which can result in e-mails from being blocked or directed to junk or spam e-mail folders. In the information booklet, candidates are advised to add to their safe senders' or contacts' lists of their e-mail accounts to avoid not receiving e-mails because a message from has been blocked. Candidates are also advised to check their e-mail on a regular basis as e-mail notifications of updates may sometimes be filtered into their junk or spam e-mail folder.

The onus is on each applicant to make himself or herself available on the date or dates specified by the Public Appointments Service if he or she is invited to tests and-or interviews and to ensure he or she is in receipt of all communications from the service. Once an e-mail has been issued and the Public Appointments Service does not receive a notification of a failure to deliver, the service cannot accept responsibility for communication not accessed or received by an applicant. In the context of a campaign which requires a large volume of vacancies to be filled across multiple employing organisations and locations within a short timeframe, it is necessary for the Public Appointments Service to rely on e-mail communication. Once it is satisfied that e-mails have issued, there is no capacity to take further action to ensure the candidate has seen or read the message.

Mental Health Services Provision

I wish the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Helen McEntee, every success in her new brief. I am sure she and the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who is seated beside her, will do very well. I thank her for coming to the House to deal with this sensitive issue.

The provision of early intervention mental health supports and services for young people in Carlow is in a state of crisis. The Carlow regional youth service offers an early intervention counselling service and runs two projects. The first of these, the Folláine counselling service, offers one-to-one support for vulnerable young people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives. Unfortunately, in the past eight weeks, two 14 year old boys have died by suicide in Carlow town. This has had a devastating impact on our whole community and placed an unprecedented demand on the regional youth service support services.

In 2015, the Folláine counselling service worked with 103 young people. As of 27 May 2016, a further 76 young people had engaged with the service this year and the waiting list for an appointment currently stands at 12 weeks. The leading presenting issues are anxiety, emotional difficulties, depression, self-harm and bereavement. These issues are more acute for young people than in previous years and interventions are taking longer. As a result, the Carlow regional youth service can no longer accept new referrals for Folláine. With the exception of the psychological service and child and adult mental health services, CAMHS, Folláine is the only support service that provides early intervention support for mental health and well-being in young people in Carlow town, which has a population of approximately 22,000. The service currently receives funding of approximately €30,000 per annum or €400 per client.

The second project run by the Carlow regional youth service is the YARC project. To date, 47 young people have been referred for one-to-one support to YARC. This is an increase of 50% on the same period last year and again the presenting issues are more acute and require longer intervention. In 2015, the two YARC project workers worked with 70 young people, with September being the busiest month. Both the YARC and Folláine projects have had effective outcomes for their clients, including return to mainstream education, improved emotional resilience and progression to mainstream youth work opportunities.

Based on previous experience, September is also the busiest month for the Folláine counselling service. It is estimated that an additional 65 young people will require support from Folláine in 2016. Additional funding of €26,000 is required for this purpose. To continue to offer the services of the YARC project, the Carlow regional youth service urgently requires an additional youth worker to meet current demand for mental health services for young people in Carlow town. This would cost approximately €48,000 per annum.

I am extremely concerned about the lack of services available to support the emotional health and well-being of young people in Carlow. Existing organisations are best placed to respond quickly and effectively to the current and future early intervention needs in the town. These services support and alleviate demand on the Health Service Executive and Tusla specialist services.

The Carlow regional youth service is a complementary service provided to schools and also offers other statutory services. It was not established to replace HSE or TUSLA services. As matters stands, it cannot accept further new referrals with its current level of funding.

A task force is required in Carlow to address the current difficulties in the town. In addition to the two young people who recently died by suicide, two adults died by suicide in Carlow in recent weeks. Unfortunately, Carlow has the third highest rate of suicide by area of residence. Recent figures show that the area's suicide rate stood at 15.7 per 100,000 compared with a national rate of 11.3 per 100,000.

On 24 May, Carlow regional youth service hosted a meeting which was addressed by the psychologist, Dr. Eddie Murphy, and attracted more than 300 concerned parents. I ask the Minister of State to examine the issues I have raised and ensure additional funding is found for early intervention services and the establishment of a task force in Carlow.

I thank Deputy Deering for raising this issue. Mental health in general and mental health services are very topical and I hope they remain on the agenda. In that respect, I need the support of Deputy Deering and others to ensure that is the case.

