Adjournment Matters

Youth Cafés Provision

Anywhere we travel, we see the high esteem in which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is held. People appreciate it is a full Cabinet portfolio and they respect the fine job she is doing despite the limited resources at the disposal of the Government. It is an important area to have designated within the Cabinet.

Recently, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending a Monasterevin youth action presentation on the need for youth services and facilities in the area. It was a compelling, convincing and credible presentation from the young people in Monasterevin, south Kildare. It was all the more poignant and important to me as I grew up in Monasterevin and went to school in St. Paul's secondary school. I was a member of the first ever leaving certificate class from St. Paul's secondary school. It was convincing to see young people taking ownership of, and responsibility for, the issue and carrying the campaign directly into the public domain and to public representatives and leaders in the community. They have the assistance of the principal of the school, Mr. Brian Bergin, and Paul Marron and other people involved in the Kildare youth services such as Mr. Pat Balfe. It was definitely an organic presentation. It was in the ownership of people like Jenny Byrne, who did a fine job hosting the evening, Patricia Downey, Moses Eribo and Savannah Muller to mention but a few of the people who took part in the presentation.

It was also a sad occasion, which is why I tabled a matter on the Adjournment, because the young people said their abiding memory of growing up in the town was one of boredom. That was disturbing and it is terrible to think that an entire generation of young people will go through the same experience, seeing themselves as having nothing to do, nowhere to go and nowhere to congregate or hang out. The town has grown in population fivefold but the level of facilities and amenities is lower than when I was growing up and going to school in the town. The CYMS hall where we used to play pool, snooker and darts and hang out is boarded up, the tennis courts are overgrown and the sports hall has been demolished. This is disturbing and is a retrograde step in a town with a DEIS school. I am appealing to the Minister of State to ensure towns like Monasterevin get their fair share of resources to enhance and improve badly-needed facilities. We cannot condemn and criticise young people hanging around the streets and street corners or gravitating towards pub culture when we do not provide proper facilities for them. The town is crying out for a youth café and a place where people can have ownership of a dedicated youth space.

I know how the youth café system has been a success around the country. In Portlaoise, I see the work of people like Joe Thompson and Serena Donovan coming to fruition in the success that is the Portlaoise youth café. Young people have ownership of the space, the facility and the amenity and it is thriving and prospering. It is doing good and it is a holistic and healthy experience for young people, who look out for and assist each other in constructive ways. I am not happy that Kildare, Laois and Offaly come off poorly per capita in terms of Government investment and funding for youth services, facilities and resources. In some cases, they receive ten times less than other counties and other centres. We must address that in the next round of funding for youth services and facilities. I hope we can redress the imbalance so that towns like Monasterevin can finally have the youth services, facilities and dedicated space for young people it requires and deserves. It will be money well spent.

I am taking this Adjournment debate on behalf of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I thank the Senator for raising the issue. The youth affairs unit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs supports the delivery of a range of youth work programmes and services for all young people, including those from disadvantaged communities, by the voluntary youth sector. These schemes include: the youth service grant scheme; the special projects for youth scheme; rounds 1 and 2 of the young people's facilities and services fund; the local drug task force projects; and certain other programmes including the local youth club grant scheme, youth information centres, the European youth in action programme administered by Léargas and Gaisce, the President's award. These funding schemes support national and local youth work provision to some 400,000 young people and involve approximately 1,400 paid staff and 40,000 volunteers working in youth work services and communities throughout the country.

In 2013, €1.75 million was provided for capital projects in the provision of services for young people, made up of an allocation of €1.5 million for new youth cafés and €250,000 for the provision of play and recreation facilities. Pobal assisted the Department with the application and the evaluation process for the youth café scheme. Some 95 applications were received. To be eligible, applications were required to demonstrate that the proposed new youth café would be developed in line with my Department's "Youth cafés in Ireland: a best practice guide", that the facility would target 12 to 25 year olds and aim to meet the needs of the local youth population, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Criteria also included the extent to which the proposed new youth café would add value to existing provision for young people in a locality, the capacity of the organisers to effectively manage the project, the involvement of youth in the development of project, how the project would be sustainable and the strength of the overall proposal.

