Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Dec 2016

Vol. 932 No. 3

Topical Issue Debate

The first matter is in the names of Deputies Sean Fleming and Brian Stanley and relates to the HIQA report on the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise. Both Deputies will have two minutes, the Minister of State will have four minutes to reply and the Deputies will have one minute each afterwards.

HIQA Reports

I want to raise the issue of the recent HIQA report into the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise. I am very pleased to meet the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, here. I wish him well in his Department and I know his heart is in the right place when it comes to health and disability.

I am saying clearly on the record of the House that I need to speak to the Minister, Deputy Harris, directly on this issue. Any plans by the Department of Health will go nowhere until we have proper consultation with the Minister on the matter. The recent HIQA report contained nothing that was a surprise to me. Essentially, the report says that progress is being made in the maternity unit at Portlaoise hospital but that investment is required in the medical and intensive care unit in order to bring them up to standard. This has been known for quite some time but the HSE has not yet taken action. It should get a move on and do so immediately.

The main issue highlighted in the HIQA report relates to the difficulties in the accident and emergency department. The problem is that there are a large number of patients - over 36,000 - attending the emergency department in Portlaoise each year. There is not the appropriate number of consultant staff to deal with these patients and neither is there a named emergency consultant available on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The answer is very simple. We have to take the necessary steps to ensure that we have enough consultants and medical and nursing staff available in the emergency department at Portlaoise hospital to deal with the patients who arrive there. Remarkably, the HSE's response to this problem is to consider cutting the number of hours the emergency department is open, thereby reducing the numbers attending to match the number of staff it wants to employ. This attitude by the HSE is totally wrong and if it represents the ethos of the HSE at national level, it has to be fundamentally changed.

The real issue is that the statement by the HSE regional manager on cutting the hours of the emergency department has put a cloud over the future of the hospital. The knock-on effect, as highlighted in the HIQA report, is that the HSE is finding it difficult to recruit senior medical staff to Portlaoise hospital.

Can the Acting Chairman confirm how long I have?

The Deputy has two minutes.

The issue arising from the HIQA report is very important and the question for the Independent-Fine Gael Government is whether it will use it as an excuse to downgrade services and close the hospital or whether it will use the report to improve services. The HIQA report said the hospital was at a critical juncture and that, to function as a model 3 hospital, it must be adequately and sustainably resourced. It said that services were being sustained through a reliance on agency staff which is costly and not good practice from the perspective of service sustainability. It stated that the ongoing reliance on agency staff had significant financial implications for the hospital. It also stated: "The ongoing lack of certainty has a negative effect on staff recruitment, retention and morale, and this further affects the sustainability of services." If firm A is the subject of constant rumours about closing, local tradespeople and other workers will not apply for a job there. They will go to firm B instead, if that firm is on a steady footing. That is what is happening with Portlaoise. None of the past four Governments has put forward a clear, long-term strategic plan for Portlaoise. HIQA said the remaining risks will only be fully addressed through the formulation and enactment of a clear strategic plan.

Last year, almost 37,000 patients attended the emergency department in Portlaoise. There is a problem with capacity across the State and every Deputy in this House knows it. If the emergency department in Portlaoise is closed, where can patients be sent? They cannot be sent to Naas and they cannot be sent to Tallaght or Tullamore because they are already out the door. The report, which is now in the Government's hands, was headed up by Dr. Susan O'Reilly. She is determined to plough on and I heard her on local radio the other morning.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

I started well behind so I need another couple of minutes.

The Deputy asked for two minutes. He has had two minutes so I have been very fair to him.

The ball is in the Government's court. Will it be its policy to use the HIQA report to downgrade the hospital or to fix what needs to be fixed? Will it set out a clear strategic plan to give the certainty that the community, staff and patients need?

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to update the House on the report by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, into the services provided at the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise. As the Deputies are aware, on 5 December HIQA published a review of the progress made at Portlaoise hospital in implementing the recommendations made following HIQA's investigation in 2015. The HIQA report was conducted following a request from the Department of Health, which has been overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the original report, to examine the progress that has been made on the ground in Portlaoise.

