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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 Jun 2022

Vol. 1024 No. 1

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Brexit Supports

I note that the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is giving the reply which will have been given to her. I do not expect the Minister of State necessarily to be in charge of this particular issue. I wanted to raise the issue of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, BAR, fund, as it relates to the fishing industry. I anticipate that the Minister of State will tell me they are working on it and that it is open to the SME sector. This fund was set up to ensure that money flows into the fishing industry to meet the effects of Brexit. This is money that could very easily go into the fishing industry to allow for supports for processing in particular in a way that ensures jobs are maintained, capital investments are made and innovations can be brought to the industry to allow it to at least survive in the teeth of the storm that is Brexit and its impacts.

I have been in contact with the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association, IFPEA. It tells me six larger companies are now excluded from the processing capital investment scheme resulting from BAR. This is completely wrong and contrary to the principles of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, where no one is left behind. The six projects earmarked by these companies would have a massive positive impact in their respective communities and would also be real drivers for change within the fishing industry, creating new employment and greater value in exports. They would sustain their companies with product diversification and high-end value added. As a member state, Ireland should be highlighting and pushing forward projects such as these as opposed to the current approach where the fund is deemed to be accessible only to SMEs.

The Minister of State may refer to the issue of state aid rules in her reply. When he visited Killybegs in September 2021, the Commissioner for fisheries said that there are no state aid rules and we have absolute flexibility to prioritise our funding. We could open that up to larger producers and bring them under the scheme as well. That flexibility is key to ensuring there is a successful scheme. The larger companies themselves can grow the number of employees they have. There is the issue of sub-supply of plant and machinery into the sector under the capital expenditure element. Contractors are ready, willing and able to provide services. They are all waiting for news of this scheme. Increasingly they are becoming frustrated by the fact that the scheme is not up and running and that the manner in which the scheme is devised excludes larger processors. I am asking the Minister of State to take that on board.

I thank the Deputy for his question. As he quite rightly said, I am responding on behalf of the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, who is unable to attend. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has responsibility for administering the European Union's Brexit Adjustment Reserve, BAR, in Ireland. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, is best placed to provide an overview of how Ireland's approach to the BAR is evolving more generally. I am, however, on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, happy to provide an update on the latest developments in BAR-related measures to support the agrifood and fisheries sectors.

A core objective of the BAR is to provide financial support to the member states and economic sectors most affected by Brexit. Both the fisheries and agrifood sectors were identified from an early stage as two of the economic sectors in Ireland most likely to face very difficult consequences. It is also worth recalling that the eligibility criteria set by the European Union to qualify expenditure under the reserves are stringent.

A key criterion is that any proposed expenditure must demonstrate a direct link to negative impacts arising from Brexit.

As regards the fisheries sector, the outcome of the EU-UK Brexit negotiations resulted in a reduction in access to fish stocks for the sector. This clearly has negative consequences for the sector that are directly associated with Brexit. In response to this outcome, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, established the seafood sector task force in March 2021 to examine in detail the impacts on the fishing sector and coastal communities and to recommend mitigation measures. Several schemes recommended by the task force have been put in place to support the sector and these schemes are likely to be supported by the Brexit adjustment reserve. The schemes include: the voluntary tie-up schemes for 2021 and 2022, worth more than €30 million; a €3.7 million inshore fisheries business model adjustment scheme; a €1 million inshore marketing scheme; a €35 million local authority marine infrastructure scheme; a €25 million blue economy enterprise development scheme; and a €45 million seafood processing capital support scheme.

In respect of the agrifood sector, to date in 2022 support measures worth more than €4 million have been implemented in the horticulture sector, including supports for the seed potato sector and a UK promotional campaign for Irish mushrooms. A further €7 million has been allocated to fund an Enterprise Ireland capital investment scheme for meat and dairy processing. This investment is being used to fund development of new products and markets.

For the agrifood sector, it is clear that the full impacts of Brexit are still developing. For example, the UK has not yet imposed full import control requirements on agrifood products arriving from the EU which, when applied, will add costs to Irish supply chains to the UK. In addition, the ongoing uncertainty associated with the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol will have negative impacts on Irish exporters to the UK in terms of their planning and investment decisions. Finally, the UK agrifood market will continue to evolve in the coming years, including as result of trade liberalisation via new UK free trade agreements with third countries, and this can only increase competition in the UK market for Irish exporters.

