Topical Issue Debate

Road Tolls

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross. The question of tolls and their impact on the local environment, businesses and for local people on social visits crossing north-south from my town and into east Meath, and the opposite way as well, is a hugely important issue for people in my constituency. The real issue here is that nobody objects, in my view, to the main toll booth at Gormanston. Everybody accepts that that is a national primary route and that one should pay the toll there. There are significant charges on the slip roads into Drogheda, for example for somebody who wants to travel from Tullyallen north of the town to the railway station or to cross down to Laytown or Bettystown. It is €19 a week, which is basically €1,000 a year. That is a huge penalty for a local, short journey.

Congestion is an issue. I have a letter here from Transport Infrastructure Ireland and it says that when it was initially put in, it was to protect the residents of Drogheda from rat-running that would occur due to traffic wishing to avoid the main toll plaza at Balgeen. The opposite has happened. I hope the Minister, Deputy Ross, visits us shortly and I would be delighted to host him and show him. As one comes through the village of Julianstown, there is significant traffic there for 20 of the 24 hours in the day. For all of the business working day, from 6 a.m. to maybe 8 p.m., there is a constant, unending stream of traffic. They are people who are avoiding the toll and coming to live in east Meath in many cases. The other issue is at the north side of Drogheda, at Mell, there are the same huge traffic volumes and congestion. I think the impact of the local tolls is unnecessary and is unacceptable to the people. I ask the Minister to address that issue in his reply.

The other facts that arise include the income for local rates. In other words, the tolls pay a rate to Meath County Council and Louth County Council. Meath County Council gets a sum of €484,000 per year from the rateable valuation of the tolls, whereas Louth County Council gets a value of €218,000 per annum. That money goes to the county councils and none of it is spent on the town most directly affected - the town of Drogheda - by this imposition on citizens wishing to travel north to south in their town. The Minister needs to come to Drogheda to meet the councils and to encourage a significant investment in the local road infrastructure, which has never been upgraded since the very significant volume of traffic increased as a result of the imposition of the tolls.

In particular, Julianstown is in a very difficult and serious situation. It needs a proper and effective bypass. I believe that this money should be spent proportionately over a number of years on improving all of the road infrastructure in east Meath, particularly around the Platin factory, which is very dangerous. It is a speed trap and there have been a number of deaths on the main road itself. The R152, where it comes from the intersection south of Drogheda going in through the Platin Road, is fine until it comes to the Meath boundary and then one is back to the road network as it was 40 years ago. That is a significant issue that must be addressed and I will talk about it in my second period of time.

I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising this issue, which I know from experience is greatly important in the area, and has caused a great deal of dissatisfaction for many of his colleagues and himself.

This is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. I am happy to reiterate the current position and to be as helpful as I possibly can regarding the M1 slip toll at Drogheda. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. Within its annual budget, the planning, design and implementation of individual road projects, such as the N4, is a matter for TII under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Furthermore, the statutory power to levy tolls on national roads, to make toll by-laws and to enter into agreements relating to tolls on national roads is vested in TII under Part V of the Roads Act 1993 as amended. The contractual arrangements relating to M1 tolls are therefore matters for TII. There is no provision under the legislation under which I, as Minister, could review the toll charges on the M1. As the Deputy may be aware, the issue of M1 slip road tolls has been brought to my attention on a number of occasions by various stakeholders, including Drogheda & District Chamber of Commerce and local Deputies, including some of Deputy O'Dowd's colleagues.

Arising from a parliamentary question from Deputy Munster last year, I undertook to raise the issue of the tolls on the Drogheda slip roads at a meeting with TII that took place in early August 2016. Following this meeting, TII briefed my Department on the 2002 toll scheme and the findings of a 2012 study of the implications of the removal of the tolls at the north-facing slip roads at M1 junction 9. In the 2012 study, two scenarios were considered. The first involved removing ramp tolls only and the second involved removing ramp tolls and increasing the mainline toll. The study concluded that significant levels of additional traffic would divert to local routes such as the R152 through Duleek and the R132 through Julianstown, with thousands more vehicles per day affecting the safety, quality of life and commercial viability of these communities.

