Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Regeneration Projects Funding

I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this Commencement matter and welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, to the House. One might ask why I am raising a matter connected with Shannon.

I actively engage with councillors from all parties and none and some months ago, I met Gerry Flynn, an independent councillor, to discuss Shannon.

I do not have to give anyone a lecture about Shannon. The town has a population of approximately 10,000 people and Clare County Council has had responsibility for it since 2014. There have been a number of reports, including a local area plan and a county development plan. There is a reluctance on the part of Clare County Council, as demonstrated by a look at planning files and engagement as part of the public consultation process, to develop the town centre of Shannon outside SkyCourt, the private shopping centre. Everyone who knows the town will be aware that all of the commercial activity takes place around this commercial and privately-owned building that was once under NAMA but which has since been sold. There are issues in that regard.

The people in Shannon and their elected representatives want a high street. There is no high street there. I know the town well because I have friends who live there and who work in the aviation business. There is nowhere to walk. There are places without footpaths and there is a deficit of facilities. Everyone wants a sense of place, a place to which they belong. A number of surveys and reports have been commissioned, including the Shannon town environment local area plan. It was supposed to be completed between 2012 and 2018, but nothing happened. It has been extended further to 2023.

The residents and public representatives are talking about the creation of a public realm, a place they can call their own. Planners call this "place making", and it is really important. They wish to see the development of An Bóthar Mór road as a main street, which is part of the vision set down in their plan, and to ensure that the vision for the town extends beyond the town centre, which is privately-owned and to which there is limited access. There is no right of access or public access. In essence, this is about streetscaping, increasing recreational sports facilities for the community and improving the quality of community life, including arts and cultural development, which are at the core of every town and place. It concerns place finding. I spoke to a person who worked in Intel. I asked this person why he or she left, and was told that while the job was great and a great house to live in, the people in Shannon believe it has been neglected, that regeneration and urban renewal has not occurred and that the sense of place has been lost. People are of the view that they cannot stay there.

I will not speak at length about the national planning framework. I welcomed it and have always supported it. I see its potential. However, my concern is funding, access to programmes for regeneration and the building of a sense of place in the heart of Shannon.

I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this issue and providing me with the opportunity to discuss the support available under the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF. The URDF is a flagship element of Project Ireland 2040, comprising an allocation of €2 billion in the national development plan, NDP, to 2027, with €58 million available in 2019 and an overall Exchequer allocation of €550 million earmarked for the fund up to the end of 2022.

The URDF was established to support more compact and sustainable development through the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland cities and large towns, in line with the objectives of the national planning framework and the NDP. This is to enable a greater proportion of residential and mixed-use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprints of our cities and towns and to ensure that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people choose to live and work, as well as to invest in and visit. Bids were invited from public bodies for funding under the URDF and a total of 189 applications were received by the Department under the first call for proposals. There were a number of such proposals from County Clare, but I cannot recall the exact figure at the moment. On 26 November 2018, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, announced initial URDF support of €100 million for a total for 88 projects throughout the country. The applications received concerned a wide variety of themes and sectoral areas, from urban regeneration and public realm works to enabling strategic infrastructure to leverage further development, and cultural and amenity development.

Applications received fall into two categories, namely, projects that are ready to go and, second, funding to support the initial development of projects, also referred to as master planning or feasibility, to ensure a pipeline of projects into the future. As part of the first call, Clare County Council was awarded urban regeneration and development fund support, including for the advancement of a master plan to enable planning for future projects in the Shannon area. The Department continues to engage with successful applicants from the first call, including Clare County Council, to agree project composition and sequencing, establish project cost certainty and manage URDF allocations. Once that process is complete, the Department will review the first call, and lessons learned will inform any refinements required for the next call.

