Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 3

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Domestic Violence

I raise the absence of any accommodation in the midlands for victims of domestic violence. Nine counties do not have any such accommodation, including Laois and Offaly. Children and victims are sent as far as three counties away, to Limerick, to domestic violence refuges. More than 100 families went from Laois alone last year. This cannot continue. There is a shortage of places in the State overall. We need to increase the numbers of beds and accommodation. We all know that people are at their most vulnerable when fleeing domestic violence. The victims often feel they have no option but to return. People working with them will say as much. The Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, knows as a public representative that they will sometimes return to the family home where they have been abused. The abuse then continues. This can be repeated several times due to the lack of real alternatives. That cycle has to be broken.

This is the third decade in which I have raised the lack of facilities in Laois and Offaly. Marna Carroll and her team in the Laois domestic abuse service have called for this. We urgently need a domestic violence refuge in County Laois. In Offaly, Anne Clarke is manager of the Offaly domestic violence support services, which badly needs facilities. It uses a different model, which it calls three safe houses, in Birr, Tullamore and Edenderry, because of the geography of the county. It tries to work in partnership with the county council, but it needs the Government's backing and support.

I welcome the review that the Government published, but it tells us the obvious, which I or people who work in the service could have said. It states that nine counties do not have services and that there are huge geographical gaps, including in the midlands. I appeal to the Minister of State to address this. Provision is totally inadequate. There is no provision across the midlands for those victims. The State does not have enough spaces overall. I see the Minister of State's reply indicates that the lack of overall spaces will be addressed. The middle of the country is without any facilities. Those three safe houses are needed in Offaly. Laois has a different model, with a domestic violence refuge. It is a good match between the two counties. A high-level interdepartmental working group has been set up to review the current system of provision of refuge spaces. I am concerned that this could go on for years. We need to simplify it.

A number of Departments are involved here. We sometimes talk about bringing in all the stakeholders, consulting everybody and getting everybody involved. There is an old saying that when everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible. I am concerned that Tusla, the Department of Justice and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth are all involved, but somebody needs to catch the bull by the horns to steer this and drive it on. This has been going on for years. As we talk here this morning, there are people who have just fled domestic violence situations. The murder of Ashling Murphy brought home the nature of violence against women. I know that was not domestic violence, but it reinforced in people's heads the need to urgently address this. There are real situations with families every day of the week. I do not think anybody in the House would disagree with what is needed. We need to get on with it.

I thank Deputy Stanley for raising this important matter regarding the need for domestic violence accommodation in Laois and the midlands. I reiterate that it is my goal and that of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, that everyone who needs a refuge space will get one. I am familiar with the Wexford women's refuge and the Wexford rape crisis centre, and the great work done by both those bodies, so I understand the real importance of this. The Minister, Deputy McEntee is deeply committed to working with partners in the sector and with Government colleagues to achieve this. This Government has prioritised tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in all its forms, and ensuring that people, particularly women and vulnerable people, feel safe and are safe in our communities.

As the Deputy is aware, the Minister, Deputy McEntee is leading work on a new whole-of-government strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This new plan will have a particular focus on prevention and on ensuring victims are better supported. It is the Minister's intention to publish the final strategy and accompanying action plan as soon as possible in the coming weeks. The Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and McEntee, commissioned an independent audit of how responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is segmented across the Government. On foot of this, it has been agreed that the Department of Justice will assume responsibility for services for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, in addition to policy responsibility and overall cross-Government co-ordination of implementation. I hope that answers Deputy Stanley's concern about no one taking a lead on this. The Department of Justice has been assigned for the lead for services as well as policy responsibility. A detailed plan about how this will work is being prepared.

On the specific issue of refuge spaces, in February, the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and McEntee, published the review by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, of accommodation for victims of domestic violence. The review highlights gaps in geographical coverage and inadequate provision of safe accommodation, including refuges, to meet population needs. Many Deputies have raised those gaps.

Having it clearly in writing is important so we can put an implementation plan in place.

