Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Community Healthcare Facilities

I will say what I said before, that the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, is always pushed into these positions and I feel somewhat sorry for her.

The Minister of State is here and does her best to answer the questions. I expected that the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, would be here. This issue relates to the imminent closure of the Rosalie unit in Castlerea in County Roscommon. It is rather a sad evening for me to have to get to my feet once again to discuss this issue. The Ceann Comhairle has allowed me to raise this on many occasions since I became a Member of this House in 2016. The Rosalie centre had capacity for 33 people. It was a beautiful centre. They were people with mild mental health and disability issues, perhaps with Alzheimer's disease. They are people who very much needed somebody else to look after and care for them and to ensure that they were okay in life. Over recent years, little by little, the numbers were whittled down. It was at 34, it is now down to 12, and yesterday we had the announcement from the HSE's CHO 2 that it was to close.

This has been a bone of contention since 2016, when the HSE attempted to close the centre. The then Minister for Health, now Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and the then Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, gave commitments at that time that this centre would not be closed. Last year, the director we were dealing with, Tony Canavan, called the elected members to a meeting in Roscommon town and told them that it was the intention of the HSE to close this unit. We fought it on many occasions. This is a beautiful centre, not a run-down building, with amazing staff. One thing that upsets people greatly is that people who have been here for many years, who are happy in their surroundings with their families close to hand to visit them, are having their centre closed. Their home is gone and many of them feel it. The Minister of State can imagine if she moved into a strange room herself, with different colours and of a different size. There is no question of being well looked after, since I know they will be, but the surroundings will completely change for these people. The HSE has told us that two will be moved immediately. Many will be moved locally over the next months to a local centre which is not too far from this one. The message from the families and from me and other political representatives is please to have this decision reversed. It is causing a lot of hurt and anger. It is a fantastic centre.

The experts will tell us that these people do not need any psychiatric care any more and that care to deal with old age or such is needed. I have a problem with that. Are the Minister, the Minister of State and experts saying that the medical staff are wrong? I am not saying that they are wrong but people have been in their home for many years. I have no doubt that when the Minister of State changes that environment, she causes them great distress and pain. I would appreciate the best answer the Minister of State can give me.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State with responsibility for elder care, Deputy Jim Daly. The Minister of State would like to reassure the Deputy that the current and future care needs of the residents of the Rosalie unit has been paramount in all decisions and actions taken by the Health Service Executive, HSE. The Rosalie unit is located in Castlerea, County Roscommon. It is a continuing care facility for psychiatric and later-life patients. There are currently 12 residents in the Rosalie unit and the stated intention of the HSE is to continue to provide care for these residents in line with the needs identified in their individual care plans.

The Government committed to, and prioritised, the reform of our mental health services in line with A Vision for Change. The strategy set out a comprehensive policy framework for the development of these services. In line with the strategy, it is the HSE's position that there is an urgent need to improve mental health services in Roscommon and this was highlighted in the independent review of the services in 2017. As part of the improvement process and in order to best address the patients' care needs, the residents of the unit had clinical assessments carried out by the HSE consultant-led multidisciplinary team. The clinical assessments of the residents of the Rosalie unit indicated that their care needs had changed since admission, to include physical care needs, and that their individual future care needs would be best met outside the Rosalie unit.

This assessment was reaffirmed by independent clinical assessments. Specialist consultant psychiatrist of later life, Dr. James Anderson, was engaged to carry out the assessments of the Rosalie unit residents in December 2018 to determine their clinical needs, dependency levels, and optimum care setting. As part of the process, next of kin and relatives of the residents were invited to attend at the clinical assessments, so that their views could be taken on board. Independent advocacy was provided to residents and their relatives throughout the clinical assessment process. Dr Anderson's independent report concluded that at the time of assessment, a number of patients required inpatient psychiatric care in a different setting, and that the remaining patients' needs require general nursing care. Individual plans in respect of the future care arrangements for each resident of the Rosalie unit will be discussed thoroughly with the residents and their next of kin, in order that their individual needs can be met in the most comprehensive way, and in the most appropriate setting.

The clinical team and an independent advocate will be available to support them through this process. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, wants to assure the Deputy that the focus has always been on the well-being of residents throughout this process, and it will remain so. Clinical advice that has been independently verified has stated that the current residents' care needs would be best met in a more appropriate setting, and the HSE has a duty to act on this advice.

