Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Vol. 1006 No. 7

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Digital Hubs

Baineann mo cheist leis an Mol Digiteach i mBaile Átha Cliath 8. This is vital infrastructure in an area that suffered from inaction for many generations and that is still suffering from it in some cases. The area has a low level of educational attainment and a high unemployment rate. It is recognised throughout Dublin and beyond for its concentration of local authority housing complexes, or flats. Also in the area is Guinness, with all the employment it has brought.

I was elected in 2002 and the Digital Hub started in 2003. I was a champion of it from day one because it was located in the Liberties to play a major role not only in trying to regenerate the area but also in linking in to the community. It has done tremendous work over 20 years in reaching out to and helping communities. It has also done tremendous work in the educational field, including in local schools, and has encouraged people one might not have thought would have had a chance in the world of being employed by one of the companies in the hub. The hub is to the fore in this regard.

In 2011, a decision was made that the Digital Hub Development Agency, DHDA, should be merged. In 2013, it was announced that it would be merged with Dublin City Council, or that the council would take care over its governance. Since then, I have continuously asked for word on this in the Dáil Chamber only to discover last year that there was a Grant Thornton review. It took a year for the Minister to look at it. I do not know why it took that long. Then, lo and behold, out of the blue and with no logic whatsoever, a decision was made to end one of the most successful regeneration initiatives in the Liberties, Dublin, send the companies out of the area and build more houses. While I agree we need more housing now, including houses for families, this is a land grab by the Land Development Agency, LDA. Somebody else can talk about what the Land Development Agency stands for. My biggest problem is that although we have been told continuously for the past several years that there is a need for sustainable jobs and communities, an initiative that has already proven to be sustainable is being closed down. The jobs will move out to the suburbs. That is not sustainable. It means people living in the area have to move and travel to work. This area has shown over the years that industry, big and small, can co-live with communities. There are many other sites on city council or State land that could be utilised for housing in the area. There is even land within the Digital Hub area that is surplus to requirements, or not suited to its requirements, that could have been earmarked for housing. To collapse the Digital Hub in the way the Minister is suggesting is absolutely illogical and ridiculous, and it needs to be reversed.

I thank Deputy for raising this question. The decision in the late 1990s to establish the Digital Hub project in the Liberties was made in the light of the success of other digital enterprise clusters around the world. The initiative was an important element of Government policy to develop Dublin as a location for digital enterprise. The DHDA was established in 2003 as a statutory body to oversee the Digital Hub project and it played a key role in the early days of Dublin's development as a location for digital enterprise. Since 2003, there have been many positive developments in the wider policy and economic environment that have seen Dublin develop as a significant European hub for digital enterprise, with developments throughout the city, most notably in the digital docklands in Dublin 2. We have only to look across the river to see all the large technology companies that have located in Dublin as a result.

With this in mind, the Department commissioned Grant Thornton to conduct an independent review of the policy underpinning the DHDA to inform policy as to its future, including the question as to whether it continued to be required to meet a socioeconomic need. The report concluded that the DHDA is not required to sustain the principal reason for which it was established, that of the continued growth and development of Dublin's digital enterprise sector. This informed the Government's decision to close the DHDA and transfer the properties to the Land Development Agency. The Government remains fully committed to the regeneration of the Liberties area of Dublin 8 and is of a view that the redevelopment by the Land Development Agency of the DHDA properties, in conjunction with properties in the area owned by the Office of Public Works, OPW and Dublin City Council, represents a priority and transformative project for Dublin. This will provide a greater contribution in addressing other market and societal needs beyond digital enterprise, including the construction of social and affordable housing, along with civic, community and retail development. The board of the DHDA will be asked to prepare an exit plan for an orderly wind-down, to be implemented by an expected date in mid-2022. It will address the needs of the staff of the DHDA, the client companies and communications with the local communities.

The Department will work closely with the agency on the finalisation of the necessary steps, including the redeployment of its permanent staff within the public sector.

The 31 client companies, with 270 employees, that are currently located at the Digital Hub campus are under no immediate pressure to move and will be able to continue trading as normal throughout the wind-down period. It is anticipated that during that time the client companies will find alternative accommodation, having regard to the finding of the report in respect of the robust supply of co-working and office space available in Dublin. That supply has only increased in the past year.

