Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Wind Energy Generation

I am delighted to welcome my friend and colleague, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, to her own Chamber.

I thank the Cathaoirleach's office for selecting this Commencement debate and I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I had a choice of which Minister to put this matter to. I could have put it to the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Gaeltacht regions, which includes Ros an Mhíl, or to the Minister of State's own Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. That shows the cross-departmental role this development has.

I acknowledge the visit by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, to Ros an Mhíl last Friday. He launched a report that recognises the suitability of Ros an Mhíl in the Galway or Connemara Gaeltacht as a prime location for the development of a strategic hub to support the floating offshore wind sector, with the potential to create 900 jobs. Having 900 potential jobs in a region such as Ros an Mhíl, sa cheantar sin, would be huge. The report by Dublin Offshore Consultants, DOC, was launched by the Minister last Friday. Planning permission was granted to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in 2018 for a 200 m deepwater quay to provide an opportunity to develop the necessary onshore infrastructure at Ros an Mhíl. The port currently supports ferry, fishing and leisure activities within the existing harbour. I acknowledge the support of the Department in the development of the marina at Ros an Mhíl and the pontoon development for the Aran Islands ferries as well.

Rinne Údarás na Gaeltachta cur i láthair don Aire, an Teachta McConalogue, an tseachtain seo caite maidir le calafort Ros an Mhíl, agus sheol an tAire tuarascáil faoi na deiseanna atá i Ros an Mhíl maidir le fuinneamh in-athnuaite. Tá Údarás na Gaeltachta ag tacú le Coiste Tacaíochta Chalafort Ros an Mhíl chun an togra seo a bhrú chun cinn. Teastaíonn ó na Ranna seo, sé sin, an Roinn Talmhaíochta, Bia agus Mara, an Roinn Comhshaoil, Aeráide agus Cumarsáide, agus an Roinn Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Ealaíon, Gaeltachta, Spóirt agus Meán, teacht le chéile chun an togra seo a bhrú chun cinn agus a chur i bhfeidhm, ar mhaithe leis an gceantar agus don earnáil fuinnimh agus mara.

Three Departments are involved in this project, namely, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media - which has a particular relevance to Údarás na Gaeltachta - and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. We need officials in all three Departments to come together, sit around a table and thrash this out. I do not believe that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, on its own, wants to push this project forward for fisheries purposes. However, there is more to it than that; we are talking about a broad approach here, including, in particular, the potential for offshore renewable energy. There is a need for a whole-of-government approach.

Development of the fisheries harbours is included in the national development plan, as it was in previous plans, and the relevant planning permission is in place for Ros an Mhíl. It is important now for all stakeholders to come together and I am asking the Minister of State to spearhead that. As I said, the Minister was very gracious in coming down to launch the report and hear the presentation from the group. We need him to sit down at the table with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Jack Chambers, and push forward this project with the support of the Government.

I thank Senator Kyne for the opportunity to speak on this matter. The Department owns, operates and maintains, under statute, six designated State-owned fishery harbour centres. These are located at Ros an Mhíl, Castletownbere, Dingle, Dunmore East, Howth and Killybegs. As the Senator stated, the Minister visited Ros an Mhíl fishery harbour centre last week and had the opportunity to meet with key stakeholders and see for himself the location of the proposed deepwater berthing project.

I understand from the Minister that the possibility of developing this project at Ros an Mhíl has been under consideration for some time. The Department currently has planning permission for that purpose, which runs until April 2023. A phased programme for the infrastructural development of Ros an Mhíl has been progressed in recent years, which has seen investment of approximately €31.6 million from 2010 to 2020. Earlier this year, the Minister allocated €1.09 million for capital works in Ros an Mhíl. Of this, €100,000 is to fund two studies concerning the deepwater project. One is a review of the wave-modelling studies previously carried out in 2002 to ensure the analysis takes account of both the revised quay development layout and the influence of climate change on wave models affecting the harbour. Separately, the Department has commissioned a review of the cost-benefit analysis report previously carried out by DKM Economic Consultants Limited in 2017, again incorporating the revised quay development layout. Both studies are interlinked in that the wave-modelling outcome will likely influence the cost-benefit analysis. The final reports are expected in November or December.

