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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Jul 2022

Vol. 1025 No. 5

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Water Services

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to discuss the village of Castlemagner in north County Cork. Castlemagner is a beautiful village situated almost midway between Kanturk and Mallow. There was significant development in the village more than 15 years ago. We have been working for some time with Cork County Council. Councillor Bernard Moynihan put considerable work in with the council and Irish Water. We were delighted that Irish Water announced earlier this year that Castlemagner would be included in the small town and village scheme for the upgrade of its sewage treatment plant. Once that is in place, it will allow the village to further develop. It is in a very central location, almost at the heart of Munster. The upgraded treatment plant will allow much-needed houses to be built in the village. In the debate on the summer economic statement and in multiple debates here every week, housing is very a important issue. Housing is not just a Dublin or city issue. It is very important for rural areas. Many people have moved back to rural communities, including Castlemagner.

While Irish Water has announced that Castlemagner is on the scheme, I want to ensure it progresses in the shortest possible timeframe. I ask the Minister of State to use his good offices and those of his Department to liaise with Irish Water and Cork County Council to ensure this is expedited. The upgrade to the existing system has been taken over by Irish Water therefore allowing the village to further develop. Many people would be looking at Castlemagner as a place they would build homes. A number of homes could be built there.

It is very important that there is no delay. We want Irish Water, Cork County Council and the Department on song to ensure that this development happens. Over the years, many projects have been delayed because funding was not in place. We have got that commitment from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and Irish Water. We are very grateful for that and for the work done by the Cork County Council, the Department and Irish Water to bring it to this level. However, we cannot rest on our laurels at this stage. We are into the second half of 2022 and we want to ensure that what was announced for 2022 happens in 2022 and that plans are developed. I am aware that engineering works, etc., need to be carried out. We need the full support from all the stakeholders who have stepped up to the plate and made it a priority. We now need to ensure that it happens in the shortest possible time.

I agree with the points made about Castlemagner. They apply to all our small towns and villages.

We launched the Croí Cónaithe towns fund this morning. A lot of Government policies are converging to try to attract families back to living in small communities. It is vital that such communities can grow in a sustainable way.

I will outline the position in regard to Irish Water’s responsibility on this issue. I know Deputy Michael Moynihan raised the issue directly with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and the Minister recently had the opportunity to visit the site in question with the Deputy in May. The Minister is aware of the importance of the delivery of this upgrade and is fully committed, through the Department, to supporting Irish Water in its delivery of the project.

The Water Services Acts 2007 to 2017 set out the arrangements in place for the delivery of water and wastewater services by Irish Water, and for the scrutiny and oversight provisions that apply in respect of these arrangements. As the Deputy will understand, the provision of facilities in Castlemagner is a matter for Irish Water in the first instance. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. Irish Water takes a strategic, nationwide approach to asset planning and investment, and meeting customer requirements. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects and programmes is a matter for determination by Irish Water.

My Department has made inquiries of Irish Water on the issue mentioned by Deputy Moynihan, and I am informed as follows. In October 2021, Irish Water announced the upgrade of the Castlemagner wastewater treatment works as part of its small towns and villages growth programme. This announcement instigated a series of steps towards the development of an upgraded wastewater treatment plant to provide for residential growth in the village in accordance with the proposed Cork county development plan. The initial steps involve an assessment of needs process: the collation of this data is under way and a number of upgrade scenarios will be developed and considered, ahead of a scope of works being agreed. Once this scope of works is defined, the project will move to detailed design, undergoing statutory planning, tendering and procurement stages, as required.

Again, both the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and I recognise the importance of these upgrade works and our Department will continue to work to support Irish Water in the delivery of this project.

