Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 7 Jul 2015

Vol. 886 No. 2

Topical Issue Debate

Services for People with Disabilities

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the appalling cases of young adults with physical and intellectual disabilities who are being denied services because of a lack of funding. I am referring in the main to Gheel Autism Services in Dublin 3, but I have also heard of cuts to services at St. Michael's House, Baldoyle, and other disability services nationally. I ask the Minister what exactly is going on. Where is all the talk of equality and social inclusion while services are being ripped apart? There may be no services for many of these physically and intellectually disabled young adults in September. Imagine TCD or UCD students were treated in such a manner. Imagine third level students were told in such a way that there would be no services for them in the autumn. There would, rightly, be uproar.

Today, we must focus on providing services at Gheel Autism Services in Fairview, Dublin 3. We seem to be able to find the money for increases for politicians and for increases in the pensions of former Ministers. In particular, I refer to a case that was notified to me by a parent. She wrote to me with regard to her daughter who has just graduated from St. Paul's special school for children with autism in Beaumont and who was listed to commence an adult placement in September with Gheel Autism Services in Fairview. A number of parents were called to a meeting with the director of Gheel Autism Services on Tuesday, 13 June. They were informed that due to insufficient funding from the HSE, Gheel Autism Services would be unable to offer placements to their children in September. He also said the board of Gheel Autism Services was not prepared to offer unsafe services to new clients. It is an impossible situation for that parent to leave her daughter at home to regress after all the progress that has been made. It is simply not an option. I ask the Minister to listen to the parents. There were 28 parents at the meeting to which I have referred and many of them are very upset and distressed. Another parent approached me who was affected by cuts to services at St. Michael's House, Baldoyle. That parent received notification of receiving a ten-day support service through July and August which is a total breach of an agreement that was made with parents. Last year, the parent received support services for over three weeks in July and for the second half of August, which amounted to approximately 40 days in total. That is a reduction of 66% in services. As such, the Minister must listen to these families very carefully.

The chief executive of Gheel Autism Services has responded to the HSE in relation to the insufficient funds allocated to meet needs and to ensure the service is in a financial position to provide quality, safe services for the sons and daughters of these families on a full-time basis. The timeframe of 1 September is incredibly tight to guarantee the commencement of day services. The service providers are saying they will endeavour to work towards this deadline but there are a number of confounding factors which must be considered. There is a further problem in that the rental market in Dublin is highly competitive currently. I urge the Minister to listen to these parents of young adults with intellectual and physical disabilities who deserve the services as a right.

I thank Deputy Finian McGrath for raising this issue. I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is abroad on Government business.

The Health Service Executive allocates funding to Gheel Autism Services under section 39 of the Health Act 2004 on foot of a service agreement, which is reviewed on an annual basis. In 2014, the agency received funding of €6 million from the HSE for a range of services, including day, residential, respite and outreach services for adults with autism.

I understand that the funding issue raised by the Deputy has been highlighted by the need to provide new placements for young people with disabilities leaving school this year. In that context, full-year funding of €12 million was announced in the HSE's national service plan 2015 to meet the cost of providing new placements for school leavers and those graduating from rehabilitative training programmes this year. Some €6 million of this funding is available in 2015 and is being allocated to community health care organisation areas to meet identified needs in line with the HSE's policy on day services for adults with a disability, as outlined in the New Directions report. An additional €1.5 million has since been added by the HSE to the overall allocation, making a total of €13.5 million full-year costs to meet the needs of this cohort of young people.

The HSE is working closely with Gheel Autism Services and has assured me that it has recently been informed that it is being allocated €708,000 to provide placements for 24 young people from 1 September. I understand that Gheel has indicated to the HSE that it does not believe that this funding is sufficient to cover the cost of leasing suitable premises for five hubs needed to accommodate these 24 young people.

The HSE is very aware of the challenges faced by some service providers who may not have the physical capacity within their existing services to accommodate the new intake of school leavers in 2015 but are actively seeking appropriate accommodation to enable a service to commence this year. The HSE has been engaging locally and nationally with these providers, including Gheel, and will continue to work with them to resolve these issues.

