Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Inland Fisheries

The closing date for submissions regarding the proposed closure for the River Feale and, obviously, the Galey and Brick as well was 13 December. This affects 50 to 60 fishermen who are actively involved in that fishing sector. There are 27 licences currently operating on that river, down from over 50 licences in 2011.

Many of those involved are generational fishermen. Their fathers before them, and in some cases their grandfathers, fished that section of the river. Currently, I know of one man who is almost 90 years of age who was even fishing this year. It is a tradition. It is part of their heritage. It is part of what they are.

The reason for the proposed closure for the 2019 season is down to conservation purposes. The fishermen themselves, who have been fishing from 1997 up until this year, have consistently played their part in conservation. They are reduced to a tagging system that started in 1997. It reduced their fishing period by six weeks from that year. Now they fish approximately 36 days a year, approximately five hours a day. That is the total fishing that they do there. As I stated, there were 51 licences in 2011. There are now 27.

The total number of fish that was taken this year by the fishermen, based on their quota through a tagging system, was 400 for the fishermen and 360 for those involved in the angling.

There is a counter system on the river, which is monitored and run by Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI. This year that counter system recorded 3,487 fish that went upriver. With 3,487 fish, it was determined they were 46 fish short of being allowed to fish in the coming season.

The counter system is 6 ft. to 8 ft. wide - I will show the Minister a picture of it. That counter system is what determines the fish that go upriver. According to the IFI, it is likely 15% more than that went upriver.

Where that counter system is, the river is approximately 100 yd. wide.

There is no doubt that far more than 3,487 fish passed up the river this year during which there was a terrible drought and subsequent flooding at high tide and other times. The river is 100 yd wide at the relevant point, with three fish passes, at only one of which there is a counter. I totally dispute the argument made by IFI that draft net fishing must end based on data from the counter system. It is a traditional way of life which the fishermen have worked tirelessly to conserve. They have behaved impeccably in that regard and done everything requested of them. The closure will create further terrible difficulties in that part of rural Ireland. The nearby post office in Ballylongford has closed, as has the creamery in Ballyduff and a business in Clashmealcon. Draft net fishing is probably one of the few industries left in the area. Although it is only permitted for 36 days per year, it would be a terrible mistake to end it. I hope the Minister of State will look favourably on the submissions and arguments made by the fishermen, the community and me.

Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, is the State agency responsible for the conservation, protection, management and development of Ireland’s inland fisheries and sea angling resources. It manages salmon stocks on an individual river basis as each of Ireland’s 147 salmon rivers, including river sections and estuaries, has its own genetically unique stock of salmon. It is supported in its management role by scientific advice from Ireland’s independent standing scientific committee, SSC, which comprises scientists from a range of organisations. It also has regard to advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas and EU legislation, notably the habitats directive, under which salmon habitats are protected.

Scientific and management assessments of each of the distinct stocks, including the River Feale, are carried out each year. IFI engages in extensive stock monitoring which feeds into the SSC’s annual reviews. The SSC uses data, including counter data, rod catch, catch and release and any commercial catch data in the previous five years to calculate an average over that period which is used to estimate expected returns for the coming year. The use of a five-year average ensures a good or bad year does not have a disproportionate impact on the stock assessment in any single year.

The annual wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations, made under the lnland Fisheries Act 2010, provide for the management of Ireland’s wild salmon and sea trout fisheries by lFl. Specifically, the regulations provide for the surplus to the established conservation limit, if any, which may be harvested either commercially or by rod and line from the rivers identified as open for harvest. The regulations are revised each year taking account of advice from IFI, the standing scientific committee and any submission received during a 30-day statutory public consultation period. Statutory notice was given on 14 November of the intention to make the draft wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations 2018 to provide for the management of the wild salmon and sea trout fisheries by IFI from 1 January 2019. A copy of the regulations which are made every year is available on my Department’s website and open for public inspection at the offices of the inland fisheries division of the Department in County Cavan and at Inland Fisheries Ireland offices throughout the country.

