Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Archaeological Sites

As the Ceann Comhairle knows, this matter was deferred to today. In a parliamentary question to the Minister in March, I asked about the archaeological significance and importance of the find at the excavation of lands at Scholarstown. They are known as the lands where the late former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, lived. I obtained a brief response to that question and an even briefer response to a subsequent parliamentary question that I submitted in recent weeks. Essentially, it stated, "The Department’s National Monuments Service will receive a full report of the excavation findings in due course."

I am raising this matter, which is of some significance, because the only available material that public representatives and the public have is the archaeological report compiled by the archaeology firm employed by the site's developer. A planning application has been submitted for the demolition of the house on that land and for enabling works. The closing date for that application is approaching quickly. All of the archaeological details have been compiled and submitted to South Dublin County Council, yet it was the Department that granted the excavation licence to, and worked with, the company carrying out the archaeological dig. Despite parliamentary questions submitted by me on the relative significance or otherwise of any archaeological find on the site, no details have been provided. To the best of my knowledge, the Department as a third party has not made a submission on the planning application either.

We know that, between 5 and 13 August last year, geographical test trenching confirmed that there was a ring fort on the site. On 7 August, human remains were exhumed. The initial findings showed 37 grave cuts, with 25 containing skeletal remains. Substantially more skeletal remains were found subsequently. The remains are dated to between 617 AD and 688 AD. The site is believed to have been an enclosed settlement and cemetery. On 26 September, a discussion on the impact of construction on the site and human remains took place with the Department. I understand that excavations were to be finished by 5 April. Three quarters of the enclosure and 71 burials had been excavated by that stage, leaving just a couple of burials to be excavated.

My understanding of the situation is based on the developer's archaeologist's submission. While ring forts are the most common archaeological finds, this site has been listed as being of medium to high significance due to the number of burials found. We know that the greatest threat to archaeological sites is during a construction phase. There is a plan for the demolition of the existing house, foul drainage works within the site boundary, etc. According to the archaeological report, power lines and other connections will cut through the ring fort and cemetery and there will be movement of machines and storage of materials in sensitive areas. The insertion of service lines would require creating a trench 4 m wide and an adjacent works corridor. Also according to the report, the National Monuments Service discussed mitigation measures with the developer.

Will the Department give some comment on the significance or otherwise of the finds on this site? Will the Department make a submission at some stage, be it as a third party or directly, to South Dublin County Council in the context of the planning application?

I understand that the Deputy wanted to raise this matter yesterday. As he knows, I was launching the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival and was not in a position to be in two places at once. I apologise for that. I know that he wanted me present today.

An archaeological assessment was carried out in this case as part of the normal pre-planning process for the new development. This assessment, comprising a geophysical survey and archaeological test excavations, identified the presence of subsurface archaeological remains. Given the nature of the evidence, I approved the excavation of the site. The archaeological excavations have been carried out under an excavation licence granted by my Department under the National Monuments Acts and in accordance with the method statement approved by the Department as part of the licensing process. The objective of an archaeological assessment is to verify that the approaches to preservation in situ and preservation by record of archaeological material are applied appropriately to any particular development. All excavation licences are issued on the basis that the investigations are for the purpose of searching for archaeological features and to provide for their subsequent recording or protection. A standard licence condition requires a report to be submitted to the Department on the results of each investigation. The Department's National Monuments Service will receive this full report of the excavation findings in due course. Hence, I am not in a position currently to comment in any detail on what may have been discovered. I understand that the excavation at the site has recently been completed. It is intended that the full record of the excavations at the site will be made available and it is expected that the archaeologist who directed the excavation will publish a full account of the results in a suitable archaeological publication.

