Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Early Years Sector

I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, to the House. I appreciate his taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone.

As every parent knows, the early years of a child's life are of great importance in ensuring the child reaches his or her full potential. Parents are also aware of the fear, panic and apprehension that even the best prepared new parents may experience on the birth of their first or subsequent children. One way of helping parents through this very difficult process is by assisting them with the essentials they will need for the crucial first weeks and months of parenthood. A baby box is a box full of the supplies new parents need to give their child the best start in life, including clothes, books, blankets, thermometers, towels and toys. The box also contains a mattress and can double as a cot for the infant. Baby boxes have been distributed in Finland and many other Scandinavian countries since the 1930s. More relevant to this country, they have been distributed in Scotland since 2017. As parents may choose to have their child sleep in the box, it is obviously important that all necessary safety tests be carried out before the boxes are provided to the public. Baby boxes have been distributed in counties Wexford, Limerick and Tipperary under a pilot scheme which has been a significant success. It is a clear indication of the appetite among new parents for the baby box.

In the past week or so, I met the Scottish Minister for Children and Young People, Ms Maree Todd, in Edinburgh to discuss the success of baby box initiative there. As of December 2018, 68,513 Scottish parents had received a baby box, with an estimated take-up rate of more than 85% of new parents. More than 60% of those Scottish parents used or intended to use the box as a crib.

As well as supporting new parents, the baby box gives all children a fair start in life by providing them with essential goods. As the box doubles as a crib, it ensures that babies have a safe place to sleep. In 2018, the Minister, Deputy Zappone, announced her intention to bring baby boxes to all Irish parents. That intention must be made a reality. When will the baby box scheme be rolled out across the country? If it is not envisaged that it will take place in the very near future, I plead with the Minister of State to do everything in his power to ensure it is done as soon as possible.

I thank the Senator for his question. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has asked me to take this Commencement matter because she is attending the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs this afternoon and is, therefore, unable to be present in the House.

I bow to Senator Richmond's greater knowledge of parenting and I hope that young Master Luke is-----

The Minister of State will get there.

-----better having been ill recently. Baby boxes for newborns are to be trialled in a pilot under First 5, the recently published whole-of-Government strategy for babies, young children and their families. Piloting baby boxes is just one initiative which is part of a wide-ranging strategy addressing various aspects of the lives of children from birth to age five, including supports for parents to balance working and caring, developments in early learning and care and health initiatives. The gift of the baby box is intended as a welcome from the State for a new arrival to a family and an acknowledgement of this very significant moment for parents. The universal distribution of baby boxes also reflects an important equality principle that each child is given something of equal value at the start of their life.

As the Senator outlined, the concept originates in Finland and has been implemented in a number of other countries. It consists of a package of items to assist with the transition to parenthood. The pilot will undertake research and consultation to determine items for inclusion in the pack and these may include safety items, baby clothes and toys to support early development and books to foster a love of reading from infancy. The distribution of a baby box also offers the opportunity to communicate important child development and safety messages to parents and is an early opportunity to link families in with support services if they are required. This is consistent with the principle of progressive universalism whereby all families receive something universally, but where there are additional needs, extra supports are provided. Key objectives with the baby box and linked communications will include support for parent infant bonding, information on baby development and early learning, advice and support for breastfeeding and promotion of infant health and safety. At this point, it has not yet been determined whether the box will be designed for babies to sleep in. In other countries, as the Senator outlined, it can act as a crib for the first six months of a child’s life. The logistical issues with this and whether such a feature would be of value to parents will be questions for the scoping phase. Other options for design will also be considered.

