Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Coast Guard Service

I thank the Minister of State for coming into the Dáil to discuss this. Sometimes Ministers who are not from a particular Department take Topical Issue matters and I appreciate the fact she has come in to take this one. This is an issue which affects my constituency, which is evidenced by the fact that two of us raised this Topical Issue matter and it was also raised in other manners by other Deputies and Senators.

We need to get the Doolin Coast Guard unit reinstated but we need to address the issues that led us to where we are because the reality is there is a toxic working environment in the Coast Guard station in Doolin and there has been for some time. Unfortunately it is not unique to Doolin; it exists the length and breadth of this country. There is a lack of confidence in the most senior management in the Irish Coast Guard on behalf of the rank and file. They feel nobody has their back and they have no representative body, so if they speak out, they will be singled out for disciplinary measures where they will be accompanied by another volunteer. I appreciate there was an attempt to establish a representative body for them but the vast majority of those in it are former members rather than current members.

It is a morass and we will not solve it tonight but the Minister of State needs to take a long look at it. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, spoke about visiting Doolin and I was there myself when its lovely new shining Coast Guard station was opened. The officer in charge there was Mattie Shannon, a man who gave his lifetime to the Irish Coast Guard in Doolin. He left the Irish Coast Guard but the Minister of State should talk to him and ask him why he left. She should also talk to the many others who left the Doolin Coast Guard unit one by one. People of that sort of dedication do not leave unless there is something badly wrong. I ask the Minister of State not to talk to the head of the Irish Coast Guard. The head of the Irish Coast Guard will tell her a story but it will not be one that will be recounted by the rank and file on the ground.

I also want to recognise and welcome the Minister of State's presence for this debate. This is an evolving situation in Doolin which has resulted in six volunteers resigning earlier this week. These resignations have taken place amid claims of bullying and harassment in the service. I have serious concerns about the standing down of the service and the circumstances in which this happened. We have hard-working volunteers in Doolin and throughout the Irish Coast Guard, but unfortunately they are not being listened to. A culture of bullying and harassment has developed within the Irish Coast Guard that has been left to evolve without check and that is desperately disappointing.

We need a ministerial intervention and I implore the Minister of State to appoint an independent and competent person to have a serious look at the situation in Doolin. I agree with Deputy McNamara that this is not just an issue for Clare or Doolin; this is widespread throughout the country. Former and current volunteers are speaking out because of the issues which have emerged. It is unfortunate and sad for me to say that the coastguard system is under huge stress. We will not have a coastguard service in the future if we do not address the issues that have emerged in Doolin. There are 12 volunteers in Doolin who are more than capable of carrying out tasks such as cliff rescue, ambulance assistance and search. They should be allowed to continue with that work and be reinstated as a matter of urgency. I ask that the Minister of State take my views and those of Deputy McNamara and other Oireachtas Members across County Clare on board and that we get to work on this straight away.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue and giving me the opportunity to come before the House. The temporary standing down of Doolin Coast Guard unit operations is a proportionate response having regard to significant ongoing attempts by the Irish Coast Guard to address the unfortunate differences that have existed within the unit and their impact on the unit. Equally, the recent resignations of several Doolin Coast Guard volunteers have contributed to this decision.

The key objective is to ensure the safety of the volunteers. The action is being taken in compliance with the search and rescue assurance obligations set out in the national search and rescue plan.

As regards contingency plans, I have been advised by my officials that these are fully in place. The Inis Oírr Coast Guard unit, which falls under the direct management of the Doolin unit, shall continue to remain fully operational. In the interim, the Coast Guard is liaising with other search and rescue stakeholders in the area to provide full cover for services that otherwise would be provided by the Doolin unit.

The Coast Guard is currently deploying various contingencies based on an assessment of risk within the area, and in particular Kilkee and Killaloe Coast Guard units. All other Coast Guard units, shoreline and cliff rescue services remain in place, along with the four search and rescue Coast Guard helicopters. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, RNLI, community rescue boats and Naval Service will continue to assist, particularly in those areas of greatest risk, until the issue has been resolved.

