Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Antisocial Behaviour

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, to the House. The Minister of State is a regular contributor to this House and attender on all occasions, and that is appreciated.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I thank the Minister of State for coming here today to discuss this all-important topic.

I welcome, first of all, the increase in funding to do with Garda recruitment and Garda numbers in budget 2022 and acknowledge the work that the Minister of State and the Department have been doing in this regard. Listening to local radio and reading local newspapers, there has been an increase in minor crime, such as break-ins. In my area, there were five cars broken into recently. There were some very valuable items taken out of the boots of people's cars. You would say when something is in a boot that people would not know that it is there. Certainly, from listening to the radio, reading the newspapers and speaking to residents in different areas, it is in every town and village. It not just in cities. While there are increased numbers of gardaí, there are a number of retirements as well. I would like a debate on how the extra resources that have been allocated in this budget will be used to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

On behalf of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, I thank the Senator for raising this important issue on antisocial behaviour. It is a matter that is important to Senator Maria Byrne, who has raised it on a number of occasions.

The Government recognises the great harm that can be done to communities living with antisocial behaviour. We are committed to ensuring that antisocial behaviour is tackled head-on and that An Garda Síochána is provided with the necessary resources to do so.

The Senator will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is responsible under law for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, which includes the planning and deployment of Garda resources in response to crime trends. The Minister for Justice has no role in such directions.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. There is an issue with regard to safety cameras in that, I am told, residents associations do not have access to funding for them. Perhaps that could be looked at by the Minister. When cameras and extra lighting are provided in areas, it helps people to feel safe and also it helps the gardaí in their role.

I pay tribute to An Garda Síochána which is doing a great job under difficult circumstances. The reduction in Garda numbers in certain areas is leading to petty crime. People are upset about this. I ask that consideration be given to the installation of more cameras and to the provision of additional community policing. I would like to see more gardaí on the streets. Perhaps the current recruitment of the additional staff for the offices will help in the return of more gardaí to our streets.

On behalf of the Minister, I, again, thank the Senator for raising this important matter. The Government is committed to tackling antisocial behaviour. As Minister of State at the Department of Justice, I was honoured to set up the antisocial behaviour forum, which has met on a regular basis since its establishment last year. Earlier this year, it produced recommendations around scramblers, both in terms of tackling, on a community basis, why the scramblers are being misused by young people and to try to direct their energies to more positive activities but also in terms of recommendations around road traffic laws to see if Garda powers can be strengthened where, despite interventions, people are still insisting on misusing scramblers, particularly in our cities. The antisocial behaviour forum has set up a sub-task force around knife crime. We are looking at what other areas it might tackle as well.

In addition, three pilot local community safety partnerships have been established. These are designed to take a holistic approach to safety issues in partnership with the communities. The work of the community safety partnerships is similar to the work of the local community development committees, LCDCs, in terms of bringing together all of the different actors within a community to address crime. An Garda Síochána can only do so much. We need to tackle the underlying issues and we need to bring in the HSE, the local authorities, Tusla and other relevant bodies to help take on any issue around antisocial behaviour.

Public Transport

I welcome the Minister for Transport.

I, too, welcome the Minister. I am delighted he could be here with us this morning. What prompted me to put forward this Commencement matter was anger and frustration in regard to the inconsistent access to public transport in this country, which I hear about and witness, but do not experience because I am able-bodied. When I want to travel by train or bus I can do so. However, for thousands of citizens in this country who wish to travel they have to jump through hoops. They have to pre-book, plan and make arrangements and be ready to be let down at all times. They face barriers and blockages and cannot obtain either access or answers. These are our friends and neighbours and their human rights are being denied and, often, ignored.

I want to a highlight a particular situation that occurred last Saturday. Vicky Matthew took to Facebook to highlight that Connolly railway station in Dublin had failed to meet its obligations to her as a customer. She had given 24 hours notice that she would require ramp and assistance. This lady did everything that she was supposed to do, but she was abandoned on the train. She telephoned the station for help, but nobody arrived to assist. A random passenger helped her by getting a ramp to enable her to get off the train. This is unacceptable. We have to find a better way of providing equity in our society.

