Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Air Quality

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, for his attendance. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, raised issues about the level of nitrogen dioxide in Dublin's air, which hit the newspapers and other media yesterday. We are in danger, if we have not done so already, of breaching European Union limits on air pollution in Dublin. This has particular consequences for the health and well-being of people who live in the capital, particularly those with asthma or other respiratory diseases who are far more susceptible to a decrease in air quality. Of course, people know this anyway and did not need the EPA to come up with a report to tell us the air quality in Dublin is poor. I also wish to address the Government's rather poor response to these findings.

I live in Knocklyon which is on the M50 corridor. Today is a day of still air and if one goes up the Dublin Mountains from April or May onwards on a still day, one can see the entire line and curve of the M50 as it stretches from Wicklow to Fingal and beyond. On a day like today, one would see a heavy brown pallor of smoke approximately 200 feet above the M50. It is there constantly but we tend to only see it on clear days. Nothing has been done to address that pallor, which has been there for the past decade.

We must thank the EPA for undertaking a degree of air monitoring. The M50 is not the only area it mentioned, but it is one which it indicated was approaching, equal to or above the nitrogen oxide levels acceptable. So too are areas around the port tunnel in the city, the quays and Heuston Station where the levels at Dr. Steeven's Hospital appear to be the highest.

We must have some leadership from the Government on this issue, as it is a problem that will not go away. The level of car ownership is increasing. The Government's response is that the pollutants in the city are mainly diesel vehicles, cars, trucks and buses and, therefore, the answer is BusConnects, as the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport said yesterday. The BusConnects project is a year old, yet nothing has happened. By the time it is finished - if it is ever completed; much of it, including the infrastructure, will never see the light of day - it will be 2027 or 2030. We need some indication that the Government will not be reactive on issues such as air quality but proactive.

The answer to chronic emissions is dealing with the vehicles that create them. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that to improve air quality in and around the city, we will have to reduce the number of polluting vehicles. That will take courage, but someone will have to do it because the only way to clean the air is to remove the vehicles that are polluting it. The answer others on this side of the House and I keep getting is the solution is Project 2040, BusConnects and e-cars by 2030. There will be a reckoning for the Government on its performance in dealing with this issue. At the very least, we are calling for air monitoring installations to be set up immediately in all parts of the city and other urban areas in order that we can capture the level of its quality, but that is only part of the story. Dramatic action must be taken. That will require leadership; leadership will require bringing people along, identifying the challenges and immediate, medium and long-term solutions.

Any threat to public health is a matter of concern for the Department of Health. The recently published 2019 report of the Environmental Protection Agency on urban environmental Indicators which looks at nitrogen dioxide levels in Dublin does give cause for concern. Nitrogen dioxide, NO2, is an air pollutant associated with urban areas. It is strongly linked with traffic emissions. High levels of NO2 can have a detrimental effect on public health, including an increased prevalence of diseases such as asthma. Ireland has some of the highest rates of asthma and cystic fibrosis in the world, as well as high rates of other respiratory conditions. This, in turn, can place an additional burden on health services, with increased numbers of GP visits and hospitalisations. It can also have an impact on the economy in work days lost. While everyone needs good air quality, people with underlying respiratory disease are more vulnerable to health impacts when air quality deteriorates.

The findings in the EPA's report present an early warning of potential exceedances of EU limit values in certain areas of Dublin. The highest levels of NO2 occur at locations where traffic levels are heavier. However, we can draw some comfort from the report’s finding that levels of NO2 are well within the recommended EU limits in many residential areas in Dublin away from busy roads.

It is clear from the findings in the report that long-term exposure to high levels of NO2 is a cause of concern for people’s health. I agree that action needs to be taken. It requires a whole-of-government approach. In that regard, I am confident that implementation of the Government’s recently published climate action plan will have benefits for air quality.

