Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Mar 2009

Vol. 677 No. 1

Adjournment Debate.

Departmental Strategy Statements.

I wish to share my speaking time with Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this most important issue. Each year carers through their voluntary work in the home save the State in excess of €2.5 billion. The refusal of the Government to publish a national carers' strategy represents a major U-turn and will be a bitter pill for thousands of families to swallow. The publication of the carers strategy was an integral element of the Towards 2016 agreement signed by the Government and the social partners. However, the decision to bin the promise was made by the Government alone.

As an active member of the Cork Family Carers Forum in Cork city, I am furious at the refusal to implement the strategy. There are 19,000 families in Cork city and county who will be listening to the Minister's response with great interest. They have been listening since last January when the Minister first flew a kite in The Sunday Business Post suggesting carers were to come under attack. This was not about monetary commitments which carers were seeking. It was about looking for acknowledgement of the work they do 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The strategy was to recognise the importance of that work and to put some sort of benchmark in our social programme that would recognise the value of that work.

The carers and their representatives went to exorbitant and significant levels to provide submissions on this report, only to be told that those submissions are now in the bin in the Minister's office. In the boom times, carers waited a long time to eventually get someone recognition and monetary gain for the work they do, yet at the first sign of a turnaround in the economy it seems they will be the first to suffer. Assurances from the Government that they will work with representative groups to ensure the delivery of services in the most effective manner is tokenism at best. It is a shame on the Government and on the Minister that she comes to the House today having abandoned what is the most significant aspect of community care in this country, one which is supported in the main by a voluntary group, to tell us that this programme is no longer being considered.

When the history of this period of Government is written, I am not certain the headline will be the downturn in the economy but how the Government set out to attack the most vulnerable in society. It started with the over 70s and then moved on to people on disability allowance, with the stipulation that they could not receive it until they were 18. Both of these measures were reversed but the Government then moved on to children with an intellectual disability, a measure which has yet to be reversed, although I am confident it will be reversed because of the outrage that exists.

The latest in the series of vulnerable groups which are to be attacked by the Government is a group of people who do the State an enormous service. This service is done by caring for their relatives, whether they are children, husbands, fathers, mothers or sisters — they are family members who, without such care and attention, would be in institutions and not getting the same kind of attention they get at home. This most definitely saves the State an enormous amount of money. These people have put up a fight year after year for an increase in the amount they are paid for this work, but that was only part of the battle. The rest of the battle was about facilities, training, recognition and ensuring that they would occasionally get some time off. It was about ensuring they would get the support and assistance of community nurses, GPs, physiotherapists and all the therapies that should assist people who have a difficulty in living their day-to-day life. Now, the Government has decided the strategy that was to put all of that in place, a strategy into which all of these people bought, both the organisations and the individuals, is to be binned.

There are many groups of people this Government could have attacked. It could have set about taxing people who had squirrelled away great wealth, but it did not. It decided to start with the most vulnerable, people whom it felt could not fight back. It is disgraceful. The Minister should put this strategy in place immediately.

Caring for another person, especially on a full-time basis, can have a huge impact on the carer and his or her family. While it can be a very rewarding experience, it often involves sacrifices, particularly in employment opportunities, and it can also affect the carer's own health. While the work of carers can be unseen, the important and valuable role played by them in society has been extensively recognised by Government in recent years.

The Government is acutely aware of the sacrifices made by carers and we have sought to make many improvements in services and supports for those carers. In regard to income supports, in budget 2009 the rate of carer's allowance for those aged 66 or over was increased by €7 to €239 per week and for those aged under 66 by €6.50 to €220.50 per week. These increases took effect this January. Recipients of carer's allowance are also eligible for household benefits, free travel and the respite care grant. Since 1997, weekly payment rates to carers have greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer's allowance have significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer's benefit, half-rate carer's allowance and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended.

The means test for carer's allowance has been significantly eased over the years and is now one of the most generous means tests in the social welfare system, most notably with regard to the spouse's earnings. Since April 2008, the income disregard has been €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple. This means that a couple with two children can earn in the region of €37,200 and qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance, as well as the associated free travel and household benefits. A couple with an income in the region of €60,400 can still qualify for a minimum payment, as well as the associated free travel and the household benefits package. These levels surpass the Towards 2016 commitment to ensure those on average industrial earnings continue to qualify for a full carer's allowance.

