Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Insurance Compensation Fund

I again raise the issue of the collapse of Setanta Insurance, which occurred in April 2014, more than four and a half years ago. Unfortunately, there are still many outstanding claims. Legitimate claims have been made and agreed but the amounts have not yet been settled because of the collapse of the company, the fact it went into liquidation and the fact that, for a long period, there was a cap of 65% on what could be paid by the insurance compensation fund. It has taken a lot of work, involving many parties, to try to secure progress on this issue. In January of this year, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, gave a commitment that 100% of the third-party claims would be met, that is, the full cost of the claims, not the 65%. The necessary legislation to give effect to this, the Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2018, was completed before the summer recess and signed into law in July.

We have a situation where, as I understand it, there are still more than 1,500 outstanding claims which have not been fully met. In some cases, there is not yet an agreed settlement figure, which is why they have not been paid.

In other cases, 65% of the cost of the claim has been met by the Insurance Compensation Fund, but the claimant is still awaiting payment of the remaining 35%. There are further cases in which the full 100% continues to be owed, even though the claim amount has been agreed between the relevant parties. There will be a shortfall at the end of this process which ultimately will be met from the additional levy set out in the legislation and the new motor insurance compensation fund that is being in place.

I emphasise the human toll in this saga. I have got to know many of the people caught up in the collapse of Setanta Insurance. It has to be borne in mind that some of the claims which remain outstanding relate to accidents that occurred many years before the collapse of the company in 2014. In some cases, they occurred in 2009 and 2010. We are approaching 2019 and they are still waiting for their money. They are not scam or fraudulent claims; rather, they are legitimate claims made by people who have incurred an injury and worse. In one case, tragically, there were fatalities.

This issue must be prioritised. We need the next tranche of payments to be made without further delay. In that regard, I understand an application must be made to the High Court for approval of the next tranche of payments to be issued to those directly affected. It has been a nightmare for those caught up in the collapse of Setanta Insurance. They are people who, in the case of policyholders, took out a legitimate insurance policy in the State with a company regulated principally in Malta but which was regulated here for conduct of business purposes. In some cases, lives have been put on hold for many years. I hope there is light at the end of the tunnel and that the outstanding claims, in respect of which a settlement has been agreed, can be fully paid without further delay.

What people want to know as a result of my raising of the issue today is the date on which the process will be brought to a conclusion. We have had many promises and commitments from the Government. The Fianna Fáil Party is maintaining the pressure to get the issue over the line to bring an end to this nightmare for the people affected.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, who sends his apologies for not being present. As the Deputy will be aware, he is before the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in this matter and that this is not the first time he has raised it.

As alluded to by the Deputy, Setanta Insurance was placed into liquidation by the Malta Financial Services Authority on 30 April 2014. As it was a Maltese incorporated company, the liquidation is being carried out under Maltese law. The Minister is conscious of the effect of the delays in the payment of compensation to Setanta Insurance claimants. The Deputy will be aware that the insurance (Amendment) Act 2018 was signed into law in July this year. The Act, inter alia, provides for the payment of 100% of the compensation due to Setanta third party personal injury motor insurance claimants, including the additional 35% to those who have settled their claims and already received compensation of 65%. The Act also provides for revised arrangements for the ongoing administration of the Insurance Compensation Fund, including, as referenced by the Deputy, the relevant applications to the President of the High Court. The revised arrangements have been put in place. The administration and governance of the fund has been transferred from the accountant of the High Court to the Central Bank of Ireland. The State Claims Agency has taken on the responsibility for making the application for the payment of claims from the Insurance Compensation Fund to the High Court. Once the High Court grants an order to release money from the fund, it is the State Claims Agency that will receive the funds directly from the Central Bank. The agency will then process and issue payments to claimants in co-operation with the liquidator.

The Minister has been informed by the State Claims Agency that a High Court date has been agreed for Monday, 19 November. The purpose of the court appearance is to obtain approval for payments from the fund in respect of the fourth tranche of payments to Setanta claimants. Payments can then be issued to qualifying Setanta claimants by the agency within ten working days of obtaining the funds from the Central Bank on foot of the High Court order. Therefore, the Minister is optimistic that the next tranche of payments can be made to claimants in late November or early December. While he cannot comment on individual cases, the agency has advised that the next tranche will comprise of newly settled claims requiring 100% payment; all those cases where 65% was previously paid and where the balance of 35% is due; and a number of third party legal cost payments. In total, it is expected that the next tranche of claims will comprise in the region of 1,500 separate payments, with a value of approximately €21 million.

