We may give some latitude on the order of debate. If Deputy Seán Crowe and Peadar Tóibín are ready, in the absence of the others, we will make a start.
Topical Issue Debate
I am not sure how up to date the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is with the dialysis situation in Tallaght Hospital. It is the regional centre of excellence for the Dublin Midlands hospital group and provides regional services such as 24-hour acute kidney dialysis care and home dialysis therapies. The demand for haemodialysis continues to grow as predicted by the national renal office and Tallaght Hospital's in-house assessments.
Dialysis activity at Tallaght Hospital has increased to more than 30,000 dialysis treatments per year. It has a designed capacity for 9,000 treatments a year. However, it has to deal with 30,000 treatments. The remainder were delivered in satellite dialysis units. That is basically private and costly. That is double the national average. Satellite dialysis units cannot cover complex medical diseases. Tallaght Hospital provides end-stage kidney disease management for St. James's Hospital. International best practice has mandated specific guidelines in regard to isolation facilities, patient segregation and wash facilities etc. to prevent hospital-acquired infections and blood-borne virus infections in haemodialysis units. These guidelines were adopted in 2006. New dialysis units have been commissioned and opened in other areas but the problem with Tallaght is that it is clearly not suitable. Tallaght Hospital's in-centre haemodialysis unit is not compliant with these 2006 guidelines. There is insufficient space around each dialysis station.
The heart of the matter is that there was an agreement to go ahead with the new unit. It was agreed in 2017 and then cancelled in January 2018. It is impacting on patients. The strategy behind it does not make sense. The unit in Tallaght has insufficient capacity to meet requirements and is not compliant with the Department of Health. There is also a shortage of capacity to deliver high dependency dialysis in the region. It does not make sense that the Health Service Executive, HSE, in its wisdom decided not to go ahead with this. I hope in her answer that the Minister of State will have some reasons why this is the case. Deferring this project will reverse the effect of the care provided to patients from south Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, Laois and Offaly with end stage kidney disease.
All new patients who enter dialysis will have to receive haemodialysis in contracted satellite services. I asked how much we were paying for these private dialysis services. I got a response from the Minister of State's Department and the answer for 2017 was €4.056 million. That does not include transport costs for dialysis patients, which was €1.2 million. It impacts on patients but it also impacts on the costs and the staff within the hospital. I cannot understand why the project has not gone ahead. We need answers. The space is there. It is ready to go. I talked to the local authority and there are no difficulties with planning permission. It is up to the HSE and, more importantly, the Minister to explain why the project has not gone ahead and when it will.
I am sorry that the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, cannot be here. I will take the opportunity to read the statement I have been given and then come back on some of the points that Deputy Crowe has raised.
The Minister, Deputy Harris, is aware that the Deputy has some concerns about the dialysis services in the Tallaght region. However, he can be assured that this is a matter the Department of Health, the HSE and the Dublin Midlands hospital group are working to address. Demand for haemodialysis nationally has been increasing in recent years. There was an average 5.6 % increase in dialysis treatments delivered by Tallaght Hospital over the past five years. There are currently approximately 220 patients receiving haemodialysis treatment and a further 40 patients receiving home dialysis therapy under the care of Trinity Health Kidney Centre and Tallaght Hospital.
I understand from the HSE that in 2017 there were 27,686 in-centre haemodialysis treatments. Those provided in Tallaght Hospital numbered 12,545, and those outsourced to satellite units under the governance of Tallaght Hospital numbered 15,141. In addition to this, there is an acute dialysis service in St James's Hospital that operates under the common governance model and common policies of the Trinity Health Kidney Centre. Tallaght Hospital is currently the second largest provider of haemodialysis in the country. The unit, with dialysis beds, is open seven days a week and almost all the growth in dialysis activity over the past few years has occurred in the satellite units. The requirement for additional capacity for dialysis at Tallaght is acknowledged.
The proposed new renal dialysis project to double the capacity at Tallaght Hospital is included in the national development plan. The new unit will not solely focus on increased capacity but also on enhancing the model of care, with particular emphasis on home and self-care. It will build on the existing status as a national home therapies centre. On the development of renal services overall, the Deputy may be aware that the HSE national renal office was established on World Kidney Day 2009 to provide governance, integration and leadership in developing a national framework for delivering renal services in Ireland.
