Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 15 Dec 2015

Vol. 901 No. 1

Topical Issue Debate

National Positive Ageing Strategy Implementation

Time and time again, we hear in the media about a crisis coming down the tracks for which we must prepare. This crisis will require our health service to be adequately resourced and equipped to deal with an influx of patients requiring timely and accessible treatment. Furthermore, we also hear about the detonation of a time bomb, which is sure to have catastrophic consequences. While one could be forgiven for thinking this crisis indicates a looming, dreadful tragedy, the reality is it is one of the great success stories of our time. Irish people are living longer, they are living more healthily and they are living more active lives. One of the consequences of this is that the proportion of our population over the age of 65 is set to increase steeply in the coming years. This poses challenges in how we provide services to support older people to live the lives they choose, but it is also an opportunity to support positive ageing, to see older people as a group that contributes to our society and that benefits our communities. We must prepare to deal with these demographic challenges.

When we talk about planning for an ageing population, what we are talking about is developing an age-friendly society not only for those currently over the age of 65 but for all of us who hope and wish to grow old in the future. Planning requires a whole-of-government approach and while the Departments of Health and Social Protection are the ones we first think of in the context of older people, programmes and initiatives are also run by the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Environment, Community and Local Government, which provide services and supports to older people.

The national positive ageing strategy, NPAS, sets out a blueprint for how policies and services could be designed to protect the rights of older people. The strategy was finally published in 2013 following six years of discussion. It took the combined efforts of three Governments, five political parties and three Ministers for older people simply to get it published. The strategy provides a roadmap for Ireland to begin planning for the needs of older people now and in the decades to come, but more than two and a half years on, we are still waiting for the implementation plan to set out how this ambitious strategy will be delivered and implemented. It will transform the lives of older people today and the millions of us who hope to grow old. I urge the Minister to prioritise the implementation of this transformative strategy. We will all grow old and we should be able to do so safe in the knowledge that our Government will prioritise our needs.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of the implementation of the NPAS. I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is in the Seanad.

The programme for Government committed to completing and implementing the NPAS in order that older people are recognised, supported and enabled to live independent full lives. The strategy was published in April 2013 and provides the blueprint for a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to planning for an ageing society. The NPAS provides a vision for an age-friendly society and includes four national goals and underpinning objectives to provide direction on the issues that need to be addressed to promote positive ageing. The strategy aims to promote the health, well-being and quality of life of older people by focusing on issues relevant to them across the policy development and service delivery process. This is a cross-departmental strategy. Improving health, well-being and quality of life of older people will be a gradual and progressive process involving a shift in mindset by Government, policy makers, service providers, and, indeed, all of society.

A healthy and positive ageing initiative has been established to implement the research objective of the NPAS. It is a joint initiative between the Department of Health, the HSE's health and well-being programme and Atlantic Philanthropies. The initiative will monitor changes in older people's health and well-being linked to the goals and objectives of the strategy. This will be done primarily through the development of positive ageing indicators to be published every two years. The HSE will also develop a physical activity communications campaign under the initiative.

It is clear that a great deal is happening across government that is of relevance and of benefit to older people. My Department is currently considering how best to ensure that the objectives included in the strategy, which are mostly broad, will inform all policies that affect older people on an indefinite basis into the future. We are still in the early stages of implementation, but the NPAS is a clear indication by Government of the importance that it attaches to older people. The strategy is a commitment to ensuring Ireland will be a society that both celebrates and prepares for population ageing and the aim is to become a society in which the equality, independence, participation, care self-fulfilment and dignity of older people are pursued at all times.

I welcome the Minister's comment that the Government is in the early stages of implementation but I am looking for the strategy to be prioritised. The root of the problem is that there is no co-ordination and overall responsibility for its implementation. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is charged with leading on the development of age-friendly workplaces while the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is charged with the development of alternative housing options that meet the needs of older persons. Some Departments are proceeding with the objectives but there is no overall co-ordination and implementation plan that brings together their disparate efforts. It is imperative that such a plan be developed for the strategy to be successful. It should set out clear timelines against which progress can be measured. We need to act decisively, engaging all arms of government to address the needs of the current and future generations of older people.