In this context, a further €1.5 million once-off capital funding is being allocated by the HSE for the provision of suitable buildings, premises and accommodation. The HSE has invited applications from all service providers, including Gheel, who wish to avail of this funding and its decision on capital allocations will be notified to providers in a matter of days.

The HSE recognises the valuable contribution Gheel Autism Services provides to people with autism, their families and carers. I am assured that the HSE remains committed to working with all voluntary disability service providers, including Gheel, to ensure that the resources available for specialist disability services, including services for school leavers, are used in the most effective manner possible.

I accept the fact that the Minister stated in his reply: "I understand that Gheel has indicated to the HSE ... [that the funding is insufficient] to cover the cost of leasing suitable premises for five hubs needed to accommodate these 24 young people." He has accepted that they have a major problem. Does he accept that the HSE has offered funding at a level that is at least 50% lower than what was assessed on a needs basis by the Gheel service providers? Is he aware that Gheel carried out an in-depth study on the needs of each new service user and its own funding requirements in order to meet its capacity deficits to cater for the growth in autism referrals? This seems to have been ignored by the HSE. It is a simple mathematics exercise to correct the provision of a service.

The HSE issued the New Directions policy in 2012, setting out what is the appropriate model of care for those with special needs and a separate policy document setting out the required provision for people with autism but it has left funding woefully short in contradiction of these new policy commitments. This is the first year in which adequate funding is not being provided. I cannot accept an inferior service to that of previous years for other school leavers. This means that school leavers, in particular, in previous years had the provision of a full service. It is the service provided to the children specifically that is being threatened. That is blatant discrimination.

The HSE has known about the number of school leavers in 2015 for many years, via primary school returns and the national intellectual disability database, and it has not done any planning to cater for the increase in the number despite recent policy documents stating otherwise. I would make the point again that if these were third level students in Trinity or UCD they would have an automatic access to such a service in the autumn, but this is not happening for young people with intellectual disability and that is blatant discrimination.

Based on the speech the Deputy made earlier, he was claiming that some sorts of cuts have been made. As I outlined, an additional €12 million has been provided for a full year in the national service plan, €1.5 million has been added to that and €6 million is available 2015, which is being allocated to the community health care organisation areas. Rather than cuts, additional money is being made available.

In this particular case, €708,000 is being made available to provide new placements for 24 young people from 1 September. On a rough calculation, that is nearly 30,000 per client for four months, therefore, €30,000 is being provided for a four-month placement. It may well be the case that the organisation concerned believes that is insufficient and it may well be correct or it may not be correct. However, what needs to happen is an engagement involving the HSE managers on the ground who know that service well and know similar services well and who can work out whether it is practicable for that organisation to deliver that service for the amount of money that has been allocated, which is substantial.

Company Closures

This topical issue is in the names of Deputies Seamus Healy and Mattie McGrath. I understand that they wish to share some of their time with Deputy Lowry.

That is correct.

The announcement of the closure of the William Grant and Sons' facility in Clonmel last Thursday was a cruel blow to the 50 workers and their families. This company had a dedicated workforce who worked hard over the years at this facility and this closure has come as a shock to them. It is a big blow also to the town of Clonmel and the surrounding area. This closure is a concern because it is part of a pattern of job losses in Tipperary over the last period, including the significant reduction in jobs at the Cantrell & Cochrane, C&C, site, the Bulmers plant, which is also the site of the location of the Grant's facility. There has been significant job losses there, an undermining of terms and conditions of employment and the transfer of production from the site. There has also been job losses - some 12 jobs - at Gleeson's in Borrisoleigh, another C&C facility, and 20 job losses nationally in administration and sales in C&C. There was a significant loss of 200 jobs at Intellicom in Clonmel in the recent past and also the closure of the Fairgreen supermarket in Carrick-on-Suir.