The Minister of State is right to refer to Dr. Anderson's independent report, as it is called. I should have stated that the report suggested that two of the patients require inpatient psychiatric care and the rest of those patients require general nursing care. To go back two years, I was in that centre and it is possible to have a debate with some of the people there. When one of them stands at a doorway and says "I don't want to move out of here", that causes me fear. It disturbs me. We are forcing those people out to a different environment.

I have no doubt they will get excellent care and be well looked after but why move those people out of a place that has become their home over many years? Irrespective of what psychiatrists or psychologists tell us, common sense would tell me not to take people out of there. It is like taking a person out of their home who is not suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia and telling them they have to go into a nursing home. People do not like being taken out of their own corner in general.

County Roscommon has the highest incidence of Alzheimer's in the country per head of population. We will also have more older people per head than any other county. Rather than close any of those facilities we should be opening them. Rather than getting rid of the ten patients there we should bring that centre up to full capacity. The Minister told me at a meeting this morning that it will be a residential care setting. If it is to remain as a residential care unit, why not leave these, mainly elderly, people there to live out their lives? It is not much to ask. I ask the Minister of State to go back to the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and plead with them to ask the HSE to reverse this decision.

I am not familiar with the setting but I take on board the Deputy's concerns and compassion. Change is very difficult for anybody. It is even more difficult for an older person. Moving from an environment where they live can be very stressful.

I was given a response to the Topical Issue matter and had to read it. However, I will take on board some of the issues the Deputy raised, particularly why, if the service is to remain, the patients are not allowed to remain. I cannot answer that because it is a medical decision. Improving all aspects of policy and services in mental health is a priority under the HSE plan for 2019. This relates to all areas nationally, including Roscommon. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, encourages public representatives and the media to take responsible approaches when commenting on the HSE decision to transfer patients currently residing at the Rosalie unit. Roscommon has more appropriate health facilities to better meet their health needs and care. The Rosalie unit will not close as has been reported. However, it is highly likely that the psychiatric service currently provided at the centre will cease in due course and a new service will be provided to best cater for the health and care needs of the local community based on demographic evidence. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, will continue to liaise with the HSE to monitor all aspects of the mental health service care, including health services in Roscommon. I assure the Deputy I will bring a very clear message back to the Minister of State and I apologise again that he could not be here.

Industrial Disputes

Ambulance personnel who are members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA, mounted a sixth day of action yesterday in their continuing campaign to be able to join and be represented by the PNA as their union of choice. The next step of their campaign will be determined when the PNA ambulance branch, the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, holds an extraordinary meeting on Thursday, 18 April to consider a further escalation of their industrial action. There are over more than PNA ambulance branch members including paramedics, advanced paramedics and emergency medical technicians, all of whom are determined to achieve their goal, namely, the fundamental right to be represented by the union of their choice. These members totally reject the continued efforts by the HSE to force them to be members of unions they do not want to join. Individuals and groups have a right to choose the trade union they want to represent their interests and to engage in collective bargaining on their behalf.

The Taoiseach has attempted, sadly, to characterise this issue as an inter-union dispute. That is false. The Taoiseach is purposely seeking to misrepresent this dispute. The PNA and NASRA are not in dispute with any other trade union. Nine years ago ambulance personnel decided to organise a branch within the PNA to represent them and this number now stands at greater than 500. What steps have been taken by the Government and the HSE leadership to resolve this dispute? Is the Minister for Health going to allow a situation continue where ambulance personnel have been forced out on strike due to a very solvable dispute? The Minister should talk to the HSE and do the right thing and we have far more pressing issues within the health service to deal with. He should recognise the PNA and NASRA, let these workers pack away their picket line banners and placards, and let them return to their ambulances, proud of the job they do and proud of the union that represents them.

