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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Sep 2022

Vol. 288 No. 4

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Mental Health Services

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

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss this matter. I ask for an update on a significant issue in Bantry at present relating to the mental health centre there, which is a very important part of the campus of Bantry General Hospital. A reduction of nearly 40% in beds in the acute wards is proposed. We are looking at a reduction from 18 to 11 beds. This is a very significant issue for the entire region. As the Minister of State is very much aware, given her west Cork roots, Bantry hospital is in the centre of the three peninsulas there. It covers a massive geographical area. The need for this acute unit to be fully operational is very much required. The proposal by the Mental Health Commission to reduce capacity from 18 to 11 beds, which is a 40% reduction, would have a major impact on the ability to have an appropriate mental health centre based in this part of west Cork. In many ways, it is a bizarre situation that there is a possibility that two arms of the State will go to court over this matter in the next few weeks. It is very unusual that the HSE could take the Mental Health Commission to the District Court to look for a stay of execution, if I can use that terminology, regarding this unit.

We need to see clarity on this issue. Will we have a scenario where, unfortunately, the HSE will go down the route of going to the District Court and engaging in a legal process with another arm of the State regarding the availability of acute mental beds in Bantry General Hospital? The long-term plan is also very important. What will be the long-term plan to deal with issues of personal space and the new model of care that is required? That is a major issue. Bantry General Hospital has seen significant developments over the past few years. The Taoiseach was there only a few weeks ago to open another unit. Significant sums, amounting to millions, have been spent there in capital investment. We now need to see a plan urgently put in place to cover this part of the campus.

I ask for clarity from the Minister of State regarding this part of the campus. What are the long-term plans for Bantry General Hospital in respect of the centre? We need to have 18 beds and appropriate personal space there. It is not appropriate that two arms of the State would go to court to fight over what should happen. There are a lot of questions. I hope I will get some answers from the Minister of State.

I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. As some Members will be aware, the Mental Health Commission has made the decision to put a restriction on the registration of the mental health care and recovery approved centre in Bantry General Hospital, given its concerns over the size of residents' bedrooms in the centre. I will touch on Bantry General Hospital. I visited it three or four months ago. It is the most fantastic facility. It is the most remote level 2 hospital in the whole country, serving a huge area of west Cork. I know west Cork very well; my father came from Drimoleague. I am very familiar with the area. On the day I visited the hospital, I was very impressed with the fact that it was an old-style hospital doing everything, including looking after older people and those with mental health issues across the whole sector. It is a very important facility in west Cork. I acknowledge the support that all Oireachtas Members have given to that facility over many years.

I have been aware since August that the Mental Health Commission was in consultation with the HSE regarding this particular situation. As the Senator said, this decision would mean the centre's total number of registered beds would reduce from 18 to 11. That is a massive reduction in bed capacity. The centre, which is located on the grounds of Bantry General Hospital, provides residents with acute care - it is important to note that it is acute care - rehabilitation and recovery supports for their mental health difficulties. It serves the local west Cork area, including areas around Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Bantry and beyond.

The HSE advised me last Friday afternoon of its intention to appeal the Mental Health Commission decision to put a restriction on the registration of the mental health care and recovery approved centre in Bantry General Hospital.

As this is now a matter before the District Court, it would not be appropriate for me, as Minister of State, to discuss the specifics of this particular case, but I can speak to the issue more generally. I will continue to liaise with the HSE to ensure all decisions and actions taken in respect of the centre are made with the best interests of the residents in mind, both from a health and safety viewpoint and in the context of the provision of appropriate treatments.

Mental health remains a key priority for me and the Government, and we are fully committed to the delivery of high-quality, person-centred, recovery-oriented mental health services. Our long-term strategic aim for our mental health services is to provide a consistent, high-quality service for anyone in need of support for their mental health. It is our responsibility to ensure the provision of high-quality mental health services that are fit for purpose. The Government acknowledges that mental health services must constantly evolve and develop to ensure they are in line with international best practice and regulatory requirements.

The national community mental health operation office is working closely with community healthcare organisation, CHO, 4 regarding compliance issues, most of which, I must emphasise, are premises related. The issues relate not to care but to the premises. CHO 4 has a comprehensive capital plan to accelerate the development of new inpatient units, and the national office is working with it to secure funding in this respect.

