Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Enterprise Support Services

The Minister of State is welcome to the House. He had a successful visit to the local enterprise office, LEO, in Limerick recently. When I was a member of the local authority, I served as a member of the local enterprise board, the precursor to the LEO, and saw the benefits of same to business. In recent times, however, I have become aware of the fact that the LEO mainly deals with companies with ten employees or fewer while Enterprise Ireland mainly deals with companies with 30 or more employees. I have spoken to companies and businesses that received wonderful support in the start-up phase from their LEO. Many businesses have started small and grown into multi-million euro turnover enterprises, which is wonderful. However, I am concerned about those that are the meat in the sandwich, namely those companies with more than ten but fewer than 30 employees because they have nowhere to go. They feel that they are squeezed in the middle and I would like to see more supports and services made available to them.

The Minister of State is committed to the small business sector as was clear when he visited Limerick and met staff at the LEO, various companies and the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership, LEDP. There is so much scope there and he saw for himself what is going on in the area. It is important that we support companies of an in-between size. I look forward to his response.

I thank the Senator Marie for raising this important issue. It has come up a lot at meetings of the SME task force set up by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, last year and it also comes up during our visits to various local authorities, LEOs and development agencies, both voluntary and community, around the country. As the Senator mentioned, we spent a day in Limerick recently, which was beneficial in getting feedback from businesses and from all of those involved in supporting businesses. Great work is being done on job creation and economic activity in Limerick and I compliment all involved. The combined efforts of the local authority and the LEO, as well as the engagement of LEDP and others, is impressive. I compliment everyone on what was a good visit. I met some enterprising individuals who have a lot of drive and potential to create jobs, but as the Senator pointed out correctly, the system has to be adjusted to suit them and to help them to follow through. Companies are concerned that when they reach ten or more employees, they could lose their connection with the LEO. They might be moved on to Enterprise Ireland or get caught in the middle and miss out. We are trying to deal with that and it is an issue I am determined to address. All of those involved in this area want us to address it too and Senator Maria Byrne is correct to raise it.

The House will recall that the programme for Government commits to examining the role of the LEOs and their interface with Enterprise Ireland and other local stakeholders in supporting local and regional job creation so that ambitious and high-performing companies, regardless of size, are supported in scaling up and achieving their full potential, whether in the export or domestic market. The Senator referred to companies in that situation who have to make a judgment call on whether to scale up. Some say that they are reluctant to do so because they are afraid they might lose the support of their LEO. It is our job in the Department, in conjunction with the LEOs, local authorities and Enterprise Ireland, to address this issue. In that regard, it is vital that our SMEs have a clear roadmap of progression and that the appropriate structures are in place to assist companies on that journey. Approximately 92% of the 250,000 SMEs are microenterprises with fewer than ten employees and are, therefore, eligible to engage with their LEOs. Companies with between ten and 29 employees represent approximately 7% of the total cohort.

Approximately 92%, over 250,000 SMEs, are micro enterprises - in other words, those which have employees of numbers of up to ten. They are therefore eligible for engagement by the local enterprise offices, LEOs. Companies of ten to 29 employees represent about 7% of the total cohort and these are companies which may be assisted by Enterprise Ireland. These are the companies on which the Senator is homing in on. The figure is 7% or 8%, maybe a little bit more, which are in that gap and in the grey area. However, it is acknowledged that there may be enterprises particularly in the non-manufacturing and non-internationally traded services companies which can fall outside either the LEO or Enterprise Ireland net. The Government has, in addressing the Brexit and Covid-19 challenges, made it possible for the LEOs, in particular, to extend the reach of their services to a broader base of businesses, both in terms of sector and size, by offering financial support to companies of up to 50 employees, which would customarily not have qualified for LEO funding.

Examples of this include their business continuity, competitive and productivity voucher schemes, for example. Furthermore, Enterprise Ireland now grant aids the retail sector under the successful online retail scheme, a sector which is not usually supported by Enterprise Ireland.