Baby boxes will be piloted in parallel with book bags to support early literacy and the home learning environment. Book bags are packs with books for children and other resources to support reading and learning. It is intended that book bags would be made available free of charge to families with young children at key points in a child’s life such as infancy, the transition to preschool and the transition to primary school. The pilot of baby boxes and book bags will also address questions of how to facilitate distribution of these resources and the local service provision infrastructure that will be required to be configured to support this.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and I agree with much of what he said about this issue, which I am very passionate about. Every new parent should be given the same basic start and opportunity for the new life they are bringing into the world. I am not necessarily the best parent. I had many privileges when I had the opportunity to help, support and pretend to pay attention to all the great work my wife did 16 months ago. Many people in this country are not in the same position and this scheme provides the Government with an opportunity to assist them. I note the report and the pilot scheme but I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to speak with her counterparts in Finland, other Scandinavian countries and, in particular, Scotland, which is comparable to Ireland. The scheme in Scotland has been highly successful. We should definitely consider having the box as a crib. Concerns raised in Scotland have been addressed so let us use Scotland's wisdom and experience to make our scheme the best possible. The great thing about these boxes is that not only do the items contained within give people a great start but they can provide great guidance on swaddling or reusable nappies, which I will not pretend I use. We need to start implementing this and encouraging people that this can be done so that everyone has the same first start.

Dormant accounts funding has been secured for the development of the pilots in both baby boxes and book bags between 2019 and 2021. That is the direct answer to the Senator's question. If the pilots are successful, as we hope they will be, and once the consultation on what should be included has taken place, it is envisaged the schemes will be introduced.

I thank the Minister of State and the Senator.

Foreign Direct Investment

I thank the Minister for attending in order to deal with this matter. We were very happy to have her in the west last week for the launch of the west regional enterprise plan to 2020. That was a great occasion because it allowed us to reflect on all the great work that has been achieved as part of the Action Plan for Jobs. More than 28,000 jobs have been created since 2015 and our unemployment rate is approximately 6.6%. Under the new plan, we are seeking to increase the number of jobs in the region by 10% to 15% by 2020. The event to which I refer was fantastic, and the PorterShed digital innovation centre where it took place is very impressive. I am very hopeful that my own home town of Ballina, where we have secured €3.2 million to create a digital and innovation hub at the old military barracks, will have something similar to the PorterShed if not bigger. There are lots of good things in the pipeline and I acknowledge the Minister's work and that of her predecessor.

The Minister will recall that the chair of the Action Plan for Jobs regional steering committee, Mr. Gerard Kilcommins of Medtronic, outlined his experience of being the chair and looked at the entire region. He acknowledged that the biggest challenge is to spread job growth. Galway and Mayo are two of the largest counties in the country. The position in Galway city is almost a world apart from the other counties. The challenge is to shunt growth outwards and achieve balanced regional development in accordance with the objective of Project Ireland 2040 to grow the population outside of Galway, Dublin and the other big urban centres.

Strategic objective No. 6 of the regional enterprise plan is to "Enhance the quality and availability of enterprise space in the West". I wish to speak about north and east Mayo. We had wonderful news several weeks ago with the announcement of 150 jobs to be created by US firm Meissner. That firm will have its base in Castlebar. We are all very aware in Mayo and in more peripheral areas that it is that bit more difficult to attract foreign direct investment into these areas. I am asking the Minister how we can put north Mayo, east Mayo and Ballina on the map as an economic driver for the region. How can we attract more foreign direct investment? We already have a success story in Coca-Cola's presence in Ballina, which employs about 500 people. Hollister's operation in Ballina employs 800 people. We have foreign direct investment from about six companies including Lionbridge Technologies, which tests software. These are very welcome and they have grown in the last several years but we want new investment, and that makes sense. We may have issues regarding connectivity and roads, but I have spoken with the managing directors of several of these companies and what we have to offer is quality of life. We have never had better sports facilities and there are school places and houses. Moreover, the cost of living is much lower than in Dublin. Let us face it - all jobs are welcome, but if all the investment is in Dublin and Galway, those centres will cave in on themselves. They cannot take the pressure. We know about the shortage of housing and school places.

One solution that has been suggested by some of the multinational companies driving foreign direct investment is the construction of an advanced technology building. We know that it was key to Meissner's choice to invest in Castlebar. That was stated at the launch. Even the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, who was officiating, said we need to build more such facilities.

I am asking for an advanced technology building to be provided in Ballina, which is the biggest town in the area. The town needs to be put on the map so that companies can see not just a field, but a building with the capacity to expand. I get this message from people constantly and if the Minister facilitates this she will put us in a better position to attract the jobs we want and which we are willing and able to have in the north and east of Mayo.

