Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 8 Feb 2022

Vol. 282 No. 9

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Hospital Services

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this important matter for discussion. St. Vincent's Hospital in Athy can trace its history back to the opening of the Athy workhouse on 9 January 1844, an event that came just in time to relieve some of the harshest effects of the Famine in and around that area of south Kildare. The Sisters of Mercy arrived there as nursing sisters in 1873. In 1898, it became a county home.

St. Vincent's Hospital has a proud history in the care of older persons that is unrivalled among hospitals. The reputation of the staff of the hospital for the level of care offered is such that there is always a waiting list of families hoping to obtain a bed for their loved ones. One hears again and again from families about the level of care and attention their loved ones receive, or have received, in St. Vincent's Hospital, Athy. Indeed, families come from all over Kildare to avail of the services of the hospital. It is still one of the biggest employers in Athy and continues to be held in the highest regard by all of the town's population and those throughout the county who have had family members as patients there.

It was early in 2019 when we all received confirmation from the HSE that a design team had been appointed for the new hospital and that the HSE was working towards a stage 2 scheme design. The reply confirmed that planning permission would be sought in 2019. It was said at that time the new addition would provide St. Vincent's Hospital with the modern facilities of a new 50-bed unit to mark a 21st century healthcare system at a cost of approximately €9.3 million. Importantly, we were informed that the new hospital would result in a 50-bed unit built alongside the existing hospital where it was expected that 66 beds would be maintained, thus ensuring that all 116 beds in St. Vincent's would remain open and available to those who need them most. Subsequent inquiries with the HSE determined that some of these plans would be modified but that the new hospital was to proceed. Unfortunately, we are still awaiting its delivery.

St. Vincent's Hospital in Athy has stood on the site since 1844. Today it is a model of care with the best staff and management that any family could hope to have to look after their loved ones. I hope the Minister of State will confirm that the new facility will proceed and that despite the delays, this much-needed hospital for the older population of our county will be put back on track and delivered in the quickest possible timeframe. We all know our population is getting older. The outstanding services in St. Vincent's are needed. I sincerely hope the HSE and the Government recognise that and invest in this great facility which will hopefully be providing care for those who need it most for the next 175 years.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to provide to the House an update on this project.

This is part of an overall project for the replacement of a 95-bed community nursing unit, CNU, at St. Vincent's Hospital in Athy, County Kildare. The project will be completed in two phases, with the 50-bed unit to be delivered as part of the first construction phase. I thank Senator Wall for the historical analysis he gave. It is quite obvious that the Sisters of Mercy have been very fruitful and active in Athy for many generations and it is nice to see him acknowledge that. I also want to thank the Sisters of Mercy. As the Senator knows, I was in Cuan Mhuire in Athy in my capacity as Minister of State for the national drugs strategy. I thank the Sisters of Mercy for the great work they are doing.

The standard of care delivered to residents in public units is generally very high, but we recognise that many of our community hospitals are housed in buildings that are less than ideal in the modern context, although without them many older people would not have access to the care they need. It is important, therefore, that we upgrade our public bed stock. This is the aim of the capital investment programme for community nursing units. This provides a framework to allow for a programme to replace, upgrade and refurbish these care facilities as appropriate. The project is part of this programme.

Significant work was undertaken to determine the optimum schedule of projects, within the phased provision of funding, to achieve compliance and registration with the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. A design team has been appointed to progress a project that will deliver a 95-bed replacement community nursing unit on this site. The design for the overall scheme of this development has been adjusted to account for learnings from Covid-19. The revised plan developed includes delivery of the project in two phases. This plan comprises initially delivering the 50-bed unit during the first stage and a 45-bed unit, including two ten-bed dementia units, during phase 2. This project is included in the capital programme for 2022. An application for planning permission is expected to be submitted in quarter 1 of 2022.

The scope of these two projects will enable older person services to decant from and vacate the protected structure building. In order to accommodate the new CNU, a number of wards will need to be demolished as part of a planned or phased decant from the old to the new unit. All capital development proposals must progress through a number of approval stages in line with the public spending code, including detailed appraisal, planning, design and procurement, before a firm timeline or funding requirement can be established.

