Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Sports Organisations

Before I begin, I wish the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Cheann Comhairle, all the staff and management in the convention centre and in Leinster House, and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, a happy Christmas. I also take the opportunity, as a Dub, to wish the Dublin men's and women's GAA teams luck for the weekend. I acknowledge the huge credit that must go to the GAA for managing to organise a championship when there have been so many challenges.

There are more than 60 recognised national sports governing bodies under the umbrella of Sport Ireland, all of which represent elite athletes. Many of those sporting bodies have contacted me to express their concern that their members cannot compete but the GAA has been able to hold matches. The Olympic Games will be held next year and many of those who will be competing are not able to play and compete at this time. That will undoubtedly impact on their preparations for Tokyo in 2021.

Basketball, tennis, athletics, hockey, rugby and other sports feel they are, to use their words, "being shafted". The question of which sports can hold events should not come down to who is the best at lobbying. It should be determined by scientific evidence. The GAA is a great organisation and it has done wonderful work on many levels, including community participation, mental health and sport itself. However, there is a real sense among other sports that the GAA is getting preferential treatment. The Olympian Rob Heffernan recently highlighted that the Government does not consider four athletes who are going to the Olympic Games next year to be elite enough to compete in the world-class facilities we have in this country. How can the Government state that Olympians are not elite and, therefore, cannot compete? Athletics competitions are outdoor and non-contact, yet they are not allowed to go ahead at an elite level. All sports must be treated equally and the Government needs to widen its definition of what is elite.

Athletics events are being run in the North and throughout Europe. Athletes have been travelling throughout Europe and the world to compete. Few, if any, have become sick. Sport Ireland has given a directive that it does not want people travelling, but it is not ensuring that competition and challenges are available for them here. We need to cater for our Olympic athletes at home and not force them abroad. I understand Sport Ireland has issued a decree that any athletes who travel abroad will be penalised. That is really unfair. A recent survey carried out by the Japan Association of Athletics Federations showed that 571,000 athletes and 98,000 officials and staff took part in 787 races and track meetings in that country from 1 July to 4 October, resulting in only one case of someone involved contracting Covid-19 in the following two weeks. An athletics event can be held with fewer than 50 people at a facility at any one time. That would provide qualification opportunities. These are skilled people who conduct events on road tracks and indoor tracks. It only requires approval from Sport Ireland to enable them to do so. An event can be done simply and can provide an opportunity for athletes to qualify for international competition.

The Deputy is over time.

I will leave the final words to Feidhlim Kelly:

If the GAA are allowed 30 players on the pitch, you could easily have a race on the road with 30 people, or if you took the top 20 men and women, based on times, have a cross-country race. This is not about athletics versus GAA ... but the best athletes in my group are on that elite level.

All of our elite athletes should be treated equally.

I join Deputy Andrews in wishing everybody who works in the Houses of the Oireachtas a happy Christmas and a peaceful new year. In my other role as Chief Whip, I have seen the dedicated public service and the effort of all the people in the Houses of the Oireachtas to keep our national Parliament operating in the really difficult time of Covid. I want to acknowledge that and I hope everyone gets a break. Like Deputy Andrews, I am looking forward to the all-Ireland finals on Saturday and Sunday. We are all excited about it. I have a split house because both my parents are from Mayo. We are looking forward to the match on Saturday and to the Dublin women's team playing on Sunday.

The Government, through Sport Ireland, is providing every support for our Olympic and Paralympic athletes as they prepare for the Tokyo games next summer. Sport Ireland has given assurance to athletes in the international carding scheme that their funding support will be rolled over into 2021. We have also assured the sporting bodies that funding for high-performance programmes will be maintained at the same level. The return to sport expert group has provided specific guidance to high-performance programmes to facilitate a return to training for athletes since last June. Specific guidance has also been developed in regard to international travel. While the Covid-19 pandemic, regrettably, led to the cancellation of many international events, we were heartened to see Irish athletes win 13 medals in major international competitions during 2020.

The athletes and teams preparing for Tokyo 2021 are currently exempted from public health restrictions on sports training and events. The athletes are continuing to train at the Sport Ireland Campus and other training centres throughout the country. Sport Ireland is also supporting the sporting bodies to organise competitive events for their elite athletes, including the Swim Ireland Irish winter meet currently under way at the National Aquatic Centre. Sport Ireland will continue to work with the Olympic Federation of Ireland, Paralympics Ireland and the performance directors in the national governing bodies of sport to prepare a team Ireland for the Olympic Games. I assure the Deputy that the Government will provide the athletes with all the support they need to achieve their performance targets in Tokyo.