This Government is determined to support the growth of high-quality and sustainable employment across Ireland, including in County Mayo, and I have made regional development one of my priorities. The recent annual results of the IDA demonstrate that we are making significant progress in Mayo and the west region. In 2018, for example, 56% of all net new jobs created by the agency were in locations outside Dublin. Similarly, every region in Ireland, including the west, posted net gains in jobs last year. There are now over 132,000 people employed across 681 firms in IDA Ireland-client companies outside the capital. In fact, 58% of all IDA-supported employment is now outside Dublin. This represents the highest number of people employed in the regions by IDA Ireland clients in the agency’s history.

While more work remains to be done, County Mayo has benefitted from this regional focus. Mayo is home to a number of prominent multinationals which have shown a significant level of commitment to the county with companies such as Allergan, Baxter Healthcare and Fort Wayne Metals continuing to perform well. The past two years have seen Coca Cola investing €26 million in its Ballina operations to expand its range of activities at the facility. The presence of these companies is a testimony to the positive, enterprise-focused environment for international business that has been fostered in County Mayo.

In the past 12 months, Mayo has experienced a 7.5% growth in employment by overseas companies with 344 net new jobs added and FDI employment now reaching 4,828 people. The IDA, for its part, continues to highlight the benefits of expanding or locating in Mayo to multinationals. In 2018, the agency hosted ten site visits in County Mayo compared with seven site visits in 2017. The IDA also has a number of property solutions in place for prospective investors including approximately 11 ha of industrial zoned land in Ballina which could facilitate the development of a business and technology park. As part of its regional property programme, the IDA constructed an advanced building in Castlebar and I welcome the recent announcement that Meissner will occupy this building with the intention of creating 150 jobs over the next five years. Initiatives like the regional property programme have, so far, supported the creation of hundreds of jobs to date in regional locations such as Sligo, Waterford and Athlone with more expected in the short to medium term. This is a positive reflection of the IDA's proactive investment in property solutions in the regions.

I applaud and welcome all the progress that has been made. Objective 6 in the regional enterprise plan for the west is to find quality, available enterprise space and an advanced technology building would bring more visitors to the county. The FDI companies on the ground, and Meissner when it made its announcement, have stated that the increase in the number of visits in 2018 is down to the construction of an advanced technology building and this is in keeping with what the chair of the regional steering committee has said.

The Minister may not be able to give me an answer today but I ask her to have a serious look at a site for the construction of a building. IDA Ireland is supportive of this and the local enterprise office can also see its benefits There is a field but there is no substitute for seeing a building and this would really put us on the map.

We are achieving real results in encouraging greater investment in County Mayo.

The number of people on the live register in Mayo has fallen by 6,124 or 47% compared with February 2012 when we launched the first Action Plan for Jobs. Employment in IDA-supported companies in Mayo has increased year on year since 2012, with a 37% increase in foreign direct investment, FDI, employment in the country from 2012 to 2018. The number of people employed in Enterprise Ireland-supported jobs in Mayo has also increased by more than 55% since 2011. Just last week, I announced the local enterprise office results for Mayo with 130 net new jobs created in 2018.

In terms of Project Ireland 2040, I know that under the urban regeneration fund more than €3.2 million has been allocated for the development of the Ballina Innovation Quarter, which I know the Senator has welcomed. That will be a major boost for Ballina. The Senator has been a great supporter of that project, which she has highlighted to me on a number of occasions. I was delighted she was with us for the launch of the regional enterprise plans for the west last week. Those plans are all about supporting regional development through collaborative, ground-up proposals.

I see great potential for the regional steering groups who will oversee the implementation of each plan to come up with very good projects of scale which we, as a Government, can support under the various Project Ireland 2040 funds, whether it is rural or urban regeneration, disruptive technologies or the climate fund. There is also my Department's regional enterprise development fund that I plan to launch in the coming months.

I would like to see more projects like the Ballina Innovation Quarter being replicated throughout the country because it is a very good project. I want to emphasise that creating jobs in the regions is a priority for both IDA Ireland and my Department. I am focused on doing everything I can to deliver the fairest possible spread of investment.

In 2018, IDA Ireland recorded its highest number of jobs created in the region in 17 years. Every facility has been completed under the regional property programme, and the Senator is right in saying that every one of them is occupied now.

