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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 9 Apr 2019

Vol. 981 No. 6

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Home Repossessions

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to discuss this matter. It concerns two citizens of Ireland, Patrick Halpin and Anne Keane of Aberdeen Lodge, and their young family. They are running a modest business and were encouraged by so-called experts to expand it some years ago. It went wrong for them, as it did for so many others. Their expansion failed and they ended up carrying losses. The problem is that a cross-guarantee on their family home and the business that is supporting their two young children is being pursued. Pat and Anne are paying €5,000 a month towards their home and business which are one and the same. Deputy Durkan and I have written to the bank and its agents and legal representatives offering to bring about an amicable solution for both the family and the bank. The situation has caused huge strain for the family. We have approached the experts and agents as two elected Members of this House more than a dozen times, but they have failed to meet us on any occasion. Goldman Sachs and its agent, Pepper, is pursuing the case. Goldman Sachs has refused to meet Deputy Durkan and me, no matter how many times we have asked. This is not what we expect from a reputable major international lender. To my mind, it is a vulture fund attempting to seize an asset that has increased in value by a huge amount in the past few years. The couple has offered to pay off the outstanding moneys on their business and family home, but this has not been accepted or even explored to any great extent. We are raising the issue today because persistent efforts by me and Deputy Durkan as elected representatives have failed to do anything. We have acted on behalf of two citizens of the country and their two young children who will be on the street if the repossession goes ahead.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating this debate which is about people. It is about taking their circumstances and the advice they were given at a particular time into account. Like a lot of others, they made a mistake during the boom. They made the wrong investment and were overloaded which resulted in their property being repossessed and sold at a value of more than €20 million. The guarantee - their family home and that of their children and their business - is now before the courts and the property is liable for repossession which will leave them homeless.

We fully accept that the matter has been dealt with by the courts. The family have gone through the system. There is a belief at home and abroad that lending institutions must get their money back, but there is no such thing as risk-free lending. It does not happen in that way. People took risks during the boom times, but that was then and this is now.

Deputy O'Connell and I have made numerous attempts to reason with the lending institutions involved. We have offered to meet them on numerous occasions, but our offer was rejected, unless we put our proposals on paper before we met anybody. That is totally unrealistic, as the Ceann Comhairle will recognise. We have offered to mediate, free of charge, to bring about an amicable solution for both the banks and the borrowers. This is not something we have done lightly. We have offered it in good faith, in the clear knowledge that a solution can be delivered. We are now in a position to offer an enhanced settlement which we will deliver to the lending institutions when we meet them.

I thank both Deputies for agreeing to move this Topical Issue matter to today. I am taking it on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Finance, who regrets that he cannot take it himself. I want to make it clear that I cannot, as the two Deputies understand, comment on the specific matters mentioned in the Topical Issue matter, notwithstanding the sensitivities which were very well articulated by both of them.

The Minister is aware of media reports on a €25 million debt which may be associated with this case. It would be wholly inappropriate for me or the Minister to comment on or interfere in any way with a matter that is before the courts. From the text of the Topical Issue matter, that appears to be the case. The Dáil will be aware that the Constitution provides for a tripartite separation of powers-----

I am loath to interrupt the Minister of State, but my understanding when this Topical Issue matter was accepted was that the matter was no longer before the courts.

Were it before the courts, it would not have been accepted as a Topical Issue matter.

I apologise. The State is divided between the Government, the organ of State which exercises executive power, the two Houses of Parliament which comprise the Oireachtas with the President, and the courts.

I will outline the Government's commitment to assist those in mortgage difficulty. It is demonstrated by the establishment of the State-funded Abhaile scheme which seeks to find solutions for those in mortgage arrears by providing them with free independent expert advice and support tailored to their individual circumstances. It includes the identification and negotiation of solutions and support in court if they are facing repossession proceedings. Abhaile has assisted more than 11,000 people with vouchers to avail of free legal aid and financial support since it was established in 2016. The director of the Insolvency Service of Ireland recently highlighted the fact that 95% of personal insolvency arrangements negotiated by personal insolvency practitioners had resulted in people staying in their own home.

