Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Digital Archiving

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for coming to the House. I hope he will share the details of this discussion with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. I would have appreciated the Minister's presence here today, but I know she will be at the Oireachtas committee meeting on Wednesday. I thank the Minister for State for his time.

We are losing web records at an alarming rate. Some 60% of the national libraries across Europe have in place adequate copyright law to allow them to collect appropriately the contents of state domain websites, which in our case is the .ie domain. The relevant legislation here is the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Act 2019. I have been covering this issue for many years. I met representatives of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment when that Bill came before these Houses. The Seanad passed an amendment to that Bill that I brought forward, but it was later removed by the then Minister, John Halligan.

Section 108 of the Act stipulates that, within 12 months of enactment, the Government shall bring forward a report on the feasibility of establishing a digital web archive or digital legal deposit. Twelve months have well and truly passed. In fact, the President signed the Act into law on 26 June 2019. As it stands, the National Library of Ireland is anxious that we are losing web records at an alarming rate. I am anxious the Government is breaking the law because it has not brought forward that report. The National Library of Ireland is concerned, and understandably so, that by not copying websites with the .ie domain, it is in breach of current copyright law. The library's representatives recently told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media that for each year they are unable to collect or disseminate the contents of the .ie domain websites, approximately 50% of web records are lost.

As I have said before, a black hole will be created in our country's memory if we continue to fail to put in place a digital legal deposit. The hold-up seems to be in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, which I understand was given the responsibility for producing a report on the feasibility of establishing the scheme. What is the Minister's view of what the scheme should look like? When will the report be brought to Cabinet? As I mentioned, the Government is now breaking the law on this issue. We are facing excessive loss of online material for the current and future generations. It seems there is no urgency from Ministers to take ownership of the issue and to set up a digital legal deposit scheme.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, who is unavailable this morning to take this Commencement matter.

Legal deposit legislation is an important instrument in national cultural policy. In Ireland, as in most countries, it is relied upon to ensure the published output of the nation is collected and preserved by one or more prescribed institutions in order that citizens and researchers, within the country and abroad, are guaranteed permanent access to the intellectual and cultural memory of the nation. Some countries have amended legal deposit legislation to incorporate the deposit of their published digital output, for example, websites and electronic publications. This is digital legal deposit, and it exists to various extents in the UK and some EU countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Section 29 of the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Act 2019 introduced a provision for copyright libraries to request a publisher to deposit a copy of a digital publication first published in the State. This introduced digital legal deposit in Ireland. Further consideration is being afforded to a wider initiative that would capture the web, particularly the .ie domain. At present, the National Library of Ireland, NLI, collects a wide range of websites and stores them permanently. All the websites collected by it are collected with the consent of the owners.

Section 108 of the 2019 Act provided that the Government would bring forward a report on the feasibility of establishing a digital legal deposit scheme to serve as a web archive for the .ie domain contents and advise of the steps taken towards that goal. Within a year of publication, 50% of web resources are gone or are unrecognisable, but the work of the NLI means Government publications and online websites documenting most aspects of public life in the 21st century will not be lost to future researchers.

Since 2011, the NLI has been selectively archiving the web, moving towards the creation of an archive of Irish websites. There are several practical and administrative limitations to that process, but perhaps the greatest concern is the fact that it does not provide for a complete record of Irish-content websites. The library has a statutory mandate to collect for the benefit of the public. It can also meet the resource requirements to gather and preserve the information. Legislation could be introduced to give the library the right to conduct a full domain trawl of all .ie websites of Irish interest periodically. To capture a complete record of Irish websites, the domain trawl would include the collection of content behind paywalls. The intention would be that the NLI would make the content available on its premises, as with other resources. This is not a simple issue. However, the owners of websites whose content lies behind a paywall have rights as publishers in general and are important stakeholders in that context. The agreement of relevant publishers would be appropriate and desirable in respect of any legislation.

On progress, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is working with the NLI on exploring the feasibility of expanding the library's capacity to establish a digital legal deposit scheme to serve as a web archive for the .ie domain. Work is ongoing in this regard. There are differing views on the introduction of a digital legal deposit, and it is important that consultation incorporate all those views. It is hoped to bring forward a report in the coming months.

