Topical Issue Debate

School Transport Eligibility

I appreciate the selection of this subject by the Office of the Ceann Comhairle. I am very glad the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, is here to deal with this Topical Issue. I appreciate his engagement with me and other Members in regard to school transport. The issue pertains in particular to the start of the school year last year. The Minister of State facilitated meetings with constituents of mine, which I appreciate. Deputy Thomas Byrne mentioned earlier that there is a huge volume of work in July and August. Those of us who represent very rural constituencies know that much of our case work during August covers school transport issues.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, and Deputy Byrne, the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, and all of us in the House are well aware, school transport is a huge resource for rural Ireland. At times we do not factor it in enough as a necessary ingredient to ensure we retain population in rural Ireland. Recently, in reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister of State mentioned to me that approximately 116,000 children avail of school transport on an annual basis. It shows the huge importance and value of the school transport system. By and large it works well, but there are always difficulties, and we all know that wherever we have a boundary or a border there will be a difficulty. That is the problem.

I have a particular concern about the changes introduced some years ago. Members of a family may have traditionally attended a post-primary centre but after changes were introduced younger siblings were not entitled to transport to the same centre their older siblings attended. We cannot have a situation where all siblings may attend one primary school but two older siblings then attend two different post-primary centres. The method of calculation is that people have to go online to apply for a ticket and Google Maps provides information on the distance. Some of the suggested routes to calculate the distance between the home and the post-primary centre take people along roads that are not passable for a motor car never mind a minibus or a large school bus.

I would appreciate if some greater flexibility could be given to Bus Éireann in making decisions literally on the ground. I know of one case in my county where on a particular loop road one family is deemed eligible for transport to a school, but it is further away from the school than another family, and whatever way the calculation was made it is the reverse of what it should be. We have to allow the Bus Éireann personnel, who do a good job often in difficult circumstances, to be practical and measure the distance from the home on the basis of the passable route and the route people use.

All of us who represent rural constituencies know that traditionally some parts of a parish may have a different village or town as its town or village to the other half of the parish. There are boundaries and natural catchment areas. The least that could be done in this case is where older siblings have attended a specific post-primary centre that younger siblings should not be denied the same level of school transport as the older siblings to that centre.

I know granting concessionary tickets is a very welcome development but there is a cost to it for many families. All of us know families with primary and post-primary school children. They have huge costs. We should ensure younger siblings are entitled to the same level of service as their older siblings who went to the school deemed to be their local post-primary centre.

It is not easy to draw up a national scheme that will meet all requirements because of geography, topography, roads and natural catchment areas that evolved and are not coterminous with the parish boundary of the school catchment area. Bus Éireann does a good job on the ground. Give it the flexibility to make decisions and submissions to the Department to deal with those anomalies that arise.

I thank Deputy Smith and I congratulate him on his extensive knowledge of school transport. I have met him on a number of occasions. I could read out a long prepared script and answer based on the question he asked. What he has said is correct. It is an extensive operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. It covers more than 100 million km annually and approximately 116,000 children, including almost 12,000 children with special needs, are transported in approximately 4,500 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools. It is complicated and complex.

I tend to say things straight, and I agree with what the Deputy has said. There should be a little more flexibility. Many Deputies are aware of the changes to the school transport scheme announced by the then Government in budget 2011. They derived from the recommendations contained in what was known as a comprehensive value for money review of the scheme. This was an independent value for money review of the scheme, as far as I am aware. The changes announced included the cessation of the catchment boundary area system to determine the eligibility at post-primary level and to increase from seven to ten the number of eligible children required to establish or retain our school transport service.

I have some difficulty with this and I am speaking with Bus Éireann and the Department about it currently. We have buses that may have eight or nine pupils but not the ten required. The Deputy may not be aware that in the past two weeks I had been requested to take 90 buses off their routes and I refused to do so. These were buses that had fewer than ten pupils. I indicated that at the very least if the schools could show that next year or the year after they may be able to bring the number of pupils on the route to ten, that the buses would be kept in the system, and this will happen.