In addition, both scenarios would have substantial financial implications because TII would be contractually required to compensate the public private partnership, PPP, company for losses arising out of any change. Under the first scenario, it was estimated that between €6 million and €7 million would have to be paid to the PPP company in the first year, increasing each year to 2034. Under the second scenario, given the higher rates of diversion off the M1, it was estimated that mainline tolls would have to be increased by between 40% and 60%. It is important to point out that the aim of the Donore ramp toll plazas was to mitigate possible rat-running with adverse impacts on local communities. In response to concerns expressed about the possible impact on business in Drogheda, the approved toll scheme allows vehicles to exit the motorway, having paid a toll, and re-enter within three hours, with no further charge. I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy and I am happy to forward a copy of the briefing that TII provided on the matter.

The Deputy is not alone, but I understand that what I have outlined is the current situation. It certainly leaves causes for discontent, to which the Deputy referred.

It is a little difficult for me, not having been there, to be fully cognisant of the difficulties which are caused in certain areas which Deputy O'Dowd pointed out. I have said to the Deputy here that, provided other local representations of the areas are notified as well, and I can notify them, I would be happy to come and see it for myself because I have addressed this on several occasions previously. It appears, from what Deputy O'Dowd and others say, that this solution is not satisfactory. I would be happy to visit and see it again.

I welcome the commitment of the Minister to visit and view it. It is important that he does. That is hands on, and I welcome that.

The Minister will see the significant need for what we are talking about, particularly on the east side of Drogheda, to allow port-bound traffic avoid in total the town of Drogheda. We need a new bridge to carry traffic, north and south, and a proper road network - the northern cross route - to link up with the motorway.

The problem is that all of this was built by the then Fianna Fáil Government, which cared nothing for local democracy and which stuck it in Drogheda because that is where it thought it would get away with it. That is a charge which, in my view, is true and accurate.

However, I accept it is there. We need a plan, with the Minister's presence and with the local authorities. We should invite the local authorities, that is, Meath and Louth county councils, to that meeting to talk about the improvements that are needed in the road network locally to make up for the significant deficit there in proper transport infrastructure.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is the key Department for increased funding for roads in Drogheda because if it is not a national primary route, it is the responsibility of the Department. I would like to put a shopping list on the Minister's desk in this regard but I welcome and respect the Minister's commitment.

At the end of the day, it is to let a town breathe, live and grow. The town is growing significantly. Drogheda is the largest town in Ireland. It has no council, has no proper administrative infrastructure and has poor local road structure. I welcome the Minister's intention to visit and I look forward to that shortly.

I will conclude by thanking the Deputy. I should mention that provided he would have local councillors at the meeting-----

Of course, and Members of the Oireachtas-----

-----including Councillor Kevin Callan-----

-----and all the Independent councillors.

-----who has also made representations, I would be happy to do so. When we have issues such as this which arise and which have been addressed, and which have not been sorted, it is certainly worth looking at them again.

Respite Care Services Provision

I am glad to see the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, is back dealing with this issue on Seaview respite home. Unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated since 18 January when I last was lucky enough to raise a Topical Issue on the staffing situation at the Seaview respite home and we last discussed it.

I am disappointed to have to put this Topical Issue forward. The reason I am disappointed is because, despite my best efforts, I have been unable to get a response from the HSE locally on the situation regarding the Seaview respite home. On 24 April, I emailed the manager of social care in the area and I followed up with a phone call to him on 15 May but still received no response. I spoke to him on 15 May and he said he would get a response for me. Four times in the past ten days, I rang the service manager for intellectual disabilities without any response either. That is why I have put forward this Topical Issue in the House this week.

It is a disgraceful waste of Dáil time that I have to submit this as a Topical Issue to get some sort of response from the HSE locally. It is ridiculous for this to happen in this situation. It shows a lack of management and a lack of compassion on the part of the HSE in Donegal on this matter.

There are 100 families who depend on this respite care home and it has now been closed for almost two months. In January, the Minister of State responded stating the HSE were recruiting staff and when they would be place, the respite home would be back up to full capacity. It is closed at present, however, and we cannot get an answer. The families cannot get an answer. As an Oireachtas Member, I cannot get an answer from the HSE locally. That is a disgrace. I hope the Minister of State's office will intervene and get a response from the HSE as to what is the situation and as to whether and, more importantly, when this home will reopen. Initially, families were told that it would possibly close for a month and it has been a lot longer than that. It is just not acceptable.

