Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Special Educational Needs

Can Members not participating in the Topical Issue debate please leave the Chamber quietly? The first matter for discussion comes from Deputy Catherine Connolly, who wishes to discuss the provision of bus transport to enable children with special needs to participate in the July provision programme.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle agus i dtús báire ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire nua guím gach rath uirthi in a ról nua. Faraor géar tá orm an t-ábhar seo a ardú inniu. Cheap mé go mbeadh sé réitithe mar tá an t-ábhar thar a bheith goilliúnach agus tá gá le córas iompair a bheith ag na daltaí chun freastal ar an July provision. I congratulate the Minister and wish her the best in her new role.

Unfortunately, I have to raise this topic today. I wish I did not. The school wrote to the Minister and I wrote to the Minister. I realise that she is in a new role and getting familiar with the brief. The matter relates to a specific school in Galway, Ábalta, with children who have special needs, including autism. We fought a battle in the Dáil to ensure that the July provision would go ahead. The Minister's colleague and former Minister, Deputy Joe McHugh, did tremendous work to ensure that the July provision would go ahead and that it be extended, which I welcome. Unfortunately, we appealed to the schools to come forward and they came forward, including Ábalta in Galway, but it was not matched with school transport. I understand that in this particular situation, all the arrangements were made. The drivers, bus escorts and everybody else was in agreement and able to comply with whatever social distancing requirements there were, but they have received no response from the Department other than an acknowledgement, and no explanation as to why school transport could not be provided and paid for by the Department. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that.

I do not need to take all of my time. This is an important issue generally. How can the July provision function properly if children cannot access that service? This also raises the question of what will happen with schools in September. I would appreciate if the Minister could answer that.

I thank Deputy Connolly. I join in congratulating the Minister on her appointment and acknowledge that, for her first week here dealing with the Topical Issue debate, she has had more than her fair share of cases.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. Before I address the specific issue raised, I would like to provide to the Members an outline of the extent of the school transport service.

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department. In the 2019-20 school year, more than 120,000 children, including more than 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in more than 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering more than 100 million km at a cost of more than €219 million in 2019. The purpose of my Department's school transport scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children whose homes are remote from their nearest school.

With regard to transport for the summer provision programme 2020, given the exceptional circumstances in planning for delivery of the programme and the shorter than normal timeframe in which to plan for school transport services, in addition to the expansion of the programme and coupled with the social distancing requirements as per health advice, the Department was not in a position to provide school transport for the programme this year.

However, my Department will provide grant funding to support families with the cost of transport arrangements for those children who are eligible for school transport and who have been approved to participate in the summer programme. The grant payment is based on the distance that a family resides from their child's school of attendance. The calculation is based on four trips per day - home to school and school to home, morning and afternoon - multiplied by the number of days a child attends school for the programme. The current rate of grant is 39.12 cent per kilometre for the first 6,437 km travelled and 21.22 cent per kilometre for each kilometre travelled thereafter.

Families who are already in receipt of the special transport grant for children with special educational needs will be paid as normal following the completion of the summer provision programme 2020. Families who currently avail of a transport service will be contacted by school transport section following the completion of the summer provision programme 2020 in regard to the arrangements for payment.

Families who are not in a position to make their own transport arrangements in order to avail of the school-based programme may contact the special education section of my Department with a view to inquiring about the home-based programme.

I again thank the Deputy for raising this matter and for affording me the opportunity to provide an outline of the extent of the school transport scheme and to respond to the specific issue raised.

I wish the Minister the best in her new role, but I am not happy with her reply, which is the same as a reply we got already. Along with colleagues, I tabled a parliamentary question and that was the standard reply we got. I am trying to go behind that reply.

A number of children with special needs have suffered enough because of Covid. They now cannot attend the July provision because there is no transport. I already know the outline the Minister has given me, and I thank her for that. I am asking her as a new Minister to go behind that, stop the bureaucracy and look for a way of sorting this out so that children with special needs can attend the July provision. There is no way the Minister for Education and Skills can stand over children not being able to attend the school having been deprived of a service since mid-March. This is a very special circumstance. Providing funds is welcome, but it does not sort out the problem.

It has never been explained to the parents and the school why it is not possible. In this situation, all the arrangements have been made to comply with the requirements under Covid. We have no idea why it is not happening. Perhaps we could have a refreshing start of a new Minister, i mBéarla nó i nGaeilge, is cuma liom ach go mbeidh réiteach don fhadhb ar an talamh.

