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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 Jul 2018

Vol. 971 No. 2

Topical Issue Debate

Disabilities Assessments

I am pleased to raise this critically important and urgent issue. If a society is measured by how well it looks after the most vulnerable, and if there is to be a degree of compassion in our country so that we can deliver a fair society, we must bring about dramatic improvements in this area. The waiting times for an assessment for autism in Cork are a disgrace and a scandal. The HSE has given me the latest waiting times and the figure for St. Joseph's Foundation is 18 months, for the Cope Foundation it is 25 months and for the Brothers of Charity it is 28 months. It is not the fault of the service providers in question as they can only do what they can with the resources they are given.

I recently raised an individual case of a young girl who is just short of three years of age. She joined the list in January 2018 and she has been told she is likely to get her assessment after 28 months, in May 2020. The lack of a public diagnosis can have very serious implications. Where is the early intervention for children who are facing these waiting lists? Some schools in Cork have a policy whereby they do not accept a child on the waiting list to attend the special school, or a unit in the school, in the absence of a public diagnosis. Some parents pay for a private assessment to be done and can thereby access domiciliary care, home tuition and the incapacitated child tax credit. Not everyone can afford a private assessment, but even if they can, many children cannot access appropriate education without a public assessment and diagnosis.

This is a priority and the way these children and their families are being treated is a scandal. I hope there will be a radical intervention to make a tangible difference.

What steps is the Minister of State taking to address the disgraceful situation whereby the waiting time for an autism spectrum disorder assessment for children in Cork city and county, many of whom are in my constituency of Cork South-West, can take up to 28 months? The Minister is aware that children with disabilities are legally entitled to an assessment of need under the Disability Act 2005. Moreover, assessments should commence within three months of an application being received and completed within a further three months. I am aware of the roll-out of the new standard operating procedure and note the concerns about this raised by various stakeholders at the Committee on Health last week.

More than 1,150 children in Cork are waiting on stage 2 of the assessment of needs process. These children are waiting for clinical assessments to be completed and roughly 900 have been referred for an autism spectrum disorder assessment. Many of these will wait up to 28 months for an ASD assessment. Why has Cork got such a large waiting list? Why has Cork been left waiting so long? Behind these figures are human beings, parents and siblings, people who are waiting for an official diagnosis to be able to plan a future for their family.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue today. There have been significant year-on-year increases in the number of children applying for assessment, including for autism spectrum disorder and for disability services generally, which has led to delays in timeframes. The clinical picture of autism is complex and variable because of differences in the severity of autism itself.

In the 12 months prior to October 2017, Cork-Kerry community healthcare had received a total of 1,110 referrals for assessment under the Disability Act. In January 2017, approximately 808 applicants were waiting to move from stage 1, the assessment officer stage, to stage 2, the clinical assessment. I understand that a number of initiatives had been put in place in Cork-Kerry community healthcare, including recruitment of additional administration staff and additional assessment officers to screen applications. By October 2017, the waiting list had reduced to 137. The backlog has now been cleared and all assessment of need applications are commenced within a month. There are, however, a very high volume of applications coming through for assessment of need in Cork, with upwards of 100 applications being received per month.

At the end of April 2018, there were 1,150 children awaiting stage 2 clinical assessment as part of the assessment of need process in Cork. Approximately 800 of these cases have been referred for an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, assessment. The Cork-Kerry community healthcare organisation recognises the long waiting times for clinical assessments within the current assessment of need process, and a pilot project has commenced with the South Lee ASD team to look at reducing the time taken to undertake an ASD assessment.

In an effort to standardise assessment of need procedures and to facilitate timely assessments, the HSE identified a requirement to develop a standard operating procedure, SOP. This SOP is intended to replace the suite of approximately 50 guidance notes that have been issued since 2007 and will define the assessment. It will ensure a standardised approach across the State in respect of the operational application of the Disability Act 2005 and provide an important opportunity to balance and ensure equity in terms of assessment and support interventions for vulnerable children and young people with a disability. The HSE recognises that early intervention services and services for school-aged children with disabilities are paramount and need to be improved and organised more effectively. This process is well under way nationwide.

I hope the Minister really gets this issue. The intervention to deal with this will have to be radical because it is a sick joke that children have to wait 28 months for an assessment for autism while they go from aged two to aged almost five. It cannot be tolerated.