In general, children are eligible for post-primary school transport if they reside not less than 4.8 km and are attending their nearest school. It is important to note that children who were eligible for school transport prior to the introduction of the changes retain this eligibility for the duration of their education at the school. This is provided there is no change in their circumstances. However, all new pupils, including siblings of existing pupils, are assessed for school transport eligibility under the revised criteria.

To answer the question the Deputy has asked, I will have a look at it. Next week, I plan to meet departmental officials on school transport again, and I will keep the Deputy up to speed on whether we can move forward on the suggestion he has made. Next week, I will also meet a number of Deputies from various parties, and if the Deputy would like to be part of the meeting he would be very welcome for a number of minutes. I ask him to email me the proposal and suggestion he has made before I meet the departmental officials next week, and we will see whether we can move forward on the very issue he has spoken about, with which I have some difficulty, I may as well be frank with the Deputy.

I welcome the Minister of State’s forthright response and his obvious determination to bring about a resolution to these difficulties. It will not cost millions of euro. The moneys involved are small amounts, yet it is so important to families. We know families are stressed out at the beginning of the school year with various back-to-school costs. Additional difficulties with school transport and concerns about getting children to school just add awful further stress to families, in particular if both parents are working or there is only one parent in the home. Any measures to deal with the difficulties on the ground are welcome.

We do not factor in enough the importance of the school transport service in regenerating rural areas and keeping rural Ireland alive. Every rural Member will have had a call from a couple intending to set up a family home in a rural area inquiring about the level of school transport in a particular rural area. It determines whether people will live in particular areas. It is a practical matter with which parents have to deal.

I welcome the Minister of State's commitment to bring a practical approach to this issue. I have come across some instances of children who had school transport to a primary school but none when they went on to post-primary school, even though they were both in the same catchment areas. Either we have feeder primary schools into second level or not.

I would be glad to participate in the meeting proposed by the Minister of State. It would be welcome if he was able to give out a clear message that common sense will prevail on the ground. We cannot be measuring routes over mountains and bog roads as the nearest distance between a home and post-primary school.

There has been no change in the method used to calculate the distance that determines a child's eligibility for school transport. That is determined by Bus Éireann by measuring the shortest traversable route from the child’s home to the relevant school. I understand there are difficulties with mountain passes and so forth. There is no question, however, that it will have to be examined.

The budget allocated for school transport is €182 million per year. I am restricted in that I cannot increase that budget. If I were given an extra €10 million or €20 million, there would be no problem with eligible children or concessionary children using school transport. However, it is difficult.

I have some difficulty with the method using the shortest traversable route. We are speaking to Bus Éireann to deal with that issue. However, I am bound by the legislation introduced in the Dáil in 2011 and 2012. I must work within that to the best of my ability. I try to manage outside it and to bring common sense to bear. In 2017 and 2018 we may need to look at how the scheme operates and come back from what was agreed in 2011 and 2012. Circumstances, geography, bus routes and ability have changed. We should have a look at bus capacity to see whether it should be ten, seven or eight children.

I am curtailed by the amount of finance my Department has. We are right up to the edge with 116,000 children, 12,000 special needs children, 4,500 vehicles and the current budget.

Dental Services Provision

I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue which is of such importance to parents of primary school children in counties Offaly and Laois. I am raising this issue as a result of numerous representations which I have received from parents who are extremely concerned that dental check-ups or screenings are not being carried out as frequently as was the norm in the past by the midlands public dental service.

We know from our census figures that our population and that the children eligible for and requiring the service has seen a considerable increase in recent years. From 2008 to 2017, County Offaly has seen an increase of 4%, while County Laois has seen a much larger increase of 25% in the same period. In fact, if we go back as far as 2002, the figures are even more concerning, especially in County Laois which has seen an increase 46% in numbers of children aged five to 12 years of age.

