Saincheisteanna Tráthúla -Topical Issue Debates

Alcohol Pricing

Tá áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht teacht isteach anocht agus éisteacht leis an gcás atáim ag déanamh. Nílim in aghaidh óil ach táim in aghaidh an iomarca óil de bharr an dochar a dhéanann sé do dhaoine. Is é sin atáim ag iarraidh a mhaolú. Mar a deirtear i nGaeilge, nuair a bhíonn an deoch istigh, bíonn an chiall amuigh.

There is a saying in the Irish language that when the drink is in, the sense is out. We know the truth of that statement. There can be no doubt that cheap alcohol is having a damaging effect in our country. The vast majority of the Oireachtas agreed with that in 2018 when we passed the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. That Act included provisions setting a minimum price for alcohol. If implemented or commenced, this Act will have no effect on the cost of most alcohol, which is already sold at prices in excess of the proposed minimum. However, the Act will work to stop sales of really cheap drinks with very high alcohol content.

The Act sets a minimum price per gram of alcohol. A standard drink has 10 g of alcohol in it. A standard drink is a half-pint of beer, lager or stout, a small 100 ml glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits. The Act sets the cheapest price for a gram of alcohol at 10 cents. This would mean, for example, that a glass of lager or beer could not be sold for less than €1 and a pint could not be sold for less than €2. We can extrapolate the minimum cost of bottles and so on from that. Since most drinks are sold at higher prices than this, the Act would mainly affect very cheap drinks with a strong alcohol content. It is not a tax and it will not affect the price of drink above the minimum price level.

In July 2019 the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, said he hoped to implement minimum unit pricing of alcohol in order to reduce the significant health harms and financial costs of the way alcohol is consumed in Ireland to the greatest extent possible. These harms and costs include alcohol-attributed deaths from motor accidents, domestic violence, liver disease, breast cancer and other issues. These account for 21.2 deaths per 100,000 in this State, compared to 15.09 deaths per 100,000 in the North. To put that in context, the Global Burden of Disease Study finds that up to 20,000 deaths in this country could be attributed to alcohol diseases and other related deaths since the Act was first mooted in 2013.

The excuse given for not acting on this was that people would travel across the Border for cheaper drink. This might happen but it would not undermine the general effectiveness of the law. The same argument could be made in the case of Scotland, which has a land border with England. However, the Scottish are happy to note that their legislation is having an effect. According to statistics published following the introduction of the relevant Act there, alcohol consumption has dropped to the lowest level on record. Again, let us not forget that Scotland has a land border with England. When Covid-19 is added to the mix, it becomes even more important for people to keep their wits about them. It is time that we commence this section, which was passed by the House. We should not put it on the never-never, but take action.

I want to begin by welcoming the raising of this very important topic by Deputy Ó Cuív. The programme for Government promises to honour our long-standing commitment to the introduction of minimum unit pricing of alcohol products in consultation with Northern Ireland.

As Minister of State with responsibility for this issue, I want to assure the House from the outset that there is no ambiguity whatsoever on the importance of this issue or on the need to see progress with the implementation of the Act. As the Deputy rightly said, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 is a major aspect of the work of my Department's alcohol and tobacco unit. As a result, it is an issue that I will make every effort to progress in my time in office as Minister of State.

The Act was enacted on 17 October 2018. Its primary policy objectives are to reduce alcohol consumption to 9.1 l of pure alcohol per person per annum; to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people; to reduce the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol; and to regulate the supply and price of alcohol to minimise the possibility and incidence of alcohol-related harm. These objectives were developed in recognition of the harms to health and significant costs to the Exchequer caused by alcohol and the fact that alcohol consumption in Ireland remains high.

