Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Garda Stations

Senator Feighan is present and correct. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, Deputy Jim Daly, to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to the House. I am very pleased he is here to discuss this very important issue. As the Minister of State will appreciate, there is a growing level of urgency in regard to the need to progress the project. Unfortunately, gardaí in Sligo expressed their deep concern in late 2017 when they staged a protest about the conditions in which they must work. The current building is more than 150 years old and there was no real surprise when an independent report raised fire safety issues along with health and safety concerns. The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is aware of this situation and is doing all he can to advance the matter. It must be remembered that there are a number of stakeholders involved in this intensive process.

The programme of replacement and refurbishment of Garda accommodation nationally, including in Sligo, is being progressed by the Garda authorities, which work in close co-operation with the Office of Public Works, OPW. The Minister of State will be aware that a new site for the new Garda station in Sligo was acquired near Caltragh in May of last year. There is a clear commitment in place to build a new station with the OPW through a public private partnership development. The OPW confirmed last year that the development of the new station would be progressed under the auspices of the National Development Finance Agency.

I commend all gardaí in Sligo and throughout the State who are doing tremendous work every day on behalf of our communities. I also acknowledge the Government's commitment to investing and strengthening the force. Since the reopening in 2014 of the Garda College in Templemore 2,200 recruits have become members of An Garda Síochána. Garda numbers reached more than 14,000 at the end of 2018.

In light of all this I hope gardaí in Sligo get the modern Garda station they fully deserve in the near future. The Sligo Garda station is a Garda regional headquarters and it is imperative that the new building project starts to make strides shortly. As I said, there are a number of other Garda station projects planned in the State and each is worthy in its own right. The projects take time and it can be a complex process. Today, however, I am highlighting the need to progress the Sligo station project and to ensure that everything possible is being done to move it along.

I commend the work of my colleague, Deputy McLoughlin, who has highlighted this matter on many occasions. I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to discuss this important issue and I look forward to coming back here to hear about progress being reported.

I thank Senator Feighan. On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who unfortunately cannot be here, I thank the Senator for raising this matter. As he will be aware, considerable investment is being made in the Garda estate to address its deficiencies and to provide fit-for-purpose facilities for Garda members and staff, as well as for the public interacting with them. This is a significant undertaking, as there are currently 565 stations nationwide. The Office of Public Works is responsible for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation and is working with Garda authorities to deliver on that investment.

The Minister is very familiar with the need for new facilities in Sligo and is keeping a close eye on progress. The Garda Síochána building and refurbishment programme for 2016-2021 is based on the agreed priorities of An Garda Síochána.

It includes the development of a new Garda station in Sligo as part of a public-private partnership, PPP, bundle arrangement. Site acquisition for this bundle was complex and has taken longer than envisaged. However, the matter is now progressing to the next stage with the assistance of the NDFA. The Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda authorities are actively working with the OPW to progress this matter, with the input and assistance of the NDFA.

The establishment of PPP projects is complex and it is vital to get the details of the projects right at the planning and design stage. However, on behalf of the Minister, I can assure the Senator that delivery of the new Garda stations in Sligo and other locations through this PPP arrangement is being pursued as a priority. Pending delivery of the new stations, the Minister is informed that Garda management and the OPW has been working to improve conditions and facilities at the existing stations.

I thank the Minister of State for the update. I am happy that things are moving in the right direction. I would like to get a specific timeframe for delivery of these stations. However, I understand that these are quite complex processes involving the OPW and PPP projects. The Minister of State referred to planning and design. I am very aware of this Garda station. I drive or walk by it virtually every day. I commend the gardaí in Sligo and the whole of the north west. They have a very difficult job. They have the support of politicians and the public. I met Commissioner Harris last Friday at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park regarding a different issue. It was a great honour for someone from middle Ireland who regards the Garda so highly to be there for the first time and to thank gardaí for the work they have been doing. I was at headquarters with a group from the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly for a briefing on illicit fuel smuggling. The Garda has our support and that of people across the country.