The service planning and decision-making processes for allocation of resources are informed by the work of the renal office and its recommendations on future national renal priorities, based on clinical need and ongoing collection of epidemiological practice and outcome data. The overall aim is to develop networks of appropriately designed and maintained hospital dialysis facilities, with adequate inpatient, outpatient, laboratory and radiology facilities to support patient care in a fully integrated manner.
The Minister for Health is aware of the current demands on the renal services at Tallaght hospital and the requirement for expansion of dialysis capacity to accommodate the growth in demand. The Department of Health and the HSE are working to address the capacity necessary to meet this demand.
I have read the reply but it does not outline why the decision was made to go ahead and then cancel. The information I have suggests there is insufficient capacity to cope with clinical requirements. The service is not compliant with Department of Health infection guidelines. There is a shortage of capacity to deliver high-dependency dialysis in the region. I could go on. This represents an unacceptable clinical risk to patients and increases costs, with funding being diverted to the private sector. The contents of the reply do not add up. The situation is resulting in an increase of inappropriate use of intensive care unit beds.
We need to get our act together. I know the Minister for Health has been to the hospital and has looked at the dialysis unit. Anyone who has visited the hospital would argue that the service is insufficient and not up to standard. The staff are doing great work but it is clear that this unit has seen its day. I am concerned about cross-infection. If the unit is not compliant with Department of Health infection guidelines, then there is a responsibility on us to move ahead.
I accept that the Minister of State does not have the answer to when this will proceed. She referred to plans for the future. Does that mean next year or this year? Will it be in ten or 20 years? The Department plan for the future is mapped out over a long period of decades. When is this plan going ahead for a new dialysis unit, one clearly needed in Tallaght and the regional health area, which covers Laois, the midlands, Wicklow and so on. I trust the Minister of State has some sort of reply for me. This matter needs to be addressed. This is an ongoing difficulty which impacts on patients, their families and the staff of the hospital and it needs to be resolved now rather than later.
I do not have the actual answers to the questions posed by Deputy Crowe. However, I assure him that I am well aware of the renal dialysis services in Tallaght because a member of my family is there on a daily basis. I do not have a date and time. I have only been given what I have been given by the Department and the Minister's office. Having said that, I will relay some of Deputy Crowe's concerns to the Minister and ask him to reply to the Deputy directly because I do not have the relevant time and date. There is a need for this. It has been acknowledged that there are some concerns. I do not have the exact answers to the Deputy's questions but I will pursue the matter for him through the Minister's office. I will ask the Minister to get in touch with him directly.
I understand that the Minister for Health is very busy. There is no doubt about that in light of the current crisis. When we raise Topical Issue matters, however, it is important that we hear from someone of whom we can ask questions and who can provide answers. I mean no criticism of the Minister of State - she is fulfilling her role and I understand that.
Navan hospital is a great facility. It provides top-quality healthcare to thousands of patients in County Meath every year. It is a vital part of the health service in the county. The population of Meath is increasing rapidly, with a little under 250,000 people living there at the moment. The staff at the hospital do a tremendous job caring for patients and their work is of the highest standard. It has not been easy for them because they have had to operate in the shadow of significant cuts in recent years, including cuts to staffing numbers as well as in respect of the machines and technology with which they work.
In recent weeks, a problem has come to my attention. A general practitioner called me and said that he had received an echocardiogram report from the hospital that included a disclaimer. The disclaimer indicated that the health professional could neither stand over the quality of the machine nor the quality of the report. I investigated the source of this. I found out that the machine was outdated. Navan hospital had put in an application for the machine to be replaced in early 2016 but it was not replaced until late 2017. During that period, a total of 2,500 echocardiograms were carried out. Many, if not all, of the reports had a disclaimer from a senior medical professional stating that the quality of the echocardiogram could not be stood over. I approached the HSE on the issue. Let us bear in mind that an echocardiogram machine is important equipment. It allows doctors to understand the way the heart of a patient moves and the strength of the pumping. It also allows them to ensure that the valves in the heart are working correctly and works out whether blood is leaking backwards through those valves. It works out whether the valves are too narrow. It can actually work out whether there are tumours or infections growing around the heart valves.
