Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Mental Health Services

I wish to deal with the issue of mental health services, particularly in County Louth. I am looking to draw attention to two particular cases. There has long been a belief among the population of Dundalk and County Louth that we do not have a mental health service that is fit for purpose.

Ian Browne was 25 years old when he died by suicide on Thursday, 14 March 2019. On Tuesday, 12 March, Ian spoke to his counsellor, who referred him to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital's emergency department so he could get the equivalent of a doctor's note and be brought into the psychiatric service in Crosslanes. He presented himself to the service in Crosslanes and was assessed. I am told a document of between 12 and 14 pages was written up. He was told he would not be seen; he told them he was suicidal. He said he had taken sleeping tablets. He got a dual diagnosis, which was a problem. He came back up the next day with a doctor's note and again was told to go away. It was three weeks before he was dealt with. The end result was that he was sent away with leaflets for another place where he could go for treatment that was not a State service. He just felt like there was no one there for him.

On Saturday, we had an event organised on the basis of a similar issue we had with Harry Taaffe. Harry presented himself to the service in Crosslanes, told them he was suicidal and was sent home with medication. I accept that hospitalisation is not always what is necessary, but he was told community care would not be available to him for four to six weeks. The following Sunday, Harry killed himself.

We have had a number of these issues. We need to check what the protocols are and whatever other resources are required so the people of Dundalk have a better service than we have at the moment.

It is with a heavy heart I stand before the Minister of State to speak about the issue of mental health. As I speak, another family in my constituency is trying to come to terms with the untimely death of their 16-year-old daughter. There is another community gripped by grief and it just is not right. It is every parent's worst nightmare to see their own flesh and blood feel so lost and down and to see no way out.

Unfortunately, I have seen a significant rise in the numbers in recent months, particularly since Covid took a grip of this country, and age and gender are no barriers. Within my constituency, the numbers are high and the age profile is young. Today I talk about a 16-year-old girl. Last week it was an 18-year-old young man. A number of weeks before that it was another 18-year-old man and before that, one family in Cavan town lost two members of their family, a brother and sister, to suicide a week apart.

There are wonderful people on the ground who are exemplary in terms of their volunteerism and while there is help from the HSE and Pieta House, it is still not enough. I feel passionately that as a county and constituency, we need statutory help. We need the help of an organisation like Jigsaw. I have mentioned this to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, before. We are all new to this position of being in government but while on the Opposition benches, I also made this point. We also need the help of a suicide crisis assessment nurse, known as a SCAN nurse. Such a nurse would provide assistance and support immediately so that when people go to their general practitioner, they are given a contact person immediately and are not sent to an accident and emergency unit or put on a waiting list but can be attended to immediately.

I ask for three things today, namely, further help in primary care psychologist support; a SCAN nurse to be allocated to Cavan-Monaghan; and for the Minister of State to look seriously at the potential of putting Jigsaw into Cavan-Monaghan.

I thank Deputies Ó Murchú and Smyth for raising this issue. Any loss of life through suicide is a tragedy and I do not want to class the people the Deputies have brought to the floor of the Dáil as being merely "any life". It is their life and it is their families who have been affected. Deputy Ó Murchú spoke about two individuals, from the Taaffe and Browne families, and Deputy Niamh Smyth did not mention names but referred to the age profile and gender of the individuals from her constituency. There is not a constituency in the country that has not been hit by suicide or that does not contain family members who are grieving the loss of a loved one at this moment. Deputy Smyth talked about multiple suicides in families and that is not an unusual case either, unfortunately. That grief really knocks the community so much in such a short space of time.

I have a script to hand and the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, sends her apologies. She would like to have been here to answer the Deputies. I know she has spoken to Deputy Smyth in respect of Jigsaw and she told me to assure the Deputies that she is taking both requests in relation to Jigsaw on board. On the SCAN nurse and the primary care psychology support, I will also relay those issues back to Deputy Butler. I will read the script that was presented to me but I will take on board that Deputy Ó Murchú would like to know about the protocols, because that is important. It is important the protocols are not just read out here but that a meeting be convened with Deputy Butler, in conjunction with the HSE and the local community healthcare organisation, CHO, on the ground in order that there is a clear understanding around protocols and deliverable, tangible actions.

