Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Garda Resources

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the staff of the Ceann Comhairle's office for affording me the opportunity to raise this issue which is of importance to the people of north Kildare, to wit, the urgent need for the augmentation of Garda strength in the constituency for which I speak. The constituency includes four large towns, each with a population approaching or in excess of 20,000, namely, Naas, Celbridge, Leixlip and Maynooth. A number of other towns in the constituency are growing rapidly as part of the effort to accommodate the need for housing. With this comes the necessity to augment Garda strength in all of the towns concerned for a great number of reasons. The first of these is the proposed new policing regime, which is the subject of some discussion and which we should welcome as it proposes deployments of a modern nature.

We must also accept that, as the population grows, petty and more serious crime can increase, as we know from other areas of the country. Recognising that fact, we have suffered a reduction in Garda strength throughout County Kildare in recent years. As with every other part of the country, we could do nothing about it and had to accept what was being applied everywhere else. However, the population in County Kildare is growing much more rapidly than most other parts of the country. In view of that, it is now important to prioritise the extent to which Garda strength can be augmented.

I should mention that I live in Maynooth, a university town, which has an additional 16,000 to 17,000 people during the academic year. That is not to suggest for one moment that the students are unruly or need extra policing. The fact, however, is that they add to the existing population, which creates a greater need for security to protect the increasing population. I do not wish to labour the subject other than to say that this is an urgent matter and I hope the Minister of State, whom I am glad to welcome to the House, can address the issue in the short term.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who sends his apologies, I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I remind the House that, by law, the deployment of Garda resources is solely the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner and his management team. The Minister is assured, however, that the distribution of Garda resources is constantly monitored, taking into account all relevant factors, including population, as the Deputy outlined, and new and emerging crime trends.

The Minister emphasises that working with communities to tackle public disorder and reduce anti-social behaviour remains a key priority for the Garda. The Garda Commissioner has publicly spoken about the protection of the most vulnerable and has highlighted that his priority is a policing model that will provide the best outcomes for communities. This approach includes a strong focus on quality of life issues and collaboration with local authorities to help address the causes of anti-social behaviour.

The Deputy specifically mentioned County Kildare. The Minister is informed by the Garda authorities that, as of 31 August 2019, there were 393 gardaí assigned to the Kildare division. This represents a 9.2% increase on Garda resources allocated to this division since the end of 2017. There are also 17 Garda reserves and 35 Garda civilian staff attached to the Kildare division as of 31 August.

An Garda Síochána is a growing organisation. Since the reopening of the Garda College in 2014, approximately 2,800 new gardaí have attested and been assigned to mainstream policing duties around the country. Of these, 118 have been assigned to the Kildare division and 200 more gardaí are due to attest before the end of the year. At the same time, record levels of recruitment of Garda staff is allowing for the redeployment of gardaí to operational policing duties. As a result, there are now more than 14,200 gardaí nationwide, supported by more than 2,600 staff. This level of accelerated recruitment ensures that the Government's plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, including 15,000 gardaí, remains on track. Additional recruitment of Garda staff will allow the Garda Commissioner to redeploy a further 500 fully trained gardaí from administrative duties to front-line policing in 2019. The Minister is of the view that the injection of this large number of experienced officers into the field, along with the new recruits, will provide the Commissioner with the resources needed to deploy increasing numbers of gardaí to deliver a visible, effective and responsive policing service to communities across all Garda divisions, including the Kildare division.

The ongoing process of Garda reform will also assist through efficiencies in a range of areas, including ongoing civilianisation, examination of non-core duties and reform of Garda structures. In practical terms, this will mean less duplication and bureaucracy at senior levels, more gardaí on the ground and chief superintendents with greater decision-making power in their divisions. It will also include a strengthened focus on community engagement. These positive developments are underpinned by unprecedented Government investment in An Garda Síochána, amounting to a budget of €1.76 billion for 2019, as well as €92 million capital investment this year. In addition, a total of €10 million has been made available for the purchase and fit-out of Garda vehicles in 2019. The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities that this allocation will be used for the purchase and fit-out of more than 300 new vehicles for operational use this year. As of 30 August, a total of 56 vehicles were allocated to Kildare, the division about which the Deputy inquired specifically. The Minister hopes that this information is of reassurance to the Deputy.

