Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Admissions

I want to raise again the issue of access to primary school places in Rathcoole, County Dublin. This is an issue Deputy Eoin Ó Broin and I raised in the House prior to the summer recess. Unfortunately, our concerns have come to pass, in that children in Rathcoole have been unable to secure primary school places there. To put things into context, in February last year the principal of one of the local primary schools wrote to the Department. He stated:

Our school is the only English medium school in the village. There is also a Gaelscoil situated here. The Department of Education has signalled that there will be a school open in the Rathcoole/Newcastle/Saggart area in 2020. However, this seems highly unlikely to occur in such a short time-frame.

Most of our classes are full at 31 pupils per class. We have waiting lists for most streams. There is an increasing number of housing developments under construction and planned for construction. This will bring much increased demand for places.

Families have moved into houses in our village only to discover that our school cannot accommodate them. Some families are travelling significant distances to other schools as a result. We also have a situation whereby some families have one or more child enrolled with us and another child enrolled elsewhere, as there is no space available for the other child.

Our Board of Management has had to engage with the Section 29 process of the Education Act on many occasions, where an appeal was taken by families as a result of our refusal to enrol. At a recent Section 29 Hearing in the Department of Education, Marlborough St., the chairperson of the Section 29 Hearing Committee requested that we inform you of the existing pressure and further expected pressure for school places in Rathcoole.

We are currently processing next year's Junior Infant classes. [That was for September of this year.] There have been 117 applications from the local community alone this year: 93 places will be offered.

We highlighted all of this earlier in the year. When places were offered, a number of parents were on a waiting list and they came to us. We brought it to the floor of the Dáil and debated it. The summer has come and gone and children have gone back to school. A significant number of them have been unable to gain access to one of the two local schools in Rathcoole, namely, the Gaelscoil and the national school. Some of those children have gone elsewhere but some of them have gone back to preschool. It is not in their best interests from a developmental point of view that they are not going to primary school when they are of an appropriate age to do so. It is not happening.

The Minister has previously issued a reply stating that in 2020 there will be a new school. I have said it before, and I want to emphasise it now, that the new school proposed is not in Rathcoole. It is in Fortunestown. The Minister identified it in a previous reply. It will not address the need that exists today. Little has happened from the Department's point of view to reassess the demand for primary school places in Rathcoole, where new houses are being built and planned and there is a shortage of places today. The children of today, and not the future, have failed to access one of their own local primary schools. I appeal to the Minister to reassess the school capacity issue in the Rathcoole area for this year and next year and in the longer term as the housing development continues.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline the Department's position on primary school places in the Rathcoole area. In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, the Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a geographical information system, using data from a range of sources, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. With this information, the Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary levels.

Where data indicates that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools, extending the capacity of a school or schools, providing a new school or schools, or a combination of these.

The question of enrolment in individual schools is the responsibility of the managerial authority of those schools. It is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act 1998 and the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

The Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking places. Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available, the pupil should be admitted. However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available, a selection process may be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants.

As the Deputy is aware, the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, which was signed into law by the President on 18 July 2018, is important legislation that will introduce a more parent-friendly, equitable and consistent approach to how school admissions policy operates for the almost 4,000 primary and post-primary schools in this country and a fair and balanced school admission process for all pupils.

As the Deputy is also aware, in April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years, including a new eight-classroom school to be established in September 2020 to serve the Newcastle, Rathcoole and Saggart school planning area. This announcement follows nationwide demographic exercises carried out by the Department into the future need for primary and post-primary schools throughout the country. I recently announced that five of the new primary schools being established between 2020 and 2022 are being designated for Irish-medium education, including the new eight-classroom primary school to serve the Newcastle, Rathcoole and Saggart school planning area. The new school will be located in the Saggart and Citywest area. It is adjacent to the Tallaght school planning area in which there is no Gaelscoil.

The Department is conscious that Rathcoole is an area of growing demographic demand and additional residential development, and the Department is actively reviewing the potential need to establish a new primary school in Rathcoole.

In respect of meeting current demand for primary school places, the Department approved additional temporary accommodation for Scoil Chrónáin primary school in 2018 and 2019.