While it was hoped an earlier court date could have been agreed, it should be noted that this is the first time the State Claims Agency will carry out the assessment and verification process. Therefore, it is taking extra care to ensure the entire process will work as intended. As the House will appreciate, with 1,500 separate payments, there is a considerable amount of detailed work attached to the process and it is important to get it right. Once the details are worked through for the first application, the process should work more efficiently for subsequent applications. It should be noted that the process of settling claims is still ongoing and, in some cases, subject to court procedures. As the fifth Setanta tranche application to the High Court will be subject to the three-month rule as set out in the Insurance (Amendment) Act 2018, it will not take place until late February at the earliest. The liquidator of Setanta Insurance estimates that the process of settling the vast majority of the outstanding claims should be completed by the end of 2019.

I hope the reply has been of some benefit to the Deputy. If there are specific issues that he wants to raise, I will be happy to relay them to the Minister.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I omitted to mention in my opening remarks the policyholders whose insurance policy with Setanta was the subject of a claim by a third party and who had been left in limbo. Many of them have received legal letters in the past few years informing them that they could be held personally liable and have judgments taken out against them for any shortfall in the amounts paid to the claimants. It is important to indicate that many of those caught up in the collapse of Setanta Insurance also had this issue hanging over their heads.

It is welcome that a date has been set for the next court hearing - Monday, 19 November 2018 - that it will involve the approval of 1,500 separate payments related to the collapse of Setanta Insurance, with a value of approximately €21 million and that the payments will be issued to the affected claimants in late November or early December. I sincerely hope there will be no further delay in the process and that the people concerned will get their money either at the end of this month or early next month but definitely before Christmas this year.

This is not the end of the matter as there will be further tranches that will need to be approved and paid. There are still outstanding claims, for which there are no settlement amounts. I encourage all those involved to try to reach a settlement in order that the mechanisms provided for in the Insurance (Amendment) Act 2018 can kick in and the full amount can be paid. The good news, as per the Minister of State's reply, is that a date has been set and there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, Fianna Fáil will maintain the pressure. I thank everybody who has been working to bring about a resolution of this really difficult issue for those affected. I hope there will be no further undue delay in having the payments issued to those affected.

I acknowledge the Deputy's remarks and I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, would concur with much of what he said. The Government is satisfied that the new arrangements for the Insurance Compensation Fund, with the procedures for accessing funds, mean that from now on other claimants will be able to receive payments more efficiently and regularly.

I acknowledge the Deputy's welcome for the setting of the court date. He is right that there is now light at the end of the tunnel. It involves an input from a number of bodies, including the Central Bank and the State Claims Agency. The House will appreciate that, with the new arrangements, there is a considerable amount of detailed work attached to the process and that it is important to get it right. Nonetheless, the Minister is determined that all Setanta claimant payments will be issued as soon as is practicable. He welcomes the news from the State Claims Agency that the next court hearing will be later this month, with a view to the next tranche of claims being paid by late November or early December.

Nursing Home Services

This is an important issue and I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting it for debate. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to address it.

Last Thursday week the programme "Prime Time Investigates: Troublemakers" was screened.

It showed how families who care for loved ones in institutional care, be it in a private nursing home or a HSE institution, are denied their natural right to visit their seriously ill family members. Two cases in particular were raised. One was that of Anne Fitzgerald, who is unable to communicate and has been ill and in that medical condition for a long time. Anne's husband Pat and daughter Frances love her greatly and visit her regularly when they are allowed. Pat, who cared so much not just about his wife but also about other people in Cherry Orchard Hospital, made a complaint and expressed concerns about another person who he felt was not being treated properly. As a result, he was barred from visiting his sick wife, as was his daughter. This shameful, disgraceful, arrogant and arbitrary act imposed on Pat and his family is denying to Anne Fitzgerald, the patient who lies in a bed in that hospital, her natural human right to be visited as she wishes by her loved ones. Why was Pat shown on the television programme being allowed to visit his good wife? The reason was that the HSE, in its wisdom, allowed him to visit for one hour four times per week. When the 60 minutes are up, a man knocks on the door and says it is time for him to go. His wife, whom he cares for and loves greatly, is being treated as if she were in jail and is being denied her rights. Pat is being denied his rights, all because he is standing up for other people in a system that is malfunctioning. A recent HIQA report on Cherry Orchard Hospital found nine outcomes of major non-compliance, which is extremely upsetting to all the residents and their families.