I thank the Minister of State and his colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, for the positive nature of the reply. One of the areas that needs to be emphasised is the need for juvenile liaison officers. Given that we have a large population of young people who are not going anywhere and will remain young for some time, it is necessary to introduce all the aids we can to assist the Garda in interfacing and interacting with young people who may be at risk of falling into crime, even if it is petty crime.

On community policing, there have been some recent additions in this regard in north Kildare, which I welcome. However, more community policing and a community garda is needed in every town and village. Continuity is also required. Special emphasis must be placed on areas where there have been repeated reports of anti-social crime. People in certain housing estates complain to us from time to time about this type of crime which, while petty in nature is hugely worrying for the people who live in them. While the crime is not serious, it shows disrespect for other people, many of whom are elderly, and their property. We need to reassure the general public that the establishment and the Garda are on their side and are ready, willing and able, with sufficient numbers and resources to attend to their queries as they arise. I hope it will be possible to augment Garda numbers in the way I have suggested as we proceed.

I thank the Deputy again on behalf of the Minister for raising this important matter in the House. The Deputy noted the importance of juvenile justice. As I have stated previously in the House, I am responsible for national youth justice and I am developing a new national youth justice strategy. We have pulled together an advisory group, which is doing some very interesting work and examining different approaches and initiatives in this area.

At the heart of the concerns expressed today is the relationship between communities and their local gardaí and the Garda resources required in each division to provide an effective policing service. Clearly, Garda visibility is also very important and the Government remains committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime.

Last month, the Minister welcomed the Garda Commissioner's announcement of the new operating model for An Garda Síochána, long-recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Inspectorate and the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The new model will bring very significant improvements to An Garda Síochána structures, processes and services. This will mean less duplication and bureaucracy at senior levels and chief superintendents will be given more decision-making powers in their divisions. The shifting of the power of decision-making from Garda headquarters to chief superintendents will bring the latter closer to the communities they serve, ensuring a more localised and responsive police service reflecting local needs. It will increase the number of front-line gardaí and maximise the organisation's operational impact at local level to deliver an improved, more consistent and highly visible policing service in communities. This delivers on some of the key recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, namely, that gardaí should be visible on the front line and engaged in community policing, as suggested by the Deputy.

The changes come at a time of record investment in An Garda Síochána: €1.6 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2019 as well as capital investment amounting to €92 million this year. An Garda Síochána is benefiting from enormous budgets. The purpose of this model is to ensure the best services are provided to communities on the ground. The substantial investment will allow the accelerated recruitment programme to continue in tandem with the deploying of new and leading-edge technology to support our front-line gardaí in carrying out their work to deliver a visible effective and responsive police service to communities across all Garda divisions, including the important Kildare division in 2019 and future years.

Company Liquidations

I wish to raise the recent liquidation of Avara Shannon Pharmaceutical Services Limited and, in particular, the plight of the 114 workers. As the Minister of State well knows, and this should be well known to many, the company is operating at Shannon since 1976 under various guises and different ownerships. Prior to its takeover in 2016 by Avara, it was owned by the very well-known Belgian based UCB, a highly reputable and well-respected company. However, as of 29 July, the site is in full liquidation. There are joint liquidators on site, which is somewhat unusual and adding somewhat to the concerns. It is in liquidation and efforts are being made to try to find a pathway towards the continuation of the company in some form.

The real concern is that the Shannon facility and its workers have contributed hugely to the local economy since 1976 and it is with disbelief that these workers have been informed, as a result of the liquidation, that the terms and conditions that were available under the transfer of undertaking will not apply and, as such, the terms and conditions, particularly the recognition of their service on having to leave the employment - they would have expected six and a half weeks, together with two weeks statutory redundancy - are such that they will not be paid. After that amount of commitment to the company, they will be left with just the statutory level of redundancy. That is a major blow to these workers and to the efforts they have made to sustain this company through thick and thin.

