Topical Issue Debate

Water Pollution

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for staying on for the debate. He has had a busy evening answering Other Questions. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is excused this time. I raise an issue for towns in west Cork, in particular Castletownbere and Castletownshend, where up to two thirds of the raw sewage they produce is being pumped directly into our harbours. Irish Water has recently received substantial fines for this but, strangely, the company has been allowed a grace period of two years to complete the work necessary to alleviate the problem. This is completely unacceptable and it must be addressed immediately. Two years is far too long a timeframe. I may be biased, but I am firmly of the belief that I represent the most beautiful and picturesque constituency in the whole of Ireland. It is a constituency which relies heavily on tourism and fishing. I am not sure whether the Minister of State has ever visited, but I invite him to come down over the summer when I will personally take him on a tour of the beauty spots.

The Minister of State will be aware of the report in The Irish Times on 8 May last on two locations in west Cork, namely Castletownbere, which has a population of 1,300, and Castletownshend, which has a population of 450. In these towns, raw sewage is being pumped unashamedly into their harbours on a daily basis. In 2018, this is totally unacceptable. While Irish Water was to build a water treatment plant for Castletownbere, I understand that this will not now be completed until 2021. There were no previous plans for a similar water treatment plant in Castletownshend, but there is now an agreement to provide one by 2021. In the meantime, a culvert on the beach carries sewage directly into the sea. Following a prosecution for failing to carry out improvements at the respective harbours, Irish Water has received a mere slap on the wrist in the form of a fine. These are two of the most picturesque locations in west Cork and they rely heavily on tourism. The areas are becoming increasingly popular, in part due to their beautiful beaches. I vouch personally for their beauty and would give anything to be there this evening. To make matters worse, oysters from the harbour, which may be eaten raw in normal course, must be treated before consumption. This adds to the work and decreases the profits of those involved in the industry.

That the breach of waste water regulations is being tolerated in any circumstance is alarming, but Irish Water is being granted a so-called "grace period" of two years, which is another matter. It is unacceptable. Environmental protection figures advise that between 2000 and 2010, €270 million was invested annually in waste water infrastructure.

Between 2011 and 2013 there was a drop of 50% in investment. Although between 2014 and 2015 Irish Water increased the investment in wastewater infrastructure by 22% to €166 million, this was substantially lower than the levels under a Fianna Fáil Government. From 2016 to 2021, the remaining period of Irish Water's business plan, it is ramping up investment to spend an average of €326 million per year on wastewater infrastructure.

This investment must be followed through as a matter of priority and I urge that places such as Castletownbere and Castletownshend be dealt with. Other areas such as Rossmore and Shannonvale in the Clonakilty area, along with many other areas, must also be considered with regard to either providing a new wastewater plant or improving existing ones. I will contact the Minister on another occasion about those areas.

I thank Deputy Murphy O'Mahony for raising this issue. I am familiar with the area of west Cork and have spent time there over the years, but after the Deputy's portrayal I will have to return to visit it again. The Deputy could have a job in the tourism sector as well, aside from being a Teachta Dála.

However, she has raised an important issue and I thank her for providing me with the opportunity to outline the issues surrounding the matter of raw sewage being pumped into the harbour at Castletownbere and Castletownshend by Irish Water. The urban wastewater treatment directive mandates member states to collect and treat urban wastewater in towns and cities to protect public health and avoid pollution of rivers, lakes and coastal waters. Member states had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate treatment for large areas of population above 15,000 and until the end of December 2005 for areas with a population above 2,000 which discharge to freshwaters and estuaries.

Since 1 January 2014 Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. Irish Water as a single national public utility is taking a strategic, nationwide approach to asset planning and investment, and meeting customer requirements. Irish Water is undertaking significant investment in urban wastewater collection and treatment over the period to 2021 and plans to deliver 255 wastewater treatment projects in urban areas, achieving water quality improvements and compliance with the requirements of the urban wastewater treatment directive. The details of these works are set out in the river basin management plan for Ireland for 2018 to 2021, which the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, published on 17 April 2018. The priority objective for this river basin planning cycle is to secure compliance with the urban wastewater treatment directive and to contribute to the improvement and protection of waters in keeping with the water quality objectives established in the plan.