It is exceptionally clear to me and, I hope, the country that much more needs to be done to improve standards of care in these institutions. The HSE has been aware for some years of significant shortcomings in the governance, quality and risk management operating in Cherry Orchard Hospital. The shameful and disgraceful treatment of the late David Earls and his family will be the subject of debate here as soon as I can get the facts on three deaths at the hospital, including the death of David. These were investigated and the same outcome in terms of shortcomings in governance, quality and risk management arises.

While I appreciate that the Minister of State is not the administrator of Cherry Orchard Hospital, he is in charge of this area. What I and the family want to see is a proper process of respect for families and an appeals process which they can use if issues arise. Why should Pat not be allowed to visit his wife or Frances her mother in hospital? Anne cannot communicate. No one else will be in that room to see them and for someone to tell them their hour is up is shameful and disgraceful and must end. Since the television programme, no one from the HSE has been in touch with the Fitzgerald family - I rang them just before I came in here - which is absolutely unforgivable. I will be unforgiving and relentless in my pursuit of the management of Cherry Orchard Hospital and the people who make these decisions to ensure these families' absolute right to an appeal.

I will raise the second case in my second contribution.

Gabhaim buíochas as ucht an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I acknowledge Deputy O'Dowd's long-standing commitment in this area and his fearless dedication and commitment to raising issues and highlighting injustices he has come across in the system.

I understand that the Deputy raises this important issue in the context of a recent "Prime Time" programme which was broadcast, as he said, on 25 October. The care and well-being of the residents is the primary consideration of the person in charge of each residential care centre. The overarching principle is that families play an important role in the care of their loved ones and that visiting should be facilitated in the interest of the resident unless there are compelling reasons this cannot be done. The Health Service Executive does not routinely use visiting restrictions in residential care centres. These settings are now mainly overseen and regulated by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, or the Mental Health Commission. The inspection reports of both regulatory authorities include the views of residents and their families in many instances.

It is important to have effective mechanisms to maintain and enhance public confidence in the delivery of quality residential care. Residents, their families and the public need to be reassured that the care people receive is monitored. Our system of regulation and inspection was established for the sole purpose of ensuring safety and quality of care for nursing home residents. While standards of care are, thankfully, generally very good, we cannot and will not be complacent when it comes to the protection of older people and other vulnerable people.

Under current legislation, visiting restrictions may be put in place on occasion for a variety of reasons, including safety concerns relating to infection control and the safeguarding of residents from risk of harm. In respect of older people's settings, both public and private, the registered provider is required to make arrangements for a resident to receive visitors and the person in charge shall ensure that, insofar as is reasonably practicable, visits to a resident are not restricted unless such a visit would, in the opinion of the person in charge, pose a risk to the resident concerned or to another resident, or the resident concerned has requested the restriction of visits. In addition, all nursing homes are required to have an accessible and effective complaints procedure, including an appeals process. They must investigate all complaints promptly and, following investigation, put in place any measures required for improvement.

The provisions of the Mental Health Act 2001 (Approved Centres) Regulations 2006 include a requirement that approved mental health centres take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of residents and visitors and have written operational policies and procedures on visits and the health and safety of residents, staff and visitors. The HSE currently has 11 instances where visiting to residents is restricted in services for older persons and mental health services. This is in the context of currently providing more than 7,000 such beds across those services. The cases in which restrictions have been put in place are for a variety of reasons, including the residents in question being wards of court, family members holding enduring power of attorney and having requested certain restrictions, and safeguarding concerns. The HSE has advised that each of the current instances where some level of a restriction on visiting is in place will be reviewed. I welcome that decision.

I welcome the Minister of State's statement and acknowledge that he has been given it to read out. I do not blame him for its content but I do not accept the position in the cases of the Fitzgerald family and the other lady, whom I will call by her first name, Louise. In both these cases the patient is not able to communicate or talk, so there is no question of their not wanting visitors. In both cases there has been arbitrary barring and there is no appeals process. In the case of Louise, her father is dying. When I met her on Sunday she said her father was very seriously ill and would pass away soon. She cannot visit him and was not allowed into the nursing home, which is private, although it is a HSE bed.