The Government recognises the importance of a broader resumption of sport at the earliest possible date for all involved, especially the children and young people who have been hit so hard by the pandemic restrictions. Sporting organisations, facilities and clubs countrywide have either had to cease or greatly curtail their activities since the middle of March. The position differs from sport to sport depending on, for example, their season or whether they are indoor or outdoor sports. The Government fully understands the difficulties the restrictions have caused. However, those restrictions have been necessary to deal with the threat of Covid-19 as it has presented itself. It is important to note that the Government's resilience and recovery plan does not permit sporting competitions and events to be held at levels 3, 4 and 5, save for a limited number of exemptions. Those exemptions principally apply to professional and high-performance sport. I emphasise that this is applicable to a very small group of athletes and a limited number of competitions and events that are taking place. In each case, events are subject to strict compliance with detailed protocols to minimise the risk of disease transmission.

Under the current level 3 restrictions, the Government has decided that a small number of FAI national underage leagues for young women and men will be permitted to conclude their seasons. My Department has been assured by the FAI that the protocols and control measures applied for training and matches for these teams are equivalent to those applied for the senior teams. My Department is also satisfied that robust compliance structures are in place to ensure adherence to those protocols.

To be helpful to the Deputy, I am pleased to inform him that we have written to all the national governing bodies about trying to tailor specific solutions relevant to their sport in the context of level 3. We recognise that the broader resumption of sport will require tailored solutions for different sports, depending on the risks involved and ensuring we mitigate the impact of Covid.

The Minister of State will have an opportunity to come back in.

I will provide further detail in my second reply.

If Members skip the Christmas greetings, they might have enough time to say all they want to say.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is sounding a bit like the Grinch.

Maybe it is the late hour. I am watching the clock and the staff are anxious to go home.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. A number of athletes have indicated to me that Sport Ireland has issued a decree that if certain athletes travel abroad to take part in competition, which they need to do in preparation for the Olympic Games next year, they will be penalised and some of their funding will be withdrawn. Can the Minister of State provide a clarification that this is, in fact, not the case? Looking at it from an Olympian's perspective, Rob Heffernan has highlighted the situation of a number of athletes who hope to compete next year in the Olympic Games

They see that they cannot compete in their own country with really good facilities and yet we have these elite athletes looking on at 17 and 19-year-olds who are able to play a contact sport and these athletes are excluded. It seems unfair and is something that needs to be addressed and should be as a matter of urgency. More sports should be included in the new provisions. The Minister of State mentioned engagement with the governing bodies but all governing bodies need to be involved, not just the big three, the GAA, soccer and rugby. It is important that everybody is involved and that all sports are treated equally.

I thank the Deputy. Specific guidance, as I said in my initial reply, has been developed for international travel and I referred to a number of the medals that our international athletes have won. We are doing everything to support our athletes who are going to Tokyo. I recognise and accept that the current restrictive regime is a great disappointment for many sports and that they are limited at the present time. To be clear, I have not written to any "big" anything or big three. Every national governing body which engages with Sport Ireland has been written to, each and every one of them, small, big and medium-sized. We want to hear from them all about tailoring solutions and about the broader return to sport and competition. That is the appropriate thing to do so that we can try to maximise the return to sport while also recognising the risk.

We have also seen, for example, where a number of written submissions have been made, looking at all of the available evidence and data for the purpose of informing the development of tailored proposals and approaches for future mitigating measures. It is my objective that such submissions would enable the Government to review and adapt a suite of public health measures currently applying to sport and exercise activities. I anticipate that the issue of resuming competitions and leagues will also form part of that review. The challenge of ensuring the most effective possible preparation for the rescheduled Tokyo games is also a key dimension in this.