The HSE national service plan for 2016 outlines a commitment to develop early intervention and prevention services for children and young people to ensure timely access to counselling and psychotherapy at the appropriate stage and to continue the development of such services into adulthood. These early intervention and prevention services have been prioritised for allocation of development funding. Existing initiatives such as the national counselling in primary care, CIPC, service have received €7.5 million for further development from the programme for Government investment in mental health since 2012. This service provides short-term counselling for adults with non-complex psychological problems aged 18 years and over who hold a valid medical card.

The Government is strongly committed to improving all aspects of mental health services, building on the additional ring-fenced funding of €160 million provided to modernise such services between 2012 and 2016. In this context, funding for mental health in 2016 will increase from the 2015 outturn of €785 million to a projected budget of €826 million. This amounts to an increase of €41 million, or 5.2%. I stress that the Government is committed to increasing funding in the mental health budget in each year of its term of office.

Mental health services in Carlow are arranged in accordance with A Vision for Change, the national policy document for mental health services. Services are delivered across the geographical location through a combination of acute inpatient and community-based facilities located throughout each extended catchment area. Access is also available to acute mental health services through the emergency department of St. Luke's General Hospital, Kilkenny, by way of the mental health liaison service which provides mental health assessment and support to the emergency department on request.

Child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, in Carlow are delivered through the Carlow-Kilkenny mental health service. The Carlow CAMHS team is consultant led and comprises a range of multidisciplinary health professionals who are experienced in working with children and teenagers with mental health difficulties. The primary referrer to the service is the family general practitioner.

Substance misuse services provided by the HSE and HSE-funded agencies are based in St. Dympna's Hospital, Carlow. Service provision includes counselling, outreach and community drug initiatives and clients can be self-referred to this service. In addition, a weekly drop-in clinic is held in St. Dympna's Hospital.

In addition to nationally provided services such as Console, the Carlow self-harm intervention service, SHIP, is a free, GP referral specialist counselling service for individuals aged 16 years and over who are experiencing suicidal ideation or the impulse to self-harm. I note Deputy Deering focused primarily on young people, including those aged under 16 years.

The Government has committed to providing sufficient resources at national and local level to ensure each region has a full range of mental health supports available. Deputy Deering's frustration with services in County Carlow is shared by most Deputies in their respective counties.

We have started at a very low base. It is important to note that while people are coming forward and more people are looking to avail of these services, this is putting an additional strain on a service that has been under pressure for some time, even with additional funding. In the mental health division in my area of Louth and Meath, while the mental health teams for young people have increased and we are now implementing A Vision for Change, gaps remain in the system and we have found it very difficult to hire the relevant staff to deal with issues and to ensure waiting lists do not get out of control or that children must wait longer than 12 months.

I am conscious of the difficulty in recruiting and retaining nurses in the mental health area, and for that reason I am happy to inform the Deputy that the HSE is reintroducing a one-year post-registration programme in psychiatric nursing for nurses who are already registered in either the general intellectual disability or children's division of the register. This programme is being provided through the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland and UCD and I hope it will start in August. This programme will provide a small number of places and can only make a small impact, but it is a start and I am committed to ensuring it is done.

If the Deputy feels there are other issues outside of recruitment and staffing that need to be addressed within the services of the county, I would be happy to visit his constituency to meet the teams there and to try to address the problems there.

Development Capital Scheme

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating me in the raising of this issue, one I have raised in the House previously. The issue relates to the extent to which the county town of Naas in County Kildare has been affected by the economic downturn. The various efforts that have been made to address this issue so far have been unsuccessful, despite the best intentions of all involved.

The purpose of raising this issue is to encourage the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to use his powers of persuasion with the local authorities to try to achieve some movement on the procedures that have been stalled. Arbitration has moved extremely slowly over recent years and is now stalled again and postponed for another year. This means we must see the continual reminder of the tower cranes stalled like animal predators on the skyline. These stalled cranes are symbolic of what has happened. Despite the best efforts of the local authorities, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the business people of Naas, we have not been able to move the project ahead and return to a situation where we can see movement taking place.

Usually, the sight of tower cranes over a town, village or city is a sign of growth, activity, development and economic well-being. Unfortunately, the dinosaurs that are now hovering over the town of Naas do not give that impression at all. With each passing day and week, there is greater recognition by the people, business people in particular, that something must be done to get movement going again. Despite the fact considerable efforts have been made so far in this regard, we need to renew our efforts. It is for this reason I am asking the Minister of State to consider carefully how it might be possible for his Department to intervene in a positive way to nudge the powers that be in the direction required to bring about a restoration of activity and bring to an end this blight that has befallen the town of Naas, the leading provincial town of County Kildare, which is bedevilled by the impact of the downturn in the economy, as symbolised by the immobilised cranes. I appeal to the Minister of State to do his utmost to contact all the bodies concerned with a view to bringing procedures to a satisfactory conclusion.

