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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 Mar 2022

Vol. 283 No. 5

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Agricultural Shows

I thank the Cathaoirleach and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, to the Chamber. I tabled this Commencement matter this morning to ask for an update on the funding for show societies. We have 120 show societies in Ireland and they are a very important part of our rural fabric. The show societies are, in fact, a great celebration of what we do really well in rural Ireland. They are a real boost to the local economy. They attract visitors from both urban and rural settings to visit these shows. They give a flavour of what happens on the farm.

In my own constituency we have a plethora of wonderful shows. We have the Cork Summer Show, the Belgooly, Ballygarvan, Bandon, Barryroe, Bantry, Dunmanway, Carbery and Clonakilty shows, the Leap horse show, the Schull show and the west Cork breeders show. This amazing line-up of 12 shows in west Cork shows us the rich heritage we have when it comes to agriculture itself. Funding these shows is obviously a big issue. Organisations and voluntary groups come together and work very hard to raise the funds to run these shows. Insurance, as we are all aware, is also an issue. The economic environment we have been in, particularly for the past two years, has been a significant issue for the show societies in raising money to run these shows.

I am here to look for clarity on how we can put funding together for the show societies for 2022 so they will have the opportunity to show what they can do. These shows illustrate to society what agriculture is about, show the very best in animal husbandry and show different kinds of animals. For a family man, it is a wonderful opportunity to go around and see what can be done at local level with regard to food, agriculture, machinery and livestock. The plethora of things that one can get at a show is wonderful. The 12 shows in our part of west Cork are very significant driver in our economy. That is something we need to protect and work on. We need to put a framework in place to support these show committees. They are made up of lay individuals doing their best for the community. I ask if the Government could possibly find funding for these committees. I acknowledge that the Government did so previously when a line of funding was made available for show societies. I am looking for clarity about where that funding is for 2022 and where we are going to go in regard to supporting these very important entities for Ireland and, in particular, rural Ireland.

I thank the Senator for raising the very important matter of funding for agricultural shows. Agricultural shows are a great celebration of all that is good about rural Ireland. They provide a welcome boost for local economies and attract visitors to support our rural communities. Aside from the contribution they make to the rural economy, agricultural shows also provide a great outlet for local communities, both urban and rural, with local clubs and schools getting involved. Agricultural shows provide entertainment for all the family.

Unfortunately, in the past two years, we have not been able to have these celebrations. The reason being, of course, that agricultural shows had fallen silent, with activities in most instances having ceased altogether in the wake of the all-consuming pandemic. This in turn had a negative impact on local communities and businesses. Agricultural shows had, for example, become an important showcase for our agrifood industry and a great shop window for many of the wonderful artisan food producers and small craft businesses this country has to offer.

The Irish Shows Association is the official body representing Irish agricultural shows on an all-island basis. Given the huge contribution these shows make to rural lives, the Department of Rural and Community Development provided an allocation of €600,000 in 2019 to the Irish Shows Association to support the costs of running the shows that were due to take place the following year. This followed on from similar funding provided in the preceding two years. In light of Covid-19 and the unfortunate cancellation of nearly all these shows in 2020 and 2021, it was agreed that the funding of €600,000 would be held in trust by the Irish Shows Association and carried forward to be used by the shows when they were once again operational.

Even though the shows were not operational over the past two years, they continued to incur operational costs. Following a request from the Irish Shows Association, the Minister agreed last year that €200,000 of the funding held in trust could be used to cover the costs incurred by more than 120 shows. These costs were fixed and were required to be met at a time when the shows had little or no access to fundraising sources. Such costs included web hosting, domain name, storage of equipment, renting of land and office space, and bank costs. The funding to help cover these costs was a welcome boost for the shows at that time.

I am glad to be in a position to reaffirm support to agricultural shows this year as we emerge from the grip of Covid-19. I understand from the Irish Shows Association that there is significant excitement and enthusiasm among the show committees in anticipation of the year ahead. The remaining funds - some €400,000 - held in trust by the Irish Shows Association will be available for the coming season. The Minister also committed to reviewing the funding in place for the 2022 season and I expect that process will be completed shortly.