There are serious issues here. If the HSE is serious about examining these cases, why has it not contacted the families since Thursday of the week before last? There is an absolutely ruthless disregard of the care and love these families want to show their family members, and it is entirely unacceptable that there is no independent appeals process. Thankfully, there are only 11 such cases. The two cases to which I refer are among them. This is destroying human beings who love and care for their loved ones and cannot show that love in a way that the Minister of State, I or anyone listening to this debate would wish to do. If there is an issue - and I am not talking about these two families - there should be an independent appeals process. It should not involve someone from the HSE or the private nursing home sector. Given that these cases are rare in the first place, as the Minister of State said, appeals should be exceptional. Perhaps a judge or retired judge should look at these cases independently. There should be an appeals process in any case because these families' hearts are broken and the people to whom I talk do not and will not accept that Pat Fitzgerald and his daughter should not be able to visit Anne. That is at the heart of all this. Louise should also have the opportunity to visit her dying father before he passes away.

I stress to the House that quality care and patient safety must come first. The means of ensuring that all residents receive the same high standard of quality assured care is through adherence to the national standards in this regard.

In recent weeks, the Deputy will be interested to know that the HSE has requested that the chief officers in each community healthcare organisation area to ensure that, in each case where a visiting restriction has been imposed, the chief officer reviews it with the relevant personnel to establish that the measure is warranted, appropriate and to the least level of restriction possible.

Where a restriction has been applied, it should also be ensured that there is an ongoing review that would allow for it to be lifted as soon as the circumstances leading to the decision no longer prevail or are altered. The guiding principle of the maximum inclusion of families must also be upheld, and it should be ensured that consideration of the issue is informed by the most recent regulatory report in respect of each centre, in so far as that report refers to families, families' views, visiting inclusion etc. Where there is a restriction, the families must be offered independent mediation with local HSE staff. I am assured by the HSE that this process is under way.

From a policy perspective, we have taken a number of steps to ensure that the voice of patients is embedded in the health service. It is intended to appoint two patient advocates to the board of the HSE. Proposals for an independent patient safety council are at an advanced stage and we expect to be in a position to bring proposals to the Government very shortly. I am not going to comment on the individual cases. Sometimes cases are highlighted on the television. The Deputy will be the first to acknowledge that there are other cases that do not make it to the television that are equally concerning to us. I will take on board what has been suggested about an independent appeals process.

I ask that the families be contacted by the HSE this evening.

I will certainly pass that request on to the HSE.

Urban Renewal Schemes

Leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh, agus má thagann an Teachta Barry, ligfidh mé isteach é. It is, incredibly, 1,000 days since the sod turning for the Cork event centre. It has been 1,000 days of missed deadlines, uncertainty and the people of Cork getting increasingly frustrated. It is not even as if that was the start of the story. We heard that work was due to start in the summer of 2015, then late 2015, before it went on to Easter 2016, late 2016 etc. It was February 2016, when the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, turned the sod in the teeth of a general election, that this whole train of events moved from process to high farce. It has become a matter of fact that it was an election stunt.

I want to be clear that I want this to happen and the people of Cork want this to happen. No one is raising concerns just for the sake of it. The potential is enormous. The project can bring much life to the city, major events and conferences and help regenerate that entire part of the city from North Main Street up to Barrack Street. Public confidence has, however, sapped away. As well as the landmark of 1,000 days, it is more than a year since the application for additional funding was made by Cork City Council to the Department in September 2017. Why has it taken so long for this application to be approved? The Government keeps telling us that it is committed to this project, but we still await approval.

I asked the Tánaiste in July whether he believed the Department would decide on that additional funding between then and the return of the Dáil in September. He said that was the intention but, so far, we still do not have sign-off. I recognise that the Government will say some of the responsibility for this project lies with other parties, including Cork City Council and the contractor, BAM, but the application for €10 million is with the national Government. Processing that application is one of the key steps to moving forward. Where is the Government decision on additional funding, when will it be made and when will final agreement on the additional funding be arrived at?