Castletownbere and Castletownshend are among 38 towns and villages nationwide where untreated sewage is currently discharged to receiving waters, either directly from sewer network outfalls or via septic holding tanks where the level of treatment provided is inadequate. In 2015, Irish Water confirmed that additional wastewater treatment will be provided at five locations in Cork, including Castletownbere and Castletownshend. Both of these urban areas have been identified in the river basin management plan as areas where works will be undertaken during the period of the plan. I am informed by Irish Water that the Castletownbere sewerage scheme will end the discharge of untreated wastewater into Bantry Bay. Irish Water's plan includes the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant as well as the associated sewer network and infrastructure. I am also informed that Irish Water will submit its planning application to Cork County Council later this year. Subject to statutory approvals, construction work on this project will commence in 2020 and be completed in 2021. Irish Water undertook a public information evening recently in Castletownbere on this project.

The Castletownshend sewerage scheme is needed to stop untreated wastewater being discharged directly into Castlehaven harbour. I am informed that Irish Water will submit its planning application to Cork County Council this year or early in 2019. Subject to statutory approvals, construction work on this necessary project will also commence in 2020 and be completed in 2021.

I am sure Irish Water will do this as quickly as it can but, as the Deputy knows, projects such as these must go through the planning system and public consultation. Irish Water is doing that. These projects were needed many years ago and should have been provided long before now, including by other Governments. However, Irish Water is taking action now and is going through the proper channels to do it. Money has been allocated, planning permission will be required and work will commence in 2020. It is important that will happen. I am glad we are ensuring these 38 areas of high priority are being rectified, and rightly so.

I thank the Minister of State for the information on Irish Water. I am glad he admitted that there are inadequate services in parts of west Cork. I am also glad they are part of the plan for the future. The Minister of State said that other Governments could be to blame as well, but we are where we are, as the saying goes. I am one for looking forward rather than looking back. I realise the projects must go through the planning process but I ask the Minister to push these plans forward. It is not fair on the local people to have to live in substandard situations such as this.

I agree with the Deputy about looking forward. However, I did not raise the issue. It was the Deputy who raised the issue of previous Governments, and I wished to clarify that we are taking action now. This matter must be addressed: it is as simple as that. It is not good enough that this still happens in 38 areas in Ireland. Irish Water was established to fix that and it is fixing it. The money has been set aside for this, but it must go through the proper planning process and get community acceptance. Given the urgency of these projects I have no doubt that community acceptance will be easier to achieve than on other projects, but Irish Water must go through that. That is democracy and the right way to do it.

Naturally, Irish Water will try to progress through the planning process as quickly as it can. It has been asked to do that by the local authorities and by the Government. The primary function of Irish Water is to provide clean, safe drinking water to its customers and to treat and return wastewater safely to the environment. That is not happening in this case and that is why action is required. In providing these critical services Irish Water plays a role in enabling social and economic growth and in protecting the environment and the health and safety of the public. Irish Water has developed a long-term investment perspective to address strategically the deficiencies in the public wastewater system. It is optimising investment decisions to ensure that it utilises scarce capital by making investments that deliver the best possible improvements for communities.

Building water treatment plants and upgrading or building sewerage networks necessarily will require significant investment. Irish Water's capital investment plans for 2014 to 2021 have identified an investment of over €5.5 billion. Some €1.25 billion of this investment will be in improving wastewater infrastructure quality overall, including the required investment in the Castletownbere and Castletownshend schemes. Completion of these projects will mark a hugely important milestone in protecting the environment in both locations, particularly the quality of water in Bantry Bay and Castlehaven harbour. I look forward to those projects being completed soon.

Mental Health Services Provision

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing us to raise this important issue. I am disappointed that neither the Minister for Health nor the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, who has responsibility for mental health, is present. However, it would make no difference if they were.

County Tipperary does not have one psychiatric long-term or any other type of bed. We have a crisis house and great front-line staff, but there is a chronic situation in Tipperary. There are half a dozen children between 11 and 13 years of age, mostly girls, languishing in beds in the paediatric ward in St. Joseph's Hospital in Clonmel. One has been there for 11 weeks, with others there for ten, seven and eight weeks. Their parents are distraught because they have no services. I ask the Minister of State to do something because this is not good enough. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, told me last week that a worldwide shortage of psychiatrists is delaying the delivery of mental health services. He said recruitment, not funding, is the issue in the delays.