The scientific group uses several data sets in assessing the salmon stock on the River Feale. The stock is assessed using the fish counter located at Scartleigh dam. The commercial catch in the river and the number of salmon caught by rod below the counter and killed are added to the fish counter figure to calculate the total annual salmon return for the river. The counter is a one-channel counter operated on the crump weir which was installed to assist fish passage over the large weir. I am advised that the counter provides consistently accurate data. A new camera was installed early in the summer of 2017 for counter verification purposes. As advised by local Inland Fisheries Ireland staff who monitor the operation of the counter, the counter figure is increased to take account of the very small number of salmon that may bypass the counter by going over the weir in high water conditions or ascending an old fish pass channel on the north bank. According to local IFI staff, salmon generally do not ascend the weir in high water conditions. It should be noted that 2018 was a very dry year and that there were very few occasions on which the Scartleigh weir was overtopped.

The scientific group advises on the one-sea-winter and multi-sea-winter stock components. This year the River Feale had a one-sea-winter surplus of 544 fish and a multi-sea-winter surplus of 114. The run of salmon recorded on the fish counter over the five-year period from 2013 to 2017 was used to assess the salmon stock and provide scientific advice for 2018. Multi-sea-winter salmon caught between 1 January and 31 May returning after spending two or more years at the sea are larger and older fish which usually return in the springtime and are often referred to as spring salmon.

The proposal by IFI and the scientific report are based on a counter on a fish pass that comprises approximately 6 ft to 8 ft of a river that is 100 m wide. Two other fish passes do not have counters. Two tributaries, the River Brick and River Galey, do not have counters. The proposal is that draft net fishing not be permitted on the river for one year. I know very well that if it is not permitted for one year, that will be the end of the industry. The drift net fishing industry was made obsolete and now draft net fishermen will be prevented from fishing. Another traditional fishery will be no more in that part of the country.

I do not accept the scientific analysis because of the particular conditions experienced this year. There was flooding on the river on many occasions, particularly at high tide. Given the 100 m span of the relevant stretch of the river, it is inevitable that fish ascended the river other than through the fish pass. The 15% allowance in that regard is insufficient.

What is the intention of the Government on this issue? Will the ban go ahead? Several post offices in County Kerry have closed recently. Another sector will now probably become obsolete and be left to die. I suspect that there is an agenda to end draft net fishing by putting forward the scientific evidence that has been presented. Has IFI made any effort by to restock the river? There were hatcheries on it 40 or 50 years ago, but there is none now. The Government does not intend for the salmon fishing industry in the river catchment to survive, by which I am very disappointed. The Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, who is present will agree that another traditional way of life in which people have been involved for generations is hanging by a thread.

I do not question the local knowledge of the Deputy or the fishermen. I have been approached by several local Deputies on the matter. There are issues the Deputy has raised about the science or the counters with which we must deal. However, the public consultation process has closed. I presume strong submissions were made on behalf of the anglers to whom the Deputy has referred on the points he has raised. Such submissions will be considered. The River Feale is reaching between 50% and 100% of its conservation limit and it has been proposed that there be catch and release in 2019. I do not know what submissions were made and will not try to influence the process. While I take on board the points made by the Deputy, the views of IFI and the scientific group must also be considered. I do not know what will happen in the context of the regulations for 2019 or what submissions were made by local anglers and public representatives, but I have only been in the Department for approximately six to eight weeks.

In Galway, all the River Clare angling associations came together to form a group called Cáirde na Chláir to examine all the issues and come up with solutions with the IFI. We need to do that. I will have no problem in early January sitting down with all concerned to have a chat about the matter. It is important that there be consultation. The IFI's role is to protect and conserve fish stocks.

The Deputy asked what the IFI has done about restocking. I will find that out for him.

Road Safety

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue. Ballymaquirk junction is on the N72 between Mallow and Killarney. It is extremely dangerous and there have been numerous accidents there, right up to recent weeks. The road is a major artery for people coming from Kanturk and the Duhallow region, including western Duhallow, the area right up to Rockchapel, Newmarket, Meelin and the area heading towards Cork. The issue is crossing the Mallow–Killarney road to the Banteer Road, which extends to Nad and Cork. Those with local knowledge are fully aware of the importance of the junction, its danger and what needs to be done there. Last year Councillor Bernard Moynihan produced a number of petitions on the junction and obtained over 4,000 signatures. As anyone in public life knows, that is not an easy number of signatures to obtain. It indicates the importance of the issue, including to local people.