Is the Minister looking at another one?

I am. The programme is clearly delivering results. That is the reason I have increased the budget for the regional property programme by €10 million in budget 2019. Under Project Ireland 2040 and because of Brexit, a need has been identified in the Border region. There has been very little investment in terms of IDA Ireland in recent years, but that has changed. There have been a good number of job announcements in Sligo, for example. A number of very good jobs have been announced there in the past year. The Senator can understand that there is a particular focus on the Border currently.

We are making real progress. We will continue to do our utmost to encourage further such job growth across all parts of Ireland in the time ahead.

Before calling the next item, I welcome to the Public Gallery the president and past presidents of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union, colleagues of Senator Billy Lawless, who I have no doubt is a former champion rower.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I just wanted to show him the fantastic specimens of sportsmen I have brought here today.

Drug Treatment Programmes Policy

I thank the Minister of State for being here. I raise the issue of drug policy reform and the progress of the work of the Department of Health working group examining alternative approaches to the criminalisation of drugs possession. As she is aware, this is an issue I have a keen interest in and I have been following closely the progress of the Department working group. The decriminalisation of drugs for personal use is a necessity in modernising our antiquated laws which unfairly and without an evidence base criminalise drug use and addiction.

The international evidence is clear and overwhelmingly supportive of decriminalisation as a harm reduction measure and one that would allow for a shift to a health-led approach where drug treatment, education and community engagement would be central rather than harsh criminal penalties.

My first Seanad Private Members' Bill, the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017, would have allowed for a Portuguese-style model for the decriminalisation of drugs possession for personal use and the creation of a drug dissuasion service to administer and case-manage those found in possession of drugs, whereby appropriate health-led interventions could be made instead of sending people through the court and prison systems.

As the Minister of State will remember, I agreed with her and the Government to adjourn the debate on the Bill and suspend its progression through the Oireachtas to allow for the working group to conduct its work. I thank her for the opportunity to present my Bill to the working group. I hope it was of use in its deliberations.

I was delighted to see the extraordinary amount of engagement through the public consultation process. Over 20,000 submissions were received. I understand this is the Department's record. It clearly shows the public support and appetite for substantive change. At every point, I have tried to be constructive and supportive of the working group and of Deputy Catherine Byrne in her role as Minister of State responsible for the drugs strategy.

I held my Bill back because I believed there was openness and willingness to assess the failings of our current drug laws, genuinely consider evidence internationally and move to recommend real and substantive change. The Minister of State can imagine my concern, therefore, when I read in the Irish Examiner a few weeks back that the group is preparing to reject recommending decriminalisation and instead recommends some sort of diversion scheme - a system in which we would maintain the criminalisation of addiction and tell people we are going to put their stigmatisation and shaming before meeting their needs and recovery. It is just not good enough.

As a State, we cannot continue to label addiction as offending behaviour and hold criminal penalties over users' heads as a way to keep them in line. It may be the thinking of the Department and working group but it is not supported by evidence, international experience or the extraordinary support for decriminalisation the Department would have noted in the public consultation. If the reports in the newspaper article are true, the Government will have ignored the evidence and the public in opting for this path.

Could the Minister of State confirm whether the reports are untrue and whether the working group is still considering full decriminalisation? Can she confirm that she will be publishing the submissions received in the consultation, as was done for the Citizens' Assembly, so we can all know of the public support for decriminalisation or the model the Government is putting forward? Can she confirm that any proposals from the group will be fully cited in extensive detail, with the international evidence supporting the policy and evidence base for their effectiveness? I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator for her compassion and passion in dealing with this matter. I thank her for the time she put in when she came to see us about her Bill. I asked her to hold off until we put the group together. We have done so. I thank the over 20,000 people who emailed their views on the matter.

I appreciate very much the Senator's special interest in this issue. She introduced a Private Members' Bill in 2017. We share the same desire to make positive changes in this area. In November 2017, I established a working group to consider the approach in other jurisdictions to the possession of drugs for personal use. The group was set up to examine alternative responses for simple possession and will make recommendations on policy options to me and my colleagues in government, including the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan.

