Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Accommodation

I welcome this opportunity to raise the important issue of Coláiste Dhún Másc in Portlaoise. I also welcome that the Minister of State is taking this debate today. Coláiste Dhún Másc was established in 2017 and opened two years ago. The school currently has 78 pupils and is housed on an interim basis in what was the old technical school on Railway Street in Portlaoise. The building was renovated by the vocational education committee, which is now Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board, ETB. The building is okay but has some shortcomings, for example, there is very little space around it to use as play areas and no room for expansion. I give great credit to Laois and Offaly ETB, the staff of the college, particularly an príomhoide, Aoife Elster, who has done great work, and An Foras Patrúnachta, which is joint patron along with Laois and Offaly ETB.

The school is dhátheangach; it is a bilingual school. There is an Irish stream and an English stream and it is very successful. There are 78 pupils in the school despite the fact it only has first and second year classes at the moment. Pupils from throughout County Laois attend. The school provides second level education for children from all schools, but particularly to those from the three Gaelscoileanna in the county, Gaelscoil Shlí Dála, Gaelscoil Thromaire and Gaelscoil Phortlaoise. It is a huge success story. It also has a stream taught as Béarla, which brings in all pupils.

The school has grown beyond anyone's expectation and already has 112 pupils registered for September. I acknowledge that we have three relatively new secondary schools in Portlaoise, with three large schools built in the town in the past 15 years. I acknowledge that because sometimes we complain about what it not happening. There has been a major expansion in second level education, and indeed in primary education, in the county. Investment has been made in education over the past 12 or 13 years. Sometimes when the schools are being built people ask if they will ever be filled, but they are being filled. Demographic information is telling us they are filling up even more quickly. We have run out of space and outgrown the buildings. Portlaoise is a very fast-growing town. These schools are taking pupils from large catchment areas. Coláiste Dhún Másc in particular, because of its Irish stream, is bringing in children from all parts of the county all the way to the outer fringes. It is a great success story but it needs a new site and a new building. Laois and Offaly ETB will ensure the current building does not stand empty. It is a very dynamic organisation which plays a significant role in providing further education in counties Laois and Offaly. It provides a broad range of educational supports and all sorts of courses to help people to train, upskill and get back into work. Coláiste Dhún Másc is located in the old technical school. We must start the process of tying down a site for it so that it can move on and expand.

I thank Deputy Stanley for raising this issue, which my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, has also raised with me. I am answering on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, but I have heard from people, including Deputy Stanley, about how progressive the school is, how pupils want to go to it and how well it is managed. I have also heard that it has an excellent principal. I acknowledge those facts.

Coláiste Dhún Másc opened in September 2017 under the patronage of the Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board, ETB, to serve Portlaoise. In line with the establishment of such new schools generally, it commenced with an intake of first year students and enrolments at the school are continuing to grow. The school is currently located in interim accommodation sourced by the ETB and a building project to deliver permanent accommodation is included in the Department's capital programme.

The delivery of the permanent school building for Coláiste Dhún Másc requires the acquisition of a suitable site. In that respect, the Department has been working closely with Laois County Council under the memorandum of understanding on the acquisition of a site. Officials have also been closely engaged with officials in the Laois and Offaly ETB regarding the process. A number of potential site options were identified and comprehensively assessed, with input from officials in the county council and the ETB.

The Deputy will appreciate that multiple factors must be considered in respect of potential school sites, including sometimes complex technical issues as well as the suitability. Unfortunately, all the sites initially identified presented challenges in respect of the proposed acquisition or the delivery of school accommodation thereon. A further site option was subsequently identified and was found to present a viable solution for the delivery of accommodation and ancillary facilities for Coláiste Dhún Másc. Negotiations with the landowner in respect of the proposed acquisition of this site are at an advanced stage. The Deputy will appreciate the commercial sensitivities that attach to school site acquisitions generally and in this instance, given the delicate status of the current negotiations, I am not in a position to disclose any further information regarding the proposed location of the school's permanent accommodation. However, I assure the Deputy that departmental officials are working to advance the acquisition of a site for Coláiste Dhún Másc as expeditiously as possible with a view to facilitating the progression of the project to deliver its permanent accommodation into architectural planning at the earliest possible date.