The latest figures from the Central Bank of Ireland, dating from the end of 2018, show that more than 111,000 principal dwelling home mortgages had been restructured. This illustrates how important it is for borrowers to engage with their lenders as it is possible to put solutions in place. That is notwithstanding the case the two Deputies have raised, in which there seems to be a difficulty in engaging. While there are still too many in mortgage arrears, we are making progress. The number of accounts in arrears has been declining every quarter since the peak in 2013.

I would like to refer to the protections in place for those in mortgage difficulty. The Government and the Central Bank of Ireland are strongly of the view that the consumer protection regulatory framework provides strong protections for those in mortgage arrears. The House will recall that late last year the Government supported and assisted Deputy Michael McGrath in bringing his Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2018 into force. The Act has expanded the scope of “credit servicing” to include legal ownership of legal title to credit granted under a credit agreement and associated ownership activities. Therefore, if a loan is transferred, the holder of the legal title to the credit must be authorised by the Central Bank as a credit servicing firm. The Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2015 provides that all of the consumer protections a borrower had prior to a loan sale continue to apply after the loan sale, irrespective of the regulatory status of the new creditor. Furthermore, the Central Bank statutory code of conduct on mortgage arrears applies to the mortgage loan of a borrower which is secured by his or her primary residence. The code sets out how mortgage lenders must treat borrowers facing mortgage arrears. Lenders are required to comply with all aspects of the code and its protections apply to residential mortgages provided for consumers, irrespective of who owns the loan. The code is enforceable against regulated entities by the Central Bank.

The mortgage to rent scheme is another Government initiative to help homeowners who are at risk of losing their home. It is administered and managed by the Housing Agency.

I will bring the particulars of the case the two Deputies have raised and the supplementary points I am sure they will raise to the attention of the Minister and ask him to revert to both directly.

I thank the Minister of State. The key consideration for me and I assume for Deputy Durkan is fairness and the humanity of the situation. The Minister of State referenced the €25 million debt, but he failed to mention what was realised when the seized asset was sold and how much of the €25 million had been paid off. We are Teachtaí Dála, messengers of the people. People have asked us to act on their behalf. A vulture fund - I am not its messenger and do not intend ever to be - is looking at an asset, rather than the debt.

The situation is that because of its location, this asset has inflated in value to such an extent. My concern is that in a bundle of loans, this prime asset was picked out specifically as something it wanted to realise the value of.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I have no doubt he will take up the matter with his colleague. I would like the Central Bank to become aware of the situation that affects people in these circumstances. I do not agree with what was said about the satisfactory settlement of 95% of mortgage arrears cases throughout the country. I have a considerable amount of experience in dealing with them, but I will not go into that just now other than to say that I believe there is a good case here for the parties involved to make themselves available to resolve the problem. This is not about who wins. This is not about putting people out on the road. This is not about breaking up a family and shoving parents and their children out on the road. This is about a commercial loan to which the people are making regular payments and have been doing so for the past two to three years. They are willing to increase and enhance those payments. It is about the lending institution, an internationally reputed one, climbing down from its high horse and dealing with people as it should. If it does that, I believe we can achieve an amicable settlement that is acceptable to both the lender and the borrower. We will reserve the right to raise this matter in various other fora as well. With your help, a Cheann Comhairle, I have no doubt the matter will be resolved.

