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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Nov 2016

Vol. 929 No. 1

Topical Issue Debate

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Is the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, dealing with this matter?

I am disappointed that the Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Simon Coveney, is not here to respond to the questions. I wanted to ask him if he was aware that there are 54 acres of council-owned land banks for social housing in County Louth that have lain idle for the past ten years, barren of any social housing provision. Furthermore, the council is paying €3 million per year in interest only on those land banks. That €3 million is taken out of the council's budget every year, which directly affects service provision such as housing maintenance, extensions for people with disabilities, etc.

I do not know if the Minister of State is aware that there are 4,851 people on the housing list in County Louth. There are also 1,000 people with no other option but to go onto the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. For the first time ever in County Louth, there is a 100% increase in homelessness. Two years ago, one person was registered as homeless. As of last week, 100 people are homeless. That is 100 people without a roof over their head who are lying in doorways or without any shelter or park they can find coming into the winter and Christmas. When that total is combined, we are talking about almost 6,000 people. It is fair to say that the Government allowed this crisis to develop. For the six years it has been in government, it has done little or nothing about it and the crisis has now developed into an emergency.

I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister some weeks ago asking the amount of council land banks for social housing in each county across the State. The response was telling because it stated: "My Department does not hold the data requested by the Deputy." The same Minister for housing launched a policy document, Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, in July. One would imagine the first thing any Minister would do in the midst of a housing emergency would be to do a search of all local authorities to find out the number of council-owned land banks that were sitting idle, waiting for funding to build social housing. It is clear from that reply that the Government has no intention of rolling out a proper social housing building programme and that it is developer led.

I am extremely disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is not here, but I ask the Minister of State what commitment will be given to local authorities across the State, but in particular to Louth where 6,000 people are on the housing list, to fund local authorities to provide social housing on those council owned land banks that are deemed for social housing but which are lying idle in the midst of a housing emergency.

Before I call the Minister of State, it is open to a person submitting a topical issue to indicate that they want the issue held until it can be dealt with by the particular Minister.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I presumed, in the midst of a crisis, that the Minister would have made himself available but, obviously, it is not a priority.

If the Minister is not available, the Deputy has the option to defer the matter.

I apologise for the absence of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who is dealing with legislation in the Seanad. I have been asked to relay his reply to the Deputy. I have taken a note of the points the Deputy has made.

The Department does not hold the data requested by the Deputy. It is a matter for each local authority to be satisfied that it has sufficient lands zoned to meet its overall housing needs, both in regard to wider residential development and in terms of lands on which social housing can be provided. Also, to clarify, the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, does not provide for specific zoning for social housing; the Act requires development plans to provide zoning of land for purposes, including for residential use.

Elsewhere, in Part V of the Act, provisions relating to social and affordable housing apply to that land that is zoned for residential use or a mixture of residential and other uses. For example, the written statement of a development plan must include an objective requiring that a specified percentage of the land zoned for residential use, or for a mixture of residential and other uses, be made available for the provision of social housing.

In addition, there have also been changes to the existing Part V social and affordable housing arrangements in the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, which are primarily aimed at maximising the transfer of completed social housing units. These changes include prioritising the delivery of social housing units on-site, with 10% social housing being required in new housing developments; a requirement that Part V agreements should be reached between developers and local authorities prior to the lodgement of a commencement notice for the development; the elimination of the current options allowing developers to fulfil their Part V obligations by means of the transfer of sites or land elsewhere, or of making a cash payment in lieu of social housing, thereby signalling that the focus is now firmly on the provision of units; the possibility for the new Part V provisions to be retrospectively applied to existing planning permissions where works have not yet commenced subject to the agreement of the developer and the planning authority; the introduction of the possibility for developers to agree with a planning authority to lease out units for social housing either on or off-site; and the increase in the size of developments exempted from the Part V provisions from developments of four units or fewer to developments of nine units or fewer.

Part V will now only apply to developments of ten units or more.

Specifically in respect of County Louth, I am assuming that Deputy Munster is referring to a site located at Dunleer, which is a project that will be delivered through a public private partnership, PPP, programme. This is expected to yield between 70 and 95 social housing units. My Department will be recouping part of an outstanding Louth County Council site loan, in proportion to the percentage of the overall site that is being used for the project.

As for the timeline for delivery, PPP projects in general take an estimated 37 to 48 months to deliver. It is anticipated that the first units will be ready to move into in mid-2019. My Department is working in partnership with local authorities and the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA. The latter is responsible for the procurement of the projects and supervision of the project companies during construction. At present, the planning and site design aspects of each site has been addressed and it is anticipated that the planning processes will commence in mid-February.