The matter has gone to Cork County Council, which has carried out a feasibility study or prepared a road safety remedial scheme report for the Department and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. The council has been working to try to resolve the issue. Since the N72 is a national secondary route, funding would have to come from TII. It is critical that safety measures be implemented immediately at the junction. There is a lot of talk about what should be put in place. What are the plans of TII for the junction, and what is the timeframe? We do not want any delays. The junction has been identified as dangerous. It has been identified as such by the local authority, the Department and TII. It affects the locals from Duhallow and right across the region, whether they are turning towards Banteer from the Mallow-Killarney road, crossing the junction from the Kanturk side, or going the other way, from the Banteer side towards Kanturk. There is a significant volume of traffic at the junction going towards Cork city, especially between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and between 4.30 p.m. and perhaps 7 p.m. A high volume of traffic crosses with no safety procedures whatsoever.

It is extremely important to address this. I hope TII and the Department will take the matter as seriously as the people within the Duhallow region and north Cork because we need an answer. I understand that a proposal has been made to TII by senior executive engineers from Cork County Council. I understand it has been accepted by the latter and that it has accepted there is a safety issue. There are all kinds of road safety plans but this is one of the key issues in north Cork and the Duhallow region. It behoves the Department and Minister to step up to the plate and ensure there is funding for the works to be done as soon as possible. Has the Department accepted the county council's report? What is envisaged? When will the paperwork be done regarding Part 8 and so forth to ensure this dangerous black spot is eliminated?

I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, because there is a Cabinet meeting taking place. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue.

I am quite familiar with the N72. As the Deputy knows, it extends from Killorglin and Killarney to east Kerry, through Rathmore, and then over to the Deputy's constituency. It is a road I often take if I am heading to the midlands, south Tipperary or Kilkenny. There are some very dangerous sections on the road and it is very busy. I acknowledge how busy it is at peak times, in particular. Certainly at this time of the year, it is a difficult road on which to travel. There is a lot of heavy traffic, including industrial and agricultural traffic.

TII has primary responsibility for the national and secondary road networks. The process is that the local authority would submit to TII and that the TII officials would then decide, under the various categories, which projects would receive funding. The projects are to be announced very early in the new year, as I understand it. The road to which the Deputy refers is a candidate for the funding.

I am sorry I do not have the information at hand but I undertake to make direct contact with those concerned and make a specific inquiry to obtain the exact details. I will try to get back to the Deputy as soon as possible, ideally tomorrow, to let him know what is happening. I will keep in touch with him during the process because I appreciate that this is of concern to him. A serious safety concern at any location is one we all want to see addressed.

With regard to the specific case, I understand it might come under the minor improvements scheme, which was born out of the road safety strategy. I understand that, to date, TII has funded 42 projects under the scheme and it is committed to a minimum of four per annum. I need to establish whether the location in question will be considered for 2019 but I will revert to the Deputy with the information.

As the economy and Exchequer returns continue to improve, it is critical that we catch up where we have not been able to address infrastructural deficits in recent years. Effectively, we have a decade of catching up regarding our road network. There are black spots around the country, such as the one referred to, that have not been addressed to date. As long as they are not addressed, there will be a risk to human life and of serious injury. We all want to see them addressed.

I will speak to the Deputy afterwards. I will try to obtain as much information as I can from the Department and TII and I will also try to give the Deputy a timeline as to when we are likely to have news on the scheme, the level of oversubscription to the scheme, and the heading it comes under within the TII ask. Every year there is a queue of very worthy projects from all over the country for which funding is sought but unfortunately there is simply not enough funding to meet the demand. TII has a statistical mechanism, based on collision data, for establishing the priority cases requiring funding. I will try to obtain as much information as I can for the Deputy.

Did the Minister of State receive any briefing from TII before taking this Topical Issue matter? Is it not normal for the Department to look for a briefing? Can the Minister of State confirm that a feasibility study has been submitted by the council and that TII has agreed to consider the design? Does the Minister of State have that information?