The concerns I have are rather varied but, in particular, I am concerned that in 2016, when it disposed of its site to Avara, UCB did not do the appropriate level of due diligence. I do not know what the transfer was at the time but I believe it was passed for a relatively small amount of money. While that might have allowed UCB to discharge its responsibility to the site and the environmental management of a very complex site, it takes no regard of the conditions and terms under which the workers are employed. In this liquidation process they are now left with statutory redundancy, which will have an enormous impact on their livelihoods and have wider implications, as the Minister of State will be well aware, for the wider community.

I am of the view that UCB still retains some responsibility, whether it be through its corporate social responsibility or whatever, and there is some basis for my making that claim. A similar situation happened in the UK, where AstraZeneca, another large pharmaceutical company, disposed of a manufacturing site there also to Avara and where the liquidation took place with Avara on that site. AstraZeneca through the efforts of workers was forced to recognise it had not done the appropriate level of due diligence before it passed or transferred the operations to Avara and, in that instance, I understand it kicked in about €12 million to support the workers and give them the full value of their expected terms and conditions, and that is what we want here. We want UCB to step up to the plate and to recognise it passed on a very considerable undertaking for very little and did not give due consideration to the impact that would have if it did not all work out. Clearly, for something to collapse in such a short period highlights to me that Avara was poorly structured, poorly capitalised and was not in a position to take on the burden of responsibility that UCB transferred to it. That is something for which UCB must answer.

I appeal to the Minister of State and the Government to use their best efforts and endeavours to get UCB to accept its corporate responsibility. It is difficult in that it is not located here but there are channels through our partners in Europe and through European legislation that should force UCB to make good on the commitments under which these people worked for such a long period and gave such valued service.

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. Both of us are very familiar with what is happening with Avara in Shannon and I am sure both of us have been in contact with the workers.

First, it is important to point out that our thoughts are with the workers. It is a very difficult period for the employees experiencing this uncertainty, particularly in the liquidation process. That must be noted.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. The Deputy's question in tabling this matter refers to threatened redundancies at Avara pharmaceuticals in Shannon. The Minister, Deputy Doherty, has informed me that, as yet, she has received no official notification from the company of collective redundancies. I am sure the Deputy hopes, as I do, that it does not come to that situation. It is important that every effort be made to save the company, Avara, and these jobs in Shannon. I can assure the Deputy, and I note Deputy Harty is present, that every effort is being made by the liquidator to ensure we can save the jobs in that company at this time. I do not want to say any more about that now. It is important we save those 114 jobs.

I will go through the process with the Deputy in case it comes to that but hopefully it will not. The Protection of Employment Act 1977 imposes a number of obligations on employers who are proposing collective redundancies, including an obligation under sections 9 and 10 to engage in an information and consultation process with employees' representatives and to provide certain information relating to the proposed redundancies. Section 11A of the Act provides that, where an employee believes the employer to be in breach of sections 9 or 10, they may pursue a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission. It is also an offence under section 11 where an employer fails to comply with sections 9 or 10. There is also an obligation under section 12 which makes it mandatory on employers proposing a collective redundancy to notify the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection of the proposed collective redundancy.

An employer is prohibited from issuing any notice of redundancy during the mandatory employee information and consultation period, required by the 1977 Act, and until 30 days have elapsed from the date on which the Minister has been notified. For the avoidance of doubt, the 30-day mandatory information and consultation process and the aforementioned 30-day period from the date of notification to the Minister may run concurrently. However, since it will not be possible to complete the notification to the Minister until the identity of the employees' representatives for the purpose of the information and consultation process has been established, it is conceivable that both periods may not be entirely concurrent.

