Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Flood Risk Management

I wish to address the flooding issues in County Clare, in particular the River Shannon flooding at Springfield, Clonlara, but also the flooding of the Limerick to Ennis railway track at Ballycar and, if I have time, I will also address the coastal flooding at Ballyvaughan and Kinvara, as well as the coastal protection at Spanish Point and Doughmore beach in west Clare.

Springfield, Clonlara, was flooded in the winter of 2015 and 2016. River surveys, hydrology evaluation and cost-benefit analyses have been carried out in this area. Two issues need to be addressed. The first is the erection of an embankment and associated works at Springfield, Clonlara. When will planning permission be sought and when will this work commence? The second issue is in regard to a pinch point at Plassey involving 70% obstruction of the River Shannon. Until this is addressed, there will be flooding upstream at Clonlara and Castleconnell. A feasibility study is to be carried out as to how to address this issue but when will it be carried out and completed? The river bank and bed have not been properly maintained, allowing an island to develop in the middle of the River Shannon, as the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, has seen. The embankment is flood mitigation but clearing the pinch point will give lasting flood relief. When will action be taken on both of these issues?

The other issue is in regard to Ballycar, where the railway line is being obstructed by flooding. This interrupts the service between Limerick and Ennis almost every year for months on end. This line is part of the rail link between Limerick and Galway, carrying more than 400,000 passengers, and it is one of the Irish Rail lines that is growing year on year. The western rail corridor is part of this line, which will potentially extend to Claremorris and Tuam, and which is being promoted by the Minister of State, Deputy Canney. This flooding needs to be urgently addressed. Irish Rail, the Office of Public Works, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Clare County Council and the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, need to get together to solve this issue.

I will not blame the Minister of State for the rain that falls. While we can blame him for many things, I do not think we can get around that one by suggesting he has the power to stop the rain. Like Deputy Harty, I am dealing with ongoing problems. I acknowledge that the Minister of State works well with me, as the Fianna Fáil spokesman on the Office of Public Works and flood relief, and we share many views. I just wanted to put that on record.

We will not discuss Lough Funshinagh because the Minister of State arranged a meeting and we know what has to happen, given it is a very difficult situation for the farmers. I want to mention Tarmonbarry on the Roscommon-Longford border. The Minister of State was good enough to visit recently to see the problems there. When does he think that work can be tackled and how quickly can we get going on it? I understand we have to go through a procedure. The other area of concern is Jamestown on the Roscommon-Leitrim border, again on the River Shannon. There are difficulties there that require the carrying out of works. I accept it is difficult to control the water levels of the River Shannon, and I know the Minister of State has worked well and the agencies have worked well with him. However, the fear is that this flooding is going to expand. As the Minister of State knows, more and more land around Clonown in south Roscommon is being covered by flooding and this has been happening for years. With regard to Tarmonbarry and Jamestown, I understand that we cannot carry out work in one area and not carry it out in the other, because the water will back up again. What is the situation in regard to the work at Tarmonbarry? I would also welcome a comment from the Minister of State in regard to Jamestown, which is on the Roscommon-Leitrim border and has had a lot of flooding.

The Minister of State will be relieved to know we are not blaming him for the rainfall anyway.

I am glad to hear it. I will deal with Deputy Murphy's point first and then with the points made by Deputy Harty, who asked about protection measures in County Clare and a number of other issues. I will try to address all of the questions raised.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter. At this time of the year, as we approach the winter season, it is opportune that we consider our preparedness as a country to respond to severe weather events, such as flooding. I am aware of the impact flooding can have on individual households and on communities at large. Since taking up my current position, I have visited many such communities and have first-hand experience of seeing the devastation flooding can cause.

On 3 May 2018, I was delighted to launch 29 flood risk management plans and €1 billion in investment in flood risk over the coming decade. These plans are the output from the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, the largest ever flood risk study carried out in the State. The plans set out the measures proposed to address the flood risk nationally and include 118 new schemes to protect towns, villages and cities nationally. They include 19 in the catchment of the River Shannon in particular, in addition to the scheme already under way in Athlone, which is due to be completed in 2021.

I and the Government are working extremely hard to ensure the greatest possible progress is made over the next number of years on the continued delivery of a very ambitious programme of investment in flood defence and flood risk management measures. The commitment of €1 billion in the national development plan to this objective is a clear sign of how high a priority this is for the Government.

