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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 Sep 2021

Vol. 278 No. 8

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Educational Disadvantage

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Josepha Madigan, to the House and thank her for taking the matter raised by Senator Ardagh, who has four minutes.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Josepha Madigan, for coming to the House today. As we all know Fianna Fáil has a very proud tradition in education. Famously, and radically, in September 1966 Donogh O'Malley announced plans to introduce free second level education, something we take for granted now but at the time was very radical. In 1996 our former colleague, Niamh Bhreathnach, introduced free third level fees, which was a game changer in regard to upskilling our workforce and attracting foreign investment.

In 2005, our colleague on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and former Minister, Mary Hanafin, introduced the DEIS programme, which is the subject of this Commencement matter and which was a life raft for many communities in parts of the city and country encountering social and economic deprivation. The DEIS model, as we know it, was a game changer for our children. Attainment rates to second and third level education soared but we cannot leave it there, we must still do more.

Spending on education, as the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, will be aware, is money well spent, no matter how it is spent in our education system. However, since the introduction of the DEIS programme, the application process and the selection criteria for DEIS is unfit. Much of the criteria are performance based and just one of the indicators is socioeconomic thus the selection process is penalising some schools for performing well. The DEIS identification process relies on data collected by the primary online database, POD, the post-primary online database, PPOD, and the Central Statistics Office, CSO, when measuring the level of disadvantage in an area. The lack of transparency in the DEIS programme is something that I have previously highlighted. Despite an anomaly as a result of the ongoing housing crisis, this data is still being used as a yardstick for allocating DEIS status to schools.

In a survey I carried out in 2019, together with schools and principals in Dublin 8 and 12, it was clear that the proportion of pupils who were living in what has become known as hidden homelessness was rampant. These are children who are sleeping on their grandparents' or aunts' sofas and not in emergency accommodation for the purposes of attending school. Rather than leave the child in a vulnerable situation, their parents will disclose the address of the grandparent or aunt when asked by the school to provide a home address. This information is then fed into the POD system and ultimately provides a distorted picture of the level of disadvantage in a particular area. I know of three schools in Dublin South Central that were denied DEIS status. Powerstown Education Together in Tyrrelstown is another such school. These schools, including Our Lady of Good Counsel Girls' National School, the Assumption Girls' National School in Walkinstown, Drimnagh Castle Boys' National School and the Powerstown school are an island among DEIS schools in an area. It is unfair that one might have a sister going to one national school and a brother going to another school which is a DEIS school. Being included in the DEIS programme would have provided these schools with additional resources to support children, as it is shown to reduce drop out rates, increase attendance and improve results.

In 2018 the Minister of State, Deputy Robert Troy, asked the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, about the status of the review and at that time he said the review was still under way and not yet complete.

We all agree the DEIS model is a superb one. The Department agrees the selection criteria is not ideal, which is why it is conducting a review. When will the review be complete? It was promised in 2005 and in 2018 the then Minister said it was under way. We are three years on from 2018 so at what stage is it?

It is a super programme and I want to acknowledge the Department's promised additional supports for DEIS schools in budget 2021. This makes me more determined to fight for those schools that have been unfairly excluded from the DEIS programme. We all agree DEIS is magnificent but could the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, let us know where we are with this review process which was promised?

I am delighted to see the new Seanad. This is my first time here, either as a senior Minister or as Minister of State. Hats off to the people who refurbished it. It is wonderful to see the work, particularly the ceiling and the beautiful lights. I have been looking around at the surroundings.

DEIS is under the remit of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, but I am happy to take this matter today.

It is wonderful to see the work, especially the ceiling, the beautiful lights and everything else. It is lovely. I have been looking around a little bit at the surroundings.

I will respond to the Senator's questions on DEIS, which is under the remit of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, but I am happy to take this matter today.

DEIS is the main policy initiative of the Department of Education to tackle educational disadvantage at school level. The DEIS plan sets out the vision for interventions in the critical area of educational disadvantage policy and is based on the findings of an extensive review of the DEIS programme, which involved consultations with all relevant stakeholders.

As the Senator will be aware, the programme for Government commits to completing "the new DEIS identification model, ensuring the extension of DEIS status to schools that are identified as being suitable". A key part of the DEIS plan was the introduction of a new DEIS identification process based on an objective, statistics-based model to determine which schools merit inclusion in the programme. The DEIS plan acknowledged that further work was required to refine the model. For this reason, as part of the further extension of the DEIS programme to more schools, an extensive body of work has been undertaken to refine this model, based on the latest school enrolment data and data available from census 2016 under the HP deprivation index. Senator Ardagh noted the key data sources - the primary online database and the post-primary online database and also the CSO data for the national census of population - taken into account when considering DEIS status.

