Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Drug Treatment Programmes Funding

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House to again discuss the serious drug addiction problem in Drogheda, County Louth. As my colleague, Deputy Smyth, who is present, is aware, today we learned of serious and significant problems being experienced by community drugs services in the areas. It is a very difficult situation, particularly for the voluntary groups which run and administer those services. There is a crisis in funding and confidence which needs to be addressed at a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. All Deputies and Senators who represent counties Louth, Meath, Cavan or Monaghan know this is a matter of extreme urgency. I will follow up the matter with a written request. My primary reason for tabling this Topical Issue matter is that there is a significant, serious and urgent need for further resources to tackle the prevalent drug problem in Drogheda and east Meath in light of increasing drug seizures.

In the past month alone, €5 million worth of drugs have been seized in the county by the Garda. We are thankful for its intervention. Two weeks ago, €1.3 million worth of cocaine was seized 2 miles outside my home town. Those in our community who are dependent on cocaine are seeking further supply or, alternatively, treatment and help. However, they have nowhere to go; there are no support services and that is at the heart of the problem.

I very much welcome the decision of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, supported by the Taoiseach and the Government, to significantly increase the number of gardaí in Drogheda. An additional 25 full-time permanent gardaí have been stationed there as a result of the crime and other problems caused by the drug war and problems. That step has been very relevant, important and successful. At least 14 people have been arrested and brought before the courts. They will be tried in due course.

The issue is that there has been no parallel increase in drug treatment services. Thankfully, the criminal justice system is working very well and efficiently. However, the HSE and the health board are not. The Minister of State visited the Red Door project three times and is very much aware of the problems there. A former colleague of the Acting Chairman, Deputy Broughan, and mine, Senator Nash, noted that if visits by Ministers to the Red Door project meant it was getting money, the service would have millions in funding. Unfortunately, its budget has not been increased. I acknowledge the interest and awareness of the Minister of State in the project and her concern for it, but its budget has not changed. It is unacceptable to the people of Drogheda and those running the Red Door that there has not been a determined and resourced fight to meet the needs of those who require treatment and supports. According to the family addiction support network for the north east, including County Louth, the region suffers from long waiting lists, a paucity of community treatment, insufficient counselling services, a lack of dual diagnosis in mental health services, insufficient methadone prescribing GPs and very few family support services. It further notes that participants spoke of a perceived lack of professional standards, accountability and transparency among some treatment services. There is a real crisis which needs to be addressed through proper funding from the Minister of State and her Department.

I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising this issue. I understand that the issue of drug abuse is of great concern to him and the local community. I share many of his concerns. I have visited the north east on several occasions and met service providers there. I know they are working in partnership locally to address these serious issues.

Expenditure by the HSE on drug and alcohol services across the country increased from €94 million in 2016 to more than €100 million in 2018. The funding is used by the HSE to deliver a wide range of services, including early intervention, treatment and rehabilitation. In addition, the Department supports the drug and alcohol task forces. It provides €28 million to them each year through various channels of funding, including the HSE. This funding supports more than 280 community projects prioritised by drug task forces in local areas and communities throughout the country. The North Eastern Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force receives almost €928,000 of this funding.

Earlier this year, I was pleased to secure additional funding of €1 million to implement key actions in the national drugs strategy. From this funding, the Department of Health provided the North Eastern Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force with an additional €20,000 to support its work, 50% of which is recurring on an annual basis. The funding can be used to enhance services and meet operating costs. The Department is also providing an additional €190,000 over a three-year period for rehabilitation and aftercare support for users of drug and alcohol services in the midlands, Louth and Meath community healthcare area. This initiative will enhance services for people who have dual diagnoses of mental health challenges and substance abuse or who have experience of trauma.

Recent data from the Health Research Board indicates that there were 10,274 cases availing of drug treatment services in Ireland in 2018, an increase of 1,300 or 15% on 2017. The proportion of new cases presenting in 2018 was 39%, up from 37% in 2017. The increase in the number seeking treatment is encouraging from a public health perspective.

The HSE and the North Eastern Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force support two front-line drug services in Drogheda, namely, HSE Donore Road and the Red Door project. HSE services recently relocated to the centre on Donore Road, Drogheda, following a €425,000 capital refurbishment. This has led to an improvement in the physical environment for service users and staff located there. A community methadone programme, a substance use service for teens and a social inclusion service are currently provided from the location.