Section 11 of the Act provides for a minimum price of 10 cents per gram of alcohol for alcohol products. Minimum pricing is considered effective because international evidence shows that those who consume alcohol at harmful levels tend to purchase cheaper alcohol than do moderate drinkers. The policy therefore impacts harmful drinkers the most. In addition, a minimum price will mean that strong alcohol products are not cheaply available to children and young people. Minimum unit pricing will target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the price is determined by and is directly proportionate to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink. This means that the price of individual products will depend on their strength. It sets a price floor beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold and targets products that are currently very cheap relative to their strength.

A sample application of a 10 cent minimum price per gram shows that it affects only the cheapest of products sold in off-licences. The prices of products sold in the on-licensed trade are unlikely to be impacted by a minimum price of 10 cents per gram. For example, under minimum unit pricing, a pub measure of whiskey would cost €1.12, a measure of vodka would be €1.05 and a pint of Heineken lager, Guinness stout and Bulmer's cider would be €2.25, €1.89 and €2.02 respectively. The aim of minimum unit pricing is to target harmful drinkers, that is, those who drink so much that they are putting their health in danger. The measure is targeted and attempts to minimise the impact on moderate drinkers.

In 2013 the Government decided to approve the introduction of a minimum unit pricing regime on the basis that minimum pricing would be introduced simultaneously here and in Northern Ireland. This position of all-island co-operation is reaffirmed in the programme for Government. The reason for simultaneous introduction is to allay concerns in relation to possible impacts on cross-Border trade if the measure was to be introduced in one jurisdiction only.

We welcome the recent commitment on the part of the Northern Ireland Minister of Health, Robin Swann, to hold a full public consultation on the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Northern Ireland. Following a letter I sent to the Minister last month, I reiterate that I look forward to working with him on this important public health measure in order that both jurisdictions can avail of the benefits of the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol products.

The Deputy is correct that it has been a success in Scotland. We hope that we will be able to follow that example in conjunction with our colleagues in Northern Ireland.

I listened carefully to the comments of the Minister of State. Everything he stated backs up the case I have made. This is a very desirable measure. As anybody who examines it will see, what it hits really hard are cheap, high alcohol content drinks. If a drink has a very low alcohol content, one can sell it in volume more cheaply because minimum unit pricing will not have the same impact. The impact of the measure relates to the alcohol content of the drink.

We need to do this. The Minister of State did not address why Scotland was able to do it in spite of the fact that it has a land border with England but we cannot do it. With or without the other jurisdiction on this island, we need to get on with the job. Like every other Deputy, I would much prefer everything to be done on an all-Ireland basis and it would be much better if both sides had got on with this two years ago but we have been putting this on the long finger since 2013. There is no reason why we could not act unilaterally.

I am glad the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is present because, as he knows, we distorted the market by putting a carbon tax on certain products when there is no equivalent tax on them in Northern Ireland. There were abuses of that to a certain level but it certainly improved things down here in the South. It is true that petrol and diesel are much cheaper in the South than they are in Northern Ireland and that people come over the Border to buy them, which distorts trade.

Alcohol is a much more public good than either of those two products and the introduction of minimum unit pricing will save a significant number of lives. We need a commitment from the Government that before this year is out, this provision will be commenced with or without Northern Ireland. Its commencement here may encourage the Northern Ireland authorities to move in a progressive way.

As I stated, we are not trying to stop people accessing alcohol at the normal prices at which they access it. Rather, what this measure will hit is the abuse of alcohol. As the Minister of State pointed out, it will hit those who buy very high alcohol content drinks, which I will not name tonight, at a ridiculously low price and do incredible damage. We know that young people in particular are tempted in that direction.

Early analysis of the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Scotland shows that the policy is successful in targeting harmful drinking. Scotland introduced minimum pricing in May 2018. Subsequent to its introduction, alcohol consumption figures there were at their lowest rate for 25 years.

