Commencement Matters

Passport Services

I welcome Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, to the House. The issue I raise is one that has become a source of contention given the fear and worry of some people about the deadline for passport applications. I will preface my remarks by complimenting the excellent staff of our Passport Offices in Dublin but in particular in Cork. I had the pleasure of using the service in Cork. I commend the passport card. It is an example on which we can really work.

This is the critical season for travel. We have only two Passport Offices, one in Dublin and one in Cork. Since 2017 we have seen an increased and a complex workload in the Cork office with entitlement checks required in passport applications from the North, the UK and foreign missions. The Cork Passport Office processes one third of all passports. Since 2017, 800,000 passports have been issued but all have been printed in one central location in Balbriggan. The figures from March show that there has been a backlog, in some cases of 70,000 applications. I accept we have seen the provision of 200 extra temporary staff in the Passport Office during this critical period. However, in tandem with the need for a printing machine in Cork, we should see an increase in the number of permanent staff in the Passport Office.

It is important to recognise that more and more people are travelling. The recession has ended and people are applying for passports. There are more first-time applicants, more young families travelling with children. Therefore, there is a need for a passport printing machine in Cork in order that we can ensure expeditious processing and printing of passports and that we can reduce the turnaround time for applicants. There should be a passport printing machine in Cork because, as the Minister of State knows, it is not just about Cork but it is about the province of Munster and the hinterland. This will make it easier for everybody, including the staff and for those travelling abroad.

I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, who cannot be here, will be able to look in a positive manner at the need for the people of Cork and Munster to have such a facility. I know we do more and more online but we have one location for printing. We must make it easier for people requiring emergency passports or people who must travel to Dublin to get their passports by having such a facility in Cork. It might also ease the gridlock and the congestion in Dublin.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, for being here and look forward to his reply. I will conclude by complimenting the staff in the passport office in Cork.

I hope those who have gone in to the office have found it as easy as I have. I am certainly not proficient in technology but being able to go in, make one's appointments, wait for between ten and 15 minutes, come back, have one's business done and receive one's passport card or the passport itself in an expeditious manner is something we all want. This could be done better by having a printing machine in Cork.

I apologise for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, who is unable to be here today. I thank Senator Jerry Buttimer, who does a wonderful job representing his local area of Cork, for this important question.

This is a peak season for the passport service. The total number of applications received during the first four months of this year rose by 10% compared to the same period last year and by 25% compared to two years ago. There are several drivers of demand, including a trend towards early renewal of passports, the growth in outbound travel and the growing population, to which the Senator alluded. The passport service, located in the Department, is one unified service composed of three constituent offices on Mount Street in Dublin, Balbriggan in County Dublin and South Mall in Cork, respectively. The public offices in Mount Street and Cork accept applications from all categories of applicants by appointment at their public counters. Where appropriate, these offices also facilitate the issuance of emergency passports where there is a need to travel for medical reasons or due to bereavement abroad. Applications from across Ireland, Great Britain and through Ireland's network of embassies and consulates worldwide are distributed for processing across the three passport offices. Resources are allocated on the basis of an assessment of demand, in line with the passport service's targeted processing dates. Both Passport Express and online applications are sent back to the applicant based in Ireland with a next-day delivery service. Therefore, wherever applications for passports are processed, Irish residents will receive their passports within the same timeframe.

The passport service operates these three passport printing machines. Two are located in our main production facility in Balbriggan and one is located in the passport office on Mount Street. All applications are processed through the centralised, automated passport service, APS. This means that all production facilities can print the passport, irrespective of which channel the application was processed through. The printing system allows for flexibility between printing machines if any machine reaches capacity. Where pressures arise in the processing system, they are generally associated with the necessary checking and verification process which must be followed to ensure the integrity of the Irish passport and which cannot be compromised. Given the scale of the passport service's investment in specialised and efficient machinery, we have sufficient resources to meet the technological requirements of passport production.

Passport printing and the personalisation of each passport requires highly specialised machinery, auxiliary equipment and a temperature controlled environment. The purchase cost of a new passport printing machine alone is in excess of €1.7 million. This does not include the cost of security, technical costs, outfitting, staffing and rental. Prior to installing any additional printing facility, we would have to consider the physical suitability of any building and the suitability of the location to cater for the installation of such a specialised machine, physical security considerations and the availability of maintenance services. Any such production facility would incur costs above and beyond the purchase of the machine itself and would include security, support and maintenance charges. Given that the current three printing machines meet the passport service's printing demands and have additional capacity, and given the costs and requirements associated with the purchase and support of a new machine, I do not believe that, right now, there is justification on a value for money or operational basis to purchase an additional printing machine.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, for being here and taking the Commencement matter. The reply should recognise that the Passport Office and its staff are exceptional. The service is dealing with unprecedented demand, as the Minister of State outlined.