I would also like to take the opportunity to encourage people to attend agricultural shows this year. They are not just a source of great celebration and fun, but they can be very educational too. I believe there is a job of work to be done to increase the understanding of life in rural Ireland, not just in these Houses but across public life. Those of us who grow up on farms or in rural Ireland and later move to the city have an understanding of both rural and urban Ireland. However, I often think that people who have always been urban dwellers are missing out on so much. Therefore, I speak to urban dwellers in particular and suggest that a worthwhile and enjoyable outing this spring or summer would be to attend a nearby agricultural show. If people go on to the Irish Shows Association website, they will see that there will be a show taking place much nearer to them than they may realise.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive acknowledgement that money is held in trust to the amount of €400,000 to help the show societies. The review that is in place for the 2022 session is very much welcomed. Will the Minister of State elaborate on when that review will be finalised, taking into consideration that many of these shows will start in May?

If the Minister of State comes to my part of the world, we have 12 wonderful shows. If he gets the opportunity to call to west Cork over the summer, I am sure we could find a show very close to where he stays. He would have a great opportunity to see what is wonderful about west Cork and the show societies we have.

It is worldwide.

I thank the Senator for the invitation. I will be speaking directly with the Minister tonight on the Senator's question in terms of the review and the issues raised today, as well as the value the shows bring, particularly in their community value and their value in maintaining a key piece of our national identity.

Numerous events are undertaken every summer. They include the judging of cattle, horses, sheep, horticulture, dogs, arts and crafts, cookery, and numerous children's competitions. It is recognised that the costs have increased to host these events. The costs reflect the large range of activities that go on at the shows that make them so attractive. It is a family day out and a showcase for local communities and requires local effort. I urge people to go to at least one agricultural show this year, especially our urban dwellers. In reflecting on my experience as a child, the Cork summer show was a very big deal and I have many memories of parking at the marina, the long walk down to the show, the flow of people going there and the various interesting smells, maybe coming from the chipper but from other things as well, when we got there. It is certainly an experience I will also bring my kids to. I will take the Senator up on his offer.

Let us hope for a dry summer.

School Facilities

I take it that the Senator is sharing time.

I wish to share time with Senator Buttimer, if that is okay?

I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for community development and charities. I also thank him for taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister. We are requesting an update from the Department of Rural and Community Development on how we can support open access to school buildings after hours for communities and youth organisations through the CLÁR programme or other measures.

It is very important to note that we have a ready-made network of school buildings and we have infrastructure that is not being used after the school day finishes. How do we prioritise and ensure the CLÁR programme can be used to make sure that there is more access after school hours? The facilities include community spaces within the schools such as halls, playgrounds, Astroturf, basketball courts. There has been significant investment in recent years in school buildings across the country, and more is needed.

We need to consider how we can ensure maximum usage, particularly in our smaller towns and villages, where there is not a large amount of choice when it comes to community or public spaces. Our colleague, Deputy Stanton, is championing the use of school building and facilities outside of school hours. As Fine Gael's education spokesperson, I support increased accessibility to these facilities, especially after the period of lockdown. I would like to see how all age groups could use it, not just young people. We need to think about rolling out evening courses through our educational training boards, ETBs, for digital or literacy training.

I understand there can be insurance, staff or other financial concerns for principals and school boards of management. Under the CLÁR programme, in the context of the Minister of State's and the Minister's portfolios, how can we support schools to increase access? Will the Minister of State provide an update? Can this be made a prerequisite of the CLÁR programme?

I commend Senator Dolan and Deputy Stanton who have been championing the after-hours use of school buildings. In addition, could we give further consideration to the use of higher education facilities, for example, universities or institutes of technologies? The reality is that the usage of our school buildings and associated facilities, outside of school hours, would benefit and empower and enhance all our communities. As a former director of adult education and having been involved with my community association, I understand the importance of community, as the Minister of State does. The State is spending billions of euro in a multiplicity of Departments. I would also include the RAPID programme in addition to the CLÁR programme, which Senator Dolan referred to.

The Minister of State referred to "community value" in his reply to Senator Lombard. It could bring added value to communities. I would love if the State had an inventory of the money we are spending on schemes and, in tandem with that, if we looked at the number of community buildings lying idle such as schools, as in this case and in the summer time. We could enhance and enrich the lives of many young people, in particular, across all communities.

