Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Anti-Social Behaviour

The daily and nightly misuse of fireworks is a menace in our communities. Throughout the country and particularly in Dublin, there has been an unprecedented level of use. With Hallowe'en more than a month away and no sign of their use abating, I shudder to think what we are in for. There have been many cases of fireworks having been thrown at people, animals, cars, buses and shops, resulting in injuries and damage. I have been told by vets that they have seen increasing numbers of dogs, cats and other animals having been injured and suffering high levels of stress and anxiety.

Some recent incidents include one in Ballymun, where a rocket was fired into the back garden of a house, which resulted in a pet dog receiving serious injuries, or another in Ringsend, where a number of days ago a young person was hit in the face with a rocket, resulting in her needing hospital treatment. There was still another incident in Finglas, where a firework was directed at the face of a child, who also received serious injuries. These are just a few examples of what has become a daily practice in our communities. It seems to many people that the strength and power of these fireworks is far greater than we experienced in the past. As the Minister of State will be aware, while this is a problem that can be found throughout Dublin, it is most prevalent in mainly working class districts, although it is not exclusive to them.

The sale, possession or use of fireworks is illegal, and the Garda has the powers to confiscate fireworks from anyone who does not have the necessary authorisation or permit to possess them. Their seemingly endless supply, however, suggests this is just not happening. Older residents who are cocooning feel trapped. They cannot escape the endless grating racket of exploding bangers and rockets. Those who have highly trained service or assistance dogs fear for their dogs' well-being. Autism companion dogs, for example, act as a constant companion to children with autism in their home environment. They give the child a sense of responsibility, reassurance and support, and help to control and improve his or her behaviour. They help to promote calmness and act as a safety aid to the parents. Children with autism are particularly susceptible to noise and any disruption to their already difficult lives, and this causes no end of anxiety and stress.

The number of community gardaí in the Dublin metropolitan region dropped from 508 in 2010 to 278 in July 2020, a 55% drop in numbers. On top of this, since Covid-19 began, community gardaí have been instructed not to work past 7 p.m., which is ridiculous. Operation Tombola has, supposedly, been ongoing since 4 September, despite the clear indicators that this problem has been ongoing since July. At its monthly meeting, Dublin City Council passed an emergency motion urging the Garda to use its full powers to combat this problem, which include laws on the possession of illegal fireworks and their use to commit assault. The council is calling for the Garda Commissioner and the assistant commissioner for the Dublin metropolitan region to release adequate resources, including the removal of the overtime ban, to ensure gardaí respond swiftly and adequately, that a task force involving gardaí, council officials, emergency services and councillors be set up and that transport services also be included, given that bus and rail services have been targeted by this recklessness, for which young people, in the main, are responsible. A public awareness campaign, involving schools, community groups and youth organisations, should be launched to press home the dangers and the possible consequences, particularly as Hallowe'en approaches.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank the Deputy for raising this very important matter. As he will be aware, fireworks, as explosives, are regulated under national and EU legislation. They can only be imported into the country under licence and must be stored and sold in accordance with the explosives laws. Government policy restricts the availability of all hazardous fireworks to the general public. Licences under the Explosives Act are issued by the Department only for the importation of fireworks to be used in organised displays conducted by professional and competent operators. Nevertheless, the Minister is all too conscious of the numerous incidents, and sadly some serious accidents, arising from the use of illegal fireworks.

Every year in the run-up to Hallowe'en, both the Department and An Garda Síochána engage in additional work to try to keep everyone safe and to raise awareness of the dangers associated with the improper use of fireworks. As Hallowe'en approaches, the Department runs a safety campaign, working with various stakeholders and partners, to ensure a message of safety and compliance reaches as wide an audience as possible. Aside from the very important safety aspects of the campaign, it also highlights the serious penalties that people can face, given that breaches of the legislation governing the importation and use of fireworks are, quite rightly, treated as very serious offences.

