Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Environmental Policy

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to raise this very important matter, which is the balance between achieving our carbon reduction targets on one hand and retaining our agrifood production sector on the other. Both are equally important and need to be achieved, and both can be achieved provided we all go in the same direction and create opportunities to do what must be done in the shortest time possible.

I am strongly of the opinion that there is a need to provide renewable energy that is clean, affordable, available and that will continue to serve the community for many years to come. This is an innovative time, much like it was in the 1920s when the Shannon scheme was introduced, only now there are different demands. It is important we identify the ways to deal with the reduction in carbon that is necessary.

There is a variety of ways to deal with this. One is to say the answer is to bring the agricultural sector to a halt but that is not a real answer. It is anything but an answer and the entire project will fail if we go about it that way. However, if we encourage the agrifood sector to incentivise ways and means to provide for carbon reduction in houses, farms and throughout the country, we can have the best of both worlds. We can ensure an adequate food supply for the future and further the means of carbon sequestration through forestry and the use and growth of hedgerows. In that context, we should remember that no credit seems to be given at all for the existence of hedgerows and trees in the country, or at least to the extent that it should.

We also have much grassland that can be a means towards carbon reduction. On the other hand, it is of vital importance to note that the baseline for our carbon reduction targets was taken as a particular year. That does not necessarily address the issue because the agrifood sector here produces food for almost 50 million people. Ireland is unique in this respect internationally and it is because of the way the agrifood sector here is managed. This can continue and be improved. It can continue to ensure that we have a viable and sustainable agrifood sector well into the future. It must be remembered that when the economic crash came, this was the sector that stood up and delivered. When everybody thought that all was lost and we were going to starve, the agrifood sector rose to the challenge because it was sustainable, it was local, it was indigenous and it was capable of addressing the debt issues we had to address.

The sector is also very anxious to embrace good habits for carbon reduction. We need to engage with the agrifood sector to be able to talk with them to show them how they can improve their situation, improve carbon reduction and how they can set new targets. Every improvement is a step in the right direction. This must be done as a matter of course, but I have no doubt that the Minister of State is committed to this in any event. We need to reiterate this concept regularly and make sure that we do not fall victim to the international race.

I welcome the Deputy raising this matter. I agree with his assertion that it is possible to achieve both goals of maintaining a sustainable agrifood sector and achieving very ambitious carbon reductions.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to an annual average 7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 2030, representing a 51% reduction over the decade. To meet these ambitions, we must reduce the level of carbon emissions across all sectors of our economy, including in the agrifood sector. Irish agriculture has a positive international reputation in terms of producing high-quality, sustainable produce. We need to maintain that reputation. This will not be possible if emissions from the sector continue to increase. We also know from the Environmental Protection Agency's State of the Environment report that much needs to be done to protect our water, our air and our biodiversity.

As well as developing the next climate action plan, my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are evaluating the potential climate contributions from land use improvements, to develop a land-use strategy. Land use offers significant potential to sequester additional carbon and may provide a new source of family farm income and rural economic benefit.

With the correct policy choices in the agrifood sector, we can reward farmers for sequestering carbon, restoring biodiversity, producing clean energy and improving water and air quality while remaining profitable and competitive. This will offer opportunities to innovative enterprises which are sustainable in the long term for Ireland and its workers. It will also cement our position as a producer of sustainable food produce.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. It illustrates the extent to which co-operation between the two objectives can be so helpful to the economy and to the quality of life, air and water throughout the country.

I thank the Minister of State again, but I would also point out that it might not be a bad idea to engage with the farming community and the agrifood sector on a different basis altogether, to engage with them in order to point out the ways and means by which they can help themselves to achieve the targets required, while at the same time helping the economy and remaining a viable part of that economy, knowing that at some stage in the future they may be called upon again to perform the economic rescue they were able to perform in the past. I believe that much can be achieved by way of co-operation. Much can be achieved in the provision of wind energy. There is nobody who does not accept that wind energy is fairly readily available and ongoing in this country and that it is a clean and viable source of energy. Not to avail of it would be very foolish.

I believe that we can do a great deal in this regard. Many people speculate about the possibility of reducing food production. It would be very dangerous for a country like Ireland, which produces food for almost 50 million people, to reduce food production. Let us not forget that there are millions of people on the brink of starvation all over the world. It is not true to say that we will not need food in the future; we will.