Finally, the Government recognises the important role the local community plays in the successful regeneration of the area. In this regard, the Department has committed to continue making funding available in order that the agency can continue its community engagement programmes throughout the wind-down period. The Department met the LDA following the Government decision and is keenly aware of the need for and value of community engagement as part of its plans for the regeneration of the area. The Department will work closely with the DHDA, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the LDA to ensure that the wind-down takes account of the needs of the community.

I do not think the mandarins, the Minister of State or the senior Minister get exactly what the Digital Hub was. It was a beacon in an area which has suffered significant dereliction through the years and has significant need for regeneration. Just when it was achieving success, it is being closed down. In fact, it has been successful from day one, but even recently it was discussing a significant contract with St. James's Hospital. I presume that is now gone out the window. It involved moving towards digital and medical devices and research and the likes. That is not going to happen under the control or the watch of the Digital Hub or Dublin City Council, which was to take over.

We have seen today that the Dublin City Council city manager basically stated that he was not consulted in any shape or form on this issue, yet when I asked about the matter last year, I was told the whole intention was for this to be transferred to Dublin City Council. That would be the logical thing to do but, because the LDA needs all this land as the State wants to pump it up in some mad way, the land is being given to it.

I have continuously pointed out that there is other State land in the vicinity which is not even being considered for housing now, but was considered for housing during the Celtic tiger. That land has not even been considered. I asked a question about that only last week and it was announced that it is not being considered. It is not just small patches of land here, there and everywhere; I am talking about an area that is even bigger than the entire Digital Hub site.

Although the Minister of State claims that those working at the Digital Hub can continue to work during the wind-down, they have basically been given a year to pack up their bags and get out. Similarly, the workers directly employed by the Digital Hub will have to pack up their bags and get out because the State has finished with them, despite the fact that it was successful and delivering work and, if you like, a greater status and hope for many young people in the area.

I absolutely agree that it has been a very successful project over the nearly the 20 years that it has been in existence. It brought something that was almost inconceivable, namely, the idea of very high-tech companies locating operations in the Liberties, on land formerly occupied by the Guinness company, in what was traditionally a major manufacturing area. It has served that role and the review found that has now been provided for. We have the National Digital Research Centre, Dogpatch Labs and other accelerators. There is plenty of office space in the area. The review found that there is no longer a need for what had been provided, but that it had delivered a great degree of regeneration in the area. It also found that what is needed now is housing and that the LDA can provide 500 homes for 500 families in the area. That is a form of regeneration. It will not just be housing on its own, it will also be civic spaces and everything that goes along with creating a real community that is not just apartment blocks or transient workers but is actually focused on the long-term and sustainable creation of communities, which is really the heart of regeneration.

There will continue to be various other locations for high-tech start-ups or where people can start businesses and so on. We know that in the course of the past year there has been a move away from the idea that we absolutely need physical space for office work to happen. At least half of office workers will probably be working from home. The demand for office space will be reduced as a result. People have got used to virtual working.

Our current focus is on housing. We believe the form of regeneration that is needed in the south centre of the city is through the LDA and assembling State lands, no matter which agency owns them, so that they can be combined to create a space that is large enough to build an entire new community within a district that needs regeneration and housing.

Hospital Waiting Lists

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue. It is going to become very important and it is absolutely critical that a coherent plan to address it is put in place. Just as much thought should be put into that plan as went into the Covid crisis. The truth is that the health service will face a backlog of treatment and people seeking treatment at a time when hospital staff are stressed out after a very difficult period. It is really important that the management goes into how this can be dealt with in a fair way.

The data speak for themselves. Inpatient numbers stand at 80,000. Surprisingly, that is only up 10,000 or 14%. Many people may have thought that, with two years of disruption, it would have increased by more. The number of outpatients is 630,000, an increase of 82,000, or 15%, compared with two years ago, before Covid struck. The numbers have got worse but are not as bad as people might think. However, if one looks beneath the numbers to see how many have been waiting more than a year, that is where the real rub comes. The number waiting more than a year for inpatient treatment is 24,000, comprising nearly one third of all those waiting. That number has more than doubled in the past two years. A similar picture is presented in the context of outpatients, with 284,000 waiting more than 12 months, an increase of 70%. They comprise very close to half of all those on those lists. There is no doubt that a new wave of people will soon have the confidence to go back and schedule treatments and appointments.

