Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Schools Building Projects

I thank the office of An Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter for a Topical Issue debate this evening. I am very glad the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, is here to take the debate. An application from St. Aidan's comprehensive school in Cootehill, County Cavan has been with the Minister's Department for a long time. It relates to the provision of a new PE hall and socialisation space, an extension to the woodwork and engineering rooms and general refurbishment work. From replies to representations to the Department and parliamentary questions, I understand that this application has been under consideration and under assessment for some time. In recent years, some necessary improvement and upgrading works have been carried out at St. Aidan's comprehensive school. There is an urgent need to provide these additional facilities and I urge the Minister to have the application progressed, finalised and approved at the earliest possible date.

St. Aidan's was one of the first comprehensive schools, having been built back in 1966. We should be thankful that there has been substantial growth in enrolment in recent years with 512 students now enrolled. There is an extra first year class this year and it is projected that there will be another additional first year for the 2020-21 school year. This is a sure sign of the positive role the school plays in the community and of the determination of parents to have the opportunity to send their students to St. Aidan's.

These applications were originally made some years ago in respect of a substantial upgrading of St. Aidan's. They have been revised in the meantime. When this project is approved, Cavan and Monaghan education and training board, ETB, will manage it. As the Minister is aware, our local ETB has been very successful in managing building projects for both primary and second level schools over the past 11 or 12 years. As he will be aware, the projects managed by Cavan and Monaghan ETB have represented very good value for money for the Exchequer and the taxpayer and have been delivered on time and under budget. I am sure that, when the Minister approves funding for the St. Aidan's comprehensive school project, it will also be delivered on time and under budget.

The applications relate to the PE hall, necessary upgrading of the woodwork and engineering rooms and an art room. There is also a requirement to undertake general refurbishment works including, very importantly, the upgrading of an old heating system. It is clear that upgrading and refurbishment works are necessary for a building that is more than 50 years old and which has been in use practically every day during that time.

I have had the opportunity to visit the school on many occasions. The good educational environment and the good leadership of the principal, Mary Ann Smith, her deputy principal, and the entire staff of the school, including both teaching and support staff, are clear to anybody who visits. Along with other Oireachtas Members, I recently visited the school for the opening of a room for students with hearing impairments, for the presentation of another green flag to the school, and for the presentation of a health promoting schools flag, the result of another very welcome initiative and achievement of the school. That was a very worthy endeavour and great credit is due to the teachers and students who participated in these competitions and who won those awards.

Apart from the school's core work of teaching subjects and delivering education, there has always been a very varied and worthwhile programme of extracurricular activities. It is delightful to see the many awards won in different sporting disciplines when one enters the reception area of the school. In recent years, the school has successfully competed in county, provincial and national competitions in camogie, basketball, soccer, and Gaelic football. Many of the school's teams have taken national awards home with them. We are very aware of the need for people to participate in sport. Great credit is due to the school and to the staff who take on the coaching and management of different teams. That work goes on well after normal school hours. The lack of basic PE facilities is very frustrating for the coaches, management teams and those preparing teams.

As well as good leadership from the principal, deputy principal and all the school staff, there is a very active board of management and an equally active and committed parents' association. All the members of these bodies, as well as the public representatives who support them, are determined to ensure this building project proceeds to construction as soon as possible. The Minister's assistance in this respect would be much appreciated.

I am sure all Members are conscious that we do not have a lot of pressure on us this afternoon but I believe one minute's leeway is sufficient.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue because it gives me the opportunity to clarify the position in relation to the Department of Education and Skills' plans for upgrading school buildings, including St. Aidan's comprehensive school, Cootehill, County Cavan. St. Aidan's is a co-educational comprehensive school under Catholic patronage. There are currently 512 pupils enrolled in the school. This represents a decrease in enrolment of 2% in the last five years. I am pleased to advise the Deputy that a building project for the provision of a one-class special educational needs base was completed at St. Aidan's comprehensive school in early 2019, as he will be aware.

My Department's planning and building unit has subsequently received an application from St. Aidan's comprehensive school seeking further capital funding for additional school accommodation, as outlined by the Deputy, including the provision of a PE hall.

This application is currently being considered by the Department and as soon as this process has been completed, the school authority will be informed.

demographic demand and also provides for an additional focus on the refurbishment of existing school buildings to include the building and modernisation of PE facilities in post-primary schools.