We have an alcohol issue in this country. Alcohol consumption in Ireland almost trebled over the four decades between 1960 and 2000, from 4.9 l to 12.1 l of pure alcohol per capita aged over 15 years. That dramatic rise came about because alcohol became more affordable and widely available. Our current consumption is down to 11 l. We wish to get it down to 9.1 l. We have not reached the target of a decrease of more than 21%. We wish to get it down to 9.1 l by 2020. Analysis published in the British Medical Journal in 2019 found the introduction of minimum unit pricing has led to a 7.6% decrease in purchased grammes of alcohol per adult per household. It also concluded that minimum unit pricing has a targeted effect on those who purchase the most alcohol and that the reductions in purchased alcohol occurred in the households that bought the most alcohol.

I and my Department believe that a minimum unit pricing policy would be most effective if we work together with our colleagues in Northern Ireland such that both jurisdictions introduce the policy simultaneously. If we proceed with the policy unilaterally, we risk undermining its effectiveness by continuing to provide consumers with the option to avoid minimum unit pricing by crossing the Border to access cheaper alcohol. We are committed to the introduction of minimum unit pricing, as set out in the programme for Government, and I very much look forward to implementing the policy when the conditions are in place for it to be effective.

Another aspect worth noting of the introduction of the measure in Scotland is that deaths in Glasgow related to alcohol reduced by 20%, which is staggering. We have a major fight on our hands. I wish to thank the representatives of Alcohol Action Ireland, whom I have met, and many other stakeholders. We are committed and united in tackling this issue.

Speech and Language Therapy

Some three-quarters of speech and language therapists in counties Roscommon and Galway are currently involved in contact tracing. Before the lockdown, there was a four-year waiting list to access speech and language therapy in those counties. That means a preschool child referred to speech and language services might not get support before his or her Holy Communion. At present, 1,049 children in the two counties are awaiting access to speech and language therapy but three-quarters of the speech and language therapists are directly involved in contact tracing. This is not a good use of scarce therapy resources. It is not just speech and language therapists. I have received reports that occupational therapists, physiotherapists, audiologists and podiatrists, to name but a few highly trained staff, have been redeployed since the Covid-19 lockdown and remain redeployed in other areas of the health system while the waiting lists for vulnerable children mount and mount. This is not just happening in the west. I have also received reports of it happening in counties Westmeath, Laois, Offaly and Kildare.

How can it be that it has taken months after these staff were redeployed for any attempt to be made to recruit contact tracers? What is even more appalling is the fact that the therapists involved in the Galway-Roscommon autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit based in Athenry were, prior to Covid-19, involved in a reconfiguration of that service which was to be completed by January of next year. It would not surprise me if Covid-19 is now used as an excuse to drag out that process, rather than the reconfiguration having being done during the lockdown when those therapists were not seeing children. That will add further delays.

What does this mean in reality? Liam, who turned five today, had his first block of speech therapy sanctioned in March but did not have any sessions before he started school this September because his therapist has been redeployed into contact tracing. As Liam was not sanctioned a special needs assistant, SNA, in his school, his older sister must translate for him in the classroom. These issues came about because nobody seems to have been recruited and trained for contact tracing after the first wave of infection months ago. In fact, clerical staff across Government agencies and members of the Defence Forces have been taken off contact tracing and sent back to their previous jobs but that is not the case for front-line therapists who could help Liam and make sure that his older sister, Ava, could be a normal child in first class rather than having to act as an SNA. I want this to stop today. These therapists should be put back to doing the work they ought to be doing today. I do not wish for the Government to wait until next Monday to make this happen. It needs to happen immediately. These staff should never have been redeployed in the first instance. After the first wave of infection, they should have been the first staff to be sent back to their front-line services, rather than sending back the clerical staff and having these staff still tied up in contact tracing.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. In preparing for and responding to Covid-19 and to fully align with public health guidance as recommended by NPHET, the HSE and its partner service providers put in place a range of measures.

These included the prioritisation of vital residential and home support services, while curtailing or closing certain services, such as day services as well as certain clinical supports, in order to prioritise essential public health services at community healthcare organisation, CHO, level and ensure continued delivery of the referenced residential and home supports provision.

