Commencement Matters

Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund

The Minister of State, Deputy English, is very welcome. He is a very faithful attender of the Seanad. He is very good.

I am grateful to the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the selection of this Commencement matter. I warmly welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to the House. He is always very welcome and it is always good to see him. I thank him for taking up my invitation to make a statement on the possible further expansion of the local infrastructure housing activation fund, or LIHAF, scheme. It would be hard to have learned much about the scheme as it has not kicked in to any great extent yet. However, LIHAF was rightly identified by the then Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, the Minister of State, Deputy English, and their officials as a way to address, as part of Rebuilding Ireland, the shortage of critical infrastructure necessary and bring on large sites that could deliver significant housing capacity.

We all know we have a housing crisis in and we do not need to rehearse that discussion. All of the experts suggest we need to build approximately 30,000 houses, which is an ambitious but necessary target to achieve through mixed delivery of housing. It is a real need. LIHAF was introduced to develop infrastructure and the Government announced its support for the scheme. When the package was initially rolled out under Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's press release referred to funding of €226 million for strategic infrastructure through LIHAF, the delivery of 23,000 houses by 2021 and 34 high impact delivery projects across 15 local authorities.

The major concern being expressed now, in particular in the feedback from the 15 local authorities, is about affordability. That will always present a problem. In the area in which I live in south County Dublin, Cherrywood received the largest tranche of funding under the LIHAF scheme. Most of the units that will be provided there will be build-to-let. As such, the real concern is about how we can ensure a decent return and value for the expenditure of Government money on critical infrastructure. How can we assure people and give them the confidence that this contribution will feed into affordable housing? Every day, I meet couples who are working professionals but who cannot secure funding or affordability in housing.

There is a possibility under tranche 2 of the scheme, which the Minister of State has previously indicated that he was considering. I would like the Minister of State to consider with his colleagues in the coming weeks the opportunity which may arise to ensure that the next block of LIHAF funding is directed to local authority or State lands. National inventories and audits are being carried out of State-owned lands held by the HSE, the OPW and other agencies. There are vast banks of public land owned by local authorities, which they tell me they cannot bring into use.

We should direct the next tranche of LIHAF funding to State lands to bring about conditional affordable housing.

It is good to have the opportunity to come in here to discuss this. I thank Senator Boyhan for the invitation to discuss the possibility of further funding under the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund and the option of channelling the LIHAF funding from round 2 directly to local authorities which have identified key sites within their own landbank capable of delivering significant housing projects. That is exactly what we want to do. We want to make local authorities able to develop their own land bank. We have worked closely with them over the past year or two to bring forward their sites, get them organised and bring forward their plans to deliver social, private and affordable housing on their landbank and to utilise that landbank as quickly as they possibly can. With what we want to achieve, we are on the same page here.

As Senator Boyhan will be aware, the aim of the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund is to increase housing supply through enabling infrastructure such as roads, bridges and parks. It is doing that through public funding of almost €200 million across 30 public infrastructure projects in 14 local authorities, with an associated housing delivery of approximately 20,000 units over the coming years from these strategic sites.

The key part, when LIHAF was launched, was to activate these sites. There were no plans to activate these sites and the key aim of LIHAF was to use public funds to step in with key infrastructure requirements to deliver the housing over three or four years following on from 2016. Two years ago, there was little activity and there was no sign of these sites coming on line. The aim was to activate; it was an activation measure.

Additional funding of €50 million over the period to 2021 was signalled in budget 2018 for a second call for proposals under the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund. However, as part of the roll-out of targeted serviced sites funding as well as infrastructure supports under the national planning framework, there are now a number of funding streams operating in that space.

For example, significantly increased funding over the course of the ten-year national development plan will be available for enabling infrastructure and regeneration projects through the new €2 billion urban regeneration and development fund and the €1 billion rural regeneration and development fund, announced in February under Project Ireland 2040.

Local authorities will also shortly be able to apply to the new serviced sites fund which will provide Exchequer funding to support delivery of both off-site and on-site infrastructure which can unlock local authority-owned lands in order to deliver affordable homes.