Whereas the Department of Health is tasked with maintaining public health, other Departments and agencies such as the local authorities have significant roles to play. The Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment has lead responsibility for policy and legislation on air quality. Air quality is a key determinant of health identified by the Healthy Ireland framework for the period 2013 to 2025 and one of 31 indicators included in the Healthy Ireland outcomes framework. The factors that contribute to air quality are complex and inter-related. They will, therefore, will require an inter-sectoral and co-ordinated response to address them. Initiatives to reduce pollutants significantly will require significant inter-sectoral collaboration. The Government’s first national clean air strategy is under development by the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment which the Minister anticipates will consider key pollution sources such as transport and its links with increased levels of NO2. The strategy is expected to lead the way on policy change to improve the air that we breathe.

Improved data collection is very important in ensuring we will not breach EU limits for NO2. The EPA, by way of improving the availability of real-time air quality data for the public, is setting up new permanent monitoring stations in Dublin in partnership with Dublin City Council and Trinity College Dublin. They include locations in Dublin identified in the report as black spots with the highest levels of NO2. I understand that, if further monitoring confirms the EU limit values of NO2 have been exceeded, the local authorities in Dublin will be legally required to prepare air quality action plans to address the causes and provide solutions in the affected areas.

I thank the Minister of State for taking this Topical Issue matter. The response states: "We can draw some comfort from the report’s finding that levels of NO2 are well within the recommended EU limits in many residential areas in Dublin away from busy roads." The M50 runs through my constituency, in areas such as Kingswood in Tallaght, Oldbawn, Templeogue, Greenhills, Walkinstown, Knockline and Ballycullen, out into the constituency of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in areas such as Ballinteer, Dundrum and Marley Park. That there are areas not covered by the report is of little comfort to me.

I am very taken by the fourth paragraph in the response. There is a sentence which runs for ten words, five of which have five syllables: "Initiatives to significantly reduce pollutants will require significant inter-sectoral collaboration." We know that; the fact is that nothing is happening. People on the south side of Dublin know all about air quality, dating back ten years. The answer also states improved data collection is very important. We also know that, as the EPA has told us about it.

The project between Dublin City Council and Trinity College Dublin was mentioned. It will affect the city, but what about South Dublin County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Fingal County Council through the areas of which the M50 runs?

The response states, "if further monitoring confirms that the EU limit values of NO2 have been exceeded, the local authorities in Dublin will be legally required to prepare air quality action plans..." Why, therefore, are we waiting? It is inevitable that levels will increase. Car levels are increasing and any efforts at reduced emission or volume of cars on the road has not kicked in at all. Why are we waiting? Will the Minister of State ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment why we should wait for the EPA to produce a further report stating we have breached EU guidelines and recommended limits in certain areas? We should have air monitoring, but that will only identify the problem areas where the Minister and the Government will need to come up with a range of immediate, medium and long-term actions to deal with air quality in Dublin which is disimproving.

It was in the 1980s when the first initiative was brought forward to ban smoky coal in Dublin because air quality had deteriorated. There were not as many cars then and the improvements in air quality have been eaten into by increased car use. One of the inter-sectoral actions in the climate action plan involves the increased use of electric and hybrid vehicles which will help to immediately reduce emissions, something that will happen if buses were run on electricity or biofuels. I agree with the Deputy.

If local authorities are informed and forewarned of the possibility it would be up to the local authorities as well and not just central government. It is the role of the Government and the EPA as an agency to notify them and put them on notice. If it is the case that it is likely that they will breach then they should have monitoring in place, particularly along the busy route the Deputy mentioned, which also stretches into north Wicklow at the M11 and M50 interchange.

It is something we need to be aware of and cognisant of. Various initiatives that will help drive down the amount of pollutants emitted into the atmosphere will help in the long term. It is never too early to start and we should have an immediate joined-up collaborative approach.

Mental Health Services

Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil don Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to raise this sad and desperate situation. An bhfuil aon Aire Stáit anseo?

