Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Special Educational Needs

The first matter submitted is in the name of Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor. The Deputy wants to talk about the funding for the new building for the Holy Angels School for Children with Special Needs in Carlow. All of us in that part of the world are aware of the superb service provided by the Holy Angels school.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, for taking this matter. I ask the Minister for a report on the very special Carlow school, the Holy Angels School for Children with Special Needs, which I have raised on a number of occasions in the Seanad. It is an issue very close to my heart. I am specifically looking for a report on a new building for the school as we head into another school term this autumn with Covid-19 very much at the forefront of our minds. The Holy Angels centre in Carlow was established in the basement of Carlow's old district hospital in 1978 because there was a need for day care for children with special needs. It is still operating more than four decades later as a specialised preschool for children aged 18 months to six years with special needs and caters for children with a range of disabilities. They are in urgent need of a school.

Holy Angels school has been on the priority list for a new build for more than five years. The HSE has made land available at Kelvin Grove for the new centre and I would like to know if any detailed delivery plan for the new building is being set out because this has been going on too long. I am concerned that the site at Kelvin Grove, as I am reliably told, is on the vacant properties register but I also believe we are meant to be looking at locating a women's refuge on the site. That is welcome because the site is big enough. However, there is no concrete plan in place. The children, their families, the staff and the management cannot wait any longer as the current conditions in the school simply are not good enough. I reiterate that the staff in Holy Angels are among the very best in the country but it is not fair to expect them to make the best of things when it is clear they are operating in a school which is not fit for purpose. As we all know, early intervention is essential for children attending such a specialised service to develop new skills and reach their full potential. The children, their families, the staff, the management and the wider community are relying on me to ensure that the centre will get their long-promised school. Holy Angels is at the centre of our community in Carlow and it is a centre we all actively support in whatever way we can do so. For far too long they have been on a priority list for a school that is fit for purpose but they still do not have their school.

These special children need a place to go that is fit for purpose. Their families and the staff need a building that is fit for purpose to continue with the great job they are doing.

The programme for Government states that we must plan early for adolescents and young adults with care needs such as special education, disability services or juvenile justice so they too can play a valued role in our society. With all the current constraints on capital funding, can I get a commitment that this long-promised school building will be forthcoming for the Holy Angels day care centre? It worries me that after 40 years the centre is still housed in prefabs. It is disgraceful. Children with special needs are in prefabs. Last year the then Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, allocated a small amount of funding because the roof was leaking and there was a problem with the floor. If we do not get a new school I will have real concerns that the Holy Angels centre will not exist any more. I am seeking a commitment from the Minister of State. I look forward to hearing her response and I hope it is a good one.

I thank Deputy Murnane O'Connor for raising this important issue. The Deputy has long advocated a new building for the Holy Angels day care centre and her commitment to seeing progress on this project deserves to be acknowledged, as does the work the staff at Holy Angels do for children with disabilities. As can be seen in the programme for Government, we are committed to improving the lives of children with disabilities through further developing services and supports, particularly early access to assessment and intervention. This provides children with the best start in life, enabling them to reach their full potential.

In my role as Minister for State with responsibility for disabilities, I want to be open and transparent with Deputies on all issues raised with me, as well as my plans to improve and strengthen these areas. It is not just Deputies that deserve this degree of openness, but also people using disability services themselves. People deserve honesty, not waffle.

As Deputies are aware the area of disabilities is moving from the Department of Health to the newly reconfigured Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It will take time for this to happen. My hope is that once complete, this move will ensure a greater focus on disabilities. Instead of the sector being swamped by other issues in the Department of Health, this move will allow for clear pathways to be developed to ensure progress on capital projects like the Holy Angels day care centre, the reduction of waiting lists and access to disability services.