The Coast Guard and the Department have taken these unfortunate differences within the Doolin unit volunteers extremely seriously and have consistently striven over the past number of years to try to assist in the repair of the breakdown in relationships that have occurred within the unit. These actions include: dignity and respect training for the Doolin unit; a number of facilitated group meetings with the unit; one-to-one sessions with Irish Coast Guard management and the Doolin unit members; and an independent investigation by a HR consultancy with subsequent report and follow-up actions and recommendations.

Follow-up actions included an intensive support package put in place with the coastal unit sector manager attending training sessions weekly in Doolin to monitor and assist in supervising the situation. Unfortunately, during the period of March 2020 to April 2021, there were limitations on volunteer training due to COVID restrictions. Confidential counselling services are also contracted by the Coast Guard and are readily available to all volunteers who wish to avail of these services.

The Irish Coast Guard very much acknowledges and recognises the strenuous efforts and leadership displayed by many members of the unit, its management team and other stakeholders to address these difficulties. The Irish Coast Guard will continue to offer support to all those affected by this event with the aim of strengthening the unit's management structure and providing relevant training and mediation services as may be required.

The Irish Coast Guard is committed to supporting the near 900 dedicated volunteers who help provide the important and life-saving services of the Coast Guard. Ongoing consultation with Coast Guard volunteers is key to the success of the Coast Guard. For this reason, Coast Guard volunteers have for some time had a representative body called the Coastal Unit Advisory Group. This group represents Irish Coast Guard volunteers and provides advice and input to the Coast Guard under agreed terms of reference between management and the volunteers. This group meets regularly and is involved in working with Coast Guard management to deliver a world-class service while protecting the safety and well-being of the volunteers within the Coast Guard units. My office has been in touch with the Coastal Unit Advisory Group with a view to arranging a meeting shortly.

I understand the so-called representative body the Coastal Unit Advisory Group, CUAG, is basically a grouping of officers in charge. That is a good body. I have no problem with it. That is a bit like saying that a collective of sergeants represents the workforce of An Garda Síochána across the board. That is not the case. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors does not represent the entirety of An Garda Síochána. It never has. It never will. It was not set up to do so. I would ask the Minister of State to revisit that assumption.

I would also ask the Minister of State to look at the bigger issues. Why are so many leaving? As I say, people do not leave unless there is a problem. Unless management takes the problem and deals with it, it will not change.

The Minister of State mentioned Covid difficulties. There was an officer in charge in Crosshaven targeted for carrying out activities contrary to Covid, as in getting a rig out on the water when there were many similar boats all over the country up on social media. Why was he targeted?

The culture within the Coast Guard is if one speaks out for one's fellow volunteers, one is targeted. One is silenced. It is toxic and the Coast Guard will not survive that unless the Minister of State, at a political level, takes it in hand. There is no confidence in the most senior management among the volunteers. That is what they are - volunteers who risk their lives to try to protect others. We should never forget that. They deserve a lot better than what they are getting at present.

I attended the inaugural meeting of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association in Kilkee a couple of weeks ago. There were current and former members of the Coast Guard - all volunteers from Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Galway and Clare - and they spoke openly about the challenges they face every day in terms of widespread harassment and bullying within the service.

One has to ask the question of why so many people are leaving the service. Morale is at an all-time low. Volunteers are leaving. They are not being listened to. They are not being engaged with in a proper manner by management on high.

There is need for a root-and-branch review of the Coast Guard service in terms of management and volunteers, and how they work together. The Minister of State must commit to that. The Minister of State also must commit to the appointment of an independent competent person to try to iron out the issues in Doolin and reinstate that vital service that they have delivered so well over many years.

I hear the concerns of the Deputies. We are endeavouring to address these issues.

As regards the terms of reference of the coastal advisory group, the purpose of the coastal advisory group is to provide a structured method of consultation and communication between the Irish Coast Guard and volunteer members. It recognises a key role that the volunteers play in delivering search and rescue in Ireland. As such, it provides the volunteers with that formal opportunity to contribute, and to consult and liaise on matters impacting on the performance of search and rescue activities in which the volunteers are engaged. It is for that reason that I have contacted them in order to meet them. I hope to do that shortly regarding these issues.