My understanding is that the only avenue for the HSE was to appeal the Mental Health Commission's decision to the District Court. The HSE maintains that it cannot afford to reduce the number of beds and notes that, in the context of regulation 22, there are no specifics with regard to the size of bedrooms. The HSE believes the imposition of the condition could have broader implications for many other approved centres in that particular CHO area and within CHO areas nationally.

That is the current situation. At present, there is capacity for 18 residents in the centre. As I have said, many of the patients have acute and enduring mental illnesses. The centre is their home from home. Therefore, it is very important that we, and I, as Minister of State, make sure that there is capacity in specific areas for mental illness.

The Minister of State makes a very interesting point about the knock-on implications of this judgment. The judgment could be the catalyst for a complete change in capacity across the entire sector and the country. It is a massive issue for us. It is a real worry now that, because of the decision of the Mental Health Commission, there could be a reduction in acute care across the country.

On the issue of going to court, it is bizarre that two agencies of the State are taking the legal route. I would still hope that communications can continue between the HSE and the commission, so that they do not actually have to go to court to resolve the issue. There must be a meeting of minds in order that we might come up with a solution, if possible. The long-term issue of what is to be done with the unit in Bantry is still a worry for me. We have seen significant investment in Bantry. As the Minister of State said, it is a wonderful unit. We need to put a capital plan in place. Perhaps the Minister of State could elaborate, either today or at a later date, on how we can get money to invest in the campus.

I thank the Senator for the way he has addressed this issue. I am conscious that the centre is home for many of the residents in Bantry. As I have said, in CHO 4 the chief officer and the area lead for mental health have put in place a comprehensive plan, which I have seen, in relation to capital projects across counties Cork and Kerry. That is the first point. The plan is being given consideration by the health business services estates.

The second point is that this relates to the national implementation and monitoring committee, which I put in place after Sharing the Vision was launched two years ago by my predecessor, the former Minister of State and Deputy, Jim Daly. One of the conditions of Sharing the Vision was that there would be a national implementation and monitoring committee to ensure that we are all doing our jobs. One of the first things I asked the committee to do was conduct a bed capacity review of mental health beds across the country, because it is really important to know what challenges we are facing in specific areas. That work is under way. I look forward to having that report.

I guarantee that this issue is very high on my agenda. It is extremely important that there is communication between the HSE and the Mental Health Commission. That communication will continue. The last thing I want so see is a court case, but at the same time I have to be very conscious that to lose seven beds in that particular hospital would have a detrimental impact on residents in the area, and also could have a knock-on effect elsewhere. I, as Minister of State, must ensure that we have capacity for these people who have mental illnesses and enduring mental health difficulties. They need the support of the State.

Medical Cards

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss this important topic. My concern is around the rent-a-room scheme. There has been so much encouragement for people to join the scheme. I come from County Limerick, where there are three third level institutions. This morning I received a response from one of them to say that unfortunately, they have no accommodation for the number of people on the waiting list. It is a really serious issue. We, as a Government, have announced that people can earn up to €14,000 tax-free under the rent-a-room scheme. That is fine. However, many older people have approached me about the matter. They have considered joining the scheme, but they are concerned about their medical cards. Specifically, they are worried that joining the scheme would affect their entitlement to those cards and that they would lose that entitlement if they went slightly over the threshold. To me, this is a no-brainer. There is a cost-of-living crisis and people are afraid to turn on their heating. They are worried about their bills and the increasing energy costs. For older people who may be medical card holders, joining the scheme would create income for them in the cost-of-living crisis.

Many of the people to whom I refer are widows or widowers who live on their own. The scheme would enable them to have company at home. It would also help to address the student accommodation crisis. It is not going to solve the overall problem, but it will go a long way towards it. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Department of Education are very much in favour of the scheme, but the Department of Health has said nothing. That is really why I am raising the issue today. I believe that the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, and his Department need to come out in support of the scheme. I know that the Minister of State is here to deliver the message on behalf of the Minister. I really acknowledge and admire the work that she does. I believe that the scheme is a win-win for all and look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Health, but can I just say that from my own perspective, as Minister of State with responsibility for older people, I am of the view that the rent-a-room scheme is invaluable in light of the challenges we have in the context of accommodation and the pressures that exist. It is also invaluable from the perspective that an elderly person who is living alone could decide to rent out a room under the scheme. Having the company and companionship is important. I spoke to a recently bereaved gentleman who told me that he had taken in a family of two adults and two children from Ukraine. He said that to see clothes hanging on the washing line again gave him such a lift. The rent-a-room scheme is Government policy, so everyone is very supportive of it, but it is really important. It can provide access to income for people who are challenged financially.

