Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor. I am advised that the matter in the name of Senator Feighan will be taken first.

Yes, I will have to leave shortly.

Senator Byrne tabled the second Commencement matter.

Yes, I am first.

As the Minister of State will reply to both Senators, there should be no difficulty. We will get through the Commencement matters quickly. The first matter was tabled by Senator Feighan who has the floor.

I am delighted to see the Minister of State here. St. Angela's College in Sligo is the only-----

I am sorry, but can we take the second Commencement matter first, please?

If the Senators are agreeable.

The reason I ask is I do not have the notes on St. Angela's College.

Senator Feighan has explained that he will have to leave.

I beg the Senator's pardon.

It is all right.

I am really sorry, but a mistake has been made in the office. It had nothing to do with me I hasten to add.

Are the Senators agreeable?

I, therefore, call Senator Byrne.

Garda Stations

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and welcome the Minister of State.

I am raising an issue I have raised in the past. At the time the initial Garda response to the call for a new Garda station in Castletroy to serve the greater east Limerick area was that a new station was not warranted. I have had discussions with senior gardaí in Limerick. I have also been in touch with and attended meetings organised by residents to discuss anti-social behaviour and other issues in the area, in which there is a very young population. Following the discussions with senior gardaí, I understand the Garda is considering the question of whether a Garda station is warranted in the area. Therefore, I seek an update on the matter.

Castletroy has a huge student population of about 15,000. There are also many families living in the area which is expanding greatly outwards. Henry Street Garda station serves not only city centre areas but also all the way out as far as Montpelier and Castleconnel. Realistically, the station does not have the resources or manpower to service those areas fully. Recently there was a serious break-in, but, unfortunately, the people affected had to wait quite a while for assistance because there was no Garda car available to deal with the incident. Local and national politicians in all parties and all of the residents' associations support the call for a new Garda station. I also understand it now has the support of senior gardaí in Limerick.

I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and wish to advise her that I am answering on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. She will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling the administration and business of An Garda Síochána who holds primary responsibility for the effective and efficient use of the resources available to An Garda Síochána. He is responsible for the opening and closing of Garda stations. The Minister has no direct role in such matters. The Senator may recall that, as recently as December 2018, the Garda Inspectorate, in its report entitled, Policing with Local Communities, confirmed that it was appropriate for the Commissioner to continue to hold this responsibility.

The Minister and the Department are informed that Garda management keeps under review overall policing arrangements, including the operation of Garda stations and the assignment of personnel throughout the State. Garda management has regard to various factors, including crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a district, divisional and regional level. This ensures optimum use is made of Garda resources and that the best possible policing service is provided for the public.

The Garda Síochána Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021 includes a number of projects which reflect the agreed priorities of An Garda Síochána. Provision of a Garda station in Castletroy, Limerick, is not included in this programme. The Minister and I very much understand that people want to see a visible Garda presence in their own locality. In this context, the programme for Government commits to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. A cornerstone of this commitment is the Government plans to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 reserve members and 4,000 civilians.

As the Senator will be aware, there has been an unprecedented level of investment in Garda resources across the State in recent years. The budgetary allocation to An Garda Síochána for 2019 amounts to €1.76 billion. Significant capital investment is also being made in An Garda Síochána. This includes a total of €342 million being invested in Garda information and communications technology, ICT, infrastructure between 2016 and 2021. Furthermore, the Government's capital plan 2016-2021 provides €46 million for investment in the Garda fleet to ensure that An Garda Síochána has a modern, effective and fit for purpose fleet.

With respect to Limerick, the Minister is informed by the Commissioner that the overall strength of the Limerick division as of the 28 February 2019, the latest date for which figures are available, was 589. In addition, some 86 vehicles were allocated to the Limerick division. I understand the area referred to by the Senator is covered by Henry Street Garda station, which forms part of the Henry Street Garda district. I am informed by the Commissioner that the strength of the Henry Street Garda district, as of 28 February 2019, was 320, of whom 257 are assigned to Henry Street Garda station. There are 31 Garda staff and 15 Garda Reserve members attached to the district.

When appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, almost 2,600 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, 87 of whom were assigned to the Limerick division, including 52 probationer gardaí assigned to Henry Street Garda station. I would expect that the ongoing recruitment process will continue.

As to the question of where stations are located, as I have said, the Senator will appreciate that this is a matter for the Commissioner and that the detailed examination of the matter by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate concluded as recently as December 2018 that it is appropriate for the Commissioner to continue to hold this responsibility.