I concur with the Deputy's earlier remarks. I become concerned when I hear people talking about an ageing crisis, a demographic time bomb and so on. We should look on ageing as an enormous opportunity, for which, of course, we have to plan. The fact that people are living so long highlights the success of modern medicine and health care. They would not have lived as long in the past but I acknowledge we need to prepare. My Department has made a particular effort in the past year to put additional resources into the fair deal scheme, home care packages and other measures to support people later in life and that will continue in the service plan being published tomorrow.

Overall responsibility for the strategy falls to the Minister of State with responsibility for older people in my Department, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, but the objectives come under a diverse range of Departments and agencies, each of which has to play its role. It is a cross-departmental strategy and there have been ongoing contacts with all relevant Departments and agencies. On foot of these contacts, the Department has formulated the proposed new arrangements to improve engagement among stakeholders and the relevant Departments and agencies. This is now up for discussion with the Department of the Taoiseach prior to formal submission to the senior officials group and the Cabinet Committee on Social Policy. It is intended that the new implementation arrangements will be agreed by the end of this year with a view to submitting them to the senior officials group early in 2016.

Hospital Services

Letterkenny University Hospital, which was recently renamed, is the seventh largest hospital in the State. Inpatient numbers exceed 20,000 every year. It is, therefore, a substantial hospital, serving a population of 160,000 across the county.

Over the years, based on inpatient numbers, Letterkenny University Hospital has been allocated the lowest budget of any hospital in the State and the lowest number of medical staff. It has been discriminated against by Government after Government. There are serious concerns throughout the hospital about the numbers of staff, the budget and the impact it has on waiting lists and trolley numbers. As the Minister is probably aware, the number on trolleys in Letterkenny University Hospital continues to increase and in 2015 almost reached the peak of 2006-2007. Management of the hospital, acting on behalf of the Saolta hospital group, has instructed consultant surgeons to scale back on elective surgeries during the month of January and early February to make beds available for additional people who present in accident and emergency. The most recent figures on waiting lists at Letterkenny hospital show there are 13,950 outpatients, 3,338 of which have been waiting for more than a year. Those are citizens in Donegal who have been waiting more than a year for surgical procedures or appointments with consultants. There are an additional 1,742 inpatients on the waiting list, which is a shocking waiting list. It is well known in the hospital that this instruction will lead to the growth of those waiting lists. It is my view, and that of my party, that the Minister will focus on not having patients on trolleys this winter because it will not look good in the mouth of an election and to achieve this he will sacrifice patients on the waiting list. That belief was confirmed by comments made today by Liam Doran of the INMO. What choices has the Minister made? Will he intervene and send a clear message to the management of the Saolta hospital group asking why this instruction, which will result in the growth of the already shocking waiting lists in Donegal, has been issued? Why can it not address the issues in accident and emergency departments without growing the waiting list even further?

I also want to bring to the Minister's attention the profound concerns of senior staff in the hospital about this instruction. They have outlined those concerns to the management of the hospital which in my view is carrying out the instructions of its masters in the Saolta hospital group which in turn is carrying out the Minister's instructions. It is a political imperative to sacrifice patients in order to have as few people on trolleys this winter as possible. The Minister cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. Will he intervene on this issue and reassure the patients on waiting lists in Donegal that he will not allow this to happen in January and February?

I thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn for the opportunity to speak to the House on this issue. In preparation for the 2015-2016 winter period, hospital groups have provided comprehensive winter resilience plans to the HSE, outlining how they will implement an integrated approach across primary, community, social and acute services to manage winter pressures. This approach is intended both to avoid unnecessary admissions to acute hospitals and expedite discharges from hospital. If emergency department overcrowding occurs, all hospitals have escalation plans to manage patient flow and patient safety in a responsive, controlled and planned way that supports and ensures the delivery of optimal patient care. In November, a national emergency department congestion escalation directive was issued on foot of discussions between the director general of the HSE and me on how best to reduce emergency department congestion with all of the available resources, both within and outside of acute hospitals. This directive requires hospitals to implement their escalation plan whenever their emergency department experiences overcrowding. As part of this, acute hospitals are now required to take specific steps to reduce overcrowding such as the postponement of non-urgent elective procedures. During winter planning, Letterkenny University Hospital made a decision to scale back the number of scheduled inpatient admissions for approximately six weeks from 4 January to mid-February 2016. This is primarily to manage the predicted increased number of patients who normally attend and are admitted to the hospital via the emergency department at this time of year. This is already done in many other hospitals around the country and is considered to be good planning. In the past, in January, procedures were often cancelled or deferred at short notice. Rather than scheduling and then potentially deferring patients, the hospital has decided to reduce the number of inpatient procedures scheduled during this period to ensure that in so far as possible, patients who are scheduled are admitted and cancellations are therefore less frequent.