In the first instance, it is the responsibility of the employer to pay statutory redundancy and other wage-related entitlements to eligible employees. However, the Social Insurance Fund provides a safety net for employees in situations where the employer has become insolvent and the company is to be liquidated. It is the liquidator's responsibility to seek, on behalf of employees, payment from the redundancy payments scheme in respect of statutory redundancy and from the insolvency payments scheme in respect of wage-related entitlements.

An eligible employee is entitled to two weeks' statutory redundancy payment for every year of service, plus a bonus week. Compensation is based on the worker's length of reckonable service and reckonable weekly remuneration, subject to a ceiling of €600 per week. In order to qualify for a statutory redundancy payment, an employee must have at least two years' continuous service, be in employment which is insurable under the Social Welfare Acts and be over the age of 16.

Entitlements covered under the insolvency payments scheme include arrears of wages, holiday pay, sick pay, payment in lieu of minimum notice and certain pension contributions. Payments are calculated by reference to an employee's wages and are subject to a limit of €600 per week; and arrears of wages, sick pay, holiday pay and minimum notice are limited to eight weeks.

To date, the Minister, Deputy Doherty, has not received any applications for statutory redundancy or wage-related entitlements in respect of employees of Avara pharmaceuticals.

If this was the case, my Department would ensure that the affected employees receive advice on jobseeker's payments and other income supports that may be available to them and to provide support to them in relation to returning to work, or accessing appropriate education and training and development options.

The Minister's team in the mid-west division already met employees of the company on 12 August 2019 and provided them with information on the Intreo services available locally. All jobseeker's benefit forms were taken on the day from all present, with a view to speedily processing the claims, once the date of closure was confirmed.

I accept that the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, would not yet have been contacted by the liquidator. Even though they have gone through the consultation period with workers, they have still not reached that point because they are trying to work through a possible rescue of the operation.

Even if a new company is established and even if a new buyer can be found - there is good and hard work going on and the employees and the management of the company are doing an excellent job in trying to assist in that process - there will come a position where employees will be made redundant. They will only get two weeks' statutory redundancy, notwithstanding the amount of time they have worked for this particular operation under various ownerships. The concern I have is that, as recently as 2016, UCB discharged its very significant responsibility for very little money on that site and sailed into the wind. A similar situation happened in the UK that I have identified, where a company, AstraZeneca, effectively did the same but it was called out by the workers and was made to pay.

All efforts will be made to assist people under the statutory terms and conditions of the legislation as set out but we need a little thinking outside the box here. We need to find a way for UCB to honour its commitments to the workers who will not be fortunate enough, if any are, to have future employment on this facility. I am aware the Minister of State, with his knowledge, has been in contact with the workers as indeed has Deputy Harty. Deputy Carey has been on the site as well, as I have, and has spoken to many of the workers on an ongoing basis. We want to see a future for that facility. We want to see people employed there. In our absolute desire and our requirement to keep employment there, we cannot allow the terms and conditions to be set aside for the workers who will not have employment in any new operation that might be there. We must be mindful of those and their families. They had their hopes and retirements pinned on such sums in the event of having to lose their job and, unfortunately, it is all for nothing now.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle might ensure that the full reply is written into the record of the Dáil.

That is only done when it is a response to a parliamentary question. If the Minister of State wants, he may use the minute to do so.

Much of what is in the reply anyway, as Deputy Dooley will be aware, is the process and engagement that has taken place with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the employees. As the Deputy will be aware, the Department also attended the Avara premises in June of this year to facilitate the speedy issue of the public service cards etc.

Of course, I share Deputy Dooley's concerns in relation to the employees.

I am not privy to the contacts that the liquidator has had with the original company concerned but I am sure the liquidator has made every effort. As Deputy Dooley will be aware, this is ongoing since August. The liquidator has made many special efforts to ensure that the jobs are being saved at the company itself. If the jobs are saved, it is important for us to ensure that there is continuity of employment for those loyal employees who have given long loyal years of service in that company. The company is potentially viable. The company is only operating at 30% to 40% of capacity. From that point of view, I believe there is a future for this company. I believe that the liquidator is working hard to ensure the viability of the company moving forward. Let us wait and see in relation to, first, the viability of the company.

