Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Noise Pollution

Dublin Airport contributes much to the economy of the area in which it is situated. It provides jobs and much for Dublin and the east coast as a whole, as the Minister and I both know and appreciate. However, there are some ongoing noise issues in communities in the locality surrounding the airport. Residents of places in Santry such as Santry Close, Royal Oak and Turnapin have ongoing issues with noise from low flying aircraft. Incidents are occurring at night time and disturbing sleep for many. The Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, appears, in effect, to be fobbing off complaints. It is stating the flights late at night and early in the morning are by empty aeroplanes returning to base. Of course, it does not matter if a aeroplane is empty or full as far as the individuals and households beneath them are concerned. They are still flying over their houses and making the same amount of noise because the engines are still of the same size.

The Minister met a number of residents from the affected area of Turnapin in October 2016. He promised to assist and the residents received him warmly, as he received them. The meeting was very constructive. Nevertheless, things have not progressed since. As the crow flies, Turnapin is closer to the noise paths and contours of the airport than many other areas which are receiving much more assistance from the DAA. I hope the Minister can encourage it to expand the noise insulation programme to include residents in Turnapin in Santry. I also hope he can use his considerable influence and the weight of his office to impress on the DAA the need to do this. It would be the right thing to do.

On 27 June, DAA held a drop-in clinic. Residents were given only two days' notice and my office was not given any formal notice. I only found out by chance on social media. Nevertheless, by DAA's own admission, the clinic attracted a higher turnout than many other local clinics where this insulation programme already exists. This is clearly a pressing issue for communities such as Turnapin, Royal Oak and Santry Close.

Dublin Airport's new runway is ambitious, and is part of the airport's growth and the success story of the airport, of Dublin tourism and the economy's bounce-back. However, there are also concerns about the impact this will have on local communities with more flights, noise and hours. Perhaps there will be more broken promises on night-time flights. There are concerns that DAA might apply for 24-7 operations, which would mean low-flying aircraft over residential areas in the middle of the night, which already occurs but is explained away as their being empty, rather than full, aircraft, which makes no difference. Residents have been unimpressed by Fingal County Council's appointment as noise regulator. They do not believe it will make a difference. Will the Minister explain how it will? Residents believe there is a conflict of interest as the council is receiving rates from the airport and therefore is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the airport being in the council area but the council is also charged with regulating the airport. Will the Minister explain?

I am delighted to see the Deputy is interested in this matter. I fully appreciate the effect that excessive aircraft noise has on communities. As the Deputy may be aware, the Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Act was signed into law on 22 May 2019. The main purpose of that Act is to manage noise at Dublin Airport and to give applicability to EU Regulation No. 598/2014, which sets out the rules and procedures with regard to the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at European Union airports. The Act provides, for the first time, that noise generated by aircraft activity at Dublin Airport will be subject to extensive, detailed assessment, to ongoing monitoring and to regular review. I raised the bar in relation to what the DAA, as the operator of Dublin Airport, is required to do to comply with noise rules. The Act is about ensuring the sustainable development of the airport, which balances the ambitions of the DAA, the needs of business and tourism interests and the rights of local residents. The Act respects existing planning and development and environmental laws and is underpinned by binding EU regulations and directives on environmental and aircraft noise. It ensures that every time a planning application at Dublin Airport is considered, the aircraft noise implications are considered also.

Fingal County Council has been designated as the independent noise regulator for Dublin Airport. Any decision on noise to be made by the council, in this role as noise regulator, will be evidenced-based and will be fully in adherence with the requirements of national law and EU regulations. The process, as provided for in the Act, requires that at least once every five years the noise regulator will undertake an assessment of the noise situation at the airport. This will include taking into account any future developments planned at the airport. Where the noise regulator identifies a noise problem on foot of that assessment, it will adopt the so-called balanced approach.

The balanced approach allows the regulator to decide what steps need to be taken by the DAA to offset the impact of such noise. It might mean more home insulation, adjustments to flight paths or it might require physical works to act as sound barriers. That will be a matter for the regulator following its detailed assessment. Importantly, this process will be open and transparent.