On a point of clarification, I was not referring to the lands at Dunleer. As I said at the outset, I was referring to the 54 acres of landbanks that are lying idle throughout County Louth.

If one looks at the Minister of State's response, it is all about Part V. There is clearly no evidence to suggest that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is enthusiastic about traditional projects whereby local authorities build the council houses. What is being done is developer-led. The Minister is handing over responsibility for our housing crisis to private developers. That is as clear as day, not only from the Rebuilding Ireland document but also from the reply provided. The Minister is handing over our entire housing emergency to private developers.

I will ask the question again because the Minister of State did not answer it. In view of the fact that there are 6,000 people on the housing waiting list in Drogheda and throughout Louth, many of whom have been waiting over eight years - perhaps, the Minister thinks is not long enough - and given the 54 acres of landbanks in the county that can be used for social housing provision, will the Minister give a commitment to provide funding so that the local authority can start building social houses on that land, in respect of which the local authority is making interest-only repayments of €3 million a year? I hope that, third time lucky, the Minister of State will answer my question. Will the Minister will agree to provide funding to allow not only the local authority in Louth but also every other local authority in the same position to begin building on their landbanks in order that they might start providing houses for the people on the housing lists? Will the Minister do that or is he hell-bent on handing over responsibility for our housing crisis to private developers?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer on behalf of the Minister in respect of Deputy Munster's question on funding. However, I can inform her that the Rebuilding Ireland programme clearly identifies that the local authorities will play a significant role in developing social housing right across the country. The local authorities have been identified and asked to make sites known - where these have become available - to the Minister and to the Department so that the process to make land available for the building of social housing, affordable housing and private housing can begin.

What about the landbanks?

I am coming to that. I cannot answer the specific question on the landbanks for Deputy Munster because I do not have that information. However, I will-----

That was basis of the question I put down. The one word that stands out in the question is "landbanks" and now the Minister of State is saying she does not have an answer.

I do not have a specific answer in respect of that matter.

In fairness to the Minister of State, we have two difficulties here. We have the Minister of State standing in for her colleague and she is not obviously equipped with the information that Deputy Munster is seeking. Equally, the question, while it is valid and important, is not as specific as it might be. There is that difficulty.

There is. I agree with the Deputy that there is probably more clarification needed on the question.

Fifty-four acres of landbanks.

I am sorry I cannot give the answer to Deputy Munster. What I can tell her is that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has committed €3.5 billion for housing across the country and all of the local authorities have been contacted in respect of the different lands and sites that can be used for the building of social and affordable housing.

I promise Deputy Munster I will go directly back to the Minister and ask specifically about the landbanks. I cannot address that issue. I cannot give the Deputy a commitment that the Minister will provide funding to the local authority for specific sites unless he sees the sites in respect of which it will be allocated. I cannot provide an answer in that regard for the Deputy but I will go back to the Minister on her behalf to relay that the answer given by me on his behalf is not sufficient. I will ask him to communicate with the Deputy on a personal basis.

That is a clear undertaking that the Minister will be asked to correspond directly with me.

Hospital Services

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raises this issue. I do not often come into this Chamber and play emotional cards but I met a group, the Scoliosis Advocacy Network, the members of which are campaigning on behalf of their children and other children.

I will put one or two case studies on the record. I have given the individuals pseudonyms to protect their identities. Mary was diagnosed at age ten in May 2013 with a 40° spinal curve at Mullingar General Hospital. She was referred to Our Lady's Children's Hospital Crumlin for urgent review by a specialist. She was obliged to wait 11 months before she could see a consultant. Her mother rang the hospital daily in order to secure this appointment. During this 11-month wait, Mary's curve deteriorated from 40° to 90°. She now required urgent surgery to halt the progress of her spinal curve. In fact, she now required two significantly invasive surgeries and would need some of her ribs removed. This was due to the long wait and the deterioration in her condition. She finally made to theatre 17 months after her diagnosis for her first surgery and her curve was well over 100°. One week later, she had her second surgery. Her body suffered severe trauma during these surgeries and she spent one month in hospital in Crumlin. During the 17-month wait, Mary had to give up sports, was in constant pain and unable to eat and her back became more deformed. Unfortunately, Mary now finds herself back on a waiting list for surgery to correct a failed fusion and there is no date in sight for this procedure. Once again, her condition is being allowed to deteriorate.