Another situation involved a man from Louth, Mr. John Morgan, who highlighted to me that he had been prevented from travelling to Wales to see a relative. He had purchased flights and planned to travel to Dublin Airport from Dundalk via the Bus Éireann 100X service. He left home early in the morning to ensure he would be on time for his flight. He had contacted Bus Eireann two weeks in advance to ask about wheelchair accessibility on the 100X service. His call was promptly returned and he was told that the bus leaving Dundalk was not accessible. It is not an accessible route and that meant he could not get to the airport. Owing the lack of infrastructure, he was prevented from travelling.

The infrastructure on public transport does not fully enable the freedom of movement on all modes of transport. This is not only about access, it is about having to give notice. It is about singling people out to be different, making them do things differently to those of us who are able bodied. Therefore, it is not about choice but about planning ahead for a smooth journey to become a reality. The lack of accessible transport services impacts on inclusion, social interaction, jobs, education and mental health. The cost of living with a disability affects not only the disabled person but his or her family and community, as well as every aspect of his or her life. For some disabled people, transport is inaccessible for small and simple reasons such as human error, lengthy pre-booking requirements, inaccessible routes and because the built environment does not link with the transport service, that is, the bus does not connect with the pavement.

When that happens it means that the route is inaccessible.

Independent Living Movement Ireland has done excellent research and I am delighted the Minister is in the House as I can give him copies of its research. The organisation is a disabled person's organisation, DPO, that is run by people who know their story best, which means they are the best advocates for themselves.

I highlighted in my Commencement matter that our rights are obligations of the State, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. Article 9 relates to transport and states "To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications". We should not block them and I hope that we will adopt the optional protocol to the convention, as it will ensure that we are accountable for not taking action on accessibility.

The Senator is absolutely right to quote Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As she said, the article puts obligations on State parties to ensure access for persons with disabilities to, inter alia, transportation in both urban and rural areas. In line with that article, my Department and its agencies are progressively making public transport accessible for people with disabilities, including in rural areas, by ensuring that new infrastructure and services are accessible from the start, and by retrofitting older legacy infrastructure and facilities to make them accessible.

Accessibility features, such as wheelchair accessibility and audio or visual aids or both, are built into all new public transport infrastructure projects and vehicles from their design stage. Newer systems such as the Luas are fully accessible, as are all new buses purchased by the National Transport Authority. However, as the examples cited by the Senator in respect of Connolly Station and Mr. Morgan and his difficulties show, work remains to be done, particularly on the retrofitting of older legacy infrastructure such as a lot of our Victorian-era train stations. My Department, therefore, funds an ongoing accessibility retrofit programme that is managed by the NTA, which includes programmes to install accessible bus stops in rural and regional areas, to upgrade bus bays at regional bus and train stations, to upgrade train stations to make them accessible to wheelchair users and to provide grant support to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis.

The Department has developed a number of three-year sectoral plans called Transport Access for All, under the Disability Act 2005. The concept for Transport Access for All is based on the principle of accessible public transport that does not distinguish between people with disabilities and other passengers. The third sectoral plan was published in 2012. The first whole-of-government national disability inclusion strategy, NDIS, was established in 2013, followed by the current NDIS for the years 2017 to 2022, which covers all sectors of society, including transport.

In addition to the NDIS, the UNCRPD, and the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities 2015-2024, there are a range of other national strategies that contain actions towards making public transport accessible for persons with disabilities, persons with reduced mobility and older people. All of these actions across all such strategies have been combined into the Department of Transport's accessibility work programme, which is in effect the successor to the sectoral plans.

My Department's accessibility work programme provides the framework for prioritising projects and programmes to progressively make public transport accessible. It is a living document that is updated quarterly in advance of meetings of the accessibility consultative committee, ACC, and the NDIS steering group.

Under the national disability inclusion strategy, each Department is required to have a disability consultative committee to oversee and monitor the actions assigned to it and its agencies. My Department's consultative committee is called the accessibility consultative committee. It is the successor to the Department's public transport accessibility committee, which was established in 2000. Members of the accessibility consultative committee are drawn from organisations that represent people with disabilities, members of the disability stakeholders group and key agencies under the aegis of my Department, as well as other relevant State agencies. The ACC uses the accessibility work programme to monitor progress in progressively making public transport accessible in line with the UNCRPD, the NDIS and other national strategies. The next accessibility work programme update will be published in early December on the gov.ie portal. That is where previous updates along with minutes of all ACC meetings can be found.