As the Deputy will be aware, under Project Ireland 2040, we will invest €8.4 billion, compared to €4.9 billion in the previous decade, in primary and post-primary school buildings. This investment will see a 70% increase in the school building budget which will be targeted at delivering on the twin objectives of catering for the continued increase in demographics and a greater focus on refurbishment and upgrade of existing school stock.

The Government remains committed to delivering on existing projects on the school building programme. The immediate priority of my Department is providing 20,000 new and replacement school places each year to ensure that every child has a school place. The Government will focus, in the medium term, on the provision of PE facilities in post-primary schools.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Deputy Smyth has also raised this matter on a number of occasions. I welcome the opportunity to outline the position of the Department of Education and Skills and I understand that the application from St. Aidan's is under review and the Department will be in contact with the school authority directly.

The Minister, in his concluding remarks, said that the application is under review and I would like that status to move to finalisation and approval. I hope that he will be outlining approval for the project the next time he communicates with us on this matter.

The Minister gets requests for worthy building projects that need to be advanced every day of the week but this one is exceptionally worthy. The school in question is overcrowded and does not have PE facilities for more than 500 pupils. Some of the existing classrooms need upgrading as a matter of urgency.

There school has exceptionally good academic results. I instanced earlier all the extracurricular activities that go on and, if permission for the PE hall is granted, it would be available for the community. This school does not close at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. It is open, within reason, for community events and there is also access for other schools to use its facilities.

The money that the Minister will hopefully allocate at an early date will be put to exceptionally good use and is needed. St. Aidan's comprehensive school was established in 1966 and is a source of pride to everybody in Cavan and Monaghan. It draws pupils from both counties and was one of the first comprehensive schools established after the announcement of the extension of free second level education to all in the mid-1960s. It is basically the same school that was founded in the 1960s with some upgrading work completed over the years. There is a requirement for further upgrading and refurbishment work.

I instanced the PE hall but there is also a need for proper construction and engineering for classrooms, an art room and the heating system. There are no canteen facilities in the school for the 512 pupils and 53 staff. That is a big congregation of people in a limited building.

I said earlier that the Cavan-Monaghan Education and Training Board will manage the project when it gets to the stage of construction. That board has delivered projects on time and within budget for the Department in Cavan and Monaghan over the past few years. I have no doubt that, when the Minister is in a position to approve that funding, the money will be put to very good use. The wider community in Cootehill will very much appreciate the provision of those upgraded and additional facilities.

The Deputy makes his case very well, much like his constituency colleague, Deputy Smyth. I have also spoken to my Cabinet colleague, Deputy Humphreys, about this and Senator O'Reilly keeps this issue on the agenda. I am well aware that a good bit of preparatory work is required for these applications. I am also aware, as the Deputy pointed out, that the education and training board is very much involved in this.

I do not want to create expectations which is something I never do and is not my style. The application is being reviewed at the moment although that does not signpost where we are going with this. There are needs for additional accommodation and the provision for creative arts and physical education in the school and I will ask my officials to ensure the issue is kept on the agenda. We will see where we go at the end of the review.

That concludes this Topical Issue matter. Are either of the Ministers present taking the second Topical Issue matter?

What is it about?

It is a matter raised by Deputy Catherine Murphy about the special permissions required for medical professionals who move into self-employment as general practitioners.

Deputy Stanton is going to deal with that matter.

We will pause for a moment to allow Deputy Stanton to attend.

Can we move onto the next Topic Issue matter?

We could do that, with the permission of Deputies.

Garda Resources

The wider Coolock area is currently in the midst of a cycle of savage violence related to the illegal drugs trade. Last Sunday, a 22 year old postman, Eoin Boylan, was brutally murdered in his garden at Clonshaugh Avenue. This was the fifth murder involving a local feud this year. There were three fatal shootings in May, including that of Jordan Davis, who was shot in front of Our Lady Immaculate school in Darndale as he pushed a four month old baby in a buggy. In January, Zach Parker, aged 23, was shot dead at a gym in Swords.

This cannot be allowed to continue. There can be no normalisation of this activity and children, in particular, cannot be allowed to continue to witness such horrible crimes on a weekly basis. The people of Coolock and the surrounding areas are citizens of this State, like everyone else. They are honest, decent, hard-working people who are raising their families, going to work and getting on with things as best they can. They are entitled to the protections of the State like everyone else but that does not seem to be the case in this situation.

