Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Garda Stations

The need for a new Garda station in Macroom has been well established for a number of years. There was a threat to walk out of the station in 2010, health and safety reports were critical of the building and it has been on the Government's building programme for many years. In 2014, Government representatives were even promising that the station would not be allowed to slip behind. While the station in Macroom is on the building programme, no advance has been made since the land purchase concluded nearly four years ago. That is because Macroom has been bundled in with Clonmel and Sligo and it has had to wait for them to catch up. The Office of Public Works, OPW, confirmed earlier this year that those land purchases were concluded for the last of those stations. There is no reason now for any further delay.

The building is an old Royal Irish Constabulary barracks and it is showing its age. Reports have indicated the difficulty people have working there and it is also unsatisfactory for the public going in to use the station. It is very limited from the point of view of privacy, for example, if someone is going in to report an incident or getting documentation signed. Imagine as well someone trying to bring a buggy in. The space is limited and tight, especially if anybody else is in the reception area. Locals should have access to a station that is up to standard and they also want to know that their gardaí have the best resources available to them.

I have highlighted this situation with various Ministers and in parliamentary questions in recent years. The Cork county joint policing committee has also highlighted the need to advance Macroom's new Garda divisional headquarters but it feels there is constant fobbing off. The new station is in a bundle with Clonmel and Sligo and those land purchases needed to be concluded. As stated, however, the OPW has confirmed that those land purchases concluded in the spring of this year so that should not be a reason for any further delay.

The new site in Macroom also accommodates a fire station, and the county council has been trying to get information on the shared entrance. That has caused a delay on advancing the fire station as well. As I said, the new reorganisation of Garda divisions has identified Macroom as the new divisional headquarters. This should surely increase the status of the station and add greater urgency to the new build. I commend the staff working there who are delivering a top-class service from what is an unsuitable and cramped building.

The building is not, however, the only challenge. I draw the Minister's attention to the number of gardaí stationed in the town.

Many people are concerned that the station is understaffed. The Garda Representative Association has been vocal on the matter, pointing out how it is not unusual for the station to be closed in order to deploy a two-person car to adequately respond to calls. There have been eight retirements from the west Cork Garda division in the past year but no new gardaí were assigned in the two most recent recruitment drives. While there are demands from many quarters for additional gardaí, Macroom and the west Cork division need particular attention.

The Macroom station project is bundled with those relating to Sligo and Clonmel. This has caused delays, even though a site in Macroom has been available for the past five years. The National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, has been examining the public private partnership, PPP, option for funding for over a year at this point. It needs direction from the Department of Justice and Equality to prioritise the projects it wants to advance. Has the Department identified the priority projects? Has the bundle of which Macroom is a part been identified as a priority? There has been a site available in Macroom for over four years. There has already been a considerable delay and it is now time for this project to be progressed.

I thank Deputy Aindrias Moynihan for raising this matter. I am aware of the Deputy's consistent interest in the provision of a new Garda station in Macroom. I appreciate the reason he has raised the matter again today.

The OPW has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. As a result, all works to the Garda estate involve close co-operation between the OPW and the Garda authorities. We all want fit-for-purpose facilities for Garda members and staff, as well as for the members of the public interacting with them. It is precisely for this reason that significant investment is being made by the Government in the Garda estate. The scale of what is involved in this task should not be underestimated. There are over 560 Garda stations across the country. A significant number of these are old buildings. Good progress is being made in addressing issues in the Garda estate, as well as expanding it to cater for the ongoing growth in Garda members and staff. This is being made possible through the Garda building and refurbishment programme for the period 2016 to 2021. In addition to that ambitious programme, other major works now ongoing to the Garda estate include the development of a new facility at Military Road, Dublin, the major refurbishment of Fitzgibbon Street station, Dublin, the pilot Garda station reopening project and the construction of the new Garda station at Macroom.

The construction of the new Garda station at Macroom is to proceed on the basis of a major PPP project which was decided to be formed as a bundle also including construction of new Garda Stations in Clonmel and Sligo. I accept the process has been more protracted than any of us would have wished. As the Deputy will recall, there were difficulties in acquisition of the sites for development of some of these stations. Those difficulties have been resolved. Since then, all relevant stakeholders have been engaging together in an attempt to progress the matter as quickly as possible. I do not have any details on the fire station but I would be happy if the Deputy gave me a separate note on that. I would not like to see any other extraneous issues coming in at this stage to impact on the progress for the Garda station. I acknowledge the work of An Garda Síochána, the OPW, my Department and the NDFA, the procuring authority for PPPs.