The Deputy raised the issue of a building for the Holy Angels centre with the then Minister of State, Finian McGrath, last December. Having looked at the file, I do not want to rehash information the Deputy already knows, which is of no real benefit either to the Deputy or to the children and staff of Holy Angels. As the Deputy will recall, following the meeting between the head of disability services and the board of management of Holy Angels in October 2019, a further meeting was to take place in March 2020. That meeting was put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A new meeting has been scheduled for 4 September. The head of disability services will meet with the board of management. This will take place in line with all Covid-19 guidelines. I can confirm that on the floor of the House tonight. The follow-up meeting which was arranged with the then Minister of State will take place on 4 September.

I thank the Minister of State. That is welcome news. It is so important that we get the funding for the Holy Angels day care centre. I cannot emphasise enough that it really is in a bad place. We have excellent staff and fabulous children. People in Carlow are proud of Holy Angels and the work it does but the prefabs are not fit for purpose after 40 years. I will be looking for capital funding. We need to get it as soon as possible. I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I will be at the meeting.

I thank the Deputy for raising that important matter and the Minister of State for dealing with it.

Data Protection

This is a rather complex and long-running case, the consequences of which reach into many areas of public policy. It will have implications for Brexit, foreign direct investment and foreign trade. Quite simply, on foot of this judgment, the EU-US privacy shield has been declared invalid. As such, there is no safe and legal way to transfer data from a European Union citizen to the United States. Any company carrying out such data transfers is doing so at significant risk.

This case started in June 2013, seven years ago. Hopefully now that we finally have the judgment, we can see some real action to protect the fundamental rights of European citizens concerning their own data and privacy. The collapse and demise of the EU-US privacy shield was inevitable and widely predicted. It was a replacement for the previous Safe Harbor arrangement, to which little change had been made. As that arrangement had been declared invalid, this ruling was inevitable. It would be really positive if we could see some action from the Data Protection Commissioner to prevent what are, according to the European Court of Justice, unsafe and illegal transfers of data. The German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has already been warning people that they should stop these data transfers because of the demise of the EU-US privacy shield and the insufficient safeguards built into the standard contractual clauses on which companies will now have to rely.

The plaintiff in the case, Max Schrems, has published an open letter to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner asking when she will take action. One point we need to know is when the action will happen. The important follow-up question is whether the Data Protection Commissioner actually can act. Have we given her the resources to act properly? While her budget has increased, it is only a third of what she asked for. Her budget has failed to keep pace with the complexity and volume of complaints her office receives. We have seen her struggle to deal with this case. Serious complaints concerning real-time bidding, a very scary practice where data privacy is concerned, seem to have stalled and are going nowhere. Other data protection authorities around Europe have called us out as the roadblock to meaningful enforcement of the general data protection regulation, GDPR. We need to say when the action will happen. Are we giving the Data Protection Commissioner what she needs to act? I have said several times in this Chamber that we have not. After this judgment, her workload will not just become more complex; it will also massively increase. She does not have enough resources as it is, so we need to do more. This has huge consequences for many areas.

It is very nice to be back on this side of the House after almost ten years. I am glad to be responding to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. It is a very important case. The Deputy has mentioned the implications for Ireland's data protection regime of the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice on the EU-US privacy shield. I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the matter.

The Government respects the views and findings of the European Court of Justice and is fully supportive of the need to protect European citizens' data. This is an issue that affects us all and should be subject to the highest protections. The Minister acknowledges that the court's decision to strike down the EU-US privacy shield is a matter of serious concern for Irish and European businesses that transfer data to the US but welcomes the court's findings upholding the use of standard contractual clauses to facilitate the transfer of data between the EU and countries outside it. The Minister notes that in these matters, it is important that we respect the independence of the courts and the Data Protection Commission, DPC. The Data Protection Commission is an independent national authority responsible for upholding the fundamental right of individuals in the EU to have their personal data protected. The DPC is the Irish supervisory authority for the GDPR and has functions and powers related to other important regulatory frameworks, including the Irish e-privacy regulations, and the EU directive known as the law enforcement directive.

Matters concerning data protection are governed by several legislative frameworks, including the GDPR, the Data Protection Acts, the law enforcement directive and the 2011 e-privacy regulations.

