Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Postal Services

I thank the Minister of State for his attendance. I had tabled this matter last week and, as happens with some Topical Issues, time moved on and it became a little less topical. However, over the last two weeks I had queries from a number of constituents around the same time. I am sure the Minister of State has anticipated the arrival of parcels from loved ones abroad over the years and especially during the Covid pandemic. I think of our emigrants in countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States who have not been able to return home to Ireland and who have not been able to visit parents, see grandchildren or meet uncles, aunts or cousins. The next best option for them to show their love, aside from Zoom calls and telephone calls, is to send a gift, parcel or goody to mark a particular occasion, whether it is an anniversary or a birthday.

I know the Minister of State can imagine and appreciate the great disappointment on the receiving end in Ireland when a much anticipated gift is expected but never arrives. I have had a number of examples of that. A mother whose daughter and grandchildren live abroad, in Australia, sent gifts - this is just one example of many but it is typical - only to see those gifts returned to sender, causing a lot of disappointment, upset and frustration on both ends. Particular anniversaries and occasions have been missed and have failed to be marked in the way family members had hoped. They then learned the reason the gifts or parcels were not being received was because of a change in procedures. One was as a result of Brexit and the other related to the implementation of EU laws on data and custom codes. The barcode on the parcel being sent did not contain the required data that was obliged to be on it.

Of course, it is not just gifts. People who use the likes of Amazon and other international online retailers and wholesalers and who purchase goods from outside the EU, which now includes the UK, suffer the same frustration.

The gift, parcel, book, tool, article of clothing, shoes or whatever a customer has bought - so much shopping is now done online - does not arrive and is returned because it does not contain the required data or, in some cases, because the recipient does not realise they have to pay a tariff. In the meantime, some issues have arisen and I will get to some of those in the second part of the question.

I am curious that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance is here to take the question because An Post customer care staff are the ones who are at the coalface, taking all the complaints from disappointed customers as opposed to any other responsible Department or statutory agency with authority over this issue or that is responsible. I have a couple of other questions to ask but that has laid out the matter initially. I am grateful that the Minister of State is here to take the question.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. He will be aware that this is a tax and customs issue which brings into the responsibility of the Department of Finance as the parent Department involved.

Revenue has provided some general information that will help to explain the general situation as described by the Deputy. What he has outlined to the House certainly happened. There is no question about that. I will outline some of the background to the issue.

Revenue is Ireland's tax and customs administration and is responsible for managing the importation and exportation of goods in accordance with EU customs rules and relevant national legislation. Customs controls are necessary to protect public health and to ensure food safety and product standards, and to protect people from fraud or from unfair international competition, thus preserving jobs for European workers, including Irish workers. I am advised by Revenue that across the European Union, electronic customs importation declarations are now required for all parcels and packages coming from non-EU countries, including those coming through the postal system, regardless of the value of the goods being sent. This includes parcels and packages coming from the UK, which is no longer a part of the EU as a result of its decision to leave the Union. While goods valued at less than €150 may not be liable to a customs duty, since 1 July, all goods imported into the European Union, not just Ireland, regardless of their value, are liable to VAT. It is important to emphasise that those rules apply to all non-EU country exports by economic operators, by which I mean courier companies or An Post. This is happening right across the EU. A VAT declaration form must accompany such packages.

Recognising the volume of e-commerce low-value goods being imported, the EU developed an import declaration which contains significantly less information than the standard import declaration. However, this is not suitable for all e-commerce goods, particularly those that may be subject to a prohibition or restriction, for example, products such as foodstuffs, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. While a simplified declaration may be appropriate in certain instances which will be and is of help to importers, the types of goods I mentioned may require a full customs declaration. That means the relevant economic operator, whether the postal authority or a major transport company, requires a significant amount of data about goods in order to lodge the required documentation. This means that each of the operators must consider and examine their supply chain to ensure they are in possession of all the necessary information to complete this documentation.