This issue has been brought up on the floor of the Dáil possibly every week in recent weeks. That is reflective of how unjustifiable Members feel it is that these workers are not getting the chance and the recognition to join the union of their choice. The PNA branch went on strike yesterday, which was the sixth strike it has had in recent months and it had an action day on 27 March outside the Dáil. It has full support right across the board from other trade unionists to the wider public. Prior to this strike, the HSE ignored the clear indication from the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in the Dáil, that he wanted this issue dealt with by negotiation rather than by confrontation. A number of Deputies, namely, Deputies Ó Caoláin, Barry, Broughan, Pringle, Gallagher and myself, wrote a cross-party letter to the Minister looking for a meeting to try to tease this out with him. We have not had that meeting yet and I have been asking the Minister over the last week and a half to have that meeting to try to move it on in order to have some sort of resolution to this. The HSE has no right, legally or otherwise, to not recognise this union. It is not an inter-union dispute. The NASRA branch of the PNA is not having a dispute with any other union but 500 members were out on strike yesterday. That is more than what the Service, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, SIPTU, or Fórsa, the other two unions, have in their membership. This is a basic right for the workers to be represented by a union of their choice. We need that to be recognised. I would urge the Minister to do what he did in the background with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, and the PNA and instruct the HSE. The HSE has been invited by the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, three times to have discussions and it has refused to do so. It has refused to speak to the workers on the dispute as well.

On behalf of the Minister, I thank Deputies Ó Caoláin and Joan Collins for raising this issue today. As we all know, this matter relates to a branch of the Psychiatric Nurses Association called the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA. This group has engaged in industrial action on five dates since the action initiated on 22 January. NASRA members again engaged in industrial action for a sixth day yesterday. By way of background, members of NASRA represent approximately 350 front-line ambulance personnel out of a total National Ambulance Service workforce of 1,800. I understand that they are mostly based in Cork, the south east and Tullamore.

The HSE and the National Ambulance Service, NAS, have confirmed that again, robust contingency was in place to ensure that there was no risk to the health and safety of our health service users yesterday. The HSE has confirmed that full emergency cover was provided during the action. This means that all emergency calls were responded to. In addition, the National Ambulance Service put robust contingency arrangements in place to provide additional emergency cover. The Defence Forces also made crewed ambulances available, 15 of which were deployed. The intention, as previously, is to minimise any disruption and to ensure that patient safety is not compromised.

As with the other dates of industrial action, National Ambulance Service management closely monitored service demand and delivery. The NAS has confirmed that there was no negative impact on the ability of the service to provide patient care and service delivery during the industrial action. What this means is that there were no adverse incidents. It is important to again state the factual position in relation to this dispute. The National Ambulance Service Representative Association, which is affiliated with the PNA, is a group which is not recognised by the HSE and, therefore, does not have negotiating rights. Also, the PNA does not have negotiating rights for ambulance personnel. The legal position is very clear. The HSE and the National Ambulance Service have no obligation to recognise NASRA or the PNA for ambulance personnel. The PNA, which is a non-Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, affiliated union, has negotiating rights for nurses working in psychiatry and intellectual disability sectors.

The main union which is recognised by the HSE for ambulance front-line grades is SIPTU. Fórsa and Unite the Union also represent ambulance grades. The HSE deducts subscriptions at source for those ambulance staff who are members of SIPTU, Fórsa and Unite the Union. This is consistent with the fact that these are the unions that are recognised as representing ambulance grades. The HSE does not carry out deductions for subscriptions to NASRA, as it is not recognised. It should be noted that facilitating deductions at source is not a legal right, rather it is a concession granted to recognised unions.

Of course, individuals have a right to membership of any trade union. However, they do not have a right that such membership is facilitated or recognised by their employer. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has asked his officials to engage with HSE management to explore ways forward to see if a resolution to this dispute can be progressed. These discussions are ongoing. However, as of today, the fact remains that the PNA does not have negotiating rights for ambulance grades.

The last paragraph of the reply is on how officials are engaged in exploring the dispute. This is the answer I have been given but I will revert back to that in a moment.

Thursday is the Minister of State's day.

RTÉ has "Claire Byrne Live" but Leinster House has the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, show every Thursday for Topical Issue matters. I do not say that in jest, I say it because it is wrong that the Minister himself has not presented to deliver his own script. I have to say I am exasperated reading what we already know and the points we have already made. We heard that the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, is a group which is not recognised by the HSE, that the legal position is very clear that the HSE and the National Ambulance Service have no obligation to recognise NASRA or the PNA for ambulance personnel, that the Minister has asked officials to explore the way forward and that the fact remains that the PNA does not have negotiating rights for ambulance grades. The bottom line is that this response tells us nothing that we did not already know. What we are asking for is the Minister to make a direct intervention to recognise that the NASRA branch of the PNA represents at least the second largest body of ambulance personnel in this State and they deserve respect and recognition, full stop.