I thank the Minister of State for the response from the Department. I have not learned anything new. On his reference to the Act introducing a provision allowing copyright libraries to request a publisher to deposit a copy of a digital publication, the scheme is not really a scheme at all. We are aware that the NLI is understaffed by comparison with its equivalent national libraries and, therefore, actively requesting it to make copies of records is hardly realistic.

It is extraordinary that the Government accepts that we are losing material but has not produced a report that it is legally required to produce. I hope to see the report in the coming months, as per the response to parliamentary questions for a number of months. I hope to see the report before the end of the year. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for coming to the House.

I thank Senator Warfield for his remarks and I absolutely understand his frustration in this context. I am working with what the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has provided to me. This is not my area of responsibility, but I will revert to the Minister and express the Senator's concern about the response he is getting. My scripted reply is very clear that the report is due but, as the Senator said, the replies to his questions have said it will be a number of months. I will raise the concern the Senator has expressed and his view that valuable material is being lost. That is critical to our State, so I undertake that I will raise that with the Minister, Deputy Martin.

Student Accommodation

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for coming to the House. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State when I say I would have preferred the Minister, Deputy Harris, to be here. I appreciate the Minister of State's time. I understand that the Minister is at a Cabinet meeting.

The issue I wish to raise is access to third level education and, most importantly, the affordability of third level education. The introduction of free education in Ireland in 1967 was a historic moment. It is one that we as a country experience the benefit of every day, not just socially but economically, and something we are recognised as a nation around the world for having achieved and led on. Today, outside Leinster House, students will protest about the financial barriers preventing students in Ireland from accessing third level education. Education is not just good for the individual, society and our economy but is also an investment in our collective future. Financial barriers are preventing an increasing number of students from accessing education. I appreciate that the Government in place over the past year has recognised those barriers and taken action to address some of them. The recent improvements to the SUSI grant in the budget, specifically the increase in the income thresholds and the qualifying distance and the enhanced funding of €17 million which the Minister, Deputy Harris, secured for the enhanced student assistance fund, were really welcome. I have also engaged with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, as has the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, on the caps on rents, the caps on upfront payments for student accommodation, the reduction in the notice period for students to give on accommodation and the direction given to local authorities not to allow purpose-built student accommodation to be converted to short-term lets. That is all very welcome.

The reality, though, is that the research that has been conducted indicates that the cost of a four-year degree is €50,000 on average, which is still too expensive. In Housing for All, the €20 billion commitment that has been made to address the housing crisis is welcome but, on top of that, Covid has had an impact. The number of digs has reduced. Families are no longer willing to take additional residents into their homes, quite understandably. The pressure on students is therefore enormous. I know that the third level institutions have been given €170 million or €180 million in funding to build purpose-built student accommodation and that the technical universities have been given funding. However, we need an urgency on the provision of affordable student accommodation because the accommodation element is proving to be a very significant cost. The Union of Students in Ireland is asking the Government to take action to remove these financial barriers. It requests specifically that the €3,000 student contribution charge be abolished. It also asks for further reform of the SUSI grant scheme. More than anything, it is asking the Government to take urgent action to ensure that student accommodation is affordable to all students.

I hope the Minister, Deputy Harris, has sent the Minister of State here with some good news. I look forward to his reply.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris.

He was keen to attend but, unfortunately, but due to Cabinet meeting commitments, he will be unable to do so.

The Government has taken action to address affordability in student accommodation. Rent increases in student accommodation are capped under the rent pressure zone provisions. From this year onwards, students cannot be made to pay more than two months rent upfront when commencing a tenancy, ending the practice where students had to pay several thousand euros upfront to secure accommodation.

A number of supports are available to students facing financial barriers to attend higher education. The principal one of these is the student grant scheme, which assists more than 70,000 students annually to access third-level education. The student grant scheme includes a non-adjacent rate of grant, which is a higher rate of grant that takes into consideration the additional costs which may be associated with living further away from college, such as accommodation costs.