This is a complex process but it is vital to get the projects right at the planning and design stage. This has taken some time. This work is important. Macroom has been chosen by An Garda Síochána to be the new divisional headquarters for Cork county under the new model. Clearly, the design and construction of the station will have to allow for a station of sufficient size and facilities to serve that purpose. This work is being progressed as a priority by all concerned. I understand the level of frustration the Deputy feels. I want matters to proceed as quickly as possible. We must allow the experts, in particular in the OPW and the NDFA, to progress this properly and in such a way that the station that is built at the end of the process is one which delivers good value for public money, is fit-for-purpose for gardaí, Garda staff and the public interacting with them. Every effort is being made to progress this issue, working to improve conditions and facilities at the station.

I am happy to engage further with the Deputy on this matter when we resume after the Christmas break.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an tuarascáil mar gheall ar stáisiún Gardaí Maigh Chromtha.

As the Minister indicated, this station will be the new divisional headquarters in Cork county. That should add further energy to advancing the project. The OPW has a central role in advancing the new station and the bundle. However, the NDFA will be looking for direction from the Department of Justice and Equality. It is important it is clarified with the NDFA that this station is a priority project and there should not be delays with it.

The Minister pointed to the idea of value for money from bundling stations. However, construction costs have increased in the past several years but Macroom has been effectively parked up for the past four years. This means that the opportunity of getting better value for money is actually slipping away.

I am also conscious that the Anglesea Street Garda station in Cork is also being advanced. Will he clarify if that will have any impact on either moving forward or delaying the Macroom Garda station bundle? Macroom has been ready with a site for over four years. It already has had a building that is unsuitable and the staff based there continue to endure it. Will the Minister agree it is time to move this project along?

I cannot disagree with the Deputy. In fact, a week does not go by without this issue being raised directly with me by my colleague beside me, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed.

We are in a period of major reform of our policing services. The implementation of the new policing plan is exciting. It will transform An Garda Síochána. We have the budget to ensure that this can be the case. I am fully committed to proceeding with the major investment programme to deliver new stations and modernise older stations. One of these is Macroom. It is included as a Garda priority in the building and refurbishment programme. If the Deputy wishes that I would decouple Macroom from the bundle, I regret that it may well be unhelpful in the delivery of the project.

I did not ask for that.

Every effort has been made with the appropriate agencies involved. I met them during the year. There has been a resolution of some legal and conveyancing issues which were giving rise to a delay.

I will meet the entire team early in the new year. In the interim, I understand that the Office of Public Works and Garda management are taking steps to improve conditions and facilities in Macroom station and I would be happy to engage further in the new year.

I am not asking for Macroom to be decoupled.

Felling Licences Applications

Following many phone calls and contacts, I am delighted to get the opportunity to raise this urgent matter with the Minister this evening. Many farmers, forestry contractors and sawmills operators are very concerned about the ongoing delays with tree felling applications. The capacity to fell trees if and when necessary is vital to farmers being able to maximise productivity and land use. There is serious concern among farmers, forestry contractors and landowners about the unacceptable delays in getting these felling licences. Many of the people affected have long-term investments and are frustrated by the ongoing delays. They cannot plan for the future because of the uncertainty.

As the Minister knows, the midlands region has already been badly hit with recent announcements of job losses in Bord na Móna. This time next year almost 2,000 jobs will be lost. I am calling on the Minister to act swiftly to ensure that this matter is brought to a head. We cannot be hit again with the loss of jobs in sawmills because obviously the farmers supply the raw material to the sawmills. They do not know if they will be able to keep on the same number of workers with the current delays. I ask the Minister to ensure that is dealt with as soon as possible. The midlands region would be hit again as well as many sawmills throughout the State.

How big is the backlog in felling licences applications and when will it be cleared? I understand that some of the delays in issuing these licences have been due to serial objectors. The legislation dealing with this matter needs to be changed. We cannot have serial objectors lodging objections, which are negatively impacting on farmers, contractors with significant investments, sawmills and local economies in rural communities. We need a mechanism to deal with that because we cannot jeopardise employment in rural counties.