Last Friday, Oireachtas Members from south Tipperary met the company, Grant's, and a number of disturbing elements arose, particularly the fact that the company had not made contact with the Minister's Department or with any jobs agencies either locally or nationally. Also, the jobs agencies under the Minister's Department have given the company grants to build a distillery in Tullamore. In other words, the Government has subsidised the transfer of jobs from Clonmel to Tullamore and, worse still, the Minister's Department took no steps to ensure the continuation of production of Tullamore Dew or an alternative product at the Clonmel facility. What steps will the Minister take now to ensure that this closure is averted and that those jobs are saved?

I also appeal to the Minister to get involved in south Tipperary. Some 6,452 people are unemployed in south Tipperary and 7,995 people are unemployed in north Tipperary. The blow of the loss of these jobs to Clonmel is huge. I compliment the employees in Grant's, wish them well and also sympathise with them. Grant's has moved from Clonmel. Action is needed now to work on developing opportunities in other areas.

I appeal to the Minister, who is sitting beside his Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, to stop the nonsense of his Cabinet colleague who, as we find today, is going around the globe, out in the United Nations. He is like an apostle. He might even go to Rome altogether and announce in the Vatican that he has found employment for Cashel. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, is working with all of us to try to fill the Johnson & Johnson factory in Cashel. We do not need Allah coming along and telling us that he has it filled and wheeling out a former ambassador to back up his claim. This is ridiculous. I appeal to the Minister and his colleagues to reign in this desperate Minister. That is what he is because, as I said last week, he would turn up for the opening of a can of Coke. He is insisting on boards of management opening schools. He is ringing the schools and giving them misinformation.

His colleagues should rein him in and tell him to cop on to himself. This is a serious business we are in, and he should not be making high profile statements.

I ask the Minister to clarify the position regarding the former Johnson & Johnson plant in Cashel. Last February, the IDA and the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, announced that this plant had been purchased. Today, we had an announcement on Tipp FM by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, that it had been purchased and that it would reopen under new ownership with the provision of jobs. All of us in Tipperary have been making representations to the IDA about this plant and we were encouraged by the response we got from the IDA, but I would like the Minister to clarify whether the negotiations are ongoing or whether they have been completed. How many jobs does he expect will prevail in the former Johnson & Johnson plant in Cashel?

I thank the Deputies for raising the matter. I am very conscious that the announcement of a possible transfer of the operation in Clonmel by the company creates problems for the workers there, and my first thoughts are with those workers and their families, as well as the members of the local community, who have received this very difficult news.

I understand the company concerned was started in 1886 in Scotland and is still family owned. The company is the third largest producer of Scotch whisky. The company made a strategic decision to broaden its spirits portfolio beyond Scotch and, in 2010, bought the Clonmel based spirits business of C&C. This comprised the brands of Tullamore Dew, Carolan's Irish Cream liquor and Irish Mist. It subsequently sold the last two to Campari. This gave the company the Tullamore Dew brand and production, and it is enabled by long-term agreements with other whiskey suppliers. This was always going to be a temporary arrangement as, long-term, the company would not rely on direct competitors for whiskey. The company continued to bottle Tullamore Dew on the C&C site in Clonmel. In addition, a co-packing arrangement was included on the Clonmel site bottling Carolan's Irish Cream liquor and Irish Mist liquor.

The company subsequently decided to set up its own distillery. The first phase, completed in late 2014, is for a malt and unmalted distillery at a total investment of €35 million. I am aware that the second phase to build a grain distillery is currently under way. I understand that the activities concerning Tullamore Dew, which historically have been located in Clonmel, will now be transferred to Tullamore and integrated into the new distillery facility.

The co-packing arrangement was reviewed in September 2014 and the company lost the contract. The notice to terminate will take effect from September 2015. There are 50 jobs concerned and redeployment to Tullamore, as well as the timing of the relocation of businesses, is now subject to discussions with employees. On completion of the distillery and supporting service in Tullamore, it is estimated that the employment will grow on that site from a base of 66 in 2014 to 107 by 2019.

I should point out that the company reiterates that it has consistently communicated with its employees about the long-term future of the business.

In regard to any possible job losses, Ireland has a robust suite of employment rights legislation which offers extensive protections to employees. The National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, is mandated to ensure compliance with employment rights and it will be available to assist workers. The Workplace Relations Commission can be contacted as well in terms of assistance and any workers who need support will have access to the State agencies concerned.