All these consequences of Brexit are ongoing for the Irish agrifood and fisheries sectors and will impact on their future competitiveness on the UK market. I take on board what the Deputy said in respect of six larger fishery organisations being excluded. I will certainly bring that back to the Minister.

I thank the Minister of State. When the scheme was being set up, there was an interaction with the task force and discussions on this issue. My understanding is that the recommendations of the seafood task force were to support all sectors of the industry equally because no sector of the Irish fishing industry escaped the negative impacts of the Brexit deal. Enterprise Ireland intervened at the task force to outline where flexibility existed and how state aid would permit supports to the non-SME sector, similar to what occurred during Covid. It was self evident at the task force meetings that some people within the Department had an ideological difficulty with the State supporting certain sectors of the fishing industry even though the European Commission clearly permitted it and actively encouraged it. The evidence of that is the statement of the fisheries Commissioner to which I referred. In addition, we have the remarks of Elisa Ferreira, the Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, who stated:

In moving forward, we do not want to leave anyone behind. The funding that Ireland will receive will contribute to improve living standards, support economic growth in the country and mitigate the negative impacts in local communities. Those are fishing and coastal communities.

At the end of the day, we want to see the money flowing. Money needs to start flowing into those communities and into processing, along with providing real-time supports for a sector that all present will agree has taken a hammering as a result of Brexit. We do not want to be creating bureaucratic entanglements that prevent money from flowing into the communities that so badly need it.

I again thank the Deputy. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is currently assessing whether these evolving impacts are eligible to be addressed by the BAR-funded measures that would future-proof the sector against such impacts, as the Deputy stated. It is also engaging with stakeholders and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to confirm which impacts and measures are eligible and meet the criteria for BAR funding. I again assure the House that the Government will explore all opportunities to develop measures to support the industry to adapt to the challenges Brexit continues to present for Irish food and fish producers. As I said, I will certainly raise the issue with the Minister and ask him to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services

I wish to raise the issue of paediatric patients in Cork University Hospital, CUH. An issue in respect of type 1 diabetes and the lack of provision of insulin pumps in particular is causing concern for parents. Many parents to whom I have spoken have been calling for additional staffing and resources for several years. This has been an issue for quite some time. Many of the issues relate to employment and the inability to appoint a consultant and nurses in that space. That has proven difficult in recent years. Many children whose parents I have spoken to have received initial appointments. The parents praise the CUH staff and the level of service they have received up to now but, unfortunately, after the initial consultation there is an issue in respect of insulin pumps in particular. Many parents to whom I have spoken have been waiting more than a year for those new pumps to be approved and for people to be trained in their use. The delays are occurring both in CUH and in training the parents and families.

Obviously, the great benefit of the pump therapy is that it reduces people's reliance on having to give themselves injections, as they may have to do repeatedly throughout the day. It is a much better process than the older and outdated one. I am aware of a four-year-old boy who is due to start school in September. His school and his special needs assistant, SNA, in particular have been great. They were ready to be trained to help him with his injections or to do the injections for him while he is at school but, unfortunately, at the last minute CUH withdrew the potential for training those school staff members to make sure that young child can self-medicate. Obviously, that is a specific circumstance, but it is indicative of the wider problem in respect of staffing and training.

I understand there is a severe shortage of consultants in the field. CUH currently has one whole-time equivalent and two diabetes nurses, with a further two to be hired. We are still waiting for them to start. Much of the correspondence I have received states that commencement will happen shortly but many of these families have been waiting two or three years and the commencement cannot come quickly enough. The consultant who is in place in CUH currently has between 400 and 500 patients under his care. He has issued guidance notes stating that, in theory, a consultant should only have 150 paediatric patients under his or her care. Services at CUH are under severe pressure. Several children on pump therapy are awaiting new pumps. Many of the older pumps, or the warranties thereof, have expired. There are delays in issuing new pumps and getting people the relevant training for the new pumps so that they can carry over. They have had to revert to the injection model, which is not ideal.