In addition to this work undertaken by the Department, An Garda Síochána engages in Operation Tombola at this time of the year, which aims to combat the illegal importation, sale and use of fireworks. The Garda Commissioner has informed the Minister that each district puts in place an operational plan to tackle the sale of fireworks, including through combating the importation, sale and distribution of illegal fireworks through intelligence-led operations, visits to local car boot sales, searches and seizures of fireworks; liaising with local authorities and fire services regarding the provision of official supervised bonfire sites, the policing of these, and the identification and removal of stockpiled bonfire material and abandoned vehicles from other locations; promoting awareness of the dangers associated with the improper use of fireworks and unsupervised bonfires through the media, social media, school visits and information leaflet distribution by Garda members and the crime prevention officer; high-visibility policing of the Hallowe'en night celebrations; and utilising the divisional public order unit on Hallowe'en night. The Deputy will be aware that Operation Tombola also focuses on preventing associated public disorder and antisocial behaviour through the incremental deployment of resources, including Garda public order units to augment local plans, as appropriate.

As for legislation, as well as Part 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which gives An Garda Síochána the powers to make arrests in respect of the possession of unlicensed fireworks, a number of strong legislative provisions are available to the Garda to combat antisocial behaviour more generally, including the Criminal Damage Act 1991, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 and the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 2003 and 2008.

I am well aware of Operation Tombola and the way it has worked, particularly in Finglas and Ballymun over the years. It has worked well and we have had very few incidents in recent years, but this is different. It has been going on for months, and the number and the strength of the bangers are unprecedented, as is what is happening in our communities. It may be that it is a result of Covid and restlessness, especially among young people, because that certainly seems to have been a factor in the escalation. There may be enough legislation, but the problem is there are not enough resources on the ground. There have been cutbacks on Garda overtime and community gardaí do not work past 7 p.m. I do not get it. This has happened since Covid emerged, as has been confirmed to me. These are problems that we need more resources to deal with. We have to seize fireworks at their sources, whatever they are. There seem to be a massive number of them, day and night and into all hours of the morning. They are everywhere, not just in working class areas.

I have experienced it everywhere. Hallowe'en has been a particularly bad time in some areas down through the years. The work of the Garda in Finglas and Ballymun over the last number of years in regard to Hallowe'en has been brilliant. It has prevented many of the problems. Working with the council, we seized various paraphernalia that was being used for bonfires and so on. Great work has been done but we need to get the message out, particularly to the young people. Those involved are, in the main, young people and their behaviour is so reckless. They are throwing fireworks into cars, supermarkets and people's faces. I accept that in some instances no harm is meant but in some cases the fireworks are being directed in a reckless manner. We need action on this issue.

I again thank Deputy Ellis for raising this matter. On behalf of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, I assure the Deputy that An Garda Síochána remains committed to tackling public disorder and anti-social behaviour through working with communities to reduce this type of behaviour and to enhance community safety. The Garda Commissioner has assured the Minister that appropriate policing plans and measures are being implemented, effective since 4 September 2020, and that Operation Tombola will remain in place in the lead-up to, and over, the Hallowe'en period.

I look forward to the Minister launching the public awareness campaign in the near future, which will feature in print media as well as online, including on social media platforms. The campaign will use a variety of platforms to ensure it reaches as wide an audience as possible with its message of safety and compliance with the law. I appreciate the Deputy's genuine concerns on this issue and I will bring them to the attention of the Minister. I stay in Dublin on Monday and Tuesday nights and I hear the fireworks. Year-on-year this is happening earlier. At one time it was early Hallowe'en fireworks but nowadays we are hearing fireworks more randomly throughout the year. As I said, I will bring the Deputy's genuine concerns to the attention of the Minister.

National Broadband Plan

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, for standing in for the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, whom I understand is isolating, and rightly so.

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could provide an update on the national broadband plan. In response to my Question No. 781 of 16 June 2020 the Minister, Deputy Ryan, said that 115,000 rural premises would be connected by the end of this year, with 70,000 to 100,000 per year connected the following year. Can the Minister of State confirm that a contract has been signed at this stage and that activities are under way?

I raise this issue because in the same response the Minister said that 300 broadband connection points, BCPs, will be prioritised for connection this year, that work was under way and that all remaining connections would be made by the end of the year. I understand locations are colour coded but I do not think we have used a strategic approach in our colour coding. I will give three examples of this in regard to my own constituency.

First, in Ballyshannon, south Donegal, which is one of the oldest towns in Ireland and has had a very difficult time in terms of unemployment, factory closures, shop closures and so on down through the years, there are two industrial estates, the Cornhill Business Park and the Erne Business Park, comprising 18 offices and 12 commercial units and from which Eircom services are just 300 m. Surely, the blue colour coding should be applied to this area and it should be done as a BCP before the end of the year. This could help build employment and assist in remote working in this time of Covid.

