Topical Issue Debate

Home Care Packages Funding

I am delighted to be given the opportunity to speak today on the issue of home care packages. As with all Members of the House, health is a constant issue at my weekly clinics. Access to vital health services is a challenge, waiting lists are increasing and securing home care is a constant struggle for many older people. Most of us like to think that when the time comes, we will have the means to care for ill or ageing family members who, given the choice, would rather be in their own homes than in a hospital or nursing home. This is where the home care package comes in. The package consists of a range of services provided by the HSE to facilitate the care of older people in their own homes. Whether it is therapy, home help, respite, transport to and from medical appointments, or day-care services, the package aims to make it easier for people to remain independent for as long as possible.

The HSE has a core provision of €324 million for home supports in 2016 and its national service plan for the year provides for a target of 10.4 million home help hours, 15,450 home care packages, 130 intensive home care packages for clients with very complex needs and a further 80 packages for clients with dementia. While I welcome this provision, the unfortunate reality is that accessing these services on the ground can be a very frustrating and protracted process. The suspension of home help hours and home care packages in February of this year has had a major impact and the effects are still being felt. On a system-wide basis, the cuts have ended up costing dearly, both financially and in terms of patient health. Increased pressure has been placed on an already creaking system through delayed discharges from hospitals and more people have being re-admitted to hospital due to inadequate supports in the community and home. Respite care is another issue. Good home care provision ideally supports both a medical and social model of care whereby both the carer and the cared-for person are supported physically with therapy, respite and home help and psychologically. It should allow the carer time to get a much needed break. Again, I have been contacted by a number of constituents this week alone who expressed their dismay that the provision of respite care at Maynooth community care centre had been reduced to two beds for the entire area. I am awaiting clarification of this via a parliamentary question I have submitted but it appears the centre is no longer allowed to use primary care beds for respite. This appears to be totally at variance with Government policy and with the commitment given in the programme for Government to increase funding for home care packages and home help every year.

Older people prefer to live in their own homes and this can be assisted by providing home care packages or home care hours and making their physical environment more suitable for their needs. However, there was a decrease of 83,346 home help hours in Kildare between 2010 and 2015. I hope the recent announcement by the Minister for Health of the Government's approval of a Revised Estimate for the Department of Health means there will be increased resources for home care services. I ask the Minister of State to be more specific on this funding. Does she agree that at minimum 2.2 million extra hours of home help and a further 3,500 home care packages for older people are required? Is that a target the Government will commit to meeting?

I also raise the issue of intensive home care packages, especially for people with dementia. Most people living with dementia and their families want to provide for their care at home. Can we step up the provision of intensive home care packages to achieve this? There is now an urgent need for the Minister for Health to deliver, as a priority, the projected increase in funding for home care packages as included in the programme for Government.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which we know is extremely important from the questions which were asked during Question Time. Our population is ageing rapidly. Advances in health care are leading to a dramatic rise in our older population. Each year, the total number of persons over the age of 65 grows by approximately 20,000. We can see what the figures will be in the coming years. There is now a stronger emphasis on home care and other community services which provide a greater range of options to avoid admission to acute hospitals, support early discharges and, where appropriate, rehabilitate and re-able patients after periods of particular difficulty. Older people have consistently said that they want to stay in their own homes and communities for as long as possible and the Government is committed to facilitating this. As Minister of State with responsibility for older people, I am committed to facilitating this as much as possible. Home care services are key to achieving this and the strengthening of home care services is an objective to which the Government is committed. The HSE provides a range of community-based services aimed at ensuring that older people receive safe, timely and appropriate care and treatment at the lowest level of complexity and as close to home as possible. The HSE's national service plan for 2016 provides for a target of 10.4 million home help hours to support approximately 47,800 people. It also provides for 15,450 home care packages and 130 intensive home care packages for clients with complex needs. A further 60 clients with dementia will be supported with co-funding from Atlantic Philanthropies under the Irish national dementia strategy.