Each suicide affects not just family and friends, but the community itself. It is important to ensure that strong supports are in place to help family, friends and the community to deal with a tragedy. Protection of the vulnerable continues to be a Government priority, especially in challenging times, and those with mental health issues are often among the most vulnerable in society. Tackling suicide is an important element of this. Connecting for Life is Ireland's national strategy to reduce suicide. Although it is due to end this year, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, intends to bring a memo to Cabinet in the next couple of weeks, recommending the extension of the strategy to 2024. Implementation of Connecting for Life has involved a cross-departmental, cross-sectoral approach, overseen by the Department of Health. The HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention, NOSP, was specifically established to co-ordinate suicide prevention efforts around the country and to implement the Connecting for Life strategy. NOSP funding has increased from €3.7 million in 2010 to the current level of €13 million and an extra €2.75 million was provided in 2015 for additional resource officers for suicide prevention and for priority actions under Connecting for Life, including in Louth, Cavan and Monaghan.

I cannot comment on individual cases other than to express my deepest sympathies to every one of them and to others listening in who have lost family members through suicide. Whether today or in the past, the grief never leaves them and I acknowledge that. In Ireland, a coroner decides whether someone has died by suicide. This is a legal decision, not a medical determination made by doctors or the HSE. The Central Statistics Office publishes national data on deaths by suicide based on coroners' findings.

A key part of Connecting for Life, CFL, is development of local CFL plans. All 17 plans have now been launched, including the Cavan and Monaghan Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2017-2020 and similar plans for Laois and Offaly; Longford and Westmeath; and Louth and Meath. The local plans were developed in collaboration with the whole community.

I am happy to bring any situations of the type raised by the Deputies to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Butler.

I appreciate what the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, says. The reason I referred to those two families was that they did what we tell people to do. If one has problems, one is told to present to the correct services and they will deal with it. It seems that this did not happen in these cases. I welcome what the Minister of State said regarding a possible follow-up meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, involving the head of the local CHO and whoever else needs to be there. We need a facility for answers for families but also in respect of these protocols because it is about the service we have at present. We have the wider issue in relation to resources, allocation and the number of acute beds but that is for another day. At this point, it is about people presenting and it is about ensuring they are given a service, that we do not let them down and we have their back.

I reiterate the requests I have for the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, which I know Deputy Rabbitte will relay back to her. I ask that she come to Cavan to meet people on the front line dealing with these situations. Prevention is what we all want. I request we have more resources put in psychologist support in primary care, that we get a SCAN nurse provided for Cavan-Monaghan and that we get Jigsaw. These are the things we need, from talking to professionals on the ground who are providing youth intervention mental health services. It is critically important, as the Minister of State can see from the numbers I have read out.

I acknowledge the work of Emer Mulligan, resource officer and suicide prevention officer for the HSE and is doing amazing work on the ground with families and communities; of Gerry Soden, health and well-being officer with the GAA, providing immense support for communities and clubs around the country; and of Kathryn McAree, who works with Pieta House providing bereavement services for families afterwards.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to relay those points to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler.

I thank the Deputies for the constructive way we have addressed this Topical Issue matter. They have come with solutions and suggestions and I take on board everything Deputy Smyth has said and I think the convening of a meeting will ensure the protocols are reiterated and there is a clear understanding. CFL is about connecting the community. Deputy Smyth has mentioned the involvement of the local HSE, the GAA and Pieta House and that is what CFL is about.

It is important that we also continue to build resilience in all communities to reduce the incidence of suicide. It is also important to ensure, where such a tragedy occurs, that we have sufficient supports in place to help those who need them. The HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention works closely with the CHOs, local agencies and communities to deliver strategies and services in the most appropriate manner, in line with available resources and evolving services. Deputies can rest assured that I will relay their concerns and requests regarding this matter to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, and I am sure she will be more than happy to facilitate a meeting.

Refugee Resettlement Programme

I thank the Minister of State for taking this important issue. I raise the issue of the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos in Greece. As the Minister of State is aware, a fire two weeks ago destroyed the camp and people were left destitute. All their belongings were destroyed and thousands of people are now without any kind of shelter on the island. This is a humanitarian crisis that has been festering for many years and has not been addressed by the Greek Government or the EU.

