Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Climate Change Policy

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the permission to raise this important issue. If present trends continue, by 2050 it will take three planets for nature to replenish the materials we use each year. The take, make, use and dispose model has got an iron grip on the way we live our lives. That has to change. The care of our planet must be at the heart of Ireland 2040. The food we waste each year in Ireland generates the same emissions as 1 million cars. The plastic that wraps our lives so conveniently is rarely used a second time and generates emissions equivalent to half a million cars. Every night, 2 million bedrooms lie empty, in the midst of a housing crisis. All around us, items are used in a throwaway fashion: non-reparable, rapid obsolescence. Two thirds of what goes into our black bins already have better uses available for those who put them in those bins.

The clue to how we might change this is revealed in the fact that 80% of the environmental damage in the items we use is baked in at design stage, both in the products we use, and the markets in which they trade. If we rethink our choices and our supply chain, we can have different outcomes. For many consumers, the choice to purchase, use and re-use these items in a manner consistent with the principles of circular economy is not being made available to them.

I welcome today’s publication of a waste Bill. However, we need to go a great deal further than what is envisaged in that Bill. I have set out in a report that I have presented to the Committee on Environment and Climate Action an approach to which we can deliver much more ambition. It is built around five pillars for action. The first of those is in the investment world: both the public investment world and the private. We need to follow the EU so-called taxonomy, in other words, building principles of sustainability into the investments we make. The second pillar is among designers and manufacturers. We must make sure that the designs that are made at that early stage include sustainability. The third pillar is around packaging and labelling. At the moment, we have complete ambiguity and confusion in respect of the labels that are presented. That needs to change. The fourth pillar is to offer new options to consumers, through distribution and retail chains. The final is to develop new consumer markets that can ensure access to accurate information and options for more sustainable practice.

The reality is that even with the publication of the waste Bill yesterday, little of this territory has been developed in Ireland. We do not see in either the public sector or the private sector the sort of commitments to those investment and design strategies. I urge the Minister of State to do a number of things. He needs to set targets, he needs to develop concrete actions and he needs to establish indicators that are reported regularly. For example, we have been talking about green procurement for years but we do not have one single consistent indicator of what progress is being made under green procurement. That is just one example of how we can demonstrate that we are making progress.

I would say to the Minister of State that this cannot be done without a budget. We need to see a substantial budget to ensure that sectoral roadmaps can be opened up in areas like food, construction and retail, where there are huge opportunities to change that pattern, for the benefit of our planet.

I sincerely thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I welcome any Deputy who wants me to go further on my existing policy and who is looking for more ambition. Even better is suggesting ways that I can do that and specific practical means to get there and even better if a Deputy has specific experience in that area and was previously a Minister. The work that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I are doing is based on the policy and the preparatory work that Deputy Bruton put in when he was in that role. I hope that future Ministers will implement things where I have done preparatory work.

The Government recognises that Ireland needs to establish a circular economy to achieve its climate action ambitions. It is with that in mind that the heads of the new circular economy Bill were agreed by the Cabinet yesterday. In September 2020, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, launched a new action plan for a circular economy. The action plan goes beyond waste management. It looks at resource use more broadly to capture and maximise the ongoing value of materials that in the past have been discarded. The plan confirmed the link between the circular economy and climate action. It established a circular economy division within my Department, with a mandate to ensure a whole-of-government approach. That division has produced a draft whole-of-government circular economy strategy, which has just finished an eight-week public consultation.

I understand that Deputy Bruton is anxious for what he regards as more ambition in the current draft strategy. I can assure him that there is plenty of ambition behind the strategy and the work programme to follow. If we are to achieve the systemic overhaul that is required, then we need to bring a large number of people with us. We need comprehensive buy-in to transition into a circular economy. That means across Government, business, households and communities. Therefore, targets, actions and timelines must be built with the input of those who are expected to make the changes required.

Without collaboration and consensus, the strategy risks becoming a top-down to-do list. We need to first establish an agreed platform for action. With that in mind, I will be visiting the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun, seeing actual community-led groups trying to implement circular economy ideas rather than lofty abstract ideas that are coming from high up.

