Topical Issue Debate

Road Network

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire, Teachta Ross. Is é seo Seachtain na Gaeilge, so úsáidfidh mé cúpla focal Gaeilge. I am glad the Minister is in the Chamber as I highlight the urgent need to upgrade the N5 national primary route from Dublin to Westport, particularly between the villages of Termonbarry and Ballaghaderreen in County Roscommon. Along this stretch, numerous accidents have occurred. There has been much loss of life over the past 30 years.

Many of my constituents and many of the people along the route have been lobbying me very strongly on this issue for a long period of time. Crossing the River Shannon, one enters the village of Termonbarry. It is a village that has grown hugely in recent years. The volume of traffic coming through that village is highly significant. The difficulty is that much of that traffic is travelling at very high speed. It is a danger to pedestrians, cyclists and others. Let us move about eight miles up the road to a place called Scramogue Cross. It is a well-known landmark. Along this route, there have been many accidents. There is an accident almost weekly, and that is not an exaggeration. It is a staggered crossroads.

Coming along the N5, one meets a major regional road. It takes traffic coming from the north. That traffic comes through Ballinamore, Carrick-on-Shannon, Roosky and then crosses the N5 and goes down towards Athlone and the south if it is going that way. The junction is very busy. There have been numerous accidents in this location. It would not be an exaggeration to say that many people are scared to death driving through Scramogue Cross. It is a real death trap and urgent attention is needed to address this situation. There are also major visibility problems in the village of Frenchpark. Motorists take their lives in their hands on a daily basis trying to negotiate dangerous junctions on the main N5, while there are accident black spots near Tulsk village. There is a school located in that village as well.

I have frequently called on the Taoiseach to include the upgrading of the N4 between Mullingar right up to Donegal through Longford and Sligo into a motorway, as well as upgrading the N5 between Scramogue and Ballaghaderreen, in the capital programme. It is essential that both of those roads are brought into the capital programme for 2017 as they are vital infrastructural links to the west. It is vital to upgrade those routes as they have been severely neglected. Apart from the Galway road, there is no motorway to most of the west or north west, where in excess of 500,000 people live.

I call for a clear commitment that the N4 and N5 be included in the capital programme for 2017. The glaring omission of funding from the N4 and N5 from the much-lauded rural revitalisation plan was only one of the problems with the plan. We see this with regard to developing rural Ireland. We must have both of those roads made safe in the first instance and then developed properly. I appeal to the Minister to deal first with the short-term issues of safety and, in the long term, to use all of his influence to get both the N5 and the N4 into the capital programme of 2017.

I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for the opportunity to address this important and very interesting matter.

As the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and the Exchequer. As a result of the national financial position, there have been very large reductions in Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure over the past number of years. Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter, in the first instance, for TII in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act.

As Minister, I have to work within the capital budgets included in the plan and TII, in turn, must prioritise works on the basis of the funding available to it. TII does allocate funding specifically for safety works based on its analysis of the network. This year, it has allocated approximately €17 million for such works. Under its HD15 programme, safety works are based on an analysis of accident density across the network and those sections of the network with considerably higher than average accident densities are selected for analysis. Sections of road which are amenable to engineering solutions are prioritised for treatment. In addition, TII operates a HD17 programme based on road safety inspection reports. These reports indicate which issues, for example, signing, lining or safety barriers, need to be addressed on different sections of road and programmes are drawn up to deal with the priority issues. It should be noted that good pavements also contribute to road safety and TIl has allocated approximately €50 million for pavements in 2017.

I understand that TII has recently completed a collision cluster analysis on the most recent three years of An Garda Síochána collision data and has identified four sites on the N5 in Roscommon for further examination - two east of Tulsk and two east of Frenchpark. Roscommon County Council will examine these sites over the coming months with a view to identifying whether engineering solutions will improve safety at these locations.