This temporary reduction will ensure that each surgeon has a dedicated amount of theatre time in January and that emergency surgery, including cancer surgery, is prioritised. The hospital regrets any inconvenience this situation may cause to patients and their families and I wish to echo that. However, I have been assured by the HSE and Saolta that the effect of these arrangements will be kept under constant review and urgent patients, including cancer patients, will continue to be seen. The hospital's overall aim is to avoid unnecessary deferrals or cancellations of planned surgery and ensure that hospital resources are targeted at emergency work during this period of the year when the pressure on the emergency department is greatest.

A consultant urologist resigned in dramatic circumstances earlier in 2015. Neither Letterkenny University Hospital nor the Saolta hospital group has advertised for a replacement consultant urologist. As a result, urology is in real crisis in the hospital. I commend the Minister's officials for organising a meeting in February 2015. It was a good meeting at which solutions were tabled to address another crisis that had emerged in breast cancer care which was raised by the consultant there, Michael Sugrue. The meeting was attended by public representatives in Donegal and cancer campaign groups. We understood these solutions had been implemented but as we see from correspondence from the consultant breast surgeon there, Michael Sugrue to the Minister's officials, they have not been implemented. Letterkenny University Hospital is a hospital in crisis in Donegal. The management of Saolta is in denial and is telling us it has the resources it needs, everything is hunky-dory, there is nothing to see here and to move along. There are only two permanent consultant surgeons in the seventh largest hospital in the State serving 160,000 people. The rest are locums. Those surgeons are being told to pull back on elective surgeries to avoid the embarrassing spectacle of people on trolleys in winter. It is not good enough. The Minister is aware of the comments of the director general of the HSE, Tony O'Brien. We have a real crisis in our health service and we need solutions, not commentary. Will the Minister intervene in respect of the concerns of patients on the waiting lists in Donegal, which will continue to grow? Will he confront the management of Letterkenny University Hospital and the Saolta hospital group about their denials in terms of the resources they have when the problems are staring us in the face?

The major action being taken to reduce overcrowding in Letterkenny over the winter period is the provision of ten additional beds in the hospital, which are being funded and provided. I am told they will be made available from this week. This is a real action, not commentary or window dressing; it is ten additional beds for the hospital which represents a significant increase in capacity. It is normal for hospitals around the country to flex up and down their elective surgical activity - to do less in January and February when the emergency department is very busy and many people are coming through it and do more in the summer period when the emergency departments are relatively quiet. That makes sense and I hope the Deputy understands why that is. It is not intended to apply to urgent and cancer surgeries, which it is unsafe to defer. Budgets are not allocated based on inpatient numbers because hospitals do a lot more than treat inpatients - they have outpatients, day-cases, laboratories and, in some cases, specialties. Where a hospital has very expensive specialties, such as cancer or spinal surgery, it will need a higher budget, so it is incorrect to compare budgets based solely on inpatient numbers.

The conversion year for activity based funding is 2016. For the first time, hospitals will achieve a chunk of their budget based on their activity, which will benefit hospitals that are more efficient than others. All hospitals will claim they are more efficient than others. Activity based funding will show whether that is the case.

I am told efforts to restore the urology services are currently in hand.

As regards intervention in the management of individual hospitals or hospital groups, that is not practical. Every hospital has its own management which, in turn, has my support. It is important they are allowed to do their job. It would not be practical or possible for any Minister to try to manage every hospital or health care institution in the country. Were that to occur, the management of those institutions would be undermined.