There is much talk about the confidence and supply agreement and the Taoiseach says he wants to extend the agreement and enter negotiations. One part of the agreement calls for improved services and increased supports for people with disabilities, particularly for early assessment and intervention for children with special needs. Given that this has not happened, before the Taoiseach comes knocking, looking for more time and an extension of the agreement, he needs to deliver. This is one issue on which we will not accept failure. It must be delivered.

I am glad the Minister of State accepted that the waiting lists are increasing but acceptance is not good enough. At this stage we need strong and fast action. Early intervention is of the utmost importance. It must be remembered that even after a diagnosis these children will face long waiting lists for therapies. The assessment of need must be worked on. Combined, the waiting lists for assessment and therapies make early intervention almost impossible. A diagnosis is required for many schools throughout Cork and to achieve this, the Minister of State must take action and hire more staff.

I assure Deputies Michael McGrath and Murphy O'Mahony that I get the point and accept they have a particular issue. We have a national issue but I also understand there is a particular issue with services in Cork. I acknowledge that we have to take action on disability services. However, the disability service is already engaged in a major reconfiguration of existing therapy resources for children with disabilities into multidisciplinary geographical based teams as part of its national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people aged up to 18 years. It is also anticipated that the combined efforts being undertaken by Cork-Kerry community healthcare and the HSE nationally relating to the assessment of needs process and progress on disabilities will have a significant positive impact on the waiting lists as we progress through 2018.

The Deputies asked me what I have been doing. I have been in regular contact with officials in the HSE on this issue. Last Monday afternoon, I sat down with the HSE and Department of Health. That was among my six priority issues. I have discussed this previously with both Deputies.

I appreciate the Deputies' support on this issue when it comes to the broader political issue in terms of the confidence and supply agreement. I am putting people with disabilities and similar issues at the top of the agenda and I welcome the Deputies' support, which is needed. I will continue to be in regular contact with HSE officials on this issue to ensure this remains the case. People with disabilities cannot be left behind and I will accept my responsibility in that regard. I appreciate any support on this issue because a debate is taking place on whether we should have tax cuts or investment in services. From my point of view, I favour the latter and, in the context of this debate, services for children with disabilities.

Garda Commissioner Appointment

I welcome to the Gallery the sole survivor of the Miami Showband massacre and the brother of the three young Reavey brothers who were shot dead in a sectarian attack. They are here because they head up a group known as the Truth and Reconciliation Platform. To my knowledge, the only real condemnation of the appointment of Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner was made by Stephen Travers who survived the Miami Showband massacre. Mr. Travers condemned the appointment for all the right reasons and we all heard him on "Morning Ireland" outline those reasons. I am shocked by the silence in this House about this appointment. I lived through the Troubles and, as a young woman from a republican family, I witnessed the distress of families who were victims of sectarian attacks, from both sides. This group represents families, victims and survivors from both sides and should be commended on that.

The appointment of Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner is like sticking a knife in their back. Mr. Harris has a record of blocking truth for the truth and reconciliation process that is needed to achieve closure on many issues in the North. I refer to what was said about him by a Belfast judge, Mr. Justice Treacy, in 2010 when he accused Mr. Harris of an extreme abuse of power in closing down the Historical Enquiries Team, removing its budget and powers. In doing so, he make clear that the state was not genuinely committed to addressing the concerns of the families, survivors and victims.

When one has a conversation with survivors, families and victims one realises that for many years they have been blocked from finding the truth. The Minister should think about that. How would he feel if his son, brother or someone else close to him was killed and he wanted to know who killed him and why and how he was killed? As the Minister will be aware, the collusion of the British and Northern Ireland state in these killings is common knowledge and a Belfast court has ordered an investigation into the matter. We have been trying to achieve a similar investigation into state collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The survivors and relatives of the victims of the Miami Showband massacre are taking a case to court. We know there are major question marks surrounding the involvement of Drew Harris in the blocking of information to these families.

