Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Building Regulations

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, for being here to answer these questions. I request that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government carry out a review to examine amending the building regulations to include the mandatory installation of adequate toilet facilities for disabled people and their carers, known as changing places facilities. The Minister will know that while Part M of the building regulations states that new buildings must include standard wheelchair accessible toilet facilities, they do not allow for more severely disabled adults and teens, who may require incontinence pad changing facilities, a larger square metreage floor area to allow for carers and the use of a hoist. The campaign group Changing Places has established a template for a changing facility that allows equity of access to all. These are accessible for those who need carer support for sanitary and toilet use. Changing places rooms have a higher ceiling to allow for a hoist, a larger floor space to accommodate carers, a centralised toilet to allow for carer support and, vitally, a height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench. At the moment, there are just 15 changing places facilities in the Republic of Ireland.

To put this in context, I will tell the Minister of State about Sophia. I have her family's permission to highlight her situation in the Dáil this evening. Sophia is a wonderful young woman. She is 13 years of age and loves her dog, her brother, her sister and eating ice cream. Sophia also has cerebral palsy and arthrogryposis and has had surgery for scoliosis. She is non-verbal and requires an adult-sized changing bench for toilet use. Recently, Sophia and her family visited me in Bray and when I asked where the nearest changing places facility was, her father Aaron told me there were none available in the entire county of Wicklow, and Wicklow is not unique in this regard. Many parents have experienced the frustration of seeking baby changing facilities, only to find they are not available. Usually, with a small baby one can make do. This is not the case for people with certain disabilities. In Sophia's case, every trip and visit is planned with an adequate toilet facility in mind and there are only 15 such facilities in the country. Very often, her father told me, they do not bother going anywhere at all because of the lack of access to these facilities. I believe every person should have access to adequate bathroom facilities. It is neither reasonable nor acceptable to expect people like Sophia to make do, when making do involves a complete loss of dignity. Her parents must attempt to change her in the back of their van or limit their trips to one of a handful of locations that can accommodate her needs.

Recently, the UK Government announced that changes would be made to legislation to install compulsory changing places in new public buildings, such as shopping centres, art galleries, sports stadiums, libraries or larger public buildings from 2021. I believe we should now examine changing the building regulations to ensure planning applications for suitable public buildings include a changing places toilet facility. As we learn to live with Covid, we must be mindful of the vulnerable, who will look to this Government to act for them in ensuring their dignity, safety and well-being. I hope the Minister of State and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will work with me to meet the campaigners in Changing Places, who comprise representatives from many disability advocacy groups, and listen to them to ensure young women like Sophia can go about their day with the dignity they deserve. I thank the Minister of State.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and for presenting such a poignant case in relation to Sophia and her family. As the matter stands, new buildings and extensions of material alterations to existing buildings must comply with the legal minimum performance standards set out in the building regulations of 1997 to 2019. In this context, the Building Regulations (Part M Amendment) Regulations 2010 and the accompanying Technical Guidance Document M - Access and Use 2010, which came into effect on 1 January 2012, set out the minimum statutory requirements a building must achieve in respect of access.

The requirements of Part M aim to ensure that regardless of aim, size or disability, new buildings other than dwellings are accessible and usable; extensions to existing buildings other than dwellings are, where practicable, accessible and usable; material alterations to existing buildings other than dwellings increase the accessibility and usability of existing buildings, where practicable; certain changes of use to existing buildings other than dwellings increase the accessibility and usability of existing buildings, where practicable; and new dwellings are visitable. Part M of the building regulations aims to foster an inclusive approach to the design and construction of the built environment. While Part M requirements may be regarded as a statutory minimum level of provision, the accompanying technical guidance encourages building owners and designers to regard the design philosophy of universal design and consider making additional provisions, where practicable and appropriate.