The DPC is entirely independent of the Government, as is required under the GDPR. Together with our EU partners, we will need to examine the impact the ruling of the European Court of Justice will have on the continued use of standard contractual clauses, SCCs. Although the original reference to the Court of Justice originated from our High Court, this is not solely an Irish matter, as the Deputy noted, and it is not one that we can unilaterally fix. The ruling strikes down the European Commission's adequacy decision on the EU-US privacy shield. We will need to review the judgment and will work with the European Commission and our European partners to contribute to a solution.

The reality is that although the SCCs were not struck down in the judgment, they are only valid where it is considered that the data protection controls in place in the third-party country meet the adequacy standard. American data protection standards do not meet that adequacy standard, as we have seen in the context of Safe Harbor and now the EU-US privacy shield. There is no way that these SCCs will hold up to examination. What will happen is that the DPC will have to examine individually each of the approximately 5,500 SCCs, which will add to its workload. It is deeply predictable that they will not stand up because the adequacy is not there.

The same problems that mean the US data protection controls are inadequate exist in the UK. Very soon, we will not be able to transfer data to the UK, which will make Brexit just a little bit more awkward and, as we know, it is already damn awkward.

The Data Protection Commissioner is not entirely independent of the Government. It is the Government that provides her budget and ensures she has adequate staff and resources to do this work. Her work has just become significantly more complicated. Her office was already struggling under the weight and complexity of complaints. We need to provide more funding for the DPC and look very seriously at the consequences that may ensue because the SCCs quite simply will not stand up and are not safe. In fact, the transfer of data should not happen until they are certified as adequate. It is evident that they will not be so certified, given the record of decisions on this matter.

As I outlined, the Government is fully committed to the highest standards of data protection being in place for the benefit of Irish and other EU citizens. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, supports the entitlement of people across the EU to exercise their rights of data protection. However, the independence of our courts and the European Court of Justice must be respected, as must the independence of the DPC. I take on board the point made by the Deputy regarding the funding of the DPC but it does not detract from its independence. All Members accept that it is independent.

Although the Minister appreciates that the Court of Justice decision to strike down the privacy shield is a matter of serious concern for Irish and European businesses that transfer data to the US, she welcomes the court's findings which uphold SCCs. She is confident that the issues arising from the judgment can be resolved by working in conjunction with our EU partners. In so doing, the Government will endeavour to arrive at practical solutions. I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue and for his very helpful comments on the matter.

EU Bodies

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, all the best in his new brief and congratulate him on his appointment to the role. I am sure he will continue the excellent work done previously by his constituency colleague, Deputy McEntee. The Minister of State and I have discussed matters pertaining to Europe and, indeed, Brexit, many times in recent years in the media and various other forums. As he well knows and has seen in recent months, Ireland holds a great deal of influence around the world, particularly in the EU. In recent years, two Irish people have held the vital role of Secretary General of the European Commission. Ms Emily O'Reilly is the current European Ombudsman, while Ms Emer Cooke is head of the European Medicines Agency.

However, all is not well. These achievements do not hide the fact that officials expect a significant reduction in the number of Irish officials working in the EU institutions in the coming years as many high-ranking officials are nearing retirement age. There was a surge of talented Irish people taking up roles in the European institutions in the 1970s and 1980s, but our representation there has not been consistently replenished. Like our colleagues in Denmark, we are well below the replacement level, which will reduce Ireland's influence. Ireland has an incredibly strong diplomatic presence around the world. We must not allow that to fall by the wayside within the EU which is so close to home. Since 2015, only five Irish citizens have entered the EU Concours programme, while 150 have completed a blue book traineeship.

The programme for Government commits to developing a strategy to increase Ireland's presence in the senior ranks of the EU institutions. The best way to do that is to encourage and facilitate young Irish people who apply for internships or entry-level positions. It is vital that a plan be published to support and promote this strategy as soon as possible. Another way of maintaining our influence would be to second civil servants to EU institutions where needed and appropriate. On average, 24 secondments take place annually to the EU. The scheme is vital in building up expertise in the Civil Service and should be expanded.