I understand that there was some engagement last week between the stakeholders and the Department. What was the outcome of that? I also understand that the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, commissioned a review on the matter. What was the outcome of that review? Has any plan been drawn up as a result of it? I again appeal to the Minister to ensure that every action possible is taken to clear the backlog, which will have a detrimental effect on rural communities and the rural economy.

I thank Deputy Nolan for raising the issue of forestry licences and for her general support for the forestry sector. I am aware of the delays being experienced by applicants for licences. I would like to give some background to the issues.

All forestry licences issued by my Department are subject to public notification and consultation, and possible third-party appeal. As the planning body for forestry applications, we have an obligation to ensure that all licences are issued in accordance with relevant environmental legislation. The relevant legislation is subject to continual change as result of case law interpretation and our procedures must change in tandem. Furthermore, decisions are subject to appeal to the independent Forestry Appeals Committee. Some appellants have won appeals by challenging the Department's procedures. These cases have required the Department to change procedures involved in assessing forestry licence applications.

The appeals are connected to our appropriate assessment procedure. Article 6.3 of the habitats directive requires that where a plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura site, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, it must undergo an appropriate assessment of its implications for that Natura site. The forestry inspectorate has been implementing an appropriate assessment procedure established in 2013. However, as the Forestry Appeals Committee has identified issues with the procedure and as recent European case law is interpreted within Irish courts, changes to the procedure have been made. My Department has taken a number of steps to help deal with these changes, including engaging the services of external environmental consultants to assist with the necessary revision of the appropriate assessment and the delivery of training for forestry inspectors. We are also recruiting additional ecologists to join our forestry inspectorate.

A major triage operation is also ongoing to categorise the large number of files currently on hand for consideration by the in-house ecology team. The purpose of this process is to categorise files for further action and to advance each to appropriate assessment determination stage using external ecological consultants.

Forestry licences continue to be issued, albeit at a slower rate than would be expected. However, it has been a good year overall for felling licences and to the end of November my Department had issued just over 4,000 tree felling licences, which is still higher than any previous year and is 10% higher than the total for last year. This week, for instance, we will issue around 100 felling licences.

The Forestry Appeals Committee is an independent body but I understand that it is now starting to hear appeals on cases on my Department's new procedures. We keep the resources of the Forestry Appeals Committee under review in the event that additional resources are needed.

I am fully aware that this situation is causing difficulties, especially for landowners and forestry contractors. I appreciate that whether it is for afforestation, forestry roads, thinning licences or clear-fell, licensing has implications throughout the supply chain. I assure the House that departmental officials are actively working towards alleviating the current temporary disruption. I believe the robust and workable system now being put in place will result in an improved licensing system of benefit to all stakeholders.

I thank the Minister for his response. The whole appropriate assessment procedure sounds extremely bureaucratic and long-drawn out. Can any intervention be made to try to shorten that process? Other jurisdictions, including the North, have a different system with a shorter waiting period. To the best of my knowledge the Department makes the decision. Is there any way for this process to be looked at? How long will it take to clear the backlog? I again stress that it is urgent. I hope the Minister will make an appropriate intervention to try to deal with the matter.

I have attended a number of meetings involving departmental officials and various stakeholders. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, who has lead responsibility in the forestry sector, is daily involved in trying to bring together all the threads to find a resolution to the issue. It is a complicated matter that is further complicated by case law which has effectively meant we have had to rebuild our licensing system to take account of the successful challenges either at Forestry Appeals Committee level or in the courts, whether domestic or European. We have had to take into consideration domestic court rulings, European Court of Justice rulings and Forestry Appeals Committee results in rebuilding a licensing system that we believe is now sufficiently robust. The ultimate determination of that will be in the current consideration by the Forestry Appeals Committee of the licences that have been issued under the new regime. We expect results from that imminently.

This is a complex area and I wish there were a simple solution to it. Regrettably, complex issues sometimes require complex solutions. It involves appropriate assessments. It is a system somewhat similar to the system for aquaculture licensing, with which the Department has experience. It involves the same principle of appropriate assessments, Natura sites, etc. We have some experience in the area and it is complicated. We are recruiting additional staff in the ecological services area to assist with the processing of those licences.

I appreciate the independence of the Forestry Appeals Committee. Should we get successful outcomes imminently from the consideration of current licences, we will have a clear pathway to finding a resolution and having confidence that the system we have rebuilt is sufficiently robust. It will then be a question of getting as many appeals through the forestry appeals procedure as possible. We are acutely aware of this issue on which we have engaged with all the stakeholders along the supply chain. Given our targets with regard to afforestation and climate change, we want to deal with afforestation, road building, thinning and clear-felling. Forestry employs a large number of people, including private contractors and those working in sawmills. It is a very important industry in rural Ireland and we are doing everything to resolve the issue. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter.