While the latest iteration of Part M of the building regulations initially coincided with the general downturn in economic and construction activity, its positive effects on access and use in the built environment can now be seen widely. The building regulations, including Part M requirements, are subject to ongoing review in the interests of safety and well-being of the persons in the built environment and to ensure that due regard is taken of changes in construction techniques, technological processes and innovation. Costs are examined in the context of proposed legislative changes, particularly in the building regulations, and a cost-benefit analysis and regulatory impact analysis are carried out on any proposed amendments.

The Minister and I will give full consideration to a review in respect of the provision for what is called changing places, commonly known as the changing places toilet, in certain buildings. This may involve an amendment to the requirements of Part M and the development of sufficiently detailed guidance for inclusion in the associated technical guidance document M to ensure proper practical implementation in certain new buildings and existing buildings undergoing works.

Separately, it is open to any person who feels discriminated against to refer a discrimination complaint to the equality tribunal under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2018 which prohibit discrimination on nine specific grounds, including that of disability. It should also be noted that requirements set out under the equality legislation are a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and welcome the fact that he has committed to giving consideration to a review of the provision of changing places. It will, of course, involve an amendment to Part M of the building regulations. I believe we should address the issue quickly and I will continue with the Minister of State and his Department to ensure that we can provide these facilities for people who urgently need them. As I said earlier, there are only 15 of these facilities in the country. Similar facilities are provided throughout Northern Ireland and Great Britain. People in those countries have the same needs as people here, and I believe we should make those provisions available so that people who have those needs can enjoy the freedom to go about their business with confidence and not be forced to restrict their journeys to the locations of those 15 facilities. This impacts on entire families and not only people who are in need of those services. I thank the Minister of State for his response and look forward to the Minister's appraisal of the need to review the regulations in this regard.

The Deputy has our commitment that we will look at setting up a departmental working group for this matter, which I think is the next logical step. I agree with the Deputy. There are 187 such facilities in Scotland, as far as I am aware, and 1,300 across the UK. As the Deputy mentioned, there are more mandatory guidelines in place in those jurisdictions.

The accompanying technical guidance document to Part M of the building regulations, dealing with its access and use, came into effect on 1 January 2012. It sets out the minimum statutory requirements that a building must achieve in respect of access. Under Part M, there is a requirement to ensure that "regardless of age, size or disability", these accessibility issues are resolved.

Part M of the building regulations aims to foster an inclusive approach to the design and construction of the built environment, and while Part M requirements may be regarded as a statutory minimum level of provision, the accompanying technical guidance encourages building owners and designers to have regard to the design philosophy of universal design and to consider making additional provisions where practical and appropriate.

Our Department will look at the possibility of setting up a departmental working group to examine this issue and the required changes under Part M. The Deputy is Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and that can give us a good way forward to progress this matter. We have an opportunity to progress the matter and make the necessary amendments to Part M. I commend the Deputy on bringing the issue to the Dáil, and we can make progress on it over the next number of months.

Neuro-Rehabilitation Services

I thank the Minister of State for taking this Topical Issue matter. Since I was elected as a councillor in 2014, I have encountered strong, resilient people and families and have had the privilege of getting to know them. Many of those people have suffered acute brain injuries and spinal injuries resulting from farm and road accidents and so on. It is with admiration that I look upon both those people who have suffered those traumas and their families. It takes much work, not just medically but also mentally, to get people's lives back on track.

I have brought this Topical Issue matter to the floor of the House because a number of reviews and reports have been compiled since 2012 in relation to the South/South West Hospital Group. The group is responsible for approximately 1 million people in its catchment area across counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford and south Tipperary, more than 20% of our country's population, but, unfortunately, it has no access to the full range of rehabilitation services akin to what is provided in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. It is difficult to get a place in that rehabilitation centre, as the Minister of State knows. Many can be waiting for six to 12 months to get a place in that unit.