Activation of housing developments at scale is a priority under Pillar 3 of Rebuilding Ireland and LIHAF is a powerful tool in addressing the challenge of housing supply. That was its aim - addressing the supply issue as an activation measure, as the Senator clearly understands. However, the Government is also committed to the delivery of affordable homes by local authorities, and to the regeneration and development of our towns, cities and rural communities.

As the Minister indicated in the Dáil last week, given the crossover between the two regeneration funds and LIHAF, and in consultation with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, he has concluded that it would be unnecessary duplication to have separate calls under separate funds for the same types of infrastructure projects. In addition, both he and I are eager to give further support to local authorities to bring forward and service publicly-owned sites to provide affordable housing under the recently commenced affordable purchase scheme, which is exactly what the Senator has been raising here. In what we are trying to do, we are on the same page.

Accordingly, the Government has agreed that the €50 million in funds that had been originally allocated for the second call under LIHAF will be amalgamated with the new serviced sites fund to increase the Exchequer funding available from €25 million to €75 million over the period 2018 to 2021. This will be matched with at least €25 million from local authorities towards land servicing costs, bringing the total fund available to €100 million. This funding will help to speed up the development of affordable housing from publicly-owned sites and I expect that the call for proposals under the fund will issue later this week.

I thank the Minister of State for that comprehensive report. I welcome the fact that the call for the funding will be issued later this week. From what the Minister of State stated, I am not quite sure it will be exclusively to fund State lands or public lands. Let us not get caught up on whose they are. They are public lands.

The real controversy is that we have vast tracts of State lands and we have thousands and thousands of people without homes. There is a focus on the private sector and I accept that there is a logic in some of that. I do not have any ideological hang-up with who - public, private or whatever - builds houses but the time has come where we need to put in place supports to get these landbanks into action for houses for our people. That is the key, particularly with local authorities.

The Minister of State did not touch on the land aggregation scheme today but he might be mindful of it. The Department would have rejected many submissions for the land aggregation scheme and local authorities are stuck paying vast interest on lands as well.

The key focus must be on telling people that we will use State lands - the people's assets, the taxpayers' assets - and funds to get people into houses. These are our people who want to purchase affordable accommodation to provide homes for themselves and their families.

I thank the Minister of State for the comprehensive response.

I thank Senator Boyhan for bring a focus to this issue. It is exactly what we were trying to achieve here. We are able to use the State-owned landbank to deliver housing across the three categories of social, affordable and private.

We have asked local authorities to bring forward all their plans on how to activate and develop those sites. They have been doing that and we have been working through those plans with them over the past couple of months. Our housing delivery team - I and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and an officer in the Department, Mr. Peter Gavican - has been visiting all the local authorities and going through all their options, sites and landbanks, trying to work out solutions on how to activate that land. This funding will be concentrated on publicly owned lands and on local authority-backed projects to deliver affordable housing and other projects of housing, such as activation measures. We are clear what the funding is for.

Even at the start, LIHAF was for activating land. Land was not being activated and houses were not being built.

The additional tranche of funding of LIHAF is working and is bringing forward projects. The new funding will bring forward more projects with a greater focus on State-owned land.

Already, we have 13,500 going through the process of a pipeline of social housing projections on 820 sites but there is enough land ideally placed in State ownership to deliver 30,000 houses. We will concentrate on that as well as working on additional lands for more housing projects as well. We want to activate our land.

I hear commentary that there are 120,000 sites belonging to the State. That is an exaggerated number. We do not own the lands that NAMA has. We are in control of the loan book, through NAMA, but the State does not own the land and is not in control of what happens that land. Naturally, through NAMA, we are in control of what happens its loans and work through that as well. I want to be clear on that. When I hear this figure of 120,000 sites, often the land includes parkland and every other kind of land. However, we are concentrating on land for housing that we own and we will bring that forward.