The delivery of capital projects is a dynamic process and is subject to the successful completion of the various approval stages. The final decision to proceed with the construction of a project cannot be made until the tender process has been completed and the costings reviewed to ensure that the proposal delivers value for money and remains affordable, and that sufficient funding is available to fund the project to completion, including equipping and commissioning costs.

I thank the Minister of State very much for his reply. It is heart-warming to hear his words of support for the hospital in St. Vincent's, Athy. Since his recent visit, I am sure his words are most heartfelt.

I was very happy with the start of his reply, which stated that the HSE would apply for planning permission in quarter 1 of 2022. It then deteriorated a little when he said that the Department would look at this project as it proceeded through the various planning and construction phases. What the people of Athy and the surrounding areas want to know today, especially the staff who, I can assure the Minister of State, are incredible, is that this hospital will proceed, they will have jobs and those who need this facility most will have one that has lasted 175 years in the town and will, hopefully, last into the future. If the Minister of State could confirm today that we will see a new hospital of St. Vincent's, Athy, it will be most welcome to everybody in County Kildare.

As the Senator rightly said, the project involves planning permission, for which an application is expected to be submitted very soon. In establishing the community nursing unit programme, the Government's intention is to secure the future of public provision of residential care through investment in up to 90 centres throughout the country.

The overall development at St. Vincent's Hospital, Athy, will deliver 95 replacement community nursing unit beds with the accommodation in line with current standards.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the vulnerabilities of older people living in long-term residential care. It is critical that public investment in this infrastructure is maintained and that the appropriate standards are met for those who avail of this type of care. The ongoing successful implementation of the community nursing unit programme, including the ongoing development at St. Vincent's Hospital, will contribute to achieving this goal.

The project for a replacement of the 95-bed unit at St. Vincent's Hospital will be completed in two phases with a 50-bed unit to be delivered as part of the first construction phase. The development of this project has been included in the capital programme 2022. The good news, as the Senator will note, is that an application for planning permission is expected to be submitted in quarter 1 of this year.

I thank the Minister of State.

Tourism Industry

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to address this matter. As she will know, Shannon Heritage is the tourism attraction division of the Shannon Group. It comprises Bunratty Castle, King John's Castle, Craggaunowen Castle and Knappogue Castle. It has the management contracts for a number of other facilities around the country. As the Minister of State will know, this business was transferred from the old Shannon Development into the Shannon Group when Shannon Airport was established as an independent entity and it was also added to with the assets of Shannon Development.

The true potential or past glory of Shannon Heritage has not been seen in the region for some time. The flagship attractions of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, as it is known all over the world, has been responsible for driving enormous tourism not only through County Clare but through the wider west and mid-west region. It has been of major benefit over the years to activity at Shannon Airport and I have long campaigned for its survival and protection. It has true potential. Those facilities need to be modernised and upgraded and, effectively, made relevant to what the current tourism industry wants. It is a unique attraction that together with the other facilities I mentioned has provided such good employment and helped create jobs in the wider region, particularly in hospitality businesses and other support services.

Plans are at an advanced stage to transfer the business to Clare County Council, which is a good fit. The council has shown a capacity to operate tourism attractions at the Cliffs of Moher, which was operating very successfully prior to the lockdown associated with the pandemic. The council also has developed a very nice facility at the lighthouse at Loop Head. It is part of a slow tourism offering in the west Clare area. My colleague, Councillor Cillian Murphy, had been to the fore in developing the attractiveness of the west Clare area and the Loop Head Peninsula, in particular. The council purchased an island on Lough Derg in recent years and is currently working on proposals to develop a tourism attraction centre for that ancient monastic settlement in the village of Mountshannon.

Clare County Council has demonstrated a capacity to be a good operator of tourism attractions. It is clear it is better for Shannon Airport to concentrate on developing and driving passengers and freight through the airport and I know it wants to do that. That will be a big enough challenge for it in light of what has happened during the Covid-19 pandemic. They are making good efforts there. We will see transatlantic business begin again in March and increased activity into the UK and other tourism destinations. What we now need is a definite timeline to bring this process to a conclusion. The tourism season in the Clare area usually kicks off in early March.

It is certainly well under way by St. Patrick's Day.