In the meantime, Clare County Council should, in anticipation of the next call, consider further projects that might address the social and economic decline in the Shannon area. The Department of Rural and Community Development administers the rural regeneration and development fund, an allocation from which may be available for appropriate projects in the Shannon area. For sport and leisure facilities, we expect an announcement in the not too distant future of a call for new applications to the sports capital programme. In addition, the town and village renewal scheme is another scheme administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development that might be a source of funding for the Shannon area.

I am somewhat familiar with Shannon town, but I do not know it as well as the Senator does. Will he clarify what he said regarding the development plan? Clare County Council has secured funding for the master plan setting out what development should happen in the town and its surrounding areas into the future. The clear indication from the Department is that it is interested in developing Shannon, but there must be a properly planned series of programmes and initiatives for the greater Shannon area. Perhaps the Senator's colleagues in the council might be in a position to indicate when that master plan will be concluded.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. The Shannon town and environs local area plan was intended to be realised between 2012 and 2018 but has been extended to 2023, allowing time to work out all the concepts, objectives and projects. As I said, there have been three different plans over 16 years. One need only walk around it to see how desperate the place is, despite its great potential for rejuvenation in the context of the Rebuilding Ireland plan. The Minister of State's response gives me the basis for a document I will send to the councillors in Clare, of all parties and none, this afternoon. It will give them an opportunity, in the run-up to the local elections, to put pressure on their political groupings and Deputies. We need to get political in our demands, which is what I would advise all councils throughout the country. It is about having something to build on, generating debate, having town hall and community meetings. As someone who has been down to Shannon and knows many people there, there certainly is a real need for regeneration. I thank the Minister of State for getting the ball rolling as we look to a new round of public engagement.

Shannon was one of the very few planned towns developed in Ireland, if not the only one. It suffers from some of the shortcomings we see in planned towns in the United Kingdom, such as the lack of an obvious centre. I am not sure whether the Senator chose the right word in describing it as "desperate". I would not say it is beyond redemption.

I said it has great potential.

The council has received the funding for the master plan. Projects that can be funded by the URDF into the future will flow from that. I agree that the master plan should be expedited.

Free Travel Scheme

My question relates to a person who receives money from the Office of Wards of Court arising from compensation for a road traffic accident. The person has a disability and attends a service every day, by bus, which ensures they are not confined to a home for the rest of their lives. Their medical condition is so serious that they will never drive again so they have to use public transport but the fact that they receive this sum of money from the Office of Wards of Court means they are not entitled to a free bus pass. I understand that this affects people around the country and I believe it is a glitch in the system. I wonder if the decision on a bus pass could be made on medical issues, so that the person to whom I am referring could access these services every day. The funds are adequate at the moment but will not be adequate to support this person in the long term.

The free travel scheme provides free travel on public transport services for those eligible under the scheme. There are approximately 940,000 customers with direct eligibility, with an annual allocation of €95 million. People who are eligible for a free travel pass are those resident in Ireland aged over 66, those in receipt of certain social welfare payments, or those who satisfy the visual impairment condition for the blind pension.

It is really important to note that a person in receipt of a qualifying payment receives the pass on the basis of that primary payment and not on the basis of his or her underlying medical condition. While medical evidence will be required to determine eligibility for certain social welfare schemes, it does not generally, of itself, entitle a person to free travel. The one exception to this involves those who are blind who, in many cases, will have entitlement from childhood.

In circumstances where a person is a ward of court and has insufficient means, he or she may be eligible to apply for a means-tested social welfare payment in the same way as anyone with insufficient means. In the case of means-tested payments, people are assessed on their cash income, property other than the family home, and investments. For all means-tested schemes, there is an initial amount of capital that is disregarded. In the case of disability allowance, for example, a person with €50,000 in savings can be assessed as having no means and, as a result, receive the maximum rate of disability allowance. A person with €113,000 in savings could qualify for the minimum rate of payment and would automatically qualify for the free travel scheme.