What is the problem? There has been a reduction in dental surgeons available to provide basic dental care. This has led to significant concerns for parents who were depending on the programme which had been rolled out to first class, fourth class and sixth class pupils. Despite the increase in the number of children eligible to avail of the service, the number of whole-time equivalent dental surgeons has reduced dramatically in counties Offaly and Laois by 56%. As far back as 2009, fourth class had to be dropped from the service altogether, while only first and sixth class targeted for routine treatment. Now in 2017, only sixth class is being targeted. As for first class children, preventive treatment will be provided to them only if resources are available.

The midlands public dental department needs an increase of at least 3.5 whole-time equivalents to return to the previous provision of the service to first, fourth and sixth class. We know best practice guidelines advise that, at the very least, children should have an annual check-up. We are slipping further away from that target. Accordingly, it is imperative the dental department in the midlands gets sanction from Health Service Executive, HSE, management to recruit a vacant dental surgeon position. A major recruitment drive for dental services must be a priority for approval by the HSE. I know the parents of primary school children in counties Offaly and Laois expect no less and their children deserve no less.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris.

I thank Deputy Corcoran Kennedy for the opportunity to address the issue of dental services provided by the HSE in the midlands. Dental services for children up to 16 years of age and persons of all ages with special needs are provided by the public dental service of the HSE through its dental clinics. HSE dental clinics provide a screening and fissure sealant programme for children at key stages of development, that is, children aged 11 to 16; children aged six to eight; and, where resources are available, children aged nine to 11. The service includes referral for further treatment, including orthodontic treatment, where necessary. Emergency care for children up to 16 years of age and treatment for special needs patients is also provided.

The issue raised is an operational matter for the HSE. Officials in the Department of Health have contacted the HSE about services in the midlands. I am informed by the HSE that, based on current staffing levels, the dental service in the midlands has targeted children in sixth class in the school year 2016-2017. Where resources permitted, children in first class were also targeted for preventive treatment. The HSE anticipates the service will target sixth class again in the next academic year.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, has asked the HSE to investigate this matter and write directly to the Deputy. There is a commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to introduce a preventive dental health programme for children under 12 and adult medical cardholders. The national oral health policy, which the Department is currently developing, will inform future provision of dental services. The aim of the policy, which is being led by the chief dental officer, is to develop a model of care that will enable preventive approaches to be prioritised, improve access, and support interventions appropriate to the current needs. These are matters which the Minister intends to consider in the context of the implementation of the health commitments in the programme for Government and having regard to the funding available to facilitate such measures.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, for her reply. I welcome the fact that she stated the Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment to introduce a preventive dental health programme for children under 12 and adult medical card holders.

The thrust of my Topical Issue matter concerns children in primary school. Children in primary schools in Offaly and Laois are being put at risk of undiagnosed oral disease because the HSE is not providing the staff numbers required. We are fast heading towards having the service reduced to an emergency service instead of one with proper routine care. This is absolutely unacceptable. The HSE's management must be urged to take action. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure the Minister, Deputy Harris, immediately requests that the filling of the vacant dental surgeon position be sanctioned. This matter arose in May 2016 and the post still has not been sanctioned. It is crucial that we try to return to the level of service we were rolling out a little less than ten years ago. I realise, of course, we have been through a very difficult crisis in this country but it is unacceptable in 2017 that our primary schoolchildren are being exposed to the risk of oral difficulties.

I have noted carefully the Deputy's concerns and frustrations. In the good old days, when we were on the ERHA and we travelled around the country with the South-Western Area Health Board, one of the topical issues was orthodontics. Children in the early stages of their schooling were not looked after properly and got worse as they got older. I know the Deputy is well aware of what is needed in the area and the number of posts that need to be filled. The proposal will be considered. As stated, it is part of the Estimates for 2018. The Deputy has highlighted an urgent need to recruit someone at this very early stage. Children cannot wait until the Estimates are completed for a service to be put in place.

I concur with what the Deputy has said and I make the Minister aware of her frustration and concerns and, above all, the fact that children are waiting to be seen in classes other than first and sixth classes. They are developing very serious dental and oral health needs. I will make sure that I bring to the attention of the Minister the statistics I have taken down on the populations in the areas the Deputy mentioned.

