Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Hospitals Funding

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important issue for debate. Last Friday I attended a briefing at University Hospital Limerick, UHL, given by Professor Colette Cowan, Professor Paul Burke and their team. UHL experienced severe overcrowding in 2018. It is a longstanding issue which is not going away. It must be addressed. Management has put forward a number of proposals which need the support of the Department of Health and the Minister for Health. A lack of bed capacity is a major issue at UHL. The proposal to build a 60-bed modular unit at UHL now has the benefit of planning permission. Originally there was an objection lodged with An Bord Pleanála but that has since been withdrawn. It is a shovel-ready project. It now requires €40 million to construct it. Following discussions with the Minister, Deputy Harris, I am very confident this essential project will be given funding in the not too distant future. Will the Minister of State confirm this to be the case? Once funding is confirmed and the green light is given to the project, management is very confident that the project can move forward and will be in place for winter 2019.

In the more immediate term, it is important the winter admissions plan being put forward by management in Limerick is responded to positively. This proposal includes bringing ten additional beds into use, extension of the MAU to a 24-7 service and the establishment of a 24-7 surgical admissions unit which would facilitate direct referrals to it. These initiatives will reduce the overcrowding issues at the emergency department.

I welcome the recent opening of a second emergency department surgical theatre at UHL on Sundays. It is an issue I raised in the Chamber a number of weeks ago. I have raised it repeatedly. It is a welcome development. Management has also put forward the need to open up a second surgical theatre in the emergency department on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I support that proposal and I ask the Minister of State to support it as well.

I welcome the Minister of the State. As with Deputy Carey and other Members of the Oireachtas, I had an opportunity to meet senior management and staff at the hospital in Limerick in recent days. While they are coping to the best of their ability, they are under enormous pressure. The new accident and emergency department at the hospital, which was opened to much fanfare, has seen a very considerable increase in admissions in the past number of years. It has grown steadily since 2014. Notwithstanding the state of the art facilities in the accident and emergency department, the bed capacity behind it is not adequate or appropriate to meet the growing demands and needs of the region. Part of the issue is demographics and part of it has to do with the way in which reconfiguration was, rightly, accepted by the region. It has put an intolerable burden on the staff and, more particularly, on the patients who present and who are left for an inordinate amount of time waiting in unacceptable conditions. There was a very clear belief that the 60-bed modular unit can be brought on board quickly if the funding is put in place. However, it will still take some time to build. We have not yet entered into the difficult winter period of the winter vomiting bug and other stresses on the health services which will result in increased numbers of patients presenting and, therefore, increased chaos in the accident and emergency department. Even in advance of that, we still have 60 to 70 people per day on trolleys. It is not acceptable.

A number of initiatives can be taken quickly. We need an urgent response from the Department in terms of putting the moneys aside. My understanding, and that of other Members who were at the meeting, is that proposals are coming from the hospital and if they are not already with the Department they will be within the next number of days. To alleviate the really short-term issues, we need funding to open an additional ten beds, which I understand can be done with some reorientation within the hospital. A second trauma theatre at weekends would mean that lots of the work that presents over the weekend would get treated and dealt with over the weekend and it would take away the pressure on Mondays. The acute medical assessment unit should be moved from an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday unit to a 24-7 unit. The acute surgical admissions unit needs to be open on a 24-7 basis. It will ensure we do not have peaks and troughs and that work can be progressed more evenly throughout the week so we do not see this spike on a Tuesday. That is the kind of work that needs to be done. I hope that, notwithstanding the additional funding that has been provided to the Department as a result of the recent budget, we can see those short-term funds made available to address the immediacy of the crisis and then work towards getting the additional bed capacity through the modular unit that is proposed. Hopefully we can then move to the long-term situation where the 100 beds that were planned and proposed for the hospital come on board.

I thank the Deputies for raising the matter. I will read the statement I have been given by the Department of Health. It may not answer some of the questions that have been asked by the Deputies so I will make sure the Minister, Deputy Harris, receives them.

On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris, I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the issues raised by Deputy Dooley and Deputy Carey. The Government is committed to improving access to our health service. The emergency department in UHL is one of the busiest in the country, with nearly 54,000 attendances this year to the end of September. Demand for emergency department services at the hospital has continued to rise this year with an 8% increase in emergency department attendances at UHL compared with the same period last year.