There is much more that can be done. To put it bluntly, Ireland struggles in the context of foreign languages. While most of the measures that would address this problem are outside the remit of the Minister of State, I hope he will put pressure on the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, to roll out an increased focus on European languages at primary level.

Beyond that, we need to be more creative. On the day of his funeral, perhaps we could take a page out of Jack Charlton's book. How many Irish citizens are living in Brussels, may have grown up there and are keen to pursue a career in the EU institutions? Ireland is far more cosmopolitan now than it was when we joined the EEC. Many young Irish graduates are multilingual as their parents grew up outside Ireland.

Unfortunately, there is an issue that relates to our native language. Dozens of positions for Irish lawyer linguists are not being filled. There are extremely lucrative careers for Gaeilgeoirs in the EU which could provide Ireland with great influence. How can we make the most of that opportunity?

Moving beyond the issue of language, the Concours is an unwieldy and difficult examination process that requires dedicated supports to be provided to candidates by the State. In addition to the extremely important third level recruitment campaigns in which the Minister of State will doubtless take part - I have taken part in them in a private capacity - there is far more that needs to be done at the stage after traineeships. Irish candidates for the Concours need real support in the process. We need to encourage Irish people who are already living in Brussels to apply for these positions. It may be possible to engage with Irish people who have recently retired from the EU institutions with a view to them providing a mentoring service.

In the context of Brexit, we have seen European solidarity in its finest form. The solidarity with Ireland shown by our European partners and the EU institutions during the Brexit process is the result of many years of strong Irish influence on and within the EU. It is, therefore, vital that we address this glaring problem. We need a revamp and an imaginative strategy to address this issue because, simply, time will not wait for us.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As he is aware, dealing with this issue is a key commitment of the programme for Government and, in fact, a key personal commitment of mine. It is an issue I identified early on as one I wish to champion in my role. I am glad that the Deputy is singing from the same hymn sheet, as I knew he would.

Ireland's membership of the EU brings with it a range of employment possibilities for Irish citizens in the EU institutions. We have punched above our weight at EU level for many decades, with the most notable current examples of that being Ms Emily O'Reilly, the European Ombudsman, as well as a number of very senior officials in the European Commission. Of course, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, was recently elected president of the Eurogroup. As Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, I was in contact with colleagues regarding that election. A former Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, serves as EU special representative for human rights. A former Deputy from my county, John Bruton, has served as the EU's ambassador to the US. It is noteworthy that an Irish official, Ms Emer Cooke, was recently selected as the incoming executive director of the European Medicines Agency. She will be the first woman to lead that regulatory agency since it was formed 25 years ago.

Ireland has benefitted greatly from its citizens having key roles in the institutions. Mr. David O'Sullivan and Ms Catherine Day are two of the most recent Secretaries General of the European Commission. Irish officials working in the EU institutions know our culture, system and priorities and can provide a crucial understanding of the Irish context during the process of policy formulation and implementation at EU level. However, as the Deputy stated, it has become clear in recent years that we are heading for a demographic cliff in the context of our representation within the EU. Approximately 29% of Irish officials there are over 58 years of age and will retire within the next decade. The level of Irish representation will fall dramatically in light of projected retirements. As the Deputy stated, we are far below the replacement rate at our current rates of recruitment and that poses a serious challenge for us.

That is why the programme for Government commits to the development of a new strategy to increase the presence of Irish people in the senior ranks and generally in the EU institutions. We will also aim to increase the number of young Irish people applying for internships and we will work with Irish officials and universities on outreach.