Second, Four Masters national school in Kinlough, north County Leitrim, which is not too far from the aforementioned place, caters for 300 pupils. Again, there is high-speed broadband a matter of metres away from it. Could the colour coding not be changed from amber to blue to ensure it is one of the BCPs, and thus the children in that school can benefit from it?

Third, in Strandhill village in County Sligo, where I live, along the entire seafront, there are many businesses that have no broadband coverage while the industrial estate near the airport and much of the village has high-speed broadband. Again, there is only a couple of hundred metres involved.

Surely, these three locations, one in Donegal, one in north Leitrim and one in Sligo - I am sure there are others throughout my own constituency and nationally - from a strategic point of view and for a relatively small cost should be included as broadband connection points and given the connectivity they deserve before the end of this year. This cannot cost a huge amount.

I understand that if contracts are signed the national broadband plan proper will not get under way until January but I stand to be corrected in that regard. In any event, we need to be strategic in regard to services which are only metres away from so many businesses, schools and premises that could facilitate employment in what is a very uncertain period ahead for many areas that are suffering greatly. My request is in regard to the Cornhill Business Park in Ballyshannon, the Erne Business Park in Ballyshannon, the Four Masters national school in north Leitrim - the Lurganboy community has been similarly ignored - and the proportion of Strandhill village where many business premises, despite the existence of high-speed broadband in the village, are not connected even though they are located only a couple of hundred metres from the village. With strategic focus we could make very fast progress under the BCP delivery project while the national broadband plan continues over the next number of years.

I ask the Minister of State to raise with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Department the possibility of the colour coding being changed to facilitate the delivery of services in these areas under the BCP project which is to be completed by the end of this year, as mentioned by the Minister in the response to Question No. 781 of 16 June last. This would not involve a great deal of work or expense but the upside would be huge in terms of employment creation.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

The national broadband plan, NBP, contract was signed with National Broadband Ireland, NBI, in November 2019 to roll out a high-speed and future-proofed broadband network within the intervention area which covers 1.1 million people living and working in nearly 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms and 695 schools. The national broadband plan will ensure that citizens throughout the entire country have access to high-speed broadband services and that nobody is left without this vital service. The NBP network will offer users a high-speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 500 Mbps from the outset. I should point out that this represents an increase from the 150 Mbps committed to under the contract. The current deployment plan forecasts premises passed in all counties within the first two years and over 90% of premises in the State having access to high-speed broadband within the next four years. NBI has made steady progress to date, with design work complete or ongoing in target townlands across 20 counties, including Leitrim, with over 91,000 premises surveyed to date. This survey work is feeding into detailed designs for each deployment area. Laying fibre should start shortly, with the first fibre-to-home connection expected around December 2020 in Carrigaline, County Cork. NBI provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register an interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website, www.nbi.ie.

Broadband connection points, BCPs, are a key element of the NBP, providing high-speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll-out of the fibre-to-home network. Approximately 300 sites in rural areas were identified for connection by the end of 2020, including 75 schools. Over 100 broadband connection point sites have been installed by NBI and the high-speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly available sites and by the Department of Education and Skills for schools. Four schools and four BCPs within the areas referred to by the Deputy have been installed by NBI to date, with a further two BCPs scheduled to be installed in September followed by another eight by the end of the year. I understand that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment continues to work with the Department of Education and Skills to prioritise the remaining schools to be connected over the term of the NBP. While substantial progress has been made to date, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on the delivery of the fibre network. The extent of this impact is currently being assessed and NBI has committed to put in place measures to mitigate the impact as far as possible. The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the importance of good reliable broadband to ensure citizens across Ireland can avail of remote working, education and other essential online facilities.

This is reflected in the commitments in the programme for Government where the delivery of the national broadband plan will be a key enabler to many of the policies envisaged, particularly around increased levels of remote working.

The programme for Government commits to seeking the accelerated roll-out of the national broadband plan and in this regard my Department continues to engage with National Broadband Ireland, NBI, to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of this roll-out to establish the possibility of bringing forward premises currently scheduled in years six and seven of the current plan to an earlier date. Exploring the potential to accelerate the network roll-out is being undertaken in parallel with the measures required to mitigate delays arising as a result of Covid-19.