Fire Service Staff

In February 2005, the retained firefighters in Bray fire station staged a day of protest over major concerns they had about the operation of the service in the area. They had a number of concerns, including the vetting of calls. One of the main concerns was the manning levels in the station. Bray fire station is a two-pump station, which means there should be 15 firefighters but there were only ten at that point. Two years later, on 26 September 2007, two of the firefighters who had taken part in the day of protest died in the line of duty serving the community of Bray. Sub-officer Brian Murray and firefighter Mark O'Shaughnessy died fighting a serious fire in the Little Bray area. Prior to his death, Mr. Murray had said that unless the serious issues in the fire service were addressed, lives would be lost. Little did he know that two years later he and one of his colleagues would lose their lives.

Fourteen years after the protest at Bray fire station and 12 years after the deaths of Brian Murray and Mark O'Shaughnessy, there are still very serious issues with the fire service in Wicklow. A recent response from the chief fire officer in Wicklow, Mr. Aidan Dempsey, shows that the current manning level in Bray fire station is ten firefighters, of whom two are on long-term sick leave. A service that is supposed to have 15 firefighters has only eight firefighters to provide cover for a population of nearly 40,000. In the case of an emergency call-out requiring a two-pump turnout, which Bray is supposed to provide but cannot do so owing to a lack of staff, the retained firefighter service in Greystones must be dispatched to Bray. This takes additional time and leaves the whole Greystones and KilcooIe area without a service if an emergency occurs. The management of the fire service in Wicklow is playing a dangerous game with people's lives. Lessons have clearly not been learned from the horrific events of 2007 that saw two families lose their loved ones.

There are serious issues with the operation of the retained service in Bray. New recruits cannot be retained because the station is so busy as to make it virtually impossible for a firefighter to hold down a full-time job and be on call at the same time. In addition, the housing crisis makes finding accommodation within a five-minute radius of the station, as required, a major challenge. The population of Bray and north County Wicklow is expected to increase considerably in the next two or three years. The area also has a high number of high-risk building, such as nursing homes. The only way to protect lives and address the serious problems in the fire service in Wicklow is to provide a full-time fire service in the Bray area. We have, however, a crazy situation in which 30 separate fire authorities operate in the State, each of which is managed and funded by a local authority.

Despite needing a full-time fire service, Bray does not have one because Wicklow County Council cannot afford to provide one. What will be done to immediately address the serious problem with manning levels in the fire service in Wicklow? We need a full-time fire service in the Bray area based on need and risk as opposed to what can fit into the local authority's budget. This can only be achieved when the Government implements the findings and recommendation of the 2002 Farrell Grant Sparks report to create a national fire authority. Only then will we have a properly funded fire service that does not have to rely on resources from financially stretched local authorities. When will the findings of the Farrell Grant Sparks report be implemented?

I thank Deputy Brady for raising this issue in which he has had a long-standing interest.

I thank all our fire fighters throughout the length and breadth of the country and acknowledge their hard work, service and commitment. Last Friday, I was fortunate to attend a service marking the 20th anniversary of the opening of my local fire station. Firefighters do tremendous work and the Government is committed to supporting the fire services and the essential and invaluable services they provide in any way we can.

With regard to the fire service in Bray, the provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003. Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each local authority chief executive is responsible for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authorities for which he or she is responsible. It is, therefore, a matter for each individual chief executive to apply for sanction from the Department and, once approved, to recruit and assign staff to specific divisions within the relevant organisation. In the case of Bray, responsibility lies with Wicklow County Council. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government supports fire authorities through setting general policy, providing a central training programme, issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding support for equipment and priority infrastructure projects.

A risk assessment completed by the council in March 2019 in relation to the level of staffing at the fire station found that almost half of the firefighters in the station had been recruited relatively recently. For safety reasons, therefore, and to allow the firefighters time to gain experience, a decision was taken by the council not to recruit further new firefighters for the station at that time. Bray fire station currently has a crew of eight and is operational as a station with one fire engine. I am informed that there have not been any issues turning out a full crew to all incidents and there has been no impact on public safety as a result of that reduction. This is due to the fine work of the personnel in Bray fire station, which is augmented as and when required by colleagues in the station in Greystones nearby. It should also be noted that further back-up is available to Bray, if required, from the two full-time crews in Dún Laoghaire, which is also relatively nearby. The additional recruitment of firefighters for Bray fire station is scheduled to commence again in January 2020, which is just a number of weeks away.