The influence of climate change, particularly sea level rises and changes in storm intensity and duration, has always been an important consideration in marine infrastructure projects. More recently, this has been formalised via the agriculture, forest and seafood climate change sectoral adaptation plan, which is part of the suite of measures being implemented under the Government's climate action plan. It is important that the current studies should be concluded and can contribute to any future decisions on funding such projects.

During his visit to Ros an Mhíl, the Minister received a copy of a report commissioned by Údarás Na Gaeltachta that identifies Ros an Mhíl as a prime location for the development of a strategic hub to support the floating offshore wind sector on the west coast. There is a broad context here of cross-cutting Government policies, as the Senator highlighted. I understand Údarás na Gaeltachta will be taking this report forward with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, to ensure there is a rounded consideration of the policy issues and investment needs raised.

Last week, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, received the report of the seafood sector task force, which firmly places an emphasis on creating opportunities for Ireland's fishing communities to offset the impact of the loss of access to UK waters through the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and the European Union.

That said, the primary role and function of the fishery harbour centres is to support the seafood industry, and the provision of any other services or facilities in the centres must be considered in that context. This is a legal obligation set out in the Fishery Harbour Centres Acts. Any future decision formally to initiate the deepwater quay project in Ros an Mhíl will have to reflect available Exchequer funding and competing national priorities.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. The last part of it, where she said that the function of fishery harbour centres is to support the seafood industry, cuts to the core of this issue. The fact, however, is that we need to look at this in a broader way. We must be ambitious for Ros an Mhíl and for this project. That is why we need a cross-departmental approach to develop and push it forward. My view is that officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine do not want to progress it. I have sufficient evidence over a long period that they will try not to support it. They are quite happy with Castletownbere and Killybegs and are not interested in progressing the project in Ros an Mhíl.

The potential is there for offshore development. I ask that the Minister of State engage with the Ministers, Deputies Eamon Ryan, McConalogue and Humphreys, the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, and all the local representatives in the area to push forward this project. I appreciate her response and support and I look forward to further engagement on this matter.

The cross-departmental nature of this project requires that there be cohesion between Departments in how we address it. Clearly, offshore wind generation is a priority for our country in meeting our renewable and decarbonisation targets. That must be kept front and centre in all decisions that are made. I am not aware of the specific details of the project but I will engage with the Minister with a view to progressing it. I do not know whether the officials are supportive of it, but I certainly will look into that, even for my own knowledge. The possibilities are good and it is always important to support job creation in areas like Ros an Mhíl and elsewhere in the west of Ireland. I am happy to engage further with the Senator if I get any more information.

Gambling Sector

I welcome my good friend and colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, to the House, of which he is a former Member. I am delighted he is back here in his ministerial capacity at the Department of Health. I was happy to have heard in recent days the good tidings that a gambling regulation Bill and the establishment of a gambling regulator may be imminent. I have advocated very strongly, with others, for such measures for a long time. It is good news and it will deal with an important facet of the gambling problem in Ireland.

I want to address a distinct part of that problem today, namely, the situation of those who suffer from a gambling addiction and those who engage in problem gambling. The two groups are very closely related. First, I would like to hear from the Minister of State that he accepts that addiction to gambling is an illness and, as such, is a matter for, and the clear responsibility of, the Department of Health.

The Department of Justice has responsibility for the gambling Bill and the gambling regulator, but addiction to gambling is a distinct Department of Health issue and I would like the Minister of State to accept that. What specific services are available from the Department of Health and the HSE for persons with addiction to gambling, including counselling, residential care or care wherever is required? What services are ring-fenced for gambling addiction? How many people were treated in the past year for an addiction to gambling by the health services? Critically, what are the future plans in this sphere? I know the Minister of State is ambitious to achieve in the Department. What does he see the Department doing in the future to expand and develop services?

Addiction to gambling has to be dealt with as a separate and tragic reality and something outside of all law and regulation and everything else one deals with to prevent it in the future or minimise it. The condition has to be dealt with separately. We have to have evidence that the Department of Health and the HSE recognise that and that there are specific services, as we know there are for other similar difficulties, which are all functioning. Not only that, money must be ring-fenced specifically for addiction to gambling and a strategy must be put in place to dealt with this in the future. It is no different from any other addiction. It is an illness and has to be defined and treated as such. Every estimate from various sources of the number with the problem in Ireland is not less than 30,000. It is a sad and living reality all around us. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and welcome the opportunity to update the House on the support and services provided to persons who experience gambling addiction. I am aware problem gambling affects a significant number of individuals and the Senator is correct in that research conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Department of Justice estimates approximately 1% of the population is affected by problem gambling. I would have thought it would have been a little higher.