I have a simple question for the Minister. Could he envisage a scenario in which the Garda Commissioner, namely, Drew Harris, is arrested and taken North to attend a trial that the survivors and families of the Miami Showband massacre manage to secure and give evidence on why he blocked the release of at least two files that pertain to what was known as the Glenanne gang? This group colluded with British MI5 forces to carry out at least 89 sectarian murders. How would the Minister, as a member of the Cabinet and Government, feel if the Garda Commissioner, who he so proudly appointed to do such a great job, was arrested on the ground that he blocked justice being delivered to the families, relatives and survivors of these horrendous sectarian murders? That is a possibility in the future and I would like the Minister to address it because that is what is at stake with this appointment. Put to one side the hurt and the stab in the back to the families and victims of collusion, who need closure, how does this appointment compromise the State, the Minister's office and the role of the Garda Commissioner potentially in the future?

I want to acknowledge the hurt, loss and sense of suffering on the part of all victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland over the years. I also want to acknowledge the broad welcome the appointment of Mr. Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner has received. This is the first occasion upon which the independent Policing Authority has recommended a candidate to Government, following a rigorous selection process conducted by the Public Appointments Service on its behalf. A great deal of work went into ensuring that the widest possible field of qualified candidates put themselves forward. I welcome the successful conclusion following the recent decision by the Government to appoint Mr. Drew Harris as the next Garda Commissioner.

As a well-respected Belfast-based newspaper stated during the week, Mr. Drew Harris is not an outsider, he is a policeman, he is an Ulsterman and he is an Irishman. He has defended the institutions of democracy and rule of law all his life. His father was murdered by terrorists with a political agenda in breach of democracy and rule of law. As Garda Commissioner, Mr. Harris will have the full functions of that role, including safeguarding the security of the State. On taking up office in September, he will, like all entrants to An Garda Síochána, make a solemn declaration, under section 16 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State. The incoming Commissioner is a person of huge ability and the highest integrity. I know he has enormous respect for and knowledge of An Garda Síochána, having worked with members of the organisation as close colleagues over the course of his career.

As I have said, this is the first occasion the independent Policing Authority has exercised its function in regard to the filling of this important position.

All those who put themselves forward were subject to robust scrutiny by an independent expert interview board which determined that Mr. Harris was the best person for the office. lt is only right and fair to give him the opportunity to be judged based on his performance in his new role, which he will take up at a time of major reform and investment that will redefine An Garda Síochána as an organisation. In addition, the start of his tenure will coincide with publication of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland which will chart a new course for policing in the decades ahead. I am confident that Mr. Harris has the necessary ability and vital policing, security and change management experience required to lead An Garda Síochána at this critical time. He will bring his talents to the challenge of transforming An Garda Síochána in order that it will become a model of policing excellence, equipped to deal with the huge range of challenges such as those facing police services worldwide. He can be assured of my support and that of the Government and most members of the House in his endeavours.

I am sure the Deputy will agree that dealing with the legacy of the Troubles on the island is a complex and sensitive task, one to which there are no easy solutions. In my previous role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade I spent a great deal of time working with the main parties in Northern Ireland and the British Government to identify ways to address the legacy issues that continue to hold back politics in the North. In 2014 we, collectively, agreed a framework of measures in the Stormont House Agreement. The Garda authorities will continue to co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in all relevant criminal investigations, be they historical or contemporary, in accordance with the arrangements in place. Regrettably, the political impasse in the Northern Ireland Executive has delayed the roll-out of these measures under the Stormont House Agreement. With the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Taoiseach, I will work hard to seek the re-establishment of the Executive for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.

On the issue of unresolved and Troubles-related criminal investigations in this jurisdiction, the Garda authorities will fully pursue any new evidence or information that comes to light, with a view to bringing the perpetrators of crimes to justice.

My Government colleagues and I look forward to working with Mr. Harris as he takes up this exciting, not to say challenging role, in which we wish him every success.

As usual, I did not get the answer to the question asked. I have got used to not really expecting answers to really difficult questions. I believe, however, that the Minister may have given this issue some consideration. If he did not, he should have. He started his statement by referring to the rigorous selection process that had reached the decision to appoint Mr. Drew Harris. He must have thought about the possibility that in the future a person who had blocked information going to the families and survivors might possibly be arrested and brought before the courts in the North of Ireland and face a demand to give evidence there. If he has not considered this possibility, the process was not rigorous. Having blocked for six years the issuing of files to families, last August Mr. Harris was ordered to hand them over within 12 weeks. Last week the families received some of them. I do not know exactly how many they received, but two were held back. They relate to the Glenanne gang and a person known as the "Jackal". He refused to hand them over. The refusal to hand them over could be the subject of a court case. Is it right that a court should have to order the head of the PSNI, formerly the RUC, to hand over files within 12 weeks and that almost one year later he had only just about handed them over? I ask the Minister to picture the families who have waited six years for files and all of their lives for justice. At the end of July it will be 43 years since the Miami Showband massacre. The families have been denied access to the files by the State and now they will see a situation where a person who was the head of the PSNI will be the Garda Commissioner with access to files on their loved ones, files which they cannot access. Is that fair or just? Is it the justice the Minister wants to present?