While I am answering for Deputy Regina Doherty in her capacity as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, I am not answering it in my capacity as Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Of course, for me, the priority is to have these jobs saved in Shannon. Only last week in Shannon I announced 25 jobs. We do not want to be losing jobs in the mid-west region.

As I am sure the local Oireachtas Members will be aware, every effort is being made by the liquidator to save these important jobs in Shannon. Deputy Dooley will be aware the company is in liquidation and there is little anyone can do outside of that. The liquidator is the boss here, but we will try to ensure the jobs are saved. I will take on board what Deputy Dooley has said and will pass on that information to those concerned.

School Transport

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic.

There is much talk about the development of new schools because of demographic pressures. Areas, such as Kildare, where there is continued and sustained growth will be in the forefront, as will places such as Meath and Wicklow, Fingal, places around the suburbs of Cork etc. The intention is to identify those pressures and to provide sites, and ultimately schools, in advance of the need. Obviously, that requires the recruitment of staff and all that goes with a school. While it is not possible to have a secondary school located in every town or village, it will, therefore, be necessary for students to travel.

We have a school transport system and while each child in theory is entitled to a school place on a school bus if the family has a medical card, those who do not have such a card are described as concessionary passengers - the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, will know that more than any of us - which means they must pay on the bus. The problem is not with the payment; it is with the availability of places.

When places are insufficient, what occurs is Bus Éireann randomly selects who gets a place and who does not. It is a lottery and often people hear the position at a very late stage. I talked to the Minister of State over the summer about this and there has been some progress. I have talked to several families who had their school transport on a concessionary basis for several years, find themselves now to have that withdrawn for all of their children, paid their fee in April or May, and then get the money returned in late August only days before they have to make arrangements and juggle work etc. New pupils, for example, who are also on it on a concessionary basis, also need school transport places. One can see the kind of resentment in communities that is created. I am sure the Minister of State knows it well. If there is no new funding, for example, then growing areas will always be the ones that are under most pressure. If there is a new school development and there are new teachers, it is self-evident that there needs to be additional funding factored in to account for this.

It is not always true that someone in a family with a medical card is automatically entitled to a place. In my area, it is not unusual to be fighting for school places. Section 29 appeals are par for the course. It is pressure all the way in relation to school places. Essentially, we had 19 youngsters for whom there was no accommodation in one particular area. For example, one family applied for the secondary school in Clane. The school was oversubscribed and there were 20 on the waiting list. Then they applied to Leixlip, Maynooth and Celbridge. When they got a school place in Maynooth, they withdrew the section 29 appeal but, because the child is not going to the school closest to the family, the child is considered a concessionary place on the school bus despite the fact that this family has a medical card. The child would not have got into that school because there were no places available. That seems extremely unfair because they have no choice in the matter.

Children are eligible for transport if they reside not less than 4.8 km from the school they are attending, so long as it is the nearest education centre as determined by the Department of Education and Skills. That rule in its own right needs to be dealt with. Of the 19 pupils, ten still do not have school places. It is impossible for parents to juggle if they are trying to work as well. This issue has to be resolved.

I thank the Deputy. I have asked the Department to deal with the query concerning her area. The school transport scheme is a significant operation. It is managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department. We are moving 117,500 children twice a day all over the country, including over 13,000 children with special needs. There are 5,000 vehicles in use per day, for primary and post-primary, covering more than 100 million km. The cost is now in excess of €200 million. The school transport scheme was originally put in place for eligible children and the requisite distance was 3.2 km for children travelling to primary school and, as the Deputy rightly says, 4.8 km for children travelling to post-primary schools and children with special needs. When I took over the system, where there was a space on a bus, for example, if there was a 25-seater bus with 20 eligible children on it, rather than have the bus leave with five empty seats, we put concessionary passengers on it. When that started, there were 300 concessionary tickets. There are now almost 25,000 concessionary tickets, even though the scheme was put in place for eligible and special needs children. There is no eligible child left without transport, as far as I know, with the exception of little hiccups in the system. My staff and I were in the office during the summer until two or three o'clock some mornings trying to get special needs children on buses. We sometimes need carers with Garda clearance for special needs children. It was a horrendous job for the staff to have to do. All children who are eligible for school transport are getting school transport or the rural grant. There is no special needs child as far as I know today who is not getting school transport.