Twelve of these schemes have been prioritised as part of this ten-year programme. Engagement with the local authorities is ongoing in regard to Springfield, Ballinasloe, Nenagh, Longford, Rahan, Castleconnell, Mohill, Leitrim, Clonaslee, Carrick-on-Shannon, and Killaloe, and for Limerick city, King's Island and its environs. The OPW has completed a scheme at Portavolla in Banagher and I am also working with Roscommon County Council on the Athleague scheme.

Along the banks of the Shannon, procurement is scheduled to commence in the coming months to appoint engineering consultants for the design, development and planning of flood relief schemes in Limerick city and environs; Leitrim village; Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim; and Killaloe-Ballina, in counties Clare and Tipperary. Local authorities have been supported through funding from the OPW under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme in putting in place more than 540 local-scale flood protection projects, protecting more than 6,800 properties nationally. The funding available from my office to the office of minor works projects has increased from €2 million to €5 million per annum. This is a huge endorsement by the local authorities, and I encourage all local authorities in this regard because sometimes they do not realise that money is available for minor works. People do not come into my Department to discuss this. I would like to see them do so more often.

As Deputy Eugene Murphy mentioned, this year to the end of September, average rainfall was 820 mm in areas of the Shannon catchment area. This year we have had a lot more rain - 1,050 mm in certain areas. That is more than 230 mm, or 9 or 10 inches, above average.

The Government established the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group in 2016 to support plans already in place to address flooding on the Shannon and to enhance the ongoing co-operation of all State agencies involved with the River Shannon. The group has taken a number of significant decisions since its establishment, including targeted maintenance activities at a number of locations; trialling the lowering of levels on Lough Allen; studies to explore managing flood risk at the Callows; and a study on the cause, degree and rate of restriction downstream of Parteen Weir. I thank all those involved in the working group.

The group is also considering a feasible long-term maintenance programme for the River Shannon. Work done includes Maddens Island and Meelick Weir, where tonnes of silt, dead trees and other material have been removed, along with six other areas along the Shannon. Removing pinch points will drop levels on the Callows, benefiting the environment, wildlife and the farming community. I hope that report will be with me in the not-too-distant future.

We will come back to the Minister of State.

My specific questions concerned Springfield, Clonlara, and when the feasibility study will be carried out to deal with the pinch point at Plassy. It makes common sense, if flooding on the Shannon is to be dealt with, to deal with the lower river before dealing with the upper river. This does not seem to be happening, though. The Department is dealing with issues around Meelick Weir but needs to deal with issues farther down the river, where the obstruction to the flow is greatest.

My second point concerned Ballycar. At what stage is planning to address this issue? What meetings has the Minister of State had on addressing the flooding at Ballycar? If that rail line is to be interrupted year-on-year, it will make the service unreliable. It carries 400,000 passengers a year, and that is growing every year, linking Limerick with Galway.

The two issues are the feasibility study on the pinch point at Plassy and the Ballycar rail line flooding.

I will be very brief because I know I have only a minute. The Minister of State might, if he can, give me an answer as to when he thinks the work in Termonbarry will be done. I accept the Department probably cannot do Termonbarry and Jamestown together. One has to be done before the other, going back to the point Deputy Harty made about the levels of the river.

The Minister of State mentioned something about the low-cost scheme. He indicated that local authorities may not be using it to the extent they should be using it. One often sees a side road that is flooded, and it goes back to the Shannon. It is a question of the water making its way around, through drains from the Shannon, or whichever way the flow is coming, as it makes its way to the Shannon. Is the Minister of State saying such roads are possibly entitled to funding from this low-cost scheme? It is very important that local authorities make submissions in respect of all those roads in order to solve those flooding issues because often it is only a bit of a drain that has to be cleaned out or whatever.

There was to be a Bord na Móna pilot scheme to take out more silt. Where are we with that? There is still a capacity issue with the Shannon.

The questions are getting longer. In fairness to Deputies Harty and Eugene Murphy, we have about seven, perhaps eight, schemes ongoing in Clare, some of which have gone to planning. Some are going to construction and some out to consultants.

Regarding the area Geraldine Quinlivan is from, Clonlara, I am very hopeful that a report will be on my desk in the not-too-distant future and that it will contain a positive response on the matter. I have also looked at the pinch points in that area and I am working with my Department on that.

I cannot give Deputy Harty an answer to his question on the railway line because I did not know it would come up today. I can tell him, however, that talks on that have been constructive and I hope we will have something positive to tell him about that.

The minor works scheme does not protect roads unless there are culverts on them. There may be blockages.