Eligible applications were then appraised on the basis of a detailed assessment of the extent to which the criteria were met. The applications were further evaluated taking account of youth population, existing youth service provision and geographic considerations. Following the completion of the assessment and evaluation process, 30 proposals for new youth café projects were approved for funding. This included funding towards the cost of setting up a new youth café facility in Kildare town. While an application was received in respect of a new facility in Monasterevin, this application was unsuccessful on this occasion as it did not achieve a sufficiently high score when assessed against the programme criteria.

Some €49.78 million is being made available to support the provision of youth services in 2014. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs, in line with Government policy, has been required to achieve significant savings on schemes and services as indicated in the comprehensive review of expenditure, CRE. The final allocations for 2014 take account of the €1 million allocated in budget 2014 to offset the impact of the CRE on youth services and other identified efficiencies. The funding allocations for 2014 will involve a reduction of 3.75 % on the allocations provided in 2013 for each of the schemes as follows: youth service grant scheme; special projects for youth; young people's facilities and services fund, rounds 1 and 2; youth information centres; and local drugs task force projects.

The youth affairs unit of the Department issued notification of funding for individual youth projects and organisations last week to the relevant grant administering agencies and national youth organisations. In order to ensure that the maximum use is made of the available resources, the Department has in previous years afforded flexibility to youth services and grant administering agencies, mainly education and training boards, to reconfigure the funding allocations made by the Department on the basis of their knowledge of the needs in their respective areas. For 2014, it is open to grant administering agencies and youth services to submit proposals for reconfiguration of the allocations to individual projects, provided the overall financial allocations for the area remain within the allocated funding for the year. This approach will help ensure that we respond to local needs and that the services being provided are relevant to the challenges young people are experiencing and target those most in need. Proposals for reconfiguration of allocations will be subject to the approval of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

The new capital funding programme for 2014 involves €750,000 for the provision of youth services to young people throughout the country. It comprises €250,000 for play and recreation initiatives and €500,000 for staff-led youth projects under the various schemes funded by the youth affairs unit of the Department. Details of the youth projects capital scheme, including the application process, are being finalised at present. Pobal will assist the Department with the application and appraisal process. Detailed information and guidelines for applying for the funding will be available in the second quarter of 2014.

It is also worth mentioning that the Government reinstated the sports capital programme last year under the guidance and direction of the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ring. Last year there was in the order of €30 million available for dispersal to sports groups across the country. This year the figure will be close to €40 million. A significant amount of the scoring attributed to applications under that programme will be directed towards facilities that serve young people, particularly disadvantaged young people in their own areas.

I am very grateful to the Minister of State for that very thorough and comprehensive response. It does set out a clear roadmap for qualification under the various headings. The Government is to be commended on ring-fencing the funding in this sector. I am a little surprised that the Monasterevin application did not meet the required standard for the appraisal criteria because I am certain that the people behind the project are excellent and the need is well defined. There is no question but that Monasterevin is crying out for these facilities and amenities. The amenities and facilities for young people are worse now than when I was growing up over 30 or 40 years ago, hard as that is to believe, given the expansion of the town.

The young people and those involved in the Monastrevin Youth Action Group in the town need to face up to the challenge of renewing their application this year, ensuring it meets the criteria and that they tick all the boxes for the appraisal and succeed in getting a dedicated space, a youth café and facility. This would provide a base from which this disadvantaged area could move forward. It would be money well spent. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. I know the Minister of State agrees with that sentiment. We must assist them in going forward so that they are not bewildered and bored in their teenage years which can only lead to other problems and social difficulties later in life.

I commend the Senator's pro-active engagement with the young people of Monasterevin and community activists who are working to provide necessary services for those young people. I wish them every success in their endeavours this year in securing what they require.

Insurance Coverage

This matter was already discussed today with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes. I submitted this matter on the Adjournment last week when I was not aware that a debate on flooding would be on the Order of Business today. I have said three or four times in the past week that the Motor Insurance Bureau Fund is available to compensate an uninsured person involved in a road traffic accident but unfortunately we do not have a similar facility for people who have insurance for a residence or commercial premises but cannot get insurance cover for flooding. We will have to deal with this problem. I have studied the UK structure which costs approximately £10.68 per insurance policy to create the fund. There are at least 1.6 million premises insured in this country which could contribute €5 each.