A second child, I call him Dónal, was diagnosed with scoliosis aged two and had a 35° double curve. He had two separate medical interventions over the years to prevent his spinal curve becoming worse. These did not work. In August 2015, Dónal was placed on the urgent surgery waiting list. Dónal's parents were told he needed surgery and the sooner the better. Dónal's curve was approximately 60° when he was placed on the surgery waiting list in August 2015. Dónal has been waiting 15 months for his urgent surgery, with no date in sight. His curve is now approximately 80°, with added rotational problems. Dónal is seven years old. He has reduced lung capacity due to his scoliosis. He has reduced endurance and is not growing as he should be. He has to go to bed after school most days. His mother told me yesterday that he can no longer retain his food due to the pressure on his stomach.

Another child to whom I give the pseudonym Ted was born with scoliosis. He has had a number of surgeries to date, with long wait times and cancellations along the way. He had vertical expandable prosthetic titanium rib, VEPTR, surgery to treat his scoliosis and, unfortunately, that failed. He waited many months with an unhooked rod before he could again gain access to the theatre. The rod dislodged from his shoulder blade and from his hip and it was months before that was even addressed. During this waiting period, Ted suffered pain on a daily basis. He needed strong pain medication to help him cope. Ted missed lots of time in school and needed home tuition. Ted has poor endurance and requires a wheelchair for days when he cannot be mobile as a result of the pain and the tiredness. Ted is six years old now and will require ongoing surgeries throughout his entire childhood. Due to the 100% complication rate with growing rods, this means that revision surgeries are guaranteed for Ted.

He will spend most of his childhood on a waiting list for surgery to treat his scoliosis.

I could continue speaking on this. I have five cases with me and I have analysed most of them. After listening to the parents I urge that something be done, dramatically and quickly. This simply cannot be allowed to continue for these five cases or for the other 203 cases currently on the waiting list.

I thank Deputy Kelleher for raising this matter. It is clear that the Deputy has been personally affected by his engagement with the parents. Those of us who enjoy good health and whose children enjoy good health sometimes take it for granted. Anybody listening to the Deputy could not help but be moved by the dreadful experiences those families have had. However, this is an opportunity to update the House on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris. He asked me to extend his apologies to the Deputy for not being present but he is unavoidably detained elsewhere.

Long waiting times for scoliosis surgery are not acceptable and the Department of Health has been working closely with the HSE to address service pressures, particularly in Our Lady's Children’s Hospital Crumlin, which is the largest provider of scoliosis surgery for children and young people. Additional funding of €1.042 million was allocated under the 2015 service plan to increase capacity at Crumlin, and further resources of €987,000 have been allocated under the 2016 service plan for orthopaedics and trauma to address service needs in Crumlin which will have a positive effect on access for scoliosis patients. The complement of consultant orthopaedic surgeons at Crumlin has increased by 1.5 whole-time equivalents which will enhance the overall orthopaedic service, including spinal surgery.

The construction of a new orthopaedic theatre in Crumlin has been completed. This new facility will provide for additional scoliosis activity in 2017, but is dependent on the recruitment of additional theatre nurses. While the hospital continues to recruit nursing staff successfully, it must be said that balancing this with attrition rates, maternity leave and sick leave continues to present a challenge. However, the Children’s Hospital Group is exhausting every recruitment and retention avenue available to it, including international recruitment, and is proactively working on nurse recruitment to support the opening of the new theatre.

The HSE winter initiative 2016-17 includes €2 million provided specifically for scoliosis patients to provide for the surgeries required by year end by 15 paediatric cases on the Crumlin waiting list and to treat 39 adolescent-adult cases on the Tallaght Hospital waiting list. In an effort to address inpatient and outpatient spinal orthopaedic waiting lists at TaIlaght Hospital, an additional half-time consultant was appointed in late 2014. This appointment has assisted in managing emergency admissions and in running additional waiting list clinics. In 2015, €1 million was provided by the HSE to fund 100 degenerative spinal surgeries at Tallaght. An additional consultant is also due to start work at the hospital in July 2017 and it is expected that this appointment will assist in addressing the hospital’s capacity deficit in the long term.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, and I are aware that the long-term strategy for Tallaght Hospital is to provide spinal degenerative surgery, with a gradual transfer of the adolescent scoliosis surgery from Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin, to the new children’s hospital. The Department will continue to work with the HSE and the relevant hospitals to ensure improvements in access to spinal surgery are achieved. The Minister recently met with a number of scoliosis advocacy groups to discuss their concerns, following which the Children’s Hospital Group has begun a process of engagement with the advocacy groups on developing a partnership approach to the design and planning of services for children with scoliosis. Those inputs will be important because we must listen carefully to the parents and the advocacy groups. This will provide an opportunity for them to work with the hospitals and consultants in the design and planning of paediatric scoliosis services.