I was in Termonbarry and saw at first hand the issue there. We will apply for a licence and look at the works in that regard. As Deputies will be aware, if we do Jamestown first, we will have problems in Termonbarry. I am not prepared to do that. I will look at one and then the possibility of doing the other. We must work with Waterways Ireland on that.

I stress to the Deputies that we are in high waters. For this time of year the rainfall is higher than normal. I always say when people criticise me that we are only three days away from a flood. At the same time, the amount of work taking place down the Shannon, right across the Shannon catchment area, including in Limerick, is enormous. People should see the works we did at Meelick. There they will see that tonnes and tonnes of silt, peat and other material have been taken out of there. It has been a huge success. The depth at Meelick Weir was 2 ft. It is now back to 10 ft, which is what it always was. There was a buildup due to a lack of maintenance on the Shannon. People say we should have a single agency for the Shannon. We should not. To have one would be to tie ourselves up in red tape and legalities. What we are doing collectively as a group is massive and is moving things forward.

Regarding the pinch points we all talk about so much nowadays, there are 22 on the Shannon, 16 of which are significant. I am waiting for a report on this to come onto my desk. I want to see these 16 pinch points dealt with because in removing them we will drop the levels of the Shannon downstream of Athlone right down to where Deputy Harty lives. We are talking about dropping the level of the Shannon a foot and a half. The number of people who would benefit from this - the local farmer, the local business, BirdWatch Ireland - is enormous. The Government is committed to putting huge money into this. I must praise the Taoiseach because not a week goes by that he is not on to me asking me different questions about this and ensuring we get on top of everything. It is not easy but we are working together. I acknowledge Deputy Harty and in particular Deputy Eugene Murphy, who has worked closely with me on the Shannon over recent years and has given me no problems, only worked with me in trying to help me enhance projects. I thank him for that.

Vacant Sites

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this Topical Issue matter and thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for giving the time to come before the House to discuss it with me. I also wish to use this as an opportunity to acknowledge the Minister of State's co-operation in this regard in helping to deliver the funding to progress the much-needed second bridge for Celbridge. The local authority was awarded funding for this some months ago through his offices and his Department. This would help to bring the second bridge to Celbridge with ring roads, which are much needed in Celbridge to avoid the current traffic congestion and delays, all the way from concept through to design and tender. I acknowledge the Minister of State's positive work with me and Deputy Durkan in this regard. I want to put that on the record of the House.

I am disappointed I have to bring this issue before the House again. This is the third or fourth time we have been here looking for the support of the Minister of State and his officials in the Department in progressing this master plan for this area of Celbridge. It was identified through the local area plan recently as an area of key and strategic development. What I am looking to do, on behalf of the people of Celbridge, is get the Minister of State's support in engaging, communicating and liaising with the local authority to progress this master plan in order that the area can progress and develop, as I said, as an area of key development.

Looking back over the record of the House from previous occasions on which we discussed this, it is important to recap what we are talking about. This site is right beside Hazelhatch train station. It is less than a five-minute walk from the primary school in the area, St. Patrick's national school, the sporting clubs and the site the Department of Education and Skills owns, which is identified for two if not three schools to be built over the short to medium term. The Department has acknowledged it will use not only that site but also a site off Shinkeen Road which is progressing at present for development of schools, such is the need in the area. The site is also extremely close to the M50 and on to the M7, M8 and M9, so it is in quite a good location.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has acknowledged that the Kildare rail line, serving Hazelhatch and Sallins, is a priority in the context of the allocation of the new rail carriages that are due to be delivered in 2021. The train line has also been identified for electrification, and that process will commence in 2022. It is all positive and it is the reason this area has been identified as an area of key strategic development for residential, commercial or whatever type of development is decided on by the governing local authority.

The stakeholders and landowners want to engage with the local authority and do the master plan in partnership with that authority. We should remember that in the previous local area plan, it was agreed a master plan for this land would be formulated before the expiry of the local area plan. The next local area plan for Celbridge is due in less than two years. We know the local authority has stretched resources and the Minister of State knows this from engaging with it. It needs support and the template identified here has been used in many different counties, including Kildare. There is nothing wrong with the suggested template, as the local authority would be the supervising body working in partnership to see what is critical for the site.

Unfortunately, nothing is happening and there is no progression. That is the reason I brought this matter before the House. This is important to Celbridge, where there is much land zoned for development in the recent local area plan but very few areas can be developed before we get the much-needed infrastructure. The Minister of State allocated funds in that regard earlier this year. Other lands cannot be developed until the infrastructure is in place.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter relating to housing and community development in Celbridge, the wider Kildare region and other areas. I am from Meath and many in the Chamber today are from Kildare, so we all understand the pressures being felt in our counties. We also know how a lack of master plans led to developments that were not exactly what we wanted in many cases, and in some cases there was overdevelopment. In general, I am in favour of master planning well in advance. I have said it before during these debates that this is something we should encourage. I will address the matter before me but as a Department we encourage local authorities to plan ahead on the use of such land.