From September 2022, the distance for the non-adjacent rate will be reduced from 45 km to 30 km, meaning that more students will qualify for this higher grant rate. Students experiencing exceptional financial needs can apply for support under the student assistance fund. The allocation to the student assistance fund for the 2021-22 academic year is €17.2 million, which includes an additional €8.1 million on the Covid-19 return to education funding.

Fundamentally however, this challenge is one of supply. As a country we need to dramatically increase the supply of all types of housing and accommodation, including student accommodation. That is why the Government has launched Housing for All led by my Department. This sets out a series of actions to be delivered to fix the housing crisis. The plan is backed up by the largest ever housing budget in the history of the State, at in excess of €20 billion, to transform our housing system.

The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, contains a commitment to work with higher education institutions to ensure that more accommodation is built on- and off-campus using cost-rental and other models. An important element of this is to ensure that the higher education institutions have access to low-cost financing.

Since 2017, the Housing Finance Agency has approved a total of €157 million in loans to support the provision of more than 1,400 new students bed spaces across three universities. At present the technological universities, TUs, are unable to borrow to build their own student accommodation. Housing for All contains a commitment to support our TUs to develop purpose-built student accommodation through access to appropriate financing such that TUs borrowing from the Housing Finance Agency.

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Minister, Deputy Harris, have been engaging with representatives from the higher education sector on this issue to better understand how they can be supported to build more student accommodation. Together with these stakeholders and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, we are looking to develop a stronger pipeline of affordable student accommodation which we know is critical. As part of that work we will examine the potential for the use of funding models such as cost rental in the education sector as well as examining existing barriers to the building of student accommodation.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I accept and welcome the innovations that the Government has made in enabling the TUs, the consideration of the affordable cost-rental model, the other innovations in the capping and limiting of the rents and upfront payments and the reduction of the notice periods. We have to go further, however, to fully ensure that any of the purpose-built student accommodation that has been built is hit with a vacant property tax if it is not being used and that students who are struggling financially are supported through the assistance funds which are in place. The Government and the Minister of State need to be ambitious to ensure that every person and citizen in our society has access to third-level education.

Education makes people smarter and better and enables people to make better choices for themselves, to live smarter and better and to make a greater contribution, not just to their own immediate community and family but to our society at large. We have the proof of the value of investment in education. As we move out of Covid-19, let us make an investment in our future to ensure that every citizen has access to third-level education that is affordable and, ideally, free.

I thank the Senator for her Commencement matter. There is great ambition contained in Housing for All.

In his role in higher education the Minister, Deputy Harris, has brought additional technical universities together, tried to navigate borrowing capacity for low-cost loans, which will be very important, and brought a guaranteed 10,000 more apprenticeships into the economy every year. This is a big statement. Now we have it on the CAO form and students considering their third level options can see there are more alternatives and more stable careers, which is very important. We want to try to get as many people as possible into further education. We want to eliminate all barriers to access. Education is the key to unlocking all our potential. Throughout the history of the State we have seen how important this is. The Minister, Deputy Harris, will be to the forefront working to ensure we build more low-cost affordable housing in our institutions throughout the State. Be it at a technical university or the university network, on-campus accommodation is very important. We continue in our singular focus to do this.

This is a very important matter. My son could not find a place to live for college this year so is commuting from Clare and burning lots of fossil fuels because the public transport is not yet there. It is a huge issue. We are all aware of the fact that we need to build more houses and the empty sites issue is massive.

Registration of Births

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. At this point, there is a very real and serious problem with families being able to register the births of their newborn babies and get a birth certificate for that child. A child born in Cork today will have a birth registered in two to three days. If that same child was born in Dublin the wait for an appointment for registration would be weeks and in some cases months. I know of a child born four weeks ago and the date for the registration of the birth is 16 December. Waiting matters because families cannot access child benefit or the GP card. We know that in some instances it delays housing applications. I know of families that have had to pay for an infant baby to go to a GP because they do not have the free GP card. For low-income families or single parents having to pay for everything themselves or for families with a good income but paying exorbitant rents, the waiting matters because of the GP card, child benefit and other supports from the State.