I assure the Deputy that engagement is absolutely key and necessary, and that we cannot achieve what we are trying to do here without the engagement from the farmers. The farmers are the environmental experts. They have been watching climate change happening before their eyes. They know better than anyone else what is happening. They have also seen their incomes under threat. It is so important. We cannot achieve these changes unless we give farmers and people who work in the agrifood industry a way out. They need an alternative and they need new sources of income. As the Deputy stated, there are sources of income other than food production, for example in energy production with wind and solar, in forestry, and in preserving biodiversity. Farmers need those supports. They need the Government and the State to come in behind them to help them. We cannot ask people to change without giving them an alternative and maintaining their incomes.

The Deputy is also absolutely right to point to the agrifood sector as the one pillar of the economy that managed to sustain throughout the last economic crisis, and that food security is vital. There is no alternative to producing our own food. We absolutely must have our own food supply. Farmers play a vital role in society, and this must be respected. Their voices must be listened to in order that we do not produce top-down policies in Dublin and then try to impose them onto farmers. It will involve deep consultation, proper listening, and trying to find ways to create those new income sources to replace the income sources that will change as a result of a major change in the agricultural industry. I am sure that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will step up to the plate and will be deeply involved in this process as the new carbon budget is developed this autumn following the passage of the climate action Bill.

Road Network

As the Minister of State is aware, I come from a constituency that has a particular strategic location in the context of transport routes. We have the N24 that, despite being in very poor condition, links the east coast with Limerick and has a link to the M8. We have a rail line with a similar route, that also links with Cork, Limerick and the capital. Unfortunately, the potential offered by these routes has been abandoned and ignored. The Minister of State will be only too aware that the impact of this abandonment of regional infrastructure on communities in the region has been immense. The Minister of State will have heard on numerous occasions, and I make no apology for pressing the issue with him once again, about the impact this had on communities such as Tipperary town.

In this day and age it is baffling to see a road with the strategic importance of the N24 not being used to its full potential. It is still running through the centre of Tipperary town bringing traffic to a halt and limiting the ability of people and businesses to go about their duties and hampering transport between Limerick and Waterford. This discussion is timely, as from tomorrow option corridors regarding the N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction project will go live, while the constraints element of the N24 Cahir to Waterford project recently ended. While this is some progress, I appeal to the Minister of State to see the sense in making full use of the potential of the N24. It would be a cheaper alternative to the M20 and M25 motorways.

As the Minister of State is aware, the Cork Limerick Alliance Group has advocated the development of a motorway from Limerick to Waterford with a link to the M8 junction at Cahir to Cork. This would make obvious sense to link east to west and Limerick to Cork and would improve connectivity to Galway, not to mention the cost savings involved. The proposal would use the existing infrastructure of the N24 and the underused M8 motorway, incorporate the Limerick Junction to Cahir proposal and would be linked by the Tipperary town bypass.

On numerous occasions, the Minister of State has said to me that if every infrastructure proposal was acted upon there would be no money left for anything else. This is why I ask him to give serious consideration to the proposals to utilise the upgrade link between Limerick and Cahir and make full use of the existing infrastructure, namely, the N24 and the M8. It is another reason the speedy approval of a bypass for Tipperary town makes sense, not just for the people living and working in the town but also in terms of regional connectivity and how the bypass would link together the projects I am speaking about. Tipperary, Waterford and Kilkenny county councils have all backed the development of the N24 into a motorway.

Figures compiled by the Cork Limerick Alliance Group have shown the alternative ways to connect Waterford, Limerick and Cork by the M20 and M25 motorways would cost well over €5 billion, while to do the same with the M24 would cost in the region of €3.2 billion. To get from Limerick to Cork by the M24 route would be only nine minutes longer than going via the proposed M20. It would also achieve far more for the Project Ireland 2040 vision. It would connect key cities and ports and make for a more efficient road system. Does the Minister of State not see that this makes sense? I appeal to him to give real consideration to it. Above all, I want to hammer home the case for the bypass of Tipperary town to be given priority when consideration is given to the phases of the Limerick Junction to Cahir route.

I welcome this question. I understand the significance and I acknowledge the importance of these routes to the Deputy's county and to the public he represents. These routes are under consideration and have not been finalised, and this is the right time to raise these concerns.

Once funding arrangements have been put in place through the Department of Transport under the Roads Act 1993-2015, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities. Overall, TII is responsible for the delivery of the national roads programme in accordance with Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, NDP. In this context, TII provides the Department with regular updates on its delivery of the national roads programme.