I reiterate that the Coast Guard and my Department will continue to offer support to all those affected by this event in Doolin with the aim of strengthening the unit's management structure and providing relevant training and mediation services as may be required to resolve the issues within the unit with a view to returning Doolin to operational readiness as quickly as practicable. As advised by my officials, all other Coast Guard units' shoreline and cliff rescue services remain in place. Along with the four search and rescue Coast Guard helicopters, the RNLI, community rescue boats and the Naval Service will continue to assist.

I join the Deputies in praising the great work of our 900 volunteers right across the country who provide an exemplary public service in our time of need. They need to be supported. I look forward to that engagement with the Coastal Unit Advisory Group.

Technological Universities

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to discuss this issue. It is topical. It was announced only on Tuesday of this week.

I warmly welcome the announcement of a new technological university of the south-east which is to open its doors at the latest by May of next year. There are many people to thank in what has been a long and arduous process. I would thank the Minister for his work on it. He has brought an energy to the process. I want to thank particularly Professor Willie Donnelly of Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, and Dr. Patricia Mulcahy of the Institute of Technology, Carlow. They were instrumental. So too were Mr. Jim Moore and Mr. John Moore, the chairs of the respective institutions, and Mr. Tom Boland and his team.

I acknowledge as well both Government and Opposition Oireachtas Members across the region. It is a region where often the Oireachtas Members are facing in different directions but on this issue we have been speaking for the most part with one voice and pulling in the same direction. That is really important.

While Tuesday's announcement is a significant milestone, we have to acknowledge there is still a long way to travel before we fully realise the university of scale and substance we need to serve the needs of the population and the people of the south east because we have lagged behind historically. I could use any number of metrics to show that. It is something to which the Minister referred in the Seanad yesterday as a glaring anomaly. It was a commitment in the programme for Government to address that anomaly and I am glad we managed to deliver.

I will return to something I addressed to the Minister on 19 November last year because the facts and figures speak for themselves:

As a region the south east accounts for 8.9% of the population but only 5% of the higher education income. Of our young people who enter higher education, 59% of them leave the region in order to do so, which is in or around 11,000 students per annum. This equates to a significant wealth transfer out of the south east but far more damaging is the loss of our young people and we see a pronounced demographic doughnut in the region characterised by a missing generation of 19 to 45 year olds. Our young people are going away and in many cases are staying away.

That is as true today as it was at the start of this week. It is what a technical university, and one of substance, should be designed to achieve and address. A well-respected commentator in Waterford posed the following challenge in the wake of Tuesday's announcement which is worth considering. He said he had yet to hear anyone adequately articulate what distinguishes a TU from an IoT. I think we have that responsibility, both Members of the Oireachtas collectively and the Minister, to do exactly that and make it abundantly clear to the people of the south east that this is the game changer he and I believe it should and can be for the region.

Pivotal in doing that, I identify four issues. First, is site acquisition. The Cork Road campus in WIT is creaking at the seams and we need to expand the footprint. Not only that, if we expand the footprint, we need to build on it. If we are talking about a university of scale and substance, then we have to talk about capital investment at scale. Related is the ability to borrow. I know Housing for All addresses some aspects of that in relation to student accommodation, but access to European Investment Bank funding is important. The president is also pivotal, as is the membership of the governing authority. If this is the university I hope it can be to capitalise, change and drive on the south east, we should look to attract the absolute top talent to help drive that process forward and bring those institutions together.

I thank the Deputy raising the matter and for his tireless work, leadership and advocacy on this matter. I was pleased to join him and colleagues from across the south east on Tuesday when we announced very clearly that the technological university for the south east will open its doors by 1 May. After decades of debate, discussion and at times uncertainty and disagreement, we now have a very clear pathway forward. The train is leaving the station. The south east will have a technological university next year. I am delighted and join the Deputy in thanking the presidents of the institutions, the governing authorities, particularly the chairs, Mr. Tom Boland and all the Oireachtas Members. We can all be partisan in this House from time to time - that is normal in a democracy - but on this issue I must say the non-partisan nature in which everyone approached the issue on all sides was very encouraging and beneficial.