Notwithstanding the significant improvements in the overall economic position that we have seen in recent times, pressures continue to apply across the health service. Services are being stretched by demands from more people and for more hours at times outside core hours, in the evenings and at weekends, all of which costs more. The Government has been able to respond to this demand by providing an extra €40 million for home care services in 2016. As I told the Deputy's colleague, the HSE is engaging with local community health organisations, CHOs, to establish how that funding can best be divided and spent. Those most in need must receive it first. I hope this will happen as quickly as possible. If the Deputy wishes to keep in touch, I will be in regular contact with the HSE to determine when that funding will be passed down. The targets for 2016 will be reviewed in the light of the provision of these additional resources.

There is always more that could be done in these crucial areas, but this represents a step in the right direction. I am delighted that the Government has been able to respond to the increased demand for services by providing additional funds. The allocation of these funds in the most appropriate way is a priority for the HSE. Prudent management of available resources is needed as demand for services increases. The HSE will continue to work to apply the available resources to target those in the greatest need most effectively and provide the best possible contribution to the system as a whole.

There is no doubt that home care services need more resources than are available. For this reason, the programme for Government commits to increasing funding for home care packages and home help services year-on-year in the coming period. I cannot give the Deputy an exact figure, but I will seek as much funding as it is physically possible to increase the figures he outlined.

Respite care services are of the utmost importance, not just for the individual who needs care but also for carers who are among the most important people in our society, something we might not recognise enough. Sometimes, respite care provision is the only break they get. We must see an increase in funding in line with that for home care packages.

On the issue of dementia, the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, and I have met the Alzheimer Society of Ireland. I have met it several times independently. We are working with it on how we can increase funding and provide specific dementia care packages for dementia sufferers.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I do not doubt her commitment to making improvements where they are needed badly, particularly for the elderly. She is aware of the difficulty in this regard, from the response to one of my colleagues, that what is happening on the ground is different from what is being reported within departmental or other official circles. Given her offer, I would welcome the opportunity to meet her outside the Chamber to discuss this matter in detail. There is a problem with the service provider and the service user.

We are discussing the issue of hours, but I could give the Minister of State a list of 44 cases. She could give me as many, as could other Deputies. In Kildare North applicants have received approval for a home help service, but HSE officials have called to their homes in the past week to take the service away from them. I am not in the Chamber to play theatre with the Minister of State. I do not believe in engaging in such opportune politics for the optics. I believe in working hard for the people who elected me, representing them to the best of my ability and seeking the services they need.

An elderly lady who is partially sighted has received no home help service since February or March. Recently, she was told that she would not receive such a service unless she paid for it herself. An elderly man was meant to come home from hospital, but he was transferred to a hospital in Dublin on Friday because a home care package had not been approved for him, even though one had been identified and charted for him by his consultant. In the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, the medical profession has as difficult a job to do as anywhere else and there is a waiting list. I spoke to a constituent on Friday evening who, despite waiting, could not be discharged because a home care package had not been approved. I am aware of a couple in their 70s and the woman has dementia, is incontinent and needs to be showered daily, as recommended by the medical professionals. After she has her shower on Friday at 10 a.m., she will not have another until Monday at 7 p.m. The man gets two three-hour breaks on Monday and Thursday nights. He receives a home help service for approximately two hours to do household chores. Last week two HSE officials arrived like the Mafia and took them from him. He has lost a service for two and three quarters hours.

We need to have this issue addressed. These are the real issues and I need the Minister of State's help.

I need the Acting Chairman's forbearance.

No. I have given the Deputy-----

Please, will the Minister of State help us to correct these issues? It is a scandal.

Will the Deputy, please, allow the Minister of State to reply?

The people concerned have contributed to the State and need to be looked after.

The Deputy has made his point.

This is a priority for me. There is a major flaw in the system, in that significant amounts of money are being used to keep people in hospital and acute units when we know that the financial benefits to the HSE and the Department in keeping them at home are considerable. There are also the physical benefits. When people are surrounded by their families and involved in their communities, naturally they get better and live longer and happier lives. As the Deputy rightly put it, trying to flip the manner in which funding is directed is a mammoth task. Unfortunately, one cannot just whip money from acute or hospital services. One must play a steady game by increasing funding in one direction while gradually decreasing it in another when it is no longer needed. That is when we will start to see a change. The five to ten-year plan for health is the way forward. We must invest over a long period. In the meantime, the priority is to continue increasing the finances for home help services, home care and intensive care packages. I am working on this issue with the advocacy and support groups, carers and hospitals. I will also work on it with the Deputy and ask for his support and the support of every Deputy, as this is an important issue. The number of people aged 65 years and over will double in the coming years, while the number aged 80 years and over will quadruple. We will face a major problem if we do not address the issue now.

