Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

The town of Thurles and mid-Tipperary have lost a great number of factories and employers over the last 30 years. All the stakeholders have been making efforts and are working hard to reverse this trend. Only last year we secured the national apprenticeship centre which is located in the town and there are over 250 apprentices based on the site today. Our small and medium enterprises are showing initiative to drive forward despite the difficulties. These include OMC, an engineering company based in Thurles which was founded and driven by mid-Tipperary business people, and Dew Valley Foods, a processing company, which is also a significant employer.

An opportunity now presents itself to Thurles and mid-Tipperary which requires the support of Government and Government policy. Lisheen, just outside Thurles, has been designated as a national research centre for the bioeconomy.

Thanks to the research of Professor Kevin O'Connor and his team at UCD, and the pilot work done by Glanbia, there will be a biorefinery on the site in a relatively short time. This is just the beginning. The research happening at the site has the potential to turn the waste from the agricultural and agrifood industries into high value, globally traded commodities. The resulting jobs and supports connected to that can be a game changer, not just for Tipperary but for development in rural Ireland as a whole. The energy from the bioeconomy will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th, and we in Ireland are ideally placed to capitalise on it.

The site at Lisheen is perfect in many ways. It is flat, it has scale, it has high voltage electricity and green energy available and it has a water supply that matches the size of the site. However, one piece of the jigsaw is missing, namely, connection to the national gas network. This can be solved at relatively small cost. If we consider the benefits to the State which I have outlined, it will be an investment that makes a return to the State of a magnitude never before seen. If this final part of the infrastructure was brought to Lisheen, the site would immediately be attractive to the pharmaceutical and food industries, or a mixture of the two. It would fit all the criteria required for a hub for the international data centre industry. It would be a shining example of how to create rural development and could be recreated throughout the country.

If Lisheen was connected to the national gas network, with a bioeconomy focus on the site, it is easy to see the biogas industry being attracted. This could help to achieve the national target of 30% of all gas used in Ireland coming from biogas by 2030. The biogas used at Lisheen could be pulled back into the national gas grid and, given this potential payback, it is easy to justify the investment. The gas network can be connected to the Lisheen site from Cashel in County Tipperary. This would have the added benefit that the shortest route runs adjacent to Thurles, which is the nearest urban centre to the Lisheen site. Lisheen would be the anchor tenant and would justify connecting Thurles in the same way Tipperary Co-op did for connecting Tipperary town, the Goodman factory did for Cahir and Arrabawn did for Nenagh. As Thurles would provide the role of urban support to the fully functioning site, which would ultimately have hundreds of employees, it is only sensible that Thurles be connected to the network as part of this project. That would have the effect of supporting existing industry in the town and would also make the town attractive for new industry of all kinds.

A number of steps must be taken to progress this project. First, a robust feasibility study must be carried out as soon as possible and this study must have input from the Departments of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Business, Enterprise and Innovation. It must also include input from Tipperary County Council, which is passionate about the project. The study must include all of the aspects of climate change that the project can benefit. This study can be done for €90,000. With the feasibility study done, it will be possible to make an application for funding to Project Ireland 2040 as early as next September.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am sure he knows the way this works. Gas Networks Ireland is a commercial State-sponsored body and is regulated by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU. The CRU has developed a network connections policy, under which industrial users, towns or groups of towns within a region can make an application to be considered for a connection. The criterion the regulator sets is that the net present value of the revenues over a 25-year period must exceed the net present value of the costs of the connection. I gather, from what I am told within the Department, that the last time the Tipperary region referred to by the Deputy applied was more than ten years ago and, at that stage, Thurles did not qualify for a connection. Since then, the system has evolved in that groups of towns can apply, so if there are connections with Lisheen that might add additional payload, those can be included.

Gas Networks Ireland would need a proposal to come forward with various payloads and the need for energy and gas usage from industrial users and from towns. Clearly, it cannot assume that just by providing gas, everyone will connect, given there is a connection charge and also the cost of adjusting one's own heating system to a gas system. It has to conduct this study. As I said, the area in question has not made an application in ten years. If the businesses that are developing in Lisheen have a gas requirement, that can be added as part of a submission, which would be evaluated under the connections policy the CRU has enunciated. Gas Networks Ireland would then apply that.

