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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 7

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Harbours and Piers

I note the presence of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fleming. I am sure he will pass my sentiments and contribution on to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, and that the Minister will be notified of what I have to say.

I raise the issue of Keelbeg pier in Union Hall. I will put the matter in context. We had very welcome news a number of weeks ago with regard to €33 million from the Brexit adjustment fund being provided to local authorities to carry out works on smaller piers and harbours in their charge. Many of us in this House have been saying for quite a while that it is incredibly important that we invest in those small piers and harbours and open up access to our coastline for activities such as inshore fishing, marine leisure, whale watching, kayaking, sailing and rowing. There is great potential in that regard so this type of funding is very welcome. Cork County Council did well in that 14 of 15 projects were awarded funding. This will allow for much-needed works at places like Courtmacsherry where there is to be dredging under a pontoon to allow it to be realigned. There are also to be works at Turk Head, Laheratanvally, Cunnamore, Glengarriff, Ardgroom and Kinsale, where an entire pontoon, known as the fisherman's pontoon, is being replaced. This is all very welcome.

Funnily enough, the one project of the 15 proposed that did not succeed was that at Keelbeg pier in Union Hall. Even more funnily, it is, in many ways, a blessing that funding was not granted for the works at this pier. I will explain why. It was Cork County Council's intention to cut off access and to use that funding to install a barrier on what we call the "old pier" in Keelbeg, the eastern pier. There is a commercial pier at Keelbeg, which is a fantastic new facility used for fishing activity by a significant fishing fleet, and there is also the old pier. Public access to the commercial pier is completely cut off. The only part of the harbour to which the public still have access is this old pier, the eastern pier. It was the intention of Cork County Council, if it had been successful in getting funding, to cut off that access. This pier is very important for some smaller inshore fishermen who use it. It is also important for some leisure activities. The rowing club uses the pier, as does the sailing club and sailing school. The school is located at a pier in Glandore but uses this pier at Keelbeg to launch its boats. This infrastructure is absolutely vital. Where Cork County Council is coming from in this regard is that the end of this pier, the outer half, is in disrepair. Some of the pier has been chipped off and it is in quite poor condition.

I ask the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, to look at any new application Cork County Council makes for funding to repair the pier and to install infrastructure such as rails, ladders and cleats for tying off boats. A foreshore licence would not be required, which I understand is a difficulty with this scheme. I ask that the Department liaise with Cork County Council and encourage an application for funding to repair that pier rather than to install a barrier to cut off much-needed access for users of the pier.

I thank Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan for raising this issue. I am representing the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue. He has asked me to respond on his behalf. I will speak directly with the Minister during the course of the day to reinforce the points the Deputy makes.

Responsibility for the development and maintenance of local authority-owned piers, harbours and slipways rests with each local authority in the first instance. Keelbeg Harbour is owned by Cork County Council. I am also mindful that the primary governance role for local authorities rests with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and that any issues concerning the administration or functions of local authorities should be addressed to him.

There are two Ministers involved in this because the local authority is the owner of the project.

I am aware there are concerns from harbour users concerning the future of Keelbeg Harbour. Earlier this year, the Minister announced the Brexit adjustment local authority marine infrastructure, BALAMI, scheme 2022-23. This scheme was designed having regard to the recommendations of the seafood sector task force tasked with assessing how we could help the seafood sector adjust to the impact of Brexit. The report of the seafood task force proposed an €80 million, five-year initiative for the development of publicly-owned marine infrastructure, of which the earlier years would focus on small-scale, shovel-ready local authority projects to be funded under the Brexit adjustment reserve. The resulting infrastructure development is intended to provide a longer term platform for the development of new and diversified economic activity in these coastal communities. An integrated application at a local level was envisaged by the task force to help the seafood sector pivot towards locally-led development and marine tourism initiatives.