The application seeking TU designation was submitted to me jointly on 30 April on behalf of the Institute of Technology Carlow and Waterford Institute of Technology, or the TUSEI consortium, under the Technological Universities Act 2018. I subsequently appointed an independent international advisory panel to assist in assessing this application and sought the views of the board of the Higher Education Authority, HEA, on that report and any other matters of relevance. On foot of my deliberations and extensive engagement with the presidents and governing authority chairs, I propose to approve the application.

I am taken with the question of the difference between an IoT and a TU. While I will not be able to do it full justice in the two minutes available to me, some immediate things that come to mind. First, is scale and critical mass. There is the greater focus on research and a regional focus. It is something that looks at how we can harness the full potential of the south east from an investment and jobs point of view. It is about access to the full spectrum of qualifications and a wider range of academic programmes. Of course, the people of Waterford, for the first time ever, can access a university degree within Waterford. Those are just some of the things that come to mind.

In line with the legislative processes, those being sections 34 and 35 of the 2018 Act, I wrote to the chairs of the applicant institutes on this matter on 2 November outlining my intention to designate. Under the Act the institutes have 30 days to respond to my proposed decision.

The timeline of 1 May will allow for a number of things to be addressed, including some to which the Deputy referred. It will allow the Oireachtas to approve the order, the name to be decided, the appointment of the first governing body, and the identification and designation of a first president through an open competitive process.

I intend to advertise this month through a public process for people to come forward to serve as the chair of the board of the governing authority. I expect an international recruitment campaign for the first president to kick off probably in January, but certainly very early in the new year. Those are two very important steps.

After almost a decade of debate and false dawns, the establishment of the new technological university is now rapidly becoming a reality. I take the Deputy's point on the importance of expanding the footprint in Waterford and investing in the infrastructure, and we have had many conversations about this. We have a capital budget for higher education that is larger than ever before. We have a technological university transformation fund of €90 million. There is €40 million more for technological universities under the national recovery and resilience plan, published by the Government. In the coming days, my Department, the HEA and WIT will meet to discuss a prospective business case for the expansion of the footprint and the acquisition of an additional site. The Government and I - everyone from the Taoiseach down - are determined to expand the physical footprint of Waterford Institute of Technology and what will ultimately be the technological university in the months ahead.

I could not possibly expect the Minister to delve into the differences between an IoT and a technological university in four minutes. However, it does need to be an ongoing conversation. We need to make that clear and it needs to be more than words. It needs to be backed up by actions and by capital investment in particular.

I did not touch on the issue of the headquarters of the new institution. I know that lies outside the Minister's gift but it is very important to the people of Waterford and I ask the Minister to keep it in mind. I and other Deputies have spoken to the Minister about this on this on many occasions. I would be interested in there being a more definite timeline for the recruitment of the president and, in particular, what steps we will take to make sure the person we recruit for that role will be the person who is required and who has that full range of talents necessary to drive on the institution, because just as WIT was the flagship institute of technology in the country, I fully expect the technological university of the south east to be the flagship TU in the country. I will be very disappointed if we do not step up the mark in that regard.

To make a brief point on capital investment, there is an issue around the depreciation of the built stock, especially on the WIT campus. That is an historical legacy. Our plans for capital investment in a new and expanded campus must take account of the fact that much of the built stock that exists on the Cork Road campus in particular is ageing and is either midway through or beyond its life cycle. That also sits with the climate action plan that was announced today. We need buildings there that perform and which are fit for purpose, both for students and for our climate and energy needs into the future. I would ask the Minister to reflect on those points.

In returning to the question of what is a technological university, and I shared some of my views in my initial answer, I would also make the point that the answer must also partially reside in the region, because while Dublin, the Government or the Oireachtas can grant technological university status and is happy to do so, and we have a responsibility in capital funding, policies and efforts we can put in place, it is a partnership approach and it cannot be an adversarial approach of, "What are they doing for us up there in Dublin?"