The situation is now also set against the spectre of Covid-19. An outbreak has happened and 35 people in the camp have tested positive. This is an ongoing situation and the conditions are beyond inhumane. An Irish doctor, Dr. Claire Dunne, works on the island for Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF. She paints a particularly dark and stark picture of life in the camp, and she wrote an article in the Irish Examiner last year, which is deeply troubling to read, to say the least. I refer to children's mental health from living in the camp and all that comes with that. Children and adults there have already fled from war, persecution and poverty.

Nearly 12,000 refugees are living in the camp and they have all fled from the types of situations to which I referred. Some 4,000 of the refugees are children and 400 of those are unaccompanied children. As the site was originally built for 3,000 people, it now has four times the number of people it was designed to cater for. I seek a comment from the Minister of State regarding what Ireland intends to do in response to this situation. Germany stated last week that it will take 1,500 migrants from the camp, which is welcome. I know the Minister with responsibility for equality and integration, Deputy O'Gorman, stated that four unaccompanied minors will come to the State in the weeks to come. While this is welcome, I make the point that representatives of MSF have stated that Ireland and other EU member states have simply not done anything like enough regarding this issue. It has been left to fester for a long time but, thankfully, no one was killed in the fire. Thousands of people, however, have been left destitute. What will Ireland's response be in the weeks and months to come to take in some of the children and adults from this camp?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy McEntee, who unfortunately cannot be here.

The incident in the Moria camp on Lesbos was a tragic incident that could have had fatal consequences, but luckily did not. Thankfully, no one in the camp was injured or killed as a result of the fire but I suspect that was just sheer luck. Ireland strongly supports the principle of solidarity and recognises that assistance is required for member states that face a disproportionate number of applicants and where incidents such as this can cause additional hardship. Officials in the Department of Justice and Equality are currently considering how and if we can accommodate a small number of families, in addition to the commitment already made to accept four unaccompanied minors from the camp, which was announced by the Minister with responsibility for equality and integration, Deputy O'Gorman, on 17 September. Consideration is being given at EU level to the legal mechanisms by which this can be done.

In a previous gesture of solidarity, Ireland committed to accepting up to 36 unaccompanied minors from Greece. Eight of these young people arrived in Ireland in June and are now in the care of Tusla. More broadly, to date, more than 3,350 people have arrived in the State under the first phase of the Irish refugee protection programme, IRPP. Last December, a second phase was announced, giving a commitment to welcome a further 2,900 refugees between this year and 2023 through a combination of resettlement and community sponsorship. The refugee arrivals this year and next will largely comprise Syrian nationals resident in Jordan and Lebanon, together with a pilot group of 150 Eritrean refugees currently resident in Ethiopia.

The impact of Covid-19 has unfortunately impacted on the timeframe for these arrivals but the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Department are committed to realising the State's commitments in line with our obligations under the IRPP. Officials are engaging with international partners to share a collective experience of how best to resume arrivals and the lessons learned to date. Preparations are under way for the arrival of the next cohort of refugees but a precise timeframe cannot yet be attached to this endeavour.

A new pact on migration and asylum has been published today by the European Commission. It aims to provide a comprehensive approach to migration management that is sustainable, humane and effective and which can work well on a day-to-day basis and withstand current pressures, as well as the challenges of the future. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, welcomes the publication of the new pact, which will strengthen the EU's capacity to respond to the challenges that migration poses and minimise the impact that it has on the lives of those who migrate and the communities into which they move.

The EU's response regarding refugees fleeing from persecution in the last decade, particularly in recent years, has been shameful. It has allowed people to drown in the Mediterranean. That is a fact. It has also allowed this camp on Lesbos to fester. Pictures on BBC and RTÉ television of people living in the camp show them living in conditions worse than those for animals and the EU has let that happen.

I refer the Minister of State to the EU's commitment. Ireland has stated that it will only undertake to accept 36 children from this camp but only eight children have been accepted thus far. Why is progress so slow? I refer back to Dr. Claire Dunne's analysis of the camp. She stated that EU member states should show solidarity and give people sanctuary, which is what they are asking for, and not to be treated like animals. Ireland should respond better than it has done and should take more of these unaccompanied children. I cannot comprehend what it is like to be in such a situation without parents. We should hold out our hands, accept more children from this situation and give people hope and a home.