At the Irish Skipper Expo 2022, held in March, the Minister announced the Brexit blue economy enterprise development scheme which has a €25 million budget for the years 2022 and 2023. The scheme is also funded under the EU Brexit adjustment reserve and is in keeping with the task force’s recommendations. I hope the Deputy and the House will appreciate the Minister is fully committed to seeing through the task force report insofar as he can. Our seafood sector in Cork and elsewhere needs this to be delivered.

On 25 April, the Minister announced the allocation of almost €32 million in funding to 110 projects under the BALAMI scheme, including €4.8 million for projects under Cork County Council’s remit. As the Deputy said, 14 of the 15 applications were approved as part of that €4.8 million. I understand the council had made an application for funding for certain works at Keelbeg, Union Hall, which was not approved at this time. It was not clear from the application presented that the works, which appeared to be fundamentally security control measures, met the central objectives of the scheme regarding economic diversification opportunities. If the council wishes to revisit this matter, it may do so as not all the funding for the scheme has been allocated at this time and there will be a further call for projects.

The Minister would very much would like to see each of the 110 projects approved thus far under the scheme delivered quickly so the construction stimulus the seafood sector task force identified can be felt on the ground as soon as possible. That said, I appreciate there is a need for constructive engagement with harbour users where potential change and disruption are concerned. I stress that in administering this funding scheme the Department does not and cannot get involved in the operational matters of a local authority. This includes the scope, design and prioritisation of projects.

Safety of all marine users is of paramount importance and I am conscious improvements in safety can affect the existing use or layout of public facilities. I am advised it has been reported that the council has safety concerns about the old pier at Keelbeg and plans to restrict access, a matter to which the Deputy referred.

I thank the Minister of State. The first 30 seconds of the last minute of his contribution were very encouraging, in that he said the tenure and focus of the funding was for diversification of use of the pier. What is more encouraging is the reason the application was not successful is it was for security works, as the Minister of State said. That tells me that if Cork County Council reapplies, it must do so for something entirely different, not just barriers but actual repair works.

I am aware there will be further calls for funding in June and later in the year, which is very encouraging. However, I wish to point out a trend here. I am not sure it is true of all local authorities but certainly with Cork County Council there is a trend towards limiting access to piers and harbours. We spoke about Keelbeg pier in Union Hall where it proposed to install a barrier. There are similar plans for Glandore, which lies over a kilometre across the water from Union Hall. There would not be a barrier but the plans are very much about restricting access to this wonderful facility. The Glandore facility has a yacht club and rowing club, is used by kayakers and has various other uses. Again, however, the county council is taking this risk-averse approach rather than doing what it should do, namely, opening up access to piers and harbours and encouraging people to come down and use the water. It should be putting facilities in place so people can do that. The trend, however, is to move in the opposite direction and cut off access, which is worrying.

To make a final point on the Brexit adjustment funding for local authorities, there must be flexibility as regards the scope of that. The scope specifies shovel-ready projects. There are many projects on the coast of County Cork that may require foreshore licences, for example, at Garinish Island and Bere Island. These projects should be considered, at least as regards applications for foreshore licences, and the scope should not be as tight as it currently is.

I thank the Deputy for that further information. I hope Cork County Council will take the opportunity to engage with local stakeholders in an appropriate way regarding proposed works or changes to the use of marine public infrastructure.

Returning to the scheme, I spoke about the seafood sector task force. This is a special once-off emergency instrument under the Brexit adjustment scheme. The purpose of the scheme is to provide support to counter the adverse economic, social, territorial and, where appropriate, environmental consequences of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. Ireland is the biggest beneficiary of this fund. The BALAMI scheme is designed to support job creation and protection by distributing these funds to enhance, upgrade, modernise and develop Ireland's publicly-owned coastal and marine infrastructure and thereby support downstream opportunities. As was mentioned, 14 projects have already been approved. There is still funding available. Cork County Council will have to engage with local communities and the Department in any new application. I detect from reading this note that the issue must be with recreational activities, which the Deputy mentioned, including the various clubs involved in marine sports, sailing and whale-watching activities. All of those are important but the funding must be linked to the Brexit issue. That is the point. The scheme is funded from the Brexit fund.