It must be about asking what can we do with this new powerhouse in the region. It must be about engaging with the regional skills forum. It must be about sitting down with the local business community, saying we are going to have a university in our region and asking the community what the skills needs are in counties Waterford, Carlow or Wexford. We should ask what we want to be the best in the country or the best in the world at and how do we put the programmes in place to do that. As I said at our meeting of Oireachtas Members this week, I encourage everybody in the south east, as I know the Deputy will too, to do that engagement. They should get the business community and the regional skills forum in. They should talk to the colleges of further education, the schools, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. They should ask what the unique selling point of the south-east region is going to be. Then they should absolutely come to me and put pressure on me to be forthcoming with resources. I assure the Deputy the Government he and I are part of will not be found wanting in that regard.

On the headquarters, it is a statement of fact to say the law and the process is clear that decision will reside with the first governing authority. However, it is still okay to have a view and my view is Waterford sounds like a very logical location. It is logical because of the size of the footprint of the institute of technology already there, because we are going to expand it even further in terms of capital projects and also within the context of other Government initiatives and policies around national planning frameworks and the like as well. Legally, it is a decision for others but I think Waterford has a very compelling case. On the president, the recruitment process is vested with the outgoing governing authorities of the institutes of technology but it will be a full international search and I am confident it will be a very robust process. On capital, the Deputy's argument is compelling and well-made and I will work with him to advance these issues.

Middle East

The third item has been submitted by Deputy Andrews. He wishes to discuss the decision by the Israeli state to designate six Palestinian human rights groups operating in the West Bank as terror organisations. Before inviting the Deputy to make his contribution, can I say I have had much correspondence from members of the Irish Jewish community of late and it has highlighted for me the need for us to be very careful and very precise in the language we use. We should avoid the unintended effect of causing offence or hurt to the Jewish people and especially to the Irish Jewish community, within which we have many colleagues, including former Deputy Ben Briscoe, the late Mervyn Taylor and former Deputy Alan Shatter, all of whom served with distinction. In addressing these matters we need to be careful about the language we use and that we do not cause unintended hurt. I am certainly not saying that in respect of Deputy Andrews or any individual Member but as a collective it is something we need to be conscious of. That said, the Deputy is putting this matter down because so many Members of this House over so many years have had a genuine interest in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the interest we have is shared by the people we represent. The floor is yours, sir.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. Two weeks ago on 19 October the Israeli defence minister formally designated human rights organisation Al-Haq and five other Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations under Israeli law. The other five are Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees. Let us be clear about this. This is about shutting down legitimate criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. Israel's charge against the six NGOs, which include groups that offer legal support to prisoners and a women's rights organisation, is based on a connection to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP. This claim has been made by apartheid Israel for many years and it is untrue. There is absolutely no evidence to back up the claim these organisations are involved in terrorism. For any state to be able to change policy in this way would suggest apartheid Israel is growing in confidence it can do what it wants. Apartheid Israel is becoming increasingly confident it can do what it wants and there will be no consequences for anything it does. Let us be clear apartheid Israel's actions are increasingly making a two-state solution less and less likely. The chance of a two-state solution is disappearing on Ireland's watch on the UN Security Council.

I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney's additional €2.4 million allocation to fund UN bodies working in Palestine. However, to be brutally honest, it feels like guilt money because the Government is not willing to recognise the state of Palestine or even to pass the occupied territories Bill put forward by Senator Black. If we genuinely want to support Palestine we must make significant acts like recognising the state of Palestine and supporting the occupied territories Bill. We need concrete action on the six designated organisations and we need clarity. We need an official public statement from the Minister for Foreign Affairs that categorically denounces the terror designation and removes all deference to Israel. We need to send public messages to the Irish banks that Ireland does not recognise the terror designations and ensure the open exchange of transactions between Irish entities and the organisations and their staff members. This will have implications for Irish citizens and relations with Palestine and Palestinian advocacy groups. In light of the unprecedented attack against Palestinian civil society, Ireland must ensure increased funding to these six civil society organisations.

It is important to state Al-Haq regards Jerusalem in its entirety as Palestinian as there is no recognition of the illegal acts of annexation in 1949 in west Jerusalem and in 1967 in east Jerusalem. It is equally important to note the Minister, Deputy Coveney, insinuated during his recent visit to apartheid Israel that Ireland might at some point recognise Israel's sovereignty over west Jerusalem and even consider moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This was reported in The Jerusalem Post and it was unclear so we need clarity from the Minister on it. Will the Minister clarify that Palestinians have a continuing right to self-determination and that the 1949 annexation was an illegal act under international law for which there can be no recognition. We must stand with the six designated organisations.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am taking it on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney.