I am advised by the Revenue that in the context of parcels and packages, while customs declarations are often submitted by the courier business or postal operator on behalf of the recipient in Ireland, the information required to complete the declaration is generally supplied by the exporting party although the importer, that is, the recipient or customer in Ireland, may also provide information to the postal operator that is needed to complete the transaction and declaration. This highlights the challenges for economic operators and the importance of each economic operator considering and examining their supply chain to ensure they are in possession of all necessary information. The reason parcels are being held up is because insufficient information was supplied on the customs declaration to start with and the quality of the information has been the reason for the delay. This regime came in on 1 July. I was pleased to hear the Deputy say the problems in recent weeks have not been as extensive as they were originally when the new regulations came in. The regulations apply across the EU, as I said. I look forward to hearing further from the Deputy.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. One of the things that has happened since I submitted this as a Topical Issue matter last Tuesday is that An Post has issued a helpful explanatory document for consumers. It arrived in my house today. It explains and outlines exactly what the Minister of State said. I just want to raise a couple of questions arising from the Minister of State's answer. I take on board the fact that the EU developed an import declaration because of Brexit and other issues. I also acknowledge the fact that Revenue issued information to both businesses and consumers. It also followed up with relevant advice and information relating to changes that came into effect from 1 July. However, this issue is still swirling around among the public. I am intrigued, because the Minister of State represents the Department of Finance and this is a Revenue issue, as to why An Post has taken this matter into its own hands and seen fit to circulate to the public a detailed explanatory note that is simple to read and follow.

An Post's customer service staff are the ones at the coalface on this issue. They receive the queries from and complaints of the public and listen to their frustration. It is not Revenue staff who are at the coalface in that regard.

I wish to raise a couple of other issues. The following is outside the Minister of State's remit, but this issue coincides with the people being bombarded with fake texts telling them their package has arrived. That is causing a lot of confusion because those texts send the recipient to a link which is probably a spam link that may corrupt a person's mails, etc.

I want to raise another question which I know is for the business side of the House. I have heard from a number of constituents who bought online from a .ie named address, paid for the product online and then, when they received it, had to pay customs because the product was coming from outside the EU, even though the website in question had a .ie address. The people affected thought they were buying from Ireland. It was not the customs they were complaining about, but the fact that they had wanted to buy Irish and discovered the product was actually coming from outside the EU.

The issue of domain addresses is separate and I thank the Deputy for highlighting it. I inquired today about the phone calls and text messages people are getting about packages being delivered where the caller or correspondent claims to need information. I am told that issue is unconnected. It is a coincidence that a lot of it is happening at this time.

This issue affects everybody importing who has to file a customs declaration. That is why the Department of Finance is involved. The main operator of importing a parcel into the country is definitely An Post. That is why people in An Post are the front-line people dealing with the issue. The Department of Finance has, in effect, set out the legislation. The Revenue and customs officials are the State representatives responsible. They are based in the parcel departments in the main plants of An Post throughout the country, especially in my own area of Portlaoise and in Dublin. An Post is at the front line. I would say, for the record, that all other people who bring in items, companies such as DHL, DPD, Fastway Couriers and FedEx, are equally responsible but perhaps the problem has not been felt by them to the same extent because they have bigger parcels and all the documentation is laid out. It could have been happening in those other companies as well but because An Post deals with more small parcels than the other companies I have mentioned, it has experienced a high volume of difficulties.

An Post indicated it was going to deliver a guide to shopping online to homes nationwide from this week. I am pleased to hear the Deputy received his yesterday. An Post is a day ahead of us and I compliment it on that. An Post reports that only a small percentage are affected but the bottom line is that there is a question about the quality of information and regulation within the EU. The reason we are having more issues is as a result of Brexit and because Irish people buy more from the UK than from the rest of the world. That is why. We have a double problem with Brexit and the UK situation. The regulation applies overall. The issue is really that those people who are sending the documentation in the first place must make sure they provide adequate information for the relevant authorities on both sides.

Medicinal Products

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for allowing this very important issue to be raised here tonight. I have previously raised it by means of parliamentary questions but it is very important to bring the matter to the floor of the Dáil and that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Health, the Department of Health and the HSE listen because it is a very important matter. I appeal to the Government to ask that the HSE approve payment for a miracle drug that will help save the lives of two children who are very ill. I am speaking on behalf of, and with the permission of, Lorraine and Daniel Mynard and their daughter, Kate, and Shane and Stephanie Whelan and their little son, Theo. Both Kate and Theo have a very rare muscular condition. These two little children are the only two suitable recipients in this country for this drug, Zolgensma, which is used to treat spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition which leads to the loss of movement in the body. It is a gene therapy drug and can vastly improve these children's quality of life and lengthen their lifespans.

