Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 9 Apr 2014

Vol. 837 No. 2

Topical Issue Debate

Hospital Accommodation Provision

This is an extremely important issue. I am pleased to have this opportunity to raise it and I thank the Minister for Health for being present to respond to this issue.

The need for more beds to be provided in Beaumont Hospital for cystic fibrosis patients is an urgent issue. I welcome the substantial advancement of services for cystic fibrosis patients in Dublin in recent years. Along with the opening of the outpatient facility at Beaumont Hospital, a dedicated cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent's University Hospital opened in 2012, and newborn screening for the disease has been rolled out nationwide. That is very much to be welcomed.

Beaumont Hospital is one of three major centres in Ireland for adults with cystic fibrosis but currently there is a shortage of inpatient facilities for patients with the disease. I am concerned that those who require a bed may not be able to access one and may have to wait at home until one becomes available. Alternatively, patients may have to access a bed on a ward if there is no dedicated bed available, increasing the chance of infection. There are concerns that the current situation results in the most severe cases of cystic fibrosis being prioritised while those with less severe symptoms are at risk of not getting the full treatment they require, which in turn has a negative impact on their condition.

There are approximately 120 patients with cystic fibrosis attending Beaumont Hospital at present and this number is likely to increase. We know that Ireland has the highest rate of cystic fibrosis in the world, with approximately 50 new cases diagnosed each year. The incidence of the disease in Ireland is four times higher than in the US and the rest of the European Union.

Beaumont Hospital opened a new purpose-built, dedicated outpatient facility at Beaumont for patients with cystic fibrosis in 2010, enabling patients to be treated on a day-care basis. The 2,500 square foot purpose-built unit provides invaluable services to cystic fibrosis patients, including outpatient clinics, a drop-in centre for clinical assessments and the provision of treatments that would otherwise require hospitalisation, including infusions and antibiotic therapies, psychology, physiotherapy and dietetics. Thankfully, the care provided at the new centre means that fewer cystic fibrosis patients are being admitted as inpatients via the emergency department, which is helping to minimise the risk of exposure to possible sources of infection.

However, there are currently only four isolation rooms available for cystic fibrosis patients at the hospital. Isolation rooms are vitally important for cystic fibrosis patients; they contribute to better health and prolong life expectancy as there is no risk of infection from other patients in the hospital or in the room. Constituents have raised concerns with me that the four isolation rooms currently available are permanently needed and filled with patients waiting for an immediate transplant and that more beds are desperately needed.

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland has been campaigning for quite a number of years regarding the need for more beds. Its campaign, Beds for Beaumont, seeks to raise €12.5 million to provide for at least 12 inpatient isolation rooms to accommodate more patients at the hospital. I am pleased to confirm that the area manager of the HSE in north Dublin advised me recently that the HSE recognises that there is a need for more inpatient single-room accommodation for cystic fibrosis patients at Beaumont Hospital and that it is going to put forward a business case. Can the Minister advise whether this is one of his priorities and, as he represents north Dublin, that this area will be urgently examined?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. It is one in which I have had a keen interest since I first stood in Dáil, and the issue of cystic fibrosis was the first matter I raised in an Adjournment debate in this House.

The Government is acutely aware of the challenges that people with cystic fibrosis and their families face in managing their condition. It was a matter of grave concern to us all that ten years ago the average life expectancy of people with cystic fibrosis on this side of the Border was ten years less than those on the other side of the Border. Some of the factors that influenced that were the lack of newborn screening, delayed diagnosis, overcrowding in emergency departments and the lack of single en-suite rooms. We are addressing those issues and although we have not completely addressed them, we have made a good deal of progress, as the Deputy outlined in his contribution.

It is always the aim of health care professionals to avoid hospital admissions for cystic fibrosis sufferers wherever possible in order to minimise the risk of exposure to infection. Beaumont Hospital provides services to adults with cystic fibrosis in a dedicated outpatient facility which is primarily focused on providing ambulatory care to people with cystic fibrosis. The dedicated cystic fibrosis outpatient unit, to which the Deputy referred, facilitates a comprehensive range of multidisciplinary services; these include outpatient clinics, a drop-in centre for clinical assessments with medical consultants and nurses, and the provision of treatments that would otherwise require hospitalisation, such as infusions and antibiotic therapies, assessment of pulmonary function, physiotherapy, dietetics and psychology. The consultation and treatment rooms benefit from specialist air filtration systems for the purposes of infection control.