I am also very disappointed. It is the standard reply that we have been getting even though we were hoping that this was moving on behind the scenes in at least having some sort of negotiation with the officials and representatives from the PNA.

NASRA represents nearly 500 members. When the HSE stopped collecting the dues from members' pay, it had about 350 members. Another 150 to 200 joined since but cannot be recognised by the HSE. NASRA has been in with the WRC up to the last number of weeks, negotiating and representing members but the HSE has not even spoken to the workers, the branch or the PNA about contingency plans. Those workers have put those contingency plans in place themselves, without the HSE engaging in any shape or form. This needs to be moved on and, as has been said by Deputy Ó Caoláin, there has to be direct intervention by the Minister into this dispute to try to resolve it through negotiation and not confrontation.

I was going to read the concluding points from the reply but there is no point because they are basically part of what I said at the outset.

I assure the Deputies that while it might be Thursday and it might be my day, I willingly take on the duties on Thursday. I happen to be here and I apologise that the Minister could not be here. I will go back to the Minister and reiterate some of the questions the Deputies have asked, particularly around the fact the Minister has asked officials to engage with the HSE and management to explore a way forward. I do not know whether or not that has happened as I am just reading what is in the reply. I would have thought it would have happened by now if the Minister has asked for it to happen. Having said that, I note also that Deputy Joan Collins said representation had been made to the Minister, Deputy Harris, to meet some of the Members here as well. I will bring that back to him but that is as much of an answer as I can give. I apologise again to the Ceann Comhairle and the Deputies but my script does not allow me to make any other interventions.

Illegal Dumping

Deputy Broughan wishes to address and bring to an end the very serious illegal dumping in densely populated residential areas in the north of Dublin city.

Last week, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, increased the national funding for measures to prevent and respond to illegal dumping from €2 million in 2018 to €3 million this year. Applications are open for this fund, which is supposed to focus on prevention, education, awareness, abatement and enforcement. However, €3 million is a tiny sum in the context of this massive problem. Most of it could be used just to address the very serious problem in the constituency of Dublin Bay North, which the Minster and I share.

In the past few years, I have received an increasing number of complaints from constituents who are very upset by the sheer volume of illegal dumping and littering across the north fringe of Dublin Bay North, which includes the south fringe of Fingal. These include bitter complaints from civic-minded constituents and environmental enhancement groups at repeated dumping and serious littering on the R139 or N32, which is a gateway to Dublin for visitors arriving at Dublin Airport. Further east, residents of the new north fringe estates are also aghast at the amount of littering and dumping, especially on open spaces that are undergoing or awaiting development.

As the Minister will be aware, the most distressed of our constituents are those who have watched with horror as a tsunami of rubbish and clay in a huge illegal dumping operation has moved steadily across an amenity open space towards their homes in the past 18 months or two years. An adjacent city park much loved by local residents, sports teams and Saturday runners is also steadily being littered and engulfed by this huge illegal dump. At regular local meetings and meetings of Dublin City Council and the north central joint policing committee, the growing presence of this illegal dump has been described as a blatant commercial operation which the authorities seem powerless to stop and remove from our area. As the Minister knows, civic enhancement groups are, thankfully, highly active across our constituency. In telephone calls and emails to my office and on visits to my information clinics, they express exasperation that these anti-social and criminal behaviours are not being brought to an immediate end. They feel they are being badly let down by the Minister, who is a Deputy for the area, the management of Dublin City Council and he Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan.

It is clear that the Waste Management Act 1996 and the Waste Management (Licensing) Regulations 1997 would never permit the creation of a commercial dump adjacent to family homes, precious amenity open spaces and an important Dublin city park. Despite this, it seems that no fundamental measures have been taken to tackle this outrage and restore the lands in question. The problem is greatly exacerbated by the fact that a number of small housing estates near the location do not have a weekly waste collection service. I note moves recently by Laois County Council and other county councils to ensure that all households are accountable for their residual waste after recycling. We would all welcome similar measures in our localities. It is astonishing that the Dublin City Council manager, Mr. Owen Keegan, and the council's housing manager, Mr. Brendan Kenny, do not ensure there is a bin collection service from the city in the small areas to which I refer. Surely all households have the right to a waste management collection to encourage the avoidance of litter and illegal disposal of waste. The absence of such a regular waste collection service cannot be used as an excuse and should not be exploited by illegal businesses to wreak havoc on local residents, destroying their environment and endangering their health.