From June 2005, the annual respite care grant was extended to all carers who are providing full-time care to a person who needs such care, regardless of income. The rate of the respite care grant has also been increased to €1,700 per year in respect of each care recipient since June 2008. In June 2006, the number of hours for which a person can engage in employment, self-employment, education or training and still be considered to be providing full-time care for the purposes of carer's allowance, carer's benefit and the respite care grant was increased from ten to 15 hours per week. It is estimated that the combined expenditure on carer's allowance, carer's benefit, the respite care grant and half-rate carers will be €650 million in 2009.

It is extremely important to note that carers need more than just income support and, in particular, they need community health services to assist them in their caring role. The Government's objective of continued development of community-based services for older persons is reflected in the funding given in recent times. The total additional funding allocated for such services by the Department of Health and Children was in excess of €210 million over the three-year period 2006-08, which included, for example, €120 million given for the new home care package initiative and €55 million in new funding to expand the home help scheme nationally.

This year, the HSE will continue to promote community and home-based services which directly benefit both clients and carers throughout the country. It expects to provide, for example, in the region of 12 million home help hours, benefiting 54,000 people; 4,700 home care packages, benefiting 11,500 people; and 21,5 00 day and respite care places.

Another important service for carers is the ability to take a break from caring. In this regard, significant residential respite care continues to be provided in public community nursing units, including community hospitals and long-stay residential units across the country. Over 700 designated respite care beds are provided nationally in these units. It is estimated that approximately 19,000 people benefit over the course of a full year, based on an average length of stay of two weeks per person. Another area where the HSE is involved is in working closely with carer organisations in supporting older people in their own communities through service level agreements, with a view to delivering services both nationally and locally within its budget and overall health policy priorities. For example, in 2008, almost €2 million in additional allocation was provided between the Alzheimer's Society and the Carers Association.

I appreciate that it is disappointing for carers and the people for whom they care that we are not in a position to publish a strategy at this time. I met some of their representatives earlier this week to inform them of this difficult decision taken by Government and they made me aware of the frustration they feel, a frustration we all share. However, faced with the current economic situation — the House will be very much aware of the Exchequer returns issued yesterday — it is not possible to set targets or timelines which can be achieved. Publishing a strategy would be to make false promises to carers, promises we do not have the money to implement. I believe that carers deserve better than that. It is important to be honest in the commitments we make. Publishing a strategy which we could not hope to implement in the short or medium term would simply be dishonest and a betrayal of trust. The Government made a commitment to social partners and the carer representative groups at the outset that a national carers' strategy would not be merely a paper exercise.

I wish to acknowledge all those who took the time to make submissions as part of the public consultation process and to assure them their submissions were considered in detail by the working group and will inform our thinking in the future. The Departments of Social and Family Affairs and Health and Children, including the Health Service Executive, are committed to providing support and services for carers and to working with the carer representative groups to deliver services in a more effective way to assist them in the valuable work they do.

Housing Grants.

I am delighted the Ceann Comhairle has chosen this serious issue for consideration on the Adjournment. I was informed yesterday by staff in Roscommon County Council that up to 600 applications have been received for grants. There is a minimum two years waiting list for essential works such as toilet and shower facilities, window replacements and central heating upgrading. When discussing an application relating to an elderly man in his 70s living alone, recently discharged from hospital, who has no toilet, shower or running water in his home, I was informed it would take two years before his application is even examined. Roscommon County Council is dealing with applications received in November 2007. Funding is so poor that these are dealt with in chronological order. However, only high-priority cases will be examined. Elderly people living in County Roscommon and in south Leitrim who need shower facilities because of their disability have no hope of any financial assistance. The councils have two-year waiting lists and, in addition, the HSE has withdrawn all funding for special housing aid for the elderly which was used for emergency cases. Is the Minister of State aware that there are 200 homes in County Leitrim without running water? That is the highest number in the country.