Where admissions are unavoidable, there is a need for dedicated accommodation in an environment which allows appropriate isolation for improved infection control. It is Department of Health policy that there must be sufficient inpatient beds available nationally to treat all people with cystic fibrosis who require hospitalisation in single en-suite rooms.

The Nutley Wing at St. Vincent's University Hospital, which was built at a cost of €29 million and opened in the summer of 2012, houses a dedicated cystic fibrosis unit and represents a major improvement in the care of cystic fibrosis patients in Ireland. The hospital currently treats 330 adults, which accounts for more than 50% of the cystic fibrosis adult population.

Due to the proactive management of cystic fibrosis patients through its dedicated outpatient facility, Beaumont Hospital rarely experiences emergency admissions of cystic fibrosis patients. Access to single en-suite rooms is prioritised for patients with cystic fibrosis who require elective admission for prophylactic antibiotic therapy or other treatment on St. Paul's Ward, which is the specialist respiratory ward.

In discussions with the national clinical care programme and the clinical team on site it was identified that due to the increase in numbers there is a requirement for more inpatient single rooms for Beaumont Hospital's cystic fibrosis patients. Beaumont Hospital is working through a number of options and anticipates putting forward a business case for the 2015 national service plan. This will be considered in the context of service development in the Dublin north-east hospital group. I welcome to the country Mr. Tony O'Connell, the new CEO of the group. A number of positive developments in cystic fibrosis services for the Dublin north-east hospital group are coming on stream at present, with the opening last week of a new outpatient unit in Drogheda, adjacent to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, which will treat children and young adults from Meath, Louth and north County Dublin, and the imminent official opening of an outpatient cystic fibrosis suite at Cavan General Hospital.

Thankfully, the prognosis for this rare but devastating disease has vastly improved over recent years due to significant investment in services and earlier diagnosis. I give the House my assurance that the Government is committed, along with the HSE, to continued investment in research projects and to training physicians to help people with this condition to live longer and healthier lives. We will work harder to limit the impact of this disease until such time as a cure can be found.

I thank the Minister very much for his response and his commitment in this area. He has made progress, but more progress is needed, which will no doubt require more money in due course. I am here to make the case that extra isolation room beds are needed as soon as possible. At present, 120 patients with cystic fibrosis attend Beaumont Hospital and best practice is that isolation room beds for 10% of this number, which is 12, should be provided at Beaumont Hospital. This is an international rule of thumb. I accept the fact that the HSE is examining this and will include it in its 2015 national service plan, and that it recognises that four beds are not enough when it should be three times this number.

There is an issue with regard to the fact that patients here have a shorter life expectancy than elsewhere. No doubt this can be examined further. Improvements and more isolation beds are needed. I ask the Minister to respond by saying he is committed to increasing the number of beds from four. It would be very much appreciated.

To respond to the final matter raised by the Deputy, of course we are very much committed to a new strategic development on how Beaumont Hospital is organised and the paucity of single beds in the hospital as a whole. It was built in the 1980s but with a plan hailing from the 1950s and 1960s. It is in need of modernisation. No modern hospital would be built on the basis of big open wards. It would comprise mostly private rooms, as we intend in the new national paediatric hospital. I apologise - I meant single rooms, not private rooms, and these single rooms would be en-suite. More rooms are available in Beaumont Hospital but they are not dedicated solely to cystic fibrosis sufferers.

I accept that it is extremely worrying for people who have cystic fibrosis and their families that if their condition is exacerbated they must sit in an emergency department. Last week I met representatives of the clinical programmes, Mr. Philip Watt from Cystic Fibrosis Ireland and Professor Gerry McElvaney and discussed examining an improved patient flow mechanism so patients do not have to go through the emergency department.

I have not mentioned to date the decision of the Government to make available the new drug Kalydeco, which, for particular genotypes of cystic fibrosis sufferers, has proven to be a bit of a wonder drug. Last week I met a young lady who has been on the drug for over a year. In this period of time she has not been hospitalised on a single occasion. Normally in a given year she would have been hospitalised at least three times for an average of two weeks on each occasion. The improvement in her quality of life has been phenomenal. There is also an improvement from the taxpayer's point of view with regard to saved admissions. The drug is very expensive - there is no question about this - but it works for those for whom it is suitable, and genotyping means we know those who will benefit most from it. This will change what is now seen as best practice with regard to the number of single en-suite beds required for patients with cystic fibrosis, as will further developing community facilities, because, as I stated, the aim is to keep patients with susceptibility to infection, such as those with cystic fibrosis, out of hospital if at all possible and reduce their exposure to harmful pathogens which are, sadly, always in our hospitals to a greater or lesser extent.