I would first like to restate the Government's concern at the designation by Israel's Ministry of Defence of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist entities on 22 October last. This includes organisations in receipt of support from Irish Aid and the EU. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, made a statement on the matter on 27 October and has raised the issue directly in his meetings in Israel this week. We are in touch with the Israeli authorities, along with the EU, to seek clarification. We were not informed in advance of these designations, and have not received detailed evidence. Previous allegations against civil society organisations in the occupied Palestinian territories which are supported by Ireland and the EU have not been substantiated. As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland is committed to funding civil society organisations and human rights defenders through the Irish Aid programme, including Palestinian civil society. We carry out robust checks to ensure our funding is used only for the purpose intended. Terrorism is a very serious issue, and must be addressed with both resolve and evidence. This designation has the potential to impact not only on these six organisations, but on civil society more broadly across the occupied Palestinian territories and to seriously undermine vital humanitarian, development and human rights work.

Civil society organisations and human rights defenders play a critical role in promoting international law, peace, human rights and democratic values. Ireland will continue to support such efforts bilaterally and at EU and UN level. We lead on this issue at the UN, tabling a biennial resolution on the protection of civil society space at the Human Rights Council.

We believe in the essential role civil society actors play in scrutinising the actions of governments globally, including those of Ireland and Israel.

Deputy Andrews raised our role in the Security Council. Ireland will raise this issue at the Security Council as soon as possible. Ireland is a strong believer in the vital role played by civil society actors in the peaceful resolution of conflict. This is why during our presidency of the council in September we invited civil society briefers to share their perspectives. Among them were an Israeli and a Palestinian who spoke at the council's monthly meeting on the situation in the Middle East. Palestinian civil society organisations must be enabled to carry out their important work free from obstruction, harassment and intimidation. Israeli and Palestinian authorities should support rather than restrict civil society space.

We continue to work with partners in protecting and promoting civil society, including in the context of our membership of the council. Ireland's position on these issues is, and will continue to be, based on international law, Israel's obligation as the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and on the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. Ireland has repeatedly made this position clear at the Security Council where the issue is discussed each month.

Ireland remains firmly committed to a negotiated two-state solution based on international law, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and agreed parameters. Ireland will remain seized of these matters and we call on both parties to build on steps taken in recent months to improve co-operation and reduce tensions.

I thank the Minister of State for that response. I agree with his comments that this matter is bigger than the six designated organisations. This will impact on all civil society groups and on people being able to challenge the Israeli Government on their breaches of international law. The Minister of State mentioned raising this issue at the UN Security Council, which is all very well, but if there is no action as a result of that, what is the point of Ireland being on the council? We raise issues, wag our fingers and lecture, but it has no consequences. Israel knows that so it does what it wants when it wants.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, knows that the ongoing settlements are having a major impact in ensuring that the two-state solution will not be possible very soon. We have an opportunity to take clear action. It is not dramatic action, but recognising the state of Palestine will send out a clear message, to Palestinians and to Israel, that Israeli actions are unacceptable. It is not a lot to ask yet all we do is raise the issue in the Chamber and express concern about it. That is no good to the Palestinian community and Israel knows that.

Senator Frances Black's occupied territories Bill is very reasonable and fair and yet we are not willing to support it. We sacrificed that Bill to get our place on the UN Security Council, which is having no impact, in a positive way, on the Palestinian situation or giving the Palestinian community a little justice.

As I said in my opening statement, the Government shares the concerns raised by the Deputy at the designation of these six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist entities. The Minister has conveyed our concerns directly in his meetings in Israel this week. As the Deputy knows, civil society organisations play an important role and Ireland is a vocal supporter of the civil society space. This is an issue we take seriously and we will raise the designations as soon as possible at the Security Council.