If the free travel scheme was to be extended to all people who had a disability or significant health issues, regardless of whether they receive a qualifying payment, a medical assessment process would be required for all such applications, significantly changing the nature of the scheme. It would also have significant costs, would require significant additional administrative processes to be put in place, and could only be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations. The Senator should note that, separately, under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection may award a travel supplement in any case where the circumstances of the case so warrant. The supplement is intended to assist with ongoing or recurring travel costs that cannot be met from the client's own resources and are deemed to be necessary. Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned.

This is a genuine case in which a person is travelling every day to attend a service for people with disabilities.

This person has a serious disability. They appear not to have the same rights as other people because they are in receipt of moneys from the Office of Wards of Court, and if they, for instance, went to apply for disability allowance in the morning, they would qualify for a disability payment. They now have to pay their bus fare each way, five days a week. They have a disability, which is not going to change, and they are not getting the same services from the State as other people who have the same type of disability. It is in that context I am raising this. The issue needs to be looked at. It should not just be based on social welfare payments but should also be based on particular disabilities.

Briefly, Minister of State.

While I empathise with what Senator Colm Burke is saying, it is important to note that a person in receipt of a qualifying payment receives the pass on the basis of the primary payment and not on the basis of his or her underlying medical condition. If the particular person in this specific case has a serious problem going to the social welfare office, that might be dealt with on its own. At the moment, the important thing to note is that receipt of the pass is based on one's primary payment, not on the medical evidence. I thank the Cathaoirleach.

Multidenominational Schools

Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Minister of State for taking this debate. It relates to the Killester-Raheny-Clontarf Educate Together school, which has been given sanction for opening in September of this year after a long campaign. In fact, it is a year since I held a public meeting in Clontarf trying to get a campaign going. As a result of the patronage competition, shall we call it, Educate Together came out on top and an announcement was made that the school would open in September of this year. Many parents are delighted to hear that. However, I am slightly perturbed by the news that it will be a one-stream school as opposed to a two-stream Educate Together school, which is also sanctioned for Dublin 13 in Howth.

In that period of time around and after the campaign, parents have been asking where the school will be located. The catchment area for the school is quite defined. It borders the Malahide Road, the Clontarf Road, the Tonlegee Road and the Kilbarrack Road. We were assuming that the school would be housed within that section, but what has actually happened is that two solutions have been found in the one area. Both new Educate Together primary schools are going to be housed together in the Suttonians Rugby Football Club, outside the catchment area. This smacks to me of a lazy decision by the Department. It is understandable to find one solution for the Dublin 13 Educate Together, and put it in Suttonians temporarily, but to lump the other Educate Together in there, outside of its catchment area, does not make any sense at all to me. What has happened now is that the momentum behind the school has been undermined. Parents who live in Clontarf, Raheny or Killester, who were intending to send their children to this school, do not really fancy the idea of going all the way out to Sutton and back, and have since withdrawn their children's' names from the enrolment in the school.

I would like to give some background on this. There have been numerous attempts to establish a multidenominational school in the Clontarf area and the communities around Clontarf going back probably 30 years, and they have all been unsuccessful. Schools have ended up in Glasnevin, Marino or North Bay in Kilbarrack. There has never been a successful campaign until this one, and now we find that the very location of the school is going to be outside the catchment area. The Department needs to re-engage with the process to find a temporary location within the catchment area, which should not be that difficult. It has made a lazy decision in order to locate the school in Suttonians Rugby Football Club, alongside the other Educate Together school. The starting up of a school and the ethos and momentum that surrounds it is so important in the early days, and now we find a number of parents who are very disappointed. First, it is a one-stream school, so it is difficult to get into in the first place.

Second, if a child is offered a place, it will, as we have discovered, have to travel all the way to Sutton and back. A return trip from Clontarf to Sutton is about 14 km. It is not reasonable for parents to drive infants to Sutton and back just so they can access multidenominational education.