Hospital Accommodation Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for affording me the opportunity to raise this issue which is of the utmost importance to the people of Galway and the broader western region. At University Hospital Galway we are blessed with a team of world-class doctors and health care professionals, but they are struggling beneath the weight of inadequate resources and unmanageable demand. As the Minister of State will be abundantly aware, the hospital is beset with the country's longest waiting list, has the most cancelled procedures and frequently has the most patients on trolleys. In the Minister's defence and that of his predecessors, it is not the case that no money has been made available for capital spending on the hospital in recent years, but in times of scarcity it is equally important to consider how money is spent, as well as how much.

The central government funding invested in capital projects at University Hospital Galway in recent years represented a wasted opportunity. The hospital campus has dated facilities and its capacity to cater for the needs of a growing and ageing population cannot be expanded owing to restrictions on its current site. I will cite two of the most recent capital projects to illustrate this point.

This year will see the opening of a new 75-bed ward block. For some time, this prospect gave people in the hospital's catchment area hope that it would go some way towards alleviating the seemingly perpetual overcrowding crisis. However, it emerged in recent months that there were three wards being closed to make way for the new €18 million block and that there would be no net increase in bed capacity once the block's doors opened. This was confirmed in letters from the chief operations officer to the planning authority, in a letter to me from the hospital's general manager and in briefings by senior management of the group's patient council. A key reason for this is that the additional beds cannot be provided under the terms of the city development plan without creating an equal number of car parking spaces, for which there is no room on the campus.

That brings me to the second capital project. The hospital undertook to build a new two-storey parking facility on the site of an existing car park a few years ago. Remarkably, the project's net impact following completion was that there were 80 fewer spaces. We are building car parks that do not result in the creation of extra parking spaces and ward blocks that do not result in the provision of extra beds.

We need to stop this, take stock of why this is happening and decide what should happen next.

Given the gravity and scale of the overcrowding crisis at University Hospital Galway, I consider it a shame that scarce resources were poorly utilised on capital projects that would offer no respite from the crisis. It is one thing in the midst of an economic crisis to say there is no money but it is quite another to have the money and waste it in a way that would do anything other than confer the maximum possible benefit on the maximum number of people. That, I fear, is what has come to pass in the two instances I have outlined today.

The present set of circumstances is not tenable. Put simply, the region’s population is going to grow but the hospital’s capacity is going to remain the same. The sooner we realise that a longer-term vision is required in the form of a new facility on the grounds of Merlin Park University Hospital, which is on State-owned land, the sooner we can restore confidence in the fact that the current and future health care needs of the people of the west will be catered for.

Endemic short-termism appears to have overtaken most of the planning on the existing University Hospital Galway site. Bearing in mind the Minister’s vision and the setting up of the all-party Oireachtas committee, of which I am a member, to consider a ten-year plan for the health service, does the Minister of State agree that since University Hospital Galway is the major acute hospital for the west, we now need to grasp the nettle and look at the bigger picture?

I thank Deputy Naughton for raising this issue and I welcome this opportunity to outline the up-to-date position on recent health infrastructure developments at University Hospital Galway. These developments recognise that demand for health care is rising, with our elderly population increasing at nearly double the European average. Other factors, such as the rise in obesity, chronic disease and advances in health care technology, are also increasing demand for health services. In this regard, A Programme for a Partnership Government sets out a clear vision for health services that is community based and responsive and accessible to patients. The development of primary care is central to this, by shifting the balance of care from a hospital-centric system to one located in the community, enabling users to access a broad spectrum of care services easily through their local primary care team. The development of a new hospital anywhere in the county must be seen in the context of the delivery of related health care services in the locality and region.