Social and medical issues are also considered when determining whether undue hardship exists for an individual accessing a general practitioner or other medical services, which deals with people who have access to a medical or GP-only card.

On the Senator’s specific question, my understanding is that current rent-a-room tax relief allows people to earn up to €14,000 per year tax free if renting out a room or rooms in their home to private tenants. As we have said, this was also a call-out from the Minister, Deputy Harris, to students who are finding it difficult to access accommodation. Income from the rent-a-room scheme is not currently exempted from the medical card assessment process, as the Senator noted. A proposal to exclude income derived from the rent-a-room scheme from the medical card assessment process needs to be reviewed in detail to determine and consider the range of policy, legislative, operational and financial implications involved.

I assure the Senator the Minister for Health endeavours to ensure that the medical card system is responsive and sensitive to people's needs. The Department of Health keeps medical card issues, including the current medical card income thresholds, under review and any proposals are considered in the context of any potential broader implications for Government policy, the annual budgetary Estimates process and legislative requirements arising.

I thank the Minister of State for the comprehensive response. I am a little disappointed because the Minister has not stated that he will carry out a comprehensive review but rather that a comprehensive review is required. He has not committed to anything and that is really disappointing. In this day and age, when students do not have accommodation and when older people face increased costs of living, the Minister needs to review the policy and bring forward a proposal. I ask the Minister of State to revert to the Minister and urge him to reconsider his response on this issue. That is the right thing to do. I have outlined the facts and how it would be a win-win situation for all. We as a Government are encouraging people to rent a room and to attend college, yet this is an impediment. These are such small sums and I am sure that if someone were to exceed the limit, he or she would not do so by thousands of euro. The Minister needs to indicate he will review the issue, rather than just say it requires a review.

I again thank the Senator for raising the issue and will take on board the points she made, which I will feed back to the Minister. As she will be aware, persons aged 70 or older are assessed under the over-70s medical card income thresholds, which are based on gross income. Income from the rent-a-room scheme is not currently exempt from the medical card assessment process. This issue not only lies with the Department of Health but also with the Department of Finance. On what the Senator said about a proposed review, it is important that a review happen in order that we can see what kind of cost would be involved. Some people might only slightly exceed the threshold, but allowing people to earn €14,000 tax free might incur a huge cost on the State. The only way we can find that out is by reviewing the matter, so I will certainly feed back the Senator's comments. The rent-a-room scheme is very important and it could offer important support to older people who are living alone.

Assisted Human Reproduction

The Minister of State is very busy today. She is taking all four Commencement matters.

There is no doubting the Minister of State's strong work ethic and I thank her for taking this matter. In early July, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on International Surrogacy published a report that was very well received by the three Ministers to whom it was relevant, namely, the Minister for Health, who is the lead Minister on the issue, and the Ministers for Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. They made recommendations that can be broadly put into two categories, the first of which was the ethical future of international surrogacy and the need for legislation in the State, and a framework was suggested for that. The second related to a retrospective provision for children who have been born via surrogacy, or for those who are on the way via surrogacy, to ensure there will be a legal relationship between those children and both of their parents.

Surrogacy has a long history of various entities telling the State that we need to take action on it, from as long ago as when the Taoiseach was Minister for Health in 2005, when the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction recommended that we legislate for surrogacy. Numerous court decisions, including of the Supreme Court, have found that the State needs to legislate in this area. In 2012, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, issued guidelines for international surrogacy, not least because of the citizenship element of it. In 2017, the assisted human reproduction Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny, out of which a recommendation was made to legislate for international surrogacy. The Conor O'Mahony report on the child protection implications of international surrogacy was published in 2021, after which the Oireachtas joint committee commenced its work on a tight timeline because its members were conscious that the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill had gone to the Dáil, where it is now awaiting Committee Stage under the Department of Health.

Well over one thousand children do not have a legal relationship with both of their parents, be that a second father or, in the main, women who do not have a legal relationship with their own child. That leaves them in a precarious position whereby if the father of the child, who needs to be the biological father, becomes seriously ill and perhaps faces death, the child will be left with no legal parent in the State. There are cases before the courts seeking clarification and, bizarrely, the State is defending those cases and paying legal bills for discovery at a time when there are numerous reports stating that we need to legislate for surrogacy.