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the NDP was developed to underpin the successful implementation of the national planning framework, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework for the national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. The focus of TII's activities is, accordingly, being directed towards the development of the major national road improvement schemes that are included in the NDP along with the maintenance of the existing national road network.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to bring forward the review of the NDP from 2022 and to use the review to set out an updated NDP for the period out to 2030. The review of the NDP will be aligned with the NPF and Project Ireland 2040 and work is under way within the Department, in conjunction with TII, to contribute to this review. I will take this opportunity to highlight that all projects, including those listed in the NDP or any revision to the NDP, require statutory approval and compliance with the public spending code.

The N24 Limerick to Waterford road improvement project is divided into two sections. These are the N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction and the N24 Waterford to Cahir. The N24 is a national primary road connecting Limerick to Waterford, running through Tipperary town, Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel. The proposed N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction project would consist of approximately 35 km of road improvement works between Cahir in Tipperary and Limerick Junction. The study area associated with the proposed project would include bypasses of Tipperary town and Bansha. The proposed N24 Waterford to Cahir project would consist of approximately 60 km of road improvement works.

These projects would address a core priority under the NPF, to enhance and upgrade accessibility between urban centres of population and their regions, namely, Limerick and Waterford city. In addition, the proposed projects would lead to an improvement in efficiency of the N24 route, which could have positive economic and social benefits for Tipperary, stimulating employment, social inclusion and tourism in the area. The route also forms part of the strategic link between Shannon Foynes Port via the N69 and the ports of Waterford and Rosslare Europort via the N25.

Through the provision of more reliable and safer journeys, both projects would aim to enhance regional accessibility and improve connectivity between Limerick and Waterford. The N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction project would also provide the opportunity to provide better connectivity with public transport through direct access to the train stations in Cahir and Limerick Junction, which would encourage the use of public transport in the area. Improved journey time certainty would act as an enabler to economic growth and urban environment improvements would have positive social benefits for local residents.

In addition, the proposed N24 Waterford to Cahir project would improve the quality of life of commuters and local residents, through improved journey times and the provision of new cycling and walking facilities. It is envisaged that the N24 would connect to the Kilkenny greenway, which would run from New Ross to Waterford City. This would encourage tourism in the region and promote physical activity.

On the proposed N24 Cahir to Limerick project, technical advisors were appointed by Tipperary County Council, in association with Limerick City and County Council, and they are undertaking early planning and design work. A public consultation on the project's constraints took place in the first quarter of 2021 informing the options selection stage, with the short-listed transport corridors expected to be unveiled in mid-2021. Tipperary County Council has advised TII that the scheme will be going to public consultation on 25 June for a six-week period ending on 6 August, 2021.

On the proposed N24 Waterford to Cahir project, Kilkenny County Council has appointed Arup as technical advisers. The activities for phase 1, concept and feasibility, are complete, while phase 2, the route options selection, has commenced and a virtual public consultation on constraints took place from 4 May 2021 until 1 June 2021. It is expected to have the short-listed transport corridors identified in late 2021 and the preferred route identified in the third quarter of 2022.

The N20 is a national primary road connecting the cities of Cork and Limerick. As a critical route in the region, the proposed project consists of the replacement of 80 km of the existing roadway. The N20 is a strategically important route and the proposed project aims to enhance regional accessibility by improving the network connecting the cities of Cork and Limerick, allowing for balanced regional growth. The NDP sets out that the N20-M20 Cork to Limerick project would provide better connectivity between Ireland's second and third largest cities, by improving the quality of the transport network, which will address safety issues associated with the existing N20 route and provide for safer and more efficient journey times. Increased capacity and more reliable journey times provided by the project would provide express intercity bus services the opportunity to use the network, which would promote road-based public transport in the region and lead to positive environmental impacts.

I understand there will be concerns among some who would favour the M20 route but many would not. The M20 plans as they are would create a bottleneck in Blackpool for example. There is also the fact the M24 route would adhere to the route now known as the N24 whereas the M20 would not, and would have to run off-line into greenfield sites. Surely the Government would recognise this is the least attractive option in terms of the ecological impact.