I suggest that the Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, should make funding available, especially for emergency cases. This would create employment and would also provide small builders and tradesmen with a weekly income instead of obliging them to collect social welfare. It would help the ailing building industry and it might resolve some of these alarming cases. As politicians, we are inundated with requests for housing aid for the elderly and for repairs to houses. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that sufficient finance is made available and that henceforth these elderly people in the twilight of life will not have to wait two years.

I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran. I thank Deputy Feighan for giving me the opportunity to speak about the operation of the housing adaptation grant schemes for older people and people with a disability.

The Government is very much aware of the critical role of the adaptation grant schemes in the context of an overall continuum of care for older people and people with a disability. As the Deputy knows, in order to facilitate the continued independent occupation of their own homes by older people and people with a disability, a revised framework of adaptation grant schemes was implemented in November 2007. The revised grant framework streamlines the administrative and operational procedures governing the schemes, provides a more targeted and integrated response to the housing needs of older people and people with a disability, and ensures the most efficient and cost-effective outcomes from the funding available, including the targeting of available resources to those in most need. The new suite of grants schemes is funded by 80% recoupment available from my Department and a 20% contribution from the local authority.

Funding and activity under the schemes has been accelerating year on year, with expenditure increasing from some €13 million to over €71 million in the period 1997 to 2007. During that time approximately 74,000 grants have been paid. This represents 74,000 older people and people with a disability who have been assisted in remaining in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. In May 2008, a combined capital allocation of €71.4 million was announced for the operation of the schemes for the year. In addition, to take account of the significantly increased levels of activity under the grants schemes experienced by local authorities in 2008, supplementary Exchequer allocations totalling €15 million were made in September, October and December. This funding supported badly needed adaptation works for over 12,000 disadvantaged households. Roscommon County Council received a combined capital allocation of €1,678,170.

For the purposes of the operation of these schemes in 2009, my Department has been in regular contact with all local authorities on a range of relevant issues, including the levels of activity experienced under the schemes in 2008, the levels of claims on hand, the degree to which prioritisation of applications has taken place, and the anticipated levels of activity in 2009. In light of anticipated demand, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, is conscious of the need for local authorities to be able to deploy available resources as early as possible to maximise their impact for households availing of the schemes. Local authorities will, therefore, be notified of their capital allocations for these schemes immediately following the publication of the Revised Estimates for Public Services 2009. As in previous years, it will be a matter then for each local authority to decide on the specific level of funding to be directed towards each of the schemes, from within the combined allocation notified to them by my Department, and to manage the operation of the schemes in their areas from within this allocation.

Fisheries Protection.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I know he is familiar with this issue. He has been to County Donegal, to Killybegs and to Greencastle, where he met with fishermen from the whitefish sector. In the time since he was there, this has become more of a problem, affecting boat owners with boats of 12 metres and less, and fishermen who do a little bit of whitefishing or catching dogfish. They stay away from cod, which is the key point in this matter. We are all interested in sustainability and in the preservation of stocks. When Europe hears of whitefish, it hears cod. We are all interested in the preservation of cod. We all want this and the fishermen agree to it. However, there are other whitefish that can be fished in the Irish seas.

We must get the point across to the Minister of State and show him that the present system and interpretation of EU guidelines is not satisfactory in terms of conservation, sustainability and best practice. I will leave it for my colleague to talk about the ins and outs of best practice by the fishermen with regard to the quota system. Rather than days at sea per boat we must look at quantity of fish. Fishermen know when to fish, where to fish and how best to fish. They are the ambassadors of the sea and the people who know best practice. In dealing with the whitefish sector and the overall fishing sector we have left the fishermen out of the loop, even though there are representative bodies.

We must start heeding the guidance of the whitefish fishermen and acknowledge that they are more interested in the quantity quota per fish species rather than days at sea. Unfortunately, we do not have time, but concerning the interpretation of Council Regulation EC/237/2002, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must explain itself and its methodology. The allocations are completely unsatisfactory in respect of both scope and scale. I hope we can see some movement on this matter in the response of the Minister of State.