A referral in respect of enabling works that are currently subject to a live planning application has not yet been received by my Department from South Dublin County Council. The Department will comment as appropriate, assuming such a referral is received and in light of what is contained in the archaeological report. When the Department receives planning applications as a statutory consultee, they are considered in terms of their archaeological implications and appropriate recommendations are made to the planning authority where necessary. In applicable cases, this may result in the planning authority requesting further information from a developer in the form of a report on archaeological test excavations or the carrying out of such test excavations as a condition of grant of planning permission by the planning authority. These conditions are imposed by the planning authority and may be based on recommendations from the Department. In appropriate cases, the full archaeological excavation of archaeological deposits impacted by the development will be required as condition of the grant of planning permission.

The site in question came to light in the course of an archaeological assessment comprising a geophysical survey and test excavation, which were commissioned by the developer as part of preparing plans to develop the lands. In the absence of such an assessment, the site might never have come to light. It consists of an enclosed ditch, with burials in parts of it. On the basis of test excavations, it appeared to date from early medieval times. No surface features existed and the site was completely unknown prior to the archaeological assessment. As such, it was not subject to any legal protection under the National Monuments Acts. Having regard to the absence of any visible surface feature and the difficulty in preserving such a site on lands likely to be developed in some form in the future, including where a use is found for the site that is consistent with its preservation, the National Monuments Service agreed with the developer that the site could be fully archaeologically excavated by a professional archaeologist, working under licence from me as per the Acts.

I am grateful for the Minister's response. I did not get a copy of her script, so I would be grateful for that too. I received a two-line reply from the Minister to a parliamentary question on this issue yesterday. She has given a much more comprehensive reply today.

There is an urgency about the situation. While I take the Minister's point that none of this would have been discovered had someone not bought the site, sought to develop it and sent in an archaeological team, there is a report already. A full and comprehensive archaeologist's report has been submitted as part of the planning application. I wonder where the Department stands on this. The urgency owes to the fact that an application has been submitted to demolish the house and clear the site with a view to developing it.

To illustrate the scale of development on the site and why we need to assess its significance or otherwise, the developers sought to build 626 residential units, mainly in apartment blocks, in a submission to South Dublin County Council. As the Minister will be aware, campaigns for the local elections are under way and, therefore, it is a live issue in Scholarstown, Knocklyon, where my two colleagues, Councillors Emma Murphy and Deirdre O'Donovan, have been asked many questions about the matter. People are conscious that a decision on the planning application is imminent. I do not seek to get in anybody's way but we must bear in mind the nature of some previous archaeological discoveries. There were some lucrative archaeological discoveries only two miles away, at the site of the Hellfire Club. Given that a full archaeological report has been submitted to the county council, the absence of any meaningful response from the Department until today in respect of what role it can play in what will be a rather overwhelming planning permission application on the site is disappointing. Planning applications move quickly.

I would like the Minister's commitment, as the Minister with responsibility for heritage and the preservation of such sites, that she and her Department will keep a close eye on ensuring that the interests of the local community, of our heritage and of our history are preserved in the context of any planning application that proceeds in the future.

Suffice it to say, the Department is monitoring the matter closely and today was in touch with the archaeologist who is the licence holder for the Scholarstown site. As I stated, I understand that the excavation is complete, although I await a report on it, which is required to be submitted under the terms of the licence in any event. We have requested, and received, an interim report on the findings thus far and the results are consistent with the view of the site that emerged from the initial assessment, namely, that the site is likely to represent a form of medieval settlement enclosure that was subsequently used for burial. I understand that although it is of archaeological interest and the results of the excavation are important, it is not a unique or unusual site but instead is quite common. Now that the excavation has been completed, all the archaeological deposits have been carefully and scientifically removed. As a result, the site is no longer of significant archaeological interest and there is no basis for making it subject to legal protection under the National Monuments Acts. The focus should be on ensuring that a full and detailed report on the findings is prepared and made available to all who are interested. The National Monuments Service will focus on this in liaison with the holder of the excavation licence, who is legally bound to prepare such a report.

The Deputy mentioned a ring fort but my understanding is that it does not exist. Rather, there are remnants of ditches; it is not a ring fort at all, and there is nothing above the ground. He also referred to skeletal remains but all the bones have been removed and will be carbon-dated and examined by an osteoarchaeologist. They have been taken into care in perpetuity by the National Museum of Ireland.