This is critical technology. It is a critical diagnostic tool in an area of medicine that is critical for the survival of the individual in future. We know that a request was made to replace this out-of-date machine over a long period but it was not replaced. We know that health professionals in Navan hospital were forced to keep using the machine. However, the medical professionals put in a disclaimer stating that they could not stand over the quality of the machine or the reports. As a result, up to 2,500 patients have been given an echocardiogram report with a disclaimer.
I was cautious at the start of this because I did not want the message to go out to people who had gone through this process that in some way their diagnoses were sub par. I did not want them to get fearful. That is why I brought it to the HSE and sought for the HSE to retest these individuals in order to ensure that the original diagnoses were correct. In recent days, I have been told that the HSE has refused to retest these patients.
Let us suppose the Minister of State received a diagnosis on the basis of a diagnostic tool in respect of which a medical professional wrote a disclaimer stating that he could not stand over the quality of it. The Minister of State would want a retest. Why are other patients not granted the same?
On behalf of the Minister, I thank Deputy Tóibín for raising this matter. I wish to reassure the Deputy that the most important issue in the consideration of services for the people of Meath is to ensure patient safety and outcomes come first. I understand that the Deputy is referring to echocardiograms carried out at Our Lady's Hospital, Navan. The HSE has informed the Department of Health that approval was received for capital funding for the replacement of an echocardiogram machine in Our Lady's Hospital, Navan as part of the capital equipment replacement programme 2017. Following the appropriate procurement process, the new machine was commissioned and came into use before the end of 2017. I understand from the HSE that the replaced echocardiogram machine was decommissioned in August 2017.
The HSE has confirmed that service contracts on the old echocardiogram machine were still in place until the end of 2017 and these service contracts provide full traceability documentation which demonstrated that the machine was performing within acceptable parameters.
As the Deputy may be aware, an echocardiogram machine is a very subjective diagnostic tool and can vary for several reasons depending on the patient being reviewed. The HSE has confirmed that all echocardiograms conducted in Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, where anomalies or visual complexities were identified were escalated for enhanced imaging and the referring consultant was informed.
Management at the hospital is satisfied that there is no requirement to recall patients who had an echocardiogram.
Regarding services generally at Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, since 2013 the hospital has been part of the Ireland East hospital group. Every hospital in that group, large or small, has a vital role to play within their group with smaller hospitals such as Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, managing routine, urgent or planned care locally, more complex care managed in the larger hospitals and better linkages with primary, continuing and social care. As a smaller hospital, the challenge is to make sure that Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, provides more of the right type of services for the people of County Meath, which can safely be delivered, so that we maximise the benefit to patients. In order to ensure that the hospital continues to play a significant role in the Ireland East hospital group, it is engaged in a programme of redesign work to further integrate and enhance the role of Navan hospital as a constituent hospital within the hospital group. The Ireland East hospital group is continuing to engage closely with all interested parties to ensure that the needs of patients, staff and the local and wider communities are addressed.
On the issue of the echocardiograms, I assure the Deputy that the HSE has confirmed that Ireland East hospital group and the management at Navan hospital are satisfied, following a full review of circumstances surrounding this issue, that there is no requirement to recall patients who have had an echocardiogram in the period referred to. I reiterate that Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, will continue to play a significant role in the Ireland East hospital group in providing sustainable, safe and effective care at all approximate levels and complexity.
To be fair, it is important that I reaffirm the points the Minister of State has made in order that people are aware of the position. The hospital said that the technicians who calibrated the machine over that period of time were of the view that it was operating within the confidence levels that were required, but it has to be said that the request was made to replace the machine in early 2016, yet the machine was operating until August 2017. I was shocked about that but, on further investigation, I was told it is not unusual for machines to be out of date in hospitals and for the HSE not to provide the funding for those machines to be replaced in a timely fashion. The budgets are not with the hospitals. Therefore, the hospitals cannot purchase the necessary machines, rather they must apply for them. I am of the understanding that the instinct of the hospital initially when it became aware of this particular crisis was to re-echo 450 people who had negative outcomes in their diagnoses based on the echocardiograms.
What has happened is that there has been a flip in the decision of the HSE on whether to re-echo those people. What we have blatantly at the heart of this question are health professionals saying that they do not trust the quality of this diagnostic tool because this diagnostic tool is produced by a machine that is out of date. We have general practitioners, GPs, around the county who make diagnoses on the basis of a diagnostic tool with a disclaimer and then we have the HSE saying that everything is all right.