There is a failure on the part of the HSE and the Department of Health to address the enormous backlog that exists in Dublin. There is an irony that if I had a baby today I could drive to Meath or Louth in two or three days' time and register the baby's birth but in Dublin I would be waiting for many weeks. Nobody should have to commute any number of miles, particularly after the birth of a baby, to get the baby registered. There is a very real question as to what the HSE is doing. I understand there is a backlog of between 500 to 600 applications for the registration of births that arose from the time when people could only apply online. We have the culmination of those applications online plus people waiting for an appointment. It is intolerable that in November parents and families are waiting.

This is not the totality of the problem. Trying to register the birth of a child is one thing; trying to get a birth certificate is another matter. When I came to these problems there was a strong whiff of the wild west about trying to purchase a birth certificate in this country. At present, people in Dublin are directed to order a birth certificate online. It is made clear there is no facility to order a birth certificate over the phone. The HSE website suggests there is no walk-in facility. Last week, I informed the Seanad that families had come to me who in desperation had rung the civil registration office and were told to put money in an envelope. They received the birth certificate within a few days. A family told me they needed a birth certificate to get the child baptised and the church directed them to the civil registration office in Kilkenny from where they received the certificate in a few days. Another family told me an official in the office told them there were 19,000 unread emails regarding applications for birth certificates.

Of most concern to me is that families told me they were able to purchase a birth certificate from third parties. This day four weeks ago, we engaged in an experiment of sorts whereby a family allowed me to purchase a birth certificate for a baby who was only a few weeks old. The mother went through the civil registration service on Lombard Street on the same day. I paid €46 and she paid €21.50. I received the baby's birth certificate within six days. She is still waiting four weeks later.

There is something wrong with a system where families are forced to pay extra to get a birth certificate. If these third parties and companies are able to go to civil registration offices outside Dublin and purchase birth certificates at a profit to sell back to families, the question must be asked as to why is the HSE not doing something similar. Why is it not distributing the caseload that has built up in Dublin to other civil registration offices across the country? Not only does it make a mockery of the State, but it is unnecessarily forces parents to pay extra. It is also important to note that there is a risk, when people are handing their money over, that they may never see the birth certificate. One company, Births, Deaths and Marriages, which was taking up to €50 from people, went belly-up in the past number of weeks. People handed over the money and ended up with no birth certificate. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator for raising this most important Commencement matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection. I pass on her apologies. I also understand the Senator has had discussions with the General Register Office, GRO, on the issues that she has raised,

We share the concerns expressed by her. The issue is of huge concern to the Government. I understand that some parents have suffered delays in excess of 12 weeks, and perhaps longer, in having their children's births registered. These delays and backlogs are being experienced in the eastern regional registration area. Thankfully, other registration areas appear to be less affected.

The House will be aware that the HSE is responsible for the day-to-day delivery of civil registration services. The Minister for Social Protection has only limited functions with respect to how the HSE delivers the service and has no direct role in the performance of any of the operational areas. I wish to emphasise that what we are dealing with is clearly a performance issue and not a weakness in policy.

The HSE has advised that the cyberattack significantly impacted its computer systems in mid-May 2021, and that it continues to struggle with the impact, particularly in its largest office in Dublin. Allied to these difficulties are those caused by the restrictions on public access and staff of registration offices both in Dublin and nationally. I understand that the cyberattack resulted in the local registration services being out of action for five weeks from mid-May. It was not until much later in July that some of the critical systems were passed fit for servicing, resulting in severe disruption to service provision and backlogs that are proving difficult to clear.

Senators will be aware that many civil registration offices are located within other health services in clinics or close to maternity hospitals that continue to be subject to restricted public access. The staff, to their credit, have continued to maintain the civil marriage services, and continue to manage notifications from couples wishing to get married. Some 1,500 births fall to be registered in eastern areas, placing a continued pressure on the service. Not unusually, the eastern area has suffered some short-term staff shortages due to the promotion and retirement of key staff over the past few months. Recruitment is under way to fill vacancies, but it will take time for new staff to get up to speed. Additional temporary staff have been recruited to tackle the backlogs and provide additional support with respect to its customer service channels. Staff are also working at weekends.