In 2017, Dr. Andrew Hanrahan undertook a review of rehabilitation services within the South/South West Hospital Group. A further review was taken in May 2019 and outlined the requirements for rehabilitation services in the area. In 2012, a regional specialist rehabilitation unit was first proposed for the South/South West Hospital Group to provide for patients with high to moderate intensity inpatient rehabilitation. This unit was to support patients with moderate to severe physical, cognitive or communicative disabilities, or a combination thereof. Services would be provided by trained rehabilitation staff and rehabilitation medicine consultants, supported by consultant neurologists. The review also recommended the development of a full range of rehabilitation services in the South/South West Hospital Group. That was in 2012.

We are now eight years on and I am asking that the Minister of State makes the aspiration a reality for the people of the south and the south west. I welcome, in response to a parliamentary question, a letter from Mr. Gerry O'Dwyer, chief executive officer of the South/South West Hospital Group. He stated that discussions are progressing about the development of a rehabilitation unit in Cork and an announcement will be made in the next few weeks. That is most welcome, especially for those families in Cork, Kerry, the Minister of State's native Waterford and south Tipperary who heretofore have been waiting up to 12 months for admission to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. People should be cared for in their own region, particularly in the context of Covid-19. It makes no sense that patients from the southern region would continue to travel to Dublin for specialist treatment that can be provided locally.

While I welcome the announcement that the rehabilitation unit is being progressed, I urge the Minister of State in the meantime to accede to requests made by consultants in Cork University Hospital for the provision of the required specialists who deal with trauma to be sanctioned. They are looking for additional rehabilitation consultants, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists, among other specialists. If this team could be put in place before the construction of a new rehabilitation unit, we could make a considerable difference to the lives of people who suffer from such debilitating diseases and serious traumas. There is currently an application with the HSE for the provision of that team, which is distinct from the application from the unit. I hope that the HSE would look favourably on that application.

I will share my remaining two minutes with Deputy O'Connor after the Minister of State has replied.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the development of regional rehabilitation services in the South/South West Hospital Group. This is an important issue for all of those who live in the area. Rehabilitation is a critical component of any modern healthcare system and is essential if patients are to regain or maintain their quality of life after serious illness or injury. Rehabilitation improves health outcomes and reduces disability. There is a growing body of evidence that rehabilitation in specialised environments is not only effective but also cost effective. This has been demonstrated in a variety of settings such as inpatient units and community teams, and in different diagnostic groups such as trauma brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis and acquired brain injury.

The demand for rehabilitation services is growing and is anticipated to continue to grow with changes of population and the advances in healthcare, new interventions and technology. The model of care under the national clinical programme for rehabilitation medicine was launched in 2018 and presents, in line with National Policy and Strategy for the Provision of Neuro-rehabilitation Services in Ireland 2011-2015, an outline for future provision of specialist rehabilitation services in Ireland.

The model of care proposed is a hub and spoke model consisting of a tertiary centre linking at least four managed clinical rehabilitation networks, each one serving a population of about 1 million people. The network will connect acute and post-acute rehabilitation units and community specialist rehabilitation clinicians in a formal governance structure to allow the delivery of co-ordinated rehabilitative care for patients across all levels of complexity.

The HSE has advised that a review of rehabilitation services in the South/South West Hospital Group was, as the Deputy said, undertaken in February 2017 and was further updated in May 2019. The review outlined a number of recommendations in regard to the development of rehabilitation services in the South/South West Hospital Group. The HSE also advised that, in line with the model of care for the provision of rehabilitation medicine in Ireland and the neuro-rehabilitation strategy, the review recommended the development of a regional specialist rehabilitation unit for the South/South West Hospital Group to support patients with moderate to severe physical, cognitive and communicative disabilities.

The HSE has further advised that the review recommended the development of a full range of rehabilitation services in the South/South West Hospital Group, including hyper acute rehabilitation as well as associated specialist post-acute inpatient rehabilitation units. The HSE has advised that these units will operate in a hub and spoke model with the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin, through managed clinical rehabilitation networks, which is consistent with the model of care for rehabilitation medicine.