The strategy, which I have already started to work on, will build on and bring together the significant work already being done by the Government and by my predecessor in this role, the current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy McEntee. I echo the compliments Deputy Richmond expressed about her. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade runs the EU jobs campaign, which promotes careers in the EU. As part of the EU jobs campaign, my predecessor as well as Department officials attended careers events in a range of universities in 2019 and 2020. I will also participate in those as part of the strategy, virtually or in-person, as public health guidance permits. The EU jobs campaign also provides support to Irish candidates and provides direct assistance to Irish citizens who have applied for permanent jobs in the EU institutions, providing information and advice for the duration of the recruitment competition. Only tonight, a constituent contacted me for guidance on those processes and procedures because they are very difficult.

My Department also works closely with the European Personnel Selection Office, the key body responsible for the recruitment of staff to the institutions, on the EU career ambassadors programme. This programme works in collaboration with Irish universities to select around a dozen students each year to promote career opportunities in the EU to their fellow students. We work with a range of other stakeholders, including the Public Appointments Service and European Movement Ireland, in this regard as well. The recruitment of Irish graduates to the European Commission through AD5 competitions has been at the rate of one to two successful candidates a year. While this might not seem very impressive, it is proportionate to our population. However, this will not be sufficient to match the numbers of those expected to retire in the coming years and we will be reinforcing our efforts very significantly in the coming weeks and months.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and am heartened by the enthusiasm he and I share for this process. It is a very difficult process that lies ahead of everyone, not just the Minister of State. It behoves everyone in this House and throughout society to see more Irish people working within the EU. One of my biggest criticisms of the European project - I do occasionally criticise it - is its inability to sell itself. The European Commission is brilliant at informing people as to how they can criticise the Commission and its work but it does not sell the brilliant achievements it has made over the last 60 or so years. Equally, the Irish Government is not selling Europe. Regardless of what party is in power and what party holds the Minister of State's brief, we are not selling Europe. We are not convincing young Irish graduates that a career in the European institutions should be an attractive one. I will declare an interest. I lived on the Continent for two years and did not pursue that career for personal reasons. We need to make sure that people realise employment in the European institutions is lucrative and well paid and offers great opportunities for travel and to build experience. Many people have countered this saying it may be because of the economic boom in Ireland but that is not a fair comparison. I encourage the Minister of State to look at some of the more imaginative suggestions I have made on attracting talent. I very much welcome his commitment to engage with stakeholders. Vital among them is European Movement Ireland. I also urge the Minister of State to engage with the College of Europe. Every year, Irish individuals go to the College of Europe on scholarship but how many of them, having been trained to work in the European institutions, go on to work in the Commission, Parliament or Council? How many of them instead work in the private sector? While the latter is a fine choice, it does not always benefit Ireland Inc. and our importance of imagination.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting my Topical Issue matter and thank the Minister of State for his engagement.

Since taking up office as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, I have met my officials on this issue. It is a priority to address the decreased number of Irish people working in the institutions. With that in mind, I have had extensive meetings on this to continue to develop the strategy that is already under way thanks to my predecessor. I have arranged a number of meetings with stakeholders for the coming weeks. The Deputy raises the very important point that it is not simply about the application procedure and encouraging people. We have deficiencies in this country in terms of languages. Certainly in the programme for Government negotiations I was very keen to have the modern languages initiative reinstated at primary school. That is in the programme for Government and I will work on that with my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills. We have a national hang-up about languages and it is about time we got over it. I do not know what the reason is but we are bad at learning languages and that includes our national language. I was very pleased to speak Irish last week at the General Affairs Council. There is not much point in fighting for its status and then not using the language when we have that status.

The programme for Government makes a very clear commitment to the development of a new strategy to increase the presence of Irish people in the senior ranks of institutions and in respect of the number of young people. This is a critical issue for this country. I join the Deputy in saying that it is so important for us to constantly talk about the benefits of European Union membership. I have endeavoured to do so even over the last two days. The very fact of an agreement at European level this weekend, that give and take, those negotiations, those tough talks will undoubtedly bring immense benefits to all of the European Union. We have seen that over the decades and will continue to benefit from it. We have peace and stability in Europe and thank God for it.