Three of the printing machines are located in Dublin where life does not end or begin. Beyond the M50 there is a great need in Cork. As an example, if we are talking about ambitions in terms of reform and innovation, why can a printing machine not be located in Cork and thereby facilitate the people of Cork and the Munster region?

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Notwithstanding what he read, there is a justifiable case to be made for having a printing machine in Cork. I accept that we are moving into a different era in terms of technology and how people apply for a passport and that perhaps there might come a time when having a passport will be irrelevant, that people will have a chip somewhere. Nonetheless, it is something we should keep on the table. There is an excellent Passport Office in Cork which would be augmented and supported if it had a printing machine.

I again thank the Senator and concur with what he said. I take the opportunity to acknowledge the dedication and professionalism with which Passport Office staff in Cork and Dublin meet the challenges posed during periods of peak demand such, as well as the service they provide for the public all year round. This year the Passport Office received sanction for the appointment of 220 temporary clerical officers to the offices in Dublin and Cork in accordance with the volume of applications to each of the offices. Forty of the temporary clerical officers were assigned to the Passport Office in Cork. In addition, ten clerical officers and one executive officer have joined the office's permanent staff since the beginning of the year. Therefore, there is an acknowledgement by the Department that the office in Cork is a fundamental part of the passport issuing system. In terms of recognition, it is the only place outside Dublin that has an office. Many people from my constituency and surrounding counties use the Cork office more than the Dublin office.

Having spoken to the Department to prepare my information and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade today, I have learned that there is an initial cost of €1.7 million. If one adds the cost of security, technical issues and work on the building, they could drive the cost up to €2 million, which would be huge, given that the Passport Office states it can deal adequately with the pressures it is under, although that could change owing to Brexit. I suggest to the Senator that there has been an acknowledgement of the Cork office, given the extra staff assigned to it, and that within a year or two, although I am not saying it will happen, the applications process might very well change.

Rental Accommodation Scheme

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, for coming into the House to take this matter, despite his busy schedule. He has seen an outline of it and I know that he has prepared a detailed reply.

The matter was brought to my attention by Councillor Pat Fitzgerald who is well known in Arklow and a great champion of the locals. He came across an incident, of which I was not aware, although I deal with many housing issues and applications. It involved a tenant in a house included in the rental accommodation scheme, RAS.

The landlord evidently decided to sell the house, so it fell on the council to rehouse the tenants. They had been removed from the housing list and could not qualify for RAS or additional help with their rent. This seems to be an anomaly in the system and I cannot understand why. If someone is on RAS and the house he or she is renting is sold or made otherwise unavailable for whatever reason, which is common nowadays, that tenant cannot return to his or her original place on the housing list or fall back into the HAP net, to which everyone else is entitled, and get assistance with finding other private housing. Instead, the tenant must deal with the council, which must house that person directly. The Minister of State knows more than most, however, that the councils do not have enough houses. In the case in question, the tenants ended up in temporary accommodation because they seemed to fall between two rocks.

I hope that the Minister of State has some enlightening news to give on this matter rather than some statement written by someone in the Department. He has a great understanding of these issues.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and acknowledge his concerns about the operation of the rental accommodation scheme. I should be able to bring some clarity to the matter, given that it is down to interpretation, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss it in the Seanad. This issue has crossed our desks recently via various people.

RAS was first introduced in 2004 and has met the housing needs of tens of thousands of households in the private rental sector by providing them with more security than rent supplement and the ability to increase their household incomes without the risk of losing their housing support. Close to 19,000 families are living in rental accommodation with the support of this scheme. RAS continues to be an effective mechanism for meeting housing need and an additional 1,800 households are targeted for transfer from rent supplement to RAS-supported tenancies between 2018 and 2021.

With the increase in rent supplement recipients transferring to HAP, the number of new RAS tenancies created annually will reduce. RAS operates as a three-way arrangement between a landlord, a tenant and a local authority. These arrangements can be for a variety of periods. In each case, the tenant-landlord relationship is protected by the obligations of both parties set out in the Residential Tenancies Act. The agreements are often for ten years or more. RAS arrangements may come to an end either where a fixed-term contract is ending or the tenancy is being terminated by the landlord in accordance with the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act. The majority of contracts do not end unless there is a built-in arrangement with the local authority. The normal contract is for a fixed term.