Effective redeployment of health service employees was a core element of the response by the HSE to Covid-19. Hospital groups and community healthcare organisations, temporarily redeployed staff to support their business continuity plans, to emerging services developing in direct response to Covid-19 and in response to the health and availability of staff in their own organisations.

Having said that, some services continued with therapists, including speech and language therapists, working with service users and their families remotely and using technology in new and effective ways.

The HSE's national HR strategic workforce planning and intelligence unit collects information regarding the redeployment of some staff. Many grades and categories of staff, including speech and language therapists, were redeployed and some continue to be redeployed to other services such as the helplines, contact tracing, testing, public health and service support.

The presence and threat of Covid-19 in Ireland is ongoing and has resulted in significant challenges for service users, their carers and families and for service providers. During these challenging times, disability services and supports, such as residential services, day services, home supports, personal assistant supports, respite services and children's services, were either suspended or delivered in alternative ways in line with public health guidance.

In the absence of regular scheduled day services, respite supports and multidisciplinary supports, CHOs and service providers have tried to maintain services that can be delivered safely, providing outreach and telecare solutions, using technology where possible and using creative and innovative models of care to support service users, both adults and children. The HSE was also mindful of the will and preference of people in terms of receiving services and in certain instances where personal choice was made to put these services on hold.

The HSE acknowledges that during the current Covid-19 pandemic situation, it has not been possible to maintain full services. It has, therefore, been difficult to complete clinical assessments or provide interventions while maintaining social distancing and meeting health and safety requirements.

The HSE is aware of the numbers of children and adults waiting for therapy services, as the Deputy outlined, including speech and language therapy, and is fully cognisant of the stress this can cause to families. One of the key priorities for the HSE is to improve waiting times for therapy services.

In respect of the provision of disability services and in the context of the Government's Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021 framework, the HSE regards the provision of disability services as essential to maintaining a response to people with a disability. This means that therapies including speech and language therapy, while being delivered in new ways, will gradually be re-introduced to children with disabilities. It is a priority for the HSE to release redeployed staff back to their substantive grade and a national recruitment campaign is under way to retain testing and tracing resources in order to deliver this priority. As the Deputy rightly stated, 50% of the staff redeployed at the beginning of the pandemic have already returned to their substantive grade.

In response to the Minister of State and with all due respect, as this reply was presented to him by the HSE, that is farmyard manure because it does not address any of the issues that I have raised with the Minister of State here. I have given a week's notice on this specific issue.

In relation to all of these therapies, all the private providers have been back delivering these exact same services, and charging for them, for months at this stage, but not the HSE staff.

With all due respect, 50% of the staff have not returned to the front-line services that they were providing prior to this time. As I have already put on the public record here, three-quarters of the speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapist are still involved in contact tracing instead of the job that they should be doing.

I had the opportunity here in the House on Thursday last to bring this up with the former Tánaiste, and current Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney. The Minister told the Dáil that Defence Forces staff would be made available to provide contact tracing if the HSE asked for them. He also told the House that only 24 of the 647 applications received from former Defence Forces personnel to re-enlist to help out during the pandemic had been approved due to eligibility criteria, such as age. Surely some of those 623 applicants and, I am sure, many more staff who have answered Ireland's call, and staff who have already left the HSE, would be willing to come back to help out in order that children could learn to talk or to walk and that children could have ordinary everyday lives, just like their brothers and sisters and friends and neighbours. Surely it is not too much to ask that these valuable therapists would be sent back to the job that they should be doing at the front line, treating children on a day-to-day basis, instead of picking up the phone.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.

The Minister acknowledges the significant contribution of health and social care professionals to the Covid response, in particular, the urgent requirement for testing in the community services. I am aware that in the Department of Health, many of the various teams are still working on Covid.

The HSE has put a plan in place to stabilise the testing workforce to release staff back to their substantive roles. However, with the rising number of cases and the requirement for the HSE community services to respond to meet the evolving priorities, there is a fine balance to be struck between the competing priorities of responding to Covid and the restarting of services temporarily paused on the onset of Covid. I will bring the Deputy's forthright and helpful advice to the Minister when I meet him tomorrow.