I remember there was much scrutiny of the local area plan for Celbridge at the time and it was clearly mentioned that this land is targeted for long-term growth. I cannot believe two years have passed since we had all those debates about the local area plan. It is important to scrutinise such matters and I thank the Deputy for raising this to allow me the opportunity to discuss the advancement of housing development in Celbridge and the continued planned growth of this important town in tandem with the supporting infrastructure and amenities required. I am glad there has been some progress with the various infrastructure projects as well.

The Celbridge local area plan for 2017 to 2023 was adopted by elected members in August 2017 and came into effect on 14 September 2017. I welcome the fact that the plan supports the provision of substantial new housing development in a key urban area close to Dublin. Kildare County Council, in its current county development plan, has earmarked Celbridge to grow in population by approximately 10,000 people over the next five to ten years. We need to plan for this increase and to ensure Celbridge grows in a coherent fashion with the timely delivery of the new infrastructure that will be needed for this expanded population. In fairness, there was a link in the plan between infrastructure and development and it is important that they are planned together. We must tick all the boxes and progress has been made on the various pieces of infrastructure. The bridge is a key point and I am glad that project is moving on as well.

I welcome the provisions in the plan that will enable future housing growth on the southern side of the town in proximity to the existing commuter rail station at Hazelhatch. This development strategy is consistent with established national and regional planning policy, which encourages new housing accessible to such high-quality public transport facilities in the interest of sustainable development. On the lands adjacent to Hazelhatch train station, I understand that the local area plan did not identify them for immediate development due primarily to flood management issues. I understand Kildare County Council has engaged consultants in order to address the issue with a final report due early next year. The plan indicated these lands were not for immediate development but we did stipulate they should be considered for future growth. The Deputy referenced this and I have checked it. I understand a report on the flooding issues is due in January or February, and the Deputy might know more about that than me. It will enable us to look at those lands at an appropriate time and develop a master plan. We certainly encourage that. Timelines for delivery and prioritisation are a local authority decision. This specifically relates to what lands become available and at what time. We encourage master planning and we are happy to work with authorities. I have referenced this before and I can say it again.

Notwithstanding this, the local area plan also identifies the key pieces of strategic infrastructure that are required to be delivered as part of the planned new housing development areas. The phasing arrangements set out in section 13 of the plan include requirements relating to the provision of new road, bridge, open space and other facilities that will support the new homes in being constructed. Design briefs are also provided for the five key development areas earmarked for future housing development, which will further assist in ensuring the construction of quality residential neighbourhoods that are integrated into the existing urban fabric of the town.

Many pieces of the jigsaw seem to be coming together and it is important that we keep adding to the process. As part of the roll-out of the local area plan and in the interests of supporting the integrated development of housing within that plan, Kildare County Council is committed to preparing a transport mobility management plan to support the sustainable growth of the town. State agencies, my Department and the National Transport Authority will be active in their support of the development of such a plan, which will inform future infrastructure delivery. This will facilitate proper timing of master plans, etc. This is something on which we can work.

I thank the Minister of State for his detailed reply. I refer to two of his comments. First, there is no key infrastructure required for the progression of this site because of its location. As I mentioned earlier, it is beside services such as a train station and motorway so no key development is required. The site could progress and it is not solely dependent on the second bridge and ring roads. We need those in Celbridge urgently but this location is not completely dependent on those projects.

Second, on the flooding issue it is worth noting I have engaged with the Minister of State's colleague, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, whose Department has allocated funding to the local authority, which in turn carried out flood alleviation works in the area over the past two years. Senior officials in the Department, along with the local authority, feel those issues have been addressed and dealt with fully. However, as a final piece to the jigsaw, they have agreed to fund a final detailed study, which is currently under way and will be completed just after Christmas. This is to ensure there are no other possible causes of flooding in the area. Technically speaking, there is no expectation of such flooding. The flooding issue has been almost fully, if not fully, dealt with.