Overall, these numbers are manageable. Every year, 3 million outpatients are seen and, against that background, a figure of 600,000 is manageable. More than 1 million patients are discharged from hospitals and, in that context, a figure of 80,000 seems manageable. We know, however, that there will be a very mixed picture of various people, some of whose conditions will have deteriorated significantly. A risk-based approach to this will be needed. What planning is going into that?

We will need innovation in the way this is approached. For example, it would be good to have GP-supported reviews looking at critical indicators that would be presented to the lead consultants and their teams such that a review of the condition of various patients could effectively be done remotely. Remote consultation should be extended. It became a pattern when it was a necessity during the Covid crisis, but, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and we should make sure that remote consultations become embedded. They can be very effective in the context of some disciplines in circumstances where a procedure is not necessary and a face-to-face consultation is not always needed. Some of that face-to-face element could be carried out in GP surgeries and there could be more of a team approach to attacking this issue.

I would like to see the role of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, integrated into such a plan. There is no doubt that during Covid it has not been using resources to the level it did previously, so it may have reserve budget. It would be very good to see it integrating into the approach.

I am calling for a planned, strategic approach to this issue, one which considers fairness and how to use the resources available in the way that is most efficient and innovative in order to avoid a build-up of people who feel the urgency of their cases has been overlooked by those managing the process.

I thank Deputy Bruton for raising this issue, on which I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly.

It is recognised that the waiting times for hospital appointments, procedures and services have been impacted in the past year by Covid-19. On 23 March last, the HSE published A Safe Return to Health Services plan. The plan outlined a three-phase approach for the proposed restoration of services across community services, acute hospital operations, cancer services and screening services. It sets target times for the safe return and details the conditions and challenges that will have to be met. Every phase in the plan has been informed by clinical guidance, putting patient and staff safety first.

A key action of this Government is to address the backlog in the demand for services that may have arisen across all healthcare settings since the onset of the pandemic. Budget 2021 included central commitments to provide funding to improve access to services and reduce the number of people waiting for important appointments and procedures. Hospital inpatient day case, IPDC, waiting lists reached a peak in May 2020 due to the deferral of elective care. However, as a result of modified pathways to care and utilising innovative methods of providing scheduled care, the growth trend in the IPDC waiting list was reversed and the number waiting for a hospital appointment procedure dropped by 8% from the end of May 2022 to the end of March 2021.

Some €240 million has been provided in budget 2021 to improve access to care for acute hospital procedures, €210 million of which has been allocated to the HSE and a further €30 million to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. This will be used to fund additional capacity to address the shortfall arising as a result of the measures taken in the context of Covid-19 as well as to address hospital waiting lists.

The Department of Health and the HSE continue to plan for any surge in demand for mental health services. Launched in January, the HSE psychological response to the Covid-19 pandemic provides a clear framework to build on existing psychological support to the public and healthcare workers with a co-ordinated, consistent and collaborative approach to the mental health services. An additional €2.2 million was allocated in 2020 to develop telehealth and the psychological response to Covid-19 for healthcare workers and the general public.

As part of budget 2021, an additional €50 million funding was secured for mental health, bringing the annual budget to in excess of €1 billion. Of the additional €50 million, €23 million is allocated to the implementation of many of Sharing the Vision’s short-term recommendations and €15 million to address the additional challenges posed by Covid-19.

In response to the challenges faced in primary care, the Department of Health secured €150 million in funding for an enhanced community care programme in budget 2021. This represents an unprecedented investment in our primary sector that will see the establishment of community health networks and specialist teams to serve older persons and those with chronic disease, as well as other initiatives such as the nationwide expansion of the community intervention teams. A focus of the enhanced community care programme is on the recruitment of front-line staff, particularly nurses and community therapists, to build capacity in the sector to help address waiting lists and backlogs in appointments, while helping to ensure the primary care sector is sustainable over the long term.