Flood Relief Schemes Applications

I thank the council staff, emergency services, including An Garda Síochána, the Army, Civil Defence, the Irish Red Cross Society and staff from the Office of Public Works, some of whom I met in Ballinasloe, and the farming and local communities for their tremendous efforts over the past ten days in terms of their actions once water levels started to rise. However, had there been a small bit of pre-planning once the heavy rain was anticipated a lot more properties could have been saved from the flooding. Since the last serious flooding event in 2009, some remedial works, which are welcome and have been successful, were carried out in some towns but more were postponed upon completion of the catchment flood risk assessment and management report. Delays in obtaining pumps and sandbags impacted on particular towns and communities. There is need for a protocol to be put in place to ensure that this does not happen again. We have experienced two 100-year flood events in the past six years. The probability is that we are going to experience more 100-year flooding events in the not too distant future and we need to be prepared for them.

I welcome that businesses are eligible for funding under the humanitarian support scheme put in place by the Government. However, funding under this scheme will be only in respect of returning a business to its state pre-flooding and not for any loss of earnings incurred. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, will be aware that this fund which is being administered through the Department of Social Protection does not facilitate the many businesspeople who do not have money to put bread and butter on the table because to be eligible for this funding their homes had to be flooded. As such, these people have no current income and will be at a loss of income that would have been generated during the most profitable time of the year, which money would usually carry them through the lean months in the early part of next year. Something needs to be done to assist these people.

I would like to put a number of questions to the Minister of State in regard to the application form for this funding. First, can a landlord who signs a form for a tenant in respect of a commercial premises also make an application under this scheme for structural damage to that premises? Second, will consideration be given to inclusion under this scheme of landlords whose private residential properties have been damaged by flooding, which properties need to be repaired and returned to the market as quickly as possible? Third, why must an applicant provide evidence that a property has been flooded? We were told that no documentation would be required in respect of the initial €5,000 claim. It now transpires that the initial application must be verified by a local authority prior to its being forwarded to the Irish Red Cross Society, which creates an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. My concern is that this will discourage some people from availing of this funding. There is also a need for engagement with the banks to ensure there is flexibility in relation to loans, including extension of same and so on. A rates release scheme must also be put in place on behalf of victims of flooded commercial premises.

The Taoiseach said earlier in the House that farming is a business but it is specifically excluded from the Irish Red Cross Society administered scheme. A considerable amount of fodder has been damaged and destroyed. While this not an issue now the unavailability of fodder in the early part of next year will be an animal welfare issue. Financial provision needs to be made for farmers that have lost fodder as a result of the recent flooding.

I, too, acknowledge the contribution of all of the agencies, including the county councils, the Irish Red Cross Society, the Civil Defence, and volunteers from local communities in terms of their efforts during the recent flooding.

The Government has approved an allocation of €5 million to be distributed as emergency humanitarian support to small businesses, which through no fault of their own have been unable to secure flood insurance and were recently flooded. The Irish Red Cross Society has agreed to administer the scheme. The objective of the scheme is to provide a once-off ex-gratia contribution towards the costs of damage incurred by those small businesses which were unable to secure flood insurance and were flooded arising from the impact of Storm Desmond during the period 4 December to 17 December 2015. The scheme is aimed at providing a contribution to the costs of returning business premises to their pre-flood condition, including the replacement of flooring, fixtures and fittings and damaged stock. It applies only to rateable premises that have been flooded and it is intended as an emergency humanitarian assistance contribution rather than compensation for loss or a replacement for the cover provided by insurance.

The nature of the impact on businesses affected by the flooding required that as an emergency measure a speedy process be put in place to meet their needs. In this regard, a two-step approach is being taken, involving an initial application which, if successful will lead to a quick payment to be capped at €5,000 per property. I am informed by the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, that there will be a five-day turnaround or less in this regard. As such, the scheme is not overly bureaucratic. There must be clarification in relation to whether a property was flooded and if at the time of the flooding it was a rateable premises. To say that the application system is slow and laborious is untrue. The Minister of State, Deputy Harris, was involved in the design of this scheme. It has been designed in such a way as to ensure a quick turnaround of applications to assist businesspeople to resume business as soon as possible.

It is anticipated that some businesses will have incurred significant damages and will require a more detailed assessment of losses incurred. In these cases, a second more detailed assessment of losses incurred will be required. This will provide the scope for a further payment, with the total payment available capped at €20,000. However, this will be a more lengthy process requiring a detailed assessment. The total level of support available under both stages will be capped at €20,000. The criteria for qualification for payment under the scheme are as follows: only those small businesses that could not secure flood insurance are eligible; for the purpose of this scheme, a small business will be defined as one with up to 20 employees; the business premises must have been flooded during the period 4 December and 17 December 2015, with this verified by the relevant local authority; any location within the State that was flooded during the period in question is encompassed by the scheme and at the time of the flood, the business must have been trading and in a rateable premises. Applications forms are available on the Irish Red Cross Society website. The scheme is targeted at trading businesses rather than landlords. It is anticipated that this will address the vast majority of businesses affected. However, where particular circumstances arise, each case will be dealt with on an individual basis.