Schools Anti-Bullying Procedures

I am grateful for this opportunity and I welcome the fact that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, has come to the House to respond. As he is aware, the Meitheal programme in Wexford commenced in 1997 as a pilot scheme in New Ross CBS, when 12 students from the school were chosen to be Meitheal leaders. At the time it was funded by the local Lions club. Since then the Meitheal programme has expanded to cater for 21 schools throughout the county. It is a programme that enables students to take responsibility for the happiness of others and the safety and well-being of all who share the school environment.

The programme is advertised among senior students, who are invited to become leaders. All applicants are interviewed and this is followed by a selection process. The training programme operates during the summer before the students return to school in September. The programme covers personal development, identity, self-esteem, communication skills, listening skills, assertiveness skills, group dynamics, group management and many other skills necessary for the students to develop if the programme is to be successful. After training the students return to their respective schools as sixth years and each is made responsible for a number of incoming first years. It is then the task of the Meitheal leaders to ensure the smooth transition of these first years into the school, and they must be able and available to assist them in any way necessary during the first few days and during the year. The Meitheal programme has been very successful and I have attended a number of awards ceremonies, which are held at the end of the year and are a highlight of the year. The students are very involved on a day-to-day basis.

In recent months I have received numerous letters from former Meitheal leaders, first years who availed of the programme and teachers expressing serious concern about the withdrawal of funding, particularly from schools outside DEIS areas. They feel that as the programme has been so successful in County Wexford, funding should be made available not only in Wexford but throughout the country. I find it very difficult to accept that the Minister would withdraw this funding. It is not a huge amount of money but it is very important to ensure that the 21 schools in County Wexford continue to avail of the scheme.

I have copies of many of the letters sent to the Minister and his office.

One letter states:

I am writing to you because I am concerned that the budget of Meitheal is being cut. I would really appreciate if you took the time to read my letter because I think you need to know how important it is to have a Meitheal leader when coming into secondary school. I am currently a student in the Presentation Secondary. I started first year in August last year. I found it hard to settle in but then I found that the Meitheal leaders were very helpful and very supportive and enabled me to settle down much better in the school.

Both the Minister and I have been receiving letters like this. He should reconsider this decision. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, comes from Wexford and I am sure he would make available the additional few shillings to the Minister to enable the funding to continue in County Wexford for the Meitheal programme. The first allocation of moneys to this important programme from the Government was given by Mary Hanafin in December 2001. In fairness to all successive Ministers thereafter, they have continued to make available the funding.

I have found it difficult to find a home for the Meitheal programme, because the office of the Minister, Deputy Quinn, referred me to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and that Minister then referred me to another office to deal with the programme. I reiterate that it is a very important programme that requires a continuation of its funding, and I ask the Minister to reconsider the position.

I thank Deputy Browne for raising this matter. I can confirm my Department provided funding of €40,000 to the Meitheal programme in December 2011. The Meitheal programme has not received any funding from the Department since that date. The programme previously was allocated funding through the fund for the development of targeted educational responses to certain children at risk between 2000, the millennium year, and 2010. This source of funding was discontinued following a decision in budget 2009. The programme received funding as an interim measure in December 2010 and, as I stated, it also received funding in December 2011 as an exceptional measure to allow for the period up to the end of the 2011-12 school year.

As has been noted, the Meitheal programme began in 1997 as a pilot scheme at CBS secondary school in New Ross. It is a training programme for students at senior level in secondary schools. In this programme, students are trained to become mentors for incoming students at junior level. It is a programme based on peer respect between students and one that enables students to take responsibility for the happiness of others and for the safety and well-being of all who share a school environment. The programme is advertised among senior students who are invited to become Meitheal leaders in their respective schools. All applicants are interviewed and a selection is then made. The students who are chosen to become Meitheal leaders undergo a training programme in the summer prior to their return to school the following September. This training programme covers a number of areas including personal development, identity, self-esteem, communication skills, listening skills, assertiveness skills, group dynamics and group management. After their training, the students return to their respective schools as sixth-year students and each is given responsibility for a number of incoming first-year students.