I ask the Minister to forgive me but when the HSE says that everything is all right in this environment it is not something that we as Deputies can take as read. We have a moral responsibility to push the HSE to make sure everything is all right. To make sure that everything is all right in this case, I believe, would be to make sure that anybody who is at home in County Meath who has had a heart issue diagnosed on the basis of an echocardiogram with a disclaimer has the opportunity to have another echocardiogram and another diagnosis as a result.
I understand the Deputy's frustration and annoyance about the Minister not being able to be here to take this matter. I can only respond to the Deputy on the basis of the reply to this Topical Issue matter that I have been given by the Department. I understand that when Topical Issue matters are selected by the Ceann Comhairle there is contact with the particular line Minister. Unfortunately, in the current circumstances, as acknowledged by the Deputy, the Minister, Deputy Harris, has been inundated with having to go from one place to another. Having heard the Deputy's concerns, from my reading of the statement provided by the Department, all I can do is assure him that it states an assessment has been done and that the hospital group has said that these machines are working. What the Deputy has said is very different from that.
I will, as one would say, echo the Deputy's concerns to the Minister about the 420 people, the issue about the disclaimer and the other references he made in his contribution. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to give a statement other than what is contained in the reply that I have been given by the Department because I cannot prejudge the issue of the machines that are in place and who gave permission for those machines to be used.
I have to be honest and say that I have been here on a number of occasions on a Thursday to answer Topical Issue matters raised and sometimes I have not been very clear because I do not have a clear answer myself. I want to assure the Deputies that I make it my business to contact each line Minister by email and personally to outline the concerns that have been raised. In doing that, I hope Deputy Tóibín and other Deputies would get some kind of response from the line Minister.
If I am correct, I believe there is a facility that allows Members to postpone their Topical Issue matter until the Minister can take it.
Mental Health Services
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, for staying here to answer this Topical Issue matter. I am often in the Chair and I see her frequently having to deal with some of those questions. That is not easy for her but we do need to get our point of view across.
Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health services, Roscommon has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. We were all familiar with the external review into mental health services in County Roscommon, which, as the Minister of State will know, painted a damning indictment of a service in crisis mode, a service I would remind her where it was deemed a culture of blame, secrecy and negativity abounds. It was one of the worst cases in the country. There is no doubt about that. I brought our spokesperson on mental health to a special conference evening in Roscommon and he was shocked and astounded at what was revealed there.
A commitment was made in the programme for Government to improve mental health services in the country. The reason I am raising this matter on the Topical Issue Debate is to seek assurances that those key recommendations will be implemented without any further delay and to seek an update on them, if they have already been implemented.
I remind the Minister of State that the review carried out in Roscommon commenced in August 2015 and it was finally completed in September 2017, two years later. While I accept the three independent people who produced that report needed to get all the facts and figures, that was an extraordinary length of time when we are dealing with mental health issues. What is the point in having such reviews carried out if they are just left on the shelf to gather dust?
We discussed the crisis facing the Rosalie centre in Castlerea in Roscommon with the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, yesterday evening. We discussed the need to save that unit. There are 12 patients in that unit. It has a capacity to accommodate 33 patients, but it has been simply run down by the HSE.
It is time that the HSE took its orders from the Minister. We need that space in the Rosalie unit in Roscommon. We need our hostels. There are a number of hostels being threatened with closure and no matter what the elected members, the HSE fora members, Deputy Browne, myself or any of my colleagues say, the HSE continues to take its decisions and move the way it wants to.
The HSE continuously tells people, such as me, that it knows what is best for the patient. I can tell the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, I know many of those families and people, and in some of those situations, I, their families and the local GP know best what those patients need. Sometimes the HSE is totally wrong.
Clinical assessment goes on and on every time. In one case in Roscommon regarding the Rosalie centre, we are being told that the patients no longer need psychiatric nurses and they are moving on now to older care. The reality is a bond has built up between those patients and the staff. What is happening, and I cannot get this through to the HSE, is the service is making people unhappy.
Something we all try to do in mental health care is try and make people happy again. With conversation, one gets them at ease. One should talk to them. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, herself knows that. She put a lot of work into such issues in her own constituency. In my view, the Government needs to have strong words with the HSE and instruct it not to be making these people and their families unhappy.