In every circumstance, there is a period of several months in advance of the arrangement ending that provides local authorities with the opportunity to negotiate a renewal of the contract with the property owner or other options to secure the property for social housing use, including a different lease arrangement or purchase for the social housing stock, given that it has already been in use in that form for several years. We have made this clear to local authorities and encourage them to consider these options.

When a RAS tenancy comes to an end with no prospect of renewing or otherwise securing the use of the property for social housing, the local authority has a responsibility to find alternative accommodation for that tenant. In circumstances where the local authority is unable to find alternative accommodation from its own stock or from new properties that become available as part of its development pipeline during the period prior to the arrangement coming to an end, HAP may be considered as an alternative housing solution for the household, subject to the agreement of the tenant. As such, HAP is an option, and we will clear up the matter of its interpretation where any doubt exists.

In this context, it is important that there be a shared understanding of one of the specific differences between HAP and other forms of social housing support. By definition and design, HAP is a flexible, tenant-led form of housing support, allowing tenants to choose the accommodation they wish to live in, subject to certain criteria. When a HAP tenancy comes to an end, there is no obligation on the local authority to source alternative accommodation for the tenant. As the housing authority, however, I naturally expect local authorities to support those receiving housing assistance in securing alternative accommodation. My Department is preparing detailed guidance to assist local authorities in these circumstances and ensure there is clarity on how the practicalities of the transition from RAS or another form of social housing to HAP can be managed.

As housing authorities, local authorities require a variety of flexible options to meet the needs of those on waiting lists which work in the local authority property markets. The RAS continues to be an important solution in that regard but the national roll-out of HAP now complete, the number of new RAS tenancies commencing will decline, although there will be up to 2,000 over the next three to four years. It remains the case that local authorities should be doing everything in their power to ensure that households currently accommodated in RAS arrangements that may shortly be coming to an end are provided with secure accommodation to meet their long-term housing need. HAP should be considered as one of those solutions. Let me be clear about that. It is black and white and we will issue guidelines to make it even clearer.

I am delighted the Minister of State, Deputy English, is here because he has a good grasp of the housing issue. It is certainly the answer I wanted to hear. It is a practical answer. It is a change in policy, or a change from what was in some letters we received from the Department, of which I am sure the Minister of State is aware. He is doing work on this behind the scenes. I am sure it would not have changed otherwise. I appreciate the change in stance from what was in the documentation we received in the past couple of months. I appreciate the Minister of State's good work and common sense on the issue.

I thank Senator Davitt for raising this issue. It is important we bring clarity to the issue and I am happy to do that.

National Dementia Strategy

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this important issue. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has responsibility for this issue, so I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, will be able to pass this on. Dementia is an issue that affects people in every community in Ireland. There are an estimated 55,000 people with dementia in Ireland. The number is set to double by 2036. People with dementia need a wide range of community services and support to assist them from the moment of diagnosis and we are all aware of significant gaps that exist in these vital services.

In December 2014, the Government published Ireland's first national dementia strategy. The strategy was welcome and has the potential to improve the lives of people living with dementia in Ireland. The mid-term review of the implementation of the national dementia strategy has now been published. The review acknowledges that the strategy was initially intended to be cost neutral. Since publication of the strategy in 2014, the understanding of the scale of need and how that need should be met has deepened considerably. There is now an acknowledgment that the strategies to meet the needs of people with dementia will rightly call on the public purse.

The mid-term review acknowledges that the pace of implementation can be frustrating but I would say it is traumatic for people living with dementia, their families and service providers as they are still dealing with inadequate services and are waiting for supports. It also states that additional funding or redeployment of existing resources will be required to move from this preparatory implementation phase into the establishment of new dementia services, supports and structures. Specifically, the review notes that considerable resources, both financial and staffing, will be required in the following areas: post diagnostic and diagnostic support pathways; key posts in which I would include dementia advisers to close the gaps identified in the recently published mapping project; appropriate home care for the growing population, even though we are at capacity for home care at present; an appropriate care pathway for people in acute hospitals because people go to hospital with dementia and come out considerably worse; and the provision of immediate options for care other than nursing home care. There is a need for a dedicated budget.

The first strategy was co-financed between Atlantic Philanthropies, which donated €12.5 million, and the Department of Health. At the same time it should be noted that the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland contributed €14 million, which was more than the sum contributed by the Atlantic Philanthropies and almost as much as the Government.