I can assure the Deputies that on the wider front employment in the county and the region has been very much to the fore. As they know, I decided earlier this year that we would develop regional action plans in all of our eight regions. I will be working on an action plan, both for the mid-west and the south east, as a part of that. We have put significant resources into that, and we are working with all stakeholders on the ground - chambers of commerce, agencies and education bodies - to ensure we get the very best ideas. The Deputies will be aware that competitive calls have been made, and the local enterprise office is an area from which competitive calls can be made.

In respect of the issue raised by Deputy Lowry, I am aware of reports in the media that the former J&J factory in Clonmel has been sold to a United States pharmaceutical company. As the Deputy knows, this was not an IDA site. It was owned by J&J, and there have been a series of deals. IDA has been actively involved with all of the owners seeking to ensure that the best outcome would be secured for the prospect of bringing jobs to the site after the J&J closure. That continues to be the case. The IDA will work with the new owners but for reasons of commercial confidentiality, I am not at liberty to give any details of discussions that may be going on with the new owners. This is a very competitive business. No deal is ever done until it is finalised, and the IDA will work with the new owner to try to secure a good outcome for the area.

The unemployment rate in Tipperary is 18.5%, almost double the national average. In the past three years, there was a net loss of 321 IDA jobs in the county. All towns in Tipperary have been excluded from the building of advanced factories and offices by the IDA. Tipperary is not getting its fair share of investment and job creation.

The Minister's Department and the jobs agencies have been aware since 2012 that the Tullamore Dew facility at Clonmel was to cease operations. Effectively, he subsidised the transfer of jobs to Tullamore by way of giving grants for the distillery. In the current circumstances, will the Minister at least set up a jobs task force for the county to ensure that Tipperary gets its fair share of jobs investment into the future?

I am happy with the Minister's honesty about Cashel. This is too serious a situation for elected representatives in Tipperary to be playing political football with it and travelling to Geneva, Hong Kong or wherever and making these announcements. I am talking about the Minister, Deputy Kelly. We need to respect the people who are unemployed. We need to support the small businesses in Tipperary which are giving employment. We have serious worries about C&C in Clonmel and Gleesons. We have issues and we should sit down, negotiate and support the families, the workers and self-employed people in Tipperary. We are lucky to have the farming industry. I hope something comes to Cashel but eaten bread is soon forgotten, and I will not believe anything until I see jobs in place there. Whatever the Minister, Deputy Kelly, says is poppycock.

I appreciate what the Minister said in regard to Cashel, the necessity for confidentiality and the space and time for the IDA to conclude its negotiations with Amneal, the Jersey-based company. I ask the Minister to keep an observant eye on that and make sure that negotiations are concluded satisfactorily.

I can assure the Deputies that I am absolutely committed to developing a balanced spread of employment throughout the country. It is encouraging to see that, for the first time, Tipperary has seen employment growth across our agencies - IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprises offices - and 260 additional people are at work in Tipperary in 2014 as a result of their efforts. That is a start, and we need to build on that.

In terms of unemployment, it has come down by close to 3,000 in Tipperary. That is in sharp contrast to the previous period when 11,000 extra people became unemployed. We are making some progress. The decline in unemployment is around 17% in the county but I am very keen that more progress would be made, and that is the reason we have established the regional enterprise strategy. That gives the Deputies but also various stakeholders in the region an opportunity to become involved in developing proposals, and competitive calls are being made to assist people.

To respond to Deputy Healy, the provision of support for the development of a distillery is not about displacing work elsewhere. This is a valuable asset that this country needs. There is a strong resurgence of distilleries here. For 100 years not a single distillery had been opened, and now there are close to 25 either in planning or being opened. It is a significant opportunity to use native grown material to develop a strong branded product that is inherent to our country and, therefore, it is something worth promoting. It is disappointing to see jobs lost in any situation but I assure the Deputy that the grants provided to support a distillery is not to displace people elsewhere.

I thank Deputy Lowry for his encouragement. I assure him that my determination is to see a good outcome.