I refer to a parliamentary question dated 17 July. It states a feasibility study had been prepared and submitted by TII. The Minister of State has come into the Dáil to respond to the issue I have raised. The issue was a reserve Topical Issue matter last Thursday.

Today is Tuesday and the Department has not received any briefing from TII on this, which I find extraordinary. I will speak to the Minister of State afterwards and take up his offer. I am looking for information on whether the documentation submitted by the county council has been studied and assessed and whether TII has come to a conclusion on how to move forward. Has it agreed with the county council what type of road safety measures are needed to be put in place at Ballymaquirk? As I have said previously, this is a matter of life and death. The junction in question is extremely important for my constituency, particularly the areas north and west of the Duhallow region where people use it to on their way to and from work in the city and beyond. I ask the Minister of State in the first instance to get a full briefing from TII on its proposals for Ballymaquirk and a timeline for implementing the urgently needed safety measures.

To be as frank and open as I possibly can be, someone somewhere in the Department dropped the ball on this one. I was given details of a question asked by a different Deputy Moynihan on a different national road. This is why I do not have a specific briefing on the N72. It is not acceptable that a Deputy asking a question on a Topical Issue matter would not be given specific answers.

It is absolutely appalling and shocking. We have a life and death issue for the people of Duhallow. Ballymaquirk junction is used by thousands of people daily. The Department has given an answer the wrong question.

It is not acceptable. I am not defending it.

I know the Minister is elsewhere trying to close down rural Ireland but to come in and answer the wrong question on an issue as important as this for the people of Duhallow is appalling. The Minister and Minister of State should be ashamed of themselves.

I assure the Deputy I will raise this matter with the Ceann Comhairle. It is not the question that was asked.

In my defence, my understanding was that I was answering the other Deputy Moynihan on a different question and I was filling in to answer that question.

The people of Duhallow do not matter to the Minister of State.

It is not acceptable that the wrong response was given to the Deputy. For this reason, I have undertaken to immediately pursue this specific case. That the Deputy has raised it on the floor of the Dáil indicates the matter is clearly important in his constituency. I acknowledge he frequently makes requests on road safety issues in various locations in his constituency and it is only the priority cases that make it to the floor of the Chamber. I appreciate this is an issue of significant importance. I also apologise on behalf of the Department because the Deputy should have been given the correct answer. I certainly should not have been given a response to a question the Deputy did not ask. Unfortunately, that is what happened. I had no way of knowing that was the case until I saw the Deputy arriving. I will undertake immediately to seek a correct response for the Deputy.

If I am correct, the question the Minister of State answered was actually asked last Thursday and answered by the Minister.

I will have to receive clarification on that.

If the Department is not capable of answering on a Topical Issue matter, it is a fairly-----

As I said, I have given a very clear undertaking to give the matter my urgent attention I will raise it with the senior Minister and seek an urgent response for the Deputy.

The Minister is too busy closing down the place.

It is not acceptable to the Deputy or the House that the wrong response was given.

It is outrageous. If the Minister of State were on this side of the House, he would not tolerate it either.

It is not good enough to have the wrong answer given on a Topical Issue matter. I will bring this to the attention of the Ceann Comhairle and see what amends can be made within the next day.

Brexit Issues

Winston Churchill once said that to fail to plan was to plan to fail. It is in this context that Deputy Brendan Smith and I have raised this Topical Issue matter on the immediate need for a Border corridor strategic development approach. The Ireland-Northern Ireland Border corridor will be the most impacted, irrespective of what type of Brexit we end up with. The impact will be on an economic, political and social level. Economists agree that despite the support the Border region has received to date, it still lags behind the rest of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Those economists also agree that Brexit will exacerbate the situation. While the unemployment rate in Ireland has grown overall since the referendum, it has faltered in the Border region. What is needed is a fresh strategic approach supported by both Governments for practical support for the region.