The Army stands available to do this. Its personnel are the ones who should be used.

There are, however, a significant number of measures being put in place to manage such competing priorities, for example, a national requirement campaign for dedicated testing and tracing resources. We expect that such measures coming in place will assist in our ability to meet both Covid and non-Covid service demands.

HR in community operations has been in dialogue with trade union partners regarding the matter and has agreed to progress a roadmap for the return of all staff to their substantive roles as the new staff come on stream in a co-ordinated way.

I appreciate Deputy Naughten's advice and I will bring it to the Minister. However, sometimes there are many other issues. When I got involved in politics first, I was told the fight is never what the fight is about. Sometimes there are other issues, of which perhaps we are not cognisant. We are in the middle of a dangerous Covid pandemic. The situation is evolving and what pertained last week may not pertain this week. We see in our own areas the rise of Covid-19. I certainly congratulate all the front-line staff of the HSE for all the work they have done so far.

Road Projects

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this matter this evening and the Minister for being here at this late hour to take the debate.

As the Minister will probably be aware, there is an urgent need to provide better road access to Great Island and the town of Cobh in Cork East. I doubt the Minister has been to Cobh recently but it is a most beautiful town and setting. On a fine day, it is like costa del Cobh. It is really lovely.

The population of the Great Island is 15,000. Cobh is one of the biggest towns in County Cork. Many people do not realise that. However, Great Island itself can only be reached by a cross-river crossing. There is a good rail link, which is fantastic, but the road access is deplorable. It really is extremely poor. The river ferry is weather dependent as well.

This R624 road includes the triple-arch humpback Belvelly Bridge, which was constructed in 1803. In the view of many people, including me, it is totally inadequate for the weight and volume of the traffic that is on it today, when one thinks of 15,000 people being obliged to use it.

Behind it there is the beautiful Belvelly Castle which was recently restored. In addition to the issue of Belvelly Bridge, the R624 network leading from Cobh Cross to the bridge and on to Cobh town in particular is extremely narrow and has many twists and turns. It is very dangerous for road users at peak commute times and lethal for cyclists and pedestrians who literally cannot use it. Local residents are very concerned because the volume of traffic has increased in recent years.

The overriding concern is that if anything happens to the almost 220-year-old stone bridge, 15,000 people would be cut off. Several times in recent years, unfortunate accidents on the R624 have curtailed access to the island, in some cases for hours, resulting in major delays and traffic chaos. One can imagine the impact this could have on emergency services.

Cobh is now a major international tourist destination. Prior to the Covid restrictions, the town had up to 100 cruise liners visiting annually. Visitors from those liners typically explored the immediate region in touring coaches which must navigate this very narrow, dangerous road, the Belvelly Bridge and the local road network. Cobh is also recognised as an attractive tourist destination for local visitors, with its world-famous, Pugin-designed St. Colman's Cathedral dominating the skyline, its fine promenade, restaurants, coffee shops and attractions such as the heritage centre, Titanic Experience Cobh and nearby Fota House and wildlife park. It is a very beautiful town which has been enhanced in recent years by the Tidy Towns committee and local authority workers.

The R624 is also the main access route for those who want to visit Spike Island which last year had in excess of 81,000 visitors. Spike Island was named Europe's leading attraction at the World Travel Awards in 2017 and came second in the global awards behind some place called Machu Picchu. While the road network is currently presenting problems, a master plan for the development of the former IFI site at Marino Point will further increase traffic volume on the R624 along with any further developments which might be planned in the Cork dockyard in Cobh. The dockyard may end up being a centre for wind energy development.