With regard to University Hospital Galway, the State has invested in the healthcare infrastructure at the hospital site and continues to do so. Given the ongoing investment that has been made at the site, it would not represent value for money to walk away from this significant investment. A number of significant projects have been completed at University Hospital Galway in recent years. These include the clinical research facility, the upgrade to the maternity unit and the cystic fibrosis outpatient department, which was completed in 2014 and is now operational.

There are also two major developments currently under way in Galway. Construction work is ongoing on the new 75-bed ward block, which will provide single-room inpatient accommodation. Work on a new acute mental health department is under way and is expected to be completed early in 2017. Following the transfer of mental health services to the new acute department, work will begin on the construction of the project under the national plan for the radiation oncology, for which project the HSE has already obtained planning permission.

A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to progressing a new emergency department facility for Galway University Hospital. The HSE Capital Plan 2011-2016 includes funding for a full option appraisal and cost-benefit analysis to inform planning and funding requirements for a new emergency department at University Hospital Galway. The cost-benefit analysis is in its final stages and it is anticipated that this will be completed shortly. If favourable, this will proceed to the design phase in 2016. The building of this urgently needed emergency department remains a capital priority for the Saolta University Health Care Group. Pending the development of a new emergency department, in order to alleviate pressures and to ensure that patient experience in the existing emergency department is improved, 30 additional beds opened at the hospital in early 2016.

There are no plans for a new hospital to be built in County Galway. Moreover, University Hospitals Galway comprises both University Hospital Galway itself and Merlin Park University Hospital, which is not far away. The rationale behind the establishment of the hospital groups is to facilitate collaboration between hospitals serving a particular patient population and to maximise the utility of existing resources. The Saolta University Hospital Group will continue to enable cross-development of both University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park to accommodate the best use and expansion of the services provided.

Further investment in individual hospitals must be considered within the overall acute hospital infrastructure programme and as part of the establishment of hospital groups. Development control plans have been completed on all major hospital campuses, including University Hospital Galway. These provide a blueprint for future development and rationalise construction and capital expenditure. This exercise focuses on what constitutes good practice, planning and addressing service needs, and all current and future development of health care infrastructure will be based on this considered approach.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I acknowledge that the new 75-bed ward block will offer patients more modern single-room accommodation, but the simple fact is that it will not offer one single extra bed. My point today is on value for money. The Minister of State implied walking away from the University Hospital Galway site would not represent value for money. If he investigates the amount of funding invested in the two projects I have outlined today, he will note it is an example of how we are not looking at the bigger picture or adopting a longer-term vision for Galway and the western region.

Questions need to be asked on whether these projects should have been allowed to proceed when it was apparent that they would not bring any appreciable relief in the current crisis in University Hospital Galway. Prior to my election to this House, I stated the University Hospital Galway campus was at saturation point and was unfit to provide for the present and future health care needs of people along the western seaboard. I examined the Merlin Park site, which is State-owned. We have Merlin Park hospital, as the Minister of State said. Since the time in question, the assessment has gained the support not only of my political colleagues but also that of the clinicians and hospital management. In the interest of the future health care of our citizens in the west, we need to be considering a plan and phasing out from University Hospital Galway. I appreciate the investment in that site but we need to be considering a larger one. The current one is in the city centre. It is hemmed in and, because of parking restrictions associated with the Galway city development plan, we cannot have an extra bed without an extra car-parking space. That is simply the case and we need to be considering the use of the State-owned land at Merlin Park. We also need to consider the ten-year plan and include a provision whereby University Hospital Galway would move to Merlin Park as part of that plan.

I accept some of the comments made by Deputy Hildegarde Naughton on these issues and that there are questions to be answered. I welcome the fact that the Deputy welcomed the 75-bed single-room unit. Of course, we must examine how we spend capital funding.

The Deputy made a very positive point on the problems with the city development plan and the car-parking issue. I am listening to the points she has raised. She is saying the clinicians on the ground support her position on this matter. We have a duty to listen to the people who run the services and the service providers. I will raise the Deputy's concerns with the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris.