Is the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, taking this matter?

I refuse to have it taken because this is a joke. No disrespect to the Minister of State but the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, should take this very serious issue for my county and its population given the tragic increase in mental health issues and suicide as a result-----

Just one minute, I take it that the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, has been asked to take this Topical Issue.

I was asked to take it.

The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is taking it.

This just goes to show the interest the Government has in mental health and the people of Tipperary. It is an outrage. There are four Ministers of State and one Minister at the Department of Health and not one of them could be here to take this issue. Topical Issue matters are not selected easily and it is thanks to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle this has been selected. It beggars belief that the Government would send in the Minister of State with a script and fob us off. For a long time, I accepted the bona fides of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, but they are quite useless now. Goodwill gestures and telling us he is interested are no good to us any more. He is doing nothing about the situation in Tipperary. We have not had one long-stay bed in Tipperary since the so-called A Vision for Change was ushered in by the former Minister of State, John Moloney, of Fianna Fáil. Then we had Kathleen Lynch and now it is three years out of date and we still have no places. It is just not funny any more.

Recently, I received a reply to a parliamentary question from the HSE's head of estates, Mr. Jim Curran, who confirmed to me that the new design for a proposed upgrade to the Grenville mental health crisis house in Clonmel is undergoing a review. This is not even happening because funding has yet to be confirmed under the HSE's capital plan for 2019. Are all the Ministers in hiding? We still do not have the 2019 HSE capital plan. The Ministers are hiding because they have made such a bags and unholy mess of the children's hospital that every other project is suffering as a result. This is confirmation of it. We badly need mental health support, crisis nurses and other staff to deal with people in Tipperary. Kilkenny is full to the brim. It cannot keep us there. The same is true for the people of north Tipperary who must go to Ennis or Limerick. This is a crisis of high proportions. Fr. Michael Twomey came here and met the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly. We had a committee in south Tipperary to save our hospital and now we are dealing with this also. There are groups such as C-saw, Taxi Watch and the River Suir Suicide Watch out night and day patrolling. There is an epidemic of drug dealing in Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Tipperary town and many other towns. Every town and village has a crisis with drugs and there is nobody to deal with it.

CAMHS, with regard to children trying to access it, is in utter disarray. Recently, I received two separate calls from parents whose children are attending CAMHS with severe social anxiety and other mental health issues. These children have been referred to the early intervention and disability services team for assessment of needs but the families have been told not to expect one for 12 to 18 months. Imagine this. The Minister of State should be ashamed to be part of a Government that deals with vulnerable people in this way. These children were due to start secondary school in September but they have no services. Even the fact they have received urgent referrals from CAMHS should be sufficient to ensure the children are seen but that is not sufficient. What do we have to do? We have countless suicides and a mental health epidemic but nothing is happening with the Government. Its members should be ashamed of their lives to send back replies when no Minister would come in to deal with it. They can run but they cannot hide, and they cannot hide from the people of Tipperary. This is a crisis epidemic and people are being left vulnerable and sadly short of services for their loved ones.

The Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has asked me to convey his sincere apologies for not being able to take this Topical Issue debate as he is on official Government business in Finland.

The recent budget provided an additional €55 million to progress new developments in mental health this year, which brings overall HSE mental health funding to nearly €1 billion in 2019. This in turn will allow for continued improvements to all aspects of mental health care across the nine HSE Community Healthcare Organisations, including CHO3 and CHO5, which incorporate County Tipperary.

One of the strategic priorities for mental health in the HSE's national service plan for 2019 is to deliver timely, clinically effective and standardised safe mental health services in adherence to statutory requirements. The provision of acute inpatient care to the adult population of north Tipperary, which is in CHO3, is provided between the acute unit in University Hospital Limerick, which has 50 beds, and the acute psychiatric unit in Ennis, which has 39 beds. The 44-bed department of psychiatry based at St. Luke’s General Hospital in Kilkenny is the designated approved centre for acute inpatient services for south Tipperary, which is in CHO5. This enables all acute inpatient admissions for this CHO area to be managed at a single site.