The review recommended an approach to address this issue with immediate, medium and long-term actions required and provided a list of priority areas where additional services would address the most immediate need. While the review states a minimum of between 50 and 60 new refuge places are needed as a priority, further analysis has identified ten locations nationwide where the delivery of 82 family refuge spaces would have the most impact if prioritised. These locations and this refuge need have been chosen on the basis of required proximity to a refuge, as well as a need for refuge spaces per head of population in densely populated areas. These are the areas with the most significant under-provision and are a starting point for increasing refuge spaces comprehensively and in every county across the country. The initial areas identified in the Tusla review include Portlaoise, where eight family places are suggested as a starting point for prioritisation.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Yesterday, an extra €46,000 of taxpayers' money was allocated for the centre in Portlaoise. That is welcome because the services there are stretched. I agree that prevention is key. We need to reduce the amount of domestic violence and change attitudes and culture in society. However, we also have to live in the here and now. I welcome that the Tusla review recommends eight family places for Portlaoise. That is suggested for prioritisation and as a starting point. That is good news and I welcome that confirmation.

Ten locations nationwide have been identified for 82 family refuge spaces. That is a positive step, as is the fact that one Department will be in charge of this. It was a concern of mine up to now that it would move between Departments and different State agencies. The important thing now is that we move on with this without delay. Delivery takes a long time in this country but when the State wants to do something and push things on, whether schools or whatever else, they can be progressed very quickly in certain cases. I ask that this be given high priority by the Government. The Minister of State said the Minister has made it a priority and I welcome that. It is very positive. The Opposition will certainly welcome it as well because there is consensus on this matter and it needs to be addressed.

There are three safe houses in Offaly. That is a different model. It is the county next door but it would work to have one house in Birr, one in Tullamore and one in Edenderry and then the domestic violence refuge service in Laois catering for that huge midlands area. Can the Minister of State give a guarantee that his Department will examine that and help in any way it can?

I again thank Deputy Stanley for raising this very important matter around the need for domestic violence refuge accommodation. The Minister fully acknowledges the need to dramatically increase the provision of domestic violence accommodation and refuge spaces right across the country. While I agree that prevention is key, I also acknowledge the Deputy's point that priority must be given to the here and now, to people who need those safe spaces. That is why the Minister has identified ten priority areas to provide refuges right across the country and Portlaoise is one of those ten. There will now be engagement, not only at ministerial level but at a local level as well, to identify how that can be delivered on the ground and as quickly as possible, falling within the established guidelines of the interdepartmental working group. Tusla will continue to engage with stakeholders on all aspects of service development as part of its current remit to support the provision of services to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

On the situation in Offaly, I do not have the information to hand but I will bring those three safe houses to the Minister's attention and get a response for the Deputy on that matter.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, homeless and addiction services have been operating relentlessly as healthcare settings. They have remained open throughout the pandemic and must follow HSE protocols strictly, as required for congregated or healthcare settings, with all staff deemed healthcare workers in front-line services. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, both homeless and drug-using populations were identified as being particularly vulnerable to the effects of Covid. As a board member of a community drug team, I have heard from our staff who were seconded, and happy to be, at a moment's notice to the HSE to ensure that those who were very vulnerable continued to avail of services. This is very tough and demanding work at the best of times. During the current pandemic, it was frightening for them but they turned up for work every day they were asked. In fact, correspondence from the Chief Medical Officer to the Minister for Health at the onset of the pandemic classified the homeless cohort as one of his top priorities as a most vulnerable group.

Those in the homeless sector were required to adapt their services strictly to the protocols insisted upon by the HSE and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, Covid response team. Their client group is transient and they work with a high number of unvaccinated and medically vulnerable clients for a long period of time. They are still continuing to implement the Covid-specific infection prevention and control measures, for longer than the general public and those in a significant number of other settings have. This is even more important now given the massive spike in Covid cases. The commitment of their staff in supporting the most vulnerable in our society, despite the risk to themselves, should be recognised along with other front-line workers.