This is an important debate that we need to have. It is a measure that could add value to our communities. Having spoken to many organisations, the issue of insurance is a concern. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and before him the former Minister, Michael D'Arcy, made changes to insurance. There comes a point when we have to take on the insurance companies, and we cannot use that as the reason not to. There are patrons and bodies in schools, ETBs and so on, that are willing to come on a journey with us in that regard. I hope the response of the Minister of State will be a positive one. I thank Senator Dolan and Deputy Stanton for their work on this to date.

I thank Senators Aisling Dolan and Buttimer for raising this important matter. Schools are valued in their communities and not just from an education perspective. They sustain rural populations and are often viewed as an indicator of how an area is faring. They also provide a vital link for sports and social activity.

Schools play a wide role in their communities and many schools make their facilities available outside of school hours for a variety of different uses and users. Schools are often the centre of sustainable communities and there can be mutual benefits in building links with the local community. Many schools recognise this and make their facilities available outside of school hours for a variety of community and other activities.

As the Senators may be aware, the policy of the Department of Education is that school premises and facilities should be used for community and recreational purposes, where possible. In October 2017, following consultation with the relevant school authorities, the Department published the document, Guidelines on the use of School Buildings outside of School Hours. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide information for schools on the use of school buildings outside of school hours and for those schools that are considering putting such arrangements in place. Any decision to make school facilities available lies with the relevant trustees or property owners, having regard to the requirements of the school, staff and students.

I very much encourage schools to seriously consider making their facilities or premises available to the wider community if they are not already doing so. I recommend that schools study the guidance provided by the Department of Education as it provides a good framework and list of topics to be aware of when a school opens to the wider community.

As regards the CLÁR programme, it funds a range of measures to be delivered by schools and communities, including for the enhancement or development of play areas and multi-use games areas. The CLÁR programme provides funding under a number of different measures for small-scale infrastructural projects in designated rural areas. Under measure 2 of CLÁR 2021, €2.3 million in funding was provided to support outdoor community recreation facilities, including playgrounds. Many of these were located on school grounds. This year's programme was launched on 24 February last with a total budget of €7 million, an increase of €1.5 million on 2021. It provides for an updated measure which will support a variety of capital interventions that contribute to community recreation facilities. It again covers playgrounds and multi-use games areas that might be located on school grounds, although it does not fund works to school buildings that are still in use as schools. The conditions attached to the CLÁR programme require that such facilities be available for wider community use. Many schools in CLÁR areas are willing to make their playground facilities available for community use and have received support under the programme on that basis. The objective is that these facilities would be available to local families and visitors to the area.

I discussed this topic in the Dáil last week and have also written to the Minister, Deputy Foley, on the issue. I will continue to work with colleagues to see how we can support schools to become accessible where required.

This is crucial. The Minister of State mentioned in his response that schools are encouraged to make their facilities available for wider community use but we need something stronger to provide that where boards of management face challenges in that respect, we will engage with them to find out why school facilities are not being made available in certain areas. The Minister of State will note from the CLÁR funding area maps that the CLÁR areas are dependent on district electoral divisions, which are based on the Pobal deprivation index. It is mainly in the west and north west, with certain other pockets around the country, as the Minister will note when he looks at the map. These areas do not have access to a wide variety of public facilities or much choice. If there are areas where this initiative has not been successful and we are funding it through the CLÁR programme, particularly for community facilities, I ask that the Department provide an update on the reasons they are not being used.

In respect of the report that came back from the Department on funding, is it clear that the school facilities are being opened for after-hours access. I apologise to Senator Buttimer as I am not sure if he will have a minute or only a few seconds to contribute further.

I will be brief. I thank Senator Dolan for her work. I also thank the Minister of State for his reply. I commend him on his commitment to community development, not only in his brief as the Minister of State but prior to that. Sometimes Ministers who come into office have no feel for the Department for which they are responsible but in the case of the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, he definitely does.

The clue to the answer to our request in this Commencement matter is in the Minister of State's reply. We are creating sustainable communities. This ongoing development will hopefully lead to sustainable community development. The Minister of State mentioned that guidelines have been in place since 2017. The advent of public private partnership involvement with schools adds a challenge. I hope we can develop this initiative and move it forward because it is one that makes sense. I thank Senator Dolan again for her work.