Cancer Services Provision

The issue I have sought permission to raise is a very important one for women who are survivors of breast cancer and find themselves seeking support from the HSE after a mastectomy. The backdrop is that breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in Ireland, second only to lung cancer. It affects a significant number of women nationally. Statistics show that approximately 2,500 women per annum are treated for or are at least diagnosed as having breast cancer. It affects them directly and also their families.

It was brought to my attention late last week that the HSE had decided off its own bat to introduce a policy on the provision of post-mastectomy products. I will quote several lines from an email that was sent to me. It claims that, after surgery, a lady is currently supplied and fitted with a breast prosthesis and two surgical bras to hold it in place. If this lady has a medical card, she may then be fitted and supplied with two surgical bras every year and a new breast prosthesis every two years, if required. Yesterday, the person who sent me the email received an email from the HSE stating that, from 1 July, there has been a new allowance in place and that ladies will now only be provided with an allowance of €68.50 for one breast prosthesis every two years and will no longer be provided with surgical bras other than those supplied when leaving hospital. The cost of a breast prosthesis, the email states, is between €150 and over €200, depending on the specification. The concern was considerable.

The Minister of State's colleague, the Minister, Deputy Harris, moved quite quickly to postpone the implementation of this new policy. What we want is certainty from the Minister of State and the Government on this policy because it appears nobody was consulted apart from the Irish Cancer Society. No survivors of breast cancer or clients of the HSE were canvassed or consulted directly.

With regard to public policy, I am not aware of any public representatives having been consulted through the HSE forums that now exist around the country. Given the impact on those who have had a mastectomy and who are dealing with the physical and emotional fallout from a cancer condition, it is unacceptable that the support the HSE was providing was suddenly halved overnight. The sums of money I have quoted in the context of the overall HSE budget seem tiny. Could the Minister of State shed a little light on this in her reply? There is a pause until August, as we now know. What will happen after August? Will the Minister of State also address the inconsistency or lack of uniformity in the application of the policy throughout the country? Will the same supports be available to medical card holders and non-medical card holders?

On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris, I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to address the issue of supports provided to breast cancer survivors. The provision of wigs and hairpieces by the HSE to patients who are being or have been treated for cancer and other illnesses is operated by means of a grant voucher system administered by the community healthcare organisations, CHOs. Patients can select their preferred wig or hairpiece, and the HSE refunds the service user or service provider up to the value of the voucher issued. The Minister became aware, through media reports on 30 June, of the HSE's intention to introduce revised arrangements for the provision of supports to the patients in question. I understand that the HSE's objective was to develop more equitable arrangements for the provision of such products and to extend these supports to a broader cohort of patients. The HSE established a working group to undertake a full review of the operation of this service and develop national guidelines to ensure uniformity of approach in the provision of these products at local CHO level. This was part of a wider community-funded schemes service-improvement programme. The guidelines were developed by the HSE on an overall cost-neutral basis. This would have meant gains in some areas and reductions in others.

While the Minister understands that the health service is working with a range of stakeholders, most importantly patients, to try to improve the supports throughout the country, this cannot take place before plans are put in place to ensure there is no hardship or reduction of supports for patients who are already receiving a particular level of service. Neither the Department nor the Minister for Health were involved or consulted in the course of this process. At the Minister's request, the HSE has deferred the introduction of the proposed changes. He has asked the HSE to re-examine the matter with a view to devising a plan that will achieve an equitable outcome but not lessen the level of provision for patients who are already coping with a very serious illness. The HSE has confirmed to the Department of Health that it has deferred changes to its guidelines pending further review and a consultation process, which will include engagement with the Department of Health, suppliers, patient groups and other stakeholders.

I assure patients and Deputies that anyone receiving post-mastectomy products, or wigs or hairpieces, will continue to receive the same level of support. It is essential that such patients not be subjected to any additional worry or stress at what is a very difficult time for them and their families. I cannot give the Deputy any details on what will emerge from the review but I will ensure that the Deputy receives a full reply from the Minister as soon as I speak to him, which will be tomorrow.

