Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Dec 2021

Vol. 1016 No. 2

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

An Garda Síochána

There has been an ongoing campaign for a new Garda station in the Dublin 13 and 17 areas on the north side of Dublin. This is a hugely expanding area, where the population is greatly increasing. Projections indicate that there will be approximately 50,000 new residents in the area over the next number of years and in that context, community infrastructure is always going to be important. We were successful in getting a second level Educate Together school over the line through the community association in Clongriffin. My colleague, the Labour Party area representative, Shane Folan, has been campaigning for quite a while for a Garda station to be located in that area serving Dublin 13 and 17.

In June 2019 it was announced that the provision of a Garda station was going ahead and a site was proposed at a junction on the Malahide Road opposite the Hilton Hotel. Since then, we have had a number of delays and the pandemic has, understandably, focused attention elsewhere. However, at this stage, it is important for us to get an update. The assistant Garda commissioner said at the time that he was working towards opening a Garda station in the near future. This is important, not just because there have been ongoing issues in the wider region which have been brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice by me and others for quite a number of years but also because any new or expanding community needs basic community infrastructure. Communities need schools, libraries and all of the facilities available to every other community, and at the heart of that would be a Garda station. The site has been identified, the assistant Garda commissioner has said that he is working towards it and the Minister for Justice said the same in June 2019. We are now heading towards 2022 and I am seeking an update from the Government on the situation with regard to this Garda station which is much-needed in the communities of Dublin 13 and 17 and the wider region.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Deputy Ó Ríordáin will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is, by law, responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including personnel matters and deployment of resources. The allocation of Garda resources is made in light of identified operational demand and as such, the Minister for Justice has no direct role in the allocation of Garda resources.

However, I am advised that the Dublin metropolitan region north has, as of 30 November, the latest date for which figures are available, a strength of 780 Garda members of all ranks. This is an increase of 112 members, or 16.8%, since the start of 2015. The division is currently supported by 68 Garda staff, an increase of 30, or 78.9%, since the end of 2015. The area referenced in the question is covered by Coolock Garda station. As of 30 November, there were 118 gardaí assigned to Coolock station, an increase of 14.5% since the end of 2015, when 103 gardaí were assigned to that station. Gardaí in Coolock Garda station are supported by 14 Garda staff members.

Budget 2022 funding will include provision for the recruitment of up to 800 new Garda recruits and 400 Garda staff. This increase in the number of Garda members and staff will deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and improve services to the public generally. Undoubtedly, the visibility of policing in our communities makes each of us feel safer on a daily basis. However, in parallel, this Government continues to prioritise supporting community engagement and services. These are central tenets of the community safety policy being developed by the Department of Justice. The recent budget 2022 allocation of €2 million to the community safety innovation fund and €7.6 million in support of the youth justice strategy will support local communities now to provide for a better future.

That is just not good enough. With the greatest of respect, nowhere in his answer has the Minister of State made any reference to the Garda station proposed by the assistant Garda commissioner and political representatives. To say that the Minister for Justice or her Department has no role in this area is flatly untrue. We all witnessed the debacle involving Stepaside Garda station when there was political involvement. Nowhere in his answer has the Minister of State given any update on the proposed Garda station which I understood to be well on the way to being opened at some stage in the future. The site has been identified and the Garda Commissioner is on board. Political representatives from the previous Government announced this station.

I came in here today with the greatest of goodwill and expected to get an update. That is all I asked for; I was not going to make a political charge. All I wanted to do was to outline my understanding of the situation and the process. I understand that because of Covid people may have been distracted for a while. That is understandable but I want to know where we are with regard to this Garda station. The Minister of State has just given me a list of numbers of Garda personnel. He has also said something that I have heard from previous Ministers, which is that it has nothing to do with the Government anyway, but it has.