The Department has overall responsibility for gambling regulation and it published the interdepartmental working group report on future licensing and regulation of gambling in 2019. The report addresses the social impact of gambling, including the issue of problem gambling and it notes the social and health impacts of gambling. I acknowledge problem gambling can lead to social breakdown with devastating financial losses and alienation of family and friends. Problem gambling can be associated with a range of harms, including higher risk of psychiatric disorders; alcohol and drug misuse; physical and mental health issues; separation and divorce; and unemployment and insolvency. The interdepartmental working group recommended funding be made available for research, training and community interventions into treatment of problem gambling and gambling addiction, public education and awareness-raising programmes and the production of relevant information materials be supported and assistance be given in the provision of additional services to treat gambling addiction. To meet these objectives, the group recommended a social fund, managed by the gambling regulatory authority, should be established. I fully support this recommendation.

Significant work is being undertaken in the Department of Justice to progress the general scheme for the gambling regulation Bill. This will include the establishment of a social impact fund that will support funding services to treat gambling addiction. The Government approved the general scheme this week and it will be published shortly. The Department of Health does not have a remit for problem gambling. It does not provide funding to support organisations that deal with gambling addiction or problem gamblers. The Department is responsible for providing services for people affected by drug and alcohol addiction. HSE and section-39-funded addiction services have, in some case of gambling addiction, provided treatment within existing resources. Interventions currently provided to those presenting with gambling addiction include one-to-one counselling, financial advice and onward referral to other services. However, for the Department and the HSE to provide specific services or centres for gambling addiction without additional funding would result in significant capacity issues and the lengthening of waiting lists for drug and alcohol addiction.

The Senator asked how many people were treated last year. I do not have the figure but I will try to get it for him. I agree that gambling addiction is a serious issue. I go into bookmakers and online gambling and many times, one has to self-regulate. There are so many angles there with gambling available online, including on one's mobile phone. It is an issue to which we need to wake up and address. I thank him for raising this important issue.

I thank the Minister of State. I agree with his assessment of the problem and all its human repercussions. My basic point, which I would like the Minister of State to bring back to the Minister for consideration, is the Department of Health should accept addiction to gambling is an issue for it and there should be ring-fenced money and delineated services, as for other illnesses. I appeal to the Minister of State to look at that. I appreciate his response and acceptance of the great problem and the need to deal with it. I know well that is where he is on the issue, but I appeal to him to look at it as a specific issue for the Department of Health, rather than for the Department of Justice, and to look at ring-fenced funding, direct services and support for charities. We are on the one page. It is a question of approach and resources and such. I hope this debate will advance the issue and further progress will result.

I again thank the Senator for raising the issues of gambling addiction and problem gambling. There is, without doubt, an issue with problem gambling in Ireland. Many actions can be taken by gambling companies to minimise problem gambling, including restrictions on advertising, the ending of free bet promotions and limits on how much people can bet through online accounts. However, there are people who will still develop problem gambling habits. That is why we need a social fund on the gambling industry to provide supports and counselling for those affected. The Department of Health is willing to play its role in providing additional services for those affected by gambling addiction and it is my view that the resources for these services should come from the gambling industry. I again thank the Senator for raising this important issue, of which I have anecdotal evidence throughout the country from young men and women and many others. It is much easier to gamble, especially online. It is an issue we certainly need to address.

Planning Issues

I welcome the Minister of State who has responsibility for public health, well-being and the national drugs strategy but I had hoped a Minister from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage would take this matter.

In recent months and even before that, we have both seen the following headlines: "Energy blackouts this winter 'can never be ruled out'"; "European energy crisis a wake-up call for Irish policymakers"; "EirGrid warns of electricity supply shortfalls over next five winters"; "Ireland could be facing energy blackouts this winter"; "Dark days lie ahead if we fail to tackle energy crisis"; "New report paints stark picture of climate change impact in Ireland"; "Global warming to hit 'critical zone' within 20 years".

