Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Direct Provision System

Anyone who has heard about what is happening in the Skellig Star is utterly horrified. It was so bad that it drove people to engage in a hunger strike. Coronavirus spread like wildfire through this direct provision centre. As I understand it, it has still not yet been inspected. Food and water were rationed. At one stage, people were limited to 1 l of water per day. A letter I received stated it had been almost four consecutive months of living in inhumane conditions. The Government has not done anything to address that.

We welcome the news that, due to the pressure created by the hunger strike, the residents will be relocated. They want to know that everyone will be relocated. They engaged in this action in solidarity with each other and do not want anyone to be left behind. They want the relocation to happen very quickly and they want to know that the hotel will be closed.

It is a bad and horrifying example of the horrifying system of direct provision. It is a system which treats people inhumanely while allowing others to profit to the tune of €1 billion of public money over the past 20 years. The residents have to be moved out as quickly as possible, but direct provision as a system needs to end.

I congratulate the asylum seekers at the Skellig Star hotel in Cahersiveen. They have been treated appallingly since the first day they were put in there in the middle of March. There were 110 people accommodated in 56 rooms. Imagine what that means in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic.

When there was a boil water notice in the town, the residents were limited to 1 l of water per day. They reached out to the Minister for Justice and Equality and the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, for help and to engage in negotiations and discussions. They got little or nothing in return. They were driven to hunger strike. For three days, 28 of the residents went on hunger strike, and the Government has conceded in the face of that. I congratulate those asylum seekers.

I also congratulate the people of Cahersiveen who, to their credit, stood behind the hunger strikers in solidarity. The asylum seekers and their supporters are calling for them to moved out at the weekend and for all of the other people to be moved out very quickly after that. There can be no waiting around for months. The hotel should be closed.

Direct provision is inhumane and should be abolished. The idea that it would continue after this is not something the Government can stand over. How can the Green Party stand over that? I know the Government has said it will abolish direct provision, but that is within a framework of years. The system must be abolished immediately. That is the demand from everyone who is campaigning on this issue.

I acknowledge that the Minister has intervened in the hunger strike in the Skellig Star. It is over, which is important. For anybody in Ireland to be on hunger strike sends a strong message to us. For the asylum seekers concerned to feel that was the only way they could have their voices heard is telling.

It is time to resolve the issues and deal with them fairly and quickly. In her response I would like to hear from the Minister what the timeframe will be. It is not enough to say things will happen over the next number of months.

We want to know what the timeframe will be because that will be vital to ensuring the issues will be dealt with. The protestors all demanded they be given access to a social worker so they could air their grievances in a safe way. What is the Department's view on that? It shows the lack of faith the asylum seekers have in the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, and the officials of the Minister's Department who, unfortunately, they do not feel they can talk to. That happens an awful lot and is a sign of something wrong in the system. It needs to be dealt with and I hope the Minister does so. Hopefully, moving it across to another Minister might resolve it. Time will tell, we will have to wait and see what happens.

I thank Deputies Murphy, Barry and Pringle for raising this extremely important matter. Deputy Smith also raised it but she is not here.

I referred to this earlier today and it still stands true. I am sorry that residents of the Skellig Star in Cahersiveen felt that for their concerns to be heard this was the only course of action they could take. It is a matter of deep regret to me but also to my Department and the officials who work in this area. I have taken their concerns seriously as have officials in my Department. When a group of people feel they need to put their health at risk by refusing food or by not eating we need to listen to their grievances. We are listening to the residents in Cahersiveen and I am glad they are now eating and we can move forward.

Covid-19 has presented us all with difficult challenges and circumstances but, in particular, the residents in Cahersiveen who have been relocated and moved from where they were, potentially from friends and other family members. Restrictions were imposed on them because of the pandemic, albeit on all of us, but the virus itself made their situation particularly difficult and I acknowledge that.

I also fully appreciate the outbreak that was in the centre, the challenges that caused and how distressing it was for residents, staff, the community and for people engaging with the residents. Thankfully, the outbreak was declared over on 20 May. Since then, and in the interim, several measures have been introduced to try to make life that little bit more comfortable for the residents but, particularly, for the children who are there. I spoke of this earlier. These children were potentially in school, the same as anybody else. Obviously, we have done everything we can through their parents with my own Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla and others to make sure they were able to continue in their education and that, where possible, they had access to the right technology to make sure they could continue learning. This applies to all children in direct provision.