Last week I pointed out to the HSE that it spends €400 million every year on medication for the treatment of mental health but a mere €10 million on psychological and counselling services. That is the problem. We must spend money on counselling and psychological services and take money away from all the management and mismanagement.

Along with my two colleagues, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Cahill, I attended a powerful but heartbreaking public meeting last Thursday night in Clonmel, which called for the reopening of closed beds at St. Michael's unit in the town. It was shocking to hear many contributors say they were satisfied that their loved ones would be alive today if those beds had been open.

The closure of the acute psychiatric unit in St. Michael's in Clonmel in 2012 was wrong and should never have happened. It has turned out to be an absolute disaster, as we warned at the time. The closure was announced without any consultation by the HSE. It was opposed by service users, families, carers, medical consultants, GPs, psychiatric nurses, public representatives and the public. Everybody opposed it because it was wrong, but the then Minister, former Deputy Kathleen Lynch, declared that the closure was written in blood and bulldozed it through. Mental health services in Tipperary, despite the best efforts of the staff, are substandard and not fit for purpose.

I appeal to the Minister of State to approve the reopening of acute psychiatric beds in Clonmel.

As Deputy Healy said, I was also at the public meeting in Clonmel on Thursday night, where the stories told by mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters were heart-rending, to say the least. They feel completely let down by the system. We have no psychiatric beds in our county. Even for people who do get access to a service, whether in Kilkenny or Ennis, it is completely inadequate to cater to their demands. The other point, which was made extremely forcibly by relatives of people suffering from mental health issues, was that when they are released from psychiatric care, the backup services are not there. The mental health clinics that are available are completely under-resourced. We have a complete lack of mental health resources in County Tipperary. We have no beds and we have completely under-resourced mental health clinics in the county. This situation is intolerable and must be addressed. The public anger was palpable in Clonmel last Thursday night. We need a psychiatric unit both in Clonmel and in Nenagh for north Tipperary, and it is essential that this commitment be given immediately. We also need extra resources put into counselling and other services in the mental health clinics in the county.

I thank Deputies Mattie McGrath, Healy and Cahill for raising this very important issue of residential psychiatric care beds in County Tipperary. Mental health care remains a priority in the programme for Government. Since 2012, approximately €200 million, or 28%, has been added to the HSE mental health budget, which now totals more than €910 million. This is a significant investment by any standard. A Programme for a Partnership Government gives a clear commitment to increase our mental health budget annually, as resources allow, to expand and modernise all aspects of the services, including those in Tipperary. HSE mental health funding for Tipperary this year is in the region of €24 million. One of the strategic priorities for mental health in the HSE national service plan for 2018 is to deliver timely, clinically effective and standardised safe mental health services in adherence to statutory requirements. Acute inpatient care to the adult population of north Tipperary, which is in community healthcare organisation, CHO, area 3, is provided between the acute unit in University Hospital Limerick, which has 50 beds, and the acute psychiatric unit in Ennis, which has 39 beds. The 44-bed department of psychiatry based at St. Luke's General Hospital, Kilkenny, is the designated approved centre for acute inpatient services for south Tipperary, which is in CHO area 5. This enables all acute inpatient admissions for this CHO area to be managed at a single site. Referrals to St. Luke's are through a consultant psychiatrist, who makes the clinical decision to admit based on the level of acute presentation or need.

In addition to the department of psychiatry, a dedicated psychiatric liaison team operates from the emergency department in St. Luke's. All service users presenting to the emergency department who require psychiatric assessment will receive that assessment within agreed timeframes, in line with relevant guidelines. Onward referral pathways are agreed with all service users upon completion of psychiatric assessment in the emergency department. Pathways can include admission to an acute unit, referral to a relevant community mental health service team or referral back to a patient's own general practitioner, GP.

There are a range of other mental health services for adults in Tipperary. These include, for example, psychiatry-of-old-age teams, non-acute beds, day hospitals and day centres. In addition, there are community mental health teams and high, medium and low-support community residences. For those under the age of 18, there are three child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, teams operating in Tipperary, one in north Tipperary and two in south Tipperary. The CAMHS acute units at Éist Linn in Cork and Merlin Park in Galway, which has a total of 42 beds, serve the Tipperary catchment area.

The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, met Members from Tipperary last week to discuss current and future provision of mental health services in the county, including reviewing bed capacity.