Looking at it from the outside in, the problems in respect of vacancies and employment in the HSE seem to be catching up with us in this field. Does the Minister of State have any update in respect of the commencement of those much-needed staff?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the paediatric diabetes clinic services at Cork University Hospital. I take on board the situation he raised in respect of a four-year-old with type 1 diabetes who is starting school for the first time and trying to cope with all the intricacies of that. As the Deputy is aware, type 1 diabetes is an intensive condition to manage.

Commencing a child on an insulin pump requires intensive education for not only the child but the entire family, as well as the school and the special needs assistant, SNA, involved. It involves close monitoring of glucose levels and insulin doses, particularly in the early stages of insulin pump use.

To support the child and the family, an intensive programme is put in place by the multidisciplinary team. This helps to optimise the child's health and prevent hospitalisation. Specialist nurse teams work closely with the family to allow for close monitoring, insulin pump dose adjustment and to ensure the child and family have guidance and support during intercurrent illness and outpatient appointments.

The HSE has advised that with respect to services in the Cork area, Cork University Hospital, CUH, is a centre for paediatric diabetes providing care for patients in the south-west region. There are currently more than 525 paediatric patients attending the diabetes service in CUH. In CUH the multidisciplinary team members have met and reviewed all patients, who will be prioritised in line with the individual patient's clinical need, based on best practice and international guidelines in the recommencement of the insulin pump service. The HSE has advised me that the new pumps are due to be available in CUH by the start of July.

A small selection of children will be started on the new pumps and it is planned to increase the numbers as more supplies become available in CUH. Children will be supported and guided in their use on a case by case basis. The HSE has assured me that engagement is ongoing with the Cork diabetes parent group, T1 Diabetes Parents' Alliance, which is being kept updated on service developments.

The HSE has confirmed that the CUH paediatric diabetic team comprises one whole-time equivalent consultant dedicated to the paediatric diabetes and endocrinology service. This is provided by two paediatric consultants with a special interest in diabetes and endocrinology at 0.5 whole-time equivalents each. There is also one full-time dietician in post and two whole-time equivalent diabetes nurse specialists in post. The HSE has further advised that additional staffing resources were secured by way of a business case submitted by CUH to the South/Southwest Hospital Group, where an advanced nurse practitioner and two additional diabetics nurse specialists were secured for the paediatric diabetes service. These posts are being progressed through recruitment with a nurse specialist panel being available to allow for the direct progression of the positions. I take on board what the Deputy has said in that it cannot happen soon enough, especially with 525 young children attending the service.

The Government, along with the Department of Health and the South/Southwest Hospital Group are fully committed to the progressive development of the paediatric diabetes clinic service within the group and to improving this service for patients of the south and south-west region.

I thank the Minister of State and appreciate her response, although it is similar to some of the responses I would have gotten over the past number of weeks. I am in a fortunate position because I have three children and I am unaware of any medical needs they might have. They are very young and I hope they will be fine when it comes to issues like type 1 diabetes, which as the Minister of State said is a severe illness that will affect people for the rest of their lives. When engaging with the HSE and health services in the country, however, these are the types of things that infuriate people. There is the language, including words like "shortly" but there are no definitive or indicative timelines. Communication is ordinarily scant, and that frustrates parents and causes most concern.

I acknowledge that CUH has recently engaged with that new parents' group, which is welcome. A number of parents I spoke to have acknowledged that. Realistically, we must get on with hiring these staff urgently. This has gone on for a number of years. I can remember watching video clips on Facebook going back to 2017 and 2018 on this matter of a lack of pumps. This is what we are talking about today and it is three or four years on from those initial protests but very little has been done.

I understand funding and the posts have been signed off. I ask the Minister of State to follow up with CUH to see what "shortly" means in this context. Is it next week, next month or in six months? Any type of an indicative timeline would be great for those people. As I said, a number of the children are starting school, which is stressful enough in itself, even without having to be tasked with self-injecting on numerous occasions throughout the day. I thank the Minister of State for her time.

The Minister of State has time for a reply.

I see the Acting Chairman is multitasking today.