I welcome this HIQA report, which found that significant progress had been made at the hospital in relation to governance, patient safety and quality, and shows how much services have improved for the women using maternity services at the hospital. Portlaoise maternity services are reporting monthly maternity patient safety statements and are participating in national data collections, including the Irish maternity indicator system. This has led to a confirmation by HIQA that the hospital's maternity services are performing in line with nationally reported rates. I would like to acknowledge that we have travelled this far thanks to the bravery of the families who spoke out in the midst of their grief at a very sad time for many of them. The extent of progress in patient safety measures also demonstrates the commitment of the staff and the leadership team at Portlaoise hospital, as well as the team at hospital group level.

There has been considerable investment in Portlaoise in recent years. Hospital funding has increased by 15% since 2012 and staffing levels have risen by 18%. Additional funding is to be provided to facilitate the opening of the new medical assessment unit at Portlaoise in 2017. The HIQA report also identified immediate issues to be addressed in general hospital services. The HSE has been asked to address these immediate issues as a priority, and to ensure that the hospital is appropriately supported in its role by the other hospitals in the hospital group to serve the patients of the midlands. The Dublin Midlands Hospital Group has produced a draft action plan for Portlaoise hospital which takes account of the need to develop services in the context of developing the model of service provision for the entire hospital group. The HSE has now submitted the draft plan to the Department of Health, where it will be reviewed in detail. I reassure the Deputy that the Minister for Health is committed to securing and further developing the role of Portlaoise hospital as a constituent hospital within the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group.

The most important issue in relation to any changes at Portlaoise hospital is that patient safety and outcomes must come first. Any changes to services at Portlaoise, once approved, will be undertaken in a planned and orderly manner to further improve services for patients at the hospital and will take account of existing patient flows and demands in other hospitals, as well as the need to develop particular services at Portlaoise in the context of the overall service configuration in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group.

The Deputies have one minute each and I will be very strict about this as other Members are waiting.

I acknowledge the positives in the approach taken by the HSE on the maternity hospital in Portlaoise and, as has been mentioned, this has resulted in significant improvements. The same positive attitude now needs to be demonstrated towards the emergency department to bring it up to service. A sustainable hospital can only exist if it has sustainable resources and adequate staff to provide the required care. The biggest difficulty in Portlaoise in the past 12 months was the statement by the HSE regional managers who have sought to downgrade the hospital. This has damaged the confidence of the public towards the hospital because the suggestion that accident and emergency services might be reduced has resulted in people not wanting to take up employment there. It is damaging to the morale of existing staff and, above all, it is damaging to the quality of service people feel they will get if they go into hospital. The HSE needs to fundamentally change its attitude. If it does not, I will demand that the Minister does it for it.

Any extra cash is welcome but HIQA has said the extra money is being eaten up in expensive temporary staff, such as locums and agency staff. HIQA also said this had significant implications for the budget of the hospital going forward. The minor medical assessment unit, operating between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., is no replacement for 24-hour emergency department services. As the 69 local health professionals who put their name to the report to the Minister said, paediatric, maternity and ICU services depend on emergency departments. The moment of truth has arrived. Are we going to have a strategically located regional hospital in Portlaoise, with maternity services, an ICU unit, paediatric services and an emergency department, or are we not? We need a clear plan with a clear strategy to give certainty for the future which none of the past four, five or six Governments has provided.

I thank the Deputies again, in particular for acknowledging the work of staff and the excellent resources we have in that regard. Deputy Sean Fleming has a valid point about sustainable resources as these are vital for running a proper hospital. The Deputy also raised the issue of morale among staff. Deputy Brian Stanley talked about the capacity issue and about the fact that the extra cash was being eaten up.

I strongly take his point and I will bring all these points to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Harris. He is attending a very important Cabinet sub-committee meeting on health at the moment, which is why I am taking these Topical Issues. It is important that we also acknowledge the fact that since 2012, there has been an 18% increase in staffing levels across maternity services, paediatric medicine and the emergency services, and a 15% increase in funding in 2016. However, there remain real issues of concern. I am aware of them in my local hospital, Beaumont Hospital. We have difficulty recruiting staff and we then find ourselves spending extra money on emergency agency staff. I take that point because I have experienced this in the disability sector.

Deputy Brian Stanley mentioned the 69 medical professionals who have been lobbying local Deputies. This is very important. Their voices must be heard. I will absolutely bring Deputy Stanley's concerns to the Minister's attention.

To follow up on Deputy Sean Fleming's point, the Minister should meet him to discuss the issue raised.

I thank both Deputies for their co-operation.