I have to compliment the LEOs in their work around the business continuity voucher. If I remember the figures, more than 12,000 were granted. There were nearly 15,000 applications for that voucher and 12,000 these were successful in drawing that down. It costs €20 million and is a worthwhile voucher. The business continuity voucher, along with the training online voucher, which was also supplied by the by the LEOs, has been an immense success. The LEOs reached out to many businesses well beyond their normal reach. We want to build on that success. I compliment all involved, but we want to make sure that we do not let that slip and that we continue with that engagement.

Enterprise Ireland has also to date expended more than €141 million on the sustaining enterprise fund, SEF. Companies applying for the SEF are across a range of SME sectors and sizes including those employing ten to 29 employees in areas such as precision engineering, life sciences and construction, food delivery services, ICT, telecoms, international services, and consumer-retail. Indeed, small companies, those employing 50 or fewer, account for 76% of all companies approved funding, and 65% of the value of total funding approved.

We are, therefore, trying hard as a Government. I know this subject is dear to Senator Maria Byrne’s heart that we reach in to support those companies, those micro and smaller companies of fewer than ten people, but also up to 50 people, and beyond that.

The success of the above-mentioned programmes and schemes has strengthened our resolve to provide for a comprehensive range of training, advisory and financial schemes, including grant and equity interventions, for regional enterprise development and scaling.

The Senator has one minute to respond.

I thank the Minister of State. It is welcome news that there is keen interest from the Government in that grey area. The LEOs and Enterprise Ireland are doing fantastic work. The supports, the level of support and the mentoring they give are important. However, there is a fear factor, as Minister of State said, among people who are in the middle category. They realistically do not fit into either category, as such. In some instances, they do, although it depends on what services they provide. Certainly, I look forward to working with the Minister of State on this. I come from a small business background, so I have a keen interest in this area. I have been helping a number of companies which fall within that category. I thank the Minister of State again for his response.

I again thank the Senator for raising this, as I know it is dear to her heart. She has a background in business, and she works with businesses. I could see their work in Limerick as well.

I would like to mention that the SME task force, which will be in line with the Senator’s thinking. It was set by the Tánaiste last September. For two months, we met and engaged with more than 40 entrepreneurs and beyond that to focus in on all the issues they want addressed. Similarly, the growth plan that we published last January on the foot of its work provides Government with a set of recommendations directly from the business community of long-term strategic importance for SMEs and entrepreneurs which we are currently pursuing through an implementation group that was jointly chaired by myself and the Minister of State, Deputy Robert Troy, on behalf of the Tánaiste, which is currently taking forward the growth plan recommendations. In that space, there is exactly what Senator Maria Byrne is saying, that is, to make sure that there is seamless transition between our agencies for supports.

I indicated earlier that a number of priority recommendations from that task force are being examined which have the most potential to make a positive impact on the SME sector over the coming year. One of these is to ensure that there is a comprehensive and joined-up range of enterprise responses for all SMEs by the State, public bodies and our enterprise agencies. As part of the development of the new Enterprise Ireland strategy, which is currently under way and due soon, we are also examining how best to sustain that broadening of assistance to ambitious entrepreneurs and businesses, like those in Limerick, with the potential to scale and grow both on domestic market and internationally.

The issue is in identifying any market failures in respect of potential gaps in Government assistance to help the business sectors of our economy which have the potential to grow and create employment, whether exporting or not while avoiding any economic displacement and deadweight issues and keeping to the rules on state aid.

Ensuring an appropriate level of resources and capacity will, of course, be a significant determinant in this endeavour. I know it is something the Senator wants us to raise and to achieve and that, in general, the Seanad is supportive of this too. I was in Louth last week with Senator McGahon and we met companies in a similar space and had similar conversations.

Greenways Provision

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Josepha Madigan, back to the House.