Bringing connectivity to rural Ireland is central to promoting regional development and the broadband connection points are an important part of that process.

I thank the Minister of State for the response on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I appreciate this is not her direct area of concern but I mentioned specific areas in my earlier contribution. They include Cornhill Business Park and Mr. Philip Rooney, who asked me to raise this matter. They also take in Mr. William Doogan of MCM Spirits and Liquers at Erneside Business Park. Councillor Justin Warnock raised the issue of the Four Masters national school in Kinlough and the Strandhill community development association at Strandhill.

I would like a specific answer on the areas and I am sure officials can go back on the record to note the locations. I ask that these areas be included in the broadband connection points delivery project that would see connectivity this year. The thought of being in years two, three, four, five, six or seven will undermine the potential of these areas to deliver for their communities. The potential is there, there is expertise in local communities and there is willingness and determination to do it. We need to provide these people with the tools they require. There is the potential to do that this year with the broadband connection points project so I formally ask that the Minister of State arrange for the Department to reply to me specifically on those areas. In other words, the colour-coding on the website map referred to by the Minister of State should be changed from amber to blue. This would see the areas prioritised, which would be of great benefit to these communities.

I appreciate the national broadband plan is being implemented. Many of us had difficulties with how the contract was put together as well as its inordinate cost. It is what it is. It is now signed and we all look forward to having these 537,000 premises connected. Naturally, as one of only four Deputies in the House to represent not just two counties but part of two other counties, I am in part of the country in the north west that is on the periphery of the periphery. The area has been undermined by generations of neglect by Governments of all parties and none.

There is now an opportunity and I ask the Minister of State to use her good offices to influence the officials in the Department dealing with communications to respond specifically about the areas I mentioned being included in the broadband connection points delivery project before the end of the year.

I will pass on those questions to the Minister, Deputy Ryan. We all understand the importance of the roll-out of broadband throughout the country and I understand the Deputy's frustration. We have all felt similar frustration in our constituencies over the years and we know this Government knows the importance of rolling out the broadband plan.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of good and reliable broadband to ensure citizens right across Ireland can avail of remote working, education and other essential online facilities. This is reflected in the commitments in the programme for Government, where delivery of the national broadband plan will be a key enabler of many of the policies envisaged, particularly around increased levels of remote working. The broadband plan will ensure citizens throughout the entire country will have access to a high-speed broadband service and nobody will be left without such a vital service.

Despite the impact of the pandemic, NBI continues to steadily progress its deployment activities and the current deployment plan forecasts premises passed in all counties within the first two years and more than 90% of premises in the State having access to high-speed broadband within the next four years. As I mentioned, more than 91,000 premises across 20 counties, including Leitrim, have been surveyed to date. Additionally, four school broadband connection points within the area have been installed, with a further two broadband connection points scheduled for installation in September, followed by another eight by year-end.

The Government has committed to seeking to accelerate the roll-out of the national broadband plan. In this regard, the Department continues to engage with NBI to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of this roll-out and establishing the possibility of bringing forward premises currently scheduled for years six and seven to an earlier date. This process of exploring the potential to accelerate roll-out of the network is being undertaken in parallel with measures required to mitigate delays resulting from Covid-19.

Crime Investigation

I apologise as I did not realise this matter was down as coming first in the order. The last time I looked, it was third in the order.

I first express my sympathy and solidarity with Izzy, the activist who was beaten on the head outside Leinster House on Saturday. People have seen the horrific pictures of blood streaming down her face. She was hospitalised and had to receive stitches. Izzy is not only an outstanding anti-oppression activist and one of the founders and a former chief steward of Pride but she also personally stood with the Jobstown defendants and supported the Jobstown Not Guilty campaign in defending the right to protest. I was personally and politically appalled seeing what happened to Izzy.

In a way the nature of the attack on her says something about how those at the core of these protests organised by the far right operate. She was beaten on the head with a bar wrapped in an Irish flag. The violence and hatred of these groups is wrapped in fake patriotism. They are consciously taking up matters that they believe they can bring to a broader section of people - it is masks currently - in order to try to develop far right and fascist politics in this State.