There are towns that will need their own bypasses but I know the Minister of State has been an advocate of smaller bypasses to free up towns, and the cost savings involved in the alternative to the M20 would resolve the costs. The Minister of State must also take rail into account. The Limerick Junction to Waterford service suits no one. The Ballybrophy line has untapped potential to link vast swathes of the country if properly used. The Minister of State knows that money is one thing but using existing infrastructure in a manner that services local communities can save a lot of financial headaches.

Communities living along the N24, particularly Tipperary town, must have real and immediate attention when it comes to the traffic chaos they face every day. It is 40 years since Tipperary town was first promised a bypass and it has been repeatedly pushed back. It is totally unfair on such a town that it has so much heavy traffic. The Minister of State knows what it is like. He is aware of how the town has been done a huge disservice through a malfunctioning N24 and poorly utilised railway service. I urge the Minister of State to do whatever he can within his capabilities to prioritise the Tipperary town bypass and free the town from the stranglehold of the N24. Tomorrow, there will be a meeting on the preferred routes and later in the year the actual route will be selected. There is still no guarantee it will go into the national transport plan.

The first priority is to make sure that is part of the national transport plan. There is no point in choosing a route and then saying in 40 years' time that it was never put on the national plan. I urge the Minister of State and Government to put the N24 at the top of their list. It is one of the areas between Limerick and Waterford that is a bottleneck.

I thank the Deputy. He will know the area better than I do. I take his point that there is a serious bottleneck and that Tipperary town needs a bypass. A bypass can, of course, be transformative. I know the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is keen to provide towns with that relief so that they do not have trucks and cars trundling through them and can instead become more vibrant. The Deputy is right to pursue that.

I also take the Deputy's points about going into greenfield areas. That is something to watch. The national development plan is under review at the moment. The review will be published this year. The Deputy said he wants to make sure that the N24 is included. The main thing is that nothing has been decided yet. It is not a competition between the M20 and the N24. Both of those routes are under consultation at the moment. The public, the Deputy and his constituents will be listened to. The environmental and traffic congestion problems in Tipperary town have to be acknowledged and addressed. I thank the Deputy for bringing this matter to the House.

Equality Issues

I bring this Topical Issue matter to the House because it is a good news story, but I also see it as a series of events in which we witnessed quite foul attacks on Pride over the past couple of weeks such as the burning of flags in Waterford and the painting of vile homophobic graffiti in Dublin city centre opposite a gay bar. I want to preface what I am going to say by stating categorically that I am not a Catholic, but I am an atheist and I give credit where credit is due.

Last week the parish council and the parish priest, Fr. Adrian Egan, of Our Lady of the Assumption church in Ballyfermot took a decision to fly the Pride flag, along with the Tricolour, outside of the church as a gesture of inclusivity for our LGBTQ+ community in the area, and for young people in the parish in particular. Following complaints to the archdiocese and a social media campaign that in many ways was quite foul, the criticisms of the parish priest were too much even for me to bear. As I said, I give credit to the man and parish council where they deserve it. I recognise that everyone should be free to express his or her religion. I defend everybody's right to express their religion, but I also defend their right to express, within that religion, their sexual and personal identity. For some people, however, that was not enough.

A rosary style protest was staged last Saturday. Many of us were at an anti-racism event in town and were not aware of it. When I spoke to Fr. Adrian Egan, the parish priest, about this, he was quite upset about the pile-on he was getting on social media in response to this. I read some of it and it was quite shocking. It was quite shocking to the majority in our community. Therefore, we got together, under the Ballyfermot Anti-Racism Network, along with many other services, the network of the LGBTQ+ community in the area and young people, in particular, to decide on something very positive which will happen tomorrow night outside the church at the roundabout. We will join together to celebrate Pride and send a message that this is a community that celebrates diversity and not division.

This will be a big event. It will be supported by loads of people, even if they cannot make it. We want it to be socially distanced and for people to wear masks, but we want to be a celebration that will send a message to our young people, in particular, that they are included and welcome. In this current period of the 21st century this is hugely important. There was a discussion earlier about Viktor Orbán and the oppression of the LGBT community in Hungary in light of events around soccer matches. For us, Hungary has to be the canary in the coal mine for Europe not just in terms of marching against gay people but also the growth of the far right against immigrants and workers.

It is interesting to note that the cover that is often given, as the Minister knows only too well, is that gay people are somehow dangerous to children. It is also interesting to note that those who make that foul and despicable claim cannot stand over it. They used a noose outside the Dáil when a Bill on children's issues and the appointment of the Minister were being discussed. That behaviour says that they want to identify paedophiles with gay people but at the same time want to return to the dark days of the control of the Catholic Church where none of them blew the whistle on the abuse that happened at an institutional level over decades in this country.