A number of Deputies have raised the issues of settlements and the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. We have been forthright in expressing our concerns regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I will also take this opportunity, since the Deputy raised the matter, to reiterate the Government's concerns regarding recent announcements by the Israeli authorities of plans for the construction of more than 3,000 settlement units in the West Bank. Ireland joined 11 other European states in issuing a statement on 28 October urging the Israeli authorities to reverse the decision. Ireland has consistently and strongly opposed settlements and will continue to do so. Settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions threaten the viability of a two-state solution.

Ireland will continue to use our voice at the Security Council to draw attention to these issues. As the Deputy knows, the Middle East remains a key priority for Ireland during our term on the Security Council and we engage actively in monthly meetings on the situation in the region. As part of Ireland's presidency of the council in September, the Minister chaired a dialogue between the Security Council and the Arab League during which he underlined the need for a strong regional engagement on the Middle East peace process and a reinvigoration of the political track, which is vital to advance peace.

Ambulance Service

I am looking for confirmation on a situation to do with an ambulance base in Carlow town. This has been going on for a very long time. Carlow has an excellent paramedic service but it is in a building at St. Dympna's Hospital that is not fit for purpose. We were originally told that the service would be moved to another part of the building at St. Dympna's. We subsequently believed that was to be changed. According to our capital plan, which was great, Holy Angels Day Care Centre will get its new build on what is called the Kelvin Grove site in Carlow town, which is HSE land. We then received word that the ambulance base would be built in Kelvin Grove as part of that plan. Again, there has been no clear confirmation of anything that will happen.

This situation is very unfortunate because we have the best of paramedics who have always worked so hard, especially during the Covid pandemic. I know many of the lads in Carlow and I see how hard the men and women paramedics work. They are excellent. The building they are in is not fit for purpose. Is there funding in the capital plan? What is the situation as we go forward? We need to give information to the paramedics and let them know what is happening. Without confirmation of the funding it is very hard to know what is happening. I brought this matter up during Questions on Promised Legislation and have tabled parliamentary questions on it. This has been going on a long time. It is not something that happened yesterday or today but has been going on for years now. What is the update on it? I ask the Minister of State to come back to me, hopefully, with an answer on it.

I also raise a second serious issue. There is a massive number of long delays in accessing ambulances because the system has changed in Carlow. Ambulances are often sent to other counties because of our location. When an ambulance is gone, there is no ambulance to replace it so we are experiencing shortages. There is no ambulance there and it is not acceptable. I have heard reports of people in life-threatening situations waiting 90 minutes or more for an ambulance. I have had calls from elderly people who have had to be brought to an emergency room in the back of a family member's car because no ambulance is available.

My concern is because of what happened recently. All ambulance calls are now managed through the central National Emergency Operations Centre. It is supposed to ensure that the most urgent calls get the highest priority response, regardless of the location of the ambulance. This is a major issue. So many things are now happening. We have a base that is not fit for purpose, our ambulance paramedics are leaving our county and people in Carlow are suffering. I can tell the Minister of State that there is anger out there among people who want to know why they are waiting so long for an ambulance. This is not just in Carlow. Approximately two or three weeks ago, Deputies and Senators from the south east had a virtual meeting with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, during which issues concerning ambulance service delays were discussed.

What is being put in place in that regard? Did the Minister talk to the Minister of State about this? What is the update? Will there be a new base for Carlow town or what is the situation? What is the progress on it? Where is the funding and is it in the capital plan?

It would be great if the Minister of State could answer the Deputy's second question but the primary focus will be on the question she actually submitted.

I am sure he is aware of it.

God bless your versatility.

I thank Deputy Murnane O'Connor for raising the provision of an ambulance base in Carlow town. It is a town with which I am very familiar. The National Ambulance Service is the statutory pre-hospital emergency and intermediate care provider and it seeks to serve the needs of patients and the public as part of an integrated health system through the provision of high-quality, safe and patient-centred services. Carlow ambulance base is an integral part of the ambulance service and has four emergency ambulances on duty. The base is supported by National Ambulance Service resources from surrounding ambulance stations, including Baltinglass, Athy, Kilkenny, Portlaoise and Enniscorthy. Dynamic deployment of available resources operates on an area and national basis, rather than a county or geographical boundary basis, to ensure optimum resource use as the nearest appropriate resource is mobilised to the location of the incident. The priority of dynamic deployment is patient health and welfare in the context of service delivery, which means that resources cannot be confined by county boundaries, barriers or borders.