The Minister recently told me that under section 60(3) of the Waste Management Act 1996, he was precluded from exercising any power or control in respect of the performance by a local authority or a statutory function vested in it. This appalling situation, which affects several parishes in the north fringe, is an environmental and public health disaster. On behalf of our constituents, I appeal to the Minister to set in motion a system to direct Dublin City Council and An Garda Síochána to bring this dumping to an end and restore these amenity lands and boundaries that have been vandalised and disgracefully abused.

I assure Deputy Broughan that I am acutely aware of the concerns he has raised. I thank him for his acknowledgement that we are increasing our funding in this area. The €3 million fund I announced is only a small part of the funding we provide to support enforcement activities. I am very conscious of the concerns Deputy Broughan has expressed. I recently visited the amenity open space and park and I am aware that constituents are very angry and frustrated at what has transpired there, with systematic illegal and criminal dumping.

As the Deputy acknowledged, I am precluded under law from exercising power in these matters in respect of a local authority because these are statutory functions of local authorities, which are enshrined in the Waste Management Act 1996. Nonetheless, in light of the concerns the Deputy and I share, I have used the powers available to my Department to help to address the issue. I hope he will recognise that far from seeking to let people down, I am seeking to find collaborative responses with the responsible agencies. My Department chairs the national waste enforcement steering committee through the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, another agency of my Department. The EPA plays an effective role on the committee and in other enforcement activities. I also provide funding for enforcement supports. Through these structures, the particular problems of the site on the R139 are being examined. Part of a wider drive enshrined in the 2019 strategy of the national waste enforcement steering committee is to target these consistent and persistent illegal dumping sites.

Officials from my Department recently visited the site and are working with the local authority and the EPA to examine the scope for a multi-agency response to this matter under the national waste enforcement steering committee. At the same time, Dublin City Council has established a task force from across its service departments with the aim of preparing short, medium and long-term plans for the site. This will include the use of relevant enforcement actions. Between these two initiatives, I hope a coherent response can be developed to address the very persistent and long-standing issues on the site.

As Deputy Broughan acknowledged, I launched a fund of €3 million and visited the area-----

Does the Minister know that we did not get an invitation?

-----because I felt it was appropriate to do so. Applications for the fund are open and we expect to support more than 300 individual projects, some of which offer innovative ways of addressing enforcement, while others support public community projects. We will consider how we can use the fund to support initiatives directed specifically at this site.

We are acutely aware that this is not an isolated issue. Unfortunately, there are similar operations in many other constituencies and parts of the country. We have made it a priority this year to address this type of activity and bend our resources to have a more coherent and multi-agency response to it.

With all of the stakeholders working together, I hope we will see real action because this problem has been going on for too long. This type of activity is very disheartening for residents who have organised and submitted their streets to the tidy districts competition. It completely destroys their confidence.

The Minister must direct Dublin City Council management to immediately remove all of the illegally dumped rubbish and the huge mounds of earth moving like a tsunami towards our constituents’ homes. An Garda Síochána needs to immediately enforce the 1996 Act and the 1997 regulations. The Minister indicated he visited the site and I know his constituency did not include the area in question until three years ago. The amenity open space and estate boundary concerned need to be restored. This area was an amenity open space and park. We all worked very hard to create the park and some of the nearby community bodies and facilities. It is outrageous that these are being threatened by this particular outbreak of dumping in the past year.

I have visited the site several times in recent months and the dumping seems to be spreading, rather than decreasing. One of our constituents told me that Dublin City Council appears to be allowing the area to turn into a favela. We do not want any favelas in our city. I have also had complaints from other parishes across Dublin Bay North about the growing menace of littering and illegal dumping. Our constituents are very upset that bags of rubbish are dropped at amenity areas such as the city and county parks and the wilderness areas along the bay area and on the Howth Peninsula.

Many people are complaining about littering caused by posters being put up for emergency meetings outside of election times. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will echo that view. There is so much social media now it is hard to know why we need posters for every event, week in and week out throughout non-election periods.

The Minister's predecessor established a price monitoring group, PMG, in order to monitor the cost of residential waste collection when the flat rate structure was phased out. The PMG monitors 26 service providers and produces monthly reports, which I know the Minister studies. The February report showed continued increases in monthly costs for household waste collection. Six monthly comparisons showed that just two operators decreased costs while six companies increased them. The Minister supported the privatisation of waste collection services at the beginning of the household waste collection era. We have ended up with a system run by companies which are based, in many cases, off shore, and with pricing systems which are completely opaque and prices are steadily rising. It is time to end the talk: we need a bit of action.