I appreciate that the Deputy has acknowledged the importance of what the summer scheme means. There was considerable difficulty in getting it on stream given that the announcement was made on 12 June. Schools were notified on 15 June and it began operation on 29 June. From that point of view, there was a difficulty in putting transport in place. I accept that the Deputy said that in her specific case, this transport seems to be in place. It is important to acknowledge that there is the opportunity for grant assistance for families. The Deputy raised a specific issue relating to this particular school. I will give a commitment that my officials will look specifically at that and I will revert to her.

School Accommodation

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Aire on her new role. Scoil Chrónáin in Rathcoole is bursting at the seams. Census data show very clearly that Rathcoole is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. To keep up with this demand, Scoil Chrónáin erected six temporary prefabs on its playing pitch, which has deprived pupils of that facility. An additional two prefabs will shortly be added.

Scoil Chrónáin has looked forward to securing funding for a long-awaited school building for 45 years. When the Department purchased land from South Dublin County Council adjacent to the current school and it was assigned to a new school for Scoil Chrónáin, there was hope that finally the school would have the quality accommodation it deserves.

This hope was crushed last month when the Department published plans to build temporary accommodation for another school on this land. While the school is supposed to be temporary, once that school goes ahead there is concern that it may never leave. There is no permanent approved site for the new school, and it seems like history repeating itself. This move by the Department is blatantly unjust and unfair.

Scoil Chrónáin has been embedded in the community in Rathcoole for generations and deserves the opportunity to expand to meet the demand for education through the Irish language in the area. That fact that land is available for the school's extension adjacent to its current building seems to give it an ideal opportunity to allow a new school building to be built there when it is so badly needed.

It is unbelievable that the Department earmarked this land for the school and overnight made a decision to hand it over to a different school without any consultation with Scoil Chrónáin or the local community. It is a smack in the face for the school and the Irish-speaking community throughout south Dublin and our community in Rathcoole.

Rathcoole Educate Together is equally deserving of school accommodation, but just not on land earmarked for another school. It is dishonest of the Department to mislead Rathcoole Educate Together into believing that it will have a temporary situation in Rathcoole. As the Minister will be aware from her background in education, once a temporary school is built it often remains in use for years to come. If this temporary school is built the likelihood is that children coming into junior infants in September will graduate from the same shabby temporary accommodation in years to come and Scoil Chrónáin will still be awaiting its long-promised building. If that happens, no one is a winner - not the school, the children or the parents.

This decision has triggered outrage in the local community, and I am sure the Minister can understand why. It was an overnight decision made by the Department that also places the Educate Together school in an unfair and difficult position. Because of the Department's failure to have the basic courtesy to even consult the community, hundreds of objections to the planning permission for this school have been made, which makes it inevitable that it will be appealed to An Bord Pleanála.

The Department has now had to advise the Educate Together school, which had believed that junior infants would be starting in a new building there in September, that new temporary alternative accommodation has to be found. The Department has made a bit of a mess here and Scoil Chrónáin, the Educate Together school and the community in Rathcoole will lose out. Will the Minister reverse this decision, provide funding for Scoil Chrónáin to build its long- awaited school on the land beside its school and resolve the situation for the Educate Together school?

I again thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Scoil Chrónáin is an existing all-Irish co-educational primary school, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin and centrally located in the village of Rathcoole. A building project to provide a new 16-classroom school plus a two-classroom special educational needs unit for the school is included in my Department's school building programme. The new building will be provided on a site adjacent to its existing site in Rathcoole, County Dublin.

This site is being acquired by my Department from South Dublin County Council.

Rathcoole Educate Together national school is a new English medium primary school being established in 2020 under the patronage of Educate Together. This new school will be an English medium, co-educational,16-classroom school, plus a two-classroom special educational needs unit. It will be located in a Department-owned site at Coolamber Drive, Rathcoole, County Dublin. Access to this site will require the construction of a new road which is currently being planned by South Dublin County Council. As the Coolamber site is not currently accessible and as the Department now has access to the land adjacent to Scoil Chrónáin, it was determined that the interim accommodation for Rathcoole Educate Together national school could be provided temporarily on that site.

The Department wrote to the board of management of Scoil Chrónáin on 19 March 2020 with regard to the proposed construction of a permanent school building for the school and outlining the Department's plans in this regard. The letter outlined that the Department was in the process of acquiring an additional site area adjacent to their existing site for this purpose.