I wish to correct the record again. The information that was available to me from my departmental officials is that the case was before the courts, but I accept what you have said, a Cheann Comhairle. I agree that an issue arises in terms of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. I will not refer to the particular case at hand but every Deputy in the House deals with lenders and financial institutions. The code of conduct of those financial institutions has been strengthened by Deputy Michael McGrath's Act, which puts the onus on the lender. It is important that lenders engage with customers regardless of the state the loan is in or at. I do not refer to any specific loan. As public representatives, we all make interventions with lending agencies to accept the bona fides of our constituents. When customers nominate an Oireachtas Member to deal with their account, in my experience 99 times out of 100 the lending institution accepts that. It is important for every financial institution in the State to accept that when Patrick O'Donovan or whoever else nominates an Oireachtas Member, for argument's sake let us say Deputy Michael Moynihan, then the financial institution should accept that and should engage with the Oireachtas Member and at least speak to him or her. That is just good manners and it is in keeping with the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. I wish to make it very clear that I am not speaking to any specific loan or mortgage, but given everything that we have gone through, it would be only good manners for a financial institution to engage with my two colleagues. I hope whoever nominates somebody to speak to the bank on their behalf, whether that is a personal insolvency practitioner, PIP, a solicitor or a mere mortal Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas, that the financial institution will accept that.

I am sure the Deputies will bring the matter back here if they do not get the requested response.

I thank the Minister of State and you, a Cheann Comhairle.

National Broadband Plan

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for your co-operation in having this important debate on broadband here this evening. It is not the first time I have raised it in the House. The reality is that broadband is now one of the commodities required for daily life as we head into the third decade of the 21st century.

Many commitments have been made on broadband. One of the most recent initiatives was the announcement by the Taoiseach six months ago that it would become a personal crusade of his and that he would drive it on through the difficult challenges in the Department. Five years ago, almost to the day, a previous ministerial colleague of the current Minister, Pat Rabbitte, announced that there would be broadband almost instantaneously and we have had many more commitments in regard to it. The reality of the situation on the ground in my constituency in north Cork is that many communities fail to access broadband. We have the farcical situation now whereby Eir has got a State contract to bring broadband to certain locations, but where there are two, three or four houses at the end of the line or in some instances just one house and while the line is there, the community cannot get connected to it. Ongoing issues are evident in Rockchapel, Banteer, Bweeng, Rathcoole, and Waterfall, which is just outside Cork city. It is not just a rural issue as it affects homes adjacent to the city. It would be remiss of me if I did not mention Kiskeam. I know you were waiting for me to mention it, a Cheann Comhairle. I could see it in your countenance. The reality for those communities in Duhallow and north Cork is that they are all waiting for broadband to be rolled out. If they had broadband, people could decide to work two or three days a week from home, which is far more compatible with family life than long commutes. People would like the option of working from home but the broadband is not sufficiently reliable.

What is the status of the fictitious broadband plan? There were indications earlier in the year that there would be an announcement before Easter, that it would all be hunky-dory and that the contracts would be signed. Six weeks ago the Taoiseach announced that the final cost of the broadband plan could be many multiples of the original €500 million. While all of that debate is going on, the reality is that broadband is not being rolled out to the communities in north Cork, Duhallow and other places that cannot access broadband. Will the Minister intervene at this stage with Eir and the contracts it has got from the State and find out its plans to provide for the three, four or five houses at the end of a line? In the first instance, a sensible and common-sense decision should be made to ensure that every available house is connected to broadband. In the second instance, will the Minister outline whether there is a plan to roll out broadband to those communities that are so badly in need of it?

I thank Deputy Michael Moynihan for facilitating the timing of this debate. He was seeking to have it earlier but I could not be present then in person.

I will put the situation in perspective. I am relatively recently in the post. The position on the national broadband plan is that, as Deputy Moynihan said, it has been at the inception stage for some time. Part of that is to be delivered by commercial operators. The plan is to achieve high-speed broadband for every home in the country. Since the plan was initiated in 2012, the proportion of homes that get access to high-speed broadband has increased from 30% to 52% in 2016 to 74% currently. There is a very substantial uptake in the proportion of people with high-speed broadband and that is all being delivered commercially.