I thank the Minister of State for her detailed response. I welcome all the new gardaí who have been recruited in Limerick and, on the other side, I congratulate the 26 members who were promoted. It is wonderful that they went for promotions and were successful. Some posts have to be back-filled, therefore, it is not quite the case that this station receives the number required because members are being moved from posts. The gardaí provide a wonderful service but this area is greatly expanding. The Minister of State might relay that point to the Minister and he might explain the position to the Commissioner. I have spoken to senior gardaí in the area and they are aware of how much the area is expanding. The gardaí have to cover the courthouse and prison visits. There are so many areas the gardaí from Henry Street Garda station have to cover that it is hard for them to be able to cover everything at the one time. Issues related to anti-social behaviour in the city centre arose recently. Gardaí that had been assigned to a Garda operation that was working had to be taken off that operation to be sent to other areas. This is an expanding area and it needs to be examined. Anything the Minister can do to impress on the Commissioner that this is area that really needs to be examined, I would welcome.

I will make sure I inform the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, of what the Senator has said. I will also take a copy of her contribution.

Third Level Institutions

I am delighted to see the Minister of State and that she is taking this Commencement matter. St. Angela’s College in Sligo is the only home economics college in the country and the need for capital funding for larger capacity classrooms-laboratories to accommodate students has never been greater. A national shortage of home economics teachers and a much more health conscious population is making this discipline more attractive than ever. In 2017, the number enrolling at St. Angela’s College rose by about 20%, from 85 to 101, with another 10% increase in the intake last September.

Although established as a college of education for home economics teachers, St. Angela’s College has expanded far beyond its original remit and currently its profile of academic programmes of study also includes nursing and health studies, education, special needs education, theology, food and consumer studies, science, Irish, economics and social studies. The current number of students attending the college is more than 1,000.

With this significant increase in the number of students, there is clearly a pressing need to replace all the modular buildings, which currently comprise 30% of existing teaching space. Some of these buildings are more than 12 years old. Therefore, significant investment is needed for more buildings, larger lecture halls and increased specialist facilities.

Funding in the region of €4.3 million was approved for a link building project in 2010 but, unfortunately, in light of the recession, all capital funding was withdrawn. The link building project was aimed at providing a modern infrastructure with additional space for student activities. In 2017, the college received €340,000 in capital funding for infrastructural upgrades but apart from this and summer works funding for the annual maintenance of existing buildings, I understand no major capital funding has been allocated to the Sligo campus in more than a decade.

In an article in The Irish Times last year, Amanda McCloat, head of home economics at the college, made the very pertinent point that at a time of increasing obesity, the subject of home economics is more important now than ever. In the interview for that article Ms McCloat stated:

People are much more concerned about life skills now, more health conscious and health aware. They understand the components to have a better lifestyle, and one of the only places all of those components are taught is home economics.

In light of everything I have said, I ask the Minister of State to consider the pressing need for significant capital funding for St. Angela’s.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I know he is very interested in it. He has spoken to me often about it and attended meetings on it. I met the president of the NUIG and the president of St. Angela's College in Government Buildings to discuss the issues around the backdrop of the merger between the St. Angela's and the National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG. I pay tribute to this wonderful college in Sligo. St. Angela's is known the length and breadth of the country for its excellence in the teaching of home economics and also for its graduates, and I certainly want that to continue.

The Government recognises the important role played by St. Angela’s College as a higher education institution, particularly in the field of teacher education. St. Angela’s also plays a dynamic role in the economic and social development of the north-west region, including through its professional development and adult education offering.

The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, and I are both aware of the challenges facing St. Angela's College - I have walked the campus - in regard to the buildings on its campus, including capacity challenges due to increases in student numbers in its home economic teacher education programmes. As Senator Feighan said the numbers have increased from 85 to 101, with plans to increase the numbers by a further 20%.

We have recently held meetings with St. Angela's College and NUI Galway on the wider incorporation issues, which includes discussions on capital investment. Officials from my Department and the HEA also conducted a site visit as recently as 15 March 2019 to assess current facilities and to discuss the request by St. Angela's College to progress a major campus development project incorporating elements of both refurbishment and new build. It was agreed that an updated business case should be submitted by St. Angela's College to the HEA for approval. It is my understanding that this business case will be submitted shortly, if it has not been submitted in the past number of days.

From 2009 to date, St. Angela's College has received €2.06 million in capital funding. The Department approved funding of €343,000 to the college during the summer of 2017 and then €71,400 in 2018 for much needed refurbishment and repair. All of this funding has been drawn down.

With regard to the wider incorporation with NUI Galway, at the meeting with both institutions on 13 March, it was agreed that a five-year business and implementation plan for the incorporation of St. Angela's College into NUI Galway would be presented to the HEA. I am aware that this document was submitted to the HEA on Monday, 1 April and outlines a roadmap of milestone linked objectives for the delivery of the incorporation over a five-year timeframe. This plan has a number of funding objectives, including a capital element. Officials from the HEA and the Department of Education and Skills are currently reviewing the plan and they intend to follow up with both institutions in the coming weeks. As Senator Feighan will appreciate, decisions regarding the increased allocation of capital funding under Project Ireland 2040 for higher education projects must be based on the level of funding available and then in the context of competing demands. This is being managed very carefully in consultation with the HEA. The needs of St. Angela's College and other higher education institutions will be considered in this overall context.

