I am grateful to you, a Cheann Comhairle, for selecting this important topic. This concerns a health centre at Millbrook Lawns, a very populous area of my constituency, which provides a range of services like public health nursing, speech and language therapy, community welfare and home help, social work, addiction and general services and so on.
The premises itself is quite unsuitable for the service that it offers. Needless to remark, there is an enormous client base in the immediate environment of this health centre. The premises have been scheduled for demolition for some time and a new health centre scheduled to be built in the area. However, the reason I am in the House tonight is that four years ago, in June 1999, a fire occurred at these premises and nine rooms were burned down or seriously damaged, including a large waiting area and a storage facility. Believe it or not, four years later the premises have not been refurbished.
Quite frankly, I do not know if a health board that has permitted this to happen and tolerated this neglect over four long years is worthy of the name. I have not commented one way or another about anticipated imminent proposals about the abolition of health boards, but quite frankly, this health board ought to be demolished purely on the basis of its neglect of this health centre.
Four years on, the public health nurses are driven to protest behind a picket in order to give a voice to their grievance. They, in particular, have been very badly affected. They have lost three clinic rooms, one dressing room, one interview room and one baby changing room. They were allocated to temporary, unsuitable accommodation and found that their previous premises had been usurped by the addiction services. After considerable interaction with management, they were moved back into what is overcrowded and unsuitable office space. They were told this was for a temporary period of six months, that plans to build a new health centre were proceeding and that they should be prepared to tolerate impossible working conditions while that was happening.
Unfortunately, things have gone from bad to worse, and the facilities the people of the area so badly need are so constrained by the inadequacy of the conditions from which the professional and other staff must operate. It is absolutely imperative that we get some kind of answer from the Minister about why he is tolerating this situation and when the refurbishment of the premises will be initiated and completed.
The facilities are manifestly unsuitable for the purposes intended. There seems now to be a question mark over whether the new health centre is going ahead. The health board sold premises on the main street of Tallaght and realised considerable money from the sale. Yet, the money has not been put into a health centre in the middle of a hugely working class area where there is a very serious need for the services on offer. It is intolerable that staff be expected to function out of such a premises.
On the fourth anniversary of the fire, the nurses are driven to picket the place in an attempt to have proper services restored. I ask the Minister to give a commitment to the House that he will personally direct either that work immediately commences on the refurbishment of this health centre or that a commitment is given to the approval for the construction of a new health centre that is so badly needed in the area.