I welcome the presence of the Minister of State for this important item. The whitefish sector in the north west is severely hampered by the imposition of the Kw days at sea requiremen which came into legal effect on 1 February 2009. In addition to the Kw days at sea regulation, the north-west whitefish sector was hit also by a new set of technical conservation measures agreed at the December 2008 Fisheries Council. The combined effect of these measures means that local vessels which have traditionally fished in the area will no longer have a sufficient number of days to do so. For a large part of the same area, the increases in mesh sizes mean that their mix of fisheries is no longer possible. This is the death knell for the whitefish sector in the north west with the loss of hundreds of jobs unless its effect is immediately reversed.

We are told by the EU Commission that the days at sea regulations relate to a need to protect the cod fishery. If this is the case, why should these rules apply to vessels that do not catch cod or have a very small by-catch? Like my colleague, Deputy McHugh, I am from Donegal and I am fully aware of the importance of the fishing industry to the county. I find it very difficult to understand why these restrictions have been imposed on Irish vessels with negligible cod catches. The whitefish industry in the north west is very important to fishing ports such as Killybegs and Deputy McHugh's Greencastle and is providing much-needed employment at sea and ashore in these ports.

In this time of economic crisis and the need to protect jobs, it is absolutely essential that the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, ensures the whitefish sector in the north west is not wiped out. I am calling on the Minister of State to apply immediately for exemptions and derogations for the Kw days at sea and the mesh size increases for Irish vessels fishing in the north west. It is totally unacceptable that French, UK and Spanish vessels have more Kw days at sea in our area and are able to continue to fish when our vessels are tied up due to insufficient days. The Minister of State must surely agree that this is not right and must be immediately addressed. I am calling on him to work with the fishing industry, the Marine Institute and BIM to ensure a viable whitefish industry in the north west.

Gabhaim buíochas don Teachta as ucht deis a thabhairt dom freagra a thabhairt ar an ábhair tábhachtach seo. The Irish fishing industry is wholly dependent on the state of the fish stocks in the Irish zone and in many ways the health of the industry is directly linked to the health of the stocks, which are the bedrock on which the industry is founded. The decline in fish stocks has not happened overnight; there have been warning signs for some time. Clearly, this is a European issue and actions to address declining fish stocks and ensure sustainable fishing practices must be taken at the EU Council table.

My ultimate aim is to have our fish stocks at high levels and in a healthy state so that they can sustain our industry and coastal communities. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, the competent international authority on fish stocks, has advised that fish stocks in EU waters including those around our coast are in decline, with a near complete collapse of cod stocks in the areas VIa, west of Scotland, and VIIa, Irish Sea. This assessment is supported by the Marine Institute at national level.

The EU Fisheries Councils in November and December 2008 adopted a new cod recovery plan, as set out in Council Regulation (EC) No. 1342/2008 and Annex Ila of the 2009 TAC and Quota Regulation (EC) No 43/2009. These regulations are applicable to the fishing fleets of all member states fishing with specified fishing gears in the relevant sea areas. Under these regulations, Ireland and other relevant member states are required to introduce and implement a licensing regime to manage its allocation of fishing effort — days at sea limits in areas VIa and VIIa for vessels using specified gear types.

The 2009 TAC and Quota Regulation (EC) No 43/2009 also sets down the level of quotas each member state is entitled to for 2009. These TACs and quotas were adopted by the EU Fisheries Council taking account of the scientific advice available. In Ireland we distribute these whitefish quotas among our vessels taking account of vessel size. This is done at the monthly whitefish quota advisory committee meetings. This committee comprises members of the FIF, the Irish Fishermen's Organisation, the SFPA, in addition to officials from my Department. Every attempt is made to maintain a consensus on what management arrangements are put in place for the following month by species, by area and by vessel size.