DEIS Status

Táim buíoch don Aire as a bheith anseo. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil sé anseo chun é seo a chloisteáil agus chun na díospóireachta seo a bheith againn. Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé in ann smaoineamh air i ndiaidh na díospóireachta.

I expect that the Minister will provide a lengthier version of a reply to a parliamentary question, or something along the lines of what I received from him a week or two ago. Among other things, the reply stated:

[...] my Department has introduced an objective, statistics based model for assessing which schools merit inclusion in the DEIS Programme, so that all stakeholders can have confidence that we are targeting extra resources at those schools with the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage [...] Following an initial application of this new methodology, 79 new schools, including 66 primary schools, were brought into the DEIS programme in 2017 with a further 30 primary schools being upgraded from Band 2 to Band 1 status.  These schools were assessed as having the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage.

It further stated that until there is further analysis, for which there is a proposal, it is not intended to expand the DEIS programme to further schools.

The specific matter I raise relates to DEIS urban band 2, which is a category that contains a substantial number of schools. No new schools were added to the category during the previous DEIS announcement in 2017. Will the Minister consider that and whether it might be worth taking the initiative? Given the resources involved are not the same, it would be less expensive than designating schools from having no DEIS categorisation to band 1, or from band 2 to band 1. There would be a number of advantages to this. I expect that many schools could benefit from this but two examples are Togher boys' and girls' national schools in Cork city. The family centre in Togher carried out a study of the composition of families whose children attend Togher national schools. All the findings I will outline are relevant to the DEIS criteria because they are the kinds of data that are taken into account. A total of 17.9% of respondents were one-parent families, 18.7% were housed in local authority housing, 10.4% had five or more children, 54.9% had third level education, 25% were Travellers or Roma, 34.7% did not speak English as a first language, 46% received social welfare, while 53% were entitled to a medical card. While those statistics are approximately two years old, my understanding is the trends have not changed substantially and that between 25% and 40% of students in most of the classes do not have English as a first language. Several of the small areas under the Pobal small area population statistic maps qualify as disadvantaged or very disadvantaged. Put simply, the area is included in the revitalising areas by planning, investment and development, RAPID, programme. It is not a new development but rather was designated under various disadvantage schemes, dating back to the programmes of the former Minister of State, Chris Flood.

I have spoken to the principals. The schools should be designated as band 1 because it is justified by the level of disadvantage that many of the students experience, but the Department does not agree. So be it; perhaps we can have that debate another day. Had DEIS band 2 been opened, the schools would have qualified. I am quite certain of that and the Department must not have been short of band 1 schools. The schools and their families need additional help. I am sure many schools throughout the country are in a similar category but they are not receiving additional help based on that disadvantage. Under DEIS band 2, they could benefit from measures such as home-school liaison, access to the school completion programme and a school completion officer, and they do not receive the same level of support from an educational welfare officer. Will the Minister consider that and whether DEIS band 2 will be opened to schools such as the national schools in Togher and countless others which could benefit from it?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta fá choinne an seans labhairt ar an ábhar iontach tábhachtach seo. Nuair a tugadh aitheantas do roinnt scoileanna sna blianta a chuaigh thart, bhí díospóireacht mhór timpeall na tíre fadúda na scoileanna a bheadh aitheanta. Bhí imní orthu ag an am sin ach anois tá na scoileanna uilig ag iarraidh stádas DEIS. Tá an bearna ag éirí níos lú. In 2001 bhí bearna de 17% idir na scoileanna a bhí stádas DEIS acu agus na scoileanna nach raibh an stádas sin acu. Anois tá bearna de 8% ann. Tá an bearna ag éirí níos lú. Níl muid ann faoi láthair ach táimid ar an bhealach ceart. Is é an rud is mó atá i gceist ná acmhainní. I mbliana bhí €124 milliún i gceist sa bhuiséad fá choinne DEIS. Tá comhrá agus díospóireacht anois ann faoi stádas na tíreolaíochta agus an stair. Táim ag amharc ar na míbhuntáistí, na bearnaí, agus na rudaí atá lag sna scoileanna nach bhfuil stádas DEIS acu. Sin an bealach ina mbeimid ag obair. Tá na sonraí ag an Teachta sa fhreagra ar an seancheist.