I know University Hospital Galway very well because I spend a lot of time there visiting relations and extended family members. I know of the problems with patients on trolleys and the other issues. Our job is to try to come up with sensible proposals. However, part of our job, which the Deputy rightly highlights, is to determine how we spend the money to provide services on the ground.

We must recognise that chronic disease management is a major driver of health care costs. It accounts for 80% of health expenditure.

The number of people affected by chronic conditions is increasing by approximately 5% annually. We must address this issue.

I will convey to the Minister the issues and concerns raised by the Deputy and we will ascertain whether anything can be done about them. As I stated, we all have a duty to listen to citizens, local representatives and the professionals on the front line.

Voluntary Sector Remuneration

I am glad to have an opportunity to raise this important issue. Over the weekend, people will have read astonishing revelations concerning executives in the St. John of God organisation who were paid €1.64 million. Some of the individuals in question received €50,000, while others received €250,000. I worked for St. John of God services for two and a half years, during which I met the best, most dedicated and fantastic people I have every worked with. I also met many fantastic family members of service users and the experience put me in good stead.

There is something rotten about these revelations. The chief executive of St. John of God services is paid €182,000 per annum or six times more than the average worker in the organisation. When one delves into the issue, one is shocked by what one discovers. St. John of God services, which received €130 million last year, signed a service level agreement which states that the organisation must not pay or subsidise salaries or expenses which exceed those normally paid within the public sector. There is something rotten when the chief executive of a voluntary body such as St. John of God services is paid such an extraordinary amount of money when the service level agreement stipulates that no member of staff in the organisation should be paid more than €110,000 per annum.

Why is taxpayers' money being allocated to St. John of God services when its executives are being paid such extraordinary amounts? Taxpayers subsidise the health service and the voluntary bodies working in the sector. What does the Government propose to do about this issue? Action must be taken because the problem is not confined to St. John of God services. The same issue arose regarding the Central Remedial Clinic and Rehab in recent years. Having worked in the service, I believe many people will be enraged by recent developments, especially given recent cutbacks in St. John of God services, for example, the closure of St. Raphael's unit in Celbridge. It is outrageous that this has been allowed to happen. I hope the Minister of State will respond.

I congratulate Deputy Gino Kenny on his election to the House. It is great to hear different and new voices raising important issues, particularly with regard to services for people with disabilities.

It is important to outline what has taken place thus far in order that we can address the specific issues that have arisen. In June 2012, the HSE's internal audit undertook a review of the remuneration paid by section 38 agencies, bodies funded by the HSE pursuant to section 38 of the Health Act 2004, to their senior management. The audit identified significant key findings and the overall assessment of the control environment was considered to be seriously inadequate due to the significance of the issues identified. I understand the HSE was only very recently made aware of the payments by the St. John of God Hospitaller Order to 14 of its senior managers in 2013. On foot of the review, the Health Service Executive wrote to the order to inform it that the HSE's internal audit has been requested to undertake a review of the payment of additional remuneration to St. John of God senior managers and request the organisation’s full co-operation throughout the process.

A review of all section 38 providers by external consultants is already under way. The purpose of these reviews is to establish the standard of governance in place in these organisations and to confirm independently that the governance practices and procedures accord with those set out in their respective annual compliance statements. These reviews involve an examination of key governance processes and documents, including obtaining confirmation that internal financial controls and formal written financial procedures are in place in these organisations. We need to engage in reform and act on these matters. Six reviews are under way and their outcomes will inform the HSE's relationship with the agency concerned and any further enhancement of the HSE's overall governance framework.

On 27 September 2013, the Department issued to the HSE a health sector pay policy, Circular 1112013, which reflected Government pay policy as it applies across the public service. The circular was prepared following consultations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Department of Health consolidated salary scales, as sanctioned by the Minister for Health, set out the current salaries for the public health service. The health sector pay policy states that the health consolidated salary scales must be strictly adhered to and in no circumstances should an employee receive remuneration in the nature of pay and allowances of an amount greater than the amount prescribed. It is made very clear that this pay policy applies to all employees of the HSE and agencies funded by the HSE, in whole or in part, under section 38 of the Health Act 2004. It is also made clear that section 38 funded agencies may not supplement approved rates of remuneration with Exchequer funding or non-Exchequer sources of funding.