It is a pity the Minister of State, some of his officials or the people who wrote his reply were not at the meeting. The Minister of State talked about pathways. There are no pathways. These people have nowhere to go. We had to hear all the hopelessness and helplessness of the parents and siblings who spoke at the meeting, although we knew it anyway. There are no beds. There is no space in Kilkenny for us and there is no room in Ennis or Limerick because they are full already. As far as CAMHS is concerned, we heard from the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, last week that the youth and adolescent centre in Cork is shockingly only half occupied because the beds cannot be opened as there is difficulty getting and retaining consultants. If one divides up the figures I read out into the regions, so much money is being presented on mental health but it is all for drugs, treatments and so on. As I said, so little of it is to help people, on aftercare or on psychologists and various therapists to talk to those affected. There is no aftercare. Prevention is better than cure. The money is being mismanaged at an alarming rate. It is a shame for the Minister of State to read out such a report because it is not factual, not right and is insulting to the people who are suffering and our loved ones we have lost.

I agree that the response shows a shocking ignorance of the situation in Tipperary, north and south. Patients from south Tipperary have to travel to Kilkenny for inpatient care. North Tipperary patients have to go to Ennis. Neither unit is fit for purpose. The Kilkenny unit is continually overcrowded, there are delayed admissions as a result, there are inappropriate early discharges and there are huge problems with travel for family members to support the patients there. There are huge industrial relations problems with staff; there have already been protests there. Patients are being admitted to the unit in Kilkenny to chairs and couches and some of them sleep on mattresses on the floor. It is simply not good enough. We need beds in Tipperary and we will insist that we get them.

There is a song called "Any Tipperary Town". If the Minister of State stopped in any street in any town in Tipperary, from Borrisokane to Carrick-on-Suir, and asked about mental health facilities, he would be told by anyone he stopped on the street that there are none there. He said €24 million was spent on mental health services in Tipperary in 2017. I honestly find it hard to know where it has been spent because the services are just not there. We have a crisis.

I was elected to the Dáil in February 2016 and this is the topic on which I have spoken most since then. One of the most potent images I saw last Thursday night was pairs of shoes left at the front of the hall, which represented the people in our county who have committed suicide since 2012. The number of shoes there was frightening in the extreme. As I said already, we listened to family members say that if there was any kind of adequate service, their family members would still be alive. We are getting meetings with Ministers, and the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has met us on a number of occasions but we need money and services put in place. Shortly after I was elected to this House, we were promised a Jigsaw project by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee. That is over two years ago and that still has not happened. We do not want Ministers agreeing with us; we need money put in place and we need beds now in both north and south Tipperary.

I thank colleagues for their representations and take their point about the bed capacity issue in Tipperary. I take their word for it as they were at the recent public meeting. I got the message very loud and clear and I will bring it back to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, because it is very important we have a debate on money and services on the ground. It is a regular debate.

The 2018 mental health budget for south Tipperary is €20.12 million, and for north Tipperary €3.5 million. It is legitimate to ask what we are doing with our money and whether we are getting value for money with these developments, particularly in Tipperary. What I am told and what I see here is that a number of matters are being taken on board including the community mental health teams, the acute day services and day hospitals, the south Tipperary home-based services, the high-support services in Garryshane House in south Tipperary and the crisis respite house.

I believe that a permanent crisis respite house building will be developed in Clonmel on the Glenconnor Road, with planning resolved and approved. This has gone for tender and confirmation of funding received.

The other very important matter is that the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has committed to review the bed capacity in the Tipperary area.

Schools Building Projects

I the need to move on the project for a new building to replace the Kolbe Special School at Block Road, Portlaoise. The school badly needs new accommodation. Good progress has been made in accommodation in the county with many mainstream schools having been built in the last six or seven years. However, the Kolbe centre urgently needs the same. There are 39 pupils with severe and complex intellectual and physical disabilities and very high needs. The staff and board of management are very committed and the parents are also very committed and supportive, but the accommodation is only two solid rooms and eight prefabs which have been added piecemeal over the past 30 years as the school grew and more pupils came in. It started as a very small facility and the problem is that the actual school building has never grown beyond that. All there is is a collection of prefabs, some of which are of very poor quality and are unsuitable as classrooms. There are issues with noise, they are very difficult to heat and some have signs of dampness. I visited the school accompanied by staff and parents and one can see its physical shortcomings. It is a very difficult environment in which the staff must work and try to manage children with special needs. It is very difficult to provide the services for children who have those very complex, considerable needs.