Everything has been put back where it was. Nothing is happening and everything has been deferred until a proper system and plan can be put in place. As a woman, I was very concerned when I heard what had happened. I know that other Deputies were too. Deputy Tom Neville and others on this side of the House were really struck by the fact that this had gone on and been broadcast and that people had been sent letters. It caused huge strain for patients who were already in difficult circumstances, for which we apologise. It was terrible that it happened.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I do not think anybody blames her or the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, for the decision that was taken which completely blindsided him as head of the health service and everybody around the country. I was very heartened by his robust reaction when he was challenged and it was put to him. It has been reassuring for breast cancer survivors and those dealing with the fallout.

I have been lobbied by a group in Limerick and can only speak for my part of the country, as Deputy Tom Neville can. About 200 clients attend the breast cancer clinic at University Hospital Limerick. They have formed a group and will be seeking to meet the Minister shortly. The Minister of State might convey that message to him. They would like him to hear about their experiences and how these supports are critical. Part of what came out in the past few days through a discussion on our local radio station, Limerick's Live 95FM, was that women would need ongoing support after a mastectomy. The policy was to provide initial support and leave women on their own after that. That is not acceptable. I ask the Minister of State to impress on the Minister the need to clear up the anomaly. Will it be just medical card holders or will non-medical card holders be able to avail of the supports available on an equal basis? We obviously need to standardise the service across the country. Will those engaged in the consultation process please consult the survivors of breast cancer? Will the Minister of State tell the Minister that there will be a communication on its way to him shortly requesting him to meet a group which represents breast cancer survivors?

As I said, the consultation process will include engagement with the Department of Health's suppliers, patient groups and other stakeholders. I firmly believe the group about which the Deputy is speaking must be part of it also. What happened should not have happened which, as a woman, I can perfectly understand. I have family members and friends who had a breast removed. It is a very difficult time for everybody. What we want to do is make sure everybody receives a decent service at a time when they are very seriously ill. What happened in the last couple of weeks should not have happened, and I cannot relate to the Deputy on a basis such as this as to why it happened. However, when I spoke to the Minister about it, as others did, action was taken rapidly to put things right aside, as the Deputy said. The consultation process will have to involve all those patients who are suffering, as well as stakeholders. Only then will those who, unfortunately, will end up being so ill that they will have to have a breast removed believe the service available meets their needs. That has to be the case for medical card holders and for others also. I will relay a very strong message to the Minister because it is something that cuts to the core of every person in the country, not just women but also family members, including husbands and partners. What happened was shocking and should never have happened.

Emergency Accommodation Provision

During the week of 22 to 28 May there were 1,312 homeless families, including an astonishing 2,777 children, in homeless accommodation around the country. They are really shameful figures. Some 852 of these families were single parent families and there were almost 1,100 families with 2,266 children in Dublin alone. Seven weeks ago, on 18 May, I raised a Topical Issue about the Government’s commitment to end the placing of families in hotels and guesthouses by 1 July and the failure of the then Minister to ensure good communication and give notice to the families concerned. On 23 May I received a reply to my questions from the deputy chief executive of Dublin City Council, Mr. Kenny, on the breakdown of homeless families. He told me that, of the 1,454 accommodation places to be made available for homeless families in hotel rooms by 1 July, 625 or almost half would be in family hubs, which essentially are homeless hostels for families. He also stated hubs were regarded as emergency accommodation. Does this mean that they will be classified as supported temporary accommodation, STA, or private emergency accommodation, PEA, within the Minister's homeless statistics?

We have been told that there are nine of these hubs in Dublin city - at High Park, Drumcondra; Ashling House, Clontarf; Mater Dei, Clonliffe Road; Greencastle Parade, Coolock; Kinsealy Lane in the area of Fingal County Council; the famous Lynam's, O'Connell Street, about which we heard on the floor of the House a few weeks ago; Clonard Road, Crumlin; Sarsfield Road, Ballyfermot; and Millmount, Dundrum. In all, they provide 254 places for families. We were then told that Dublin City Council had obtained five-year leases on several hotel properties in Dublin for the same purpose.

