Topical Issue Debate

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

I thank the Minister for attending to address the issue of primary school places for children diagnosed with autism, in particular in Kildare South, which is my constituency. I have received many queries from distraught parents who are trying to acquire the best possible education and supports for children with autism at primary and secondary levels. Those in the latter face State exams and must have access to the necessary supports, but I will use this short time to discuss primary education.

Primary schools are getting holidays this week and pupils are looking forward to summer. Many parents are preparing their young children to attend primary school in September, a significant milestone in anyone's life. The Minister supports the notion that every child deserves access to a full education, an equal chance to attend school at the appropriate age and within reasonable reach of his or her home, and to be educated in the manner most suitable to him or her.

South Kildare has been frustrated by a lack of resources for primary schoolchildren with autism. In recent weeks, four parents have approached my constituency office to report that their children, each of whom is well above schoolgoing age, cannot get places in the county, let alone near their homes or in the schools attended by their siblings. One case went through section 29 and the school made it clear that it would happily accommodate the child by opening another classroom were funding provided, but this was turned down. A sibling with autism is attending the same school and doing well.

I welcome the initiative in Kildare-Wicklow of the autism register. As an education professional, I believe we must stop simply fighting fires. The recent census had no way of recording whether a child had special needs, such as autism. That did not bode well in terms of planning ahead.

The situation faced by the families in question is not being resolved. Section 2 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, EPSEN, required that a child with special educational needs should be educated in an inclusive environment with children who did not have such needs unless the nature or degree of the child's needs were such that to do so would be inconsistent with his or best interests and the effective provision of education for the other children. Twelve years on and with a greater knowledge of what is required in schools for all children, including those with autistic spectrum disorders, ASDs, any progress has been whittled away. There has been no reduction in class sizes, there has been yo-yoing on the entitlement to special needs assistants, SNAs, and there has been no year-on-year increase in the number of ASD classes when the demand obviously exceeds the supply. There are fewer than 20 ASD classes at primary level in south Kildare. Each can accommodate six children, amounting to 120 across the constituency. The Department has not sanctioned new classes for that part of the country for the coming school year, resulting in only those places vacated by children, usually in moving to secondary level, becoming available. The Minister has referred to a range of placement options and supports for schools that have enrolled pupils with ASD, but what of the options for children who cannot enrol? Must they wait until next year? Will there be places then? How long should a child wait before a place becomes available?

The proposed national autism registry is intended to highlight the shortfall in education and health services for children with ASD. The pilot phase has been launched in Kildare-west Wicklow and I encourage parents to register, as it is essential for the advanced planning of resources that accurate information, including medical and educational histories, be gathered on each child from diagnosis through development. I hope the register helps to provide a symbiotic relationship between health and education in terms of children with autism.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It would have been helpful had she flagged that it concerned south Kildare, as I do not have specific information on that area.

I will try to give the Deputy what information I have. It presents a picture that is better than the one she has painted. Therefore, I would like to see the south Kildare data.

Overall, there are 14,000 students with ASD in the school system, of whom some 63% are educated in mainstream classes, 23% in special classes in mainstream primary and post-primary schools and 14% in special schools.

The position on special classes, an issue the Deputy raised in particular, is that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, recently published a list of special classes for the coming 2016-17 school year. In total, 1,153 special classes will be available. This represents an increase of over 100% on the number of special classes available in 2001. There will have been 605 additional special classes provided, many of them for students with ASD. The number of ASD classes at primary level in the 2016-17 school year will be 652, which represents a 15% increase approximately on the 2015-16 figure. In one year there has been a 15% increase in the number of classes. Therefore, there is substantial expansion occurring.