I can understand the disappointment that only eight of the 36 unaccompanied minors who have been accepted by this country have arrived thus far. I understand that the difficulty has been with the impact of Covid-19 but the Department will now step up, try to resolve the situation, get those children to Ireland and give them the support they desperately need. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, is very much aware of this situation and will ensure that those unaccompanied minors can be facilitated to come here, despite the situation with Covid-19.

As I said at the outset, officials are currently considering how and if we can accommodate a small number of families as a gesture of solidarity. We also have existing commitments regarding refugee resettlement under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR-led, programme. This will include 650 refugee resettlements this year, 700 next year, 750 in 2022 and 800 in 2023. Families already resident here may also apply to bring their family members to Ireland under the family reunification policy or family reunification provisions of the International Protection Act 2015. I understand that the new EU pact on migration and asylum contains a comprehensive series of actions, including some new legislative proposals, across the full range of migration policies, including addressing the root causes of migration, the reform of the common European asylum system, crisis preparedness and response, co-operation and partnership with third countries.

The proposals, including the legislative initiatives, will require careful consideration regarding their implications for Ireland but we will continue to be a constructive participant in the negotiation process. I assure the Deputy that I will bring his concerns to the attention of the Minister, Deputy McEntee.

Road Traffic Legislation

I raise the issue of the regulation of quad bikes and scramblers after a young toddler ended up in hospital as a result of a crash between a quad bike and a scrambler in a public area in my constituency. This is obviously a wider issue given the fact that two Deputies from different constituencies are here to speak on this issue.

Five people were killed in accidents with quads and scramblers between 2014 and 2018, three of whom were under 18. We have gone back and forth on this. A few years back, there was an inter-agency, interdepartmental working group on the matter but the Garda still struggles with enforcement. It says that it needs more powers to be able to enforce effectively the regulations on quads and scramblers which, as we are seeing, are dangerous pieces of equipment.

Another aspect is that there is little traceability or responsibility of ownership of quads and scramblers. Social media videos can speak to that. If one buys a car, another dangerous motor vehicle, there is a logbook which adds some level of traceability of ownership and level of responsibility. We need to look at legislation in this area before we see an increase in the number of people who die.

I also raise the issue of the illegal use of scrambler bikes which is plaguing Dublin city and has been for some time. As Deputy Costello said, we saw the tragic incident of a young child being injured when a scrambler hit a quad bike last week. A young man died in Ballymun this month. In 2017, 62 people were injured in quad bike and scrambler accidents.

The issue is particularly bad in my constituency of Dublin North-West. In Finglas, Ballymun and many parts of Dublin, the issue is raised time and again. At every policing forum and joint policing committee, residents complain about the lack of progress and solutions.

I was delighted to see the issue included in the programme for Government because I had pushed for it. While it might have been unreasonable to expect to see it in the autumn legislative agenda announced last week, I urge the Department to prepare now to ensure that it is dealt with in the following Dáil term.

Representatives of the Garda have been clear regarding the legal ambiguities surrounding quad bikes and scramblers. They have also been honest about the challenges around enforcement.

It will not be solved by one measure alone. When I was Lord Mayor of Dublin, I set up a working group which made clear recommendations that were communicated to the Department. Those recommendations included greater education and changing the rules of evidence to allow for scramblers to be crushed and destroyed.

A priority of mine will be to ensure that these measures are progressed during the lifetime of this Government. There will be no getting rid of me on this until we have a solution. We need the legislation changed before another person is injured or killed and the communities that we represent deserve to be protected.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. We are all aware that the irresponsible and antisocial use of scramblers and quads can cause death or serious injury, as well as wider disturbance and nuisance. The incident to which both Deputies alluded is a good example of the dangers involved. Many of these vehicles are used by minors and are provided to them by family members and others, who are also acting irresponsibly, putting the users and others at risk.

As Minister of State, I have responsibility for legislation in the area of vehicles and the area of traffic on public roads. Scrambler motorbikes and quadricycle bikes are classed as mechanically-propelled vehicles. It is an offence to supply a mechanically-propelled vehicle to anyone under the age of 16, and to supply one to a person under 17 unless it is a vehicle of a class which can legally be driven by a 16 year old. "Supply" in this context covers selling, renting, loaning, giving as a gift, or any other form of making the vehicle available to a minor.