Regarding Scramoge Cross, a preliminary examination of the collision statistics for the N5 at this location does not indicate a collision cluster there. However, it may be the case that the road authority concerned, Roscommon County Council, has more up to date information available that indicates that road safety improvement measures may be warranted. In order for TIl to consider any such proposals fully, the road authority is required to carry out an analysis of the collision history at the location in consultation with the local gardaí. If a collision cluster is identified at the location that could benefit from an engineering solution, the road authority should design an appropriate scheme to deal with the safety issues identified, carry out an economic appraisal of the proposal, fully cost the scheme, prepare a feasibility report on the scheme and prioritise the scheme in regard to other works being proposed at this time by Roscommon County Council. Roscommon County Council is proposing an N5 Ballaghaderreen-Scramoge road improvement scheme which I understand extends from the eastern end of the Ballaghaderreen bypass to Scramoge, a distance of some 33 km. Given the limited funding envelope available under the plan and the primary focus on maintenance and renewal of the network rather than new projects, this scheme is not currently included as part of the plan. TIl has, however, provided an allocation of €700,000 to Roscommon County Council for the scheme this year to enable the planning process to progress. I am aware that Roscommon County Council has recently completed the business case, environmental impact statement and compulsory purchase order documentation for the proposed N5 Ballaghaderreen-Scramoge road project.

All major capital projects are subject to the project appraisal requirements in the public spending code and my Department’s common appraisal framework for transport projects as well as the An Bord Pleanála planning consent process. In this context, a cost-benefit analysis for all schemes costing over €20 million is required as part of the business case for the project. In line with the project appraisal requirements, each cost-benefit analysis needs to assessed by the economic and financial evaluation unit in my Department and then reviewed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The cost-benefit analysis for the Ballaghderreen-Scramoge scheme has been submitted to my Department for evaluation. If the cost-benefit analysis were to be found compliant with project appraisal guidance, a separate decision would be needed on the business case, which takes account of the availability of funding for the project. It is not possible at this point to indicate what the outcome of the project assessment process will be.

There is some positive news and some not so good news. I welcome the fact that some safety works are to be carried out east of Tulsk and Frenchpark. I have no doubt that this work needs to be done.

The Minister seems to be well apprised of the route. I welcome that. He and his officials have done their work on it. I must state again, however, that the problem starts in Termonbarry village just as one crosses the River Shannon from Longford into Roscommon. That area has grown considerably in recent years. It is a very busy village. In general, the traffic obeys the rules but a significant amount of traffic, particularly lorries, is flying through the village. People are very afraid of serious accidents, even death. There have been some accidents there.

Let me move on to Scramoge Cross, that well known landmark. It has to be on the Garda records that there are weekly incidents there. Traffic coming off the regional roads creates issues as it crosses over the N5. There have been people injured. As the Minister was speaking, I could recall at least 20 people who lost their lives along that route over 20 years. The number is probably higher. It is a significant loss of life.

While I welcome what the Minister said in regard to some of the works to be carried out, I ask him and his officials — I will take this up with Roscommon County Council — to re-examine Scramoge Cross and Tulsk village, a very fast-growing village with a school in the middle. Issues also arise outside Strokestown.

Flashing lights have been erected along the route where there are very acute bends. I am sure the Minister is aware of them. The lights indicate to motorists that they should slow down or drive go mall. They are very cheap to install, costing approximately €11,000. If we could agree to install more of these lights in the short term, it would be beneficial. Where they have been installed, the number of accidents has been reduced. They definitely make motorists more aware. I am sure the Acting Chairman, Deputy Bernard Durkan, has seen these lights operating. In the interest of safety and saving lives, I ask the Minister to re-examine the route in question. I invite him to visit some day with me. It will take him an hour to go along the stretch of road I am talking about. He will get there from Dublin in an hour and a half and will be back in Dublin in another hour and a half. He should come and enjoy the nice, warm atmosphere in Scramoge in County Roscommon and have a look at the route himself.

I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for his invitation. I am terrified of accepting invitations in this House because it causes turmoil. People expect me to keep to those commitments. At some stage, I will visit but I ask the Deputy not to hold me to a date. I would be delighted to see the area in question.