Today I want to talk the concept of greenways and blueways and I want to start by referencing to the Waterford greenway. We all know the Waterford greenway, which has become a destination greenway. People go to Waterford, stay there and utilise the greenway. I want to talk about how we can replicate that and create a destination greenway in County Louth. I want to give some of the context to greenways in County Louth.

County Louth has been ahead of its time in developing greenways. I will not use the word like “trendy”, but they have become popular in the last couple of years. County Louth was developing the Carlingford to Omeath greenway in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It was quite ahead of its time in terms of the local authority trying to prepare that. The current state of greenways in County Louth is we have a greenway stretching from Carlingford to Omeath. We are currently in the process of building one from Omeath to the Northern Irish Border.

On the other side, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is building a greenway from Newry to Victoria Lock to meet our greenway at the Border. That is a good example of cross-Border co-operation. We have seen many small indigenous companies spring up around greenways. That is why they are so good. They bring business to an area because they obviously bring people to an area. These are businesses like those providing electric scooters. In Carlingford, for example, companies have sprung up that provide day packages and picnics for anyone who wants to go on the greenway.

That is the context of greenways in County Louth. What is the long-term vision? My long-term vision is twofold. I would love to see the concept of Louth coastal greenway. Louth is so well placed in terms of its geographical area. We are an hour north of Dublin and an hour south of Belfast. Approximately 2 million people live in this region between Dublin and Belfast on the island of Ireland. We are so well positioned in terms of such short trip to make a real business case for something like this.

My goal and long-term vision is to see that coastal greenway stretching from Drogheda right up the coastline with a wonderful view of Dundalk Bay, the Mourne Mountains in County Down, the Cooley Mountains in north Louth, stretching through Blackrock, Dundalk and on out to Carlingford.

Naturally, this is a big project and big vision. Louth County Council is focused on trying to get patchworks of the greenway together. What can Government do to try to help local authorities with that and to find out what about the big picture here? It is a ten to 15-year project. There is no point saying that it will be magicked up anytime soon. How does Government help with the strategy?

I grew up playing on the Navy bank walkway in Dundalk. It is one of the most idyllic walks in Dundalk. However, it leads to a dead end. The big, long-term goal there is to connect that up with some sort of a greenway walkway from the Navy bank in Dundalk to Blackrock, which is a picturesque village outside of the town.

One of the reasons we cannot apply for funding for the greenway yet is that huge amounts of money are required for CFRAM studies. We have to reinforce the sea barriers between Dundalk and Blackrock. Until those CFRAM studies are complete and the sea barriers are built, we cannot put in for planning permission for a greenway. It is a chicken and egg scenario. Until that is done, we cannot get permission for a greenway along there.

This could be huge. We could have our whole country connected by greenways. We are doing that and Louth is a place to start.

I raise the concept of blueways. In County Louth, we have the River Glyde and the River Fane. These are underutilised aspects of tourism. We are only starting to realise the benefit of it now. I would love to know the Government’s strategy to encourage local authorities to promote and to get blueways going.

I thank Senator McGahon for giving me the opportunity to talk about greenways and blueways, on behalf of the Minister for Transport.

It is important to note that the development of greenways in County Louth is first and foremost the responsibility of Louth County Council, which the Senator referenced. The county council should liaise with Transport Infrastructure Ireland as it has recently taken over the responsibility to develop the roll-out of greenways under the Strategy for the Future Development of National and Regional Greenways. Urban greenways and active travel infrastructure is within the remit of the National Transport Authority. There is a bit of a grey area with cross-Border greenways and Louth County Council should continue to work with the Department of Transport in that regard.

Blueways are a matter for Waterways Ireland. It is not a body that comes under the remit of the Department of Transport. As I am sure the Senator is aware, Waterways Ireland comes under the auspices of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which was my old Department, and does a lot of good work in terms of blueways.