Is é sin an bealach a bheimid ann. Tá an freagra ag an Teachta ón tseancheist agus tá cúpla sonra aige.

The Deputy has the answer from the parliamentary question he asked but I will add to it with a few statistics. He referenced urban DEIS and band 1 and band 2. For the 2018-2019 school year, 896 schools that serve more than 183,000 pupils are included in the DEIS programme. Within this cohort there are 232 urban band 1 schools and 107 urban band 2 schools. Among the 359 rural schools and 198 post-primary schools are 79 schools that have the highest concentrated level of disadvantage. They were added to the DEIS programme for the first time from September 2017.

We know DEIS is working and that the gap is getting closer in terms of progression to leaving certificate. In 2001 the gap was 17% and it has decreased to approximately 8%. We still have a long way to go. The Deputy highlighted schools which have the advantage of having home school liaison officers. This makes a massive difference. The resources and pupil-teacher ratio make an incredible difference.

The Deputy referred to urban band 2 and how we could add to what we have already. I want to get accurate data on this, which is why we are doing a statistic analysis on socioeconomic indicators. We have compiled the data and we want to analyse it. The traditional methodology of measuring socioeconomic disadvantage was to do so on a geographical basis. The world is changing as is the country and this is no longer the method used. There is disadvantage in some areas which have been perceived as non-geographically disadvantaged. There are also challenges in urban and rural areas. I want to work with the Deputy. I am open to ideas as to what is the best way to do this. The change has to be on a gradual basis but also done in a very targeted way.

Aontaím leis an Aire go n-oibríonn DEIS. Bhí an meánscoil i bPáirc na bhFianna i cathair Chorcaí, mar shampla, i measc na scoileanna is fearr feabhais anuraidh ó thaobh torthaí na hardteistiméarachta de. Téann nach mór de leath de dhaltaí na scoile go dtí an ollscoil anois. Cúpla bliain ó shin, chuaigh níos lú ná 20% de dhaltaí na scoile go dtí an ollscoil. Léiríonn sé sin go n-oibríonn DEIS, agus aontaím leis an Aire sa mhéid sin. Tá go leor scoileanna eile a d'fhéadfadh buntáiste a bhaint as DEIS, ach nach bhfuil ag baint buntáiste as. Tá mé tar éis sampla a thabhairt don Aire. Tá mé den tuairim gur chóir go bhfaighfeadh siad na tacaíochtaí iomlána, más féidir. Aithním go bhfuil difríochtaí idir leibhéil éagsúla míbhuntáiste. Níl scoileanna áirithe le riachtanais mar an gcéanna le scoileanna le riachtanais níos mó.

There is a need for a graduated approach. Some areas and schools need more support than others but there are schools that need supports that do not receive additional supports. I accept what the Minister stated with regard to analysing issues. The nature of disadvantage is changing. There are a lot of pockets of hidden disadvantage in affluent areas. I agree 100% with the Minister on this. While analysis must be done we should not delay unnecessarily.

I have the permission of the principal to extend to the Minister, if he is in Cork in the coming months or year, an invitation to visit the school in Togher and understand the challenges there. There are many children who have additional needs, who come from a disadvantaged background and who do not have English as a first language. There is discussion on an overall package of support. Ratios are important and, overall, they need to be reduced. I am sure the Minister is aware of people raising the issue, but the school completion programme makes a huge difference to people and schools, such as that to which I refer, do not have access to it. Home school liaison officers do amazing work. Even if schools were to be part of a cluster that could access home school liaison officers, it would make a huge difference. Will the Minister take up the invitation and consider these points also?