Scoil Chrónáin was informed of my Department's intention to commence the architectural planning process for the construction of its new school building. The Department also outlined that in tandem with this it would also initiate the architectural planning process for the construction of the new primary school, Rathcoole Educate Together national school. The letter outlined that the building projects for both schools would be advanced in parallel.

The letter further outlined the need for my Department to provide interim accommodation to facilitate the new start-up school accommodation for Rathcoole Educate Together national school and that this interim accommodation was intended to be temporarily placed on the additional site area being acquired for Scoil Chrónáin. It outlined the process which was to take place, including lodging a planning application for the interim accommodation for Rathcoole Educate Together national school and also advised that the Department plans to move this temporary accommodation for the new school to its Coolamber Drive site as soon as site access is secured and in order to facilitate the construction of the permanent building for Scoil Chrónáin.

My Department had also intended to arrange a meeting with Scoil Chrónáin to explain these matters in more detail but then the Covid situation occurred which has prevented this meeting taking place to date. Now that the country is reopening for business, my officials will be in contact with Scoil Chrónáin to arrange that meeting shortly. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.

I thank the Minister for providing an outline of her Department's position on this matter and agreeing to hold the meeting. Unfortunately, the experience of schools in my constituency does not inspire hope. Scoil Chrónáin has been awaiting a new building for 45 years. St. Joseph's secondary school in Lucan has been awaiting a new building for 15 years. Scoil Áine Naofa and St. Thomas' junior national school in Lucan remain in prefabs. Lucan Community College has been awaiting an extension for as long as I can remember. Griffeen Community College is operating out of another school and my own secondary school, Holy Family community school, has been waiting for a new building since before I graduated. This simply is not good enough.

I got involved in politics to shout about these kinds of issues in my constituency and bring them to the attention of senior Ministers so I appreciate the Minister taking the time to listen to me today. I know from the Minister's background as a teacher and local politician that she understands the importance of providing adequate school accommodation for children and I am asking her to help me secure these new buildings. Each of the buildings in question is promised, budgeted for and needed. I thank the Minister for her response.

I appreciate the Deputy's response. I think there is a clear acknowledgement in the reply I gave that the Department is committed to providing the facilities that the Deputy has mentioned. I will ensure that my Department officials meet with representatives of the school.

Bus Services

I wish the Minister for climate action, communication networks and transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, all the best in his new portfolio. My question relates to financial assistance for private bus operators. Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in Ireland in March, private bus and coach operators have suffered a devastating blow to their operations. National tourism has halted, school buses are not running and large-scale events have been cancelled. Therefore, these companies faced a surreal situation whereby business essentially ground to a halt overnight.

I have had talks with private bus operators regarding the situation. I am informed that they are facing a drop in turnover of 95% which equates to a loss of €586 million. This industry is now facing an uncertain future with the collapse of revenues only adding to the fact that these operators are normally highly indebted due to the high capital costs of buses and coaches. According to economist Jim Power's assessment of the Covid-19 issues facing private bus and coach operators, there are 1,721 coach operators in Ireland with 9,264 vehicles, with over 75 million journeys operated annually for tourists, school children and private hires. It supports 11,457 jobs and adds €164 million annually to the Exchequer in tax revenue. Overall, coach tourism provided €400 million to the Irish economy in 2018, with a turnover of €617 million in 2017.

The simple fact is that the loss of many of these operators would be detrimental to rural Ireland and its local economy. In my own county of Tipperary, for example, there are 73 bus and coach operators, operating 423 vehicles. The loss of any of these services would be bad news for local areas and the jobs they support. The impending closure of these operators will also put more cars on the road which may well undermine the programme for Government's commitment to a 7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from next year until 2030. It will also increase the likelihood of higher traffic congestion and will affect the rebuilding effort of Ireland's tourism industry.

It is calculated that 17% of total costs are still incurred, even though all buses and coaches are parked up. The expected turnover for the industry this year is €620 million, with approximately €180 million to come from school transport, €170 million for scheduled services and €20 million from HSE contracts or Local Link-type services. A remaining €250 million comes from tourism and the private hire industry. Applying 17% to this figure would indicate a yearly subsidy of €42.5 million. The industry is proposing a subsidy equating to €32 million for a nine-month period to the end of March 2021. The industry also proposes a financial support package of €125 million for scheduled services, a further €1 million for student services and €14 million for specific services which combine to a total of €140 million. It is proposed that these payments will be made on a monthly basis with operators submitting monthly returns on passengers and revenue. This would allow a gradual reduction in subsidies when there is a gradual increase in passengers.