Referrals to St. Luke’s are through a consultant psychiatrist who makes the clinical decision to admit based on the level of acute presentation or need. In addition to the department of psychiatry, there is a dedicated psychiatric liaison team operating from the emergency department in St. Luke’s. All service users presenting to the emergency department who require psychiatric assessment will receive that assessment within agreed timeframes, in line with relevant guidelines. Onward referral pathways are agreed with all service users upon completion of psychiatric assessment in the emergency department. Pathways can include admission to an acute unit, referral to a relevant community mental health service team or referral back to a GP. There is a range of other mental health services for adults in Tipperary. These include psychiatry of old age teams, non-acute beds, day hospitals and day centres. In addition, there are community mental health teams and high, medium and low support community residences.

In relation to those under 18, three CAMHS teams operate in Tipperary, with one in north Tipperary and two in south Tipperary. The CAMHS acute units at Éist Linn in Cork and Merlin Park University Hospital in Galway, which has a total of 42 beds, serve the Tipperary catchment area. The new permanent crisis house to replace Glenville House is included in the HSE’s capital programme for 2019 and is at the tendering phase. The Government is also funding a new Jigsaw service for the youth of Tipperary. A plan is now being put in place by Jigsaw with the aim of opening the new service in the early part of 2020. The Minister of State, Deputy Daly, is very aware of the challenges facing the mental health services in Tipperary. He has met Oireachtas members and various local representatives to discuss current and future provision of mental health services in Tipperary, on several occasions, most recently on 3 July 2019.

It is bad enough to have the Minister of State come in and read out a reply but to read out untruths I will not accept. I have a reply to a parliamentary question from the head of procurement, Mr. Jim Curran, who confirmed to me that while the new design for a proposed upgrade is undergoing a review the tender process, the project cannot proceed because funding has yet to be confirmed under the HSE's capital plan for 2019. Is the Minister of State telling me that since this morning the capital plan has been approved?

It was not approved this afternoon during Leaders' Questions. I will not accept mistruths and baloney from any Minister of State but especially from someone who is reading a reply on behalf of someone else's Minister. What the Minister of State read as part of that reply would be a sick joke if it was not so serious. He stated: "One of the strategic priorities for mental health in the HSE national service plan for 2019 is to deliver" [wait for it] "timely, clinically effective and standardised safe mental health services in adherence to statutory requirements". It is not delivered, timely, clinical, effective or standardised.

We have nothing in south Tipperary. It is an appalling vista and there is nothing but a skeleton service. We could not even be given a room in South Tipperary General Hospital where people could go when they have a psychotic attack. Having such a facility would mean that people could be brought to a quieter place rather than be left in an overcrowded and overburdened emergency department. That is a disgrace. I want the Minister of State to withdraw his reply because the service plan was not agreed this afternoon during Leaders' Questions. Unless it was agreed and published over lunch today, he is telling mistruths.

I will not accept that from him or anybody else. I have a reply to a parliamentary question here. The Minister of State thinks that he can peddle as many untruths as he can get away. He will not, however, get away with that in Tipperary. He has no place to hide. It is disgusting and no wonder none of the five Ministers or Ministers of State with responsibility for health would come into the House. It is a downright disgrace on the second last day before the summer holidays for the Government to think that it will get away with treating the people of Tipperary, and especially those who have mental health issues, this way. It is a total abdication of responsibility and the Minister of State does not deserve to be in government. He deserves to be out milking the cows or someplace else on his farm but not giving that kind of diatribe to me and to sick people in Tipperary. I will not accept that. I want the Minister of State to withdraw what he stated. The HSE strategy has not been announced and part of the Minister of State's reply stated that it is.

I thank the Acting Chairman and I accept that. I am so enraged with that diatribe.