Beidh díospóireacht chuimsitheach de dhíth sa Teach seo. Tá an ceangal, an caidreamh agus an comhoibriú idir na príomhoidí agus na múinteoirí uilig iontach tábhachtach fosta. Agus é sin ráite, tá na scoileanna ag athrú. Tá siad faoi bhrú i measc an pobail maidir le míbhuntáistí agus acmhainní. B'fhéidir go bhfuil bealach níos fearr ann chun cuidiú leanúnach a chur ar fáil idir an bhunscoil agus an mheánscoil, agus go háirithe idir an mheánscoil agus an ollscoil nó na printíseachtaí. Tá an bhearna ag éirí níos cóngaraí. Tá obair de dhíth ar son na scoileanna nach bhfuil aitheantas DEIS acu. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuilimid ag treabhadh ar aghaidh. Tá suas le €124 milliún i gceist. Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh cinnithe maidir le cúrsaí buiséide ag teastáil i gcomhthéacs an mhéid airgid atá de dhíth. Tá an ceart ag an Teachta maidir leis an scéim home-school liaison. Tá an caidreamh idir an scoil agus an pobal iontach tábhachtach.

I again thank the Deputy for raising this question. I completely agree that the issue needs to be analysed. My objective is to continue to look at a way that will be graduated but also targeted to ensure we get the right resources to those most in need. The feedback I get is that classes are becoming more complex. There are difficulties and pressure but we need to respond to this. The only political way we can do so is working together. I am grateful to the Deputy for the question.

Commercial Rates

I am fully aware as a ratepayer and business owner that revaluation has been happening over a number of years. In many cases, it has added fairness to existing rates but it has come to my attention recently, and the case is not based on my constituency, that the new way of evaluating rates for petrol stations and service stations, which is based on their turnover rather than the previous method, has caused these businesses to receive astronomical rates bills. In some cases, they are 500% of what they were paying originally. A particular case is in Cahir, County Tipperary. The rates bill for a business has increased from €20,433 to €97,300 and the business has not grown substantially in the intervening period.

When I looked into this I saw that turnover was being used as a variable in the equation. As a business person, I questioned how anyone could have let it be part of the equation because, as we say, turnover is vanity and profit is sanity. Here we are with a metric being used that does not necessarily reflect the profit margins of a business.

Petrol stations deal with a high cost but low margin item that is required by people to get about in their daily lives. In rural areas, the petrol station is also often the local shop. I find it very concerning that a rates bill could increase fivefold. I understand there is an appeal process but it is a bit late if we are looking at a small business, particularly in rural Ireland, where there might be bigger stations with probably similar turnover but low profitability. No business could sustain an €80,000 increase. It would be looking at staff cuts.

I question the wisdom of how this was decided and how it could not have been flagged in advance. We are now in a situation where I am looking at a rates bill for a particular business - it is in black and white in front of me - of nearly €100,000. This seems to be an anomaly. Maybe it was intended but it appears to be grossly unfair. It puts a huge strain on businesses that may assume this rate will continue as is and, therefore, there is no way their businesses will be sustainable. I would welcome the Minister of State's comments and perhaps any solutions he might have for these people.

The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, always has solutions. Is that not correct?

Indeed. I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Deputy O'Connell raises a very topical issue, if you will pardon the pun. The Commissioner of Valuation is independent and the setting of valuations is the responsibility of that officeholder. It is the same categorisation as the Revenue Commissioners with regard to independence from Government. The Valuation Office is currently engaged in a national revaluation programme under the provisions of the Valuation Acts 2001 to 2015. A revaluation of all rateable property within a rating authority area reflects changes in value due to economic factors such as business turnover, differential movements in property values or other external factors and changes in the local business environment.