There are 11 local authorities spanning the Border, North and South, and they recognise the need and wish to develop solutions in conjunction with both Governments. I am sure the Minister of State is familiar with the document on Brexit and the Border corridor risks, opportunities and areas to consider. It was commissioned by the 11 local authorities and it clearly outlines the probable impact of Brexit. The local authorities along the Border wish to develop a bottom-up, needs-based strategy for the Border corridor encompassing all sectors to offset the challenges and opportunities of Brexit. This strategic piece of work would build on the 2017 report and use it as a baseline to establish priorities for action, engage local stakeholders, social partners and businesses and consider implementation structures and sources of funding.

I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle giving us the opportunity to raise this very important issue and the Minister of State being present. A great deal of the uncertainty and concern about Brexit we encounter in the Border region stems directly from the huge uncertainty we see in Westminster, an uncertainty reported nightly on UTV and BBC Northern Ireland news programmes, which are widely watched in our area, and on broadcast media here. The media are merely reporting the news and there is no shortage of Tory and DUP MPs ready and willing to stoke up uncertainty. It appears that such is the depth and extent of the impasse in the House of Commons that no one knows what arrangements can be made or what deal can be passed through Parliament.

Most commentators expect the agreement reached between the European Union and the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, to be defeated. A no-deal Brexit would have immense adverse implications for all of the island. The House cannot ease any of this uncertainty now but the Government must ensure my community and other communities along the Border are reassured that we will be ready and resourced to ease the damage that Brexit could unleash on our region. I fully support the proposal from some of the cross-Border bodies and agencies, such as the Irish Central Border Area Network representing local authorities in Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim, Fermanagh and Tyrone, the region in the north west comprising Donegal and Derry and the east Border region encompassing the constituencies of Deputy Breathnach and the Minister of State.

There is an urgent need for the Government to institute and put in place a specific programme of assistance to try to protect and grow the economy in the Border region, which will be adversely affected by Brexit. There is great knowledge and ability in the local authorities working on a cross-Border basis through the agencies to ensure that public funding will be put to good use. A bottom-up approach, as my colleague, Deputy Breathnach, said, would be the right approach, with a new stream of funding being made available to try to counteract the effects Brexit will have. The Minister of State has heard me say in the House and at committee meetings that our local economy in Cavan and Monaghan is heavily dependent on the sectors that will be most adversely impacted by Brexit. There will be a double whammy to our economy at a local level.

I thank the two Deputies for raising this issue. Given where they are situated, I know how important this is to them and the concerns they have. I assure them we are not planning to fail on this. The potential impact of Brexit and the importance of avoiding a hard border to the people living in all the Border communities cannot be underestimated and the Government has been acutely aware of this from the beginning of the negotiations. As the Deputies know, in recent decades, businesses, communities, lives and livelihoods have developed and prospered, although maybe not as much as in the rest of the country. People cross the Border with ease every day to work, study, visit family members and connect with their local communities.

North-South co-operation, both formal and informal, is a practical outworking of the peace process which allows for the normalisation of relationships between people across the island to mutual benefit. We have seen the range of areas of co-operation on the list of topics discussed during the mapping exercise, which the United Kingdom published on 7 December. The European Union will publish a similar document in the coming weeks.

For reasons of peace, prosperity and partnership, the Government has maintained the policy that the invisible Border on this island must remain just that - invisible. It must remain open and free of any physical infrastructure or associated checks and controls. I have accompanied European ministers on visits to the Border region and briefed them, and many others, on the absolute need to maintain the current arrangements which have been so important to many communities, as both of the Deputies have outlined. This includes the supports available for peace and reconciliation, as well as for the challenges that face the economies of the towns and villages in the Border region.

The agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, which has been endorsed by the European Council, and the political declaration on the future relationship represent a fair and balanced deal. The agreement delivers on the shared objective of providing an absolute guarantee that a Border will be avoided, while making crystal clear that nothing in it will prejudice the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. There are also important provisions on protecting North-South co-operation.

The agreement also recalls - this is of most importance in respect of the Deputies' questions - the commitment of the EU and the UK to the current PEACE and INTERREG funding programmes and to a new PEACE+ programme which will build on and continue the work of both PEACE and INTERREG. This has not been agreed only recently but goes back as far as the EU-UK joint report of December 2017, which stated that both parties would honour their commitment to the current PEACE and INTERREG programmes and that the possibilities for future support would have to be considered and examined favourably.