The National Ambulance Service operates a comprehensive safety management system across all its premises in the south and continues to work collaboratively with staff and HSE estates or external providers to ensure that any concerns or issues that occur are dealt with as quickly as possible. Remedial works to the value of approximately €50,000 were carried out at Carlow ambulance base, located in Carlow town at the Carlow Health Services complex on Athy Road, in 2020. These works addressed requirements to make the ambulance base fit for purpose and included a list of maintenance-type works to doors, walls, floor coverings and minor leaks, with full certification of electrical and fire safety systems. Earlier this year, the National Ambulance Service completed a detailed prioritisation assessment for all ambulance stations in the southern region. As a result of this, the new base for Carlow has been confirmed as being the second highest priority for the National Ambulance Service in the south east. The National Ambulance Service is currently working with HSE estates in planning a future replacement for the current facility and has confirmed that a greenfield site has been identified and is under consideration. A capital submission for this project is being developed and capital funding for the project will follow, in accordance with overall prioritisation planning.

When the Minister of State says it is the second highest priority, does that mean it is number two on a list, or does it mean it is on a second list of other cases that may be considered?

I thank the Ceann Comhairle because that was my question. I always get worried when I hear about there being a list because these lists go on and on. While I thank the Minister of State for his reply it is not actually a reply. First, the remedial works that were done did not cost €50,000. I have been up in the base several times. The minimum works were done and those works definitely did not come to €50,000. I have said that and I will say it repeatedly because that information is not true.

Second, I again ask the Minister of State to explain what he means by this project being second on a priority list. I have been told that originally we were fourth or fifth on a list, then I was told we were sixth on a list and now I am told we are the second highest. There is still no confirmation from this discussion with the Minister of State tonight that there is funding there, that there is a timescale for when it will happen, or what exactly is going to happen. I will be going back to the paramedics saying that I have been told they are on a list and that I do not know what funding is there. The only piece of information I seem to have received is the reference to the Kelvin Grove site list. I would like that information given to me in a letter, if the Minister of State would not mind. He mentioned a site but I need to have the site identified. I also need to know what is happening with the funding. When is it going to happen? As I said, I could not give our paramedics enough praise for how hard they work but I have been going back to them for years and years with the same thing and getting no answers whatsoever. It is disingenuous. Tonight I brought it up again and I am constantly putting in questions about this issue and bringing it up here. Again tonight I am not getting any answers. The paramedics who are saving lives and have worked through Covid and whatever else are not getting a building in 2021. We are now going into 2022 and they have a building that is not fit for purpose. It is not right and it is absolute neglect.

The Minister of State can only supply the Deputy with the information he is supplied with.

I again thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue of the provision of the ambulance base located in Carlow town. I do not have the information on what area is higher on the list but I will try to get that information from the Minister and I will ask him to forward it to the Deputy. In line with Sláintecare and Vision 2020, a significant programme of work is under way to transform the National Ambulance Service from an emergency medical service into a mobile medical service. This is a model that aims to treat patients at the lowest appropriate level of acuity, resulting in a better experience for the patient and a more efficient use of resources. As the Deputy rightly said, Carlow ambulance base is an integral part of the ambulance service. She praised the advanced paramedics, the ambulance service and all the staff and I join with her in that. They have done great work, not just in Carlow and the south east but across the country. They have certainly saved lives and we are very proud of them.

The capital spend on ambulance base facilities is an integral part of the ambulance service and is prioritised by the National Ambulance Service to meet the requirements of those bases with the highest needs. This year, an unprecedented €187.5 million is being invested in the National Ambulance Service. This includes €10 million in additional funding to progress priority areas in line with the National Ambulance Service strategic reform, including continuing to target capacity deficits as identified in the National Ambulance Service emergency services baseline and capacity review. Again, engagement is continuing between the National Ambulance Service and HSE estates in progressing the capital submission for a replacement base.

The Dáil adjourned at 6.58 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 November 2021.