I take on board everything the Deputy said. As we mentioned, diabetes is a very serious illness and commencing a child on an insulin pump requires intensive education for the child and entire family, with close monitoring of glucose levels and insulin doses required, particularly in the early stages of insulin pump use. Type 1 diabetes is an intensive condition to manage and in order to provide safe care for the entire paediatric diabetes patient cohort, the service must prioritise the essential components of diabetes care for all children under the care of the service.

It is welcome that with the diabetes service in Cork, new insulin pumps will be available at the beginning of July and plans are well advanced to train staff, patients and their families in the use of these pumps. The hospital has secured additional staffing resources that are in the process of being recruited. Unfortunately, as I know all too well in my role, sometimes recruitment of staff can take between 40 and 50 weeks. We will check it out for the Deputy and see if we can get a more indicative timeline in that regard.

I assure the Deputy the South/Southwest Hospital Group remains committed to the progressive development of paediatric diabetes services within the group and to improving the service for patients of the south and south-west region. I know how worrying it is for families and especially the young children trying to deal with this on a daily basis. We will revert to the Deputy on this.

Planning Issues

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic this morning and the Minister of State for being here to respond. I am concerned by the decision by the Minister to issue direction to Cork County Council on the matter of section 31 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. That is following the recommendations of the Office of the Planning Regulator with regard to the Cork county development plan, which was recently adopted by the authority's members. The Minister received recommendations from the Office of the Planning Regulator to exercise his functions under the provisions of section 31 of the Act to delete certain paragraphs from the plan and also to delete the amended and additional provisions for retail outlet centres under MA 1.9.20, including objective TCR 10.2 on retail outlet centres and associated matters.

This means there is a stall put on the aspirations of the planning authority, which is Cork County Council, to make provisions for the development of a retail centre near Carrigtwohill. I am sure the Minister of State is very familiar with the outlet centre in Kildare, as I am. It is extremely popular and many people go there. They may not buy a lot but they might walk around if it is a nice day. Sometimes people cannot even get parking. Many people from the south of the country, including the Minister of State's constituency and mine, travel to that outlet. We are interested in having a similar centre, although perhaps not to such a scale, in the Cork and Carrigtwohill region.

I understand a draft direction was issued and it is open to public consultation for two weeks, after which the council has four weeks to prepare a response. The Office of the Planning Regulator will then have another three weeks to advise the Minister, after which he will give a final direction. This is in spite of a number of High Court rulings that quashed similar directions made by the Minister last year. There is a history here and I do not want to get into it too much because other legal proceedings may be ongoing and initiated by the council to clarify the matters.

My concern is that if the current direction is upheld, it will, in effect and at best, stall for an indefinite period the development of an outlet centre in the east Cork area. At worst, the opportunity to construct a €100 million centre could be lost forever. My interest is in the potential to create 850 jobs and the further development of tourism and business in the area, which will see a large rise in population in the next decade. Another recommendation of the Office of the Planning Regulator, which needs to be dealt with, demands very high density of housing in the area. That could forestall any housing being built.

Coupled with the rise of the cruise liner trade to Cobh, the potential for this centre is enormous. All we have to do is look at the success of the outlet centre in Kildare and the fact it has increased more than once in size, such is the demand form the public. The people want this. Why are we in the south of the country to be denied such a similar facility, which would complement what is already on offer in the area. The Acting Chairman is also familiar with the likes of the wildlife park at Fota Island, Spike Island and Barryscourt Castle, which is to reopen shortly. There is also the beautiful town of Cobh with its magnificent cathedral, the heritage centre and botanic experience, as well as the Jameson centre in Midleton. Cork city would also benefit.

I ask the Minister to keep an open mind on the benefits of such a centre.

The Office of the Planning Regulator may not always be right. We must also take into account the views and wishes of the elected members of Cork County Council who have worked long and hard on the development plan they have adopted. They know their area very well. I understand it is not possible for the Minister to withdraw the direction once it is signed but I want to put on the record the need to tread very carefully from here on out . Does the Minister have to obey the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, without question?

We should at least let this go to planning and not stop it at this stage. Let it go into the planning process. It might end up with An Bord Pleanála but so be it. To kill the concept at this stage before it even gets a chance to get off the block is not right.