The EU-funded INTERREG and PEACE programmes continue to act as important drivers of regional development for the Border regions of Ireland and Northern Ireland. INTERREG programmes, which are funded by the EU, exist to address the challenges encountered by the Border regions, many of which the Deputies alluded to. In the case of Ireland, an additional and unique programme, PEACE, addresses the challenges in the regions arising specifically from the conflict. I had the pleasure of recently visiting Belfast to meet Ms Gina McIntyre and her team who work with the special EU programmes body, SEUPB. I also met groups that receive funding from both the PEACE and INTERREG programmes. The positive impact is visible and real for those who receive funding, including young people whom I met whose families are still impacted by the Troubles, students working in Ulster University on various cross-Border programmes and groups working together to tackle racism.

Since the UK referendum on membership of the European Union, the Government's clear and consistent position has been that it is committed to the successful implementation of the current programmes and, most important, to a successor programme. To this end, we have been working extremely closely with the European Commission at all levels to ensure this important source of funding for the Border region continues post-Brexit. I am pleased the Government's ambition for the programme was reflected in the withdrawal agreement. We will continue to work to ensure these commitments are fulfilled.

We will also continue to work to ensure Border communities are supported to prepare for Brexit. For this reason, two of the six Getting Ireland Brexit Ready events of recent months were held in the Border region, in Monaghan and Letterkenny. We want to work with these Border communities to prepare them for Brexit, making sure that programmes in the future, such as PEACE+ and INTERREG, will not just receive continued funding but, hopefully, increased funding as well.

I thank the Minister of State and acknowledge her great work in this area. The point I am trying to make is that while INTERREG and PEACE funding has been tremendous for the Border region, more is required, namely, a bottom-up approach led by local authorities and communities along the Border. I am departing from my script to reinforce that point. Brexit creates a whole new scenario with regard to INTERREG and PEACE programme funding. That is particularly the case for those who will be outside the EU. Programmes are available on a trans-territorial basis in respect of EU and non-EU countries. The UK has spoken of establishing a shared prosperity fund, which will be a domestic programme of investment after it leaves the EU. It is important that we engage with those who will have the greatest impact on a region. I recognise that billions of euro have been provided under the INTERREG and PEACE programmes. The message coming loud and clear from the organisations along the Border to which Deputy Brendan Smith alluded is that a cohesive approach is required to ensure money is directed to where it is needed. The PEACE and INTERREG programmes will continue to be needed because in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere, much of the money provided has not filtered down to where the problems are found.

I also thank the Minister of State for her reply and acknowledge her work in this area. The PEACE and INTERREG programmes were established in the mid-1990s to support the peace process at the time. These funding programmes supported economic development, particularly community development and infrastructure, as well as education and some social areas. I agree with Deputy Breathnach, however, that what is needed now, alongside the INTERREG and PEACE programmes, is a specific economic initiative to protect the existing economy.

As the Minister of State has heard me argue previously, agrifood, construction products and engineering are the main economic sectors in counties Cavan and Monaghan. They are also the sectors that are most heavily dependent on exports to the Northern Ireland and British markets and they will be most adversely impacted by Brexit. To try to protect jobs and grow the economy locally, we need a specific initiative with a local economic dimension. That is why we need a new programme administered by the agencies with a cross-Border remit. At this time, it is essential that the Government, along with the British Government, consider the establishment of such a specific stream of funding for economic development and protection.

I thank the Deputies for their statements. I know this is an extremely important issue for them. Deputy Breathnach referred to the UK's proposed shared prosperity fund. The UK is considering such a fund on the basis that it will leave the European Union and will no longer receive Structural Funds. Ireland has no intention of leaving the EU and would be foolish to even consider doing so. Clearly, we will not establish a fund to replace EU Structural Funds given that we will continue to receive those funds. We need to ensure not only that PEACE and INTERREG funding continues to the end of the 2020 programme, in accordance with the clear commitment given by the Irish and UK Governments and the EU, but also that PEACE+ is developed alongside the current programmes. What is significant is that the funding is not just maintained but actually increased.