It is important that public representatives raise these issue and that we continue to prioritise them because sometimes they can take a bit longer to deal with than we would like. It is always helpful when representatives such as Senator Feighan keep a focus on them. When he raises an issue in the House, it reminds everybody involved to get the file out and ensure that matters are moving at the pace they should be and that everything which needs to be done in order to make progress is being done. On behalf of the Minister, I genuinely welcome the opportunity to clarify the matter for the Senator. Indeed, I appreciate it because of my own case. I have particular interest in that bundle as a result of the fact that it also pertains to Clonmel and Macroom. While I do not represent the area of Macroom, it is in the Garda district that I represent. The chief superintendent in west Cork, Con Cadogan, and the superintendent in Macroom, Joe Moore, are known to me very well and I have a lot of dealings with them. I have more than a passing interest in ensuring that this bundle progresses at pace. We would like to see pressure being kept up at all ends to ensure that it is progressed as quickly as possible.

Forestry Sector

I welcome the Minister of State. He lives in the heart of Wicklow, the garden of Ireland and a great place for forestry. I am glad he is here to report on plans to increase newly planted forests by 8,000 ha per year under the targets contained in Climate Action Plan 2019. I want to focus in on this. It is an area for which the Minister of State is responsible. If these or any targets in the climate action plan are going to be reached, it is important that the relevant Ministers keep the focus and continue to report back to the Houses.

I have no doubt the Minister of State will do that.

It is also important we incentivise climate action, with "incentivise" being the key word. We must incentivise and encourage people to buy into climate action. This scheme presents great opportunities for agriculture but particularly for forestry and peatlands, on which I will focus. We also need educational programmes, of which the Minister of State is conscious, and areas of communication with respect to forestry. I take this opportunity to thank Teagasc for its contribution. I have attended a number of its workshops. It runs Talking Timber programme events throughout the country, of which the Minister of State will be aware. They are well advertised in the Irish Farmers' Journal and the forestry sector. People are putting on their boots and going on these walks, which is important.

In terms of knowledge transfer, many young farmers wish to consider putting a few hectares into forestry. We need to consider that in the context of biodiversity and biomass. There is a range of services related to forestry that would indirectly benefit everyone. I mentioned energy and biomass. The Government has spent billions of euro on forestry since the 1980s. We must send out a strong message that we are interested in promoting sustainable forestry management, which is a major issue for many people. There is much dispute about that in parts of the country with respect to the mix of broadleaf planting and the amenity aspect. Coillte has bought into forestry providing added value in terms of an amenity. I am aware the Minister of State was involved in such a scheme in the Dublin Mountains.

In terms of achieving these targets, has the Minister of State considered using Bord na Móna's estate of approximately 80,000 ha for forestry? There are restoration issues related to remediation and rehabilitation works but that is an important aspect of realising those targets.

Has the Minister of State considered or will he reconsider the issue of work permits? We hear reports of the forestry sector wanting to bring workers into the country, which may require an increase in the number of work permits. We must deal with training, education, funding and grants. If we want to reach these targets, it is important we incentivise farmers to get into forestry.

I thank the Senator for giving me this opportunity to address the House and discuss the role of forestry in combating climate change as set out in the Climate Action Plan 2019. There is a range of actions in the plan related to forestry. These include measures to support afforestation and sustainable forest management. They also include measures to raise awareness and manage risk to current carbon stocks and timber mobilisation. The role of forests in combating the effects of climate change is well known. Irish forests are excellent sources of carbon sequestration. It is for this reason the State has invested almost €3 billion since 1990, which has funded the planting of more than 300,000 ha of forestry.

I will focus, however, on the Senator's specific query about increasing afforestation rates from their current levels to an average of 8,000 ha per year. As outlined in the plan, we aim to achieve this through engaging with a range of landowners, from farmers to State bodies. Specific measures will include generous grants and premiums for landowners to plant new forestry, the promotion of farm forestry, a new promotion and communication campaign, continued dialogue with stakeholders and engagement with Coillte and other State bodies, including Bord na Móna, to agree a planting programme. We will also explore ways in which farm forestry can be better aligned and integrated with the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP.