I would be more than happy to engage with all colleagues in the House and with Deputy Richmond on this issue. It is a challenge that, working together, we can address. I fully intend to continue to build upon the work of my predecessors on this issue and to bring real improvements to the numbers of Irish people working in the institutions. I also wish to pay tribute to those who are working in this country in the various offices and agencies of the institutions, including at Grange in my constituency.

Wastewater Treatment

Since I was elected, wastewater treatment is a recurring issue raised by communities in Cork South-West. I am focusing on the cases of Belgooly and Shannonvale tonight but I will send details to the Minister of State about issues in areas from Bandon to Goleen on the Mizen Peninsula.

From an environmental and health perspective, the very least people should expect is the proper treatment of wastewater and household sewage. However, years of under-investment in water infrastructure has left communities and areas exposed to discharges and serious malodour. The EPA report entitled Water Quality in Ireland 2013-2018 found that almost half of our rivers, lakes and estuaries are ecologically unsatisfactory. Wastewater discharge is listed as one of the main causes of deterioration, after agriculture.

The programme for Government acknowledges our water infrastructure deficits and their role in pollution and environmental damage. I welcome the commitment to ensure Irish Water can invest in wastewater treatment and want to raise two cases in west Cork which need to be prioritised. Belgooly is a wonderful village between Cork city and Kinsale, a great place to live near the coast. However, the quality of life for residents in Riverbank and surrounding estates has been seriously affected by awful odours coming from a wastewater treatment plant for close to two years now. Residents there have to keep their windows closed, and at times they cannot let their children out to play. There are also reports of untreated wastewater from this plant being discharged into a nearby estuary. I will quote a tweet by a local from 11 July: "Another beautiful day ended abruptly with the horrendous malodour from our treatment plant, the smell is in my home, we had to close all windows again and endure the smell indoors as well as outdoors. We can't even open our windows tonight to cool down!" This plant is not working. It is clearly not fit for purpose. The most distressing thing for residents is that this is not being resolved. Repeated complaints have been lodged with Irish Water and the EPA. Engineers visit, the tank is de-sludged and we are assured the plant is within capacity, yet the issue remains.

I and my team have been attempting to deal with this issue for considerably less time than the residents, but we are finding ourselves lost between Irish Water and other bodies, between different reports, and other bureaucratic barriers. The people of Belgooly are being fobbed off. This cannot go on. Will the Minister of State give me an assurance that he will take action on this?

That is not all. There is one more case I want to raise. There is also a desperate need for immediate action on the issue of an overflowing septic tank in Shannonvale near Clonakilty. The plant, which services nine houses in the area, was put into the park in the middle of the village. It is a beautiful site next to the Argideen river, which used to host many community events until this was installed. It was the town park and public amenity area. Now it is overgrown and dilapidated with a septic tank that is overflowing with untreated water that is flooding into the area and then entering the river. The Minister of State can imagine how awful that is for residents in Shannonvale. The park should be the heart of the village but instead it is currently unsafe for children to play in. Irish Water, Cork County Council and the EPA have all been aware of the situation for years, but it has not been resolved.

The council empties the plant regularly and sedimentation has been added, but the underlying issue remains. The people of Shannonvale also need action.
I have visited these communities in recent weeks. I do not want to return and tell them the same thing they have been told by Irish Water or the council. I want to tell them they do not have to put up with this anymore. It is unacceptable. Will the Minister of State please do something about it and not do an Irish Water on it and pass the problem onto someone else, carry out a report that achieves nothing or simply ignore this?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which I understand is a source of concern for a number of her constituents. At the outset, I should highlight that the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, as environmental regulator, is responsible for setting quality standards and enforcing compliance with EU directives and national regulations for drinking water supplies and wastewater discharges to water bodies. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. Irish Water's primary function is to provide clean safe drinking water to customers and to collect, treat and return wastewater safely back to the environment, including the two wastewater treatment plants raised tonight by the Deputy.