Based on what the Deputy outlined, I do not know which industrial users are in the area. Gas Networks Ireland does not provide speculative extension of the line without having an indication that the demand is there, which is natural, given it is a commercial user. There has to be the establishment of demand and there would have to be projects coming on stream and approved, whether by Enterprise Ireland, the IDA or Teagasc. That is the system.

My Department is examining whether there are other dimensions, such as environmental dimensions, that could be a top-up to simply looking at the pure net present value. I understand a report will come to me shortly with an evaluation of that. That report will consider issues such as the carbon savings that might accrue and whether the net present value criteria are taking those into account. However, the overall approach is as I have outlined. Whatever the local promoters of the various initiatives are suggesting, whether it be biogas or otherwise, those will have to be developed to a point where they are close to approval as viable projects before Gas Networks Ireland could be in a position to supply its system. I am trying to be as helpful as possible. Of course, applications to the climate action fund or the disruptive technologies innovation fund can be of a more innovative type. Where there are innovative initiatives coming forward, those could apply to the climate action fund, where they would be looked on based on their value in respect of carbon impact.

I am encouraged by the Minister's reply. Ten years ago there was no Lisheen site adjacent to Thurles and no bioeconomy centre there. The biorefinery has got serious funding and has got the largest ever grant from the EU. That biorefinery will start on the site next year with a capacity to deal with 50,000 tonnes of lactose whey. Tipperary County Council is very enthusiastic about the potential of the Lisheen site and what it can do. Sustainable food production will be the byword of the 21st century. Given the research going on into the Lisheen site and the fact it is a bioeconomy centre, I have no doubt the usage will be there.

I ask the Minister that the feasibility study on the potential of the Lisheen site and the gas connection, which the county council has asked for, be undertaken. We reckon the cost of the study would be €90,000. I ask him to arrange this feasibility study. I am confident in the extreme that he will recognise the significant potential of this site and the Thurles area. Glanbia has bought into this biorefinery. The location is at the heart of the agrifood industry, with Arrabawn, Dairygold, Tipperary Co-op and even Lakelands in the vicinity, as well as numerous meat factories. The waste coming from those can be used in the bioeconomy to produce valuable commodities that can be traded commercially.

The potential of Lisheen is immense, and because Thurles is adjacent there could be a twin project to connect it too. This could be a template for rural Ireland and rural development. The Minister could give us the money to do the feasibility study. We can prove that the usage will be there and the connection will ensure that this bioeconomy site thrives in the future.

The Deputy probably needs to consider the connection policy because it sets out the framework that needs to be fulfilled. This includes identifying the businesses that will potentially use gas and their scale - there are concessionary rates for connection charges where there are small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs; and identifying the new estates that might come on stream that would use it and other towns along the route that might connect in. Gas Networks Ireland, GNI, is not going to undertake an assessment of these. This is based on projects that are coming forward, enterprises identified that are about to be approved or supported by the Industrial Development Authority, IDA or Enterprise Ireland. When those enterprises are identified and have a demand for gas then GNI can assess whether that will be connected. Neither GNI nor the Department go speculatively looking to see if they could create a demand for gas. That is not the way the system works. This has been regulated by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU. The emergence of new biorefinery activities with a gas demand will trigger an application to the connections policy and provide the opportunity to pass the test applied. It does not lay pipes in advance in the hope that industries might set up. That is not the approval system. There has to be a baseline of work to justify the investment it makes. It is a commercial company and that is the way it has to operate under its regulations.

Health Services Provision

I acknowledge progress has been made on this issue and that work is being done. I know the Minister of State would be aware of the scale of the problem. Some of the women impacted by this are in the Visitors Gallery and are watching the proceedings here.