Our problem, as the Deputy rightly says, is with the concessionary children or the second year of school. We have done two reviews of the scheme. A value for money review was undertaken a number of years ago independently, which showed that the cost was €100 for a primary school child, €220 for post-primary and a maximum of €650 for a family. That distance in a car would cost well in excess of €1,500 per year. Since I became Minister of State, we have not increased the cost to families; although the families pay €14 million, the State carries the rest. The problem we face is that this comes out of the education budget. There is not a separate budget for school transport. The budget has dramatically increased every year. We are facing into next year with a budget of between €210 million and €212 million just to keep the scheme afloat. This year alone, we have extra concessionary passengers, special needs passengers and eligible children. We will have the same next year.

We also did a review of concessionary passengers. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform insisted that buses be taken off the route or the price be increased. I prevented that from happening two years in a row but we are now facing into a crisis. Every year, we require more money from the education budget. We put an extra €1 million from the Department of Education and Skills into the scheme this year. It requires another €4 million to take all concessionary passengers which, if I had my way, I would do from within the scheme and everybody would be cleared. However, we would be facing a crisis again next year with more concessionary passengers, more eligible children and more special needs children because of extra schools and extra pupils going to school.

We are doing our utmost in a situation where we are carrying nearly 28,000 concessionary children on a scheme that was originally set up for eligible and special needs children. We are reviewing it and looking for extra money. The extra money would cover all the concessionary tickets and also deal with the second year of school. We are in negotiations on the next budget to see if we can get the extra €4 million needed. We are dealing with the particular case raised by the Deputy in her constituency and should have an answer for her next week.

I thank the Minister of State. I know some parents will not thank me for saying this, but I have certainly had parents say they would be willing to pay more. Some people are in a position to pay more while others are not as they may be only above the limit for the medical card. If it is a question of having to leave work for people to get their children safely to school, there is no choice in the matter. I am hearing about parents who are driving behind a bus to bring their children to school and they can see spaces on it. It may well be that there is not a full uptake on the particular day but it may be worth doing a review of that. If there is spare capacity, it would be unconscionable. If we are going to have very large schools in a regional context as opposed to village settings, we have to factor in the need to travel to school. If two adults in a family have to go out to work to pay the mortgage, the State has an obligation to provide a school transport service. I can understand an odd person falling through the cracks but when groups of people are affected, it is very difficult for people to take.

I would like the Minister of State to deal with the case of a child who was turned down for a particular school because it was oversubscribed. I will send him on the details. I do not know why the child would then be counted as a concessionary passenger if the family has a medical card. The child should be entitled to a seat on the school bus without it being concessionary. There were no places in the nearest school, which is typical in my area. I know the same thing is replicated in other areas but Kildare is under particular development pressure which will create new needs because we are not in a static environment.

On the issue of seeing spaces on buses, about 9% or 10% of people who pay for school transport do not take it up. It is very difficult to deal with that. If people pay for it, they may feel they will take a chance on driving their kids to school anyway. We have taken legal views on that and it is not within our remit to return the money to these families and request that they give us back the seat. That cannot be done. It is a legally binding agreement so we have some difficulties. The difficulties we have at present are with concessionary tickets. The scheme was put in place for eligible and special needs children. In the three years that I have been dealing with it, I know of no special needs child who did not get school transport. I know of no eligible child who did not get the rural grant or school transport. We are reviewing the scheme regarding concessionary tickets but that means providing extra money. In the case of a 25-seater bus with 20 eligible children and five children with concessionary seats, if an eligible or special needs child makes themselves available from a village, town or city, we are legally obliged to put that child on the bus and remove a child with a concessionary ticket. I do not like doing that. Often that is very painful and difficult but we are obliged under legislation to put the eligible or special needs child on the bus. I have never turned down a meeting with any Deputy, mayor, councillor or family. I have done my best to facilitate as many people as I can. The system is coming apart at the seams. We are now spending €209 million and some people are still not getting school transport because of concessionary passengers. All special needs children and all eligible children are getting transport.