It was very disappointing when J&J pulled out of the business there. It was quite unexpected, it being such a significant player here. J&J is a tremendous investor in Ireland. It has disposed of this plant but I am hopeful we will be able to work on this.

Local Authority Boundaries Review

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the establishment by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, of the Carlow boundary committee, the terms of reference of which is to review the county boundary between Laois and Carlow. The title of the committee, namely, the Carlow boundary committee, gives the game away.

I am calling on the Minister, Deputy Kelly, to abandon this process now and not cause unnecessary divisions on a matter long since closed. There is no need for this to be done. I am strongly critical of the Minister opening up this debate and allowing for unnecessary divisions at local level between people who live close to the boundary between Laois and Carlow. Laois and Carlow counties work excellently as good local neighbours. Good local neighbours should not be encroaching on each other's areas. There is no reason for this to be done.

I have previously instanced another example of this in my own constituency. The River Barrow runs through Laois and Carlow and is the county boundary for much of the area, although not the entire area. Further up, the River Barrow runs through the town of Portarlington, part of which is in County Laois and the other part of which is in County Offaly. There is never a problem in dealing with Portarlington issues because both councils work excellently as good neighbours for the good of Portarlington. The same approach should be taken in relation to the area known as Graiguecullen, which is part of County Laois but adjacent to Carlow town. The two counties can work excellently as good neighbours, as they have always done.

My question for the Minister is: who, or what, is behind this move to change the county boundary for no good reason? We will do all in our power to stop this happening. I do not want to hear about opportunities for people to make representations to the boundary committee as this process should not go ahead. It should be closed down. Nobody in County Laois has asked for this to be done. We want to know why the Minister will not leave well enough alone.

As I have already stated, the terms of reference mention the Carlow boundary committee. They also state that if there are to be changes to the county boundaries the impact of this on the municipal district of Carlow must be taken into account. However, there is no mention in the terms of reference of the impact of any proposed change to the county boundaries on the municipal district of County Laois. If part of Laois is moved into County Carlow, this will impact on the Graigueullen-Portarlington municipal district in County Laois. There is no mention in the terms of reference of the part of Laois that will be affected. I will challenge the Minister in regard to biased terms of reference that are not objective in that they reference only changes to the municipal district in Carlow. It is not possible to change the Portarlington-Graiguecullen municipal district boundary between Laois and Carlow without impacting on the Portarlington or Graiguecullen-Portarlington municipal district.

The Minister of State, Deputy English, is well aware of what is involved in this regard given the moves to change the county boundary between Drogheda and Meath. The same is happening in Waterford in terms of Waterford wanting to take over part of south Kilkenny. Counties can work well enough together but why is the Minister setting neighbours against each other for no good reason? I want to know who is behind this proposal? For as long as I have been a Deputy, this has been a live issue. It comes up every five years and eventually goes away. I intend to get to the bottom of what group of officials resurrects this issue every five years after it has been put to bed. This is not necessary. Counties Carlow and Laois are good neighbours and they want to remain so. Good neighbours should not be encroaching on each other's area. The Minister should stop this process now.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, who sends his apologies for being unable to take this debate. I thank Deputy Fleming for the opportunity to update the House on this matter.

As Members are aware, on 19 June last, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, announced the establishment of statutory committees to review local government boundaries in Athlone, Carlow, Drogheda and Waterford. In the case of Carlow, the committee has been asked to carry out a review of the boundary between County Carlow and County Laois and to make recommendations with respect to that boundary and any consequential recommendations to the area of the municipal district of Carlow that it considers to be necessary in the interests of effective and convenient local government.

The main rationale for undertaking the review of boundaries in Carlow is that there is a significant overspill of population into County Laois, based on the population figures taken from the 2011 census. The logic of a boundary alteration, if recommended, would be to bring the administrative jurisdictions into line with the current settlement and development position. Bringing an entire town or city within a single local authority area eliminates anomalies and distortions of divided administration, service provision, regulatory and enforcement responsibility and electoral representation, including problems such as competitive policies and practices between authorities in relation to planning, rating and charges, which can impact negatively on town centres. Differences in standards of service delivery can also be eliminated. It is also usual to extend the boundary to include not only existing development but an additional area to allow for future expansion and to avoid further boundary-related anomalies in the foreseeable future. Consolidation of administrative responsibility can also strengthen the economic performance of the town by eliminating the anomalies to which I have referred and ensuring that there is a single authority working on its behalf.

