The Minister should be well aware of the difficulties in many areas of the country where we just do not have sufficient community welfare officers. Those officers are under great stress working in difficult situations. I want to speak particularly about the community welfare officers in the Dublin 15 area — Blanchardstown, Castleknock, Clonsilla and Mulhuddart — where there are six officers. These officers are greatly under-resourced as the population of the Dublin 15 area has grown considerably in the past number of years and continues to do so. Yet the number of community welfare officers has not increased. This situation is so bad that St. Vincent de Paul has raised the matter with me and with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan.
The lack of officers in the area has resulted in the suspension of drop-in hours. Somebody who has a difficulty can no longer drop in to speak with his or her community welfare officer. People now have to leave a message on the answering machine or write to their officer. However, problems arise suddenly for people and cannot be immediately resolved by writing a letter. People want to see their community welfare officer as soon as possible and that has always been the system. Therefore, the suspension of the drop-in hours has caused great concern to many people out there. We need a big increase in the number of community welfare officers in the Dublin 15 area. We also need better working conditions for those officers. They are working out of the Roselawn health centre and another centre in Mountview. These health centres are already overcrowded, with many people coming in to visit the dentist, the doctor and so on. Therefore the provision of new accommodation and an increase in the number of community welfare officers is needed to catch up with the population growth in the area.