A detailed quality analysis of the data has been carried out by members of the DEIS technical group, which includes representatives of the Department's statistics and social inclusion units, the inspectorate and the Educational Research Centre. As Senator Ardagh correctly indicated, the Department has commenced a consultation process with education partners on the refinement of the model. I understand work is now ongoing on final elements of the model. It is envisaged that this will provide the basis for the development and application of a refined DEIS resource allocation model to ultimately match resources to identified need.

All schools will be considered for inclusion under the refined DEIS model. I note the Senator mentioned some schools in her area that have not been included. Until this work is complete, it is my understanding that it is not intended to extend the DEIS programme to any further schools. I reassure the Senator that the Department is working to ensure that those most in need of support can be provided with the necessary resources to help them fulfil their potential in education.

Senator Ardagh will be aware that additional resources have been made available to DEIS schools in order to address educational disadvantage, such as an increase in the budget of the school completion programme, the expanded summer programme, which increased from €20 million to €40 million this year, and the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio for DEIS band 1 schools. This year, the Department will spend in the region of €150 million on the DEIS programme and we will seek to increase investment in this area and continue exploration of new approaches to support students at risk of educational disadvantage. I thank Senator Ardagh for raising this matter.

The Minister of State indicated that this work is under way. Can she give me a timeline for its completion in months or years? I would appreciate if she could be a little more specific for the benefit of the schools that would like to be included. I seek a timeline.

I do not have a timeline for Senator Ardagh today. I understand the work is ongoing on the final elements. There are 184 schools at present in the DEIS programme, encompassing approximately 185,000 pupils, which is about 20% of all schools. It is a considerable number, but that is not to say that other schools should not be included. We must support children from disadvantaged areas. Senator Ardagh will also be aware of the multiplier effect in that even if a child is from a different socioeconomic background and attends a school where the majority of children are from a disadvantaged background, that will affect his or her academic outcome. It is a matter the Department takes very seriously. The Minister, Deputy Foley, is very aware of it and she wants to expedite the process. When we undertake a consultative process, we must make sure we get all the views of the education partners.

I would like to get a timeline.

I appreciate that. The Department is aware that I am in the Seanad representing the Minister today and of the urgency of the matter. A number of different schools wish to be included in the DEIS programme. We will consider all the applications once the consultation process has been completed.

Road Projects

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming. I do not think I have had the pleasure of seeing him in the Seanad previously. It is great to have him here.

The Commencement matter I tabled seeks an update from the Minister for Transport on the timelines and funding costs for the proposed phase 2 works on the Bandon southern relief road. Phase 1 of the roadworks was completed nearly 30 years ago, so we have been waiting a long time for the completion of the road. At this stage, it has been talked about for nearly a generation. It is a major issue in terms of ensuring a town the size of Bandon can be fit for purpose. Bandon is the biggest town in and the gateway to west Cork. All traffic for west Cork goes through the town.

In the review of the national development plan, we must ensure that projects such as phase 2 of the southern relief road are prioritised. We are in the bizarre position that all heavy vehicles must go through Bandon because they cannot cope with the gradient of the previous bypass. Anything from 9,000 to 14,000 vehicles pass my office in South Main Street every day. Bandon has been smothered as a result. Funding must be found and a timeline put in place to ensure the southern relief road is developed and Bandon gets a chance to become a beautiful town.

There has been significant investment in Bandon in the past decade. The main drainage scheme and the flood relief scheme have been prioritised. This has resulted in major changes to the town. We are now going through a major phase of public renewal and redevelopment, which will also change the urban landscape of Bandon. A lot of good things are happening in the town but the key piece of the jigsaw, phase 2 of the southern relief road, is missing. It was for this reason that I tabled this Commencement matter seeking an update from the Department on its plans for this important infrastructure.

Will the Minister of State inform the House of the timelines and costings for the proposed phase 2 of the southern relief road? I am very concerned about the costings. I raised the issue in 2019 with the then Minister, the former Deputy Ross, who gave a costing of €7.5 million. I am very concerned about the level the costings will have reached by now given the inflation in the construction sector. The sooner we get the project started and finished, the better because we will have better value for money for phase 2. Will the Minister of State indicate to the House where we are with this very important project in west Cork?