We are also looking beyond the Tokyo games and at our athletes who will hopefully be there competing in the Olympics in four years time. We want to see our pathway athletes funded and supported and see them continue to train and participate in this period. We also want to facilitate all of the athletes and young people across our communities who want to get back to some degree of competition. Many of them are currently training. We want to tailor proposals to do what we can with sport in the context of the public health pandemic but also to look at the comparative European and international picture for sport and using that data so that we can maximise the return to sport. That is what I am anxious to deliver and I am happy to work with the Deputy on that issue.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. Táim ag dul ar ais anois go dtí an chéad ábhar. Glaoim ar an Teachta Ó Cuív.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Is cúis aiféala dom nach raibh mé anseo nuair a thosaigh sí. Ag casadh le seanchara de do chuidse a bhí mé, an t-iarTheachta O'Sullivan.

Shortly after the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, was announced, guidelines were issued on 3 November for the scheme. Based on these guidelines many businesses applied for the scheme and spent time and money preparing applications. In early December many of these businesses which were badly hit by the restrictions the Government brought in, both in the spring and in the autumn, effectively closing the businesses, were stunned to receive letters of refusal based on new guidelines published on 4 December. In the guidelines issued on 3 November the relevant condition of eligibility was, "...the company, self-employed individual or partnership carries on a trade or trading activities from a business premises located wholly within a region of the country for which restrictions announced by the Government to combat the effect of Covid-19 are in operation".

Furthermore, the regulations of 3 November go on to clearly define what a business premises is as follows:

For the purposes of the CRSS, a business premises is the building, or similar fixed physical structure, in which a business activity is ordinarily carried on. Mobile premises, or premises which are not permanently fixed in place, do not meet the definition of business premises...Examples of what would not meet the definition of a business premises for these purposes ... include ... taxis, vans, trucks or similar vehicles ... stalls such as market stalls or trade fair stalls ... [and] circuses or fun fairs which are not permanently in place.

On 4 December new guidelines were issued with major changes in the definition of a business premises. This is summed up in the sentence:

‘Ordinarily carried on’ from a business premises requires that the business activity takes place in the business premises. However, it is accepted that a minor element of the activity may take place outdoors, for example a restaurant with an outdoor seating area connected to, or adjacent to, the restaurant.

This new definition excludes outdoor activities, even if the tickets are purchased in a building on the basis that the activity is carried on outdoors. The guidelines then exclude such activities as: outdoor theme and amusement parks; commercial visitor farms; camping and caravan sites; commercial gardens and commercial parks; outdoor activity centres, for example paintballing, go karting, ziplining; golf courses, pitch and putt courses and driving ranges; clay-pigeon shooting; outdoor water sport centres; and bus tours/bike tours. I understand that even boats such as the Jeanie Johnson and the MV Cill Airne right outside the door which never move and are fixed restaurants in a fixed place are considered to be excluded.

Two principles arise here. The first is the principle that an application can only be judged and the rule enforced on the day of application. I therefore contend that all applications received before 4 December should be adjudicated on the guidelines of 3 November.

The second issue is why did the rules change? These excluded businesses suffered as significant losses due to Covid-19 restrictions as the now post 4 December eligible businesses. As to one of these businesses, I am certain the Ombudsman would have something to say about this sharp practice which could leave serious egg on the face of the Department and of Revenue. There is no point in telling me that these are only guidelines. All of the directions from Revenue as far as I understand are called guidelines but that does not mean that it was not the rulebook at the time and that the Government rewrote the rulebook post factum after these applications were in. I have no problems with applications after 4 December. I do not know why the Government did this. It is small-minded but I can understand the logic before 4 December. I call on the Government to judge these applications on the guidelines that it published.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and hopefully the debate will help clarify some of the issues raised by him which have caused legitimate confusion earlier on in the scheme. The CRSS is a targeted support for businesses significantly impacted by restrictions introduced by the Government under public health regulations to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The support is available to companies, self-employed individuals and partnerships who carry on a trade or trading activities, the profits from which are chargeable to tax under Case I Schedule D, from a business premises located in a region subject to restrictions introduced in line with the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19.

To be eligible to make a claim under CRSS, a business must, under the specific terms of the regulations, be required to either prohibit, or significantly restrict customers from accessing its business premises to purchase goods or services with the result that during the period of restrictions, turnover does not exceed an amount based on 25% of the average weekly turnover of the business in 2019, or in 2020, in the few case of a new business.