I have nothing to say.

There are two minutes left. Will the Minister of State withdraw his statement concerning the tenders for the HSE service plan having gone out? I have a reply from the head of procurement stating that tenders have not gone out. He is waiting on the service plan to be published.

I ask Deputy Mattie McGrath to resume his seat.

This is outrageous.

What did I get? I got mistruths.

We will move on to the next-----

Then he waves the white flag and runs away.

There is no white flag. There is a way to conduct oneself.

I will conduct myself but I will not accept----

Well then, I ask the Deputy to conduct himself now.

-----mistruths and lies.

We will move on to the next matter.

Suicide Prevention

In the past few weeks, and indeed years, there has been a surge of suicides in the Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard area, in particular, but also across the State as a whole. There have been more than 20 deaths by suicide, at least, in the Cherry Orchard and Ballyfermot area. Grieving communities and families who are distraught are left behind after those deaths. They are reaching out and crying out for support to help stop this epidemic. Another three young women died in the past fortnight or so. People in those communities are asking the questions we all do. How can we help? How can we stop this happening? What is causing it? Why is it that in this area in particular there is a different profile for those who have died by suicide compared to that in other areas? More than half of those who have died by suicide have been young women. They are often women with children and they are dying violent deaths.

I appeal to the Minister of State, and in particular to his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, who has special responsibility for mental health, as well as to his other colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who lives in the constituency to which I am referring and knows the community, or should know the community. She has responsibility for the drugs services. We need the immediate setting up of a multi-agency task force. It does not have to be a new task force. The existing drugs task force can be utilised. It needs to be resourced and funded, however. That task force needs to be able to deliver the services it is trying and struggling to deliver.

I refer to the services delivered by Ballyfermot STAR and FamiliBase in particular. Those organisations have reached out well beyond their resources to try to help with issues connected with drugs and, in this case, with suicide. Regrettably, many of those who have died by suicide are addicted to or dabbling in drugs. Some of those people have been linked to services such as Ballyfermot STAR and FamiliBase, but those organisations are grappling against the odds. They have the support of other agencies in the area but they do not have the resources to provide a full community-led response. They also do not have the resources to provide a full 24-hour service in the area or to tackle the increase in polydrug use, the re-emergence of cocaine and, scarily, the use of crack cocaine in the community. All of those addictions are feeding into this epidemic. This is not just about polydrug use or drug use because other factors play a role in the tragic decisions that these young people have taken.

The community is scarred, in mourning and reaching out. There are some simple things that can be done. It is not all about money; it is about access to resources and trying to ensure that we address this as a society but also as a community and from the bottom up. SafeTALK and STORM training should be rolled out in as many schools and sports clubs to as many people as possible. That is so we can help and play our role in identifying people in distress, assist them and, hopefully, help to prevent them from taking tragic decisions similar to those that have affected our community in recent weeks.

The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has asked me to convey his sincere apologies that he could not take this Topical Issue matter as he is currently on official Government business in Finland. Before I read out the prepared note, this is an issue in which I have a personal interest. I think the Deputy knows that. When I read out the note, therefore, I agree with what is being stated and I am not just reading. It is important that I state that on a personal level. It is not the case that because we are in separate Departments that we do not have empathy with issues such as this.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. Any loss of life to suicide is a tragedy, and my deepest condolences go out to the families and friends affected by suicide. Every suicide affects not just family and friends, but the community itself. It is important to ensure that strong supports are in place to help family, friends and the community to deal with this tragedy. I understand that the HSE, as recently as Monday this week, met locals in the Ballyfermot area who had expressed concern. It was agreed to provide additional support people in the area whom it was felt they needed to link in with mental health services.