I thank Senator Lombard for raising the issue of the phase 2 work on the Bandon southern relief road. I am representing the Minister for Transport who has responsibility for overall policy and securing Exchequer funding for the national roads programme.

Under the Roads Acts, and in line with the national development plan, NDP, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TIl, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. TIl ultimately delivers the national roads programme in line with Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework, NPF, and the NDP.

In that context, TII provides the Department of Transport with regular updates on its delivery of the national roads programme.

The following information, from Transport Infrastructure Ireland, is the most up-to-date information available to me on the Bandon relief road. The N71 relief road around Bandon ties back into the existing road network via a steep downhill gradient and drivers also need to negotiate a number of roundabouts and priority junctions within the built-up area of Bandon, of which I am sure the Senator is acutely aware. I understand when he says the town is smothered. It is chock-a-block, which costs a lot of time and causes delays. It does not help business trading in a town to have so many trucks on the main street. Road safety is also a key issue when so many large vehicles are passing through a busy town.

The N71 experiences heavy traffic, with annual daily traffic of between 9,000 and 14,000 vehicles. The proposed relief road extension would involve bridging over the R603 to remove the existing steep gradient and construction of approximately 2.5 km of new single-lane carriageway, tying back to the existing N71 just to the west of the town. A feasibility study was completed by Cork County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland is reviewing the study. The project assessment plan was approved by the Department in 2020 and work on early planning and design will continue in 2021, with a preferred route for the bypass extension yet to be identified.

As this project is in the early stages of planning, it is not possible to provide an accurate estimate of the total costs at this stage. The Senator referred to an earlier figure, but that was a preliminary estimate at that stage. The estimated cost cannot be finalised until the project reaches the business case stage of the process. However, TII allocated €100,000 to Cork County Council to progress the planning and design in this calendar year. TII has informed the Department the approximate cost of progressing phase 2 would be an additional €200,000. This would fund works such as a ground investigation, water monitoring and some archaeological works.

Pending future funding availability, Cork County Council hopes to progress the scheme to planning permission stage in the coming years. The timescale will be at least three years because water monitoring, archaeological works and identifying a preferred route take time. The timeframe for delivery of any major or minor roads project that requires statutory approval, whether for an environmental impact assessment, a compulsory purchase order, CPO, or both, is normally between eight and 13 years. That can mean from beginning to end. Normally, the assessment takes 80% of the delivery time, whereas construction normally accounts for only 20% of the entire time of a project.

All projects, including those listed in the national development plan or the revised national plan, require statutory approval and compliance with the public spending code.

When we are doing the review of the national development plan, we must ensure that projects such phase 2 of the southern relief road in Bandon are included. These are key infrastructure projects for towns throughout Ireland. Phase 2 of the bypass would have the benefit of changing the look of Bandon. The same applies to projects throughout the country. It is important that the Government focuses on ensuring we have a road programme that sorts out these issues. When it comes to the Bandon southern relief road, time is money. I am very concerned about where the costs will go on a project of this nature. The former Minister, Mr. Ross, famously said the project would cost €7.5 million. I am concerned it could be a multiple of that with the way the timelines are going. I am genuinely concerned about how the timelines could lead to a significant increase in costs.

I understand the point the Senator is making about the revised national development plan, which is scheduled to be published in early October. It is imminent. I am not privy to whether specific road projects will feature on a long list of individual projects or if there will be overall funding and thematic approaches, with the line Departments and TII then working out the specifics. I am not privy to the nature of the document which will come out next week. I will pass on the Senator's views on the matter to the Minister for Transport, who is the line Minister, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Even when a project is included in the national development plan, it still has to go through the required approval under the public spending code, in terms of planning, consents and such issues. It is important these projects get priority, but even with the priority, there is still quite a process to go through. We will continue to monitor this situation.

Disability Services

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. This Commencement matter is a practical way to update an existing and very important scheme, which is in line with our sustainable and carbon neutral ambition. We should be cognisant of the huge cost to living with a disability. I have been working with some of our Ógra Fianna Fáil members on this proposal, notably Brian Crehan from Kildare North.

Disabled persons have not been properly accommodated or encouraged by the green initiatives taken by the Government, in particular, on electric cars. To provide equity among the most vulnerable in our society, special and extra arrangements should be made to facilitate those with mobility issues in the green transition. We ask for a expansion of the tax relief and fuel allowances available under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme.