Authorities in Ireland have already rejected it on the basis of cost. I do not believe that we should put a price on a child's life at this time or at any time in the future. Other drugs are being administered at present which cost up to €100,000 per treatment. It is obvious that, if this once-off drug is administered, it would be a big help to these children. I must explain that time is of importance because the drug can only be administered to children under a certain body weight and two years is virtually the cut-off point. Michael Clifford wrote a very excellent article in the Irish Examiner recently in which he highlighted these two cases. I am grateful for that because I want national prominence to be given to this case.

The treatment will help the swallowing muscles. They will be greatly enhanced and improved by the administration of this drug. The respiratory systems of the children would also be helped greatly by this drug. I know the parents would like to thank all of the medical people who have helped them on their journey with their two little children so far. I know they would particularly like to thank the management, staff and people who run Temple Street hospital for the excellent work they have done so far in helping these two little children to have a fighting chance of survival.

I know that €2 million per treatment is a lot of money but whoever said anyone, whether a member of any party or a member of none, or any politician or government, could say that a drug was too expensive to save a child's life? I do not think that is right. At the same time, I am a realist. I understand that there are no blank cheques but - my goodness - we are talking about two little babies who we want to live and who we want to have a fighting chance in this world. We want their parents, their grandparents, their brothers, sisters and cousins to have the benefit of having those young, beautiful children in their lives. I would like to hear what the Minister of State has to say on behalf of the Government.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter tonight. I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Donnelly. I do not know what context the Deputy has or how much he knows, so I will read out the script that has been prepared but I do so while very conscious that there are two families watching us tonight, those of the parents of Kate and Theo, whom the Deputy is representing in raising this Topical Issue matter.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter regarding the availability of, and reimbursement for, Zolgensma in Ireland. As the Deputy is aware, the HSE has been given statutory responsibility for medicine pricing and reimbursement decisions under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. The Act specifies certain criteria for deciding whether the State will reimburse the cost of medicines. These include the health needs of the public, the cost-effectiveness of the drug and total budget impact of the drug. HSE decisions on which medicines are reimbursed by the taxpayer are facilitated by the advice of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, NCPE.

In May 2020, EU marketing authorisation was granted to the medicine Zolgensma for treating spinal muscular atrophy, SMA. The Minister for Health is advised by the HSE that, in April 2020, the NCPE received a reimbursement application for Zolgensma for the treatment of patients with a specific SMA diagnosis. In May 2020, the NCPE completed a rapid review for this application and recommended that a full health technology assessment, HTA, be completed to assess the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of Zolgensma compared with the current standard of care. The HTA was undertaken as a part of the Beneluxa collaboration between Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium, with Austria acting as a reviewer in the Belgian procedure. This initiative represents a very positive step in addressing the funding challenges posed by new drugs with very high budget impacts, which are shared by all Beneluxa members.

The joint Beneluxa HTA was completed in May 2021 and it recommended that Zolgensma should not be considered for reimbursement unless cost-effectiveness could be improved relative to existing treatments. Pricing and reimbursement negotiations commenced in July 2021 and are currently ongoing. The purpose of challenging pharmaceutical companies' pricing, through negotiations, is to arrive at a position of value for money. In doing so, we can be confident that public resources are used as effectively as possible to reimburse as many medicines as possible and for as many patients as possible.

The Minister fully appreciates that families want to see their children who suffer from SMA get access to new treatments as soon as possible. However, the Minister for Health has no role in the statutory process under the 2013 Act. The Government's allocation of €50 million for new medicines in budget 2021 has enabled the HSE to approve 32 new medicines or expanded uses of existing medicines to date this year. This has included 12 medicines for the treatment of rare diseases. The Minister nonetheless fully understands that this is a worrying time for the families concerned and is hopeful that the HSE can arrive at a positive outcome with respect to Zolgensma.

I am very conscious that this may not be the answer the Deputy would have wished to hear this evening but, at the same time, it is positive that conversations are still ongoing and that no doors whatsoever have been closed. He can see how the €50 million announced in last year's budget has been spent.