We welcome the publication of the report. The women's voices are present throughout the report but that is coming from a fairly low base because there were not very many face-to-face interviews. We would like to see more of the women's stories reflected in that report. I acknowledge that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has met the women. Before we went into the meeting, we had a very frank exchange and they had a very frank exchange with the Minister. It is not easy to talk about some of these issues. I raised them at Leader's Questions and know it is a difficult subject. It is a credit to the women that they put forward their own cases, along with Melanie their representative, in a very coherent manner. They rarely use euphemisms which is welcome. We are all adults after all but we acknowledge this is a difficult topic.

We know that the scanners are coming but by what date? It is impossible for many of the women to gauge the level of the problem and to know the best course of treatment. Is there a co-operation agreement in place or can one be put in place for use of the scanner that will be installed in Belfast? In that way at the very least we might have access to that scanner. Will the women be afforded access to the treatment abroad scheme? I know that is a tricky area. I know the rules and that the Minister of State knows about this issue not only from this debate but from constituency cases.

We have learnt from the report that the governance mechanisms were not in place at national level. Only yesterday The Guardian covered this story and said that mesh implants made by one of the biggest pharmaceutical firms in the world were inserted despite the company being warned that the mesh could shrink and harden. I met a woman today whose implant was inserted only six months ago. I asked previously for the suspension of its use and it has been paused but this was in use until very recently. We want to see action on all the clinical and technical issues associated with the use of mesh as a matter of urgency because while there are some women in the Gallery there are many more at home because they cannot travel, and more come forward every day of the week to tell their stories and to seek help.

If there is something I admire more than anything else in politicians of any hue, colour or creed, it is consistency. The Deputy's consistency in this subject matter for a long time is commendable. The report to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, from Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, on the use of urogynaecological surgery in the treatment of stress urinary incontinence, SUI, and pelvic organ prolapse, POP, in women was published on the Department of Health website on 21 November 2018. Synthetic mesh devices have been widely used in the surgical treatment of SUI and POP in women over the past two decades. However, controversy about the safety of mesh devices has arisen in many countries because of concerns about the frequency and severity of complications associated with their use.

In responding to these questions and in recognition of the complexity of the matters arising, the Minister requested the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, to prepare a report for him on the clinical and technical issues involved in ensuring both the safe and effective provision of mesh procedures in urogynaecology and an appropriate response to women who suffer complications as a result of undergoing such procedures. Preparation of the report has involved consultation and engagement with national and international bodies. The report has been informed by a review of international reports and safety reviews of mesh surgery which have been published in recent years. The report has also been informed by the personal experiences of women who have suffered complications following mesh surgery. The Minister for Health acknowledges the bravery, commitment and dignity shown by the women he met and those women who have written to him in sharing what were harrowing and deeply personal experiences.

The report identifies that for many women, surgical procedures using synthetic mesh devices have provided a more effective and less invasive form of treatment than traditional SUI and POP procedures. However, mesh devices are associated with significant and severe complications in a minority of women. These are of concern given the difficulties of mesh implant removal. The report makes 19 recommendations, including the development of patient information and informed consent materials; surgical professional training and multidisciplinary expertise in units carrying out mesh procedures; the development of clinical guidance; the development of information systems to monitor the ongoing use of mesh devices; ensuring the reporting of mesh related complications; and ensuring timely, appropriate and accessible care pathways for the management of women with complications. A programme of work to advance some of the report's more important recommendations has already commenced in the HSE in advance of its completion. The HSE was also asked by the CMO on 24 July to pause all mesh procedures where clinically safe to do so until a number of key recommendations have been implemented. The Deputy acknowledged that in her contribution.

A priority recommendation being progressed by the HSE is the clarification and development of treatment pathways and appropriate referral services for women suffering from mesh-related complications. This includes identifying the appropriate specialist clinical expertise and facilities required at hospital group level and nationally. The HSE will also examine the need to look at sourcing services from abroad to address any immediate shortfalls identified, either through utilisation of the treatment abroad scheme or by commissioning services from abroad. Decisions to remove mesh devices in women who experience complications must be made on an individual basis following detailed clinical assessment and discussion of the risks, benefits and treatment options by women with their treating clinicians. The HSE has published a dedicated website page on vaginal mesh implants, including contact information, for women suffering complications. I hope this is a useful resource, the link to which can be made available.