On 31 July we will, sadly, commemorate the slaughter of the members of the Miami Showband. On behalf of the survivors, I ask the Minister and the Garda Commissioner to join us at the commemoration to meet the families and have this discussion with them. It will take place in Dublin.

I also ask the Minister to delay the appointment of Mr. Harris until he meets the families and answers their questions.

Neither I nor the Government will delay the appointment of Mr. Drew Harris. The appointment of a new Garda Commissioner is always significant, but it is particularly so with the appointment of Mr. Harris, the first person from outside the jurisdiction to be appointed to the position since the establishment of An Garda Síochána almost 100 years ago. The new Commissioner is a person of huge ability and the highest integrity. He worked in the PSNI throughout its transformation following the peace process. I am sure that experience will help him greatly in his new role as Garda Commissioner. Co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána has never been as good and this appointment will serve to cement that relationship even further.

As we approach the centenary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána, the organisation is on the cusp of significant change. The expert Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is in the final stages of its work and its report will chart a new model for policing in the decades ahead. The new Commissioner will take up his post at this critical time. I look forward to the Deputy's contribution, with that of every other Member in the House, in ensuring the institutional framework agreed under the Stormont House Agreement can be established at the earliest opportunity to deal with the issue as raised.

I offer my condolences to all those involved, especially those affected by the brutal massacre to which the Deputy referred. I will not comment, however, on any court decision in Northern Ireland, no more than I would comment on any court decision here.

Even when it involves the Garda Commissioner.

I look forward to working with the incoming Commissioner. Our shared objective is ensuring the security of the State and the safety of the public. I am sure the Deputy and all other Members of the House will join me in wishing Mr. Drew Harris every success as Garda Commissioner and assuring him of our support at this challenging time as he takes up the position during what is an interesting and exciting time for An Garda Síochána.

Will the Minister accept the invitation to attend the anniversary commemoration of the Miami Showband massacre?

NAMA Portfolio

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and his office for affording me the opportunity to raise once again this very important issue. I want to discuss the impact on the town of Naas of the stalling of the town centre development. It was thought up some years ago as a flagship development that would attract a major anchor tenant that would, in turn, attract footfall which would be of huge and dramatic importance in the development of the town and the resurgence of commerce and the business sector in the area. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances that affected many parts of the country at the time, the development ceased and the company is now in receivership. Since 2008 there have been numerous attempts to bring it back into focus, but it has not yet happened. Every time someone inquires about it, there are various responses, as the Acting Chairman will be aware. We hear such responses as a breakthrough is about to be achieved, or that there are very positive things happening, or that they know where they are going and need the right sequence of measures to be put in place, but whatever has happened until now it is not enough. We have had the excuses which have come from all quarters. The fact is that the town has been blighted by the development that has not proceeded. There is symbolism in the cranes that have been immobile for ten years. No matter what way the town is approached, the first things that can be seen are the cranes.

I have had discussions with various people who have been involved in various proposals. I have also raised the matter in the House on several occasions and hope I will not have to raise it again. I thank the Minister of State for coming into the Chamber to address this Topical Issue. This is a crucial time. We either make a breakthrough now or it will not happen at all.

I have made approaches to the arbitration authorities in an effort to apply pressure and get something done in the shortest possible time. I have been in touch with the local authority, as has everyone else. I have been in touch with the Minister, the Minister of State and their offices. There is little else I can do other than launch myself into space as a symbol of protest at this situation having remained immobile for so long.

Suffice it to say, there is still time to make a positive intervention. I am not blaming the Minister or his predecessors, but it is unacceptable that a business element in a major provincial town would be stalled in this fashion for ten years. Naas is well known throughout the country as being a market town and has always had a great reputation, as have its business people, and it has always enjoyed significant employment.