I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to outline the position regarding the town centre development in Naas. I am familiar with this issue as I saw it raised in a television programme. I understand the Deputy's concerns and the importance of moving forward on the issue for the benefit of the community of Naas. The Deputy has set out a view of Naas that people would like to see changed to make it a progressive and developing town.

The proposed development is, unfortunately, one of the casualties of the recent economic recession in that it was proposed to commence at the wrong time, just as the economy went into decline in the late 2000s. As a consequence, it has been stalled since. This is a shame because as it is a town centre and it should be developed before areas outside the town are developed. Numerous other developments of this nature, as well as town centre areas, were similarly affected by the decline in economic activity over the past decade. This is one of the many legacy issues we as a country have had to face arising from the economic collapse of the late 2000s from which we are only now beginning to recover.

I am informed by Kildare County Council that the securing of a satisfactory conclusion to the development of the Naas town centre site is a priority issue for the council and that the progression and reactivation of the development has been a particular focus of its efforts over recent years, this with a view to assisting in the revitalisation of the central part of Naas, the main town in County Kildare. The Department has also been keen to see that development. The Deputy is correct that there is interest on all sides in the development, but we need to find some way to make it happen. I will use whatever powers I can to help on this issue and to try to move the project along. I do not have a direct role, but I will try to do what I can.

In this regard, the council has advised that on foot of arbitration procedures, it recently successfully completed an agreement with one of two site owners relating to the provision of roads infrastructure to service the town centre site. The arbitration case relating to the second site owner remains to be heard by the property arbitrator, but I understand that the hearing in this case is delayed due to the property arbitrator's current caseload. We will look to see what we can do to make progress in this regard because the long delay is unsatisfactory. The remainder of the stalled town centre development in Naas is in NAMA, but I understand that the council, in parallel with the arbitration proceedings, has been engaged in ongoing discussions with relevant parties with a view to advancing development of the site at the earliest possible date.

I should point out that my role as Minister of State in regard to planning and development generally is to provide and update the legislative and policy guidance framework as required, including in regard to national urban policy. In this context, numerous measures were initiated by the previous Government to assist in the rejuvenation of town centre areas and to help businesses located there. Such measures included reduced contribution levies for town centre developments, assistance with rates, and efforts to promote and support, through the new planning guidelines, the vitality and viability of city and town centres. In this respect, I will use whatever powers I have in my new role to try to help progress this development. We will consider additional input if necessary as this is an issue that needs to be progressed.

I do not have a direct role in regard to the progression of individual sites, but in general we need to see this happen. I will certainly help where I can. The Department is keen to see progress and has been working with the council to try to make this happen. We will continue to communicate on that and will try to give it a push forward. It is hoped we will have some success.

Departmental Administrative Arrangements

I am glad to have the opportunity to raise this issue which is exercising the minds of many people in the environmental community. I am glad to see the Minister is here and I thank him for attending in person.

I am using this opportunity as a chance for discussion. As a former Minister, I have a high regard for the Department and feel that getting the proper name for it is important. Discussion on this issue will be framed by comments made by the Taoiseach earlier today. He said we could get obsessed by words, but it is actions we need to account for. However, we should also be aware of what people in the environmental community are saying, that there is not a government in western Europe or the western developed world that does not have an environment Ministry. This says something to us. While we need action more than words, perhaps getting the words right at the start would help the Minister in terms of the actions he must take.

The Minister may have some freedom in regard to a name, as according to what the Taoiseach said today, the name for the Department has not been finally decided so there is still room to manoeuvre. I suggest therefore that the Minister should consider as a title for the Department, the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Communications. I will outline why this makes sense.

It is important we keep communications, energy and the core of the Department together. There is a real strategic interest in this regard and I am glad the Government has not changed that. There is a real strategic interest in having the digital technology revolution industry in the same location as where we will have the regulation of the clean energy revolution and the efficiency revolution that needs to take place. The two are similar in a variety of ways. Huge investment and innovation is taking place. The areas are similarly regulated and there is a mixture of both State and market interest. Therefore, it makes sense.

That is and should be the core of the Department. Indeed, it should be the core of economic development for any Government because that is where the opportunities and the jobs are as well as the solutions to climate change and the other environmental problems we face. It is important that we keep communications within the Department and that we see that as a natural synergy which will regulate the Internet revolution that is taking place as well as the clean energy revolution.