I appreciate I have not answered the two direct questions on the date for the scanning machines and whether there is a co-operation agreement with Belfast. I was also asked about the treatment abroad scheme. I will get clarity on those matters for the Deputy and forward the information to her.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and for his kind words. Anyone who has met these women could not fail to be moved by the manner in which they were treated. In his reply, the Minister of State acknowledged the bravery, commitment and dignity they have shown and I wish to associate myself with those remarks. I welcome the Minister of State's statement that he will come back to me on access. My questions were not designed in any way to trip anyone up. Like the Minister of State, I want to be able to tell these women when this will happen. There is an acknowledgement of what happened to these women and there is also an acknowledgement on the part of the HSE and the Department that action must be taken. We are looking for a timeline for that action and a date by which the women will start to see a material difference. I spoke to the husband of a woman from the Minister of State's county, albeit not from his constituency, last week. That couple had just cobbled together enough money to get to England to have a full removal procedure there. The husband had spent five and a half years looking after his wife who is in agony and they could not wait. I would dearly love to be able to tell that man when his wife would get treated. That is all people are looking for. While the acknowledgement and the fact that some progress has been made are very welcome, we need to join up the dots now and set out the date on which women will have access to a scanner or the treatment abroad scheme. They will then be able to start the process of recovering. Some of those women will never recover, but we must ensure they can get as well as possible. I appreciate that the Minister of State will come back to me with further information. I will be happy to share that with the women and their representative, Ms Melanie Power.

I appreciate very much the presentation the Deputy has made on this and I will ensure there is a timely response. I assure the House that I understand very well where the Deputy is coming from and the need of these people to know the where, how and, most importantly, when of the next steps. That is the assurance we would like to provide and as such I will certainly try to get a date for the Deputy without delay. The Minister for Health is committed to ensuring the safe and effective use of mesh implants and that there is an appropriate and timely response to women who suffer mesh complications. The Department has written to the HSE to request the preparation of a detailed plan for the implementation in conjunction with other stakeholders of the complete set of recommendations set out in the CMO's report. The Minister intends to meet with the Mesh Survivors Ireland group in the coming weeks to discuss the report. I assure the Deputy that I will get the answers she requests.

Hospital Consultant Recruitment

I apologise for not being here earlier. It was an oversight on my part. I thank the Minister of State for attending to take this Topical Issue on the lack of a consultant psychiatrist in Carlow for the last period. The position has been vacant in Carlow for a number of years at this stage. There was a mental hospital in Carlow for many years, but it closed following the policy changes of recent years. While the outreach service has, generally speaking, been good, the position of consultant psychiatrist has remained vacant with services being provided on a locum basis. The locum would come on a weekly basis to meet clients, but when a new locum attended, the client had to start from scratch all over again to explain his or her story. The lack of consistency has been a huge problem. As difficult as the locum situation was, there has been no service at all since 1 February 2018. There is no consultant psychiatrist at all, whether provided by a locum or otherwise. There is no service in Carlow at all to cover what is unfortunately a great level of need locally. Service users have now been told that their care plans will not be reviewed and that the medication they have been prescribed will have to continue to do them until a consultant psychiatrist is available or a similar service can be provided. This is totally unsatisfactory. At the very least, a locum service should be provided to meet the needs of people in Carlow. If those needs did not exist, the position would not have been created to meet them. While I appreciate that there is a huge difficulty in filling vacancies and that consultant psychiatrists are extremely hard to acquire, closing the service completely has been a regressive move. I ask the Minister of State two questions. When will the position be filled? What is the possibility of renewing the locum service in the short to medium term?

