Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Irish Sign Language

I am glad the Minister of State is here to take this matter because I know she understands it. She and I have met a number of groups to discuss it over the last few weeks. I would like to speak to her this evening about the Irish Sign Language Act and seek an update regarding its implementation and oversight in her Department. This Act places a statutory duty on all public bodies to provide Irish Sign Language, ISL, users with free interpretation when availing of or seeking to access statutory entitlements and services provided for under statute. In addition, the Act provides for specific obligations in the areas of legal proceedings, educational provision and broadcasting. By its very essence, and the reality of the interactions users have with the State, these obligations the State has to the deaf community overlap many different Departments.

I know the Minister of State will not be allowed to comment on a lot of what I am about to say as it is subject to litigation in the High Court. That is my first point. Why are we, as a State, subjecting people to that kind of torment and anguish? The Irish Sign Language Act 2017 is quite clear. These children have an educational, and now constitutionally supported, need and it is not being met by the State. These views are not mine. They are contained in a yet to be published report by the National Disability Authority. It states:

Overall, consultees generally agreed that the current ISL supports provided in schools for children whose primary language is ISL are not effectively addressing the needs of these children in terms of access to the curriculum, access to language models, language development, peer interaction and psychological support. Consultees emphasise that without effective supports in these areas, children whose primary language is ISL will struggle to achieve their full potential.

Deficiencies in the education system for these deaf and hard-of-hearing children are listed in the report. It found there were issues with inconsistent or inadequate teacher qualifications in ISL, children learning incorrect ISL at school due to limitations on teachers and SNAs, teachers mixing up ISL with Lámh, which is a different form of communication altogether, and deaf children interpreting for deaf peers because some teachers lack proficiency in ISL.

Some teachers who contributed to this yet to be published report acknowledged that they felt they did have the adequate training or knowledge of ISL to get their students to a standard equivalent in any other language such as English or Irish.

Now we come to the nub of the issue. At present, there are ISL degree courses in both Dublin City University, DCU, and Trinity College Dublin. These are four year courses. Students on these courses are among the most - if not the most - competent ISL teachers and interpreters in the country yet they receive a rate of pay equivalent to that of a special needs assistant, SNA. This is in no way to detract from the excellent work our SNAs do on a daily basis in our schools. Believe me; I know. I spent 15 years working with some of the best SNAs in the country. ISL graduates from Trinity College Dublin and DCU will find far more lucrative careers in other fields and this is the travesty of all this.

Three or four weeks ago, the Minister of State and I met with a group of ISL language interpreters who love their jobs and the kids they help daily, both in and out of school. They want to stay in that profession yet they cannot. They cannot afford to raise families of their own and pay a mortgage or whatever the case may be when the harsh reality is that they train for nearly as long as a fully qualified teacher yet receive far less when it comes to pay. This is wrong. We are subsequently finding that schools are getting by with upskilling SNAs or teachers in mainstream classes as a stopgap.

To go back to where we started, however, these children have a constitutional right and the State has an obligation to provide appropriately trained personnel to impart knowledge and teach these wonderful children. I will quote again from the yet to be published report:

The remuneration on offer for ISL communication support workers, which is at the same level of SNA, is considered to result in the employment of workers with insufficient ISL skills.

It is quite apparent that we, the State, have failed and continue to fail these families. The ad hoc arrangement that exists at present in our schools does not require the SNA to have ISL qualifications. Anyone involved in teaching knows and will tell us that language development and fluency takes hundreds of hours. I will quote again from the report:

Neither the qualifications nor the available upskilling time for the SNA roll provides capacity for this. The question could be asked whether language interpretation is a role that can be easily integrated with the SNA model at all.

I will allow the Minister of State to respond.

I thank the Deputy for raising this question this evening and welcome the opportunity to address the House on the issue.

Irish Sign Language is a matter of significant importance to me. I will put on the record that I met with families and with ISL interpreters. I have engaged with users of ISL and know how important it is to them that they can use ISL when accessing key services. There are an estimated 5,000 deaf people in Ireland. An additional 40,000 people rely on ISL to communicate.

The Irish Sign Language Act was signed into law in December 2017 with the aim of addressing the extreme marginalisation of sign language users. The Minister, Deputy O' Gorman, and I jointly signed the commencement order for the Irish Sign Language Act on 23 December 2020. Through the Act, Ireland recognises ISL to be a native language of the State and users of ISL have the right to develop and preserve it as their native language.