The Deputy is kicking an open door when he talks to me about safety. I hope he will take that as genuine. Road safety is the top priority in my Department in the transport area because of the awful loss of lives. The Deputy will be as aware of the figures as I am and that the number of fatalities rose last year and is rising again this year. This is utterly and totally unacceptable. I have asked TII specifically to identify what it calls collision clusters. The fact that some of the blackspots mentioned by the Deputy have not featured at the top of the lists should be taken as encouraging but I gather there are some up to date statistics that we should look at. I promise the Deputy that if the up to date statistics do justify the treatment to which the criteria already apply, I will ask the authorities to regard this as a priority. It seems that, among the difficulties, safety is the one that really matters.

When one is talking about areas such as Tulsk or other black spots, the answer is that I will see that they receive the attention they merit. We look forward to new figures. If the Deputy can produce them himself before the local authorities and they are authentic, I will certainly act upon them as soon as I possibly can. His commitment is genuine because I want to see the figures come down. I want to see lives being saved; it is as simple as that. It is imperative. I cannot give a commitment on whether the requirements concerning the N5 and N4 will be included in the capital programme but they will certainly be considered. I can assure the Deputy of that.

Mental Health Services

I wish to raise the issue of delays and waiting lists associated with child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, in Limerick and the mid-west. CAMHS are consultant-led, community-based services provided by six multidisciplinary teams in Limerick city and county. The city and county services cover an age group from zero to 18. Those in Clare cover zero to 18 and north Tipperary services cover zero to 17. I have read articles in the past that referred to ages zero to 16 in north Tipperary and Clare but that has obviously changed. That said, an age range from zero to 17 does not cover those aged 18, which is the age of adulthood. I would like clarification on this. If somebody goes on a waiting list at 16 and is on it for approximately two years, he is pushed over the 18 years threshold, thus implying he will never have got to avail of the child and adolescent mental health services.

In Limerick, the emergency and out-of-hours service offers a same-day assessment from Monday to Friday for children presenting in crisis. Consultant child psychiatrists provide an out-of-hours service to the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick but this is not replicated across the country. If inpatient treatment is required, the first preference is to admit the child to a dedicated CAMHS unit in Galway, St. Anne's. If the unit is experiencing temporary capacity pressure, then admission to a paediatric ward or public unit with special staffing arrangements in place is considered. That information is from the HSE itself. Why are there not CAMHS beds made available in Limerick? This was called for in this House some time back by my predecessor and also by me in one of my first speeches here. I have had no update on that. The circumstances that obtain have considerable implications for the people of Limerick and the mid-west. This obviously affects north Tipperary and County Clare also.

In Limerick central, there are 25 on a CAMHS waiting list. In Limerick east there are 56 and in Limerick west, which I represent predominantly, there is a waiting list of 63.

The HSE has outlined the factors that are currently affecting the Limerick waiting list. One is the fact that two members of the west Limerick team are on extended sick leave, with a consultant on leave for over two months and a social care leader on leave for over six weeks. Why are some temporary staff measures not put in place to alleviate this? We do not know how long these people might be out of work. That is not their fault but I know from working in the private sector that there are flexibility arrangements whereby when somebody is out of work, somebody else can come in and take their place temporarily. It is a demand-led service. Another issue is that one psychologist on the west team was not replaced while on maternity leave and is due back at work before the end of March. Again, why is there no flexibility to alleviate this situation? Staff members who have resigned and have yet to be replaced on the Limerick team include one senior psychologist, a nurse, an occupational therapist and a community health doctor, CHD. All have been approved for replacement but why have they not been recruited?

Routine appointments were not scheduled for at least ten days to accommodate the move of the three Limerick teams to a new premises at Rosbrien Road during February 2017. That will greatly enhance the provision of the service and I welcome that. In addition, the HSE states that new referrals have increased by 15% from January to February 2017. There is an increase in demand but flexibility arrangements are not in place when people are off sick and obviously the recruitment arrangements have not been put in place to recruit staff. I would welcome clarification on these issues.

I thank the Deputy for raising these issues. The policy of the HSE, as reflected in its annual service plan, is that young people under the age of 18 years should receive age-appropriate treatment and, when necessary, be placed in age-appropriate settings. That does not happen 100% of the time but achieving that is the goal.