I thank Deputy Deering for providing me with the opportunity to address this issue. The lack of consultant psychiatry services in Carlow is an issue he has brought to my attention on numerous occasions in various fora. To refer to the broader picture first, the Deputy acknowledged the worldwide shortage of consultant psychiatrists. It affects us here in Ireland also. I note that the Acting Chairman, Deputy Connolly, has a great interest in this area too. We are currently short approximately 60 consultant psychiatrists in Ireland. No matter what action we take and no matter how much money we spend on advertisements in medical journals in Australia, New Zealand and other countries, we cannot get sufficient cover for the positions we have created in recent years. We are putting adequate resources in place. If it was a question of more money, I could solve the problem overnight. We have increased the mental health budget from the €700 million provision in place when the Deputy first came to the House in 2011.

It is now more than €1 billion. Having put an additional €300 million into the mental health budget over the past five years, we still face the same challenges.

I am a firm believer that if we always do what we always did, we will always get what we always got so we have to move away from the issue of more money and resources because that is not the problem. There is a shortage, we have an over-reliance on the consultant psychiatry and we have to look at new ways of delivering consultant psychiatry. What I have done since becoming Minister of State is increase the number of training places for psychiatric nurses by more than 130 every year and I have introduced 114 assistant psychologists in the past year and brought 20 psychologists into the mental health system. We have also introduced ten advanced nurse practitioners, which are effectively one step below a consultant, to try to do as much of the work that consultants do as possible and to make sure that consultant psychiatrists are only doing the work that they absolutely have to do. We are trying to reorientate the system to be more proactive, to get more people into the system earlier, to ensure earlier intervention in the system and to get people detected at an earlier stage before they get to a higher level input. That is an ambitious target and that is the journey we are on.

I have also engaged extensively with numerous partners to try to bring about telehealth because that is what they are doing in Australia and America where they have the same difficulties as us. Telehealth works through screen to screen delivery of mental health services. A consultant psychiatrist based in Dublin can assess, diagnose, prescribe, treat and admit patients, if necessary. Many of our consultants provide cover in areas where we have gaps and as soon as I announce that I have a consultant psychiatrist for Carlow, there will be somebody else in the Deputy's seat in a few more weeks saying that there is a consultant psychiatrist missing in their area.

We need to look at the bigger picture, and recognise that we have a challenge here and that we need to look at how we do what we do, and that is why I have been championing telepsychiatry. We have made good progress and we will roll out a number of pilots this year in this area. I would love to hear from the Deputy's community health organisation, CHO, area and it is something that he might take up with HSE management in his area because we will make money available for people to apply to participate in a pilot project so that a neighbouring consultant psychiatrist can provide governance to the team that is working locally and cover without having to make a four or six-hour return journey by car. We can eliminate the travel and do it in a clinical, supervised setting.

Thanks to the Deputy continually raising this issue, he will be pleased to hear that we secured an adult psychiatrist in his area who started work the day before yesterday. It is a locum position and it is not the silver bullet that I wish it would be but it ensures that there is a service there as of this week for the short term and, hopefully, the medium term.

I thank the Minister of State again for this result, for his comprehensive understanding of the situation and for his engagement in recent times. I welcome the fact that the position has been filled on a locum basis in the past week. I tabled this Topical Issue matter two weeks ago but the slot was not available so I am delighted the position has been filled. It is important that there is a service, albeit it is not the silver bullet service that we might want, as the Minister of State mentioned. It is important that people in an area who require that service can access it when they want.

I also welcome the Minister of State's initiative of a teleservice. No matter what the area of difficulty, I have always felt that we needed to look beyond the normal and traditional ways of doing things and a teleservice is definitely something to consider for the future. The Carlow area could be considered and I will definitely take that issue up with my CHO area. It is something that could be piloted in as many areas around the country as possible so that people will have access to that service. My genuine initial concern was that service users would not have their service plan reviewed and they might have to deal with the same medication for months without being reviewed which I would consider to be dangerous. I am delighted that has changed and that there is a little bit more certainty for the service users that they will have a system available to them. Going forward, there needs to be something more definite and better planned so that they will be able to go in whenever they have an appointment and see the same face. Continuity is important from a mental health point of view so that a patient is not starting from scratch with a clean slate every time a new issue arises.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and his interest in the matter and I will continuously engage with him on it over the next period and I will take up the initiative with my CHO area as we progress.