This funding now comes to an end in 2018. Multi-annual funding is critically needed beyond 2018 because we know that dementia is not going away. In fact, it is going to increase. We cannot rely on shaking buckets and the goodwill of people to finance core services. As a co-convenor of the all-party Oireachtas group, along with Deputy Mary Butler, I am acutely aware of the lack of equity in the provision of dementia services. To mention one service as an example, counties Wexford, Laois and Leitrim do not have any day care services. People in just 13 counties have access to dementia advisers. The provision of dementia-specific services is patchy and based on a geographic lottery. There is no link between the needs of people with dementia and what is available to them.

Today is the first day of carer's week. We often break the health of elderly people by requiring them to provide care to people with dementia, which is an unacceptable burden. In our budget 2018 proposals, we advised the Government to provide funding for 30 dementia advisers and to increase this number to 90 over time. The all-party Oireachtas group also identified gaps in intensive home care for people who wish to stay at home in their communities. We also advised on supports for people with Down's syndrome, who are much more likely than the general population to develop dementia. These needs were not addressed in the last budget. We were not listened to.

I am asking the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to give a commitment that he will listen to these proposals, which are quite modest relative to the scale of need. They should be included and prioritised in budget 2019. I welcome the work of the HSE's National Dementia Office, which needs resources so it can do its work. The strategy needs to be resourced properly. We need to plug the gap in dementia services so that we do not place unacceptable burdens on carers. Therefore, I call on the Minister of State to ensure the findings of the mid-term review are acted on. He should set out specific actions and the timeframe within which those actions will be taken. The needs, gaps and solutions of people with dementia and their carers have been identified and well documented.

On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, I thank Senator Kelleher for raising this matter. The national dementia strategy, which was published in 2014, sets out a framework for the development of dementia supports and services in Ireland. The overarching aim of the strategy is to provide dementia care so that people with dementia can live well for as long as possible and can live out their lives in comfort and dignity with services and supports delivered in the best way possible.

As part of the implementation of the national dementia strategy, the Department of Health committed to conducting a mid-term review of the progress being made. This review, which was prepared in partnership with the National Dementia Office, highlights the considerable amount of work that has been completed to date and the actions that are to be carried out over the next 12 months. The review was launched on 23 May last and is available on the website of the Department of Health.

The implementation of the national dementia strategy was boosted at the time of its launch by a joint programme of investment by the HSE and the Atlantic Philanthropies which was valued at €27.5 million. This investment allowed a number of key actions in the strategy to be resourced and implemented. It part-funded a programme that offers education and clinical resources for general practitioners and primary care teams, intensive homecare packages for people with dementia, the Understand Together awareness campaign and the establishment of the National Dementia Office. The National Dementia Office, which has an important role in implementing the national dementia strategy, has made substantial progress in developing evidence-based care pathways for people with dementia.

A dementia diagnostic project has been set up to ensure timely diagnosis of dementia. A post-diagnostic support pathway project will offer the information and support that people with dementia and their families need following a diagnosis. Work is ongoing to develop a dementia care pathway within acute hospitals. Clinical guidelines are being developed on the appropriate use of psychotropic medications in people with dementia. Education programmes have been developed for health and social care professionals, public-facing staff and carers. Other important work undertaken by the National Dementia Office includes mapping of dementia-specific, community-based services in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, and a review of the dementia information resources that are currently available.

The Department recognises that full implementation of the strategy will require investment and change.

The Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has held high level meetings with his officials and the HSE and acknowledges that further work needs to be done to fully implement the strategy. The level of funding for dementia services will be considered as part of the national Estimates and budgetary process.

Changes are needed in how the HSE organises and delivers its services and, equally, additional investment is needed to fill gaps in services and expand existing services to meet the needs of the rising numbers of people with dementia. The Department is committed to implementing the national dementia strategy in full and ensuring a provision of services that meets the needs of people with dementia across the country. I will come back in to answer some of the Senator's other questions.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. It is good to hear that the Department of Health recognises that full implementation of the strategy will require investment and change. I am looking for specifics from the Minister of State on what that change will involve. That is why I tabled this Commencement matter. Indicating good intent or that something will happen is not the same as giving detail. It certainly does not give people with dementia and their carers the kind of information and comfort they need.

The Minister of State noted the following:

The Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has held high level meetings with his officials and the HSE and acknowledges that further work needs to be done to fully implement the strategy. The level of funding for dementia services will be considered as part of the national Estimates and budgetary process.