Preparations and planning for winter 2018 and 2019 are well advanced in the hospital and at local level. The Department of Health is working with the HSE to ensure the most effective response to the winter challenges to unscheduled care provision within available resources. As part of budget 2019, an additional €10 million in funding is being provided in 2018 to prepare for and manage the expected peak in demand for health services in the winter ahead. The funding will focus on initiatives to enable the hospital system to de-escalate before Christmas.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, has requested the HSE to provide for a significant increase in the provision of social care and other measures to support the patient’s journey home in the first quarter of 2019 in response to the expected surge in demand after the Christmas period. A further €10 million in funding is being made available in 2019 to increase acute bed capacity in line with the recommendations of the health service capacity review.

Increasing capacity is a priority for the Government. The Department of Health is in discussion with the HSE in the context of the national service plan 2019 to identify the sites for investment and the associated number of beds, as part of an agreed capacity programme for 2019. The selection and opening of beds on specific sites in 2019 and future years will be considered as part of the annual Estimates and service planning process and subject to financial, operation, human resource and policy considerations and priorities. Increasing capacity is both part of the short-term and long-term solution. The national development plan announcement earlier this year includes provision for a 96-bed replacement ward block at UHL. The HSE has provided capital funding in 2018 to progress the design phase of this project. Further funding will be considered in the context of the capital allocation for health having regard to the availability of funding and level of contractual commitments already in place. Subject to funding and the successful completion of the planning, design and tender phases, it is anticipated that construction is unlikely to commence before 2021.

Investment in capacity and reform must go hand in hand. We have commenced implementation of the Sláintecare programme of reform, providing the framework for how health service reforms can be realised across primary and social care as well as acute hospital care. I know that has not answered many of the questions put by both Deputies, but I will return to the matter.

I pay tribute to the University Hospital Limerick, UHL, staff, who work under extreme pressure. Attendances there at the emergency department, ED, have increased by 18.5% over the past four years, while it is projected that approximately 71,000 people will visit that ED this year alone. Will the Minister of State convey the outcome of this debate to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris? It is important that he confirms funding support for the 60 bed modular unit and that he confirms he supports the winter admissions plan put forward by management at UHL, which includes ten additional beds, a 24-7 medical assessment unit, MAU, a 24-7 surgical assessment unit and a second ED surgical theatre for weekends. These initiatives will help address the severe, chronic overcrowding at UHL, and it is important that the Minister of State conveys these sentiments to the Minister and that he responds to us.

I thank the Minister of State for her response but, unfortunately, it falls well short of what is required. I do not think she needs me or anyone else in this House to tell her the level of crisis that is felt in the mid-west because of the massive level of overcrowding, even during the summer period, which is normally relatively quiet. The infrastructure there is wholly inadequate to meet the demands and needs of the people. I will be back here next week looking for more answers, and what I need to hear is not about what will happen in 2021 but rather what will happen in 2019. I want to hear that funding will be made available to ensure that by the time we get to September 2019, the modular unit is well under way. Prior to that, however, from the very beginning, we need ten extra beds, the second trauma theatre at weekends, the 24 hour acute MAU and the acute surgical admission unit on a 24-7 basis. It will not solve the problem but it will have a meaningful impact. It will allow the staff to give reasonable treatment to people who present and it will give a general expectation to those patients that they will be treated in a timely manner and with dignity and respect.

I see from both of the Deputies' contributions the frustration and seriousness of what they have spoken about. Unfortunately, I am not privy to some of the meetings that were held before I was asked to take this Topical Issue matter. As I outlined, however, the preparation and planning for the 2018-19 winter is well under way in hospitals at local level, the objective of which is to ensure the most effective response to the winter challenges to schedule care provision of any available resources. It is acknowledged that attendances at accident and emergency departments grow year on year, and the health service capacity review indicates Ireland has among the highest acute bed occupancy rate in the developing world, which is why we must invest in more beds in 2019.

We acknowledge the challenges we face are doubtless significant, but I firmly believe all of us in the House wish to find the right solutions for patient-centred, evidence-based results, focusing on sustainable solutions to challenges facing the health service. I assure both Deputies that in my capacity as Minister of State in the Department of Health, I will convey their frustration and serious concerns to the Minister as soon as I speak to him, which I hope will be sometime this evening.