Under road traffic legislation, the user of a scrambler or quad in a public place must have insurance, road tax and a driving licence and must also wear a helmet. There are stringent penalties under the road traffic laws for not being in compliance with these requirements. For the purposes of the Road Traffic Acts, a "public place" means any public road and any street, road or other place to which the public has access with vehicles whether as of right or by permission and whether subject to or free of charge. Road traffic legislation does not extend to private property, including municipal or other publicly-owned parks which are under the control of local authorities and subject to their bye-laws.

Enforcement of legislation is the responsibility of the Garda. If a person supplies a vehicle to a minor or uses a quad bike or scrambler in a public place without tax or insurance, or in contravention of any other law, the Garda has the legal powers to address these matters. The laws available to address the scrambler problem include not only those under my Department but also public order legislation under the Department of Justice and Equality which can be applied in parks. Local authorities have the power to introduce bye-laws to prohibit the use of vehicles in areas under their control. The unauthorised use of off-road vehicles is prohibited in certain national parks and the Minister with responsibility for rural and Gaeltacht affairs has powers to prohibit their unauthorised use.

We know that the problem of antisocial and dangerous behaviour involving scramblers and quads continues. This raises questions of how best to tackle the problem and one aspect of that is looking at whether changes to legislation would help. A working group was set up by the Department of Justice and Equality that looked at a cross-agency approach to tackling the illegal use of quad bikes and scramblers during 2019. The group includes representatives from my Department, as well as the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Courts Service and the Garda. One option considered related to the fact that the Road Traffic Acts apply to a "public place", a legal term which does not include a public park. As many of the problems with scramblers and quads arise in public parks, there were suggestions that redefining a public place to include a public park might help by extending certain Garda powers into parks. However, following legal advice, it became clear that this would create serious unintended consequences. The concept of a public place is fundamental to traffic law and redefining a park as a public place would mean extending a vast body of traffic law into parks with a wide range of consequent legal difficulties. It is most likely that a comprehensive solution will have to involve a range of measures including legislation, enforcement and public education, as the Deputies have outlined.

I reiterate what my colleague said and remind the Minister of State that an agreement to enhance the powers available to the Garda is a part of the programme for Government. A Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill appeared in the August legislative calendar to provide for a variety of road safety-related measures. It would be timely if we could include in that new Bill even something small that would enable the Garda to work and improve its response in this area.

This also seems to be an opportune time to legislate for e-scooters and it would be helpful if those things could be included in the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

The Minister of State has done a good job in outlining many of the challenge that we face. We need to get all the Departments into a room and start looking for solutions to this problem because, as I said, there is not only one solution. The Minister of State has highlighted some of the potential solutions but the fact that there is no responsibility on parents who buy young children these bikes for Christmas or birthdays needs to be tackled. If a bike is seized by the Garda, parents can collect it the next day, or it goes out to auction and the bike is back on the street. We can end that with cross-departmental action.

There are a number of measures on which we can take strong action, including legislation and the definition of a public place. In my area of Finglas, Tesco Ireland agreed to prevent the sale of petrol to under 18s. We could challenge fuel suppliers right across the country to do the same.

I believe that a child using a scrambler bike is a matter of parental neglect and Tusla should be involved in cases where it is concerned.

I thank the Deputies. As I stated, under the Road Traffic Acts, there are already comprehensive measures in place for the Garda to deal with vehicles, including scramblers, quads and similar vehicles, in public places. In addition, there are also forms of legislation which allow for dealing with them outside public places and anyone supplying them to a minor can be prosecuted. Alternatives have been considered and I understand that the working group on this matter met earlier this year and is to meet again next week to review the situation. If a viable proposal that would help us to protect the public from dangerous and improper use of these vehicles were to emerge, and it fell within my remit, I would be happy to propose the necessary legislative changes. This might involve being able to adapt some powers under traffic law to be used in parks, without the major unintended consequences which come from the redefinition of a public place.