The Department of Transport currently funds two greenway sections in County Louth. First of all there is pre-construction funding of €200,000 that was awarded in 2020 from the carbon tax fund for a section from Carlingford to Templetown. The Department is also a co-funder of an INTERREG project for the Carlingford Lough greenway section that runs from Carlingford to Newry. A design team has been appointed for the Carlingford to Templetown section and it has commenced baseline data collection for the project that will go towards informing the route options.

It is important that Louth County Council engages as early as possible with landowners who might be potentially impacted by a route, and that the county council carries out as much work as possible ahead of the next funding call so that it is well positioned to be awarded funding. The county council should engage with as many stakeholders as possible, particularly the National Parks and Wildlife Service to avoid any potential environmental problems.

In terms of future plans, Transport Infrastructure Ireland has recently commenced work on developing a national cycle network. I note the Senator's comment that small and indigenous companies spring up around greenways and how greenways bring a lot of economic viability to an area. So they are worth creating. The key is to get Louth County Council to work with the TII on developing new greenways. There will always be calls for further funding for other construction projects, under the national and regional greenway projects, to which the county council can make submissions.

I thank the Minister of State. I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the staff of Louth County Council. In particular, I pay tribute to Mr. Pat O'Rourke as he was ahead of his time and advocated for greenways a decade ago when they were not the done thing or seemed to be quite difficult to create when one took into consideration the trouble with compulsory purchase orders, and engaging with landowners. The county council has been really good about greenways and its response has been excellent. It is good to see that we have a good long-term vision for greenways not just in my own county of Louth but across this country, for example, links with the Great Eastern greenway.

The plans are great, aspirational and ambitious. However, I want to make sure they are on track and are not aloof or faraway ideas of nice things that we would like to do. The Minister of State has said that the way for us to do that is through continued engagement between the officials in Louth County Council, the National Transport Authority and such like. I hope these long-term ambitions come to fruition so that we can all see and enjoy greenways in County Louth in the years to come.

The Senator is correct that it is important to have ongoing collaboration and engagement between the various different agencies, in particular Louth County Council, with Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

As I said, two greenways are being constructed - Carlingford to Templetown, and Carlingford to Newry. Blueways are a matter for Waterways Ireland and it is worth Louth County Council engaging with Waterways Ireland when it comes to developments.

As the Senator alluded to, the Louth coastal greenway would be of huge benefit to the entire area and allow users to view their surroundings from Dundalk to Carlingford. The project is long term and is not outside the bounds of possibility but could be considered. Again, such projects are about engagement and collaboration.

Schools Building Projects

The next matter concerns new school buildings at Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, and Scoil Chaitríona in Renmore, County Galway.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education. I take this opportunity to congratulate her and the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, on the voted capital allocations in the national development plan that have increased from €740 million to over €1 billion in 2025. Obviously cost inflation will account for some of the increase, and that is something that is increasingly problematic or worrying, but there is a commitment to continue the development of school infrastructure and buildings in this capital allocation.

Last December, I tabled Commencement debates on both of these school projects and on that occasion the Minister replied. We have done a lot of good work on school infrastructure in Galway over the last decade. In my own constituency we have new developments such as Merlin College, Merlin Woods Primary School, Gaelscoil de hÍde, Coláiste na Coiribe, Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh and the new schools in Clifden, Oughterard, Na Forbacha, Claregalway and Lackagh.

A lot of good work has been done and some extensions in places like Rosmuck and Scoil Fhursa in Galway city among others. However, a number of new projects and new schools buildings are needed, including Scoil Mhuire in Moycullen. It is my old alma mater that I attended up to 1987 so the project is very personal to me in terms of making progress. There is also Scoil Chaitríona junior and senior schools in Renmore. I seek an update on both of these projects. Scoil Mhuire in Moycullen has nearly 400 children and was put on the five-year Schools Building Programme 2016-2021. I set up a number of meetings and progress was made with the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Joe McHugh. There were also a number of meetings with the board of management. There were a lot of issues concerning the most appropriate site and the associated costs but a decision was made to rebuild on the existing school site. In April or May 2020 sign-off was given for new and rather impressive prefabs that have since been installed. They are quite modern and very large, which is a big improvement on what existed previously. From the excitement of the school being planned from 2016 onwards to still awaiting on the planning application to be lodged and all that goes with that, there is some concern. Therefore, I seek an update.