There will be public consultation and at each stage, the regulator will be required to publish information and evidence and keep all stakeholders abreast of developments. The decision of the regulator will be accompanied by a report detailing how the decision was reached, which will include a non-technical summary. I would like to clarify that the Act must be read in tandem with EU Regulation No. 598/2014 and with EU Directive No. 2002/49/ EC, the environmental noise directive, because the noise regulator must have regard to all three of these in carrying out its regulatory assessment of noise.

The Act, therefore, sets out a process for a noise regulation regime that allows for full stakeholder engagement, along with an independent appeals process, which will provide certainty to stakeholders. The Act sets out a structured approach to assessing and addressing aircraft noise at Dublin Airport with the objective of facilitating airport development and expansion in a way that minimises, as far as practicable, the noise impact of that expansion.

The Minister has said that every time there is a planning application at the airport, the implications for noise are also considered. The Minister might recall from our meeting in October 2016 that for many communities, the current ongoing issues are the problem, as is the consistent breach of the airport's operating hours. Rather than future planning permissions or expansion, it is the inability to adhere to the existing commitments given by the airport and an inability for the communities in Turnapin and Royal Oak to get accurate measurements of the noise they suffer too regularly.

We are at the end of term and have had differences on policy issues including electric scooters, BusConnects and the metro and the Minister called me a populist at our last interaction here.

Ah now, it is a partnership Government.

Nevertheless, our work has a human dimension. I am conscious that this will be our final interaction before recess. Despite our difference on many transport policy matters, which remain, I understand the Minister will have a significant birthday on Thursday and wish him a good 70th birthday. I hope he has a nice day, enjoys the recess and comes back fully recharged and restored to explore the many transport matters that affect our city and country.

I thank the Deputy for those totally and utterly irrelevant remarks, although they make much more sense than some of the things that he has said in the past. I will respond in the spirit that it is meant and take to heart everything he has said today and treat them with equal seriousness.

Respite Care Services Provision

I remarked at a meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight earlier that things are still unwell in the state of Angola. Despite the Department of Health's provision of more than €17 billion, an increase of 11.6% on last year's budget, its overrun is projected to be more than €150 million by the end of the year. I believe managers are being told by the budgetary oversight group in the Department of Health to take corrective measures. Sruthan House is clearly one of the victims. What we used to call cuts are now called interventions or operating to a budget.

Last week, service users in Sruthan House, Dundalk, and their families received a letter from the HSE saying the facility would close down by the end of the year. Sruthan House is operated by the HSE in partnership with the Irish Wheelchair Association and provides respite and holiday service for adults with physical or sensory disabilities or both. It has operated for the past 23 years and caters for more than 50 clients with a staff of 14.

I have seen the letter that was sent to clients and it is an understatement to say I am appalled. The letter said that because of the prioritising the provisions of services to enhance cost efficiency and continuous quality improvement, Sruthan House will be closing by year end. Clients were told that the HSE would continue to offer respite services through facilities in Roscommon, Sligo and Dublin.

How can closing this 23 year old service, which has had no complaints and nothing but admiration, and telling people with these disabilities to travel in excess of 100 km to a service in Roscommon, Sligo or Dublin, be described as quality improvement?

The HIQA inspection of the premises in October 2018 found the facility to be fully compliant with all of the regulations and the inspector noted the close bond that existed between the staff and clients, many of whom had made personal connections after using the services for years. The inspector observed an atmosphere of friendliness in the house and that the staff were kind and respectful towards residents through positive, mindful and caring interactions. Questionnaires submitted to the residents and their families relayed positive comments about staff at the centre. One resident summed it up by stating the staff were very friendly and provided a welcoming home from home atmosphere. Clients further commented that Sruthán House has given them back their lives. Family members have said the facility is invaluable and that clients look forward to the next day when leaving Sruthán House. Sruthán House allows those with physical and sensory disabilities to meet new people and get a few days away from home. It is simply irreplaceable.