I am aware that the Department of Transport had an initial engagement with Cork County Council last year, including a meeting with the Department's strategic research and analysis division regarding the project proposal process. I understand the council is appointing consultants. This evening, I ask the Minister to add his weight to this. We know this is a major project, which is extremely sensitive. It is in a special area of conservation where there is a great deal of heritage, stonework and so on. Any works in the area will require a considerable work and effort and take many years to plan and develop. I ask the Minister to put his weight behind this project and to do all he can, with his hard-working officials, to support Cork County Council in advancing proposals to upgrade road access to Cobh.

I am pleased to be here to discuss this issue with Deputy Stanton. 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 those roads are funded from the council's own resources supplemented by State road grants. The extent of the cutbacks in grant funding during the post-2008 recession meant that grant funding for road improvement schemes had to be curtailed because expenditure on maintenance and renewal was falling well short of what was required to adequately maintain the regional and local road network.

The national development plan, NDP, provides for the gradual build-up in funding for the road network but funding is not yet at the level needed for the adequate maintenance and renewal of regional and local roads. For this reason, the primary focus for capital investment at present is the maintenance and renewal of the network and implementation of the 12 regional and local road projects identified for development, subject to necessary approvals, in the NDP.

Some limited provision is being made in the capital budget for the appraisal of a pipeline of upgrade projects. This is intended to cover the appraisal of projects for future development, if possible. The project assessment process can be expected to take time and all proposed projects must now comply with the revised public spending code published in December 2019. An important change to the public spending code is the introduction of a requirement for a strategic assessment report for all projects with an estimated expenditure of €10 million or more. The strategic assessment report is now a key deliverable at the first decision stage in the project appraisal process. The purpose of the strategic assessment report is to examine the rationale for a proposed project and to ensure the strategic alignment of projects with Government policy, including the national planning framework and national development plan. The strategic assessment report is also an important step in the project life cycle in that potential alternatives for an intervention are assessed and identified for further appraisal should the project progress to the preliminary business case phase of the appraisal process. Once completed, a report needs Departmental approval.

On access to Cobh and Great Island, there was some initial engagement between Cork County Council and my Department last year, including a meeting with the Department's strategic research and analysis division regarding the project appraisal process. My Department understands that Cork County Council is now proposing to appoint consultants to carry out a transport study which will look at all options in relation to access.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am aware of the strategic access report requirement at the first decision stage in the project appraisal work. I am also familiar with Government policy. A tier 1 port is being developed in Cobh, which is hugely important. I invite the Minister to visit the area and drive the road, or be driven along it, in order that he can have a look at it. It is frightening and the volume of traffic is very high. I hope the cruise liners return when the pandemic ends. This project will take time. I ask the Minister to personally look at the file and support and drive on the project. If it was started today, by the time there were shovels in the ground, the project could take four or five years to complete, by which time we will probably all be gone from this House. I ask the Minister to push this very hard. The council is very anxious that the project proceeds because it knows how badly needed it is. Local people have contacted me about it. They are very concerned about the safety of the road, which is really dangerous. I know cycling is close to the Minister's heart but it cannot be cycled as there is no place for bicycles at all. It is an extraordinarily narrow road and the volume of traffic on it is extreme.

I know that the project must go through a procedure. I ask that the Minister get behind it and support the local authority which is doing its best to progress it for the people in the area.

I am very familiar with the area. My grandfather grew up in Glounthaune where we had a family farm so I know the area well. I will look closely at the file.

There is a whole range of developments in the Cork harbour and city area. We need to develop Cork as a counterbalance to Dublin. We need infrastructure in Cork, which includes Cobh and Carrigtwohill, Ballincollig on the other side, and Blarney. The city has spread a great deal. We need to bring life back into Cork but we also need to look after the 15,000 people in Cobh and those living in Glounthaune and beyond.

There will be a variety of ways to invest in this infrastructure. One will be to invest in Cork harbour. Marino Point, a deep sea port with a rail connection and one of the best harbours in the world, is an underutilised asset. It also has a lot of energy infrastructure around it. We will have to invest in the rail line. One of my top priority projects is developing a second track from Midleton to Cork city. I would also develop a station at Tivoli. I spoke to Cork County Council about this recently. If we did that, we could have 10,000 people in Tivoli docks. The other side of the estuary on the old Dunlop site and the docklands would allow massive development of the east of the city.