Other Deputies sought to raise Topical Issues and while I was lucky enough to have this one chosen today, it is disgraceful to have to go to such lengths to get a response from the HSE. I look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say.

I thank Deputy Pringle for raising this important issue again today. I will outline the position on the availability of respite in Seaview respite home, Mountcharles, County Donegal.

The Government is committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities that will empower them to live independent lives, provide them with greater independence in accessing the services they choose and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives.

The provision of respite services has come under increased pressure in the past couple of years. There is an increase in the number of children and adults seeking access to respite and there are increasing levels of changing needs due to the increase in the age of people with a disability. The way in which residential-respite services are provided has also changed as agencies comply with HIQA standards and the national policy on congregated settings. In some situations, this means that beds are no longer available, for example, vacated beds for residents who go home at weekends or for holidays can no longer be used for respite.

Seaview respite house is located in Mountcharles, Donegal town and was established in 2002. It provides respite for children from the age of six years and adults with an intellectual disability or autism or both on a rotational basis for 100 families the south-west Donegal catchment area. The maximum occupancy provides for five children or five adults. The service operates a person-centred model of care and is delivered by a combination of nursing and support staff.

Respite services at Seaview House, as Deputy Pringle has outlined, have been curtailed over the last few months as a result of staff shortages due to illness leave and retirement. The HSE has been trying to recruit and replace staff in as timely a manner as possible and it acknowledges the upset and distress this situation has caused to clients and families and apologises for any upset caused. In its efforts to restore a full respite service at Seaview, the Health Service Executive has been actively trying to fill three vacant nursing posts. One nurse was appointed on 15 May and a second was appointed on 29 May. The third vacancy was filled but the successful candidate withdrew from the appointment at the late stages of recruitment which will, unfortunately, delay the finalisation of this third post by at least two months. A care assistant has also recently retired and a replacement is now being recruited. Following the induction of these new staff, I can confirm that respite services have recommenced in Seaview House on a phased basis with effect from Monday last, 29 May. The HSE remains committed to ensuring that the respite service resumes on a full-time basis as soon as possible pending the recruitment of outstanding staff.

It is a sad indictment of the HSE locally that I had to raise it here to find out that respite services have supposedly recommended from 29 May.

As for the posts being filled, obviously, if this is correct, one can see there will not be full-time restoration of respite care. How can we have any faith in the HSE providing a truthful answer as to what is happening here?

I do not know how retirements can cause problems within the HSE. The HSE knows the ages of its staff. It knows the retiring age of its staff. It knows they are going to retire. Indeed, I am aware that the care assistant who recently retired actually wanted to stay on for another year or more, and the HSE refused the request and closed down this service. This is the type of treatment that families with loved ones with disabilities who are in need of respite are getting from the HSE in Donegal. It is totally unacceptable.

This service must return to its previous 24-7 basis for families. These families are saving the State a fortune by keeping their loved ones at home and doing their best to look after them but they are getting very little support or response. That is the critical issue here and that is what the HSE has lost sight of because it does not have a person-centred approach. It is not actually thinking about the families in this case.

I hope the facts just relayed are correct. When I get back to Donegal, I will check that the services have been reinstated and I hope I will not be back in here again in a few months raising this issue because that would be completely unacceptable. I also ask the Minister of State to ask the HSE why it does not respond to basic queries.

I can hear the frustration in Deputy Pringle's voice. I will follow up on that matter and will try to determine why the Deputy had such difficulties in getting a response from the HSE, such that he was forced to raise this matter as a Topical Issue to get an answer. I reiterate that the intention is to have full services restored at Seaview House as soon as the full complement of staff is available. As I already outlined, there were three vacant nursing posts, two of which have now been filled. I am sure the Deputy welcomes that. The HSE is also recruiting to fill a care assistant position. The HSE has advised that it is committed to restoring the respite service on a full-time basis as soon as possible.