The Meitheal programme works with 21 post-primary schools in County Wexford. Of these 21 post-primary schools, eight currently are participating in the DEIS programme. I must tell the Deputy and other Members that at a time of severely reduced resources, priorities must be decided, and the Department continues to target enhanced resources to the disadvantaged under its DEIS programme and to pupils with special needs. As the Meitheal programme mainly operates within non-DEIS schools, it simply is not possible to provide financial support, as funding is prioritised to other areas.

The programme was evaluated by the evaluation support and research unit of the Department in conjunction with the inspectorate of the regional directorate in 2009. While the evaluation was positive towards the programme in its findings, the discontinuation of the fund for the development of targeted educational responses to certain children at risk, together with the requirement to achieve significant budgetary targets to bring public expenditure down to a sustainable level, mean that no funding strand is available for the Meitheal programme. Meitheal was advised in January 2012 that no further funding could be made to the programme due to the discontinuation of the children at risk fund.

While I thank the Minister for his reply, I am very disappointed by his negative attitude towards the funding. It is held widely that when the aforementioned evaluation was conducted, those involved recommended strongly that this programme was very worthwhile and should continue. I again ask the Minister to reconsider the position because in every letter I have received from the principals of the 21 schools concerned, they all have referred to the fact of bullying in schools, about which all Members are concerned. The principals have stated that the Meitheal programme has led to a reduction in bullying-type behaviour and has added to the well-being of school first-year students during the transition from primary to secondary school. The principals state that the programme has advanced to the stage whereby students who have been at its receiving end now aspire to be Meitheal leaders. This programme costs little in the greater scheme of things but delivers so much in terms of the well-being of students. I ask the Minister, even at this late hour, to reconsider and have a rethink on this matter and to ascertain what can be done to provide at least some of the funding the programme received in the past. It would be a pity for the scheme to be abolished because of the small amount of moneys successive Ministers have been making available to it down through the years. The Minister should think again of the importance of this programme, as well as the tremendous work that has been done on the programme on a voluntary basis, both by the Meitheal leaders and by the teachers, who must not be forgotten. The teachers concerned have bought into the Meitheal programme and have given many hours outside their normal teaching hours to make sure it was a success throughout County Wexford. I therefore ask the Minister to reconsider the position.

I regret that I am unable to respond to the Deputy as positively as I would wish. I understand this was a pilot project that, as the Deputy has noted, has been very successful in County Wexford. However, were one to multiply that by the other counties to which, in terms of equity, it must be applied in order to implement it on a national scale, it would cost much more than €40,000. Quite frankly, the Government is still facing a difficult budget. While people's memories may be somewhat short, the legacy of Fianna Fáil's economic collapse is still very real. Deputy Browne can shake his head all he wishes.

The Government has been in office for three years.

It will be another three years before we are out of it, but for some people whose lives have been ruined, the damage is permanent. The Deputy can shake his head for as long as he wishes. Money simply is not available in the form under discussion and one simply must consider other resources. I am facing an extremely challenging budget in the coming year and have had difficulties in previous years. It would be very easy for me to stand up à la Fianna Fáil, which did this for years, and simply state that the money will be found for the Deputy, that the Deputy will be all right on the day and so on.

It is a very small amount of money.

Yes, it is a small amount of money, until one multiplies it by every school in the country, and then it becomes a couple of million euro. There are schools that are running similar programmes, and one must learn how to do things. The culture of dependency on a grant for this and extra cash for that was characteristic of Fianna Fáil from 1997 until the collapse. The party would throw money at a problem to try to buy votes and get a result, but ultimately it lost all the votes it had and left a legacy of destruction around the country. I suggest that the lessons learned from the Meitheal programme could possibly be explored in a more modest way in the Wexford area, and I will tell the Deputy the reason I believe this would be worthwhile. The conventional thinking in the note prepared for me is to concentrate on DEIS schools. In fact, however, the majority of people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are actually outside DEIS schools, and this is a unique attribute of the scheme to which the Deputy referred.