When it comes to the intervention or amber area, as it is described, where we will provide a State subsidy for delivering broadband, those are strictly confined to areas where the commercial sector says it will not deliver. Under state aid rules, if the commercial sector opts to make provision for any area, it has to be carved out once it commits to delivering it to the standard that has been specified. That is what happened in respect of Eir. Originally, it was an intervention area of 750,000 homes but Eir said it would commit to delivering to 300,000 homes directly, and it is in the course of rolling that out. At the last count, I heard broadband had been delivered to 225,000 homes. As the Deputy has said, there are a number of areas of frustration involved. Sometimes Eir has not yet fulfilled what it said it would do. We are tracking households or areas where a commitment was made to deliver broadband, and some of them may have to go back into the intervention area and the state-aided support.

There are others who did not put up their hands for Eir but who are very close to people to whom it has given a commitment to deliver a commercial service. I know that it is a source of frustration if the fibre has been laid half way up the road and not completed, but in most instances that is the way Eir bids. It bid for what it believed it could serve commercially. If the Deputy looks at the map, he will see it. It is like a spider that is set out on it and it ends abruptly on roads where the connection does not extend any further. The Deputy asked if I could intervene. I cannot intervene to instruct Eir to do X or Y. I could say that if it was not delivering, it should take them back into the intervention area. If, after a discussion with it, it became clear that it was not able to do it, it would be brought back into the intervention area.

On the broadband plan, the final tender was submitted in September. As there is only one final tenderer, the House will understand we have had to engage in much more careful due diligence which has taken more time, but the Taoiseach is right. The aim is to try to provide a recommendation for the Government in or around Easter. The Taoiseach signalled in the House that while his objective would be to consider the issue at Easter, the handling of Brexit in the weeks around this period could see that objective deferred to some degree, but it is not intended to be a significant deferral, if it occurs. I am aiming to bring forward a proposal on which the Government can make a decision. As the Deputy rightly said, the project has become more expensive because of the diminished area. We have to service 96% of the area in which only 23% of the population exist. The numbers I have show that 184,183 people in Cork have access to high-speed broadband. Another 11,000 will be served by Eir in the company's ongoing deployment of a high speed broadband network. That will leave 74,820 premises to receive broadband using the intervention model. They are in what is called the amber area.

I have two questions. First, have Government officials met Eir to discuss the issue of inflexibility in areas in which it is currently expanding the broadband network? In communities with only two, three or four houses it makes common sense to tell Eir that the fibre cable is passing them and ask why it cannot connect them to it. In the case of some of the communities it is serving, if more power was injected into initial delivery, Eir would be able to provide access further out on the line. Irrespective of the fictitious broadband plan about which the Government is talking, I need the Minister to get his officials to talk to Eir to see if there is some flexibility in getting broadband to the communities I have mentioned. I will not detail the entire area of north Cork, but every community within the Duhallow region is affected.

Second, the Minister spoke about Brexit being the reason the Government did not have enough time to make a decision before Easter which would delay it by a few weeks. If it comes out in, say, the first week of May with an announcement on broadband, the entire public will make only one comment, namely, that it is gobbledygook and that it is only being rolled out in advance of the European and local elections, as happened five years ago. People will not buy it. I refer to the Minister's figure of 74,000 houses, all of which must be on the northern side of Cork North West. I know the people who are coming to me. There are swathes of north Cork into west Cork and other parts of the county that are without a broadband connection. A broadband service is essential in the way we live today. Either the Minister or his officials should examine ways to be flexible in that regard. For God's sake, if possible, they should roll out the plan.

The Deputy has to understand this is being done under state aid rules and that Eir or any other commercial operator was entitled to state it would deliver a service to a certain number of homes. It specified a figure of 300,000 homes, of which, 11,000 remain to be connected by Eir where it has committed to do so. That will be monitored, but we cannot force the pace. There are other cases which the Deputy may be describing in which Eir has not committed to providing a service, but it is frustrating. Again, they are in the intervention area. Unless Eir decides, on its own account, that it is in its commercial interests to deliver a service, they will remain in the area in which we will have to provide a service under state aid rules.