The emergency scheme does not apply to farmers. Farmers in flooded areas can make contact with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine animal welfare helpline at Callsave 076 1064408 or 01 6072379 or Teagasc at 076 1113555. I will bring the Deputy's concerns regarding farmers to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, who is unavailable today.

I have no doubt that the farming organisations, whether the IFA, ICMSA, ICSA Ireland or others, will be involved in ensuring there are no feed shortages. One has to applaud the IFA. In 2009, it stepped up to the mark and helped out all farmers on an individual basis by getting fodder from other parts of the country and bringing it to flood-risk areas. I have no doubt farmers will not be left wanting when they have the likes of the IFA and other such organisations at their disposal.

One would nearly think I was pre-empting a flood when, on 1 December, I asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he would extend the TAMS II programme to allow for grant aid for flood defences for farm buildings to be put in place. The Minister said, "No" at the time. Will the Minister of State take the issue up with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and ask him to extend the criteria relating to it?

While I am on the issue of flood prevention, I will raise a matter with the two Ministers of State present. It would help if the criteria for the home renovation incentive scheme were amended to deal with the issue of flood prevention in domestic situations. I earnestly ask both Ministers of State to examine if we can put a small, tight grant aid scheme in place for households outside the flood mitigation areas. Provision will not be made for them under that scheme. I ask that they would have access to financial assistance where practical solutions can be put in place to protect their homes.

I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response that there is no specific provision for the agriculture industry but thank him for his commitment to take it up with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I am also disappointed that there is no provision for commercial landlords and private residential property landlords. These properties will now remain sterile, in particular residential properties. There is no assistance in terms of getting them refurbished. The tenants will move out and, naturally enough, will not move back in and one cannot blame them. Something needs to be done to assist these landlords.

The intention was to streamline the process in so far as is possible. However, the application process requires an applicant for the maximum grant of €5,000 to submit detailed estimates of the cost of the works to be carried out or the cost of recovering stock. Applicants will need assistance in this regard. They will have to get a builder to put a price on it and will then have to send it to the local authority to be certified. It will then be sent to the Irish Red Cross. There are at least two separate outside bodies involved before it gets to the Irish Red Cross. I accept that it might be processed within five days once received but the structure is not simple. Will the Minister of State examine it again?

I will communicate Deputy Naughten's concerns to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and ask him to reconsider the request made earlier this month. An interdepartmental group is examining all the issues raised by Deputy Naughten and it will report early next year. A number of other issues are also currently being examined by the group. I remind the Deputy that we are spending taxpayers' money and, therefore, there must be a trail. It is not as simple as having a person show up at the Irish Red Cross office and say his or her property was flooded and needs €5,000. The Irish Red Cross cannot verify the cost involved there and then. It will have to be verified by the local authority. The scheme is not asking much from the business person. He or she will be getting €5,000, which is a fairly substantial sum of money. A further sum of money is also available, subject to further verification, if a premises has been flooded. The scheme could not be much simpler than what it is currently. I understand that a large number of business people have suffered losses of earnings and so forth but the Irish Red Cross is doing a fabulous job in administering the scheme and will turn over applications as quickly as possible.

I do not want the Deputy or anyone else to take me up wrong but there was a huge amount of hysteria on the part of our national broadcaster, in particular, for a number of days. It was almost at the point of saying that towns and businesses were closed and to stay away. A relation in Athlone told me that it was necessary for the town to say that it was not closed and that business premises were still open and trading.

The same applies to Carrick-on-Shannon and Ballinasloe.

It is important for the national broadcaster to understand that it is dealing with family businesses. It was saying on the national airwaves, whether it was on the six o'clock news, the nine o'clock news or in hourly bulletins, that all these towns and businesses were closed but the opposite was true. Businesses were still open and operating and they wanted to continue operating. The period coming up to Christmas is a prime time of the year for them and they want Christmas shoppers. I would like RTE, our national and public broadcaster, to be more careful in its reporting. It is very well for it to be broadcasting the news but it should take into account that it is dealing with family businesses which, at the end of the day, need to make a crust.