I thank the Deputy and I acknowledge that he has consistently raised this issue of a chronic shortage in his area with me for many months and acutely so in recent weeks. I am glad it has been resolved and I look forward to working with him and the CHO management team if the Deputy will instigate same to try to develop a pilot.

I will give an example to the House of telepsychiatry and what I am referring to because I have visited New York and other places looking at how it works. My ambition is to see a hub established in, say Dublin, where there would be a consultant psychiatrist on duty 24 hours a day and consultant psychiatry can be beamed into six or seven emergency departments, so that if a child or a young person in psychosis presents to an emergency department, a trolley or a cart with a screen on it will be brought up and a consultant psychiatrist will be there live and will diagnose, treat, prescribe and admit, if necessary, and that consultant psychiatrist in the hub can cover six or seven emergency departments as opposed to us trying to have a consultant psychiatrist in each one of those emergency departments 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to cover the two or three cases that might present in any given 24-hour period. This is how they are tackling the shortage in other countries and in Ireland we have to be forward thinking and brave in this as well and embrace that new technology and new thinking. It has been done elsewhere and we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to take up the challenge as opposed to trying to do what we always did because we will always get what we always got, which is not satisfactory and is not good enough as far as I am concerned.

I look forward to working with the Deputy to roll out some of these initiatives in Carlow and wish the new consultant who took up a post in adult psychiatry in Carlow on Monday the best of luck.

Bogfaimid ar aghaidh go dtí an Saincheist Tráthúla dheireanach ón Teachta O'Rourke. Fan nóiméad don Aire Stáit.

Tá an tAire Stáit ag teacht.

Road Projects Status

I will let the Minister of State get seated. I thank him for taking this Topical Issue matter. I raised this with him in July and there are two elements to it, one of which is to progress the delivery of the second bridge for Celbridge and the other is to look at lands that have been identified in the recent local area plan at Hazelhatch as an area of key and strategic development and to carry out a master plan for same.

I acknowledge positively the work the Minister of State, his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy and Deputy Durkan have done with me in supporting this call to deliver the funding to progress the second bridge for Celbridge. That has been positive and significant. The announcement on Monday under the urban regeneration and development fund of funding to Kildare County Council to progress the bridge to route selection brings it up to, and including, the design and tender stage, which is welcome. Celbridge has a population of more than 22,000 people and this is something that we have been seeking for many years at this stage. There is gridlock and it can take up to 45 minutes to move 300 m or 400 m through the town, which is frustrating for people living in the area. While a second bridge is not in place, at least now people can see clearly that there is path to delivering it. Timelines will start to take shape and people will see an end game in sight. That is significant and important for Celbridge to develop and grow as one of the largest towns in north Kildare.

I acknowledge again and thank the Minister of State for his support and help in ensuring that this project is progressed, because when I raised this under Topical Issue matters with him in July, I highlighted the urgency of it and the need for progress in this area. He gave me a commitment on that occasion that this funding stream would open and that he would examine it with his officials and support it as positively as he could. He has done so along with the Minister and Deputy Durkan and I thank him for that.

On the issues of the lands at Hazelhatch, they are located right beside the train station, where the frequency and capacity of services has increased in recent times.

We learned recently from a meeting with the National Transport Authority, NTA, that the DART will be extended to Celbridge by 2021, which is an extremely positive development. The location of this land will provide clear access to the M7 in Naas and on to the M50 and a very accessible route to the M4. It is beside amenities such as the Celbridge GAA club, the tennis club, schools etc. The local area plan, which has just been approved by the local councillors and by the Minister of State's Department, has identified this land as an area for key strategic development. When we discussed this matter in July we sought that the Minister of State's officials would engage with Kildare County Council and ask it to engage with the landowners to progress the master plan, which in turn, it is hoped, would lead to development of those lands sooner rather than later given the current crisis, the need for housing and the location of this land, which is not depending on infrastructure. It is almost ready to go but the master plan has to be agreed between all parties, particularly Kildare County Council, the Department and the landowners.
To the best of my knowledge, the Department has not issued that letter of comfort, instruction or detail to the local authority to engage on that as of yet. I had hoped in this discussion today that consideration could be given to how soon that correspondence can issue from the Department to Kildare County Council to get it to engage with the landowners to progress the master plan for this area, which in turn will progress the development of housing, which is greatly needed in this area. I ask that we discuss that and get a timeline for it. At the same time, I acknowledge again the positive work the Minister of State has done in progressing the funding to help deliver the second bridge for Celbridge.