I thank the Minister for her response, which clearly outlined all the issues and problems we have. Fire services are the responsibility of local authorities as opposed to a national fire authority. We need one body to implement policy and address the needs of an area based on risk.

I outlined all the difficulties with the fire service in Bray. These problems did not emerge in 2018 but go right back to 2005 when firefighters in the town took it upon themselves to walk out of the station because of manning levels. The number of firefighters was low at that stage and 14 years later, here we are with the same problems, issues and concerns. Nobody is questioning the skills, training and expertise of the firefighters. It is the State that is failing by not putting in place what is needed. We need a national fire authority. Retained fire services might have been suitable in rural areas 30 or 40 years ago but the Bray fire station was built in the 1980s to accommodate a full-time fire service.

It was seen as a need back then. The population in Bray has greatly increased since that time and is due to increase even further with more risk of dangerous buildings, high-rise buildings and nursing homes, as I outlined.

We need a full-time fire service in the area because of the challenges that retained firefighters must endure daily to get to the station. When they are in their workplace or home and the alert goes off in their pockets, they have to battle through congested traffic in their own cars and they are not allowed put on sirens or flashing lights to get to the station. They face massive challenges. There are also the restrictions that they must live and work within a five-minute radius of the fire station. These are the reasons that new recruits cannot be retained. It is why there were retirements last year and there will continue to be retirements because of the pressures and constraints faced by recruits and existing firefighters.

The State must live up to its responsibilities and implement the key recommendations of the Farrell Grant Sparks report of 2002, including the establishment of a national fire authority, removing the need for the local authority to come up with the more than €1 million needed to establish a full-time fire service in Bray. That needs to be based on risk and it can be brought forward only through a national fire authority. It is time to get serious or we will be dealing with more tragedies.

I hear the Deputy's concern and he is genuinely very passionate about this. Wicklow County Council tells me it had to make the decision last year to stop some recruitment intended to try to bring the level back up to what it had been a number of years ago, which was twice as many manning the station as there are now. It has ten and probably should have proficiency of six or seven more. It will recruit again in January and I hope it is not too long before the Deputy sees a full complement of staff. As the Deputy said, when the stations where we live were built we were living in the sticks. We cannot really call Bray or Ashbourne the sticks any more. We now live in the metropolitan district of the greater Dublin area. The Deputy is probably right that the fire stations need to be manned to reflect changes in population increases over the time since they were established.

School Accommodation Provision

I thank the Minister for attending. I understand the Minister for Education and Skills cannot attend and I am okay with that such is the urgency of this issue. I am delighted to have a Cabinet-ranking Minister present and she might bring back the concerns of the local community on this.

Knocklyon, Firhouse and Ballycullen are growing areas. The Department of Education and Skills decided to provide a 1,000-pupil, post-primary school in the area and patronage was granted to Educate Together. The school is to be called Firhouse Educate Together secondary school. It applied for planning permission a year ago on a site that was turned down pretty dramatically. The Department is in search of a site for the school and, to the best of my knowledge, has located one off the Old Court Road in Ballycullen. Coincidentally, last Friday week I visited the school and met the Minister's colleague and my constituency colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. Where the school is housed at present is between two new schools. These are Firhouse Educate Together national school and Gaelscoil Na Giuise. We were given a guided walk between the two school buildings. What we saw, and the Minister, Deputy Zappone, can testify to this, was a thriving, creative and incredibly impressive learning and teaching environment. Everybody we met, from Claire Matthews, the principal, to the students, secretarial staff and all the ancillary staff, made it an incredibly happy school environment.

Yesterday, the principal emailed me to say that since we met last Friday week, the Department had been in touch with the school with a proposal for the school to move to temporary accommodation in Citywest for a period of between 18 to 24 months, depending on the length of time needed to acquire its permanent site and construct a section of a permanent building to house the students. The Minister was speaking about the old days. Citywest is 10 km or 11 km away. That is ten or 11 Dublin kilometres at peak time. The Department may as well try to move the school to Dawson Street or Kildare Street. That is the length of the distance and the dramatic impact it would have.