There should be no child with special educational needs who cannot find a school place because the NCSE will assess the needs of each child with special educational needs. Many are accommodated in mainstream classes, but in each case the child will be assigned the required resource teaching and SNA supports in order that he or she can participate in class. As I stated, there is an increasing trend towards the provision of special classes. There has been growth of 100% in the space of just five years. What I have outlined represents growth of over 20% per year. As this represents substantial expansion, I would be disturbed to think the picture was different in south Kildare. The rights I have described are automatic and there have been no constraints. The schedule from which these resources are applied was reduced at the height of the recession in 2012, but the number of resource teachers in the system has been increased. The number of SNAs has increased by almost 22%, while the number of resource teachers has expanded by 9% in just one year. Therefore, it is growing very rapidly. Close to €1.5 billion of our budget is devoted specifically to special education.

The EPSEN Act is the gold standard for the personal education plan for each child and we are moving towards it. Each school is expected to have a personal plan for each child. It is a legal requirement, but until we have rolled out the infrastructure to underpin it, it will be hard to trigger the Act, as it stands. However, it is certainly the target we are trying to reach.

I will undertake to obtain more data, specifically for County Kildare.

I thank the Minister for outlining the improvements made. I acknowledge the excellent work taking place in the special unit in Scoil na Naomh Uilig in Newbridge and the Educate Together school in Kildare town. While the figures the Minister gives are comforting in general, it does nothing to address the four specific sets of circumstances I have outlined. I would be very happy to forward the details directly to the Department. I am absolutely sure there are no places for the children in question within County Kildare. One family has been offered a place in Dublin, but, as the Minister can appreciate, it is very difficult to take up this offer if there are other children in the family. In the case in question, a sibling must travel to school ten miles from the family home in Newbridge. It is difficult to cater for a child with autism in such circumstances.

As we must acknowledge, a diagnosis of autism should result in a child being provided with the required services. In some cases, however, it is actually shutting a child out from services. There is a very high rate of mental health issues among those with autism because there is an increased risk of anxiety disorders, mood disorders and ADD. This is not to mention the mental health issues and stress that can arise among parents and siblings. A lack of intervention without a diagnosis of a condition compounds the problem.

There are many cases in addition to the four I have mentioned in which families are having difficulty in dealing with a diagnosis. It is very difficult for parents to face a future for their child that they had not imagined. Sometimes cases are not presented until it is too late and behaviours can be entrenched. Already parents of children with autism must fight for their children every step of the way. A place in a school in the child's own environment must be a basic requirement and not be required only after waiting to see what the new register presents. I would be very happy to forward details of the four cases mentioned to the Minister who I appreciate will come back to me with the figures for south Kildare.

I would welcome receiving the details. There is an entitlement to appeal any decision. Where parents have applied to a school for a place for their child and deem the NCSE's specification of so many hours of additional resource teaching or a special class in due course to be unsatisfactory, the decision can be appealed. There is such a process in place.

It is, undoubtedly, the case that although roughly 100 additional classes are being opened every year, there is a requirement for six children or at least the prospect that this number will be reached to make a class sustainable. If only one child was to be identified this year, the school would have to be able to show there was the prospect of forming a sustainable class. As I stated, 100 additional classes are opened every year. In the past four years 600 have been approved. There has been significant expansion of resources in this area. I can assure the Deputy that we will examine the cases she has outlined and ensure this expanding area is properly dealt with. We have undertaken a review to ensure the investment in resource teachers and SNAs is having the best possible impact on the children involved. I hope the review will inform future policy.

Schools Building Projects

I am very pleased the Minister is present to answer me directly. I refer to Lusk Community College which was built approximately three years ago. In years one and two the pupils were accommodated in classrooms, but in year three they were accommodated in a prefabricated building. Unfortunately, the second phase of the school has not been identified and we do not know when this will occur. This also applies to the third phase and more prefabs are to be built. Obviously, therefore, the school is expanding.

I was driving home only the other day when I passed yet another development in Lusk. That is good news and it is great that people are moving to lovely north County Dublin, but, unfortunately, it will bring with it additional pressures on the school system. There is no gym in the school in question. The local sports clubs, namely, the GAA, athletics and soccer clubs, are coming together to spearhead an initiative, under the heading of Lusk 2020, that will involve building adjacent to the school. Obviously, we want to be in a position to tackle issues such as childhood obesity and associated problems, but this will not be possible in an expanding school with no gym available.