I thank the Senators for their kind comments. It is important to thank schools that are opening up their facilities and to acknowledge they are doing this. There is bit of work and an element of risk involved in doing that and we should thank them for it. I reiterate my request for other schools to seriously consider doing this. As I said, I have written to the Minister for Education and suggested we open up an engagement. We could consider the guidance document and perhaps it could be reviewed and reissued. I am also open to other ways of supporting schools that are not opening up their facilities to do so. There may be potential particularly in the education and training board, ETB, area. Other schools are privately owned so the ETB schools may give us more options. This is certainly an area I am committed to working on and I look forward to receiving a response on it from the Minister, Deputy Foley.

I appreciate that response and thank the Minister of State.

Office of Public Works Projects

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, and thank him for coming to the House to respond to this matter, which is related to substantial works being done by the Office of Public Works, OPW, at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, Having had the privilege of getting an agricultural scholarship to study horticulture at the National Botanic Gardens, I know the place particularly well. It is one of the many jewels in the crown of the Office of Public Works, which I must salute. Responsibility for the running of this wonderful heritage site moved from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine back to the OPW and that is the proper place for it.

Before I go into the detail of my Commencement Matter, having taken some time yesterday to do a little research on the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, it is worth pointing out the connection between it and Leinster House. In 1790, the Irish Parliament, with the active support of the Speaker of the House, John Foster, of whom we have two major portraits in this building, granted funds to the then Dublin Society, now the Royal Dublin Society, or RDS, to establish botanic gardens. In 1795, the gardens were founded on lands at Glasnevin. A portrait of John Foster, which was commissioned by William Beechey in 1813, is hung below us in this building, although its ownership is another issue. When these gardens were originally established the emphasis was placed on the role of horticulture in promoting scientific research, with a heavy emphasis on the study of agriculture. The focus has now moved to ornamental horticulture and ornamental gardening. It is particularly important to remember the origins of the National Botanic Gardens were in agriculture.

As I said, the Office of Public Works is a wonderful organisation. One of the best jobs in Government is to be the Minister with responsibility for the OPW, among other things. One need only visit the botanic gardens to see major construction work is taking place on the Victoria House, which houses the very famous Amazonian aquatic plants. It was built in 1854. The Cactus House was built in 1890. More recently, the Fern House was built in 1966 to replace an older fern house. We have the great Palm Houses and Curvilinear Houses that are famous throughout the world because they were designed by Richard Turner.

An amazing amount of work is being done on this unique place and it requires a lot of money. From my recent visit, I understand there are three phases to the works and that phase 3 has not been finalised. It is important we secure these unique buildings. I ask the Minister of State for an update on how the work is progressing, the phases involved and the resources available for the works. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister of State, his Department, the OPW and the staff of the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words about the National Botanic Gardens. More often than not when I am in the Seanad to speak about the role of the OPW, it concerns another element of its work with which I deal; namely, coastal erosion and flooding. This debate gives me a chance to speak on a lighter note about another element of the OPW. The Senator is right when he suggests it is one of the best jobs in government. I do not have to go outside this Chamber when looking for a testament to the role of the OPW, which did a magnificent job in restoring it.

The Senator gave a good overview of the history of the National Botanic Gardens as an historic institution dating back to 1795. He probably knows it better than some of the people working in the OPW. It serves a scientific role as well as being the historic setting of some of the most significant cast-iron and wrought-iron glasshouses in the country and in the world. In 1992, the OPW, in consultation with the gardens, produced a management plan which considered all the structures and facilities at the National Botanic Gardens and provided a blueprint for the phased restoration and refurbishment of the institution. Over the past 27 years, the OPW has invested considerable attention and funding towards restoring and refurbishing buildings at the National Botanic Gardens. This has included two major glasshouses, including Richard Turner's internationally important glasshouse, the Curvilinear Range, which was fully restored in 1995. I recall there was some criticism of this project from people who walked these corridors at particular stages. They referred to it at the time as a waste of money. I am proud to say that the quality and attention devoted to this building earned the OPW a Europa Nostra award. Since that time, the 1992 management plan has continued to deliver on many significant projects at the gardens. These have included new buildings for the National Herbarium and its research library in 1997, a new propagation glasshouse range in 1998, the visitor centre in 2001 and the Glasnevin Cemetery linking gate in 2013. The development of a series of lecture rooms for the Teagasc horticultural college in 1999 and 2014 has continued the role relating to horticulture outlined by the Senator. The restoration and refurbishment of buildings at the gardens included a faithful restoration of the Great Palm House in 2004, the Teak House in 2009 and last year, an historic gardener's cottage.