I thank the Minister for her reply, but I genuinely believe that even the deadlines mentioned by her are not good enough for many of the children I have mentioned. The Minister talks about July for Tallaght Hospital and international recruitment of theatre nurses for the new theatre in Our Lady's Children's Hospital. Everybody knew this theatre was being built - it was happening before our eyes - yet the recruitment process has been very slow. The problem is that, as I speak and the Minister listens, children's lungs and hearts are being slowly crushed while they wait. Some children can no longer retain their food because their stomach is being squeezed. That is happening to the five children with whose parents I discussed this. I met some of the children. There are also 203 others on the waiting list. July 2017 is a long way into the future for a five year old child who needs surgery today.

I urge the Minister and the Minister of State to reflect on this. I am not holding anybody personally responsible. Nobody has a monopoly on humanity and we all want to help. However, the Minister must urgently revisit this matter. We all know the Children's Hospital Group is under pressure to deliver care within its budget while at the same time plan for the new children's hospital. These children cannot wait for the new children's hospital. We must provide the resources, be it through the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, or through some other method. These theatres must be functioning from 1 January next. Otherwise, children will be irreparably damaged. That simply is not good enough. These children have an entitlement to life like anybody else.

I acknowledge that Deputy Kelleher is not being political or overly dramatic on this. He is simply reflecting the situation of certain families and the challenges that face them. He is absolutely correct, and we agree, that waiting times are not acceptable in this case, with children in the circumstances the Deputy outlined. Having the theatre built is one thing but recruiting the nurses to be in place to ensure the surgeries commence is proving challenging, not only in this case but in other hospitals across the country. The Deputy will be aware of that. Crumlin hospital has outsourced 15 patients to the private sector under the winter initiative funding. It has also outsourced nine patients to the private sector. Every effort is being made to schedule patients for their surgeries. Some of the patients require two-stage procedures, along with emergency and urgent patients. There is much happening in terms of trying to manage the spinal surgery at the hospital while continuing to manage the trauma and elective surgery as well.

I assure Deputy Kelleher that I will bring his concerns, which the Minister is aware of, to the Minister's attention again. The Minister has met with the advocacy groups and he is working to ensure that these surgeries are carried out as soon as possible. This matter will receive our full attention.

Hospital Waiting Lists

I wish to raise the lack of access to women's gynaecology services in Cork University Maternity Hospital, CUMH. Women in the Cork region have drastically longer waiting times for these services than women elsewhere in the country. It is causing devastating consequences for the women and their families in the region served by the Cork University Hospital and CUMH.

I will outline some facts that have been communicated to me. I admit to being quite new to this issue. The matter was referred to me by a consultant gynaecologist and the director of the gynaecology unit at Cork University Maternity Hospital. She told me the gynaecology service for women in Cork has been neglected in the past decade. There are currently 4,058 women waiting for an outpatient appointment. It is the longest waiting list of all gynaecology units nationwide and is increasing by approximately 1,000 per year. It is also three times the size of the Cork University Hospital general surgery outpatient waiting list, with 35% of women waiting over a year for an outpatient appointment and many waiting two to three years.

Many women arrive in emergency rooms in crisis due to long waiting times. I have been told there is a risk of delayed diagnosis of cancers in women who are forced to wait for years for their outpatient assessment, and this is a clinical assessment of that. There are 518 women on a waiting list for surgery, 38% of whom have been waiting at least one year. Cork has the longest waiting list for gynaecological surgeries, being twice that of the Rotunda Hospital, which ranks second.

In the past decade, no new consultant gynaecologist posts have been created in Cork, despite the fact that 26 such posts have been advertised nationwide in a one-year period during 2015 and 2016. Gynaecology theatres in CUMH are functioning at only 40% of their originally intended capacity. CUMH has two fully commissioned, state-of-the-art gynaecology theatres, only one of which is used for surgery and for just four days per week.