I will not need the full four minutes because my question is very simple. When will we see the next phases of the school project commence? It is not acceptable that pupils are being accommodated in prefabs. This issue has been raised with me by a number of constituents. We happened to be compiling a petition on the reduction of Garda services and the closure of a Garda station when the issue of the school was raised with us by several people in the area. They want to know when the school will be built. They are not happy that their children are being accommodated in prefabs.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. As she is aware, Lusk Community College is a co-educational post-primary facility under the patronage of Dublin-Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board. The second phase of the major building project for Lusk Community College will provide for a new-build extension to cater for an additional 650 pupils, a special needs unit, a physical education, PE, hall with fitness suite and changing facilities and ancillary accommodation, including a school library.

The first phase which was completed under the Department’s design and build programme provided a building to cater for 350 pupils. This first phase was completed in July 2013 and the school opened in September 2013. The overall school, once complete, will cater for a long-term projected enrolment of 1,000 pupils.

The design team for the project was appointed in January 2012 and the project was authorised to commence architectural planning. The project is included in the six-year construction programme which was announced in November 2015. The building project for Lusk community college is now at an advanced stage of architectural planning - stage 2b, detailed design - which includes the preparation of tender documents. Planning permission for this project was granted on 2 March 2016. Fire safety and disability access certificates were obtained in 2015.

The stage 2b report has been completed by the design team and is being co-ordinated by the education and training board for submission to my Department for review in the coming days. Upon completion and submission of the stage 2b report and tender documentation, my Department will carry out its review and, subject to no issues arising, will then revert to Dublin-Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board with regard to the further progression of the project. However, until the stage 2b report has been received and assessed, it will not be possible to provide a specific indication of the timeframe for the progression of the project to tender and construction. That is the current position.

Nobody will be surprised when I express disappointment with the Minister's response as it indicated that the project will be delayed even further while the Department awaits receipt of the stage 2b report. There is a pressing need for the building project at the community school in Lusk to complete. This is an area of north County Dublin with a growing population where educational needs will only increase. It is not acceptable that pupils are being accommodated in prefabricated buildings and do not have access to a school gymnasium. The Minister's response does not give me anything of comfort which would allow me to convey to the people of Lusk that the project will proceed any time soon.

I would be grateful if the Minister would provide even an indicative timeframe for the commencement of the building project. It is not good enough to provide a "wait and see" reply. People in the area will see more children educated in prefabs, which are not the answer. If the Department has money to spend on prefabricated accommodation, I respectfully suggest that it has money to fast-track this process.

This building project was identified from the outset as a two-stage process. The Department has requirements in respect of architectural planning, planning permission, the design of school buildings to meet planning needs and drawing up the detailed design before going to tender. Anyone embarking on a building project would do likewise. Planning permission for the building in question was obtained in March. The Department requires this work to be done by the design team. I cannot come to the Chamber and account for approval of the necessary surveying of quantities or for whether the site is suitable, or any of the other elements that must be satisfied at an architectural level. This process to be completed is uniform and applies to every school building project in the country. There is no attempt to throw a spanner in the works for Lusk Community College.

The Deputy is correct that the Department is making provision for rented temporary accommodation to accommodate approximately 170 pupils. While the planning process is under way, we will provide support for the renting of temporary accommodation. The project is included in the plan and the process is under way. While budgets remain a constraint on everything we would like to do, we are prioritising the needs of children in areas where there is a shortage of school places. Areas with demographic pressures receive top priority in the Department.

Sports Capital Programme

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Cheann Comhairle as ucht an deis seo a thabhairt dom. I appreciate the opportunity to raise this important issue. When I checked Facebook this morning, I saw that my wife had posted a photograph of my eldest son, Daniel, on his last day of primary school. This gave me pause for thought as I considered how quickly our children grow up. It is frightening that they do not stay young for very long.

The two Ministers present, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Minister of State at his Department, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, have responsibility for the issue I raise. We must be cognisant of how quickly young people grow up and the importance of providing facilities for them in a timely fashion. I was bitterly disappointed to hear the Minister confirm at a select committee meeting yesterday on the Estimates for his Department that no allocation would be made for sports capital grants in 2016. This is a source of great disappointment.