There is a final category of cases on which Eir has made a commitment that it will deliver a service, but it appears that it will not fulfil that commitment. My Department has conducted an exercise to identify such premises which are in the blue area. If some of the premises to which the Deputy is referring are in that area, I would be happy to receive the details of them. I will ask my Department to engage further with Eir on its plans to deliver a service to them. If it is not in a position to do so, we will have to consider including them in the intervention area which would be included in the contract. I am not sure whether the Deputy wants to see it brought forward or delayed. I was confused at the end about what he wanted-----

It is very clear; we want to see it being brought forward.

-----but from my point of view, it is in the programme for Government that we want to deliver. I do not doubt that it is a complex project because we have detailed debates on it, with many Deputies on the Deputy's side of the House rightly raising many concerns about different aspects of it. It is those very concerns I have been at pains to investigate in order that before I make a recommendation to the Government and come to the House to explain what is being proposed they will be thoroughly and robustly examined and due diligence applied. That is what has been done.

We now move to the third item in the name of Deputy Ó Caoláin who wants to address the criteria used in the deployment of the emergency response unit of An Garda Síochána. I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, for coming into the House to deal with it.

Garda Operations

I am pleased that the Minister is here with us. The issue I raise concerns the criteria applied in the deployment of members of the Garda emergency response units or any other specialist entity within the force and the operational guidelines that apply once they are deployed. The matter has been prompted by an experience in my community two weeks ago. Before I left for Leinster House this day two weeks ago, Tuesday, 26 March, my home town and the wider community were awash with speculation about what had happened in Monaghan town that morning. The speculation had built by the weekend when I returned and had been fuelled by the absence of any explanation for what had actually taken place.

What is known is that a significant number of heavily armed members, clad in black, of some section of An Garda Síochána had been deployed in the town. There were reports of raids on buildings in the town centre and at least one domestic dwelling in a housing estate off a main approach road to the town. A man was reported as having jumped or fallen from a second floor window onto the street below and sustained at least one broken leg and possibly other injuries. Was he the subject of interest or one of a number of subjects of interest for An Garda Síochána? We do not know. What type of operation would give rise to such a deployment? Why was there such a show of heavily armed and presumably highly trained armed gardaí on the streets? We still do not know the reason for it.

In response to an inquiry from the local newspaper, the Northern Standard, the Garda press office issued the following:

Gardaí executed a search warrant at premises on Dublin Street in Monaghan at about 11 am on 26th March. During the course of the search a man was injured. The man was later treated for leg injuries in hospital. No arrests were made. The matter has been referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. There were no shots fired or anyone stabbed and no search took place at a named facility within the wider community.

That is the end of the statement and it is the only information that has been released to date of which I am aware. The statement is not wholly accurate. It says much less than what people already knew. Why is that? It refers to 11 a.m. but much of what took place happened at least two hours earlier that morning. It states that a search warrant was executed on premises in the town's Dublin Street. What were the members of the Garda expecting in the execution of this and other searches in Monaghan that morning? The deployment of a significant number of heavily-armed members of An Garda Síochána suggests they expected to be met by a level of serious resistance or, perhaps, firepower. Why else would they present such a show in such strength?

At a time when transparency and accountability are expected to be normal elements in the relationship between those who are entrusted to carry out the function of policing and those on whose behalf they act, the people of Ireland and its component communities, an explanation, a context or some level of openness should apply. No such explanation, context or openness has been given or displayed in this instance. Within whatever restrictions may apply, and I can understand this might be the case with regard to certain aspects, will the Minister offer my community an explanation or context for what took place?