I will outline to the Minister of State what the Arklow Bank project will deliver to address two of these critical interlocking international challenges, namely, the climate crisis and the need to decarbonise our electricity system and deal with the immediate, significant energy generation capacity shortage. This project will reduce Ireland's carbon emissions by approximately 1% and will offset more than 500,000 tonnes of harmful CO2 annually. Wicklow currently has a housing stock of more than 56,000 homes. This project will generate eight times the electricity required for these homes. That is 520 MW of electricity, which is enough to power more than 450,000 homes with green energy, contributing to Ireland's action plan target of 1 GW of offshore energy by 2025.

In March, a report was presented to the Department to facilitate the extension of the long-stop dates within the lease and ensure that the project is delivered in line with the most up-to-date environmental standards. This will allow the project to deliver the positive change in line with Ireland's ambitious climate action targets and mitigate the current electricity generation capacity crisis the country is now facing by 2025. While I appreciate that this application requires examination, I do not consider that a delay in excess of seven months without any apparent advancement is acceptable. This is the core of the problem, not just in the Department but with all Departments and arms of the State. They just do not seem to understand the implications of processes and applications that are not time-bound. The uncertainties caused by the lack of decision-making will have a significant effect on Ireland delivering solutions and addressing the challenges we face.

Arklow suffered from serious decline in the late 1990s and early 2000s when thousands of jobs were lost, including in the IFI plant, which at its peak employed more than 1,200. These industries left behind hundreds of acres of industrial wasteland. I have supported this project in Wicklow. I was delighted when SSE Renewables decided to locate the operation and maintenance facility in Arklow in 2020. This will mean 80 full-time jobs and thousands of indirect jobs in Arklow and Wicklow during the construction phase and over the project's lifetime. It will contribute millions of euro annually to benefit communities and commercial rates. It is a capital investment of up to €2 billion to power the green recovery. I am annoyed and frustrated at the time being taken by the Department to progress this application, which would allow it to proceed to the next stage, namely, a transboundary environmental public consultation. If that is not achieved, we can throw our 2025 targets out the window.

Thanks to the likes of SSE Renewables, and others showing confidence in Arklow and Wicklow, Arklow is now moving to a new era of green technology, embracing new industries and new technologies. Arklow is at a turning point in its history. Let us not risk losing these opportunities to revitalise Arklow due to a process that is not time-bound and that is not progressing.

I thank Senator Casey for raising this issue, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to achieving 5 GW capacity in offshore wind off Ireland's eastern and southern coasts by 2030. It also commits to production of a longer-term plan setting out how the State will harness the potential of at least 30 GW of offshore floating wind power in our deeper waters in the Atlantic. This pace of development is vital to achieve a reliable supply of safe, secure and clean energy.

Ireland's ambitions for the offshore renewable energy, ORE, sector require an up-to-date regulatory regime to provide certainty to project promoters and deliver a pathway to realising the necessary investment. The Maritime Area Planning, MAP, Bill, currently on Committee Stage in the Dáil, will enable the realisation of these ambitions for ORE by providing the necessary legislative toolkit for forward planning, well-regulated development, streamlined consenting, and comprehensive environmental assessment of proposals.

Under the Bill, a new development management system for the maritime area has been introduced to replace the current regime, as operated under the Foreshore Act, which dates back to 1933, and was designed to manage a completely different type of marine use to that currently envisaged. This new marine planning system will incorporate consenting for the occupation of the maritime area by means of maritime area consents, MACs, by a new agency, the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, and a new planning consenting regime to be implemented by coastal local authorities and An Bord Pleanála.

The Bill also sets out special provisions for ORE projects satisfying the definition of "relevant maritime usage". The special provisions for ORE are in recognition of the need to have a pipeline of projects progressing under the new regime in order to meet our 2030 climate and energy targets. Recognising that it will take time to establish the new agency, MARA, it was decided by the Government that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications should be granted limited powers to invite MAC applications for specific ORE projects for a specified period in advance of establishment. However, in the case of SSE Renewables and the Arklow Bank wind park phase 2 project, the company has an existing lease in place under the Foreshore Act and has now applied for an extension of the long-stop dates specified in that lease. While it is not appropriate to comment in detail on an application that will come before the Minister for determination, it is important to note that the application by SSE Renewables is unprecedented in the level of change from the existing lease arrangements, and, accordingly, it is necessary to review the application carefully so as to ensure that any decision made upon it is as robust as possible and will stand up to any challenge that may be brought forward.