The majority of people who went on those protests on Saturday are not consciously far right, fascist or anything like that. These are people who have real concerns. They are frustrated by the Government advice around Covid-19 and they do not agree on the use of face masks or social distancing. I disagree with such people on those matters, although I agree with their frustration arising from the Government's incoherence. That incoherence comes because public health is not consistently placed first and instead the interests of private profit stands in the way. This happens most clearly in the case of meat plants.

I disagree with these people and their argument for not wearing masks if they are medically able to do so. I disagree with their argument that people do not need to socially distance. We must do all this as part of a collective effort that is not about individual responsibility but rather society as a whole looking to do what it can to protect the vulnerable, including older people, and stop Covid-19.

The Government has the most important job and should shut meat plants when that is required or send people home from school when necessary. It should carry out at least 100,000 tests and tracing processes per week.

Even if I do not convince these protestors on matters like masks and social distancing, I still appeal to them not to be used by the far right, as that is what is happening. They are taking advantage of people's fear in order to recruit. They should look at who is at the core of these protests.

There were two protests with the far right at their core on Saturday. One had Síol na hÉireann at its centre. It is not a registered party or lobby group and it is technically a private and for-profit company. The leader is a man named Niall McConnell, a Catholic nationalist who is anti-choice. He said at a demonstration that we "should not tolerate LGBTQ+ people". He is a close friend of Britain First founder and loyalist, Jim Dowson, and he has links with the British National Party former leader, Nick Griffin, and other far right people across Europe.

The group at the centre of the other protest at Leinster House was the National Party, led by Justin Barrett of Youth Defence notoriety. He is horrifically anti-woman and anti-abortion, as well as anti-same sex marriage. He also has open relations with extreme fascist and far right groups across Europe and has spoken at openly Nazi rallies in Germany.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy McEntee, I thank Deputy Murphy for raising the matter today and I pass on her regrets as she cannot be here in person. The Minister is aware of the protest that took place in Dublin on Saturday afternoon, and as the Taoiseach has stated, it is of course the case that people have the right to protest in a democracy. However, it is important to remind ourselves regularly exactly why it is that the range of health regulations and guidelines currently operating have been put in place. They exist to help curb the spread of Covid-19 and keep each of us safe, particularly the most vulnerable people among us.

As well as protecting life, it is essential to keep the virus suppressed to look after our children and keep our schools and businesses open. That is why the Government outlined its plan for Covid-19 resilience and national recovery yesterday. The Minister knows that this is not easy and that people have now spent six months living under circumstances that are very difficult for all of us. She urges all members of the public to act responsibly during this time and to abide by the health regulations that have been put in place.

With regard to Saturday's events, the Minister has been advised by the Garda authorities that the protests were policed by personnel from Garda divisions across the Dublin metropolitan region, supported by two public order units. In view of the size of the protest, Kildare Street was closed off by An Garda and traffic diversions were put in place.

With regard to the alleged assault to which the Deputy refers, the Minister understands that a Garda investigation into this incident is under way. I hope the Deputy will understand that for this reason it would not be appropriate for the Minister or me to comment in any detail on the matter. The Minister would like to emphasise in the strongest terms that violence, confrontation and intimidation have no place in public protests. People can have differing views or opinions, but the degree of aggression displayed by some protestors on Saturday is not acceptable, to put it mildly, and is deeply concerning. The Minister therefore urges all involved to act responsibly and to abide by the public health guidelines and regulations which have been put in place to protect all of us.

I thank the Minister. I understand that with the agreement of the House, Deputy Murphy will allow a Sinn Féin colleague 30 seconds to comment.

I submitted a similar Topical Issue matter on anti-mask protestors this morning but it was not selected. The truth is that these people are not protestors but agitators. They are Ireland's version of the National Front. What took place on the streets of Dublin last Saturday and on previous occasions is very disturbing. I know Izzy Kamikaze very well. She lives near to me. She is a tremendous, brave person and a wonderful human being who stands up for others. For her to be attacked in that manner is absolutely disgraceful. In politics we must all be able to advocate our own views openly and freely. For these people, who are basically fascists, to behave that way on the streets of Dublin is totally outrageous. We all have a responsibility to stand firmly against it. I thank Deputy Murphy for allowing me to comment.