We also need to develop and look after Cobh for tourism and many other purposes. I know the bridge and road in question and what the Deputy has said is not untrue. The project would not be cheap. One might think it is just one section of road but it would quickly amount to tens of millions of euro. It is about balance, and I expect that, as well as the road, the strategic review is looking at further Local Link bus services and increasing frequency on the Cobh train line. Traffic volume on the R624 is an issue. The road caters for around 5,000 vehicles per day and probably has a multiple of that now. The study will have to consider the various options to solve the needs of people in the community. Their needs must come first. We must look at every option for achieving that.

Housing Regeneration

Inner city Dublin has a large working class community. This is probably forgotten when people look at its skyline and see sparkling six, eight and ten storey apartment buildings and plenty of cranes. These new buildings have state-of-the-art technology and all the mod cons, but that is in stark contrast to Dublin City Council's housing in Pearse House, Glover's Court and most of the council's flat complexes. The Googles and Facebooks are pushing people out of their communities.

The flat complexes that I have mentioned and many more are almost like modern tenements, but our people deserve better. Bin storage areas are open and the competition between rats and seagulls is intense. If one wants to witness that struggle in bin storage areas, one need only go to Markievicz House, which is less than 1 km from here. Rats travel the flats without fear and, in some cases, have eaten into cars and done such damage that insurance companies have had to write off those cars. In what is not an unusual instance, rats found their way into a flat in Pearse House through the waste pipes, nested behind a wardrobe and ate the electrics at the back of the fridge and cooker at night.

Flooding is a regular occurrence, sometimes with raw sewage. Regularly, raw sewage bursts into the balconies or courtyards from the old pipes. Mould is rampant in the flats, with some rooms being uninhabitable because of its extent. Residents' health is badly impacted because of this, but more often than not, the council just tells people to wipe the mould off with bleach and they will be grand.

The council has lined stairwells with a lining that makes it almost impossible to sweep and is difficult to wash down. This was done without any consultation with residents. Canon Mooney Gardens in Ringsend faces a variety of issues that Dublin City Council has agreed to work on, but that work has stalled once again.

In the 1930s and 1940s when many flat complexes were constructed, they were built to replace the slums across Dublin. They were built to a high standard and have lasted well, but they are no longer suitable for families. Herbert Simms, who was responsible for the design and construction of some 17,000 homes from 1932 to 1948 when the country was on its knees economically, saw the importance of public housing. We now need to see that same commitment from this Government in terms of investing in public housing stock. There has been a great deal of talk about building a sustainable city, but that cannot be achieved while abandoning these communities, which have been the city's backbone for generations.

Dublin City Council has started the process of engaging with residents in Pearse House with a view to regeneration. Will the Government commit to investing in the redevelopment of Pearse House? Residents there and in Macken Villas and flats like them across the city have been left behind. For many reasons, the inner city cannot be left behind. The Government needs to invest as a matter of urgency in Dublin's communities, which have been forgotten. We need to invest in flat complexes not too far from here, for example, Pearse House, Bishop Street, York Street and Digges Street, and other flat complexes around Dublin.

I thank Deputy Andrews for raising this question and speaking so eloquently on it.

The regular management and maintenance of local authority housing stock is a matter for each relevant local authority and it is open to each authority to address maintenance or improvements to its housing stock from within its own resources. However, my Department also supports local authorities in improving their social housing stock through a range of programmes, including energy retrofitting, regeneration and refurbishment works to vacant properties in order to return these to productive use as quickly as possible.