The Government is aware that significant and sustained investment is needed to ensure the continued operation, upgrade and repair of the country’s water and wastewater infrastructure and to support economic development in the years to come. In this regard, as part of budget 2022, my Department secured funding of more than €1.57 billion to support water services. This includes €1.459 billion in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine area. I hope this response is of use to the Deputy.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I am pleased that he and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, are committed to the funding of the wastewater treatment plants in the small towns and villages growth programme. It was on the scheme in October 2021. The Minister of State outlined what Irish Water said. The initial steps involve the assessment of needs process. The correlation of data is under way. When will the data be ready? We welcome the commitment of the Government and the Minister, who visited the site recently and gave serious commitment to it. What we are looking for here is to make sure that Castlemagner is prioritised, given all the projects that are being developed around the country. There is real scope here for houses to be built to alleviate the national crisis in housing. After today’s discussion, I seek that a clear indication would be given on the project. The initial steps involve the assessment of needs and the correlation of data. When will the data be ready and the scenarios developed and considered? There is a lot of work to be done in regard to scoping of the work that is needed and the detailed design and planning. That will all take time as going through the statutory process takes time. I ask the Minister of State to use his good offices and those of the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to make sure that there is no delay in Castlemagner and that there is a clear indication of when the project will commence. Perhaps after today's discussion, the Minister of State might seek information from Irish Water and report back to me on the exact timing of the steps that are required and their timeframe on a monthly basis to make sure that this project becomes a reality in the short term. It is hugely important that the work is developed as a matter of urgency for the community and to make sure that housing is provided for people.

I again thank the Deputy. We can work with Irish Water to get a timeline, as that would be useful for the Deputy and the community in terms of when the collation of data will be completed and the different upgrade scenarios that are to be developed. The project will then have to go into a scope of works and move into the project design and statutory planning stage. There are a number of steps involved in the process but it would be useful for both the Deputy and the community of Castlemagner to have the timeline for the steps laid out in clear terms. I will work with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, to try to achieve that and expedite this project in as quick a timeframe as possible, noting the urgency for this upgrade and that there are developments waiting to take place pending the upgrade. We will get that information for the Deputy to help try to move this project along quicker.

Disability Services

I thank the Minister of State for taking the graveyard shift. I appreciate him being here. Week after week we come into the House to raise matters. On tonight's schedule of Topical Issues, as on many occasions, we are talking about services, be it issues related to Irish Water, as Deputy Michael Moynihan has just alluded to, or in my case, the last three of my Topical Issues have in one way or another been related to the HSE. Here I am again raising the issue of respite care in Cork, specifically for students of the new special school in Carrigaline. While it might not specifically be in my constituency, given the nature of the school, children travel from far and wide to attend it. The unfortunate reality for the parents and their children is that when the school was established it was not assigned a children's disability network, CDN team, so there is no access to therapies or any services unless they are accessed privately. A knock-on impact to that is that the parents have not been able to access respite care either for many of the children for that time and I note the school was established nearly a year ago. Many of the children have different disabilities and challenging behaviours. Unfortunately, the State has completely abandoned them for the past year since the school was established. The State has a responsibility but so too does the HSE. It gets a budget of €20-odd billion every year, yet we are here every week decrying and complaining about the lack of services.

I had a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, six months ago in the Vienna Woods Hotel, Glanmire, when she listened to more than 150 families talk about the lack of services in the disability sector. One point was repeated over and over. Many people shared their own personal stories. Nobody should have to go through that in such a fashion where there was a large crowd but these people feel they have to do it because of the issues I referenced earlier. I do not see how we are in a situation here where we have got massive investment in special schools in Cork - we have a second one in the pipeline. In addition, a site is being purchased in my own town of Glanmire. There is a lot of good happening in that sector but the schools are not being accompanied by services. For a new special school not to have the services accompany it is a travesty. In the case of Carrigaline, the school was taken under the patronage of Cork Education and Training Board, ETB, which does fantastic work and is probably the most efficient board of management body in County Cork, it is a travesty not to have the services accompany the school.

Subsequent to the fact that a CDN team was not designated to the special school, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, met me and Bernard O'Regan of the HSE and a commitment was given that CDN teams would be assigned to all special schools and reinstated. I would appreciate if the Minister of State had an update on the position in that regard. I know it is not specific to the issue of respite, but I would appreciate it if the Minister of State has any information on the matter. I would like to know whether we are at the point where we are advertising those posts. A validation process was undertaken and I understand the HSE has done that work but I would appreciate if the Minister of State has any information that would shed light on the matter.