The Red Door project receives funding of €149,000 per year and aims to provide confidential assistance and services to individuals, families and communities affected by drug and alcohol use. The project provides access to a community links worker, a drop-in service, a special rehabilitative community employment scheme and a sexual health screening clinic run by HIV Ireland. It also hosts group therapy programmes and Merchants Quay Ireland utilises it to provide a needle exchange service.

The HSE also supports other services such as the family addiction support network, the ISPCC and Turas Dundalk. The HSE constantly reviews its budget. In recent weeks, it provided additional funding of almost €85,000 to projects in the area, including the Red Door project, Turas, the family addiction support network, Dundalk Simon Community, the ISPCC and Merchants Quay Ireland. It has appointed a senior counsellor to provide governance of counsellors and counselling services.

I accept that certain things have changed. Some €650,000 has been spent on the Donore Road facility. My information is that up to two weeks ago nobody was in that facility. I have since been informed that three public servants are there but that there are no new services. The Minister of State indicated that a methadone programme has commenced. I ask her to provide a follow-up on what exactly is there.

The Deputies from Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan met members of the regional drugs task force this afternoon. All of them said the support they are getting is inadequate and the budget is insufficient. The Deputies from Cavan-Monaghan can speak about it, but I understand there is a very serious crisis in that area, with one of the significant community support services about to close owing to inadequate funding. I repeat that there is a real crisis. Notwithstanding the funding increases the Minister of State mentioned, the service goes nowhere near meeting the demand.

A meeting with the Minister of State and the Minister was requested in order to discuss a plan of action for support for regional drugs task forces. Those involved feel that the power and money is being taken away from them. They pointed out that when Pat Rabbitte was Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy, there was a bottom-up approach. In other words, the money came locally and moved up the system. At present, the money comes through the HSE and does not get to the task forces in the amounts they are seeking.

The Minister of State spoke about the drugs problem in County Louth. In a reply to a parliamentary question, I was advised that in 2018 there were 45,000 needle exchanges in County Louth. That gives some idea of the number of people who depend on injections.

The Minister of State and the Minister need to meet these people. The Government needs to fund the service adequately. The Minister of State will have my support and that of all the Deputies for Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan to ensure that the people get the services they need and demand. What is outlined in the report from the family support network is absolutely unacceptable. It basically points out that no decent services are available. It is shocking, disgraceful and shameful, and it must change now.

I have a closing statement but I will not use it; I will speak directly to Deputy O'Dowd and respond to the issues he raised and the remarks he made.

I am steadfast in my commitment to the national drugs strategy, as Minister of State and implementation lead for the strategy on the oversight committee. In recent weeks, a significant number of people have been addressing this issue, not only because of the reviews of the task forces on the ground but also in general. I acknowledge that money for the national drugs strategy has not been forthcoming for some time. When we launched the strategy two years ago, €7 million was allocated to its implementation. I want to work in partnership with the HSE and the drugs task forces. Nobody is falling down in the context of providing leadership - not my Department and certainly not the Minister. I spoke to him in recent days about the relevance of drug addiction and how important it is to get to the heart of communities in order to try to understand the issues that are arising, not only with criminal activity but also in terms of understanding what is happening in people's homes.

With my background, I am very familiar with the issues. I have seen addiction as a big destroyer of lives from an early age. I have no problem meeting anybody. I have an amount of money to give to people. With the support of the drugs task forces money was reallocated to specific projects. Thirteen drugs task forces came back with specific projects they wanted to pursue. We funded them and two of them have been in the Drogheda area.

I will relay to the Minister the message about meeting these people. It is not necessary to put it in writing; I have no problem meeting them. If we give out money to task forces or the HSE, the most important thing for me, as Minister of State, is the governance of task forces and the HSE and their accountability. In recent weeks I have received ten different letters outlining issues people have with distribution of funding among task forces on the ground. I need to deal with them as the Minister of State. I will not stand over giving money to projects if the money is not used specifically to deal with young people and all people in addiction. This money should be going into addiction services. As far as I am concerned, when money goes to a task force it needs to be focused on those people on the ground.

I will without doubt meet the people the Deputy mentioned. I will raise the possibility of doing so with the Minister. I cannot vouch for his attendance at any meeting, but I will certainly meet them.