Staff need certainty about their future and tour operators need certainty that the facilities are operational and up to a high standard. We need to see investment, particularly in Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, and money is needed to upgrade those facilities. Craggaunowen and Knappogue also need money to make them fit for purpose and operational to attract tourists to the Clare area, and the wider mid-west and west will benefit from that too. Government funding to keep the lights on and to pay staff will be needed, in particular to support the transfer from one entity to the other. Operational funding will also be needed. It is clear these facilities are not going to be able to wash their face in the short term, frankly, because while the tourism potential is there, it is going to take time to build and grow, and funding will have to be put in place to ensure that happens. There will also be a necessity to invest significant capital funding in upgrading these facilities.

I know there are different initiatives with Fáilte Ireland to support that but we need to bring them together. We need a timeline for action to deliver these tourism attraction facilities, which employ so many people - upwards of 140 at peak season - but also benefit the wider attractiveness of the west of Ireland from a tourism perspective.

I thank Senator Dooley for giving me the opportunity to discuss this issue. I assure the Senator that the Government appreciates and acknowledges the strategic importance of Shannon Heritage and of the heritage sites in the mid-west region, which is a significant tourism offering, not only for the region but for the country. I am keenly aware of the devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on Shannon Heritage, given its heavy dependence on international tourists visiting the heritage sites. Early in the Covid-19 crisis, the Government implemented a range of horizontal economy-wide supports, and Shannon Heritage has rightly and appropriately benefited from these supports, including the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. Shannon Heritage also availed of the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and the Covid adaptation grant.

The Senator will be aware that in response to the impacts of Covid-19 and also the imperative to maintain the intrinsic heritage value of the sites in the mid-west region for current and future generations, Shannon Group is continuing to engage with the relevant local authorities in regard to the transfer of the Shannon Heritage business and key sites. Shannon Group considers that this is the best way to secure the longer-term viability of the business and the interests of Shannon Heritage employees. Due to the complexities involved in the transfer, due diligence exercises must be concluded by the local authorities involved. Once the due diligence work is complete and the final business transfer agreements signed, Shannon Group will be in a position to seek the formal consent of the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to execute the transfer of the business and the relevant heritage sites, and this will be done with the agreement of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

I can also advise the Senator that OPW has agreed to re-engage on its maintenance responsibilities in regard to the conservation and maintenance role at Bunratty Castle and King John's Castle. In preparation for undertaking this role, the OPW has been carrying out the necessary assessments of both buildings to inform the programme of works needed and the associated costs. I am continuing to engage with the OPW in this regard.

Before any possible transfer is executed, it remains the responsibility of Shannon Group to operate and manage the Shannon Heritage business in line with its commercial mandate and fiduciary best practice, and with awareness of the group's accountability for the proper management of the company. While Shannon Group was due to close Bunratty and King John's Castle in September 2021 for the winter season, the continuation of Government supports through the extension of the EWSS has meant that Shannon Group was able to revise its decision and keep the sites open for the remainder of 2021 and into this spring, although with reduced opening hours. I understand that Bunratty and King John's Castle are currently open on a four-day week basis until March 2022, and I am pleased to advise the Senator that it is envisaged that the sites will reopen fully in April.

Despite the ongoing impact of Covid-19, I am happy to inform the Senator there were some positive developments in regard to Shannon Heritage last year. Almost 500,000 visitors visited the Shannon Heritage sites in 2021, which represented a 64.2% increase on 2020 visitor numbers and was 17.5% higher than the visitor numbers forecast by Shannon Group for last year.

This reflects a strong performance in the second half of the year following the site closures due to the nationwide restrictions in the earlier part of 2021. I am confident that we are at a turning point and that we will see a further increase in visitors to our tourism sites this year, which is to be welcomed as a positive development.

I want to reassure the Senator that our heritage sites are of huge importance to this Government. We need to do everything we can to ensure they and their employees have a viable future.

I thank the Minister of State. I really appreciate her commitment and that of the Government to the recognition of the strategic importance of Shannon Heritage to the tourism offering of the island of Ireland. People in the mid-west are more than well aware of its importance and it is particularly pleasing to know that the same is true at the heart of Government. The Minister of State's goodwill and her positive sentiment is accepted wholeheartedly but we need her to use her good offices to support the project, which I know she will do because she is committed to it. I ask her to ensure that it gets a speedy transfer from one location to another. It is still remaining, effectively, within State control so while the due diligence issues are important, they should not be insurmountable.