I thank the Minister of State very much. Of course, I appreciate her detailed response but the giant Beneluxa health technology assessment, HTA, we are speaking about was completed in May 2021. We are now into the first week of October. When we are talking about children's health and children's lives, surely the machinery of the State and of the HSE and the dealings with the Beneluxa HTA should be speeded up because of how important this is. We are not talking about trade. We are not talking about selling something commercial. We are talking about a life-saving treatment. That is the difference. Time is of the essence. I have already stated, and I will say just once more, that two years is the cut-off point for these children. If the drug is not administered in their first two years of life, their hopes and their aspirations to have a better quality of life will be very much diminished. We do not want to see that happen with these two little children. I am so glad and so grateful and thankful to God that a little child, five-month-old Arthur Morgan, became the first child in Britain to receive the drug after the National Health Service struck a deal with the manufacturers of the drug with regard to the price. I really am delighted that child was saved over in England but I want to see the Government being proactive on the two cases we have here. I want to see every Member of this House being able to say that the Government did right by those two families because, when a child is born, nobody knows what types of difficulties, whether mental, physical or intellectual, that person will have. Our job in politics is to use the intelligence of those grouped here together to come up with solutions to the problems families have.

I am not just asking. I am pleading and begging the Government to do its best for these two families. I thank the Minister of State.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this very time-sensitive issue. I will take on board everything he has said. Before I came in this evening, the Minister reiterated to me that he is hopeful the HSE can achieve a positive outcome concerning the drug. I will ensure he gets the HSE actioned and keeps that continuous engagement and communication open at pace. The Deputy is right that every one of us wants, in our role as public representatives, to get the best outcome for our people and I will do that after leaving here this evening with the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on Deputy Michael Healy-Rae's behalf.

Hospital Services

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this incredibly important issue. I can say on behalf of the staff of Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, that there is serious concern about the future of critical and emergency care services at the hospital and that concern is matched by the local community and the population of County Meath. The rumour mill is rife with stories of impending cuts to hours, staff and services in the emergency department and to critical care services. Is this the case? That is the question we want answered. There is deep concern and it is heightened by the silence of the HSE. As public representatives, we have raised questions, as have others. We have been deliberately ignored or those questions have been avoided. Will the Minister of State provide assurances that critical and emergency services at Navan hospital will not be cut?

There were rumours in August that patients who had presented to the accident and emergency unit at Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, were sent to Drogheda. When I heard this, I called management at Navan hospital but I did not get a call back. I sent an email to the general manager of the hospital on 26 August and again last Friday, 24 September, but received no replies. What are we supposed to think? More important, what about the people we represent if the hospital will not answer calls or emails on such serious issues? Is there a basis for our fears and those of the people of Meath that the future of accident and emergency and ICU services in Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, are in danger of being closed or downgraded? Is it true the HSE leadership has been hell-bent on downgrading Navan hospital for years? If this is true, it will seriously affect healthcare in the north-east region. Meath has a population of 210,000, the fifth largest in the State. We know the hospital in Drogheda is already under pressure, so are we to expect people from Meath to travel to Drogheda or Dublin this winter to lie on a hospital trolley? That is what will happen if emergency department or ICU services are downgraded in Navan hospital.

For ten years, the Government's stated policy has been to close the accident and emergency department in Navan hospital. The hospital was put on the list in the small hospital framework document. It was to be moved to a level 2 hospital. It was on the HIQA hit list of ten hospitals that were to have accident and emergency departments removed. Navan hospital is the only one of those ten hospitals whose accident and emergency remains open. In March 2020, the HSE went public to say it would close the accident and emergency department at the end of March overnight. The only reason it did not do so was that cases of Covid started to arise in the country. It postponed the closure until April and then completely dropped the plan because Covid was swamping the country. In the past fortnight, four medical professionals have told me the HSE has made a formal decision to close the accident and emergency overnight. We know from a parliamentary question I submitted that the Minister has admitted a programme of redesign is under way in the Ireland East Hospital Group. That redesign includes provision for a 24-7 acute medical assessment unit in Navan, in other words, a replacement for the accident and emergency department.

Before coming to the House, I took advice in the Department. I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and my colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Thomas Byrne, to gain a good understanding of what this issue was about. Deputy O'Rourke asked me a straight question and I am giving him a straight answer. No, it is not the case. The long-standing policy still stands and there is no change in policy.

I have a script that has been prepared by the Department, which I will read. It is important but it is also important to preface it with the answer I have just given. Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, is part of Ireland East Hospital Group. In 2013, Navan hospital was included in the list of designated model 2 hospitals under the smaller hospitals framework. The framework was approved by the then Government in 2013.