Coolock Garda station needs more resources and personnel to tackle this problem. DMR north is the relevant division and Coolock sub-district is the station involved. A report presented to the joint policing committee, JPC, meeting last month showed an increase in several types of crime, including burglary, which is up 34% on last year and robbery from the person, which is up 200% on last year. The area on the north fringe of the city is experiencing an explosion in population in the Coolock Garda district. There needs to be a reorganisation of Garda districts because of this and the mooted new Garda station for Northern Cross should be given the go-ahead immediately.

I am aware the Minister visited Coolock Garda station in June of this year. Following the Minister's visit, nine probationary gardaí commenced in Coolock. They are most welcome but, of course, this is not enough. We need more community gardaí in the area, as recommended by the task force on policing. This would help to stamp out on-street drug dealing, which would be welcomed by everyone.

The report published this week by the EU drugs agency and Europol makes for frightening reading. Drug-related violence and intimidation are nationwide problems. The report details the three-tiered hierarchy of crime gangs, with the top tier now apparently gone international. I put it to the Minister that not enough is being done to break up these drug rings nationally.

I welcome the publication of new legislation by my colleague, Deputy Curran, in regard to drugs and children. I hope the Government will support the Bill. The proposed legislation will make it a crime to use children in the distribution of drugs, and it would be a criminal offence to buy drugs from a person under the age of 18, or to cause a child to be in possession of drugs for the intent of sale or supply.

Separately, we need to support our young people in their efforts to live active and fulfilling lives, and to avoid being caught up in the devastating drugs culture. There are many youth and sporting organisations and individuals in the Coolock area doing great work with our young people, including the Northside Partnership, the Dublin north east drugs task force, Sphere 17, RASP, the Kilmore West Youth Project, the Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme, and more recently Fr. Bryan Shortall who is the new parish priest of Priorswood. I call on the Government to launch a new initiative in the Coolock area, co-ordinated by the Northside Partnership and the Dublin north east drugs task force, and in consultation with these organisations, to tackle the drugs culture in this area. One could call it a task force or whatever one likes, but we need to take the initiative and we need special measures to be implemented in the Coolock district to tackle this escalating problem.

I acknowledge the importance of this debate and I thank Deputy Seán Haughey for raising it. I also acknowledge the importance of raising the issue under Topical Issue matters in the manner the Deputy has done, rather than engaging in type of soundbite politics we see every day on the Order of Business. There are not many of those people here now. Those are the people who rush in, engage in soundbite politics and then leave the Chamber. I very much welcome the points raised by Deputy Haughey. I assure him that the Government is committed to ensuring that Ireland is a safe and secure place for all, and that the well-being of all our communities is a priority for me as the Minister for Justice and Equality.

I am aware of the incidents referred to by Deputy Haughey, and in particular the shooting that took place in his constituency last weekend. I have condemned this wanton violence and I call on everybody to pass on any information they might have, however small, by calling the Garda station in Coolock or the Garda confidential line. The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment on any specific investigation or any other ongoing criminal investigation, but I assure Deputy Haughey that we are making progress in tackling drugs and organised crime. I share Deputy Haughey's concern about the destructive impact that drugs and crime related to drugs can have on communities. I fully agree on the importance of tackling such behaviour effectively.

Before addressing the Garda resources in the area, I will take the opportunity to highlight that action is being taken on a range of levels to address these matters. While policing is a key issue, I believe Deputy Haughey will agree that we cannot address this as a policing matter alone. There is a need to address drug-related offending in a strategic multiagency way. Our policy in relation to drug and alcohol misuse is set out in Ireland's national drugs strategy for 2017-2025, which is a health-led response. I note that the strategy is unique among national drugs strategies across EU member states in recognising the need to address drug-related debt intimidation at a community level. It is also important to note the budget provided for Garda youth diversion projects, and I appreciate the work done in this regard by Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton. I also recognise the importance of community stakeholders and community leaders in this work. Deputy Haughey referred to the activity on the ground on the part of many people, and he specifically mentioned Fr. Bryan Shortall, who I saw on television recently. I agree with the points made by Fr. Shortall on those broadcasts. Work such as that in communities plays an important preventative role and show good results over time, coupled with Garda enforcement action.