I want to distinguish between gynaecology and maternity services. I anticipate that the Minister of State's reply may refer specifically to maternity services. I hope it will not. I refer specifically to gynaecology services and the lack of services for women's health. This is not a call for additional funding. The issue is one of governance and ensuring the HSE makes a greater effort to allow the services to be put in place. I do not believe for a minute that it is due to a lack of funding. It is due to a lack of will.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue and I welcome the opportunity to provide information to the House on the matter. In light of increasing demand, a key challenge for our health system is to ensure patients have timely access to health services. The Government is committed to a sustained focus on improving waiting times, particularly for those waiting longest. The number of patients who are waiting to be seen or treated must be considered in the context of the total numbers of patients seen and treated. Every year, there are 3.2 million outpatient attendances at our hospitals. Some 94,000 patients have an elective inpatient procedure and 1 million have a planned day case procedure.

There has been a 4% increase in inpatient and day case activity and more than a 1% increase in elective activity. The HSE has advised that outpatient lists have been increasing since the beginning of the year due to a typical weekly growth of approximately 1,400 patients per week. The HSE has explained that this growth is in part due to a 14% increase in referrals to acute outpatient services. The HSE outpatient services performance improvement programme is working on targeted programmes with a number of specialties to put sustainable solutions in place to address general access times, which will, in turn, address long waiters. These specialties are orthopaedics, urology, general surgery, and ear, nose and throat, ENT. Pathways of care that will extend access options for patients are being developed in those specialties as well as in dermatology, rheumatology and ophthalmology. While gynaecology is not yet included in the improvement programme, the programme will be extended to all specialties in the future.

My colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris and I are aware that there is a difficulty with waiting times for gynaecology services in CUMH. However, the hospital is undertaking a number of initiatives to address outpatient waiting times. I very much welcome these initiatives, as will Deputy Sherlock. They include the provision of additional evening outpatient review clinics which are led by a member of the consultant gynaecology team. The service has recently appointed a gynaecology sonographer who will lead an ultrasound service in liaison with the consultant gynaecology team. With the scheduled additional consultant-led evening sessions, it is anticipated that the gynaecology ultrasound waiting list will be cleared by December 2016.

A national women and infants health programme is being established to lead the management, organisation and delivery of maternity, gynaecological and neonatal services by bringing together work that is currently undertaken across a number of HSE divisions. Spanning primary, community and secondary care, the programme will create the essential cross-sectoral framework to provide the necessary governance, integration and leadership to drive reform and standardise care across maternity, neonatology and gynaecology services. Noting that the international trend in gynaecology service provision is moving towards more day case services and the provision of community one-stop-shop type facilities, it is intended that the programme will be instrumental in driving much-needed reform of gynaecology services. This will include the potential to adopt a multidisciplinary approach and move some service delivery to community settings. Work to establish the programme is ongoing.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. She spoke of some progress in the appointment of a sonographer and a clear schedule to clear the ultrasound waiting list by 2016. In that sense, I accept the Minister of State's reply. In raising the issue, I am trying to examine the governance issue regarding the relationship between CUMH and Cork University Hospital, CUH. Although the HSE will examine it as coming under the umbrella of CUH, it must be recognised as a separate governance procedure similar to other hospitals in the South-South West hospital group. We need to examine how we provide for the reduction in waiting times for women who have been waiting too long for access to services. We also need to examine the risk that is built in regarding the potential for the development of cancers as a result of overly long waiting times.

I acknowledge the response. I ask the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, his colleagues and the Minister of State, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy to interrogate the dynamic between those who manage CUMH from a HSE perspective and those who are clinical leads. At one stage, when we were going through a reconfiguration of hospitals in the Cork region, clinicians were taking the lead and decisions were being based on clinically led practice. Now, it has shifted back to the HSE. While I will speak to the Minister of Health myself about it, will the Minister of State convey to the Minister that we need to improve the gynaecological services in CUMH?

Gynaecology services in general hospitals are, in the main, linked to local obstetric services through shared consultant appointments. These services are seen as the poor relation to maternity services. Given that obstetric patients cannot wait for services, in times of high demand, the gynaecology patients can be left to wait longer than one would have hoped. Nationally, waiting lists for inpatient and outpatient services are increasing. I acknowledge the Deputy's concerns about surgeries. I did not address it in my response, given that the issue the Deputy submitted was more general. I will raise it specifically with the Minister, as well as the governance arrangements between CUH and CUMH, which are also of concern to the Deputy.

I assure the Deputy that I will do that. I thank him for raising the matter.

Office of Public Works Properties

Before I call Deputy Mick Barry, I wish to say that Deputies have expressed concern about this particular issue for some time. It is important, when making contributions, that no allegations are made against any identified or identifiable individual.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I hear what he is saying.