Tackling suicide in all areas of Ireland is a priority for the Government. Connecting for life, CFL, is Ireland's national strategy to reduce suicide and will run until 2020. Reducing suicide requires a whole-of-Government approach, and in this regard, a cross-sectoral steering group was established to assist the National Office for Suicide Prevention, NOSP, in implementing CFL. The NOSP is part of the HSE and was specifically established to co-ordinate suicide prevention efforts around the country and to implement CFL. To support the NOSP, funding has been increased from €3.7 million in 2010 to the current level of €12 million. An additional €2.75 million was provided in 2015 for additional resource officers for suicide prevention and for priority actions under connecting for life.

Nationwide, the trend over the past number of years has been a reduction in the number of suicides. The work of the NOSP has helped to reduce that number from 495 in 2010 to 352 in 2018. The 2018 figures are provisional, and by their nature are subject to change, so they should be interpreted with caution at this time. A key part of the CFL strategy is the development of local CFL plans. All 17 of these plans have been launched, including the CFL Dublin South Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2018-2020, which was launched in February 2018.

In 2017, extensive consultation took place to develop this plan. This consultation process helped to identify key risks regarding suicide in the Dublin south area and associated service challenges. The action plan was developed in response to these identified risks and in line with the national CFL framework.

Implementation of the plan is being driven by one of three resource officers for suicide prevention across south Dublin, Kildare and west Wicklow. The plan, Connecting for Life - Dublin South, details 64 actions that are currently being implemented in the area with the aim of reducing the rate of suicide in south Dublin in line with national targets.

Throughout south Dublin there are several services targeted at the promotion of positive mental health and at addressing the needs of those experiencing mental health difficulties. These services include adult, adolescent and child specialist mental health services, suicide prevention supports and services and primary care and network services, including counselling in primary care.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. I do not believe any of us has ownership of this issue. It is a pity that we have to come here to address it but it is has reached epidemic proportions in some of our communities. I acknowledge what the Minister of State has said about the fall in numbers. Any decrease in the number of suicides is to be welcomed. However, it may be the case that suicide is becoming more concentrated in certain areas or certain cohorts of communities. The community for which I am appealing for extra supports is that in Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard. I acknowledge that the HSE has been active this week. There have been several interventions by both the local drugs services and other services, as well as by An Garda Síochána. There have been several meetings and there will be another tomorrow night. That reflects the scale of the issue. I hope to be at the meeting in the civic centre tomorrow evening.

However, meetings by themselves can only do so much. We will not get an instantaneous answer or sort this out overnight. That is why I appealed to the Minister of State to ensure that we roll out the SafeTALK and skills training on risk, STORM, components of the Connecting for Life programme as extensively as possible. We must also start to fund some of the agencies doing this work so they can properly carry out the work they need to do. I refer in particular to those which fall under the remit of the drug and alcohol task forces, which have not seen any increase in funding sine 2008 despite facing additional workloads and a role in tackling the issue.

There is a network of active groups. I ask the Minister of State to pass on to the Ministers of State at the Department of Health, Deputies Catherine Byrne and Jim Daly, an invitation to come to the area to meet these groups. We must collectively take the approach upon which everybody agrees and work together to lift this blight from our communities.

I thank the Deputy. Suicide is a challenging issue, especially where we use the phrase "black spots". The numbers have been stubbornly high. Bringing them down and building resilience are challenging tasks. The HSE is funding partner agencies in south Dublin including Candle Community Trust, Aware, BeLonG To, Mental Health Ireland, Pieta House, Samaritans Ireland and Suicide or Survive.

The resource officer for suicide prevention in the area is also involved with mental health promotion and training at local level. I do not have last year's figures to hand but in 2017, more than 1,000 individuals working or living in the south Dublin area were trained through programmes to enhance the community's capacity to respond to suicide and self-harm. They have been educated to be alert to the signals and to intervene and intercept incidences. That sounds like a bad word, but ultimately that is what we are trying to do in cases where people do not make a phone call to one of those agencies. Through these programmes people are empowered and trained to identify signals.