The Deputy mentioned Glandore pier. I have been following social media in the last day or two and have seen protests on these matters. It is important that the council consult the local community and have a Brexit-impact aspect to the application before resubmitting it to the Department. There is still funding available.

Traffic Management

Drimoleague is a vibrant village in west Cork with a very active community. However, the speed and scale of traffic going through the village is a major safety concern. Its location on one of the main roads in west Cork means it has considerable through traffic. Residents are especially concerned about the safety of children, older residents and people with disabilities, as well as the overall quality of life. Unfortunately, this issue is found in villages across Cork South-West, from Belgooly to Kealkill. I have raised the matter with the Minister for Transport before. There is a pressing need for measures to change driver behaviour in villages and towns.

I am raising Drimoleague specifically because local campaigners are highlighting the need for immediate interventions to prevent injury or death. They are taking a proactive approach with the development of well-researched plans for improving the safety and appearance of the area. Their report has identified issues around speeding, poor footpath quality, lack of accessibility features and inadequate road conditions. A survey of 50 households in and around the village revealed the scale of the issues involved. Almost three quarters of people were aware of incidents involving vulnerable people that resulted in an injury or potential injury as a result of speeding traffic or poor conditions on the roads and footpaths.

Based on this work and thorough discussion, these campaigners are proposing traffic calming measures in line with the Department of Transport's traffic management guidelines to prevent injuries or worse. The plan includes additional zebra crossings, especially for schoolchildren, an enforced 30 km/h speed limit, a roundabout at a dangerous junction and a complete overhaul of the road markings, which are essentially non-existent in most of the village. It is a very strong and clear proposal that highlights the immediate needs and passion of the community.

It is a pity the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is not here as I would like to have given him a copy of it, although it should not be necessary. There is a strong desire in the community to work with the council and the Department to resolve these issues.

This group has also placed a strong emphasis on accessibility. Its survey identified a portion of the local population with a disability or access needs, including older people, wheelchair users and people with visual impairments. Poor quality footpaths and road surfaces impact on their capacity to leave the house, socialise and participate in the community. Better quality infrastructure will help improve active transport measures. For example, the school is on one side of the village but most of the newer housing is on the other side of it. Students want to be able to walk to school but they need safe infrastructure to be able to do that.

Last year, as part of a consultation I did with primary schools in my area for the county development plan, the main priority identified by the young people was the capacity to travel safely to school, either walking or cycling. More broadly, these safety concerns and poor infrastructure are impacting on quality of life in the village. When it affects children being allowed out or people with reduced mobility going to the post office, it starts to threaten the economic viability of local services, including the pharmacy and shops.

This is a case where a clear need has been identified by a local community and it has developed the required solutions. It has a plan and a passion to improve Drimoleague. It is also eager to work with Cork County Council and the Department to implement this plan. What assurances can the Minister of State give the people of Drimoleague that the Department of Transport will work with them and the council on these issues? What will the Department do to ensure it is fulfilling its obligations? The approach whereby communities have to go above and beyond to get the bare minimum has to stop.

I thank Deputy Cairns for the opportunity to address this matter in the House. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, who is also in the Department of Transport.

It is important to note the Government is funding active travel at an unprecedented scale. It has allocated €460 million per annum to support infrastructure that makes walking and cycling safer and more attractive for journeys to work and school and for all types of journeys all over the country. Much of this work will lead, as a by-product, to the calming of motorised traffic. Narrowing roads, installing cycle tracks, whether fully or partially segregated, contra-flow cycling routes and one-way systems for vehicular traffic can all play a part in slowing down traffic, thus making it safer for those walking, wheeling and cycling in our cities, towns and villages. As part of that funding, we are also specifically supporting the safe routes to schools programme, which was opened to all schools to apply to for funding. Unfortunately, it seems no application was made by the school in Drimoleague for this funding support. There is a special scheme for schools regarding safe routes to schools and it appears the school did not submit an application to the Department under that scheme.