I met staff from Dublin City Council as well as staff from the national committee which is driving these initiatives. We should not be directing all of our anger at Dublin City Council staff. Many of them are trying really hard to contain this dumping and to maintain high standards in the park that the Deputy has rightly said is a major amenity for the public. The staff of Dublin City Council are not causing this persistent problem.

Perhaps management should act more vigorously.

This is a serious problem for many communities-----

Many chief executives would not put up with this.

-----and we have to work with the very dedicated people in Dublin City Council to fix it. That is what I hope to do. A coherent plan from the city council must be in place, and a taskforce is working across its different departments, which is really helpful. At a national level we want to take a multi-agency approach in addressing this. That is the right way forward. I understand the frustration of the Deputy and our constituents, but it is unfair to turn our guns on people who are doing their best to-----

I am not doing that. I am asking-----

-----help the situation.

I am talking about leaders who do not lead.

We do see some leadership being-----

It would not be tolerated in the private sector. We need leadership.

-----taken in that the council is establishing a group-----

The country needs leadership as well.

-----to work across its key service providers, and the national authority is seeking to work across the key agencies, from the criminal enforcement agencies, the EPA and the council itself. There will be a combined approach on this and I am there to support the work rather than just to criticise it.

Our constituents feel abandoned. We have a responsibility to them.

Electricity Generation

My question concerns the future of Moneypoint electricity power station on the Shannon Estuary in west Clare. It is the only coal burning station in Ireland. It opened over 40 years ago and is coming to the end of its natural lifespan. It is due to cease burning coal and producing electricity in 2025, which is just six years from now. It is an important part of the national grid and is an important installation for electricity production. It produces, at its maximum, 900 MW of electricity, which is up to 20% of the national requirement. It is also a very important employer in west Clare. What is the future of electricity production in Moneypoint and what is the long-term future for the plant?

On 5 December I wrote to the Minister asking him to clarify exactly what is planned for Moneypoint when it comes to the end of its operational life in 2025 as a coal burning station, and asking him to engage with the ESB in order to inform the public about the company's future intentions for the site. The Minister replied, saying that it is settled public policy that electricity generation from coal will cease not later than 2025. The position has been outlined in a number of public policy documents. The national mitigation plan, the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and the 2015 energy policy paper concerning Ireland's transition to a low-carbon energy future were all mentioned. A Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to moving towards a sustainable and suitable low-carbon technology to replace coal burning in Moneypoint in 2025. The Minister committed to asking ESB to provide a paper on the options for the replacement of coal burning in Moneypoint. I understand that paper has not yet been provided. Does the Minister know when it will be available?

The experts in Moneypoint would be the best people to identify what is the future of Moneypoint. Will it be phased out gradually when 2025 comes along? Will it be kept in reserve for use in times of extraordinary need? Will it be converted to alternative energy sources such as gas or biomass? Will it act as a terminal for providing off-shore wind and tidal energy production if the technology is available?

There is some commentary on Moneypoint in the climate action cross-party consensus which was published in March this year. The committee recommended that the active use of Moneypoint should be kept to a minimum and looked forward to examining the future proposals for that site. The committee was also cognisant of the impact on those whose livelihoods are dependent on Moneypoint and said that engagement with those whose employment will be affected by the closure of Moneypoint should commence at least three years prior to any proposed closure. The time for that is really now, because we are in the middle of 2019: 2025 is less than six years away. Moneypoint sustains 400 jobs, both directly and indirectly in west Clare. What is the future for those jobs? What is the Minister's view on the future for Moneypoint?

The Deputy has quoted much of the substance of my reply so I will not repeat it for him. It is settled Government policy that coal firing in Moneypoint will cease by 2025 at the latest. That has been well sign-posted. My predecessor wrote to ESB in order to start engagement about the future for Moneypoint. ESB has provided some response, but more work needs to be done in this area to provide a clearer roadmap. The response of ESB deals with key issues relating to the cessation of the use of coal for electricity generation. It raises issues around the security of supply, competitiveness and the sustainability of the company, as the Deputy pointed out. It also deals with the possible technologies to replace it. At this point a range of options is being discussed which will not surprise the Deputy as he mentioned them in his comments. Those options include off-shore wind, biomass, combined cycle gas, gas peaking plants and other combinations of those. Certainty about the future use of Moneypoint cannot be given because the decisions have not yet been made in that regard.