One of the actions in the plan is to implement the forestry programme 2014-2020 in line with the mid-term review recommendations and targets set. The implementation of the forestry programme, which offers a wide range of options and generous grants and annual premiums for landowners, continues to be a priority. As matters stand, the current programme is averaging afforestation rates of 5,500 ha per annum or 75% of its overall target. This will clearly need to be improved to meet the goals of the climate action plan. Enhancements were made to the forestry programme in early 2018 as part of the mid-term review, including improved rates for planting new forests, particularly for broadleaves.

The promotion of afforestation will play an important role in our efforts to achieve our target. We are committed to disseminating to as wide an audience as possible the message that forestry is good for the economy, the environment and the individual. We recently granted support of €830,000 to 15 innovative promotion projects that will run over the next two years. Those efforts will be complemented by Teagasc's promotional activities and information days, as well as the Department's communication strategy.

My officials and I have ongoing engagement with stakeholders to ensure that the challenges are addressed as they arise and that we avail of opportunities to promote afforestation. I have established a forestry implementation group and a forestry promotion group in order that we can work with relevant stakeholders on implementation and on ways to promote afforestation, respectively. The Department also engages with Coillte to agree on a model whereby Coillte may contribute to afforestation rates to support the Government in its climate change mitigation effort. The Senator referred to the establishment of Coillte Nature, which will convert and add native forests and woodlands to the area that Coillte manages. It should be noted that the Department approves well in excess of 8,000 ha of land every year for afforestation but the conversion rate to planting stubbornly remains at approximately 60%. This means that the forestry sector has at its disposal between 12,000 ha and 15,000 ha in approved and shovel ready trees that could be planted today. The challenge is to ensure that all the effort that goes into securing and approving new sites results in those sites being planted, if the targets are to be met.

An average of 8,000 ha per annum of newly planted forests represents a significant challenge but it can be met. We have a comprehensive climate action plan and I look forward to working with all stakeholders to fulfil forestry's contribution to the plan.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. As I said, he might bear in mind that Bord na Móna owns 80,000 ha, although I accept that not all of this land is suitable for forestry. It is encouraging that between 12,000 ha and 15,000 ha has been approved and is shovel ready for planting. That gives us hope and opportunity, and I hope we can sustain the momentum. I reiterate that many people would like to get into the forestry business but need the necessary education and training.

While the potential of the 80,000 ha needs to be explored, it will probably not convert to anything like that amount of forestry. Similarly, some of the land managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which is publicly owned, may be suitable for the development of native woodlands and many other uses, such as increasing some of the land cover in forestry. This land could also be used to increase the proportion of broadleaf forestry, helping us to meet our target of having broadleaf trees account for 30% of the trees planted annually. Following the mid-term review, the proportion of broadleaf trees planted increased from 23% and the figure is expected to be approximately 28% for 2018. While it is possible it will rise to 30% this year, it is too early to know, although the figures are encouraging. Thankfully, the mid-term review has worked in that respect and other initiatives such as the woodland environment fund are helping. We expect some significant announcements about the fund in the near future.

Library Services Provision

I thank the Minister for attending. I raise the need for the provision of a public library in Mahon and Blackrock in Cork city, the only area in the southside of the city without a library service. In light of the city's expansion, there is a need to open a library.

The mobile library service has been discontinued. The library offers huge potential to the residents, both young and older, in this vast area of Cork city. Public representatives and politicians met members of the local community, local schools, parents and residents and they outlined to us the real need for the library. They had a petition, which they presented to Cork City Council. Students in the local primary school made a video in which they showcased their day trip to the library and the benefits accruing from it were unbelievable. The linkage between home, school and community underlines the need for a library. Above all, there has been a saga around the site provision in the Mahon-Blackrock area with Cork City Council.

The reason I raise this matter is that, with a population requiring and deserving a library and with a deficit from a local amenity point of view, it is clear that there is an appetite for a library. Mahon-Blackrock is a developing and emerging part of the city and it has a catchment area that requires resourcing and investment,. To be fair to the Minister, he and his Department are doing are doing a wonderful job with the area via the RAPID programme.