All these projects were part of the 1992 management plan and very few works remain outstanding, which I am sure the Senator will be glad to hear. Chief among these is the Aquatic House complex, about which Senator Boyhan enquired. The complex comprises a Succulent House, a Fern House and the Aquatic House. This last building was designed and constructed in 1854 specifically for growing the giant Amazon water lily, which was the botanical sensation of its day. The reopening of a fully restored and refurbished Aquatic House complex as a new visitor attraction, which is a hugely important part of what the OPW does, will provide a restoration fit for the 21st century to enhance research and display at the National Botanic Gardens. A really important part of what we are doing is for the local community in that part of Glasnevin as well, bringing tourists to that part of the north side of the city.

As well as strengthening the ability of the National Botanic Gardens to carry out plant research and propagation, a priority for this range will be its long-term energy efficiency and sustainable construction. I am happy to report that a design brief is well advanced. As with previous projects, the OPW is taking a phased approach to secure these historic structures, which will ensure their appropriate and sustainable development into the future. Phase 1, which began in July 2020, is now complete and involved the removal of all dangerous structures. In phase 2, the OPW plans to faithfully restore the Cactus House and the Water Lily House and provide a new redeveloped Fern House. The OPW's project oversight group approved the business case for phase 2 in April 2021 . In the next few months, we intend to appoint a design team and to seek planning approval for the works. We hope to have the detailed design signed off and will then proceed to seeking tenders in the last quarter of 2022. Construction will take approximately 18 months. The quantitative estimates at present are of the order of €13.8 million. The OPW will submit a planning application in the fourth quarter of 2022 and go to tender in 2023. It is estimated that site works will be completed in the fourth quarter of 2025.

That is fantastic news. I will go from here to spread the Minister of State's good news to all the horticultural magazines and publications in the country. It is a wonderful organisation and something of which we can be extremely proud. I am delighted to see that this phased programme is continuing and that money is in place. Clearly, tenders and planning issues must be addressed. I also want to flag the fact that this is a free facility. There is no charge to go into the National Botanic Gardens. The politician I meet most there is Bertie Ahern. To be fair, I acknowledge that it was his constituency. As the Minister of State rightly noted, it feeds into the community. If you are doing nothing on a Sunday afternoon, you are guaranteed to meet Bertie Ahern there. He is hugely proud of it as a former Deputy for the locality.

I thank the Minister of State. This is exceptional. Let us be mindful of how we can promote these gardens. I visit botanic gardens all over the world. It is one of my great interests. The gardens in Kew, Edinburgh and Dublin are three of the best botanic gardens in the world and we should be proud of them. There is a huge garden and horticultural industry in this country. International tourists come to this country to look at these gardens. It is a gem, one of the many gems in the OPW portfolio. I wish the Minister of State well and thank him for his very comprehensive and positive answer. This is really good news and I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House.

The Senator will be glad to know that yesterday the OPW launched a guide to filming at many of its historic properties, including the National Botanic Gardens, Emo Court and Sceilg Mhichíl. The OPW's investment programme for our heritage portfolio, along with its partners in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, requires a lot of money but we are investing heavily in it. I pay tribute to the OPW staff who operate that facility, the architects, the design team and everybody else behind the scenes of the management plan. During the summer, the Senator will have seen that the National Botanic Gardens played a very important part in the series of programmes on Ireland's historic gardens. We hope that series runs into the future because the Senator is right that it is about more than providing research opportunities. It is also presents a very important opportunity for tourism promotion in that part of Dublin. The OPW is very proud of its investment in heritage in that part of Dublin and looks forward to making sure this project is finished in the very near future.

Respite Care Services

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, to the House.