The money should not all come from the insurance industry but Government should work with the industry to create and build up that fund. We do not get severe weather conditions every year but if there is a gap of three years the fund would be quite substantial. We should consider this and plan for the long term. I would like the Government to engage with the insurance industry. It is engaging in respect of other matters. This is an extremely important matter. I have come across some extremely difficult cases, for example, one in which there was subsidence and the people had not renewed the insurance policy because they were away on holidays. When they came back the insurance company said it could not renew the policy and the people are left with no insurance on their house. We should consider this. The insurance industry is making good money out of building and household insurance. We should work with it to make long-term plans.

I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. I thank Senator Burke for raising the issue. I am more than familiar with the challenges he has described. My own area of south Galway was devastated by flooding in 2009 and is well on its way to being equally devastated now. I have met many families who, since 2009, have found it impossible to secure insurance for their property.

The Government is fully briefed on a daily basis on the effects of the current severe weather and only yesterday agreed to make up to €70 million available for a programme of repair and remediation works. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is the lead Department for coordination of the response. Funding for storm damage repairs has been agreed via that Department, together with the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The local authorities affected will prepare and deliver programmes and schemes in their areas.

The Office of Public Works has a major role in overseeing flood relief works and the Department of Finance has, among other things, overall responsibility for insurance policy. As part of this, the Minister for State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW, has taken the lead role in continuing discussions with the insurance industry about improving the provision of insurance cover in areas where remedial works are being carried out and the OPW has put in place a regular and structured communication process with the Irish insurance industry to ensure a regular flow of information to insurance companies assessing the risks of flooding to homes and businesses.

The Government is familiar with the question of availability of flood cover for households and commercial premises in flood prone areas and Government policy in relation to this involves prioritising spending on flood relief measures by the OPW and relevant local authorities to address those areas of greatest need including areas where industry finds it most difficult to provide cover so that flood relief programmes can have maximum impact, where economically feasible.

It is about improving channels of communication between the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the insurance industry, with the objective of ensuring that appropriate and relevant information on completed OPW flood defence schemes is provided to insurers to facilitate, to the greatest extent possible, the availability to the public of insurance against the risk of flooding. It is also about providing humanitarian assistance under a new Department of Social Protection humanitarian assistance scheme, which has been allocated up to €25 million to provide means-tested financial support to people who have suffered damage to their homes as a result of the flooding. This is a co-ordinated whole-of-Government approach led by the OPW, with relevant local authorities and other bodies, to maximise the level of resources available to address flood relief works. As a result of the cost and scale of these types of flood defence works, it is an approach which will see benefits over the medium and long term.

The House will be aware that the provision of new flood cover or the renewal of existing flood cover is a commercial matter for insurance companies, which is based on an assessment of the risks they are accepting. Flood cover claims are generally significant and in order to provide such cover, insurance companies would indicate that they must be satisfied that the potential for such floods arising is low. If, for example, an insurance company believes that flooding is likely to happen on a regular basis, such as every ten years, the company will reasonably argue that we are moving out of the realm of insurance, the purpose of which is to provide protection against the possibility of an event arising, into the area of certainty, where there is little doubt because of local geographic circumstances that flooding would happen on a regular basis. The recent discussions referred to earlier between the OPW and Insurance Ireland to agree on a sustainable system of information-sharing for completed flood alleviation schemes are nearly complete and should make more information available to the insurance companies.

I will turn to the question of setting up an insurance fund to pay for households and businesses which cannot currently get insurance for flood damage. The Minister for Finance considered this and a number of issues arise, particularly who would fund such a scheme. Unlike motor insurance, flood cover is not a compulsory insurance and there would be no basis for compelling the insurance industry to contribute to an equivalent scheme for flood cover. In these circumstances, the State may have to fund such an arrangement and it could in effect create a State indemnification scheme with major costs for the Exchequer. The House will be aware that in assessing options such as this, care needs to be taken that the proposed solution does not put in place arrangements which, over time, would weaken the provision of insurance cover by the market with possible negative long-term consequences for the economy. Any option that requires the State to make a significant contribution, given the current economic and financial position, would not be pursued without extensive examination, including cost-benefit analysis. Such a scheme would also need to be legally sound and proportionate and in line with prudential and solvency rules which govern how insurance companies should be run.