I want the Minister of State to explain to the people of Cork what the story is with the event centre, for which we have been waiting 1,000 days. The Minister of State's former leader, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, was pictured on the front page of the newspapers with a shovel turning the sod for the event centre. It is 1,000 days later and not a single brick has been laid on that site. It is a disgrace. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, was out front with his picture in the newspapers. It was an election stunt during the general election of 2016. The people of Cork need, deserve and want that event centre and they want to know the story.

The Tánaiste was on the front pages of the newspapers again the other day stating that meetings were taking place here, there and everywhere. I am sure meetings are taking place left, right and centre. What are the meetings discussing? They are discussing putting more taxpayers' money, more State money, towards the project and the big corporate interests behind this project. Originally, there was talk of €20 million and then an extra €10 million was being looked at. I understand there is also an extra €10 million for public realm funding. That is €40 million out of a €75 million to €80 million project. Half of the money is coming from the State.

The centre would have been open by now if it had been built by the State as a public project. That is what should have happened from day one. What is the story? The people are watching and they want to know. They are sick and tired of these excuses from the Tánaiste. Let us have some real news today.

I thank both Deputies for raising this issue. The Cork event centre project consists of the design, construction and operation of a new multifunctional event centre in Cork city with a capacity of approximately 6,000 people. It is envisaged that the event centre will be capable of accommodating a range of events, including concerts, festivals, family entertainments, arts, cultural, sports, exhibitions, conferences and trade shows. This is a project, as both Deputies know, led by Cork City Council. In December 2014, the development company BAM was selected by Cork City Council as the preferred tenderer. BAM in turn has engaged international events company Live Nation as the preferred operator.

The project is being developed and managed ultimately by Cork City Council. This means that Cork City Council is responsible for its delivery. A service level agreement has been signed between the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Cork City Council. This agreement sets out the terms and conditions of the grant of €12 million, and the Department has paid €1 million to Cork City Council. In addition to the €12 million provided by the Exchequer, Cork City Council itself plans to contribute €8 million to the project. The total project cost of the Cork event centre when the tender was awarded to BAM by Cork City Council in December 2014 was €50 million. The latest financial projection provided by Cork City Council to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, however, indicates a significant increase in the cost of the event centre. In September 2017, Cork City Council wrote to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht seeking additional funding of €10 million for the project from the Exchequer. This would bring the Exchequer contribution to €22 million and total public funding to €30 million.

This project is very much in line with what the Government is seeking to achieve in terms of balanced regional development and sustainable urban development under Project 2040. The Cork event centre is a Government commitment and it also underlines the Government's commitment to culture. The new centre will provide a substantial addition to the cultural offering in Cork city and county when it is complete.

In the context of the application for additional funding of €10 million for the project, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as the sanctioning authority, needs to ensure that the project is robust, complies with the public spending code and will deliver value for money for the Exchequer. I am sure the Deputies will agree with me on that. Due to its size and cost, this project has significant procurement, state aid, legal and matching funding complexities.

Significant work is taking place by all parties involved to develop a sustainable project, culminating in a new cultural centre for Cork. I confirm that high-level meetings continue to take place regarding the legal and funding requirements in light of the additional €10 million funding request. Cork City Council is also reviewing a number of elements of the project, such as the revised application for planning permission which was submitted in August 2018 and funding of ancillary infrastructure near the event centre. I will restate this to both Deputies and the people of Cork. All parties are eager for this project to progress and to be delivered in accordance with the relevant Exchequer funding and legal requirements.

The Minister of State's response is not particularly clear, enlightening or encouraging. There is no timeline and he merely restated the process, with which we are more than familiar. The people of Cork are also more than familiar with it. The response speaks of the latest financial projections provided by Cork City Council for the Department which indicate a significant increase in the cost of the events centre. That is old news. There is also mention of an application for funding in September 2017, with which we are also all more than familiar. More delays are the problem. A total of €633,000 has been spent without one brick being laid. or perhaps it is more than that at this stage.

I note that meetings have been outlined by the Government and the Tánaiste recently in the Evening Echo. It is difficult for us to evaluate their value and whether they were fruitful, but I hope they were. If they were, surely it would be possible to give us a timeline as to when a decision is likely to be made on the funding application. Will it even be made in 2018 or will it drag on even further into 2019? I am not asking the Minister of State for a decision, but rather when will a decision be made on the application for additional funding?