I thank Deputy O'Rourke for raising this matter which provides the opportunity for me to discuss the advancement of housing, community facilities and planned infrastructure in Celbridge area and the continued planned growth of this important town in tandem with the supporting infrastructure and amenities required. This matter was originally tabled for last Thursday and the Minister, Deputy Murphy, had hoped to take it as it is an issue with which he is happy to engage. I welcome the Deputy's positive comments regarding the funding announced for project B for Celbridge and the other counties. Deputies O'Rourke and Durkan raised it with the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and myself on numerous occasions. We recognise the importance of it. We will have development in key areas such as Kildare and Celbridge in this case and we will be bringing forward housing proposals. We also have to provide the necessary infrastructure in order that we provide such development in a co-ordinated and planned way.

The Minister, Deputy Murphy, and the Taoiseach made it very clear when Project Ireland 2040 was announced that four or five funds would be announced later in the year, and that happened in May or June, to back-up Project Ireland 2040 and to make sure our plans are realistic. The Deputy rightly identified the importance of the bridge and the relief road for Celbridge as key areas if we are to be able to develop these lands in a positive way for the town but also to provide housing for people from the area who want to have their own homes or other people who want to live in the area. We are seeking to achieve a proper co-ordinated structure with good planning and infrastructural development, and that is what funding under the urban renewal fund addresses. I recognise Deputy O'Rourke's comments in that respect and the importance of having discussions such as this one in the House to make sure we get all this right. Deputy Durkan and himself have kept us focused on this.

The Deputy's raising of this matters gives me the opportunity to outline where we are at with the development. The Celbridge local area plan 2017-2023 was adopted by the elected members on 17 August 2017 and came into effect on 14 September 2017. It is hard to believe it is a year ago as we had many discussions on that and other parts of the Celbridge plan.

As Minister of State with responsibility for housing and urban development, I welcome the fact that the plan supports the provision of a substantial new housing development in a key urban area close to Dublin. Kildare County Council, in its current county development plan, has earmarked the population of Celbridge to grow by approximately 10,000 people over the next five to ten years. We are discussing that planned development in the coming years but also during the next seven to ten years. We need to plan for this increase and to ensure that Celbridge grows in a coherent fashion with the timely delivery of the new infrastructure that will be needed for this expanded population. That includes the lands that are ready for development today but also we need to ensure we will make good use of our infrastructure, be it bridges, roads or train stations. We planned the development close to those in a joint and co-ordinated fashion.

In particular, I welcome the provisions of the plan enabling future housing growth on the southern side of the town in proximity to the existing commuter rail station at Hazelhatch, as the Deputy mentioned, and around that area. This development strategy is consistent with established national and regional planning policy which encourages new housing accessible to such high quality public transport facilities in the interest of sustainable development.

Importantly, the local area plan also identifies the key pieces of strategic infrastructure that are required to be delivered as part of the planned new housing development areas. The phasing arrangements set out in section 13 of the local area plan include requirements regarding the provision of a new road, bridge, open space and other facilities that will support the new homes to be constructed. Design briefs are also provided for the five key development areas earmarked for future housing development which will further assist in ensuring the construction of quality residential neighbourhoods that are integrated into the existing urban fabric of the town.

As part of the roll-out of the local area plan and in the interests of supporting the integrated development of housing within the local area plan, Kildare County Council is committed to preparing a transport mobility management plan to support the sustainable growth of the town. State agencies, along with my Department and, I understand, the National Transport Authority, will be active in their support of the development of such a plan which will inform future infrastructure delivery. It is very important that we get the infrastructure right.