Under the current phase of the revaluation programme, 32,000 proposed valuation certificates, PVCs, were issued on 15 March 2019 to ratepayers in the Cavan, Fingal, Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Tipperary, Wexford and Wicklow rating authority areas. The Valuation Office held 50 walk-in clinics across the eight local authority areas. On 29 March 2019, the Valuation Office issued a further 3,500 certificates mainly relating to licensed premises, hotels, service stations and nursing homes. In advance of that issue, the Valuation Office provided specimen PVC documents to various bodies, including the Irish Petrol Retailers Association and offered to provide briefing sessions to its members, which are now under way.

During a revaluation, such as is currently taking place, the Valuation Office analyses the relevant market rental transactions for all rateable properties, including service stations, in accordance with: the legislation; best practice internationally as set out in published practice guidance notes; well-established valuation principles; and case law arising from the independent valuation tribunal and the higher courts.

The Valuation Office is satisfied that the valuation approach adopted in relation to service stations is reflective of open market rents paid by service station operators for that class of property and is compatible with the statutory requirements of Part 5 of the Valuation Act.

The levying and collection of rates are matters for each individual local authority. The annual rate on valuation, ARV, is decided by the elected local authority members in the annual budget, which is a reserved function. Rates income makes an important contribution to local businesses and communities, and it meets, for example, the cost of roads, public lighting, development and public realms in villages, towns and cities across the State. I believe that almost €1.5 billion is collected annually in commercial rates.

Having up-to-date and consistent valuations, reflecting current market conditions, is critical to ensure that the levying of commercial rates is fair, equitable and consistent across all economic sectors and different parts of the country.

The process of revaluation has been ongoing since the early part of this century. I am not sure how it was arrived at, which was the specific question asked by Deputy O'Connell. It is hoped - and this is where the solutions come in as referred to by the Ceann Comhairle - to have a valuations Bill before the Oireachtas before the summer recess. This would deal with specific issues around the areas currently being revalued.

I am acutely aware of the importance of service stations, especially in rural villages where they may be the only commercial premises in some areas, as the Deputy has correctly pointed out. This Bill may provide us with an opportunity. The Valuation Office is given its instructions under the legislation, which we approve, but we have the responsibility from time to time of looking at that.

The Deputy referred to the service station sector, which is a very low-margin business, and to the significance each of those commercial business has in those towns and villages. I believe there is a strong argument for looking at that again. I hope we will be able to do that over the next few months.

I am fully aware of what the Minister of State said in his response. I know the process and how rates valuations work. Anyone who pays rates knows all of what the Minister of State said in his response. A briefing session for the man in Cahir is not much good. It will not give him the €80,000 he needs to pay his rates bill. The Valuation Office says the valuation is "reflective". Of course, the office would say that. The office designed it. It is clear to me, and I would imagine it is clear to anybody who knows how to do an equation, that this is not fair and that it is unsustainable for these businesses.

I question how it actually got to this point. Nobody really likes to pay rates but we all pay them because, as businesses, we know why we pay the bill. We have been paying water rates for years. We pay for our streets to be cleaned, although some of us get better street cleaning than others. Businesses know the total take but when a business ends up with a fivefold rates increase, it is very concerning for that business. Small businesses throughout the country that provide essential services for people and products people need are trying to survive. One cannot drive to the local big town to fill a tank with diesel if one does not have diesel in the tank. I believe we are looking at an unfair valuation that has slipped through the net and it is now manifesting as a fivefold bill on people who are trying to keep a business afloat. Let us not forget that many of those businesses have just about kept their heads above water for the last ten years. They may just be about to get into the green from the red and this is the last thing they need.

In the revaluation some businesses got nominal or marginal increases, and these were deserved due to past calculation errors, for example. In this case, for these particular businesses, it seems like an anomaly. It is unfair. I acknowledge that the Valuation Office is independent of the Minister of State's Department but we have a job in here. I am blue in the face saying that we are Teachtaí Dála, we are the messengers of the people. I am here to give the Minister of State the message that this is not fair, it is not sustainable and it is a worry for businesses. I hope the Minister of State will address the issue and that we can address it in this House to a satisfactory ending, so that we do not have businesses throughout the State stressed out and worried about a bill they cannot afford to pay.