A range of measures is in place. There is no doubt that it is an ongoing issue which needs to be resourced. The Deputy mentioned the drug and alcohol task forces. I have been a part of one for years. It is really important that alongside other agencies and statutory bodies, they are empowered to facilitate training for people in the community to address this issue. The Ministers have been open to meeting. I cannot speak for them but the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who lives in the area, is acutely aware of the issue and the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has expressed a willingness to visit.

Job Losses

The next Topical Issue matter is in the names of Deputies Dooley and Carey. They will have two minutes each for introductory remarks. The Minister will then have four minutes, with a further minute for each Deputy to reply.

Communities in west Clare are shocked by the ESB's recent announcement that it will cut about 100 full-time positions at Moneypoint power station. We recognise that Moneypoint's days as a coal-burning facility are numbered. There is a date in 2025 by which coal will no longer be burned. That is in line with our climate change commitments and is widely accepted in the community. However, it was expected that there would be a comprehensive plan to assist the communities most affected and to assist the workforce in transitioning away from this carbon-intensive activity. Lessons need to be learned from events in other parts of the world where significant change has taken place and in the absence of government intervention, communities have effectively been dismantled. I have no doubt that the directly-employed workers will receive compensation from the ESB, but the wider community will be really adversely affected. There is a lot of support employment there. Contractors have already been let go. Nobody is talking about them. For a wage pool of that size to be taken out of west Clare represents utter devastation.

I thought the ESB and the Department would engage more fully. We spent we spent the last several months addressing climate change issues in the Joint Committee on Climate Action. A key aspect of the report which was presented to the Government was a requirement for it to put a plan of action in place for places like Moneypoint or the midlands, where the extraction of peat will not happen any more. We have recommended the establishment of a task force to manage a just transition. However, the Government's action plan includes none of these commitments. It seems to allow for job losses and abrupt closures instead of taking a planned approach to the changes required by our environmental commitments. The ESB must engage with the Department. Along with others, Deputy Carey and I had an opportunity to meet representatives of the ESB today. Sadly the ESB does not see itself as having a role as part of a just transition. It looks at this solely in economic terms. That is not good enough for the communities and people who will be most affected by this.

The first priority here is the workers and their families. They have been deeply shocked by the large number of jobs lost at Moneypoint. As Deputy Dooley has said, up to 100 people, who are highly skilled and well thought of and who are committed to this plant, will lose their jobs. The ESB has a very good track record in looking after its employees. At a meeting with the ESB today, I impressed upon its representatives the need to limit job losses as far as possible. Those who lose their jobs must be offered a generous redundancy package. It is essential that measures such as retraining and education are put in place. Moneypoint power station has been a driver of economic activity in County Clare for more than three decades. It has been a key employer, providing top-quality full-time jobs and significant work for contractors. It has even provided seasonal employment. It is essential that an alternative energy source is identified for the site as soon as possible in order that it can continue to play a positive role for west Clare and the county as a whole. There are alternatives, such as biomass and offshore wind power, and I acknowledge the ongoing work of the ESB in this regard. However, these plans must be produced without delay.

With climate change, the dawn of a new reality is upon us. Fossil fuel powered generating plants are no longer sustainable and we must find an alternative we can support. It is critical that we retain Moneypoint as a site for the generation of electricity to support jobs in west Clare and the county more generally. I ask the Minister to remember that the Moneypoint plant was once the backbone of electricity generation in Ireland. Up to 2012, it produced 5 MW of energy. This year it has produced 0.6 MW. I think back to the Ardnacrusha plant and the history of power generation in County Clare and appeal to the Minister. Ireland cannot turn its back on the Moneypoint plant and the people of west Clare. We are depending on the Minister and our local Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Pat Breen. We must work together with the ESB to achieve the best possible outcome for the workers and wider economy of County Clare.