On cancer care services, the national action plan on Covid-19 identified the continued provision of cancer care as a priority. Cancer services continue to operate in line with guidance issued by the HSE’s national cancer control programme. Funding of €12 million has been allocated this year for the restoration of cancer services to 95% of the 2019 pre-Covid levels. This funding will support hospitals in addressing the backlog.

I thank the Minister of State and welcome that a plan is in place and there is innovative thinking within it. I would like the plan to provide for monthly published data so that we could see how the numbers are going and how cases are being reviewed and prioritised, particularly those of the 284,000 who have been waiting over 12 months, to ensure people with urgent needs are not being overlooked. It should also involve GPs. The oversight team must also have the capacity to step in and intervene. It is all very well to record the data but there has to be capacity to intervene and manage this process in a way that is in the interests of public health.

We have, to some degree, become used to people telling us how we must manage in this pandemic but if we want to avoid backlogs getting out of control, similar powers must be provided to managers to step in and require things to be done in individual hospitals.

I am gratified to see that in my area, Beaumont Hospital is one of the few hospitals where both outpatient and inpatient waiting numbers have declined. That is a sign of good management of a process and needs to be done at scale. In addition to publishing a plan that shows how to do this safely and well, we must also monitor how effective the innovation is and the extent to which remote diagnosis is being used in an innovative way, the extent to which GPs are being given the opportunity to participate in the prioritisation of cases that are drawn on the basis of need, and how the NTPF responds to these need assessments as simply using its procedures to determine that action is needed on an individual case because it has been ongoing for nine months. This has to be managed in an active process to avoid the deterioration of a situation that is a risk factor for the health service and citizens.

I totally concur with the Deputy. We have a plan and the money. Now we need business management and skill sets. We need to hold the service to account and it needs to be monitored on a monthly basis. My assessment of needs is a clear demonstration of how I secured funding to clear a backlog. This was done monthly by the managers of the various disciplines in community healthcare organisations, CHOs, around country and we have driven down the backlog by 78% in eight months. That is exactly what the Deputy is talking about, namely, ensuring that the leads in the various CHOs are held to account. The Minister is responsible for bringing them to order on a monthly basis to see exactly how we are prioritising. It is not determined that we are in a crisis on the basis that a waiting time has reached nine months. It is done on the basis of advance planning under which managers must manage in a business-like format. I completely concur with the Deputy on that point.

On the NTPF, the work of the HSE to improve access to elective care and reduce waiting times for hospital appointments and procedures is supported by the NTPF. This includes increased use of private hospitals funding; weekend and evening work in public hospitals; funding see-and-treat services where minor procedures are provided at the same time as outpatient consultations; funding hybrid services for public and private hospitals which contribute to the treatment of patients; virtual clinics; and clinical validation. The additional €240 million provided in budget 2021 will positively impact waiting times for patients waiting for acute hospital appointments and procedures. In this context, the Department of Health, with the HSE and the NTPF, is working on drafting a Sláintecare multiannual waiting list plan to address backlogs in waiting lists and bring waiting times in line with Sláintecare targets over the coming years.

A new community model is in place for older persons and community care. Under the integrated progressing disability services for children and young people, people access services on the basis that there is only one waiting list once they are inside the front door.

Special Educational Needs

I thank the Minister for taking time to take this Topical Issue matter again. We are all familiar at this stage with St. Gabriel's Special School in Cork, which caters for children with profound intellectual disabilities and with a dual diagnosis, including autism. Its staff do great work and this needs to be recognised.

The picture of St. Gabriel's Special School I am about to paint is not a pretty one. We have heard this before because we have been talking about this since 2018. I first became familiar with the school on the election trail in January 2020. I and a number of other candidates visited the school and I promised I would return if I was elected. Thankfully, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, visited the school with me in the summer of last year before Covid restrictions were reintroduced. It is safe to say that she was also appalled at what she was confronted with.

There are only so many times we can talk about being appalled, only so many buckets that will collect water from leaking roofs and only so many electrical deficiencies in a building that one can say will pass health and safety rules. Children cannot access washing facilities and toilets because their wheelchairs will not physically fit through a door. That is how basic things are at St. Gabriel's. From the staff point of view, it is fundamentally wrong that we are asking them to work there every day. However, nobody can forget about what the children have to go through every day.