The local community centre, under the management of Mr. Denis Coffey, had a good library facility whereby books were left on a shelf and people could come in and borrow them. However, that services has been discontinued. In order to augment the work being done by the Department, via RAPID, and the work in the community centre, it is imperative, from a community and educational point of view, that Cork City Council and the Department make provision for a library in the area.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter because it gives me the opportunity to outline the position regarding the provision of public library services in Mahon. The provision of such services is generally a matter for local authorities in accordance with the Local Government Act 2001. This includes responsibility for managing day-to-day operations and staffing, providing services and programming to local communities and providing and maintaining library buildings. Accordingly, the provision of library services in Mahon is a matter, first and foremost, for Cork City Council. The latter currently supports ten public libraries in Cork city, including those in Ballincollig, Glanmire and Blarney, which joined the Cork city network in May following the Cork city and Cork county boundary revision.

While Mahon was served by a mobile library until the vehicle was retired in November 2014, the area has never been served by a dedicated community library. The nearest library to Mahon, which has a population of around 13,000, is in Douglas, just under 4 km away. That said, I am aware that the provision of a library for the south-east ward, to serve the communities of Blackrock-Mahon, remains a priority for Cork City Council. The council intends to develop a library similar to that opened in Hollyhill-Knocknaheeney in 2015. However, finding a suitable site in the area has proven difficult. Cork City Council has explored a number of possible locations for the new library, either as a stand-alone facility or as part of a larger development. This included the former HSE health centre building at Lakelands Crescent. While this site provides generous space and is close to schools, it was deemed unsuitable because it did not have a sufficiently high profile on the street and is not easily accessible from both parts of the peninsula. Cork City Council continues to seek a site for the new library as a priority.

Local authorities invest €150 million a year in local library services and my Department also funds a libraries capital development programme. This programme was launched in January 2016 and I expect it to invest almost €29 million in 19 projects, and the new My Open Library service, over the period to the end of 2022. The programme supports priority proposals submitted by local authorities but all funding under the programme is fully allocated at present. That said, my Department continues to accept and progress proposals through the four-stage library approval process.

My Department has had initial discussions with Cork City Council regarding a new library for Blackrock-Mahon, but, to date, no funding proposal has been submitted.

Should Cork City Council submit a proposal, it will be processed through the Department's approval process and will be considered for support should additional capital moneys become available and in the context of other priority proposals submitted to my Department. Alternatively, Cork City Council may wish to consider submitting a proposal for a new library as part of the broader proposal for the regeneration of the Blackrock and Mahon area under the urban regeneration and development fund, which is administered by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

I thank the Minister for his reply and welcome his support for the proposed library. It is important that, from today, Cork City Council expedite its plans for the provision of a local library in the Blackrock and Mahon area. To be fair to the Minister, he outlined a number of sites that are suitable for the provision of a library service in the area. I call on Cork City Council to submit a funding proposal to the Department to proceed with the provision of a library in Mahon as a priority. I thank the Minister for the ongoing work in the Mahon area. This is a significant issue. There is a deficit in the area. Cork City Council now has an obligation to expedite the provision of this library.

I thank the Senator again. Since I came into office, there has been a new emphasis on libraries. The My Open Library service is working very well. In the past two years, I have put any savings achieved in the Department into facilities and equipment for libraries. I have a great love of libraries. I hope that Cork City Council can make an application and we will try to process it. More funding is becoming available over time and the urban regeneration scheme and rural regeneration scheme are in place. We are allowing applications, especially for the rural scheme. We provided some funding for Kinsale under the rural regeneration scheme to open a fantastic new library in the town. I compliment Cork City Council on winning many awards over the years. It won an award for having the best local authority library service in 2014, 2015 and 2018. If there is one thing that local authorities do well, it is libraries. To be fair to them, the local authorities provide libraries with significant funding, while the Department provides funding for capital and equipment. The local authorities are good for the libraries and I compliment them on that.

Sitting suspended at 3.05 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.