In line with the approach set out in the waste action plan, the draft strategy is not a target-driven, technically detailed document. Our primary aim is to set out an overall approach to circular economy policy, identify key objectives and indicate the direction of future policy development. An additional aim has been to provide explanatory information which can demystify the circular economy for non-specialist audiences.

The text also contains an explicit commitment to revise the draft strategy on an ongoing basis. This will include introducing targets as policy develops further. An interdepartmental working group will be convened after publication of the strategy to drive this next phase of development. This joined-up approach will ensure that circular economy practices are embedded across Government.

This first iteration of the strategy aims to provide an overall framework for circular economy policy development. Future versions will include specific actions and targets for all Departments and all sectors of the economy. In parallel, the 2021 climate action plan is currently under preparation and treats circular economy as a cross-cutting issue of significant importance. Circular economy actions and principles will be incorporated across the thematic areas of the document, for example, in construction, agriculture and food loss, and enterprise. We are leveraging the expertise and resources of others to support our ambition for the circular economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency's new programme will be a driving force for Ireland's move to a circular economy through designing out waste, promoting resource recycling and delivering sustainable economic growth. The overall approach is to influence behavioural change, support sustainable choices and inform policy toward the implementation of a circular economy.

I do not doubt the Minister of State's commitment in this area. However, I am not convinced by his statement that this will be an overall approach and principled document. We need to make this a central spine of the climate action plan. We need to have very clear targets, some of which need to be new. The Minister of State has certainly adopted halving of food waste, but what about removing all plastic from incineration or landfill by a certain date? How about doubling the size of the reuse sector? Those sorts of changes will require concrete actions. To say that this will be a high principled document and that concrete actions will come later will sell us short.

We can have very concrete actions, for example, banning the "best before" or "sell buy" labels on food. That would be a very practical change that would suddenly change the extent to which we waste food or people are encouraged to waste food. A requirement that 20% of floor space in larger supermarkets be set aside for people who bring their own containers would be a very concrete change to reduce the amount of plastic that is discarded and used only once.

Those actions are needed and we need a concrete budget. I believe the allocation to the circular economy initiated recently was €250,000. Given that we are looking to every section in the economy to develop a roadmap to change the way it designs and manage markets, that is only a drop in the ocean. Most of all, the Government needs to establish indicators. Successive Governments have talked about green procurement, but without any concrete indicators. We need to recognise that such an approach can be considerably less adversarial than some of the debate we have on emission targets alone. I think people instinctively understand we should be sharing and reusing. I urge the Minister of State to make this an essential spine of the climate strategy.

The circular economy idea reflects a complete change of mindset. I believe the Deputy, as an economist, will recognise we are completely changing the way we think about how our economy works. We started with the idea of taking things out of the ground, constructing things out of them and then throwing them away in a field or alternatively setting them on fire and putting their elements back into the atmosphere. To move away from that idea of take, make and dispose and to move towards this new idea that we can keep resources within the economy, that we can be richer without consumption and that exhausting our finite resources as quickly as possible is not a smart idea or a way to discover prosperity for society represents an enormous change in the way people think about things.

I believe it is right to get people to buy into that change before we move to the metrics. However, the Deputy is right; we cannot manage something unless we measure it. We need key metrics and targets that are very clear and understandable. The Deputy has made a good suggestion to eliminate "best before" and "sell by" dates. That is something that can be considered. We also need to have very clear targets, such as halving something or doubling something. That is absolutely right and we will be moving quickly towards that. The first stage is to convince people that it makes sense to retain resources within society. I think we are winning that argument and getting people on that side. We are also doing that at a European level. We are getting away from the idea that the quicker people ruin something or use something, the richer everybody is. We need to move away from planned obsolescence. It is a design problem and design problems are difficult to cope with. Our pharmaceutical and IT sectors have done very well in design and have very skilled people. We are a knowledge economy and we can conquer this.