The programme for Government made many commitments, including improving connectivity in rural Ireland, giving greater priority to bus services by expanding quality bus corridors, supporting the tourism sector and accelerating sustainable transport plans for schools. Taking all this into account, can we get a firm commitment from the Government that it will support the private bus and coach industry in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and explore avenues to ease the financial burden it has incurred as a result of the collapse in services such as those I have mentioned? This industry is in significant trouble and its survival depends on Government intervention.

I wish to congratulate the Minister for climate action, communication networks and transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on his appointment and thank him for being here to deal with this Topical Issue matter.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I am pleased to be here to answer Deputy Jackie Cahill's question and continue to engage with him on this vital issue. We have been able to continue to provide a limited but important public transport service through the Covid-19 crisis. I worked in the tourism sector for many years and recognise the important role that private bus and coach operators provide to the Irish people. We must ensure that they survive this crisis as best we can.

While the majority of public transport in Ireland is provided by the publicly subvented bus and rail services funded through National Transport Authority's public service obligation programme, the public transport system also includes non-subvented bus services provided on a commercial basis by bus and coach businesses of varying sizes. I understand that approximately 90% of the commercial bus operators have suspended their services or are providing significantly reduced services at present. The licensed bus sector provides essential public transport services across the State and in 2018 operated over 90 million km, carrying in excess of 27 million passengers.

Such operations are an integral part of the overall provision of transport services to the public and supplement the services provided under public service contracts with the National Transport Authority, NTA.

From my Department's engagement with representatives of the licensed bus operators, and indeed from the NTA's regular engagement with them throughout the crisis, I understand the very difficult business environment these operators are operating in. Indeed, across Government we are acutely aware that the Covid-19 situation presents huge challenges for many business sectors. The sector will continue to play a crucial role over the coming months in supporting the Government's Roadmap for Reopening Society and the Economy, particularly with a more significant return to work and recommencement of retail activities in addition to the expected increase in trips to hospitals, pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues, or for visiting friends and family and, indeed, the return of school transport in the autumn. It is critical for the sector to be functioning so that it can carry the passengers that we need to return to work and to other activities as they reopen. These operators provide essential transport services for people who need to get to work and are vital to ensure economic recovery.

For that reason, I am pleased to advise the Deputy that temporary funding supports, in accordance with EU and national legislation, have been approved for the licensed bus sector. This support is a positive development and has been welcomed by the industry. It is aimed at ensuring the continued operation of essential licensed bus services for a period of up to six months. The support will be restricted to operators where a clear public interest justification supports such intervention and will be targeted at compensating the gap between specified costs and the revenues generated on the services. The NTA, as the public transport licensing agency, will administer the support through the establishment of contracts between the NTA and the relevant operators. This is, of course, additional to the wider programme of Government supports for impacted businesses which were introduced, including new schemes of wage subsidies, rates waivers, restart grants, lending facilities, equity injection, and business advisory supports.

Over the course of the Covid-19 crisis, my Department has been working closely with the NTA to ensure public transport services continue and to plan for the provision of enhanced public transport services in line with the Government's roadmap. A number of measures have been introduced across the system, guided by public health advice, to ensure the continued operation of services during the pandemic, including enhanced cleaning regimes and social distancing measures across the network. At the onset of the Covid emergency in mid-March, there was a sharp drop to approximately 10% of pre-Covid numbers. This situation continued until mid-May. Since the implementation of the Government's roadmap, however, passenger demand has increased, albeit from extremely low levels.

With the commencement of phase 3 of the roadmap for reopening on 29 June, changes to the existing public transport social distancing restrictions were agreed, allowing a move from 2 m social distancing to utilising 50% of the passenger carrying capacity of fleet. This will help to underpin public transport services provided by public and commercial licensed operators during these unprecedented times, with a view to safeguarding public transport capacity in phases 3 and 4 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business.

I thank the Minister for his reply and accept that he acknowledges the great difficulties this industry is encountering. The industry has put forward a detailed proposal about exactly how much funding it needs. I would press on the Minister to give careful consideration. The industry has stated that 17% of operators costs have to be grant-aided for them at this time. The Minister talked about six months. That will not be long enough. The industry's proposal is up to 1 April. I plead with the Minister to recognise that. It is going to take a significant period for the tourism industry to reach anything like full capacity again. There is going to be continual aid needed there.