The legislative basis for CRSS is section 11 of the Finance Act 2020, which was finalised through the Oireachtas the day before yesterday. Revenue is administering the scheme and has published detailed guidelines on its operation which are available on the website. The guidelines are based on the terms and conditions of the scheme which are set out in the legislation. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist businesses in understanding the scope of the scheme and assessing their eligibility to make a claim. The guidelines published on 4 December are an update to previous guidelines, in order to address common queries and issues raised by taxpayers in respect to eligible businesses, how to make a claim and also to reflect the recent announcement of the "restart week" available to businesses which have recommenced on the lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions.

I can be clear that this update did not introduce new conditionality to the CRSS. There can be no question as to a business that was previously eligible becoming ineligible after the publication on 4 December of the updated guidelines. Therefore, it is not a question of which set of guidelines should apply. When the original guidelines were issued, many businesses contacted the Revenue Commissioners for clarification, and the clarification may not have been clear. The Government issued more amplified guidelines, none of which changed the original rules. Rather, they provided additional information for potential applicants.

The new guidelines were issued for clarification purposes in order that people would be clear about whether they were eligible. It was not to put businesses through a process of making an application for a payment for which they were not eligible. The Revenue clarification made it very clear in advance. Where people have already submitted applications, the Revenue Commissioners felt it would be beneficial to provide further clarification, but no amendments. What was issued was just an amplification to help potential applicants in order that they would not make a claim if they were not eligible in the first place and so that if they did make a claim, they would not be found, at a later date in an Revenue audit, to not have been entitled to have done so, potentially requiring repayment.

That is one of the most fantastic "Alice in Wonderland" scripts I have ever heard. Changing the rules is now defined in the new Eurospeak as clarification. The rules were very clear. Unfortunately, people will have to pursue this on the basis of what the rules were when they applied. I have no problem with somebody realising a scheme is not to his or her liking and deciding to change the rules. That is perfectly legitimate. Departments do that all the time but the rule is that it cannot be done post factum. In other words, the rules that apply on the day one applies are the rules that apply. There is no point in pointing to the Finance Act, for two reasons. The Act is moot on the point we are discussing, namely, that of the businesses excluded. Second, it is post factum as well. The scheme was introduced and the applications were submitted before the law became law. Therefore, how could the scheme have been introduced before the will of the Oireachtas was known? The Government cannot presume on what the Oireachtas will do. The Minister of State might remember that, in the term of the last Dail, a famous Bill was introduced that was to amalgamate Galway city and county councils but the Oireachtas decided the Government could not do it. It is a presumption for the Government, if it did not have the administrative ability to introduce the scheme, to introduce it on the assumption that the Oireachtas would bring in a law to honour the commitment it had given to the people in the budget.

I call on the Minister of State to save everybody the time involved in proceeding to litigation on this issue, if they must do so, admit the position on those applications submitted under the old scheme and stop the "Alice in Wonderland" talk about clarifying. What was meant was perfectly clear to everybody except the Department of Finance. There was a very precise written document. The Government should pay those who applied to the scheme on time and admit that it had to change the rules because it did not intend for their applications to be included.

Let me clarify the speaking rules. The Minister of State has two minutes.

By way of information, so the public watching will be aware of the current position, up to yesterday 15,000 businesses had registered for the scheme, covering 17,900 premises. A total of 2,400 new applications have been received in the past day or so. Claims totalling €111.6 million in respect of 15,300 premises have been received, and €110 million has already been processed for payment. Therefore, the rate of payment processing in respect of valid applications is 99%.

The Deputy mentioned the possibility of re-examining this matter without litigation or going to the Ombudsman. The Deputy will have to take clear note of my position because this is a taxation measure in relation to an advanced credit in respect of trading expenses. It is very much a financial measure and a taxation measure. Owing to that, the legislation states specifically that appeals concerning the Revenue Commissioners in respect of a tax matter must go to the Tax Appeals Commission rather than the Ombudsman. Issues of processing and administration may be matters for the Ombudsman but a query on the underlying tax credit that may be available is a matter for the Tax Appeals Commission, as set out in the legislation. This can involve a more cumbersome process than that involving the Ombudsman.

The regulations made very clear all along the position on business premises and access thereto. Let me make it very simple: that there happens to be a premises on a site where there is outdoor activity that is generating income does not allow for the inclusion of that outdoor activity under the CRSS. It is only revenue from activities in the premises, such as from a shop or café, that can come under the CRSS. The outdoor activities that are not carried on in a premises are not eligible, even though it is the one business.