I have looked at the Minister of State's reply and there are many lines I could pick from it. One indicates that the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has already paid €1 million to Cork City Council. Does the Minister of State know on what the €1 million has been spent? It has been spent on consultants and solicitors' fees. Not one single brick has been laid. The people of Cork were promised this project by Deputies Coveney and enda Kenny 1,000 days ago. They have been extraordinarily patient and put up with delay after delay. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is saying it will be sorted out in a few weeks and that construction will start in early 2019. I am not looking for ráiméis and old talk but for hard news and information. When will the project start?

Deputy Ó Laoghaire has said he wants the project to happen. The Government also wants it to happen and it will. I say to Deputy Barry that there is no stunt. As I mentioned, there are complexities owing to the size and cost of the project. As the Deputies know, there is significant procurement and State aid involved. It is really important that we deliver value for money. The development of the events centre in Cork is a priority for the Government. I speak on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Madigan, and the Tánaiste in saying this. Our commitment to the project is as strong now as it was in 2014 when Cork City Council awarded the tender. It is not a question of it not happening; it will happen. It is clear that the events centre represents an important opportunity for business and tourism in Cork. The Government is committed to investing in Cork which both Deputies should be delighted to hear. The project is in line with the objectives of Project 2040 such as investing in our culture, language and heritage. It sets out indicative investment levels for the national cultural institutions, including €22 million for the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. Both the Crawford Art Gallery and the events centre have the potential to contribute much to the cultural life of Cork and also its economic development.

We have been hearing about potential for three years now.

It is a priority for all Deputies in Cork. As I mentioned, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is continuing to engage with Cork City Council and there are ongoing meetings about additional funding for the events centre. However, like all capital proposals of this size, it is subject to evaluation and appraisal in accordance with the provisions of the public spending code, as I am sure both Deputies will acknowledge.

When will a decision be made?

I cannot give a decision now, but the process is moving in the right direction. When it happens, I am sure the Deputies will acknowledge it also.

Road Improvement Schemes

I thank the Minister for coming. I will say one thing for him - he is one of the few senior Ministers who comes here to answer questions in Topical Issues debates. We might criticise him correctly on other issues, but we appreciate him being here.

My colleague, Deputy Scanlon, and I are here again to bring to the Minister's attention the deficits on one of the national primary routes in Roscommon. It is the section of the N4 between Carrick-on-Shannon and Boyle, on which I am sure the Minister has travelled. If he has not, I invite him to do so in the next week or two in order that he can have a good look at it. A number of junctions on it cause grave concern. Deputy Scanlon and I will highlight the right turn to Knockvicar and the left turn to Croghan. There is a mounting number of accidents, in which people are injured, at these junctions. It is an urgent matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, which should formulate a plan as quickly as possible. I know that the council and councillors in the region have been highlighting the matter from as early as 2010 when there was a campaign about the issue, but nothing was done. We need lining improvements on the road at the junctions mentioned. In the meantime, we know that a flashing sign telling motorists to slow down has been effective on the N5. Such a project could be considered in the short term as I understand such signs are not very expensive.

I will hand over shortly to my colleague, Deputy Scanlon, but I am making a personal appeal to the Minister to take this matter most seriously. It might be argued that accidents are not registered at the locations, but, unfortunately, some people do not report minor accidents. I urge people to do so. If we do not act, there will be loss of life at the junctions mentioned. Many people have been injured at them, particularly in recent years. I, therefore, urge the Minister to get TII to deal with the matter as soon as possible.

I will not repeat Deputy Eugene Murphy's comments, but I emphasise the problem at the junctions in question. I have photographs of them which I will give to the Minister when I finish. According to TII, this section of road is recognised as a collision-prone zone, HD15. It is a straight stretch of the N4 that is perhaps two miles long. When cars are turning right and crossing the L1015, Cootehall road, the main road to Drumshanbo, or the L1024, Croghan road, the main road to Roscommon town, the drivers are taking their lives in their hands. The car behind them is not the problem but rather the car two or three back. It is a 100 km/h zone and the cars behind are speeding. The drivers may not realise there is a car in the middle of the road which is looking to turn right and could overtake it. That is what causes the accidents.