With respect to the issue of the new days at sea scheme, my Department, following consultations but not agreement, with representatives of the Irish fishing industry, introduced a pilot system of authorisations and allocations of fishing effort for the period 1 February 2009 to 30 April 2009. The pilot scheme as originally introduced was based on the following: authorisation to fish and allocation of effort days to be determined by track record of vessels; vessels "best year" for the period 2005 to 2008 to establish its track record; track record divided into bands of effort and, depending on the band the vessel fits into, allowing the associated number of effort days for that band for the period; effort days allocation to be divided for the year based on the past fishing pattern of all Irish vessels in the area, for example, if the spring season is important the effort allocation now given will reflect that pattern; effort not used to come back into the national pot for future allocation. The establishment of track record was based on log book data and has not taken account of any sale or transfer of vessels or capacity. Any owners in this situation are asked to write to the Department with details which will be examined and effort will be issued if the vessel meets the criteria established above. Effort will be allocated as a specified number of days at sea which is defined in the regulation as, "a day present within an area shall be any continuous period of 24 hours or part thereof during which a vessel is present within the area and absent from port". The actual effort will be calculated as the kilowatt of the vessel by the number of days.

I have also already agreed to some amendments as recommended by the Federation of Irish Fishermen to the original pilot scheme as introduced on 1 February. These amendments cover the treatment of vessels with minimal track record in the areas covered by the scheme and also for the allocation of days at sea to vessels that changed length category from under 10 metres to over 10 metres and less than 12 metres, which can show they have an active track record of fishing in the areas covered by the scheme during the reference periods 2004 to 2008.

I appreciate that the introduction of these new conservation measures is a considerable challenge and I have established a steering group, which I announced at the Greencastle meeting, involving the Federation of Irish Fishermen, the Irish Fishermen's Organisation, the Department and its agencies, to provide support to the industry in relation to the practical implementation of these new measures. The effort allocations already made were done on a pilot basis only and I am happy to make amendments where proposed by the steering group within the EU legal framework that has been established. I hope that the arrangements proposed when the current pilot expires at the end of April will reflect more closely the views of fishermen and the nature of the fishing fleet and available fishing opportunities. In addition, I have asked the steering group to consider the options for providing additional days to fishing vessels on the basis of their undertaking specific additional conservation measures in both areas as provided for in the EU regulations. The steering group has met a number of times already and is examining possible options that would allow vessels additional days at sea where cod avoidance measures as mentioned by the Deputies, are introduced or where highly selective gear that avoids the catching of cod is introduced. The group has also recommended that vessels which have a very low catch of cod, less than 1% by catch, be exempted completely from the effort regime. I will pursue with the EU Commission all such proposals and the suggestions made by the Deputies and I have already made a submission to the Commission, for the exclusion of the vessels with a catch of cod of less than 1%.

During the December Council, the Commission also proposed a complete closure on all whitefish fishing in the waters off Donegal. The measures would have severely impacted on our whitefish fishermen in the north west. Following intensive negotiations, a package of measures were agreed that both delivered strong conservation measures for the cod, whiting and haddock stocks in decline while facilitating the continuation of important fishing activities for the Irish fleet. I secured in particular some concessions for smaller vessels which allowed them to employ a mesh size of 110 mm rather than the 120 mm which must be used by all other vessels targeting whitefish. I fully appreciate that the change-over to larger mesh fishing gear will impact significantly on the fish catch of these vessels.

Schools Building Programme.

I appreciate the courtesy of the Ceann Comhairle's office in allowing me to raise this important matter which relates to education in the Tallaght area and specifically to the Holy Rosary national school in Ballycragh, a place Deputy McGinley will have heard of.

Somebody said to me today that it is a very difficult time to raise issues about building programmes but I wish to put on the record of the House that the Holy Rosary national school was highlighted on the "Today with Pat Kenny" programme last Monday because it has waited a long time for its building programme. The school has been raising this issue for more than 25 years and it really is time that progress was made. The school community is very much behind the campaign for the allocation of permanent school buildings on the site in Ballycragh. People point out to me they are aware of the current economic climate and that the prefabs are costing the Government, I am told, €120,000 per annum. The school and the community in general continue to urge the Government to consider once again the advantage to everybody concerned of progressing the building project.

Holy Rosary national school in Ballycragh is an amazing place in the sense that it has a very vibrant community and a very large international community. My colleagues and I have seen the worth of the work and how good they are at dealing with education in a very challenging situation.

The school board tells me it is a band 2 school and stage 3 documentation has been with the technical staff of the Department of Education and Science for more than 12 months. The board also tells me that it is very well placed to move forward and would be happy to co-operate fully with the Department in any matters relating to the building programme request. I am glad that the Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, is here and I look forward to his support in pointing out my concerns in this regard to the Minister for Education and Science.