What is critically important is a commitment from central government to provide appropriate funding, in the first instance to assist with the day-to-day activities of the company because Clare County Council is not necessarily a revenue-generating operation in the way that the airport company would be. I am very pleased that the OPW is on board again. Its financial strength as well as its expertise and skills are really important in the protection, preservation and future development of these historic facilities.

I thank Senator Dooley and reiterate that the Government recognises the importance of these heritage sites. I acknowledge that this is a time of great uncertainty for many of the employees of Shannon Heritage but I understand that Shannon Group is continuing to engage with the staff on this matter and that in the context of any future change to the ownership and operation of the businesses, it will be mindful of the need to secure the long-term viability of the business and the interests of Shannon Heritage employees.

I assure Senator Dooley that my Department will continue to support the Shannon Group in its engagement with the relevant authorities to secure the future of Shannon Heritage. There are clear synergies between the Shannon Heritage business and the tourism strategies being developed within the county and region. Clare County Council is seeking to develop a whole-of-county tourism experience in which Shannon Heritage sites like Bunratty Castle and Folk Park can play an integral part. Shannon Airport is also relevant here. Its services to 25 destinations, with 107 weekly flights planned for this summer will really help the tourism drive, and the resumption of transatlantic flights will not just benefit the region but also these particular tourism sites. I look forward to continuing engagement with Shannon Group to secure the future of the Shannon Heritage business and the staff employed there.

Social Welfare Benefits

The Minister of State is very welcome to the Chamber. I thank him for giving of his time to deal with this matter.

The household benefits package helps with the cost of electricity or gas and waives the television licence fee for persons aged 70 or over and has been of immense help to thousands of people across the country. It is a scheme which should be lauded and built upon.

In recognition of the role played by the Internet in our daily lives, the inclusion of a broadband allowance as part of the household benefits package is merited. In 2022, the Internet is essential. It is as essential as our road and water infrastructure. People need to be connected and the problems with social isolation during Covid shows that very clearly.

People need to be connected. All the attention that has been paid during Covid shows that very clearly. Social isolation has been shown to significantly increase a person's risk of premature death and reduce quality of life.

The Internet connects people and the older people in our communities need that connection, perhaps more than anyone. I know of an older women whose consistent social occasion was weekly bridge played at the local parish centre, which went online during Covid. Her family bought her an iPad to take part and she had to learn how to use that. She only had WiFi installed recently and that was another monthly cost, but it was worth it 1,000 times over to still be able to see her friends, play together and maintain that social identity and connection and to video call family members many countries away and across the seas, to remain even closer while apart.

That is what the Internet offers to older people and if we value mental health and equality in this country, we will help those people who may otherwise struggle or be unable, to stay connected. However, it is not just anecdotal evidence that shows this. A 2020 study, carried out by researchers in University College Dublin and published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found links between more frequent Internet use and increases in well-being in older adults, from higher rates of life satisfaction, to lower rates of depression.

Another report by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing found that some 30% of adults over 50 who live alone did not have any access to the Internet. Professor Desmond O'Neill, a consultant geriatrician, said, "It does suggest that there is a market for older people to get access, perhaps a subsidy". The amount given monthly by such a broadband allowance would have to be based on statistics collected by the Department in conjunction with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but could be paid directly to the Internet provider as a credit against the bill each month, as is the case currently with Electric Ireland for electricity, or Bord Gáis or Flogas for gas.

Most Internet service providers charge approximately €35 for the first 12 months of a contract, with prices then rising to roughly €55 after that. It may not seem like much to some, but to others, it is an insurmountable financial obstacle. At a time we are acknowledging the rising cost of living and the exceptional rise in global energy prices, we should take this opportunity to ensure that our older community members are looked after and will not be left behind. Now is the time for an opportunity to make a difference in the age-based digital divide.

I know also that the telephone support allowance is there, but that is only €2.50 per week. One has to be over the age of 70, living alone and getting the fuel allowance in order to get that. It really does not cover the cost of broadband. I hope the Minister of State will look at that with regard to extending the household benefit package to include the cost of broadband.