Implementing the Irish Sign Language Act requires a whole-of-government approach. As such, all public bodies have obligations to fulfil. To monitor the implementation of the Act, as required under section 10, my Department this year arranged for a report on the operation of the Act to be prepared. The National Disability Authority, NDA, was commissioned to produce the report and the NDA has submitted a draft to me. The report is based on the views and experiences of stakeholders, the lived experiences of ISL users and survey responses from public bodies.

Let us be very clear. It was my ambition to have that report produced approximately three to four weeks ago. It was also my ambition to have it form part of the NDA annual general meeting, AGM. Unfortunately, it has gone out to the various Departments for observations. It is regrettable that I am still waiting on the observations from those Departments to come back in. It is remiss of them to be so slow in facilitating their return.

The Deputy has two minutes for his response. He might try to stay on time.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I will always concede time to the Minister of State, if she wants it. I appreciate her frank response. To follow up on how she finished in terms of the delay of Departments in coming back to the Minister of State, it is quite apparent from the report I cited earlier that a number of Departments are not compliant with the Act, which was established in 2017. It is also quite obvious that a number of State bodies and even a number of Departments did not bother to even respond to requests in terms of the NDA report. To be honest, that type of behaviour is a travesty. We are at a point where, if one peruses the report, a number of education and training boards, ETB, did not bother to respond to say whether they were compliant with the Act. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science did not respond to the request to see if it was compliant. A number of city and county councils, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the President did not respond to the request from the NDA. There is a problem here with communication. There is a problem with people having the manners and grace to respond to requests from the NDA to say whether they are compliant with the Act.

Of those people who did respond, a number of Departments in government are only partially compliant or not compliant at all. That will all come out when the report is published. I am hoping that report will be published in the coming weeks. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could elaborate on whether she has a date or a timeline of when that is going to come before us.

I will finish on this point. I take the Minister of State's point that we must be realistic. This cannot be done overnight and that is fine. The Act came in in 2017 and, fine, it only came into effect last year but that is still a significant period of time. The Minister of State and I have met, and I know she cannot comment on this individual case, people such as the Geary family in Cork. Their child has now been in school for the last four years without a properly trained and qualified language interpreter, as is his constitutional right. That is what we are talking about here. People are being lost in the system and falling through the cracks. That is four years of his education that he will never get back.

Yet again, I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Anybody who is listing to the debate this evening might not realise the relevance of the Irish Sign Language Act that was signed into law 2017 and the commencement order that we brought forward in December 2020.

It was not just one Department, however. It was a whole-of-government approach across all Departments and all public bodies. The Deputy referenced the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. To me, that is only a newly-formed Department. I am, therefore, prepared to be very reasonable and say that I understand why it could not contribute in the way it should have. However, the Deputy referenced other Departments and public bodies that should know better. They should know the value of communication and of allowing people the opportunity to be the very best they can be to perform in their roles and responsibilities and integrate with services and peers, but also to recognise that ISL is a form of communication.

It is their first language, no different from how I speak. This is my first language. When a person uses their hands to communicate or understand, we have said, as legislators, we recognise that. We recognise it to the extent we asked the public bodies and the Departments, for the past three years, to work with us. I look forward to bringing it in before Christmas. I hope all Departments will return their observations. I also hope that when it goes to the Cabinet, it will be accepted warts and all because we need to be honest. All the people want is to be honest. If we are honest with the people, we can start to make it better. I have run over my time and I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Early Childhood Care and Education

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this matter. I am pleased to have been associated with the establishment of a Fine Gael policy lab, which is essentially policy research that deals with first-hand experience. In the case of childcare, we spoke to more than 2,500 providers, parents and staff in the system. The conclusion was resounding. The message was that the underdevelopment of early childhood policies in Ireland is hampering the progress and well-being of our society. It is stifling opportunity in childhood, putting parents under huge stress, leaving providers struggling to fill the yawning gaps and damaging the capacity to attract and retain well-qualified staff who will commit to this vital sector in the long term. We need a step change in the approach to the early childhood sector.

I will be the first to congratulate the Minister on the significant achievements in the budget. More than €1,000 is to be provided in respect of those aged four to 15 on the universal subsidy and up to €2,500 is to be provided in respect of those on the enhanced subsidy who have children between the age of two and three quarters and 15. A new stream of more than €1,000 for each child will be available to fund quality improvement. This is a really important first step. However, there is much more to be done and structural reform is urgently needed. I look to the early childhood development agency as being key to delivering that structural shift in the way we look at it. There are big gaps and we need a new mandate for the county childcare committees to start to assess where those gaps are and systematically fill them.