The Dublin Homeless Network is a network of 20 NGOs that are the majority voice of voluntary homeless organisations in Dublin. These NGOs provide both residential accommodation and day services to people who are homeless and in need of a wide range of physical, mental and addiction health supports. The network has asked on several occasions to be included in the Covid recognition scheme since the announcement by Government of a once-off Covid recognition payment for those who worked on the front line during Covid-19. The network is asking for recognition on the basis that homeless services receive HSE and local authority grant funding for the payment of salaries to front-line workers; that staff in the sector are deemed healthcare workers; that Covid-19 protocols as directed by the HSE have been strictly adhered to, including the wearing of PPE equipment in clinical and congregated settings as required; that, under direction from the HSE, front-line staff including our nursing cohort conducted Covid testing and vaccinations; that associated staff, including auxiliary staff, worked in the same environment as nursing staff in clinical and congregated settings; and that staffing configuration and support in homeless services, including congregated settings, is similar to that in private nursing home settings.

Section 39 and section 10 front-line staff worked in similar clinical and congregated settings to those announced for the recognition payment scheme, starting from a time when there were no vaccinations available. These organisations are just asking that their staff, including nurses, project workers, care workers, cleaners, catering and other auxiliary staff, who worked with residents, clients and service users on a face-to-face basis during this period have their contributions recognised for inclusion in this Covid recognition scheme.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. On 19 January, the Government announced a Covid-19 recognition payment for front-line public sector healthcare workers, to recognise their unique role during the pandemic. The payment of €1,000, which is welcome, will not be subject to income tax, USC or PRSI. The announcement also made provision for a pro rata application of the payment. The measure will be ring-fenced to staff ordinarily on site in Covid-19 exposed healthcare environments in the period between 1 March 2020 and 30 June 2021. This payment will be made to those eligible public sector front-line healthcare staff, inclusive of agency staff working for the HSE, who worked in clinical settings. The list is not exhaustive but includes doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, porters, cleaners etc. who work in clinical settings. The measure also encompasses healthcare support assistants, also known as home carers or home help, employed by or carrying out duties contracted to the HSE. It also encompasses those eligible working on site in long-term residential care facilities for people with disabilities, inclusive of HSE and section 39 facilities. Finally, the measure also extends to equivalent healthcare workers in private nursing homes and hospices. Arrangements for these sectors are currently being progressed by the Department of Health.

The Government knows we have to apply this recognition to those who faced the highest risk and that is why this measure has been limited in scope. While immense efforts have undoubtedly been made by other healthcare staff, by other staff in other sectors and by the general public since the onset of this pandemic, it is right that the Government pursues this course to recognise those who took the greatest risk in the performance of their duties. The announcement covers eligible front-line healthcare workers only and I am also mindful of the many other workers throughout the country who played their part during this difficult period.

It is difficult to draw a line under this matter but the Government based its decision on the risks which front-line healthcare workers faced. The Deputy pointed out that these workers need to be recognised and that they were working as project workers, who took great care of their residents and clients. That is one of the aspects of the care that was given to people who were vulnerable and in homelessness and I want to thank the workers for all the work they did. I will raise this again and I will try to ensure that these people who did so much during the pandemic are recognised. I am working in my Department to try to ensure that the people who sacrificed so much and worked so hard will be recognised. I will raise this within the Department again.

In his statement the Minister of State has recognised that those who faced the highest risk have got the payment but that only includes those who faced the highest risk and who work in the public sector. There are many other people who faced such risk. If it was not for the likes of the Simon Communities and all of those homeless agencies who provide a front-line service every day, the State would have to involve itself in those services and it would have to pay those people because they would be public service employees. I find it really difficult to understand why there is a differentiation when it comes to the people in those services who are front-line workers, as the Minister of State admits consistently in his statement and as has been consistently admitted by the Minister. That was the basis for why the payment was made in the first place. When there were no vaccinations, when we knew nothing about Covid-19 and when we were hearing horror stories coming from Italy and China of people dying on a daily basis, there was huge fear and we asked those people on the front line to go into their jobs to work with the most vulnerable and highest risk people every single day. They donned their PPE gear, carried out all the health and safety measures and did everything that was asked of them. They were and they are the essence of front-line workers, along with the brilliant work the public service front-line workers did. I would like to point out that the death in service ex gratia scheme for healthcare workers includes those in homeless and outreach services. If one dies in service, one is included in this but if one worked through and is still working through the pandemic, one is not included. I find that deeply unfair.