The group is chaired by a retired judge, Mr. Garrett Sheehan, and consists of representatives from the Department of justice, the criminal justice system, the Department of Health, the HSE and the HRB. There are also two service users as well as academic experts. The work programme of the working group has consisted of meetings with experts from other countries, commissioning research on other jurisdictions and undertaking a public consultation. I understand the group met Senator Ruane, who explained to it the background and context to her Private Members' Bill.

I have been informed there have been 14 meetings of the working group to date. To inform its deliberations, wide-ranging public consultation was undertaken by the Department of Health, consisting of an online questionnaire, focus groups and an open policy debate. The online questionnaire received a response from over 20,000 people, which far exceeds the response in any consultation previously undertaken by the Department. Two focus groups were held, with a total of 15 people who had been prosecuted for the possession of illegal drugs for personal use. An open policy debate was attended by 17 representatives of stakeholder organisations. The participants explored how an alternative health-led approach should operate in practice.

The working group commissioned a group of internationally renowned researchers to conduct a review of the approaches and experiences in nine other jurisdictions with respect to the possession of drugs for personal use. In light of the large volume of work undertaken and the associated amount of information to be considered by the working group, the chair requested an extension to the original timeframe. On 19 December 2018, I granted an extension of three months so that the group could complete the report and ensure it addresses all of the terms of reference. I met the chair of the group in January and he updated me on progress. He advised me that the working group is drafting the final report and is on track to submit it by the end of quarter 1 of 2019.

It goes without saying that a significant amount of work has gone into this. The majority of NGOs, community groups and voluntary groups that support decriminalisation have welcomed the level of consultation and the role that the Department has played, as have I. We were concerned by the report in the Irish Examiner, which pre-empts the outcome of the as yet unpublished working group report. Is the newspaper report accurate? Can we expect a diversion programme to be introduced under which someone caught once with drugs will be expected in that moment to be able to grasp recovery? Relapse is such an everyday part of drug use. A system under which people would not face court the first time they are caught in possession of drugs would still label people as criminals and is not a health-led approach. Is the report in the Irish Examiner accurate?

It was useful that all the submissions to the Citizens' Assembly process were made public. It would also be useful if everybody who has a stake in this debate could see the information supporting the policy decision of the working group. The Minister of State spoke of internationally renowned researchers. Will the international evidence used to support the working group's recommendations be cited in the report in order that we can see it when the report is published?

I will not pre-empt what is in the report because I do not know what is in it. I have not asked to be kept informed as the group has proceeded with its work in recent weeks and months. Only when the report crosses my desk will I know the full extent of what is being recommended by the working group. Newspapers can write anything they like. I will have to consult officials in the Department on the online assessment as I am not sure whether we would be in a position to publish the emails received given that they are private correspondence.

They can be anonymised.

I will have to come back to the Senator on that.

As I indicated, work was done by internationally renowned researchers and we have looked at other jurisdictions. Until the report is on my desk, I cannot speculate on its contents to the Senator or anybody else, including newspaper reporters who telephone me. Let the working group finish the work it has started and come back with a report. If I am not happy with the report, I am sure many Senators will not be happy with it either. Only then will we be able to work on the recommendations.

I visit young people in services and communities, many of whom the Senator knows, who find themselves caught up in addiction and criminal activity and end up at a young age with a criminal record which can alter their lives for ever. They cannot go back into education, go abroad on holiday or even get housing. We need to be compassionate, particularly towards young people who get involved in criminal activities and find that they have a lifelong mark against them that is very difficult to shake off.

I hope the working group report will provide for flexibility and compassion and, above all, a health-led change to our approach to young people who are caught up in drug addiction and, unfortunately, criminal activities around that. Young people of 15 and 16 years are being targeted daily. This morning, on a visit to the Blanchardstown task force, I was informed that children as young as 12 and 14 years are smoking weed.

This is something we must take on board. It is not only in poorer areas but across every constituency and part of the country. We need to recognise that addiction is a health issue and not stigmatise people because of it.

I apologise to Senator Ruane that I have nothing to add other than the judge and the working group were given a job to do, and out of respect to what they are doing, we should wait and ignore whatever is in the newspaper until we get the facts.