Nowhere in the Minister of State's answer is there any reference to the proposed Garda station, and that is deeply frustrating and disappointing because, genuinely, when I put down the Topical Issue question, I was just expecting to get an update. I did not expect my question to be completely ignored. Where do we go from here? Are we going to get a Garda station or not? My understanding was we were and I wanted to get an update.

I thank the Deputy. I understand his frustration. I am informed a new Garda building and refurbishment programme 2022 to 2027 is being developed by Garda Síochána estates in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, OPW, and officials from the Department of Justice. I further understand An Garda Síochána has had an exploratory discussion with Dublin City Council on the development of a new Garda station to service the greater Belmayne, Clongriffin, Coolock and Darndale areas of the north Dublin metropolitan region. I am also advised that discussions are ongoing with Dublin City Council about possibly making a site available to An Garda Síochána and the OPW for the construction of a new Garda station at Northern Cross.

I will speak to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on the Deputy's behalf and I will ask for further information. As she says in her answer, these are matters for An Garda Síochána. These are operational matters for it to determine how its budget is spent. However, the Minister has committed to ongoing engagement with the Commissioner to find what can be done, and there is a statement there that the construction of a new Garda station in that area is actively being explored. It is under discussion with both Dublin City Council and the OPW. I am also happy to talk to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, who has responsibility for the OPW, to seek an update from him on what progress is being made in that area.

Wastewater Treatment

I know the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is familiar with west Cork. I understand he has been to Castletownshend, so he will be very familiar with how picturesque it is down there. Castletownshend, to paint the picture, is a coastal village just east of Skibbereen and is one of the most picturesque locations in Ireland, I would say. It is a beautiful village with a 17th century castle and looks over a beautiful inlet, one of the most stunning inlets along the Cork coast. It also has the very famous Mary Ann's restaurant that attracts people from far and wide. Walking down the village you pass that 17th century castle on the left-hand side and come to the pier with what look like pristine waters, and then at the pier there is a big "no bathing" sign. The reason the "no bathing" sign is there is that, despite the beautiful, picturesque village I have described, what you also have there is raw sewage being pumped into water into the inlet. I went to see it last week to get another look and excrement is clearly to be seen going out into the water.

It is one of many villages around the coast that have this problem. It relies heavily on tourism, as does much of the region, and the least the people there deserve is a proper, functioning wastewater treatment plant. The first part of my question is to look for an update on the status of that project? I understand it is supposed to be forthcoming but is there funding for it? When can we expect to see work commence on a wastewater treatment plant for Castletownshend? What are the timelines?

While I am on issue of raw excrement, I have to bring up the problems being faced by the population in Shannonvale. Shannonvale is a village close to Clonakilty. Some would consider them to be the same town. Shannonvale is just outside Clonakilty. This issue has often been brought up in this Chamber. There are many young families in Shannonvale with many young children. There is a children's play area which for the past number of years has been cordoned off because raw sewage is coming up through the ground. It is clear for everyone to see. It has been acknowledged by the council and by Irish Water but we are no closer to understanding when that issue will be solved. The Topical Issue matter relates to the Castletownshend issue so I fully understand if the Minister of State does not have an answer. I have spoken to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien time and again about this. I ask the Minister of State in his communications with Irish Water to stress the importance of resolving this issue.

As a Kilkenny man, I am very fond of west Cork. It is a part of the country I am very familiar with. On the issue in Castletownshend, it is simply unacceptable that we have raw sewage discharging into watercourses. It is something this Government is determined to address. We have had a number of these issues raised consistently by Deputies. We need to make significant progress over the next number of years.

The Deputy will appreciate that, since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water service planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level, including investment in wastewater treatment plants and returning wastewater safely to the environment in an efficient and sustainable manner. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects is a matter for determination by Irish Water. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is a key statutory body for the investigation of complaints of pollution and for the enforcement, both directly and through oversight of Irish Water and local authorities, of environmental legislation in Ireland, including compliance in regard to licensed urban wastewater discharges. The EPA's recent report on urban wastewater shows that while many serious challenges remain, Irish Water is continuing to make progress and is improving performance of our wastewater systems. Irish Water has reduced the number of priority wastewater sites listed by the EPA, it has increased the number of large towns and cities that now meet the required EU standards for wastewater discharges, and it continues to reduce the number of towns and villages discharging untreated wastewater.