Child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, have been prioritised in the new funding that has been made available since 2012. In terms of additional resources it means we now have 67 CAMHS teams. I do not claim these teams are operating at 100% capacity because we know they are not. We have three paediatric liaison teams and there are 66 operational CAMHS beds nationally. While 66 beds are operational, there are 76 beds in total but there is a difficulty with the recruitment of staff. Until we hire the staff we cannot open the full number of beds. The Deputy referred to the 20 beds that were promised in Limerick. As far as I am aware, this dates back to the term of the former Minister of State, former Deputy Tim O'Malley. There was discussion at the time about opening a new unit in Limerick. However, if one adds the 76 beds, anticipating that we fill the staffing needs, with the new beds that will be available in the new Central Mental Hospital, that will bring the total to the amount that was recommended in A Vision for Change. Obviously, a review of A Vision for Change is taking place at present, including of the figures. As the Deputy said, the number of people referred in the Limerick area alone has increased by 15% and the increase in the number of children coming into the system this year is approximately 8,500, so the figures must be revisited. I am not sure if Limerick might come back into the frame at that stage.

It is important to stress that a lack of funding for mental health services is not the problem. The Deputy correctly pointed to the difficulties with the recruitment of staff. As regards the two staff members who were sick, the difficulty is that it was extended leave so one does not know when they will return. Replacement for maternity leave is a problem across the board and particularly in mental health services, where a huge number of nurses are young women. The fact that we cannot replace any maternity leave is something we are trying to work on outside the Department of Health as well. In the case of new staff, replacements have been approved but the services have been unable to fill the posts. There is a huge difficulty with recruitment and retention of staff and it has nothing to do with funding.

The new standard operating procedure introduced in June 2015 has provided greater clarity and consistency in how the specialist mental health service for children is delivered nationally. A huge amount of work is being delivered by the HSE, which is trying to ensure that younger people stay away from the CAMHS. CAMHS should be specifically for young people under the age of 18 years who have severe mental health problems. There are self-harm nurses in all the level 4 hospitals. They not only work with young people but also train people within the hospital on how to deal with young people when they come to the hospital. We have developed new eating disorder hubs and the dual diagnosis clinical programme, for young people who present with alcohol and drug related issues which are affecting their mental health as well. There is also the development of the new transgender programme, which at present is focused on people over 18 years of age. However, there will be a new programme for young people as well.

The HSE service plan for 2017 provides for further development of the CAMHS, including better out-of-hours liaison and seven-day response cover against a background where we expect an increase of 8,500 young people this year. Approximately 18,500 children will attend CAMHS this year, including approximately 14,000 referrals. All of this information is available on the HSE website. With regard to community health care organisation, CHO, 3, which includes Limerick, consultant-led community-based services are provided by six multi-disciplinary teams in Limerick city and county, Clare and north Tipperary. To answer the Deputy's question regarding children under 18 years, the reason there are no services for 17 year olds in north Tipperary is that this requires a clinician or consultant post and the HSE has been unable to fill that post.

I thank the Minister of State. I do not question her commitment to this issue. One of the big developments she has progressed is the 300 hours of mental health classes to help students maintain their well-being in the post-primary school sector. That is very welcome in terms of prevention and helping people as early as possible. However, I must highlight my frustration and that of the people who are on the waiting list in this regard. We must conduct an examination of work practices if there is no flexibility with regard to providing cover for people on certain types of leave or on indefinite sick leave. The bottom line is that people on the waiting list are suffering and the waiting list is increasing because of this. It is a demand-led service.

I have worked in the private sector for most of my professional life. When one works in a demand-led service and one of the team members is out of work, there is a flexible arrangement or a flexible work model in place whereby somebody or the team can cover those hours to maintain the service. That is something we must examine with respect to everybody working in the service. I do not question their commitment and enthusiasm in how they approach their work but this is a systemic change that we must examine. Obviously, there are recruitment challenges and the HSE must work harder in addressing the recruitment shortfalls. It must find solutions to this. There is always a solution in recruitment. The issue is finding it and looking at how the HSE is working on this. However, I must highlight that people are on these waiting lists and we must catch these problems as early as possible because this is all about early intervention.