There are situations of marriage breakdown. In the past couple of weeks in particular, I have had sight of solicitors' letters from the father of children to the mother reminding her that she has no legal standing and that if she relinquishes the claim on their family home, she may be given access to her children. Children are being weaponised because of the State's failure to legislate for surrogacy and for children born via surrogacy.

We need equality for these children. Regardless of the means of their conception and birth, they should have equality and a right to a legal relationship with both parents before the State. We were led to believe that amendments were to be brought in on Committee Stage of the health Bill that would address this. I appreciate that both the Departments of Health and Justice need to act on this, but we need action and we need to know a programme will come in such that before Christmas, the legislation could be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I thank the Senator for giving me, on behalf of the Minister for Health, this opportunity to inform the House on the progress made to date in respect of introducing the regulation of international surrogacy. I acknowledge, and thank her for, all the work she has done in regard to surrogacy.

The undertaking of surrogacy arrangements in other jurisdictions raises complex ethical questions concerning areas of law that intersect the remits of several Departments, as the Senator noted, namely, the Departments of Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, as well as the Department of Health. Accordingly, and on foot of Government approval of proposals from the Ministers, Deputies McEntee, O’Gorman and Stephen Donnelly, the special Oireachtas Joint Committee on International Surrogacy, of which the Senator is a strong member, was established on 9 February. As she pointed out, the committee published its first report on 6 July, which included a total of 32 recommendations. On behalf of the Ministers and the Government, I reiterate their gratitude for the work of the committee and the completion of its report in such a timely manner.

Following the publication of the committee's report, through a structured and collaborative engagement process, the Departments of Justice, Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and Health are reviewing the report's recommendations, along with other relevant matters, with a view to determining an appropriate policy position and suitable next steps. It is crucial the relevant Departments complete a robust and thorough examination of all the issues, including the findings and recommendations of the committee's report, given the range of complexities involved and the rights of the various parties involved in surrogacy arrangements.

It is also important to recognise that there is no international consensus or multilateral instrument on this issue at the moment, notwithstanding that the expert group appointed by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law is due to report in 2023 following the conclusion of its ongoing formal study of the private international law issues being encountered. There are also highly divergent views within the EU on this issue, with a number of member states prohibiting all forms of surrogacy.

Nevertheless, the Ministers and Departments are committed to progressing as quickly as possible the development of policy proposals along with any required legislative proposals, while respecting the key principles of protecting the rights of all children born as a result of cross-border surrogacy arrangements and safeguarding the welfare of surrogate mothers. I think that sums up the key points. This detailed consideration is ongoing and the Departments are meeting frequently to actively work through the pertinent issues with the aim of producing an agreed policy paper shortly.

To say I am not impressed by that response is mild, to be perfectly honest, and with due respect to the Minister of State, who is merely the messenger. That the Departments have a view to developing a policy paper is a wholly inadequate and absolutely unacceptable response. There are children in this State who have the right to the two parents, that is, the mother they have only ever known and their second father in the case of same-sex couples.

Last weekend, I had to fill in a form for my daughter that described me as her "guardian". She has not known any other mother. I am her only mother - she would not have been conceived if it were not for me. She would not be alive were it not for me. Unfortunately, I could not give birth to her, but the idea that I am her guardian is unacceptable. That situation will expire when she is 18 and bring with it a whole heap of other difficulties regarding next of kin. It will impact our relationship for the rest of our lives. It is absolutely and utterly unacceptable that at this stage, after all the work that has gone in, all the Departments are doing is developing a policy position. That will go down incredibly badly with the surrogacy community across the country. This relates to thousands of people who came out and expressed their views and disenchantment with the Government and its absolute abdication of its responsibility to the citizens of this State. It is absolutely appalling that we are not in a place where actual amendments to that Bill are not being drafted and that the Departments are still talking about it.

I thank the Senator for sharing her personal experience. I can understand her upset and frustration. It must be borne in mind, however, that policy and legislative proposals that may arise following the completion of the Department's examination of the committee's recommendation will require consideration and approval by Government.

The Senator will be aware that, overall, there are significant challenges to be addressed in respect of policy and legislation, but also in the context of operational matters including the role of regulators, the courts and all parties involved in international surrogacy arrangements. It is complicated by the fact that there is an acknowledged absence of any international framework for subsequent challenges associated with overseeing practices and services in other jurisdictions, including having assurances that surrogacy arrangements are of the highest ethical standards and prioritising those who may be most vulnerable to exploitation in international surrogacy.