My Department currently supports a programme of large-scale regeneration projects in Cork, Limerick and Dublin and smaller projects in Tralee, Sligo and Dundalk. These projects seek to address the causes of disadvantage in their communities through a holistic programme of physical, social and economic regeneration. Projects being funded under the programme target the country's most disadvantaged communities, including those defined by the most extreme social exclusion, poverty and deprivation. Between 2016 and 2019, more than 560 units were delivered under the national regeneration programme, supported by funding in excess of €237 million from our Department. There are regeneration projects in the national pipeline that will yield in excess of 740 new homes out to 2023 at an estimated cost of €240 million, which includes a number of significant projects in inner city Dublin.

As the Deputy will be aware, a regeneration project moves through a number of phases during its life: the initial planning stage; decanting of existing tenants; demolition works; enabling works; refurbishment and-or consolidation works in some cases; and construction. The project also moves through a number of pre-construction stages and approvals, with funding being approved for the different phases as required. There may be significant investment in a regeneration project over a number of years before housing units are delivered and ready for occupation.

A number of Dublin City Council projects are currently on site, including phase 1 of the regeneration of St. Teresa's Gardens, which will deliver the first 54 units early in 2021, and Dominick Street, which will deliver 72 units in 2021. Other projects, such as Dolphin House's phase 1b of 35 units, Dorset Street's 115 units in the initial phase and Constitution Hill's 130 units in the initial phase, are all at pre-construction stages.

While the identification of properties for inclusion in any such programme is a matter for the local authority, I understand that Dublin City Council has completed a strategic development audit of its 220 apartment complexes in order to develop a capital housing apartment complex regeneration programme for 2020 to 2040. According to the council, this audit has regard to the physical condition and development potential of the complexes and other relevant factors. The council has identified priorities for each of its 11 electoral areas. I understand that it is examining the feasibility of making a positive intervention at Pearse House, which is a protected structure, and engagement with local elected members and the community will commence shortly.

My Department is working with Dublin City Council in support of advancing this programme, with funding available through various social housing programmes.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Clearly, Dublin City Council is filling in the details, but it cannot do this without funding and a commitment. It is important that the Government commits to funding redevelopment projects. Pearse House is a large development of 370 flats and is experiencing many social as well as physical infrastructure issues. It needs to be regenerated. The people there have put up with terrible conditions. None of us here would live in the conditions to which they have been subjected. The Government needs to invest in this project as a matter of urgency.

I welcome the Minister of State's comments. I will keep pushing him on more than just Pearse House. Right across the inner city, there are homes that need to be redeveloped. They are not up to modern standards and would not be acceptable in any other European city. They should not be accepted in Dublin. It is important that we invest in Pearse House and all those flat complexes that are in urgent need of regeneration.

I agree with the Deputy wholeheartedly. The community development and regeneration aspects have to go hand in hand with redevelopment projects. The Department is working closely with all local authorities on increasing and accelerating the delivery of a range of social housing programmes and supports. It is fully committed to working with Dublin City Council on progressing the regeneration proposals in the inner city. The Department has worked consistently with the council in support of the latter's efforts to advance proposals under the regeneration programme and we will continue to do so.

As evidenced by the Department's commitment to supporting public housing in inner city Dublin, funding in excess of €450 million has been approved for social housing programmes, with approximately 20 projects delivering in excess of 1,225 social housing units in such inner city projects as North King Street, Bonham Street, Sackville Avenue, Cork Street, Infirmary Road, Matt Talbot Court and Constitution Hill. It eagerly awaits submissions from Dublin City Council on a variety of new projects, including St. Andrew's Court, Dunne Street and the next phases of the redevelopment at St. Teresa's Gardens. In terms of Pearse House, following completion of the engagement process with local councillors and the local community, it is a matter for Dublin City Council to advance the project accordingly and to submit the proposal to the Department for consideration.

It is important that what we have discussed form part and parcel of our approach to town centres. We want families living in vibrant, sustainable communities in inner city Dublin because that is at the heart of Dublin and in Dublin's future. As such, it is vital that we get this right. I welcome the Deputy's contribution in that regard.