Disabilities Assessments

I thank the Minister of State for listening to the concern and, I hope, providing some answers. I raise the issue of assessments of need and the bleak reality facing the parents of children who are waiting for that all-important assessment of need. As the Minister of State knows, the assessment of more than 4,000 children nationally is overdue, which demonstrates a huge problem with a ripple effect that seeps into every aspect of those children's lives. As we know, for any child with special needs or a disability, early intervention is key. An early diagnosis is critical to having a positive outcome to provide a fast and effective intervention of therapies.

It was great to have the Minister of State in Castleblayney recently. He opened the new group home, where there is fantastic work happening for adults and young people with disabilities. In the wider Cavan-Monaghan area, however, the assessment of need is overdue for 177 children. These children, therefore, are denied the speech and language and occupational therapies they need, which negatively affects the ability of these children to access the supports they need for their education and schooling. While waiting times for assessments of need is at an unacceptable level, it is exacerbated by the fact that Cavan and Monaghan were without an assessment of needs officer from September 2017 to May 2018. That is nine months without the expertise to conduct the critically important assessment of need for those 177 children, who are arguably the most vulnerable as they struggle to grow, achieve and develop their individual potential, not only because of the lack of appropriate intervention but because of the absence of any intervention. Will the Minister of State address this immediately by employing extra staff, providing extra resources and doing whatever it takes to clear these backlogs and reach the three-month turnaround time that parents should be able to expect from their service from the time of application to the implementation of services such as speech and language and occupational therapies?

In case the Minister of State thinks for one second I am exaggerating the local situation in Cavan and Monaghan, I wish to outline two cases from a long list of cases that are coming through my office. One little boy has waited four years and eight months for his assessment of need. As the Minister of State will be aware, there is a mechanism for parents to make a complaint if they feel the process is failing them. Out of pure frustration, these parents used that mechanism but, alas, they are no closer to achieving their initial assessment of need for their child. Not only is their child losing out on the therapies he needs, he is also missing out on the special needs assistant, SNA, whom he desperately needs to support and assist him in school. It must be said that the school makes a great effort to assist this little boy, but I have photographs in my office that the parents brought in of bangs and bruises on the child from when he fell in school. His mobility and ability to get around school are affected because he does not have that SNA. He cannot wait four years and eight months for an assessment of need.

The second case I wish to highlight is another little boy who desperately needs an occupational therapist. I have a letter from the child development team in Cavan-Monaghan informing the parents that this little boy is on the list for his occupational therapy but the estimated time he can expect to wait is four years and five months. He has autism and needs a home and school plan, but his integration in his mainstream school is achievable with the right resources in place. The crux of the problem seems to be that there is a gap in the transfer for children from Enable Ireland to the child development team.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue of assessments of need. She mentioned my trip to Castleblayney last Monday and I thank her for the warm reception I received. It was great to meet the families, parents and carers and to say well done to everyone directly involved.

As the Deputy may be aware, Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005 provides for a statutory system for the assessment of individual health service needs, an assessment report, a service statement and a complaints mechanism. Since its commencement in 2007, there have been significant year-on-year increases in the number of children applying both for assessment of need and for disability services generally. Regrettably, these increases have led to extended waiting periods being experienced, with almost 4,000 applications overdue for completion. The Deputy is not exaggerating, therefore, when she raises these issues. The HSE and I recognise that assessments of need and early intervention services for children with disabilities are paramount and need to be improved. I am aware the HSE has undertaken a number of initiatives to address the excessive waiting times.

Assessment of need compliance improvement plans are in place in all areas and are being actively monitored. Additional resources have been allocated to the areas with the most significant backlogs and those areas have shown a steady decrease in percentage of overdue assessments over the first six months of this year. HSE disability services is currently engaged in a major reconfiguration of its existing therapy resources for children with disabilities into multi-disciplinary geographically based teams, as part of its national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people, 0 to 18 years. The key objective of this programme is to bring about equity of access to disability services and consistency of service delivery, with a clear pathway for children with disabilities and their families to services, regardless of where they live, what school they go to or the nature of the individual child’s difficulties. Evidence to date from areas where this has been rolled out shows that implementation of this programme will also have a positive impact on waiting lists both for assessments of need and therapy provision. It is estimated that, on average, one in five children completing an assessment of need do not have a disability. As Deputy Smyth said, I want to focus on the children in most need, and 20% do not have a disability. The introduction of a new standard operating procedure, SOP, for carrying out assessments of need is expected to reduce the number of inappropriate referrals for assessment and will facilitate more timely access for children and young people. While the introduction of the SOP has been delayed by necessary discussions and consultations with professional bodies, I understand that this process is now entering its final stages.