I thank Deputy Kenny. I wish to make two quick points. First, any idea that the answer to this is to ban or clamp down on protests is completely wrong. Ms Kamikaze has publicly stated that she will be opposed to any ban on protests. I am also opposed to such a ban because I know that it will be used against progressive protestors in the future. We have to defend civil liberties. This measure would be totally counterproductive. Progressive organisations and political parties, trade unions, NGOs, immigrants' rights groups, LGBTQ+ groups and animal rights groups need to come together and build a broad, united front against the growth of fascist and far-right ideas. These people are getting organised, and if they get a foothold in Irish society, the consequences will be quite horrific for immigrants, Muslims, asylum seekers, socialists, trade unionists and anyone who stands against the kind of society they want. We need to mobilise people in a safe, socially distant way to stand against these ideas.

Part of opposing the growth of the far right is giving people a true narrative. Many of these people oppose the Government and I think they are right to oppose the Government. They have been fed the idea that the Government is controlled by George Soros or a Covid-19 conspiracy. This is nonsense. We need to tell people the truth. The Government is influenced by the likes of Mr. Larry Goodman and Mr. Denis O'Brien. That is who holds power in this society. The reason we have a housing crisis is not because of migrants but because the Government allows the interests of landlords and developers to reign. We must build a mass left party in this country which sets out a vision of how society can be different and is therefore able to capture people's real anger and alienation and point it in a progressive direction that will lead us out of the crisis we face.

I thank both Deputies for their contributions. I thank Deputy Murphy for raising this very important matter and I wish to convey the Minister's regrets that she cannot be here to answer in person. It is important to note that the vast majority of people continue to comply with public health guidelines and regulations. The Minister is confident that this compliance will continue. We are only too aware that we can only combat the spread of Covid-19 by continuing to make every effort together. As the Deputy will be aware, An Garda Síochána has implemented a careful and graduated policing response based on a strong tradition of policing by consent. Gardaí engage, explain and encourage members of the public to comply. Only as a last resort do they use their powers of enforcement under the health regulations.

The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me or for the Minister to make any further comment on this incident. An Garda is investigating this incident, and the Minister is satisfied that the appropriate steps will be taken to investigate the matter to its conclusion.

Flood Relief Schemes

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton. I will start by describing three serious flooding events that led to widespread devastation in west Cork in the latter half of August. On 13 August, the town of Rosscarbery was flooded, with several businesses and premises affected. There was widespread devastation of the road network in the hinterland of Rosscarbery, in villages or townlands that may not be familiar to the Minister of State, such as Glandore, Connonagh, Leap, Reenascreena and Rathbarry. Entire roads were completely washed away and most of them remain that way.

On 19 August, Bridge Street in the well-known town of Skibbereen was flooded. Skibbereen has a flood defence, but again premises and homes were flooded. Investigations into why that happened are ongoing. We thought we were over the worst of it, but a few days later the town of Bantry was severely flooded. The town of Bandon, on the eastern side of the constituency, experienced minor flooding affecting businesses and residences.

These three severe events occurred over the course of about 12 days. The initial Government response was quite commendable. The Minister of State with responsibility for dealing with flooding, Deputy O'Donovan, visited on three occasions. The Taoiseach visited Skibbereen after the flooding there, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, visited the area twice. The Government showed commendable seriousness in its response to these events. Moreover, the humanitarian response package extended to businesses and voluntary groups in these situations was made available to these towns and was mostly availed of by businesses. They were able to apply for some humanitarian funding.

However, the road network is still in the shocking condition I have described. Cork County Council has submitted an application for funding for repair works. The estimated cost comes to about €5 million. That damage is almost all confined to west Cork. Because of the damage to roads, residents of the affected area are forced to take detours taking 30 or 40 minutes. Many people find vehicular access to their houses has been cut off because the roads are not passable. The road serving a very popular area of the Wild Atlantic Way between Rosscarbery and Glandore was completely washed away. As a result, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area, Drombeg stone circle, is closed. The road in the village of Rathbarry was washed away, exactly replicating an event eight years ago when the entire road ended up at the bottom of the hill.

This is serious, and a range of issues are raised by the increased frequency of these events due to climate change. I am looking for a solid response in the form of funding, with a particular focus on the road network that has been completely washed away. Cork County Council is cash-strapped. It has not been collecting rates for several months and will not be able to foot the bill. I am looking for a firm commitment from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. There will also be housing issues, and I expect the Office of Public Works will be involved too. The engineers who are dealing with the damaged road network are unsure of where they stand at the moment and, above all, the people who live in these areas are very put out by the demolition of their road network. They need answers.