I reiterate that I am committed to the national drugs strategy. My leadership of it is beyond doubt. As stated previously, I regret that nine former Ministers wrote a letter without coming to me to ask what is happening out there. We must work in partnership. It is not about the HSE, the partnerships or the Department of Health. We all have to work as one to resolve the issues in our communities because drugs are killing people. I get the message that Deputy O'Dowd is sending.

Maternity Services Provision

I appreciate that many of the things the Government is involved in are beset by confusion, lack of budgets and lack of management, as highlighted in the discussion on the previous matter.

What exactly is happening with the Rotunda, the biggest and oldest maternity hospital in Ireland? It seems like another country since 2015 when the then Minister for Health, and now Taoiseach, announced that the Rotunda would be relocated to Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown as part of a six-year health capital programme. Based on what the Taoiseach outlined at the time, we should be in the middle of the planning if not heading towards the construction of a new maternity hospital in the north-west Dublin to allow the Rotunda to continue to provide the best of care to mothers and babies for another 100 years. All I can find are really sad stories from the Rotunda of the hospital being overwhelmed and not properly resourced by the HSE.

When the announcement about the Rotunda relocation was made, there was a timeline and a sense of planning regarding what would happen. Since then, a number of studies have been undertaken. However, no capital allocation has been made. I will not go into the difficulties besetting its sister hospital in Holles Street in moving to the campus at Elm Park. I just want to concentrate on the Rotunda and the impossible conditions that the leadership in the hospital, including the Master, Professor Fergal Malone, have outlined, such as, for example, the dangers for newborn babies and babies who require intensive care.

With the Blanchardstown project now seemingly placed on the long finger and with the facilities in the Rotunda getting older, more worn and increasingly overcrowded by the day, there have been several serious outbreaks of infection. There has been harm and illness to babies.

We have even had an argument by the master that a new urgent care facility for newborn and premature babies needs to be developed. We cannot get any answers out of the Government that make sense and that offer a budget, timeline and, most of all, hope to the families who are looking forward to having a baby, the women who will have a baby, and the babies that will be born, it is to be hoped, in conditions of maximum safety.

I know the Minister of State is sent in to the Chamber to answer questions that are not her direct responsibility as a way of deflecting the issue. What exactly is the Minister for Health for if he is not looking out for the care of mothers and babies with regard to maternity services? What is he for? I do not know what he is doing with his time. He seems to be down in places like Wicklow with schoolchildren launching the national broadband plan, which will cost €3 billion. This is an overpriced project if ever there was one. Could some of those billions not have been redirected to our maternity services? It does not seem like a difficult thing to do.

What is happening with regard to the Rotunda? When will the move to Connolly Hospital take place? Are the interim facilities that have been indicated for the west side of Parnell Square in the form of intensive care unit facilities for newborn babies being progressed or have they vanished?

The Minister for Health cannot be here and I have been asked to take this Topical Issue matter on his behalf. I will refer back to some of the issues raised by the Deputy. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter today. First, I would like to provide some background information on the decision to relocate the Rotunda Hospital to the Connolly Hospital campus. I am very familiar with the Rotunda Hospital where my mother, a number of my children and other relatives of mine have had their children. I know the history of the Rotunda and its expertise and I know the master very well.

In line with best international practice, it is Government policy that stand-alone maternity hospitals should be co-located with acute adult hospitals to provide optimal clinical outcomes. This commitment is reaffirmed in the national maternity strategy, which was published in January 2016. As the Deputy will be aware, the new children's hospital was originally planned for the Mater Hospital site and it was proposed, as recommended in the KPMG report from 2008 entitled Independent Review of Maternity and Gynaecology Services in the Greater Dublin Area, to redevelop the Rotunda Hospital on the Mater Hospital site.

In 2012, the Government decided to locate the new children's hospital at the St. James's campus. A detailed review was undertaken by the Department of Health, which considered a number of potential host sites for both hospitals. This review examined a range of factors, including demographics, a range of clinical criteria, planning risks and site capacity. In addition, the Department engaged with a number of divisions within the HSE and with the then masters of both the Rotunda and the Coombe as part of the review process.