Each section 38 provider is required to furnish to the HSE an annual compliance statement in which it is required to confirm, among other matters, that all remuneration paid to employees is in accordance with public health sector pay policy and that other sources of funding are not being used to supplement employee remuneration that exceed Department of Health consolidated salary scales and pension arrangements. Financial penalties may be imposed by the HSE for non-compliance. The health sector pay policy states that where an organisation wishes to make a business case for the continuation of unsanctioned salaries or allowances, it may do so and this will be considered by the HSE, with the involvement of the Department of Health and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as necessary.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. This issue raises a question which is depressing in some ways. From where did St. John of God get the sum of €1.64 million to pay 14 of its senior managers? If it was not provided by the Health Service Executive, it must have been raised by service users' families, as occurs in many voluntary services, through sponsored walks, organised cake sales and so forth. It is very difficult to raise funds these days, yet family members have provided funding to pay a salary of €180,000. The chief executive and other executives who were paid bonuses should resign. I will be careful in my use of language but these people have no shame. No one can justify paying such high salaries, particularly in an organisation such as St. John of God.

As I stated, I worked in St. John of God services for many years and it is a great organisation with an amazing staff who provide a fantastic service. The revelations we have heard are unbelievable. I hope the loophole that allowed these payments to be made will be closed. The bigger issue, however, is that the payment of salaries of €90,000, €100,000 or €110,000 to executives in voluntary organisations does not sit well with people. No one is worth such a salary. Ordinary workers in hospitals and other parts of the health service work hard in difficult jobs for a fraction of the pay awarded to managers.

There is something very wrong in this industry and I hope it can be addressed in the coming period.

I agree with Deputy Kenny in respect of some of the points he raised. I also believe we have to change the mindset with regard to services for people with disabilities. We have to start talking about it. Part of my vision as the new Minister of State with responsibility in this area is to deal with the whole idea of rights and equality for people with disabilities. We want to get away from the charity idea. These are our family members, children, neighbours and friends. More than 600,000 people in the State have someone with an intellectual or physical disability in the family or have a disability themselves. Most of them pay their taxes every day and many of them are working. By the way, not enough of them are working but that is another debate for another day. However, they are contributing to the Exchequer and they are entitled to a service. We need to get away from the charity model.

Deputy Kenny has raised these issues and it really annoys me when we see what is actually going on. He referred to €1.64 million. Let us consider the vast amount €1.64 million could do for services.

There is another issue that I am concerned about. This year in the Estimates, St. John of God services is going to get €132.4 million from the taxpayer, the Exchequer. We need to clean up the services. We need to ensure that the money is spent on the services, including on occupational therapy and speech and language therapy. We need to deal with the issue of excessive pay. Of course, it is wrong and I will not accept it. As far as I know, senior managers from St. John of God will be before the Committee of Public Accounts this coming Friday. That is where our colleagues should ask the hard questions.

However, I am giving a commitment today. Part of my plan and strategy in the coming months is to try to reform, clean up and point out the services that are good. I have come across some great services recently. Those involved are spending the money on the services for people, children and adults, with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Harbours and Piers Development

The final Topical Issue is in the name of Deputy Seán Barrett who I got to know from his time sitting in this Chair over the years. It is nice to see him as a Deputy representing his constituency. He has a question for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on the future development of Dún Laoghaire harbour and the recently developed plans of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. He has four minutes to put his question.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his kind words and the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic. Dún Laoghaire harbour is very dear to me. I have been a resident and a native of Dún Laoghaire for almost 72 years and I know the harbour backwards. I was also Minister for the Marine and Minister for Defence in the mid-1990s when we put through the Harbours Bill, which is now the Harbours Act. The legislation incorporated a new way of managing Dún Laoghaire Harbour, that is, through a State-owned company with a board of directors.

Since that time, people have had other ideas about what should or should not be done with Dún Laoghaire harbour. This is a valuable and quality national harbour, as are the facilities attaching to it. Anyone who takes a walk out there on a Sunday afternoon will see thousands of people walking the piers. It was infamous from the days of the mail boat and dating back to when kings and queens landed in Dún Laoghaire on their way to visit Dublin city. Its history speaks for itself.