My officials have been on site in recent days to assess the situation first-hand but, most important, to listen to the concerns of the residents. I also asked them to examine issues raised around the provision of meals and any issues arising following the boiled water notice that was and is currently in place in the entire town. Following their visits, they have informed me they are satisfied that residents have access to clean and safe drinking water and meals. Again, I acknowledge the inability to cook their own meals is difficult. It is not a situation anybody wants to be in.

I am conscious that residents still have outstanding issues and concerns and these are being followed up as a matter of priority. Several residents have made applications for transfer from Cahersiveen to alternative accommodation. Two days ago, the Department wrote to residents informing them the restrictions around transfers are now being relaxed. This was in place across the entire country because of Covid-19. They were necessary in terms of precautionary measures during the pandemic but as we have been able to manage the effects of the pandemic, those restrictions are now being eased.

The centre in Cahersiveen was opened as emergency accommodation at the outset of the pandemic and it is always the Department's policy to withdraw from emergency accommodation as quickly as possible. However, it is not always possible to do this as quickly as we would like. My officials will be implementing that policy regarding Cahersiveen. Places for first families are currently being identified and I gave a commitment earlier today that those families' moves will be completed by the end of next week. Other residents in the centre will be moved to more permanent accommodation as soon as spaces can be found in the coming months. I have given a commitment that I want this to be done by the end of the year. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Gorman, who will take over this role, very much agrees with this.

In the interim, my officials are working on solutions to facilitate the transport needs of residents who wish to visit the larger towns which they should be able to do. We will continue to listen to residents to try to provide any additional supports they require in the wake of recent events surrounding the centre. Since we opened the centre in March our goal and our priority has been to ensure the health, well-being and welfare of the residents. It has been to the fore of my mind, that of my predecessor, the then Minister of Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and all the officials in the Department. I will continue to do everything I can to support them, as will the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman when he takes over this role.

Did I hear the Minister correctly that she hopes to have everyone moved out by the end of the year? Is that correct?

The Minister will reply when the Deputy has finished.

The written statement we have here states that the process will be completed in a relatively short period, which is vague, and then in no more than a few months which is vague as well. That is not going to cut it with the asylum seekers or their supporters in the town. They welcome the fact that people are being moved out. Some people are being moved out this weekend. However, the idea that people would be left behind there for months is not acceptable to the people who have organised this struggle. If I heard the Minister correctly and she said it would be by the end of the year, that would be completely unacceptable as a timescale. Will she please clarify that?

I will add to that by asking for confirmation that nobody else will be moved into the centre and underline the point that it should not have come to a hunger strike. People should not have been forced into that situation where they felt they had no other choice. This crisis has been discussed openly including in the media, protests, organisation and support from the local community for months. It took a hunger strike for a welcome intervention to happen but it should not have. We need reassurance that nobody else will be placed in these situations as well as a wider reassurance that direct provision will be ended.

I share the views of my colleagues that this must cease to be a centre and no more asylum seekers should be moved in. The Minister should clarify that this evening.

Unfortunately, the problem here is that IPAS is not dealing with asylum seekers properly and unless the Minister stays involved this situation will get out of hand again. IPAS will not accept people talking on behalf of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers will not talk to IPAS because they are afraid it will affect their cases. They will not accept me or the community talking to them. It has gotten to the stage now that they have set up the refugee legal service. They set up an information service through which the asylum seekers can talk to IPAS. Something is badly wrong with the Minister's Department and the way it deals with asylum seekers and that needs to be sorted out.

I again thank the Deputies for raising this issue and want to reassure them as I reassured Senators earlier today. The first families will be moved by the end of next week and the remainder of the residents will be moved as soon as possible and as soon as places are found. I have gotten a commitment of no later than the end of the year but, obviously, the objective is as soon as accommodation can be found. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, will follow through on that commitment when he takes on this area. Nobody will be moved in after them either.