Job Losses

The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, will be aware that the announcement of any job losses in any part of the country is particularly devastating at this time of year. He will be aware that last Friday, the potential loss of 440 jobs at the Viatris plant in Baldoyle was announced. This was a devastating blow to the workers and their families at this time of year. The company is going to engage in the process over the next two years. I feel strongly that the Department, the Minister of State and the Tánaiste can play a positive role in reassuring the workers that their statutory entitlements will be forthcoming and that the Government will work with the company to ensure fair play and to offer new employment opportunities to those greatly affected by the announcement.

An announcement like this is no different from any other job loss announcement anywhere else in the country and it should be treated by the Government and Department in the exact same way. Four hundred and forty jobs involve 440 people and 440 families. I am sure the Minister of State will agree with me that the announcement could not have been made at a worse time, as we approach Christmas.

I have written to the Tánaiste to seek a meeting with him. I have also written to the company itself. There is an opportunity for us to step into this space and provide solutions, leadership and comfort to those affected. I am unsure whether the workers have a representative body or trade union representation. I have yet to find that out. If there is, we obviously want to engage with the trade union. If not, it is all the more important for political representatives to do what they absolutely can for the workers affected.

The Minister of State will agree with pretty much everything I am saying but I want to ensure that we start a process to help the workers over the next two years, maximise the potential of the site so the area will not lose out in the long term owing to the announcement, and ensure this is just a fork in the road for the 440 workers and their families, rather than a devastating blow from which they may never recover. With that, I would appreciate the Minister of State's response.

This is really devastating news for those working in Viatris and their families. It has been an exceptionally difficult year for everyone. The announcement will come as another blow, especially so close to Christmas, although I am assured that there are to be no immediate reductions and that the majority of the workforce will continue to be employed until late 2022.

This is at least some small comfort on a dark day for the employees.

I understand that this development is not related to Covid-19 but instead relates to a global restructuring of the company. Neither the Government nor IDA Ireland had advance notice of the decision. However, Viatris has stated that it remains fully committed to Ireland and even after the announcement, the company will continue to employ more than 1,400 people in Galway, Dublin and Cork. The Government will make all necessary State assistance available to the workers and we will work across Government to help all the workers to find new jobs and education and training opportunities when the redundancies are made. I understand that the company will be offering its staff enhanced redundancy and have committed to working with IDA Ireland to find an alternative for the site. IDA Ireland is in close and regular contact with the company and will work with it to market the site to other investors.

I am aware of how challenging a time this is for workers and how worried many people are about their futures and the uncertainties that exist. However, as difficult as it is to appreciate now, Ireland is in a strong position to recover and we will continue to work to attract new investment and opportunities. It is obviously difficult to speak about positives at a time when workers have just discovered that they are to lose their jobs. However, the pharmaceutical sector is continuing to grow and expand, and we have good reason to be confident that those affected will find employment opportunities with other companies in the sector.

While there are many challenges facing us in the current climate and global competition for foreign direct investment, FDI, is intensifying, the IDA Ireland's results for the last six months of the year demonstrate the resilience of our foreign direct investment base. The agency has secured over 130 investments to date in 2020, with the potential to create almost 10,000 jobs. Fifty-three of those investments are from companies that are investing in Ireland for the first time. Full figures for the year will be available early next month, but the evidence would suggest that overseas companies continue to value our FDI strengths, including our talented and flexible workforce, a track record as a successful home to global business and a hard-won reputation as a pro-enterprise jurisdiction. Our continued commitment to the European Union, the Single Market and the eurozone, as well as to free trade and multilateralism among other key selling points, help us to convince multinational companies to establish operations and create jobs here. We will continue to work to attract new investments and opportunities in the period ahead and I assure Deputy Ó Ríordáin that I will relay the points that he has raised to my colleague, the Tánaiste, who is the senior Minister.

I would appreciate a copy of the response, if that is possible. I appreciate the Minister of State's reply. I do not in any way think that this situation is a reflection on his Department or the Government. It is particularly bad form for the company not to have communicated this decision to IDA Ireland or the Department before making it. Of course, the timing is also bad form. On that basis, we have got off to a bad start to our relationship with the entity in question.

I appeal again to the Minister of State that this is something on which we can work together. Perhaps when we reconvene in the new year, seeing that this is going to be a two-year process, all local elected representatives can meet with the Minister of State and the Tánaiste to build up a continuum of a relationship over a period of time to ensure that we can do our best for these families and to lay down a template. If this happens again, we want to be sure that we have a template in place to which we can refer.