Funding is generally not the issue it was in previous years given the level of funding we are making available. Through the National Transport Authority, funding of more than €20 million was allocated to Cork County Council earlier this year. This shows the commitment of the Government to supporting active travel in County Cork. I understand from the National Transport Authority that an application was made by Cork County Council to support works in Drimoleague but given the sheer volume of applications for funding made by Cork County Council, it was determined the work would be progressed in the future rather than in the first phase of projects in this calendar year. An exceptionally high number of applications were received from Cork and these need to be assessed with a view to having a clear line of projects in place for the coming year. I further understand a number of projects completed in Drimoleague in recent times were funded through various schemes, including CLÁR and the National Transport Authority.

Active travel funding is not the only funding available to address the issues identified in Drimoleague. There is also the safety improvement scheme. It must be remembered the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads are the statutory responsibility of each local authority in accordance with the provisions of the Roads Act 1993. Works on these roads are funded from local authorities' own resources supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded are also a matter for the local authority.

Local authorities can apply under the Department's regional and local road grant programme for funding for safety works. Applications for funding of lower cost improvement works under the Department's safety improvement scheme are invited in order of priority on an annual basis for consideration for funding in the subsequent year. In submitting projects for consideration, local authorities are required to set out the collision history of the works site and outline how the proposed project would reduce accidents or address a hazard. Individual projects costing in excess of €200,000 are outside the scope of this scheme and fall to be considered under the specific improvement grant scheme. To date, I understand no application under the safety improvement grant scheme has been received from Cork County Council for works in Drimoleague.

Essentially, I have announced four or five, or perhaps five or six, different streams of funding available across Departments. Under some of those headings, applications have not been submitted to date. There is an opportunity, especially for the school, to submit an application to the local authority, but no application has been received by the Department at this stage.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I am raising this matter because of the urgency involved. As I said, dedicated locals in Drimoleague have highlighted the issues and now the council and the Department of Transport need to act to prevent injuries or fatalities and improve the quality of life in the village.

I thank the Minister of State for recommending the safety improvement scheme. I know Cork County Council has applied for other funding streams but we will ask the school to submit an application under that scheme. However, the larger problem is the manner in which important safety issues like this are resolved. Communities are directed towards particular schemes all the time rather than being assured of very basic infrastructure. Good quality footpaths and roads should be the minimum communities can expect. Residents and businesses pay their taxes, including property tax, specifically for these services. Too often, communities essentially need to compete for funding and apply to all these different schemes. The Minister of State mentioned six such schemes. When funding is awarded under a scheme every Deputy and Senator tries to claim credit for securing it.

Last year, I raised the issue of vehicles speeding through Kealkill village, which has no road markings or crossings for schoolchildren. It is only thanks to a particular scheme that those problems will now be addressed. Relying on communities to lobby for funding from these schemes is not a sustainable way to ensure road safety or equal opportunities for villages to access funding. These are bare minimum and basic safety measures.

The role of the Department of Transport is key here, as it sets the standards. There must also be more effective enforcement processes. Ultimately, people pay their property tax and expect the bare minimum. The Minister of State referred to funding that Drimoleague has secured. That was for a tiny extension of a footpath, which is not something we should have great fanfare about. The community deserves so much more than that, as do all communities.

I thank the Deputy for her contribution to this discussion. Safety is at the heart of what we seek to achieve with our investment in transport. It behoves all road users to concentrate, consider all other road users, slow down and be observant. In the wider context of road safety, this is set out in the Government’s fifth road safety strategy, the implementation of which the Road Safety Authority has overall responsibility. On 15 December 2021, the Government and the Road Safety Authority launched Ireland’s road safety strategy for 2021 to 2030, along with the associated action plan for the first phase running from 2021 to 2024. The programme for Government makes a commitment to introduce an ambitious road safety strategy targeting the vision zero principle. We will introduce a road safety strategy focused on reducing death and injuries of vulnerable road users, pedestrians and cyclists.