The Minister of State will keep in touch on this anyway.

I certainly will. I am sure that I will be back in the House.

Heritage Sites

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for taking time to be here. On behalf of the people of Castleblayney, I seek the Minister of State's help and assistance in addressing the dreadful and dangerous state of the Market House building in the centre of Castleblayney town. The Market House, which is a protected structure, dates back to 1801. Until the 1990s, the building was used as a library and the Courts Service also used the building, but since then it has remained vacant and is in an advancing state of decay.

It is soul destroying for the people of Castleblayney to see this iconic building in the heart of their town decay to this current condition. In recent weeks, Monaghan County Council has found it necessary to cordon off the building and surrounding area after engineers found that an internal wall had collapsed. Investigations are ongoing to determine the structural integrity of the building. The council has engaged a structural engineer to prepare measures that would stabilise the walls of the Market House and protect the public. Interim measures under design provide for a heavy steel bracing to support the external walls and prevent the potential collapse of the building onto the public footpath. The estimated cost is €250,000.

On the footpath outside the building, there is a statute of the late great Tom McBride, which was installed only last year, when President Higgins came to the town for the day, which was very successful. I am glad to report that the Big Tom statue has proved a great tourist attraction for the town which has benefited from increased numbers of visitors who have come to see it. Unfortunately, there are reports that the Big Tom statue may have to be relocated because the Market House is in such an unstable condition. I have been contacted by many business owners, traders, residents and the community at large who have voiced their concerns about the situation. Unfortunately, a knock-on effect is that car parking has been restricted around the building which has affected businesses because of the loss of footfall. Businesses are losing money. Castleblayney has many fine attractions, including Lough Muckno which has seen it called the Killarney of the north. It is important that we promote and maintain its attractions as best we can.

Sadly, protected status in this country means very little. Heritage grants are meagre and go no way to retaining buildings. Many of our structures are neglected and are allowed to deteriorate and rot, as in this case when the building is about to fall onto a public highway. However, this is not just about a neglected building in Castleblayney. It has a serious knock-on effect on the town's business life. Funding must be allocated so that the building can be used by the people of Castleblayney. There have been suggestions locally that due to the huge popularity of the Big Tom statue, and more people coming to the town, that the statue may have to be relocated.

This is an emergency situation that needs emergency funding from the Government to restore this building to its former glory so it can be utilised for the people of Castleblayney, perhaps for a Big Tom visitor centre that will add another visitor attraction to the area. My message is that this has come to a critical state and funding needs to be allocated so this building can be brought back to life.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter. I am sorry to hear of the concerns over the Big Tom statue because I know it was only recently installed in Castleblayney. I saw the television footage of the crowd and of the President attending its unveiling.

The Market House at Castleblayney is a well-known building in Castleblayney's historic town centre which will be familiar to many people. The building is in the ownership and management of Monaghan County Council. It was recorded in my Department's national inventory of architectural heritage and is rated there as of regional importance. As such, it was recommended to Monaghan County Council for inclusion in its record of protected structures and it is a protected structure within the meaning of the Planning and Development Acts.

The role of the Minister with regard to the protection and management of our architectural heritage is set out in the provisions of relevant legislation, as are the roles of local authorities and the responsibilities of owners. Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, gives primary responsibility to planning authorities to identify and protect the architectural heritage by including particular structures on their record of protected structures. Inclusion on the record of protected structures places a duty of care on the owners and occupiers of protected structures and also gives planning authorities powers to deal with development proposals affecting them and to seek to safeguard their future.

Under section 59 of the Planning and Development Acts, the Minister has no power to serve endangerment notices on protected structures as this is a reserved function of the local authority. As the owner of this protected structure, Monaghan County Council has a duty under section 58 of the Acts to ensure the structure does not become endangered. I am informed there is considerable work under way by the county council to identify a course of action that would see the Market House saved and protected into the future. I understand this will require a very significant investment.

In terms of the support the Minister can offer, her role in regard to protected structures is mainly advisory. The national inventory of architectural heritage in my Department identifies, records and evaluates the post-1700 architectural heritage of Ireland as an aid to its protection and conservation. The Minister recommends structures rated as being of regional importance or above to the planning authorities for inclusion on their record of protected structures. However, the making of an addition to, or a deletion from, a record of protected structures remains a reserved function of the relevant planning authority.