I thank the Minister for his reply. This is not sarcastic but I had received most of the reply previously and I was aware of it. To take the final paragraph first, the Minister said that in respect of meeting current demand for primary school places, the Department approved additional temporary accommodation. I acknowledge this. I am saying that despite this a significant number of people are failing to get a school place in Rathcoole. I acknowledge the steps taken by the Minister but despite those steps, children in Rathcoole are failing to get a school place.

The Minister also said what he said previously, that there would be a new school in the Saggart and Citywest area, which will be in Fortunestown. I acknowledge this but it will be of little benefit to people living in Rathcoole. By the time it is built housing developments in the Citywest area will, by and large, fill it. These are not solutions.

This is a problem not of the future but of today. Children and parents in Rathcoole are not accessing schools. If families living in Rathcoole want to have their children educated in Rathcoole, they should not have to bring them to adjacent towns or villages; there should be a place for them. It is not just from the point of view of the parents, but the friends those children will make and go through life with and the various sporting bodies they will join. It is part of their community. They should be able to access a place in their own community.

The Minister gave a bit of hope when he said, "My Department is conscious that Rathcoole is an area of growing demographic demand and additional residential development and my Department is actively reviewing the potential need to establish a new primary school in Rathcoole." He has missed the boat; it is already needed. It is not for the future that it is needed. The Minister listened when I read the letter from the principal into the record. When families move into the Rathcoole area, they are not just trying to access junior infants classes; they are coming with children of different ages. It is virtually impossible to get a child of any age into the school. I urge the Minister and his officials to review the capacity in Rathcoole and not to come back and say the Fortunestown school in the Saggart and Citywest area is the solution because it is not. There is a deficit today and the Minister's plan for the future does not address the deficit it needs to address.

I appreciate the sense of urgency. I also appreciate the intensity of development in different parts of the country and obviously in the Newcastle, Saggart and Rathcoole area. That is a school planning area. I deliberately separated out Rathcoole in my second last paragraph.

The former Deputy, Frances Fitzgerald, MEP, and Deputy Curran have outlined very clearly that there is a distinct need in that particular area. We are reviewing the potential to establish a new primary school in Rathcoole. That means collecting as much data as possible from planning permissions for future developments as well as for ongoing developments. I know he is not talking about the future but about the here and now. He is saying there is a need today with children travelling to different places. The data from the principals of the two existing schools on the parents who tried unsuccessfully to get children into school in September will be very helpful. Those data will be collated. We will look at planning permissions. We will look at existing demographics. It is a very young population, as the Deputy outlined previously. When I said we are reviewing it, I do not mean we are looking at it as a way of letting him that things will be grand and we will get on with what is in place. We are serious about areas like this. If there is demand in a particular area, we will give it serious consideration.

This is the second time I have discussed this issue in the House. I know I may have put on the record information I have given previously. It is important to disseminate that information publicly. A unit in the Department proactively examines future population projection and we will give it serious consideration.

Schools Building Projects Status

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this urgent issue. I also thank the Minister for his attendance to discuss the delay in delivering the Holy Family national school in Mullingar. This is the third time I have raised this issue in the House. I have tabled dozens of parliamentary questions and attended numerous meetings going as far back as 2008. This week we were given a revised completion date for the ninth time. That school remains 82% complete on a site that is under-resourced. Subcontractors are walking off the site and windows are being removed. We have all this uncertainty and we are no further along. It is infuriating for staff, parents and everyone involved in the school.

There are 30 staff and 332 pupils from 276 families in a building constructed as a two-teacher school in 1942 with no ancillary services. That is what we are presiding over now in the 21st century. The staff are operating over three campuses: St. Loman's; the 1942 school; and St. Etchen's in Kinnegad. The 42 children just enrolled are spread over those three sites. Some of the most vulnerable children need early intervention and need a social setting that is secure and certain. We need clarity and certainty as to when the school can be delivered and whether the current contractor has the capacity to deliver the school. This cannot continue any longer.

We have had nine completion dates. The parish will carry out its 2020 enrolment for new students in January. The principal and staff will be asked to take on more students despite the situation that currently pertains.

There is one common denominator. I have seen replies to parliamentary questions about schools elsewhere in the country involving this contractor. There are persistent issues and he is consistently late. Many people have criticised the local authority. The local authority is not involved in the service delivery or project management of those other sites. There is a common denominator here.