This would be disastrous for the school community. It would no longer be situated in the community. It would need to bus the students from the general Firhouse and Ballycullen area out to Citywest at peak time and bus them back in the afternoon. It is a very far from satisfactory arrangement. The Department is willing to fund the buses but there would be so many challenges regarding the health and safety of the students, never mind concerns about sustainability and the environment, which are no longer secondary issues.

Considering the level of need the school has among the student body it would result in an added layer of significant stress for the students and the team on a daily basis. It would be such a dramatic dislocation of a school that is just breathing in its first air and taking its first steps in the community in permanent buildings that it neither owns, occupies nor has a right to. Dislocating it from the community in very dramatic circumstances removes the type of oxygen that a post-primary school needs to survive, thrive and establish itself.

The Department shared this news with the school community and I will speak about that in my second contribution. At the particular meeting with the parents following the meeting with the Department, the principal had to tell the departmental officials that perhaps it was not the right time for Firhouse Educate Together secondary school if viable accommodation cannot be found in Firhouse, and that perhaps closing the school is the only option.

I stand by the school, the staff, the students and the local community. It is one of the most exciting educational initiatives to take place in the community. A 1,000-pupil, post-primary school is a significant educational footprint. To dislocate it and suggest it ought to be relocated 10 km away will kill it. It is that simple and there is no argument. I would like the Minister to convey this to the Minister for Education and Skills.

There is no point in me reading out the history of the school that the Deputy already knows because he outlined it very eloquently. It is a real pity the planning application for this much-needed and wanted school was upscuttled because it is diverse and slightly different from what we have had in the area previously. The temporary accommodation that was sorted out for recent years set the school in train to be able to move into its new site. The Deputy is well aware as to why that temporary accommodation is no longer viable from this year. This is a pity. I hear the Deputy's distress and I will certainly pass it on.

I must also tell the Deputy that in the past week a number of other sites have been identified by the patron body, Educate Together, and they are being actively pursued because of all the reasons the Deputy just cited. Nobody wants to see the school not come to fulfil its ambition. It is a great new start for the area and for the patron body. I suggest we just sit tight to explore the alternative arrangements offered to see whether any of them are viable. Alternatively, the only suggestion is the home identified in Citywest, although it is not ideal, to try to ensure the school opens its doors to new pupils in 2020. I will definitely pass on all the Deputy's concerns and heartfelt angst on where we are right now.

Does the Minister's official response name the locations being considered?

I thank the Minister for her sympathetic response. I will feed it back and acknowledge the fact she will go back to the Minister. Citywest is also in my constituency. The Minister of Education and Skills should be aware that never mind that the site to which the school is proposed to be moved is 10 km away, it also creates difficulties for Citywest. Firhouse Educate Together national school and an education and training board national school occupy a temporary building while they await permanent buildings, which are almost complete. It is owned by NAMA and is earmarked as temporary accommodation for Citywest post-primary school, the patron of which has yet to be decided and that process is ongoing. This creates double the difficulties, never mind the distance.

I am heartened to hear that alternatives are being actively considered. I wonder about the dramatic meeting that departmental officials felt they had to have with the Educate Together post-primary school in Firhouse. It is clear from what the Minister said that these options are being considered by Educate Together.

I hope the Department engages quickly with those concerned. Firhouse-Ballycullen-Knocklyon is a rapidly growing area and it needs an alternative post-primary school. The area is currently served by four fine post-primary schools, including Sancta Maria college, Coláiste Éanna, St. Colmcille's community school and Firehouse community college, all of which are fine, excellent schools but Educate Together represents a different offering to the local community, building on the Educate Together and gaelscoileanna options already available to parents. It provides the choice in education for which we all yearn.

I am grateful that the Minister, Deputy Doherty, will bring my concerns to the attention of the Minister, Deputy McHugh, as a matter of urgency. I look forward to his reply and some good, positive news before Christmas for the community in Firhouse, Ballycullen and Knocklyon.

I will, of course, bring the Deputy's concerns to the attention of the Minister, Deputy McHugh. Lest I did not give him the correct information earlier, the suggested alternative was made by the patron body, not anybody else. It is being actively pursued by the Department. This is not the first time something like this has happened. It happened in my own constituency in 2007. Where there is a will to facilitate, there is always a way. I very much hope and trust that will happen in this case. I will ensure the Minister, Deputy McHugh, communicates with the Deputy on the matter.