I thank the Minister of State again for taking the question here this evening.
I will be taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly.
Mental health remains a priority for this Government, reflected by the additional €35 million given in the last budget, thus bringing total HSE funding this year to over €910 million. The HSE is committed to ensuring that mental health services are delivered and modernised nationally, including those in the Galway and Roscommon mental health area. This objective is reinforced through the HSE Service Plan 2018.
In 2015, the executive deemed it necessary to conduct an independent review of the quality, safety and governance of Roscommon mental health services to support achieving the goals set out in A Vision for Change and other relevant national policies. Within a short period of being commissioned, it was clear that the initial timeframe proposed to conduct the review was insufficient and the review team received more time to complete its work. The subsequent comprehensive report made 27 recommendations for local service improvement. The report indicates that the review team was impressed by the majority of staff it met or interviewed, and it highlighted their commitment that services improve in Roscommon.
The overriding concern of the majority of those interviewed — staff, service users and carers — was that patients and families in Roscommon were not receiving services in line with best practice to meet required quality and safety of care standards.
Core issues highlighted in the report, for example, related to improving multidisciplinary team working, addressing fractured relationships among some of the local staff, enhancing line management and ensuring allocated funding is spent appropriately.
The steering group to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the report, which was published on 5 September 2017, has had regular meetings since that time. The initial focus of the steering group was to work through each of the recommendations, and set out clear, positive achievable actions. Following this, the project manager was tasked with drafting an action plan, which was signed off by the steering group in January last.
This is currently being considered by the HSE at national level. Arrangements have also been made to ensure independent oversight of implementation of the action plan.
Some of the recommendations have already been implemented, and more are in the process of being implemented. As highlighted in the report, other recommendations require a targeted approach to change management. In this regard, external change management practitioners have been employed to work through the changes directly with HSE staff. Communication has taken place with all relevant stakeholders including service users, family members, staff unions and public representatives, and the HSE will continue this process of engagement.
The action plan will be communicated to all relevant stakeholders once it has been signed-off at HSE corporate level, which is expected shortly. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has had various meetings with the HSE and local political or other representatives about improving mental health services in Roscommon.
The most recent of these was a constructive meeting last night in Leinster House, as has already been stated. The Minister of State also recently visited the area. The Deputy can rest assured that the Minister of State and the Department of Health will continue to closely monitor this issue to ensure that the recommendations of this report are delivered as quickly as possible.
I do not doubt the sincerity on the issue of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne.
The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, did a good job in chairing the meeting last night but from a HSE perspective, it was not constructive at all. The continuation of that unit in Castlerea, which is vital for the mental health services in County Roscommon, looks doubtful.
The capacity in that excellent centre, which is in a fine building, is 33. The HSE has deliberately refused to take new people in over a period of two years. It is now down to 12. It looks like they will let people go until there is nobody left and they close it down.
I will go back briefly to the independent report, which, as I stated, was a shocking indictment of the situation in Roscommon, and give the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, a few facts from it to remind her of what happened.
In 2012, the HSE returned €4.57 million in funding from Roscommon. In 2013, it sent back €6.91 million. In 2014, it sent back €6.19 million. Therefore, €17 million, which figure Deputy Byrne herself will be shocked with, was sent back by the HSE out of the mental health services in Roscommon when it was under pressure.
Sixty staff, including some excellent front-line staff, were interviewed as part of that review. They were outspoken about some things that were going on. They want the service to improve. They want a proper service for the people.
We must make the HSE realise that it is dealing with very vulnerable people, as Deputy Catherine Byrne herself well knows. As I stated, I am aware Deputy Byrne does a lot of work like this in her own constituency.
These are vulnerable people. I ask Deputy Byrne to bring back the message from me that the HSE should not continue to treat people in my constituency, who have in many cases mild mental health issues and need support and need help, like this.
I assure the Deputy I certainly will bring back his message.
I am taken aback at how important it is with mental health services right across all our communities for people to be in a happy environment where there is continuity and where, to be honest, they can feel at home. I have had experience of it in my own family with the mental health service locally. For anybody who is suffering with or who has relatives who have a mental health issue, it is important that such continuity is maintained, not only by the service providers or among staff, but in the family as well. I appreciate the message Deputy Eugene Murphy has given me and the concerns he has raised.