As part of the response to the recent flooding events, the Department of Finance is undertaking a review of the availability of flood insurance cover. It is also looking at developments elsewhere. When the review is complete it will be examined by the Minister who will report to his colleagues on what measures, if any, are needed to improve the availability of flood insurance cover.

I thank the Minister of State for the comprehensive reply. I am not trying to impose an obligation on the State but rather more co-operation between the insurance industry and the State, which has happened in the UK. Could we consider what happens in the UK and see if we can implement similar measures? Comprehensive cover is not provided for everybody but there are particular cases where it is clear there must be some kind of security in place.

Having seen the devastation wreaked on houses and farms in south Galway, as well as the severe difficulty which some people find in establishing an insurance policy after such flooding, it is important that the State should extend a hand of solidarity and do all in its power to ensure that some kind of insurance cover would be made available to the families and landowners. That engagement between the State and insurance companies is ongoing and as the Senator suggested, we are considering development elsewhere, such as in the UK and other jurisdictions where similar schemes have been put in place. I hope to employ every option and opportunity available to us to address the challenge in future.

Hospital Staff

I welcome the Minister to the House, as he is a frequent visitor when taking Adjournment motions relating to Waterford Regional Hospital. I have tabled this matter on the back of a parliamentary question asked by my colleague, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, a couple of weeks ago regarding staffing levels at Waterford Regional Hospital from 2007 to 2014. The HSE provided those figures in tabular form, and over the seven years, only in 2008 was there an increase in overall staff levels.

There were 1,903 people working at Waterford Regional Hospital in 2007 and there are now 1,597 people working there, which is a drop of 306 people. The Minister is aware that Waterford city, in particular, has been very badly hit by high levels of unemployment, and even this week there was the announcement of another company closing, with 27 jobs gone. The city is really in trouble because of dangerously high levels of unemployment. The State is adding to that problem, and with 300 fewer people working at the hospital, it is like losing a small or even a big factory. There is a concern about the jobs lost, although I accept that the Minister will argue that we had to make savings and cut our cloth to measure because of the economic crisis.

We can look at the overall figures, although the headings were far too vague in general for us to draw conclusions. The nursing figures jump out, as the hospital had 753 whole-time equivalent nurses in 2007 but that figure has reduced to 623, equating to a loss of 130 nurses working at Waterford Regional Hospital. From speaking with people working in the hospital, I know two surgical theatres have been closed, along with a ward and a number of beds have been lost. One of the main reasons for the closures or decreased capacity is a lack of staff and particularly nurses to take that capacity. Overcrowding in the accident and emergency ward has a knock-on effect on the ability of the hospital to carry out elective surgeries, and we have seen them cancelled far too often. I have also asked my colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, to table parliamentary questions with regard to waiting times for treatment. Some pressure points in the hospital still have not been resolved in departments like ophthalmology, orthopaedics and the ear, nose and throat specialty. I am very concerned about the overall reduction in numbers in the hospital and specifically the nursing staff.

We have to protect and defend services in our local area. I am sure when the Minister was in opposition, he did the same thing. Our instincts are to protect services as best we can in our localities for the people we represent. Figures like this are alarming and cause concern, and so is the closure of surgical theatres and wards. If we speak to people working in the hospital who tell us it is very difficult to continue providing the level of service required because of repeated cutbacks, we are also concerned about that. The hospital budget allocation for the hospital was cut again this year, as it was for all hospitals. We are eating into the bone and although we simply cannot cut any more, there will be other cuts this year because of the HSE service plan.