Scoil Chaitríona, Renmore, has sought a new school building for a number of years. There has been an issue with an alternative site. The school was requested to look at alternatives and when it did it said there were none. The school is located in the middle of a city so it would be difficult to find a new site. There is a green area across the road from the existing school that is in the ownership of Galway City Council. The school sought to incorporate the green area not as part of the school building but as part of a site for recreational amenities. The school sought to reconfigure the existing site but use the green space as part of the play area for the school. I seek an update on the engagement that has taken place. Again, there have been a lot of meetings and a lot of good work has been done by the board of management with the bishop's office in Galway and Galway City Council. The Minister pointed out that a full commitment has been given to get these projects over the line.

The pupils, teachers, staff and parents in the Renmore area have been waiting some time for this project. If the Minister of State could give an update on that project as well, I would appreciate it.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley. I thank Senator Kyne for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline what is happening in regard to the schools he mentioned.

The major building project for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, of which I am aware Senator Kyne is an alumni so I am sure the school is delighted he is representing it here in the Seanad, is included in the Department’s construction programme which is being delivered under the national development plan. The brief for this project is, as stated by the Senator, to provide for the demolition of the existing school building, removal of the existing temporary accommodation and the construction of a new school building to include 16 general classrooms and a two-class special educational needs base on the existing site, which as Minister of State with responsibility for special education, I particularly welcome.

Stage 1, preliminary design, was approved on 27 April last and the project then progressed to stage 2a, developed design, where the design team develop the agreed design option and accurately cost plan that option to a stage where the project is fully cost planned and can be prepared to lodge for statutory approvals, including planning permission. The design team are currently completing the stage 2a submission and upon receipt and review of the stage 2a report by my Department, the stage 2a stakeholders meeting will take place between the design team, project manager, Department officials and representatives from the board of management. I understand that this meeting is scheduled for 14 October, which is only a few days away. Following the planned stage 2a stakeholders meeting later this month, my Department will advise the school’s board of management and its design team of the further progression of the project for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen. That is the position in regard to Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen. I note the Senator's comments and contribution in that regard.

As the Senator is aware, the building projects for Scoil Chaitríona Junior and Scoil Chaitríona Senior are also included in my Department’s school building programme to be delivered under the national development plan. The accommodation brief for both projects are being developed and my Department will continue to liaise with the schools in this regard. The Department has also approved an emergency works grant for roof works to the schools' temporary accommodation. We must ensure that all accommodation, whether temporary or permanent, is fit for purpose for the children and staff.

I note that both schools are under the patronage of the Bishop of Galway. As noted by the Senator, there are ongoing conversations between the Bishop of Galway and the patron in regard to all of these matters. I note the Senator's point that Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, in particular, is looking at an alternative site. The Senator also mentioned a green space owned by Galway County Council which the school wants to use as a play area. The Department is aware that I am here today so the officials will be listening to this debate and, perhaps, they may take note of that if it is not something that has been already brought to their attention.

Suffice to say, all of these schools are in the Department's construction programme in terms of new infrastructure. There are plans for all of them. I will bring back to the Minister, Deputy Foley, the message that the Senator would like all of these matters to be expedited.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I welcome the progress in regard to Scoil Mhuire, the meeting that is scheduled for 14 October and that following that meeting the Department will advise the school's board of management and its design team of further progression of the project. It is important there is progress in regard to the development of this much sought project. The concern of the community regarding the condition of the prefabs is growing all of the time, so it is important the issue is addressed.