The committee has been established under section 28 of the Local Government Act 1991. Full details of the terms of reference and membership are available on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government website. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, is delighted that people of such strong calibre and experience of local government were willing to come forward on a pro bono basis and assist in settling administrative boundaries for this area.

I have noted the questions posed by the Deputy in relation to the terms of reference. I wish to assure him that I will raise them directly with the Minister on his behalf.

I thank the Minister of State for the response and acknowledge the apologies from the Minister for not being here. First, this process will result in further anomalies as Dáil boundaries in the area correspond with the current county boundaries. Since what is proposed will not change the Dáil boundaries, this will result in the creation of an anomaly whereby we will have different local authority boundaries for county purposes, in terms of local authority administration, relative to the Dáil constituency boundaries, leading to the need for further changes into the future. Second, in regard to the committee, I propose to inquire about its members and their respective interests, roles and knowledge of these areas and if they have ever offered a view on these issues in the past.

In the reply prepared by the Department, the Minister of State referred to a significant overspill of population from Carlow into County Laois, which is very disturbing. Is it being suggested that Carlow is so full there is nowhere for people to live there and as such they are spilling over into County Laois? That is extraordinary. The problem for Laois, in terms of Carlow, is that the town to the eastern side of Carlow is not being developed. Carlow County Council likes to develop the western side of the town which happens to be in County Laois. However, as I said earlier, we have worked jointly on ring-roads around the towns and are currently working jointly on sewerage schemes around the town. We have also worked jointly on housing issues. Two of Carlow County Council's social housing estates were built in County Laois rather than County Carlow. When it boils down to it, those involved in this process will not know the geography.

As I said earlier, part of the River Barrow runs through County Carlow. We will be demanding, if this process continues, that the county boundary be shoved back to the River Barrow, to where it was 100 years ago. We have allowed it encroach a little but will not allow it to encroach any further.

To be helpful to the Deputy, in the case of Waterford and Carlow, membership of the committee includes: Mr. David O'Connor, former Fingal County Manager, who will chair the committee; Mr. Ciarán Lynch from the Limerick Institute of Technology, Thurles Campus, and former chief planner with Clare County Council; and Mr. Ollie Killeen, former head of finance at Limerick County Council.

Rather than considering it in isolation, we should see the boundary review as very much part of an ongoing assessment of potential reforms which may be warranted beyond those measures announced in the action programme for effective local government and subsequently provided for in the Local Government Reform Act 2014. The majority of the provisions of that Act commenced with effect from 1 June 2014, and that date marked the activation of a range of significant changes in the local government system. Policy decisions to replace town authorities with a new model of municipal governance are at the core of the reform agenda. The model is designed to strengthen local government within counties and address widely acknowledged and long-standing weaknesses and anomalies in the previous system, including the problem of administration that is divided between town and county authorities.

Municipal districts and borough districts, where they arise, now cover the entire territory of counties. As well as creating a more rational and comprehensive structural arrangement, the new system will, over time, result in more effective and community-focused decision making and implementation, with improved accountability and responsiveness to local needs. Moreover, under the new arrangements, there is full integration of local authority resources across each county and elimination of duplication in both administrative and electoral terms.

The establishment of statutory committees to review local government boundaries in Carlow and Laois is a natural and complementary development building on these changes. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, will study the report of the committees carefully after they have concluded their work at the end of February next year.

Swimming Pool Programme Applications

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for allowing Deputy Catherine Murphy and me to raise the issue of the sudden closure of the swimming pool on the campus of National University of Ireland Maynooth, which is used by both college staff and students and the wider community. I understand the decision to close the facility was made in March and conveyed to staff at that time, but only became public knowledge in recent weeks. In recent days, local public representatives attended a meeting with the president of the college, Professor Philip Nolan, in an effort to persuade management to defer the closure until an alternative arrangement is found.