There may be alternative proposals that can encompass some of the principles and ideas contained within the Meitheal programme, which is a good scheme, and which do not necessarily require money. I note the presence of buddy systems in other schools that do not cost money. There are ways in which the leadership and pastoral care potential of students can be enhanced that do not cost money. While one should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, the money simply is not there. As for the old-style Fianna Fáil attitude of finding money and throwing it at people in the hope that it will stick, or whatever, that option simply is not around any more, be it in education, health or elsewhere. We must find ways of working within our own resources, which remain limited.

I understand Deputy Harrington intends to defer the Topical Issue matter in his name.

Yes. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State present, but the issue demands the presence of the senior Minister because it is a technical fisheries issue.

I ask the Deputy to propose that.

With the co-operation of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I propose that the issue be deferred. As it is a technical fisheries issue, I ask that the senior Minister deal with it.

I thank the Deputy.

If I may clarify, I understand the Minister will be available next Tuesday.

Foreshore Issues

Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, b'fhéidir, tá imní ar phobail an chósta i gConamara agus ar an gcósta thiar faoi chearta bainte feamainne. Bhí mé i láthair ag cruinniú mór poiblí i Leitir Mór Dé Domhnaigh seo caite agus ag ceann eile le Joe Curran ar a raibh tinreamh maith i Ros Muc Dé Luain.

Tá an imní faoin gceist seo cloiste ar Raidió na Gaeltachta agus ar TG4, mar thoradh ar chás a tuairiscíodh sna meáin inar cuireadh in aghaidh duine áitiúil faoin Acht Urthrá. Tá imní ar go leor daoine i gConamara, a bhfuil a slí bheatha bunaithe ar an gcleachtas traidisiúnta seo, faoina bhfuil i ndán dóibh anois. Tá sé soiléir, cé go bhfuil reachtaíocht ann chun bailiúchán ón urthrá a rialú, nach ndearnadh aon fhormhíniú riamh air agus nár cuireadh córas ceart rialaithe i bhfeidhm. Chomh maith leis sin, tá a fhios againn go bhfuil Arramara Teoranta, comhlacht Gaeltachta, tar éis ceadúnas urthrá a lorg chun feamainn a bhailiú. Anuas ar sin, tá Údarás na Gaeltachta, ar leis Arramara, tar éis socrú a dhéanamh an comhlacht a dhíol le hinfheisteoir as Ceanada. D'fhéadfadh sé tarlú gur i lámha príobháideacha a thitfeadh an ceadúnas.

Tá go leor ceisteanna eile ann, mar shampla, an seasamh dlíthiúil maidir le cearta fóilió na n-úinéirí talún, an deis atá ann comharchumann a bhunú leis an gceadúnas a bhainistiú, an féidir go dtabharfaí an t-achar céanna do dhá cheadúnas, agus mar sin de. Mar gheall ar an imní atá léirithe ag na hoibrithe i gConamara, táim ag iarraidh ar an Aire Stáit agus ar an Roinn dul i dteagmháil leis na páirtithe leasmhara chun dul i ngleic leis na ceisteanna seo, ar mhaithe leo sin a bhí agus atá fós ag saothrú an chladaigh ar an mbealach traidisiúnta.

As the Minister of State may be aware, there are significant concerns among coastal communities in Connemara about the traditional right to collect seaweed. I attended a large public meeting in Rosmuc last Monday evening, along with our candidate, Joe Curran, and also in Leitir Mór on Sunday evening. These concerns have been heard on Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4. They concern an enforcement order against an individual under the Foreshore Acts 1933 to 2012 which was reported in the media. Many people in Connemara have made their livelihood out of collecting seaweed and selling it to various seaweed processing companies. Seaweed is used to produce many different products and it has become a sought-after commodity. While it is clear that legislation governs the collection of material from the foreshore, it has never been elaborated upon, put into practice or enacted in a proper way in these locations where small sole traders operate in the collection of seaweed. It is a family tradition that has been passed down through the generations in many cases.

Arramara Teoranta is a company in the Gaeltacht which has sought a foreshore licence for the collection of seaweed in much of Connemara. As it is anticipated that this company will be sold to a Canadian investor, it is feared that the licence to collect seaweed on the foreshore will be taken from those who traditionally work there and will pass to a private foreign investor.

Other issues include the legal standing of folio rights in the possession of landowners, the possibility of setting up a co-op to manage the licences, and whether two licences may be granted in the same area, one to traditional operators and one to a commercial entity.