However, while there is still a long complex of work lying ahead for Irish Water, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, and I are eager to see faster progress on the delivery of projects wherever this is possible. As part of budget 2022 the Minister secured funding of more than €1.57 billion to support water services. This includes €1.459 billion comprising current expenditure of €629 million and capital expenditure of €830 million in respect of domestic water service provision by Irish Water. The overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies throughout Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in rivers, lakes and marine areas. This is key to addressing Ireland's shortcomings in water and wastewater infrastructure, including compliance with the urban wastewater treatment directive.

Specifically in regard to Castletownshend, I understand from Irish Water that planning permission for the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant and network infrastructure was granted in November and works will commence in 2022. While ensuring wastewater discharging into Castlehaven meets appropriate discharge standards, this new plant will also bring benefits to Castletownshend in terms of health, integrity of the environment and improved water quality for all.

In regard to the issue raised by the Deputy on Shannonvale, again, that is unacceptable. That is something I am more than happy to take up with Irish Water and the Minister, Deputy O'Brien.

I thank the Minister of State. That is a very positive development in regard to Castletownshend. Obviously we knew the planning permission has been granted, but that we can expect work to commence in 2022 will bring much solace to the people of Castletownshend, business people and residents alike.

In my remaining time I have another Irish Water related issue to raise regarding my home town of Clonakilty. I know the Minister of State is a big fan of Clonakilty and visits it regularly. Clonakilty is one of the main towns in west Cork. It has a population of about 5,000 people. It is my home town. It is earmarked for growth of about 36% as one of the key towns in County Cork. In regard to development in Clonakilty at the moment, however, Irish Water's position is that it will not allow development of more than one house in the town. It will not allow water connection for any estate of 20, 30 or even 50 houses. Therefore development cannot take place. To put that in context, the demand for and price of housing in that area, like everywhere else, is skyrocketing. Availability of premises to rent is non-existent. There is nowhere left to rent.

Our aim as a Government is to deliver 33,000 homes per annum but in a town the size of Clonakilty we are only allowing the development of one house. This flies in the face of what we are trying to achieve. I do not expect the Minister of State to be familiar with the exact details of this case. Irish Water has indicated a period of five to seven years will be needed for an interim solution. That is far too long for anybody who is looking for a house in the Clonakilty area. I ask again that the Department intervene and instruct Irish Water to find a better interim solution.

As I said, the experience across the country is that small towns that are primed for growth are being held back because of a lack of adequate infrastructure. The Minister and I are determined to work towards resolution of these issues with Irish Water. As I said, the local authorities and Irish Water need to work together to try to ensure this infrastructure is in place. We have put in place significant capital funding for Irish Water. There are other issues with Irish Water in terms of moving towards a single public utility, with local authorities and the work that has to be done with the Workplace Relations Commission. Notwithstanding that, it is critically important that we move swiftly and with determination to ensure that these towns have the capacity to be able to develop and grow their local economies and to support families who want to settle in them.

As I said, this is an issue across the country. I know that the Deputy has an interest in water quality generally and in the wetlands. From that point of view, we want to ensure the next cycle of river basin management plans are supported by adequate infrastructure to deal with wastewater discharge into water courses across the country. I will follow up on the specific issues raised in this Topical Issue matter with regard to Castletownshend. We have given good news about the delivery of that particular wastewater treatment plant, but it is critically important that we deliver the much-needed infrastructure throughout the country that is, unfortunately, stifling development in many small towns.

Departmental Reports

I want to ask specifically how the Department of Health intends to use the cost of disability report finally published last week. This report was published by the Department of Social Protection. Based on the very modest and incremental increases of just €5 across most welfare payments for 2022, it is understandable that I and others are not holding out hope for a fully resourced cost of disability payment to appear, as if by magic, next year.