The Minister needs to do everything he can. I acknowledge he has been exceptionally helpful. He visited the site and is trying to do everything in his power. We need to get a certain date that will be adhered to. If capacity is not there or for some other reason that date cannot be met, action needs to be taken. I know there is criticism in the community that this action should have been taken given that we have received nine different completion dates. The staff and principal in the school are unsung heroes and deserve a medal. The parents are experiencing manifest frustration. They have no certainty over the completion date, just a site that is 82% complete.

I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to update the House on the position with respect to Holy Family national school in Mullingar. The House will recall that there have been significant delays in the delivery of this project. These delays arose initially because of unforeseen ground conditions and other similar issues that can arise on any building project. However, in recent months, I have been disappointed that progress on site has been extremely slow and we are still not entirely clear as to why this has been the case. The most recent programme provided by the contractor for this project indicated a completion date of late October. There was an initial acceleration of activity on site at the time this programme was provided. However, I regret having to report to the House that neither the Department nor Westmeath County Council, to which the project has been devolved for delivery, is satisfied with how these works have progressed in recent weeks.

The House will be aware that a number of matters have been raised through the dispute resolution mechanisms of the public works contract in respect of this project, as would normally happen in major building projects. The resolution of these issues is now at a critical juncture. A meeting will take place later this week in that respect. This meeting will be attended by officials from Westmeath County Council, supported by its design team. Officials from my Department will also be in attendance. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the proactivity of Westmeath County Council and the design team in trying to move this forward.

Given this, I cannot get into detail on the matters that are the subject of this conciliation process except to say, in broad terms, that they are technical issues and the issue of delays. A revised programme is also being sought in that context and we also expect to get greater clarity on why the project has been so significantly delayed. I hope that these and all outstanding matters can be addressed through this process. I also hope that it will provide an outcome that we can be satisfied with. Such an outcome will be confidential. However, I hope that in finding a resolution to all these matters, there can then be no reason for the project not to move forward at pace.

It is of the greatest concern to me that the pupils, staff and school community of Holy Family national school are not yet in situ in a school which was initially scheduled for completion in September 2018. However, I am thankful to the patron and school management of both Holy Family national school and St. Etchen's in Kinnegad who have gone out of their way to arrange for the provision of temporary school accommodation for the special needs pupils impacted on by the delays. We are also thankful to St. Loman's GAA Club for its assistance in providing extra classroom space for the pupils of Holy Family national school. It is hugely disappointing that it has been necessary to activate these contingency arrangements, but we remain hopeful they will only be needed for a short while.

Until then Westmeath County Council will continue to keep the school authority and patron body fully informed of progress on site. At the same time, officials from my Department will continue to liaise with the patron of Holy Family national school on contingency arrangements should the project be delayed further. I sincerely hope we will be in a position in the coming days to provide the Holy Family school authority with some further clarification on progress on site. More particularly, we hope progress from now on will be to everyone's satisfaction. I do enter a caveat because I have already stood in front of the Deputy when he raised this issue and outlined a timeframe. I understand the intensity of feeling in his community is palpable and has moved beyond frustration. I appeal to the contractor to meet the challenge head on. There are contractual obligations that I am not going to get into. I appeal at a human level to the people delivering the project to for one second feel the frustration and anger felt at so many false dawns in its delivery.

I again thank the Deputy for raising the issue. Not a week goes without him being on to me about it.

I thank the Minister for his response. I note that a meeting is due to take place on Friday. We need absolute clarity at that meeting. This project cannot endure a further revised programme of works that the contractor will be unable to meet. Perhaps a hard decision has to be taken, but it has to be taken on Friday if we do not have certainty. I have read the long list of dates by which the school was to have been completed. They include September 2015, 2016 and 2018, October 2018, December 2018, and April, June and July 2019. This week we were told it would be signed off on in October and that in November students would move in.

It is galling to drive by the site in the 21st century and see it being under-resourced. I drive by it every day and know that since the contractor signed the contract it has been under-resourced. Even when blocks were being laid, there were not enough people available. There would not have been enough to build a 2,000 ft2 building on the site. That is why we are more than two and half years down the road since the contractor moved onto the site. It was to be a one-year, template-build model. My top political priority is to have the school delivered. I appeal to the Minister and his office to use every power available to them.