The Garda national drugs and organised crime bureau continues to have significant success in tackling these issues. I understand from the Garda Commissioner that since its establishment in March 2015, the bureau has been responsible for the seizure of controlled substances with an estimated value of approximately €167 million and has seized 108 firearms. I also mention Operation Hybrid. With regard to Garda numbers in the Coolock area, as of 31 October 2019, the workforce increased from 103 gardaí and 11 staff to 117 gardaí and 16 staff. This means that an additional 73 gardaí have been allocated to the Dublin metropolitan region northern division since the start of 2016, alongside a 38% increase in Garda civilian staff over the same period. These numbers are still increasing. The Taoiseach and I will attend the Garda college in Templemore tomorrow to see a graduation of a further 200 new gardaí. I understand that the Garda Commissioner intends to allocate additional Garda resources to the DMR northern division from the attestation scheduled for tomorrow.

I thank the Minister for his response. The Taoiseach visited the offices of the Northside Partnership in September 2019 when he met with the chairperson, Nessan Vaughan, and the chief executive, Paul Rogers. The Taoiseach listened to the views of representatives of several local organisations who outlined what should be done to tackle disadvantage in the area. The Taoiseach's visit, along with visits by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Finian McGrath, followed some of the shootings I referred to earlier. The Taoiseach heard presentations, including one on the loss of a teaching post in Our Lady Immaculate national school in Darndale. This case was put forward following the shooting of Jordan Davis outside the school, on a school day. The Taoiseach said he would get back to the group with his proposals, but we are still waiting. The meeting took place in September but the Department of Education and Skills has since confirmed that the school will lose the teacher. This is despite the strong case made on that day.

I note the collective call from former Ministers of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy to the Government to renew its efforts on the drugs crisis, to beef up the local partnerships and the local drugs task forces, and to listen to communities affected about what needs to be done. The recent big call by these former Ministers of State and by several organisations working on the drugs crisis on the ground is that communities just wish to be listened to. They have the on-the-ground experience and they know what needs to be done. As the Minister rightly said, it is not just a criminal justice issue; it is also a community issue. There is a need to develop youth services and sporting organisations and to tackle disadvantage generally. The call from the former Ministers of State was a cry for help that communities want to be listened to. The Government needs to renew its efforts on the drugs situation.

The Coolock gardaí still need more resources. The area has had a population explosion. A new Garda station is promised for Northern Cross, which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Alan Farrell, will be familiar with. We need to ensure that the resources are put in place as soon as possible.

Deputy Haughey raised two issues in his contribution. I undertake to the House and to Deputy Haughey that when I meet the Taoiseach later this evening I will be happy to raise the issue of the Northside Partnership.

I had the opportunity of visiting the partnership. I acknowledge the community work being undertaken over a range of issues and pursuits in that area. I would be happy to ensure that Deputy Haughey gets an appropriate reply.

The second issue was that of resources. I am pleased that it has been possible for the Government to sustain the level of funding necessary to recruit a further large increase of Garda numbers and staff in what is a difficult financial climate. The large-scale recruitment and redeployment within the Garda means that we are significantly increasing the Garda workforce. Garda deployments in all areas of the country, as well as specialist national units, have benefitted from increased recruitment.

Regarding the Garda's capital allocation, this year we invested €92 million in projects, including the fleet, the Garda estate and ICT. One of the key actions in the plan published last year following the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is in the course of being implemented and will allow for a new operating model for the Garda, the object of the exercise being to reduce bureaucracy, devolve power from Garda Headquarters and increase the number of front-line gardaí. It is all about availability and visibility. I have welcomed the announcement by Commissioner Harris as regards the new operating model.

I thank Deputy Haughey for raising this matter by way of Topical Issue, which gives him an opportunity to make his case and me an opportunity to attempt to reassure him of our commitment to the area. I would be happy to engage further as time evolves.

Work Permits Eligibility

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for selecting this matter for discussion.

We all appreciate that the critical skills visa is an important one and we all want it to function. It has criteria, including an income threshold, a guaranteed contract or an offer of a contract of employment etc. I will provide an example because, when people approach Deputies with a problem, trying to resolve it often gives an insight into the kinds of challenge that people face. I have raised this issue with three different Ministers, but I cannot get a resolution to it. I will use this specific example to discuss the general issue.