The Department will continue to liaise with officials in the Laois and Offaly ETB in order to keep them apprised of the status of the site acquisition process and will inform the ETB and school community of the permanent location for the school as soon as it is possible to do so.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply, which contained some positive news. The key point is that, even after a site has been secured, it will take a considerable time, perhaps more than two years, to go through the various stages of design, planning and construction. The best case scenario will see the school up and running in 2022 or 2023.

I will outline the demands on the school. It is a victim of its own success, having grown so quickly from 40 pupils in its first year to more than 200 by September. That is no bad thing. I welcome that the Department is engaging intensively with the county council and the ETB on trying to progress the school. There were difficulties with some of the sites that were identified. It makes sense to try to get the most suitable site, and I welcome that the Department is working to advance the acquisition of a site for Coláiste Dhún Másc and trying to progress the project as quickly as possible.

I urge the Minister of State to speak to the Minister, Deputy McHugh, to whom I will also speak, and give him the message that, while we welcome the good news, we need to keep the push on and get a site secured so that the project can move to the design, planning permission and construction stages as quickly as possible. The population growth in the county, in particular the number of baptisms in Portlaoise and its neighbouring parishes, tell us that there will be a large increase in its secondary school population in the next five to ten years.

I will bring the Deputy's message to the Minister. I face the same problem with the Dún Laoghaire Educate Together school, in that it is a question of getting a site. There are sensitivities and complexities involved in site acquisition. The Deputy should please speak to the Minister as well.

Electricity Generation

I welcome the opportunity to update the Government and the House on what was termed by the CEO of Bord na Móna last October as the acceleration of decarbonisation. That acceleration has turned into a speed wobble.

There is an increasing number of bog closures. The initial announcement referred to 17. Last week, a further four were added to the list. There is an increasing number of redundancies. At the time of the announcement, we were told that the number would be in the region of 400. It is now at 600 plus. There is an increasing impact on local communities and a threat to the future of the co-firing plants at Shannonbridge, Lough Ree and Edenderry. There is no correlation between the income generated by the existing carbon tax, let alone the multiple of four that is being discussed, and any benefit to my county of Offaly and the midlands region more widely, which are suffering the most from the decarbonisation programme. Allied to that, there has been no application by the Government to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund or the coal regions in transition fund, which was set up last year, as promised. It took a visit to the European Commission by a local councillor in Offaly, Mr. Eamon Dooley, and me to find that out.

We sought and welcomed the Government's establishment of the just transition forum, but it lacks the teeth and money it needs to do the work it must. Notwithstanding that, we appreciate its combined efforts with Departments and the training funds of ETBs and Athlone IT, and the role played by local representatives in that process, to upskill, match skills and help.

However, I was disappointed to learn last week that discussions had been ongoing between Bord na Móna and the relevant Department on the subvention of biomass. Following the announcement, I was assured at an Oireachtas committee meeting by the CEO of Bord na Móna that, despite the obvious and glaring difficulties that might arise with the post-PSO pricing mechanism at ESB and the lack of incentives for biomass growing in Ireland, let alone imports from South Africa and elsewhere, Bord na Móna had included in its costings these variables, was happy and could give me and others the commitment that co-firing would continue. Alas, I learned last week after inquiring into the reason for the four bog closures that they were feeder bogs for co-firing at the three plants in question. Not only will 50 jobs associated with those bogs be lost, but their closure creates an obvious threat to the power plants themselves. That will have a major knock-on effect for communities.

The chief executive officer of Bord na Móna said at the time of the announcement that the company staff get the programme and the need for decarbonisation and the communities in Offaly and beyond recognise the need for transition. They had, however, hoped and would appreciate if it were a just transition. In order for it to be a just transition, the Government must match that effort and commitment with funding and provide real opportunities for alternative forms of employment to be found. That has unfortunately been seriously lacking to date.

I accept that the line Minister cannot be here today and that he will respond in writing in more detail next week. I also appreciate the Minister of State's efforts on this. Nonetheless, I would have thought that, far from waiting on a six-month report from the just transition forum, the Minister would listen to members of Fine Gael and the Government, whatever about listening to me. This is having a severe impact and is akin to the Government sitting on its hands or turning out the lights on Offaly and the midlands and allowing it to drift.

The carbon tax is Fianna Fáil policy and I hope it is the policy of this Government and any incoming Government to allow for the ring-fencing of revenue generated by carbon tax to be immediately directed and targeted at areas such as County Offaly which is feeling the impact of the transition.