We are looking again at extra finance in the budget. I cannot say we will get it but I have appealed for it, as has the Minister, Deputy McHugh. We sought an extra €4 million, which would address the matter raised by Deputy Catherine Murphy. If she is re-elected, which I am sure will be the case, the Deputy will face the same problem in that the school transport problem will be cleared this year but she will be looking for another €4 million or €5 million again next year, in particular for concessionary tickets.

Regeneration Projects

When the Ballymun shopping centre was built it became the social and economic heart of the area. In more recent years, its derelict, vacant units and outward appearance disheartened locals and was an unwelcome sight for visitors to Ballymun and those who drove through it. Ballymun shopping centre became a stark reminder of the failure of the costly regeneration project which cost more than €1 billion. The community in Ballymun deserves better. The derelict site does not reflect the spirit of the closely knit community of the area. The regeneration project was supposed to be about improving people's lives and their environment as well as providing proper housing. It was also about enhancing the quality of life of people and their environs.

The redevelopment of the shopping centre was central to the 1997 Ballymun regeneration plan. Treasury Holdings presented a plan for the shopping centre. The new complex, which was to be the main shopping facility for the suburb's 18,000 residents, was due to be built in 2005. In 2009, Treasury Holdings secured planning permission for Springcross, which was the old shopping centre site. The plans were to deliver an €800 million development. This development was to include an 11-screen cinema, a bowling alley, a public library, a crèche, restaurants and public houses as well as more than 70 shops, offices and apartments. Construction was to begin in 2010. However, as a result of the economic crash, the town centre lands became part of NAMA's portfolio of loans before any development began.

Many retailers in the centre closed in 2014 and the shopping centre suffered a major blow when it lost Tesco, its most important tenant. Dublin City Council, which is now the major stakeholder, has at last begun the process of demolishing the 50-year old shopping centre. If matters are handled correctly, we will be in a position to revitalise the centre of Ballymun and make it once more the heartbeat of the community. The new development could once again become a central hub linking the communities of Ballymun. Sinn Féin will not support any development on this site that does not have at its core the idea and philosophy that this site is crucial to making this area once again the heart of the community of Ballymun. Dublin City Council should deliver on the promises and aspirations of the regeneration project. Central to that is making this site once more the centre of a vibrant and growing community.

Over the lifetime of Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, some €211 million is being made available under the national regeneration programme to support the delivery of more than 1,000 new social housing homes. Together with providing a significant number of new homes, the projects seek to address the causes of disadvantage in these communities through a holistic programme of physical, social and economic regeneration.

The Ballymun regeneration programme, which predates Rebuilding Ireland, spanned many years, with departmental funding first arising in 1999 from the 1997 plan to which the Deputy referred. This substantial programme, which comprised 24 projects, is now complete. The overall programme is estimated to have cost approximately €972 million. Funding of €775.3 million was provided via the then Department of the Environment and Local Government. Largely completed by the end of 2013, the Ballymun programme represents the largest regeneration initiative undertaken in the State. The State's investment resulted in almost 2,000 new replacement homes being constructed for the former residents of the original blocks of flats. An additional 1,350 homes were provided via private sector investment. In addition, the programme provided state-of-the-art community facilities, such as the Axis Theatre, along with neighbourhood centres to improve services. In recent years, the regeneration activity has focused on improving the area's environmental performance with various green initiatives, new parks and playing pitches. Enterprise and employment generation has focused on the main street and retail parks, with many new employment opportunities created for residents of the area.