Health Services

I raise the issue of children who are suffering with chronic pain and their families. In November 2019, the only HSE paediatric pain specialist left his post due to a continued lack of support and an intense and increasing workload. As a result, no pain paediatric specialists are left. There are also currently no private pain consultants in the country who see children. Therefore, children throughout the State who suffer from many different chronic pain conditions have been left with no one to help them.

This has forced some parents, out of pure desperation, to seek care for their children abroad at great personal expense in addition to the enormous stress of travelling with a child who is experiencing chronic pain. However, even this avenue to care has now been halted due to the pandemic. Out of desperation, these parents have banded together to protest over the treatment of their children and to fight to secure proper and timely care. This campaigning resulted in many parliamentary questions being asked and multiple media articles being released.

Under pressure to respond to this public outcry, funding was granted in December 2019 for two part-time pain consultant specialist roles and a full multidisciplinary team. This team was to consist of advanced nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist and, importantly, a psychologist. The parents knew it would take time to set up such a team. Therefore, they continued to advocate on behalf of their children for an interim measure to fill the gap in pain care until the full team was in place.

It was agreed that an interim measure would be put in place, whereby a pain consultant from the North was to be contracted on a temporary basis. Many parents were happy with this measure because at this stage their children were truly suffering unbearable pain as they had been without professional care for months and some for even over a year. However, others were not because this interim measure only extended to some, not all, of the children already in the system. No new referrals were being accepted until the full team, including the consultant roles, was in place. This is the case to date and none of these children has been accepted onto a waiting list. That is totally unacceptable and extremely concerning for the children and their families.

The recruitment process for the multidisciplinary team took well over a year to come to fruition. At the end of January 2021, parent advocates were informed that the advanced nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and physiotherapist had been recruited and were in place. The parent advocacy group has informed me that a consultant has been seeing patients within the last couple of weeks. However, they are concerned that there is only one consultant in the position. I ask the Minister of State to clarify if this is the case. Parents' fear is that if there is only one replacement consultant, history could repeat itself.

The parents are also concerned that appointments will only be on the basis of consultant referral. For children with rheumatology-related pain, there is a four or five-year waiting list to see a rheumatology consultant. Children will be waiting for that and then to be referred, meaning they could be waiting a very long time just to see the pain consultant when they are in chronic pain.

Can the Minister of State advise if these services are only offered on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. basis, as parents have concerns about the status of out-of-hours services? They are also concerned that the pain relief outpatient waiting list reports, which are listed on the National Treatment Purchase Fund website, underestimate the actual size of the list and, thus, waiting times.

In summary, is only one consultant in place and will a second one be hired? Will the team be operating on a nine-to-five basis? Can the Minister of State clarify the situation with the waiting lists and address the concerns parents have in that regard?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue and welcome the opportunity to address the Dáil on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on this important topic. I assure the House that Children's Health Ireland, CHI, is very aware that issues with the complex pain management service have been the cause of anxiety and upset for parents and children. Funding has been provided to address this issue and most posts have been recruited.

As the Deputy may be aware, the background to this issue is that a consultant in complex pain management in CHI resigned at the end of 2019. It is a highly specialised position and the service has evolved on an ad hoc basis since then. It was recognised there was a need to put in place a more structured model to manage the needs of patients with complex pain to ensure outcomes and alignment with best practice internationally. Funding was provided to do that and this provided for a number of key posts as part of the development of the service.

The model of care for paediatric anaesthesia developed by the national clinical programme for anaesthesia and endorsed by the Irish paediatric anaesthesia network provides guidelines for the organisational structure and best practice model for a paediatric pain management service. CHI has been in the process of developing the structure for this model and key posts are now in place. This interdisciplinary service consists of a whole-time equivalent consultant with special interest in pain management, a clinical nurse specialist, 1.2 whole-time equivalent advanced nurse practitioners, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist and a psychologist.

Children’s Health Ireland has advised that all posts are in place except the consultant position. Unfortunately, recruitment for this post has so far been unsuccessful and is ongoing. The post was advertised last year but did not attract candidates. It is being redesigned to structure it slightly differently and it is hoped the way it has been configured will now attract suitable candidates. In the interim, CHI advises that a locum consultant has been put in place until such time as the permanent consultant position is filled.