I have made the case for the Kolbe school since 2011 when Deputy Ruairí Quinn was the Minister and I make it again today. I welcome the presence of the Minister for Education and Skills to take this issue.

It is a very difficult environment for these special needs children to learn or progress in. We all know that children need a good environment in which to learn and grow, but children with such complex needs especially need a good environment. One issue with this school is that because of the pupils' special needs, a lot of space is required for their equipment, of which there is a great deal. It is not only a case of providing a standard classroom such as in a mainstream school. There has been some progress. According to a written answer to a Parliamentary Question on 23 March, the project brief is now being finalised. Can the Minister confirm that is the case? The answer stated it was being finalised and that this was part of the preparatory work necessary to facilitate the progression of the project. Have we moved into that stage? The site has been acquired and I understand the necessary transfers have taken place of contracts and so on and things are ready to move on. We want to see if this can be moved to the next stage. It is in the six year construction programme. Can the Minister confirm that funds are available for this and that money will not be an obstacle in moving the project forward? We need to see some definite movement on this.

I thank Deputy Stanley for raising this issue with which he is very familiar. Kolbe special school was originally purpose built in 1984. Time has moved on and its needs have dramatically changed, as Deputy Stanley noted. It has 39 pupils, seven teaching posts and a principle and 16 special needs assistants. It is under the patronage of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary's service. It caters to children with severe to profound general learning difficulties.

A new building has been included in the Department's six year capital programme. It is a 2,265 m2 single story building project to include eight classrooms, a general purpose room, library, resource area, woodwork, art room, exercise therapy room and various ancillary spaces. It is envisaged that the new school will increase the capacity from 39 to 48 pupils. Those schedules of accommodation were developed in consultation with the National Council for Special Education.

The acquisition of a 1.433 ha site from the HSE was completed last year and the project brief is currently being finalised. The next step is to go to the architectural drawing stage.

The project was tentatively in the programme for 2018. I hope my Department will be able to move on to get the project to this next phase. I do not have a specific date as to when that project brief will be finalised. I will seek to find out if any more progress has been made on that. The Department clearly recognises the need for this development for children who have very particular needs.

Money is not the constraint. We are making sure that every penny we get is spent and projects are continually being developed. Each one is developed through all the stages as quickly as possible so that we have a good pipeline of projects for the funds, so it is not a question of it being delayed for financial reasons, it is a project that we are keen to progress with. My Department will try to give a roadmap to the school so that as soon as the project brief is finalised it can anticipate the likely timescales of the different stages. However, one can never predict with absolute accuracy because of issues that might arise with the site or planning, for instance. Nevertheless, my Department will endeavour to push it on as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I can assure him that Laois County Council is very active with school applications and does everything to move them quickly, so I do not foresee problems in the planning process. I welcome that the Department has completed the acquisition of the site. That is very good news as it is often the problem in other areas. However, the reply is disappointing in that it is very similar to the reply in March, in that the project brief is now being finalised. The Minister said he would ask his Department. I want him to be a bit more assertive with his officials. We both know that unless things are moved on and given a political push, particularly from a Minister, that they do not happen very quickly. I plead with the Minister to ask his senior officials to become active on this, to move it on and complete the project brief. That cannot take much longer. It has been sitting there for some time and I say that with respect to the Minister, but it should be ready to be signed off on by now. According to the written answers I have followed on this, it is going on since last December. It should be moved on to the architectural planning stage.

From what the Minister said, I take it that money is not a problem which is excellent to hear. I am delighted. It is a very special case. I acknowledge that progress has been made with mainstream schools. During the noughties when there was loads of money, it was used to rent prefabs and we had them all over the place, but in the last six or seven years a lot of new schools have been built, which is good news, and County Laois has benefitted greatly. I ask the Minister to work with his officials and try to move the project on, to get some definite progress, to finalise the project brief and to sign off on it and move to the architectural planning process.

I assure the Minister that, when it comes to schools and vital infrastructure in Laois, the county council will not delay the planning process by one day.