I thank Senator Keogan for her very-well presented argument in favour of this allowance. The household benefits package comprises the electricity or gas allowance and free television licence. The Department of Social Protection will spend approximately €273 million this year on the household benefit package for more than 484,000 customers. All proposals, including any proposal to introduce a new broadband allowance as part of the household benefit package could only be considered while taking account overall Government policy and budgetary considerations.

Given the many competing demands for the limited funding available to the Department of Social Protection, recent budget spending increases have been targeted to ensure that it goes to those people who need help the most. Therefore, as well as increasing social welfare payments weekly rates, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has increased the rate of household-based schemes such as the living alone allowance and the fuel allowance which are targeted towards households that are at a higher risk of poverty, as evidenced by recent ESRI research.

As part of the overall welfare budget package of €600 million in increases, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, secured for 2022, she is pleased to see an increase the fuel allowance payment by €5 per week, effective from budget night. This brought the weekly rate of payment to €33. In addition, as part of the budget, the Minister increased the weekly income threshold for fuel allowance by €20. As fuel allowance is a means-tested payment, this ensures that it is targeted towards those most in need of the payment.

People who live alone are considered among those most at risk of social isolation and the living alone allowance is paid by the Department in part a recognition of the greater challenges facing those living alone in avoiding poverty.

In budget 2022, the Government increased the living alone allowance by €3 per week to €22 a week. This increase means that, since 2019, the living alone allowance has more than doubled in value from €9 to €22.

The household benefits package is only one of the Department's schemes. The Department of Social Protection also pays the telephone support allowance, TSA, to over 137,000 customers weekly. The TSA is an allowance of €2.50 that supports recipients by assisting them with the cost of communications and-or security solutions for their home. The primary objective of the TSA is to support the most vulnerable people at risk of isolation, including the elderly and those with disabilities, to access the critical communications infrastructure. In order to receive the allowance, a customer of the Department must be in receipt of a qualifying payment and both the living alone allowance and fuel allowance. This means the scheme specifically targets those who need it most.

Furthermore, the Department of Social Protection operates both exceptional and urgent needs payments as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme for people who have an urgent need that they cannot meet from their own resources. These payments are available through the community welfare officers network.

The Minister of State has not told me anything new. I knew about these payments and allowances that are allocated to the elderly. This is a very specific allowance for broadband, which can be a considerable cost to the elderly, particularly those who live on their own and have nobody. Those who live on their own are the most vulnerable. The allowance of €2.50, which amounts to around €113 a year, probably pays for two months of broadband costs. I ask that the Government look at providing a broadband allowance as part of public expenditure in the next budget. It could be added to the household benefits package. We are trying to encourage people to go online, particularly because of Covid. If something else happens, for example, another pandemic, people will feel more isolated. This proposal is an ideal way of connecting our elderly to those who may not be able to get in touch with them on a daily basis.

I thank Senator Keogan for her remarks and the case presented. I will revert to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, with the case the Senator has made in the context of the next Estimates process. I know the Government is adjudicating on an estimate for increased package to counteract inflation, which has to be targeted at those who need it most. The Minister has said the allowances that have been increased significantly are the ones that have been means tested to ensure those who need them most get them. I will relay the Senator's comments to the Minister.

I note the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, is staying with us for the next Commencement matter.

School Accommodation

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for taking this Commencement matter. I am disappointed the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, is not here to take this Commencement matter but, that being said, I am sure the Minister of State has a response from the Department. If I require further information, I hope it will be forthcoming.

St. Paul's Community College is the only second level co-educational and multi-denominational school in Waterford city. In the past three years, it has seen strong growth. The number of students attending the school has increased by 33% in that period. Two years ago, it had 475 pupils. This figure increased to 575 last year and stands at 626 this year. The strong growth speaks to the need and demand for this type of school in Waterford city. I should declare an interest at this point. Prior to my election to Seanad Éireann, I was a physical education teacher at St. Paul's Community College for approximately eight years.

The school is located in close proximity to Waterford Institute of Technology. It is in a built-up residential area and on a public transport route. Geographically, it is well placed to support the growing Kilbarry and north-west suburbs of the city.

Given all this, and the projected demand for secondary school places in Waterford city, I understand the Department of Education approached Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board, ETB, about expanding St. Paul's Community College to a 1,000-pupil school to facilitate the lack of post-primary places. I would like to get an update on this today.