The Deputy will also be aware that funding for an additional 100 therapy posts was secured as part of budget 2019. These additional posts, along with the reconfiguration of services and other initiatives outlined, are expected to have a significant positive impact on waiting times for assessment of need and ultimately therapy service delivery. It will also help meet the needs of children and young people in a more efficient, effective and equitable manner. I accept the Deputy's point about there being 177 children in Cavan and Monaghan. Something must be done. It is unacceptable that Cavan and Monaghan have been without an officer for nine months and that children are waiting for four years and five months. That is why I am pushing very strongly to resolve these issues.

The move by children from Enable Ireland to the child development team seems to be where the gap occurs and where children lose out on the interventions they need. They are getting lost in the transfer and there does not seem to be the continuity of care. As a result, these children are suffering. Parents tell me that while they are in Enable Ireland, the services are there and they get the intervention they need but once they reach six years of age, they go on to the child development team. It is heartbreaking to see people being told that they will have to wait up to four years and five months.

Nine months is too long for the system to lack the expertise and it must have exacerbated the problem in Cavan and Monaghan. I ask the Minister of State to take a positive bias towards the constituency to ensure the backlog is cleared and that parents can get the services they need in the turnaround time of three months laid out by the Department. Ultimately, if the interventions are not there early, there will be repercussions. It has a ripple effect at home, in school, and in school work and it is holding these children back from developing, and from getting the education they deserve and need. It is their basic right to have that. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that such positions do not lie vacant. Can he shine light on why such a position would lie vacant for nine months?

I welcome the additional posts to address the issue. They are needed and are welcome. I hope we will see the benefits for the children on those waiting lists.

I share Deputy Smyth's concerns and fully appreciate the frustration felt by parents and public representatives at excessive waiting times. I assure the Deputy that the HSE and myself are acutely aware of the urgency of this matter. The implementation of the compliance improvement plans, reconfiguration of services, the prioritisation of areas of greatest need, the standardisation of the assessment need process and the introduction of revised standard operating procedure are some of the many initiatives being undertaken by the HSE nationally to address the waiting times for assessments and needs. The Deputy referred to Enable Ireland and I agree about the continuity of care. There are vacancies and there is a problem getting people into posts. Recently, many occupational therapists, psychologists and speech and language therapists have returned from England and things are improving. A figure of 177 is something that we should make a dent in and make a positive contribution. It is a figure that could be targeted and dealt with by providing extra resources that could resolve the problem before it goes further out of control. The Deputy spoke of a positive intervention. I will make my views known to the HSE, which I am currently in talks over the extra funding in the budget 2019. I give a commitment that I will make it a priority issue.

Bord na Móna

I welcome the opportunity to address the Minister on this matter as it is a very important issue in Laois and Offaly. As a former employee of Bord na Móna, as were most of my family, I am very concerned about it.

The effects of job losses and the closing of the bogs in the midlands is going to be devastating. I was in Edenderry last night, and people there are very concerned. People are also very concerned across County Laois, as are those who work with Bord na Móna in County Offaly, and indeed those who work in south Kildare. There is huge concern locally about this move. The Edenderry plant in west Offaly will have to switch to biomass. The Cul na Móna plant depends on horticultural peat, and it will also have to change due to the demands of retail chains in England, which want peat-free compost by 2020 or 2021. Where is the Government's plan on this? It is the shareholder, and it acts on behalf of the people. Bord na Móna was established with a clear mandate to create jobs in the midlands and to develop our indigenous resources and industry. It has certainly fulfilled that brief; it has transformed the midlands of Ireland, in particular Laois-Offaly, parts of Kildare and other counties.

We need to move quickly now. We have to make up for lost time. We have sleepwalked into this situation. I have been highlighting the fact that we need to put other resources in place for a number of years. We must now quickly develop biomass crops and wood products, and moving to renewable gas, solar and biogas. Bord Na Móna can do that, and we have to put those green industries in place now.