The conversation I have had with the Deputy this morning was instructive. Most counties have found there is such a variety of schemes in place that dealing with them is a full-time job for a number of people in local authorities. We are only speaking about roads, for which there are six schemes. That same can apply to housing and playgrounds. I often think there needs to be more joining-up with respect to these schemes. A council could apply for funding under four schemes but there may be another scheme under which it did not submit an application. I would ask the local authorities to make sure any time anything is put in under any particular aspect that those concerned are made aware of the full range of schemes that could contribute to what is required and to submit applications under all of them. As we will all be aware, some schemes are allocated good funding while with respect to other schemes funding is not applied for under them. Due to the number of schemes in place, there is a need for good co-ordination in applying for funds under these schemes.

Road Projects

I am grateful this Topical Issue matter was selected. I thank the Minister of State for being present to take it.

The matter relates to local improvement scheme, LIS, roads around the country. We know there are thousands of them all over Ireland that are awaiting funding. These are non-council roads and laneways that require improvement works. There are hundreds of them in my constituency in County Kerry. The Minister of State will be familiar with hundreds more in the Laois-Offaly constituency. They are all over the country. These are roads that communities cannot improve themselves because of the cost. The contribution from the State, through the LIS, via the local authorities, is very important in meeting the contribution of local residents to get the roads done. When the last 1 km or 2 km up to a house is almost impassable, it makes a significant difference to the quality of life of residents when it is surfaced to a proper standard. It is not just for people who drive but also for people who cycle, walk, use wheelchairs, push prams and buggies and in all sorts of different circumstances. Sometimes that is forgotten, as we often just think about roads in the context of motorised vehicles when they are about much more than that.

I welcome the progress in recent years, in particular since 2016, when the process was kick-started by my colleague, the then Minister, Deputy Ring. At the time, the existing list was eaten into and serious progress was made to clear it. Local authorities made a new call a couple of years ago and there is a significant list again for which more funding is needed. Last year, €10.5 million was provided initially by the State for local improvement schemes throughout the country. The money was distributed to local authorities. My understanding is the allocation was based on the area of the counties applying. A further €10.5 million was subsequently provided, bringing the total to €21 million, as a result of the reprofiling of capital within the Department of Rural and Community Development. The funding was again distributed to local authorities based on their request for funding. A certain percentage of the funding was provided. However, it is only a drop in the ocean in terms of the number of roads that can be addressed compared with the number that are awaiting funding.

My understanding is the budget is €11 million this year, which is an increase on the €10.5 million that was allocated last year, but it will only go so far. My county got just under €700,000, which is very welcome, but it only covers a very small percentage of the roads awaiting funding. I ask that we examine whether further capital funding in the Department of Rural and Community Development can be reprofiled and provided for local improvement scheme roads. When funding is provided, we know it is used by the local authorities. Very often, these roads lead to important amenities in communities such as lakes, mountains and trails, which are vital in terms of well-being and people being able to enjoy the outdoor amenities in communities. It is not simply the case that they go to people's homes. I ask that more funding would be provided, at least a further €11 million and, if possible, a lot more.

We used to have the bóithre áise scheme in the Gaeltacht areas. Now, more than ever, the funding for local improvement schemes is important to try to address the deficiencies in non-council roads in those Gaeltacht areas also.

I thank Deputy Griffin for raising the matter. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, has asked me to respond on her behalf.

The local improvement scheme is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas that are not under the normal maintenance of the local authorities. The scheme is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and is administered through the local authorities. I acknowledge the major step-up in funding when Deputy Ring was Minister in the Department, and a lot of funding was provided. Many of the long application lists in local authorities were substantially tackled as a result of the additional funding during those years. The focus of the scheme is to support the continued improvement of rural roads and laneways that are not normally maintained by local authorities but which represent a vital piece of infrastructure for rural residents.