I was contacted by a husband and wife, both of whom are in Ireland on critical skills visas. One is a medical doctor and the other is an engineer. There is no issue for the engineer, but there is for the medical doctor, who is not in employment. She had employment at the beginning, but that contract did not last. Many of our GPs are self-employed, as are many of the locums who fill in for them. GPs want to employ locums on a self-employed basis because of reasons of taxation and so on that would lead to problems otherwise. As such, I am discussing a specific category.

The doctor in question is highly skilled but not working. When I raised her case with three different Ministers, one of the replies I received was that the Department of Justice and Equality had corresponded with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, which is a part of the former. According to the reply, INIS had advised that applying for stamp 4 residency permission would permit an individual to establish and operate a business and was reckonable as residence when applying for citizenship and so on. I was trying to find out whether someone in that category could be granted permission to be self-employed and was pointed in this direction by INIS. However, this approach will not work because, as the Minister of State knows, one can only obtain a stamp 4 if one meets the other qualifying criterion relating to one's length of time in the country. I am going around in circles.

Of concern is the fact that we have a deficit of GPs and doctors generally. Their skills are needed. In the case in question, the doctor can stay in Ireland because her husband has a critical skills visa, but I cannot imagine that she is the only example of this situation. Are we failing to retain doctors who have come to Ireland because of difficulties around the types of employment common among GPs? Are people who have come to Ireland in good faith finding that the employment they expected is not available? This is a specific category of a more general issue. Will the Minister of State consider it with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation? I do not see how the issue can be resolved. There is a wider issue of retaining the skills in question.

On behalf of the Minister, who has just had to go to another appointment, I thank the Deputy for tabling this important matter. I was interested in what she had to say. As she knows, individuals seeking to enter the State in order to work as a GP are eligible to apply for a critical skills employment permit from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. With this permit, an individual may apply to the Department of Justice and Equality for permission to reside in the State for the purpose of employment as a locum doctor. The residence permission - a stamp 1 permission - allows such an individual to remain in the State under a contract of employment for a period of up to two years and can be renewed. At the end of that two-year period, it is open to individuals to make an application for permission to reside in the State under stamp 4 conditions, which grant unrestricted access to the labour market. In instances where an individual or his or her employer does not wish to enter into a contract of full-time employment in this regard, it is open to the individual to make an application under the atypical working scheme, operated by the Department of Justice and Equality, in order to receive permission to work in the State as a medical professional on a short-term basis for up to a maximum of 90 days. This permission allows an individual to work in this manner for up to eight months in a calendar year.

Extension of the atypical working scheme to include locum practitioners in the primary care area was implemented on the basis of consultations in 2015 between the Departments of Justice and Equality; Health; and Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the HSE. As part of those consultations, the evidence available suggested that longer term contracts of employment that would allow an individual to make an application for a critical skills employment permit from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation were not especially desired either by the individual medical professionals themselves or by their employers. Accordingly, it was determined that the expansion of the atypical working scheme to facilitate the HSE in meeting urgent healthcare recruitment requirements was the best course of action.

I can advise that in 2018 a total of 90 individual doctors engaged in employment under the scheme in this manner and that 95 individuals have done so to date in 2019. Further advice from key stakeholders received over the course of 2019 indicates that these figures represent a minority cohort of the total number of overseas medical professionals engaged to provide locum services in the State. The Minister has made some changes this month, but I will probably say more about those in my next contribution.

We are talking about a small number of people, but they have important skills. If we are to attract other people with that skill set, they must not become bound up in a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy. I acknowledge that there have to be safeguards, but this skill set is undoubtedly required.

Is there ongoing engagement with the professional bodies on this matter, specifically as it relates to general practice? If changes are being made, they may be helpful. It is only when problems arise that one gets a fuller understanding of the issues that people encounter.

I would appreciate it if the Minister looked at that.

The policy related to the use of locum doctors in the primary care sector is primarily a matter for the HSE. The role of immigration service delivery of the Department of Justice and Equality is to provide immigration mechanisms for non-EEA medical personnel recruited to fill temporary vacancies in the health sector as and when required and to meet the needs identified by the HSE. These mechanisms are kept under continuous review with the HSE to ensure that the process retains sufficient flexibility to address urgent recruitment requirements as they arise.