To return to the issue of respite raised in the Topical Issue matter, these are people with challenging behaviours. The parents need a break and, from what I am hearing on the ground, they are doing well if they can get access to a couple of nights of respite in a year. I would appreciate any information the Minister of State has on the matter.

I am responding to this matter on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte. The Deputy highlighted a difficult case and it is important the issue of access to therapies and respite be resolved. The Government recognises how important respite can be for relieving pressure and enhancing the quality of life of families, particularly due to the impact the absence of respite service provision can have on other services being delivered. It is committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities that will empower them to live their lives and provide greater independence in accessing the services they choose.

Regarding the specific issue of respite provision raised by the Deputy, the HSE is aware of the issues related to access for children in Carrigaline Community School. It is a new school established by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, and the Department of Education. Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare has advised it is engaging with the CDNT with respect to scoping the needs of the children enrolled in the school. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has had recent discussions with Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare regarding access to respite and therapy services for children attending the school. There is limited access to children's respite services in Cork at present due to capacity and resource issues. Traditionally, children who attended special schools under the patronage of section 38 or section 39 organisations had access to respite in those agencies. Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare is implementing a more equitable regional respite service for children in Cork with the establishment of a regional respite committee. It has advised the Department that all children attending the relevant CDNTs will be able to make an application under the new process. This is a work in progress and information with regard to how to access the service will issue to stakeholders in the coming weeks. Nevertheless, Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare has advised that respite services are limited with respect to capacity and that access will be based on the prioritised needs of the children and families.

I assure the Deputy the Government remains committed to ensuring increased capacity is built into respite services to support families, help preserve the family unit and support family stability. I do not have a response relating specifically to the posts he mentioned but I will ask the Minister of State to revert to him on the matter.

I thank the Minister of State. It was probably unfair of me to throw in the CDNT issue on top, but I thought to myself that I did not ask, I would not get so I said I would try. It is great that the HSE is aware of the issues relating to access for children. The Minister of State indicated this is a new school established by the NCSE and the Department of Education but that was the case a year ago and saying so now is kind of stating the obvious. I would love to know what the HSE is doing now. The Minister of State went on to point out that it is carrying out a scoping exercise but, again, stating as much after a year has passed is too slow. These kids have profound intellectual disabilities. Some of them are fed by tube and require round-the-clock attention, and one year on from the opening of their school, we are still scoping. Somebody needs to shout about this. It is just more ineptitude.

I understand that most of these issues relate to employment and recruitment. I was given a report last night by the Minister stating that 36% of all the posts in my community healthcare organisation, CHO, are unfilled. I asked the question, which I reiterate now, as to what we are doing about it. We have been talking since 2017 about one in three or four HSE posts not being filled, and five years on, one in three or four HSE posts remain unfilled. When the HSE talks about the lack of capacity in respite services, it is specifically down to recruitment. We are consistently told in the House, week in, week out, that money is not an issue, and I believe the Minister for Health when he says money is not an issue. If it is about recruitment, what is going to be done? Are we going to sit on our hands and hope it falls right for the HSE eventually? It has been clearly shown that will not happen. The executive has to start thinking outside the box, and whether that means relaxing visa rules and going outside the EU, or going on roadshows across the globe to find the staff we need, somebody needs to grab the bull by the horns and get on with it.

The Minister of State mentioned the regional respite committee and its establishment. It seems to be in its infancy, but I would welcome any details about it he might be able to give. He stated that due to capacity issues, children are being given respite on a prioritised-needs basis. How many children in this school does that relate to and how many respite hours have been given specifically for those children?

As the Deputy will appreciate, I do not have those figures to hand, although I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to follow up with responses to the specific questions he asked. A letter from Majella Daly, the head of the disability service in Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare, is attached to my prepared response but it does not offer much more information than I have outlined. The Deputy has raised quite a number of supplementary issues and we will revert to him with a response to them. I acknowledge there is an immediate issue in Carrigaline Community School that is causing great distress to the families affected. The HSE is committed to supporting the service users affected by this and Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare is implementing a more equitable regional respite service for children in Cork. It is recognised, as the Deputy noted, that recruitment, rather than finances, is the issue. I apologise that I cannot give a more comprehensive reply to the questions he has raised on behalf of the families he is representing, but I will ask the Minister of State to revert with specific responses.