Deputy Ó Caoláin will appreciate that the deployment of Garda resources, including personnel, and the deployment of specialist units such as the emergency response unit, ERU, are solely the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner and his management team. The emergency response unit is a highly-trained and well-equipped special intervention capability that is supported by a number of regional armed support units and a range of other resources across the Garda organisation.

I am advised that the detail of the number of gardaí and resources allocated to the ERU is deemed to be operationally sensitive and cannot be disclosed for security reasons but I can say that the Garda Commissioner has established an armed support unit, ASU, in each of the six Garda regions to provide an armed response capacity and capability to support and supplement the national emergency response unit. As the Deputy will understand, it is generally not the practice nor would it be prudent to disclose the detail of the security arrangements in place for the deployment of the ERU. To do so would plainly provide an advantage to those with ill intent and, of course, Ireland still faces many threats, chief among them the threat from dissident republicans.

The Garda Commissioner established the special tactics and operations command, STOC, in August 2017 following a number of recommendations in the November 2015 Garda Síochána Inspectorate report, "Changing Policing in Ireland". The objective of the STOC is to make policing safer by providing specialist firearms and less lethal services, including for spontaneous incidents such as emergency 999 calls and for pre-planned operations. The STOC has a number of specialist teams under its command including the ERU, the national negotiator and, within Dublin, the armed support unit. The STOC also has a governance role for the ASUs located outside Dublin as these are managed locally as regional resources.

The Garda Commissioner has provided the following information. On 26 March 2019, an incident occurred in Monaghan in which an individual was injured and was subsequently brought to hospital where the person received treatment. The matter was then referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, by An Garda Síochána in accordance with section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The Deputy will appreciate that given the independent role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in investigating the incidents referred to it, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further at this time.

The Minister has shed no light on what took place or what it was about. He referred to armed response capacity. To what is it a response? I am told the estimates for the number involved was in the order of 20 to 30. They were heavily-armed and disguised members of An Garda Síochána. What was their purpose? What was it all about? It certainly created significant disruption that morning. Children going to school were subjected to the spectacle of a significant disturbance in their housing scheme and in one of the principal streets at the heart of our town.

The Minister has just stated that an incident occurred in which an individual was injured. Unless we are told to the contrary, the individual who was injured was obviously reacting to what would have been a very frightening presentation. I do not know whether he was a person of interest or whether anybody associated with him was. I know nothing of that but it would be a terrible travesty if he was an innocent party who was frightened into an action that resulted in serious injury and his hospitalisation. What was it about? It is important that the House is advised on what the criteria are for the deployment of such a number of heavily-armed and disguised members of An Garda Síochána. It should not be part of normal policing behaviour or activity. It should only be a response where significant threat or the prospect of same presents.

Once again, can the Minister shed any further light on the mystery of the events in Monaghan town of 26 March? Otherwise, the mystery continues.

As I said, it is not the practice, nor would it be desirable, to disclose the details of the security arrangements in place for the deployment of the emergency response unit or the armed support unit. However, I impress upon the Deputy the independence and importance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It is an independent body which was established to receive complaints made by members of the public concerning the conduct of members of An Garda Síochána. While the funding of the commission is provided through the Department, the commission is independent in the operation of its functions.

Deputy Ó Caoláin has put certain matters before the House regarding the disposition of the individual and the circumstances. The House would be rightly critical of me, as Deputy Ó Caoláin would be, if I sought to interfere in any way with the investigation of an incident by GSOC. The House passed legislation by a substantial majority to establish the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It behoves us, therefore, to comply with the provisions of that legislation with regard to the independence of that body. Like Deputy Ó Caoláin, I await the result of the investigation, which is undoubtedly taking place as we debate this issue.