I note the Deputies representing Cork are out in force today. This is the third Topical Issue from Cork. Kudos to them.

I thank Deputy Stanton for his question on the Cork county development plan, which I am answering on behalf of the Minister of State with responsibility for planning and local government, Deputy Peter Burke, and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. The Cork County Development Plan 2022-28 was agreed by the elected members of Cork County Council on 25 April 2022. In accordance with section 31AM(6) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, the chief executive of Cork County Council issued a notice to the Office of the Planning Regulator informing the office of where the planning authority had decided not to comply with recommendations made in the relevant report of the office.

The office considered this note and issued a notice under section 31AM(8) of the Act to the responsible Minister on 20 May 2022, recommending that he exercise his function to take such steps to ensure that the plan sets out an overall strategy for proper planning and sustainable development. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, subsequently issued the note of intention to direct the chief executive of Cork County Council on 3 June 2022.

The process now entails a number of steps. A two-week public consultation began on the draft direction on 17 June, which is open for submissions up to and including 1 July. No later than four weeks after the expiry of the consultation period, the chief executive must prepare a report on the submissions received which is given to the elected members, the office and the Minister. The office must then consider the chief executive's report and submissions and shall recommend to the Minister that the direction is issued with or without minor amendments. If there are no amendments, or the amendments are only minor, the Minister may issue the direction to Cork County Council.

The direction under section 31 has immediate effect. A copy of the direction will be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and made available on the website of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Where the office is of the opinion that a material amendment to the draft direction is required, further investigation is necessary or it is necessary for another reason, the office may then appoint an inspector no later than three weeks after receipt of the chief executive's report. The inspector has three weeks from when appointed to give a report to the office.

The office makes the inspector's report available to the chief executive and regional assembly and any persons who made a submission on the draft direction. Submissions are allowed within a ten-day time period after receipt of the inspector's report. The office has three weeks or can extend that period after receipt of the inspector's report on any submissions made, as the case may be, to recommend to the Minister with responsibility for planning and local government to issue the direction, not to issue the direction or to issue a direction which has been amended by the office to take account of recommendations in the inspector's report and any submissions made.

The Minister can then decide to issue or not issue that direction. The Minister has stated he can make no further comment at this time due to the fact that this is a live statutory process. I understand where the Deputy is coming from. As he stated quite clearly, he is coming from a perspective of perhaps 850 jobs and employment in construction. Furthermore, concerning the matter of a retail outlet centre in Cork, it is the subject of ongoing legal proceedings and, consequently, the Minister cannot make any further comment at this time.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. I acknowledge that there are legal issues involved and an ongoing statutory process, which I respect and agree with. The reason I have raised this issue is because, as the Minister of State acknowledged, this is a major issue for the area and the country.

We have to see where the balance lies. The members of Cork County Council are democratically elected. The vast majority of them, having spent a long time discussing and debating the matter, recommended that zoning go ahead to allow this to happen. In my view, that is democracy in action at the lowest level and we should respect that.

From an environmental point of view, it will keep people in the south of Ireland. It is envisaged that there could be 220,000 visitors to the centre annually. It would generate more economic activity in the south of Ireland and benefit the city and surrounding towns. As I said, there are now 100 cruise liners coming into Cobh every year, a figure which will grow. Those people would make a beeline to the centre. I mentioned earlier that 850 jobs are involved, which is also important.

The whole region is going to expand. The feedback I have received from constituents is that people want this in the area. On top of that, as I said it will be good for the whole region because it will grow enormously. There are plans for thousands of houses in the Midleton-Water-rock area. Irish Water has now, thankfully, decided to put in a pipeline which will enable development to happen. However, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has decided to block the upgrade of a road for the time being. That has the danger of stymieing growth.

I have had that discussion on and off with the Minister. We hope, to pardon the pun, the roadblock will be removed shortly and we will see the badly needed housing development go ahead. The rail link is due to be electrified and there will be rail services every 15 minutes, which is fantastic. There is a lot of potential and positivity, but this development has to be part of it.