In June 2015, the Government decided that the Coombe would be relocated to the St. James's Hospital campus while the Rotunda would be redeveloped on the Connolly Hospital campus. More recently the Minister for Health has also engaged with the master of the Rotunda, the RCSI hospital group and the HSE regarding the relocation of the Rotunda to Connolly Hospital. This included holding a meeting with these parties in July of this year.

In terms of funding the Rotunda relocation project, Project Ireland 2040 provides €10.9 billion for health capital developments throughout the country, including funding to support implementation of the national maternity strategy. The relocation of the Rotunda Hospital is one of the key infrastructure projects that will be funded under Project Ireland 2040. However, it is important that we carefully plan all capital projects to meet population health needs and achieve value for money. As I understand it, this work is ongoing.

While the Minister for Health is not in a position to outline the year-on-year provisions for any individual maternity hospital project at this stage, this will be considered through the process of the determination of service priorities and in the context of health capital planning. I can assure the House that the Government is committed to implementing its policy to co-locate all stand-alone maternity hospitals with adult acute hospitals. As the Deputy will appreciate, the Rotunda relocation project is at an early stage and will be required to progress through appraisal, planning, design and tender before a firm timeline or funding requirement can be established. I have been advised that the project briefs for the relocation of the Rotunda, as well as the Coombe and University Maternity Hospital Limerick, to acute hospital campuses will be progressed in 2020.

This is an incredible reflection on the Taoiseach, who as Minister for Health made an announcement in 2015 concerning the Rotunda Hospital, which we all know is a very venerable hospital in old buildings that has provided centuries of care to women and babies in Dublin. According to the Minister of State's reply, it now looks as though it will just get a wave of the hand and be left to carry on in the really dangerous situation recently described by the master of that hospital in respect of neonatal care and infection risk. The Minister of State's reply basically stated that this Government has not allocated a cent or euro to the Rotunda Hospital project. Not only that, it has not even brought together a design team to begin to put together the details of what the plan for the Rotunda would be. The Minister of State said nothing about the current situation in the Rotunda and its problems, particularly with regard to infection risk and the need for a new neonatal intensive care unit outlined by the master. Her reply implies that the Connolly Hospital project seems to have slipped the Taoiseach's mind once he made a few announcements about it, and neither he nor his Government has done anything more. The Minister for Health does not even bother to come in here today to answer a question that is vital for many women, not just in Dublin but in the rest of the country and in particular their babies.

I refer back to Deputy Burton's charge that the Minister and the Government do not care about women and children. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is why we are building a state-of-the-art national children's hospital for the first time. Children from the Coombe, the Rotunda and the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street who are very vulnerable and sick are brought to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin. We all know that we need a new national children's hospital.

Regarding the relocation of the Rotunda, I wish to make one thing very clear to the Deputy. She was in government with us back then and she knows what we were left to pick up when there was no money to put anywhere, never mind into a capital plan. For the first time with the development of Project Ireland 2040, we have an opportunity to plan, reach out and have a vision of what we want for maternity services in this country. Nobody in this House can tell me that this Government does not care about women and children, because we do. We have had a problem with funding but we are back on track in many ways.

I will convey to the Minister Deputy Burton's disappointment that he could not be here and her contention that there has been no plan, design and tender. I will relay her concerns to him, but I will not stand here and be told that this Government does not care about women and children. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a representative of the Government, I will stand here and defend our record at all times.

I apologise for being over the top about it but I believe we have excellent maternity hospitals, including the Rotunda, the Coombe and Holles Street. All of their buildings have gone past their sell-by date, however. I know in my heart and soul that the Rotunda, Holles Street and the Coombe need to be relocated. It is not down to the staff or the masters. It is down to the fact that in the past these hospitals were not kept up to a certain standard to keep them running. We are now faced with the dilemma that all maternity hospitals need to be relocated and redesigned.

I will bring Deputy Burton's views back to the Minister about how she believes nothing is being done to forward this plan. It is in Project Ireland 2040.

Home Care Packages Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue. Cathy Mahon from Lisacul, County Roscommon, occupies a rehabilitation bed in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, that would allow another patient to finally leave hospital. Despite the fact the 51 year old has been ready for discharge for the past six months, following excellent treatment at the hospital after a stroke that left her as a quadriplegic, no home care support has been secured, meaning she cannot return to her family home. Helen Grace has been trapped in St. Vincent's hospital in Dublin for a year while she waits for access to the same bed Cathy Mahon occupies in the National Rehabilitation Hospital. It effectively means that Cathy Mahon, through no fault of her own, is occupying the only suitable bed that would allow Helen Grace to move out of St. Vincent’s hospital.