That is all very well but we now have a harbour company that does not know where it is going because people have been changing their minds - I do not include the current Minister in these comments because he has only recently taken over. I sincerely hope he concurs with my view, that is, that the harbour company should remain as it is.

The harbour is a valuable asset. It had the potential to produce well in excess of €10 million in revenue every year. Unfortunately, however, because of the demise of the Stena ferry, revenue is now hovering at approximately €4 million or €5 million. There is hope that the harbour will attract another carrier in the not too distant future, perhaps next year. Those involved are also developing plans for cruise ships to visit Dún Laoghaire harbour because of the massive development that has taken place in Dublin Port. Thankfully, because of the economy, business in Dublin Port is increasing on a daily basis. Therefore, harbours like those at Drogheda and Dún Laoghaire have become valuable assets.

Two important issues arise. The first is the management of the future of the harbour. I am making this suggestion to the Minister because I believe it is such a valuable asset and not because I was the person who put through the legislation, together with my colleague, a former Tánaiste. The idea that it would be put into the hands of the local authority is questionable. Frankly, the local authority does not have the expertise to manage harbours, especially commercial harbours that can produce revenues on that scale. Specific expertise in managing the various facilities is needed, whether they are leisure facilities or commercial facilities. The Stena port area can be developed for leisure, commercial and residential facilities. That part of the harbour does not interfere with the normal day-to-day walking tourist in the area.

Will the Minister look into the whole question of title? This arises from the transfer of the harbour to the harbour company. As the Minister with responsibility at the time, I understood that all the assets, including the title of the buildings and the foreshore, would automatically transfer to the harbour company. Now, apparently, there is a dispute over whether some of the developments put in place for the ferry service are, in fact, the property of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the basis of the Foreshore Act. The title issue is most important.

Second, will the Minister once and for all establish the future of the harbour company in order that we are not left wondering where it is going to end up? Will it end up as part of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council or with another port company? That is the purpose of my requesting the forbearance of the Minister this afternoon.

I thank the Deputy for his raising this Topical Issue. I presume it is the first one he has raised on this side of the House. Indeed, he must consider himself lucky to have been selected as I imagine he now realises how lucky those of us were whose matters were selected by him over the years.

I have the same affection as Deputy Barrett for Dún Laoghaire harbour and for Dún Laoghaire because I used the harbour as a child, as he did, and I lived in the constituency for many years as well. Nothing would please me more than to see it restored to commercial prosperity or to see the activities which used to exist return, such as the mail boat. However, at the moment, as the Deputy has so well outlined, many of those activities have ceased for commercial reasons. Therefore, the harbour company and others, including the local authority and my Department, have been looking at ways of adapting to the changes that have taken place. I realise they are not satisfactory to everyone. Indeed, I believe there has been a good case made for both sides. Ultimately, however, if there is not a commercial future for Dún Laoghaire in the old ways, the ways of the ferries and freight, then we have to look for new ways to bring it into a profitable and environmentally-friendly state.

In recent years, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has been restructuring its business to keep it on a sustainable financial footing and to enable the harbour to develop and operate on a commercial basis in future.

The port continues to face a challenging financial and operating environment as it transitions from commercial shipping activities, with the cessation of the Stena Line service, towards a different model which is more focused on marine leisure and marine-related tourism, while it prepares for transfer to the local authority. The company has been pursuing a twin strategy of developing alternative income streams from marine leisure and tourism-related business, while also reducing its high cost base.

The Dún Laoghaire Harbour master plan, published in 2011, identified the need to develop strategies to ensure the long-term future of the harbour in view of the declining importance of ferry traffic at that time. Since then, Stena Line has withdrawn its ferry service from Dún Laoghaire Harbour. Stena Line had operated the HSS Stena Explorer since 1996 during which time the vessel carried a mixture of passengers, car and coach traffic.