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, on her appointment. She and I go back a number of years and I know she is an exceptionally hard worker for the constituency of Waterford. I am deeply grateful that she has been appointed as a Minister of State.

As my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, has stated, a review of the patient services in the South/South West Hospital Group has been undertaken. I agree that such personnel should be located in Cork University Hospital, CUH, now that the process is under review. I welcome that a major trauma centre is to be placed in CUH to provide high to moderate intensive inpatient rehabilitation for patients who can tolerate an intensive rehabilitation programme or who require a structured environment.

It would be wise to locate one of these designated trauma units attached to such a major trauma centre in Mallow General Hospital. Mallow is the crossroads of Munster. It has great connections to CUH, and the development of the new M20 motorway will allow greater connectivity to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin. The location of Mallow General Hospital would fit excellently into the managed clinical rehabilitation networks hub and spoke model proposed under the review and should be taken into consideration.

Emergency trauma and medical care is now more responsive and effective and more people are surviving catastrophic injuries with complex life-changing neurological, vascular and orthopaedic effects. This has led to an overwhelming requirement for specialist rehabilitation services which are essential if patients are to regain or maintain a quality of life after serious illness or injury.

It is important to note that the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future has committed to the continued implementation of the neuro-rehabilitation strategy. The HSE has also advised that the South/South West Hospital Group and Cork Kerry Community Healthcare are progressing discussions in regard to the development of a rehabilitation unit in Cork which is consistent with the recommendations of the review of rehabilitation services in the South/South West Hospital Group. While discussions on this development have been delayed due to the Covid-19 emergency, it is expected that a submission will be finalised in the coming weeks.

Nursing Home Accommodation

The Minister of State has had a long afternoon and I am sure she will be well aware of this topic. I am sure it has been raised with her before. The Dean Maxwell Community Nursing Home in Roscrea is something that is cherished by the people of Roscrea and its surrounds. It has looked after its residents for a long time. It provides care that is second to none. It is an incredible unit based in the centre of the town.

There have been an awful lot of promises made about the unit. In the northern part of Tipperary there is a fantastic state-of-the-art public elderly care unit in Thurles, Community Hospital of the Assumption. In Nenagh a new 50-bed unit is being built, St. Conlon's Community Nursing Unit, beside the hospital. Work is commencing soon and it will be a fantastic facility. Roscrea is the other major town that has a public unit which needs to be rebuilt.

There is a history in regard to this. The people of the town have had enough. We need to get this sorted. HIQA has done inspections, which the unit has passed. I have all of the details, but on top of that we also need to ensure there are long-stay beds. It is not good enough to say that it will be turned into a short-stay facility. The people of Roscrea and surrounds will not tolerate that. I, as a public representative, will not tolerate that because those who are resident now and who will be resident there in the future want it to be a long-stay facility.

The building is very similar to St. Conlon's in Nenagh. It needs to be completely redone. It does not meet HIQA requirements in terms of single bedrooms, space, facilities and everything else. It is on a site in the middle of the town beside a church and is within walking distance of many people. The site can be rebuilt on. The council is willing to work with the HSE to build on the site if necessary. Before the last general election another public representative made a commitment that a new nursing home would be built in Roscrea. That seems to have disappeared.

We need to draw out a plan. We need more public beds and capacity in Tipperary so that we can look after the elderly. We need a plan for the home. I must commend the Minister of State's predecessor, Jim Daly. He was the first person to say that we will deal with the units and make sure it is a long-stay facility. I and other Deputies met him on 17 December in Government Buildings. He visited Roscrea with a local community group on 27 January. He gave assurances that under no circumstances would the unit be closed and that consideration would be given to how it would be funded. He gave assurances which were the most comprehensive assurances we had ever been given. To be fair to him, he was quite a good Minister.