The Minister of State mentioned retraining and education, and I appreciate that. I would hope that the Minister of State takes my call to work together in good faith. Perhaps in the new year, we can set up a meeting between all the local Deputies, officials from the Department and officials from the Department of Social Protection who will be heavily engaged in this matter. That would ensure that everything is being done, any communications that we are getting from the workers or their families can also be relayed to the Minister of State's Department, anything that may have been missed, and also to ensure that, in the fullness of time, this is seen to be a fork in the road and not a full stop for any family. I appreciate the engagement of the Minister of State and hope it will continue.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I share his concern about the impact of the announcement on the staff and the local community. I also share his concern about the manner in which the announcement was made.

I confirm that IDA Ireland is already seeking a buyer for the company's site and I am optimistic, given its location, infrastructure and connectivity, that it will prove appealing to companies looking to locate or expand here. I have asked IDA Ireland to keep me regularly updated on its progress in finding a new buyer.

We are going through a period of unprecedented uncertainty. Ireland's economy is outward-facing, export-orientated and reliant to a large degree on global FDI. This means that when a multinational company makes decisions about its operations, we can, unfortunately, feel the impact. IDA Ireland had another year of strong growth in 2019, with record levels of employment and investment. As difficult as it may be to appreciate now, we have reason to be confident that even in the current climate, new employment opportunities can be found.

I reiterate that IDA Ireland is committed to this site. It has already embarked on marketing it to find an alternative. I am happy to talk to the Tánaiste about a coming together between him, me and all the local representatives from that particular constituency to look at how we can work together in the new year to seek alternatives for the affected employees. I reiterate that our thoughts are very much with the employees. It is an awful thing to hear at any time, but particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

With the forbearance of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle who I hope will not get too annoyed, the festive period is my favourite time of year and I wish my colleagues in government and in opposition and all the staff a very happy Christmas. I hope people get an opportunity to spend some quality time with their loved ones over the coming days.

I have no problem with a Christmas greeting as long as it is done within the time limit.

Disability Support Services

I thank the Minister of State for giving me the opportunity to ask about the concerns raised about fire safety at Camphill Community Dunshane, Naas, County Kildare, and plans to ensure that residents with intellectual disabilities and other kinds of special needs are not evicted. My indications are that this could come to pass. Families have contacted me. I know that officials in the Department of Health have sought information from the HSE regarding Camphill Community Dunshane. I was contacted by a constituent of mine who was troubled to be told, last week, that on 23 December, their family member with an intellectual disability and who moved from his home in Kilkenny to Camphill Community Dunshane, Naas, County Kildare when he was 15 was about to made homeless at Christmas time due to fire safety issues at the community home. This has been his home for decades.

Camphill Communities of Ireland is part of an international charitable trust working with people with intellectual disabilities and other kinds of special needs. Its website states that its guidelines and policies aim to support a safe, secure and good quality of life for those living in Camphill Communities, grounded in the reality of community life. The Minister of State knows that these communities are a home from home. They are families. We cannot let anything happen to this. It is a lovely, close unit.

HIQA inspected Camphill Community Dunshane on 23 November and raised grave concerns regarding fire safety. My understanding is that those concerns were flagged in 2015. If it was flagged five years ago, why is the issue now urgent? Perhaps the Minister of State can explain that. It seems that HIQA was unhappy at the lack of progress made at the facility and asked for immediate action.

It was decided that the house would be closed as soon as possible. However, the families were not consulted in respect of this decision and had learned that there are issues with fire safety and renovation this year. My understanding is the families were not told about this. It could take a year and a half if the works were to be done. During this time, families were asked to shelter their family members. They were brought in and asked if they would be able to take their family member home. I ask for clarification on that.

This decision means that residents are effectively made homeless through no fault of their own. There does not seem to be any short-, medium- or long-term plan in place, or any plan at all. My understanding is that it is to close on 23 December and I need confirmation of this. If the family cannot shelter their loved one, they have nowhere to go. Some families can shelter their loved one around Christmas but this is a community. These are vulnerable adults with support needs who are experiencing total shock and dealing with a life-changing situation days before Christmas and we are facing into Brexit. We have gone through a year of Brexit and this is unacceptable. Covid has brought many difficulties to families and this difficulty should be avoided. It is my understanding that this kind of situation cannot be allowed and there must be a place found for someone in care. I would like clarity on this. This lack of planning has caused unnecessary anxiety to the family and their loved ones. When one is dealing with people with intellectual disabilities and their families, it is important that communication to the family is given.