I have to add that whatever laws are used, whether they come from the transport or justice remit or other Departments, there will always be difficulty in enforcing them. The Garda must take account of public safety and chasing scramblers or quads could put the users or bystanders at risk. This is one of the greatest difficulties with these machines and there are no easy solutions. It is most likely that a comprehensive solution will involve a range of measures, including perhaps new legislation from the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport or Justice and Equality in the form of public order legislation. It will also involve enforcement and public education on the purchase and use of these vehicles.

Rail Network

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to discuss the need to expedite the double tracking of the Irish Rail line connecting Athenry, Oranmore, Ardaun and, ultimately, Galway city. I thank the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for being here today to discuss this matter.

Athenry has a population of just over 5,000 people and the town has doubled in size over the past 20 years. Oranmore also has a population of about 5,000 people and the population has doubled over the past 20 years. The development of a new town, Ardaun, on the periphery of Galway city connecting Galway to Oranmore, will see a projected population of 18,000 people. In the next decade we can expect the cumulative total population of those three towns reaching close to 40,000 people.

The most recent CSO data tell us that there are 1,850 people commuting to Galway city every morning and evening from Athenry and Oranmore and the vast majority of those commutes are made in cars. If we are deadly serious, as we should be, about effecting a modal shift and encouraging people to leave their cars at home and take public transport, we need to be serious about providing people with a genuine alternative to their cars. We need to be serious about vastly increasing the frequency of the commuter rail service between Athenry, Oranmore, Ardaun and the city of Galway. In doing so, I am convinced we can and should encourage people to make that modal shift.

We need to give people genuine alternatives to getting into their cars each morning in all of those towns and finding themselves, along with thousands of others, sitting for a very long time on the eastern edge of Galway city as they make their way into the city. While we are all working hard as best we can to see the development of the outer bypass of Galway city, that will not solve the problem of the accumulation of cars every morning on the eastern side of the city going to one single location, namely, the Parkmore Industrial Estate where the vast majority of people commuting into the city from that eastern side are working.

We need commuter trains departing in both directions every 15 minutes. Irish Rail is ambitious to see this development happening. I understand the National Transport Authority, NTA, is equally ambitious around this development. Mr. Jim Meade outlined in a presentation to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2018 that it was an ambition of Irish Rail to develop a better service between Athenry and Galway and that double tracking the line would facilitate the development of a better service.

In addition, this will require significant investment on the part of Irish Rail. It is an investment that needs to be made and makes absolute sense in terms of its sustainability, of vastly improving the quality of life of people residing in those times and of good value for taxpayer. We also need to ensure that any further investment we make in Irish Rail infrastructure in the west of Ireland is made in the best possible interests of rail users and the taxpayer.

I also am anxious to learn when the Minister intends to publish the review of the viability of reinstating a rail service connecting Claremorris to Tuam and onwards to Athenry that was carried out over a year ago. That review has been with the Department long before the Minister arrived there. It is critical to have that review in order that we can plan sustainably and efficiently how we can develop build infrastructure in the west of Ireland in the future. I would argue that these two issues are inextricably linked.

I thank Deputy Cannon. The Government very much shares the ambition for the twin tracking of the rail line between Athenry and Galway city the Deputy mentioned.

The programme for Government makes a strong commitment to fundamentally change the nature of transport in Ireland, and to deliver on this commitment we need a whole of system perspective across all modes of transport, whether that is active travel, bus or rail. Getting that whole-of-system perspective requires evidence-based and plan-led transport infrastructure development, as well as transport infrastructure development that integrates with and acts as a catalyst for improved land-use planning. Land use planning means that local authorities locate houses, jobs and other facilities along high-capacity transport corridors. That is the framework of many of our EU and international peers and is the framework that can deliver fundamental change for the better.

In the next few years, I want a real focus on that type of delivery. There is a transport strategy for Galway, and now a regional, spatial and economic strategy. There is also a Galway metropolitan area strategy. It is critical that this connects to land development. The Deputy mentioned population growth in Athenry, Oranmore, Ardaun and new areas. It is critical that the connection between new public transport infrastructure and new housing developments goes together.

Many people are correct in thinking that the capacity of development along the corridor and in those centres is held back by the single track nature of the existing line. I know of others who consider that there is the potential to develop commuter services along the corridor, and a move to a double track would alleviate the congestion coming into Galway city. As the Deputy said, there is a particular problem in the Parkmore Industrial Estate with people entering and exiting the estate every morning and evening.