We are in this space and the fund will be open for calls next week. Prior to that, local authorities had been told, for the past year or year and a half, to work with the Department to bring forward proposals on these lands anyway. These proposals are at an advanced stage. We will match the funding as well.

In relation to the last comment the Senator made about the aggregation scheme and sites that were not brought into it, we have been clear to local authorities that the best way to get their money back on those sites is to activate them - to build houses on them and draw down their funding on the housing projects. That is what we are trying to do here. Concentration on activity is how best to deal with that as well.

Direct Provision System

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.

There are currently more than 5,000 people incarcerated in prisons for the innocent of Ireland today. It is direct provision I want talk about. My party believes it is the new eighth amendment. It is the new industrial schools that much shamed the State for many, many years. It is how we treated the most vulnerable. Do we not learn?

When one hears of the conditions at the centres, the idea of waiting indefinitely for such long periods is fairly chilling.

A young woman from whom I heard recently referred to her sentence and it is a sentence until she receives a positive or negative decision. I recently heard from people living in direct provision who are members of the LGBTI community and who are having serious problems due to their gender or sexual identity. This is Pride week and I believe it is timely for the Minister to address the issues raised. The recommendations of the McMahon report about improving the lives of LGBTI people in direct provision and the three subsequent implementation reports stated that successive changes had been made. However, there seems to be a vast amount of evidence to the contrary. There are many outstanding issues that have never been addressed. I wish to seek clarity on these issues today.

Heartbreakingly, I have heard that some people need to remain closeted in direct provision because they are sharing a room with strangers and nobody is monitoring who is put with whom. There is evidence of bullying exacerbated by the cramped and stressful conditions in which they are living. In some cases, they are fleeing solely because of sexual identity yet they are put with people who will bully, intimidate and ridicule them. The same people cannot access LGBTI spaces easily because of financial and logistical reasons. Obviously, Dublin is the place for people to go but people in rural areas have nowhere. It might seem to be of little significance to me or the Minister of State but for those people who have been persecuted and abused for who they are, access to space that is safe and welcoming is vital for their physical and mental health.

Unlike fleeing prosecution because of one's ethnicity or political activism, it was highlighted that it is difficult and questionable ethically to "prove" one's LGTBI-ness. One individual told a story of being asked what was his favourite Madonna song as this was one of the criteria for passing a test of LGBTI-ness. It is dangerous and stereotypical, brings about stigma and has an impact on mental health. It is insensitive to say the least. It was stated in the third and final implementation report on foot of the McMahon recommendations that sensitivity training was under way. Can the Minister of State give me a detailed update about where this is?

Considering that asylum applicants are typically waiting around 20 months for their asylum interview at the International Protection Office, by the time they attend their substantive interview, many LGBT people experience added severe stress and mental health difficulties and their capacity to engage with the asylum procedure is significantly reduced. This is particularly problematic in the context of limited or no access to early legal advice.

The Irish Refugee Council, IRC, is doing phenomenal work on these issues. I will put some of its recommendations to the Minister of State and I implore him to take them seriously. In terms of the EU reception conditions directive, the establishment of a formal vulnerability assessment mechanism to identify special reception needs should go beyond acute medical vulnerability and take into account an individual's psychosocial, cultural and other accommodation needs, including the needs of LGBTI people. The IRC's concern is that the current basic health screening that asylum seekers may avail of does not capture the accommodation requirements of many applicants. I want to say "hello" to those listening from direct provision this morning who are hoping that the Minister of State will bring them good news.

I am here on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who sends his apologies. I thank Senator Devine for raising this important issue. Direct provision is the system by which the Government offers support and services to persons seeking international protection in Ireland. Such persons are claiming protection on the basis that they are fleeing persecution - persecution on the basis of their religion, race and also persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation. It is important to point out that a key element of the direct provision system is that services are provided to persons in that system directly by the responsible State Department or agency. I must reject out of hand words like "incarceration", "prison" and "open prison". They are not that. I would ask colleagues not to use those inflammatory statements and to visit the direct provision centres and see the work that is going on there.