Maternity Services Provision

The issues at the maternity unit in Mayo University Hospital have been ongoing for a number of years. Continued underfunding and understaffing at the hospital have created considerable risks for patients and their babies. That is what staff told me today. This came to a head last November when midwives at the maternity unit took part in a lunchtime protest outside the hospital. Some of those who protested are long-serving midwives with extensive experience in their field. It was not an easy decision for them to take but they felt so strongly about the situation and the risks being posed to mothers and babies in their care that they felt they had no choice but to take strike action. One can only imagine how difficult things must be in the maternity unit to prompt such action by experienced midwives and nurses. The Minister of State can be guaranteed that they had exhausted all avenues open to them to have their concerns heard by hospital management and the HSE. Their voices fell on deaf ears and it was not until they publicly took to the streets that hospital management and the HSE sat up and took notice, as did the wider public who are now very much aware of the issues at their maternity unit.

At the time of the aforementioned protest, I raised this issue in this Chamber with the Government but to date, the Minister for Health has done absolutely nothing to address it. Has the Minister even met hospital management at Mayo University Hospital to discuss the staffing crisis at the maternity unit? If not, why not? Following on from the strike, unions and hospital management engaged with the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, in an effort to resolve matters. They met in February this year and again approximately one month ago. It is my understanding, having spoken to staff, that at the last meeting both unions and hospital management agreed there was an issue with staffing in the maternity unit. Due to nurse shortages in theatre at the hospital, midwives are regularly being called away from the maternity unit, where they are needed, to do jobs in theatre. This is coupled with the fact that there is not enough staff in the maternity unit in any event to cover maternity leave and sick leave. Moreover, the hospital's inability to attract nursing staff to take up posts has meant that the maternity unit is operating below safe staffing levels. I am relying on the expertise of staff members, who are adamant that they need more midwives and nurses at the maternity unit. Unions and hospital management are due to meet again at the WRC on 8 June in the hope of finding a solution. I am told that hospital management would hire temporary staff but it cannot get anyone to take up those posts. Mayo University Hospital is competing with other hospitals for staff and it appears that the types of contract being offered are not enough to entice staff to take up positions at the hospital. It is clear that the HSE needs to offer better contracts to midwives and nurses and to improve working conditions.

The Minister for Health must engage personally on this matter. It is not okay for him to abdicate responsibility. It does not matter that the WRC, the HSE and management are engaged because the Minister is ultimately responsible for this issue. It is imperative that he engages on this matter. We saw strike action seven or eight months ago but to date the Minister has not engaged. The fact that he has done nothing to address the staffing shortages is totally unacceptable. What steps will the Government and the Minister for Health take to address this issue? What steps will be taken to engage with hospital management and staff to ensure that the WRC process results in additional staff and resources for the maternity unit? At the end of the day it is mothers and their babies who are suffering. The fact that this has been widely publicised is creating massive concern among those women who will be going into the maternity unit in the coming weeks and months to deliver their babies. It is essential that we, as public representatives, ensure that the service they get at Mayo University Hospital meets their needs.

I thank Deputy Lisa Chambers for raising this important matter, which gives me the opportunity to update the House on the position regarding staffing levels at the maternity unit at Mayo University Hospital. I have been informed by the HSE that the staff allocation levels at Mayo University Hospital have not been reduced. However, a number of posts are vacant through unexpected sick leave, maternity leave and retirements. As I understand it, some of these vacancies have already been filled and work to fill the remaining vacancies, both on a permanent and temporary basis, continues. I have been assured that all shifts are reviewed on a daily and weekly basis and set staffing levels are in place to ensure safety.

I should also mention that proposals agreed at the WRC between the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform, the HSE, the INMO and SIPTU have committed to increases in the HSE’s national workforce plan for nurses and midwives in 2017. Management will increase the nursing and midwifery workforce in 2017 through a broad range of initiatives that will result in the delivery of 1,208 additional permanent posts, including the conversion of agency staff to HSE direct employees and offering all graduating nurses and midwives full-time contracts. This is in addition to the many other initiatives currently under way to improve nursing and midwifery staffing levels throughout the country. The number of nursing and midwifery staff increased by 113 whole-time equivalents from the end of March to the end of April. Numbers increased by 625 whole-time equivalents between the end of April 2016 and April 2017. I am delighted to confirm that the overall number of nursing whole-time equivalents is at the highest level since 2011, with numbers increasing since 2015 notwithstanding intense global competition for our nurses and midwives. The HSE’s national recruitment service is actively operating rolling nursing recruitment campaigns. Recruitment open days were run over Christmas and more recently in March. In addition, a HSE delegation attended health sector jobs fairs in London and Cardiff, with further recruitment events scheduled in early June.