A large number of clubs do great work for young people and adults give up their time to engage in various activities in a voluntary capacity. They include boxing, rowing, surfing, football, soccer and hurling clubs. The volunteers are not paid and do not receive any reward. The Government should do its bit by helping these voluntary organisations that contribute so much to society and the well-being of children and adults. I had hoped that, as the economy improved, the Government would show a commitment to voluntary organisations and demonstrate that they are valued by giving them a dig-out in 2016. As I stated, young people grow up fast and every year that funding is not provided represents a missed opportunity to invest in our future and young people.

The amounts of money provided under the sports capital programme are sometimes tiny but €5,000 or €9,000 can make a serious difference. Some clubs will receive grants of €100,000 or €200,000, which will transform the facilities they provide for young people. Last year, many clubs missed out on grants on the basis of minor technicalities. These clubs are eagerly awaiting an opportunity to improve their facilities and are getting all their ducks in a row to enable them to reapply for funding this year. They will be bitterly disappointed to learn that there will be no funding stream for sports capital grants in 2016.

I appeal to the Minister and Minister of State to prioritise this issue. I previously called for investment in trails and walkways. I had hoped 2016 would be the year in which major capital investment would be provided for facilities that allow people to lead more active and meaningful lives, engage more in their communities, develop a sense of camaraderie and become healthier in the process. I ask that the Department step up to the mark and ensure funding is provided for the sports capital programme this year.

I am a little puzzled as I do not know how much of yesterday's discussion at the select committee the Deputy followed because he is being strangely selective in his remarks. I will repeat what I said yesterday at the meeting, namely, that no decision has been made on the timing of the next round of the sports capital programme but I will discuss the matter with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and an announcement will be made shortly. That is a conclusive statement and while it is fair enough if the Deputy interpreted my remarks differently, he should read the record carefully because it is conclusive. Those were my final words on that subject yesterday at the select committee.

Deputies will be aware that the sports capital programme is the Government’s primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. They will agree that the programme has transformed the sporting landscape with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in every village, town and city. My Department is as enthusiastic about this particular round of funding as the Deputy. No Member has a monopoly on approval of the sports capital programme. We are very enthusiastic about getting on with this and promoting sporting activity throughout the country through this medium. This programme is very important to the Department.

The facilities that have been funded range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence. The health benefits of participating in sport are well known, and approximately 90% of sports capital programme grantees have reported that they were able to increase participation as a direct result of the facilities developed with the grants.

The programme assists voluntary and community organisations, along with the national governing bodies of sport, local authorities, education and training boards and schools, to develop high-quality, safe, well designed and sustainable facilities in suitable locations and helps them to provide equipment to maximise participation in sport and physical recreation. The programme also prioritises the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities, with €14.5 million allocated in 2015 alone to projects in or near CLÁR or RAPID areas. Since 2012, a total of €113 million has been allocated in more than 2,419 projects under the advertised rounds of the sports capital programme. In recent rounds of the programme, every county has received its fair share of sports capital funding based on its population but with an adjustment to give slightly more money to counties that had fared less well under previous rounds, thus making up for historical imbalances in funding.

The sports capital programme has also distributed funding across different sports. While the three main field sports have traditionally fared well under the programme, grants to minority sports or community multi-use facilities can have a very positive effect on participation. Indeed, the 2015 sports capital programme funded 40 different sports. It is important that minority sports receive appropriate levels of funding and it is imperative that we do not focus too much on the three main fields sports at the expense of other sports. Minority sports do a brilliant job in attracting participants who might not otherwise engage in sport at all. This is not to take away from the excellent work being done by those involved in the most popular sports. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that there are a range of other sports that may need a little help from the sports capital programme if they are to grow, thrive and provide more choice for people who wish to engage in healthy sporting activities.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am not trying to be adversarial; I am trying to be helpful and supportive. The impression I want to bring across is that I do not want to lose this year, 2016. A total of 1,600 applications were made last year for funding under this programme. This shows the starvation among clubs and how desperate they are for additional funds and resources. They are happy to put their shoulders to the wheel and progress projects on their own turf.