As I stated earlier, I will do my best, as always, to relay the messages back from the Deputies who raised the issues when the main Minister is not here and I would want that they would reply to the Deputies at the required level as well. I will continue to do that until I lose my job.
I appreciate that.
I want to raise the issue of Rosslare Europort. As the Minister will be aware, the port is unique among the ports in Ireland in that it is not a commercial port under the Harbours Act but is, in fact, a port operated by Iarnród Éireann.
The port has a complex ownership with Fishguard in the UK.
A review was carried out on Rosslare Europort, the Indecon report, by the Minister's Department. Publication was refused and we had to submit a freedom of information, FOI, request. Rosslare Europort is a port with great history and massive potential. It is a port in the south east. It is a port that has the most substantial roll-on, roll-off traffic going to the UK or the Continent. As the Minister knows, 80% of goods, by volume, to the Continent travel over the UK land bridge. That will potentially be lost in the event of a hard Brexit. It seems increasingly more certain that we are barrelling towards a hard Brexit. Rosslare Europort makes a profit of approximately €2.5 million per annum, but because it is not a stand-alone company within Iarnród Éireann, that money is sucked out of Rosslare Europort to subsidise Iarnród Éireann's other activities. On the international markets, that kind of money would raise approximately €50 million. We know that because Wexford County Council is raising that kind of money on a similar margin.
I have been raising the issue since I was elected as a Deputy and pretty much nothing has happened with it. The Minister was down there a couple of weeks ago and it looked all nice and shiny. That is because Rosslare Europort, for the first time in 20 years, and no doubt in the awareness the Minister was coming down, decided to give it a lick of paint and probably spent about €20,000 or €30,000 out of the €2.5 million. We want the €2.5 million per annum to be spent on the port. I would have thought it was the kind of thing that would get on the Minister's wick. A State company is running a port into the ground. It is a port that is quite profitable. It is a port that could be a stand-alone, successful port if the money was kept in it. The port needs to be deepened, which will cost a hell of a lot of money. I appreciate that. The port can take the boats that are on the seas at the moment but it cannot take the boats that are planned because it is not deep enough. It is silting up. With the profit being made in the port leveraged on the international markets, the money can be raised to deepen the port. When the port is deepened, it would get the soil necessary to expand the port. In light of Brexit, I thought Rosslare Europort would be one of the key elements of developing contingency plans in the event that we lose the UK land bridge.
Leaving aside the Brexit situation, Rosslare Europort is being run into the ground. When one comes out of Rosslare Europort, there is not even a sign outside of it to say where one is. "Rosslare Europort" is not written anywhere. There are no flowers or painting outside of it. The place looks as if it is dead from the outside but it has massive potential. Will the Minister intervene with CIÉ and Iarnród Éireann and address the situation? The complex ownership is a red herring. It is something that could be addressed and which should be addressed within the context of Brexit. The Minister told me before Christmas he would raise it with his UK counterpart, Chris Grayling, in December, but for whatever reason it was not raised. It is a matter that should be resolved. It can be resolved without the ownership issue being resolved by simply creating a stand-alone company within CIÉ. The profits generated by the port would be kept in the port to develop it.
The Minister has four minutes for his initial reply. I trust with a name like Rosslare, the Minister does not have a vested interest.
Not that I know of, but one never knows. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. It is topical, relevant and particularly pertinent. It is an item of great interest to me now having been there and I see there is possibly unrealised potential in Rosslare Europort. I do not want to say anything that would give too much hope of some sort of an early change but I understand the points the Deputy has made. It is something I will commit to looking at seriously with a view to any constructive changes which are brought to my attention, and I am hopeful they will be.
The Deputy is aware that Rosslare Europort is unique among the State-owned ports in that it is not a commercial company operating under the Harbours Acts but is instead operated as a division of Iarnród Éireann. The status of the port and whether its current status potentially inhibits its development was most recently considered in a strategic review commissioned by my Department and carried out by Indecon economic consultants. Its report concluded that the creation of an independent port authority would be very difficult given the port's complex legal structure. Instead, it was recommended that the port remain in public ownership and that the possibilities for increased private sector involvement be investigated.