I will briefly move away from the numbers of people working in the Waterford hospital. A couple of weeks ago we discussed the implementation of the Higgins report, and we were promised five academic posts. We were promised that Waterford Regional Hospital would become a university hospital but when will that happen? Will there be a name change? How will that process be realised and when will the five academic consultant posts become a reality? When will a 24/7 cardiology service be delivered for the people of Waterford? I have raised this issue and will continue to do so until I get satisfactory answers. When I see cuts to services in the hospital in my locality, I will continue to raise Adjournment matters like this. It is wrong to cut hospital provisions and front-line care when there is so much waste of public money in this State in a variety of areas.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue, which is of concern to the people of Waterford. Any loss of a job is upsetting for the Government. We want to create jobs and we have been very successful in doing so in areas such as Waterford. It might not have been as quickly as people would like, but none the less, more than 70,000 jobs have been created overall in recent years. That is in comparison to a time when we were losing 1,500 jobs a week. We have had a huge turnaround in that regard.

Senator Cullinane said the State was adding to unemployment, but if we do not have an efficient public service then people will have to pay more taxes unnecessarily and that is a disincentive to people to become employed or for them to employ others. The reduction in the size of the public service has been an essential component of the approach to addressing the State's fiscal difficulties. That has been combined with a firm focus on improving public service efficiency and effectiveness. The Croke Park agreement and now the Haddington Road agreement have enabled health services to be sustained and indeed improved despite a staffing reduction of 11,000 whole-time equivalents, or 10%, since 2007.

I acknowledge the major contribution staff have made to meeting the unprecedented challenges of recent years and putting the State's finances on a sustainable footing for the future. The Haddington Road agreement provides for some five million additional working hours annually and for the appointment of 1,000 nurses and midwives as well as 1,000 intern support staff under targeted employment initiatives. These measures will enable the health service to substantially reduce levels of agency employment and overtime and continue to reduce overall numbers while maintaining services and service levels to the greatest possible extent.

While both the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements have resulted in a decrease in staff numbers, the roll-out of the Haddington Road agreement has also extended the working day by an average of two hours per staff member. That represents greater flexibility and enhances service provision. The HSE continues to support efficiencies in how services are managed and delivered.

As Senator Cullinane pointed out, the staffing level in Waterford Regional Hospital has been reduced. However, recruitment initiatives are ongoing across a number of health care grades to address staffing deficits and to reduce overtime costs and reliance on agency staff. Recruitment is in progress for nurses, NCHDs, hospital consultants and health and social care professionals, and there is an intern scheme for health support staff.

The Senator will be aware that public hospitals are being reorganised into more accountable hospital groups. Waterford Regional Hospital is now in the south/south west group along with Cork University Hospital and Cork University Maternity Hospital, Kerry General Hospital, Mercy University Hospital, South Tipperary General Hospital, South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital, Bantry General Hospital, Mallow General Hospital and the Lourdes Orthopaedic Hospital, Kilcreene. The group structure being put in place will allow for more efficient deployment of human resources, facilitating effective and flexible use of staff, thus allowing a better response to service needs. I officially met and spent time with Professor Geraldine McCarthy, the chair of the group. She is anxious to move things on, as am I. Hospital groups will be required, within one year, to develop a strategic plan which will outline their plans for future services within the group area. These strategic plans will determine the way services are provided within each group, and their successful implementation will be required before groups can advance to become hospital trusts when the necessary legislation is put in place.

Waterford Regional Hospital can now look forward to a new and expanding role within the south/south west hospital group as well as developing a new relationship with its primary academic partner, UCC. In particular, the research opportunities presenting through close collaboration with UCC will make for an attractive working environment and will assist Waterford Regional Hospital in being able to compete for and recruit the best clinical talent available. By being in such a group with an academic partner the hospital will be able to buddy up with industry in areas such as IT, medical devices and pharmaceutical companies to produce jobs through research and innovation. That is another goal of creating the hospital groups as well as improving outcomes for patients, which must be our central concern.

I very much hope that the hospital groups will work for all hospitals in the region. I look forward to working with the new CEO and chairperson of the group in the south west and the south east. I welcome the announcement of recruitment in a number of areas, including for nurses, NCHDs, hospital consultants and health and social care professionals, and intern places for health support staff. I do not expect the Minister to have the figures, but perhaps he could ask the HSE to forward details to me on the number of vacancies in each area, as that would be helpful. New or additional posts in the hospital would be most welcome.