On arrival in Ireland, each person seeking protection is offered full-board accommodation by the Department of Justice and Equality. While there is no obligation on any person to accept this offer, I want to state very strongly that the question of any person's sexual orientation is not in any way a determining factor in whether the offer is made. The services offered to persons in the protection process and who are living in accommodation offered by the State are continually improving and this includes supports and services to those in the LGBTI+ community. The Department of Justice and Equality is currently concluding the development of a set of standards which will become an intrinsic part of all future contracts. These standards will place a requirement on managers and front-line staff to receive training across a wide range of areas, including specific training in respect of the possible needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and-or intersex persons residing in an accommodation centre. I must also point out that the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children also visit these centres and are available to listen to complaints from any people living there.

The draft standards also require that information, posters and confidential contact details are provided to target specific groups including the LGBTI community. In addition, talks and briefings are to be provided to staff and residents to promote dignity and respect to all residents, including any LGBTI residents. These standards have been developed in full consultation with the NGO community and derive from the excellent work carried out by Dr. Bryan McMahon and his team in the report to the Government on improvements to the direct provision system. On behalf of the Minister, I can assure the House that persons who are members of the LGBTI+ community will receive every support possible from managers, staff and State agencies operating with their accommodation centre. Members of the Reception and Integration Agency visit these centres on a regular basis and are available to anybody who wants to consult and meet with them to discuss issues. There are a number of areas where people can get help and support. I want to know about any issues with respect to the bullying mentioned by the Senator or anything else. Staff, officials and I want to know about these incidents, which will be dealt with if we are told about them. There are multiple ways in which residents of these centres can bring these matters to the attention of managers, the staff in the Reception and Integration Agency and the Department, the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children so I ask that this would happen. These issues will be dealt with sensitively and appropriately once we know what they are.

I know the Minister of State cares about these issues. It is apt that we raise these issues during what we consider Pride week. There is nothing proud about direct provision. I will call it incarceration. I will not call it what the Minister of State would like me to call it, which would dilute what it really is. The Minister of State is asking LGBTI people in direct provision to become whistleblowers. We know what happens to whistleblowers in this country. We need to be much more proactive in seeking out the issues as opposed to asking vulnerable individuals to make statements. We are aware it goes on. We just need to respond to that very robustly. In this week of Pride, we need to take a radical approach to the great shame that is direct provision and to treat our most vulnerable with integrity and respect.

Again, I reject out of hand the terms "incarceration" or "open prison". They are populist, inflammatory and wrong. I ask colleagues not to use those terms. I have visited almost all direct provision centres in the country, some of them on a number of occasions, and I can say that the Senator's contention is completely wrong. I challenge colleagues to tell me what the alternative is. What would they like to see put in place? How would it work? The alternative would be that people would come here looking for asylum and could end up on the streets. That does not happen. Everybody who arrives here is offered accommodation and nobody who looks for asylum is left without a bed, food, security and safety. We are speeding up the process with respect to decisions.

Getting back to the main topic, there is no excuse for any person or society to treat any other person without dignity or respect. This is not an alternative to anything. It is a prerequisite as to how we ourselves would like to be treated. I have listened very carefully to the comments made. If anybody out there is aware of residents in centres who are being treated unfairly or wrongly, they should bring it to our attention. I am not just talking about people who might be the subject of such treatment but others who might know of such treatment, including the Senator.

They should bring the details to our attention and we will look into it and deal with it.

While I cannot get into detailed and specific responses at this point, I can assure all Members of the House that I will ask the Minister to revert on any specific point raised. The points raised will be taken into account as the services provided to those in the LGBTI+ community improve. I can assure the House we will work with relevant State agencies to ensure that compliance criteria and standards are finalised for accommodation centres and will continue to be improved. We will also support measures to ensure that centres are inclusive of LGBTI+ young people, with particular consideration of transient gender issues, so that homophobic and transphobic allegations made by refugee asylum seekers and anyone else in these centres are properly investigated, and support is focused on those who may have experienced or who report homophobic or transphobic bullying or harassment in their country of origin.