I thank the Minister of State, and the Deputy for raising the matter. He has been persistent on the issue.

Childcare Services

I thank the Minister of State for attending and wonder whether he pulled the short straw in having to do so this evening. I recognise this issue is not his area. It relates to childcare in Wicklow. It is no secret that childcare in this country is at crisis point. The costs, which are exorbitant, are putting severe pressure on families who are just trying to keep their heads above water. Wicklow is at the forefront of that crisis, given parents there pay the highest fees for childcare outside of Dublin, at approximately €924 per month, or between 20% and 25% of their disposable income on average. That is an incredible sum for any family to find, not least for a service the Social Democrats believe should be publicly provided. I cannot quite understand why we are so far behind our European neighbours in how we deal with childcare. In raising the issue of costs, I understand the budget is approaching and hope the Government will make that serious investment we need in respect of childcare costs in order that parents will be supported.

Childcare availability and flexibility are equally important issues that need to be addressed in this context. In regard to availability, many parents in Wicklow have found that no crèche or childcare spaces are available when they have gone looking for them, whether coming off maternity leave or having found out they are pregnant, which is when many parents start searching for childcare places. It is difficult to find places for children under 12 months, in particular. Capacity in Wicklow stands at 0.6%, meaning that percentage of all places in the county is set aside for children under the age of one. That is the second lowest rate in the country, which means many parents, primarily women, have to decide between their job and staying at home because they cannot find any facilities that will take their babies. I have spoken to parents who have spent a year looking for places for their children and to a woman who had to turn down two job offers because she could not find childcare when she looked for it. Similarly, I have spoken to parents who, when they went looking in April, were told it would be next July before they would be able to get a place, which is not acceptable.

Parents need to be able to work, particularly in my constituency in Wicklow, in order that they can meet their incredibly high mortgage repayments or afford their rent. In addition, we do not want women being unable or not having a choice to continue with their careers because the service is not provided.

I also wish to raise the issue of childcare of a part-time and flexible nature. It would be really useful if flexible full- and part-time childcare were available to parents in order that they could pay for three or four days' childcare as opposed to the full five. If such childcare were available, it would facilitate with the type of remote working policies at which we are currently looking. People could also take their parental leave and make their work-life balance a bit more manageable. The three main issues I wish to raise with the Minister of State in the context of childcare are cost, availability and flexibility.

The Deputy will appreciate that this is not my specialised chosen subject. I have served on voluntary boards of community-based childcare services for many years, however, so I have a great interest in the sector. I appreciate the points the Deputy raised.

High-quality early learning and childcare that is affordable and accessible is a key Government priority. Before the onset of Covid-19, national data indicated that, on the whole, the supply of early learning and childcare places was meeting demand, notwithstanding the points raised by the Deputy, with evidence of some undersupply for the youngest children in certain areas. Capacity data gathered throughout the Covid-19 pandemic revealed lower demand for early learning and childcare places. An initial analysis of the data captured in June 2021 found significant vacancy rates across the country with the national vacancy rate averaging at 21% and a vacancy rate in Wicklow of 16%.

In April of this year, the network of county childcare committees undertook a nationwide survey of capacity in early learning and childcare services. This was followed in May by the early years sector profile survey, which is undertaken annually by Pobal on behalf of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. An initial analysis of this data shows that there is currently a vacancy rate in Wicklow of 12.5%. However, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is aware that, in some areas, capacity issues have re-emerged for some families.

A key priority for the Government is to support the early learning and care and school-age childcare sector through the provision of capital funding where it is most needed. Assisting childcare providers in extending their existing childcare services or establishing new childcare services have always been key areas of focus for the Department's capital programmes. The Department has demonstrated its commitment to increasing capacity through having secured €70 million in the revised national development plan for the early learning and childcare sector. This funding will enable significant capital investment in early learning and childcare and much of it will go to increasing capacity in the sector in order to fulfil the Government priority of ensuring availability of high-quality early learning and childcare that is affordable and accessible.