School Accommodation Provision

As the Minister will be aware, when the four-year schools capital programme was announced last year, there was to be an eight-classroom primary school established in the Newcastle-Rathcoole-Saggart schools planning area. While this announcement was welcomed, there was some surprise that the school was to be located down in the Citywest-Fortunestown end of the area, rather than, as everybody expected, in the Rathcoole-Newcastle end of it. One of the reasons that is important is there is very significant residential development taking place in Citywest, Rathcoole, Newcastle and Saggart, with more to come. We are already seeing, in Saggart in particular, a significant number of parents who are not guaranteed appropriate school places for their children in Holy Family national school next year. Up to 19 families could be affected. While some of the children could be accommodated in Scoil Chrónáin in Rathcoole, other families do not know at this point if they will have appropriate school places for their children. The question is whether the Minister is aware of this problem, he has spoken to schools in the area and he is willing to work with Opposition Deputies to try to resolve the issue to ensure, in the first instance, that all of the families who are unsure if they will have school places for their children next year will have them secured. We also need to look again at the figures underpinning the proposal for an eight-classroom school in the Citywest-Fortunestown end of the area to see if, in fact, we need two new schools, one in Citywest and one possibly in the Rathcoole end of the area from 2020 to absorb population growth in the two school planning areas.

The principal of Holy Family national school has indicated the significant number of children he is unable to accommodate this year. Some 117 applications were made to the school which has only been able to accommodate 93 pupils in classrooms with 31 children Some 24 pupils have been left to their own devices. If people cancel, they may be accommodated, but it is still a significant number. At the same time, the Irish language school, Scoil Chrónáin, has three additional emergency classrooms being provided in the community centre. There is a very significant issue with this year's enrolment in September. The school is at capacity and as new families move into the area, they will not always have children to be placed in junior infants; they may be placed in other classes or looking for a school place, but most of the classrooms are full to capacity.

This time two years ago we had a debate in this House about the provision of second level education in the general Citywest area and the Government had no plans to provide it. It was not until April 2018 that there was an announcement of a new school. The reason I say this is not to have a go at the Government but to highlight the rapidly changing demographics and population growth in the area. Will the Minister agree to reconsider and re-examine this area? The provision he is making for the general area is on Fortunestown Lane which is not appropriate or significant, considering what is required in Rathcoole which, in its own right, requires additional school capacity. The housing developments in the immediate vicinity will fill the new eight-classroom school on Fortunestown Lane. We, therefore, have two issues that we wish to raise with the Minister. Can he give us any advice on what can be done with the children from Rathcoole who would like to have a place there this year? Second, on the longer term development of a new school, can we look at providing a new primary school in the Rathcoole school planning area, not elsewhere in Saggart or Citywest, as is being proposed?

Gabhaim buíochas as an cheist thábhachtach seo inniu agus as na sonraí a tugadh fosta. I am appreciative of the information and conscious of the fact that there has been a reaching out to see how we can help and work with each other. I also acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald, for her work in keeping me informed on this matter also. The question gives me an opportunity to set out for the Dáil the position on school places at primary level in the Rathcoole area.

In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas. It uses a geographical information system, GIS, to identify where there will be pressure for school places across the country. The GIS uses data from a range of sources, including the Central Statistics Office, Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Education and Skills' databases. With this information, the Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises at primary and post-primary level to determine where additional school accommodation is needed. Major new residential developments in an area also have the potential to alter demand in that area. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, my Department engages with each of the local authorities to obtain the up-to-date data for significant new residential developments in each area. This is necessary to ensure schools infrastructure planning is keeping pace with demographic changes as there is a constantly evolving picture with planned new residential development, including additional residential developments arising from the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, LIHAF.

Where demographic data indicate additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through either one, or a combination of the following: utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools; extending the capacity of a school or schools; and provision of a new school or schools.

As the Deputies will be aware, the Government recently announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools in the next four years, including a new eight-classroom primary school to be established in 2020 to serve the Newcastle-Rathcoole-Saggart school planning area. The four-year horizon will enable increased lead-in times for planning and delivery of the necessary infrastructure. Following on from the announcement, the locations of all of the schools, including the new primary school announced to serve Newcastle-Rathcoole-Saggart, are being determined as part of the site acquisition process which is under way. The 2020 design and build programme will provide a new eight-classroom school, including a two-class special educational needs base and a 1,000 pupil post-primary school, including a four-class special education needs base, on a shared site at Fortunestown Lane which is in the ownership of the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board. Owing to commercial sensitivities with site acquisitions in general, I am unable to elaborate further at this time.