Cathy Mahon spent months in University Hospital Galway before being transferred to the Mater Hospital in Dublin and later on to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, where she is today. She has been cared for in the only bed in the country that is equipped for a patient who has her level of disability and needs the support of a ventilator to help her to breathe. Cathy Mahon has made remarkable progress and was ready to be discharged in May, but only if she received an intensive home care package. However, she is still in the National Rehabilitation Hospital while awaiting a package that would include skilled home care staff and therapy. Her home is ready. Her husband is keen to have her go home. He has carried out extensive work to their small cottage to accommodate Cathy.

Helen, on the other hand, who is also quadriplegic and on a ventilator, has for the past 12 months occupied a specialised bed in St. Vincent's hospital, Dublin, waiting to be transferred to Dún Laoghaire as soon as Cathy Mahon can return home. The Mahons have made absolutely no progress in securing the necessary home care support they require to ensure Cathy can leave Dún Laoghaire and return to Lisacul in County Roscommon. By doing so, it would allow Helen Grace to move from St. Vincent's hospital to the specialised bed in Dún Laoghaire.

I know there are plans to put a second specialised bed in Dún Laoghaire. However, it is pointless having a bed there and a patient in it who does not need that level of care just because we cannot put specialist supports in place to allow her to live with as much dignity and independence as possible in her own home in Lisacul, County Roscommon. Will the Minister of State take on and progress this specific case? Will he engage with the HSE and ensure it has the funding made available to it from the national coffers to community healthcare organisation, CHO, 2 to ensure Cathy Mahon can return back to County Roscommon?

I thank Deputy Naughten for raising these cases as well as for giving me the opportunity to outline the position on the provision of home care packages for people with disabilities being discharged from acute hospital settings. I can assure the Deputy of the Government's commitment to providing services and supports to people with disabilities that will empower them to live independent lives, provide greater independence in accessing the services they choose, as well as enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their 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.

In 2020, more than €2 billion will be allocated to the HSE's disability service programme, an increase of 7%. This will fund the provision of a wide and complex range of services and supports to people with disabilities, including the provision of home support packages.

The HSE funds the National Rehabilitation Hospital in the region of €29 million annually under section 38 of the Health Act 2004. Services are provided through a service agreement that is reviewed annually. There are 242 patients awaiting admission to the National Rehabilitation Hospital inpatient services across its brain injury, spinal cord injury, prosthetic-amputee and paediatric programmes. Approximately 90% of referrals are generated in an acute hospital setting. There are also several delayed transfer of care patients in the spinal programme and in the brain injury programme.

Personal assistant and home support services are provided either directly by the HSE or through a range of voluntary service providers to support individuals with a disability to maximise their capacity to live full and independent lives. In 2019, the HSE will deliver 17.9 million home support hours to 53,000 people, along with intensive home care packages delivered to approximately 235 people, which comes to 360,000 hours delivered in the full year. Services are accessed through an application process or through referrals from public health nurses or other community-based staff. Resource allocation is determined by the needs of the individual, compliance with prioritisation criteria and the level of resources available.

As with every service, there is not a limitless resource available for the provision of home support services. While the resources available are substantial, they are finite. The number of hours granted is determined by other support services already provided to the person or family. While the majority of people in receipt of home care packages are aged 65 years or over, approximately 85%, a small portion of the target hours are delivered to people with disabilities that may include those suffering the effects of acquired brain injury.

In addition, in 2020 the HSE will be providing new and additional resources in terms of providing intensive in-home transitional support packages as a positive measure to support people with disabilities. Details of this measure will form part of the national service plan to be agreed for 2020. On the particular cases the Deputy raised, I will engage with the HSE and CHO 2 as well.

I acknowledge the last comment of the Minister of State. With all due respect, however, both Helen’s family and Cathy have been forced to go public. Helen is in her 70s and stuck in an inappropriate bed in St. Vincent’s hospital, Dublin, for the past 12 months. How many more people are in other hospitals throughout the country waiting to be treated in that hospital bed in St. Vincent’s? Cathy, a young woman of 51 years of age, has been stuck inappropriately in Dún Laoghaire for the past six months. The Minister of State gave the numbers of people around the country who could be treated in that specific bed but who are waiting for access to it.