In order to assist with increased capacity, the Department secured €70 million for the sector under the national development plan for the period 2023 to 2025. The majority of this funding is earmarked for new places. This will enable significant capital investment in early learning and childcare during 2023 to 2025 across the three pillars of modernisation, new capacity and First 5 initiatives.

Parents in Wicklow who are experiencing difficulty in respect of their early learning and childcare needs should contact their local city or county childcare committee, which can provide assistance on centre-based childcare, childminders and other options. City and county childcare committees in areas with unmet demand are actively engaging with early learning and childcare services to explore the potential for services to increase capacity. Where services can increase capacity, their applications to Tusla to increase their capacity in the service area have being fast-tracked to ensure that as many places as possible are made available to families.

We are aware of media reports that suggest there has been a high level of service closures this year. Data from Tusla on the actual number of closures over the last three years does not support this claim, however. There are more than 4,500 early learning and childcare providers in the State and, as can be expected, some services close each year and new services open. In 2019 and 2020, more than 190 services closed, while 140 services closed in 2021. By Aril 2022, only 25 services had closed, which is similar to the same period in 2021. These closures were balanced by new services opening.

As I have set out, there will continue to be capacity in the sector as a whole. I will come back to the Deputy and follow-up regarding the issue relating to children under one year, which is a particular challenge in many counties, and the flexible and sessional three to four days of childcare to support remote working.

I thank the Minister of State. I understand that this is not his area. The response that the vacancy rate in Wicklow is at 16% is quite disappointing. Many parents have contacted me to say the opposite. In fact, one parent said she contacted 46 crèches and minders before she found someone. There is obviously a problem. When we talk about averages, what needs to be reflected is that Wicklow is a very diverse county with many towns and villages. Some villages have no access at all to any childcare and they will obviously not be reflected in those figures.

The other issue is that when we talk about childcare, we are looking at a wide range of ages. Although the Minister of State showed me the same statistics, Pobal also said that only 0.6% of the childcare places in Wicklow are for children who are aged under one year, which is the second lowest in the country. There is an obvious issue in Wicklow, particularly when it comes to younger children and babies. That is not reflected in that figure either. To say that we found an average vacancy rate and that everything is fine is to dismiss the problems parents are facing. It indicates that the Department is not listening to people or aware of what is happening on the ground. One could do a desktop study and come out with these averages, but that is actually not what parents are feeling or what they are finding. We are talking about women who had to give up two job offers because they could not get a crèche place. That is completely unacceptable.

I ask the Minister of State to bring that message back to the Department. It needs to look closer at the granular data in respect of the ages of children and at the different locations in Wicklow to identify where there are problems. When the it identifies a problem, the Department needs to go in and focus on it. It cannot be left to the market because the market is not delivering when it comes to childcare.

I agree with many of the points raised by the Deputy. From my experience in volunteering in the sector, there are challenges around the requirements for facilities for children aged under one year. That is perhaps something that has not been responded to by the providers. There is a significant challenge around the actual layout of physical premises in terms of sleeping areas, etc. That is, perhaps, one of the reasons.

It really falls back on the county childcare committees to work with providers in the county to look at where the deficits are. Certainly, what the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, has done over the past two years is address much of the sustainability of the sector and the capital funding to help crèche providers to really provide the full range of services possible. It is really important that the Wicklow county childcare committee works with the providers to look at that granular data the Deputy is seeking. That would get to the nub of some of the challenges.

Second, I wish to provide reassurance in respect of the budget package. This will be a cost-of-living budget, as has been widely stated. The Minister is committed to working on the core funding issue but also on the retention of staff to ensure the professional development of people working in the childcare sector can also be addressed. It is critical to ensure that we have a sustainable childcare and early learning sector that can respond to the needs in a particular country or individual community. It goes back to the county childcare committee to support that.

I will absolutely take back the points the Deputy raised. The response does not really give the Deputy the answer she is looking for, which I appreciate. Again, that issue around the flexibility of sessional provision and three to four days' remote working really is something providers should be able to supply families with.

Refugee Resettlement Programme

We have an absolute crisis with regard to how we are dealing with refugees in this country. We awoke this morning to news of the situations in Dublin Airport, Citywest and beyond.