As I said, I hope we will get to it during this Dáil session. It is the intention that we would do so. I fully accept the arguments that have been made. I would point out that the revaluation process has been going on for more than a decade and some people did not survive it. Our system needs to be updated, particularly in the sector we are discussing. There are also certain aspects of rates' legislation that run counter to other Government policy objectives, and in this context I am thinking of those rural towns and villages where people are sometimes encouraged to have large shops. I know of one elderly couple who run a large shop, and who have been advised that they should partition off half of the shop. This would effectively leave a chunk of the main street with a semi-idle premises. Yet, the local authority and the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring's Department-----

Like the set aside.

Like set aside. There are a number of things that need to be looked at again. This is one of them.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

We move to the final Topical Issue matter from Deputy Adams. We await the Minister for Health.

I will be in his place for this matter.

The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is the Minister for Health in this case.

Maith go leor. Tá mé buíoch don Leas-Cheann Comhairle fá choinne deis a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. Tá mé sásta an Aire, an Teachta Phelan, a fheiceáil anseo, ach tá mé míshásta nach bhfuil an tAire ceart i láthair.

This Topical Issue matter is about the consistent failure by the Government to deliver adequate and effective community mental health services in north Louth, and especially child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS.

In October 2016, I visited the Ladywell mental health centre in Dundalk which should provide these services for north Louth, but despite the heroic commitment of the staff, it cannot deliver the services because the building is crumbling. The Ladywell centre was built 70 years ago as accommodation for nurses working in the Louth county hospital.

It was never intended, and is not suitable, for the delivery of community mental health services. Thirteen years after the publication of A Vision for Change child and adolescent mental health services in my constituency are in crisis. Figures released last week show that 345 young people in CHO 8, which covers my constituency, are awaiting CAMHS services. Of these, 140, one-third, have been waiting for more than three months. Other figures released to my colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly, show that the staffing deficit in CAMHS is such that at least €40 million is needed to address it. In this regard, there are just over half, 54%, the number of the staff which A Vision for Change said was necessary. There is no consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist in this area and five senior medical social worker positions, two senior psychologist positions and a range of other senior positions remain unfilled. This means that thousands of children and young people are not receiving the mental health supports they need within the appropriate timeframes. What steps is the Government planning to take to address this issue and what additional funding will be made available for staff?

The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is reported to have said recently that A Vision for Change is being "refreshed". What does that mean and when will the new version be published? Thirteen years ago, Louth mental health services were allocated additional staff. Even if they all arrived tomorrow, there is no building from which they can operate. People from the north of the county, from Carlingford, Omeath, Faughart, Shelagh, Dundalk, Dromiskin, and many other places have to travel as far Ardee or Drogheda to access community mental health services. This places an unfair burden of travel on vulnerable individuals and families, some of them dependent on declining public bus services.

Last August, when I asked about the lack of suitable premises I was told that community health services would be provided within the new primary care centre in Dundalk, which was first advertised in 2008 but has not yet moved off the drawing board. In November 2016 I was advised in response to a parliamentary question that it was hoped that the operational lease process for the primary care centre in Dundalk would be completed in the first quarter of 2017. Last August, the HSE stated that the planning application would be submitted by the end of 2018, that work would commence in 2019 and the centre would be open early in 2020. None of these deadlines has been or will be met. I would like an update on this process. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, who I acknowledge is standing for the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, this evening will be able to respond to my questions.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter which I am taking on behalf of Minister of State, Deputy Daly, who is unavailable this evening. I will relay the points made by the Deputy directly to him because mental health services and funding thereof are serious issues that need to be dealt with.

Significant additional Government funding since 2012 has provided for approximately 1,700 new development posts for mental health services, including the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. Budget 2019 provided an additional €55 million to progress new developments in mental health this year, bringing overall HSE mental health funding to approximately €1 billion. This, in turn, will allow for continued improvement to all aspects of mental health care services across the nine HSE community healthcare organisations, including CHO 8, which incorporates County Louth.