We need to chart a plan for the nursing home because the community of Roscrea will not tolerate anything else. To be honest, neither will I. Other public representatives feel the same. We are all united in this. This has been going on for too long. The town has been let down in many ways. It has lost industry. No other issue unites the people of the town as much as this nursing home and its future. I ask the Minister of State to look at her funding capacity. We do not mind waiting as long as there is a plan.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of the Dean Maxwell Community Nursing Home. I heard about it recently.

A key principle underpinning Government policies is to support older people to live in their homes with dignity and independence for as long as possible. In recent years there has been a shift in healthcare provision focused towards home care. Home support services are key in facilitating older people to remain at home, and with our ageing population, they will become even more important in the future.

While our stated objective is to promote care in the community so that people can continue to live with confidence, security and dignity in their own homes and communities for as long as possible, we also have patients who are in genuine need of residential care, either on a long or short-stay basis. Their safety and well-being is of paramount concern.

Residential care is provided through a mix of public, voluntary and private provision. It is worth highlighting that the budget for long-term residential care in 2020 is in excess of €1 billion. The Health Service Executive is responsible for the delivery of health and personal social services, including those at facilities such as Dean Maxwell Community Nursing Unit. There are 27 beds in the unit providing continuing care, respite and palliative care, as the Deputy has said. The HSE has confirmed that it is committed to ongoing improvements at the unit. The current capital programme of works is managed and delivered by the HSE’s estate division. I understand there have been extensive works carried out in Dean Maxwell in 2019 and in 2020, which includes the repainting of bedrooms, new lights fitted, rewiring completed throughout the unit, and fire safety works completed in early 2020 with sign-off by fire safety consultants in June 2020. Further development works were completed in April 2020 with a new nursing office, clinical room, and a hairdressing and activity area.

Dean Maxwell remains a facility registered under the Health Act 2007 with HIQA for the provision of a range of care services to older people. The unit is currently registered until March 2022. The most recent inspection report was published by HIQA on 11 September 2019. The report was very positive and the facility has complied with HIQA standards. However, HIQA has recommended that from 2021 the single bedrooms in the unit are unsuitable to meet the needs of the residents due to their current infrastructure.

There is no capital project in the HSE capital plan to replace Dean Maxwell. The HSE intends to move the emphasis at the Dean Maxwell facility from long-stay to short-stay care, which is an increasing area of service requirement. However, it is the intention that this will take place over a number of years and the changes will occur in a seamless fashion to ensure that they will not impact on individual service users. Were any such eventuality to arise in an unavoidable individual situation, the HSE has assured the Department that the resident or his or her family would be fully involved and included in any plans. Dean Maxwell services will continue and will be supported by the other community nursing units with increased capacity in north Tipperary. This will create county-wide access to older person services, which will include long-stay, short-stay, respite care, palliative care and day services. The HSE has assured the Department that it is committed to engaging in partnership with all of the relevant stakeholders. This engagement will be key to prioritising the service requirement for the population of north Tipperary and I inform the Deputy that I am also willing to engage on this issue.

I thank the Minister of State. Her response is actually going backwards from that of her predecessor. The people of Roscrea and the surrounding area will be furious when they see this. Dare I say it but the Minister of State’s own party members are going to be furious. This is just not acceptable. We, collectively, across politics, are going to have to get a plan here. To say that we are gradually going to move to short-stay and that this will not impact on families is not acceptable. The Minister of State’s own colleague, who is the mayor of Tipperary, Councillor Michael Smith, has done some work with me on this and has worked with the council on a plan to build on the site. I have spoken to the chief executive of the council on this and the council is willing to give over land for this, such is its importance to the community.