The capital programme provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms, if required, for schools where an immediate enrolment need has been identified or where an additional teacher has been appointed. My Department has approved three temporary classrooms for Scoil Chrónáin national school, Rathcoole, to cater for immediate needs. These rooms are initially being provided in Rathcoole Community Centre, pending the provision of the temporary accommodation at the school.

On school admissions, parents can choose to which school to apply and where the school has places available, the pupil should be admitted. However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available, a selection process may be necessary. The selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and applied fairly to all applicants. However, it may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is a little disappointing, although in fairness, I would not expect him to have the full details of some of the changes taking place. It is important for him to understand there are very significant demographic and residential changes occurring in this area, both at the Citywest end of the school area and in Rathcoole and Newcastle. The concern Deputy Curran and I have is that the demographic analysis of the ETB and the Department's assessments that informed the capital plan are out of date and do not take into account the new residential developments that are taking place there.

We have two problems. First, there are somewhere between 15 and 19 families who today do not know if they will have appropriate school places for their children next September. We are asking the Minister to work with us to try to resolve that issue alongside the schools in Rathcoole.

Second, we are asking the Minister and the Department to look again at the demographic data to reassess whether we need an additional capital investment in the Rathcoole area. I am sure the three Deputies present and our colleague Deputy Gino Kenny will be very keen to meet the Minister and his departmental officials to talk through the finer details. If the Minister can give us a commitment to do this, we will organise it in the next few weeks.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I reiterate that there is still a significant number of families who live in Rathcoole but who have no school places next September for their children. It really is not appropriate that they have to send their children to Newcastle, Saggart or Clondalkin. That is not an appropriate solution. The Minister said there were options, including looking at extending the capacity of schools in the area. We need to investigate these options.

The demographics suggest there has been significant population growth in the west of Dublin. Only two years ago we had a debate in the House in which we pleaded for a new second level school in the Citywest area based on the existing number of primary schools. It was not included in the plans and was first announced in April 2018. That shows the rate of change.

I am appealing to the Minister. The population of Rathcoole will need more than what is provided for in the current plan which is to provide a single stream school in Fortunestown. That school may be extended, but it is too far away from Rathcoole.

As the Minister has indicated clearly, the current school in the area, Holy Family national school, is at capacity. The Minister has extended Scoil Chrónáin. There is immediate demand to plan for a new school in the Rathcoole area. I appeal to the Minister to work with all colleagues to try to address the shortage this year and the longer term goal of providing a new school.

This is broken down into two issues. I again thank the Deputies for raising the matter. The demographics are evolving and there are young families in the area. We have to be vigilant about the changed demographics and the increased number of residential developments. That is at what my officials look. They also look at long-term issues, including where planning permission is sought.

We can provide enhanced capacity at existing schools sites. That is looked at, as is the question of where there is a need for a new school. That can also be analysed. In this instance, we have a short-term issue involving 15 to 19 families. At this time of year not all of the data for spaces are available. I will ask the officials in the Department to work with the local authorities in the area to ensure a solution is worked on in that regard in the short term, but we also need to look at the long-term issue. In Dublin, Meath, Kildare and the Acting Chairman's county of Louth there is a constantly evolving picture, with a growing population and more housing developments. This is something of which departmental officials are conscious, which is why they use the geographic information system and as much up-to-date data as possible.

I am happy to work with the Deputies on this issue and appreciate their raising it in the House. The issues of education provision and ensuring we provide as much access for young people as possible are above politics. Certainly, I am happy to work with the Deputies on the matter.