The Department continues to liaise with the HSE to ensure that sufficient flexibility is available within the locum scheme. In that regard, I draw the Deputy's attention to the revised arrangements for locum GPs, which the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, announced recently on 22 November. It is very recent and the Deputy may not be aware of it. The revised arrangements, which are published on the immigration service delivery website, provide enhanced provisions in respect of applications processing and intermittent travel for locum doctors and offer a further demonstration of the capacity of the State to operate flexible and fluid schemes to meet fast-changing employment requirements while also promoting ongoing compliance with employment law and taxation obligations, to which the Deputy alluded, under a variety of sectors.

On the Deputy's final point, I understand that the doctors' co-operatives welcome the changes in the atypical working scheme, which were announced only last week. That is on the inis.gov.ie website. It means that the waiting time changes and that doctors can take some time within the 90 days to leave the country and go home if they need to do that. They were the two main requests of the GP co-operatives. Those changes were made only last week, and they have been welcomed, but we are open to other suggestions as the need arises. I hope the Deputy will be happy with that response.

Road Projects

I thank the Minister for coming into the House and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for selecting this important topic for the Topical Issue debate. I want to speak to the Minister about the public consultation currently under way on the route corridor options for the N2 Clontibret to the Border and the N2 Ardee to Castleblayney road schemes. Before I make my argument to the Minister, and I do not want that to sound negative, it is important that I say that I am speaking on behalf of the residents of Donaghmoyne. The residents, along with everybody else living along this route, are acutely aware of the importance of saving lives. There is no adversity in terms of that ideology. Saving lives is of utmost importance. By the same token, however, we must take into consideration people who will be most affected by such a project.

This particular project is being rolled out by Monaghan County Council in partnership with Louth County Council, in association with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, to develop a scheme to upgrade a 32 km section of the N2-A5 Dublin to Derry road. We all acknowledge that this scheme is long overdue and much desired but I am speaking on behalf of the residents of Donaghmoyne who are very concerned about the scheme, particularly the Ardee to Castleblayney section, which involves changes to the existing road. It is bums on seats, so to speak, that make us acutely aware of the concern and frustration among these residents. Donaghmoyne is a rural part of south County Monaghan but hundreds of people turned out for the public meetings on this issue. I understand more than 800 submissions have been made in the public consultations that were invited by the local authority. People are not just talking about this issue; they are writing about it in submissions. That hundreds of people turned out for two public meetings is a way to gauge the importance of this issue to them. The concerns of the residents are well-founded in terms of the environmental impact of any new route. It is important to reiterate that road safety trumps everything but we also must take into consideration how the residents will be affected; some believe they will be adversely affected.

There is a groundswell of support in terms of wanting transparency from the TII on the issue. Derek Maguire has been active in chairing these public meetings where he brought clarity to the issues for the local community. That is why I am delighted that the Minister came into the House to hear about those concerns. The residents believe there are questions to be answered by the TII. Residents need transparency on each of the route options. A number of options have been proposed and they want transparency on how options are being selected. They want to know the process through which submissions are being received by the local authority and how it will select a final option.

Monaghan County Council has appointed a consultancy firm in advance of this project to put it through the planning and design stage. Residents want to know who will be in control of the compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, that will affect a new route. In the event of a new road being established, will the Government and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport provide the funds necessary to Monaghan County Council to maintain the original road, which is the N2, as well as the new road, or will it be allowed fall into disrepair? The residents have a real concern about speeding traffic and fatalities on that road. They want to know that there will still be an acute Garda presence and speed cameras on that route. I will conclude and allow the Minister to address some of those concerns.

I thank Deputy Smyth for raising this very important question, which I know is of concern to her and residents in her constituency. I would point out to her that one or two aspects are not under my area but I will convey them to the right area. The Deputy spoke about a Garda presence in certain areas. I know the residents have concerns but that is not something over which I or any of the agencies under my Department's aegis would have control.

It is in terms of the CPOs.

It is appropriate that she should raise them and I can refer them to the appropriate quarters.

I would like to explain that, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in respect of the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and operation of individual roads is a matter for the relevant road authority in respect of local and regional roads or for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, in respect of national roads.

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework for Tll's national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. In the years covered by the plan, over €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network.