The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and the Department of Health are discharged with the lion's share of the €2.2 billion disability budget, yet most of the extra costs incurred by disabled people are essential services and supports that the HSE, technically and in policy, provides, but in reality does not. Day in and day out, I am hearing from people on the ground about their struggles, worries, stress and pressures. The report shows that having a disability can cost anywhere between €9,500 and €12,000 extra per annum. It is a little reductive to celebrate the publication of a report that is telling us what we already know and what the experts in direct lived experience have been shouting about from the rooftops for decades. This year we have had the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission report and activists and advocates sounding the alarm that disabled people are more at risk of fuel poverty, unemployment, mental illness, lack of access to adequate housing and transport and, therefore, exposure to inadequate housing and many other deprivation factors.

How will this report inform future disability services policy for 2022? Will another year pass where we feel we have to accept that many disabled people, between means testing and limited earnings, are stuck in a poverty and dependency cycle?

I welcome the publication of the Indecon report on the cost of disability, which was published last week after months of waiting. We were informed last summer that this report was completed. It is regrettable it was not presented to the Government prior to budget 2022 as it might have influenced how spending on disability would be managed in the coming year. I hope the next few months are used wisely to consider the findings in the report and how best to address them as the year progresses and that budget 2023 will reflect these findings.

The report confirms what was widely known but frequently not acknowledged, namely, that there is a significant cost of disability. The cost of disability is the extra spending a person with a disability must face in dealing with day-to-day life that able-bodied people do not have to face. It is what a family with a member who has a disability must spend to achieve the same standard living as that of a family without a member with a disability. People with disabilities have extra costs such as taxi expenses, particularly in rural areas where there are few, if any, public transport options and these are frequently not accessible where they are available, and extra fuel and energy costs, especially where the person is not mobile. They also require adaptations to properties, specialised footwear, assistive technology, additional medication and so on. Unfortunately, many of the services that should be provided in the community through the HSE or other organisations sanctioned by the HSE are non-existent and, again, families must pay privately for these supports.

The report states that the average additional cost of disability for a person with a severe disability is between €9,600 and €12,300 per annum. For those with a less severe disability, it is between €8,700 and €10,000 per annum. That is an average cost. Some people are paying less but there are many who are paying considerably more. The cost is dependent on the level of severity of the disability, but also where the person resides. There are unmet costs for many because some things are not currently affordable. How is the Government preparing to address the findings of this report?

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue today. The cost of disability can be measured by the costs faced by people with a disability in their day-to-day lives that others in society do not face, that is, the direct costs approach. It can also be measured by the amount of additional income a household containing a person with a disability would require to achieve the same standard of living as a comparable household that does not contain a person with a disability, that is, the equivalence approach.

To get a better understanding of these costs and the way they affect people differently, the Department of Social Protection commissioned Indecon International Research Economists to conduct an independent cost of disability study. As the Deputies will be aware, the report was published by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, on 7 December. There is no one single or typical cost of disability, but rather a range of costs from very low to extremely high depending on a person's individual circumstances. Indecon estimates this range, using both a cost studies method and an equivalence approach. The cost studies method is based on over 4,734 responses to a survey of people with disabilities. The equivalence approach applies econometric techniques to data from the annual survey of income and living conditions from the Central Statistics Office.

Indecon estimated that the overall average annual costs of disability in Ireland ranges from €9,482 to €11,734 per annum. The report recommends that additional costs of disability should be addressed through a multifaceted approach, involving increased cash payments, enhanced access to service provision and specific targeted grant programmes. It also recommends that disability payment levels should reflect the very different costs that arise according to the type and severity of disability. Furthermore, the concentration of any additional supports should be targeted at those most in need and facing the greatest additional costs of disability. The report also highlights that increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities should be a priority.