As Minister of State in the Department of Defence, I congratulate the Defence Forces across the country. They risked their lives, as did many others, in the floods. The Defence Forces and the Civil Defence did a brilliant job over the past two weeks and will continue to be at the beck and call of the people, as required.

Flood Prevention Measures

I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, is well aware of the impact of recent floods in County Clare on the lives and livelihoods of many people. Their lives have been seriously disrupted through the flooding of their homes, the battle to keep water out of their homes, the total submergence of farmlands and the impact on livestock. All this ultimately impacts on the profitability of those farms. Business premises have been flooded and roads have been rendered impassable. These roads have been inundated with water and this has impacted on the ability of some to get to work and their children to school.

I am sure the Minister of State is familiar with a number of the sites which have been flooded. Around Scarriff Harbour, the MacNamaras have been flooded. In O'Callaghans Mills, a number of families have been cut off. This is happening on an annual basis. The Clonlara-Springfield area has been impacted by the increased flooding of the River Shannon and the levels maintained by the ESB have been of the greatest concern in the county. This has impacted on the lives of many people. In Mullagh, a bridge was swept away, cutting off four or five families. In and around Ennis, the Tulla Road area is under pressure as is Kildysart Cross. The Minister of State will have seen the iconic pictures of St. Flannan's College, which has been flooded again. The Rowan Tree café, notwithstanding the flood defences in place, has again suffered some flooding. Ballyvaughan and Kilkee and other places to a lesser extent have also suffered. Roads and lands have been impacted and lives and livelihoods are affected.

I am sure the Minister of State is aware, if he has spoken to his predecessors, that it is customary for the Minister to visit the sites, review the damage, offer some complimentary words, talk to people and listen. The Minister of State is always welcome in County Clare but I appeal to him on this occasion to hold off on his visit. He should leave it a while - until he has concrete solutions in place - because this is not the first time for those who have been impacted on this occasion. In some cases, it is not the second, third or fourth time. It has happened on numerous occasions.

Their patience is running out. A delegation of politicians in suits walking through what ultimately will be a flooded area in a week or so would only add to their dismay. They want solutions. The Minister of State's time would be better spent sitting with officials and engineers to identify solutions and how they would be paid for.

I did not come here with a wish list and an expectation that the Minister of State could, somehow, pull money out of the air. That said, an effort must be made to find the money required to address the crisis.

I wish to suggest a number of possible solutions. There is no doubt that dredging and drainage work must form part of any solution. I am conscious that the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, study is in train and hope it will set out some solutions. However, I am also conscious that some of the work will cost so much that it may not be possible to undertake it in the short term. The notion of addressing this issue over a five year period with €400 million or other sum of money is no good to the people affected. They do not have five years to wait; they need action now.

There is an opportunity to undertake some smaller flood defence works around a number of homes in a manner similar to the small works scheme. If that scheme could be extended to private property and residences and people come together in a community effort, it might provide an opportunity to put an appropriate solution in place. I know of one farmer in the Clonlara area who had the means to put a relatively inexpensive flood defence system in place and it worked on this occasion, even though his land was probably at the lowest point.

The Minister of State's Department must give some consideration to the possibility of relocation for some families, some of whom will never be able to settle in their homes again. Even if defensive works are put in place to protect their homes, they will still suffer because the surrounding roads are flooded and they are cut off. This must form part of the solutions considered by the Government. I hope the Minister of State will give favourable consideration to these three elements.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I agree with his initial comments and have said a number of times in the past week or ten days that politicians, regardless of political persuasion, donning wellies and standing around looking sympathetic will not serve much purpose. I visited Bandon and Skibbereen yesterday because the county council had passed a motion calling on me to do so. I also visited Ballinasloe and Crossmolina for similar reasons. Where I have been asked to visit, I have done so, but I have no desire to travel the country visiting people when my time could be more practically spent to come up with solutions, as the Deputy correctly pointed out. That said, where people want me to visit to hear the views of the community, I will do so.