Narcolepsy Issues

Narcolepsy was described to me by somebody whose family has been affected by it as being asleep when one should be awake and awake when one should be asleep. It is a naturally occurring ailment, but many people are affected by it because of a vaccination programme, specifically the use of a product called Pandemrix. The Pandemrix vaccine was intended to treat the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. However, some people's lives have been impacted significantly by this product, which was approved by the HSE. Nobody has ever been held accountable for the use of the vaccine. There were questions as to its suitability at the time. I feel aggrieved that a number of people's lives have been turned upside down as a result of an approved vaccination programme despite the questions raised about the product. Nobody has been held responsible. Nobody was found to have approved the product, despite the serious questions raised. The Department of Health has linked narcolepsy to Pandemrix. This has affected 80 people in Ireland, and their lives, as I said, were turned completely upside down.

There is a treatment service but it is in Temple Street Children's University Hospital and therefore only available to children. However, a number of adults are affected. They are on their own. This is not sufficient. According to information I was given, there was to be a funding stream of €1.6 million or €1.7 million to establish a national service for narcolepsy, not just for those affected by Pandemrix. It was to be based in St. James's Hospital, it was to be a centre of excellence and there was to be access to a multidisciplinary team and to professionals and specialists in narcolepsy. The hope and expectation was that they would develop a knowledge of the condition in Ireland but that the knowledge, the information and the accrual of the information would be available not only here, but also in other areas around the world. I was told that the funding stream was cut. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply. I certainly hope it was not cut, in particular for people who were given Pandemrix, a State-sponsored vaccination product. Where the State is liable for a programme, the State should not cut it. If it has been cut, it should not have been cut. If it has not been cut, I welcome that.

I thank Deputy Michael D'Arcy for raising this very important issue and for allowing me the opportunity to give an update to the House on the matter. I acknowledge the impact of narcolepsy on all people who have been diagnosed with it. In particular, I am aware of a specific group of individuals who claim to have developed narcolepsy as a result of receiving pandemic vaccine during the 2009 influenza pandemic. Many people among this group were children at the time of their diagnosis.

As Deputies are aware, immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting children against certain diseases. It has saved more lives than any other public health intervention, apart from the provision of clean water. In spite of the obvious benefits that have come from vaccination, I must also acknowledge that there have been adverse outcomes for a very small number of people arising out of vaccination.

The priority of the Department of Health and the HSE is that the individuals and families affected receive appropriate health and social care supports. Therefore, my Department has engaged with the HSE, the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Social Protection to ensure the provision of a range of services and supports on an ex gratia basis.

The HSE's advocacy unit acts as liaison with other service providers and Government Departments to facilitate access to the required services. It is in regular contact with individuals affected. Regional co-ordinators have been appointed to assist individuals by providing advice, information and access to local services.

The ex gratia health supports include: clinical care pathways to ensure access to rapid diagnosis and treatment; multidisciplinary assessments led by clinical experts; counselling services for both the individuals and their families; discretionary medical cards for those who have been diagnosed, which have been provided to allow unlimited access to general practitioner care and any prescribed medication; ex gratia reimbursement of vouched expenses incurred in the process of diagnosis and treatment, including travel expenses for attending medical appointments; and physiotherapy, occupational therapy assessments, dental assessments and dietary services, all on a needs basis.

Every possible measure is in place to ensure rapid diagnostic services. Consultants in sleep medicine from the Mater Private Hospital and the Children's University Hospital, Temple Street, have been involved in the diagnosis and treatment of many of the narcolepsy patients. As many of the patients are now becoming adults, work is under way to set up a centre of excellence for narcolepsy based at St. James's Hospital which will include the following services: a nurse specialist, dietary service, psychological service and a full service between St. James's Hospital and the children's hospitals.

It is acknowledged that treatment and individual medical needs may need to be reassessed over time. Consequently, the services and supports provided are reassessed on an ongoing basis to take account of any changes in the individuals' conditions and circumstances.

Finally, I acknowledge the impact on the lives of those people and families affected by narcolepsy and reiterate our commitment to the ongoing provision of appropriate services and supports.