I thank Deputy Cowen for raising this issue, which I am pleased to take on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton. I will relay his comments and concerns to the Minister. As the Deputy said, he accepts the Minister's apologies for not being here. He is not in the House at the moment and is unable to take the question but he will revert in writing to the Deputy with further information next week. I know Deputy Cowen has already raised some of these issues with the Minister.

As set out in the national development plan, the Government intends that, by 2030, peat and coal will no longer have a role in electricity generation in Ireland. This is in line with Ireland’s commitments under the Paris Agreement and the national policy position which sets out a long-term vision of an aggregate reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of at least 80% compared with 1990 levels by 2050 across the electricity generation, built environment and transport sectors.

The three electricity generating plants in the midlands have a total generating capacity of 378 MW. Edenderry is a 128 MW plant owned and operated by Bord na Móna and is fuelled with a mix of peat and biomass. Under the Department’s REFIT 3 support scheme, it has support for co-firing with up to 30% biomass up to 2030. Edenderry has planning permission to co-fire with biomass up to 2023. It is Bord na Móna’s intention to operate the plant fully on biomass by 2028 if planning permission beyond 2023 is received.

The plants at Lough Ree, a 100 MW plant, and west Offaly, a 150 MW plant, are both owned and operated by the ESB. Both have support under the public service obligation to fuel with peat but this support ends in December this year. Both plants have been granted support under REFIT 3 for co-firing with up to 30% biomass up to 2030. The ESB is in the process of seeking planning permission to co-fire with biomass in the plants at Lough Ree and west Offaly.

The ESB is fully committed to this process as part of its strategy to lead decarbonisation in Ireland. As part of this strategy, it is anticipated that both plants will co-fire peat and biomass as soon as planning is obtained with the intention of using only biomass by 2027. Decisions on these applications are likely to be made in the later stages of 2019. An oral hearing has been scheduled for 16 April in relation to the west Offaly plant.

Bord na Móna has outlined to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment a revised plan for reducing the amount of peat in the three plants up to 2028 and replacing with biomass. As the rate of biomass co-firing increases, the total biomass requirement in 2029 is expected to be about 2.6 million tonnes. This transition from peat to biomass would increase the amount of renewable electricity on the system and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions relative to the plants continuing to run with support of 30% biomass. This is based on a number of assumptions, including that all three plants receive planning permission to co-fire peat with biomass up to 2027 or 2028, that all three plants secure additional support to produce additional renewable electricity from biomass and that, by the mid-2020s, additional quantities of indigenous biomass are available. If this plan is implemented, Bord na Móna would complete the transition out of peat production for electricity generation by December 2028, which is two years ahead of the original commitment under its 2016 sustainability 2030 policy to cease use of peat in electricity generation by 2030.

Among the recommendations of the all-party Joint Committee on Climate Action in its recent report is that the Government re-evaluate its co-firing subsidy for peat and biomass given environmental concerns identified by the Climate Change Advisory Council and that both Bord na Móna and the ESB re-evaluate their future plans for biomass due to the lack of an indigenous supply. As I mentioned, the support for the use of peat in electricity generation for the two ESB plants ends this year. The support for Edenderry ended in 2015. All three plants referred to have support for up to 30% biomass to 2030.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is examining the recommendations of the joint committee. In the context of the just transition, where no region will be left behind in the transition to a low-carbon economy, the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has recently written to the European Commission requesting the inclusion of the midlands region on the coal regions in transition platform. The main objectives of the platform are to enable multi-stakeholder dialogue on policy frameworks for successful transformation of carbon-intensive regions and to facilitate the development of strategies and projects in areas such as investment for structural transformation, growth and jobs.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and I appreciate that he cannot get into the belly of what I had to say. I expect the Minister to respond more appropriately to what I have said.

The Edenderry power plant permission was granted after much deliberation by the courts and it is a blueprint and precedent by which I expect the other two applications for co-fuelling to be successful.