The LIS was relaunched in its own right in 2017. Between 2017 and 2021, the Department allocated €80 million to local authorities for improvement works on these roads. It is acknowledged how important the scheme is for people in rural areas and for farm families in particular. There is no other source of funding for these roads, which provide vital access to agricultural lands and rural homes. The scheme is also used to fund non-public roads leading to important community amenities such as graveyards, beaches, piers, mountain access points or other tourism and heritage sites.

The Department of Rural and Community Development provides an allocation of funding each year to the local authorities for works on these roads. The selection of roads to be funded under the scheme is then a matter for each local authority based on the priority or condition of particular roads in their county. The local authority may rely on existing lists of eligible roads or advertise for new applicant roads. The practice varies from county to county in that regard. Some local authorities have been successful in clearing the backlog and they have opened up the scheme to new applications to be considered for next year, whereas others have a long list that may have existed for a decade in some cases, and they are working down through the list. Applications are a matter for individual local authorities depending on their existing waiting lists.

Individual applicants contribute towards the cost of the road projects. As Deputy Griffin is aware, this can vary from 10% to 15% depending on how many beneficiaries are on the particular road. This contribution is currently capped at €1,200. However, the majority of beneficiary contributions were well below this figure. As part of Our Rural Future, the Government has committed to increasing the level of investment in the repair of non-public roads through the local improvement scheme.

Given the value of the scheme for people living in rural areas, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, was pleased to be in a position to increase the allocation for the scheme this year. Funding for the scheme in 2021 increased by 5% to €10.5 million and the Minister has secured a further €500,000 to bring the allocation to €11 million for 2022. I can also confirm to the Deputy that the Minister has recently written again to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, to explore whether funding can be made available from the Department of Transport to support the scheme. It is believed a cross-Government approach might reap dividends in dealing with the backlog of applications on hand, and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, together with her officials, will continue to keep all options under review. She highlighted that there is a contribution cap of €1,200, that the contribution of most people is below that figure and that the amount of contribution is quite small. We all know from our own experience that sometimes the contribution can be by way of work-in-kind in the local community, such as clearing ditches or banks or some such work. It does not always have to be cash. Local authorities have methods of dealing with the issue in terms of work in lieu of a cash contribution.

Mar a dúirt mé, bhí scéim na mbóithre áise ann roimhe do na ceantair Ghaeltachta agus bhí sé sin an-tábhachtach do mhuintir na Gaeltachta chun na bóithre sin a chothabháil. Anois tá na bóithre sin ag dul in olcas mar níl go leor airgead ann faoin LIS. Tá sé níos tábhachtaí anois níos mó airgid a thabhairt chun gach bóthar, sna Gaeltachtaí agus taobh amuigh de na Gaeltachtaí, a chothabháil agus a fheabhsú.

I wish to take up a point in the final paragraph of the response on the cross-Government approach. This is something I suggested previously. I am pleased the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has progressed it. There is an obligation on the Department of Transport to chip in. It is a large Department with a massive capital budget and there is great scope for it to make a contribution, which would be small in the overall context of the Department of Transport's budget. It would make a significant difference to the local improvement scheme. This is ultimately a transport issue. It is about people getting from A to B by whatever mode of transport they can possibly use, yet the Department is abdicating its responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the roads. The roads may not be council roads, but they are used by everybody. It is a cop-out for the Department of Transport not to contribute to them. I again call on the Department of Transport to step up to the plate and contribute to the LIS because it makes a difference to everybody. The Department of Transport cannot simply give it to the Department of Rural and Community Development and say it is not its business. That is not in any way the approach the Department of Transport should take on this issue. I call for an increased budget, extra capital from the Department of Rural and Community Development and for the Department of Transport also to give extra capital to try finally to clear the list.