I fully agree with the Deputy. The Minister for Education and Skills is present and he will be responsible for rolling out the 400 hours of health and well-being classes in our schools, which are much needed. This is an area we must focus on more and develop further. Again, it means keeping our young people out of the mental health services and specifically out of CAMHS. When one looks at where the funding is going, one sees that 80% goes towards the specialist services which are dealing with 20% of our people. We need to start bringing more of those people into the primary care services under the primary care teams. We are developing these programmes outside the clinical specialist CAMHS teams so that young people do not have to go into the CAMHS.

We have also found, and this is a snapshot of the whole country and not just of the Deputy's area, that the number of people waiting under three months is over 1,000 but that the number has come down dramatically. The number of people waiting over 12 months has halved in the last two years. We have found that many of the people who are waiting up to 12 months are waiting for a diagnosis. The system has turned into one where if one manages to get a diagnosis, one finds one is able to access services or the supports one needs much easier. That is not the way we should be going. Sometimes there are young people in the CAMHS who do not have a severe mental health problem but they are left within the system for too long waiting for that diagnosis. That is something we are trying to address at present with the development of services through education, our primary care system and through the CAMHS.

I agree that we have a massive difficulty with the recruitment of staff for our CAMHS teams. Some of the teams are operating at less than 50%, which is not adequate. A body of work is being done at present to examine how we can bring in various other organisations or skills that will be able to work with our younger people who do not require specialist psychiatric nurses or the clinical teams. I will keep the Deputy updated on our progress.

Compensation Schemes

Tá mé buíoch go bhfuil an deis seo agam labhairt ar an topaic fíorthábhachtach seo um thráthnóna.

I want to discuss the State’s approach to the Louise O'Keeffe ruling and in particular, its interpretation of that ruling and the impact for survivors of sex abuse at State schools. As we know, Louise O'Keeffe was involved in a 20 year legal battle against the State for justice. It was only when she went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights that she received justice and an acknowledgement of the horrific abuse inflicted on her as a school child and of the failure of the State to protect her from that abuse.

Unfortunately, for hundreds of other school child sex abuse survivors, their day of justice never came and the State has done everything in its power to ensure that, for the majority, it never will. Due to the very narrow interpretation of the ruling of the European Court by the State, many survivors have been effectively locked out of the ex gratia scheme. In particular, the State’s interpretation that a prior complaint of sex abuse must have been made in order to fulfil the terms of the scheme has meant that a lot of survivors have been deprived of a remedy for the failure of the State to protect them. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, and the Child Law Clinic of University College Cork, which was heavily involved in the original case, have made numerous submissions to the Council of Europe on this point and have clearly stated that this interpretation is not in line with the O'Keeffe ruling. In its latest communication on this issue, the IHREC also pointed out that the most recent unsuccessful claims brought to the High Court were found to be statute barred and no finding was made that the facts of the cases were distinguishable from the facts in O'Keeffe case.

I am aware of situations where survivors of abuse were written to by the State and told that if they did not drop their cases, they would face thousands of euro in costs. That is not right. As we know, after the initial unsuccessful Supreme Court case by Louise O'Keeffe, 210 plaintiffs dropped their cases. They felt forced to do so and they are now statute barred from bringing their cases to court and are not eligible under the payment scheme. Out of 350 cases, just six have been settled under the scheme and a relatively small number have been processed. Will the Minister for Education and Skills commit to ensuring that survivors have access to the justice they deserve by implementing the O'Keeffe ruling in full? I ask him to widen the terms of the scheme to ensure that those who dropped their cases as a result of letters sent to them by the State containing threats of legal costs can access the scheme.

The legacy of sexual abuse against children, whether in residential institutions, day schools, or in any other setting, is truly appalling. It is impossible even to imagine what some of these people have gone through. I have enormous sympathy for anyone who suffered abuse. When the trust between a child and an adult responsible for his or her care is breached, the child's life is altered completely.