The Senator has identified additional concerns that the Minister wants to address. PPS numbers are automatically allocated once a birth has been registered. Parents do not need to do anything for the PPS number to be allocated. Adjustments follow automatically to child benefit payments and the Minister has committed to ensuring that any delay in child benefit resulting from the backlog will be made good and arrears will be paid quickly. The Senator also asked if there is any relationship between the websites she mentioned and the HSE or the GRO. To my knowledge, there is no connection, contractual or otherwise. My understanding is that they operate as third-party certificate resellers.

I am encouraged by the manner in which the service has recovered, having suffered such a significant setback earlier in the year. It would be useful if communications could be improved so that any person looking for a certificate is encouraged to look to their local registration office or to the GRO, which provide a similar service.

I thank the Minister of State. I am conscious that he is responding on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection. I thank her for the response. I originally submitted the matter to the Minister for Health but it was redirected to the Minister for Social Protection.

I am glad to hear from the reply submitted by the Minister for Social Protection that this is a performance issue. Indeed, it is a performance issue for the HSE to address and, therefore, it is one for the Department and the Minister for Health, who have responsibility for the HSE, to address. I am glad to hear efforts are being made to address recruitment, but as the written reply makes clear, "Not unusually, the eastern area has suffered some short-term staff shortages". It is simply unacceptable that families will be waiting 12 weeks to register the birth of their baby. This could be so easily resolved by allocating some of that work to other offices. While I accept efforts are being made, they are simply not good enough.

I thank the Senator for her comments and appreciate the frustration she has expressed. I will raise the issue with the Minister for Social Protection and the Department of Health in the context of any jurisdiction it has over the HSE in this regard. As a parent, I appreciate how frustrating it can be when trying to get a child registered, given many key services flow from that. I will raise the matter with the Minister and try to accelerate the provision of those resources. The prepared contribution indicates staff are working at weekends and trying their best to alleviate the backlog. The addition of new staff will, I hope, make the key difference.

Traveller Accommodation

I welcome the Minister of State. I tabled this matter to seek clarity on how the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is dealing with a major fire incident that happened at a halting site in Bantry on 9 November. Has a report on the fire been filed and a fire hazard safety assessment completed? What is the long-term housing plan for the people who live on the site?

On the night of Tuesday, 9 November, a major fire happened at a halting site in Bantry. One unit was totally burned to the ground. It was a significant fire, covered widely on social media and also in the press. The issues regarding the site go back generations, in many ways. What has the Department done about the fire and what assessments has it carried out on the site? Has it examined its cause and how it could be prevented from happening again? How safe is the site now?

As the Minister of State will be aware, unfortunately a very significant fire happened at a halting site in Carrickmines in 2015, in which ten people lost their lives. Some of the recommendations that came from the coroner's court are worth reflecting on. The coroner recommended that the exemption from fire and planning regulations for emergency sites be changed. There is an exemption in regard to planning and fire safety on temporary halting sites. The site in Bantry is 25 years old, yet is considered to be of a temporary nature. Are there, therefore, no planning or fire regulations for the site? It would be a significant issue, not only for the patrons, one whom was injured in the fire, but for the entire town if there are no planning or fire regulations for the site. The coroner's report on the Carrickmines fire further recommended that the powers for establishing emergency halting sites be used for the shortest possible time. The Bantry halting site is 25 years old, one quarter of a century. Are we really saying that is a short period?

The report on the Carrickmines incident is something I want to reflect on. We got an awful rude awakening in 2015 when ten patrons lost their lives. There was a really significant fire in Bantry a week and a half ago and the same could have happened there. There could have been a real tragedy. Having spoken to people who attended the scene that night, I know it was by the grace of God that other units were not lost, with more people affected. The site is located on a dead-end road and access is a big issue. There are commercial units all around it, so the fire could have spread to them and had a significant impact on the entire commercial entity of Bantry.

What is the long-term plan for the site?

How are we going to work on the health and safety issues there? What is the Department doing with regard to the judgment of the coroner's report on the Carrickmines incident? Has it taken on board the point made regarding the absence of planning and fire regulation in respect of these sites? Can we put in place a structure to ensure these sites are managed appropriately?

I thank Senator Lombard for raising this matter. Many vulnerable people rely on Cork County Council to keep them safe. The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 provides that local authorities have statutory responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and for the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller accommodation programmes in their areas. My Department's role is to ensure there are adequate structures and supports in place to assist local authorities in providing such accommodation, including a national framework of policy, legislation and funding.