A master plan will not be done overnight, as the Minister of State and his officials know. In light of everything that is positive here, will the Minister of State and his Department engage with Kildare County Council and stakeholders? Will he write in support of the master plan in order to progress it for this key area of development? It will eventually deliver housing, if that zoning is agreed through the normal statutory process, as the location beside these services has been identified through the Department , the local authority, the municipal district and the public as an area of key development for delivery of housing, etc. I hope we will not have to bring the matter before the House again and that the Department can send some correspondence to the local authority in support of this development for Celbridge. This will answer many of the problems caused by the current housing crisis.

To be clear, the Department supports logical and sequential planning, as well as master plans for areas. The process exists where a local authority can appoint a planner to work with a team of people to develop a master plan that can maximise resources. It is something we certainly encourage. We have no problem corresponding with Kildare County Council in offering that support but we cannot instruct any local authority to develop any parcel of land or assign priorities to individual sites. It is in its own plan to do this so we support such action because we believe in it.

It is something we have discussed with the Office of the Planning Regulator. We have asked the new regulator, Mr. Niall Cussen, to engage proactively with local authorities. He has done it with Meath when it brought forward a development plan. Part of the job is to oversee the implementation of local area plans, which makes sense. I will correspond with Kildare County Council through the Department offering our support and any resources it needs. I will not tell the council what it must do as that is its job but we can certainly offer support and work as best we can.

The focus should now be on all the stakeholders, including the council, local businesses, State agencies and the wider community in implementing the Celbridge local area plan. I confirm that my Department and I will continue to work proactively with Kildare County Council in this regard on infrastructure delivery and sustainable urban development. The train station is there and there are lands that have been identified for development around that as well. We are also ready to work with Kildare in tackling the wider infrastructure delivery challenges to be addressed so as to ensure Celbridge can play a full part in delivering the core strategy of the Kildare county development plan and implement the full range of housing and planning policies available to it.

Certainly, it is something we would encourage and we will work on that as well.

I did not get to mention earlier about my Department's allocation of the rural development fund towards technical assistance in the development of the Kildare County Council Celbridge southern relief road and second Liffey crossing proposal. This demonstrates our commitment to ensure that Celbridge is supported with appropriate infrastructure to accommodate growth and development in the area. I know that Deputy O'Rourke and Deputy Durkan pushed hard to ensure that happened, but it makes for good logical planning as well and I am glad we could do that. It makes sense now.

I repeat that the jigsaw is coming together. What the Deputy is asking for makes total sense with the master plan. I will certainly get our Department to correspond to support that as well.

IDA Ireland Portfolio

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for selecting this important issue. I have highlighted this issue in the House in recent years, whether through a Topical Issue matter or written or oral questions. The timelines have dragged on considerably in recent times.

I want to hear from the Minister of State today on where exactly things are at the moment. This is a highly important potential development for Carlow town. It is an advance facility. Carlow town was one of the nine towns selected in 2015 as part of the €150 million project at the time for an advance facility. Towns were picked or selected on the basis that they suffered job losses in the previous period. Like many other towns in the country, Carlow suffered many job losses, including at the sugar factory. The sugar industry was wound down approximately ten years ago. Another large factory in Carlow town at the time was the Braun facility, which at its peak employed 1,400 people. Again, that came to a conclusion approximately ten years ago. As a result, it was decided that an advance facility would be helpful to try to reinvigorate Carlow town.

It must be acknowledged at the same time that several extra facilities have come on board in Carlow town and have been developed, including the MSD facility, which has gone from strength to strength in the past ten years. That was done on the basis of an advance site being purchased approximately ten years ago in conjunction with Carlow County Council. The company could have been attracted to several different facilities, but we were fortunate in Carlow that MSD came along and purchased the whole site. The company is now expanding, and by the time of completion it will have an employment capacity of approximately 800 people. Obviously, that is important for Carlow town. What we need at the moment is the other advance facility that has been promised to give Carlow town and the surrounding areas an extra boost to push on employment prospects.

This issue has been dragging on for several years. In May this year, in answer to an oral question, the Minister informed me that the site for the facility had been purchased by IDA Ireland. It was suggested that planning permission for the advance facility would be lodged within several weeks. That was on 14 May 2019, which was five or six months ago. We are no wiser in Carlow now about when the planning application will be lodged. In answer to my oral question in May, it was suggested that, depending on planning permission, construction would commence towards the end of 2019. As of today, 16 October, no planning permission has been lodged. It is obvious that there will not be a commencement date this year, and so another year will go by. There is no sign of the planning application. The site has been built. In my estimation it will be several years before we go through the planning process, commence the stage of building so that the facility will be in Carlow.