This is something positive to celebrate in Ballyfermot. Pride is happening everywhere on Saturday. We are holding the event tomorrow evening and want to send out a very strong message of solidarity to all LGBTQ+ people, in particular young people who, during and post Covid, are struggling with mental health issues, their identity and where their future lies. I hope this sends a positive message across the gay community.

I thank the Deputy for this topic submission and for bringing attention to the incident in which the Pride flag was removed from outside of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Ballyfermot. We can step back for a moment and remember what the Pride flag symbolises and why Pride celebrations are so important, in terms of promoting the self-affirmation, dignity, equality and increased visibility of all members of the LGBTI+ community in Ireland and beyond. It is those themes that the Government seeks to implement in the national LGBTI+ inclusion strategy and the national LGBTI+ youth strategy. The aim of those strategies is to target discrimination, promote inclusion and improve quality of life and well-being of LGBTI+ people in Ireland, in particular LGBTI+ young people.

Regarding the incident in Ballyfermot, the Deputy has the best insight but I understand Fr. Egan decided to fly the Pride flag last week with a particular recognition that members of his congregation were LGBTI+ themselves or had family members who felt left out and excluded by the dogma that comes from the Catholic Church. He wanted to indicate that they would be welcome in this week of all week and that his church and their community church would be a welcoming place for them. His motives in doing that were entirely positive and consistent with the idea of full inclusivity and equality for the LGBTI+ community in our country. I would like to join with Deputy Smith in expressing thanks and support to Fr. Egan and the wider community in Ballyfermot who I know fully support the flying of the Pride flag. Like Deputy Smith, I say that as an atheist. It is important to recognise where somebody goes against the grain within his organisation in such a prominent way.

The work of community groups is important in terms of promoting visibility and making LGBTI+ people feel included and valued in their own area, and I particularly welcome that since the removal of the flag. I want to recognise the work that Ballyfermot Anti-Racism Network and youth services are doing to support Fr. Egan and, in particular, the wider LGBTI+ community in a situation where that symbol of inclusivity has been taken down in such an important week.

Deputy Smith reflected on the other ugly incidents that have happened during Pride month, such as the graffiti outside PantiBar and the burning of flags and the erection of posters in Waterford. I had the opportunity to visit Waterford on Monday and to speak with members of the Pride committee, in particular young members. Pride of the Déise is only two years old. Its member were getting into their stride. It was a shock to them to see such a public attack on the community. I also want to recognise the mayor and city and county councils and, most importantly, the entire city. If a small minority thought it was making some blow against LGBTI+ rights right in this country, they got their answer from the city of Waterford. That was a unanimous and clear answer because Waterford was bedecked in Pride flags. It was a great honour to be there to erect two more flags, but Waterford gave its answer to the small bigoted minority.

There will probably be members of my community who will be offended by what I am saying and believe that I am being anti-Catholic, anti-gospel and so on, but that is not at all the case. I am concerned about young people in our area. As a member of the Ballyfermot Anti-Racism Network, I have had long conversations with Fr. Adrian Egan. I commend him on sticking his neck out and speaking. The church has its own debates. Those are its business and I am not trying to interfere in them.

On a given night in Ballyfermot in 2015, up to 200 people were canvassing estates, knocking on doors and asking people to think about their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. We were pushing against an open door, and the results showed that. In one ballot box from Cherry Orchard, more than 90% of people voted to recognise same-sex marriage. In another box from Ballyfermot's main street, the figure was approximately 85%. Overall, my constituency of Dublin South-Central voted for same-sex marriage by a staggering 72.3% .

I say this because it is the canary in the coal mine when we see people starting to attack gay rights. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán did not start by attacking the gay community. He started with immigrants before moving on to attacking workers by forcing them to work as much as 400 hours in overtime per month and wait up to three years for payment. He was not without opposition then, just as he is not without opposition now as regards the laws he is introducing against gay people, but we cannot afford to go down that road in this country.

When I read about these incidents and try to confront the rhetoric of the far right, something that sticks in my mind is a poem written in 1946 after the war by another priest, Pastor Martin Niemöller, survivor of the concentration camps:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I am not being rhetorical in using these words. They are important and should be in all our hearts, particularly during Pride week.