I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response in regard to the Scoil Chaitríona projects. There is obviously a lot more needed in regard to progressing that development. The Minister of State did not provide a great deal of information in regard to the Scoil Chaitríona projects. I would appreciate it if she could seek a more comprehensive in that regard from the Department, in particular in regard to the green space and the liaison between Galway City Council and the Department in that regard.

I apologise for the misunderstanding. I understood the green space was for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, but it obviously is for Scoil Chaitríona. I will take back the Senator's comments to the Department. My understanding is that both schools are to be included in the Department's school building programme and the national development plan. The accommodation brief is being developed, but it probably needs to be done at a faster pace. I will speak to the departmental officials on that.

As I said earlier, Scoil Mhuire will also get two new special education classes. I welcome that. It can be often difficult to get schools to open special education facilities. I commend Scoil Mhuire in that regard. I note that Scoil Chaitríona Junior and Scoil Chaitríona Senior also have special education teaching posts. Most children with special educational needs are within mainstream schools. I will relay the Senator's comments in regard to the building projects for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, and Scoil Chaitríona Junior and Scoil Chaitríona Senior, Renmore, Galway, to the Minister.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House today. It is much appreciated.

Care Services

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to the House for the next Commencement matter on carers in the healthcare system.

I, too, welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I appreciate his presence. I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, of €308,000 to fund digital training for carers to assist them in gaining employment, the appointment of a new well-being manager and investment under the Dormant Accounts Fund to make European carers day. In fairness, this investment by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is very welcome.

Over the last number of weeks, I have had a number of meetings with family carers, including Clare Duffy and Catherine Cox of Family Carers Ireland and also Councillor Richie Molloy from Tipperary who the Acting Chairman would know very well. He does incredible work in south Tipperary in terms of supporting carers on the ground. Carers have faced huge challenges over the last two years with Covid. We sometimes forget how many people are carers and how much they do for people. Approximately 13% of the Irish population over the age of 15 provide care. Family carers provide an average of 38.7 hours care per week, which means that collectively carers provide 19 million hours of unpaid care each week. The annual replacement cost of the care provided by family carers is approximately €20 billion. Carers provide this State with a significant amount of time. Nobody wants to be a carer; it just happens. As a Government, there is much we can do to support them. The carer's guarantee is one initiative. Carers have been asking for this for a long time. Rather than coming to Government every year with their hands out and asking for particular amounts of money, a guaranteed amount for, say, three or five years, and guidelines around how it is to be spent would make a huge difference. In fairness to family carers, they have shown how through this initiative we can end the postcode lottery system of carers. Currently, whether you get a carer or not is dependent on where you live.

Someone could be in County Tipperary and need a carer for a number of hours a week but not be able to get one because they are just not available but a person in County Meath, for instance, could be inundated with options of carers. Carers say they have a structure in place to solve that problem and if the money the Government is providing for a carer's guarantee is ring-fenced directly for family carers rather than the HSE, it would go to better use. That is something we should do.

Last year, they said they needed €5 million in the carer's guarantee. The €2 million that was put through the budget was welcomed, but it was not enough. The key is that it is not even spent yet. It is 11 months since that budget and the €2 million that was given to the HSE to spend on the carer's guarantee was not even spent. What they need is certainty in the annual funding of carer's guarantee.

There are many other things we can do as a Government to recognise the contribution that carers make. They are only on €216 a week. That is €13 more than standard social welfare payments. It is not something people would race to do. There is need for recognition in the form of an increase. In fairness, last year we gave an extra €150 for the carer's payment grant, bringing it to €1,850. If we did that again, bringing it to €2,000, it would show the commitment of the Government to family carers. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

I am taking the Commencement debate on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Feighan, who sends his apologies. I thank the Senator for raising this important issue.

Family carers are the backbone of care provision across the country. Whether caring for a child or a parent with a disability or illness or an elderly family member, carers, through their selfless hard work, knowledge and compassion, enhance the quality of life of the most vulnerable in our society on a daily basis.