I assure the Deputy that the Department does drive projects forward. It has completed more than 200 new schools and 175,000 places have been provided in either new or replacement schools. That is a substantial increase on what had been there. There is a pipeline of projects being driven forward all the time within that programme. It is not a question of the Department waiting to be told to move on. It is moving these projects forward as quickly as possible all of the time. However, there can be unforeseen delays. I will seek for the Deputy an update as to what exact work is left to complete in the project brief stage in order that he might have some assurance that it is moving along.

Defined Benefit Pension Schemes

I raise this issue to highlight the plight of 1,200 workers formerly employed by Irish Life, which was sold to a Canadian company, Great-West Lifeco, GWL. The net effect of what is proposed is that, on 30 June, the defined benefit scheme will be changed to a defined contribution scheme. This means that there will be an immediate loss of more than one third of the pensions the people involved were entitled to expect. The transfer from a defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution model also means that the risk attaching to the pension will be transferred from the company to the employees and that the latter may well lose more than 35% depending on the vagaries of the market.

None of the employees wants this. There has already been some industrial action and there is further industrial action threatened, even though these people are not the type of workers who usually engage in such action. We have long lamented the fact that wealthy, solvent companies are entitled to walk away from defined benefit schemes despite the fact that their employees have paid into those schemes year in, year out. Some of the 1,200 workers to whom I refer have been paying into the scheme for a lifetime.

When we talk about such situations, we normally refer to a solvent company walking away from a pension scheme in which the liabilities exceed the assets. In this case, not only is the company hugely profitable - so profitable, in fact, that it is in a position to transfer more than €200 million per year to its Canadian shareholders - the pension scheme is eminently healthy. I am informed that the scheme is €240 million in surplus. It seems perverse that a company of such magnitude and profitability can penalise its Irish workers in order to increase the dividend to its wealthy shareholders in Canada. In 2017, we put forward legislation which would prevent that sort of thing from happening. At the time, the then Minister for Social Protection and current Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, told me various things here on the floor of the House. He more or less told me that the sky would fall in if we attempted to take such action, all the while blithely ignoring the fact that other jurisdictions - not least our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom - have in place the sort of protection to which I refer. The Bill in question subsequently passed Second Stage. Of course, it has since disappeared into the Bermuda triangle with thousands of other Bills that were put forward here in good faith.

We will find it.

This is the new politics. Instead of Government saying that it will vote something down, it simply says that it will get back to it. That is the difference. The Social Welfare Bill 2017 introduced by the current Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, originally included some provisions relating to defined benefit pension schemes. These were removed on the basis that they would be put back in again on Committee Stage in substantially the same form. That is something which I do not understand.

Is the Minister of State aware of the plight of 1,200 Irish Life workers? Is he aware of the fact that there are many rumours to the effect that other companies, particularly in the insurance sector, will follow suit if Irish Life gets away with this? Does he envisage that the legislation the Government is proposing, Committee Stage of which is to be taken 31 May, will be in place in time to save the situation? Even if it is in place before 30 June, will it be strong enough to do so?

I thank Deputy Willie O'Dea for raising this very important issue. I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. I am stepping in for her today.

I am very much aware of the concern highlighted by the announcement of the closure of the Irish Life pension scheme to future accrual. It is common knowledge that the scheme is very financially secure and that is assets adequately cover all liabilities that will arise in the event that the trustees take a decision to close the scheme. However, the closure of the scheme does not mean that its members will not receive pensions. First, the pensions accrued to date are secure. Additionally, those members concerned will also be beneficiaries of the new defined contribution scheme to which the company is contributing for them. Even where a scheme is closed to new members or to future accrual of benefits, the sponsoring employer's role continues in respect of that scheme. Finally, members will receive the level of contributory State pension commensurate with their social insurance contributions once they reach pension age.

It is important to note that neither the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection nor the Pensions Authority has the power under existing legislation to intervene to freeze the winding-up of a scheme or to compel the employer to make contributions to a scheme. As we all know, the number of defined benefit, DB, pension schemes has declined in recent years. The decline of DB schemes accelerated during the financial crisis to the extent that the whole pension sector was possibly at risk. In recent years the Government has amended pension legislation to protect the pension sector and ensure fairer and more equitable outcomes for all members of schemes.