Many individuals in our country did so much during the pandemic and the Government and I are sincerely grateful to them for their commitment. It is appropriate that these public sector front-line healthcare workers get particular recognition. The Deputy is right that they exposed themselves to particular Covid-19 risks that did not exist in other working environments or for those working from home. The Deputy said they were asked to go into their jobs and they answered that call. They showed commitment and in essence they are front-line workers. I will continue to raise this within the Department and I will do so today because there is a recognition of the efforts of workers and volunteers and they were part of the general public response during Covid-19. There is a bank holiday but that is a permanent reminder for all the people of the efforts and sacrifices they made during the last two years. There is €1,000 going to many healthcare workers. There is another sector, however, and I will fight harder for them again today. I thank the Deputy for his contribution on this. People who care for those who are homeless or who use drugs did incredible work and I will raise that again through the Department as they should be recognised. I will talk to the various Ministers and Departments concerned to seek that they would be recognised.

Heritage Sites

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for facilitating me in bringing up this important issue. King John's Castle is synonymous with Limerick city. If one looks at items in the media, the first place one sees and thinks of is King John's Castle. It has been part of the Shannon Group for many years and prior to that it was within the Shannon Development Group. An agreement has been reached between the Shannon Group and Limerick City and County Council that King John's Castle will be transferred to Limerick City and County Council, effective from next Monday, 4 April. I know many of the staff working there and they are excellent. It has been agreed that a full transfer will be undertaken so that all of the 14 staff working there, along with part-time staff during the summer months, will automatically transfer. They are going into a wholly owned subsidiary of Limerick City and County Council, Discover Limerick, which is a designated activity company, DAC.

Limerick City and County Council has submitted a proposal, via the Shannon Group, to the Department on a funding gap for the first three years to enable it to have a smooth transition. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, will be aware that the site had 111,000 tourists visiting it back in 2019. Two years ago that had dropped to 50,000 and last year it was down to 24,000. We want to put King John's Castle in a financial position such that it can come back to those numbers. Limerick City and County Council has put this proposal to the Minister of State's Department via the Shannon Group and directly to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Already Limerick City and County Council looks forward to taking over the running of King John’s Castle, along with its employees. It has put €500,000 into Discover Limerick DAC, which will be looking after all tourist activities. That company is responsible for the management and operation of King John’s Castle but with the move over, items that would have been dealt with under the Shannon Group such as IT systems; financial and human resources; marketing and sales; and legal issues will all have to be dealt with by Limerick City and County Council. These issues will have major set-up costs. Furthermore, Limerick City and County Council has already put a financial controller in place and is advertising for a sales and marketing official as well.

I want the Minister of State to provide a commitment from the Government. I understand that discussions are ongoing between Limerick City and County Council and the Departments. I want to see a commitment from the Government that whatever funding is required to enable that smooth transition will be forthcoming. However, the good news is that King John’s Castle is already operating seven days a week and come 4 April, next Monday, Limerick City and County Council will continue to operate it on a seven-day per week basis with the 14 employees and the summer workers who will come on board. Limerick City and County Council is looking to grow the business there but we need initial Government support over the first year to ensure we can get to a point where King John’s Castle is performing at a premium and gets to that figure of 111,000 tourists per annum and much higher.

I thank Deputy O’Donnell for giving me the opportunity to update the House on this topic. As Members are aware, Shannon Group informed my Department in summer 2020 that it was necessary to consider a comprehensive and radical adjustment to its structure. This was necessary due to the capital investment required to maintain the heritage sites and the lack of expertise in maintaining the sites in the group. This was further impacted by the onset of Covid-19. In 2021 several options were presented in a memorandum for Government, and the Government considered that the most appropriate option was for Shannon Group to explore the potential to transfer Shannon Heritage to the local authorities. It was considered that this was the best way to secure the longer term viability of the business and the interests of Shannon Heritage employees, while maintaining the intrinsic heritage value of the sites for current and future generations. Since that time Shannon Group has engaged and is continuing to engage with the relevant local authorities in regard to the transfer of the business of these key sites. This includes the transfer of King John's Castle to Limerick City and County Council. The agreement of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will be required to execute the transfer of the castle. My Department is engaging with both Departments in this regard.