I hope the Government and its representatives respond as soon as practicable on the following matter about which I seek clarity. There is a commitment to co-fuel with biomass until 2028 at which time biomass will be exclusively used. That indicates that harvesting can continue until, let us say, 2026 and the stocks would be sufficient thereafter. I was only made aware at the end of a just transition forum meeting last week that four bogs have been suspended. These are the feeder bogs for the three power plants. That would seem to indicate that the discussions with the Department responsible are not likely to yield the result the plants would have hoped. That threatens the viability of the plants, the jobs within them and the communities they serve. Information about that should be forthcoming to me as soon as possible, hopefully next week, because I want to know the detail of the discussions, what has resulted from them and what now is Government policy if it contradicts what was there previously. That is not even to mention the wide-ranging issues surrounding the greater effect and impact of the ongoing decarbonisation which has, as I said, gone from acceleration to a speed wobble with an almighty crash waiting to happen. Those who will suffer are my constituents and not those from any other part of the country.

I am grateful for the Deputy's understanding that I am not on top of the brief and I cannot make policy statements in this area. I appreciate the Deputy being co-operative about that.

I have prepared a concluding statement which does not address the specific issues the Deputy raised. I will ensure the Minister reverts to him and I note the timeline he set out for having details provided to him on the discussions and the steps being taken, particularly on the issue of the bogs. I will ensure the Minister is aware of the Deputy's request to receive that information next week, if possible.

Mental Health Services Provision

I raise the issue of out-of-hours mental health services in the north west, particularly Sligo. The Minister of State will read a response and tell me there are out-of-hours services in place, junior doctors on call and a junior doctor on back-up call. However, the experience of people in the region, particularly counties Sligo and Leitrim, is very different. I give the example of a constituent of mine who contacted me about his son, a young man who has been using a mental health service for a considerable period. As a result of abuse suffered in his youth, this young man has had mental health episodes for many years and has been in and out of hospital on numerous occasions.

His family was a great support to him and was working with him and trying to help him but they were advised by the mental health service to back up a little as it was not good. They were told the mental health service would put a team around him to help him, a social worker would be put in place, which there was, and the primary care unit near his town would come into play and help look after him. The social worker retired and was not replaced. The primary care unit that was supposed to provide mental health services is very ad hoc and on numerous occasions when the man phoned nobody answered and he did not get a call back. On a couple of occasions, his father has helped him, spoken to him about it and gone with him to the mental health services. When a meltdown happens this person is inclined to self-harm, wrecks his whole house and lashes out at everybody around him. He is a danger to himself and others. The service providers told him that if ever he sees a meltdown coming on, he should go to them, that the door would be opened and they would take him in and look after him. He did so less than a week ago but when he arrived at St. Columba's out-of-hours there was nobody there. He sat for two and a half hours before he saw a junior consultant, who spoke to him for approximately half an hour and then told him he was okay to go home. He felt let down by the service and went home as distressed as he was when he arrived. A couple of days later he phoned gardaí and asked them to come and take him away or he would do something terrible. The gardaí had to bring him back into the services. This is one case but there are numerous others, sometimes involving young adolescents and children. They find there are huge holes in the service.

With regard to primary care, there is supposed to be a community service for mental health patients. However, that community service is effectively vacant when people look for it, certainly in the Sligo and Leitrim region. When people arrive out-of-hours at St. Columba's in Sligo nobody is there to help. This is a reality for many people. While there may be a junior consultant on call, that same person is also on call in Sligo University Hospital up the road and may be dealing with people there and not able to leave. I want the Minister of State to find out about this. When this happens there is supposed to be a back-up junior registrar on call. How often has that person been called in? I have been told that person has never been called in. People have waited for hours with nobody to see them in very distressing and disturbing circumstances. This is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. If people are continually turned away from the service, the next time we speak will be to discuss a tragedy after someone has been turned away from the service. We do not want this to happen. I certainly do not want it and the Minister of State and the Government, who are responsible for the situation, certainly do not want it.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of mental health services in his area. As he knows, this is a priority. It is not just about money. Money will not solve the problems in the service but €105 million has been provided in new development funding over the next three years, very specifically to extend mental health services to a seven-day week. This is our first priority.