CHI has confirmed all service users have access to the clinical nurse specialist and advanced nurse practitioners, who are available to address urgent queries under the governance of the pain consultant. Contact details have been provided to service users by the CHI.

The new service will provide a biopsychological approach to pain rehabilitation, in keeping with evidence-based treatments that are recognised globally. CHI has advised that the new model of care will be fully in place prior to the end of the second quarter of this year and service users will be contacted with appointments. I reassure patients that the Minister is committed to ensuring children have access to this crucial service and the Department of Health will continue to work closely with the HSE and CHI in this regard.

The Deputy asked about a nine-to-five service, consultant referrals and the out-of-hours service. I will raise that directly with the Minister if the Deputy sends me an email.

I thank the Minister of State and I will send that in an email. I understand there is funding in place and it is good we have clarity that there is a locum consultant and that amendments will be made in an effort to hire a full-time consultant, which it is hoped will attract more candidates. How long will that process take? When does the Minister of State expect it to close in order that the waiting lists can be dealt with? I understand there is a locum consultant but children have been waiting 18 months. They have had no amendments to their pain management. It has been a few weeks since that locum consultant was put in place and they have not heard anything since. That needs to be looked at.

I am concerned about those children who have to wait four or five years to see one consultant in order to then get another consultant. I think we all agree that to see children in chronic pain and parents not to be able to give them the help they need is really distressing and has a huge impact on the children’s lives. We need to do everything we can in regard to chronic pain in children. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Minister of State on this. We must do everything we can to put everything in place to help these children. I imagine we are all on the same wavelength on this.

I will follow up with those specific questions in an email to the Minister of State. If he comes back we can push this forward in order that children in chronic pain can get the help they need.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this issue, for her awareness of it and her understanding that it is a particularly challenging time for the health system, which has experienced severe pressure from the impact of Covid, exacerbated by the ransomware attack.

It is important to put on the record the enormous efforts of all staff at this time. The Department of Health does not have full access to information on the impact of the ransomware attack on waiting lists but will provide an update as soon as one is available. According to the most recent information available, as of 13 May, there were 29 children on CHI’s outpatient lists waiting for a pain relief appointment. Notwithstanding the challenges, I know CHI's priority is to ensure a sustainable pain management service is in place to meet the needs of all children.

CHI has advised it is intended that the new model of care would be in place by the end of this month. It also has confirmed that its pain team has been engaging with all patients using the service and that all new and existing service users have been informed of the change of service model. I understand the engagement with service users has included a questionnaire, which will help the service to triage patients. CHI has advised patients are being actively triaged. During this time, CHI has confirmed that all service users have access to the clinical nurse specialists and advanced nurse practitioners who are available to address urgent queries under the governance of the pain consultant. Service users will be contacted with appointments once the new model of care is in place.

I look forward to the Deputy’s email and I will pass it on to the Minister and get the answers the Deputy seeks.

Prison Service

I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House to listen to what I have to say. We have all found the past 15 months to be difficult. Those who could not get out and about and older people confined to their homes found it particularly so. We have to try to imagine what it is like to be locked up in prison during that period. Every small freedom left to inmates in prison had to be curtailed. During that period, there were virtually no prison visits, and what visits that did take place within the short windows when they were allowed were very constrained in time and numbers.

I commend the Prison Service, prison staff and prisoners on the huge co-operation in ensuring there was a minimal amount of Covid in our prison system. That was a huge achievement which came at huge personal cost, particularly to prisoners, in terms of the limited opportunities they have in prison. Video visits were good, but we have all found that the Zoom meeting is no substitute for in-person meetings. We need to take a humane view of where we are now.

Belatedly, vaccines are being rolled out across the board in prisons. The process in this regard needs to be completed expeditiously. We need to look at the issue of families visits. We need to be generous in what we do and to balance the psychological rights and the general well-being of people with the other risk factors we know are there. Of course, the large number of parents of prisoners who have been vaccinated is a big help on this road. We need as expeditious a reopening of prison visits as possible. We need immediately to hear firm dates for when this is going to happen and to be generous in regard to the modalities, that is, the length of visits, the number of people who can visit and so on. I point out how successfully we reopened nursing homes to visitors a considerable time ago. The people in the nursing home cohort are generally much more vulnerable than members of the prison population.