There is going to be a new capital plan. In that capital plan service provision is going to have to be widened out because we are going to have to look after our elderly in a different way. Can this unit be put on the capital plan? In the past three weeks I have seen what can be achieved. Some €2.4 million is going into the hospital's Assumption grounds for units to look after the elderly in the area. Some €1.4 million is going into the grounds of Nenagh hospital, which I was pleased to tell people about this week. That amounts to €3.9 million. These are all hospital prevention measures and all are designed to look after the elderly in the majority of cases. Here we have Roscrea, again, not getting any form of Government support. Some €4 million was given out in three weeks. I welcome and support this but we have to have a plan. To say that this unit is just going to close to long-stay patients and will not have any such patients is a regression from the position with the former Minister of State and Deputy, Jim Daly, who had a very good meeting with the representatives down there, including the Minister of State’s colleague, Michael Smith, and members of the Roscrea Community Development Council, RCDC, and they were very happy with this. We know that there are deadlines in capital plans and with HIQA but there has to be a new capital plan. It is the Minister of State's and her Government’s decision to choose whether this is going to be on the plan.

To reiterate for the Deputy, the HSE has confirmed that it is committed to ongoing improvements in the unit, which is the first thing. The current capital programme of works is managed, as we have said, and many improvements have taken place. The Deputy can correct me if I am wrong, but I am unsure if this facility was ever included in a capital plan after prior commitments had been given. I have been informed it is not currently included.

What about a future plan?

As I have mentioned earlier, the HSE intends to move the emphasis of the Dean Maxwell facility in Roscrea away from long-term to short-term stay. There has been investment at Dean Maxwell in recent times and the HSE has confirmed its commitment to the ongoing provision of services. It is very important as we leave here this evening on this topic that this point has to be made very clear. Whereas a new build is not included in the HSE capital plan, as I have just said, there has been investment and a commitment given by the HSE on the provision of ongoing services. The HSE has also assured the Department that it is committed to engage in partnership with all of the relevant stakeholders. This engagement will be key to prioritising the service required for the population of north Tipperary. We do not need to run away with ourselves here. The HSE has confirmed its ongoing commitment. The new build is not included in the capital plan but many good things have happened in the past couple of years and the facility is compliant with HIQA, but I will certainly speak to the Deputy about this issue.

Drug and Alcohol Task Forces

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment and I have not interacted with her in this new Dáil as of yet. I know that she is relatively new to the role and I hope she will have a better impact than those who preceded her in dealing with the issue of drugs in Limerick city. It truly needs a cross-departmental response. Drugs, as the Minister is aware, crosses many Ministries, health and justice, to name just a few.

The drugs crisis in parts of my own city is worsening daily, it seems. It is an indictment of the priorities of previous governments that the funding for drugs and alcohol task forces was cut each year between 2008 and 2014. I am also a director of the Mid-West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Forum, which I have been a member of for a great number of years. Despite the escalation in the drugs crisis, funding for many groups has effectively been frozen since 2014. This lack of proper funding has severely affected the delivery of services for communities and we need to restore that funding to 2008 levels as soon as possible.

I wish to return to an issue in my own city of Limerick. In recent drug seizures in the city crack cocaine was among the drugs seized. Crack cocaine, as I am sure the Minister is aware, is a devastating drug. It has destroyed communities across the world. It is extremely addictive and is regarded as the most addictive form of cocaine. There really is a special place in hell for anyone who sells, distributes or benefits from the sale of crack cocaine. These dealers really are the scum of the earth. I attended the AGM yesterday, via Zoom, of the Mid-West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Forum. Among issues of concern raised, I was specifically asked to raise the issue of drug dealing in Limerick and the devastating effect it is having on some of our local communities. After that meeting I wrote yesterday to the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for the national drug strategy, Deputy Feighan, and in fairness his office responded quickly to that correspondence. I thank him for that and I will be following this matter up with him.

In particular, I mentioned to the Minister of State a Limerick estate which I do not wish to name publicly but which needs urgent intervention from the Minister of State with support from the Minister’s Department of Justice and Equality, the Garda Síochána, and additional resources from the Criminal Assets Bureau, Limerick County Council and other agencies.