I ask the Minister of State to engage with his Department to reconsider the final decision to use Suttonians Rugby Football Club as the temporary location of Killester-Raheny-Clontarf Educate Together school, re-engage in the process to find a temporary location within the catchment area and ensure this school gets off to the best possible start.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. It gives me an opportunity to set out for the Seanad the position on the temporary site for Killester-Raheny-Clontarf Educate Together school. As the Senator will be aware, the Government announced plans in April 2018 for the establishment of 42 new schools between 2019 and 2022, including a new eight-classroom primary school, to be established in the Killester-Raheny-Clontarf school planning area and which will open in September 2019 in suitable interim accommodation, pending delivery of the permanent school.

The Department appointed a project manager in July 2018 to assist with the work of prioritising the procurement of interim accommodation for the school, which will open in 2019. Numerous locations within the school planning area were considered in regard to the interim accommodation for the school but could not be secured due to the lack of suitability or availability, or prohibitive zoning issues. Therefore, in order to ensure the school could open in September 2019, as announced, it was necessary to look for interim accommodation in adjoining school planning areas.

On 15 March 2019, a planning application was submitted to Fingal County Council for a location at Suttonians Rugby Football Club, John McDowell Memorial Grounds, Station Road, Sutton, D13 AH97. The notification of the decision to grant planning permission was issued by the local authority on 2 May 2019. The new primary school will open in September 2019 in suitable interim accommodation pending delivery of its permanent building.

With regard to the school's permanent location, potential site options within the school planning area have been identified and are currently being assessed. I thank the Senator for giving this opportunity to outline to the Seanad the position with regard to the interim accommodation for the new Killester-Raheny-Clontarf Educate Together primary school to be established in September 2019.

This is probably one of the most disappointing responses I have received. I have raised a number of issues concerning education with Ministers and I generally have reasonable interaction but this is probably the most disappointing response. I have a two-page answer, of which only the following sentence sheds any light on the issue: "Numerous locations in the school planning area were considered in regard to the interim accommodation for the school but could not be secured due to the lack of suitability or availability, or prohibitive zoning issues.” Is the Minister of State saying the residents who have engaged in this process, campaigned and pre-enrolled their children are stuck with Sutton for the coming years? Is that how it is to be? Is this the end of the matter? Can the matter be reopened? I am not overly enthusiastic about the response I got. I want to know whether the Minister of State can impress on the Minister and the Department that they are completely undermining the validity of this entire project by insisting on parents taking a 14 km round trip to Sutton and back. Sutton is outside the catchment area of the school. I do not accept that the Department has gone out of its way to find suitable accommodation but could not do so due to the lack of suitability or availability, or prohibitive zoning issues. It seems it found one answer for Dublin 13 and made the same decision for Killester-Raheny-Clontarf. This is a lazy decision which needs to be revisited. I would expect a much better response from a Department if it were genuinely taking this matter seriously.

I do not know whether the Minister of State can shed any further light on the matter for the Senator.

As stated in the reply, the project manager was appointed in July 2018, which was almost a year ago. Much of the time spent on this by the project manager was spent trying to source a site within the school planning area.

A suitable building could not be found due to a lack of suitability or availability, or prohibitive zoning issues. The planning permission has been given for the site. It is an interim site and will probably be used for a maximum of two years. It is important that we get on with building the permanent school within the school planning area, for which some sites have been identified. I accept that the situation is unfortunate and that some people have to travel a good distance to the school. That is not ideal but the Department is not lazy. Rather, it is motivated to ensure that the schools it provides are within the school catchment area. It is my understanding the project needs to go ahead to ensure that the school will be ready in September.