Perhaps there is a global issue with procurement law that we need to consider. If a contractor is consistently behind and not meeting specified targets in the contract, he or she should not in any way be allowed to apply for other public contracts. We saw this happen recently when the HSE hired a contractor who had run into difficulties in delivering other contracts. We need a traffic light system ingrained in procurement law such that contractors can be excluded based on past performance and that if a procurement team excludes them, it will not lead to a court case.

I agree with the Deputy that the meeting on Friday is important. There should be a degree of honesty and cards should be put on the table because the community deserves nothing less than to find out whether it is happening. I will not say anything more about what may happen after the meeting. So many good groups and people are working on the project. I met them on site when the Deputy invited me to visit it. They all want the project to happen, but we live in the real world too and perhaps there are reasons it is not happening. However, honesty is required. I am making a personal appeal to the contractor to meet the community head-on for the first time and be as honest as possible. There have been too many false dawns and expectations have been heightened. It is an issue for the entire constituency and other Deputies have raised the issue here. I thank Deputy Burke for keeping it alive. Let us see what happens on Friday and I hope that, with a degree of honesty, we will make progress.

Hospitals Funding

I raise two alarming issues in my constituency of Cork East. They concern Cobh Community Hospital and Castlemartyr Health Centre. On 27 August members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, contacted me to inform me that the hospital was in dire need of additional funding and that its budget would run out in five weeks. That was six weeks ago today. I have been in contact with the office of the Minister for Health, but the only update I have received since is that the hospital is financially viable. However, there are no guarantees about this. The INMO has contacted me again because it is very worried. We have spoken here many times about primary care services and investing in local services. We are talking about a 44-bed residential unit. If it were to close, it would be devastating for service users, their families and everyone else, including the staff. There are an additional 15 staff employed.

The hospital is community owned by a trust. I have been told that the HSE has been chipping away at it and reducing funding year in, year out and that it is starting to struggle. Only a few weeks ago Liverpool Football Club and Cobh Ramblers played a game in Cobh. All of the moneys raised went to the community hospital. We have often said investing in the community and taking ownership is the best model of care. What is the position at Cobh Community Hospital? If it does close, where will all of the residents go?

We were told some weeks ago that Castlemartyr Health Centre would also close. Youghal is on the edge of the Cork East constituency. The centre covers Youghal, Killeagh, Castlemartyr, Midleton and Carrigtwohill. I was told two weeks ago that it would be relocated to Midleton, which is 6 miles away. I have now been informed that it will be relocated to Carrigtwohill. A centre that is working well will be closed and everything moved. It will involve a 30 km round trip. Most of the people affected are elderly and disabled and do not drive. I have tabled several parliamentary questions to a number of Departments, including the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport because there is also a problem with public transport services on the Waterford-Cork route. A person would be very lucky to get on the service in Killeagh. Patients who need to attend the health centre in Castlemartyr may not get on the bus in Youghal.

There was a €300,000 fund and planning permission was granted for an extension to the centre and other associated works such as the provision of wheelchair ramps.

Now we have learned that somebody within the HSE has made the decision not to do it. I also asked whether more public health nurses will be assigned to cover the area, which is a large one. In Youghal, one cannot reach a doctor after 6 p.m. If one needs to access SouthDoc, one needs to travel to Fermoy or Midleton, and the primary care centres will soon be closed. All of east Cork, from Youghal to Castlemartyr, will be left with nothing. Why does the HSE not invest in primary care and care for those who need it most?

I thank Deputy Buckley for raising this important issue, which I will take on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly.

The Government's core stated objective is to promote care in the community in order that people can continue to live with confidence, security and dignity in their homes and communities for as long as possible, which is what older people and all Deputies want. There are patients in genuine need of residential care, whether on a long-stay or short-stay basis, and their safety and well-being is of paramount concern.

The nursing homes support scheme, NHSS, provides financial support for those in need of long-term nursing home care. Participants in the scheme contribute to the cost of their care according to their means, while the State pays the balance of the cost. The scheme aims to ensure that long-term nursing home care is accessible and affordable for everyone and that people are cared for in the most appropriate settings. Residential care is provided through a mix of public, voluntary and private provision. The budget for the NHSS in 2019 is €985 million and more than 23,000 clients on average at any one time will access long-term residential care through the scheme.