I would like to make a point about the way Southern operators are treated for VAT compared with their Northern counterparts. Northern operators pay zero VAT on supplies but can claim a full VAT rebate. Southern operators are exempt from VAT meaning they are not charged any VAT but are not able to reclaim VAT. This puts Southern operators at a distinct commercial disadvantage to their competitors from Northern Ireland. It is something that needs to be examined. It is an ongoing problem within our coach industry. It needs to be resolved to put everyone on an even playing pitch.

The cost of insurance in the Twenty-six Counties has been mentioned many times in this House. It is a great burden on this industry. This week it has been discussed in the House. The heavy burden it puts on commercial operators in the State needs to be tackled. The coach business is highly regulated and will be a cornerstone to our recovery post-Covid. I plead with the Minister to listen to what the coach operators are saying and come forward with a package that allows these industries to be in place when our economy gets back on an even keel.

We will very much take the figures and the information Deputy Cahill has provided will help. My colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Catherine Martin, recognises that the coach industry in the tourism sector is in real trouble, along with so many other aspects of the sector. We need to be sector-specific in recognising this. The loss of the coach tourism business has been cataclysmic this summer and it is facing into a difficult winter. I will certainly try to incorporate the ideas the Deputy has raised.

Tourism is one part of this business. The commercial operators and bus companies operating particular passenger routes outside the tourism sector may, I hope, be able to recover sooner rather than later, particularly if we can avoid a second wave. Confidence in that regard in getting the public back on buses will depend on us getting the public to buy into using a face covering on public transport. If we can get that, public confidence will be much stronger and passenger numbers will come back. I hope within the coming days to have news that will help that in terms of using health regulations to manage that. I hope that will help the commercial bus operators.

I will also mention to the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform the Deputy's ideas on the different VAT regimes North and South. I should signal that we also have a challenge facing us in terms of bus services across the Border in a no-deal Brexit situation. We will have to work on that. The likes of McGinley Coaches, whose buses I have used many a day, have to have certainty around how they can operate across the Border, to take one example from my own experience. We have a lot of work to do there to protect bus and coach operators in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I will commit to doing that and supporting this vital public transport service.

Youth Services

I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to the club. Sometimes he will get an easy ride and sometimes he will not.

This issue was only brought to me late last night. What is known in Carrigtwohill in east Cork as the CDYS, the Cloyne Diocesan Youth Service, is facing closure because of a lack of funding. From the information I received, it is a youth cafe that may close by 22 July and it is down to funding. In my conversations with the co-ordinator for the area and also with the parents and a couple of young kids who use the services, it really got me worrying last night. It has done so much fabulous work in the area in its short time. It has got massive buy-in from the local community but it has only been supported by a one-off philanthropy grant, the St. Vincent de Paul and a local parish priest. We had Brexit and now we seem to be blaming Covid for everything. I raise this out of my former capacity as mental health spokesperson. These young kids are very vulnerable. We have had ongoing issues with new schools in Carrigtwohill as well, so the kids do not know where they are going to school in September. If they are not sports-minded, they have no other outlet..

The kids are genuinely worried about this.

There are many sports clubs around east Cork and I thank all those involved for their work in the community. These clubs are outlets to aid positive mental health. We also have the east Cork music project. Other than these great facilities, we will not have stability or security for young people in a few weeks. Parents are very distressed. East Cork stretches over a very wide area. The Cloyne Diocesan Youth Service offers a therapeutic service for young people in Mallow, Charleville, Mitchelstown. Creative Community Alternatives, CCA, is another vital service that offers play therapy, art therapy, counselling, community and psychotherapy. All this could fall.

I hope the Minister will recognise that I speak to him in an empathetic, honest way. My concerns are genuine. I hope I will not get a standard response. Is there a possibility of keeping this vital service open? If his answer is "No", I will explain to him why it is so important. For every action, there is a reaction and we are a reactive rather than proactive society. If this service is closed, there will be a domino effect. Some young people will not return to school in September - if the schools open - because they will not be alive. Their mental health will be so damaged that we will be facing bigger issues than we do already.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. We all wish him well in his brief and we are grateful that he is present to take this important matter.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Buckley for their kind words. I look forward to working closely with all Members of the House in my new role. I assure the Deputy of my commitment to young people and the youth sector which provides them with such critical support. I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue.