The Ireland East Hospital Group has been engaged in a programme of work to plan for future service configuration at Navan hospital in line with the Government decision. This aims to further integrate and enhance the role of Navan hospital within the hospital group. Every hospital in the group has a key role. Smaller hospitals such as Navan hospital are well placed to manage routine, urgent or planned care locally, while more complex cases are managed in larger hospitals.

Changes to services at Navan hospital will be undertaken in a planned and orderly manner, when agreed, on completion of the necessary planning, which is ongoing. Planning envisages the development of a 24-7 acute medical assessment unit at Navan hospital, which is an extension of the current medical assessment unit hours at Navan. It also includes a 12-7 local injuries unit. This will replace the current emergency department and ensure that the hospital continues to cater for unscheduled presentations where appropriate and safe to do so.

I understand that it is likely that the medical assessment unit and local injuries unit services will cater for around 80% of the unscheduled presentations to Navan hospital currently. The ambulance bypass of Navan hospital is already in place for patients who have acute coronary symptoms and for major trauma, including fractured femur. The planning envisages an extended role for the hospital in areas such as delivery of day and ambulatory surgical activity to support the overall delivery of access to care targets for the group, and strengthened links with the Mater Hospital in terms of clinical governance and patient safety.

These changes will require some investment and this will take time. Capital works are under way this year to bring a second theatre into operation at Navan hospital. I understand Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, has relatively recently opened a new laboratory and a new rehabilitation facility with 20 beds. That is a considerable investment. Clearly, it is essential that we resource other receiving hospitals before we make any change to the services at Navan hospital. This core part of the planning is under way and will take considerable time.

It is important to emphasise that changes will be about patient safety and quality, on one hand, and ensuring that people have care as close to home as possible, on the other. The HSE has stated clearly there is a patient safety rationale for the change and we must be mindful of that.

The vision for the hospital in the future is that it will be a core element in the delivery of integrated care for patients in line with the Sláintecare vision - providing the right care in the right place at the right time, building up capacity and supporting delivery of integrated and ambulatory care as close to home as possible.

For the Deputies opposite who did not receive a response from the HSE, I will contact directly whoever is in charge of this area seeking a detailed response as to why the good Deputies are not being communicated with as public representatives on the ground.

I thank the Minister of State for her forthright response, which is appreciated. However, I cannot understand how she can say there is no change in policy and then read that script. As far as I can see, the writing is on the wall. I have read enough from the HSE and enough health service policy down the years to know that. I have seen this before in the cases of Roscommon, Monaghan, Dundalk and Ennis hospitals. This is what it looks like. This is the language that is used to refer to change that is coming, including reference to a 24-7 acute medical assessment unit.

I do not believe, based on the written record here from the Department, that the concerns of the community will be allayed.

In fact, I believe that what was spelled out in the reply reflects the concerns that have been raised about the services that will be provided. I am very concerned and I think the community will be similarly concerned.

I would like to get a commitment in writing that these services will not be downgraded during the lifetime of this Government. It would be good if the people of County Meath could get that because I think it would allay an awful lot of the fears they have. Those are genuine fears. You never see so many people come together than when it is to do with a hospital.

Another reason we are here is the HSE. It will not give any information, and not just to me. When radio stations, including our local station, LMFM, do not get information from the HSE, that creates fear.

I heard the Minister of State, Deputy English, on the radio this morning. He stated that there will be no downgrading of services. Navan hospital needs an expansion of its services, not a downgrade. If there is any downgrading of the accident and emergency service and the ICU in Navan, we will be left with no option but to take to the streets again. We will not let the HSE take our accident and emergency department.

I am watching the clock here. You have one minute, Deputy Tóibín.

The response the Minister of State provided does not mention the words "accident and emergency" at all. I cannot find those words in the entire script that was written for her by the Department.

The hospital in Navan is the most important piece of infrastructure we have in County Meath. Nothing surpasses it. There are thousands of people walking around the county today who would not be alive only for the hospital's existence. Roscommon was mentioned. A Fine Gael Minister of State said that Roscommon University Hospital's accident and emergency department would remain open and then went into government and voted to close it. We know that the Government already tried to close the hospital accident and emergency in Navan in March 2020. That is in the plans. I am just astonished that in the whole of the Minister of State's response the accident and emergency department is not mentioned whatsoever.