I am glad to hear that there will be an update in early December. This is a great country for producing policies and documents but work and investment are needed. We are talking about encouraging everybody onto public transport. I would love to have a safe and accessible transport for all of my community and friends because I want to know that they are going to be safe. I want to know that they are not going to be blocked getting on or off a bus or train and that people who are visually impaired know at all times where they are.

Accessibility is not about equality. We are all equal and we all should have equal access. Accessibility is about equity. We need to build equity within the infrastructure and create a fairer society. Citizens with disabilities deserve every single right and deserve not to have barriers put in front of them. Almost 15% of the population has some sort of a disability and, therefore, are a huge cohort of our friends and community. I thank the Minister for his time.

I know from my experience of transport campaigning and planning over 25 years is that when one designs access for all then everyone benefits. Let us take the Luas as an example, because it was designed as an accessible system. Such infrastructure benefits everyone, whether that be a parent with a child in a buggy, someone in a wheelchair or someone who is visually impaired because it has been designed for people with disability.

I want to give some further detail as background. Lifts at stations has been a critical issue for disability. This year, we have provided an investment of €5.8 million and an additional €2 million was provided in recognition that we need to accelerate the programme.

The Senator mentioned an incident that occurred at Connolly Station, which is a real concern. My understanding is that as there is not a mechanism or an automatic wheelchair ramp facility for heavy rail systems, someone from Irish Rail must be in attendance. In the instance cited, another passenger was in attendance for whatever reason, which is not acceptable. Irish Rail is developing a smartphone accessibility app to address some of the key communications breakdowns that occur - as human error can occur - when providing assistance to persons with disabilities. I hope that initiative may see such instances not happen in the future.

Let me refer to Mr. Morgan's experience on the coach. My understanding is, and the information that I now have, is that all long-distance coach types require the removal of up to four seats to be accessible and that is why there is a 24-hour notice requirement. I am surprised that the Dundalk route did not have a coach where seats could be taken out for whatever reason.

I have been told that in the case of long-distance coaches, they do not yet have anything other than high-floor options, which present some difficulties in terms of making travel easily accessible. For all public service obligation, PSO, regional commuter routes now - up to something like 50 km - new buses are coming that, typically, will have low-floor access thereby allowing wheelchair users to board with normal ramp access. So the situation is slowly changing. It is particularly difficult on older rail and on long-distance bus services but that should not stop us looking to make sure that they are as accessible as any new services that we provide.

Research and Development

I welcome the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, to the House.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to take this important issue regarding the future of science and research in Ireland. I will start by putting on record our thanks for his support in creating the technological university of the south east that was announced yesterday. The initiative is a game changer for the region.

The appointment of Professor Philip Nolan, the former president of Maynooth University, as the director general of Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, is welcome. We should reflect on the wonderful contribution that the outgoing director general, Professor Mark Ferguson, has made. However, the role of director general and that of the Government's chief scientific adviser should never have been combined. With the appointment of Professor Nolan, there is an ideal opportunity to split the two. SFI plays a crucial role as a national research funding agency, but it is essential that the office of the chief scientific adviser be independent and not in any way perceived to be influenced by funding decisions or to favour any particular type of scientific research. Splitting the two roles is something that many academics have called for, including the Royal Irish Academy, RIA.

We should consider establishing a scientific advisory council to support the Government's chief scientific adviser. There are similar operations in other jurisdictions, for example, the Netherlands, France and the US. The remit of the Dutch scientific council is to advise the Dutch Government and Parliament on strategic issues that are likely to have important political and social consequences. We have seen the benefit of independent advisory councils in terms of climate change and economic policy. We cannot expect the Government's chief scientific adviser to have a knowledge of every issue ranging from nanotechnology to artificial intelligence. Given the importance of science and research to our future economic development as well as the convergence of new technologies, it is important that the Government be informed and up to date on the possible societal implications of those changes.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that Ireland will move towards having a national research policy. I hope it covers laryngitis and research into how we can cure it quickly. It is essential that we have a public policy to underpin a research direction and research infrastructure.

The Minister is committed to this area and I look forward to his answer. In particular, there is an immediate opportunity to split two key roles.

I thank the Senator for inviting me to the Chamber. I will begin as he did by remarking on the importance of yesterday's announcement of a technological university for the south east. I thank the Senator for his support and leadership on this matter. As chair of the cross-party group of Oireachtas Members from the south east, he convened Members from all political persuasions a number of times to engage with me. I found that helpful in reaching this point and working through issues in the interests of the region as a whole rather than people playing party politics with the matter. There is always a bit of the latter but, thankfully, there was not that much in this instance, as people worked together for the region. I reiterate our commitment to delivering the Wexford site. I thank Wexford County Council for working with us on that matter. A Wexford campus will be a core part of the university.