I am also continuing to engage with the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in regard to the conservation of the castle. As the castle is a national monument, the OPW has responsibilities in regard to its conservation and maintenance. In preparation for undertaking this role, the OPW has been carrying out the necessary assessment of the castle to inform the programme of works needed and the associated costs. Shannon Group will continue to operate and manage the Shannon Heritage business prior to any transfer of King John's Castle to Limerick City and County Council. It will do so in line with its commercial mandate and fiduciary best practice, and with awareness of the group's accountability for the proper management of the company.

This Government implemented a range of horizontal economy-wide supports early in the Covid-19 pandemic. Shannon Heritage has benefited from these supports including the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. The continuation of Government support to Shannon Group through the subsequent extension of EWSS enabled King John's Castle to remain open during the winter of 2021, and into the spring of this year. Although the castle operated with reduced opening hours during this time, EWSS support meant that Shannon Group did not have to close the castle completely in September 2021 for the winter season as had been previously indicated. As we all know, Covid-19 has had a huge impact on all tourism and heritage sites since the beginning of the pandemic. However, there are grounds for optimism, as the Deputy highlighted, including a welcome increase in visitor numbers. I understand King John's Castle is currently open on a seven-day week basis, as the Deputy stated. My Department will continue to work with Shannon Group and the relevant Departments to ensure the transfer of King John's Castle will proceed as planned, placing it in a positive position to benefit from increased visitor numbers.

The Deputy made reference to the deadline of 4 April. I assure him there is ongoing engagement between my Department, the Department of Transport, and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage around that funding gap and there are meetings. We have asked the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to engage with us to see what we can do to try to bridge that funding gap. Officials from my Department are meeting with their counterparts in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media today. We have had previous meetings. Fáilte Ireland will be present at that meeting in regard to looking at other funding sources. The priority is to ensure that this transfer proceeds as quickly as possible and that King John's Castle has the required funding to be viable into the future. The Deputy has my sincere commitment on that.

I thank the Minister of State for that positive update. I welcome the fact that the OPW is taking care of the structural repairs on King John's Castle. I welcome the fact that it is formally coming under the guardianship of Limerick City and County Council. As the Minister of State is aware, Limerick City and County Council had Grant Thornton prepare a funding gap report which she referenced. I very much welcome that detailed discussions are taking place, spearheaded by her Department, involving the Departments of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. This has to happen. I pay tribute to Limerick City and County Council which has been proactive on this. It has put €500,000 of its money into a company, Discover Limerick, which is 100% owned within Limerick City and County Council, to ensure this transition can take place from next Monday, 4 April.

What we now want is to ensure that arrangements are put in place to bridge whatever funding gap is there for the first three years. I welcome the Minister of State's assurances in that regard. I know there are ongoing discussions. These are constructive discussions. My role here today is to ensure that momentum continues. I want to see that King John's Castle can now grow further. There were 111,000 people coming through the gates annually, which is a huge number. I think that is only the start. The fact that we now have an opportunity and Limerick City and County Council is preparing, through Discover Limerick, a strategic plan for growing tourism in Limerick city involving King John's Castle is something I very much welcome. I look forward to a conclusion of the discussions so that we have absolute certainty. Finally, I compliment the 14 staff. I know them, they are excellent, and they will bring a wealth of experience to Limerick City and County Council about King John's Castle.

I reiterate that the Government recognises the importance of King John's Castle to the people of Limerick and also to the mid-west region. I too want to compliment Limerick City and County Council for its endeavours and goodwill in regard to the engagement. Work is ongoing between my Department and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage around that funding gap. We are doing everything we can to ensure that happens as quickly as possible. As I said, we are engaging today with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media around possible funding sources there as well. The Deputy can be assured that this is a high priority. It is moving in the right direction. My Department is working with Government colleagues to ensure this progresses. I would be happy to provide an update as we get that over the line.