Holy Rosary national school, Ballycragh, has 11 classrooms in a semi-permanent building and 13 prefabricated classrooms. Some 505 pupils are enrolled and there are 37 teaching staff. There are eight special needs assistants, a caretaker and a secretary. There are three adult toilets, no physical education hall, library or ancillary classrooms. A staffroom appropriate for 15 adults is accommodating three times that number. Current applications for enrolment exceed the number of places on offer. This is a developing area of south Dublin and planning permission has been granted for 3,000 houses in the immediate area.

In making a strong case for the school, I believe, without disrespect to anybody, that if it was situated in the so-called commuter belt, the clamour would have been greater and the technical staff of the Department would have been more responsive. If this was in Meath, Kildare or other commuter regions, action would have been taken. I believe that the community there is entitled to make a strong case for the school. Even in the present situation, I hope the Department will look anew at this building programme and seek innovative ways of providing permanent accommodation. That is what the community in Ballycragh deserves.

I know from my many contacts with the school board that its members have been led to believe, on a number of occasions, that the project would be expedited. Clearly, they now find themselves approaching a new school year without knowing the position.

The radio programme on Monday highlighted in a positive manner the good things that are going on in Ballycragh and the clear need for progress on the building programme. I hope that the Minister of State will convey my strong feelings on this issue and I look forward to his response. I thank the Acting Chairman for his courtesy.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Ó Concubhair agus táim ag freagairt thar ceann an Aire Parthalán Ó Caoímh.

I am happy to reply on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, the Minister for Education and Science. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the House the Department's strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the current position with regard to the building project for Holy Rosary national school, Ballycragh, in Dublin 24.

Modernising facilities in the existing building stock, as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, is a significant challenge and is one of the priorities of the Minister for Education and Science. The Government has dramatically increased investment in the school building programme to €656 million this year. This is an unprecedented level of capital investment which reflects the commitment of the Government to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools. It will underpin a particular emphasis on the delivery of additional school places in rapidly developing areas while continuing to develop on the Government's commitment to delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary accommodation throughout the country. It will also enable the purchase of sites to facilitate the smooth delivery of the school building programme, again with the focus being on site requirements in rapidly developing areas.

All applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity etc., leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners.

Projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need. This is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project. In other words, a proposed building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it. There are four band ratings overall, of which band 1 is the highest and band 4 the lowest. Band 1 projects, for example, include the provision of buildings where none currently exists, but there is a high demand for pupil places, while a band 4 project provides for desirable, but not necessarily urgent or essential, facilities, such as a library or a new sports hall. The building project for Holy Rosary national school has been assigned a band rating of 2.1 which means that the project is well positioned to progress when the necessary funding becomes available.

In relation to the Holy Rosary national school, the brief for the project is to provide for the construction of a new 24-classroom school of approximately 3,562 sq. m with three new ball courts and two junior play areas. The project is currently at an early stage of architectural planning.

The progression of all large-scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction is dependent on the prioritisation of competing demands on the funding available under the Department's capital budget. This project will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. The allocation for school buildings in 2009 is €656 million. This represents a significant investment in the school building and modernisation programme. This level of funding for the building programme, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is a sign of the real commitment of the Government to investing in school infrastructure and will permit the continuation of progress in the overall improvement of school accommodation.

I thank the Deputy again for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House how the Department intends to address the needs of Holy Rosary national school. However, in light of current economic circumstances and with competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the further progression of this project at this time.

I wish to refer to the use of funding allocated to Holy Rosary national school for temporary accommodation. This was discussed in the radio programme referred to by the Deputy. It was the current Minister who, last year, announced that schools which have been approved funding for temporary accommodation can avail of the option of using their grants either to purchase prefabs or to construct permanent classrooms for the same amount. Holy Rosary national school was approved for funding of €240,000 in 2008 for urgently required temporary accommodation. The Minister welcomes the approach taken by Holy Rosary in availing of this initiative to provide permanent classrooms within the funding allocated.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 5 March 2009.