There is also work we can continue to do at home. The north west strategic growth partnership involves Donegal County Council working together with local authorities in Derry and Strabane. They have memorandums of understanding and are drawing down their own funding streams. There is also a memorandum of understanding between Louth County Council and local authorities in Newry, Mourne and Armagh. Those memorandums of understanding and the co-operation between the councils mean they are open to apply for this kind of funding as well. As I said, not only must these funding streams be maintained but they must be enhanced, developed and increased in the years ahead. It is a matter of making sure the structures we have in place already are developed and strengthened.

I do not doubt for one moment what the Deputies are seeking to do in raising this matter. However, we have a clear structure in place. We have a body in place with a good team working to make sure this funding goes where it needs to go. In a post-Brexit world, what we need to ensure is that the PEACE and INTERREG programmes focuses on the communities that may be specifically impacted and provide support where it is needed. We are also working on agriculture which, as Deputy Smith outlined, is already being impacted by Brexit and not only in Border communities. For this reason, the Government in the past three budgets allocated more than €750 million in specific direct payments for the farming community, whether that is dairy, beef, horticulture or otherwise.

I again thank the Deputies for raising this issue. It is an absolute priority for us to make sure Border communities are not impacted. The Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and I want to work with the Deputies to make sure that is the case in future.

Garda Resources

I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to the House and acknowledge his interest in the issue I am raising, namely, increased criminality and the ongoing drugs war in Drogheda. As the Minister will be aware, we had a briefing from the chief superintendent and superintendent in Drogheda outlining the difficulties and problems they are facing and the resources, commitment, drive and energy they are investing in the issue.

The fact is that they are doing their best, but they need more support. The Minister's visit to the Moneymore estate where some of the serious criminal activities in question have occurred was welcomed by the residents. It was important that he met the residents to discuss their concerns. The estate is behind the fight against crime and supports the Garda in its task in Drogheda.

The Garda overtime bill in County Louth is now higher than ever. In the past year the Louth Garda division has investigated five separate murder cases. The problem is that the cost of the resources which are rightly and properly put into solving these evil crimes is met from its budget without additional funding being allocated. This means that the day-to-day administrative budget of the Louth Garda division is reduced. While the support of the regional armed units in policing in Drogheda is welcomed, the cost is met from the budget for the Louth Garda division. Again, it means its resources are diminished significantly.

Dundalk and Drogheda are of equal size. However, last month Drogheda had 52 fewer permanent gardaí than Dundalk, which was unacceptable. I welcome the significant increase, with 18 additional gardaí in Drogheda which had a positive impact in increasing the visibility of the force in the town. The people of the town welcome the extra gardaí into the community, but they want to see more. Another difficulty is that after Christmas, 15 of the 18 additional gardaí will be deployed elsewhere, which is entirely unacceptable. It is not for the Minister or me to decide where gardaí go. I appreciate that the Minister has increased resources for the Garda and made every resource available to it. However, significantly more resources are needed. It is essential that additional permanent gardaí be based in the town of Drogheda to fight the crime in question, as well as for regular policing duties.

There is a CCTV system on the Moneymore estate, but it is not working. It is the duty of the county council to deal with this issue. It is in discussions with the Garda. However, nothing has yet happened. If the CCTV system was working, it could prevent crime. It would also give the people living on the estate in question security and the knowledge that anybody who broke the law in the estate through petrol bombing, for example, would be apprehended.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I also note the presence of Deputy Breathnach for the debate.

At Deputy O’Dowd’s invitation, I visited Drogheda Garda station last week when I was impressed by the robust response of the Garda authorities in the area. High visibility patrolling and targeted checkpoints have been successful in containing further major incidents and provided reassurance for the community in Drogheda. There has been increased engagement by way of targeted patrolling and personal visits to families being intimidated because of drug debts have also taken place. Threats on members of An Garda Síochána who work on a 24/7 basis to protect communities and detect crime are reprehensible and have no place in a civilised society.