I was disappointed to hear last week that religious services have not recommenced in prisons in the same way that they have in the outside world. I cannot understand this because religious services are important to those who wish to attend them. Obviously, because it is a prison environment, religious services must take place in a very controlled atmosphere. It is absolutely necessary that an announcement be made today that religious services will be made available once again, irrespective of faith, as they were pre Covid.

The Irish Prison Service fully appreciates how important religious services and contact with family and friends are to people in custody. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, wishes to assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to the return of both as soon as it considered safe to do so. The Deputy is correct to say there have been more than 15 months of difficulty. It is very difficult to be locked up, curtailed and constrained. As he noted, we need to balance the psychological rights with other rights. It is a difficult time for all.

As the Deputy may be aware, at the start of the pandemic, the Prison Service introduced a video visit system, which has allowed families to continue to support those in custody. Additional phone calls were also facilitated. I understand from the Minister of State that feedback on the use of this system has been generally positive. Nevertheless, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the service is developing a new framework for the unwinding of prison restrictions, informed by the recent Government plan for reopening society, Resilience and Recovery: The Path Ahead. The new framework, which will be published later this month by the Prison Service, will set out a phased unwinding of the restrictions and a plan for the resumption of visits and religious services will be included. Although the unwinding of prison restrictions and the resumption of religious services and visits are priorities for the service, they are subject to a number of critical factors, including the need to maintain infection control measures, the roll-out of the prison vaccination programme for both prisoners and staff, which the Deputy mentioned, and the roll-out of the community vaccination programme.

The Deputy will appreciate that when the service is reviewing the unwinding of restrictions, it must take into account the risks of Covid transmission in congregated settings and the fact that a large cohort of those in custody and staff working in prisons have not been vaccinated. It is good to see, as was mentioned, that vaccinations are being ramped up. I hope vaccinations will begin to happen much more quickly. Revised guidelines and controls for the safe celebration of religious services have been developed and approved, and chaplains have continued to work in all prison establishments during lockdowns, providing important spiritual and pastoral support services. A date for the resumption of religious services and in-person visits will be agreed as part of the wider plan for unwinding Covid-19 restrictions in prisons later this month. When this has been finalised, it will be communicated widely.

I hope this clarifies the current circumstances for the Deputy. As he noted, prisons are facing many issues that need to be dealt with.

On a number of fronts, I am very disappointed with the reply. As I said, the roll-out of the vaccine in prisons has been deferred, even though, as the Minister of State pointed out, they are congregated settings. The greatest risk has always been that, inadvertently, the virus would be allowed to enter prisons through people who come to prisons every day providing services, including prison staff and the people who provide all the other services within prisons, many of which were curtailed during the lockdowns. I would hope that now that the vaccines have started being rolled out, that would be seen through to completion, expeditiously, for every person in prison who wants a vaccine and also for prison staff. Anything else would be unsatisfactory.

Allowing for that, I pointed out a model whereby there was a much better practice and a much more expeditious reopening of visits, namely, that relating to nursing homes, which, in the main, involved the older cohort of society whose members are very vulnerable. We knew that statistically and still we were able to reopen visits reasonably soon after vaccination. Do not tell me, after all these months, that we are drawing up another plan. I do not want to hear about another big master plan being drawn up. It is most frustrating. Prisoners want dates on which they are going to be able to see their loved ones, and their loved ones want dates on which they can see the members of their families in prison. It should not be the case that it might happen at some point in the future on a phased basis. That is not good enough.

Similarly, there is no excuse for not facilitating religious services. We all know how safe they have been in the general populace and how controlled that environment is. There is no reason not to facilitate them. It is totally unfair to put an additional burden of caution on prisons when in society, we balance the other human needs of people in a much fairer way.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that a vaccination programme commenced on 9 June on a prison-by-prison basis, with vaccinations administered by the National Ambulance Service, supported by the Irish Prison Service healthcare teams, to all prisoners and unvaccinated staff under 40 years of age. The Minister of State understands that this has been a very difficult time for prisoners and their families. I understand the impact the loss of family contact has had on prisoners.