A process takes place every year to investigate collision-prone zones. This is the time to seek a resolution in order that next year we can ensure people will able to cross the road safely without taking their lives in their hands. Otherwise, tragically, somebody will be injured or killed at these junctions.

I thank both Deputies for raising this important matter. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme, but the planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects are matters for Transport Infrastructure Ireland under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects are matters, in the first instance, for TII, in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act. Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads place a substantial financial burden on local authorities and the Exchequer. As a result of the national financial position, there were very large reductions in the Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure after the financial crisis. The capital plan, Building on Recovery, for the period 2016 to 2021 and the capital plan review allocations mark a significant step forward in restoring funding to the levels needed to maintain the road network in a "steady state" condition and allow for investment in road improvement schemes.

Minor improvement schemes were included in the road safety strategy. TII is maintaining an ongoing rolling programme of minor projects. To date, 42 minor schemes have been completed. Available funding has allowed TII to maintain delivery on a minimum of four schemes each year and to prepare additional schemes on an ongoing basis. I understand that TII envisages continuing to undertake a minimum of four schemes a year. County Roscommon has four schemes included in TII's rolling programme of minor projects. The N61 Coolteige scheme is currently under construction and the N60 at Oran, the N61 from Ballymurray to Knockcroghery and the N61 from Clashnaganny to Tulsk are currently at various stages of the design process.

The section of the N4 referred to by the Deputies includes two junctions on the N4 at Croghan and Cootehill. These junctions were identified through the HD15 safety programme and improvements were made by Roscommon County Council in late 2016 and early 2017 in terms of signage and lining improvements, including arrows. The junctions will be the subject of ongoing assessment under the HD15 programme, the results of which will be communicated to Roscommon County Council for follow up action, if required.

The programme remains in place and if further works are considered necessary the local authority can again carry out a feasibility report. The minors programme referred to is also available to deal with the bigger schemes identified through this HD15 process and also to address other safety, capacity and alignment concerns.

I am not an insulting person to anybody and I will not be insulting to the Minister or his officials, but I am looking at the Minister's reply and it is all about budgets. It is telling us about works that were carried out which are useless and the engineers in Roscommon County Council will tell the Minister that they are useless.

This is about lives, families and people. This is not about the type of press release which the Minister has given us today.

I challenge the Minister to come down on that route with Deputy Scanlon and me. It is not acceptable to put this on the long finger. The work that was carried out there is not sufficient. In the name of God I ask the Minister please to think about people and lives. He knows about the volume of traffic that is on that road, how it is increasing all of the time and how all of the Sligo and Donegal traffic comes on that route as well. This is a deathtrap, make no mistake about it, as are several junctions along the N4 and N5.

Despite the Minister mentioning four projects in Roscommon which we welcome and which are ongoing, nothing is being done with the junctions off the N4 and N5 which seriously need work. I am putting it on record that more lives will be lost on those routes unless the Minister takes action as quickly as possible.

I note what the Minister said on the work that has been carried out with signage. I know that work has been carried out because of the work of local councillors such as Rachel Doherty, John Cummins and John Murphy, but unfortunately it is not enough. I propose a traffic calming measure at that particular part of the road as a solution because as Deputy Eugene Murphy has said, if something is not done, there will be a fatality and there is no doubt about that.

I plead with the Minister to meet us there if he comes to the area and we will show him exactly what we are talking about.

I fully understand the passion with which the Deputies have described the problems on their roads and I share that worry. It would be my wish and the wish of anybody in government who is committed to road safety to address any issues of this sort all around the country. I have not seen this road and at some stage I would be happy to see it but I take the word of the Deputies that it is dangerous because there are issues of danger throughout Ireland on the extraordinarily large number of roads that we have.

TII runs the schemes which I have described and it identifies a certain number every year which are priorities. The Deputies rightly say that nowhere can be prioritised because by leaving anywhere unattended, lives are being risked and that is true. Putting a motorcar on the road is risking lives.

I have not seen figures because the Deputies did not produce them in this debate which disappointed me. If they could produce for me figures for accidents, collisions, dangers and incidents that have happened on this particular stretch of road to which they refer, I will ask TII to look at it, but it has to be backed up with figures, facts, incidents and events for this to happen.

Stepaside Garda station had no facts to justify its reopening.

It is a very long and unhappy queue but if the Deputies could send me on that sort of evidence I will hand it over to the TII.