I have been fortunate enough to have represented the enterprise sector. We have 4,000 exporting enterprises. They have specialised bodies for training, management, marketing, innovation and capability building. A range of six agencies serve those 4,000 companies. When it comes to the 4,500 providers of early childhood support, no agency offers support to their capacity to build and fill those gaps. That has to change. I see this agency as a significant move in starting to create opportunities to innovate, build capability, have demonstration projects and build campuses within our communities where people can access a range of services. The pilot for the delivery of therapeutic services to early school settings, which is now in a range of 75 early school settings, should be the model for the future.

We can do that and we need to build on that model but we need to do so much more in this area. We need a new careers structure. We need apprenticeships in this field, which have not been developed to allow on-the-job learning. We need an even start. Many people say it should be like the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools scheme, known as DEIS, but I think it needs to be much more targeted than DEIS, which has now reached 900 schools. That is nearly a quarter of all schools. We need to focus on the acute areas of disadvantage and stop children coming to primary school already so far behind that they will not be able to compete in the modern environment. We need to make many systematic and structural changes in this sector. I have great confidence that the Government will adopt this approach. As a backbencher, I want to work with the Government to make sure this is the best we can make it. We have set out a draft functions structure of how that agency could work.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter and compliment him on the videos he has produced in the past number of weeks. They are simple and snappy. I also thank him for his comments on the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and his Department and the work he has put in for the past number of months to support all our parties that have made this happen. There has been a step change in the past number of days. The programme for Government commits to:

Establish [a dedicated] agency, Childcare Ireland, to assist in the expansion of high-quality [early learning and] childcare, ... best practice and innovation, and professional development in community and private settings. It will also be tasked with developing career paths for [early learning and] childcare staff.

The new agency will also be responsible for the expansion of the early years curriculum, Síolta.

As a precursor to establishing childcare Ireland, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is carrying out a comprehensive review of the operating model for early learning and childcare in Ireland. This follows on from the commitment in First 5, the whole-of-government strategy for babies, young children and their families 2019-28, to undertake this review with a view to developing more consolidated and streamlined planning, funding, administration and quality support for this sector.

This sector has grown substantially in the past decade. The current operating model emerged over a decade ago, prior to the significant development of policies, schemes and investment that has taken place in recent years. It operates across multi-level structures and organisations. The objective of this review is to ensure that the operating model is fit for purpose to implement early learning and childcare policy relating to quality, affordability and access, to the scale and standards required in an evolving and expanding sector with the citizens of Ireland, at its heart, as core beneficiaries.

The key criteria informing the review are that the operating model operates in a manner that delivers maximum public benefit, best value for money and most effective use of resources; operates in a way that ensures that robust governance, accountability and quality assurance structures and processes are in place to manage the budget, which currently amounts to approximately €640 million annually; operates in a transparent manner and is in compliance with all relevant legal, regulatory and governance requirements; meets the needs of early learning and childcare providers and staff; establishes the provision of high-quality service for children and families; aligns with the strategic direction set out in First 5; and is equipped to support the major early learning and childcare reform initiatives that are committed to in the strategy.

An independent external contractor is undertaking this analysis and considering options for reform. The review is overseen by a group, chaired by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, comprising officials from relevant Departments and two external experts. The analysis of the operating model has involved significant stakeholder engagement to date and is due to conclude shortly. The review has identified both the strengths and weaknesses associated with the current operating model. It has also identified international practice principles in early learning and childcare, the principles and characteristics of a best practice operating model and a suite of options for reform. It will also signal the implementation challenges associated with each option for reform.

Depending on the outcome of the review, any change will involve significant planning, stakeholder engagement and a wide range of consultations. It will also be important to ensure any change management process avoids any interim break or gap in the services and supports provided to early learning and childcare providers and to children and their families. It is envisaged that the analysis carried out for this review will provide a robust evidence base to inform a decision concerning the establishment of childcare Ireland and the range of functions it may provide. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, will bring a report to the Government on the matter in this quarter.