I look forward to working closely with St. Angela's College and NUI Galway in the future to progress and fulfil the aims of their incorporation.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. It is nice to hear that departmental officials have visited St. Angela's College on 15 March 2019. I look forward to seeing a proposal from St. Angela's College and NUI Galway to try to draw down funding for the best way to go forward. I think we are moving in a significantly positive direction. I again thank the Minister of State for her reply.

I thank Senator Feighan for raising this matter. I know he has been on the case and will continue to ensure that it is a top priority in the Department of Education and Skills.

Health Services Provision

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House. This morning I wish to raise the need for treatment services for persons with lymphoedema. As the Minister of State is aware lymphoedema is a condition of painful swelling in body tissue. It can affect any part of the body but usually develops in the arms and-or legs. Once lymphoedema has developed it is a lifelong condition. The best model of care is for patients to have local access to drainage, bandaging and compression garments. It can occur genetically or following cancer treatment, in particular breast cancer.

Approximately 15,000 to 16,000 people in this country have lymphoedema. I understand a model of care has been agreed in the past month following a report that was produced in March 2018 but finally signed off in the past month. The question now is about the implementation of that model of care. My understanding is that if the model of care is introduced it will generate savings of approximately €13 million per annum in real terms. Rather than people being admitted to hospital for treatment, this is a proposal for continuous care where it deals with issues as they arise and ensures that there are services at a local level for patients. This model is about ensuring that the 15,000 to 16,000 people with this condition stay out of the hospital system but have appropriate care that meets their needs as they arise.

Progress has been made about agreement on a model of care, now the next step is the implementation of this model. I am asking the Minister of State about the planned implementation of this model of treatment.

I thank Senator Burke for raising the subject of the model of care for lymphoedema and giving me the opportunity to address the House on the matter on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris.

Lymphoedema as outlined by Senator Burke is a chronic and progressive swelling of body tissue due to a failure of the lymphatic system. Some of the main risk factors include undergoing extensive surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy and-or being overweight or obese. The prevalence of lymphoedema is expected to increase due to our ageing population and increasing cancer incidence and survival rates.

As Senator Burke may be aware, the HSE established a working group to make recommendations for the development of a national integrated model of care for the prevention, assessment and treatment of lymphoedema in accordance with evidence-based practice. The report of the work group proposed a model of care for a lymphoedema treatment service involving specialist and non-specialist care being provided in a community setting, with links to acute services. It advocates the establishment of an integrated treatment structure between acute and primary care services, including the development of specialist lymphoedema clinics in primary care settings, with in-reach services to acute care as required. In general the model seeks to encompass best practice in prevention and early detection, assessment, treatment and support and education and research. The model of care has been completed by the working group and can be viewed on the HSE website from earlier this week. I am advised that it is in the process of being formally approved by the HSE.

On receipt of confirmation that the model of care has been approved by the HSE, the Department of Health will consider the recommendations which it sets out. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is eager for progress to be made on the development of these vital services. In this context, the Minister has instructed the Department of Health to work with the HSE to examine steps which could be taken to facilitate commencement of the implementation of the model of care. Funding allocations for the implementation of the model of care will be considered in line with the HSE's national service plan for 2019. This plan envisages a phased implementation of the model within existing resources.

Officials from the Department of Health and the HSE working group met with representatives of Lymphoedema Ireland last year to discuss lymphoedema services and the development of the model of care. We look forward to further interactions with Lymphoedema Ireland as we work to improve services for lymphoedema patients.

The Minister for Health is determined that progress can be made in 2019 towards improving services for patients with this condition. He is committed to working with the HSE and all stakeholders to ensure that equitable access to high quality lymphoedema services is available to all those in need.

I welcome the decision by the Department. The Minister of State will be aware that the model of care has been published. Lymphoedema Ireland has worked hard to get it to this stage. It is important that what happened to the GPs in terms of the hard work they did to introduce new ways of dealing with issues to reduce costs does not happen in this regard. This is about saving money and, therefore, it is important that this plan should not be left on a shelf. I intend to follow up on this matter. Regarding savings and better services provision to patients everything should be done to implement this plan at the earliest date.

I accept the Minister of State's response that this model of care was only signed off in the past few weeks but it is important that signing off on it is not seen as progress and that the plan does not remain on a shelf for 12 months or two years. That is not what I want to happen and I know it is not what the Minister of State wants to happen either. I know she wants it implemented. It is important that the Department and the HSE work with Lymphoedema Ireland on the implementation of the model of care plan that has been signed off.

I again thank the Senator for raising the issue and I have listened carefully to his concerns. As stated in my reply, the Minister is determined that the process will commence as soon as possible. I do not have exact dates for the Senator but I will bring his concerns to the attention of the Minister and ask that the Senator be updated on what is being done to further the process of bringing into being this model of care for those suffering from lymphoedema. I know a number of people in my constituency who suffer from it. I will bring the Senator's concerns to the attention of the Minister and ask that a more comprehensive response be forwarded to him.

I thank the Minister of State.