I have been in contact with some impressive civic society groups that are working for people living in homeless accommodation such as the North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee led by Ms Aisling Hedderman and Ms Aisling Kenny. They put a number of key questions, to which I have not received adequate or even basic replies. First and foremost, for how long will families be kept in these homeless hubs? What guarantee can the Minister of State give that they will not be there for much longer than six months? Dublin City Council will not give a guarantee that it will be for a six-month period. As the Minister of State knows, international best practice is that six months is the longest period for which people should be kept in uncertain accommodation. What happens if a family refuse a place in a hub or if they are very unhappy going into HAP-type accommodation? What is the cost of the family hubs to the State? I understand there are to be up to 18 hubs to house approximately 600 families at an estimated cost of €25 million. Will that be the cost per year? The obvious question constituents will ask is: how many houses could be built for that amount of money if we were to start an emergency local authority housing programme, for which I have asked many times in the House? Of what will the accommodation consist? Will it just be one big room or will there be a number of rooms per family, depending on the ages and gender of the children? There are reports of adults sleeping in bunk beds. How will the rosters to access cooking and laundry facilities be managed? These are very basic questions and when one starts to ask them, one wonders how the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, got this chaotic idea off the ground in the first place.

It has been reported that rents in the hubs will be between €37 and €45 per week and that there will be extra charges on top of these amounts for laundry facilities, etc. How were these figures reached and why? Some of the families in question might be saving towards HAP scheme deposits. What level of local access will there be to and what safety measures will be in place in the hubs, given that we are talking about thousands of children?

I tried to raise an issue with the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, but my question was not reached. It was related to the provision of support these vulnerable families would need, including mental health, addiction and education services and training. There are a lot of questions to be answered and there is great unhappiness among my constituents. It is a huge problem in Dublin and many other areas around the country.

I will try to answer as many of the Deputy's questions as possible. If some questions are not touched on, I will certainly endeavour to obtain further answers afterwards.

One of the key commitments in Rebuilding Ireland is to only use commercial hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless families in exceptional circumstances. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is absolutely committed to achieving this. Hotels are not a suitable or secure form of accommodation for families and especially for young children, as the Deputy pointed out.

In terms of overall progress, since Rebuilding Ireland was published last July, it is worth noting that over 830 families have exited hotels and B&Bs and that over 400 families have been prevented from entering hotels in the period up to the end of May of this year. However, despite this, at the end of May, there were still 647 families in commercial hotels and B&B-type accommodation. While it should be acknowledged that this is a considerable reduction on the 871 such families recorded at the end of March, this number of families in hotels and B&Bs needs to reduce and reduce fast.

With regard to the 647 families, the Dublin authorities have confirmed to me that all of the remaining families have been personally contacted and have been given written indications of the accommodation solution envisaged to allow them exit their current commercial hotel or B&B arrangement. Roughly one third of these families will move to permanent social housing in the coming weeks in accordance with their place on the housing list. One third will move into private rented tenancies with the assistance of social housing supports, primarily via the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme while the remaining families will be relocated into newly developed family-focused temporary accommodation facilities or "family hubs".

The Dublin authorities have been working on the delivery of 15 family-focused facilities at a total estimated cost of €25 million, all of which will be in place in the coming weeks. These 15 facilities will provide supported temporary accommodation for some 600 families at any point in time. The Minister recently announced an additional €10 million in funding for the development of further family-focused facilities. This funding will provide additional accommodation for at least another 200 families. The provision of new custom-developed, family-focused facilities will provide more appropriate and suitable temporary accommodation for families offering family living arrangements with a greater level of stability than is possible in hotel accommodation. The facilities will offer on-site access to required services, such as welfare, health, housing services, cooking and laundry facilities and appropriate family supports and will facilitate more co-ordinated needs assessment and support planning.