I thank the Minister of State and am encouraged to hear about all that work. One thing I did not hear mentioned, and this should be the starting point, is the need to start with the well-being of children. We need to embed in any such agency what the well-being of children is and how it will be measured and monitored in order that all this activity generates an outcome, especially for children who start at a disadvantage.

Second, I refer to the assets of the State, such as our schools. There must be an obligation on those who have substantial State assets to facilitate parents and providers to fill a gap that is urgently needed and is integral for successful education participation. That is difficult in the present system. There are many barriers to it and they need to be swept aside. We need to embed in this agency scope for innovation and leadership; not a rigid top-down model, which has featured in many of these sorts of reviews from experts. We need something that is flexible, but, of course, compliant and accountable. It has to be flexible to provide for development of innovation and leadership.

Finally, it has to be embedded in our communities. There has to be local capacity. That is why it is important that the role of county childcare committees should be expanded. We should expect that the five-year development plan would include an assessment of the gaps in provision for childcare. We consider all sorts of objectives in our development plan, but we do not consider one where we already have a county childcare committee. We should build that sort of responsibility at local level into this. Overall, I commend the Minister on his work. I look forward to engaging with him on that development as it unfolds.

Well-being has to be at the core of anything we do with the childcare model. We have the well-being of our children at the centre, along with the well-being of the staff, and the well-being of the families. It has to be embedded in the community. The Deputy mentioned disadvantaged areas. It is not embedded within our county development plan in rural Ireland. The city and county childcare committees researched whether they are too close to each other. We should have community childcare facilities in every parish and community right across the State. We should be sweating the assets off the State. The Deputy referred to the schools and community halls. I agree we should support whatever is needed within that community through the childcare model.

The innovative people of whom the Deputy spoke live in our communities. They have skill sets within those communities, whether they are accountants or solicitors. They can make up that task force to ensure that we develop and expand the range of services required within those communities. When that is put that at the centre, that will put life back into communities. In my area in rural Ireland and the Deputy's area in inner-city Dublin, communities will be kept alive and beating, with investment in their centres. When we do that, we will have development in schools, but also development in local clubs.

That is where the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman, and his task force will go with the plan. It is not for me to say until it is completed. However, the vision is that we would involve all. The Deputy is correct about the role of the city and county childcare committees and I have made the same point for years. Currently they are in receipt of approximately €11 million a year. We should not overwhelm childcare providers with this enormous volume of paperwork. It should be the role of the city and county childcare committees to have the policies, procedures and paperwork to support our childcare providers, whether they are private or community. It should be streamlined, no different than when someone orders oil. It should ordered through a central point to get best value for money and to support everybody.

Ambulance Service

The next item I have selected is from Deputy Michael Moynihan, which is to discuss understaffing and resources in the ambulance services in counties Cork and Kerry. It is good to hear that the Deputy is looking after Kerry as well. The Minister of State, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, will respond.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. The issues here have manifested themselves over the past number of months, in particular, in respect of the waiting times for ambulances. In the area I come from in Duhallow, ambulances come from either Tralee or Cork, but they also might come from Limerick. In one instance, an ambulance came from Clare. A number of incidents have been brought to my attention where there was a two and a half hour wait from the time that the GP called for an ambulance for a critically ill patient to be picked up. It is simply not acceptable in this day and age. We had many issues with the National Ambulance Service, NAS, and all the key issues that fed into that over the years. Nowadays, however, there is a long waiting time for an ambulance from the time someone calls for one. It might be different in the city or in the suburbs near the locations of the hospitals, but people are an hour from one of the major hospitals in the Duhallow region. Therein lies the problem, when added to waiting two and a half hours from the time the urgent call comes in.

I am referring to urgent cases that have been brought to my attention, not just the ordinary, run-of-the-mill issues that might need an ambulance; these were extremely ill patients. The GP and the medics decided that it was important that those people were taken to hospital immediately by an ambulance. While sometimes people can be taken by car, it was decided that an ambulance, paramedics, well trained staff, and so forth, were needed to take them to hospital.

Over the years I have been in the back of many ambulances to accompany patients. I could not speak highly enough of the paramedics and other staff and the dedication, commitment and professionalism that they demonstrate when carrying out their work. However, if a seriously ill person is waiting for an ambulance to arrive for two and a half hours after it had been called for, that is simply not acceptable. It is not a service. When it comes to major traumas or strokes, there is an important "golden hour" to try and get somebody into hospital setting.