I again thank the Senator for raising the issue. He referred to the 80 jobs that will be provided in Arklow in the future. He also referred to thousands of jobs in construction sector and in other areas. I hope the various stakeholders can come to an arrangement that gets matters progressed as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I had to wait until the very end to get exactly what I needed. When he referred to the MAP Bill, I was concerned that he was going to suggest this project should go through that process, but it is clear that he is not.

My issue does not just relate to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; it is all Departments. How can a project progress if it does not know when it is going to get an answer or when it can move to the next phase? Realistically and honestly, we will not deliver on what the Government and we, as a people, want to deliver on climate change unless the Departments make the decisions. All decisions should be time-bound now and in the future to give certainty.

I do not want to interfere in the process. All I ask is when the decision will be made. Could the Minister of State indicate when the Department will make the decision on the extension of the long-stop lease for SSE Renewables?

We want to meet our 2030 climate and energy targets. SSE Renewables has a lease in place for the Arklow wind project, which is, fortunately, under the Foreshore Act. Senator Casey asked when a decision will be made. I do not have the information, but I will bring the question back to the Minister to see if we can expedite the matter as quickly as possible.

It is good that an Oireachtas Member has chosen to raise this issue. There can sometimes be blockages so it is no harm to keep an eye on things and progress matters. I thank the Senator again.

Employment Support Services

I know that the Acting Chairperson and the Minister of State, who hails from the same county as me, will have an interest in this matter. In recent times, this issue has been raised in the Seanad but it is important that we continue to fight the case on behalf of the particular group of people involved.

I will read from a letter that I received recently. I will not mention any names or the part of the country involved, but it is a town in rural Ireland. The letter is from somebody who is involved in a jobs club and it states:

As a staff member currently working a certain centre I have had no direct communication from department officials to inform me of what my future holds. They repeatedly insist that extensive engagement has been held, but I can categorically state that contracted, on the ground staff members have not been engaged with at all. While meetings have been held with independent job clubs, the letters have been sent to service providers for RFT 2, but we have been forgotten about.

At this moment, we don’t know whether we should be job-seeking or holding on ourselves for redundancy; a redundancy that we will probably have to jump through hoops for. The undue stress this is causing my colleagues and I is unacceptable and unbelievably unprofessional. We have worked alongside and collaboratively with staff in our local Department of Social Protection for over 20 years.

When the Indecon reviews were completed, our understanding was that the new service would appear more like the existing LES services, with adaptions to incorporate the Job Club service. Indeed, the Department have stated that the new Regional Employment Service is to “consolidate existing LES and Job Clubs service and to extend it nationwide”, but the opposite seems to be happening. Disappointingly the tender appeared very similar to the JobPath service already in existence. Why was the service model changed? I can say that having read the tender, absolutely no part of the Job Club service has been incorporated in this new service. The Department of Social Protection repeatedly mention that there is no LES service in the regions in Lot 1, and while that is true, it completely discounts the work the Job Club in those regions have completed over the past 2 decades.

Over 20 years, jobs clubs have played a significant role. The letter continues:

It’s like we don’t exist! There is also the matter of the “tweak” and “learnings” that is undergoing in the tender for RFT2. What are these tweaks/learnings and how can it be fair that providers in Lot 1 had to tender for something potentially different?

While we are of course worried, stressed and concerned about our own jobs, we are also greatly concerned about the future for unemployed people locally and wondering where these people are going to avail of such a service going forward. Having heard first hand from a vast amount of clients throughout the past few years, the JobPath model does not work. It is not popular. It is certainly not cost-effective. It has a large turnover of staff. The CVs produced are questionable, often adopting the copy and paste option from job descriptions found online, with no personalization. The jobs sent out from case workers to individuals, at times, have no connection to the persons past employment experience. It is not person centered and it is not open to anyone who needs assistance.

This is the wrap around service that is so vital, that will not be available for job seekers in the future. The walk in and wrap around service we provide is extremely valuable and the new tendered service, as per JobPath does not make allowances for the people who need this.

The case has been very well made by the person who wrote the letter. That person is very worried not just about their job future but about the people who are badly in need of this service. We must realise that there are people out there who need support and help. The people who work in jobs clubs do very good work. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply.