Enhancement of the specialist CAMHS service, including improved access and reducing waiting lists, remains a priority for Government and the HSE. The total number of children on the HSE CAMHS waiting list was approximately 2,580 in February 2019, inclusive of just over 300 who are waiting over 12 months. Cases assessed as urgent are seen as a matter of priority. As of February 2019, approximately 80% of young people were offered a first appointment within 12 weeks in community CAMHS settings. At that time, 98% of young people were seen within 12 months by community CAMHS services. There are now 70 CAMHS teams, three paediatric liaison teams and 74 CAMHS inpatient beds in four acute units nationally, with additional beds planned in the new children’s hospital and at the new national forensic mental health complex now being built at Portrane. In CHO 8, there were 345 people on the CAMHS waiting list, which is down from 358 in the same period last year. Waiting lists in CAMHS above 12 months posed a significant challenge during 2018. However, since the recent commencement of a sixth CAMHS team this issue has been actively addressed by the HSE to the extent that within nine months the waiting list for those over 12 months dropped from 57 children to seven.

Currently, the provision of a CAMHS service to north Louth is provided from the child and family centre in Drogheda. Louth-Meath mental health services are currently examining a new town centre location in Dundalk with a view to providing improved CAMHS to north Louth. The HSE is hopeful that this will come on-stream towards the end of this year. Staffing in CAMHS teams in Louth is above the national average. One of the CAMHS teams has a consultant vacancy, which as the Deputy mentioned is currently filled by a locum. The post has been approved by the HSE and it will be filled as soon as possible.

Louth-Meath mental health services continue to improve the level and quality of service being delivered and the environs in which this is done. It supports clients in their recovery and rehabilitation as close as possible to their homes and communities. All of this is being done within the resources available. The recently agreed HSE service plan for 2019 outlines the priorities and actions to enhance mental health care nationally this year. This relates also to CHO 8 and County Louth and encompasses a range of services covering acute or community-based CAMHS, general adult services and psychiatry-of-late-life. In addition, the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has progressed a number of mental e-health initiatives aimed at boosting the supply of services at primary care level. While the service plan also acknowledges widely accepted challenges to developing services, including increasing demands and difficulties around staff recruitment and retention, the objective of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, and the HSE, is to deliver overall service improvements for Louth this year.

In the information provided to Teachta Louise O'Reilly three weeks ago Dundalk primary care centre was not mentioned. In my opening statement I outlined the number of times that promises have been made, some of which date back to 2016, but others date back to 2008. The response today states:

Louth-Meath mental health services are currently looking at a new town centre location in Dundalk with a view to providing improved CAMHS to north Louth. The HSE is hopeful that this will come on-stream towards the end of this year.

There is no reference to a primary care centre. While that new facility will be welcome if it comes on-stream, it is not the primary care centre that is needed in the area.

As I said earlier, the Ladywell centre was built 70 years ago to accommodate nurses. It was never meant to be a place where people with mental health issues could be treated. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was in the Chair when I raised issues earlier about answers from Ministers. I acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is standing in for the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, but this reply is entirely and absolutely inadequate. A consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, five senior medical workers and two senior psychologist posts remain to be filled. That is the reality.

I do not want to be giving out to the Minister of State about the fact that citizens have to put up with this. We are dealing with elderly people who need psychiatric help. There is a lack of services for children who need such help. It is just out of order. If I may say so, when the Minister of State is asked to step into this position to give an answer, he should refuse to do so. It will not help the people of Louth. It certainly does not help me, but that is not the main issue. These people deserve services that they have been promised for decades but are still not getting.

The Deputy's points are well noted. I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to revert directly to him strictly on the staffing positions to which he referred in his concluding remarks. The other matters-----

Go raibh maith agat. Sin é.

Is Deputy Adams satisfied?

In certain respects.

I am quite sure the Minister of State will ensure that Deputy Adams gets a quick response from the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and other Ministers as he has requested.