I will set out what the Minister said yesterday. I gather from reading the script that he has said the same thing today. He said it had not been decided yet, but he believed the decision would be in the new year, which is 2017. Therefore, we will have missed 2016. That is something to be regretted, in my view, and that is the issue I am trying to raise.

It would be great if we could mark 2016 by having a round of grants and acknowledging the contributions of these clubs. Last year in my constituency, Ardfield and Rathbarry Rowing Club, the sailing club, Dunmanway Boxing Club, O'Donovan Rossa GAA Club, Skibbereen, and various other clubs benefited and made great use of the programme. My hope was that, as the economy is improving, we could have a round of sports grants this year. That is what I am pleading for today to both Ministers. If that is possible, it would be greatly appreciated. I say as much on behalf of the people I represent and, I imagine, on behalf of the people the length and breadth of the country. As the Minister said, they would be most appreciative of it.

I am sure the Deputy is aware that there is a commitment in the programme for a partnership Government on this. I am sure the Deputy is also aware that the draw-down could well be in 2017. That would be absolutely normal. I do not want this to be misinterpreted and I believe there is mischief afoot here. I made absolutely clear what this was. The Deputy is quoting from one part of what I said but not from the other part, which was immediately afterwards. Let us not be scaremongering over this.

Let me be absolutely clear about it. There has been considerable comment about the sports capital programme in recent days. There is a commitment in the programme for Government for an annual round of the sports capital programme. While stating today that I am fully supportive of the programme, I must add that the timing of future rounds is, as always, dependent on the annual Estimates exercise. That is not to say the programme could not be advertised later this year, with allocations being announced in 2017. That would see four rounds of allocations under the programme since 2012 on the back of three years without capital funding. This would be a considerable achievement in light of the continuing economic challenges facing the country.

Discussions are taking place on the next round of the programme, its shape and its possible priorities. Work is also continuing on simplifying the online application process to make it more user-friendly for applicants.

I repeat what I said yesterday to the select committee. No decision has been made on the timing of the next round of the programme - this is the part Deputy Daly did not quote - but I will discuss the matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, and an announcement will be made shortly. I hope that nails the somewhat misleading interpretation that I believe people have taken somewhat mischievously from my comments yesterday.

Can I talk for 30 seconds?

May I talk for ten seconds?

If I was to allow that to happen, under Standing Orders I would have to allow others to speak also.

I have an issue with what was said. To be fair, I have been accused of scaremongering and mischievousness. I should have the right to defend myself.

Tourism Project Funding

I am sorry; I was simply trying to cause peace.

The Deputy is like a new person.

That may be so. A new lease and all of that.

I look forward to seeing it.

Deputy Alan Kelly's time is running out.

I imagine the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, will be taking this matter, seeing as he is in the House. I am here to ask about the future funding for the Lough Derg strategy. We hear a good deal about the fantastic strategies of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. As a former employee who worked for many years in Bord Fáilte and Fáilte Ireland, I know they are fantastic and brilliant strategies. They are really driving tourism throughout the country. We have seen it to date and I hope to see it again this summer. However, there is another part of Ireland. It is called the heart of Ireland or the middle of Ireland. It is where the greatest value is. It runs from Cavan all the way down the spine of Ireland. When I worked in Fáilte Ireland we used to call it the hole in the doughnut because the lakelands area is so beautiful and fantastic. It has extraordinary tourism potential but it has never got sufficient bang for its buck in terms of the number of bed nights or the number of people who come in through Dublin Airport and visit. Despite this, the area has great-quality accommodation, extraordinary cultural and heritage attractions and the lakelands. A major part of the plan is the Lough Derg strategy.