It was pointed out that market dynamics and wholesale market mechanics will ultimately decide who gets to build and what generation technologies will replace the coal capacity. There is a market within which the ESB, as a commercial entity, must operate when considering future generation. In this regard, ESB points out that the exact details of the issues created by the closure of Moneypoint coal-fired power units are commercially sensitive, particularly in the context of the “T-4" four-year-ahead capacity auction completed recently by EirGrid and SONI, the equivalent body in Northern Ireland. The new capacity mechanism auctions are conducted by EirGrid and SONI, operating under the regulatory supervision of the single electricity market committee, in a fully independent manner.

Apart from obtaining the necessary state aid approval and ensuring ongoing compliance with EU energy and state aid policy, I have no function in these matters.

Its new capacity mechanism, which is in line with EU state aid rules, is competitive and focused on delivering the generation services customers need at least cost. The process has been structured, clear and transparent, and has been well signalled to industry players. This latest auction, known as t-4, is for the delivery of capacity in 2022 and 2023. In broad terms, the results show the Irish generation portfolio is on the path towards its ambitious decarbonisation targets. The auction has facilitated the entry of new wind, demand-side and battery technology, supported by flexible gas plants required in the energy transition, with some fossil fuel plants or units being unsuccessful. These results are consistent with our overall long-term decarbonisation policy goals.

ESB is committed to playing a leading role in the transition to a low-carbon society, powered by clean electricity. It has confirmed in its response that coal-fired generation will cease no later than 2025. The response also confirms ESB’s intention that the Moneypoint site will be used for electricity generation post 2025, using some or all of a range of low-to-zero carbon technologies. In the coming years as we move decisively to confront the challenge of global warming and decarbonise the electricity heat and transport system, Ireland and particularly the west of Ireland is blessed with an abundance of potential renewable energy sources. There will be a need to harness this energy for the benefit of the State.

I look forward to the input of all parties to meet this challenge as part of the plan we are working on.

The Minister has not addressed the issue of what will happen at Moneypoint. I know ESB and the Minister are considering a number of options, but time is running out. It is five and a half years to 2025 and decisions need to be made on the future of Moneypoint. I invite the Minister to visit Moneypoint. The previous Minister, Deputy Naughten, visited Moneypoint about two years ago and it would be very important for the Minister to come and see the site which is quite extensive. It would be important to meet the staff and see the substantial infrastructure there. We cannot allow it to wither and die; we need a plan for Moneypoint.

Moneypoint is also a deep-sea port and its future may be in maritime traffic as well as in electricity generation. It has potential in that regard. I would certainly like the Minister to visit Moneypoint and see the infrastructure there.

We all understand that we need to move to a low-carbon future and Moneypoint is what one would call a dirty station. While it produces very cheap energy and is important, it needs to be replaced. We need to know if it will be some alternative low-carbon fuel, wind or tide. The people, who work at the station and those who support it, need to know what their future will be. There is great potential for developing wind and wave energy. It has a sizeable site and could be used as a hub for developing such technology.

The Minister has an invitation to west Clare.

I will try to summarise what was a rather long-winded reply. ESB has plans to replace coal burning with alternative generation, but it is in a marketplace with many other players competing for generation capacity in what is a rapidly growing generation market.

The market framework is now becoming clearer and, as I said in the reply, includes the sorts of options ESB is considering. It includes combined cycle gas, gas peaking plants, battery technology, wind capacity and so on. The option framework covers the options ESB is considering. At this stage for commercial reasons it cannot commit to any one position; it will not outline a track that would give its competitors an advantage. I admit that is not an ideal situation.

I will further explore what certainty we can seek to give to workers. As the Deputy rightly said, a large part of the Oireachtas work is to talk about the transition and supporting people in that transition. I am conscious of the balancing required, with a company competing with others trying to develop a strategy while at the same time communicating with it in a way that people can plan ahead. I will explore this further to see if we can get greater clarity. I am very conscious of the constraints within which ESB is working as one of a number of competitors for the opportunity to provide additional generation. As the Deputy rightly said, it has, in Moneypoint, a very valuable asset and one I will seek to visit. That asset clearly has significant value not just for ESB but for the entire grid system.