Cobh Community Hospital is an independent facility providing residential care services for older people in Cobh and the surrounding area. The majority of the funding for Cobh Community Hospital comes under the NHSS for long-term residential care. The hospital also provides other services to older people in Cobh and the surrounding communities, including short-stay and respite care. Some 44 beds in Cobh Community Hospital provide long-term residential care for up to 41 people and short-stay respite care to a further three people. The HSE, through Cork Kerry Community Healthcare, provides funding for the short-stay beds, as well as funding for some of the long-term residential care beds.

The voluntary and not-for-profit sector has a long tradition of providing care to older people in Ireland through nursing homes such as Cobh Community Hospital. This provision of care complements that delivered directly by the HSE and ensures that older people in our communities have a greater choice of long-term residential care, allowing them to stay closer to their communities, should they so choose. The HSE has engaged with the hospital board in respect of funding and the future provision of care in the hospital, and is continuing to provide support to the board on the issue. Based on its engagement with the Cobh Community Hospital board, the HSE is confident the facility is financially viable. The Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has engaged with the senior management of the HSE on the matter and is confident a resolution can be found. He acknowledges the significant role of private and voluntary providers in residential care provision and hopes the engagement between the HSE and the Cobh Community Hospital board will ensure the continued financial viability of the hospital.

I do not have a response to the question on the Castlemartyr Community Health Centre but I will follow up on the matter. I will raise the Deputy's concerns with the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, and revert to the Deputy with details.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and acknowledge he is speaking on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly.

The Minister of State began: "The Government's core stated objective is to promote care in the community in order that people can continue to live with confidence, security and dignity in their homes and communities for as long as possible." If he was to cut the sentence that followed and insert his own, he might say: "There is a possibility we will close a 44-bed unit in Cobh and remove a community care service from the community in Castlemartyr that services Ballycotton, Cloyne, Castlemartyr, Ladysbridge, Garryvoe, Killeagh, Inch and Youghal." One could go on and on because it is a large demographic area. The response was a pure contradiction. I do not mean that as an attack on the Minister of State but rather wish to put it on the record. If the decision is supposed to promote "confidence, security and dignity" in communities, it is a farce.

The Minister of State mentioned the NHSS and stated: "Participants in the scheme contribute to the cost of their care according to their means, while the State pays the balance of the cost." It is great that the State pays the balance of the cost but it is not State money; it is taxpayers' money. The Minister of State described it as Government funding but it is taxpayers' money. The people pay for their own care. Let us try to keep the discussion clean and factual.

I welcome the engagement with the HSE and the hospital board, and I hope it grows. I heard that the hospital was financially viable but my worry is that is like saying one can cash the thanks inside in the bank; but what bank does one use to cash the thanks? If there is not a good guarantee, there will be serious consequences.

I tabled a number of parliamentary questions to the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, on 12 September. While I understand the position of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, I am disappointed with the HSE and whoever is responsible for having kept the matter quiet and closing the vital service in Castlemartyr, east County Cork. It affects everybody all the way to Cobh. We have spoken about primary care and community care but we should invest in a primary care centre in Youghal while keeping those in Castlemartyr, Midleton, Cobh and Carrigtwohill.

I agree with the Deputy about the great contribution of Cobh Community Hospital and its staff, and acknowledge the service they provide to the community. I accept they provide a range of services for older people in the community and the surrounding areas.

I return to the core issue of the debate. The Government's core stated objective is to promote care in the community in order that people can continue to live with confidence, security and dignity in their homes and communities for as long as possible, which is what older people and all Deputies want. There are patients in genuine need of residential care, whether on a long-stay or short-stay basis, and their safety and well-being is of paramount concern. The HSE fully acknowledges, as do I, that the community hospital provides and will continue to provide important services to the people of Cobh and the surrounding communities. Furthermore, the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has engaged with the senior management of the HSE on the matter and is confident a resolution can be found. I am optimistic about him doing so.

I trust that the Deputy will agree we need to ensure that the highest standard of care will continue to be provided for residents in a safe and secure environment, while providing high quality and safe care will always remain at the heart of any considerations. I accept all the Deputy's concerns about Castlemartyr and will convey them to the Minister of State, Deputy Daly.

On a lighter note, I commend what the Deputy stated about Cobh Ramblers, an excellent club of which I am well aware, for its contribution to the hospital following a game. On what was probably a sadder note for the Deputy, my local club, Shelbourne FC, recently signed two players from Cobh Ramblers and thanks to them, managed to win the first division league.