The Deputy mentioned nursing homes. My mother is resident in a nursing home and we have had the same issues. It has been reassuring to see them reopen but there remain difficulties in regard to visits.

The Irish Prison Service has worked tirelessly to safeguard prisoners and staff, and this continues to be the primary consideration. It must continue to ensure the prison population is protected from the virus and it is continuing to make use of alternative means of keeping prisoners and their families connected. It is the intention that the Prison Service retain the use of video visits post Covid, so families will have the option of video or physical visits, which will beneficial to families, especially those who need to travel long distances.

The Minister for Justice has asked me to reassure the Deputy that the new framework for unwinding prison restrictions, which, as I said, will be published later this month by the Irish Prison Service, will provide clarity for both prisoners and their families as to when visits and religious services can begin again.

Arts Centres

I thank the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, for taking this matter. In October last, she hosted a Zoom meeting to consider the matter of core funding for Yeats Society Sligo. At that meeting, attended by the director, Susan O'Keeffe, board members and all the local Deputies, it was clearly outlined to the Minister and her officials the urgent need for core operational funding to keep the society on life support while it planned for and worked towards a post-Covid future.

I do not need to convince the Minister of the immense value of the Yeats Society Sligo. It is more than 60 years old and celebrates the life and legacy of W.B. Yeats, our Nobel prize-winning poet, and his talented family. It is also worth noting that some of the people who set up the society were contemporaries of W.B. Yeats. At that time, they were way ahead of the curve. The society now operates the longest running international literary school in the world. It is running its summer school online this year. It has promoted Yeats, Sligo and Ireland to many generations of international summer school students and has significantly helped in consolidating his reputation as a global literary genius, which, in turn, greatly enhances Ireland's cultural standing.

As already stated, the Minister and her Department know all of this. They also know that the Yeats Society Sligo will close its doors at the end of September this year due to a lack of revenue unless core operational funding is sourced. The society cannot be just another casualty of Covid. We are talking about a reasonable amount of money to keep the doors open as the society begins to move towards a post-Covid future. In 2019, the society had 13,000 visitors and was on target for 16,000 in 2020. These visitors generated its revenue. The society was, and is, in profit but it now needs assistance. It has a small number of staff who worked really hard to create a vibrant cultural institution that contributes to the economy of Sligo and, crucially, helps to keep Sligo and Ireland right up there in the international artistic realm. One volunteer committee after another has fought hard for this for over 60 years but it is now in danger of being lost, just as the society is planning for the centenary of Yeats's Nobel prize in 2023. It is worth quoting the citation of the Nobel committee when awarding to W.B. Yeats. It said the award was: "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation."

Once again, I say that we cannot lose this or put it at risk. The question that I and the Yeats Society Ireland put to the Government is why does it not see fit to fund the work of a small charity which has an international reputation and which supports the national poet? I am not saying the Minister has completely turned her back on the society because she has not. The society has received grants, but they are project grants. They do not provide the operational funding that would allow the society to keep the doors open. I ask the Minister for core operational funding.

I am very much aware of the situation regarding the Yeats Society Sligo. Officials in my Department have been in regular communication with this organisation. As the Deputy has pointed out, the society has been in existence for 61 years and runs the long-standing and well-recognised annual Yeats summer school, which reaches out to students and lecturers in universities in major cities across the globe. Outside of this, the society runs a permanent Yeats exhibition, offers talks to visitors, locals and schools, and runs poetry events and creative writing and visual art classes for young and old.

As the Deputy mentioned, we, and other local Deputies, met with the Yeats Society Sligo last October. I wish to acknowledge the Deputy's strong advocacy and support for the arts in Ireland, and the Yeats Society Sligo. I subsequently received a request for annual funding required by the society to meet salary and operational costs. While it is challenging to consider entering into a new annual arrangement with any cultural body until the 2022 budget is decided, I will certainly be very mindful of the request in that context.