Without a doubt there will be important implications for public policy and service delivery for individuals living with a disability. There is no quick-fix solution here, but the Government is being proactive and will not be found wanting when it comes to actioning this report. It may take some time to address the various issues and cannot be done over the course of just one budget.

I am going to take the Deputies through the next steps of what exactly is being planned. After we do this, I am going into a meeting on the national disability inclusion strategy, NDIS, with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, and I will take the Deputies through the next steps of the pathway then.

I thank the Minister of State. I especially welcome that last bit of information she provided. The additional cost of €10,000 is, as we all know, an underestimate. This morning I sent a copy of the transcript from last week's Committee on Disability Matters and I implore the Minister of State to read it. There is a family in west County Cork who spend at least double what this report outlines trying to offer supports and therapies for their daughter, who has a rare condition. It is shameful they must do this, as I am sure the Minister of State will agree. The figure of €10,000 extra per year is concrete and significant because we know that, compared with non-disabled peers, people with disabilities have fewer economic opportunities and their community faces some of the worst representation in the workforce across the EU, at a fairly miserable 33%. The report flags additional costs experienced by people with disabilities with equipment, aids and appliances, transport, medicines and assistive services. The Minister of State has alluded to this.

My main question is how this is report going to inform future disability service policy after the Indecon specialists have reported it to the NDIS steering group. Which Department will assume responsibility for ensuring the publication of this report was not just an exercise?

We must recognise that if we are to deal with disability directly, a response by all Departments is required. One of the things that struck me from the report is that Ireland is fourth from the bottom of the list of 31 countries where the percentage of our social protection budget is the lowest when dealing with disability supports. The level of payment and allowances to disabled people must be increased if we are to end the exclusion and risk of poverty for disabled people in this country. However, as the Minister of State said, as well as increased payments, there is also a need for better services and supports. The number of disabled people out of work is one of the highest in Europe, as my colleague has just mentioned, and measures to address that are needed. We need to support people to support themselves. This means more education and training opportunities to enable people to access employment and the provision of more employment opportunities. Personalised budgets are where we are going to have to go if we are to allow people the choice of how and where they live their lives and so on. A complete change of mindset is required such that people with disabilities are not seen as people to be pitied or to be cared for. They need to be seen as people with lives to live and choices to make about how to live that life, so we need to implement the UNCRPD.

On the next step, I am happy to inform the Deputies and the House that the report has now been referred to the NDIS steering group, which I chair. This group will then consider what actions are needed. The NDIS steering group, which is meeting later this morning, will hear from the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and me as well as Indecon, which will make a presentation of its findings. When we talk about what makes up the NDIS, it is made up of disability stakeholder group, DSG, 5 but I have also invited the new members coming forward for DSG 6. They are not starting until January but I have invited them to sit in so I do not have to rerun the report again and we can hit the ground running. It also includes every other Department, and there is a junior or senior Minister. They all sit within it. There is a very good selection of people, Departments and representatives. The Independent Living Movement Ireland will be there today. There is the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies Providing Services to People with Intellectual Disability, FEDVOL, the Disability Federation of Ireland, DFI, other disabled people's organisations, DPOs, and myriad more to give a cross-section of people who are advocates and strong voices of representation there. On the other side will be the Departments that will take responsibility.

The fifth year iteration of the DSG finishes up this month and the sixth is taking its position from January. This will undoubtedly be the first piece of work the incoming group undertakes. Importantly, by utilising the NDIS steering group, I can ensure the key actors across Government and the wider public sector incorporate the findings of the cost of disability report into their work. That is what the job is. This report now becomes part of every Department to ensure they disability-proof their budgets. As part of it we will set out some of our action frameworks from all the Departments, so when we come back in March, we will have a plan and a pathway for how to action, implement and sculpt future policy.