I appeal to the Minister to get the HSE to target this. Today is 14 October. In the past number of months there was an urgent case where a patient waited for two and a half hours for an ambulance. Others waited for three hours. What will the waiting time be in the first week in January or the last week of December, when we are the height of the winter season? I do not think that there is an urgency in respect of the crisis in the ambulance services. Many of the fine people I know who work in the ambulance service constantly tell me about the difficulties they face, particularly in Mallow Hospital, which is a fantastic acute hospital. It does not take patients from the ambulances. To my mind there is no reason for that. Regulations should be changed. Two and a half hours is too long to wait for an ambulance. There should be ambulances within Duhallow and the wider north Cork region. Ambulances should be there and on call. There should be a basic ambulance service for critically ill people to get them to hospital in time.

This is the second time I have had to reply about ambulance service in the House. The last time I replied to Deputy Ó Cuív and his colleagues. I am glad to report that they have since received their ambulance in Connemara. We have, therefore, made a little progress on ambulances. I am going to read a script on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. I will convey everything the Deputy said to the Minister. The Deputy might not have realised that I happen to know where Duhallow is. He had me down there over the summer. Once someone goes off the motorway it is easy to get lost around the place.

The Deputy has raised the question of resourcing and response times across the north-west midlands and southern region. I intend to give a national overview of the capacity and performance of the NAS. As the Deputy may be aware, the NAS does not operate a station-based deployment system. Instead, it uses dynamic deployment on a national basis. Dynamic deployment allows staff in the HSE's national emergency operational centre, NEOC, to see all available resources, to prioritise their allocation to the higher acute cause and require an immediate emergency response.

It is important to make Deputies aware that the issue is not the time it takes to get to the patient; it is how quickly the call is answered. If the call is answered within three minutes, that is considered deployed. It is not measured on when the ambulance arrives to the patient. It is important for us to be clear on that, because some Members might not be aware of that. While Deputy Moynihan talks about it taking two and a half hours for an ambulance to arrive, once the ambulance has responded prior to that, that is an efficient call.

That is ridiculous.

The poor person on the floor wants the ambulance now, not whenever they receive the telephone call

Exactly. It is important for us to understand what we are talking about and where some of the gaps in the service are. This model represents international best practice and has been highlighted by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, as a way to improve response times and NAS performance generally. Using this model does mean that non-serious or non-life-threatening calls will sometimes experience a longer wait for an ambulance. The wait times for lower-acuity calls have presented a particular challenge recently, as the NAS has seen unusually high demand. This is in line with the current experience of many areas of our acute health service. As the Deputy may be aware, there is a shortage of qualified paramedics in Ireland, but the NAS has been incrementally building capacity in recent years through implementation of the Vision 2020 strategic plan.

In 2021 the NAS received additional funding of €10 million, which included further funding for additional paramedic staff. As part of budget 2022, an additional €8.3 million will assist in modernising and building up the capacity of our National Ambulance Service. To help to meet the immediate capacity challenges, the NAS advises that it has redeployed approximately 45 paramedics from Covid-19 related work to emergency ambulance duty. Over the short to medium term, I understand that a further 80 paramedics are due to graduate from the NAS college this quarter, which is significant. The paramedic programme is a three-year course, and there are over 200 student paramedics at different stages of the programme, with a further 100 students scheduled to commence in January. To support workforce planning over the longer term, the NAS has commissioned an independent analysis of demand. The results of the analysis will provide greater clarity about staffing requirements over the coming years. The NAS has highlighted the particular difficulty with service delivery in rural areas that was noted in the 2016 Emergency Service Baseline and Capacity Review. The review suggested that the most practical way of providing an initial response to many calls in rural areas is through voluntary community first responders. While that may be successful in certain cases, in critical cases, an ambulance and clinical diagnosis are required.

Over the last decade, the ambulance service was removed and after much lobbying and negotiations, we got the ambulance back. I am talking about the time that a general practitioner, GP, arrives at a patient's door, assesses the patient and says that an ambulance is needed to get the patient to hospital immediately. It takes 2.5 hours from that call until the ambulance gets to the door. Let us be clear about what I am challenging. It is not about when the call is logged. It is from the time when the GP makes a medical assessment and says that an ambulance is needed. I could go into personal stories but do not want to bring them before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is simply not acceptable. Some fine people in the ambulance service have said that when they come to retirement age, that is it. If people want to stay in the ambulance service, with the staffing shortages, why not bring retired staff back? Many have come to me to say that they would stay on for another year, or two or three years, but the date is set. I welcome that there will be 80 more paramedics.