I am delighted to be invited to the Seanad to discuss an issue of science. I am pleased that, next week being science week, the Seanad and the Dáil have decided to have debates on science. I look forward to participating in those. I am not sure that the Houses do enough in that regard, so I welcome the debates.

As the Senator is aware, the substantive post of chief science adviser was abolished in 2012. Upon that happening, the current director general of SFI was given the title of chief scientific adviser on an unremunerated basis. I join the Senator in paying tribute to Professor Ferguson, who has been a superb chief scientific adviser and director general at a crucial time for science and research in our country. I thank Professor Ferguson for his leadership and work.

The current unremunerated role of chief scientific adviser will fall vacant when the current director general retires this year. As such, it is a natural moment in time to reassess the situation. Professor Nolan will become the next director general of SFI in January 2022. I congratulate him in that regard and look forward to working with him.

I intend to bring a memorandum to the Government next week on the next steps that I intend to take in respect of the role of chief scientific adviser. I would be happy to return to the Seanad once I have done so. I will give the House some of my thoughts now, though. It is important that our science advice structures can evolve. The past 18 months have shown that, not only in respect of Covid, but also in terms of climate change and many other issues, including those the Senator mentioned. I strongly believe that there is a need to ensure that whatever structures we put in place enable science to be at the heart of all of our discussions as a Government and an Oireachtas and embed access to scientific and research advice and expertise in policy decision making. When we as legislators followed public health expertise during the pandemic, we did well in general. In times when we did not, perhaps we did not do as well. Following expert advice and embedding it in policymaking is a good thing.

I agree with the Senator that one scientist cannot be an expert in every aspect of science. Perhaps it shows a lack of understanding on our part of the breadth of disciplines when we talk about "science". How can we put a structure in place that enables a resource to be available with a range of expertise to support the work of a chief scientific adviser? Scientists have different areas of expertise and can bring a wide range of views to the wide range of issues that we face as a society. It is important that the Government and the Oireachtas have access to a range of expertise and advice.

I am preparing a memo to bring to the Cabinet next week. I will have a chance to update my Government colleagues on my thinking, after which I will be happy to return to the Seanad. Indeed, we will have a debate on science next week, which might be a chance for me to do that. Whatever we decide to do will be based on a couple of elements, the first of which will be best international practice and international comparators, that is, how other countries have managed to do this and evolve their structures. Second, we will enable a chance to engage with the scientific community. The Senator mentioned the RIA, which has done great work on this matter. Academia has strong views and the public is beginning to engage in our conversations.

Regarding the Senator's second question, my Department is developing a new national strategy for research and innovation. Development is ongoing. There have been many action-led work programmes mapping out specific desirables. A public consultation was held in June and July, with more than 115 submissions received. The new strategy will aim to strengthen the capability and capacity of our research and innovation system to deliver excellence and impact and make a real difference to the lives of our citizens. A great deal of cross-departmental and agency work is ongoing. I intend to bring a draft strategy to a Cabinet committee by the end of the year and i am likely to publish the strategy at the beginning of the new year.

I thank the Minister for his response, which has filled me with optimism. It is essential that Government decisions be based on science and research. The Minister is right, in that, when we follow the science and the evidence, we tend to get better outcomes. Evidence-based policymaking should be at the heart of government.

I look forward to next week's debate on science. I appreciate that the Minister is not giving the House a direct answer, but on the basis of what he is saying, I am optimistic that he will be announcing that we will have the independent chief scientific adviser role recreated and that he is open to the idea of a scientific advisory council based on the evidence from other jurisdictions.

We are living in a period of phenomenal change and it is important that we be willing to use all of the evidence garnered from science and research to inform everything that we do at Government level. I look forward to the debate next week and I take the Minister's response positively, even though he may not have said it directly.

I am straddling a line between wanting to be transparent and helpful and respecting my constitutional obligations. Let me say this - I am recognising on the floor of the Seanad that the structures that are in place need to evolve and change. I am certainly not saying that the status quo should continue. There needs to be an evolution of the structures.