I ask the Minister to look at three areas. First, I would like to expand the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme. The scheme currently covers tax relief in the form of remission of vehicle registration tax, VRT, repayment of VAT on purchase of a vehicle and on the cost of adapting that vehicle. We ask the Minister to expand the scheme to include electric and hybrid electric vehicles across the three areas of that tax relief, mainly the remission of VRT on electric and hybrid electric vehicles and repayment of VAT on the purchase of electric vehicles and the cost of adapting them.

Second, I ask the Minister to increase the maximum rate of reimbursement in order to incentivise the green transition. The maximum amounts available under the scheme are €10,000 for disabled drivers and €16,000 for disabled passengers. There is a cap of €16,000 on the amount available for specially adapted vehicles for drivers with severe disabilities and a cap of €22,000 on extensively adapted vehicles. We ask the Minister to increase the reimbursement figures by up to 50% to allow for the higher cost of purchase and adaption of electric vehicles.

Third, I ask the Minister to look at the fuel allowance. Disabled drivers who qualify under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme are given a fuel allowance for up to 2,730 l per annum. We ask the Minister to consider expanding this tax relief allowance to include electric charging to the maximum amount, which would possibly reach between 120 and 240 per 100 km.

The most glaring and obvious challenge our citizens with disabilities face is mobility and essentially being trapped in their own homes or small community. The statistics back that up, in that 24% of our people with disabilities do not have access to a car or van, compared with 12% of the general population. If we could expand the scheme and assist, incentivise and empower people to make environmentally conscious choices, it could be a clear and definitive way of helping disabled persons to adapt their car and have a mode of transport and would incentivise them to make the green choice we all want to make.

I thank Senator McGreehan for raising this matter. I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, with regard to incentivising the purchase of electric vehicles as a sustainable option under the primary medical certificate. It is clear from listening to Senator McGreehan that she has done detailed work on her presentation and has worked on it with other people. The Senator is so well informed she could have almost written the Minister's script. That is a credit to the research and work she has done on this important area.

The disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concession scheme provides relief from VAT and vehicle registration tax, up to certain limits, and an exemption from motor tax and a grant in respect of fuel on the purchase of an adapted car for transport of a person with specific, severe and permanent physical disabilities.

In order to qualify for the scheme, an applicant must be in possession of a primary medical certificate. We all understand that. In order to qualify for a primary medical certificate, an applicant must be permanently and severely disabled and satisfy one of the following conditions, as set out in the Finance Act 1989: be wholly or almost wholly without legs or the use of both legs; be wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs; be without both hands or without both arms; be without one or both legs; be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; or have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs. It is very narrow and specific. As everyone will know, the issue relating to the primary medical certificate resulting from recent court decisions is under review. A working group is currently working on that to update the conditions and make sure the scheme is consistent with the legislation.

The scheme represents a significant tax expenditure. Between the vehicle registration tax, VRT, VAT foregone and the fuel grant, the scheme cost rose from €50 million in 2015 to €67 million in 2020. This figure does not include the revenue foregone in respect of motor tax, which is paid directly by the people concerned. The drivers and passengers with disabilities scheme provides for the remission or repayment of VRT up to certain limits. The Finance Act 1992 further provides that a category A series production vehicle can avail of relief of up to €5,000 on the VRT due. Under the drivers and passengers with disabilities scheme, there is no differentiation between electric and other vehicles in terms of VRT or VAT refund. The amount of VRT due or paid on a vehicle is remitted or repaid up to the maximum relief applicable, which is €10,000 for VRT or VAT relief in most cases. As there is a separate VRT relief for electric vehicles provided for by section 135C(3)(b) of the Finance Act 1992, the amount of VRT due or paid on an electric vehicle may be lower than the maximum relief permitted. In such a case the VRT relief will equate to the actual VRT paid. The VAT element of the refund is given regardless of whether it is an electric vehicle. There is no distinction as to the category of the vehicle.

Members of the scheme may claim payment of a fuel grant based on a per litre rate of 61.9 cent for petrol, 51.5 cent for diesel and 11.8 cent for liquefied petroleum gas. Outside of the disabled drivers and passengers scheme, full battery-electric vehicles can currently avail of a VRT relief of €5,000. Since 2008 VRT has been calculated according to a vehicle's CO2 emissions. Budget 2021 introduced a new VRT charging rate for low-emission vehicles. My time is up but I will provide further information in the second round.