I fear that the National Ambulance Service and HSE do not understand that there is a crisis. We are not getting the service that we deserve. We were getting a better service a number of years ago. In the last months in 2021, the crisis has erupted and the waiting times have been substantial. Mallow General Hospital and other hospitals need to be looked at to make sure that they can accept patients, depending on the medical need at the time. It is crucially important that we address the time between when it is decided that an ambulance is needed and when an ambulance comes. It is another hour in the ambulance to either Tralee or Cork from my region, which is not acceptable. I would like if the Minister of State could go back to the powers that be to say that what is going on is unacceptable and it needs to be addressed. There needs to be a proper ambulance service throughout the country but especially, as I am debating today, in my area in north Cork and the Kerry region, which the ambulance would also cover. We need to have a proper ambulance service, which we do not have at present.

I assure the House that the Government is committed to the strategic reform of the National Ambulance Service. I will take on board everything the Deputy has said. Let us have action and meet with the HSE and CHO 4 to see what plans they have to ensure that there are not repeated instances of what the Deputy has spoken about today. I know that Deputy MacSharry was also originally to be a contributor to this so perhaps we should have a meeting with CHO 1. We found it beneficial when we had a cross-party meeting regarding CHO 2, where we met with the National Ambulance Service to discuss how it could put an action plan in place. It knows the gaps and does the best that it can. It is coming under pressure. I have spoken with it. As we come out of Covid, the NAS is seeing a significant rise in the need for its services with an increase in frailty among older people. We have to see how we can work together. Eighty people will come on board. We will have to see how the investment can support the Deputy, Duhallow and the people in the surrounding areas.

I thank the Minister of State for being here to deal with all those matters.

Housing Schemes

In budget 2022, the Government has effectively signalled that it has given up on inner city flat complexes. The Government has started waving the white flag. It feels to residents and me that the neglect will continue. The Government has turned its back on Dubliners living in flat complexes. I have consistently highlighted the shocking conditions that Dublin City Council residents have to live in due to that neglect. For me and the communities that I represent, the €23 million cut to State regeneration funding, despite the unacceptable conditions of older social housing and flat complexes, is devastating. Residents of flat complexes have been told by this Government that it is giving up on residents and that they can continue to live in the rat infestation, the flooding, dampness and decay. I am the first to hold Dublin City Council to account. However, the council cannot do the necessary work if it is not given the resources. The Government is using the council as a mudguard. This budget and the cuts to regeneration allocation highlight where responsibility lies. Residents know that it lies squarely on the lap of the Government. This budget shines a light on that.

I recently got a list of 23 flat complexes that Dublin City Council planned to regenerate. With a cut to regeneration funding, the reality is that most people reading this list will not be alive by the time the council gets halfway down it. Sinn Féin sees the dire circumstances that residents in flat complexes live in. We allocated increased funding for flat regeneration in our alternative budget. We did this because we know that no Government could or should stand over the conditions that residents are expected to live in. I have said many times here that Dublin City Council should set up a pilot scheme to tackle the extreme rat infestation in the flats. More intense levels of baiting and tackling nests of rats are urgently needed. The council also needs to carry out a repair programme immediately to fix the drains. The drains are a source of rats. They harbour rats. They are old drains and they need to be fixed urgently.

In 2017, a ruling was made by the European Committee of Social Rights that Ireland had breached Article 16 of the revised European Social Charter. The committee went on to say that the Irish State had failed to ensure the right to housing of an adequate standard for a not insignificant number of families. Four years on from this ruling, nothing has changed for the people living and paying rent in these State-owned homes and flats. Across the inner city, many flats are in a shocking condition. Tenants describe living there as a constant battle. Every day, they face a constant battle against the conditions inflicted on them by Dublin City Council, this Government and neglect.

Why has the State not acted to amend its failings? Is it content to have its citizens living in such dire conditions?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I am glad to have an opportunity to discuss the European committee ruling and, in particular, the regeneration budget and the regeneration of social housing and flat complexes in inner-city Dublin. These housing complexes are intrinsic to the city and have huge cultural and heritage significance but should be habitable to modern and current standards. The Government and my Department, in particular, have given careful consideration to the report of the European Committee of Social Rights.