Sligo Leitrim mental health services provide a broad range of mental health services to the populations of Sligo, Leitrim, south Donegal and west Cavan. Services provided encompass general adult psychiatry, psychiatry of old age, rehabilitation and recovery, mental health of intellectual disability and child and adolescent mental health services. Services are provided directly in the community and in clinical and residential settings. Sligo Leitrim mental health services operate a seven days a week, out-of-hours service based in the primary care centre in Ballymote. This provides acute mental health treatment and support to individuals from the hours of 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. seven days a week. The services also provide a rehabilitation and recovery service that includes home-based treatment and assertive outreach models of care to clients known to the mental health services. These are also co-located in the Ballymote primary care centre and operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. In addition, our emergency departments provide national coverage through a 24-7 service from which members of the public receive acute mental health care and treatment. In Sligo, the emergency department of Sligo University Hospital provides this out-of-hours service.

I acknowledge the case raised by the Deputy. I will not comment on a specific case and I know the Deputy is not asking me to do so but is using it as an illustration. He will understand and appreciate, therefore, that I cannot respond. However, I will say that I recognise and acknowledge that one of the greatest causes of distress for parents and other family members is to be with somebody who has, as the Deputy described, a meltdown or an episode of psychosis. Having to deal with this is very traumatic. The reality is that the out-of-hours service available at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. is based in the emergency department of the local hospital. The Deputy referred to somebody being turned away from the service. This is something I will not be able to comment on or deal with because it is a clinical decision made by a medical person and I am not here to judge the decision made by a qualified medical practitioner.

To give the Deputy some idea of the thinking on this, the challenge we will have far into the future, and what I am trying to do in this area, is to provide for online psychiatry. We will never be able to staff a 24-hour, seven days a week service led by a consultant psychiatrist in every county. It will never be possible and that is the reality. There is a real shortage of consultant psychiatrists worldwide. We will look at how we provide that cover a bit better. The worst place for anybody to be having an episode of psychosis or a meltdown is inside in an emergency department while waiting for two or three hours to be seen by a consultant psychiatrist. What they do in other parts of the world is deal with this through online psychiatry, whereby people can be assessed by a consultant psychiatrist immediately through online televisual conferencing. People can be assessed, diagnosed, prescribed and admitted, if necessary, there and then by wheeling up a cart similar to a blood pressure or BP cart, turning on a screen and having a psychiatric consultation. We will never be in a position of having a consultant psychiatrist sitting in Sligo waiting for the one presentation that might occur in a 24-hour period.

Today, I looked at the figures for another part of the country and the number of presentations in a busy city area. There were 14 out-of-hours presentations there in the entire year. We have to look at how we do what we do, and the plan I am trying to develop is having available online psychiatry. It works throughout the world and would cover a number of different sites and provide immediate access to that key decision capacity. It would be done in an emergency department with doctors and nurses but the consultant psychiatrist providing the clinical governance would cover a number of different sites with online availability. This is my hope for the future.

I thank the Minister of State. I acknowledge that nobody expects there to be somebody there every minute of the day but, at the same time, the level of difficulty that people come across in these situations is acute. The Minister of State mentioned the out-of-hours service in Ballymote. Much of the time that service consists of one member of staff who is alone in the building and very often feels vulnerable. The out-of-hours service is far from perfect in this respect.

I know we cannot comment on an individual case but many of the reasons a person is turned away is because the beds are all full. There are no beds and no space or capacity. That is certainly a real situation. I know a new mental health unit is being built in Sligo but this is certainly the problem in St. Columba's at the moment and the main reason people are being turned away.

The Minister of State mentioned the recruitment of staff. Does the recruitment of staff for mental health services go through the national recruitment service? The Minister of State nodded his head to indicate that it does. The amount of time it is taking is absolutely outrageous. When the mental health service in Sligo and Leitrim decides to recruit someone and advertises, the first problem is that an advertisement can be made for only one person per day in the service nationally, for some peculiar reason that nobody seems to be getting a hold of. That is ridiculous. When the service does advertise, it can take up to six months to recruit the person. It is diabolical that we are standing over this situation. There is no reason for it other than that somebody somewhere decided to draw up a set of rules by which everybody has to live, as if it is the reality of life. It is not the reality of life.

The Minister of State has put out the concept that people will be able to have online consultation. When will this happen? If he is saying this is the answer he is putting forward, I will not be sceptical. I will embrace it and ask to see it. When can it happen? If the Minister of State is saying this can happen, surely there should be no reason we have to wait one year, two years or five years for somebody to write a report or a consultant to do a report on it. It should happen immediately. The Minister of State should at least tell us there will be a pilot and that it will be in the Sligo and Leitrim area. Will he give that commitment today?