I am pleased to note that funding to the youth sector has been protected during the extraordinary challenges recently. This has enabled the youth sector to continue to provide supports to young people, particularly to marginalised, disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

In budget 2020 my Department was allocated €61.8 million in funding to support the provision of youth services nationwide, including the UBU Your Place Your Space strategy, which opened on 1 July. This new funding scheme provides €39 million annually to youth services supporting young people aged between ten and 24 years who are vulnerable, disadvantaged or marginalised. The first cycle of this scheme runs to December 2023.

My Department also funds more universally focused, volunteer led youth work through the youth service grant scheme. We also have some other funding schemes, including the youth capital fund and the new youth climate justice fund.

We are facing challenging times ahead. As the Deputy and everyone else will understand, we must manage the resources we have and use them well. In respect of this year, and the current circumstances, the work of youth services across the country is both necessary and essential, and funding levels are being maintained on that basis. With regard to future funding, it is my wish that funding for the youth sector will be maintained and hopefully increased. I will continue to advocate for that in each successive budgetary process.

On the specific issue raised by the Deputy, while my Department does not currently fund any youth services in Carrigtwohill, it funds four Cloyne Diocesan Youth Service projects to a total of almost €300,000 in 2020. The education and training boards, ETBs, have a specific role in acting as a funding and governance intermediary for my Department in the area of youth funding. This role is underpinned by local area need assessments conducted by the ETBs in conjunction with youth services in their areas.

The Deputy noted that he had only heard about this issue last night. My Department only heard of it today. I urge the service to engage with the relevant ETB in the first instance. Any issues relating to requirements for additional funding should be discussed in the first instance with the relevant ETB, which can consider the various options available. The ETBs are the conduit for the funding that my Department provides.

The Deputy will be aware that the youth sector responded quickly to the current crisis. It has adapted and innovated and the sector did not close. This proactive, innovative approach has allowed it to support many vulnerable young people through the current crisis. Many youth workers and volunteers were redeployed in other sectors to help with Covid-19 crisis responses. I recognise that and acknowledge the work undertaken by people in the youth work sector during the crisis.

My Department is looking at a number of wider schemes to ascertain the impact of the Covid crisis on young people. In particular, we undertook a consultation, How's Your Head - Young Voices during Covid-19, to get a deeper understanding of the impacts of the current crisis on young people, including the issue raised by the Deputy.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He will get to know me. I am straightforward and I do not mess around with politeness that is not needed. The Minister mentioned assessments, ETBs and so on. The first hurdle is Covid. If the virus comes back, will we blame Covid? I understand this matter was raised with the Minister at short notice but that is also the case with me. There is a bigger picture at play.

What do I tell people in Carrigtwohill, east Cork and the Diocese of Cloyne, including the service providers and users, about what will happen to this café? Will there be a ripple effect? Will red tape and Covid be used to mask the loss of this service? This will create a void and I will be back in the House with the Minister or the Minster for Health discussing another cluster of youth suicides and asking why it is happening. I will be told there was a youth service but it is gone and some Deputy raised it at some point. This service does not cost much. The Minister mentioned a figure of €300,000. East Cork is a massive area. Considering the amount of voluntary work which goes on in the area, that sum is extremely small. I appeal to the Minister on behalf of all those who need youth services. We start from the bottom up, not the top down. We need to nurture our children now, educate them and give them support and security. I will contact the Minister's office at the weekend. I would like to sit down with him to see if we can do something to keep these services open and give the people involved an opportunity to tick all the boxes and jump over a couple of fences to get past the Covid barriers. That will not happen overnight and I appeal to the Minister to give me a commitment to keep this service open.

I also like to think of myself as a fairly straight talker. I have come to the House with information my officials have just gathered. I would love to be in a position to say definitively that we will keep this service open but I cannot do that. To do so would be unfair to the Deputy and, more importantly, to the people who are using the services.

The Deputy was a member of Cork County Council. I do not know if he was also a member of his local education and training board. I was a member of the ETB in County Dublin and I am familiar with the huge work it did in supporting youth services. I am aware of the fundamental importance of youth services and the work done by ETBs in assessing needs in particular areas and directing funding to where it is necessary. I understand from my officials that there is a shortfall in funding of about €35,000, which is certainly not a huge amount of money. I ask the Deputy to convey to the service the message that it needs to contact the local ETB as quickly as possible.

I will also engage with my officials and will seek to ascertain what exactly are the steps that need to be taken. If the Deputy wishes to get in touch with my Department, I will be very happy to assist in any way I can. I would like to see this facility kept open and I understand the importance it has for the Deputy’s area. I do not want to make a rash commitment now that I cannot back up. We will continue to engage on this.