I concur with the point made by the Deputy. As he said, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has been in direct contact with her ministerial colleague, Deputy Ryan, about the Department of Transport coming on board with this scheme. The Deputy specifically mentioned the Gaeltacht scheme and I know his views will be taken into account fully by the Minister. It does not affect me in County Laois and I am not personally familiar with the scheme. I presume it works along similar lines in the Gaeltacht areas. As we have said, the fact there was no specific fund for this contributed to the backlog over a number of years. In 2017, allocations were made and €80 million has been given for 3,000 roads being improved to benefit 13,000 rural landowners and residents in that period.

The issue of reprofiling unused capital funding is a very good suggestion for both Departments. All of us from rural areas know the value of this for people going to lakes, mountains or bogs or into forests, although they may not live in that area. It is important funding would be increased in that respect. When a council has done work on a road, maybe once over ten years, and comes back again, eventually people think of public roads not yet taken in charge by a local authority. Local authorities may be slow to take charge of some roads in these areas, having completed the work. It is a matter that will have to be addressed by local authorities. I will convey the Deputy's views directly to both Ministers today.

School Patronage

I very much appreciate the Minister's attendance and it demonstrates her commitment to this debate. The school development area in my constituency is known as Killester Raheny Clontarf. People familiar with north Dublin know the borders as the Malahide Road, the coast and the Oscar Traynor and Kilbarrack roads. Within the area there are approximately seven second level schools, all of which have religious ethos, four of which are all-girls schools and one of which is an all-boys school. There are two that are mixed, with one having a Church of Ireland ethos and the other having a Catholic ethos.

Parents in my constituency are saying there is not a school for them if the children want to attend an Educate Together school, for example, or if they want to choose a non-denominational or multi-denominational school for their children. They do not have one. On the border, on the Malahide Road, there are two other second level schools in Ardscoil Rís and Chanel College, Coolock, which are also all-boys schools. The Minister knows the Department has not given sanction to any new single-gender school since 1998 and it is not the Department's policy to do so. The Department has indicated to the campaign group that the group should engage with each of these schools to see if they are willing, able or at a point in their development of changing their ethos. That is unlikely to happen and it puts the onus back on volunteers to engage with schools, who have enough on their plates without having such a major conversation in the short term.

To be honest, I have had this conversation with the Minister's predecessor about another part of my constituency. The initial response from the Department was that the demographics did not justify a new school, but that is where we ended up and it is why there is a second level Educate Together school now in the northern fringe area, as sanctioned by the Department. Will the Department sanction and recognise a new second level Educate Together school in this area? The area's demographics have changed and there are a large number of new young families in the area. My office has never had the number of requests for school places at second level as it has had in recent months. It is now a major issue locally for families trying to access second level places.

Seven schools are listed in the area and many of them are difficult to get into in the first instance. One of them has a wider remit or mandate in that it is of Church of Ireland ethos and it accepts children from right across the north side of the city. Living within the catchment area does not necessarily give access to that school and it has a wider remit. We are therefore reduced to six schools, with four being all-girls schools and one being an all-boys school.

We must allow a continuum of education with a multi-denominational ethos and parents in the area are very anxious to move to a position where such a choice can be available to them. They should not be forced to send their children to a second level school under an ethos with which they are not comfortable. All these schools correctly say they do everything possible to facilitate children of all backgrounds, but what is best for the children I speak to is a new school with a multi-denominational ethos. It would afford them the choice of having a continuum of education in the manner that best fits their own belief system.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, which gives me the opportunity to set out for the House the position of second level schools in Killester, Raheny and Clontarf. To plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, the Department of Education divides the country into 314 school planning areas, as the Deputy knows, and uses a geographical information system, using data from a range of sources, including child benefit and school enrolment data, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise and where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level.

Where data indicate clearly that additional provision is required at post-primary level, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may be provided through either one, or a combination of, the following options. They are utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools, extending the capacity of a school or schools or provision of a new school or schools in the area in question. A patronage process is run after it has been decided, based on demographic analysis, that a new school is required. This patronage process is open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons. The online patronage process system, OPPS, has been developed by my Department to provide objective information to parents that will allow them to make an informed choice about their preferred model of patronage as well as language of instruction, whether Irish or English, of new schools.