How much funding will be provided next year and in the years after that? By 2036, more than 100,000 people will have dementia. We need answers on this issue. I agree with the Minister of State that changes are needed but what changes are proposed? While it is good the Minister of State is in the Chamber, the detail she provided is very sketchy. We know what we need to do and we want to know what the Department of Health and Minister intend to do. How much money will be provided and where will we see progress for people with dementia and their overburdened carers?

Services for People with Disabilities

It is National Carers Week and I compliment the people who, in their communities and homes, look after people with all kinds of conditions. This gives them an opportunity to stay in their homes, live in their communities and play a part in family life. It is important to acknowledge the work being done, especially as it is National Carers Week.

I cannot give the Senator any commitment on the budget, and nor could the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, if he was responding. The budget is in the process of being put together for October. I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, will have many meetings about the budgets for all the services, particularly services for older people.

I do not have specific answers to some of the Senator's questions, but I will follow up on them for her. I assure her that the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, and the Government are committed to helping people with dementia to continue to live at home, with supports around them. This is what we all want, whether we are in government or opposition. We all want to support as many people as possible. I do not have figures on the budget and probably will not have them for some time. I will relay the Senator's concerns to the Minister of State, who unfortunately is not here to provide some of the finer details, which I do not have. I will ask his office to reply specifically to the Senator.

Earlier this month, the Government announced funding of €16 million for 27 projects across the State, to be funded under the Ability programme. This programme provides supports to more than 2,600 young people aged between 15 and 29 years who have a disability. According to a Government press statement, the announcement was the fruition of a long period of planning, consultation and assessment by various Departments and Pobal. Initially it was planned to allocate €10 million in funding. This was subsequently increased to €16 million, supporting all 27 projects. I welcomed that increase.

One of the groups that applied for funding was a partnership consisting of the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation based in Donegal town, Inishowen Children’s Autism Related Education Limited, which covers the Inishowen Peninsula but also provides services to the wider Donegal area, and Extern.

They came together in a partnership and they were one of the groups turned down for funding. iCare met Oireachtas Members in recent days and it has given us this map and put it online. It is a scandal that there are 27 projects, not one of which is north of Roscommon or Dublin. In my part of the world in Donegal, people are sick and tired of looking at maps like this when it comes to a range of health services, but these are disability services.

iCare is based in my home area of Inishowen and has been going for 18 years. It has had to raise every single cent it spends. It started off with six families and today it provides services to 105 persons with disabilities and their families. It delivers a huge service solely from fundraising. It has been turned down for funding only to discover, when looking to see where the money went, that nothing went north of Roscommon or Dublin. That is not to begrudge any of the organisations that got funding. I believe every single one of them deserved to get funding, but how can this be called a State-wide service for young people with disabilities when so many counties are missing? I am particularly angry about Donegal because we are isolated and we are denied access to health services in so many ways. So many of these maps are a line between Galway and Dublin, north of which nothing is provided to us.

I am asking that both the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and the Minister of State with special responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, urgently review this. After all, in their own press statements they have acknowledged that they have increased the originally planned €10 million to €16 million. They need to increase it further. They need to make sure that no young person, whether they are in Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan or Louth, is denied the equality of access and opportunity with which other young people with disabilities throughout the country are rightly provided.

This needs urgently to be reviewed. It is scandalous that two Departments, working with Pobal, in whose statements it says it has put extensive preparation into this, have allowed young people with disabilities in such a huge area to be left neglected and abandoned again. We will not stand for it and we demand a review and a reversal of the decision to limit the funding to €16 million. That is my call here today and I can tell the Minister of State that since this map has gone up on social media, it has gone viral. People are furious in my part of the world. The Minister needs to review this urgently and make sure the funding is provided. If not, there will be a battle on the Government's hands.

I thank Senator Mac Lochlainn for his Commencement matter. I will be taking this question of behalf of the Minister of State with special responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, who is, unfortunately, out of the country at present.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, together with the Minister of State, recently announced funding of €16 million to deliver a new pre-activation programme for young people with disabilities called Ability. The Ability programme provides supports to in excess of 2,600 young people with disabilities and who are aged between 15 and 29 years old. The programme, using a range of person-centred supports, will promote employment prospects and meaningful social roles for young people with disabilities, in particular, young people who are distant from the labour market. The initiative is being funded by the Exchequer and the EU under the European Social Fund, ESF, as part of the ESF programme for employability, inclusion and learning for 2014 to 2020. It demonstrates the commitment, at both a Governmental and EU level, to support and assist young people with disabilities to achieve their individual employment and other goals.