This issue relates to the assembly of a site on Anne Street in Wexford on which are now built important public offices for the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection. Alleged serious irregularities in the process of assembly require detailed answers and action from the Office of Public Works, OPW, and Wexford County Council, the successor to Wexford Borough Council.

On 13 January of this year, my colleague and then Socialist Party Deputy Joe Higgins stated in this House:

There have been the most serious irregularities in the assembly of the site for significant public offices which are now occupied by the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners in Anne Street, Wexford. That assembly took place over a 20-year period from 1983. I was made aware of the issue as far back as 2008 and I have investigated it at different times in the years since. My concern has grown significantly. I have engaged in significant correspondence with State bodies, including Wexford Borough Council and the Revenue Commissioners, but I have not received satisfactory answers... I am satisfied that there are serious unanswered questions and anomalies surrounding the assembling of this site involving public bodies... The issue is complex and convoluted but documents that I have seen are prima facie evidence of very serious irregularities, giving rise to serious unanswered questions by public bodies in the matter of the assembly of the site.

In response to the then Deputy, the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Ann Phelan, stated, "if there are issues with the manner in which these sites were assembled by Wexford Borough Council, they should be raised in the first instance with its successor Wexford County Council."

Following on from the Minister of State's advice, elected members of Wexford County Council, which had subsumed the old Wexford Borough Council, raised the issue at council meetings. To date, documents have been released, but the response of the council executive has not answered openly and transparently critical questions raised by these elected members and affected parties. The then Minister of State claimed in January that the OPW had no involvement in the assembly of the site for the Government offices. This is wholly incorrect. The documentation released so far shows categorically that the OPW was fully involved with the process of assembling the site.

A number of questions must be answered. Why was a substantial part of the site, the subject of a compulsory purchase order, CPO, that was levied on an individual that had no title to most of the area, subject to that CPO? There are questions relating to the title to and ownership of the site. Why were substantial changes made in the design and construction of the offices, as against the planning permission granted, without the OPW applying for a new or significantly modified planning permission? In July of this year, the OPW was in communication with the parties that were seriously affected by the irregularities and undertook to meet those parties and to release all relevant documents. That was in July and we are now in November, but it has not happened. Why not?

I thank the Deputy for his question.

In 1990, it was decided to build new Government offices in Wexford. At the time, the OPW owned two sites in the town. One of these was the existing social welfare offices in Anne Street. The other property was in King Street. Following discussions with Wexford Corporation, the Anne Street location emerged as the preferred option for the new Government offices. The development of a new site for a number of Departments, including the Department of Social Protection, the Revenue Commissioners and the Probation Service, required the addition of two adjacent properties to allow sufficient area for the new building. One of these sites was owned by Wexford Corporation and was given the OPW in exchange for the OPW site at King Street. The other property was the site of the old County Hotel which, I understand, was acquired directly by Wexford Corporation and then sold to the OPW for €145,000. The commissioners are not aware of irregularities pertaining to this matter and are happy, as has always been the case, to make their records available.

I note in his reply the Minister of State states that "[t]he commissioners are not aware of irregularities pertaining to this matter and are happy, as has always been the case, to make their records available". Will the Minister of State immediately instruct the OPW to arrange the meeting to which it committed and to release all of the files relating to its involvement in the assembly of the site and in the planning application and permission for the offices? Will the Minister of State urgently communicate to the chief executive of Wexford County Council that all questions posed by elected members of the council should be comprehensively answered? They have not been so answered to date. Innocent parties have been seriously affected by the irregularities evident in this situation and they deserve justice be done by the State and those agencies acting for it in this matter. I would be grateful for a reply to those specific requests.

First, let me clarify that the site of the old County Hotel was acquired by Wexford Corporation by compulsory purchase order and then sold to the OPW for €145,000. Previous parliamentary questions on this matter have pointed to a belief that the OPW assembled the Anne Street site. This is not correct. Wexford Corporation assembled the two sites, which were then passed on, one through a land swap and the other through a direct sale to the OPW. As such, the OPW had no involvement with the acquisition of those sites, which is entirely a matter for the corporation. If a meeting was promised, I will speak to my officials to ensure it happens. As stated, any documents that exist will be made available. It does not fall within my remit to write to the chief executive of the local authority instructing him or her to provide additional information. I just have to deal with the OPW issues. I will do that. If a meeting was to be arranged, it will happen.

Sitting suspended at 4 p.m. and resumed at 4.30 p.m.