I am very much aware of the devastating impact flooding can have on people's lives and livelihoods. I convey my deepest sympathy and that of all Members of the House to those who have been affected by recent flooding, including in County Clare, particularly in areas such as Springfield, Clonlara and wider rural communities. I pay tribute to the resilience of local communities who have been responding for days to the flood alert issued by the local authority. Community efforts are critical to preparing for and managing any flood event or other adverse event. I understand approximately 20,000 sandbags have been distributed throughout County Clare to help to prevent and mitigate flood damage. I also pay tribute to local authority staff, the almost 900 defence personnel - members of Civil Defence, An Garda Síochána and the HSE - and all those who are working day and night to protect life and property and now also engaged in the recovery work.

Obviously, people must continue to heed safety messages until this flood event and flood risk have passed. The Department of Social Protection has a €10 million fund available for households, while the Irish Red Cross is administering a €5 million fund for businesses that have been affected. The Government has asked the Irish Red Cross to make every effort to have this €5 million fund disbursed to businesses before Christmas and I know that it is doing so.

As the Deputy suggested, the core strategy for addressing the significant flood risk in County Clare is the Office of Public Work's CFRAM programme. There are 11 areas identified for further assessment in the county, namely, Bunratty, Ennis, Kilkee, Kilrush, Quin, Shannon, Sixmilebridge, Springfield Clonlara, Shannon Airport, O'Brien's Bridge and Killaloe. These are being assessed within the Shannon CFRAM study. The study is focused on assessing and putting in place solutions to manage areas at greatest risk and the impact of flooding along the River Shannon. It is the only CFRAM study that is focusing on an entire river catchment. The other five studies are focusing on geographic areas. The River Shannon study covers some 17,800 sq. km or 20% of the island of Ireland. It includes 17 counties, including the Deputy's own county of Clare.

The CFRAM programme which is being undertaken by engineering consultants on behalf of the OPW, working in partnership with the local authorities, involves the production of predictive flood maps for each location, the development of preliminary flood risk management options and the production of flood risk management plans. The programme has and will continue to rely on extensive public engagement and consultation. To date, it has included a public consultation to inform the designation of the 300 areas across Ireland at greatest risk from flooding and meet, in person, each of the 300 communities to explain the flood risks for and the impact on them and to obtain their local knowledge and insight. One cannot beat local knowledge.

In County Clare the flood map meetings were held between November 2014 and March 2015. In addition, the OPW is running a national public consultation until 23 December on the draft flood maps which will provide a further opportunity to share information and obtain as much local knowledge as possible. Details are available at Clare County Council's offices in Ennis, Killaloe and Kilrush and on the OPW's website. We are actively examining the options for feasible flood risk solutions for each of the areas and discussing, in person, with each community the possible options. Of the 66 areas that are part of the Shannon CFRAM study, we have discussed options to manage the flood risk with 48 of the communities and the remainder will be done in early 2016. The options for the areas in County Clare were discussed with the communities between October and early December this year.

By the middle of next year I expect to have the draft plans with feasible solutions for each of the 300 areas, including those in County Clare. The recent flooding event and the possible impact of climate change will inform the flood risk management plan for each area. There will be a further round of public consultations in the second half of 2016, again involving each of the communities to obtain their insight which will inform the final flood risk management plans. I must stress that they will not just be empty plans or glossy reports but will come up with real solutions.

I will reflect on the points made by the Deputy, many of which were reasonable. The issue of relocation may have to be considered in some areas where we are not able to come up with a viable solution. I look forward to responding to further points the Deputy may raise.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. One of the elements that could be undertaken quickly is the construction of flood defence mechanisms around private residences under the minor works scheme. If community groups could be given the chance to work on a solution, I have no doubt, having spent a lot of time with them over the weekend, that they would be happy to do so. The CFRAM study report can inform the management of flooding of the River Shannon at a later stage. Minor flood defence works and the question of relocation must be considered first.

The Minister of State has pointed out that tremendous work has been done by the Army and the county council and there are a number of heroes who deserve a special mention. Ms Bridget Kinsella and her three sons stayed up all night to try to protect their home. Bridget is a widow with three teenage sons and thanks to their hard work, they managed to prevent their house from being flooded. I also mention the Masons - Geraldine, her brother, husband and children - who did the same. They managed to save their home, although Geraldine's mother's home was flooded, as was that of her brother, which is a pity.