I thank my colleague, Senator Murphy, for reading that letter into the record. I will bring the issues of concern to the attention of the Minister.

Earlier this year, the Government published its employment services strategy, Pathways to Work 2021-2025, which contains commitments to expand the capacity of our public employment service. The strategy also provides for an increase in resources that will deliver the regional employment service across the entire State.

In late 2019, the Department of Social Protection commenced a review of the public employment service delivered by it and its service partners. Following on from this review, and in line with the commitments in the Pathways to Work strategy and the Indecon reviews, the Department is making changes to how it contracts external services, including those currently provided by the local employment service, jobs clubs and JobPath. The Department has engaged extensively with the sector about these changes.

The existing arrangements for the LES and jobs club services extend back over 20 years without any formal procurement taking place. This is in contravention of good governance and public procurement practice. The Attorney General has advised that these services must be procured in line with EU and national public procurement rules by means of open and competitive tendering processes. The Department has, therefore, commenced a two-phased procurement process, which will see the delivery of a new national employment service and a regional employment service to replace the employment services delivered by the Department's current service partners.

The new regional employment service will deliver tailored employment services for those furthest from the labour market and for the first time these services will be available across the entire State. The regional employment service will deliver enhanced governance oversight and ensure that those individuals who need access to employment supports and services will receive tailored high-quality services irrespective of where they live in the State. The Indecon Review of Jobs Clubs published in 2018 recommended the integration of jobs clubs and local employment services into one service provision. Therefore, it is not intended to contract for jobs clubs beyond 2021 in areas covered under phase 1 of the procurement process. These areas will be covered by the new regional employment service from the start of 2022.

Existing jobs clubs in phase 2 areas - such areas cover 19 counties - are being given a new contract for six months - from January to June 2022 - for the specific purpose of providing them with additional time to work collaboratively with other organisations on submitting a joint bid under phase 2. The Department intends that the request for tenders for the regional employment services, under phase 2, will be published before the end of this year.

Organisations that submitted tenders under the phase 1 procurement were notified of the outcome of the process earlier this month. A standstill period is currently in operation and the Department cannot comment further until that has concluded.

This process of procuring a regional employment service places a premium on ensuring a quality service that is delivered by capable and experienced practitioners who focus on accession local supports for their clients. In areas where jobs clubs may be unsuccessful in competing for the new services, new service providers would do well to avail of the existing skill sets already available in their areas and look to employ these individuals.

The Department's objective is to expand the provision of employment service capacity. Another objective is to deliver high-quality employment services that are designed to meet individual's employment assistance and support requirements.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer, even though I do not agree with a great deal of it. He knows, from the experience in our part of the country, that the jobs club is a free service which helps people with job applications and which provides formal training, walk-in support clinics, job interview preparation and information in respect of employment supports. The clubs also arrange the provision of the latter. The list goes on and includes information on employment rights. These supports and services are all very important to a group of people who find it difficult to do interviews.

I am afraid that with all of this privatised system, because that is what is going to happen in most cases, those people will fall through the cracks. We are going to get rid of a system that is, in many parts of the country, really good, effective and free of charge looks out for people who find it difficult to find employment. I believe that the cessation of this service is not a good step and will continue to argue that case. However, I accept that the Minister of State will convey my comments back to the Department. I know that he gave a response on behalf of the Department and I ask him to convey my concerns to the Minister and the officials.

I thank Senator Murphy for both of his contributions. In the drive to enhance and deliver State-wide employment services for the long-term unemployed, and other cohorts, we cannot forget about the welfare of the people who provide those services, as the Senator rightly said.

In the consultation phase of this process, I understand Department officials visited every single job club in the State and saw for themselves the quality service provided by many of them. They have provided a great service on the ground and, as a local politician, it was great to introduce people to these services. I thank the Senator for raising this issue.

The key message delivered then, and that I reiterate now, is that job clubs must now work with partners in their areas to ensure they have the capacity to deliver services under the new models. As with every procurement process, existing providers may not be successful in their tender. Where this occurs, every effort should be made by their current employer and the new service provider to come to an arrangement that ensures clients can engage with quality, experienced staff as they seek to return to employment.

Sitting suspended at 11.22 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.