A project plan is now in place for the development of a national LGBTI strategy for publication by the end of this year. I am chairing the strategy oversight committee and this will include full consideration of all relevant issues for persons living in accommodation centres. As we speak, officials from my Department are meeting with officials from all other Government Departments to progress this LGBTI strategy for the country, and this will include everybody.

I thank the Senator for her remarks. I take these issues very seriously indeed. I thank the Senator for bringing these issues to our attention and ask her to visit all the centres. If there are issues she is aware of, she can bring them to my attention.

Nursing Staff Recruitment

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, for coming to the Chamber to deal with the issue of public health nursing in north Dublin. The north Dublin area of the HSE covers areas, including Balbriggan, the Naul, Skerries, Garristown, Oldtown, Lusk, Rusk, Swords, Ballyboughal, Malahide and Portmarnock, as well as other areas such as Darndale, Baldoyle, Coolock, Raheny, Artane and Howth. This area covers a population of over 300,000. It is the most rapidly growing area in the country and, I believe, one of the most rapidly growing areas in Europe. As a consequence, it has a very young population. By way of a parliamentary question put down by one of my colleagues, I have learned there are just 64 public health nurses covering this area, which is wholly inadequate for the size of population and the fact it is a very young population. This is simply not good enough.

As the Minister of State knows, public health nurses play a vital role in our community. They liaise with GPs, practice nurses, hospices, hospitals and meals on wheels, and they make sure that citizens can access the health services in a timely and proper manner. They often keep a register in their offices of older people in the community and make periodic calls to their houses just to take care of the community. Vitally, they visit mothers and their babies in their homes in the days and weeks following the birth of the child. This is vital for the health and well-being of mothers and their children. They distribute vital health and safety information in regard to sleeping arrangements, sterilisation, vaccinations and breast feeding, and check on the mental health of the mother, which is vital for the health of the child and the overall health of the family unit.

They also look out for signs of domestic violence in the home. We know from studies that the periods before birth and immediately after birth are the periods of most vulnerability for women who are in domestic violence situations. It is very important they are given support, and public health nurses are often the only person from outside the family unit coming into the home who could see warning signs. However, if public health nurses are seriously over-worked and need to get to a number of different houses on that day, they do not have the time or resources to dedicate to getting to the bottom of very complex issues such as domestic violence.

I would very much worry for the public health nurses in north Dublin who are seriously over-worked. They are dedicated and offer a great front-line service but we do not have enough to service a population of more than 300,000. I would like the Minister of State to outline his plans and the Minister, Deputy Harris's plans in regard to the HSE plan to hire and assign more public health nurses for the north Dublin area. This needs to take into account the actual population and the projected population because much of the housing being built at the moment in Dublin is being built in north County Dublin, so the population is growing rapidly as well as being a very young population - the youngest in the State. If public health nurses calling to mothers in their homes are expected to do the best job they can, they need additional numbers. I would appreciate a response from the Minister of State.

I thank Senator Clifford-Lee for raising the issue of the number of public health nurses currently serving the Dublin north area. Both the Minister, Deputy Harris, and I understand and appreciate the excellent care these nurses provide to local communities and are anxious to ensure appropriate staffing levels across the country.

The Department of Health published Working Together for Health - a National Strategic Framework for Health and Social Care Workforce Planning in 2017. This document provides an integrated, dynamic and multidisciplinary approach to workforce planning at all levels of the health service, and the HSE is currently working to operationalise the framework across the health sector. The implementation will be guided by the relevant work streams of the Health Services People Strategy 2015-2018 and Government policy on public service numbers and costs more generally.

As part of this overall workforce planning process, there are a number of recruitment and retention initiatives that seek to bolster nursing capacity. These include offering permanent posts to graduate nurses, continuing the process of pay restoration and offering new opportunities for career development. Turning specifically to public health nurses, these staff are recruited through the public health nurse graduate programme. Each August, the HSE places qualified nurses on placement in the different community health care organisations following an interview process. These nurses are referred to as the public health nurse student intake, and alongside their placement in the community, they participate in an academic programme. The students graduate one year following their entry into the programme and then take up permanent positions following their formal registration.