The situation in Cahersiveen underscores the importance of the root and branch reform of the system for accommodation international protection applicants we are now undertaking and that is needed. The current system is far from perfect but I must outline the huge amount of progress that has been made. A huge amount of work has been done by many of my predecessors and those in the Department. The commitments we have made in the programme for Government now provide us with a unique opportunity to finally get this right after 20 years. We have committed to ending the current system of direct provision within the lifetime of the Government and replacing it with a new international protection accommodation policy which is focused on a not-for-profit approach. Responsibility will move from my Department to Deputy O'Gorman's but what we will see in the next month and a half is a report from Dr. Catherine Day.

We have asked her to bring together an expert group to make recommendations from asylum seekers and NGOs, to examine best practice from other European states in the provision of services to international protection applicants, to examine likely longer-term trends and to set out recommendations and solutions. This report was due by the end of the year, but we have brought it forward and it is expected by the end of September. The intention then is to publish the White Paper by the end of this year, informed by the recommendations of the expert group which will set out how the replacement of direct provision will be structured and the steps to achieving this.

There is still some way to go. This is not something that can be changed overnight but we will continue to try to make progress to improve the current situation and to improve the lives of those in direct provision. We are talking about people here and we want to ensure they can get on with their lives while they are still going through this process. It is important that we have taken that step. In particular I am glad to say that the people in Cahersiveen have come back from the steps they were taking, and they are now eating. It is a matter of deep regret for me that it had to get to that point in the first instance.

Schools Site Acquisitions

I very much appreciate the Minister's presence here this evening. She has had a long day of engagement with Deputies and Senators on a wide range of issues over the course of this day. It is now past 2 a.m. and she is still here. I appreciate that. I made a comment about a Cabinet colleague of hers not affording us the same respect, but she is here and it is greatly appreciated. For those who are interested in the topic that we are going to discuss, it shows the seriousness with which she takes the issue.

The campaign for Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together school was started several years ago. I was involved in the campaign from the start. There is great interest in the establishment of an Educate Together school in the catchment area as laid down by the Department. The Department determined that there should be a new primary school for the catchment area of Killester, Raheny and Clontarf and so the competition, for want of a better word, was started and Educate Together was deemed to be the most appropriate patron body to take on the running of that school.

All was fine. However, with the school to be opened last September, a site within the catchment area was not found. A particular site was investigated for a period of time, but my understanding is that there was an issue with planning. After a long period of time, a site was found outside the catchment area, at Suttonians Rugby Club in Sutton, to enable the school to open. As a result of that, many parents who were enthusiastic about sending their children to this school thought otherwise because the idea of travelling from Clontarf, Raheny or Killester to Sutton and back again for an infant was just not going to work out.

I am not sure if the Minister is familiar with the geography of the area. Suffice it to say that having a school even on a temporary basis outside the catchment area when it is just trying to find its feet, to embed a culture and to embed a dynamic around the school was not going to work. On the basis that it would be a year, many people felt that over the course of that year the Department would work hard to ensure that by following September there would be a physical site in the catchment area. Obviously, the pandemic has most likely interrupted that process and parents will probably face into a second year on site in the rugby club in Sutton. The agreement from the off was that it would be a two-year arrangement.

What plans and processes are in place for the Department to ensure that a temporary or permanent site within the catchment area of Killester, Raheny and Clontarf can be obtained for this school so that it can embed itself in the community which it has been established to serve? It has not been established to be located in Sutton. It has been established to serve the students of the Killester, Raheny and Clontarf catchment area. Of course, priority is given to children who reside in that catchment area. The issue is very simple. I ask for an indication of what moves the Department is making. It would be great to have it this September. If it is to be September 2021, what is the likelihood that we can have Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together school in the catchment area of Killester, Raheny and Clontarf?

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it gives me an opportunity to provide an update on the current position regarding Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together school.

On 13 April 2018, the Minister for Education and Skills announced 42 new schools to open between 2019 and 2022. A preliminary site identification process was undertaken in respect of any of the schools for which there had not yet been a site identified. In the first instance, this exercise sought to identify State-owned property which may potentially serve as a location to provide accommodation for the new school referenced. The Department of Education and Skills portfolio of Minister-owned property and the State Property Register were considered for this purpose.

Generally, all new schools commence operation in temporary accommodation with a view to permanent accommodation being provided for them by my Department as quickly as possible. As the Deputy will be aware, Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together national school is currently located in temporary accommodation at Suttonians Rugby Club. A permanent site option for the new 16-classroom Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together national school has been identified and it is in the school planning area. Given the commercial sensitivities associated with land acquisitions generally, I am not in a position to comment further at this time. I can, however, assure the Deputy that the acquisition of a new site for the school is a priority for my Department and the patron body will be informed of the location for the school as soon as it is possible to do so.