However it is important to note that these facilities are not a long-term housing solution and families will be moved into independent tenancies as quickly as possible. While families are accommodated in these facilities, they will still be considered as "homeless" for the purpose of their social housing assessment and their homeless status will be reflected in monthly homeless reports. In delivering these new facilities, it is the responsibility of the housing authority to comply with all statutory requirements, including planning, building and fire regulation, and there are strict quality controls in place to ensure this. There are also guidelines in place, which were developed by my Department in consultation with the Dublin authorities, regarding standards for the various forms of temporary accommodation for families. This guidance includes standards relating to minimum sizes for family units and the provision of living spaces and bathroom facilities. Furthermore, the Dublin authorities are also guided in the provision of temporary accommodation for families by the national quality standards framework for homelessness services, which was developed by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. This framework provides for a minimum level of quality in the provision of temporary accommodation to homeless families.

The Minister is confident that these new facilities will provide more security and stability for homeless families than would be possible in hotel accommodation. Of course, our ultimate objective remains to provide long-term accommodation solutions for the families concerned and this will continue to be the focus of concerted priority supported by the €5.35 billion in funding committed under Rebuilding Ireland.

I wish the Minister of State well and congratulate him on becoming Minister of State. What is the new target date? When does the Minister of State expect that there will be no more families in hotels? The Minister of State spoke about fire safety and living standards of a legal standard yet only a couple of weeks ago, people were sent into Lynam's Hotel, which is basically a building site and where there is real danger in terms of fire safety. I believe there were chains on entrances, which is pretty outrageous.

One of the sites is the Bargaintown warehouse on Greencastle Parade in Coolock in my constituency, which will be converted to turn it into a family hub for 40 families. According to one of the reports I received, minor alterations would be necessary for what is essentially a factory building. In fact, it used to be a Data Products electronics factory. How can alterations be minor if the building is to be turned into a liveable, fire-safe and totally accessible residence for that many families with many children? We have been told that it may cost €3.5 million. The Salvation Army is supposed to be the estate manager. Could the Minister of State confirm that this is the kind of money we are talking about?

The Government is forging ahead with this model. Clearly, supply is still the problem. When we look at the report from Mr. Brendan Kenny from Dublin City Council, we can see the breakdown of figures is as follows: new family hubs involve 254, re-classification involves 371, rapid build involves 131, HAP involves 300, acquisitions involve 150 and social housing involves 248. Mr. Kenny comes up with a total of 1,454 homes for families in distress who could be on the housing waiting list for very long periods of time. I often represent people who have been on the waiting list for eight, ten or 12 years, are in desperate accommodation, are faced with eviction or are in hotels. They will now be in hubs. The Minister of State's job is to move on housing supply. This is not a solution. As the Minister of State said, this cannot be regarded as a solution. The Minister of State is the former Chairman of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, of which I am a proud member. Quite clearly, we need a housing programme that will deliver safe, secure and long-term local authority or voluntary housing body homes for our constituents. The hubs are not the answer. They are a deplorable development.

I thank the Deputy for his kind comments. In the committee of which we were both members, the level of agreement on the direction housing policy needed to take was striking. In my answer, there was no attempt to say anything other than that hubs are a temporary arrangement, albeit a much better arrangement than B&B and hotel accommodation. I reiterate that these facilities must meet fire standards and planning requirements. I will endeavour to get specific answers from the Department about the changes that must take place in the Bargaintown warehouse in the Deputy's constituency. Suffice to say that if upwards of €3 million is earmarked for it, as was suggested by the Deputy, it would indicate that there will be significant adjustments to that particular building but I will endeavour to get a specific answer.

There are approximately 10,000 new social housing units in the production pipeline from planning stages, to design stages to accommodation being built, finished and opened. I will be doing a bit of this tomorrow in Urlingford in County Kilkenny. We can all agree that it is not quick enough but it would be unfair to say that significant progress has not been made. Even in respect of temporary accommodation of people in hotels and B&Bs, the fact that the number of people in such accommodation has dropped from 870 to 647 in the past couple of months shows that there is a significant movement in the right direction. It will take more time before this figure of 647 is reduced and eliminated. There is an obligation on the Government and the housing authorities to ensure that those families who find themselves in this emergency receive better treatment than being put into a B&B or hotel. I will endeavour to get a direct answer regarding the issue in the Deputy's constituency.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.39 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 July 2017.