In 2017, 140 public health nurse students participated in the programme and will graduate in August. These graduates will be offered permanent public health nurse contacts in CHO 9, as follows: Dublin north - 12 public health nurse graduates; Dublin north west - 16 public health nurse graduates; and Dublin north-central - nine public health nurse graduates. In addition, 27 public health nurse posts in CHO 9 that are vacant as a result of retirements, long-term sick leave or career breaks will be filled through the 2018 public health nurse intake programme. These students will graduate in 2019 and will be offered permanent contracts across the Dublin north region. Moreover, I am pleased to be able to inform the Senator that, in recognition of the needs of the Dublin north area, CHO 9 has been allocated seven new development posts for public health nurse nursing. These students will take up their placement in August 2018 and will graduate in August 2019, when they too will be offered permanent contracts. This increased allocation of public health nurse posts will ease the pressures currently being experienced in Dublin north and help to further improve and enhance the delivery of primary care services in the local area.

I thank the Minister of State. I am glad to hear of those additional recruits but, to be honest, I think it will just be a drop in the ocean. I would like to know the intake numbers into the public health nurse graduate programme and whether the Government is going to increase the numbers rapidly to deal with the rapidly growing population. To have 12 public health nurses graduating and being allocated to Dublin north is, as I said, welcome but it is just a drop in the ocean. We are trying to play catch-up and we are not going to catch up quickly enough with these numbers, unfortunately.

I note the Senator's concerns. It is a difficult balance to get all of these staffing challenges right. One cannot push too many nurses into the public health nurse programme without leaving the acute side short, so it is about getting the balance right and trying to manage the available resources, while trying to increase the overall intake of nurses. As I outlined, there is a workplace planning programme in place to try to address that infrastructural deficit at the base level. When we can increase that number, we can then increase the overall numbers. I have outlined some positive steps, which the Senator has acknowledged.

I also appreciate the Senator's concern that it may not go far enough to resolve the issues. I am happy to pass on the additional information she sought.

Hospital Facilities

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss with the Minister of State an excellent project for Roscommon University Hospital and the western region. As I said before, the medical rehabilitation unit is one of three major capital developments planned at Roscommon University Hospital. The other two are an endoscopy unit which is open and extremely busy and a hospice care centre that will be funded by Mayo Roscommon Hospice Foundation. We have also agreed to fund the staffing of the unit. There is a clear demand for a medical rehabilitation facility in the west. Almost one quarter of patients treated at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire normally reside in the HSE West region as there are no dedicated rehabilitation units in the western region. As it stands, the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire is the only comprehensive rehabilitation facility in the Republic of Ireland for patients with physical and cognitive impairments. As we all know, the demand for its services continues to rise. Clearly, there is a need to meet that demand. I am delighted that the National Rehabilitation Hospital has strongly endorsed the €7.85 million project planned for Roscommon University Hospital.

What we are looking at initially is the development of a ten-bed inpatient ward on a greenfield site on the Roscommon University Hospital campus. Another ten beds are also expected to be delivered on a phased basis into the future. The unit will operate as a satellite centre under the auspices of the National Rehabilitation Hospital and relieve pressure on existing services. It will also allow patients to be treated in their own community. The need for the facility has never been so important and today I am raising some concerns that the project may not be moving as fast as we had hoped. My understanding last December was that the design team for the project would be appointed in the first quarter of this year. However, six months down the road, the tender documents to appoint a design team have not even been issued and I am wondering why there appears to be a delay in the process. My strong belief is the design team should be well in place by now in order to move this important project along to the planning stage. I look forward to the Minister of State shedding some light on my query.