There needs to be a return of footfall to the town centre. Various developments have tended to draw the commercial sector outside the town. If that is allowed to continue, there will be more serious consequences and public confidence in the town will fail. So will confidence among business people, who invest their money in the town's businesses. It will all be to no avail unless something dramatic is done.

Will the Minister of State examine the issues and contact the parties involved with a view to bringing them together and knocking heads together, if necessary, in order to kick-start what has to happen sooner or later?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter which I am taking on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. As someone who is familiar with Naas, I know the cranes to which Deputy Durkan referred. Sadly, there will not be much news in the response that I must give him.

I recognise and appreciate that the Deputy is eager, to say the least, to see this particular matter brought to a satisfactory resolution. As indicated in previous parliamentary responses on the issue, however, the management of the stalled development in Naas is primarily a matter for Kildare County Council in the first instance. With processes under way involving NAMA and arbitration, it would be inappropriate for the Minister to become involved. It would not be proper for the Minister with responsibility for planning matters to make representations on this issue because, under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act, he is precluded from exercising any power or control in respect of any case with which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála is or may be involved, except in very specific and extreme circumstances, which do not appear to apply in this case.

The Deputy will be aware that the hearing of evidence in the High Court in regard to a land title issue on Corban's Lane was completed on 14 June and that the relevant judgment is awaited. Consequently, the arbitration hearing cannot recommence until the High Court land title case is resolved and the judgment issued.

I am informed that Kildare County Council continues to engage in advanced discussions with NAMA and the receivers in an attempt to ensure that a satisfactory sale of the site in question will come about. The council has confirmed to the Department that it will brief all relevant Oireachtas and municipal district members as soon as there is progress to report.

As the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy English, have outlined, and subject to a satisfactory planning approval, there is no impediment to the appropriate development of the site. Kildare County Council recognises the strategic importance of the site and will continue to support and work in partnership with any stakeholder involved. In recent years, the council has initiated and supported a number of projects with the strategic objective of ensuring that the social and economic development of Naas is protected and enhanced. This work is underpinned by the work of the Naas roads and transport steering group, the URBACT group and the Naas regeneration group. Kildare County Council has also received approval from the National Transport Authority to prepare a traffic management study for Naas which will form one element of a strategic social and economic plan for the town.

While I am sure the Deputy is frustrated by the length of time it is taking to get the matter resolved, I know that the local authority is doing all it can within the parameters of its role. We must recognise the due processes that are necessary given the receivership issues that arise in this case, but I am hopeful that there will be further progress to resolve the matter and facilitate the development of this strategic town centre site.

This is the first time I have been asked a question on the issue. While we are precluded ministerially from getting directly involved in the planning affairs of local authorities when planning matters are before them, I am not precluded from inquiring of Kildare County Council about the current position. In light of the Deputy's interest, as well as my own, in the development of Naas town, I would have no problem with ascertaining that information.

I thank the Minister of State. He rightly recognised the frustration of this and other Deputies, as well as everyone in Naas and the rest of the county, who have always regarded the town as-----

It is the county town.

-----a major business centre in the province. Sadly, people's confidence in the marketing impact of Naas is beginning to wane. The Minister of State identified the reason, namely, the ten years. Who wants to wait ten years for statutory processes to conclude? If we have to wait ten years for people to make their minds up about something, it is time to ask questions. We have had to ask questions about a number of planning and development issues that have arisen across the country in recent times, although I will not go into individual cases now. The Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Rourke, knows as well as I do that if it takes so long to make a decision on a simple matter, I hate to think what would happen were we ever faced with a very difficult issue to resolve.

I accept the Minister of State's bona fides on this. While a Minister cannot directly involve himself or herself in a planning application, he or she has the right to find out what is happening, why it has been delayed, what the rate of progress has been annually in the past ten years, what rate is expected in the next ten years and how much longer we must await the outcome.

I have pursued this matter every which way. I have spoken down the years to every party involved. I have raised it in the House and received ministerial responses. It is unfair to Deputies and the Minister that we must continue waiting in this fashion for a simple answer to a simple issue that has been ongoing for such a long time. It is the old story of ransom strips. We cannot afford ransom strips. Incidentally, the people who feel offended may be right, but we are entitled to a decision. We cannot go on forever. We deserve a response to a matter of this nature.