It is an important comparison to make, given what is happening in European countries. The Deputy highlighted Hungary, but we saw a similar situation in Poland last year and earlier this year in terms of the so-called LGBTI+-free zones. That was condemned by the Government and across the Oireachtas. I met the Polish ambassador this year to convey the Government's concern about what was happening and to tell her about the approach we had taken in seeking to be as inclusive and supportive of our LGBTI+ community as possible, in particular our young people. I spoke about how difficult it must be to be a young LGBTI+ person in Poland and hear prominent members of political parties using some of the most awful language about the LGBTI+ community. Similar is occurring in Hungary.

The Deputy made the correct analogy about the dog whistle used by the far right against members of the LGBTI+ community linking paedophilia with homosexuality. To think that it has been legislated for in a European country. It must be scary to be an LGBTI+ person in Hungary right now and to see in one's own lifetime one's rights being eroded. I am lucky to have grown up in this country where, throughout my life, I have seen my rights as a gay man progress. Many among the LGBTI+ have seen that, too. It is not finished yet and there is much more to do, as there is in many other aspects of life, but Ireland is generally moving forward in all areas.

I have called these homophobic laws out for what they are. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has spoken out strongly at the European Council. The Government will continue doing so. I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I wish her, her community in Ballyfermot and everyone in the Oireachtas a happy Pride.

Further and Higher Education

I thank the Minister of State for attending to discuss this important issue, namely, the urgent need for a new building at Cavan Institute. As he will probably be aware, Cavan Institute provided a virtual tour of its impressive college in recent months. None of himself, the Minister, Deputy Harris, or their Department need to be convinced of the legitimacy of the argument for a new building. However, it has been on the Department of Education's construction list for almost a decade. Of course, we have seen the fantastic delivery of new schools across the Cavan-Monaghan constituency by the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley. I am thinking of the Holy Family School in Cootehill, which she visited last week to see the brand new €12 million investment there, and the recent doubling in capacity at Bailieborough Community School as well as Virginia College. Last week, she announced the doubling in size of Coláiste Dún an Rí in Kingscourt.

The same commitment to a new building for Cavan Institute is now required. If our secondary schools are doubling in capacity, Cavan Institute must be in a position to respond to that need for further education. There are demands, but as the Minister of State can imagine, the doubling in size of our secondary schools will require a tenfold increase at Cavan Institute if it is to respond to the number of students passing through them.

Cavan Institute was established in 1985 and has grown to become one of the largest post leaving certificate, PLC, colleges in the country. It is important to recognise that Cavan Institute provides further education not just for Cavan and Monaghan, but the entire Border region. A new building was built in 2006 to increase capacity to 420 students. As the students moved into it that year, though, the institute's number of enrolments was at 700. The need to increase the size of the new building could be seen. Since then, Cavan Institute has been leasing multiple premises across Cavan town to deliver 70 full-time and part-time courses because it had outgrown its new building even before it moved in.

This is a critical time. Leases are expiring and commitments are required from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to renew the leases, but I believe that the Department must make a leap of faith and commit to a new building. We do not want to see Cavan Institute and Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board, CMETB, signing up to leases for the next ten or 15 years when what they need is a new building. Some of the buildings that Cavan Institute has had to lease for teaching and learning are in a poor state of repair and not fit for purpose in these modern times.

In 2014 and 2015, Cavan Institute was approved for inclusion on the Department of Education's new buildings list and it was the intention to deliver a new building. I hope that the Minister of State can give us some idea of the timeframe for that. It has been on the buildings list for almost a decade. It has far outgrown its current infrastructure. The college was built for 420 students. Today, it has an enrolment of more than 1,100 students.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, as it gives me the opportunity to set out for her, the House and the people of Cavan and elsewhere in the Border region the position as regards Cavan Institute and further education provision for Cavan town. I acknowledge the Deputy's strong advocacy for and championing of the cause of Cavan Institute and the region. She has raised this matter a number of times in the Dáil and directly with my Department, the Minister, Deputy Harris, and me.

Cavan Institute was established in 1985 and has provided high-quality education and service to the people of Cavan and beyond ever since. Under the management of CMETB, the institute has played a cental part in developments in further education through innovative course development and top class industry-standard facilities.

The institute offers courses in business, humanities, creative practices, computing, engineering, healthcare, sport, physical therapies, beauty therapy, hairdressing and science. The institute was initially set up in Main Street, Cavan, and was formerly known as Cavan College of Further Studies. Cavan Institute now has multiple rented locations across Cavan town, as Deputy Smyth just outlined. There are issues in relation to some of those leases expiring.