That is very positive. I appreciate the Minister's response. I think the parents of children who are attending the school or intend to attend the school will be very satisfied with that response. A permanent site option for the new 16-classroom school has been identified. We are not talking about a temporary site but a permanent one and it is in the school planning area. It is quite a wide area and it spans what would border Fairview all the way down to the Kilbarrack Road, which is quite a large catchment area.

I also appreciate that there are commercial sensitivities associated with the land acquisition. I appreciate that the Minister cannot go into any further detail. I appreciate the answer she has given me. This will be greatly welcomed by the school community. I ask the Minister to continue to engage with me and other representatives in the area to ensure this matter stays on the top of the agenda locally. It is crucial that if a child is from the given locality, he or she has an opportunity to attend Killester Raheny Clontarf Educate Together school in his or her own locality. I appeal to the Minister to continue to engage with me, the board of management, local representatives and the school community as this process continues.

I appreciate the very strong case the Deputy has outlined and his sincerity in doing so. I have no difficulty with my officials and me engaging with him and with other representatives on this matter. I appreciate the high priority the Deputy puts on it and I will recognise that.

Fire Stations

I was first contacted by local retained firefighters concerned about the continued closure of Castlerea fire station long before I was ever elected to this House. The retained firefighters did not see their role as just a job. They served their community with pride and that pride can be seen in speaking to them. I saw it the first time I met them.

Castlerea fire station was closed in 2007. The only reason given for the closure at the time was staffing issues. A statement from Roscommon County Council in January 2019 stated that the fire station remained closed due to operational reasons.

In April last year, the chief executive of Roscommon County Council told councillors that he was fully committed to the reopening of Castlerea fire station and that it would reopen at some time in that year. Just this week, after waiting months and months for the publication of a report on fire services in County Roscommon, I sat in the council chamber and it was as if the staffing difficulties the chief executive had consistently referred to for three and half years had never existed. Instead, the fire station in Castlerea was being closed because a new report written by the chief fire officer in Roscommon recommended it. This report does not consider the make-up of the town of Castlerea, that it is the second largest town in County Roscommon and the fact that it is home to a number of large factories, large schools, forestry, boglands, nursing homes and a prison. There has been no consultation with the key stakeholders. I know this because I have engaged with many of them myself.

This is a very basic service. The people of Castlerea pay their taxes, including property tax. I ask that the Minister intervene and review this decision urgently.

First, I wish the Minister luck. I have not had the opportunity to do so before. As has been outlined, Castlerea is the second largest town in County Roscommon. An industrial relations dispute has been ongoing in recent years. There have been public meetings. I and many others have talked to people on all sides of the dispute to see whether it could be resolved. Unfortunately, it has not been.

There is a report out now. Castlerea, in which the prison and factories are located, and surrounding areas such as Ballymoe and Williamstown have been served by the fire service in Castlerea. Unfortunately, a decision was taken based on this report.

It also needs to be mentioned that some politicians unfortunately got abuse over this. I saw stuff about one councillor in the town on social media. That will not solve anything. We need to solve this together. Castlerea needs a fire station. We need to move and figure out how to make sure it has one. If we can present evidence that shows the need we believe exists and will exist down the road, can the Minister help us re-establish the fire service in Castlerea in the coming months?

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. I will clarify that the provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003. In accordance with this requirement, Roscommon County Council provides a fire service comprising five fire stations at Roscommon town, Elphin, Boyle, Ballaghdereen and Strokestown. Significant areas of the county are also served from fire stations in adjacent counties, including those at Athlone, Ballinasloe, Ballyhaunis, Carrick-on-Shannon and Lanesborough.

My Department supports fire authorities through general policy setting and preparing legislation, providing a central training programme, issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects.