It has been a major project of recent Governments to deal compassionately, humanely and fairly with the victims and survivors of abuse. In the Louise O’Keeffe case, in January 2014, the European Court of Human Rights found that the State has liability in these cases in specific circumstances, namely, where there was a prior complaint against the abuser in question and where the case is not statute barred. In the three years since the O’Keeffe judgment the Government has submitted six action plans to the Council of Europe outlining the response of the State to the issues identified in the ruling. These include the review initiated by the Government of current and planned child protection mechanisms in the school system to ensure that they meet best practice standards. The action plans also refer to various legislative developments, particularly the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, which was commenced in April 2016 and requires vetting of all staff to be undertaken. In addition, the Teaching Council (Amendment) Act, 2015, aIl sections of which were commenced by November last year, provides for the vetting of all teachers. The Children First Act 2015, a number of sections of which have been also been commenced, provides for the mandatory reporting of incidences by persons in positions of responsibility. The action plans also refer to the updated child protection guidelines for schools in respect of the commencement of statutory requirements for Garda vetting.

On the question of compensation, the Government has put in place a process to provide compensation for all victims of sexual abuse who come within the terms of the judgment. Following the Louise O’Keeffe judgment, the Government agreed that out of court settlements be offered to survivors of abuse whose cases come within the terms of that ruling and are not statute barred. Subsequently, in July 2015, the Government approved proposals, on the same basis, to offer ex gratia payments up to a maximum of €84,000 to those who initiated legal proceedings in cases of school child sexual abuse against the State but who subsequently discontinued their claims. Persons who believe that their cases come within the criteria can contact the State Claims Agency and provide supporting evidence. At this stage, I cannot say how many cases in this category will satisfy these criteria. Where there is a disagreement between the State Claims Agency and the individual as to whether their circumstances come within the terms of the European court’s judgment, provision is being made for the application to be reviewed by an independent assessor. In these settlements, the State will not be covering the liabilities of theperpetrators, school managers, patrons or other co-defendants. A person who suffered abuse or injury in school had recourse to report the matter to the relevant school or to the statutory authorities. Victims of sexual assault may bring cases for compensation through the courts for the injuries and loss they have suffered.

While I cannot comment on individual cases, where plaintiffs institute claims against the State in relation to historic child sexual abuse which are not statute barred and come within the terms of the Louise O’Keeffe ruling, the State Claims Agency is authorised to make settlement offers. The agency continues to engage with litigants’ solicitors to clarify the circumstances of new cases and to make settlement offers where the claims come within the terms of the European Court’s ruling and are not statute barred. Survivors can submit their details to the State Claims Agency. Where the agency does not accept that the criteria are met, the facts will be reviewable by an independent assessor who is being appointed.

I thank the Minister for his response but I am extremely disappointed. I have met a group of sex abuse survivors, the Creagh Lane group in Limerick, whose lives have been destroyed. We need action here. We must defend those people and make sure that they get justice.

The letters that were sent to the people who were claiming that they were abused were sent during the Dáil's summer recess. Several victims approached their local representatives about the letters but Deputies could not challenge the Minister or the Government. There is a question to be answered regarding the timing of the sending of those letters.

It is blindingly obvious that this scheme is not fit for purpose. It is my understanding that a relatively low number of applications have been processed to date and the vast majority of them have been declined due to the narrow criteria used. Clearly the Government has not listened to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on this matter. Even the courts have been critical of the approach of the State on this particular issue. In his judgment last year, Mr. Justice Barrett said that survivors might be forgiven for wondering if they will ever live to see the day when such injustice as may have been done to them is finally righted by a "foot-dragging State", to the extent that money can ever be a remedy for certain injuries suffered. Yet in the aftermath of that judgment, the State Claims Agency wrote to 107 plaintiffs again to tell them that they faced huge legal bills if they did not drop their cases. Seven of them did drop their cases. This happened on the Minister's watch.

The Government's approach on this issue is wrong, both morally and legally. It is causing untold distress to survivors of school child sex abuse. The Government appears to be more concerned with limiting damage to the State coffers than providing comfort and closure to survivors. That is what the survivors want. All that the members of the aforementioned group from Limerick want is closure and that is what this scheme is designed to do. I once again urge the Minister to reconsider the Government's approach to this issue and to ensure that survivors can access the justice they deserve. It is the least the Minister can do.