I am not asking for an immediate response from the Minister of State but I ask for the goodwill of the Department and of the Minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, who has responsibility for Arramara Teoranta through Údarás na Gaeltachta. I ask that Ministers work with the stakeholders in order to find a solution that eases the concerns they have raised.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta as an cheist thábhachtach seo a ardú. I understand that concerns have arisen recently with regard to seaweed harvesting and that these concerns may be associated with changes in the governance of Arramara Teoranta. While this is a matter for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I am advised that it is expected that the sale of Údarás na Gaeltachta's shares in Arramara will benefit the State through a cash consideration to Údarás na Gaeltachta, through a significant investment in Arramara, and through the future development of the seaweed sector with a consequent increase in economic activity.

My Department plays a role in regulating the harvesting of wild seaweed, and it is necessary that this valuable resource be managed appropriately to ensure it remains sustainable and that the marine environment is protected. The Foreshore Act 1933 prohibits the removal of "beach material" from any area of the foreshore. The definition of "beach material" in the Act includes seaweed, whether growing or rooted on the seashore or deposited or washed up by the action of tides, winds or waves. Seaweed that has been washed above the high water mark no longer belongs to the State. Under the Act, individuals or companies seeking to harvest wild seaweed from the foreshore require a foreshore licence from my Department. This requirement to hold a foreshore licence for seaweed harvesting has existed since the enactment of the Foreshore Act 1933. I understand, however, that folio rights may exist in certain cases and that deeds to privately owned land adjacent to the foreshore may, in some instances, grant limited harvesting rights. My Department is seeking advice on how such rights interact with the legislation.

While private individuals may have been taking seaweed in small quantities for personal use, harvesting large quantities which might damage the seaweed crop in a particular area or have adverse effects on the marine environment is something that Ireland needs to avoid. Seaweed is a valuable resource and in recent years has become a growth industry, with seaweed now also being used as an ingredient in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, organic food and animal health supplements.

A number of foreshore licence applications for seaweed harvesting have been received by my Department and are currently under assessment. These applications vary considerably and are made by both individual and commercial harvesters. I am acutely conscious of the need to strike a balance between protection of our national resources and the avoidance of an excessively bureaucratic or burdensome regulatory system.

All foreshore licence applications are subject to a public consultation process, and any person may submit comments to my Department. I would encourage any person who may have concerns about any aspect of a foreshore licence application to make those concerns known to my Department during the public consultation phase of the application.

Mar a dúirt mé cheana, tá a lán ceisteanna le freagairt agus luaigh an tAire Stáit sin sa fhreagra. Táim ag iarraidh uirthi cruinniú a eagrú le Teachtaí Dála as Gaillimh Thiar chun caint faoi na fadhbanna agus faoin imní atá ar an bpobal.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I acknowledge that the remit of her Department only covers part of the matter. The Department is seeking legal advice as to its obligations. I ask if the Minister of State would agree to meet Members from the Galway West constituency who have attended these meetings and if Deputy Dinny McGinley, the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, could be invited to the meeting in order to be given a holistic view on this issue which would result in a productive working group to air these issues. The practice of collecting seaweed and the foreshore legislation have been in place for many years. As the situation evolves, the structures may need to change. Many families and individuals have engaged in this way of life for years. I ask the Minister of State to agree to a meeting with Members from Galway West, and I ask her to invite her colleague Deputy McGinley to attend the meeting. Such a meeting would air these issues so that the Government is seen to work with these communities and not against them.

I am very aware of the legitimate public concern about these issues. I have no problem with having a meeting. I will consult with the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, as to his responsibilities. I am sure we will be able to facilitate a meeting in the near future.

The Government has approved the general scheme of the maritime area and foreshore (amendment) Bill, and it is planned to amend and update the 1933 legislation.

There will be consultation on that issue also. The specific issue of the licensing of seaweed harvesting will be under review in the context of the Bill. In terms of what will happen in the future, that is a context in which we can work productively. The heads of the Bill have been approved, but its drafting is ongoing. Realistically, it will be the end of the year before it is brought forward, although I realise an issue will arise in the meantime. I would not have a problem with having a meeting and as such, we will see if we can facilitate one as soon as possible.

Sitting suspended at 2.32 p.m. and resumed at 2.42 p.m.