The HSE's letter went on to invite clients and family members to discuss their concerns about the proposed changes. The letter began by stating it will close in December this year and suddenly decided to invite staff to discuss the proposed changes. It was a cold, crass letter telling these people with disabilities they are losing the respite service in their community after 20 years. They are simply not in a position to travel the distances in question.

I am aware of the commitment of the Minister of State to disability services and two disability service houses have been opened, in Balbriggan and Dundalk, to which he committed. I ask him to tell me the sense in providing two new facilities while closing an excellent service. It does not make sense and corrective action needs to be taken before December.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue and for the opportunity to outline the position on Sruthán House. The Government’s ongoing priority is the safeguarding of vulnerable people in the care of the health service. We are committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities, which will empower them to live independent lives. This commitment is outlined in A Programme for a Partnership Government. It is guided by two principles, namely, equality of opportunity and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Respite services are an important part of the range of services supporting people with disabilities and their families. Short breaks can also provide an opportunity for individuals to meet new people, widen their social circle and gain new experiences. Respite care is crucial in helping to reduce family stress, preserve the family unit and provide stability. The need for increased respite services is acknowledged and the HSE continues to work with all service providers to explore various ways of responding to this need in line with the budget available.

As part of its ongoing service provision, the HSE will provide more than 182,500 respite nights and 32,662 day respite sessions to families in need throughout the country this year. In 2018, there was a significant improvement in respite provision, as the Deputy mentioned. An additional €10 million was provided to fund 12 new respite houses, which are up and running. This is one in each HSE CHO area and three additional houses in the greater Dublin area to respond to the high demand for respite in this area. These houses provide additional respite for families that need it. All 12 houses are now open and fully operational.

A total of €2 million of the additional money is being targeted at alternative respite services. These are practical and important solutions. Alternative respite is working well locally, with good examples of summer camps, evening and Saturday clubs having taken place, benefitting hundreds of adults and children. Further additional respite initiatives are planned for 2019 in each HSE CHO area.

With regard to Sruthán House and Louth disability services, I found out earlier from the HSE that Louth disability services are prioritising the provision of services to enhance cost efficiency and continuous quality improvement in line with the best standard practice. The residential respite service at Sruthán House will, therefore, cease operation by the end of December 2019. To facilitate this transition, Louth disability services are reviewing respite service delivery and have invited the service users be a part of this process to identify what service will best meet their individual and family needs. Louth disability services remain committed to providing services to people with physical and sensory needs and will continue to offer respite through a number of options. These include a number of respite services in different locations, such as Woodhaven House, which is a supported holiday facility in Sligo for people with MS, Cuisle, which is the Irish Wheelchair Association's national holiday centre in Roscommon and the Carmel Fallon Centre, which is the Irish Wheelchair Association's holiday centre in Dublin. Services will be provided but, of course, this will all be done in consultation with all the families of people with disabilities.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister of State with regard to disability services but I am terribly disappointed by the response. As he indicated, he was informed of this today. I call on him to ensure that Sruthán House and its services are supported through and beyond this year. Cost containment is the reason for the closure. It is all about cost containment and budgetary measures and not about the people who need the services. If we do not get to grips with this, the vulnerable people in disability services will further suffer. Closing this facility, which caters for those with physical and sensory disabilities, is a direct result of a health budget that is being allowed to overrun. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we speak about providing new services, and we are all for that, but then dissipate and restrict services for the most vulnerable in our society.

It is in the hands of the Minister of State to get to grips with what management is being dictated to deliver at the expense of people in my community and beyond. I am quite sure that before the end of this year, these services and others will be cut unless provision is made to meet the shortfall that will exist in the budget, which I am confident, I am sad to say, will be in excess of €132 million. There is no way vulnerable people in this society or in my community should suffer as a result of inability to handle a budget.