We see other new buildings across the country and massive extensions being added to mainstream schools. I refer to the Taoiseach's comments. He was not the Taoiseach at the time, but in April 2018 he visited the school. He pointed out that parents say they feel forgotten and that their children who should be our first priority are not. The Taoiseach was right when he made those comments. I am aware that a number of engineers and architects have visited the school over the last few months, so I am seeking an up-to-date report on that progress, what is likely to be the position in the coming months and the work that is likely to go ahead in St. Gabriel's during the summer.

I thank the Minister for attending. I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is present as well. Perhaps they can have a conversation afterwards and the Minister of State can give the Minister an insight into the conditions at the school.

St. Gabriel's does incredible work. There are over 40 children at the school aged between four and 18 years with severe to profound learning disabilities. It plays an incredibly important role in Cork city and the surrounding area. Many children come from a fair distance to avail of the school's services because it may be the only place that is suitable for them. The building is completely unsuitable. It is cold and, in some respects, exposed. The staff, management, parents and the committee there have done incredible work in making the most of the building, but the fact is that it is long past its sell-by date. It used to be a primary school, Scoil Colm Ban, until the late 1990s when it amalgamated with Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh and the building became available. While that might have been a sensible temporary arrangement 20 years ago, the building is long past its sell-by date now. Ultimately, it will never be fully fit for purpose.

I received a response from the Minister which stated that the school had recently secured the use of additional space in an adjoining property, that this has the potential to offer valuable space for interim accommodation needs but requires remedial work, that engineers are visiting and so forth and that an application will be made. That is good and positive, but it is not the long-term solution. The long-term solution is a new building on a new site. I am seeking a commitment from the Minister that this is going to happen. My main request is that she tell the House that there will be a new building that is fit for the needs of the school on a new site as well as that she give an update on progress on the interim work, which is badly needed.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity to outline the position with regard to the accommodation needs of St. Gabriel's Special School in Bishopstown, County Cork. This matter has been raised with me by a number of public representatives, including my Cabinet colleagues and the Taoiseach.

St. Gabriel's Special School is the primary school under the patronage of the Brothers of Charity. The school caters for children and teenagers aged four to 18 years of age with severe and profound learning disability and those in this category with associated autistic spectrum disorder, ASD. The current staffing at the school includes a principal, eight mainstream teachers and 30 special needs assistants, SNAs, with an enrolment in 2021 of 43 pupils. St. Gabriel's Special School is currently accommodated in a former primary school building. Another former primary school building adjoins St. Gabriel's and St. Gabriel's has secured the use of some additional space in this property, as has been outlined. Both school buildings are owned by the Diocese of Cork and Ross.

This property has the potential to offer the school valuable extra space to meet its accommodation needs. Remedial work is required to the property to facilitate its use by St. Gabriel's. The Department has been liaising with the school regarding its accommodation needs. An architect and an engineer from the Department's building unit recently visited the school. It is intended that the visit will assist in identifying proposed works that could be undertaken in the building, taking account of the specific needs of the school. The Department is also engaging with the Diocese of Cork and Ross, as owner of the buildings, in this regard. The Department is committed to providing for the school's long-term accommodation needs and is considering all the options available. It will continue to engage with the school in this regard.

Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for the Government. The Department's policy is that children with special educational needs should be included, where possible and appropriate, in mainstream placements with additional supports provided. In circumstances where children with special educational needs require more specialised interventions, special schools and special class places are provided for. This year, the Department will invest over 20% of its education budget, or €2 billion, in supporting children with special needs. As a result, the numbers of special education teachers, special needs assistants, special classes and special school places are at unprecedented levels. Since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased by almost 235%, from 548 to over 1,800 for the 2020-21 school year. Some 199 new special classes have been established nationally for the 2020-21 school year. Budget 2021 also provides for an additional 235 special class teachers this year, supporting the provision of over 1,200 additional special classes. An additional 990 special needs assistants brings the provision of special needs assistants to a record of more than 18,000. An additional 145 special education teachers brings the total provision to more than 13,000 in mainstream primary and post-primary schools, with an additional 23 special education teachers to be allocated to meet increased enrolments in special schools.

Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, I am acutely aware that there are parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of school places. The Department's schools building programme is focused on providing additional school places to ensure that every child, including children with special needs, has a school place. This includes opening new schools and extending existing schools in areas where more school places are needed to meet the growing number of children living in these areas.

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. It has well-established structures in place for engaging with schools and patrons. The NCSE seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special education placements. It continues to work with and support the families who have a recommendation for, and are seeking to secure, a special school placement. A number of meetings between the Department, the NCSE and relevant stakeholders, including patron bodies, have taken place to consider how the demand for special school places in Cork can be met. The Deputies will be aware that new special schools in Cork and Dublin will be established for the 2021-22 school year.

I commend the Minister on the work she has done up to now in respect of the delivery of special education provision in Cork, particularly in recent months. I welcome the new special school that will be based in Carrigaline. That will make a massive difference in Cork, where there are acute problems. However, I will return to St. Gabriel's and the specifics of that case. The majority of special needs schools in Cork, particularly schools that cater for dual diagnosis, are full. Therefore, the problem in St. Gabriel's is not going away. I understand that as far back as 2018, a departmental official said that the Department was committed to the provision of a new school building for St. Gabriel's, that a new site was required to facilitate this and that the Department was engaging with a landowner in this regard. It is three years since that statement so we must move this forward. As far as I am aware, consideration is being given to joining another education provider on a new site. If that arrangement is not working or progressing, we must think about how to progress with St. Gabriel's alone on a new site.

I do not have much to add to what Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan said. I can be critical of the Minister, but I commend the provision of the new school in Cork. That is very welcome and important. I will take this opportunity to point out that it is unfortunate that the medium- and long-term plans of another national school were discommoded in that regard. I urge the Minister to ensure that this school gets a solution. It is vital that the Owenabue Educate Together national school gets interim and long-term accommodation as well.

To return to St. Gabriel's, it plays a crucial role. There are few other options for those families and children. Ultimately, it needs a permanent solution. Interim solutions are welcome and if they can improve the building, that is great. However, it is not going to be the long-term solution. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan is right. There has been talk about other education providers and so forth, but this has been ongoing for years. Ultimately, we must make a decision.

Mr. Thomas and his team run a fantastic school supported by parents and staff but the site and buildings are not fit for purpose and are past their sell-by date. We need to move this on. We cannot keep waiting. It needs delivery. Will the Minister give us a sense of when we will know there will be a permanent site? I accept she cannot necessarily tell us what the site will be.

I confirm that I am very conscious of the excellent work that takes place daily in the school and of the support provided by school communities, parents, guardians and all who are invested in the progress of the school. Notwithstanding the difficult circumstances of a Covid-19 environment, I fully acknowledge all that is achieved daily by the entire school community.

It is important to note that the Department of Education places an extremely high priority on provision and support for children with particular educational needs. For the first time ever, over one fifth of our budget, equalling some €2 billion, is being provided directly for the area of special education. That speaks to our commitment. I acknowledge, as have previous speakers, that our determination to progress issues specific to Cork is emphasised and underlined by the provision of a new school in Carrigaline. That is a positive step on which we will build.

On St. Gabriel's Special School, the Department is committed to providing for the school's long-term accommodation needs and is considering all options available. The Department will continue to engage with the school, the diocese and all necessary stakeholders in progressing the future of the school. An architect and an engineer have visited. That progress in recent months is positive because it can be seen visually on the ground that we are committed to advancing and expediting this as much as possible.

I thank the Deputies for raising the matter of the plans for St. Gabriel's Special School in Cork. I commit to expediting it as much as possible. The progress we have made in recent months is testament to our determination to do that in the shortest timeframe possible.

Harbours and Piers

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach agus níl mé cinnte an bhfuil an freagra ag an Aire i mBéarla nó i nGaeilge agus b’fhéidir go mbeimid in ann cóip de sin a fháil. Leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh i nGaeilge ar dtús ar aon nós. Baineann an ní Ábhar Tráthúil seo, mar a dúirt an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach, le Ros a Mhíl agus tá gá práinneach le soiléireacht ó thaobh buiséid de ionas go mbeimid in ann dul chun cinn na forbartha seo a fheiceáil.