The Minister of State could have a serious impact on this issue. It would be to the benefit of the area and public representatives everywhere who want to see progress when progress is demanded and required.

While my role, as the Deputy acknowledged, is limited, that does not mean there is no role. I will endeavour to educate myself further. I am familiar with the site and the lack of activity thereon, but I am not as familiar as the Deputy or the Acting Chairman with the ins and outs of what is happening. The arbitration process is stalled pending the court's verdict on the case that concluded on 14 June. However, ascertaining information from the council is my job, and I have no difficulty with getting that information for Members.

I thank the Minister of State.

Inland Waterways Maintenance

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, for taking time out of his busy schedule. We are all busy.

This issue has been ongoing for more than ten years but has now come to the fore. The River Blackwater is of considerable benefit, not just financially but also in terms of amenities, in Fermoy. The Blackwater runs down to the estuary in Youghal. The first of the two major issues involved is that the weir is falling apart. Water levels have dropped dramatically. We have very warm weather at the moment, but the levels are still probably 3 ft lower than they would be normally.

The weir falling apart will have a detrimental effect on the migrating salmon, and the Blackwater is famous for salmon fishing.

We have a very old rowing club based on one side of the weir. It dates back to the 1800s. Rowers from this club have rowed in the Olympics. They will lose their sports club. The weir dates back more than 200 years but it has come to a point where this will have a huge effect. It is affecting people's lives within Fermoy and the general area from Fermoy to Youghal. In late April, hundreds of people demonstrated on the bridge in Fermoy to try to get something done and to call on the Government to act on this before it is too late. Unfortunately, we feel that it is a bit too late, but better late than never. Cork County Council has accepted that the weir is in need of repair but said it is a funding issue.

The biggest worry here is the economic impact, the tourism impact and the impact on sport. It will be lost forever. We are trying to promote sports, tourism and so on and I keep saying that, every time we seem to sweep down in certain areas of east Cork, we feel like we are being left behind. If we lose the weir, we will lose massive sporting recreation and fishing amenities. We will lose probably ten sports clubs, such as aqua clubs. When that is gone, it will be gone forever and we will be calling it "Ireland's Ancient Eastish". It will be missing a piece again. It will not move up the map. I appeal to the Minister of State to meet the campaign group and members in Fermoy. The local people have the best local knowledge.

It is bigger than our history of waterways, fishing, sport and the pride and beauty that we have in this country. The important thing is that we will lose a vital piece of our heritage in east Cork, predominantly in Fermoy, and everything that goes with it. It would be shameful to miss the opportunity and look back in years to come and be so regretful. One of the natural beauties that we have is that estuary and the River Blackwater. I encourage the Minister of State to go down and look over the bridge. I took photographs and will show them to him afterwards. It is vital to everything that happens inside Fermoy. If we lose this weir, I am afraid that so many people will be affected by this economically, in sport, in tourism and so on, that it will fall apart and we will end up with "Ireland's Ancient Eastish", as they call it.

I thank Deputy Buckley for submitting this Topical Issue matter. I acknowledge its importance. In recent weeks I have had conversations with all his colleagues in the constituency. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and Deputies Kevin O'Keeffe and Sean Sherlock have brought it to my attention. I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue in the Dáil and giving the opportunity to put it on record.

Cork County Council is the owner of the weir in Fermoy, as the Deputy pointed out, and is the authority responsible for carrying out any works to the weir. Local authorities are under the remit of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. My Department and its State agency, Inland Fisheries Ireland, are responsible for the protection, management and conservation of Ireland's inland fisheries and sea angling resources. The council has advised that both a project to ensure a permanent solution to fish passage and a project to ensure temporary repairs while the permanent solution is awaited are required. There has been ongoing liaison between my Department, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Cork County Council to advise how any proposed works can be consistent with fisheries and environmental obligations, particularly the EU Habitats Directive. Compliance with the directive is the key issue.

The engineering advisers of the council and Department have agreed the essential details of the permanent proposals. A number of options were considered by the engineering advisers and the primary consideration in agreeing the proposals was that they meet the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive. This is especially important for the free passage of wild salmon, a species included in the directive. The IFI regional director and senior officials of the Department met the council on Wednesday, 29 November 2017. The council advised that it is engaged in land acquisition to facilitate the permanent works. This is a matter for the council and, in the meantime, the Department has agreed to the council's temporary repair proposals for the weir. At the November meeting, Department officials requested an indicative timeline on the council's proposals for the permanent and temporary works. An update on this is awaited, following which the senior officials will again meet the council.