I have listened carefully to the Deputy's concerns of Deputy. I accept, and I am aware of, the importance of access to planned respite, which ensures people with disabilities receive opportunities to socialise, and facilitates families to receive a break. Short breaks provide an important opportunity for individuals to meet new people. The Deputy raised the valid point of the €17 billion going into the health services. Within that €17 billion is €1.904 billion for disability in the HSE's service plan for 2019. This is an increase of 7.5%.

I remind the Deputy that the additional funding provided last year will continue in 2019 and, in particular, the €2 million allocation to be spent on alternative respite services remains a high priority for the HSE. This is not about reducing services. That is the key issue. They are not being reduced. An alternative service will be provided and maintained. In fact, it is about improving services and the quality of the services. It is about making the best use of current resources. As I stated earlier, the HSE will work with service users and their families in identifying what service will best meet their individual needs. I am informed the HSE will set out detailed plans for the service once the consultation process is completed.

The consultation process is very important. I take the point about the travel issue, as well as respite care services. My vision for respite care services is that they should be provided as near as possible to the families and the local community. I also take on board the points made by the Deputy about Sruthán House. I will make his views known on these issues, as well as my own, because I share some of the concerns raised.

Home Loan Scheme

My Topical Issue matter relates to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. This is an effort to get to the bottom of where exactly in the process stands the proposed increase in the fund. As the Minister of State is well aware, the initial fund of €200 million which has been in place since early 2018 is not going to be anywhere near enough to meet demand. The Government has stated it has been surprised by the uptake and the level of interest. I do not see why it should be surprised. If it is in a position to provide people with a long-term guarantee on the interest rate, for example - it is an attractive rate - and also prepared to examine loan applications from people who are unable to access a mortgage at the level they need from a bank, it is no surprise that the level of interest in and demand for the scheme is very high.

Roughly since January this year, it has been evident that more money is going to be needed. We have been hearing since from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, that he has requested an extra €200 million each year for the next three years. That means that an extra €600 million will be required and it would be additional borrowing by the Housing Finance Agency, HFA. We were told that the Central Bank was to be consulted and it was. I put this issue to Governor Lane when he came before the Oireachtas finance committee in March. In essence, he confirmed that there was no objection from the Central Bank on the grounds of financial stability, given the relatively insignificant amount of money involved in the context of the overall mortgage market. That hurdle was cleared. Therefore, I am at a loss to know why we still do not have clarity on the eve of the Dáil going into recess.

The Minister of State will no doubt reply by stating the scheme is operating as normal and that all applications are being considered and approved and that funding is being drawn down, but that has not been the case in full in recent months. Some local authorities have publicly stated they are no longer accepting applications. The Minister intervened. He responded in the Dáil and issued an instruction to the local authorities. They must accept applications, process them and continue to approve grants which will continue to be drawn down. However, his cannot go on forever. If we examine the figures, about 4,200 applications were assessed up to the end of May and slightly more than half have been approved. A fraction of the approved grants have been drawn down. The overall sum drawn down is about €140 million. There is not, therefore, enough money in the pot to meet the funding requirements of approved applicants. I know that there is a time lag and that it can take a while for people to go through the process and be ready to draw down the money. However, that day is coming. There is a suspicion that the consideration of applications has been slowed down because there is a squeeze on funding. I want the Minister of State to give a categorical assurance to the House that all local authorities are open for applications, accepting them, processing them, issuing approvals and that loans are being drawn down unimpeded.

I turn to my real purpose. When are we going to have clarity on whether the extra funding of €600 million will be approved? We know that the Central Bank does not have an objection to it. We also know that the HFA has access to credit and can draw down additional moneys. Where exactly is the blockage and when is the issue going to be resolved?

The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme launched on 1 February 2018. Prior to its launch, an initial tranche of €200 million of long-term fixed rate finance was borrowed by the HFA to provide funds for the scheme for local authorities. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme is a remodel of two previous schemes provided by local authorities, namely, the house purchase loan and home choice loan schemes. As originally conceived, the expected take-up under the scheme is limited, at around 1,000 mortgages over three years. It was envisaged that the loans should not contribute to increasing demand for homes, given that the number of borrowers eligible for the loan scheme would be restricted by the loan criteria and the overall scale of the measure was so limited. It was also agreed that a loan to value ratio of 90%, as per the Central Bank's macro-prudential rules, would apply to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. Risk related to funding the scheme is managed, with the HFA providing long-term fixed rate hedged finance and the scheme being limited to €200 million over three years.