Health Services Staff

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle as ucht an ábhair seo a roghnú. Táim ag díriú isteach inniu ar an ionad cúraim lae Naomh Proinsias sa Chaisleán Nua i nGaillimh. Tá cosúlacht ann go bhfuil droch-chinneadh déanta fáil réidh leis an gcistin lán-fheistithe agus an fhoireann atá ann ag soláthar béilí folláine ar feadh breis agus 20 bliain, ní hamháin do na daoine a fhreastalaíonn ar an ionad lae ach don ionad i bPáirc Mhuirlinne do leanaí agus ógánaigh freisin.

The Minister of State is very familiar with St Francis Nursing Home in County Galway. It is dearly loved there. It was a nursing home and is currently a day centre. It was at the top of everybody's list. I had the privilege of collecting 22,000 signatures to keep the nursing home open. We failed to keep it open but managed to keep the day centre open. On the very week it closed, there was an announcement from Government that we did not have enough public nursing homes, and we know the result of that when we look at Covid.

Today it is a day centre. The capacity is much bigger than the numbers currently attending, given Covid. I am focusing on the kitchen, the chef and the team who are there for more than 20 years supplying healthy food, not only to the people attending the day centre but equally to the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, in Merlin Park. As the Minister of State knows, CAMHS, deals with many eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and so on. Here we have a kitchen that is fantastic and a team that is superb. It appears the HSE in its wisdom, or lack thereof, has made a decision to close the kitchen and outsource the catering facilities. The staff have been informed.

It is appalling and I hope the Minister of State can do something about this for many reasons. First, it is an excellent service. It has won awards over the years. Second, as I said, it supplies meals not only to the day centre but also to CAMHS. Third, if we have learned anything from Covid and climate change, it is that we need to go back and go local and to take the power back. Here is a perfect service. If we allow this to go, it is going to happen all over the country. The kitchen is serving meals in a sustainable and healthy way. I will read from the Mental Health Commission's latest inspection report of CAMHS in relation to food. It is compliant of course, because of St Francis Nursing Home and the chef and his small team:

Residents were provided with a variety of wholesome and nutritious food in the approved centre. Food was properly prepared and comprised of servings from different food groups as per the Food Pyramid. Residents received at least two choices for meals.

It goes on to talk about water and the needs of residents being identified in the care plan. My point is the food is excellent. It has been recognised externally with awards over the years.

The decision would seem to have been made without any analysis of the risks involved or the consequences. When the letters were sent out, they had to be changed subsequently to make the decision process correct. However, I will leave that for the staff and unions. My concern relates to an excellent service.

I ask that the Minister of State looks at this. Why is the HSE doing it? It is doing so because extra clinical space or offices are needed. The centre has many possibilities. It is big enough to give extra space but not to get rid of a fully functioning, fully equipped kitchen that is providing an excellent service. In fact, if the HSE was to look at it, perhaps the services could even be extended.

I thank the Deputy for bringing this to the floor of the Dáil. I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Butler. I will read into the record her response, or some of it anyway. I happen to know St Francis Nursing Home. It is important for me to put that on record as well. I am aware of the work that goes on there.

I am further aware that when we have a service that is working and functioning, sometimes we should think twice before we try to break it.

Day centres are fundamental to the health and well-being of our older population and play a key role in enabling older people to live independently in their own communities. The reopening of these centres is a priority for the Minister of State, Deputy Butler.

The HSE has operational responsibility for planning, managing and delivering health and personal social services. The reopening of day care centres for older people has commenced following their necessary closure last year. The HSE continues to actively work on the resumption of these vital services as a priority in line with current public health guidance. At the end of October, approximately 200 centres for older people had reopened and I am pleased to say that the St. Francis day service reopened in early October. To be honest, Deputy Connolly advocated seriously for the reopening of day services as well.

The HSE has decided that the space used for catering at the St. Francis centre will be dedicated to clinical space for enhanced community care including integrated care for older persons and day care. This will support older people to have their needs met within the community, benefiting from a multidisciplinary team and working towards providing them with the right care in the right place at the right time. Recruitment is currently under way for most of the posts required.