The NDP identifies two categories of national road improvement project. The first category covers projects to advance to construction, subject to the satisfactory outcome of the project appraisal and development consent approval processes. The second category relates to projects at pre-appraisal and early planning stage, which are being assessed with a view to developing a pipeline of suitable projects for development.

Both the N2 Ardee to Castleblayney and N2 Clontibret to the Border schemes fall into the second category of projects at pre-appraisal. Both schemes are located on a Trans-European Network, TEN-T, route. The schemes will improve the regional connectivity to the north west, which is a strategic priority of the national planning framework as part of Project Ireland 2040.

Both projects have had project appraisal plans submitted by TII and approved by my Department. I understand from Tll that technical advisers have been appointed to provide the engineering and consultancy services to develop the proposed schemes from inception to the preparation of compulsory purchase orders, an environmental impact assessment report and a business case in order to seek approval to proceed with making a planning application. The conclusion of this work will allow project requirements to be established and the financial commitment required to develop these major projects to be identified.

The study area identification for both projects has been completed and the non-statutory public consultation on constraints mapping was carried out in June 2019.

Route corridor options were published in October 2019 and, as the Deputy knows, public consultation is under way for both schemes. Feedback received through the public consultation process in the next stage of the planning and design process will be taken into consideration for each scheme. An emerging preferred route corridor will be identified in late 2020 and a further round of public consultation will take place before the preferred route corridor is finalised.

To revert to the residents of Donaghmoyne who have raised these concerns with my office, they would like to know what research will be taken on by TII on foot of the submissions that were made to upgrade the existing N2 and make it safer for residents. They also have stated that to move the N2 away from Carrickmacross and the surrounding areas obviously will have a detrimental impact on local businesses and employment. What will be the economic impact on Carrickmacross or does that come into consideration when TII is nailing down what the route will be? These residents are reasonable people. We talk about climate action and climate change and they are concerned about the environmental impact it would have to build a new route through their fields, farms and homes. What will the environmental impact be? What will the impact be on the hedgerows? What will the impact be on the biodiversity? What will the impact be on the natural heritage of Donaghmoyne that will adversely affect the residents living in that area? What consideration does TII give to those possible negative outcomes? There is a concern a new route will negatively affect the quality of the drinking water in the area in both public schemes and private wells. There is a concern for the wildlife. The residents want to know how with what importance TII is taking that. Does it take those kind of things into consideration? We hear a lot from the Government about climate action and healthy living but the residents of Donaghmoyne feel they have more to lose than to gain if the proposed route was to cut through their farms, lands and homes. How is constructing a new road in line with Ireland's sustainable development goals, such as climate control and the reduction of CO2 emissions? I want to make it clear to the Minister the residents are concerned, and rightly so, given the points I have raised today. They seek assurances from the Minister today that all the matters I have mentioned, such as the environmental impact, the drinking water and the natural heritage of the land and landscape are matters TII will take into consideration when it is trying to nail down its final option.

I could not disagree with anything the Deputy had to say but obviously she does not expect me to interfere in a specific case of this sort and I would not do so. I am responsible for overall Government policy and if there are infringements on Government policy in what is happening. The residents have great concerns about that and they can convey them to me through Deputy Smyth. I am happy to listen to them. The Deputy spoke about the quality of the drinking water, the detrimental impact on local businesses, the research and upgrade done by TII. What she said was fair and she correctly referred to TII and the local authorities in that regard. These are all matters that could usefully be addressed to TII and the local authorities but they are not something in which I would get directly involved and I prefaced my remarks by pointing that out.

The Deputy is lucky in one sense. I know people are impatient about the development of roads of this sort but this particular project is at an early stage of development and therefore, it is not possible for me to indicate the timeframe for the construction of the projects, which will be dependent on the satisfactory conclusion of the statutory planning approval process. The schemes will need to obtain both business case approval and planning consent and will be subject to the availability of funding in the future. All the concerns the Deputy addressed have been raised in a timely fashion and it is not too late to raise concerns. Those concerns should be addressed to TII, however, and not to myself or other authorities, although it is appropriate the Deputy should raise the matter in this House. I will make sure those concerns are conveyed to the appropriate authorities, even though I am unable to give a direct response to the lengthy detail the Deputy has given but I will make sure those details go to the right places.