It should be noted that my Department was informed by Roscommon County Council in February 2017 that a situation had arisen in Castlerea fire station that resulted in the fire brigade being stood down on a temporary basis. This situation arose because of staffing issues and it was judged by Roscommon County Council that it was unsafe to mobilise this fire station to emergency incidents. As the Deputies will be aware, under the Local Government Act 2001, arrangements with regard to staffing in each local authority are the responsibility of the relevant chief executive of that authority. In this regard, as employers, Roscommon County Council pursued grievance, disciplinary and mediation processes to try to resolve the issues within Castlerea fire station over the past number of years. As these efforts have been unsuccessful, a decision has now been made not to reopen Castlerea fire station. I understand that engagement with the remaining six retained fire fighters stationed in Castlerea on this decision is due to commence.

In coming to a decision, I am sure that the chief executive of Roscommon County Council will have taken into account the fire risk in Castlerea, its environs and the wider county as well as national policy, which promotes fire prevention and fire safety as well as fire service response. I understand that concerns have been raised about fire service provision with regard to Castlerea Prison. In the first instance, the prison authorities are responsible for the management of fire safety at the prison site. However, the Roscommon fire service regularly engages with the Prison Service and is satisfied that the level of on-site management, supervision, modern buildings and fire safety protection systems along with other controls are appropriate to mitigate risks of fire on the site.

I confirm that the Roscommon fire service and its chief fire officer are in regular contact with the Irish Prison Service and the acting governor and that there are regular fire service site visits and up-to-date pre-fire plans for the facility. The fire service is also active regarding ongoing fire safety management related to the construction of new buildings at the Castlerea site.

Finally, while I can understand that there are concerns relating to the non-reopening of Castlerea fire station, I am reassured that fire cover in the area has been and continues to be managed and delivered in an efficient and safe manner from adjacent fire brigades by the Roscommon fire service.

Does it not seem strange to the Minister that he has cited staffing issues in his response when the fire station was not permanently because of staffing issues? It was permanently closed because of this new report. The decision was solely based on that. There is a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide a fire service, as the Minister has said. That obligation is not being met.

I mentioned the prison. There are 12 prisons in the State. Castlerea Prison is one of the largest, with capacity for 340 prisoners and 150 staff. Castlerea Prison will be the prison that is furthest away from a fire station in the entire State. It will be 22 km from the nearest station. Portlaoise Prison is 110 m from the nearest fire station. The Midlands Prison is 290 m away. Arbour Hill Prison is 4 km, Cork Prison, 3 km and Limerick Prison, 220 m, respectively, from the nearest fire station.

I have been in contact with the council, the chief fire officer and the Prison Officers Association, which cannot get a meeting with the council. In fact, the last time the association, which represents the workers in that prison, looked for a meeting with the chief fire officer, it was directed to the HR department. This is not good enough. We need this fire station reopened. It is a basic service but it can be the difference between life and death. I again ask the Minister to look into the matter.

In his reply, the Minister noted the problems that have arisen over recent years. As has been outlined, in the Castlerea area is the Harmac factory, the prison, a mart and various businesses. This does not only affect Castlerea. The service is needed not only for the town but also for surrounding areas. I live in County Galway but fire services go across borders in rural areas. Castlerea is 12 miles from my home. The next nearest station is 16 miles away. Everything is okay until something goes wrong. That is the big problem in rural areas. We can show there is a need for a fire service in the area.

What happened happened. There is no point in saying anything different. It was an industrial relations dispute. A huge amount was spent trying to resolve it but it seems it was not possible to resolve. People were brought in from different areas to try to resolve it. There is now a report saying a fire service is not required in the area. We do need a fire service in the area and I ask the Minister to look at it again.

I will pass the concerns both Deputies have raised to the Minister with responsibility for this area, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, directly. Deputy Fitzmaurice made the point that people always say all is well until something happens.

The risks and concerns the Deputies raise are valid and I commit to raise them directly with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I hope that might help to resolve the issue.

Traffic Management

I wish a good morning to the Acting Chairman, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the other Deputies who are present. It is worth reading into the record that it is now 2.20 a.m. I thank the Minister for being in the Chamber to speak about an extremely important issue to the constituents of Cork East, whom I am elected here to represent and to me as their local Deputy and a former councillor in the Midleton and east Cork municipal district. I refer to the issue of traffic congestion on the N25 at Castlemartyr in east Cork.