I thank Deputies Carey and Dooley for raising this issue. I understand absolutely the concerns they raise on behalf of their constituents and the workers at the Moneypoint plant, in particular. As Deputy Dooley rightly pointed out, the use of coal to power electricity plants is to be phased out, with 2025 having been assessed as the date for the ending of such energy generation. The immediate challenge for the ESB is that the rising price of carbon in the emissions trading scheme has put pressure on the company. One of its plants did not get the capacity support to allow it to continue and the company has, therefore, had to initiate the consultation process on its future operation to ensure it will continue to be fit and competitive in such auctions. Clearly, the ESB must also look at the longer term future. I have met its representatives to discuss the matter with them. The company is undoubtedly looking at the future use of the Moneypoint plant, as Deputy Carey indicated, and seeking to identify the opportunities that may arise, including in the use of offshore wind energy and biomass. There are real opportunities for development in Ireland in the years ahead. In creating a pathway to these markets we are undertaking to review the Foreshore Act as part of the climate action plan to ensure offshore wind energy projects, in particular, can be developed. The Moneypoint plant would have a particular competitive advantage in that context. I am also seeking to bring forward the scale and frequency of renewable energy support scheme auctions that will allow for new renewables to come onto the system. I am working strenuously to ensure we can bring them forward in a timely way.

I recognise absolutely that part of a just transition is a requirement to look at the wider regional perspective. We have developed not only in the climate action plan but in the wider national development plan a recognition of the need for significant resources to support the transition. We have set aside resources to the tune of €1 billion for rural development, €1 billion for urban development, €500 million for climate action initiatives and €500 million for disruptive technologies. We will work with the regional enterprise strategies for the affected regions to develop the response. As part of the climate action plan, we have appointed the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, to oversee and have inputs into the work we are doing to ensure there will be a just transition. While Government policy has been designed to deliver this, the NESC has cross-social partnership representation and is engaged in a great deal of very useful economic analysis. It can, therefore, add significant value. I assure the Deputies that developing a road map for the future of the Moneypoint plant and the mid-west region is very high on the Government's agenda.

The written response circulated on the Minister's behalf states:

The challenge during the transition out of carbon intensive sources of fuel is to continue to support those communities and jobs associated with that business and to identify and develop new opportunities for employment.

What vehicle will be used to do that? I ask the Minister to establish a task force with the specific responsibility of securing a just transition for the workers and communities, including those who worked in supporting roles in the Moneypoint region. I appeal to him to appoint the task force and let this be a pilot project for the other tough decisions that will undoubtedly have to be taken as part of the decarbonisation of the economy. It is a very simple ask. Will the Minister establish a task force with the responsibility of managing the transition from the carbon intensive burning of coal to generate electricity at Moneypoint and finding the appropriate level of employment and support for the workers and communities into the future?

We need an overall plan for the retention of jobs in west Clare around this critical plant. I support the call for the establishment of a task force involving the Minister's Department and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. The Moneypoint plant is critical infrastructure which has provided significantly for west Clare. Without it, there will simply not be employment opportunities. As such, we need a task force to look at all of the issues that arise. We need to identify an alternative energy source to drive the plant, while retaining jobs which can ground future development.

The approach we have adopted is one I introduced when I was Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Prior to my appointment as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, we had no regional enterprise strategies, whereas now we have pulled together an enterprise group for the mid-west, on which are represented all of the key players one would need to have to develop a diversification strategy. They include Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the local authorities and Science Foundation Ireland. In the ESB we have a key player in finding new opportunities in decarbonisation. It is a company which has the capacity to develop sectors such as biomass or offshore energy in a way no task force could deliver. The regional enterprise strategies which the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, is driving and which have more than exceeded their targets in the diversification of the enterprise bases in their regions are the effective tools to bring this forward. The ESB is the key player in our energy environment that is identifying and adopting the opportunities onshore and offshore for the diversification of its portfolio. It is key to developing the assets at Moneypoint to ensure we can exploit the opportunities created by them. I am satisfied that the approach we are adopting will deliver the response for which the Deputies are, rightly, asking.