However, those of us who have been engaged on the ground not just since the Ukrainian war but before that in terms of the situation for refugees coming to this country through the international protection accommodation services, IPAS, system have known there has been a crisis for a long time. It has never or seldom made front-page news. We now have a situation where the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has found itself totally overwhelmed. From the start we called for a cross-governmental approach and for something as basic as having individuals of expertise and experience to be in reception centres and hotels to deal with refugees, and we have generally been ignored. That is coming home to roost now and the people who are suffering are those who are coming to this country from wars in Ukraine and elsewhere and who are sleeping on the floor in Dublin Airport or in overcrowded conditions in Citywest or in a reception centre managed by a private entity.

With regard to Citywest, at present there are residents there who are beneficiaries of the EU temporary protection directive, TPD, category of refugees, mainly Ukrainian people, and there are also people there under protection in the direct provision system from IPAS. The issue is not the mix or, indeed, the two systems. The issue is that one category, those under the TPD, is being processed in 24 hours on average, while others are being processed in two weeks on average. These are all human beings, and this is absolutely indefensible. It is understandable that a lot of the media coverage is focused on Ukraine, but this has laid bare how inhumane our treatment of refugees has been for many years despite the best intentions of the Irish public and many in politics. I have huge concerns about the conditions in Citywest. The communal areas are being used as temporary shelter for people who have been displaced. Citywest is not meeting minimum standards. This is coming from public health officials who are working there. There are major issues with regard to education. It is the summer holidays now but we are only a few weeks away from schools reopening - we were discussing back-to-school matters last week in the House - and 33% of young people coming to this country under the schemes do not have a school place.

We now have details about what is going to happen in Gormanston Camp. I would like to hear a further update on that with regard to this tented village. However, we are getting a sense that the Government is downplaying this issue. This is not a temporary issue. It has been building for a number of months. The system appears to be totally overwhelmed. The community response being led by the local authorities was never fit for purpose and never met the real needs of refugees in this country.

Will people be at the airport for more than one night? What will happen to arrivals today and over the weekend? What washing and laundry facilities are available at the airport? Have people sufficient access to water and so forth with the heatwave that is coming and the rise in temperatures? What safeguarding measures are in place there? What is going to be done about the two-tier approach that is being applied to all human beings who are coming to this country as refugees?

I am replying on behalf of the Minister.

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine on 24 February and the invoking of the temporary protection directive by the European Union shortly afterwards, the Department has worked intensively as part of the cross-governmental response to the Ukraine crisis. The operational challenges brought about by responding to the conflict are significant. Our country has never experienced an influx of displaced persons like the one that we have seen over the past months. Numbers seeking international protection have also increased, adding to accommodation capacity issues. The role of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is focused on the immediate, short-term accommodation needs of those who have arrived here. To date, more than 41,000 people have arrived in Ireland and in excess of 31,000 of those have been referred to us seeking accommodation from the State. Overseeing the provision of accommodation on this scale during this timeframe for all those who require it remains immensely challenging. Due to the urgent need to source accommodation, a broad range of accommodation types have been contracted, including emergency accommodation. While this is not ideal, the priority is to place people fleeing the conflict in safe and secure accommodation.

As of 13 July, the Department has contractual arrangements in place with approximately 450 accommodation services. The Department has contracted over 25,000 beds across hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast accommodation, hostels, student accommodation, commercial self-catering accommodation and certain other repurposed settings, with additional capacity also being pursued through accommodation pledged by the general public and State-owned or private properties which may be suitable for short-term accommodation. Given the number of people arriving, which has increased in recent weeks, sourcing suitable accommodation continues to be a major challenge. In seeking to address accommodation needs, safety and security are the paramount considerations.

The Government is committed to delivering a humanitarian response to welcome people seeking protection in Ireland as part of the European Union's overall response. The scale of the response to this crisis has been unprecedented and Irish people have displayed an incredible level of generosity in their support and pledges of accommodation. The Irish Red Cross Society has put in place a national pledge mechanism for channelling the offers of accommodation which many members of the public wish to provide. Over 25,000 offers of accommodation have been pledged through the Irish Red Cross Society. Implementing partners include local authorities, the Irish Red Cross Society, the International Organisation of Migration and the Peter McVerry Trust. As of 13 July, over 2,155 people have been successfully matched to 776 pledged accommodations, with placements taking place daily in multiple locations across the country. The process of placing people in pledged accommodation takes time. It is a complex process and needs to be done correctly for the safety and security of those fleeing.