I thank the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment for taking the time to discuss this very important topic. My thoughts are with the staff of Bord na Móna and their families on what has been a very difficult day for them. Many of these people are my constituents. Many people hear the words Bord na Móna and think of bogs in Offaly, but there are 330 administrative and management staff working in the biggest town in my county, in Newbridge. It is one of the biggest employers there. There are also 70 or 80 people working in Kilberry at the peat moss plant. Those people knew that this day was coming, but it has still been a difficult week. Part of my frustration is the fact that there was an announcement of job losses yesterday without news of the package that would be available to those taking voluntary redundancies. I would have preferred if people going home last night who were going to be sitting down with their families to talk about their future had that level of detail, because it is a very difficult time. Some of those people will be thinking about taking a package, and others will want to be a part of Bord na Móna's next phase as it moves towards an economically and environmentally sustainable future. We want these redundancies to be voluntary, but for that to happen the package has to be generous, in line with redundancies in other semi-State agencies such as RTÉ and An Post. It must be worth taking, and it should take into account the service staff have given to the company and the upheaval they will face in trying to change roles.

Can the Minister touch on the supports it will make available to the company and to the staff who are thinking of leaving? In terms of support from Europe and the just transition to a low-carbon economy, what supports are there for the Government to help it ensure the future viability of the company as it seeks to move from brown to green?

I spoke on this matter during Leader's Questions. The Tánaiste responded in fairly general terms. His response was commendable in the sense that he reiterated the commitment of Government to making various State supports available to staff of Bord na Móna in the short-term. Perhaps the Minister can deal more extensively with the two questions I asked this morning. Can he confirm to the House that ESB will proceed with co-fuelling at Lanesborough and at Shannonbridge, having received confirmation from the Government last Monday that it is Government policy? I hope that planning application caters for such arrangements up until 2025, as well as an extension at Edenderry from 2023 to 2025. It would guarantee what remains in the peat harvesting sector. Over 900 staff are from my county, notwithstanding the others.

The Tánaiste said that the Government was open to suggestions and recommendations from the House and beyond. The various local authorities are meeting next week to formulate a response and to prepare a mechanism they believe would best serve their own regions. I wrote to the Taoiseach, and he informed me that he forwarded my correspondence to the Minister. I made a proposal for a just, sustainable transition forum which could be put in place to address these issues and make recommendations on innovation and enterprise to support the region with alternative forms of employment. Is funding available for such a forum? Other Deputies have spoken about the EU's globalisation fund, but I would also like to see the Government inject cash into this, perhaps using revenue from the carbon tax. The public service obligation payment to the ESB for those power plants expires next year, which will represent a saving for the Government. A portion of that money could be given towards this area; it would show the community that there is a willingness and commitment to helping the people and a pathway to assisting the region.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I recognise the concern that all Deputies have expressed about the potential impact of this on affected families. Bord na Móna is a commercial State company with a mandate to develop the midlands region, and I believe it is taking the appropriate steps now, in a timely way, to set out a strategy that takes into account its obligation to operate in a decarbonised economy. It has recognised this need, and is taking the necessary steps to ensure there will be employment opportunities and that it will continue to be a driver of economic development in the midlands. It has recognised the obligation to decarbonise. The decisions it is taking mean that it will reduce its carbon footprint by more than 90% by 2030. It is a very major step. It also recognises the inevitability of the decisions it had to make.

Bord na Móna has set out in its strategic plan the opportunities it believes it can develop that will provide secure employment opportunities with good prospects for the future. Those opportunities lie in the areas that Deputy Stanley and others have mentioned and include expanding its interest in renewables, expanding its activities in the area of resource recovery and identifying new export growth markets where it can use its very significant assets and strengths to develop new trading opportunities that will deliver employment. I can confirm to Deputy Cowen that the ESB will be submitting a planning application; it is expected in the next couple of weeks.

The other issue raised by Deputies was support for workers who are directly affected. I can absolutely assure the Deputies that not only will Bord na Móna be putting in place its own programme, which it has worked out with its trade unions and has used before, to support workers, to assess their skill base and to support them in finding new opportunities, but all the machinery of the State, whether through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the education and training boards, ETBs, or re-skilling opportunities will be made available to the workers. I assure the Deputies of that.

On the issue of the redundancy terms and the need for voluntary exits, Bord na Móna has signalled that it intends that this will be a voluntary exit programme. It is consulting with the representatives of the workers about the terms of that programme; it will of course require approval from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In terms of ensuring that the State does everything possible to support the building of the future economy in the midlands, I assure the Deputies that Bord na Móna will be working with the implementation committee of the midlands regional action plan for jobs.