Wastewater Treatment

Tá fadhb againn i gCiarraí le fuíolluisce agus leis an gcóras cóireála fuíolluisce. Ag an bpointe seo anuraidh bhíomar ag feithimh le fógra ó Uisce Éireann mar gheall ar infheistíocht i bhfuíolluisce i gCiarraí. We have a serious problem in County Kerry with wastewater treatment systems. This time last year we were waiting for an announcement from Irish Water that at the end of quarter 1 we would have good news in regard to a list of villages around the county where investment would be made available for the enhancement or replacement of wastewater treatment systems and plants around the county. In June we eventually received notification that the Kilcummin sewerage system and the Kenmare wastewater treatment plant upgrade would be included in the Irish Water capital investment plan as capital projects. The only others to be mentioned were Fenit, or An Fhianait, and Knightstown, or An Chois, on Valentia Island. It seemed that those wastewater treatment plants were to be included in another scheme, the small towns and villages growth programme, but the latest I have heard is that no further upgrades are anticipated under the current programme for any other small towns or villages around the county.

In Abbeydorney, there is a huge issue with development. Everybody knows how difficult it is to find GPs who will open surgeries in small villages. A proposed new GP surgery, which is so badly needed and is currently operating out of a couple of rooms in a community centre, is stalled because there is no wastewater treatment system in place in Abbeydorney, despite three or four estates having been built over the past 20 years. In Fenit money was promised in June of last year. It is currently not possible to build more than two houses in Fenit. A possible hotel is also proposed in anticipation of the Tralee to Fenit greenway, which is supposed to open this summer. There is an anticipated influx of tourists and day-trippers who will go to Fenit and allow Fenit to achieve its potential. However, without news of any movement on the wastewater treatment plant, that is not possible.

All around the rest of the county, in Glenbeigh, Rathmore and Duagh, the lack of investment flies in the face of plans to prioritise towns and villages and to invest in communities and long-established settlements.

It is deeply frustrating when we contact planners about a proposed development, whether it is residential or commercial, and time and again we are told that we have to get a report from Irish Water and that people who are applying for planning permission must obtain that report before the investment or development can take place. In Castlegregory, which is right beside the sea, the system is no more than a holding tank, which is a large septic tank about 100 yd from the sea. It is completely unacceptable from an environmental, residential, and developmental point of view.

In the past, when Kerry County Council had control and responsibility for water, it carried out works on treatment plants in Castleisland, Dingle, Listowel, Cahersiveen, Ballybunion, Milltown and Tralee. Irish Water has been working on the water system and even though I was not a fan of the establishment of Irish Water and I was against it at the time, to give credit where it is due, it has done some good work on the water system, but it is not doing enough on wastewater. It was a mistake to take that responsibility away from Kerry County Council. It is hard to think of a single case, be it refuse, housing, health, or orthopaedic surgeries, where a better service or a cheaper and better value service was provided when it was outsourced. We had a list last year and we still have a totally inadequate wastewater system. We had the Fenit announcement but we are waiting. We had Kilcummin on a smaller scale but we are still waiting on that. Will the Minister of State enlighten me as to what is happening with this?

I thank Deputy Daly for raising this issue today. I am answering on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. This allows me the opportunity to outline the position in respect of Irish Water's responsibility on this matter.

The Water Services Acts 2007 to 2017 set out the arrangements in place for the delivery of water and wastewater services by Irish Water, and for the scrutiny and oversight provisions that apply in respect of these arrangements. As the Deputy will understand, the provision of facilities in Kerry is a matter for Irish Water in the first instance. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. Irish Water takes a strategic nationwide approach to asset planning and investment and meeting customer requirements. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects and programmes is a matter for determination by Irish Water.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has made inquiries with Irish Water on the issue mentioned by Deputy Daly. Irish Water will have invested more than €80 million cumulatively in water services in Kerry on more than 20 capital projects from 2014 to the end of 2024. These include some of the good projects referred to by the Deputy earlier. These capital projects are targeted at improved quality and capacity improvements. There are currently two Irish Water capital projects in the planning stage, which the Deputy referred to, including the Kenmare wastewater treatment plant and the Kilcummin wastewater network, which will aim to protect the environment and quality of receiving waters, increase capacity, and facilitate future growth.

Irish Water's investment under the national leakage reduction programmes or capital maintenance programmes that are targeted at maintenance and replacement of assets to improve levels of service is not included in that €80 million figure.