I thank the Senator. Sometimes it is easy to look at the headline figures on how many doctors or nurses there are and how many millions or billions of euro are spent, but that is no longer our focus, nor can it be. We must change the model of care. It must now be about outcomes for patients – how many are seen, how many are treated and how quickly, and how many had to be seen a second time because they were not treated properly the first time.

I wish to put some facts on the record. Notwithstanding all the brouhaha about emergency departments in the first six weeks of this year – there is no doubt there has been pressure – the numbers are still 3% lower than this time last year. From 2011 to 2013 there was a 34% drop in the number of people in emergency departments who had to endure long waits on trolleys. Last year, 99% of people received inpatient treatment within eight months. That compares to a time before we were in government, when nobody knew how long they would have to wait. Very often it was a case of years. For the first time ever we did count the outpatient waiting list. More than 103,000 would have been waiting for longer than a year by the end of the year, but only 4,500 are still waiting. That is still 4,500 too many. It is a hardship for people to have to wait that long. We are addressing the issue as well. We are making real changes and at the same time we are continuing the reforms.

I must point out that there are more GPs now in the GMS than three years ago. There are also more consultants. Last year, notwithstanding the moratorium, we recruited more than 700 nurses. We are changing the model of care. We want to move away from a situation in which consultants are seeing patients that GPs or advanced nurse practitioners could be looking after, GPs are looking after patients that nurses could be looking after or nurses are looking after patients that health care assistants could be looking after. We are also focusing on the role of allied health care professionals, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists, who can do much work if they are allowed. The role of the community pharmacist is also being considered. All of the current models must change. The model of care must change from episodic treatment to more prevention and secondary prevention through chronic illness care and preventing people from getting the complications that result in their being in hospital, which causes them much pain and distress and costs the taxpayer so much money. I will endeavour to get the Senator the information he sought. I thank him for raising the issue. The future for Waterford Regional Hospital will be extremely bright.

Defence Forces Deployment

A number of serious issues of concern were raised with me this week by family members of soldiers working in Gormanston Army Camp in County Meath. I live very close to the camp and know many of the people who work there. Various family members are regularly in touch with me about the camp. It has been put to me that the Army bomb disposal team, which is based there for convenience and because of the facilities available there, as the camp is close to the airport and is also in a suitable location in terms of the Border region, will be removed on 28 February. I am not making a statement. The issue was raised with me this week and I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to use the Seanad to put the question. The question is whether the bomb disposal unit is moving from Gormanston on 28 February.

It has also been put to me that there are serious moves afoot to move the B Company 27th Battalion, which is the heart and soul of Gormanston, to Dundalk in the near future. No date has been given in that regard. If both of those moves were to be made there would be practically nothing left at Gormanston Camp. They are my questions. I hope the Minister will give me an answer that will allay the concerns I have raised.

There are two elements to the Senator’s question - the future position of the B Company 27th Battalion at Gormanston Camp, County Meath, and the future position of the Army explosive ordnance disposal teams, and I will respond to the questions in that order.

A major reorganisation of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, took place in 2012. This was in response to the Government decision to stabilise the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel. At this revised strength ceiling, the existing organisational structures that had been in place for a strength ceiling of 11,500 personnel were no longer viable. The purpose of the reorganisation was to ensure that within the reduced strength the operational effectiveness of the Permanent Defence Force was prioritised.

In July 2012, the Minister and I accepted the reorganisation proposals submitted to us by the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department of Defence. These proposals had due regard to Defence Forces operational requirements and outlined a PDF Army structure based on two brigades, with the brigade headquarters located in Cork and Dublin. Other key aspects of this reorganisation included the consolidation of under-strength units and the disestablishment of certain units, a reduction in the number of headquarters and a redeployment of personnel from administrative and support functions to operational units. As part of this process, the number of Army infantry battalions decreased from nine under-strength infantry battalions to seven full-strength infantry battalions.