It will be working with local authorities and taking on board ideas which come forward from them. It will also be working with local enterprise offices and the midlands regional skills fora to develop initiatives. In turn, these can be enabled through the €1 billion rural development regeneration fund and regional enterprise funds from Enterprise Ireland.

Bord na Móna is envisaging the development of tech hubs and enterprise centres which could create opportunities. An application to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund will be prepared with the trade unions and Bord na Móna to draw on that source.

The key issue is that we do not want the midlands to become the rust belt of Ireland. Last week, when I met Bord na Móna’s chief executive officer, Mr. Tom Donnellan, and some of his staff, he outlined how the company has plans for waste to energy, horticulture and aquaculture. Bord na Móna has a site on the ring road in Tullamore. There is the Cúil na Móna site used by AES Waste Collection Services, a Bord na Móna company. It is located at the Togher intersection at Portlaoise, literally at the crossroads of Ireland.

I am glad to hear that the Government will make an application to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. We also we need to look at the current subsidies for the burning of peat that are due to be phased out. In the context of the climate action fund, €500 million has been earmarked under the national development plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bord na Móna has a big part to play, not just in the midlands but also nationally, in moving towards a green, renewable and sustainable economy.

I thank the Minister for his reply and welcome the confirmation that an application will be made to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. In many ways, the change in structure of a firm of this size is the equivalent of the closure of coal mines in Wales in the 1980s. It will have a big impact across the midlands, particularly in Kildare where so many of Bord na Móna’s staff are located.

For the past 85 years, Bord na Móna did not just generate power for homes and villages, it also created employment. Having met the company’s chief executive recently, I was heartened to hear of the ambition the company has for its future. What supports will the Department give to the company as it seeks to fulfil its ambition to become the largest renewables company in the country? It is focusing on its greatest asset, its landbanks, and on aquaculture and other aspects. How can Bord na Móna secure a portion of the climate action fund to support many of the jobs which will be developed in the green sector?

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome his statement to the effect that the ESB will proceed with the planning applications to which I referred in the coming weeks. We look forward to that because it guarantees the remaining workforce in the peat harvesting area meeting expected demands. The blueprint for such permissions was set and a precedent was created with the Edenderry application, which was eventually successful in the courts in recent years.

I also welcome the commitment to apply to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund for specific targeting in the midlands region. The Minister said that the board, various local authorities and others can make applications to existing financing arms of the State, whether it is Enterprise Ireland, the rural regeneration programme and so forth. Will the Minister commit to a specific forum to deal with the offshoots of this decision and the ongoing transition that is taking place? Bord na Móna has been the driver of economic life in my county and those adjacent to it for 80 years. The effect will not only be on the workers and their families but also on communities and ancillary businesses and services offered in the region. They will be decimated unless there is a specific concerted effort to deal with this issue. That is why we want funding specifically targeted not only from the European globalisation fund but from the State, whether it is from the ring-fencing of revenue carbon tax revenues and the public service obligation saving that will be there from next year on.

We have no intention of allowing the midlands to become a rust belt. I was the Minister who introduced regional action plans. It was the first time ever the State developed bottom-up regional enterprise plans for which we allocated €250 million in regional enterprise funds. That was the first time we had such a concerted approach. Under that, we have established an implementation committee for driving regional opportunities in the midlands. That is the vehicle we will use to work with Bord na Móna, which is a strong commercial State body with 80,000 ha of State lands, significant assets and experience, as well as a strong brand. There is a commitment to drive this forward.

We have the structures in place to address the needs. We have made funds available. The regeneration fund is €1 billion, the climate action fund is €500 million and the regional enterprise fund is €250 million. Every proposal will get a proper chance to be developed. Bord na Móna is doing exactly that. It is a powerful development agency with strong assets and best placed to drive this forward.

The creation of individual task forces does not add value when we have an implementation committee dedicated to the work of driving the midlands region forward. It has the leaders of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, along with all the key players and the private sector, driving those projects. That is the structure we need. They are tried and proven. We set a target of 14,000 jobs for the midlands region and that figure has been exceeded in the period.

There has only been one IDA Ireland site visit to the midlands this year.