As the Minister of State mentioned, the primary medical certificate is not perfect. I look forward to the review because even the descriptions he read out are incredibly crass. There are some aspects that we have to look at. He also mentioned that there is a significant tax expenditure on this. It is money very well spent, however, and it will do no harm for the State to spend more. We refuse to publish the Indecon report on the cost of disabilities in this country. There is a huge cost involved and we should do anything we can to incentivise people with disabilities and alleviate the cost on them. One way of doing that would be to increase those bands. It is very good to hear that there is no differentiation between electric and other vehicles in the scheme. I hope that is clear to everyone. I am glad we had have obtained clarity today because electric vehicles are very expensive. I will take this up again at a later date. I thank the Minister of State for coming here this morning.

I thank the Senator for her second contribution. Budget 2021 introduced a new VRT charging table which reduced the rate for low-emission vehicles. Battery-electric vehicles now have zero tailpipe emissions and are therefore not subject to the nitrogen oxide surcharge. This, coupled with the relief, means that many electric vehicles end up paying no VRT at all. This complements a broad range of supports for battery-electric vehicles, which includes no taxable benefit-in-kind up to a value of €50,000, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland purchase grant, the home charger installation grant and reducing tolls, etc.

There are a number of provisions to help with the cost of electric vehicles that are available to everybody, including people under this scheme. In the context of incentivising the purchase of electric vehicles, there are a number of incentives already in place in the context of the scheme. These are available to everybody who is part of the scheme. I acknowledge the importance of the disabled driver and passenger scheme and the relief I hope it provides for those involved. I also hope that we will have a review of the medical certificate as quickly as possible in the coming year.

Legislative Measures

I welcome the Minister of State. This matter relates to the negative consequences of schedule changes for the registration of rights of way after 30 November. What plans does the Government have to initiate or support legislative change to extend this deadline and prevent these changes? What the timeline is there for that action and what further engagement will the Department have with civil society, Oireachtas Members and the Law Reform Commission?

This is an issue I have been working on for over a year. I engaged initially with the Minister of State with responsibility for heritage. I did so from the perspective of heritage. Then I engaged with the Minister responsible for planning and development. I acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, wrote to the Department of Justice last June to say that while he could not accept my amendments on planning he believed they should be considered by the Department. I also proposed and sought amendments to the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 that came through from the Department of Justice before the summer.

This is an issue that has been coming up and that has been flagged for over a year. However, it seems that over the summer there has been a realisation of what the consequences could be, and I welcome that. I do not need to go through all of the law as the Minister of State will be very familiar with it but effectively, the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 and the subsequent 2011 Act brought in a change whereby there was a transition period for the registration of a private right of way or easement. Previously, one had to establish 20 years of continuous use. Following these changes in 2009 and 2011, a transition period was set whereby people would have to have formally registered and that period is due to expire on 1 December next. This trouble has been coming for a long time. It has been exacerbated by Covid and the fact that public awareness of this issue has been limited. It was signalled to the Government by the Law Society, which has stated that even if people lodged claims now, the likelihood of those claims being processed in time would be minimal. It has also been highlighted by the Irish Farmers Association, IFA. This issue is important in terms of the legal confusion that would be created but also because of the damage to accessibility, community, and connectivity. At a time when we are promoting the permeability of the ten-minute town and the 15-minute city, we are in danger of closing off a lot of the points of connection for many families. There is also that heritage component.

The Minister of State will be aware that yesterday I introduced my own legislation to extend the deadline by five years. This is in line with the Law Society's request for a six-year extension, while the IFA had looked for three years. I would be open to both of those but I lodged my Bill with the Bills Office last July so I had to proceed with my suggestion of five years, which, I think, represents a very reasonable compromise and gives space for further public engagement on the issue. Crucially, it will also allow the Law Reform Commission to look to the issue in more depth. This is important from the perspective of the past, in terms of preserving rights of way that have been used for generations, but also for the future.

I have emphasised this at meetings of the climate committee. It is about the network of connectivity in rural Ireland and children being able to walk to visit their friends by means of some of these rights of way. It is also about the permeability of our cities so that people can be provided with alternative networks where they intersect with public rights of way to create a network of connectivity.

I welcome the Government's indication that it intends to act on this issue. It needs to be done urgently given the 30 November deadline. I was disappointed when I saw the legislative calendar for the autumn term circulated yesterday that I did not see legislation on this from the Department of Justice. I would like the Minister of State to clarify how and when this will be addressed. I urge that it will be stand-alone legislation and is not tagged into other potentially more controversial legislation and then not getting through, when it is an issue that has extraordinarily wide support from rural and urban areas, from the IFA, the Law Society and from lots of community groups. There are little things like where it is the way that the band goes to practice. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I know it is something she has been working on for some time. It is a matter of concern for quite a number of people.