I fully concur with Deputy's Ellis's point on the central role of the shopping centre in completing the regeneration of Ballymun. The redevelopment of the shopping centre is considered to be the key remaining element in the regeneration of the Ballymun area. This significant main street site comprising 3.2 ha is zoned for district centre mixed use in both the city development plan and the Ballymun area plan. Dublin City Council wishes to have sustainable mixed-use viable development that will maximise the site, use its full potential and complement the extensive State and local authority investment in Ballymun's regeneration to date. Following a competitive procurement process earlier this year, a demolition contractor was selected and the contractor commenced work on the site on 9 September 2019. The site is being secured in advance of commencing the demolition works, which will take approximately six months to complete. Future use of the site will involve a public consultation process.

A regeneration project moves through a number of phases throughout its life. The initial master planning stage is followed by demolition works, enabling works, refurbishment and consolidation works in some cases and then construction. A regeneration project must extend beyond physical redevelopment alone. In order to be successful and sustainable over the long term, a regeneration project requires the rebuilding of a community and the strengthening of community bonds. Taken together, the provision of state-of-the-art community facilities, large-scale housing regeneration and new development and support for local enterprise and employment through various social regeneration initiatives ensured the success so far of the Ballymun regeneration programme. The redevelopment of the shopping centre site will complete the regeneration of this area. It is expected, following the completion of the demolition works, which are expected to take six months, that the city council will engage in extensive consultation with stakeholders and the wider public to ensure that the objectives the Deputy outlined are met for the community of Ballymun and those areas around Ballymun that will benefit from the regeneration of the shopping centre site.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The reality is that the regeneration programme has not been completed and shopping facilities for the people of Ballymun are virtually non-existent. That is a tragedy for the people of the area and all those who have to travel to the Blanchardstown shopping centre, the Omni Park shopping centre and the Charlestown shopping centre. They should be able to shop in their own community where they meet their neighbours, have a coffee or drop into the public house to have a drink - all the normal things people expect to do in a place with such a large population. The population of Ballymun will exceed 20,000 in the coming years. I am hopeful metro north will go through Ballymun. We have been given a commitment in that regard and I hope it is not reneged on because it would be a lifeline not just for the area but also for people accessing the airport and travelling across the city. There are considerable environmental issues attached to that project.

I do not know any other area that has been as badly treated as Ballymun. I accept that some matters were beyond the control of Dublin City Council but the situation is not good enough. The shopping centre comes up at every meeting I attend in Ballymun, including forum meetings with residents. People want to know where they can meet their neighbours, as they did previously, so as to recreate their community spirit. In the context of the proposed consultation, there is much evidence from many meetings to show us what the people of Ballymun want.

I urge Dublin City Council to address this issue. We accept we have to build houses and we have to do all of these things because the situation is urgent. However, we cannot do it at the expense of leaving a community like Ballymun without the facilities they should have and that they had in the past. It is imperative that we do this.

I agree with virtually everything Deputy Ellis has said. I am not in a position to direct local authorities as to what they should do with sites like this or, indeed, with issues like this in their own functional areas. However, it would not be unreasonable to hope that Dublin City Council could begin the consultation process when the demolition works are actually happening, so that what Deputy Ellis speaks about in terms of the completion of the regeneration of Ballymun can happen as soon as possible. He is right to point out that a lot of the factors which delayed work commencing on this project were not the city council's fault and not the fault of many other people. Nonetheless, we are in a position now where we can complete the rehabilitation of Ballymun and ensure an adequate community centre and mixed-use shopping facility is provided in the Ballymun area, an area that is going to expand, as the Deputy pointed out.

This public consultation process will hopefully lead to a sustainable shopping offering. Deputy Ellis eloquently made the point that shopping is about more than just physical buildings. It is about having a place where people can meet their neighbours and interact socially with the people they have known for many years. That is why this phase is crucial. The Deputy should to be talking to his own councillors in Dublin City Council to get that consultation under way as soon as possible so the work can be done as soon as possible.