I thank the Minister of State for his presence today. I want to know about the timescales. The purchase of the site was completed in May, as per the answer to my oral question. There is no sign of the planning application. I would like to know a definite timescale for when that application will be lodged. Presuming that the planning process will be completed in the normal time, when is it hoped that the facility will start operating? What work has been done to ensure that appropriate tenants come into this facility so that we provide appropriate employment in the general area in the coming period?

I thank Deputy Deering for raising this issue. In fact, Deputy Deering has been raising this issue regularly with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and me at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

I wish to emphasise that the Government is focused on doing everything possible to deliver the fairest possible spread of foreign direct investment throughout the country. Our success is evident from IDA Ireland's recent figures of 58% of foreign direct investment being outside of Dublin. Strengthening regional development is important. Carlow and the south east remain an absolute priority for my Department and IDA Ireland.

Since 2015, IDA Ireland has been working hard towards ambitious regional development targets set out in the agency strategy for the period 2015 to 2019. These include the goal of increasing investment in every region of Ireland by between 30% and 40%. IDA Ireland, to its credit, is on track to achieve that objective by the end of the year. An important instrument of IDA Ireland in its efforts to boost investment outside of the main urban areas is the regional property programme. The programme, as Deputies may be aware, is designed to ensure the ready availability of an adequate supply of marketable serviced land, office and industrial buildings in advance of demand by existing and potential client companies of the agency. Deputy Deering alluded to this as the reason MSD located in Carlow. He suggested it was because there was an advance property portfolio available for that company. The company now employs in the region of 400 to 450 people. The IDA Ireland facility in Carlow will form part of this regional property programme. It is hoped it can help to attract more investment to the county and the surrounding area.

I can inform the Dáil that the agency has acquired a 12.6 ha site at Rathnapish in Carlow town. IDA Ireland is intensively engaging with the local authority there regarding planning issues concerning access to the site. It is important to have this preliminary engagement before we put in the planning application.

My Department has been informed by the agency that a planning application is being finalised. The good news for Deputy Deering is that it is expected that the application will be submitted later on before the end of this month. It is on target for what Deputy Deering was talking about, that is to say, to have the planning in place. The normal planning process will apply, obviously, but I hope that permission would be given with all the preliminary discussions with Carlow County Council. I hope that it goes as speedily as possible.

As the Deputy will be aware from a previous briefing on the matter, IDA Ireland did not originally own land in the county for this important facility. As such, it had to acquire a site through the open market. The process associated with this purchase was lengthier than anticipated. This led to a later than planned completion date. I imagine the Deputy will understand that as well. I have every confidence that this building, once completed, will be a significant asset to Carlow in terms of attracting further multinational investment to the town and the wider region.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. He outlined the advantage of having the advance facility in any town, but especially Carlow town. In Carlow we are proud of the MSD facility coming to town. It is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. The co-operation between IDA Ireland and the local authority ten years ago resulted in MSD coming to town. When the company completes its latest extension, it will employ up to 800 people, which is important.

It is important to move on. Time always moves on. More wants more, obviously, as we all know. The fact is there is an expectation now that the advance facility will be coming on board. It was promised some years ago. We have waited so long. It is important now that progress is made. I am pleased to hear that the planning application will be ready to roll at this stage.

I wish to impress on the Minister of State the importance of having the planning application lodged before the end of the month. It is essential that it would be lodged before the end of the month. Obviously, there is a planning process to go through after that, which will take several months. That will bring us into 2020, which could be an interesting year in many ways, as we all know. It will be for everyone bar yourself, a Cheann Comhairle. It is important that we would make progress in that regard.

I would also like to know from the Minister of State whether progress is being made in attracting a tenant to this facility. The site is one thing. It is 12.6 ha, which is substantial. The building then will come on board in due course. I hope by this time next year we will have the building in place or we will be a long way towards completing it. Obviously, a building is no good without a tenant, which will obviously employ people for the future. That is what the people in Carlow and surrounding areas want to know. What work is being done at this stage by IDA Ireland to attract a tenant to fill the facility? What type of facility will we have? Will it be an engineering facility? Carlow has a long track record from an engineering point of view. We had the sugar company there previously. We have the Burnside Eurocyl facility in Carlow and surrounding areas. It employs 1,000 people in three different facilities. People want to know what potential there is for employment in the general area for the future.

I am keen to hear about the timelines first of all.

I am delighted to hear that the planning application is ready to be submitted. I would also like to know what type of facility it will be and what the timeline will be for completion.