In March 2012, Cavan and Monaghan ETB acquired the former Dún Uí Néill Army Barracks, which is an 18-acre site, with a view to refurbishment and adaptations of the site and buildings to create a new further education and training campus. Development of the barracks site will provide an opportunity to centralise further education and training service provision, create opportunities for expansion and eliminate the need for various rented temporary accommodations around Cavan town.

Cavan and Monaghan ETB has secured funding to progress the development of a new further education and training centre of excellence in supply chain logistics and procurement, supporting business transformation and workforce skills being developed in Cavan in support of the north-east region and nationally. The project is part of a €3 million investment for local projects under the Border enterprise development fund, an economic stimulus package established for the border region, and additional funding from SOLAS and my Department. The new training centre will be located at the Cavan and Monaghan ETB further education and training campus. The project is a direct response to current industry requirements and emerging skills needs in the region, with a vision to positively impact on the region's competitiveness, job security and employment growth.

A capital investment programme in the further education and training sector is also being rolled out. Among the priorities being addressed are funding for infrastructure and equipment to support reskilling and upskilling needs. Cavan and Monaghan ETB has requested capital investment to relocate its further education and training operations from Main Street and Cootehill Road to the barracks site and also for the creation of the supply chain, logistics and procurement centre of excellence, both by means of modular units. SOLAS recommendations for capital funding in respect of each project are under active consideration in the Department with a response to issue at the very earliest opportunity.

The Department and I are very conscious of the urgency, for which the Deputy has made the case succinctly today. I thank her for again raising the matter and for her advocacy for the project. I advise her the Department is concerned to ensure the accommodation needs for further education and training provision in Cavan are addressed.

I thank the Minister of State and appreciate his very comprehensive reply. I have to make the comment and observation that modular units are a temporary measure. We can all acknowledge that. They just will not cut it in leaving Cavan Institute on a building list any longer. The modular units will house music, beauty therapy, make-up artistry, science, information technology, IT, sports, leisure, sports therapy programmes and many of the practical subjects. Urgency for a permanent building is what is required here. The 2006 building was built for a capacity of 420 students; Cavan Institute is now at 1,100 and growing year-on-year.

I have to acknowledge the principal of Cavan Institute, Ann Marie Lacey, who, in her distinguished principalship, has been a huge driving force for her students, staff and the parents of students who attend the college. We see terrific work currently under way by John Kearney, the chief executive of Cavan Institute, in the delivery of ETB schools right across the county and constituency. He needs this exact type of investment and commitment to be able to deliver what is needed for Cavan Institute.

Will the Minister of State commit to visiting Cavan Institute? I am a big believer in "seeing is believing" and while it is wonderful we have that 18-acre site at the Army barracks, we need to develop it into a top-class facility, which is nothing less than Cavan Institute, and its staff and students, deserve. The staff are providing wraparound services for student support and that, again, is a disjointed operation in the sense they are in different buildings around the town. That cannot continue. It can only be imagined how that college could flourish if it had the right infrastructure. I ask the Minister of State to commit to visiting Cavan Institute and to examine the issue of any further modular buildings because they will just not cut it. Cavan Institute needs its new building.

I am very happy to take up Deputy Smyth's invitation to visit Cavan and the barracks site and, indeed, any other sites which she deems appropriate, in order to press the case and help assist in the delivery of what is required. The development of the barracks site for Cavan Institute will enable delivery of a range of post-leaving certificate, PLC, programmes, including, but not limited to, music production, science, beauty, sports, animal care, sports therapy and general skills programmes. The new further education and training centre of excellence in supply chain logistics and procurement will focus on areas such as robotics, 3-D printing, the Internet of things, blockchain technology, big data analytics and drone technology. A canteen, sports facilities and open office space will also be available on campus to all learners and staff, all of which are required in modern society to enable modern industry.

SOLAS had originally approved the modular units, which the Deputy mentioned, in 2019. The Cavan and Monaghan ETB has been working towards its development since then. Unfortunately, Covid-19 and the associated construction restrictions, coupled with the global steel shortage, has significantly impacted the delivery of this project. The current target date for completion is the end of this year, 2021. I hope that information will be of assistance to the Deputy. I would be glad to accompany her on a visit to Cavan.