I ask the Minister of State to correct the record of the House. In his response he said, "In particular, I am aware of a specific group of individuals who claim to have developed narcolepsy as a result of receiving pandemic vaccine during the 2009 influenza pandemic." They do not claim this; it happened to them as a result of the use of the vaccine. Will the Minister of State take the opportunity to correct this? He subsequently said, "I must also acknowledge that there have been adverse outcomes for a very small number of people arising out of vaccination." Whether the Minister of State read his speaking note beforehand or not I do not know, but these statements do not tally. I ask him to correct the record of the House.

I asked a very specific question of the Minister of State.

Is the €1.6 million funding stream available in the HSE 2017 service plan or not? The Minister of State spoke about many things, some of which were good and welcome. I want to know whether that specific sum of money is in the service plan. The Minister of State is unable to answer the question but it could not be clearer. The answer is not on the pages of script supplied to the Minister of State. Perhaps he has the answer in follow-up notes. I hope so. If not, the Minister of State has come to the House unprepared in a way that is insulting. The question is clear. Is the €1.6 million funding available for the development of a narcolepsy centre in St. James's Hospital in the 2017 service plan?

I wish to remind the Deputy that I am representing the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, who could not attend because he has a Cabinet meeting.

The Minister of State is representing himself.

I am representing the Minister and I will respond accordingly. I will respond to the particular issues. As of 9 December 2016, legal proceedings against the Minister for Health, the HSE and GlaxoSmithKline Biological have been initiated by 51 individuals. The plaintiffs allege personal injury and claim the development of narcolepsy resulted from the administration of the H1N1 pandemic vaccine. Legal advice obtained by the Department recommended delegation of the management of these cases and any subsequent similar cases to the State Claims Agency. A Government decision to give effect to this approach was obtained in October and allowed the Taoiseach to refer the matter to the National Treasury Management Agency on 15 October. The management of these cases has been transferred to the State Claims Agency.

The funding issue is important. Total payments in 2015 amounted to €55,189.32. The average payment made was €551.89. The largest single payment made was €7,488, which was for college accommodation expenses. Other expenses being reimbursed include expenses for GP visits, hospital charges, prescription charges and, prior to a medical card being issued based on the diagnosis of narcolepsy, consultant visits, dental costs, complementary therapies, travel costs, overnight accommodation and counselling, including family counselling. In some cases the HSE has also reimbursed third level accommodation costs, home tuition costs, rental arrears to the local authority, gym membership and child care costs.

The Deputy asked a question related to the funding of €1.6 million. I do not have the answer before me but I will come back with the answer to Deputy D'Arcy.

Deputy D'Arcy, please. Can you listen to the Chair for one moment?

Will you allow me to speak?

No, I will not, because your time is gone.

You will not allow me to speak. Is that correct?

I apologise to you if you have an issue. You should take it up with the Ceann Comhairle's office.

I asked a question. The Minister of State came in twice and did not answer the question.

The Minister is coming back to you. Your time has passed.

I answered his question. Deputy D'Arcy should calm down.

The Deputy is eating into the time of his colleague, Deputy Burke.

It is simply not good enough. The Acting Chairman should be protecting my rights.

Deputy D'Arcy, you got your time. Please, sit down.

I did not get an answer to my question.

I will let the Minister of State back in for 30 seconds.

I have answered the question.

The Minister of State decided he would get back to the Deputy. Is that right?

I have answered as many questions as possible. I said I would come back to the Deputy about the details of the €1.6 million.

Why did the Minister of State not have the answer available for this evening?

I call on both Members to sit down.


I gave a commitment to come back on it. I answered every other question.

The Minister of State did. The Deputy should resume his seat.

I am surprised that the Deputy is carrying on like that.

Why did the Minister of State not have-----

Please resume your seat, Deputy D'Arcy. I am moving on.

I asked one simple question. The Minister of State did not answer it.

If you are concerned about patients-----

Deputy D'Arcy, please. Are you going to respect the Chair?

Thank you. If you are concerned about patients, you do not carry on like this. The Minister of State has said he will write to you. I take his word on that. You can talk to the Minister of State afterwards. I am moving on to Deputy Burke without further interruption.


Please resume your seat, Deputy.

Acting Chairman, I will be making a-----

I am calling Deputy Burke. Please resume your seat, Deputy D'Arcy.

Deputy D'Arcy was too busy on the mobile.

Civil Defence

Deputy Burke has four minutes.

First of all, I thank the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe.

Acting Chairman, Deputy McGrath has just made a statement to me on the way out.

You take that up with the Ceann Comhairle's office.