That information about sport was very important.

Planning Issues

A few weeks ago, Gannon Properties Limited submitted proposals for a large development of 1,950 residential units and 22,728 sq. m of commercial development in 15 blocks, up to 15 and 17 storeys high, in Clongriffin, which is part of the north-south fringe of Dublin city and Fingal county, and of the Dublin Bay North constituency. In general, much-needed new homes are very welcome but, astonishingly, in this case 1,130 of the proposed apartments are intended to be build-to-rent. In the housing area in question, up to 9,000 individuals and families are waiting for accommodation on Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council housing lists. A remarkable feature of the application is that approximately one quarter of it has been sent to Dublin City Council, with the rest sent directly to An Bord Pleanála.

The applications are the latest in a litany of such applications for the north-south fringe over the past 20 years. It was more than 20 years ago that high density proposals for the north fringe were first mooted and a few days before Christmas of 1999, in true developer style, a plan for a massive development of the north fringe district was lodged with Dublin City Council.

Eventually, the Dublin City Council planning department managed to produce a north fringe framework development plan in 2000 for an initial major new urban district of up to 8,000 homes stretching across Belmayne and Clongriffin in Dublin city to the coast and the south Portmarnock district of Fingal. Development of the region has been stop-start and highly erratic, with the failure of the two planning authorities, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council, to work closely together and developers like Gannon Homes, Stanley Holdings and Helsingor to deliver sustainably much-heralded infrastructure, including public transport, schools, health centres, childcare facilities, community and amenity spaces, shops and a Garda station. It took nearly ten years to build and open Clongriffin DART station and even longer for the first two primary schools for the burgeoning population of the area. Clongriffin town centre is still waiting for a supermarket and other much-needed commercial and professional services. At the western end of the new main street of the district in 2006, Stanley Holdings pulled out of a section 183 agreement with Dublin City Council for the long-promised Belmayne and Clare Hall town centre.

As the Minister remembers, the north and south fringe was also bedevilled with problems of pyrite contamination and insulation difficulties and it took years for the successful remediation of affected structures to be effected down to 2015. The taxpayer and Dublin City Council ended up bearing the €40 million net cost of totally rebuilding Priory Hall, which straddles the central section of the main boulevard of the north fringe. Since the crash, the north and south fringe has seen large tracts of derelict lands being hoarded by developers and constituents fear it could take another ten years to build out the region and provide the critical services we desperately need.

Given the above history, I would like the support of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to call on the planning regulator to carry out a review of all aspects of the planning of the north and south fringe and examine the history of this development and other urban regions in Ireland and exemplars abroad. We have seen exemplars in countries like Sweden of similar size but built with all essential services each step of the way. Unfortunately, that has not happened with the north and south fringe. Under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018, which passed through the House not too long ago, the new Office of the Planning Regulator can review the performance of the functions of An Bord Pleanála and planning authorities such as Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council. The regulator is also tasked by the same section in the Act with overseeing the delivery of effective planning services to the public by planning authorities and to conduct research for the Minister. The north and south fringe is a very striking example of why developer-led planning is really bad for our new urban districts. As the distinguished journalist, Mr. Gene Kerrigan, of the Sunday Independent stated, it is why "housing is too important to be left to developers.".

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to explain the role of the Office of the Planning Regulator. As he is aware, the final report of the Mahon tribunal recommended the establishment of an independent planning regulator and legislation for such a regulator was in train for a number of years. The Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, was established in April 2019 under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018.

The OPR is responsible for the independent assessment of all local authority and regional assembly forward planning, including development plans, local area plans, regional spatial and economic strategies etc. It will provide statutory observations during the drafting of statutory plans. In cases where the OPR finds that a local authority's plans are ultimately not consistent with relevant regional or national policies, including the provisions of the national planning framework, the OPR will recommend the use of ministerial powers to bring plans back in line with statutory requirements and best practice.

The OPR is also empowered to review the organisation, systems and procedures used by any planning authority or An Bord Pleanála in the performance of any of the planning functions under the planning Acts, including assessing risks of maladministration or corruption. The OPR can initiate such reviews at its own behest, at the request of the Minister or on foot of complaints or submissions from members of the public. In performing its functions, the OPR will take into account the objective of contributing to proper planning and sustainable development and the optimal function of planning under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.