The limitations that arise in this regard are also acknowledged by the committee in the report. However, there is a clear commitment to developing policy and legislative responses to the numerous complexities and difficulties which arise for us to achieve a robust and ethical framework for future international surrogacy arrangements and provide certainty for all those concerned.

I will feed back to the Minister the Senator's disappointment at what she feels is an unacceptable response.

It is total obfuscation by the Department of Health in actual fact. The fact is that every common law jurisdiction that influences our jurisdiction in courts has already legislated for surrogacy. The position that is being put forward by the Department of Health is absolutely untrue.

Rail Network

Are Senators Malcolm Byrne and Casey proposing to share time?

Yes. The Minister of State knows I have enormous respect for her work but I am rather worried that she is the one who is in here answering a question on transport. We fear and already suspect that the answer may contain the same level of obfuscation to which our colleague referred.

We are talking about the east coast railway that runs from Dublin to Rosslare and which runs through the Minister for Transport's constituency. As part of the east coast railway infrastructure protection project scheme review that was carried out by Irish Rail because of the fears of damage caused by coastal erosion and climate change to that particular track, it is now estimated that infrastructure works to simply keep the track open and survive will cost up to €230 million. This is something that has not just been signalled in the short term; this has been raised on a regular basis over the long term.

If we are to look at shifting significant numbers of people into using rail transport, particularly from counties Wexford and Wicklow, then we must ensure that we have a reliable rail service. We already know that the Rosslare rail service is not a priority for Irish Rail or the Minister because we are not getting the additional carriages that are being rolled out on the system. If we do not have the infrastructure, however, we will not have a train track on which even the old trains will be able to run. This report was carried out this summer. We need to know, to be able to give assurances to commuters, that the rail line will continue in the long term and yet we have not heard from the Minister for Transport whether that level of investment will be made available.

I thank the Minister of State. Senator Malcolm Byrne outlined our concerns with regard to the Minister of State's response to this issue.

The Dublin-Rosslare east coast route has probably suffered from the least amount of investment over the 200 years of its history since it was delivered. It has great potential and provides an opportunity to take people off the road but we are not availing of it. The recently released report stated that we need an additional €230 million just to maintain the track that is in place before we try to deliver any additional services. In fairness, with regard to commuters from counties Wicklow and Wexford, once a person leaves Greystones there is an almost non-existent service. I got into my car at Wicklow this morning at 7 a.m. and got to Leinster House at 9.15 a.m. There was only one train that left Wicklow during that period.

Not alone are we talking about investment to try to maintain the rail route; we need significant and far-reaching investment to provide serious train potential for our commuters. If that is what we believe in, we need to invest in it.

The current proposed draft policy with regard to the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area does not do justice to Wicklow once a person leaves Greystones. The line from Wicklow, Rathdrum, Arklow and then on to Wexford is not getting the level of investment that is required. It needs to go further. We need to start talking about putting in lay-bys and double tracks where trains can pass one another freely. We are wasting our time investing €230 million unless we go that step further. The greater Dublin transport strategy does not go far enough in what it is proposing. We need significant investment if we are going to move people out of their cars and onto the train.

I thank both Senators. In fairness, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is currently in the Dáil taking a Private Members' motion on the cost-of living challenges and different issues. He was in situ as I was leaving the Dáil Chamber. On behalf of the Minister for Transport, I thank the Senators for the opportunity to address the issue before the House. It is not my area of expertise, to be fair, but I will read out the response.

Coastal railway construction and maintenance have always been challenging and throughout its history, interventions have been required to protect the line from impacts on embankments, water coming over the line and coastal erosion. I understand that Iarnród Éireann has over many years managed the coastal defence of the Dublin to Rosslare line and monitors the coastline erosion rates at key points along the railway on an ongoing basis.

In 2015, larnród Éireann, along with Wicklow County Council, co-funded significant erosion mitigation emergency works at The Murrough near Wicklow railway station. These works were prompted by an erosion event that almost resulted in the loss of a section of railway line. This joint collaboration was very successful and prompted the need to undertake a much larger multi-agency study of coastal erosion along this stretch of coastline.