The Deputy can be assured that this Government is fully committed to the progressive development of our maternity services. Last year saw the publication of Ireland’s first ever national maternity strategy, as well as the HSE’s national standards for bereavement care following pregnancy loss and perinatal death and HIQA’s national standards for safer, better maternity services. In addition, each of our 19 maternity units is now publishing a maternity patient safety statement on a monthly basis. I am sure Members will agree that these developments represent key building blocks to enable us to provide a consistently safe and high-quality maternity service. The HSE’s national women and infants health programme is currently developing a plan for the implementation of the maternity strategy. In that context, the programme is engaging with the Saolta University Health Care Group to scope out its requirements. I look forward to receiving this plan at the end of June.

With respect, the Minister of State did not answer my question as to whether the Minister for Health has directly engaged with hospital management at Mayo University Hospital about the staffing crisis at the maternity unit. I would appreciate an answer to that specific question.

The Minister of State said that staffing levels have not reduced but that there were vacancies due to unexpected sick leave, maternity leave and retirements but such things are not unexpected. There will always be sick leave, maternity leave and retirements in the workplace. These are natural rather than unexpected events and we should be dealing with them and planning for them. The Minister of State has given a broad overview of the national picture but has not really addressed the issues specifically relating to the maternity unit at Mayo University Hospital. Midwives working at that unit have told me that they are nervous going into work in case something goes wrong and they do not have the staff to deal with it.

All they want is proper resourcing for the maternity unit so they can do the jobs the mums and babies need them to do. They want Mayo University Hospital to have parity with other hospitals, but it currently does not have that status. They have said to me that if something goes wrong and a baby dies - nobody wants to see this happen - the midwife, rather than the head of nursing or the general manager, is scrutinised. No one asks how many patients were on the ward at the time, how many staff were in operation or whether midwives were being asked to do the impossible. Midwives deserve far better than this.

I have been contacted by women who have given birth at the hospital in recent times. One lady recounted to me that just two months ago, the midwife who delivered her baby had to run off to the next room to deliver another baby because not enough staff were present. Another lady told me that a midwife was not able to be present when she was giving birth because she was next door delivering twins. She admitted that when the nursing staff told her to hold on because the midwife needed to be present, she used quite colourful language to say that holding on was not an option. I am not making a comedy out of this. I am setting out the reality of what is happening. It was not the midwife's fault that she could not be present because she was next door dealing with another delivery. Additional staff should have been on site. There were no complications in this woman's case, thankfully, but what would have happened if - God forbid - there had been complications? The negativity surrounding our maternity services nationally leaves a lot to be desired. The Minister of State did not address the specific difficulties at Mayo University Hospital. She did not answer my questions. I would like to know whether the Minister for Health has engaged personally with this matter.

If Deputy Chambers wants a specific question to be answered, she should ask it specifically.

I have asked this specific question yesterday and again today.

Excuse me. The Deputy did not ask it in her Topical Issue. I have the text of the Deputy's Topical Issue right here. The question she says was not answered was not asked in that text. If she wants a specific answer, she should include it in the text of her Topical Issue so that a specific answer can be obtained. In the meantime-----

That is quite pedantic.

I did not interrupt the Deputy, so I would really appreciate an opportunity to answer without interruption. I am hearing quite a lot of negativity from the Deputy about her local hospital. I think it is very irresponsible to create an impression that it is an unsafe place for people to attend to have their babies delivered. I have no doubt that the people who are working there are extremely competent and well capable of delivering babies when required. It is absolute nonsense to suggest we are abdicating our responsibility. The recruitment that the HSE is telling me it is doing is happening across the country. We are facing a national recruitment challenge that is not specific to a particular hospital. Having said all of that, I do not need to tell Deputy Chambers that the HSE delivers services on behalf of the Government. It is responsible for this. It gives us answers to explain what it is doing, or attempting to do, in areas like recruitment. The Deputy might not like what I am saying, but all I am doing is setting out what the HSE is telling me it is doing. The HSE has advised me that it is determined to fill these positions so that it can continue to help the women of the area in question to deliver their children in a safe manner, as they are used to doing.