In Dublin, two under-strength infantry battalions were consolidated into one full-strength battalion. B Company of the 5th Battalion, based in Gormanston Camp, was re-designated B Company of the 27th Battalion and remains situated in Gormanston. There are no plans to relocate this unit. The 27th Infantry Battalion has two PDF garrison posts, at Aiken Barracks in County Louth and Gormanston Camp in County Meath. The battalion also occupies two reserve posts in Navan and Cavan towns.

The Defence Forces, in their role of supporting the civil power, provide assistance to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. Such requests may entail the calling out of the Defence Forces Ordnance Corps. In support of this aid to the civil power role, the Defence Forces have a number of explosive ordnance disposal, EOD, teams located strategically throughout the State. In addition, the Defence Forces maintain the capacity to stand up additional teams if required. The deployment of EOD teams is kept under regular review by the Defence Forces. Their location is determined by operational demands, with the imperative being the ability to provide an immediate response to requests for EOD assistance from An Garda Síochána. From time to time, EOD teams can be redeployed to counter increased EOD threat activity throughout the country. Teams are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to call-outs. Gormanston Camp is used as a secondary location for an EOD response in the Leinster area. There are no plans to reduce the number of EOD teams in the Defence Forces.

As usual when one receives a response on an issue such as this, there is great detail in the response and it is difficult to absorb it all in a short period. I accept the Minister of State's statement that there are no plans to relocate B Company 27th Battalion. We have heard this before, but I have been hearing otherwise and I feel it is important to raise the issue.

The Minister of State has not said the same with regard to the bomb disposal team. In that regard, all he has said is that there are no plans to reduce the number of such teams in the Defence Forces. I believe that moving the bomb disposal team would be a retrograde step. I presume that from an operational point of view the team is located in Gormanston because it is so easy to get to the airport from there, and I believe it was moved to Gormanston originally to make it easier for it to do so in case of emergency. Gormanston is also a suitable location for dealing with the dissident threat along the Border area as it is conveniently located at a major motorway interchange.

Moving the team would also be a downgrading of the camp. The last Air Corps team was moved from Gormanston last year, an issue I raised here also. The Minister of State has not countered any of the rumours regarding the bomb disposal team moving on 28 February, although he countered the rumour regarding B Company 27th Battalion, which comprises more than 100 troops. These do fantastic work and most of them live between Balbriggan and Drogheda. They like the work they do in Gormanston and the atmosphere of the camp. Their family members tell me they are deeply concerned about proposed changes.

The Minister of State has said there is no change planned for the battalion, so we will take things as they come. I will be deeply disappointed if the bomb disposal team is moved. I have met the team in Gormanston and am highly impressed with its work. It would be a huge loss to east Meath and the area if the team was moved. It is a source of prestige in the area. Gormanston Camp is of major historical significance, both in the recent past and in our history. It has played a key role in protecting the State and the people at times of terrible strife in this country. For the mandarins and chiefs who may be listening, it would be a wrong and retrograde move for this to happen.

I would not refer to anybody in the Defence Forces as mandarins.

I was referring to the officials in the Department as well. I said "the mandarins and chiefs".

I would not refer to those in the Defence Forces or the Department as mandarins. These people do extremely good work in difficult circumstances and in the difficult financial circumstances the country has been in over the past number of years.

As I stated in my response, the deployment of any EOD team is kept under regular review by the Defence Forces and their location is determined by operational demands, with the imperative being the ability to provide an immediate response to requests for EOD assistance from An Garda Síochána. I understand Gormanston's strategic location and that it is very close to Dublin Airport and Dublin City. However, the Department must keep under review the location of EOD teams. The location of other EOD teams cannot be disclosed for operational reasons and on security grounds. I understand the personnel based in the Gormanston Camp are very important to the local area.

I assure the Senator there are no plans to move B Company 5th Battalion, now B Company 27th Battalion, which is based in Gormanston. The location of EOD teams is kept under constant review by the Department. These teams are specifically for operational and security duties. I compliment the work that is done by all of the EOD teams and members of the Defence Forces who work on the ground and protect the State and its citizens on a daily basis.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 18 February 2014.