From the data collected to date, it is clear that there has been greater demand for the scheme than initially anticipated. As a result, the scheme would require a further tranche of funds to be borrowed by the HFA for it to continue. Officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government have been engaging on the matter since October 2018 and in January this year the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government communicated its intention to seek sanction for additional funding to manage the demand which had far exceeded the expected original 1,000 mortgages over three years. Prior to the submission of a request for sanction, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government conducted a review to ascertain if there was scope to make changes to the operation of the scheme to achieve greater efficiency and consistency and also to determine the timelines for applications being processed by the local authorities. Further details of the review can be obtained from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

In conjunction with the review, the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform consulted the Central Bank and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on the impact and size of the scheme in the overall market. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government consulted the local authorities to estimate the additional funding required and subsequently submitted a request for sanction to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on 14 June. The request is subject to the normal deliberations afforded to any request of such a nature, which would include general Government balance and debt considerations in the context of a uniquely challenging budgetary scenario for 2020. Notwithstanding the submission of a request for additional funding, the scheme remains open to applications to all local authorities.

It is the role of the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform to deliver sustainable public finances. In that regard, the Minister and his officials are finalising the assessment, with a view to announcing a further tranche of funding very soon. Further information on the estimation of the amount of extra funding required is a matter for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is anticipated that an announcement on further funding will be made very soon.

Live horse and get grass.

Will the Minister of State tell us what the word "very" means in the context of his reply? Perhaps he has some inside knowledge, but he is not in a position to share it with the House. Looking at the last paragraph of his reply, the Minister of Stated remarked: "In that regard, the Minister and his officials are finalising the assessment, with a view to announcing a further tranche of funding very soon". Does that mean that a decision has been made in principle to announce an additional tranche of funding? My reading of that sentence is that the process is being undertaken with a view to announcing additional funding. Will the Minister of State clarify if that is the case? If it is the case, it will reassure people. Thousands of people who have either applied for or are interested in applying for the scheme may have been discouraged from doing so because of the publicity which suggests the scheme will run out of money very soon. We know that €140 million of the €200 million allocated was drawn down by May. We have not received data since. We also know that more than 2,000 applications have been approved, but many of the applicants have not drawn down funding. If all of the approved applications are called in by the borrowers, the money will not be available. Will the Minister of State provide clarity on the timeline which he described as "very soon"? Will he also reassure the House and applicants, including intending applicants, that every local authority continues to operate the scheme in full? I am referring to every local authority accepting applications, processing them in conjunction with the HFA, approving them and making funding available to those who have loans approved. I ask the question because it seems that the entire process that was slow to begin with has slowed down further. That raises concerns that the slowdown has occurred because the budget and cash flow are being managed.

Perhaps the Minister could provide clarity.

I am not trying to be glib but "very soon" is not months and it is not weeks. The Deputy can take-----

-----from that what he wishes. I am not here to announce the actual scheme but I am confident that the continuation and the extension of the scheme will occur. I know from my conversations with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, that this scheme seems to have caught the Department by surprise. I am surprised at the surprise. It is a 40-year loan at a fixed rate of 2.2%. There is no such offering anywhere else. If a person cannot meet the other lenders' criteria, this is a superb chance for him or her to get the first opportunity on the housing ladder. It will be very soon. The message went out very clearly from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for the local authorities to continue to accept applications. While the tranche of funding was not there to meet the demand, I am satisfied that it will be there.

Childcare Services Provision

I thank the Minister, Deputy Zappone, for being in the Chamber to take this Topical Issue matter.