I acknowledge the Deputy's bona fides in this area. I have had many conversations with him on the subject of mental health. I have always found him to be very responsive and responsible in his approach. He does not take a narrow view but, rather, seeks to serve the greater good.

I share some of his frustrations regarding the national recruitment service and trying to see how it works. I recently invited the executive clinical directors in the area of mental health from across the country, including the Deputy's CHO area, to a meeting. I wrote to them afterwards and asked them to give me examples of the difficulties they were having with recruitment and their experiences of the current recruitment process within the HSE. I am going through their responses, which I received in the past week or ten days. I have sought a meeting with the national recruitment service to better understand its work. We often pass on blame in a kind of circular way, but one must follow the chain each way. I want to hear the side of the national recruitment service. I am aware of the frustrations being expressed, as is the Deputy, particularly in the area of mental health, and I am following the chain to see if I can address some of the blockages, difficulties and challenges in the area of recruitment.

The Deputy asked a specific question about the pilot. I thank him for embracing it. We must embrace change. It is easy to be sceptical and knock everything but if we do what we always did, we will get the response we have always got and that is not good enough. I recently convened a meeting in the national convention centre and explained to the attendees from across the country the concept of online psychiatry. The clinical staff believe in it and accept that it is the way forward and will complement the existing mental healthcare provision. They are up for the challenge. The HSE is currently rolling out several pilot schemes around the country in the area of delivering mental healthcare online, including psychology and psychiatry. That is how we will address the gaps in the system. Rather than psychiatrists spending three hours travelling to see a patient, they will be able to spend that time online treating multiple patients.

Will one of the pilots be based in Sligo-Leitrim?

I will have to revert to the Deputy regarding the locations for the pilots.

Road Safety

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, for coming to the Chamber to provide a reply on this matter. I acknowledge that it is not his area of responsibility and that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, is not available this afternoon, although he has previously dealt with this issue in the Topical Issue debate. I refer to the issue of safety along the N5 national primary route. The road crosses the Longford border at Termonbarry and continues across County Roscommon and through Ballaghaderreen. A bypass from outside Ballaghaderreen to Scramogue Cross, which is in my parish on the eastern side of Roscommon, is being progressed.

I will try to point out to the Minister of State the dangers posed to people going about their everyday business in the villages and towns along the road. This issue affects parents bringing their children to school, people alighting at halls and older people going to daycare centres. Every day, they are faced with a significant volume of traffic. There has been a big increase in the population of Termonbarry in recent years. Many houses have been built and many people live in the area. It is probably one of the fastest growing areas in the county. However, very few new traffic control measures have been put in place in the village. Scramogue Cross is a well known point in County Roscommon. A regional road cuts through it and there have been several accidents there through the years. Strokestown has not been bypassed and a significant amount of business comes to the town as a result. However, there are now two major housing estates on the Tulsk road on the edge of the town. On numerous occasions in recent weeks, lorries have almost hit cars going into or coming out of those estates. There have been families in those cars. People live in fear of such situations. In Tulsk village, a major regional road cuts through the national primary route. There was a serious accident at that junction only the other evening and I raised it with the Minister yesterday. There are similar issues in places such as Bellanagare village and Frenchpark. There is a danger to people going about their business in locations along that national primary route. Through the possibly 40 years since the N5 was built, significantly more than 30 people have lost their lives on it. If that had occurred in any other part of the country, there would be a significant outcry.

I am here to plead with the Minister of State to bring back a message to the Minister, Deputy Ross, that something must be done in the short term. In his reply, the Minister of State will refer to the bypass and how it is progressing. It will not be in place for a significant number of years - three, four or possibly more. If something is not urgently done in the meantime, there will be loss of life. There are measures that can be taken and which will not cost the Government or Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, a lot of money. A measure that has worked on other parts of the route is a roadside sign on which a driver's speed flashes up. That is one of the best ways of controlling traffic and the signs are working very well across the country.