Gentlemen, please. Deputy Burke, without interruption.

I thank the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe, for taking this Topical Issue matter. Some weeks ago, I met the Minister of State and a number of the volunteers along with councillors Tom Farrell, Tony Martin and Joe Reilly, who are commanders in the Westmeath Civil Defence. This issue is urgent. It is about the relocation of the headquarters of the Civil Defence in County Westmeath. Currently, the Civil Defence operates in a condemned building. Serious health and safety risks are posed by this situation. Insulation is falling from the ceiling. Plasterboard has collapsed in one room. Buckets of water are on the floor collecting water day after day. The place is infested with rats. Thousands of euro of medical equipment, such as ECG machines, are lying in damp conditions and are at serious risk.

The Civil Defence is the first responder in many instances. During the serious flooding last year, the people in Westmeath saw the thousands of voluntary hours administered by Civil Defence personnel in their role as key responders. They often complement the serious stretched emergency services and they do a fine job at that. It is often said that those who can, do, and those who can do more, volunteer.

As a public representative in Longford-Westmeath I cannot stand over the current conditions that the Civil Defence personnel operate in. I will not accept it. I want to make this clear to the Minister of State. I know he has a special interest in the Civil Defence and that he has done great work nationally in the area to communicate with Westmeath County Council. This issue has been going on since 2007. I cannot tolerate going back to Mullingar or Westmeath and seeing this continue.

Volunteers cannot attend courses because the areas and headquarters are not suitable. They do not even have basic running water at the facility. We need an integrated facility with a garage and stores. As we are all aware, large significant equipment such as boats and ambulances are needed to provide this service to the community. The local authority sector is the first sector to call on the Civil Defence when they need support and when instances arise.

My colleague, Councillor Andrew Duncan, in Mullingar put forward a motion to Westmeath County Council at the November meeting calling on the council to put a clear plan in place immediately to relocate the headquarters of the Civil Defence. I know several options are on the table. These need to be explored urgently. I will not tolerate a date past January. We need to have a clear plan in place. We have to treat volunteers with dignity and respect. We cannot allow them to continue in a condemned facility. The facility has been condemned by the health and safety officer of Westmeath County Council. I know the Minister of State has communicated with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, calling on him to put pressure on the local authority to ensure alternative premises are secured. It is important that we work together. I know the Minister will do his best. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure a safety facility for the volunteers to allow them to discharge their service.

I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in this specific area. He has had much interaction with me on it. Civil Defence is a volunteer-based organisation which supports the front-line emergency services. It operates in partnership between the Department of Defence and local authorities throughout Ireland. As Minister of State with responsibility for defence, one of my functions is to provide policy direction to Civil Defence. The White Paper on Defence, which charts the future development of Civil Defence, states that the primary role of Civil Defence is, as Deputy Burke outlined, to support the principal response agencies. Civil Defence supports An Garda Síochána, the HSE and the local authorities in a variety of emergency and non-emergency situations. The Department of Defence manages and develops Civil Defence at national level. The Civil Defence branch of the Department provides centralised training, administrative support and guidance and centralised procurement of major items of uniform and equipment in support of local authority Civil Defence efforts.

At local level, Civil Defence units are based in each local authority area under the operational control of the relevant local authority. These units operate on a day-to-day basis under the control of a Civil Defence officer, who is a full-time employee of the local authority. Civil Defence is a key element of each local authority's emergency response arrangements. Volunteers from Civil Defence have responded effectively when required over recent years, most recently during the flooding events that occurred in the latter part of 2015 and lasted well into 2016. Volunteer members of Civil Defence under the management of Civil Defence officers contributed significantly to the alleviation of hardship and supported their communities. I am aware that Westmeath Civil Defence and other units throughout the country were very active during this period.

Civil Defence units provide other critical supports to the principal response agencies on an ongoing basis. For example, Civil Defence volunteers frequently undertake search and rescue operations in support of An Garda Síochána. Civil Defence volunteers provide ongoing community supports in their local authority areas and contribute to the safe management of events that attract large crowds. Civil Defence volunteers deserve the support of the Department of Defence and the local authorities for which they respond. Civil Defence units in each county are generally funded on a 70-30 basis. Most of their funding comes through an annual grant from the Department of Defence, with the balance coming from the local authority. The provision of accommodation for local Civil Defence units is the responsibility of the relevant local authority. This long-standing position was reaffirmed in the 2015 White Paper on Defence.