What we need is a commitment to the accident and emergency department, that is, that the Department changes and amends the language in the small hospitals framework document and takes the threat away. As long as that threat is there, the people in the HSE will be tasked to close the accident and emergency department overnight. That is their job. If they are to fulfil the policy direction of the Government, they are tasked to close the accident and emergency department. Will the Department commit to taking that threat out of the small hospitals framework document?

I will just go back to exactly how I started my previous commentary, which was that there is no change. The policy of 2013-----

The policy is to close it.

There is no change whatsoever-----

-----and the Department of Health has set out since 2013 that there is no policy to close Navan hospital's accident and emergency department.

In fairness, the policy states that it will close it.

Let the Minister of State reply, in fairness.

I will make a suggestion. I am only a junior Minister in the Department of Health and I think this is a senior Minister's conversation. With the support of the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Byrne - I know they have a meeting organised with the Minister next week to discuss this again - perhaps the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, could open the matter up to other Oireachtas Members to have that conversation. I believe that this Government has no policy to close anything whatsoever.

It is written in the small hospitals framework document.

With the height of respect, I would like the Deputies across the House to take me in good faith until the Minister can meet with them.

Road Network

Deputy Sherlock, you only want half your time, do you?

I will take more if you are offering, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I wish to raise the issue of the N73. The N73 is a national secondary route. At present it could be considered no more than a local road in terms of how it has been treated in investment terms. The route will take you from west of Mallow to Rathmore and on up north, through Mallow and on into Mitchelstown. There is a part of the road, from Clogher Cross to Waterdyke or, as we know it locally, Canteen Cross, and also at Annakisha South where, up to now, for this year alone, through Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, €1.5 million has been spent to bring the process to tender to enable works to be carried out on approximately 3 km of road. I am given to understand that Cork County Council and TII have done all the preparatory work on this. All we are asking for is €10 million to make this road safe. It is currently unsafe. When heavy goods vehicles pass each other on the road, they have to slow down to a stop in order to pass because there are no verges on the road and you have to traverse the white line in order to pass at certain sections on the road if you are driving a heavy goods vehicle. The road is an important road because it is a national secondary road. I cannot emphasise that enough. It has been devoid and starved of investment for decades now.

All we are asking is that the Government not take the foot off the pedal in terms of the next phase of the project. We are fearful that if there is any reprofiling of roads spending - in other words, cutbacks - to rob Peter to pay Paul, we will get caught in the cross hairs in north Cork, between Mallow and Mitchelstown. I am pleading with the Government not to take this off the agenda and to allow it to go to the next stage. In the context of overall national spend on roads, €10 million is but a drop in the ocean. It is a significant amount but it would have an untold benefit for people travelling from Kerry to Dublin, for people who travel from Mallow to Mitchelstown and vice versa and, in particular, for local traffic. That Mallow to Mitchelstown road is a major arterial route for local traffic, local commerce, families bringing children to school and people who travel for medical reasons, including acute medical reasons, for care in Dublin. They would travel from Rathmore on through Mallow and on up to Dublin. There is a part of the road I have just mentioned, from Clogher Cross to Canteen Cross, or Waterdyke, that has to be done. I am imploring the Government not to take it off the agenda. I have been in touch with the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Transport, Deputies Michael McGrath and Eamon Ryan, and I have had engagement with the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, about this. I am asking that it stay on the agenda.

Is the Minister of State taking this matter as well?

Yes. I have a specialty in roads as well as everything else. I do understand the value of a secondary national route. I have loads of them around my area, so I totally understand. Deputy Sherlock has been to all the Ministers in respect of this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Transport.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. As he might be aware, the Minister has responsibility for overall policy and securing Exchequer funding regarding the national roads programme. What Deputy Sherlock is after asking for is €10 million to ensure that the N73 stays on the table and does not get squeezed when the next budgetary decisions are being made. That is what I am hearing.

Once funding arrangements have been put in place with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, under the Roads Acts 1993-2015, and in line with the national development plan, NDP, the planning, design, improvement and upgrading of individual national roads is a matter for TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. TII ultimately delivers the national roads programme in line with Project Ireland 2040 and the national planning framework.