As the Deputy has outlined, the north Dublin and south Fingal fringe straddles two local authorities, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council. The Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly has adopted a regional spatial and economic strategy, which will be implemented by way of a review, or variation, by local authorities of all relevant development plans. Given the timing of the county development plans in Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council, I understand they are proposing to vary their development plans to take account of the regional strategy. In this regard, they have up to 26 weeks from the date of adoption of the strategy to initiate such a variation, which is up to early January 2020. Any variation in county development plans will be considered by the OPR in line with its functions under the planning Acts.

Notwithstanding this, it is the function of a planning authority to plan for its own administrative area in accordance with national planning policies and guidance. In this regard, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council have adopted particular plans for this general location, and some were mentioned by the Deputy. These plans were adopted by the elected members of the relevant local authorities in accordance with the requirements set out in the Planning and Development Act 2000. Moreover, development plans are statutorily reviewed every six years. I cannot prejudge the contents of a future development plan but in view of the strategic nature of these lands to the orderly development of Dublin, I expect that the relevant development plans would consider the appropriate future development of this area.

I welcome the Minister of State's comments about the regional, spatial and economic strategy, as well as the involvement of Fingal and Dublin city councils. As the Minister of State knows, many times over the past two decades I asked successive Ministers responsible for environmental matters and taoisigh to make an order to declare the north and south fringe a strategic development zone to ensure some basic level of consultation with residents and citizens of Dublin Bay North. I specifically remember doing so with a former Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen, and a former Minister, Mr. John Gormley. On my own proposal as a Dublin city councillor in 2005, then city manager Mr. John Fitzgerald finally established the north fringe forum, which has generally met quarterly since. It lacks the statutory powers of a strategic development zone to enforce stakeholder and developer engagement. I believe that as part of his review of planning in the north and south fringe, the planning regulator should also examine why the north and south fringe never received strategic development zone status. What was the reason for it?

As I indicated in my earlier speech, homes are desperately needed in Dublin Bay North, where approximately 7,000 households are waiting to be rehoused on the Dublin City Council side and up to 2,000 are waiting across the DART line in the Howth and Malahide housing area of Fingal County Council. In the Part V documents for the major plan that has now gone in, fewer than 200 apartments are to be allocated for social housing. Astonishingly, no fewer than 678 units of 1,030 apartments in the strategic housing development section 1 are build-to-rent units, and 1,130 apartments in the whole development are build-to-rent units. What is the plan in this regard?

The Downey planning reports for Gannon Properties list 26 major planning applications and a remarkable 126 applications, mostly made from Gannon companies, for the Clongriffin district of the north fringe since the turn of the century. Many of these applications were never followed through to construction, of course, and there is still extant planning permission for several areas of the current planning applications. That is why even a decade ago I called on Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council to establish a clear five-to-seven year planning and construction timetable so that the urgently required infrastructure could be built. The blizzard of unbuilt projects with planning permission, the history of land hoarding and the failure to provide essential social and commercial services for a district that is expected to have an ultimate population of more than 50,000 should now be examined in what might be the first major and urgent review by the new planning regulator.

I cannot comment on individual planning applications but I fully understand the points the Deputy is making. We are into new territory now as the Office of the Planning Regulator has just been established, having been spoken about for years. One of the key points at the centre of its establishment was its independence from the Department and politics. It is the result of the planning tribunal report.

The Minister may ask the regulator to do research.

I was going to get to that point. I will speak to the Minister and, as the Deputy noted in his opening comments, there is a balance to be struck. We want the office to be completely independent but it does allow for research. I looked at a map of the area in question and it is large. The Deputy has represented it for years and it has the potential to change utterly the landscape out there. It could provide sustainable homes and communities for thousands of people.

I will discuss the matter with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I reiterate that it is open to individual local authorities, members of the public or community groups to request that the Office of the Planning Regulator carry out the work to which the Deputy refers. The regulator was famously independent in his previous role in the Custom House. I am sure that he and those working with him will ensure that legitimate issues raised by individuals or communities will be thoroughly examined without fear or favour. We wish to ensure that the office is completely removed from the world of politics. I will discuss the issue of research with the Minister. I encourage the Deputy and the community representatives to apply directly to the Office of the Planning Regulator.