I believe the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has a prior engagement so the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is very welcome in her stead. I tabled this Commencement matter to get some clarity on the record regarding what is happening with Sruthán House. The Minister of State and I know so many families affected by closures of adult day services and adult respite services over the course of the pandemic. As we all know, it was a really difficult time for so many people. I wanted to ensure accurate information was made available and to find out why respite services at Sruthán House were and remain closed. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and her officials have done great work over the past number of months. Like all respite services, Sruthán House was a lifeline for so many people. I have been in contact with families with regard to Sruthán House going back to my days as a member of Louth County Council and have worked with Department officials since I entered this House in order to make sure we have adult respite services in Dundalk and north Louth.

When the pandemic hit, like all respite services, the service at Sruthán House was closed. It did not reopen because the building was not suitable due to social distancing requirements. We have really positive news this week. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response and hope she can give the House details of the new adult respite service in Dundalk, the facilities, the timelines for connecting with individuals who wish to use the services, when they will get to see the building and, more importantly, when will they get to use it.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue for discussion today. Given her absence on official duties, I will provide an update on the matter on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. The HSE has advised that due to public health advice issued at the onset of the Covid pandemic, an environmental risk assessment was carried out at Sruthán House to establish the suitability of the facility.

That assessment established that the facility presented an unacceptably high level of risk for respite care. These risks included insufficient space in the premises to implement required infection control measures insufficient space in specific areas to comply with social distancing guidelines between service users due to layout, and non-compliance with national public health emergency team guidelines if service users were to attend for respite.

The HSE has confirmed the provision of outreach and alternative respite has continued while Sruthán House is closed to respite. The Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities fully appreciates the concerns of service users and their families in respect of this closure, and it is an issue the HSE has been working to resolve. The Minister acknowledges the advocacy of Senator McGreehan, who has advocated for this premises for many years, including when she was a councillor, as she stated. I know it is very dear to her heart and it is great we have positive news today. I thank her for all the work she has done, along with the other local representatives, in calling for a solution to be found to this matter. Indeed, the issue of Sruthán House was raised with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, during her visit to Dundalk and the Cooley Peninsula on Monday.

In this context, I can inform the House that the HSE, through its Louth disability service, is in discussions with a provider to develop alternative suitable accommodation to deliver this service. I am pleased to report the HSE has advised that a location has been sourced and is currently undergoing renovation works to ensure HIQA compliance. It is anticipated the works will be completed shortly, allowing the service to be recommenced by the end of the first quarter of 2022, that is, by the end of this month. That is really positive for the service users. The HSE has confirmed it has plans to issue communications with relevant details to service users and their families this week. I trust this clarifies the issue for the Senator and the House.

I thank the Minister of State. It is very positive news. I congratulate and thank the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Rabbitte, and the officials for pulling out all the stops to ensure we have an adult respite service in County Louth. However, it would be remiss of me not to ask for more while I have the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, in front of me. We have this facility in north Louth. I ask the Minister of State to bring back to her colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, the need to look into opening a second respite service in County Louth. It may be the smallest county - the wee county - but it has the two largest towns in the country and a population of more than 130,000 people. All present know there is a significant need for adult and child respite services throughout the country. I hope that ask will go to disability services in CHO 8 to review and consider possibilities for a respite service in south Louth, given its catchment area close to County Meath and north Dublin. There is large geographic scope for another respite service in the south of the county.

In responding to the Senator, I wish to provide assurance on behalf of the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities that the Government remains focused on providing the best services we can for children and adults with disabilities, including respite or residential care, therapeutic interventions, day services fit for the 21st century, and independent living supports. The priority is always to ensure the health and well-being of people with disabilities.

The HSE has assured the Minister that the provision of outreach and alternative respite has continued while Sruthán House is closed to respite. The Minister has also received assurance that the HSE midlands-Louth disability service is engaging with a service provider to develop an alternative suitable accommodation to deliver this service. While recognising that people have had to wait a considerable time and this has caused stress and concern, the Minister is pleased the HSE is now in a position to provide positive news in respect of the necessary measures to ensure an appropriate service is delivered to the local community. It is anticipated the service will be delivered by the end of quarter 1 of 2022. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has committed to returning to County Louth at that stage and joining the Senator to open the service officially.

I note the Senator referred to north Louth and the need for a second respite centre. I probably do not even have to bring that request back to the Minister of State because I am sure the Senator has already addressed that issue with her, but I will do so. I assure the House that the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities remains ambitious in her vision for the provision of disability services for people of all ages in the coming years.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.15 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 11.32 a.m.
Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.32 a.m.