I want the Minister to spend an hour travelling the road with me, as he previously promised to do. Immediate contact should be made with TII such that within the next week or two it looks at what can be done in the short term. An example of an issue that could easily be addressed is the lack of a double continuous white line on the Tulsk road in Strokestown. Many large trucks go through the town and onto that road. It is a threat to people's lives. I ask that the Minister of State, please, bring this message back to the Minister and immediately request that TII carry out an assessment of that issue without further delay.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has responsibility for overall policy and funding in regard to the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993-2015, the planning, design and operation of individual roads is a matter for the relevant road authority in the case of local and regional roads and for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, in the case of national roads.

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan has been developed by Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework. This provides the strategic and financial framework for TII's national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. In the ten years covered by the plan, more than €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network. Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and the Exchequer. As a result of the national financial position, there were very large reductions in Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure after the financial crisis. The Building on Recovery capital plan 2016 to 2021 and the capital plan review allocation mark a significant step forward in terms of restoring funding to the levels needed to maintain the road network in a steady state condition and allow for investment in road improvement schemes.

Within the capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter in the first instance for TII in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act. In this regard, TII has progressed a project which runs from Ballaghaderreen to Scramogue. It comprises a proposed road development of 33.4 km consisting of an offline type 1 single carriageway road that runs south east from the tie-in point of the existing Ballaghaderreen bypass to east of Strokestown at Scramogue. An additional 13 km of side roads and existing road improvements, 17 at-grade T-junctions and five roundabouts will be provided as part of the scheme. The proposed route will bypass the towns or villages of Frenchpark, Bellanagare, Tulsk and Strokestown.

Roscommon County Council submitted the scheme to An Bord Pleanála in December 2017. An oral hearing into the scheme was held in October 2018 and An Bord Pleanála confirmed the scheme on 18 January 2019. The expected benefits of the project are a reduction in journey times between Ballaghaderreen and Scramoge by approximately ten minutes, improved road safety for all road users and a reduction in accidents, improved environments at Frenchpark, Bellanagare, Tulsk and Strokestown as a result of the removal of through traffic from these towns and villages along the existing N5 route, and the supporting of the economic performance of counties Mayo and Roscommon through the provision of improved transport infrastructure. Following approval from An Bord Pleanála, TII intends to progress this project by moving to detailed design stage.

I anticipated the Minister of State's answer. I am not blaming him for it. It is correct but - excuse the pun - we have to go down a different road here. The road in question is very dangerous. I will not point out, bit by bit, what I have already pointed out; suffice it to say I acknowledge some safety works have already been carried out and have worked remarkably well. At the point of entry to Strokestown, for example, we got flashing lights after a big campaign. They have almost totally prevented accidents of the kind that were happening there on a weekly or twice-weekly basis. The same was the case in Rathcroghan, a very historic place of which I am sure the Minister of State is aware. Again, we used flashing lights. There was a constant stream of accidents but the lights almost totally prevented them. I welcome and acknowledge what has been done.

I am making a special plea today to get the Government to take on board the needs of the other areas. We cannot wait for the bypass. If we do not do something in the meantime, there will be carnage. There are so many near misses and so many people have been injured. Many have been killed over the years on the route from Termonbarry to Ballaghaderreen. I make a very special appeal to the Minister of State to bring my message very strongly back to the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and TII. I am willing to work with them. I spoke to our senior engineer, Mr. Eugene Dwyer, in Roscommon County Council yesterday. He agreed with me and is concerned about areas. He agreed additional signage and flashing lights comprise the proper approach. I am looking for something to be done in the short term. It will not cost a lot. I plead with the Minister of State to take really seriously what I am saying in the interest of public safety.

I will take the Deputy's concerns back to the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross. In addition to the current safety programmes and major schemes, TII operates a programme of minor works, including safety improvement works. The safety section of TII carries out assessments of the network under the HD15 programme. It identifies clusters and areas prone to accidents. Under the HD17 programme, which operates under a European directive, there are route assessments. Works identified under these programmes are identified by the local authorities and they may attract funding once a feasibility report is submitted to the safety section of TII. Perhaps the Deputy will go back to the engineer and ask whether the local authority has submitted an application to TII for minor works. That has worked for me in Wexford on a number of occasions.

I understand the Deputy's concerns, however. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We could be in a worse position, with the bypass not progressing. At least, progress is being made at a steady pace and the authorities are moving to the detailed design stage. I understand the Deputy's frustration because the project will take a number of years. There are steps that can be taken, such as speed vans, but drivers need to be cautious. I will relay the issues the Deputy has highlighted to the Minister.