I understand that Irish Water is in the process of upgrading the Leixlip wastewater treatment plant which serves Celbridge, and is also actively working to address identified constraints in the local wastewater system, in particular the upgrading of the local pumping station. These measures will actively support the ongoing and future delivery of housing in Celbridge.

I mentioned the fund, which enables lands to be developed in a co-ordinated way. Celbridge was successful in that respect.

I will check the status of the communication between the Department and Kildare County Council. The planners and officials in the Department are happy to engage with the Deputy's team in Kildare County Council to develop the lands that are set aside for development now and also to master-plan the next phase of development. That is what we are to do, namely, to do this work in a co-ordinated way. We will be happy to engage around that also. The lead authority is Kildare County Council and it has been engaged in this process under its local development plan during the past year or two. We are happy to engage and build on that in the future.

I thank the Minister of State for that positive response on progressing those lands at Hazelhatch. They are defined as a key development area and strategic location.

On the wastewater plant being upgraded, which was commissioned 12 or 14 months ago, the wastewater plant in Leixlip was upgraded to the tune of €32 million. The difficulty now is the infrastructure needed to get the wastewater to that. Irish Water has carried out a number of site investigations and my understanding from working with the local authority is that it hopes to progress the start of the project some time in 2019, which would be timely because it would take some time to put together the master plan.

The key question is how we can get the master plan done. The key stakeholder, the landowners, are willing to carry out the master plan. They will put in all the financial resources needed to do that but they need guidance and direction from Kildare County Council as the lead player in this. We would not expect the local authority to do the master plan. It would not be fair because it is not resourced. It is under pressure doing other local area plans and dealing with planning applications for Kildare that are coming in on a regular basis. We are not looking to the local authority to resource this work on this. The landowners are willing to do all the resourcing of it. They merely want to get the local authority to engage with them, bring them into a meeting and get the process started in terms of the guidelines, being told what to do and being given a template. Once that happens, the process will progress from that point, but Kildare County Council informs me it needs some communication from the Department to get it kick started. As soon as that happens and all those stakeholders engage, my job, and the Minister of State’s, is finished because they will start the discussion and the planning. It will take whatever length of time it takes to complete it but at least it will be commenced. The difficulty is that nothing has commenced between July and now. It would be welcome if that could happen as soon as possible.

I will be brief because I went over the time on my initial reply. Building on Monday’s announcement on the funding for the build to progress some of the infrastructure requirements, it is important that the local authority works quickly now. I hope it does that and engages with all the relevant Departments to move it through the system.

On foot of that and the existing plan, my Department will continue to work with Kildare County Council to support it in developing appropriately in the key locations such as Celbridge and other key urban centres across the country in accordance with adopted statutory plans. We will get the communication going on the master planning of the different areas and developing that out too. I want to be clear, not just in respect of Celbridge but other parts of Kildare also, that as a Minister in the area, along with our officials, we are happy to engage with both the local authority staff but also with the councillors on other zoning issues which they want to tease out and their plans for the county in regard to Leixlip and other places.

In terms of Celbridge, it would be important that our Department and the local authority have those conversations about the planning system. I will certainly engage on that and if resources are required to do the planning and the master planning, that is something we can examine in conjunction, as the Deputy said, with landowners who are happy to do that as part of their duty. Now that some of the infrastructure has been sorted out they are appropriate conversations to have. I will certainly see what is the position on that and make sure we can progress those conversations.

The focus is for all stakeholders, including the council, local businesses, stakeholder estate agencies and the wider community, to be included in implementing the Celbridge local area plan. I confirm that my Department and I will work proactively with Kildare County Council on infrastructure delivery and sustainable urban development. There are many key sites that can be developed in Celbridge to make good use of infrastructure. My own train station in Dunboyne will be upgraded to DART status. It is important that we make sure stations are utilised to their full potential. We will try to get that conversation going as fast as we can.