Tá cúlra anseo agus níl a fhios agam an bhfuil na fíricí agus an cúlra aige. Tá tuarascáil anseo i mo lámh: Rossaveel Harbour Deep Water Quay Cost Benefit Analysis Final Report 23rd June 2017. Is anailís costais agus tairbhe í agus tá dáta Meitheamh 2017 uirthi. Ní raibh an tuarascáil sin le fáil go dtí gur chuir iarrthóir ó Shinn Féin ar an talamh brú damanta ar an gcóras chun é a fháil agus tá sé sin suntasach. Chomh maith leis sin chuir mise brú ar leibhéal eile agus beagnach bliain ó shin, arís i mí Mheitheamh, fuair mé cóip den tuarascáil, is é sin trí bliana tar éis an tuarascáil a bheith foilsithe. Fuair mé litir suntasach freisin. Bhí a lán eolais inti agus chuir sí in iúl dúinn go raibh an tuarascáil seo ann agus tiocfaidh mé ar ais go dtí an tuarascáil mar tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tá moltaí láidre ann maidir le tábhacht an togra seo agus chomh tábhachtach is atá sé don cheantar. Chomh maith leis sin chuir sí in iúl dúinn, tar éis na tuarascála seo, gur lean an Roinn ar aghaidh agus dúirt an Roinn go raibh tuilleadh taighde ag teastáil. Bhí innealtóirí agus athbhreithniú i gceist. Tá tuarascáil eile ann ó Aibreán 2019 agus níl cóip den tuarascáil sin agam. Ansin, dúradh liom ag an am sin, breis is bliain ó shin, go raibh obair ar an suíomh le tosú maidir le tuilleadh scagtha agus scrúdaithe, is é sin i míonna Lúnasa agus Mheán Fómhair 2019. Níl cóip de na tuarascálacha sin agam, ach an oiread. Ag an bpointe seo, níl a fhios agam an bhfuil an tAire chun an freagra a thabhairt dom i mBéarla nó i nGaeilge, so I will change to English now.

We have a report from 2017. I have a letter from 2020 which finally gives me a copy of the report and tells me there are other reviews. The report states the development of a deepwater quay in Ros an Mhíl is essential to the area. It points out that for 600 km between Na Cealla Beaga and Castletownbere there is no port with proper facilities and notes the importance of developing one in Ros an Mhíl. We have a report that is equally as strong in what it says about the need for development in Galway for socioeconomic reasons of the 20-year strategy for the Irish language. Údarás na Gaeltachta, it its submission on the port in Galway, made the point that this is essential and said it was very important to develop Ros an Mhíl.

Rather than doing it in this manner, I ask that the Minister meet Deputies locally and give urgent clarification on what the Department has in mind in relation to the development of Ros an Mhíl. I understand there is an existing permission that will run out so there is a necessity for clarity on the provision of the funds agus i ndeireadh na dála táimid ag caint faoi airgead suarach i ndáiríre. It is a small amount of money in the scheme of things and given the importance of the development for the region. I hope for clarity in both languages today. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Connolly agus táim buíoch di an deis seo a thapú an t-ábhar seo a shoiléiriú. Ros an Mhíl Fishery Harbour Centre is one of six designated fishery harbour centres owned, managed and maintained by my Department under statute. The others are located at Castletownbere, Dingle, Dunmore East, Howth and Killybegs. Approximately 26 vessels are based in Ros an Mhíl with whitefish being the primary catch. The harbour also sees between 20 and 25 fishing boats from the east coast, carrying mainly prawns and whitefish. There are virtually no foreign landings at Ros an Mhíl. Ros an Mhíl is a primary harbour for passenger travel to the Aran Islands and the harbour centre provides facilities in support of passenger and cargo ferries to the Aran Islands which are invaluable to the residents of same and act as a catalyst for development of the island-based tourism industry.

The Fishery Harbour Centres Act of 1968 established the concept of fishery harbours in the State and vested their management in the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine took over responsibility for these harbour centres in October 2007. All six are strategically important infrastructure which underpin the Government's strategy to further develop a modern offshore Irish fishing fleet to attract large offshore fishing vessels of other member states to increasingly land in our harbour centres and also to drive the development of a modern onshore processing industry.