I am aware of the situation regarding accommodation for Westmeath Civil Defence. I recently met a number of volunteers from Westmeath Civil Defence who outlined their concerns with the existing accommodation arrangements. I understand this matter has been raised at a meeting of Westmeath County Council. Along with Deputy Burke, who organised the meeting, and Councillor Tom Farrell, I met volunteers Tom Martin and Joe O'Reilly. I advised them that although accommodation for local Civil Defence units is a matter for each local authority, the Department of Defence will continue to work proactively with Westmeath County Council to encourage it to provide appropriate accommodation for its Civil Defence unit. Senior officials from the Department of Defence met senior officials from Westmeath County Council earlier this year. This was in keeping with the Department's efforts since the closure of Columb Barracks in 2012 to explore a number of avenues to try to secure the long-term future of the former barracks for the benefit of the local community. To date, Westmeath County Council has declined the option of availing of Columb Barracks for use, including by Civil Defence. Most recently, Westmeath County Council advised officials in the Department of Defence that it is conducting a review of the accommodation for Civil Defence in Westmeath. While the provision of accommodation is a matter for Westmeath County Council, departmental officials have offered to provide any advice required by the council in developing its outline plan for accommodation for Westmeath Civil Defence.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. The volunteers of Westmeath Civil Defence asked me a number of weeks ago to visit the facility at Culleen Beg. It would be an understatement to say that I was shocked to see the disgraceful facilities in which Westmeath Civil Defence is operating. The White Paper on Defence, which has been mentioned, clarifies the demarcation lines and provides that the capital budget must be provided for within the local authority. The Government cannot stand by and allow this to continue. We have to shout "Stop". We should contact the local authority morning, noon and night in order to ensure that its puts a plan in place by January at the latest. I note what the Minister of State said about the Department's ongoing dealings with Westmeath County Council in respect of Columb Barracks in Mullingar. I think every avenue should be explored. We need a plan. We cannot go forward after January with option after option. I could not tolerate that. We need action in this case.

Councillor Andrew Duncan has been driving this matter very hard within Westmeath County Council. I mentioned the motion he has tabled. He is trying to get a clear plan in place. This problem has existed since 2007. It is not good enough that the local authority is not making progress with this more quickly. We need to ensure that it is resolved. When Councillor Tom Farrell and I met the Minister of State, we showed him a number of photographs of the facility. There is no way we can expect volunteers to operate in such shocking conditions. If we continue like this, we will find one day that there are no volunteers. If we respect people, we should treat them with dignity rather than expecting them to operate in a facility of this standard. I guarantee the Minister of State and the people of County Westmeath that I will follow up this issue to the best of my ability.

During the summer, I sent an official from the Department of Defence to a public meeting regarding Columb Barracks in Mullingar to listen to the concerns of the local community. I understood at that time that a feasibility study was to be carried out. I have not yet received such a study from the local community. I am waiting on it. The involvement of Westmeath County Council would be required in that context. If no feasibility study has been received by the first quarter of next year, I will proceed with the sale of the barracks in Athlone. I have to say in response to the concerns expressed by the Deputy that I do not believe the barracks in Athlone is an option. Westmeath County Council has to become very proactive here in order to solve what I believe is a real and live issue. The Deputy is right when he says he showed me photographs of the Civil Defence facilities in Westmeath. The wooden structure is not suitable because the roof has fallen in. I understand the seriousness of the situation.

I assure Deputy Burke that I am proactive in this regard. I want the strong and active membership of Westmeath Civil Defence to be accommodated. That is why I have made an appeal to the local authority. I have written to my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, who shares responsibility for this issue with the local authorities, to appeal to him to engage with the chief executive officer of Westmeath County Council and the senior officials in the council to ensure suitable accommodation is found for the members of Westmeath Civil Defence. The Deputy spoke about the equipment, etc., that is stored at the Westmeath Civil Defence facility. The Department of Defence has made a financial commitment to all Civil Defence units across the country so that they will have the best equipment. It is time for Westmeath County Council and other relevant parties to find a suitable location where Westmeath Civil Defence can be accommodated. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to follow up on this issue.

I am sure the Minister of State will do so. That brings today's rather lively Topical Issue debates to a conclusion. I thank the Deputies who participated in it.