I have given the Department the details of these two cases. They are already in the public domain. I am disappointed I did not get a response to the specific issues I raised, however. The Department looked for specific information from me regarding the individuals in question. I provided it with that information. With all due respect, however, the response today from the Minister of State is a generic reply to a generic issue. This is not a generic issue.

Two specialist beds have been tied up for the past 18 months.

Two women are being accommodated inappropriately in specialist beds who should not be in them. There is a young woman from County Roscommon who wants to go home. Her husband has carried out changes to their cottage in Lisacul, County Roscommon in order that she can return home and have her dignity and as much independence as possible. I plead with the Minister of State to take on this issue and come back to me with a detailed reply and commitment to provide funding to unlock the two beds for the two women mentioned and anyone else who might need them.

Of course, I agree that the issue is not generic. I have listened very carefully to the Deputy as he outlined the two cases. To answer one of his questions, 242 patients are awaiting admission to the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

On the broader issue, the HSE funds the National Rehabilitation Hospital to a figure of approximately €29 million annually under section 38 of the Health Act 2004. Services are provided under a service level agreement which is reviewed on an annual basis. The HSE is committed to protecting the level of personal assistant and home support services available to persons with disabilities. In its 2019 national service plan the HSE's priority is to provide 1.63 million personal assistance hours for more than 2,500 people with a disability, which represents an increase of 170,000 hours on the 2018 target of 1.46 million hours. The HSE will also provide 3.08 million home care support hours for adults and children with a disability, which represents an increase of 150,000 hours on the 2018 target of 2.93 million hours.

Resource allocations are determined by the needs of individuals, compliance with prioritisation criteria and the level of resources available. Like every service, limitless resources are not available for the provision of home support services and while the resources available are substantial, they are finite. In that context, services are discretionary. The number of hours granted is also determined in the context of the other support services already provided for the person or family concerned.

There is a need for increased services. I will take on that issue. The HSE will continue to work with the agencies to explore various ways by which they can respond in line with the budget available. These are genuine cases that deserve our support. I will agree to engaging with the HSE and taking on these cases. We all accept that we have to do more to provide services for people with disabilities.

I expect we will hear more from Deputy Naughten about this matter.

By God, you will.

Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter. Before I go into it, I am also aware of somebody in the National Rehabilitation Hospital who is awaiting the provision of funding for a homecare package. It is very frustrating, to say the least. We will return to this issue at a later date.

An application has been made via Cork County Council on behalf of Kanturk and District Community Council under the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme which is run by the Department of Rural and Community Development under the leadership of the Minister, Deputy Ring. I raise this issue because an application for CLÁR funding for the regeneration of the town park in Kanturk was made by Cork County Council earlier this year. The local authority was under the impression that if it prioritised its CLÁR applications, they would be guaranteed to be funded. Only three of its 16 applications were funded and they were all outside the north Cork region.

I am looking for funding under the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme for the regeneration of Kanturk town park which has been developed by local people over many decades. It has been kept up to date and improved during the years, but there is now a need for massive redevelopment. It is a fantastic park in the middle of the town on the banks of the river. Great credit is due to those who spearheaded its development in decades gone by. We are at a juncture when there is a need for massive redevelopment. In recent weeks we have finally seen funding come through for the construction of the relief road in Kanturk. The local authority will move very quickly to try to make sure boots will be on the ground and the project developed.

The total cost of the town park project is €140,000 and under measure 2 of the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme funding of €112,000 is sought. I hope the Minister of State will take back to the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, the importance of the scheme and making sure Kanturk will be successful in its application. We need to make sure we will have a vibrant town park. It is picturesque, but the replacement of the old pathways and landscaping is needed. Many people speak about the benefits of sensory gardens. The park will include one. There will be biodiversity, in the context of climate change, into which all communities are buying.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the voluntary work that has been done by the Tidy Towns committee and the community council in recent months, particularly the voluntary efforts made on Saturdays and Tuesdays by the Tidy Towns committee which has done fantastic work in the community. Kanturk is a vibrant town and has a unique status in the country.