I am no lawyer but the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the State has a liability where there was fault involved.

The fault that it has established is where there was prior abuse established and it failed to act. That is the criterion that is being applied. The State did not run the schools in question and the court established that had the State been aware or should have been aware because the information was brought to the attention of those in the schools and the State could have been aware, that is when the liability occurs on the State. We were following the European court judgement in this respect. As I outlined, we are providing compensation that does not require people to go to court to get compensation where those circumstances were met.

Obviously, we have a wider obligation which is also part of the court ruling, which is to report on the protections we are putting in place to ensure children in our schools are now fully protected. As I outlined in the reply, a considerable effort has been made to put new procedures in place as follows: the compulsory vetting of all sorts of staff, including of teachers through the Teaching Council; now the Children First guidelines and in time the mandatory reporting requirements; and the obligation for child safety statements to be developed and for risk assessments to be put in place by these institutions. The law is continually evolving to ensure we protect children in these circumstances. The response of Government has been in accordance with the court ruling where State liability only arises in those circumstances where the State knew of the prior offences that were involved.

Waste Disposal

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this very serious issue which has most profound consequences for my region. I refer to proposals from Irish Cement Limited to seek planning permission at its plant in Mungret, County Limerick, to switch from burning fossil fuels to burning used tyres and other combustible materials, including domestic waste. The plant in Mungret is located in the centre of a population of roughly 20,000 people on the western suburbs of Limerick. It is the fastest-growing suburb of Limerick, with planning applications for thousands more houses in the area. Of course, the impact will not be just on people in the immediate area, but will be felt citywide and in the city's surrounds.

The people immediately affected by this proposal have expressed major concerns. We have had numerous meetings and a huge march is planned for Saturday. More than 2,000 letters of objection have gone to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, already. The people are worried about the potential for this changed situation to release cancer-causing dioxins into the atmosphere. The people's concern is exacerbated by the appalling track record of this company at the Mungret plant with two major blowouts in 2006 and 2013. It is further exacerbated by the fact that it is crystal clear that there are insufficient regulatory safeguards in the plan the company has submitted to Limerick and County Council.

In addition the failure of the EPA to gather any baseline data on air quality is mind-boggling and incomprehensible. Has the Department, the HSE, the EPA or any other agency undertaken a public-health risk assessment of this proposal? Incineration on the scale envisaged brings huge dangers, but there appear to be no plans in place to guard against those dangers. The EPA's State of the Environment Report 2016 stressed the critical importance of air quality to community well-being. What reassurances can the Minister give us now that the burning of 90,000 tonnes of industrial waste, including tyres, solvents and plastics, will not have an adverse effect on air quality to the detriment of the community?

With further plans for a gasification plant in Shanagolden, which is also in County Limerick, the importation of industrial waste into Foynes, which is also in County Limerick, not to mention Platin and Poolbeg, is there an undeclared strategic plan to turn Ireland into a hub for the incineration of waste from around the world?

In the course of the interaction between the various authorities and the protesters - the objectors to the proposal - very serious concerns have been expressed to me about the Environmental Protection Agency. These include concerns over the lack of resources and expertise of the Environmental Protection Agency, concerns over flawed governance and accountability, and fundamental concerns that there is an institutional bias in the Environmental Protection Agency in favour of industrial development to the detriment of monitoring and enforcement. In addition, serious concerns have been expressed at what I can only describe as the token involvement by the HSE despite major unanswered questions about the long-term public-health risk.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Naughten, who is unable to be here. He asked me to reply on his behalf.

Three regional waste management plans made by the local authority sector in May 2015 for the period from 2015 to 2021 highlighted the need for an additional 300,000 tonnes of thermal treatment capacity for residual municipal waste in the State. The plans, which are available to download at http://www.epa.ie/wastc/policy/regional/, articulate that the additional need is determined by analysing future projections and is based on a number of assumptions as set out in the plans.

In accordance with the provisions of the Waste Management Act 1996, the preparation and adoption of a waste management plan, including in respect of infrastructure provision, is the statutory responsibility of the local authority or authorities concerned, and under section 60(3) the Minister is precluded from exercising any power or control in the performance by a local authority, in particular circumstances, of a statutory function vested in it.