I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to update the House on this matter. A Programme for a Partnership Government places a particular focus on a number of key programmes and strategies, including publishing a plan for advancing neurorehabilitation services in the community. The national policy and strategy for the provision of neurorehabilitation services in Ireland for the period 2011 to 2015 made a number of recommendations for services for people with rehabilitation needs. The strategy also covered a range of supports, including clinical; therapeutic; social; vocational and community supports.

The redevelopment of the National Rehabilitation Hospital is well under way and it is expected to be operational in 2020. Funding for phases I and II of this major redevelopment project was included in the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 policy initiative, as part of an overall €10.9 billion strategic investment in health services. It will be a significant enhancement of rehabilitation services and have a direct and significant impact on patient recovery by providing an optimal ward and therapeutic environment for patient treatment. This will enable staff to deliver optimal quality care and treatment in a facility which affords dignity, respect and privacy to all.

Roscommon University Hospital is a model 2 hospital within the Saolta University Health Care Group. It provides a significant range of hospital services for patients in the region, including extended day surgery, certain acute medicine services and local injuries services. It also provides a wide array of diagnostic services, including endoscopy, laboratory medicine, point of care testing and radiology, as well as specialist rehabilitation medicine and palliative care. It plays an essential role as part of the Saolta group of hospitals and will continue to do so in the future. We know that future growth in healthcare will be in the areas of chronic disease management and day surgery, diagnostics and rehabilitation. The activity levels of model 2 hospitals such as Roscommon University Hospital will continue to increase in the coming years as they specialise in providing these services to meet the needs of their local populations.

In 2016 the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, announced the development of a specialist rehabilitation unit at Roscommon University Hospital to design and planning stage, in association with the National Rehabilitation Hospital. The provision of the unit is included in the national development plan, published as part of the Ireland 2040 initiative earlier this year, and will deliver 20 beds and therapy suite accommodation on completion. The HSE has advised that the procurement process for the design team is at the final stage and that the appointment of a design team is imminent. It also advises that the hospital is experiencing traffic congestion and parking difficulties, for which solutions will need to be addressed as part of the planning application process.

Apart from the employment which will be created during the construction phase, it is also important to say that once the rehabilitation unit becomes fully operational, it will create 25 jobs initially and up to 50 when all phases are complete. When all of these positions come onstream, more than 400 staff will be working in the hospital which is busier and safer than ever. However, I really believe we need to get the rehabilitation unit up and running. As the Minister of State said, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, announced the development of a specialist rehabilitation unit in 2016, which had been agreed to in 2011 with the then Minister, Senator James Reilly. It is also included in the national development plan.

There is something fundamentally wrong in HSE Estates in Galway. I am sick and tired of coming here to find that everything planned for Roscommon is being held up in Galway. Is it that it does not have enough staff or is there a more serious matter, to the effect that it will do anything to stop development at Roscommon University Hospital? I want an investigation. I am in Sligo and have no problem with the HSE in the north west. I have had a problem with HSE Estates in Galway in respect of Roscommon University Hospital and will not put up with it any more. I want an investigation into why these things are being delayed. Two years ago the Minister announced that the project would get the go-ahead. We are still waiting on HSE Estates which is apart from the Department of Health. This has gone on too long. I know that the rehabilitation unit will go ahead in Roscommon, but I am concerned that we are not getting the attention we need and deserve.

I appreciate the Senator's frustration and understand his commitment to Roscommon University Hospital, as the history books will verify. Any objective analysis would confirm his passion as a public representative about the future development of Roscommon University Hospital and the risks he took in his political and personal life for the betterment of the hospital and his belief in its future. That is not just commendable, it also gives him authority above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to public representations. The very least he deserves is the answers he is seeking. I appreciate that a word like "imminent" does not tell him, me or the House when exactly the design team will be appointed. I will certainly take it on myself, on the Senator's behalf, to make contact with HSE Estates in Galway to get a more detailed, comprehensive and realistic timeframe, understandable to all of us, for when exactly the design team will be appointed and the next steps thereafter. I will come back to the Senator on the matter.

Sitting suspended at 11.20 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.