My constituency of Dublin Mid-West, very much like the neighbouring constituency of the Minister, Dublin South-West, has a growing population. Its population has increased by more than 5% between the censuses in 2011 and 2016. Moreover, very significant construction activity is finally beginning to take place. There is also an increase in the number of people back at work but unfortunately, too many of them are in precarious or low-paid work. They are, nonetheless, back at work and all of this means a growing demand for childcare.

Currently in Dublin Mid-West, there is significant new construction in Adamstown, Newcastle, Rathcoole and Clondalkin. I am getting increasing numbers of representations from working families, often where both parents are working, who find it a real struggle to even get access to childcare, let alone to afford it. Many of our community-run childcare facilities are at capacity, certainly in their morning sessions, and are almost at full capacity in the afternoons. There was one unfortunate case recently, which is ongoing, of a private sector operator and the service provider changed following a competitive tender. The new service provider discovered that in fact the service they had inherited had more children in it than recommended by the Tusla guidelines. As a consequence, the new provider is now restricting some of the service to meet the Tusla guidelines. This has highly negative consequences for parents with the withdrawal of collections, drop-offs and so on. This speaks to a very high level of demand and unfortunately not an adequate level of supply.

I am aware that these pressures exist in many parts of the country but Dublin Mid-West is unique in that it has two strategic development zones. I believe we are the only constituency in the State that has those, with anything as much as 6,000 to 7,000 additional accommodation units to be provided in Adamstown over the coming years. The Clonburris strategic development zone, following An Bord Pleanála's determination, could have between 8,000 and 11,000 units of accommodation over the next decade. Kilcarbery, a council site and a joint venture in Clondalkin will have more than 1,000 units. Only yesterday at its full council meeting, South Dublin County Council announced a significant increase in potential accommodation units in Rathcoole. Many of those units will start to be built next year or the year after that. While we have a very low level of community childcare provision - only 10% of the quantum available - whether it is the community end or the private end, it cannot happen or develop without the active support of the Minister and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Today I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say, albeit not on the overall State-wide figures, because I have seen some of those in replies to parliamentary questions. What can the Minister tell Deputies from Dublin Mid-West and to the parents who make representations to us? As our community expands, I welcome affordable, social housing and appropriately-priced private housing to meet the existing and future needs of our community. What is being done by the Minister, her Department and her officials and what will they do to work with community providers, private providers, the local authority and other networks in Dublin Mid-West to ensure the current unmet need will be met? As our community and constituency grows, what will be the future Government investments in childcare strategies to meet the needs of the growing population, including a growing population of working families with children?

I thank Deputy Ó Broin for raising this issue. I will restrict my comments to the questions relating to my Ministry, although I heard the Deputy raise some other issues there also.

To provide some context for this discussion I will start by stating that I have been fortunate to secure an unprecedented increase of 117% in investment for early learning and care and school age childcare in recent budgets. This extra investment has supported a doubling of capacity in the sector. It is clear, however, that further capacity is required and that is why I am continuing my intensive efforts in this area.

One of the priorities for my Department’s capital programme is supporting childcare providers to extend their existing services, or to establish new services, where need or demand exists. The decision on where to target capital spending to support policy aims is informed by an analysis of the current state of the childcare sector, by learnings from previous capital programmes and by feedback and input from stakeholders, including childcare providers and data from Pobal and other sources.

With regard to the specific areas mentioned by the Deputy, while my Department’s capital programmes do not routinely target one specific geographic area over any other, the assessment of capital applications has regard to issues of need supported by the use of specialised assessment tools, including Pobal’s geosparcity index. This is considered the fairest mechanism to meet the needs of all areas having regard to the available funds. All applications are appraised in a fair and impartial manner and solely on the basis of the quality of their application.

My Department’s 2019 early years capital scheme has a primary focus on building places for the under-threes. I have made €4 million available for this age group, which is expected to result in 1,321 new places for the zero to three age group being created. An additional €1 million has been made available for the creation of 2,308 new school age places.