I work closely with IDA Ireland. It is one of the most professional agencies we have to attract industry into Ireland against stiff competition. It will continue to engage with its clients to identify further opportunities for new investment in Carlow and the south east. I have visited the region with the Deputy and have also visited Carlow IT, which is important for attracting industry into the region. The region is well positioned to attract further foreign direct investment and the agency is working with all its stakeholders in the region to support that goal. Carlow has experienced a year-on-year increase in foreign direct investment employment since 2011, so extra jobs are coming to Carlow each year. There has been a two-fold increase in employment by IDA Ireland client companies in that period and last year alone, the number of IDA Ireland-supported companies in the county increased by 31%, with 275 net jobs added.

Another key development in the context of foreign direct investment in Carlow was the beginning of the construction of MSD's second manufacturing facility in the county. The new production facility will create up to another 117 new jobs and the expansion reflects Carlow's appeal to overseas investors. County Carlow is making real strides when it comes to overseas investment, though we cannot rest on our laurels and we want to see more, particularly given that Brexit is coming. We have ensured IDA Ireland has the necessary resources to continue to attract investment into the country and the new IDA Ireland facility, which we hope will be constructed as soon as possible, will be a very important part of that. It will add to the other good companies in Carlow such as Autolaunch, Thermo Air Environmental, Imofa and DeLaval and we should not forget the indigenous companies, both from Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprises, which have all contributed to making sure the Carlow economy is well served and jobs are created.

Mental Health Services Funding

This matter was originally scheduled to be taken last week to coincide with World Mental Health Day but it is appropriate that we discuss it today in light of the incredible and tragic situation of people who have lost loved ones to suicide being forced to protest outside the Dáil. They carried placards reading "She died waiting" and "24-7 Mental Healthcare Access Now", in a clear appeal to the Government to save people from suicide, and they referred to the budget of last week.

Does the Minister agree that we have a mental health crisis? The last census saw an 29% increase in people with mental health problems and over one in 15 young people has engaged in deliberate self harm. By the age of 24, up to one in five young people has experienced suicidal ideation and ten people tragically die by suicide every week. There is an immense crisis in our society but it is unmatched by the response of the Government. Between 20% and 25% of overall ill health is caused by mental health problems but only about 7% of the health budget goes on mental health. Last week's budget included €39 million for mental health but two thirds of that is going towards pay increases, which are deserved and necessary, and addressing the existing level of services which means the increase in availability and access, at a time when there are massive waiting lists, is extremely small.

The impact of this on our society and economy is immense and an OECD report from 2018 stated that mental health problems cost the economy over €8 billion annually. However, the introduction by the Government of the Your Mental Health information line simply directs callers to one of over 1,000 other helplines and does little to assist those in dire need. Suicide support services may alleviate someone's situation in the immediate term but they are not a long-term solution for anyone with severe mental health difficulties and for the Government to suggest that it is a solution is a slap in the face for those who struggle with such difficulties on a daily basis. It is proven that calls increase with new helplines but what does that mean when we lack consistent State-funded mental health support such as specific centres, support groups and particular treatments for certain illnesses? At the end of last year, over one quarter of the people on the waiting list for psychology in primary care had been waiting more than 12 months to be seen. Helplines will typically advise someone in urgent need to go to an emergency department but they wait there for ten hours and end up on a waiting list, which does not resolve the situation.

A helpline is the bare minimum we need to have. What we need is sufficient investment, the implementation of A Vision for Change and 24-hour access to appropriate care. We need to get rid of waiting lists so people can access, publicly, the mental healthcare services they need. This needs to be linked to a struggle for a society without alienation and where people have control over their lives, their housing and their jobs and do not suffer from eco-anxiety or eco-guilt because of a sense of a climate that is headed for a catastrophe. These services are linked to a fundamental socialist change in our society.

I thank the Deputy and express my appreciation to him for withdrawing this matter last week. He had wanted it to be dealt with during Mental health Week but it is every bit as appropriate today. I acknowledge the parents who are at the front gate today. I went out and said hello to them and it is heartbreaking to see parents who have lost their gorgeous children and are wearing T-shirts with pictures of their children on them. They have nothing to gain from improved services but they care enough to try to provoke movement on behalf of other families to spare them the same fate. It is a wake-up call for all of us. None of us can imagine what it is like to be one of the parents at the gates of Leinster House with a picture of their child who was lost to suicide. I acknowledge their bravery and the contribution they are making.