In the interim, I wish to inform the House that, in 2019, the society was awarded the maximum grant of €5,000 under the 2019 small local festival and summer schools scheme towards the annual Yeats summer school. Some 600 attendees participated across the nine-day event in 2019. No application was received from the society for this scheme in 2020. The results of the 2021 small local festival and summer schools scheme will be announced later this week, but I am happy to inform the House that, once again, the maximum grant of €5,000 will be awarded to the Yeats Society Sligo for its 2021 summer school. This is one of 28 projects awarded funding under the 2021 scheme, which has a total allocation of €96,391.

In addition, prior to the meeting in October, the Yeats Society Sligo was awarded the maximum grant of €20,000 under the audience re-engagement scheme for small, regional and specialised museums, which was a once-off scheme as part of my Department's response to the Covid-19 situation. The society has also applied under stream A of my Department's cultural capital scheme for 2019 to 2022 for building upgrades and a dedicated writers' room. The results of the application process relating to this scheme will be announced in the coming weeks.

On the wider matter, my Department provides annual funding to the National Library of Ireland, NLI, which houses the largest and most extensive W.B. Yeats collection anywhere in the world. The NLI also has a permanent Yeats exhibition, originally opened in 2006, which has since welcomed more than 1 million visitors. The significance and celebration of Yeats as one of the great giants of Irish and global literature is very much alive and the Department continues to have a core role in the preservation, display and dissemination of his work through institutions such as the NLI.

With regard to the Yeats Society Sligo's request, I have asked officials in my Department to assess the society's submission in the context of the 2022 budget. The provision of any funding would be in the context of an agreed strategy, possibly involving the local authority and other interests, with a timeframe and performance indicators for assessment of value in due course.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply, from which it is clear that she is actively engaging with the Yeats Society Sligo, which I know, and that she and her Department are putting serious thought into this matter. It is always valuable to get a response from a Minister that shows that he or she is engaging rather than simply reading out a prepared speech. In many ways, the Minister made a better case for the Yeats Society Sligo than I did in my four minutes. I am pleased to hear that she is minded to consider an application for funding. She mentioned the small local festivals and summer schools scheme and that the society will get €5,000 when the results of this are announced in the near future. Everything helps but the Minister and I know that this organisation is in serious financial trouble because of Covid. This is not the only organisation affected but it is the one we are discussing today. The society's accountants have said that it will have to close its doors by the end of September unless funding is found. The Minister mentioned other streams of funding. These are again very valuable and very appreciated but they relate to capital funding and will not help to open the doors in the morning and close them at night, to pay for electricity or insurance or to maintain the website, apps and so on. I understand that it is difficult to find a mechanism to provide core funding for the society but the Minister and I know that, where there is a will, there is a way. Covid has shown us that we can take exceptional measures. Having heard the Minister's response this morning, I am hopeful that a way will be found.

I thank the Deputy. I acknowledge the tremendous commitment of the many people involved in ensuring popular recognition and appreciation of the life and work of W.B. Yeats. More than any other figure, he personified the Irish cultural revival and informs our understanding of a revolutionary transformation of Ireland. The greatest among our literary figures of the age, Yeats is acknowledged in libraries, exhibitions, seminars, literary studies and monuments at home and abroad. It is of great importance that his genius be carried forward across the generations. I offer my thanks and encouragement to all of those who are engaged in the celebration and promotion of his achievement, including the Yeats Society Sligo.

It is appropriate that Yeats be remembered and honoured in Sligo and that students and admirers of Yeats have the opportunity to peruse themed exhibits and visit the tranquil and beautiful area that he found so inspirational and with which I am quite familiar. I greatly respect the work of the Yeats Society over its many years of dedicated interest and hope that it will be continued. I am particularly conscious that recent times have had unprecedented challenges for its programmes since constraints on travel and gathering have been in effect. I assure the Deputy and the House of my interest in contributing to a sustainable future for the centre operated by the Yeats Society. I have asked officials in my Department to meet the society as soon as possible to explore options for the future sustainable operation of the society. I thank the Deputy for her interest in this matter.