The world is a different place than it was in 2012. Our country is a different place and its needs are different. I passionately believe that our future economic and social well-being as individuals, as a country and as a people will be reliant on science, research, talent and ingenuity. We can see from the debates on global tax that the world is changing and shifting. Investment in talent, people, research and innovation will be key.

Whatever structures we arrive on will be based on international comparisons, international best practice, learning from others and listening to the voices of the scientific community and the public at large. I expect to be in a position to expand on this further in the House next week.

Technological Universities

Yesterday marked a very significant milestone in a journey which has had more twists than a murder mystery novel. Thankfully, that chapter has come to a conclusion and a new chapter has begun with yesterday's announcement that a technical university for the south east will be established by 1 May and that all final year students currently attending Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, and IT Carlow will graduate with a university degree. This is fantastic news for Waterford and the entire south-east region. It is good for students, families, jobs and inward investment.

The establishment of a university in the south east has been described as a necessity by stakeholders for a protracted period. I am very encouraged by the interactions I have had with stakeholders and IDA Ireland and their positivity about the establishment of a technological university in the south east.

I thank the staff, management and students at WIT and IT Carlow for their diligent work and determination, sometimes in the face of opposition. Their commitment to the establishment of a technological university, TU, has to be complimented. I am sure everyone will join me in congratulating them on their work and resolve.

I have some points and questions on which I hope the Minister can bring clarity. The first is on the designation and commencement dates for the new technological university. At our meeting yesterday, the Minister indicated he expected designation in January and commencement by 1 May. I hope he will clarify that, in the event that everything is in place to enable a designation and commencement before those timelines, nothing would preclude that from occurring. It is imperative that we commence with the international competition to appoint a president of the new technological university. Existing contracts are coming to a conclusion and the new president, whoever that may be, will likely have to work a notice period in his or her existing role.

There is also the matter of the process and timelines for the appointment of a chairperson and two external members. I have told the Minister several times that I believe these are of critical importance if we are to gel the two institutions and ensure the new governing body can realise the vision we have for higher education in the region.

Last but not least, one of the most important issues outside of the headquarters location, which we discussed in a previous Commencement debate, is the expanded campus development in Waterford. Extensive work has been undertaken on the proposal to acquire additional land to enable the new technological university to expand in Waterford, particularly in the last six months but even before that in the development of master plans for the envisaged site. What are the next steps after the meeting on Friday with WIT, the HEA and the Department on the business plan? Will the Minister reaffirm the Government's commitment to this proposal?

On capital funding, WIT and IT Carlow made submissions to the HEA as part of the national development plan review. Support is needed, not only from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science but also the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, both in relation to borrowing capacity and accessing cheap financing from the European Investment Bank and others for projects such as student accommodation, incubation spaces and research and development centres. I would appreciate assurances from the Minister on this.

I thank the Minister for the resolve he has shown in ensuring we will have a technological university in the south east for the first time.

I thank Senator Cummins for his work, leadership and dedication in delivering this project, along with his colleagues across the south east. I know this is an issue that he has personally prioritised and given a lot of time to. I hate to think of the conversation we would be having had we not got to this point, considering the degree to which the Senator banged on my door to ensure Waterford and the south east were no longer neglected in terms of a lack of university presence in the south-east region.

I join the Senator in thanking everyone who has worked on this issue over a sustained period. I am conscious that I am fortunate to be the Minister in office when we reached this significant milestone. Many people have worked on this issue for a decade and, indeed, the more I look into the issue, the clearer it becomes that this work has been done for decades.

I acknowledge the two presidents, Professor Willie Donnelly of WIT and Dr. Patricia Mulcahy of IT Carlow, the chairs of the governing authorities, Mr. Jim Moore and Mr. John Moore, all the members of the governing authorities, all the staff, students and stakeholders, the business community and public representatives. They, together, working tirelessly along with Mr. Tom Boland and his project team have brought us to this point.

As the Senator knows better than most, the south east was the only region in the country without a university presence. This was a glaring anomaly and was holding the region back both in access to higher education but also attracting inward investment and jobs. One only needs to talk to IDA Ireland to hear that view. It was a significant and glaring gap on the map of Ireland which is now being addressed once and for all. The technological university will be established by May 2022. Words matter, as our President reminds us. The word "by" was not chosen accidentally. If establishment can happen earlier, it will. Yesterday was a really exciting day for higher education in the south-east region, signalling as it did the establishment next year of a multi-campus university presence across the region.