There is a long-standing proposal to build a municipal swimming pool in the area, which is supported by all local government representatives and Oireachtas Members. The view is that it would be advantageous to have a discussion on the subject as quickly as possible. Earlier today, all local representatives received an e-mail from the college authorities indicating that it is not intended to defer the closure of the pool but that they are prepared to engage with the local authority to ascertain whether there might be a joint approach to providing a facility that could be used by the local community and the college. That proposal must be taken up. The local community has raised money for this purpose and the local authority has made preparations in that regard.

I propose that the college authorities be called upon once more to defer their decision to close the pool and that negotiations be initiated by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport with the local authority and the local community to find a solution.

There are only two municipal swimming pools in County Kildare, in Athy and Naas, serving a population of 210,000. The north Kildare towns of Leixlip, Celbridge, Maynooth and Kilcock have a combined population of some 60,000 and have become dependent on the very old pool on the NUI Maynooth campus. Some 800 children will be directly affected by the closure, having been told their classes will finish at the end of August. The area has a very large young population.

As Deputy Durkan indicated, the three local Deputies have met with the college president to discuss the two main issues that arise out of the decision to close the college pool. The first issue is the need to put in place a municipal pool and the second is the short-term response that is required in terms of retaining the facility at the university. The president told us the university has no obligation to provide a public pool, that responsibility being one for the Government and the local authority. The primary purpose of the college, he noted, is one of education. The president indicated that the cost of the works required to restore the pool to the required condition, which include improvements to air-handling and the fabric of the pool, would be some €350,000. In the meantime, he said, the college is losing money on operational costs.

The most important outcome of our meeting with the president, however, was his clear indication that the college does not want the risk of managing even an upgraded facility. In other words, it is not seeking the money needed to upgrade the pool. That is not the issue. The best we can hope for is that the college authorities might postpone the decision to close it. The e-mail to which Deputy Durkan referred, which was sent today, states that it is simply not possible for the college to reverse the decision to close the pool unless there is agreement on a joint development with Kildare County Council of a swimming pool that meets the needs of the university and the community, in which case the college authorities would be willing to examine any viable case to reopen the pool at Maynooth on an interim basis.

This situation arose as a result of the closure of the swimming pool fund in 2000, with no prospect of its being reopened. There is a real need for action in this regard in north Kildare.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I was disappointed to learn of the closure of the swimming pool on the campus of NUI Maynooth. The Deputies will appreciate that this was a decision for the college authorities and not one in which I was involved. It is always a disappointment to see facilities close and I have no doubt this particular decision will be regretted by swimmers in Maynooth and the surrounding areas. Swimming provides a marvellous sporting opportunity for people of all ages and abilities. Given that so much swimming in Ireland takes place in indoor pools, it is also generally a weather-independent activity, a key advantage given our climate.

Under the local authority swimming pool programme, LASPP, grant aid to a maximum of €3.8 million is provided to local authorities towards the capital costs of the provision of new swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. Since 2000, 58 projects have been or are being dealt with under the scheme, of which 49 have been completed and the remaining nine are at various stages of development. The allocation of the maximum LASPP grant of €3.8 million is subject to the total grant not exceeding 80% of the eligible cost of the project or, in the case of projects located in disadvantaged areas, 90% of the eligible cost.

There are many complex technical aspects involved in refurbishing or replacing a swimming pool. The whole process, from feasibility study to going on site, can and usually does take a number of years. That is before we even get to the construction of the facility; construction itself typically takes at least a further 18 months. A great amount of technical work by the local authorities is involved. Modern pools generally include attractive additional features such as saunas, steam rooms and toddler pools, thereby providing better long-term value for money and greater benefit to local communities. Due to changed economic circumstances, although building projects can in some cases be sourced at better rates, local authorities' funds from development levies and so on have decreased considerably, which has made the financing of pool projects very difficult.