It is good for us to cite climate change in the title to indicate that we will lead on this issue. We are not doing that at present, so it is a statement of intent that we will lift the level of effort, ambition and action on the climate change issue and in our energy portfolio. The Minister has a key position. I used to joke with a former colleague, the then Minister for the Environment, by asking him to step aside because it was time for the professionals to get involved and for energy Ministers to provide the solution. This was true at the time but energy in response to climate change defines everything now. People talk about trialoguing whereby we had to get the three-way system of security, competitiveness and environment right but climate change trumps everything now and comes first in energy policy. One can get competitiveness and security in a variety of ways but we now must apply laws of physics in the energy sphere, so the energy portfolio is now the climate change portfolio.

Why would we put the word "environment" here? It is difficult because environment has been split in three ways. Some has gone to the Department headed up by Deputy Heather Humphreys. In the days of Phil Hogan, he had the natural heritage side of the portfolio and, in his time, Deputy Simon Coveney had responsibility for water and other environmental services. With the movement of climate change across to this Department and the management of waste, air quality and the EPA, this is also the home of environment.

The reason I suggest the Minister takes this title is to grab the power and grow the Department, to strengthen it and empower it within Government. By giving it the title, the Minister is saying to Deputy Simon Coveney that he has to follow and that planning, development and housing have to fit into the big environmental picture of what we are doing in respect of the climate. It recognises that the ability to solve climate change issues and to tackle our environmental problems come from our communications and energy industries. The Minister putting his Department as the lead Department for the environment strengthens his case in Cabinet and strengthens what we need to do across agencies in the State, in the public service and elsewhere.

It is not guaranteed to work. In the UK, the creation of a climate change and energy ministry has not effectively taken any power back from the Treasury and there are other examples in other countries. However, for our country, I advocate the Minister bringing back the word "environment" into the title and combining it with climate change and communications. This would make a good fit for the Department he is now lucky to lead.

I thank Deputy Ryan for raising this issue and affording me the opportunity to clarify to the House. As he is aware, a range of functions currently undertaken by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will transfer into this Department in the coming weeks. The Department will be renamed the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment when the transfer of functions is completed.

I agree with everything Deputy Ryan said apart from the fact that he said every developed country had a Department of the Environment. That it is not true, as Hungary does not have a Department of the Environment. It is something I have been looking into and I believe it is very important that "environment" is in the title of the new Department.

Following the Taoiseach's announcement, in addition to the current functions, my Department will also assume responsibility for the following sections from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government: environment policy and awareness; climate policy section; EU and international environmental policy; waste policy and resource efficiency; and the air quality and environmental radiation policy environment advisory unit. There are clear synergies between the existing energy responsibilities and those of the functions which are due to transfer from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. It was a great honour to receive my seal of office as the first Minister in the history of the State to have overall responsibility and the title for action on climate.

The Government, in both its climate policy in the programme for partnership Government and the recent White Paper on energy, has committed to transitioning to a low-carbon economy by 2050. In December, we had the Paris Agreement, which has recently been ratified and cements the EU's contribution to the international effort to address climate change. Central to this is the decarbonisation of the entire energy system, covering electricity, heat and transport.

The transfer of the environment function into a reconstituted Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment allows the synergies between climate and sustainable energy policy to be fully realised. It brings a coherence across the various policy areas involved and will ensure that Ireland addresses the challenges in ways that are technically feasible, cost effective and fair in terms of Ireland's contribution to the overall EU ambition. As part of the transfer of the environment functions, air quality policy is also moving, which affords the opportunity to fully integrate energy decarbonisation with the attendant air quality implications. This will ensure no inadvertent adverse impacts from the decarbonisation efforts.

In relation to the communications element of the portfolio, my Department will continue with the procurement process for the national broadband plan. I am in discussions with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on the detailed arrangements to give effect to commitments in the programme for a partnership Government regarding her Department's role in relation to the roll-out phase of the national broadband plan. That role will include leading on the establishment of county or regional broadband task forces and working with local authorities, local enterprise offices, Leader groups and other relevant agencies to help accelerate the broadband network build in rural Ireland, once a contract or contracts has been awarded. The Department headed up by Deputy Heather Humphreys will also assume responsibility for the post office network.

In essence, the key aim of Government in amalgamating the environment functions currently undertaken by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government with the energy portfolio of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is to put in place the best structures and arrangements to enable us to transition to a low carbon economy and meet our international obligations on climate change. The Department will continue to strive to protect Ireland's energy supply, generation, security, affordability and sustainability and to ensure that Ireland complies with international energy and climate change policies.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 1 June 2016.