I will not read my script because a lot of it is already on the record and the Deputy is up to speed on the issues. I have gained a good insight into the issues but I do not have all the solutions or a monopoly of wisdom on the right thing to do. Money is a very important part of the service and the Government will respond to this. There has been a 44% increase in funding the past number of years, from €700 million to over €1 billion. I am far more interested, however, in what we are doing with that €1 billion than arguing every day about how much of the €39 million increase is going to pay increases and how much to new developments. I am concerned as to whether we are doing the right thing with the money because throwing another €50 million at it may get me off the hook but I need to be more responsible.

One of the things I have championed are lower-level interventions because that is how I believe we will tackle the waiting list issue which has bedevilled CAMHS for so long. I can throw €3 million or €4 million at a waiting list initiative, as my predecessors have done, but doing that means that, while the numbers initially go down, they come straight back up again as soon as the money is spent. I have tried to structurally reform what we do and how we do it. I have put in a lower level of psychology in the infrastructure. While psychiatry is a specialist intervention, led by a consultant psychiatrist with a highly disciplined team, some 2,000 children are waiting to access the service so 134 psychologists have come into primary care to reach out to children earlier.

The Deputy referenced the helpline and I do not mind people questioning its validity but we should also acknowledge progress when it is made. There are 1,027 different services funded by the HSE and the State but if a person is in trouble, I am not sure they know who to call, whether it is Aware, Pieta House or Jigsaw or some other service.

By calling our phone number, one can access 1,027 services, including face-to-face therapies and complementary therapies. It is about ensuring a lower level of intervention is available such that problems do not escalate to needing psychiatry and medication. That initiative is working. I do not like talking about waiting lists going down because they may go up again tomorrow. That said, since the beginning of the year, there has been a 20% reduction in the waiting list for CAMHS, which is a significant development. More important, the reduction is sustainable. I am not interested in a headline figure of a 20% reduction in the waiting list; I want it to be sustainable. Having the lower level of psychology infrastructure in primary care centres has lessened the demand for CAMHS. The reduction has come at a time when there has been a 24% increase in demand for the services. We must acknowledge what is working while recognising that there is far more we need to do.

To put it bluntly, the Government is failing to listen or to address the needs on the required scale. I agree that, in addition to increasing funding, it is about listening to affected communities about what is really required and what works. Funding is part of the solution.

On the staffing gap, there are approximately 10,000 mental health whole-time equivalents, but A Vision for Change recommends having 13,000 such posts. How will that be addressed without a substantial increase in funding? What about the argument - with which I agree - of Mental Health Reform that the office of a national director of mental health should be reinstated in order to properly co-ordinate funding across the country? It is striking that when the State fails to deal with its responsibilities to provide these services as part of a properly funded national health service, the burden falls on many others across society. There was a briefing of community groups in the audiovisual room earlier today. They are struggling to provide help to those who need professional mental healthcare.

There is a broader point about what has been referred to as the mental health plague in our society. Mark Fisher, the late socialist author, wrote: "Capitalist realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact, like weather ... we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill?" There has been an explosion in mental health problems not just in Ireland but across the world. That relates to the levels of alienation and oppression in our society.

I agree with the Deputy's last point. I am not trying to pass the buck but there are wider questions to be answered on a societal level. We need to look at the cause of these issues and what is driving them rather than treating the symptoms.

The Deputy referred to recruitment. There are challenges in that regard but, as I have said repeatedly to officials in the Department, that is no excuse. We must do more. There is a global scarcity of highly specialised trained mental health professionals. The Deputy asked what we are doing about it. Money is one aspect of the issue. I have limited control over the budget.

I have looked at how it is done in other countries. Of great interest is how other countries are utilising the online space to deliver consultant psychiatry. Rather than having a consultant psychiatrist in the emergency department of Cork University Hospital waiting for one or two presentations in a 24 hour period, another in Waterford hospital and another in Kerry, one consultant could cover the three sites using a screen. Mental health care can be delivered online. That is being done in other countries such as the United States and Australia. We are making psychology available online 24-7. Many people are more comfortable availing of it online. The anonymity involved suits people as they do not have to go in and register their name and address and so on. Mental health is an area in which that can be done.

We have also developed a crisis text line which will be live before the end of the year. That is a very significant investment which will cost approximately €2.5 million per year. Similar initiatives have enjoyed phenomenal success worldwide. I do not have time to go into its merits. We also offer other digital supports such as cognitive behavioural therapy. We are embracing the role of technology and seeing how it can assist in dealing with the lack of availability of specialists by maximising their contribution while making services more accessible.

I refer to the serious mental health crisis among the Traveller community. Suicide prevention is key and safeTALK training needs to be rolled out in those areas. We need to look at new ways of dealing with old problems rather than trying to blame it on a recruitment and retention challenge.