A steering group was established with representatives of larnród Éireann and Wicklow County Council in February 2018, which agreed to undertake a coastal erosion study in accordance with OPW study requirements. It was agreed that larnród Eireann would take the lead role for the tender process to procure a specialised consultant to undertake this study. Within the scope it was envisaged to generate a high-level coastal erosion model for the scope area and then assess the results. Each risk area would then be examined to establish the best solution to be installed, if any. On foot of the consultant's review, a significant body of work was expected on receipt of the final report.

With the frequency and severity of impacts increasing, with climate change causing more impacts in the past 20 years than in the previous 100 years, larnród Éireann has proactively commenced a major climate resilience programme to ensure the long-term protection of major sections of the Dublin to Rosslare rail line from the effects of climate change. Following the climate resilience studies undertaken by larnród Éireann in 2018, the east coast railway infrastructure protection projects, ECRIPP, was developed to ensure an effective preventive approach to the protection of the line. ECRIPP is funded by the National Transport Authority under the National Development Plan 2021-2030 and through a range of interventions along the route, with a particular focus on the area between Merrion Gates in Dublin and Wicklow town, it seeks to secure the future of the line for generations to come.

The Minister is advised by larnród Éireann that detailed design and planning works, including environmental assessments and statutory submissions will be delivered under the first phase of the programme, for which Jacobs has been contracted as multidisciplinary consultants. Options such as breakwaters, beach nourishment, onshore revetment strengthening and other interventions will be subject to detailed design in the first phase of the programme, which will also focus on planning and approvals. As well as the requirement to protect rail infrastructure, noting that a number of locations are designated with special area of conservation and Natura 2000 conservation status, the protection of the sensitive environments involved will be central to the philosophy of the project.

I trust the Senators can see that this matter is being taken very seriously and that remedial action is under way. I am not sure whether it answers their specific questions, but I take on board the point Senator Casey made that he left Wicklow this morning at 7 a.m. and got here at 9.15 a.m., yet there was only one train on the track during that time.

We are going to share the response time. It is a little more hopeful, given that there is work being done and at least a plan has been put in place but, before anything else, we must ensure there is funding for the plan. It is about being able to guarantee commuters that we will have a rail line in place because the report this summer said the rail line may not be in existence by the end of the decade if remedial work does not happen, and so it must happen. As Senator Casey has said, it is about more than simply improving the rail line, it is about the delivery of quality of service. We do not believe that Iarnród Éireann has been doing that for commuters and travellers in Wexford and Wicklow in recent years.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I know she is only the messenger. I served on the council when the event occurred in 2015, which goes to show that we are not taking the east coast rail line seriously if it took a severe weather event to create an emergency intervention to protect the line. We have known all along that the rail line on the east coast is vulnerable and we have done nothing about it. It took a storm event to get the issue resolved in 2015. Unless we deliver in this regard, realistically, we are wasting our time. We must protect the rail line and we must develop additional services on it. I thank the Minister of State for her time.

On behalf of the Minister for Transport, I thank both Senators for their comments and interest in the important issue of rail infrastructure concerning their counties of Wexford and Wicklow. If we are serious about climate change, rail infrastructure must be important.

I have further news. Iarnród Éireann has been monitoring this line and the effects of coastal erosion on it for many years. Noting the increase in severity and frequency of erosion impacts, Iarnród Éireann has developed a series of infrastructure protection projects known as the east coast railway infrastructure protection projects. ECRIPP, which has indicative costs of €230 million, was included in the National Development Plan 2021-2030. It is planned that it will be delivered over the coming seven years under a series of work packages for each location, including Bray Head to Greystones north beach, Newcastle to Wicklow, Dalkey tunnel to Killiney station and Rosslare.

Apart from ECRIPP, there is ongoing funding for the protection and renewal of the rail network, otherwise known as the infrastructure manager multi-annual contract, IMMAC. The IMMAC is a requirement of EU and Irish law and is a five-year agreement under the Minister for Transport. The current contract covers the period from 2020 to 2024, inclusive. I reassure Senators, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that measures are being taken to protect and maintain the rail network generally and specifically with regard to the Dublin to Rosslare rail line. Iarnród Éireann will engage with local authorities, regulatory bodies, local communities and interest groups to ensure this programme is delivered in a sustainable and cost-effective way.

I thank the Minister of State for her commitment to the Seanad this morning. It is no easy task to respond to four Commencement debates.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.16 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 11.30 a.m.
Sitting suspended at 11.16 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.