Funding for capital developments is made available on an annual basis by the Department to the harbour centres, including Ros an Mhíl, via the fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure development programme. A phased programme for the infrastructural development of Ros an Mhíl has been progressed over recent years and has seen significant investment. In total, approximately €31.6 million was invested in capital development at Ros an Mhíl between 2000 and 2020. In addition, €1.09 million has been allocated for capital works in the harbour in 2021.

The possibility of a deepwater berthing project at Ros an Mhíl has been mooted for some time. The Department commissioned DKM consultants to conduct a cost-benefit analysis into the development of a deepwater quay at Ros an Mhíl. A draft report was submitted to the Department in June 2017. Since the report was drafted, there have been changes to some of the fundamentals underpinning the original analysis. In 2018, the Department commissioned engineering consultants to undertake a review of the design solutions, scoping options and operational aspects of a possible future project. An interim draft of the quay wall peer review report was received in April 2019.

It identified the need for additional site investigations to be carried out at Ros an Mhíl. They were carried out in August and September 2019 and have been completed. The final quay wall peer review report was received on 27 July 2020. The Department is considering this report, including the site investigation results, to inform a future assessment of possible design solutions and scoping options that will in themselves inform any future decision on progressing the project.

Depending on the scoping option chosen, the project's cost could reach an estimated €29 million. In that light, I have allocated €100,000 in the 2021 development programme to explore the potential and benefits of a deep water quay project. Planning permission has been obtained for the project and is valid until April 2023. Should it be necessary, a further application can be submitted. No decision on progressing the project to work stage has been made to date. As is the case with all developments at harbour centres, any future decision on formally initiating a project will be considered on the basis of the available funds and in light of the reports and assessments.

I thank the Minister, but I received the exact same answer on 29 June 2020. I am sorry, but I have learned nothing extra beyond the fact that there was a final report in 2020. I do not know the date because I have not been given a copy of the Minister's reply. Níl raibh agam é i mBéarla nó i nGaeilge. Can I get all of the reports that the Minister referred to since that date? Will he meet the Deputies from the area, which would be good manners in any event?

Of more importance than all of that is the development in the area. We have the report. There was a major delay with it. We did not get it until 2020, and then only after pressure. We are in the same position again. I appreciate the money that has gone into Ros an Mhíl. People were delighted with the money that went in over the years. It was essential money. However, no progress has been made on a commitment to build céibh dhomhainmhara. Is é sin an rud atá ag teastáil go géar, mar is eol don Aire. Tá i bhfad níos mó taithí aige maidir leis an ábhar seo ná mar atá agamsa. The Department has a great deal more experience in this area. What we need is a timeframe and a commitment for the provision of a budget. We want to see all of the reports that the Department has and no one else has seen. That is what openness and transparency are about.

This is a matter that is strategically important for balanced regional development in Connemara, which is crying out for development. We must have balanced regional development. We must make sense of the words we use. The recommendations in the cost-benefit analysis will not change. Other elements might change, for example, the engineering details, but the analysis set out clearly that the "do nothing" option is not a good one and that a "do something" option, depending on which one is chosen, is essential for the area for socio-economic reasons, which are the same imperative reasons of overriding public interest for which the harbour board is looking for the matter in Galway to progress. Why would we treat the two areas differently? That is not acceptable.

It is important that we have the chance to discuss this matter today. I know the importance of the project and its value to the fishing sector locally. I have been in close contact on this matter with my party colleagues, Deputy Ó Cuív and Senator Crowe, my Government colleague, Senator Kyne, and my Cabinet colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton. I have also received representations from other representatives, including Deputy Grealish. I am aware of the project's importance to Galway's marine sector and the west and significant consideration is being give to it. I have allocated €100,000 this year to consider the options further. I have been in contact with Deputy Ó Cuív in recent days about engaging further on the matter and I will be talking to my Government colleagues in the constituency in the time ahead about how we will move the project forward. I will also engage further with Deputy Connolly and other Opposition Deputies.

I appreciate Deputy Connolly raising this matter. I understand the importance of the project and of us working together to determine what potential there is to progress it. I am committed to doing that working with everyone in the time ahead.

Will the Minister provide copies of the reports?

I will make them available to the Deputy if it is possible to do so and feasible in line with our normal practice.