I know the Acting Chair is also interested in this discussion. It is important to note that the two-week public consultation began on the draft direction on 17 June, which is open for submissions up to and including 1 July. The process is ongoing.

I have listened carefully to the views expressed today and I thank the Deputy for his valuable contribution. I will bring it to the attention of the Minister. I trust the process I have detailed is helpful to the Deputy and all Members present in understanding the arrangements, including the consultation processes in place for the public, local authorities and State agencies to progress with the adoption of county and city development plans in accordance with national strategies and legislation.

I would also like to reiterate, as I mentioned in my opening comments, the limitations as to what can and cannot be commented on at the moment. It is important that such processes are respected and followed by all participants in the process, and I know they will. I take on board what the Deputy has outlined from an economic point of view and the spin-off that would be available if such a development was to progress.

Public Transport

We will be moving from Cork to Wicklow. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Josepha Madigan, for coming to the Chamber to take this Topical Issue. I know it is not her area and she will probably be limited in what she can say. It would have been preferable for the Minister for Transport to be here, but I understand that is sometimes not possible.

I want to raise the need for a coastal Local Link service for Wicklow. When I talk about a coastal Local Link service, what I mean is a Local Link service that connects Greystones, Kilcoole, Newcastle, beaches like Brittas Bay and Magheramore, Wicklow town and Arklow. It is a relatively short distance, but no bus service connects these towns and villages at the moment.

This is not the first time I have raised this issue. I raised the need for additional Local Link services in 2017, and the issue has been discussed for a long time. However, I do believe it is critical that we put this in place this year. I will initially call for a seasonal bus service connecting those towns, but there is potential and a need for an all-year service to connect them and provide a much-needed transport link to the DART in Greystones for people in Arklow and Wicklow town.

When I talk about a seasonal service, I am sure many Members are aware of Brittas Bay, which is one of the treasures in Wicklow. It is not just a county treasure when it comes to tourism; it is a treasure for the entire country, in particular the east coast. A lot of people make a day trip every year from Dublin to Brittas Bay and Magheramore to enjoy the fabulous beach.

Brittas Bay is a very small village. It has a couple of car parks and a few shops. Part of its charm is that it does not have a lot of infrastructure. Because of this each year we see increasing numbers of people coming to the village and leaving their cars all over the place to the point where over the past two years, there have been serious health and safety issues. I got stuck in a traffic jam there one day for 20 minutes with an ambulance stuck behind me and all of the other cars. It was trying to get to someone in need of emergency care on the beach. I understand this happened three or four times last summer and this is obviously not acceptable.

Many locals live in fear of a fine sunny day at the weekend because they cannot leave their homes. It is not safe for them to walk on the roads with the amount of car parking on the sides of the roads and the congestion that happens. To be fair, the council has done some remediation work. It has put in double yellow lines. I know some of the locals have opened up temporary car parks. This should be only part of the solution. The answer to this is a public bus service that would go from Greystones to Wicklow town and Arklow to bring people to the beach. There are private operators. I spoke to them last year when they were available to provide a seasonal service but the National Transport Authority, NTA, did not take them up on their offer. It would pay for itself. We speak about climate emergencies, health and safety and using local tourism spots but we have to provide the facilities. We have to provide the services. It is crazy in this day and age that a beach such as Brittas Bay does not have a bus service. Down the road in County Wexford, there is a seasonal Local Link bus service that connects Wexford town to Curracloe. I fail to see how such a service can be provided in Wexford but is not provided for such a popular beach in Wicklow.

I thank Deputy Whitmore for raising this important topic, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I advise that the Minister for Transport has responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport but it is the National Transport Authority that has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally, including management of the rural transport programme which operates under the Transport for Ireland, TFI, Local Link brand.

Local Link services are an integral part of the public transport offering connecting communities throughout rural Ireland. In recognition of the vital role these services play, there has been a substantial increase in funding for Local Link services over recent years, going from €12.2 million in 2016 to more than €28 million this year. The additional funding has enabled the introduction of 85 new rural regular service routes, as well as improvements to demand responsive door-to-door services and the piloting of evening or night-time services in certain rural areas, which have now been mainstreamed. The new rural regular services operate at least five times per day over a five, six or seven day per week schedule. They are specifically designed to ensure connectivity with other public transport services and better linkage of services between and within towns and villages.