Funding of the works is entirely a matter for the council as the owners of the weir infrastructure. The Department and IFI have undertaken, however, to support any bid the council makes for central funding in the context of fisheries and habitat issues. The local authority is the owner. That is not to say that we would not support whatever call it would make to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for funding. As indicated in my response, the council has not responded to the request by officials from November of last year.

I have no problem in visiting Fermoy, making it my business or meeting the four Deputies or a group at some stage. I ask that the Minister of State and Deputies in the council go back to Cork County Council and ask it what it has done since November to progress this. Has it acquired land? Has it a design? Is it engaging consultants with regard to planning permission? Is it moving forward with a plan and costing that we can go to Government with? That is important. There is a valid case. Everyone accepts that work needs to be done but Cork County Council, as the owner, has to make the progress and present a case, together with the Deputies or such, and meet the relevant Ministers about it.

There is a bit of history in this with regard to proposals that the Office of Public Works, OPW, had to assist in this, going back to 2008 and 2010. There were a number of objections. There were plans to include it in the OPW contract for the Fermoy north flood relief summer scheme works in 2008. As a result, there were protests, and the then Minister of State, Conor Lenihan, agreed to a deferral of the planned works for a period to allow the council to carry out repair works to the fish pass and weir and some repair works on the weir. I understand there were extra plans in 2010. The OPW agreed to include weir works in the tender documents of the Fermoy south flood relief scheme, which was the remaining element of the overall flood relief scheme. No agreement was ever reached by the council on the rock ramp, however, and the works were not carried out. Opportunities were presented to Cork County Council at the time. There may have been funding issues etc. in that period.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. It is important. I ask that he go back to Cork County Council and let it update our officials about where it is with its plans to bring it along in design and planning.

I thank the Minister of State for his honesty and his in-depth answer. It seems to be a bit endemic in certain areas that some people are, unfortunately, not doing their jobs and others are trying harder. Going back to the issue of funding, the Minister of State mentioned that Cork County Council may have problems with funding. It comes from the central Government funding too. There has to be a bit of cohesion. It is not just the weir or river. It also has economic, tourism and sports impacts. There was the regatta there just a couple of weeks ago. A total of 212 races were held on that river. One can imagine the social impact it has and the positive mental health impact. It is a win-win.

I am very pleased with the in-depth answer because we are sometimes not told everything and I was not aware that somebody on the other side might not be pushing the boat - pardon the pun - far enough. I thank the Minister of State for that answer. I will raise it with Cork County Council as soon as I get out of the Chamber this evening. I will certainly tell the Minister of State, if he does not mind, and keep him updated. I appreciate his honesty.

As the Deputy is no doubt aware, a by-law was recently signed relating to catch and release and fly fishing only, downstream from the weir, within 10 m. Seven signs have been erected to notify the public of the new by-law. These were erected yesterday. Staff are monitoring daily all activity relating to the Fermoy weir, both with regard to water levels and angler presence. Fish stocks are under stress with the low water levels and high temperatures of water. We are told that there is a satisfactory flow of water going over the weir at one of the breaches in the south bank of the weir in the proximity of the mill race. IFI is confident that, at present, the situation is okay in the event of any fish running or migrating upriver. I was presented with some photographs taken today, showing that there is sufficient water for fish to get up. The consensus is that if fish were to arrive now that temperatures have dropped slightly, passage across the weir in Fermoy would be possible.

This is something that came from the local angling community. It wanted a by-law because it was felt salmon stocks were under threat and we were happy to be able to ensure it was enacted. I understand and accept the importance of the weir to the town in terms of tourism, angling and flood prevention. It is important that the project would be progressed in whatever way possible. When Cork County Council presents a definite plan to the Department I would be happy for officials to engage with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on funding and I will possibly do so also. It is important that Deputy Buckley and the other local Deputies and Ministers engage with Cork County Council. It may be the case that matters have progressed further than I am aware of at this moment. I understand the council was in discussions on land acquisition and perhaps it has now acquired the land. It is important that the design and planning information is presented to my officials in order to progress the matter further.