The programme for Government aims to prioritise policy actions that protect the most vulnerable, including both those in caring roles and those they care for, as our economy returns to growth in the aftermath of the pandemic. The Department of Health is committed to improving supports for family carers. The national carers' strategy is a cross-departmental strategy, designed around a core vision which recognises and respects carers as key care partners who are supported to maintain their own health and well-being, care with confidence and who are empowered to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life.

Under the strategy, a range of measures have been introduced or extended by the Department to support family carers in recent years. Since September 2018, free GP visit cards have been extended for persons in receipt of the carer's allowance, and the Government commits to further extending this service to those in receipt of the carer’s support grant.

On respite care, the HSE has agreed to fund 27,000 hours of emergency respite through Family Carers Ireland to ensure that immediate care needs of care recipients will be met in the event that a carer is unable to continue in his or her caring role due to Covid-19 or other reasons.

In addition, a carer's needs assessment will be piloted in community healthcare organisation, CHO, 2 this year, which will increase our knowledge of carers' needs. Having a better awareness and understanding of the needs of family carers is crucial to ensure that we develop appropriate services to support carers both within and outside of their caring role.

The programme for Government commits to delivering a carer's guarantee proposal, to which the Senator Ahearn referred, that will provide a core basket of services to carers across the country, regardless of where they live. This commitment is consistent with the national carers' strategy, which seeks to support family carers to care with confidence through the provision of adequate information, training, services and supports.

In budget 2021, €2 million was allocated as a first step towards delivering a carer's guarantee, providing a more standard package of supports to family carers in every region, in tandem with the community and voluntary sector. The Department of Health is actively engaging with the HSE and with representative groups on this matter to ensure the funding will improve equity of access to carer supports across the country.

As the Senator will appreciate, however, I cannot comment at this stage on the outcome of the Estimates process or matters which will be the subject of national service planning in 2022. However, I will bring the matters to which the Senator refers to the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan's attention. He committed, because of his absence today, to meet the Senator Ahearn following the debate to discuss any relevant matters he raised, which I will make note of.

I thank the Minister of State for what he stated regarding the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan. In fairness, Deputy Feighan was in County Tipperary only a couple of weeks ago and he met a dementia group regarding the work it does and the support it needs. He is well aware of it.

Most of the requests I am talking about are essentially in the programme for Government and all I ask is that we implement the programme for Government over the next number of years. That is a genuine request from Family Carers Ireland and we should do what we say we will do. As the Minister of State said, €2 million was ring-fenced last year. That is welcome, but how we fund and spend that is the significant issue.

In the past two weeks we have been talking about a new bank holiday and whether it will be in November or February. For a carer, a family holiday does not exist. They are working every day. They do not choose to do it; they fall into it. Any one of us in this room could be a carer tomorrow and it is only then one will realise the support one needs from Government.

I appreciate the Minister of State's comments and his contribution and I look forward to meeting the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan.

The Government is committed to improving the supports for carers. Nobody disputes the Senator's bone fides in this. We all deal with these in our constituencies on a weekly basis. The Government is committed to improving services for family carers to enable them to continue caring in confidence and the continued implementation of the cross-departmental national carers' strategy.

The programme for Government commits to providing a carer’s guarantee, ensuring a core basket of services is available to carers across the country, in tandem with the community and voluntary sector. The Department of Health is engaging with the HSE and representative groups.

Promoting better awareness and understanding of the needs of family carers is also crucial to ensuring we develop appropriate services for carers. Officials in the Department of Health actively engage with carers' representative groups and with family carers through the annual carers’ forum.

Our commitment to family carers is laid out in an ambitious programme for Government. Both my colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Rabbitte and Butler, have devolved responsibilities in these areas as well. The points the Senator raised cross the remits of all three Ministers of State, Deputies Feighan, Butler and Rabbitte. I will bring the points that the Senator has raised to the attention of all three of them.

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