The application seeking TU designation was submitted to me jointly on 30 April. I subsequently appointed an independent international advisory panel to assist in assessing this application and sought the views of the board of the Higher Education Authority on that report and any other matters of relevance. I have received and considered reports and, on foot of my deliberations and extensive engagement with the two institutions, I am proposing to approve the application. In short, I can state that all parties are working towards the new university opening its doors by 1 May 2022. The HEA will now seek to confirm the finalisation of technical and operational elements. The HEA will continue to keep me informed and advise me on these matters. I wrote yesterday to the institutes' governing body chairpersons in this regard. There is now a prescribed period in law during which the institutes may make representations.

I addressed the Senator's question on establishment by May 2022. On the governing authority, this month, the Department will invite expressions of interest through a public process for the role of chairperson and two external members of what should become the first governing body of the new TU. I will also be writing to the education and training boards to seek a candidate to sit on the governing body in due course. I will encourage people to step up and come forward. Being on the governing body of this new technological university will be the epitome of public service.

The process to identify a suitable candidate to be submitted to me for designation for appointment as first president by the new technological university's first governing body will be by way of an open international competitive process, which will be run by the applicant institutes in the new year. I hope that will kick off in January.

The Senator has raised consistently the very important matter of expanding the footprint of the new university in Waterford. I want to be categorical and be crystal clear, to pardon the pun, about wanting to do this. We want to expand the footprint of the university's presence in Waterford. I have been clear in my commitment to expanding the imprint, as are the Taoiseach and Tánaiste. WIT is undertaking an appraisal process and business case process in accordance with the requirements of the public spending code. Its representatives will meet my Department and the HEA later this week. We will work with them to progress that.

On the headquarters, as I have said previously, this is legally a matter for the governing authority. That is the law. The Government does not run universities. This is an open, modern European democracy. Waterford seems like a sensible location for the headquarters for a variety of reasons, including national planning policies.

On borrowing capacity, I am very pleased with the progress being made on student accommodation under Housing for All but I accept the need to do more on this and I am very committed to doing that.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response. I would expect nothing less. He has been across this issue since his appointment.

On borrowing, significant work has been done to enable technological universities to borrow to fund purpose-built student accommodation, of which there is a shortage in Waterford, as there is elsewhere.

However, beyond that we need to get to the point where we have the likes of incubation spaces and research and development centres which can be revenue generators. These will prove the ability of the new technological universities to be able to repay the investment. In the same context, that should be expedited with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I would appreciate the Minister's comments on that.

I welcome also his comments on the headquarters of the new TU. It is essential it is located in Waterford, notwithstanding the fact the president will obviously have a presence on both campuses. That is a natural progression here but there has to be a designated HQ and I welcome the Minister's comments in that regard.

My comments on the HQ are as they are but the bigger win and the bigger prize here for Waterford and the south east is the establishment of a technological university, the status that will bring to the region, the opportunities that will provide for increasing foreign direct investment, capital investment, research funding, international recognition and becoming a catalyst in a region that sometimes feels it has been left behind for development and socioeconomic progression and innovation. We sometimes throw words around in politics but I really believe this has the ability to be transformational for the south east. It is not just my belief but the belief of so many stakeholders, the business community and student groups as well.

On borrowing, I remain committed to working intensively with my colleagues in Government to ensure we can continue to increase investment across the technological university agenda. We have a transformation fund with €90 million in it. In the Government's national recovery and resilience plan there is an additional €40 million for the technological universities. We have the highest ever per capita budget for higher education in our State and we now have access to borrowing by TUs and ITs for student accommodation in a way that was not there before, but I will continue to engage with the Senator on this. As recommended by the seminal TU Research Network, TURN, report, a fully-resourced, state-of-the-art, digitally-connected TU with attractive student-centric environments will strongly assist in the delivery of national strategic objectives on higher education. Yesterday was a big step forward but nobody, least of all me, is suggesting it is the end of the conversation. It is just the beginning of the next step of a new and exciting journey. I thank the Senator for all his work on this.

Senator Cummins will not mind me coming in on this but as a former vice chairman of County Kerry vocational educational committee, VEC, as it was, it would be remiss of me not to compliment the Minister on his work in bringing to fruition our Munster Technological University. He has a very happy event coming up on Monday. It is a consummation joyful to behold and the Minister has played a blinder on that and well done.

I thank the Acting Chairperson.

Sitting suspended at 11.23 a.m. and resumed at 11.32 a.m.