My Department no longer has any direct role in monitoring or supervising the delivery of water services. However, from inquiries made with Irish Water, I understand that while refurbishment works were carried out in 2018, further investigations for sewer network blockages and possible malfunctions have been carried out and issues rectified where possible. Notwithstanding these actions, Irish Water is considering the need for an upgrade to the treatment plant at Belgooly to cater for the existing and projected future loading in the area during the investment planning process for their next capital investment plan. I understand from Irish Water that the treatment system at Shannonvale consists of a septic tank and percolation area that serves a terrace of nine houses. The septic tank is not overloaded, however Irish Water's investigations suggest that the source of the issue is the percolation area. Irish Water is examining what operational, remedial works or capital maintenance works are required to be undertaken in advance of any infrastructure project at Shannonvale.

The Deputy will appreciate the investment needs across our entire water system are considerable; they will take a number of investment cycles to fully resolve and will require significant and sustained investment. Under the recently adopted programme for Government, the Government has committed to continuing the €8.5 billion funding package agreed in Project Ireland 2040, which will be invested in public water services to ensure the continued operation, repair and upgrading of Ireland's water and wastewater infrastructure to support social and economic development across the State and ensure compliance with EU directives. In more general terms, the Government's river basin management plan 2018-2021 outlines what Ireland is doing to protect and improve all of our waters. The next river basin management plan is currently being prepared by my Department.

I accept that Deputy Cairns makes a very strong argument for her constituents in the two areas mentioned, especially in relation to the safety of those in Shannonbay, particularly children. I will revert back to Irish Water through the Department and see what we can get. There are many areas throughout the country which have significant pressure points that are urgent and will require significant capital investment in the coming years, including in my own constituency. It takes money to fund them but Project Ireland 2040 has a significant budget behind it.

That is precisely the response that I did not want. I know it is Irish Water's responsibility but there seems to be some confusion. The Minister of State says it is all Irish Water's responsibility but I know that Cork County Council is responsible for desludging, for example, so there are grey areas. When it affects people's quality of life, at what point can the State intervene if Irish Water continually fobs off communities? I said it was affecting people's lives, which included not being able to take children out during lockdown. Some might be at the stage of wanting to move and their house prices are affected.

We need greater transparency around how projects are prioritised as funding becomes available. Shannonvale has been an issue for years.

We have been in contact with the EPA which, as the Minister of State noted, has responsibility for this too. It is appalling for the local community that this has not been resolved.

Can we have clarity on how funding is prioritised? The Minister of State said the project was on the next capital grant list. Is that guaranteed? When will it happen?

As I stated in my opening remarks, Irish Water's primary function is to provide clean safe drinking water to customers and to treat, collect and return wastewater safely to the environment. In providing these critical services Irish Water plays a role enabling social and economic growth. It faces a great challenge because more than 1 billion litres of wastewater from homes and businesses are collected every day in Ireland's public sewers and treated in 1,100 different treatment plants across our system. As I pointed out, the capital investment programme is significant but the scale of the problem in the country is also quite significant. I commit to go back to Irish Water about the two areas mentioned. It is examining what remedial capital maintenance works in Shannonvale can be carried out in advance of the capital programme. Belgooly is a significant issue for the residents of Riverbank and is serious, as the Deputy has noted that effluent is possibly being discharged into the estuary. The Deputy has made a strong case about both matters and I will bring it to Irish Water but I must also be clear that there are quite a number of competing issues for Irish Water's capital investment programme. There are problems across the country and they must be assessed independently by Irish Water. Those in most need must be catered for first. I will do my best to bring something back.

Does the State have any role to play in Irish Water?

Irish Water is fully independent in its legislative basis. It has a budget from the State through the capital investment -----

Can the State intervene at a certain point? Does it have a role?

It is independent so it has its own CEO and independent board. It is independent of the State.

It might be encouraged, perhaps.

I will do my best and bring the strong case made by the Deputy to Irish Water.

The Dáil adjourned at 12.08 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 July 2020.