The role of the Minister in waste management is to provide a comprehensive legislative and policy framework through which the relevant regulatory bodies, such as local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency, operate. Government waste policy is set out in A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland. That policy is predicated on the waste hierarchy, whereby the prevention, preparation for reuse, recycling and recovery of waste is preferred to the disposal of waste.

Thermal recovery activities, where the principal use of waste is as a fuel to generate energy, sit on the recovery tier of the waste hierarchy and have a role to play in reducing our dependence on disposing waste to landfill. The State has made huge progress in this regard. Landfill of municipal solid waste has decreased from 92% in 1995 to 41% in 2012. This also reflects the increase in recycling and recovery of municipal solid waste from 8% in 1951 to 59% in 2012, the first year that the percentage tonnage of municipal waste managed for recovery at 59% exceeded the percentage tonnage managed for disposal at 41%.

The EPA's State of the Environment Report 2016 highlights that the most significant change in residual waste treatment since 2012 has been the shift from disposal to landfill, to energy recovery. The report notes that the export of waste for energy recovery has increased significantly in recent years and, though this has moved the treatment of waste up the waste hierarchy and away from landfill, it has also left Ireland vulnerable in terms of our reliance on waste export markets and the loss of jobs and energy in the material we export.

Those concerns were highlighted by the lack of capacity to manage municipal waste adequately in 2016 which ultimately resulted in the temporary emergency use of landfill. We need to build on our recent achievements and, in line with Government policy, continue to strive to prevent and recycle waste to the greatest extent possible. The recovery of waste also has a part to play in minimising the impact on the environment and assisting in meeting targets and obligations under current and future EU legislation. We all wish to avoid a repeat of the scenario from the 1990s, whereby practically every county in the State had an operating landfill. Burying waste in the ground is not only detrimental to the environment in terms of managing the resultant leachate and greenhouse gas emissions but also detrimental to the creation of jobs and energy through the development of recycling and recovery processes.

I thank the Minister for delivering the reply on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Naughten. However, it provides cold comfort to the residents of Mungret, Raheen, Balinacurra, Clarina and all those other heavily populated districts which will be immediately affected if this proposal proceeds.

I take the Minister's point that Limerick County Council is responsible for planning and we do not seek to interfere with the planning process in any way. However, the Government must have responsibility for national policy on incineration. It must also be conscious of the fact that the performance of incinerators in this country is patchy at best with consequent implications for people's health.

Is the Minister aware that Limerick city already has one of the worst levels of pulmonary disease in the country? As I will be facing the people on Saturday, will the Minister give me a guarantee there will be no adverse consequences for public health in terms of air quality, pollution or the potential for a serious accident or filter failure? Will he give me a guarantee that there will be no reputational risk to the dairy sector in the area which is vital to the local economy or to tourism, another fundamental prop of the local economy, or to the plans, to which his Government has averted, to turn Limerick into a business hub by 2030?

I acknowledge the concerns the Deputy has raised. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is a professional agency set up by the Oireachtas. I know the Deputy is casting doubt on its governance and its bias. However, it is an independent agency and has a strong reputation and strong powers. It licenses and controls emissions levels. To be fair to the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, he does not have authority in the planning decision in this case and nor does he control the EPA. It would be regarded as wrong if he were to be the Minister controlling the EPA. It has an independence because it has a statutory remit to protect people, to ensure operations of this nature are run according to the licences with which they are issued and that those licences are drafted in such a way as to protect the public interest. I have no doubt that the EPA, as well as the local authority, will be sensitive to the concerns and determined to ensure the protection of people in any decisions it takes. The Minister has no power in monitoring or enforcing those responsibilities which the Oireachtas gave to the EPA to execute. It has a good track record in that respect.

I will convey to the Minister the Deputy's concerns. I understand them as similar concerns were expressed in Dublin with the establishment of a similar plant in Ringsend. We have professional organisations both assessing licences and monitoring them. Those bodies have the primary responsibility and will be alert to the concerns the Deputy and the people of Mungret are expressing to ensure they execute their responsibilities properly.