On a point of order, to suggest that I am "irresponsible" for raising a genuine concern that has been brought to my attention by midwives working at Mayo University Hospital smacks of the arrogance of the Government.

No, please Deputy.

It is really unacceptable. I ask the Minister of State to withdraw that remark.

Let us not get into that sort of thing.

You said it. I did not say it.

You called me "irresponsible". You said it.

I just said it is "irresponsible" for Deputies-----

Check the record.

-----to create the impression that people are-----

Check the record.

Deputies, can we restore a little order please?

Human Rights

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise awareness of the circumstances of the Libyan people. Libya is in turmoil and chaos. It has three ostensible Governments, none of which could be considered a functioning Government. The economy is sliding towards bankruptcy as the Central Bank of Libya eats into its reserves. Citizens are finding it difficult to make ends meet. There are shortages of electricity, fuel and medical care. Armed groups are roaming about. Many Libyan people are waiting to get to Europe. The EU is providing funding to Libya to deal with migrants in line with the Malta declaration policies. This ludicrous hypocrisy is harming the migrants involved.

I have seen reports and pictures depicting the so-called migrant centres. I have heard testimonies from some of those who have survived the search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. As a result of the political situation in Libya and the lack of rule of law, people are being held arbitrarily. No one knows how the detention system is working. The inhumane conditions do not meet any national, regional or international standards. They are dangerously overcrowded. There is no light and no ventilation. The sanitation areas are unsuitable. There are health hazards. There is no running water in many of them. Where the availability of running water has been improved, unhindered 24-hour access to toilets is not widespread. There are cases of extreme violence and abuse from people in authority in these centres, as well as from smugglers and criminal gangs. Injuries like fractured bones, open wounds, cigarette burns and lash marks have been documented.

There have been many instances of malnutrition in the migrant centres. The global acute malnutrition rate was 5% in some of these centres. The rate of acute malnutrition was 10% in one particular centre. Non-governmental organisations would not see that extent of adult malnutrition in emergency nutritional crises in Africa. There are concerns about the calorie content of the food being given to people in these centres. People in some centres are being fed from communal bowls. One can imagine the scramble for food that results. This has a particular effect on the young, the disabled and the sick. People who have been rescued in the Mediterranean have spoken openly about the abuse and sexual violence that is occurring at these centres. Many of the illnesses that are appearing are preventable under normal circumstances. There have been instances of torture, forced labour and financial exploitation. I am setting out the facts of the situation.

Many of these people in the centres were "rescued" in the Mediterranean and brought to Sicily before being returned to Libya. I acknowledge the courage of our Navy personnel who are involved in search and rescue operations. However, we must note that many of those who are rescued from drowning are left in appalling and inhumane conditions. During a rescue operation in the Mediterranean in May 2017, members of the Libyan coastguard approached a boat loaded with distressed migrants and intimidated the passengers by firing gunshots into the air. They came onto their boat to relieve them of phones, money and other belongings. We are told that members of the Libyan coastguard have received training and support from the EU. Evidence of that is not to be seen. I have read the testimony of a survivor who jumped into the water because he preferred to die at sea than to be repressed and to die in Libya.

During this year's election campaigns in Europe, we are being reminded of the importance of core European values in the context of the political situation in Europe. Ireland was instrumental in developing the sustainable development goals as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. We are respected for our untied aid. We are trusted. I am proposing that the concerns I have expressed about the facts that are emerging from the migrant centres should be raised at this month's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. Ireland, through the Minister of State with responsibility for EU matters, should speak up for the people who are being treated appallingly in these detention centres. If we do not do so, there is something seriously wrong with our moral and ethical values here and in Europe.

I am glad to have an opportunity to address the House on this important matter. I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for raising it. I agree with her that everyone has been moved by the terrible images and distressing reports of men, women and children drowning in the Mediterranean. We all agree that such terrible and appalling incidents should not be happening on the doorstep of the EU in the 21st century. The migration crisis is one of the greatest challenges ever to face the EU. It has been discussed at almost every European Council meeting in recent months. It will be on the agenda for the next Council meeting later this month. It has been addressed by foreign affairs and justice Ministers on many occasions. The EU has responded to the migration crisis by adopting a range of measures to deal with this global mass movement of people. As Deputy O'Sullivan has said, it has engaged with countries of origin and transit to address the root causes of migration, for example through tailor-made migration compacts. This has involved the agreement of a plan to relocate migrants from Italy and Greece across the EU. Operation Sophia has been launched with the intention of disrupting people-smuggling in the Mediterranean. Substantial financial assistance has been provided to Libya and other countries that are hosting large numbers of migrants.