I wish to focus my comments on that one estate in Limerick. This is an older, very settled housing estate with many wonderful working families living there for generations. Unfortunately, drug dealing operates in the estate on an almost 24-7 basis. Taxis often form queues while people from all over the region purchase their drugs. Many people simply walk into the estate. It is like a non-stop, 24-7 supermarket. The vast bulk of the people purchasing the drugs do not live in the area. This is ongoing 24-7. It is non-stop. Many elderly people who worked all their lives are living through this constant criminality.

While the Garda, in fairness to the force, has made a significant number of arrests and seizures, the local community feels utterly abandoned. Will the Minister prioritise the work of the courts to ensure that those recently charged are before the courts as soon as possible? It has been said to me on numerous occasions that the most vulnerable can be brought to court for often minor offences but the drug dealers, many of them facing serious charges, can swan around our city selling their filth while ruining lives and communities. I have spoken to senior gardaí about that. They are deeply concerned that they are charging people, bringing them to court, but because the courts are not sitting properly, they are out selling drugs on a 24-7 basis.

The local drugs gang regularly gives two fingers to everybody. The Defence Forces were redeployed recently to assist the Criminal Assets Bureau. The Defence Forces should be called on again, if necessary, to deal with this ongoing problem. The two fingers from these drugs gangs are not just to me, the local community, An Garda Síochána or Limerick council. They are two fingers to the Minister and definitely two fingers to the entire State. The Minister is the Minister for Justice and Equality and I am asking her to intervene personally. I am happy to speak with her in private, if she wishes, at a later time.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. As he clearly outlined, this is an issue and an area of concern that falls under a number of Departments and Ministers. The Deputy mentioned particular groups and funding and, unfortunately, while I cannot help in that area, I will outline the area that falls under my remit, which is the work of the Garda, and I certainly would be happy to speak to him afterwards if there is further work that we can do.

I am very conscious of the impact of antisocial behaviour caused by this type of issue and the impact it has on the quality of life not just of residents within local communities but also of those working in those communities and visiting our towns and cities. Gardaí are working very hard to try to tackle this and all forms of criminality in our communities and urban areas to try to make them safer for all members of society. I am assured that the occurrence and the prevalence of crime and antisocial behaviour, including drug dealing, is constantly monitored at national and local level by Garda management to ensure that appropriate policing responses are designed and delivered, as appropriate, given the area or considering what is happening in the area.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the specific area of interest to the Deputy is policed by three Garda stations, all located within the Henry Street division. It has Henry Street, Roxboro Road and Mayorstone Park. As at the end of August 2020, there are 453 gardaí assigned to those three stations. That is an overall increase of 7% since 2015, up from 422. In addition, these Garda members are supported by 60 Garda staff members representing an increase of almost 67% since 2015, again up from 36. The Garda staff levels support the redeployment of gardaí from the administrative posts to the more operational policing duties where their training, expertise and ability to engage with the communities on the ground is used to best effect.

In addition to that, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. It is supported by the divisional drugs unit, which tackles drug-related crime on a local basis throughout the country. I am informed by the divisional drug units that they are now established in every Garda division.

An Garda Síochána also remains committed to tackling the supply of drugs by supporting local communities through various preventative and detection initiatives and engagement with local and regional drug and alcohol task forces. There are also the Garda youth diversion programme and projects, the Garda schools programme, the joint policing committees and the community policing forums. It is not just about the number of gardaí we have but how they engage with the different forums and, in turn, with the communities. There should be a whole-of-community approach.

I am pleased to say that, overall, these Garda measures have continued unabated during the Covid-19 pandemic, the additional demands on policing, and the range of the public health restrictions we have seen over the past six months. The Garda Commissioner emphasised at the very outset of the Covid-19 pandemic that An Garda Síochána's policing measures to respond to Covid-19 would not affect Garda resources assigned to special units, in particular and including the drugs units.