Notwithstanding those measures, over the past number of weeks there has been a very significant increase in the number of people seeking access to the international protection service and this is causing a severe shortage of available accommodation for both people arriving from Ukraine and international protection applicants. Based on those numbers and with capacity maximised, the prudent decision was taken in the interests of health and safety to temporarily close the Citywest transit hub to new arrivals. To minimise overcrowding, incoming arrivals will remain in Dublin Airport if they do not have an alternative source of accommodation until more accommodation becomes available. It should be noted that this measure is temporary in nature. Staff from the Department are on-site at both the airport and Citywest locations and the focus is very clearly on assisting those who are most vulnerable. Furthermore, the Government is working intensively to put alternative arrangements in place with immediate effect, and this will include the use of tented accommodation in Gormanston from next week, as well as other emergency solutions that are being developed. The Taoiseach and relevant Ministers are meeting today to discuss the situation and to review the current policies and processes.

While current circumstances are undoubtedly challenging, it is important to acknowledge and pay tribute to the efforts of the Irish people in the outpouring of support and response for those fleeing conflict. This extends to individuals and families, the many volunteers under the co-ordination of the local community forum, the local authorities, the Defence Forces, State agencies such as Tusla and the HSE, and Departments.

I will refer later to the Deputy's other questions.

On the tribute to the efforts of the Irish people and the outpouring of support and response, I will tell the Minister of State what happens when a volunteer group interfaces with one of the private, for-profit companies that are being brought in by IPAS to run certain reception centres and to protect the basic human rights and dignity of refugees. We have an amazing volunteer group of people in Swords who were working with a number of different reception centres and creating great links with the community of Ukrainians that have arrived. However, after a big public event to which everyone was invited at the Emmaus Centre just north of Swords, the company that runs it now, Allpro Services, has, in effect, frozen out the group of local volunteers. An atmosphere has been created in this reception centre, which was very positive at the start, whereby the advocates, the spokespeople and the Ukrainian people who were linking in with local volunteers have been ostracised, to the extent that one was removed on 16 June. I have made the Minister and the Department aware of it, and I have been in contact about it. It is the removal of Alexander Neeshkasha.

We cannot continue to rely on private facility management companies to come in and look after refugees. What happened there is that we had a positive situation where the local volunteers were able to go in, create links and bond the community early. They have now been frozen out and the advocates from the community who were working there have been splintered.

This company, Allpro Services, is operating in a manner over which none of us have any oversight. This is what will happen and it will become the norm if the State does not get a handle on it. We are not saying that it is easy, but the processes are so slack at the moment that this is what is happening. It is having a real, detrimental impact on those who are currently seeking refuge here.

I reiterate that the Government is not downplaying the issue. This is really, really serious. We understand. I spoke to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman, about it yesterday, and to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien. We are facing an increasingly challenging situation from a humanitarian perspective. The Deputy has raised the issue in Swords around local volunteers. We need a combination of voluntary supports and professional services. That has to be the case. It is important because of the sheer scale of the challenge that we are facing. I am more than happy to raise that matter with the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman. I am sure the Deputy has raised it with him himself.

Separately, on the temporary protection directive and what appears to be a two-tier system, there is no doubt the temporary protection directive was brought in as an immediate response to the Ukraine war. It is a different system than the international protection, IP, system. There is no doubt that, in terms of timeframe or processing, that was going to be the case. The Government just making every effort to address the immediate challenges around what has happened over the last number of weeks. We have reached capacity at every level. It is important that we continue to make those efforts and support the families. This will not be resolved in the short term. The numbers will still come in. We have to continue to work and adapt. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, has spoken to me about seeking all available options across the country for accommodation. We appreciate the voluntary efforts of which the Deputy speaks across communities and across the country, which have been overwhelming. I will take those points back to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman.