Commencement Matters

Closed-Circuit Television Systems

I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality to the Chamber. Tá fáilte romhat, a Aire.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus buíochas a ghabháil leis as teacht isteach.

I raise this issue of concern that came to light on Thursday, 10 May at the Fingal, Balbriggan and Swords council area meeting, which Councillor Tom O'Leary attended. A motion was discussed seeking support for a CCTV proposal for the town of Donabate, a town that does not have a Garda station. I am aware that Balbriggan would also like to install a CCTV system in certain areas of that town. The written reply to the request, which was supplied by the council officials, stated, among other things, that at the present time local authorities have been advised to defer any CCTV programmes within their administrative areas until data protection issues have been reviewed and clear guidance from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has issued. It stated also that it would be premature at this point to commence multi-agency discussions on a CCTV system in Donabate until a clear framework regarding the installation, operation and use of CCTV is available.

Apparently the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, has issued an instruction or recommendation to all local authorities that all CCTV camera proposals for crime prevention, anti-social behaviour monitoring and, indeed, illegal dumping monitoring and evidence gathering are not to proceed, pending clarification from the Data Protection Commissioner on the new general data protection regulation, GDPR, due to be introduced on 25 May 2018.

What are the implications of this and what impact will it have on the status of current community and commercial CCTV systems? Can they continue to operate and be used in crime detection and deterrence? I presume there is CCTV in the precincts of Dáil Éireann and in the grounds around this building, so what is the status of that under GDPR?

I congratulate the Minister and his Department for promoting a grants scheme for CCTV nationally. The recommendation of the LGMA seems to have stalled the roll-out of these existing schemes and is stymieing new applications. I am aware the Minister issued a press statement on 25 April on this. The grants scheme provides up to 60% of the capital costs of the closed circuit TV to a maximum of €40,000 and is much welcomed. There is a great appetite for it. There is €1 million available each year for community CCTV schemes.

The gardaí have reviewed these schemes and their effectiveness and have used them in almost every criminal investigation, during major public events and sporting occasions and in the investigation of road traffic accidents. They are clearly very valuable in bringing criminals to justice and in preventing crime.

It is absolutely unreasonable that the CCTV system should now be stalled or put at risk by the new GDPR as it is currently being interpreted by some parties. We are all aware of a famous former UK politician who was on the "The Pat Kenny Show" recently and who said she received a £30 sterling fine for driving in a bus lane and that the ticket was issued as a result of CCTV. This seems to be a very efficient way of upholding the law. It is also very important in regard to illegal dumping and I read only recently that the council in Athlone had a debate on this at which one of our Fine Gael councillors raised the matter and asked if Athlone would now be faced with a bill for €90,000 for illegal dumping?

It is very important that we get clarity from the Data Protection Commissioner as quickly as possible. The detection of criminals and persons engaged in anti-social behaviour and in illegal dumping in our lovely countryside should not be stalled by the general data protection regulation. We need to sort this out and I would very much welcome the assistance of the Minister in clarifying this matter so that communities around the country and, indeed, in Fingal can benefit from the Minister's new scheme.

I thank Senator James Reilly for raising this important issue. The Senator will be aware that A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to supporting investment in CCTV systems. In pursuance of this commitment, a new community-based CCTV grant-aid scheme was launched by my Department in April 2017 to assist groups in the setting up of community-based CCTV systems in their local areas. It is intended that the scheme will run for a period of three years with funding of €1 million being made available for each year of the three year period.

Under the scheme, which is being administered by my Department, eligible community groups can apply for grant-aid of up to 60% of the total capital cost of a proposed CCTV system, up to a maximum grant of €40,000. The statutory requirements governing the establishment of community CCTV systems generally require that the proposal must: be approved by the local joint policing committee; have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must act as data controller - this is a long-standing statutory requirement set out in the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006, for the setting up of community CCTV systems generally; and have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner in accordance with section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

I wish to emphasise that this is the legal basis for all community closed-circuit television, CCTV, schemes, regardless of whether grant funding is sought from my Department to assist in their establishment. I am not aware of a recommendation from the Local Government Management Association such as that referred to by Senator Reilly. It has confirmed it has not issued an instruction to local authorities to refrain from applying to the scheme. I note all applications approved for funding under the scheme to date have been made on foot of applications made by local authorities. Furthermore, my officials continue to receive a regular flow of inquiries from interested local authorities on this scheme.

I am aware the County and City Management Association has raised a concern about the role of the data controller regarding CCTV. However, as noted, this is a long-standing requirement set out in the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006 and applies to all community CCTV schemes, regardless of how they are funded. Furthermore, in the setting out of the grant aid scheme, the Department consulted broadly, including with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, An Garda Síochána, the Office of the Attorney General and the Local Government Management Association. However, my officials are available to provide assistance and guidance to any interested party on the scheme and I am confident the practical application of this legal framework can be clarified for the benefit of all concerned.

I take this opportunity to confirm some 11 applications have been received to date. I understand the Department has been informed a further 14 applications will be submitted before the end of this month. Four applications under the scheme have been approved to date, with funding totalling almost €120,000. A further four applications are under active consideration. The remaining three applications have been returned to the applicants concerned to enable them to provide the information necessary to qualify for the grant aid.

Schemes funded under this grant aid scheme will supplement the existing network of CCTV systems in operation in the State, namely, the 35 Garda CCTV schemes in operation throughout the State, comprising in excess of 500 cameras as well as the 45 community-based schemes established under the previous grant aid scheme, funded by my Department between 2005 and 2013, encompassing some 367 cameras, to which An Garda Síochána has access.

I confirm I am very keen to ensure all interested groups in both rural and urban areas take advantage of the availability of this grant aid scheme. Full details of the package are available to download from my Department's website, and officials in my Department are available to provide additional guidance on the application process should that be helpful. I offer that assistance to the Senator this morning. I would encourage him and all other colleagues to join me in encouraging interested groups to take advantage of the availability of the scheme.

That is a very comprehensive answer for the Senator.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for the clarity he has brought to the situation. Clearly, the information given at Fingal County Council is not accurate. My understanding is that this information is very much on the record of that council. Therefore, it will have to be corrected. I will speak to Councillor O'Leary to pursue that matter. This is a critically important scheme. One would hate to think two good initiatives, one around data protection to ensure citizens' privacy and another around CCTV which ensures their safety, could end up being conflicted.

As so often happens in this country, interpretation of European law and directives has led to a European directive being blamed for a good scheme brought forward by the Minister not being put in place. This matter will be taken up again. I thank the Minister again for his clarity.

I thank the Senator for raising this important matter in the Seanad this morning. I reiterate that a long-standing statutory requirement for community CCTV systems is that the proposal must have, inter alia, the prior support of the appropriate and relevant local authority. That local authority must, in accordance with the law, act as data controller. That is set out in the 2006 order and it applies to all community CCTV schemes, regardless of whether it is a grant aid scheme or whether there is a grant application, in order to ensure a legally based grounding to the setting up of the scheme in the first instance.

I assure the Senator that my Department is proactively investing in the schemes and in the assistance to groups in the setting up of the schemes in their local areas. My intention is that this scheme will run for three years. Funding of €1 million is being made available each year over that period and then it will be subject to review. In that regard, my Department continues to receive a regular flow of inquiries, including from local authorities, on the matter of the scheme. Full details of the package are available to download but I stress my Department officials are available to provide additional guidance on the application process.

In thanking the Senator for raising this matter, I would encourage him and other colleagues from his local authority to join me in actively encouraging groups to take advantage of the availability of the scheme. I am sure it is an issue we will have an opportunity to debate again in the future. I very much welcome the issue raised by the Senator.

Hospital Facilities

I thank the Minister of State and welcome her to the House. I am raising the issue of the refurbishment of community hospitals in the Cork area, particularly Millstreet Community Hospital and Kanturk Community Hospital. They provide an essential service in the communities of Kanturk and Millstreet but there are also other community hospitals around the county. People are concerned about the stage we are at in getting refurbishment carried out in order to bring these hospitals up to the standards required by HIQA. When are contracts likely to be put in place? When is the work likely to occur not only in Kanturk, but in community hospitals around the county?

On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, I thank Senator Burke for raising this matter. Although it is Government policy to facilitate older people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible, there will always be a cohort of people who need long-term care. Quality residential care must continue to be available for those who need it. Residential care is provided through a mix of public, voluntary and private provision. The Health Service Executive is responsible for delivering health and personal social services across the country, including at facilities such as Millstreet Community Hospital and Kanturk Community Hospital. Public residential care units are an essential part of our healthcare infrastructure. They provide approximately 5,000 long-stay beds, amounting to approximately 20% of the total stock of nursing home beds nationally. There are also approximately 2,000 short-stay community public beds.

While the care delivered to residents in our community hospitals is generally of a high standard, many of these services are delivered in buildings that are less than ideal in the modern context. It is therefore important that we upgrade our public bed stock and this is the aim of the capital investment programme for community nursing units. This provides the framework to allow for an enhanced programme to replace, upgrade and refurbish these care facilities, as appropriate. Significant work was undertaken to determine the most optimal scheduling of projects within the phased provision of funding to achieve compliance and registration with the Health Information and Quality Authority. The investment programme includes a number of facilities in Cork.

The Senator will appreciate that all healthcare infrastructure developments require a lead-in time to complete the various stages. These stages include appraisal, project brief, design feasibility, a review of costing estimates and finalisation of financing. The HSE has informed the Department of Health that upgrade works have already been completed at Bandon and Bantry hospitals. Other projects are at appraisal and design stages and are proceeding according to capital planning guidelines. The community hospitals in Millstreet, Kanturk and Fermoy are currently advancing collectively and are referred to as the north Cork bundle. A full design team has been commissioned by the HSE estates division. The HSE project team has also been commissioned to advance the service needs assessment and is reviewing existing layouts and accommodation for regulatory compliance.

It is expected that planning applications for Kanturk and Fermoy will be made by the end of the year, with Millstreet to follow in early 2019. Subject to the successful completion of the design, planning and tendering stages, it is expected that the projects could commence construction in 2020 and be completed by the end of 2021. The development of Midleton Community Hospital and St. Finbarr’s community nursing unit in Cork city are currently being advanced for delivery by means of a public private partnership mechanism, which is at an early stage of development. Unfortunately, it is not possible at this point to give a detailed timeline for the delivery of each stage of the project. It is, however, expected that the facility will be operational by the fourth quarter of 2021.

The national development plan acknowledges the need for additional capacity. It is expected that 4,500 additional short-term and long-term beds will be required across the public system in community nursing units and other step-down facilities, as identified by the health capacity review. Health capital projects and programmes currently under way will continue and these major priority projects will require the bulk of the notified capital allocation over the initial period of the plan for 2018 to 2022. It is important to recognise that this is a long-term plan which will roll out over ten years and includes provision for a large number of developments across the country. As is to be expected with a ten-year plan, many proposals are at an early stage and, as with all capital development proposals, will require further appraisal, planning, design and tendering before a firm timeline or the funding required can be established. Appraisal and planning across all community healthcare organisations, in line with health strategies and demographic needs, will inform the selection of projects for delivery of these new beds and this additional capacity.

I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive reply. We will have major challenges in the whole area of healthcare because of changing demographics. As the Minister of State will be aware, the number of people over 65 is currently 637,000 and within ten years will be 1 million. Therefore, we will have huge demand and will need to dramatically increase the amount of care being provided in people's own homes. However, we must also make sure that we have adequate facilities in our community hospitals and nursing homes across the country. I thank the Minister of State for the reply but we need to fast-track some of these projects and make sure that we plan, develop and deliver all of these projects on time. Again, I thank the Minister of State for her contribution.

I understand Senator Burke's concerns around the reply. In general the Government is committed to keeping people at home as long as we can and facilitating their needs. As the Senator has already said, over the coming years the population will get older and there will be more people who may need to avail of services, particularly long-term care and short-term beds. I understand the Senator's concerns, however, according to the national development plan, there will be a considerable number of new initiatives around older people's residences around the country over the next ten years. Some work has already begun on some of the facilities which have to be refurbished. I will convey Senator Burke's concerns to the Minister. I know the reply does not give him any definite times or dates, but I will ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to come back to him.

Sitting suspended at 11 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.