The Deputy might also be aware that the Central Statistics Office, CSO, published its recorded crime statistics for quarter 2 of 2020 earlier this week. Increases in simple possession and drugs for sale or supply have contributed chiefly to the overall increases in certain drugs-related offences recorded by the CSO. That is the reason the multi-strand Garda response I outlined previously is so important in all of this. The uninterrupted policing of organised crime at a national level and the strength of divisional drug units at a local level during the policing of Covid-19 has undoubtedly contributed to the recent success in seizing controlled drugs and in the apprehension of those involved in the sale and supply of the substances involved.

I take the Deputy's point and acknowledge the challenges that the courts have been facing, in particular in recent months. They have made every effort to try to deal with the more severe cases but a backlog has arisen and, since September, there has been a concerted effort to try to reduce that backlog. There is always a place for me, as Minister, to try to improve the overall structures and the way the courts operate, including the criminal courts. I will be bringing forward further criminal justice legislation throughout this term to allow us to try to improve the overall ability of people to go through the court process and to speed up that process. I might come back to the Deputy on that.

I thank the Minister for her response and for her comments on the courts. The gardaí in Limerick are very frustrated because they are arresting people on clear evidence and bringing them to court but there is no follow-up on that and they are back on the streets, often hours later, selling their drugs in the same place where they were arrested.

The Minister will be aware that former Ministers of State who oversaw the national drugs strategy have warned that the delivery of the national drugs strategy plan is in danger of collapse as powers are being centralised under the HSE. I know that is not the Minister's remit but I want to put it on the record. The warning must be adhered to and we must ensure that task forces are once again made responsible for drafting and implementing local strategies to combat the drugs crisis locally.

I am contacted almost daily by constituents of mine who have concerns regarding drug use. They often feel very little is being done to address their concerns. From my own work in local areas I have spoken to local people, community leaders and workers who have told me how bad it has got, and many of them say they have never seen it as bad, and that is saying a lot. Drug dealing, unfortunately, is rife in areas of Limerick. I have raised this issue in many Dáil debates. I will do so again at the joint policing committee, JPC, in Limerick, and I will raise it in whatever forum I can do so.

We need a specific task force type of set-up in the area that can be modelled on what has been achieved in areas of Dublin. As I said earlier, I wrote to the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, as the Minister of State with responsibility for tackling the drugs issue. He needs to visit Limerick to get a fuller sense of the desperate situation on the ground in some of our estates. I ask him specifically to come to Limerick with me to see the situation for himself. However, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, is the Minister for Justice and I ask her, please, not to ignore the clear evidence I am presenting as, unfortunately, people did in the mid-2000s when Limerick needed massive Government intervention but people did not listen. I am pleading with the Minister because we are on the cusp of going back to where we were at that time. That intervention ultimately led to the Limerick regeneration programme. We do not want to return to those days. As I said, I am happy to meet the Minister later to discuss the issue in private. The residents need some assurance that they will not be abandoned.

I thank the Deputy. Again, I appreciate the urgency with which he is raising this issue. We have seen in the past in Dublin, as he mentioned, that where not just the Garda but the community, the local councils, the education bodies and the community groups come together, a huge amount of work can be done in tackling this very issue. We have a project under way and a scoping exercise in Drogheda, the town next to mine, for that very reason. That is the approach we need to be taking overall. The introduction and implementation of the Commission on the Future of Policing puts this at the very forefront. That is the approach we need where gardaí are on the ground engaging with communities but where the sole responsibility is not on gardaí and they can engage, co-operate and work with all of those vital services.

Unfortunately, the management of resources and how the Garda deploys the resources is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the Commissioner. However, I am assured that he keeps this under continual review, and where there is a need to redeploy, move and engage, in particular with communities, that is kept constantly under review. I will commit to engaging with the Deputy, and with the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, on this issue to see if we can come together to support the communities even further. A lot of work is being done to try to address this, but it is to see where we could support them even further.