The National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management led and oversaw a programme at national level to review fire safety in local authority-provided Traveller accommodation following the tragic loss of life at the Carrickmines halting site, which the Senator referenced. We never again want to see an absolutely horrific event like that, where so many vulnerable people lost their lives. Under direction from the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management, local authorities undertook a major exercise aimed at enhancing fire safety in Traveller accommodation in 2015 and 2016. One of the core objectives of the project is the development and roll-out of a community fire safety awareness initiative appropriate for the Traveller community. The aim of this initiative is to get fire safety messages disseminated into the Traveller community, enabling Travellers to take practical steps in respect of fire safety issues commonly associated with living on halting sites. To support this process, the national directorate, in consultation with key stakeholders including Traveller representative groups, developed an information leaflet and booklet on fire safety in the Traveller community.

My Department continues to engage with local authorities regarding fire safety on Traveller sites. Fire safety matters are discussed at national Traveller accommodation consultative committee meetings. From its contact with Cork County Council in respect of the halting site in Bantry, which operated for more than 25 years, my Department understands that fire safety inspections are carried out annually by the council on all Traveller-specific accommodation. Cork County Council has carried out significant fire safety works on the site in Bantry. These works protected the other families on the site on the night of the fire. The council is working with the family affected to secure appropriate accommodation.

I assure the Senator that the Department is doing everything it can. Again, we have to look at the facts. Last year was the first year in which all the capital expenditure funding in the budget was utilised. The chief reason for this was the Covid pandemic. We have increased the amount available in the capital budget for Traveller accommodation by 25% over the last two years. Cork County Council needs to take advantage of that. With regard to my responsibility, the money is there to support the members and executive of the local authority in making appropriate decisions to ensure the Traveller community has secure and sustainable accommodation. We are working through an expert report. I have established a programme board to respond to the 32 recommendations given to me by the all-party committee. This board is having quarterly meetings with a view to driving that forward to ensure that Travellers have secure tenancies and that their conditions are improved. However, we have to be very clear as to where responsibility lies. I commissioned an audit last year during the Covid pandemic which looked at the HSE response in respect of 250 sites. We must be clear that the money is there. the funding is there and I call on every one of the 31 local authorities in this country to stand up to the mark and draw down funding to ensure that Travellers have sustainable accommodation.

I am slightly disappointed with the Minister of State's response to the question I raised on the fire safety assessment of the halting site. I asked whether it had been completed. It is important that we get clarity as to what assessment has actually been carried out on site since 9 November in respect of this incident.

The crux of the issue is that the coroner's statement on the Carrickmines incident states that the fire and planning regulations make these sites exempt. Has that exemption stood? If one looks at what is happening in Bantry, there is no way one could stand over the planning and exemptions when it comes to fire safety on these sites. These are significant issues. This is about learning from a tragedy that occurred in Carrickmines, taking note of what happened in Bantry in November and making sure, first, that there is appropriate planning and fire safety for these halting sites. It was stated in the coroner's report that there was none. When it comes to having the report on what happened that night published, we have no detail or knowledge of what happened. I ask the Minister of State to make that report available to me as soon as possible.

I thank Senator Lombard for his concern on behalf of the community in Bantry about this fire. I wish to be very clear about the line of responsibility. It is primarily with the local authority in the first instance. The local authority has advised me, on foot of the Senator's Commencement matter, about the work that has been undertaken as a result of the inspections that took place in Cork. I will refer back to the Senator regarding whether the assessment has been carried out. However, the Senator will note one of the sentences in my response was that the works Cork City Council had already carried out protected other families on the site from a worse potential outcome, but I will refer back to the Senator about the assessment.

In addition, I emphasise that local authorities must step up to the mark in delivering Traveller accommodation through their plans. The Office of the Planning Regulator is now conducting assessments of the plans to do that across the 31 local authorities because it is very urgent. They have to step up to the mark. As regards all the planning issues the Senator referred to, the local authority has primary responsibility to do that. When the local authority comes knocking on my door for the funding, I can assure it that it will be wide open.