In a series of meetings I held recently with various stakeholders in the Galway area, this is the one project that everyone agreed needed to be progressed. It is viewed as a project that can deliver real improvement to people's lives, cut journey times, alleviate congestion and take a large number of private cars off the streets of the city and its suburbs. I am glad to say that my Department, through the NTA, is this year funding a feasibility study for development options on this rail corridor. The study will identify the short, medium and long-term capacity improvement options for the Athenry to Galway rail line. The study will commence by November and will be finished by quarter 2 of 2021. It will consider all options, including indicating high level costs, and provide recommendations as regards prioritising projects for delivery.

I fully intend to incorporate the recommendations of that study into the consideration of priorities as we look to review the national development plan. I want the improvements on the corridor, as well as the development opportunities identified by Deputy Cannon, to be delivered. He can be assured that my Department is fully supportive of Galway County Council's applications this year to the urban regeneration and development fund for works at Oranmore Station in the meantime. The project can act as an enabler for compact and sustainable growth in Oranmore and the Galway city region. The rail improvements planned at Oranmore, however, including the addition of a second platform and a new passing loop, can only deliver short-term improvements to rail services generally in the region.

I hope that this response provides the Deputy with an update on the various strands of work under way that will lay the groundwork for significant upgrade and twin tracking of the line in the years to come.

I thank the Minister for that very positive response. It is indeed heartening to hear that the feasibility study for the development of the twin track option will get under way quite quickly and will be completed by quarter 2 of next year. The land required for the development of that twin track option is already within State ownership under Córas Iompair Éireann, CIÉ. One would hope that the feasibility study would arrive at a conclusion that this would be a very positive development and one that could be easily delivered within a relatively short timeframe and at a reasonable cost.

There is no question but that there is a glaring need for the development of additional commuter rail services. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, has spoken about this on a number of occasions.

There is that need there. I am fully convinced from having spoken to commuters who regularly use that service - I was in Athenry train station this morning heading in the opposite direction - that with the additional frequency one would see a significant amount of additional commuters making the choice to leave their cars at home and hopping on the train from Athenry to Galway, for what is ultimately a very short journey. I hope to make a submission to the development of the feasibility study. One particular matter that needs to be addressed in carrying out of that study is for some sort of shuttle bus service connecting Oranmore, because it is a far quicker and more straightforward connection to make to Parkmore, so that ultimately one can get people from door to door to meet their work needs in the future.

Finally, I raise with the Minister once again the need to expedite publication of the western rail corridor review. It is again critical to this particular issue in that we need ultimately to decide where we are going to make necessary investment in our rail infrastructure in the west. To make those kinds of key decisions we need to have all of the necessary information.

I thank the Deputy. On the first issue, one of the critical things needed to make this work effectively for the quality of life of people, but also for the economic viability of all of these investments, is that the local authorities all play their part by ensuring that the development plans concentrate development in areas close to public transport hubs. What makes this a viable proposition is when we integrate land-use and transport planning together. That is going to be a critical element in making these projects work.

With regard to the western rail corridor study, I will be answering questions on the same issue tomorrow during priority and oral questions. I hope that we can publish that report shortly. I am waiting for a further report from JASPERS, an international organisation which is reviewing the review and I am reviewing it myself in a slightly wider context. In a series of meetings that I have had with people interested in the project I referred to the fact that if we just look at this in the context of a section of rail line between Claremorris and Athenry, that is a relatively narrative focus. One has to look at a slightly wider focus as to what is the economic potential for development of the west and north-west of the country and the infrastructure that would best suit that purpose. It is not just to my mind a question of whether we need a commuter rail service between Tuam or Claremorris into Galway city or to Athenry. The real consideration is a slightly wider one with regard to the economic development of the whole north-west region and what infrastructure may support that.

Included in that, I am particularly interested in what the potential is for rail freight developments in the western region and if we are looking at a changed policy as to promoting rather than restricting rail freight, which I think has been the case for the last 30 or 40 years. I cannot go into the details of that here now but I look forward to engaging with the Deputy. My focus at the moment is looking at that aspect of it and looking at it in a wider regional context, as well as looking at the content of the two reports he mentioned.