The Lough Derg strategy was commissioned and written by Fáilte Ireland in 2014. It is a comprehensive strategy and a fantastic plan that incorporates three different counties, including my county of Tipperary as well as the counties of Galway and Clare. It is literally Ireland's hidden secret as regards tourism. It is perfectly accessible whether people are coming from Portumna, going through Mountshannon and across into Ballina and Killaloe, or coming the other way from Ballina and Killaloe up through my country of Garrykennedy, on to Terryglass and back over to Portumna.

The plan was put in place and a sum of €2 million was allocated. New signage was put in place, along with small capital developments. The plan has been very successful. However, we need to see its finalisation. At least, we need to see it move in the right direction with another capital amount and a timeframe for its implementation. Otherwise, the Parliament and the Government cannot maintain that they are doing everything they can for the rural economy and rural counties.

We have a fantastic plan promoting Ireland's Ancient East. The Wild Atlantic Way promotes a huge tourism corridor, yet the spine of Ireland has a fantastic strategy, but it is not being prioritised. Above all, I want to find out what the plan is. I know Fáilte Ireland is supportive of the strategy. I have spoken to representatives of Fáilte Ireland on numerous occasions about it. It is natural that I would do so, seeing as I worked there for many years.

It would not take a great deal of money. A couple of million each year for three or four years would see out this plan. For instance, it would see a new ecopark built in Portumna, a canoe trail across the lake and an interpretive centre by the lake as well as a number of other small initiatives across the lake.

The Minister of State knows the country very well. If ever he is near the area, I encourage him to look at the work that has already been done. It is being chaired by the Tipperary County Council chief executive, Mr. Joe MacGrath. The group comprises representatives from the three different counties, including marketing groups and other stakeholders. Working together collectively, they are marketing the area. They just need the Minister of State's continued support and I hope he will be able to give me good news.

I thank the Deputy for raising this Topical Issue. Many of his points on the national issue have already been identified by us in the Department since the Government changeover. He is right that the Fáilte Ireland branding has been very successful. Since coming to the Department, I have instructed departmental officials and Fáilte Ireland that there is a corridor down the middle of the country from Cavan, Monaghan and east Donegal right down to north County Cork, which I believe is a priority area. I believe that priority needs to be addressed through the local authorities in conjunction with Leader companies through the Department of rural development.

The Deputy will be aware that under local government legislation introduced in the previous Dáil, county CEOs now have an economic development role, part of which is tourism promotion. Unfortunately, some county CEOs have not been as proactive as they might have been in tourism development. Regarding the bigger issue the Deputy mentioned, I have already asked departmental officials to ensure that county CEOs outline what they are doing to promote tourism.

As the Deputy will know from his time in the Department, the role of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport relating to tourism lies primarily in the area of national policy. The Department is not directly involved in the development or management of individual tourism projects. These are operational matters for Fáilte Ireland.

The Lough Derg marketing group is the stakeholder representative group tasked with developing Lough Derg as a key destination for water-based activities combined with a range of high-quality walking, cycling, heritage, culture and food experiences. I speak from experience; the Deputy will know that I spent some of my life in Nenagh. This is being achieved through joint co-operation of all tourism stakeholders in the development and marketing of their area under the lakelands-Lough Derg identity.

The group's document, Roadmap for Experience Development and Destination Marketing 2014-2017, which was launched in March 2014, includes five key objectives for which action plans have been prepared. They are the improvement of orientation by implementing the Lough Derg signage strategy; the improvement of lakeside experiences; the development of tourism products; the raising of awareness of the destination through marketing; and the engagement with and support of tourism businesses.

As the Deputy said, in 2014 the Government allocated €2 million in stimulus funding to the Lough Derg project. The disbursement of this funding is co­ordinated by Fáilte Ireland. The €2 million was intended to kick-start the implementation of the overall Lough Derg strategy through attracting investment into the Lough Derg lakelands and the individual projects I mentioned. In regard to further development, it is a matter for the Lough Derg marketing group to source additional funding.