In addition to the St. Francis centre being proposed as a clinical space for integrated care for older persons, there are a number of other primary care services also planned for the centre that will provide services to the community in line with Sláintecare and enhanced community care. The HSE has assured the Department that day services for older people will continue to run in the St. Francis centre as part of the new configuration.

The continued enhancement and improvement of our mental health and suicide prevention services remains a priority for my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, and for the Government as a whole. She was pleased to secure unprecedented funding of €1.149 billion for HSE mental health services next year. This is an increase of €47 million over 2021, and will enable the continued implementation of Sharing the Vision, our national mental health policy, including important recommendations relating to CAMHS. Next year's new development funding will provide for the recruitment of 350 new staff across mental health and will allow for new initiatives in community mental health teams, including CAMHS, CAMHS telehubs, out-of-hours supports, specialist eating disorder services and mental health services for older people.

In the remaining time, it is important to address the question Deputy Connolly asked, which is why we are closing a kitchen that is professionally run by a chef that supports the needs of older people within the community. It also provides a meals-on-wheels service. I am no different to you, Acting Chairman, in that I am from a rural constituency. We know the value of a day service which some people attend one or two days a week, but they might take home meals for another two days. Such provision of care is important. I could perhaps take up the issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, on behalf of Deputy Connolly. It may be something we need to take up at a local level with Breda Crehan-Roche to have a clear understanding of the exact decision process involved and to see if it is possible to preserve the kitchen.

I thank the Minister of State for finally addressing my question, which is about a review. I realise she is stepping in for somebody else, but services for older people and mental health overlap as well. I got a page with the reply, and other than the middle part that tells me there is a reconfiguration, I got a hymn of praise to the amount of money provided. I know the Ministers are working hard. I have said that. I am not going to waste my precious time on that, but on the very bad decision to close a wonderful kitchen, which is fully equipped and where the chef has been there for more than 20 years. There is a lovely and very competent team supplying healthy food where we have control and see what is happening. There is quality food and no worries about anything. In addition, the kitchen complies with the special needs of CAMHS in Merlin Park. What kind of idiotic management - I put it as strongly as that - makes a decision to close a fully equipped kitchen instead of analysing it to see how it could be further extended? Further on in the reply, insult is added to injury by referring to the crisis café. We have a full restaurant kitchen supplying wonderful meals and we are getting rid of it.

In reply to my question, I got a whole load of stuff that is nothing to do with it. It is Christmas time and I want to be positive. I wish everyone a happy Christmas. This is a day centre that is crucial. Food is a crucial part of psychology. It is not just about eating healthy food, but sitting down together and eating a meal. A ridiculous decision was made a few years ago on the Lá Nua centre, where the lunches were taken away. I urge the Minister of State to help if she has any influence. It is time to stop the sweet words, to show vision and leadership and to say this is nuts. It is simply not acceptable. There may be a need to reorganise and restructure but we should not get rid of a vital service. We must learn from it. The service has been complimented by the Mental Health Commission. We must look at how it operates and how we can extend it. Rather than privatising everything and going bigger, instead we should go smaller with better control and look at how we can extend the services.

When I leave here today I will set up a meeting with Breda Crehan-Roche in relation to this. I believe food is part of how people engage.

The Minister of State might include me in that meeting.

I will. When I put out my hand like that, it was to include both of us. We will have a meeting to understand exactly what is the thought process, first and foremost, but also for Deputy Connolly and I to articulate our views on this. I know from the day care centre in Portumna that the kitchen is the most important part. It is the heart and soul of a building. It is very important that a person who might not show up for one or two days is able to bring the food home. I do not know how that would work operationally if a service is outsourced because it would tailor the quantity to the people there. I will set up a meeting and I have no doubt the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, will be supportive of my doing that. If it is okay with the Deputy, I will not say any more other than we will set up a meeting on the issue.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit.

Sitting suspended at 9.57 a.m. and resumed at 10.04 a.m.