This matter relates to a change in the law on prescriptive rights of way that was due to take effect on 30 November 2021. A prescriptive right of way is one acquired by long use as of right by a property owner over a neighbour's land which is not recorded in any surviving title deed. Common examples are rights to access a farm or dwelling house where the access laneway is privately owned by one or more neighbours. Public rights of way are rights contained in written title deeds are not affected.

As Senator Higgins rightly points out, the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009, as amended in 2011, introduced a new requirement for these rights based on long use to be verified by a court order or an uncontested application for registration and register with the Property Registration Authority, PRA. Up to 30 November, this could be done based on existing legal rules on establishing long use. After that the registration would still be possible but only under new legal rules.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys has consulted with a range of stakeholders, including the Law Society, Bar Council, Law Reform Commission and PRA, and listened carefully to the concerns raised. It is clear that there remains legal uncertainty about how the new rules may be interpreted and that it has not yet been possible to register many important rights of way that appear to have been enjoyed for many years without dispute. These problems are causing significant delays in conveyancing and in loan applications.

The Minister is satisfied that, if not addressed, the deadline was likely to lead to unnecessary litigation between neighbours, causing needless stress and legal costs. As an interim solution, on 21 September, the Minister secured Cabinet approval for a short amending Bill. It will be a stand-alone measure to be enacted before the November deadline. Consistent with the strong preference indicated by stakeholders, the Bill will remove the major changes to the law on prescriptive rights that were due to take effect after 30 November, thus removing and not extending the upcoming deadline. This is also expected to greatly reduce current conveyancing blockages. The reason that it is not on the priority legislation list is technical and relates to the fact that a Bill must be published before it can go onto the priority list. However, I assure the Senator that it is an absolute priority. It needs to be passed before the deadline. It now has Cabinet approval and will be a stand alone Bill. The Department of Justice is in ongoing consultation with stakeholders on this priority Bill. The Minister has also obtained agreement to set up a time-bound review, to identify any further legal reforms required after 30 November, in this complex legal area.

We need to grasp the nettle here. There have been several extensions. This matter is causing distress. It causes worry for the individual rights owners and communities and is causing untold headaches for solicitors, barristers and legal representatives. A decision must be made on whether it is removed altogether or on whether, perhaps, a different amendment needs to be brought in. We need to establish the permanent solution to the problem.

The concern relates to instances where a person might have had a right of way that has been used for many generations. The initial response I received from the Department was that people would still be able to register. However, the clock resets to zero which means that even if you have had 30 or 40 years of usage, it counts for nothing. We know that some have been moving blockages into place in certain rights of way and things have been set up for problems in anticipation of that.

I welcome that the Department is removing the provisions. I would appreciate engagement around that because I have my own legislation for extension and I need to see Government legislation before I remove it. The crucial thing is that we take action before 30 November in order that we have the space to look at what the solutions might be. I hope the Minister of State will indicate that he will engage with myself and others. When I see the detail of the Government's removal, it will help me decide whether I will press on my five-year extension. Some public awareness of rights of way would be valuable regardless. There has been huge confusion and quite an amount of alarm regarding this matter.

I agree about public awareness. My office was contacted by people asking what they should do about registering rights of way. Problems have arisen as Ireland has become more mobile. Where there might have been a farmer at the end of a laneway with one neighbour, there might be extra houses now and that can be challenging. I know of the case of a couple where the people who own the neighbouring land have dementia. Those people are in a home and getting all this resolved is proving very challenging. I 100% agree that we need to address the immediate problem and then come up with a final decision about what we are going to do here because we cannot simply keep extending it. That only creates new stress for people further down the line. I will certainly get the Department to engage with the Senator. I acknowledge that she has been raising this matter for quite some time. Under the Bill, the law applicable to prescriptive easements and profits will largely be reverted to judge-made law that was employed before the passing of the 2009 Act. As the Senator said, the majority of legal people believe the clock set to zero. There was some belief that equitable rights would still remain and that was creating confusion in the legal world. It is absolutely right that we take this action. We hope and expect that the urgent Bill will have cross-party support in both Houses. I will get the Department to liaise with the Senator in respect of her Bill.

There is positive potential here too for the reimagining.

Sitting suspended at 11.17 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.