To assist Iarnród Éireann’s overall consideration of how best to move forward, the company then engaged consultants to assess market interest. The assessment was largely positive in terms of the potential for increased private sector investment in the port. It did identify, however, possible implementation issues due to the complicated legislative basis of the port. There were difficulties but not ones that could not be overcome. Following the assessment, my Department sought and received detailed advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the matter. That advice identified a number of legal issues with any such proposal and those issues remain under consideration.
The Deputy may be interested to know that the Irish Maritime Development Office, IMDO, in conjunction with my Department, has been undertaking a study into the use of the UK land bridge by Irish importers and exporters. The purpose of this research was to establish the volume of traffic using the UK land bridge at present, the likely consequences that Brexit will have on land bridge usage and the various alternative options that may be viable. The research is being finalised, is expected to be completed shortly and should inform the potential for the future utilisation of all ports within the State, including Rosslare Europort. As I am sure the Deputy is aware, the Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union are ongoing and, as the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade have informed the House, these are at a sensitive stage in terms of agreeing a framework for the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU, including Ireland. Clearly, the outcome of that negotiation process will have implications for this country’s ports, notably Rosslare, in view of its position as an import-export trading route to mainland Europe for those businesses which, now or in the future, may wish to consider alternatives to the use of the UK land bridge. The Deputy may wish to know that Iarnród Éireann has advised that it has completed a commercial review of Rosslare Europort and is in the process of preparing a detailed business plan for the port to include consideration of the implications of Brexit.
As the Deputy mentioned, I recently visited Rosslare at the invitation of my ministerial colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, and was briefed by the Europort's management on the port’s commercial position. This was an especially valuable opportunity for me as Minister.
Rosslare Europort has massive unrealised potential and has had for some time. That is true even more so in light of Brexit as a result of the increased requirement for direct ferries to the Continent in the event of the UK land bridge being lost and in the circumstances where 80% of our goods, by volume, to the Continent, go across the UK land bridge. The port generates €2.5 million profit per annum that is sucked out of the port and which could leverage sufficient funds to make the port viable and allow it to thrive. It would be a self-sufficient port if CIÉ and Iarnród Éireann would simply leave the money in the port.
We have seen reports coming out from Dublin, Cork, Dover and Bruges ports. Ports in the north of the Continent, the UK and Ireland have issued reports on how they will tackle Brexit and the opportunities and challenges that Brexit will create, yet we have not heard a peep out of Iarnród Éireann about Rosslare Europort. Where are the plans for the port? The port will be critical, not only to Wexford and the south east but to the nation. It is our primary roll-on, roll-off port. It is also the only port or airport that has a train station going into it. It used to go right up to the front door but it was moved by Iarnród Éireann for some very strange reason that no one can figure out.
I will be interested to see the publication of both the Irish Maritime Development Office report and the Iarnród Éireann report. There was a reference in the Indecon report to the fifth option and the potential of retaining it in Iarnród Éireann's ownership and potentially looking at outside investment.
Everybody in Wexford knows that was code for Iarnród Éireann keeping its €2.5 million profit from the port while trying to find some outside investor to come in and squeeze whatever little extra it could out of it. That would be the worst of every world for Rosslare Europort. The port is making a profit and a system needs to be put in place to keep that profit in the port which can then thrive and have top class potential for the country.
It would not be irresponsible of me to say much of what Deputy James Browne said was right and that the future of the port was under active consideration. I am not promising immediate, sudden or imminent movement, but the structure of the ownership which is somewhat unorthodox certainly needs to come under more immediate scrutiny than it has. That will happen.
The port's geographical position is interesting in the context of Brexit because it is positioned so much closer to the European mainland than Dublin Port where 60% of exports go to the United Kingdom. As a result, it could be considered as being somewhat different from many of the other ports. In view of the fact that the land bridge and its future are being examined, it is also well positioned. When I was at Rosslare Europort a few days ago, I met many groups. Some of the individuals from the Chamber of Commerce, and others, said Brexit might offer an opportunity to Rosslare Europort. That may be one of the few positives Brexit will bring to Ireland. The port does look somewhat sleepy at first sight, but it might be given opportunities it would not have but for Brexit because there might be diversification from other ports. That is something to be considered.
I do not want the Deputy to leave thinking this is a normal reply to a Topical Issue, which is usually to bat people off. The port has potential which the Department should consider seriously. Officials have been there in recent weeks and the Deputy has put his finger on something that could be quite exciting.