After the withdrawal of duty-free shopping, passenger and car volumes declined dramatically and, by 2014, fewer than 150,000 ferry passengers travelled through Dún Laoghaire Harbour. This represented a decline of over 90% in volume. This, combined with increasing fuel and operating costs, made the route unsustainable. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company is seeking alternative providers to operate a seasonal service on the route. A call for expressions of interest in operating this service has issued on eTenders. It is hoped that a replacement passenger service might be possible at some stage in the future. The departure of Stena Line adds to the future challenges for the company. The financial impact on the port is significant and it is clear the company now faces a very different financial and operating environment than it faced previously.

The possible development of the cruise business was identified as one of the opportunities to be pursued in the master plan. A cruise stakeholder group was established, comprising the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the Dún Laoghaire Business Improvement District. The harbour company prepared a business case for the construction and operation of a cruise facility. This study advised that the optimum method of expanding the cruise business into Dublin Bay was to construct a dedicated cruise berth that would be capable of taking vessels greater than 300 m and preferably being able to accommodate next-generation cruise ships at 339 m. The study estimated the cost of a new cruise berth of this size would be approximately €15 million to €18 million. The expansion and development of the cruise business would undoubtedly offer significant economic benefits to the port and the surrounding areas.

Since 2011 some progress has been made in attracting cruise business. In 2013, eight vessels in excess of 300 m visited the port for the first time, while four smaller vessels also came alongside. Six cruise ships visited Dún Laoghaire in 2014, eight in 2015 and up to eight cruise calls are expected this year.

I thank the Minister. The management of the harbour is the point at issue. With the greatest of respect to the local authority, I do not believe that the skills are available within the local authority structure to manage a vital asset such as this. The harbour company, if proper directors who know their business are appointed, can see to the future development of this harbour in a proper regulated fashion.

I was involved in the development of the harbour's marina, which is probably one of the best marinas in Europe at the moment. It is full. It was developed through public funds. We supplied the funds for the inner harbour to protect the waters and as a result the ordinary individual in a small boat can sail safely within the harbour.

There is also the possibility of developing a diaspora centre, which is an attractive proposition for an area like Dún Laoghaire with its history of emigration from and immigration into Ireland.

The real point at issue here is not whether the revenue will be €10 million or €15 million, but that it be run properly and have a proper management structure with an independent board of directors who have the experience, can see the potential and can develop all of these things.

We have been talking about a diaspora centre and future developments in other parts of the harbour. These things are being spoken about, but nothing is happening because it is in limbo at the moment. Now that we have a new Minister in place, I am asking him to make a decision once and for all as to the management structure for the future. I recommend having a harbour company that is a limited company with professionals who know about marine issues on the board and who will see to the future development based on the potential of Dún Laoghaire.

The Deputy has put his finger on what is obviously a very controversial area. There is a dispute about the ownership and future model for Dún Laoghaire Harbour. The problem has been the transition for the company, which may not have been able to respond fully and effectively to commercial conditions and the series of unfortunate events, particularly the withdrawal of the Stena Line service, which has forced it to make certain changes depending on tourism, maritime interests and other similar areas.

The authorities are looking very carefully at the prospects for an international ports policy to insist that the ports and harbours exist in a competitive environment. That obviously involves new commercial ventures such as accommodating cruise ships and other options in Dún Laoghaire which are already being explored.

The Deputy will be aware of the St. Michael's plaza project and the urban beach. I gather there is even a proposal for a floating hotel in Dún Laoghaire Harbour. All these kinds of commercial projects should be investigated because they are good for the area and good for employment.

My Department is aware that the ongoing challenge for the port will require sustained effort across a number of fronts. This may even involve the sale of some non-strategic assets. The company is examining a number of possible future projects and is exploring the concept of locating a floating hotel in the port - that is a ship permanently moored in the port operating as a hotel. The company has recently informed my Department that it hopes to advertise on eTenders shortly for expressions of interest in this proposal.

The ongoing viability of the company requires that a rigorous regime of cost control across all activities be applied and maintained, and that the viability of any proposed project must be examined thoroughly. As outlined in the national ports policy published in 2013, the sustainable development of certain port companies is best placed within a local authority-led governance structure. Under the policy, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, as a port of regional significance, is designated for transfer to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.