In terms of Local Link services in Wicklow, the NTA has advised that there is a range of services in operation including regular rural services and demand responsive services. These allow passengers to travel from their local village or town for business, shopping, healthcare or to connect with the national bus and train network. An example of such a service is the Carlow to Arklow route 800 service, which was introduced in December 2020 and has seen considerable growth in passenger numbers since it began. Wicklow and Arklow towns are also shortly to benefit from a new Local Link route, the 183 Arklow to Sallins, which is in procurement and will commence service later this year. In addition to the range of TFl Local Link services, Wicklow is also served by a variety of other public transport offerings, including those provided by Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, commercial operators, the DART and other rail services.

I want to highlight the Minister for Transport's commitment to the roll-out of the Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan, which aims to increase connectivity, particularly for people living outside our major cities and towns. In budget 2022, the Minister for Transport secured an allocation of €5.6 million to progress, develop and begin delivery of this important plan. Through Connecting Ireland, additional and improved public transport services are being made available by installing additional stops, modifying routes and delivering more services. These services will ensure better access for all those housed in our rural communities. On the ground, the services will be mainly provided by a mixture of TFI Local Link and Bus Éireann services.

The NTA has advised the Department of Transport that it is in the procurement, planning, and design stage for up to 40 enhanced services nationwide this year. All going well, many of these services are anticipated to be operational by the end of the summer. Connecting Ireland aims to identify these gaps in the public transport network and to develop plans to address them. I understand that all settlements defined as such by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, that line the Wicklow coast along the R750 are connected by public transport. As such, there are no plans for a coastal Local Link bus service in County Wicklow as a requirement for such a service has not been identified. That being said, there are other proposed routes for Wicklow and these can be viewed on the NTA's website. I assure the Deputy that the Minister for Transport, through the provision of existing services and the roll-out of Connecting Ireland, remains committed to ensuring that those living in County Wicklow are provided with a safe, reliable and sustainable public transport network.

I thank the Minister of State. In her response the Minister of State said that all of the settlements defined as such by the CSO are connected. I presume by this she means Greystones, Arklow and the bigger towns. They are connected by a very poor rail service. There are two trains in the morning. This is not sufficient by any stretch of the imagination. Brittas Bay has no public transport available to it. During the summer in particular there is an absolute need. I ask that the Minister and perhaps the NTA visit there on a sunny day to see the demand placed on the village. There is no public transport in the area.

The Minister of State also referred to the Local Link services. I know this is not her area but if an alien were to come down to Ireland and hear all of the eco-spin that comes out of the Government it would think we have public transport sorted and that it is perfect. The Minister of State has spoken about all of the Local Link services available in Wicklow. I did a quick search. There are 30 services, of which four operate Monday to Friday and the other 26 have one bus every week. If anyone in the Government thinks one bus a week is sufficient to cover public transport needs in rural Ireland I suggest they speak to constituents throughout the country because it is not. It is not sufficient from an economic perspective, a community perspective or an environmental and emissions perspective. This mindset needs to change.

The Minister of State also referred to the Connecting Ireland plan. I have been calling for Local Link services in Wicklow since 2017. Each time I raise it I am told there is a plan coming. There is €5.6 million for Connecting Ireland for the entire country for this year when we are in the middle of a climate crisis. This is a paltry amount of money. While it is a pity the Minister for Transport is not present, he should go back to the drawing board and try to understand the transport needs of rural Ireland and invest to ensure they are met.

As the Deputy has pointed out and appreciates, I am not the line Minister for this matter. Nevertheless I have taken into account some of the Deputy's contribution, particularly that there are 30 Local Link services but in essence, they work out at one bus per week. With regard to the composition of a settlement I wonder whether it is based on population, which may not take Brittas Bay into account. I am not au fait with it but I will pass it on to the line Minister. I heard what the Deputy said about the poor rail service. The Local Link services allocation was €12.2 million in 2016. This has increased to €28 million this year. I appreciate the contribution the Deputy has made and I will pass it on to the line Minister.

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