I would be grateful if the Minister of State could offer assistance on this as a matter of urgency. Are there plans to provide alternative accommodation for the residents? I do not know. I am sure the Minister of State will do all she can to help me with my constituents and other families like them.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to outline the position regarding developments at Camphill Dunshane Community, Naas, County Kildare. I know the Deputy has raised this issue with my office over the past couple of weeks and I am very aware of the worry and confusion it has caused for the residents of Dunshane and their families, which is something nobody ever wants, particularly just before Christmas.

The positive news I can report tonight is that Camphill Communities of Ireland, CCoI, is not closing the Dunshane Community residential service in Kildare. CCoI Dunshane accommodates 26 adults with intellectual disabilities in eight residential buildings. Fire safety issues have been identified in one of the houses and remedial works will be necessary in the interests of the safety of the residents involved. There are normally seven residents in the particular setting.

CCoI has confirmed to the HSE that its decision to undertake these works is based on careful consideration of internal and external specialist advice. I am told this has been ratified by its board based on the overwhelming requirement to protect the safety and well-being of its residents. What the Deputy raised in respect of the HIQA reports of 2015 is important and I acknowledge that I was not aware of that. I will ask the Deputy's questions and get a particular answer on that. I will also raise the Deputy's concern as to why, having waited five years, it is such an issue at this time in a pandemic year.

Since this issue emerged, CCoI has been engaging with the HSE regarding a transitional plan to address the needs of the residents involved while the works are underway. HIQA, in its capacity as regulator, has been informed of the intention to have the works carried out. CCoI has confirmed to the HSE that all residents will be accommodated in new accommodation during the time that the refurbishment of their home is to be carried out. The Deputy will relay that to her constituents.

I take on board the Deputy's points regarding communication. It is unfortunate that we have to come in on a Topical Issue the week before Christmas to relay this to the residents and their families. Better communication should be at play in this issue. During this period, the residents concerned will continue to receive services from CCoI and the organisation has been actively liaising with the families, I am led to believe, of the persons concerned with a view to putting in place person-centred plans to ensure suitable accommodation for the residents. I will ask again the questions about timelines in the context of communication. From what the Deputy is saying, the position in this regard is not clear.

I know that such changes to routine are far from ideal for residents and I am very much aware that this will bring particular challenges for people with disabilities and their families. Any change to a setting or routine is traumatic, particularly in the year we have had when routine has been completely upended. I also understand that this can increase the strain on the families. That is why it is important that the person-centred approach has guided the response of CCoI and the HSE to the needs of the residents involved while these important works are carried out. I know staff working in all disability services across the country have made a considerable effort to keep residential care settings safe in these Covid times and this needs to be acknowledged. They have put effective measures in place to protect the public health of the residents involved during this pandemic across the country. I take this opportunity to thank the staff in these front-line organisations.

I thank the Minister of State. She will get a chance to come back in.

I thank the Minister of State. It is excellent news that new accommodation will be found. Things happen but we have to compliment all the staff. Everyone is doing their best. We are living through Covid. Communication was the biggest issue here. I raised the issue to get clarity and establish the fact that it was definitely not closing. I needed to get that for the families. I am delighted that there will be accommodation until all the works are done. I want to say well done to everybody. These have been challenging times and staff and all involved have been so good, doing their best and trying to social distance. It is so important with Covid that we all play our part.

It is a good news story. It is our final Topical Issue matter for 2020 and at least the families and the people in my constituency who have contacted me know that everything will be resolved.

On a side note, earlier today the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Deputy O'Gorman, signed the commencement of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017. I was there with him when he did it. This is a proud day for the deaf community. I will say my next words in Irish Sign Language - Happy Christmas.

I wish the Members, the Ministers and the staff a happy Christmas. Nollaig Shona daoibhse go léir agus gach rath oraibh sa bhliain nua. I have seen first hand the work the staff on the ground have done behind the scenes. Maybe in the new year we might begin to look at the hours, which are inhuman for the staff, not to mention Deputies and Ministers. It is something we should consider.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.08 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 January 2021.