Castlemartyr is a beautiful village located in east Cork between the towns of Midleton and Youghal, and, of course, the N25 is the main economic artery on the southern side of my constituency, in the municipal district of Midleton. It connects Waterford city and Rosslare to Cork. It is an extremely well travelled route and is an incredibly important economic artery for the region. Unfortunately, there is a severe issue at Castlemartyr, where consistent issues have arisen for a long number of years as the traffic has reached a point where it is no longer at a sustainable capacity for the local area.

I have extreme concerns, which during my time as a county councillor I highlighted with previous Ministers, the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, to ensure that this issue is solved. From the research I have been doing into this issue for more than a year, it is quite clear that, unfortunately, the section of the constituency in east Cork that I call home, which is near Killeagh and Castlemartyr, has been left out of the existing national development plan. Something that excites me and which I am looking forward to is the opportunity for the national development plan to be reviewed, which will be completed in the last quarter of 2020. Will the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport give serious consideration to looking into this issue?

As a Fianna Fáil Deputy, I share enormous interest in public transport as I am sure does the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Before I ever became an elected representative of the people I made an enormous effort to ensure access to public transport was improved upon for rural communities and for young people throughout the country. My record speaks for itself with regard to that issue.

As for the issue of infrastructure that is required for heavy goods vehicles, private cars and public transport, it is absolutely crucial that this issue be solved. It is a detrimental situation in Youghal, which has suffered extraordinarily massive economic problems. I have been working alongside a very good friend of the Acting Chairman and mine, Sandra McLellan, at Youghal Chamber of Commerce and her colleagues, to try to push this issue up the political agenda. It is one of the main priorities I hope to achieve in my time here as a Dáil Deputy.

I cannot reiterate enough to the Minister how important this is to me, and it would be a societal game changer for people who are living beyond Midleton in east Cork and would change the way they live their lives so they do not spend an additional 20 minutes or half an hour stuck in traffic. Local residents in places such as Mogeely, Killeagh, Garryvoe and Ballycotton would not get caught up in severe traffic on their way home from work or their way to work, school and university.

It also would give people throughout west Waterford and east Cork the opportunity to live at home and commute to university and third level institutes, which at present is not an option for so many families. This is not just about a piece of road infrastructure or the economy. It is about the society which I have the honour of being here to represent as a Deputy. I strongly encourage the Minister to give this matter the utmost consideration.

First, I would like to explain that once funding arrangements have been put in place through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Overall, TII is responsible for the delivery of the national roads programme in accordance with Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, NDP. In that context, TII provides the Department with regular updates on its delivery of the national roads programme. Within the timeframe given in the lead up to this debate, the following information is the most up-to-date information available to me.

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the NDP was developed to underpin the successful implementation of the national planning framework, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework for the national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. The focus of TII's activities over the coming years is, accordingly, being directed towards the development of the major national road improvement schemes that are included in the NDP, along with the maintenance of the existing national road network. The proposed N25 Castlemartyr bypass is not included among those projects which have been identified for development during the period of the NDP.

However, it should be noted that the programme for Government commits to bringing forward the planned review of the NDP from 2022 and to use the review to set out an updated NDP for the period out to 2031. The review of the NDP will be aligned with the NPF and Project Ireland 2040. Work is under way within the Department to contribute to this planned review. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight that all projects, including those listed in the NDP or any revision to the NDP, require statutory approval and compliance with the public spending code.

While I have stated that this scheme is not within the scope of the NDP, I understand that Cork County Council, which is the road authority for the area, is currently undertaking a feasibility study on the possibility of providing a short to medium-term relief road for the N25 through traffic around the village of Castlemartyr. The study will consider the constraints that will need to be examined in the planning of such a scheme and will consider whether a compulsory purchase order and an environmental impact assessment report are likely to be required.

Following a recent interim review of the ongoing feasibility study in quarter 1 of 2020, TII awaits the final report before deciding on the next steps. TII expects to have this by September 2020. Consequently, there is currently no definite project at this stage. The outcome of the final feasibility study on the N25 at Castlemartyr is awaited before a decision can be made on the best way to proceed. In any event, I understand from TII that extensive improvement works in Killeagh were recently completed to improve the streetscape and traffic issues in the village.

The Castlemartyr bypass scheme, if found to be viable and feasible, could remove a significant portion of national through traffic from the village and improve journey times and reliability. It could also lead to environmental benefits with an improvement in the air quality and noise in the village itself. The impact of the likely benefits will be informed by the feasibility study.