Almost all Irish DB schemes have a rule that allows the employer to cease making contributions, usually after a notice period. At present, there is no legislative obligation on the employer to make contributions and no further liability on the employer where contributions cease. Neither is there an obligation on the employer to give notice to members or to consult in advance of ceasing contributions. However, in circumstances where a restructuring of benefits is proposed, pensioners, deferred scheme members and unions must be kept informed by trustees. Furthermore, changes made in 2015 require trustees to notify groups representing the interests of pensioners and deferred scheme members in a scheme in such a situation.

The roadmap for pensions reform, which was published recently by the Government, details specific measures that will modernise our pensions system. Under strand 4, entitled "Measures to Support the Operation of Defined Benefit Schemes", the roadmap sets out that the Government is committed to advancing the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017. The purpose of the defined benefit pension measures in this Bill is to respond to the ongoing difficulties in schemes and to increase protections for members as well as encouraging employers to ensure that schemes are funded and managed well.

As Deputy O'Dea is aware, the general scheme of the social welfare and pensions Bill 2017, which is now the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017, was published in May 2017 and proposed a number of key measures relating to defined benefit pension schemes. To ensure that an employer cannot walk away from the pension scheme at short notice, it is proposed to provide a 12-month notification period where an employer seeks to cease making contributions to a scheme. In order to seek a middle road between the current position, whereby employers can abandon DB schemes, and full and immediate debt on employer provisions, it is proposed that, where a scheme is in deficit and a funding proposal is not put in place in a timely manner, the Pensions Authority be allowed direct steps to be taken to ensure that the scheme meets the funding standard. The general scheme also proposed more frequent monitoring of the financial position of schemes.

It is important to note that if this new legislation is enacted, a scheme will have to give a minimum notice period of 12 months before contributions can be stopped. However, provided the scheme meets the minimum funding standard, it will not prevent a company from ceasing contributions once the minimum notice period is served. These proposed legislative provisions are quite technical and very complex.

Work to finalise them is at an advanced stage. The Department hopes to be in a position to bring forward the amendments on Committee Stage at the end of May or in early June. It hopes that, with the co-operation of the Oireachtas, it can pass the legislation before the summer recess.

While I do not have any problem with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, I regret that the Minister for Social Protection herself is not here. That said, what we want to bear in mind here is that the workers in Irish Life, or GWL, as it is now called, are watching this debate because they face the prospect of huge cuts to their pensions. What the Minister of State says is not correct strictly speaking. Of course the pensions of people already in receipt of them are secure but the pensions of future pensioners, namely, those still working for the company who have yet to retire, will not be secure because of the change from defined benefits to defined contributions. The financial impact has been carefully worked out.

The Minister of State says there is new legislation that does not allow people to walk away at short notice but the point is that it allows them to walk away. It allows them to walk away if they give 12 months' notice, which is not much good to the pensioners in Irish Life or any other group.

The people affected are facing an appalling vista. Not only are they facing the loss of more than one third of the pension they were led to expect and for which they have paid but, because of their being transferred to a defined contribution system, they are also facing the possible loss of their entire pension at some time in the future. As I stated, it depends on the vagaries of the market. We are all too well aware of those.

The Minister of State cannot tell me that the legislation, despite its being Government legislation, will be in place by 30 June. It is hoped that the legislation will be enacted by the summer recess. To the best of my knowledge, the summer recess will not be until some time in July. All that was expressed was a hope.

I spoke to representatives of the trade union representing the affected people today. They are most anxious to meet the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, so they can explain their position to her face to face and explain what exactly is involved. I urge the Minister of State earnestly to ask his colleague, bearing in mind that there has been a request for some time for a meeting, to meet the people face to face. We are talking about real people and people losing a substantial chunk of the money they were expected to receive on retirement. It is a very real problem.

I take on board the views of Deputy Willie O'Dea. There are 1,200 workers and they have been paying into their scheme for a lifetime. If they are facing the loss of one third of their pensions, we must take it very seriously. I also take on board the Deputy's points on the risk issue. The Deputy said the company had a profit of €200 million, going to shareholders, and that the pension scheme value was in the region of €240 million. There is protection needed for the workers.

With regard to the legislation, the Minister is determined to have it enacted by the end of May, or by June. I will raise the other issues with the Minister. If the representatives of the unions representing the staff would like to meet her, I will request it. It is not acceptable to have 1,000 workers in the circumstances described. We have to act. The legislation is really a priority.