I am informed that TIl conducts regular safety analyses of the national road network, which includes the N73 between Mallow and Mitchelstown. Each year, TIl carries out a collision analysis of the entire national road network, in accordance with the requirements for network safety ranking of the EU directive on road infrastructure safety management. The purpose of this analysis is to identify locations of high concentrations of collisions. Having regard to the outcome of the analysis, it is then the responsibility of the relevant local authority, as the road authority for the area and in this case Cork County Council, to devise proposals to identify any appropriate road safety interventions.

In addition to the network safety ranking process, TII periodically carries out road safety inspections on the entire national road network, as provided for in the EU directive. The purpose of these inspections is to verify the characteristics and defects of an operational road for reasons of road safety. This is a proactive measure that is done in tandem with the network safety analysis.

Turning to route upgrades and safety on the N73, the Clogher Cross to Waterdyke realignment scheme is one of two minor improvement schemes being progressed by Cork County Council. The scheme has been progressed through planning and design and the construction tender documents have been prepared to go to tender this year. TIl has approved an allocation of €1.5 million to the council in 2021 to enable this work to progress and the latter recently requested approval from TII to go to tender with the scheme. TII should be in a position to confirm whether the tender process can proceed once funding arrangements for 2022 and 2023 are finalised. I believe that answers the main part of the Deputy's Topical Issue matter.

The Annakisha South road improvement scheme, the second minor scheme on the N73, has also received planning approval and tender documents have been prepared. Unfortunately, the amount of funding available and the number of schemes that can move to construction in any given year are limited. Therefore, future construction of this section of national road will depend on the level of funding available to TII for national roads generally and the relative prioritisation of the scheme when compared with similar schemes nationally. TII has provided an allocation of €300,000 to Cork County Council for the Annakisha South scheme in 2021. Both of these minor schemes will take account of current active travel policy, in accordance with TIl standards, and the council's transport policies.

TII provides annual grant allocations to local authorities for the upkeep and maintenance of national roads. I will convey exactly what the Deputy said on this matter to the Minster. It is clear from the response the Department has provided that a great deal of work has been done on the project and significant investment has gone into it. It looks to be a project that can hit the road.

I thank the Minister of State. I ask her to use her good offices and positive influence to bend the ear of the Ministers, Deputies Eamon Ryan and Michael McGrath, and perhaps the Taoiseach, whom I have also contacted about this issue. It makes eminent sense to progress this project to tender now. If TII has allocated €1.5 million for one stretch of the road, namely, Clogher Cross to Canteen Cross, and €300,000 for Annakisha South, all that needs to be done now is to press the green light for the project to go to tender and get the jobs done. The road will then be right for a considerable period of time, excepting normal upkeep and maintenance.

My fear, however, is that the project will slip back down the agenda in terms of national prioritisation if there is any reprofiling of budgets for roads in the Estimates process. I am raising this issue at a critical time in the hope that every Minister will look at the case for the project and see it stacks up to make the investment at this stage rather than wasting the moneys that have been spent thus far by not progressing it. If it is not progressed now, it will not be progressed next year or in the years after that. It will go into a queue, we will be waiting until kingdom come for the works to be done and the investment of €1.5 million and €300,000 will be for naught. We should spend the money wisely to upgrade the road now, for the reasons I have outlined. The RISM metrics are a load of codswallop. I appreciate that the Minister of State is responding on behalf of another Minister but the reality is that this is an unsafe road. Just because an accident or collision has not happened does not mean it will not happen. The problem is the number of heavy goods vehicles that use the road and have to traverse the white line at points where there are no verges. There is no margin of error for drivers, which is why they have to slow down to a stop.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this issue. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I know the roads around Galway very well. I expect there are many people who use the N73 who have far more sway than I in advancing the project. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, who has responsibility for this matter, has set out that under the HD 15 network safety analysis programme, safety works are based on accident density across the network. Those sections of the network with considerably higher than average accident densities are selected for analysing and sections of the road that are amenable to engineering solutions are prioritised for treatment. I will take the points the Deputy has raised this evening to the Minister. It is clear this project has been identified in previous costings around planning and design. I know that when one sees something going to planning and design, the funding normally follows. The decision is not for me to make in this instance but I will ensure it is on the Minister's agenda.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.56 p.m. until 9.12 a.m. on Wednesday, 29 September 2021.