The announcement brought to fruition the result of a long period of planning, consultation and assessment for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and its partner Pobal. Pobal has been contracted by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to manage the application and evaluation process for the proposals received under the measures.

Pobal put considerable resources into providing information resources for potential applications, including several regional seminars such as one held in Cavan. Following an extensive information campaign and application process, the Ability programme attracted applications from 57 projects. A detailed and independent assessment process of these 57 applications was undertaken by Pobal. Pobal awarded scores out of 100 for all the applications. Scores were assigned to each proposal based on a weighted marking system linked with the scheme's evaluation criteria as follows: meeting the programme measure priorities; need for the proposals; capacity of the organisation; and value for money. The first criteria attracted 40% of the marks while the other criteria attracted 20% each. Only projects receiving a score of 60 or above were deemed by Pobal to be of sufficiently high standard to be recommended for funding at the time. On this basis, Pobal recommended 27 projects as suitable for funding. These recommendations were accepted because they were made by Pobal on the basis of these objective criteria. Neither the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, nor the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, had any role to play in this completely independent assessment process.

At the time of the launch of the measure it was expected that funding for the programme would amount to €10 million over a three-year period. However, given the number and quality of the proposals received, enhanced funding arrangements have been put in place in the amount of €16 million to support all 27 projects recommended for funding by Pobal.

Pobal and the Ability programme have an appeals process for applicants or grant-holders who believe that decisions taken and procedures followed by Pobal in the administration of funding have not been applied fairly or consistently. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, through its Intreo service and the EmployAbility service, continues to offer national supports and services to people with disabilities who wish to pursue their employment ambitions. Pobal is currently in the process of drawing up and putting in place funding agreements with the 27 projects or organisations. Once these are in place the 27 projects will commence the delivery of services and supports for more than 2,600 young people with disabilities who have been identified as people who will benefit from the new programme. I will come back to the Senator with any further queries.

I do not dispute that this was an independent process, but it was an entirely flawed process. Two Departments worked with Pobal, which is responsible for assisting communities in tackling poverty and improving inclusion throughout the State. I cannot understand how, following an extensive process, they could come up with the map I have before me. The map shows that no organisations north of Roscommon and Dublin were given any funding. It is absolutely shocking. I cannot understand how the Departments and Pobal could not have worked better.

In Donegal, organisations such as iCARE and the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation work with young people with special needs, as does Extern. All these are impressive and trusted organisations. How on earth could they not have been assisted to ensure that their projects fitted the criteria appropriately? It is beyond me.

It is absolutely indefensible for the Government to stand over a national EU co-funded measure that results in a map with such huge gaps. The Minister of State should immediately review the process and go back to the organisations in those counties that have been left behind.

I am here to speak about my home county of Donegal. I am absolutely outraged because I know the relevant organisations. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, knows about iCARE because he met those involved last November. He knows that the organisation is about to go to the wall, along with many of its services. That means the 105 young people iCARE has supported cannot be supported in the same way from now on. It gets no money from the Government and now has received this kick in the teeth.

We are told that independent criteria were applied. People's heads were torn apart with the bureaucracy.

Where is the humanity in a decision like that. which leaves so many young people with disabilities behind across a huge swathe of this country? It is indefensible. The process is flawed. It needs to be reviewed and the Government must reverse the approach it has taken. It must do right by young people with disabilities in my county of Donegal and all of these counties. The same counties are always let behind.

While listening to the Senator's concerns and anger I have taken some notes. There is an appeals process and I do not know whether the organisations the Senator speaks about went through the appeal process. It may not be for me to say that.

The process is flawed. That is the point. There is no point appealing a process that is flawed.

I can only give the reply that I have in front of me. Unfortunately the Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities cannot be here to listen to the Senator's concerns. I will relate them to him.

I do not believe that we as Ministers should have an influence on decisions made by different groups around the country. I know the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and the Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, would agree with me. There are criteria and they were stated in the reply. I do not know why some of the organisations the Senator speaks about did not get money. I can understand visually from the map that some places or organisations have not received funding. Maybe there are flaws in the process, I do not know. If there was something wrong with their applications it may have helped if they had been assisted in some way. I will bring the Senator's concerns and his anger - because I can see he is angry about this - back to the Minister and the Minister of State and ask them to look at the map, and speak to Pobal to see if there is any way it can consider an appeals process, particularly for the projects the Senator has been speaking about. It would be helpful if he could send me the map.

Sitting suspended at 3.22 p.m. and resumed at 3.35 p.m.