As I outlined in previous responses on this matter, I am aware of the impact the type of criminal activity that recently took place in Drogheda can have on a community, as highlighted during my visit last week. I understand the concerns of the people of Drogheda and other areas of County Louth. This type of criminal behaviour will not be tolerated. I had the opportunity to visit the Moneymore estate with Deputy O’Dowd where we met community leaders. We also acknowledged the work being done in the family resource centre.

On the distribution of Garda resources, I am advised that Garda management keeps this issue under continuous review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities. Drogheda has been the subject matter of a review recently. On the allocation of Garda personnel in the Louth division, Garda strength is currently 340 members, with 110 located in Drogheda. Up to 18 of the most recent Garda graduates were allocated to County Louth for the Christmas period and nine have remained within the division. In addition, four newly appointed sergeants were allocated to the Louth division in October, with three allocated to Drogheda Garda station. Several newly promoted inspectors and sergeants will be allocated to the Louth division in the coming weeks.

I am advised that An Garda Síochána is conducting full investigations into the events that took place in Drogheda recently. As such, it would be inappropriate for me to comment while the investigations are ongoing. However, I have been informed by An Garda Síochána that there have been several arrests covering a range of offences, in addition to significant intelligence received. In responding to the incidents referred to by the Deputy the Garda has put in place a policing operation to prevent, detect and mitigate any further escalation of violence. If anyone has any information on incidents in Drogheda, will, he or she, please, contact his or her nearest Garda station or us the Garda confidential line at 1800 666 111 as soon as possible? Any information, no matter how small, could be of great assistance in the ongoing Garda inquiries in Drogheda.

I acknowledge the great work the Garda is doing and the Minister's personal interest in this matter. His visit to the town was important. However, the fact remains that Drogheda does not have an adequate number of gardaí. The extra 18 gardaí are welcome and have transformed Drogheda, giving confidence to the community. However, they are needed into the future. I wrote to the Garda Commissioner to ask him to visit Drogheda. He visited Longford recently and it is incumbent on him to meet the community in Drogheda. It would help to assure people that the resources required would be provided. I cannot accept that there will not be an increase in the number of gardaí based permanently in Drogheda.

When I speak to gardaí, the superintendent and the chief superintendent, they tell me they need and have asked for permanent gardaí who have not yet been assigned. I will raise the matter in the new year if I must.

I welcome the actions of the Garda and the Minister's support and commitment. The Garda Commissioner and the political system must put the resources into Drogheda that it is entitled to so the people worrying in their beds at night are not the good and decent people of Moneymore but rather the criminals who cause all the trouble for everybody. They are small in number.

I do not want to break protocol but I acknowledge the work of the Minister in visiting the area and the work of Deputy O'Dowd. I am here to support him, as both of us are elected Members for the constituency of Louth. We work hand in glove to try to deliver on these matters, so I support the Deputy's Topical Issue matter. I support the Minister's comments. Wherever resources are required to crack down on what is a terrible situation in Drogheda, which has a great impact on communities there, I lend my weight to supporting the call for them.

I assure the House yet again I am absolutely committed to supporting An Garda Síochána to ensure the organisation is properly and appropriately resourced. The resources available to An Garda Síochána have reached new levels with the provision for this year of more than €1.6 billion, including an allocation of €95 million in respect of Garda overtime. We are also making progress on achieving the Government's vision in respect of numbers and new recruits.

I acknowledge again the interest of Deputy O'Dowd in the matter and thank him for his invitation to me to visit Drogheda Garda station last week and meet community leaders. I recognise the work of the men and women of An Garda Síochána who work in Drogheda every day and night. I acknowledge that they face a very serious challenge. As I said before, the type of criminal behaviour that took place in Drogheda in November has no place in a civilised society. It will not be tolerated. An Garda Síochána has overcome similar challenges in the past and, while all of us must remain vigilant, I am satisfied, having met Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan and Superintendent Andrew Waters, that they will meet this challenge and overcome it.

I thank Deputy O'Dowd for his interest in the matter and the town of Drogheda over a long number of years. I assure him of the support of the Government in dealing with this challenge for the Garda Síochána, the communities and us as public representatives. I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising this matter in the Dáil and his assurance that he will monitor the position over Christmas. I would be happy to revert to it in the new year when the Dáil resumes.

I thank the Minister.