My Department's architectural heritage advisory unit provides advice and support to owners dealing with protected structures and, as in the past, this service remains always available to Monaghan County Council should it find it would be of assistance. My Department also provides financial support for the protection of heritage buildings and historic structures through the historic structures fund and the built heritage investment scheme, which are administered by local authorities. This year, I have allocated €4.3 million in total to these schemes. I understand the scale of investment needed for the Market House would mean that the levels of grant funding available under these schemes might not be sufficient and that the local authority intends to seek funding from other sources.

The Minister provided funding of €1 million in 2018 and again in 2019 for the historic towns initiative, which is a joint initiative of my Department and the Heritage Council. The historic towns initiative supported six historic towns in 2018 in carrying out significant heritage regeneration projects. I understand that Monaghan County Council applied for and was granted €140,000 in funding under the historic towns initiative in 2018 for works to the Market House in Castleblayney to commence the process of stabilising the building, but the application was later withdrawn by the local authority because of its growing appreciation of the scale of the works needed to this building and the likelihood, therefore, that the funding awarded would not have made a significant difference to the future of the building, which needs a much larger scale intervention.

In terms of future funding, Investing in our Culture, Language and Heritage 2018-2027 represents a major capital investment scheme of €1.2 billion over the next ten years, which will include increased investment in protecting and celebrating our built heritage across the country. More details on the commencement and completion dates for projects and programmes, as well as the timing of the expenditure in regard to them, will emerge as we go through the process of appraisal and planning as required under the public spending code.

My Department is aware of the significance of this building and its position in the town of Castleblayney. My officials remain available to assist Monaghan County Council in any way possible with its efforts to manage the building and see it returned to a sustainable use that is consistent with its significant history and position in the town. It remains open to Monaghan County Council to apply for funding under any of the built heritage grant schemes that it would find suitable for supporting the various phases of the project, once a plan for the sustainable future of the building has been identified by the local authority.

With regard to Castleblayney, I also welcome the allocation to Monaghan County Council from the Department of Rural and Community Development, under Deputy Ring. That Department's rural regeneration development fund, category 1, grant for Castleblayney enterprise centre, comprises some €2.41 million for a disused site adjacent to Castleblayney town centre, given the great potential this brings to the town.

Perhaps Monaghan County Council has plans to seek funding under the rural scheme, which has a €1 billion fund over ten years. It is now in its second year. I am sure the Senator will liaise with his colleagues on the local authority to see whether Monaghan County Council would be interested in applying for the fund. I cannot pre-empt a grant of funding but making an application to the Department of Rural and Community Development may be a route the local authority could go down.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. Unfortunately, I take no solace from its contents. To put this in context, the Minister of State mentioned a national figure of €4.3 million for protected structures. At present, figures are circulating that restoring the Market House to its former glory would cost more than €6 million. If the building were to be removed and built back up again it would cost between €3.5 million and €4 million. These figures outline the seriousness of the problem. The funding allocated for protected structures, with all due respect, is totally inadequate not just with regard to this building but for protected structures throughout the country. This is something of which the Government needs to take cognisance. This is a serious issue for the economic well-being of a small Border town such as Castleblaney. I ask that the Government opens its doors to potential funding so the issue can be addressed and the lives of the people of Castleblaney can get back to normal. They are on hold at present and it will take emergency funding for the Market House to be restored.

As I stated, I am speaking on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Madigan, and I know the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is acutely aware of the historic nature and significance of the Market House in Castleblaney. I am not here to speak on behalf of Monaghan County Council or to comment on matters that are part of the local authority's reserved functions, but I know the local authority owns the building and is responsible for its care. It is acutely aware of the position and is working to identify solutions. The Minister and the Department are ready to offer advice, support and assistance to the local authority. There may be other routes the local authority can take on the project, and I urge the Senator to liaise with it. As I have stated, the Minister, Deputy Madigan, will be free to discuss the matter with the Senator at some stage.

Sitting suspended at 3.25 p.m. and resumed at 3.35 p.m.