The past year has seen the main focus shifting from Turkey and Greece to the so-called south Mediterranean route which, as the Deputy mentioned, is the route from Libya to Italy. So far this year, approximately 59,000 people have made the journey. Tragically, the International Organisation for Migration estimates that 1,480 people have drowned.

In March, European Union Heads of State and Government set out the European Union's commitment to assist Libya in the Malta Declaration. That commitment has quite a broad range of measures, including capacity building, training and the provision of equipment and support for the Libyan national coastguard and other agencies. It also seeks to ensure that there is adequate reception capacity in Libya for migrants, including by working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

In April, a €90 million programme was approved to step up the protection of migrants, as the Deputy has described, and to reinforce better migration management in Libya. Some €4.8 million of that is aimed at protection activities and €42 million is aimed at socio-economic development at municipal level and local governance. This programme will be implemented through a number of international agencies, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF. This is in addition to the €120 million already announced by the European Union for migration-related support for Libya to assist authorities and the population. The European Union will continue to closely monitor the migration situation in Libya to see what additional support is required. The reason for such targeted funding is an acceptance of the facts, as highlighted by the Deputy, that there was significant work and difficulty on the ground in Libya that needs to be addressed.

I thank the Minister of State. The facts I presented have come from reports and I have pictures, which I can show to the Minister. When he looks at them I believe he would say that drowning would be preferable to ending up in one of those detention centres. We agree these incidents should not be happening, but they are, so there is a need to rethink in this regard. There was horror in 2008 when a deal emerged between the former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and Colonel Gaddafi involving a huge amount of money being paid so that Colonel Gaddafi would keep migrants in Libya so that they would not get to Italy, but the same thing is happening today. Some of the migrants have been in Libya for more than 20 years because they were oil workers. They are now in these detention centres.

How much Irish aid - which we are very good at - is going into these detention centres? The Minister of State mentioned vast sums of money, but where exactly is it going? Obviously, it is into the pockets of these criminal gangs who are abusing the situation. One of the replies we got to a parliamentary question stated that the policies are bespoke solutions to the migration problem. That is not good enough because we are fuelling so much pain, horror and, I believe, dissent, and we wonder why people are rebelling against these sorts of conditions.

With regard to the Libyan coastguard, it appears that nobody is in control so each individual coastguard has carte blanche to do what it wants. It is very important that international organisations get into these centres. That is one thing that Ireland could be very strong on at the next Foreign Affairs Council meeting. We have to speak out about these human rights abuses because that is what they are.

With respect to the Libyan situation in general, a suggestion was mooted that there could be a role for the Department's conflict resolution unit and perhaps that could be examined, but we cannot stand by and allow the conditions in those centres to continue as there are, being funded by the EU and by Ireland.

The evidence the Deputy presented is not disputed. There is an acceptance there is very significant difficulty and abuse of civil and human rights of the people in Libya. Certainly it is going too far to say that any circumstance is better than drowning. We have seen the great work our navy has done.

On the Deputy's specific point about how the aid and the programmes will be distributed, it will be through UNICEF and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is through their presence on the ground that the moneys are to be dispersed. As the Deputy said, there is not a government in Libya. Therefore, we must work to ensure that pressure can be brought to bear from the African Union, United Nations, the League of Arab States and the European Union, which are all working together, to encourage a process that has seen some limited progress to date but without an effective government in the country to guarantee and secure the human rights of people, it is extremely difficult.

This is not an excuse but it is a fact that it is only since April that this €90 million of funding has been approved to address the situation on the ground and to continue to work on the principle of working with countries of origin and countries of transit to ensure that people do not take, and are protected from being forced to take, these terrible perilous journeys that we see being taken. I accept that is a very late timeline given what we know to have been the case in Libya for a long number of months.