I am pleased to say there has been significant progress across the 15 individual projects falling under the Lough Derg stimulus fund. A total of nine of these projects have been completed and the Member will probably be aware of most of them. Of the remaining six projects, four are due to be completed by July 2016. These are the Holy Island management plan; the refurbishment of the Castle Marina; the placement of angling stands at Mota Quay; and the second phase of the Lough Derg signage strategy. The final two projects are due for completion by the end of September and the end of November. These projects are, respectively, an interpretation panel and improved access to the Millennium Cross; and development of the Lough Derg canoe trail. In addition to the stimulus fund provided by the Department, the agencies on the group have invested heavily in Lough Derg to support the actions in the strategy. The Deputy will be aware of the agencies involved.

I understand that in order to continue to develop the Lough Derg lakelands, the agency stakeholders on the group make an annual contribution to the group. The Lough Derg marketing group has demonstrated an understanding of the potential of Lough Derg, and the strategy has provided the vision to develop the destination brand and visitor experience. The stakeholders have shown a commitment to the sustainable development of the region. I am pleased to say that, to date, the implementation of the strategy has been very successful and is approximately 75% complete. The Department has played a significant role in stimulating investment in Lough Derg through its capital allocation of €2 million to Fáilte Ireland, which administers the funds.

I am well aware of the status of the work. As outlined in the document, the strategy is costed at €10.5 million. The Lough Derg marketing group and the local authorities are willing to make contributions to that, but it is not realistic to say the capital plans will be implemented in full without Fáilte Ireland input. I accept what the Minister of State has said about Fáilte Ireland; I know how it works. I ask the Minister of State to encourage it to look at the Lough Derg strategy.

I accept the Minister of State's opening statements. However, there are concerns among people such as James Whelan of the Spirit of Killaloe and Máire Boyle of Larkins; I could list off another 20 or 30 tourism business people. We see the effort that has been put into the two national marketing strategies of Ireland's Ancient East and the Wild Atlantic Way, and yet we are fighting for what is a fantastic project involving Ireland's most hidden secret and what could be one of Ireland's premier tourist destinations if it was developed slightly more. It is very central, being within half an hour of Shannon Airport, an hour and a half of Dublin, and an hour of Cork. It is not possible for them to do it all by themselves.

I know the Minister of State is familiar with the area having worked there. I ask him to approach Fáilte Ireland and just make some form of contribution towards this in the budget and capital allowances for next year, whatever it may be. It will be more than doubled by the local authorities working together to implement it. If we can do that gradually in the coming years, the full plan will be implemented and we will have a fabulous destination that we will all visit because it is one of the best in the country.

As the Deputy will know from his time in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the brands he mentioned have been some of the greatest drivers of tourism. The Deputy is right and I have pointed out to Fáilte Ireland that there is a corridor in the middle of the country.

As I said at the start of my contribution, the county CEOs have an opportunity. Fáilte Ireland recently announced a major capital investment programme with projects of between €200,000 and €5 million being funded. If the local authorities in Tipperary, Galway, Clare or Offaly wish to take the remaining elements of the strategy that are yet to be implemented and make viable applications to Fáilte Ireland, I am sure that Fáilte Ireland, given that it knows the lakelands area and knows the contribution that Lough Derg can make, will look at those.

I am very anxious to push this forward. Local authorities need to do much more when it comes to the development of our tourism strategy. It cannot fall to the Department alone, as the Deputy will know from his experience. It cannot fall to Fáilte Ireland and it cannot fall to Leader companies. There needs to be a concerted effort in this regard. Fáilte Ireland, through funding voted by the Oireachtas, has a significant amount of money available for capital works to enhance the tourism product available. I had a meeting with Fáilte Ireland representatives this morning to discuss the corridor I mentioned that goes from outside Cork city up to Cavan and Monaghan along both banks of the River Shannon.

When local authorities are making applications to Fáilte Ireland for capital works, they should be looked at in the context of them being outside the branded areas. However, local authorities must take up this initiative. This cannot fall to the Department; there is no magic wand there. An element of matching funding will be required as the Deputy knows from his time in the Department. I hope that the local authorities along the shore of the River Shannon, including my own local authority, will take this initiative to avail of the capital funding. The more applications that can be made through Fáilte Ireland, the more it strengthens our Department's case to look to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to have those grants enhanced.