No decision has been made on the timing of a new round of the LASPP. The clear focus is on completing as many of the pools in the current round as possible. However, as we bring that round to a close, it will become clear that some pools will not take up their funding, which may give scope for a limited reopening of the LASPP, albeit on a more modest scale and with a limited number of projects. It would then be open to all local authorities to apply, including Kildare County Council. Factors such as population, local demand and existing access to pools will be a critical factor in deciding on the allocation of funding to projects under a reopened LASPP. That will not happen tomorrow or next week, but it is something of which I am very conscious.

In 2011 and 2012, I allocated more than €14 million under an energy upgrade and enhanced disabled access initiative, under which grants of up to a maximum of €400,000 were allocated to pools. This scheme was a great success and I have witnessed its positive effects at first hand. In a time of high energy costs, these grants helped pools to reduce their operating costs and become more viable. As we all know, operating a swimming pool is a very expensive activity. Given the great success of that scheme, I launched another round recently and the applications received are currently being assessed. Such schemes are a clear recognition of the expense involved in running a swimming pool and the importance of ensuring those facilities remain open to provide a healthy activity for people of all ages and abilities.

I am naturally disappointed to see the pool in Maynooth close, as I am when any such facility closes. As I said, I am aware of the demand for a new swimming pool in north Kildare. The area will be a prime candidate for a new pool when I have the opportunity and funding to open a new, limited round of the LASPP.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply and obvious understanding of the situation. I ask him to consider, in the limited time available in this session, meeting the local authorities, Members and college authorities with a view to identifying the best possible options for the local community and the best possible value for money in the provision of facilities in the future, without tying anybody into a particular situation and recognising that the college authorities have a different source of revenue from the local community. Would it be possible to arrange that in the short time available? If so, Members and the college authorities would be anxious to be involved.

I would strongly support the concept of a local or municipal pool if that were a possibility. I would also like to examine any possibility of deferring the closure, which would be a serious blow to the swimming clubs and members of the local community that have traditionally used the pool.

The reason this very old pool is being discussed is the absence of what should have been provided given the population involved. No other county in the country has a population of more than 200,000 without a city in the middle. As the population grows, it is supposed to be provided with services. It may be a great idea to provide energy upgrades to other pools around the country, but that does not cut the mustard for the children who do not have swimming classes in their area. Once this goes, nothing else will be available. There is not even the hope of a pool.

I have spoken to the Minister of State about this issue for the past four years. I accept that in the early years of the Government it was not possible to provide the money, but it is outrageous that some local authorities are sitting on an allocation that they are not in a position to use while other parts of the country are in need. Money could be diverted to deliver facilities in a more timely manner. This is a complete failure to provide for a need, and I do not hear a whole lot in what the Minister of State said that gives me a great deal of comfort. Nothing that will happen before the end of the Government's term gives us any hope of another pool.

Deputies from Kildare have been raising this issue for a while. Let us be honest. In 2000 there was a scheme whereby 58 pools were selected, but there was no deadline for the closure of the scheme. My hands are tied. I have been conscious of the requests for swimming pools in certain areas with high populations. I met the County and City Managers' Association, which has no love of swimming pools because they are too costly for local authorities. It asked me to introduce a scheme and I provided €14 million to assist with energy costs for existing pools. A number of local authority pools throughout the country were in serious difficulty and unable to keep their doors open. Without the scheme there were would more closures.

The problem is that the pool in Maynooth is private. Deputy Durkan asked me to meet local representatives and I will do so, but I will not meet those involved with private pools. I have been under pressure from Labour Party and Fine Gael colleagues and others over the past number of months and I am trying to open a limited scheme. I do not want members in every local authority asking for a scheme when local authorities have no will or funding for such a scheme.

Two or three areas in the country are in need of pools and I am considering how we can introduce a scheme. Pools will be provided in areas where demand exists and feasibility studies will be done to ensure they will be profitable. There is no point in setting up pools that will be in difficulty six months after they have opened. The Deputies have a point and I am examining the issue. I gave a commitment and asked my officials some months ago to develop a scheme whereby we can deal with two or three areas in the country and give them the opportunity to have a pool.