I pay tribute to some great public servants, including Mr. Hugh McGrath, the area engineer, and Mr. Pat Henchy, who have done tremendous work on behalf of Clare County Council. Mr. Adrian Kelly, the chief fire officer, has also done wonderful work, as have all of the staff who have been working around the clock to save people. Sergeant Mary Daly from the Army also deserves credit for her input on behalf of the Defence Forces, as do local gardaí. The local independent councillor Michael Begley has had a gang of people out filling sandbags and is doing tremendous work in the area.

I must commend all of the neighbours and friends in the area, including Dave and Shirley Mulcahy. While their home has not been under pressure, they have been wading through water in an effort to get their children to school. They are trying to ensure life goes on in the middle of the devastation. They are all great people and it is important to record our thanks for what they have done in the spirit of the community at such a difficult time. It is an especially difficult time for those who will be out of their homes for Christmas. I hope the floods will abate and that nobody else will have to face that prospect.

I wish to make one final point, but, first, I stress that I do not distrust the ESB. In fact, I have the height of respect and the highest regard for ESB engineers and what they have succeeded in doing over the generations. That said, concern has been expressed about whether the ESB is managing the waterways in the best way possible. Under statute, it has one primary concern - the generation of electricity at Ardnacrusha. It is required by law to maintain certain water levels. This is probably a good time to undertake an independent review of the management of the River Shannon in its entirety in the context of how we generate electricity now and will do so into the future. We must determine if we need to maintain the levels deemed necessary in the past and whether we should continue generating electricity in the same way.

I pose the questions. I am not an engineer, so I do not know. People would certainly like to see that issue addressed. If that could form part of the Government's mid-term analysis of all of this problem, it would be worthwhile.

I join Deputy Dooley in paying tribute to those people he has rightly highlighted as heroes in the response to the very bad weather. I too was struck by the story of the huge ordeal the Kinsella family has gone through and I pay tribute to them for their major efforts. It is important to note that the CFRAM process will reduce the time it takes to deliver a scheme by about two years. Therefore, the work that is being done now, for example, the outline design and the consultation with the community, will reduce a scheme that normally takes about five years to complete to three years. While three years is still a long time, we cannot be dishonest with people. These are major capital schemes that we have to get right.

Ireland is on track to deliver its draft CFRAM plans by mid-2016 but we have not been sitting on our hands. We have been moving ahead in delivering a number of schemes, including the scheme for Ennis. The town of Ennis has been the focus of a number of flood relief schemes in recent years, with the completion of the River Fergus, Ennis upper and Ennis lower flood relief schemes. Clare County Council has reported in the media that these schemes have significantly reduced the impact of flooding on the town in recent days. Further works at Aughanteeroe and Fioruisce are currently being undertaken and Clare County Council is progressing a scheme for Ennis south which I expect to commence construction next year. The investment in proactive planning through CFRAM during the past five years for these 300 areas will significantly reduce the delivery times of feasible schemes in these areas.

There has been a lot of information about capital spend on flooding. While I do not want to be partisan on this, I want to be clear that the issue of funding in regard to the delivery of these schemes is not a problem. We have €430 million set aside for the next five years under the capital plan. That means we will be spending more on the delivery of these flood relief schemes over the next five years than in the past 20 years, which is right and proper considering the suffering that communities have experienced and the increased frequency of adverse weather events. I want to assure this House and the public that there is, and will continue to be, sufficient funding available to meet all requirements for flood relief in any year. I welcome the proposal by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, which was approved by Cabinet today, to make €8 million available to local authorities, including Clare County Council, in terms of the clean-up costs that will be incurred by communities.

I would also make the point that my office continues to run the minor flood works scheme. Clare County Council may carry out flood mitigation works under this heading, whereby it can apply for funding of up to €500,000 to carry out minor works that it may believe will be of benefit to its community. Some €1.56 million has been allocated to Clare County Council under this scheme since it was introduced in 2009 to the end of last year.

The Deputy has raised a number of important issues, including, bravely if I may say so, the issue of relocation, which is a sensitive but important issue. When we have concluded the CFRAM process, which will be by about the middle of next year, coupled with the report of the interdepartmental group on flooding to Cabinet, whoever is in government at that time, a range of options and issues, like relocation, flood forecasting and flood insurance, will have to be dealt with. I look forward to debating those issues in this House.