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on these roads are funded from the councils' own resources, supplemented by State road grants.

I thank the Deputy for his clear outlining of the issues relating to the devastating impact of weather conditions in County Cork in August. Unfortunately, such severe weather events are becoming more frequent and highlight the need to focus on measures needed to address climate change.

As part of the recent Government stimulus package, eligible councils were asked to submit proposals to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport under the heading of climate change adaptation repairs by 14 August 2020. Cork County Council submitted proposals for 2020 which amounted to €1.63 million and on 31 August received notification that works to the value of €1.63 million had been approved. As the council's application for funding was received in mid-August, some but not all of the recent damage to roads and bridges caused by severe weather in County Cork is provided for in the August allocation. In that context, as the Deputy outlined, the chief executive of the council wrote to the Department, detailing the severity of the conditions experienced, particularly in west Cork, and requesting funding support from the Department for repairs to the regional and local network. Cork County Council has received its funding allocation under the stimulus package. The Deputy inquired whether the stimulus funding could be rolled over into 2021 to cover repair costs but, as the July stimulus is intended for projects which can be delivered this year, it is not possible for allocations to carry over into 2021. The Department has been engaging with the council about the repairs needed to the regional and local network and will be liaising further about the programme and the timing of the works. In that context, the council has been asked to provide a breakdown of the proposed 2020 and 2021 expenditure. I make the point that local authorities have the flexibility to revise their grant-funded work programmes in response to severe weather events.

On the works which will run into 2021, the Department's ability to provide specific funding for the repair and rehabilitation of roads in west Cork following the recent flood events is dependent on the funding made available for roads as part of the overall Estimates process. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, will be liaising with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, on this issue.

As regards national roads, under the Roads Acts 1993-2015, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, has overall responsibility for the planning and supervision of works for the construction and maintenance of roads. In this role, TII undertakes maintenance and renewal of roads assets either directly through its contractors or through local authority programmes funded by TII. It has liaised with local authorities regarding damage caused to pavements and structures in counties affected by recent severe weather and funding is being provided for remedial works to be undertaken. Moreover, special inspections will be undertaken at affected bridges in order to ascertain that no structural damage has been caused to those bridge structures.

I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive response. I am not entirely sure whether she indicated "yes" or "no" in terms of the response to the €5 million repairs that are needed after the recent specific flood damage to national, regional and local roads. The Minister of State referenced the climate action response funding that was recently announced, but I am unsure how much of the damage would be covered under that fund. I very much doubt that it would be covered. The bottom line is that there is a €5 million repair bill. The local authority will not be able to foot the entire bill because it is cash strapped as a result of the lack of rates. I take on board and appreciate that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, led by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, led by the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, will liaise on the issue and I have received similar correspondence from the Minister, Deputy McGrath, but I wish to take this opportunity to underline again the importance of a quick response to the damage because the residents of these areas cannot put up with this for much longer. Images and videos of the road network are available. It is a disaster zone and needs a response.

In the 40 seconds I have left, I wish to point out that when we are responding to such events or building roads, we must take account of the fact that these events are becoming more frequent because of climate change. There is no denying that is the case. As such, we need to look at the way in which local, regional and national roads are built. We need proper culverts and drainage systems in order that the roads can withstand the heavy rainfall we are experiencing.

Lastly, I ask the Minister of State to liaise with her fellow Ministers of State and the OPW regarding the response to the businesses and premises that were damaged in Skibbereen, Bantry and Bandon in particular. The humanitarian support fund covers businesses but there are many homeowners and other residents who are not covered under that fund and I would love to see a specific fund set up in order to address that issue.

It is the intention of the Department to liaise with Cork County Council regarding the programme and the timing of repair works. The Deputy can rest assured that that engagement is ongoing and will clarify funding requirements in respect of 2020 and 2021 and how that can be accommodated in light of moneys available to the Department and the council. It is important to note that the Department will not have clarity in respect of its available budget for 2021 until the October budget is finalised. In addition, there is ongoing consultation between Cork County Council and TII in respect of repairs to national roads and bridges. I will be highlighting the issues raised by the Deputy in respect of Cork to the Minister, Deputy Ryan.

I thank the Deputy and the Minister of State. I was recently in Bantry with Deputy Michael Collins and saw the devastation that has been caused.