Progress needs to be made urgently on these plans because they have, or potentially could have, an impact on the immediate interim accommodation requirements for the school, given its current enrolment figures. If I take the interim needs first, which are required independently of the 1,000 pupil school requirement and specifications, St. Paul's Community College needs four general classrooms, a home economics room, a science lab and a fully-equipped woodwork room to Department specifications, and it needs these immediately. However, the school is expected to reach 850 pupils within the next five years, so in terms of the bigger picture, there is a conundrum here for the Department. A decision needs to be crystalised urgently because some of the interim accommodation needs may impact on the ability of the school to be modified to facilitate that further growth demand.

The reality is that we both know it can take a considerable amount of time to get projects from concept through to completion within the Department of Education. Therefore, I am concerned that any of the interim accommodation needs which are required may impact the ability to be able to complete a bigger project, which is required.

I would ask that an urgent meeting is arranged and that there is a visit to the school by the Department's building unit to scope out the works that are required now and in the short term in terms of the bigger project. I know from my knowledge of the school that it is a difficult site. While there is much space, the roof on the existing school is not standard in nature. Therefore, desktop exercise in an office in Dublin will not cut it. It needs to be done on the ground and with management to ascertain the full facts. That needs to be done as a matter of urgency.

I will bring these comments to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Foley. The Senator has made a strong case for the school.

St. Paul's Community College is a multidenominational, co-educational post-primary school under the patronage of Waterford and Wexford ETB. The enrolment for this school for the 2020-21 academic year was 572 and pending validation of all enrolment returns, it is understood to be well above 600 in the current school year. There have been consistently strong enrolments in this school and this is expected to continue.

St. Paul's Community College submitted an application under the Department of Education's additional school accommodation, ASA, scheme. The purpose the ASA scheme is to ensure that essential mainstream and special educational needs, SEN, accommodation is available to cater for pupils enrolled each year where the need cannot be met by the school's existing accommodation.

Officials from the Department assessed the application and identified a deficit in the school's current accommodation, based on projected future enrolment. In order to address this deficit, the Department wrote to the patron seeking agreement to an extensive range of additional new and replacement accommodation. This includes three mainstream classrooms - design and communication graphics, DCG, home economics, art, graphics and engineering rooms; two multimedia rooms; three science laboratories; an enlarged staff room; a new special education unit; and two special education teaching, SET, rooms, as well as a range of associated reconfiguration work to the accommodation currently in place at St. Paul's Community College.

While the Department has already been in touch with the patron regarding the permanent accommodation proposal for the school, the patron recently submitted an additional request for interim accommodation at the school. This request is also being assessed by the Department of Education. Officials are engaging with the patron to finalise and agree the level of interim accommodation to be put in place pending the delivery of the permanent accommodation.

Following receipt of the patron's agreement to the full range of accommodation offered, officials from the Department's professional and technical section will prepare the project brief for the devolved delivery of the project by Waterford and Wexford ETB.

The Department of Education will continue to work with Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board, as school patron, to identify and advance the optimum solution to meet the long-term needs of St. Paul's Community College.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply, which references the permanent accommodation and outlines what is required going forward to facilitate the 1,000 enrolments projected. However, there is also an immediate need and so both needs require to be met in knowledge of the other. Putting in place the interim accommodation I outlined in my initial contribution may have an impact on the wider project outlined by the Minister of State in terms of the reply from the Department. The immediate need requires to be finalised in the context of the wider development. The site appraisal and a person on site to look at the overall project is required, but not subsequent to the desktop exercise that clearly has happened within the Department and the ETB. The is a need to be met in the immediate term, but that must be done in the context of the wider project and that requires boots on the ground to see what exactly what can be done long-term in terms of the future needs of the school.

I again thank Senator Cummins for the strong and robust case he has put forward for St. Paul's Community College. I will bring the case in regard to the community college in the context of the overall long-term plan to the attention of the Minister for Education. I agree that it is important staff of the Department of Education liaise with the patron and the community to find the best possible solution for the school. We appreciate all of the school's efforts in terms of increased enrolments. I have no doubt it is providing a significant service to the community. I again acknowledge Senator Cummins's role in progressing this case. I will do my best to bring the case to the Minister for Education.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ag 3.17 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ag 3.30 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 3.17 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.