Parental preferences, as well as other considerations, such as the extent of diversity of provision in an area, including Irish-medium provision, are key to the decision-making process and to whether at post-primary level a school would take the form of an Irish-medium Gaelcholáiste or whether, if English-medium, the school would include an Irish-medium unit or aonad. Most new post-primary schools must have a student enrolment capacity of between 600 and 1,000 students. A lower threshold of 400 students may apply to Gaelcholáisti, having regard to the alternative of establishing an aonad within a school.

As the Deputy states, there are currently seven post-primary schools serving the Killester Raheny Clontarf school planning area. The Department's most recent projections do not indicate significant increases in school place requirements at post-primary level in this area to the extent that a new school would be required in the short term. Nevertheless, I want to be clear in saying that my Department will continue to work to ensure there is sufficient capacity in the area to meet school place demand and will keep the requirements in the area, as with all other school planning areas, under significant review, as we do on an ongoing basis. Additionally, my Department will continue to liaise with Dublin City Council in respect of its review of the Dublin city development plan with a view to identifying any potential long-term school accommodation requirements.

I thank the Minister and I appreciate her reply. Again, every area is different. She has said there are seven post-primary schools serving the Killester Raheny Clontarf area, but as I said, four are all-girls schools and one is of a Church of Ireland ethos and has a remit wider than the immediate area for the entirety of north Dublin. It is a particular case.

I am encouraged by the Minister's suggestion of an ongoing review. With the campaign group I will look to get as much data and information as possible in engaging with the Department. As I stated, I had a discussion in the Seanad at the time with the Minister's predecessor about the necessity for a multi-denominational school around the northern fringe.

At that time, I received a similar answer to this, which was quite negative. However, the school is now up and running. I expect the same thing to happen in this instance. I suggest to the Minister that she reconsider this request in light of the changing demographic of the area, the young families that have come into it and the fact that for those not interested in a Catholic second-level education there is no option. There are seven schools listed. Six of them are Catholic schools and the remaining one is non-Catholic but it has a wider remit across the entirety of north Dublin such that a student is not entitled to enrolment in that school on the basis that he or she lives in the immediate catchment area.

I will continue to raise this with the Minister. The campaign group and I will be compiling data to engage with the Department. This is a growing area with young families whose children are going to need second level placements. A relatively new denominational primary school is moving into Killester in September and a number of Educate Together primary schools have also opened in the area in the past number of years. It is unfair to allow children to attend a multi-denominational primary school only for them to be told in sixth class that they have no opportunity to continue in multi-denominational education up to leaving certificate level, that they have to move into a denominational situation. That is unfair to those children and their families.

We are over time. I ask the Minister to conclude as briefly as possible.

I appreciate we are over time. I thank the Deputy. I would like to clarify that the demographics at post-primary level in the Raheny-Clontarf-Killester school planning area are expected to peak in 2028, with a gradual decline out to 2040. The 2020 enrolment is 3,789 across seven schools, with an expected peak in enrolment at 4,087 in 2028. It is important to note that the patronage process is run after it has been decided that a new school is warranted or required. The patronage process is open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons. Parental preferences for each patron and in regard to the language of instruction at the school from parents of children who reside in the relevant school planning area, together with the extensive diversity currently available in the area, are key to the decision-making process.

An online patronage process system has been developed by the Department to provide objective information to all parents, which allows them to make an informed choice about their preferred model of patronage for their child's education. The patronage process for new schools is overseen by an external independent advisory group, namely, the new schools establishment group.

I appreciate the points made by the Deputy in terms of those with whom he is working. As I said in my earlier response, I am happy to keep this under review. We do that constantly across all of our school planning areas. We work with the information as it comes on stream, either through the local authorities in terms of development plans or whatever the case might be. We are very proactive in this space. I am happy to confirm again that we keep everything under review.

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