On childminding, I was delighted to secure €500,000 in budget 2019 to recruit a national childminding co-ordinator and a team of six development officers in the State, to support the registration of more childminders with Tusla, and thus enable them access subsidies under the national childcare scheme. My Department will publish a childminding action plan in the coming months to follow through on the commitments in the First 5 strategy and the programme for Government to further develop the childminding sector.

With capacity issues more generally, each year Pobal conducts research on behalf of my Department to examine a number of factors related to childcare services in Ireland, including capacity. The latest early years sector profile report, based on a survey completed in May 2018, outlines a 4% vacancy rate as a percentage of children enrolled in Dublin. Pobal reports that nationally, the trend for waiting lists suggests a reduction in waiting lists for older children and an increase for under-twos. Pobal cautions that its data on waiting lists cannot be used on their own to inform capacity decisions, as parents often place their children on more than one waiting list.

Finally, if the Deputy is aware of any specific cases of parents - and he may have identified one or two - who are having difficulty accessing childcare places, they could make contact with their local city or county childcare committee, which will be pleased to assist them.

If I was any one of the parents who raised these matters on a regular basis with constituency Deputies, the first thing I would ask after the Minister's intervention would be what does it mean for the particular area to which this question pertains. My Topical Issue matter is very specifically focused on the Dublin Mid-West constituency.

It strikes me that while the capital sums are welcome, they are very small in the context of the level of demand. While the way in which the State assists the provision of childcare, through capital and current expenditure, is not the same as education, at least the Department of Education and Skills proactively undertakes assessments of existing need and future population projections. That Department looks at a whole range of elements such as city and county development plans, planning permissions, strategic development zones and so on. On that basis the Department of Education and Skills is able to make strategic decisions about the targeting of limited resources in order that the resources go to the areas on a proportional basis to meet that need. I do not have anything close to the level of expertise as does the Minister on how this works but from the Minister's response, this is not the way the current allocation of resources takes place.

While people who apply must demonstrate a level of need, it does not necessarily mean that if there is a greater level of need in certain geographical areas, the people there can access a proportionately greater sum from the funds. I stress again that I accept absolutely that childcare is an issue in every part of the State. However, in two strategic development zones in Dublin Mid-West, up to 20,000 additional public, affordable and private housing units are to be provided over the coming decade. We are already hearing from community and private providers that they are at capacity. I will forward to the Minister privately details of the instance in which we actually had overcapacity, presumably because a childcare provider tried to meet a need, albeit in very difficult circumstances. What I would like to hear in the Minister's short response, given what she has said about the position across the State, is what she can say to reassure Deputies and, crucially, parents in my constituency of Dublin Mid-West that her efforts in the coming weeks and months will produce increased provision which is so desperately needed?

In his initial presentation and in his subsequent intervention, I heard the Deputy make the point that he has concerns about current capacity in his constituency as well as outlining the implications for future capacity of plans to expand housing, etc. To look a bit more at current capacity and unmet needs, one of the ways the Department gets its information, which is perhaps different from the Department of Education and Skills, on which I take the Deputy's point and at which I will look, has to do with the city or county childcare committees. It is the childcare committees that are in touch with local childcare providers. I am keen to avoid having an area in which there is a significant level of unmet need even currently. That is what I usually say and if there is a real problem, the providers should go to the childcare committees. If the Deputy has specific concerns, he can come directly to me. My Department has been fairly good at trying to be responsive and flexible in finding ways to provide support. The Deputy must accept at the same time that the physical capacity for expansion must exist in terms of capital, and I tried to answer some of those questions, as well as the capacity among providers, with reference to which we assess the quality. While future needs are an issue as well, some of the issues with current capacity relate to the amount of money that is available to respond. That money is limited although it is growing. That gets to the Deputy's question about the future. It is really important to identify those zones that are coming up and the incredible increase in capacity that will be needed. We are aware of that. One of things I did not mention in the initial reply was that we had secured in the NDP funding commitment from 2023 to 2028 a significant amount of €250 million. We will follow a similar course in determining future needs to the one we have followed before.