My Department is committed to ensuring tenants in social housing are provided with adequate housing that meets the standards most recently laid down in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019. To address the issues raised in the report, my Department is actively engaging with the local authority sector to promote the preventative maintenance of local authority housing stock and provide significant funding for stock improvement works. In addition to funding provided by local authorities in respect of their housing stock, which is around €350 million annually, my Department provides funding across a number of programmes to support work by local authorities to maintain and improve their social housing stock. In all cases, it is local authorities that identify the priorities.

With regard to ageing flat complexes in Dublin city, following reviews of older flat complexes and based on the need to modernise and bring living conditions up to acceptable levels as part of its climate action plans, Dublin City Council is developing a long-term strategy for the redevelopment and-or refurbishment of these complexes. My Department has worked consistently with the council in support of the efforts to advance the proposals, including the regeneration of Pearse House, Oliver Bond House and Constitution Hill, which we will continue to do.

Capital funding was mentioned by the Deputy. A figure of €50 million will be provided in 2022 to support the national regeneration programme. This is not a reduction in funding but an increase of €4 million on the €46 million budgeted for in the programme for 2021. It is important to note that to date the regeneration-remedial subhead in my Department's Vote has provided funding for a range of important supports in addition to the national regeneration programme, including the remedial works programme and improvement works, extensions and adaptation programmes providing funding for local authority social homes to support the needs of older people and people with a disability.

Reflecting the critical nature of these supports in meeting the needs of some of the most vulnerable sectors of our community, it was agreed as part of budget 2022 that the funding for these programmes will no longer be reflected under the regeneration-remedial subhead. Instead, a dedicated and separate funding stream for these supports will be established next year. To that end, I am pleased my Department has secured capital funding of €25 million in 2022 to ensure we can continue to provide these important programmes which assist and maintain people in their homes for as long as possible.

I thank the Minister of State. It is important to state the vast majority of the residents of the flats complexes are hard-working, involved, active participants in their community. A huge number of them were working on the front line during the pandemic. They are committed to their community. When someone is hurt, they get behind them and stand with them.

The new York Street apartments are only 12 years old. One entire block was flooded during the week. There was a major flood and residents had to be moved out to a hotel across the road. The conditions are so bad, residents cannot be left there in the apartments. There are ongoing issues. Some windows cannot open and some cannot close. There are rats nesting under the balconies. These apartments are 12 years old. They are not old. Residents are living in fear. One woman had her flat flooded seven times in the last couple of years. She is terrified.

Dublin City Council's treatment of the residents can only be called neglect. Someone living in a private tenancy can bring the landlord to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and get some resolution to the various issues. Dublin City Council tenants have nowhere to go. The council is judge and jury. It is unfair and needs to be changed. I ask that the Department examine having an independent moderator or arbitrator where Dublin City Council tenants can be heard when there are issues like this. Dublin City Council is judge and jury and it is not acceptable.

The conditions the Deputy has described are unacceptable. When the issue was raised in relation to Oliver Bond House by Deputy Bríd Smith, I had direct contact with the residents association there. It has been very active in Oliver Bond House and I give it great credit for that. That approach from a residents association is good but we have to make inroads in resolving these issues. To that end, the Department has given careful consideration to the findings of the European committee ruling and is committed to ensuring tenants in social housing are provided with adequate housing that meets the standards most recently laid down in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019.

My Department is working with Dublin City Council to progress a number of projects in Dublin's inner city, with 54 units at St. Teresa's Gardens completed in quarter 4 of 2020 and 72 under construction at Dominick Street on the east side. A number of projects are in the pre-construction process, including Pearse House, Constitution Hill, Dorset Street and Matt Talbot Court.

Dublin City Council has engaged with residents of Oliver Bond House on a number of short-term projects to improve outdoor common areas and on long-term proposals for retrofitting and refurbishment of the flats of Oliver Bond House. The council is working on proposals and design for an extensive programme that will see a total refurbishment of all 397 of the flats, which have huge architectural value. They are Herbert Simms-designed buildings. A stage 1 submission is expected imminently. The restructuring of the regeneration-remedial works subhead into two distinct funding streams demonstrates an increased commitment in this area, with an increase from €46 million to €50 million for regeneration and a separate budget of €25 million for remedial works, improvements and adaptations.

I hope this is of use to the Deputy. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is committed to working with Dublin City Council to resolve the issues that have been highlighted. The types of living conditions the Deputy described are unacceptable and need to be resolved.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.27 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 October 2021.