In addition to the investment just detailed, there are projects now progressing as part of the small towns and villages programme in Fenit and Knightstown, which the Deputy also mentioned. Irish Water has an allocation of almost €100 million for its small towns and villages growth programme. To date, Irish Water has announced 37 projects across 27 local authority areas. There is also further investment in leakage reduction and mains rehabilitation of €22 million since 2017. More general information on Irish Water investment is available from the capital investment plan explanatory document, which is available on the Irish Water website, www.water.ie.

The Government is aware that significant and sustainable investment is needed to ensure the continued operation, upgrade and repair of the country's water and wastewater infrastructure, and to support economic growth in the years to come. In this regard, as part of budget 2022 the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has secured funding of more than €1.57 billion to support water services. This includes €1.459 billion in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, will support improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and will support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine areas.

I thank the Minister of State. There is no copy of the Minister of State's reply. This has been happening. It is not just this Minister of State. It is hit and miss with replies. It also happened yesterday when there were just two scripts available. Just for the record, Deputies are entitled to the scripts in relation to the Topical Issue replies.

I can furnish this to the Deputy. I apologise; I had meant to have them.

I understand that but it has been happening more often.

I thank Minister of State for his reply. I took some notes on what the Minister of State said and while the amount of investment is welcome, it does not seem to be translating into any proposed developments for the towns and villages I mentioned. Is Castlegregory going to have to wait? When the Fenit project was announced last year, it said it was a five-year programme. Is that programme still going ahead? Does the Minister of State have any information about that? If he does not have the information here perhaps he will get it to me. Is that programme still on track for Fenit?

The Minister of State mentioned €100 million for 37 projects in 27 local authority areas. With the small towns and villages programme, it seems there are only two proposed for Kerry. I do not believe this is enough in a county that suffers from peripherality. The programme for Government is supposed to enhance the small smaller towns and villages to bring people in, to move away from one-off rural development and bring people into villages. There seems to be a complete contradiction between what is in the programme for Government and what is being delivered on the ground. Nothing has been delivered on the ground for the people in Glenbeigh, Abbeydorney, Duagh and Rathmore. There seems to be a lot of money invested but if I had my way it would be given back to Kerry County Council which could co-ordinate the whole project. Water services in the county were moved to a specific place in Castleisland. Expertise was built up over many years and was in one place, but now there is too much pulling and dragging. There does not seem to be a co-ordinated approach. It is deeply frustrating for the people who are in those villages, for those who cannot develop and for those who cannot move back from the cities given the opportunities now for remote working. That is being hindered by the lack of investment in those places.

I thank the Deputy for the follow-on remarks on the provision of water treatment facilities in County Kerry. I assure him the Government is committed to ensuring substantial funding is provided to Irish Water, as I outlined in my response. The programme for Government commits to funding Irish Water's capital investment plan for water and wastewater infrastructure on a multi-annual basis. This is very important because we know that in the past, particularly for a local authorities and others, having a deadline whereby money had to be spent by the end of the year does not lead to good value for money. In addition, the National Development Plan 2021-2030 commits to almost €6 billion in capital investment by Irish Water in the period 2021 to 2025, of which more than €4.5 billion will be voted expenditure funding for domestic water services.

We are making progress on the challenges we face, and the Government will continue to deliver strongly on the commitments to water services contained in the programme for Government. The Deputy will understand that the progress of individual wastewater plants and infrastructure is a matter for Irish Water. As we modernise our infrastructure, it is inevitable that capacity constraints will arise in certain locations. The funding provided by this Government is ensuring water and wastewater infrastructure investment is supporting the Government's overall housing targets. I am assured by Irish Water that it is also committed to this agenda and that it will work closely with local authorities to ensure local development plan-led priorities are aligned as much as possible.

It may be helpful to note that Irish Water has established a dedicated team to deal with representations and queries from public representatives. The team can be contacted by email or phone, the details of which the Deputy will have. I am sorry I do not have individual details on Abbeydorney, Duagh or Castlegregory, but that was not mentioned in the Deputy's original Topical Issue matter and, therefore, I did not have that detail with me today. The Irish Water team is contactable through the dedicated Oireachtas line for those specific queries.