To date, I understand from TII that a small amount of funding has been allocated by TII to Cork County Council to carry out the feasibility study and this work is ongoing and is due to conclude shortly.

I thank the Minister for the information he has provided today to Dáil Éireann. As he stated, there is no definite project at this stage but that is something I am elected here to try to work upon and to resolve, as I have been doing in recent months. I recently met representatives of TII at its facility at the Jack Lynch tunnel to discuss this project. It is absolutely crucial that we recognise the major shortage of road infrastructure in east Cork. I will give the Minister an idea of the scale of the lack of investment on the eastern side of Midleton. There is a proposal for more than €200 million to be spent on improving the N25 near and around Cork city, on the eastern side, but once we go beyond Midleton, we cannot even secure a commitment to get between €20 million and €40 million that this project is expected to cost, depending on what type of project TII deems suitable. I know it has been working alongside Padraig Barrett, who is the director of roads on Cork County Council, to try to push this issue along. I am aware that €100,000 has been allocated to Cork County Council to carry out a feasibility study but I know for a fact that if we cannot get this on the national development plan later in the year, this project simply will not go ahead because of the costs involved, given that it is a major scheme.

We must acknowledge that the current situation is unacceptable and is causing massive damage to the economy in east Cork and to the residents of Youghal who have been through extraordinary hardship. When I was growing up, thousands of jobs were lost in the town at the turn of the millennium. We have been waiting ever since to rectify that. As the first Government Deputy the town has had since the 1960s, I am committed to ensuring this issue is solved once and for all by improving the competitiveness of our area by investing in our road infrastructure and by taking other necessary measures as well. I strongly encourage the Minister to give a commitment that he will look into the issue in his role as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. We are counting on him. I thank him for hearing what I have had to say.

The Deputy's concerns and his very appropriate representations of the concerns of his constituents are very much heard. I will add further detail to inform the discussion on the approval requirements associated with national roads generally, as set out in the public spending code, in the Department's capital appraisal framework for transport projects and programmes and in planning requirements. Two sets of approvals are typically required for projects such as the proposed N25 Castlemartyr bypass. The first would be the approval of a business case and cost-benefit analysis of the project and the second would be the approval by An Bord Pleanála of an application of development consent. The necessity to meet the requirements of the public spending code and planning consent from An Bord Pleanála, along with the need to have an adequate capital budget, are critical elements in the delivery of any such national road project.

I want to share with the Deputy the reality of this proposed scheme, as I have been informed by the Department. As the scheme is at a very early stage of development, it is difficult to set out the exact possible timeframe for its construction, if it is deemed feasible to proceed. Any timeframe depends on obtaining the necessary consents and completing the detailed design and tendering process. Typically, schemes of this size can take eight years or more. It is a drawn-out process.

As it happens, I had discussions with the county manager and local councillors in Youghal yesterday to discuss transport issues in the area. Deputy O'Connor is absolutely right when he says that the congestion and the difficulties are very acute and noticeable. We are going to have to address that by a variety of means. I said yesterday to the local representatives that Youghal is a town that we want to see rise, develop and become the really vibrant, attractive town that it always has been once again. I will certainly be committed to anything I can do to help in that regard.

I would like to conclude by thanking the officials here. This is probably our closing session of this term. At 2.30 a.m., it is time for us all to go to bed to rest and to start the holiday period which we all look forward to. Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your patience with us here tonight.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus leis an Teachta O'Connor. Before we finish, I would like to thank the Minister and all the Ministers. I thank Mr. Peter Finnegan and his diligent staff. I thank all the Deputies and their staff as well. Moving down here to the new surroundings of the Convention Centre has been a trying time. Having said that, I thank our ushers, our gardaí and indeed all the staff of the Convention Centre. I wish them all a well-deserved break. Tá sé an-déanach ar fad anocht, nó ar maidin. I advise those present to enjoy the bit of a break.

I join the Chair in extending good wishes to the staff here, the ushers, the gardaí, the Clerk of the Dáil and all who have been involved with ensuring the Dáil has been able to run smoothly in what has been a very challenging time for many people. I thank the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for staying here so late tonight to discuss this absolutely imperative issue. I wish everyone well in the recess ahead. It is much deserved. I look forward to seeing everyone back here in September.

The Dáil adjourned at 2.35 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 15 September 2020.