Services for People with Disabilities

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to the House. I raise the proposed closure of Caridas House in Drumconrath, County Meath. The proposal to remove a terminally ill gentleman from the facility has left him and his family distraught. Caridas House is a three-bedroom residential unit, where two people currently reside. One of the residents, a 62 year old male with special needs, has resided there for the past 13 years. It has been his home for that time and he is happy there. His family live within three minutes of the facility. The man has been told that he will be moved from the facility to another which is 20 miles away. As one can imagine, the proposal has greatly upset him and his family. It has come as a shock to them, as everyone knows he is familiar with the surroundings and happy to reside there. It was particularly shocking because the gentleman had been advised by the HSE that he would be allowed to remain in the facility for the rest of his days.

Will the Minister of State intervene in the case and instruct the HSE to postpone or suspend the decision? Removing the gentleman against his will would be cruel and uncalled for, especially given that he is happy there and that a commitment had been given to him that he could remain there for the rest of his life. I ask that common sense prevail and that the HSE postpone the decision in order that the man can reside where he is happy and content to reside for as long as he wishes.

The Government's ongoing priority is the safeguarding of vulnerable people in the care of the health service. We are committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities which will empower them to live independent lives, provide greater independence in accessing the services they choose, and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. Significant resources have been invested by the health sector in disability services in recent years. This year alone, the HSE has allocated €1.9 billion to its disability services programme. As part of its ongoing service provision, the HSE will provide more than 8,500 residential places this year to families in need throughout the country. Residential services constitute the largest part of the disability budget. Our policy is for people with disabilities to be supported to achieve their full potential in order that, where possible, they can live ordinary lives in ordinary places doing ordinary things. The need for increased residential facilities is acknowledged, and the HSE continues to work with agencies to explore various ways of responding to this need in line with the budget available. Residential placements for adults with disabilities are considered following detailed clinical assessments by HSE services.

Places for those with the most complex needs are allocated on a priority basis and according to the appropriate availability of services.

I am advised by the HSE that the centre referred to by the Deputy today, namely, Caridas House, is a small, three-bedroom bungalow situated on the grounds of the health centre in Drumconrath, County Meath, and that it caters currently for two residents. In 2018, the HSE decided to review the continued provision of services at Caridas House due to the challenges experienced by the service in meeting the needs of families and service users. The rural location, small house size, perceived poor access to community activities and lack of public transport were key factors in the review. In the course of 2018, numerous meetings were organised by the HSE with families to discuss future plans for the service. More recently, HSE disability services organised a meeting with the families of the two individuals currently living at Caridas to discuss future plans for the facility and its residents. The HSE assures me it is committed to the continuation of a loving and caring environment for the two residents living at Caridas. I am advised that the proposal to move the two residents to an alternative community residential home operated by HSE disability services will ensure these individuals continue to be supported by staff known to them. Further, the HSE envisages that the proposed move to an alternative residential setting will ensure residents are closer to the acute services they may require should an emergency arise.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. He is a decent, honourable and fair individual. The backdrop to the matter is that the gentleman to whom I referred has resided at Caridas House for the past 13 years, is very happy and feels very safe there. In the event of emergency, there is a GP located next door at the current site. This gentleman does not want to leave and he was led to believe he could stay there for the rest of his days. His family live two minutes from the facility and they want him to stay there also. I request the Minister of State earnestly to bring this matter back to the HSE officials who made the decision to ask them to ensure the wishes of this gentleman and his family are taken into consideration. It would break his heart to leave that facility and it would break his family's hearts to see him leave it also.

I do not have any further information, as the Senator will appreciate. I thank him for his comments. Certainly, I am happy to relay his concerns and the facts he has outlined to the HSE to ensure this gentleman and his family have their concerns taken fully on board. One tends to have to look at both sides, as the Senator will appreciate. At 62 years of age, this gentleman may have 20 or 30 years of life to live and we want to ensure he is in the most appropriate and best setting. None of us knows how long any of us will live. At the same time, we want to minimise the trauma, discomfort and stress for the gentleman himself and his family. In that light, I will certainly pass Senator Gallagher's concerns to the HSE.

Sitting suspended at 3.10 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.