I ask the Minister of State to make sure the contents of this debate are carried back to the Department; I am not raising the issue just for the purposes of speaking about it. I ask the Department to look seriously at it. The park ticks many boxes with reference to environmental issues. Kanturk will be enhanced by having a sensory garden, a picnic area, seating and benches in the park. An awful lot of work at local authority level has been put into putting the application together. The local LEADER company, all vested interests and partnership groups have bought into the scheme. I ask the Minister of State to outline the Department's thinking on the application.

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. I know of his personal commitment and dedication to serving the the people of Kanturk.

I understand the Department of Rural and Community Development has received an application for funding for Kanturk town park under measure 2 of the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme. This application is under consideration and an announcement will be made by the Minister, Deputy Ring, in due course. I have also been informed by the Department of Rural and Community Development that an application was received under measure 2 of the CLÁR programme which was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. Almost 500 applications were received across all measures, of which more than 300 were made under measures 1 and 2. The level of funding sought far exceeded the available budget and it was not possible to fund all of the project applications received. The selection of the individual projects had regard, inter alia, to the range, mix, quality and impact of the project proposals submitted. Almost €6 million has been allocated for 179 projects across all measures under the CLÁR programme this year. It includes funding for eight projects in total in County Cork, to a value of almost €300,000.

Funding for regeneration is also available through the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund which seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects which have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over ten years to the fund. A total of €315 million has been allocated to the fund for the period from 2019 to 2022.

I am informed by the Department of Rural and Community Development that an application for funding for Kanturk town park was not submitted in the second call for the fund. However, the Department did receive an application for phase one of the Kanturk regeneration plan. The Minister awarded funding of €619,500 to Cork County Council for the project in a recent announcement. The project will unlock the potential for further regeneration opportunities in Kanturk and is one of a series of projects set out in the Kanturk town framework developed by Cork County Council in consultation with local community stakeholders. The development and enhancement of the town park in Kanturk is one of the six transformative projects set out in the Kanturk regeneration plan that may be submitted in future calls for funding under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund or future calls under other funding support schemes, if appropriate, for example, town and village scheme funding.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I am glad to see that my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is here. I noticed that the antennae went up straightaway when Kanturk was mentioned. The Minister of State might have a word with his ministerial colleague about this application. He said the selection of individual projects had regard to range, mix and quality. What has been put forward for the regeneration of the town park in Kanturk is fantastic. It contains everything possible, including landscaping, a sensory garden and biodiversity, which is so important and into which all communities are buying. There are to be picnic areas, seating and benches.

This is an important project for the town park in Kanturk and the people of the entire Duhallow region. I ask the Minister of State and his colleagues to lobby in every way possible to make sure the funding for it will come through. The project is vital for Kanturk. We do not want to be disappointed again, as we were in seeking CLÁR funding recently. There is great ambition for the town among its residents and those living in the greater Duhallow region. Thankfully, there is a lot of very good work being done. The project must not be overlooked on this occasion. We were overlooked in the allocation of CLÁR funding, as the Minister of State outlined. A great amount of work has been done by the local authority and LEADER groups, into which all communities have bought. More importantly, the community of Kanturk has bought into it. We are looking forward to an announcement by the Minister for Rural and Community Development to ensure the Kanturk regeneration project will be included. As I said, there is an application and the total cost of the project is €140,000. Funding of €112,000 has been sought and I look forward to it being allocated. I hope the Minister of State will pass on my comments to the Minister and the Department and outline the urgent need for funding for the project.

I share the Deputy's great ambitions for the people of Kanturk. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is very committed and will work very closely with the Deputy to deliver, as he has done in the case of many projects for many years. The project set out in the Kanturk regeneration plan will guide and support the future growth and development of the town. Phase 1 of the plan is crucial in achieving that aim. Towns and villages are the heartbeat of rural areas, providing a focal point for economic, cultural and social activity. Their continued vitality is key to our goal of achieving balanced regional development. The funding of projects such as the Kanturk regeneration plan will ensure the rural regeneration funding programme will deliver significant and sustainable regeneration in rural towns and villages across Ireland. I will pursue the matter with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, because we all need to work together on excellent proposals like this for the people of Kanturk. The Minister, Deputy Creed, is committed, just like the Deputy whom I wish all the best.

It is great to see such collegiality among the honourable Members from County Cork.