Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 5 Apr 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 5

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Local Authorities

I am glad of the opportunity to raise this at such short notice. Recently, I met a family from Killarney, Steve O'Mahony, his wife, Teresa, and their daughter, Alexis. I want to raise an issue on their behalf. We discussed a cut that has been made to disability funding. This cut was not made by the HSE or the Department of Health. It is the removal of funding for ceiling track hoists from housing adaptation grants. Alexis is six years old next week. She has cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, subluxation of her right hip and a high risk of aspiration, that is food or drink going in to her lungs. Alexis is completely dependent for her daily care. She requires constant repositioning for washing and to prevent injury, and she needs two people to hoist her.

The Minister of State will be aware of housing adaptation grants. Kerry County Council has a budget of €3 million to spend on housing adaptation grants, which help our elderly and disabled family members, making life easier for them living in the community. Grants are available to make repairs or improvements to their homes. According to a letter received last month by Mr. Steve O'Mahony, in September 2020 the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government informed local authorities that ceiling hoists should not be included in the housing adaptation grant. Since then, most local authorities no longer provide funding for the provision of the hoist itself although they may fund the structural works, that is, to place hoist tracks in the ceilings. Mr. O'Mahony had raised this issue in July last year and he was told by the Department that departmental officials were engaging with the HSE. That was in July. Again, in September, following a question, he learned that officials were still engaging with the HSE.

While these discussions take place, however, those with disabilities, their carers and their families are suffering. Steve, Teresa and Alexis have a quotation for €5,000 for the provision and supply of a ceiling track hoist. According to Alexis's occupational therapist, OT, a hoist will improve the efficiency of lifting, improve Alexis's quality of care, require fewer caregivers, decrease her care needs and reduce physical discomfort and injury to her five-year-old body parts. It facilitates more time to her parents to provide care for their child. Alexis has other equipment needs that occupy a lot of floor space and, as she grows, it is highly recommended, again by the occupational therapist, that a ceiling hoist will ensure comfortable mobility and a dignified experience for Alexis and her carers. It will give this family a break. This is essential for this family.

Families like the O'Mahonys are already struggling with the physical, mental and financial costs of care. There is, according to the OT, a risk of a high incidence of musculoskeletal injuries among caregivers. Teresa, Alexis's mother, already has back injuries as a result. Decisions like these, or the lack of a decision in this case, exacerbates and compounds their struggles. I am asking the Minister of State to make a decision that basic fairness to this family and fairness to people with disabilities demands. Their home is ready to go. Will the Minister of State reverse the decision, please, and allow funding for these essential works from housing grants?

I thank the Deputy for articulating the case of Alexis and her family and the comments by the OT about improving the quality of care and reducing physical discomfort. These are really vital issues for her care, well-being and her quality of life.

My Department provides funding to local authorities under the suite of housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability to assist people in private houses to make their accommodation more suitable to their needs and to facilitate early return from hospital stays.

The detailed administration of the grants, including their assessment, approval and prioritisation, is the responsibility of the local authorities. The current housing adaptation grant for older people and people with a disability scheme is underpinned by secondary legislation. The provisions of regulation 7 of the Housing (Adaptation Grants for Older People and People with a Disability) Regulations 2007 set out the types of mobility aids the grant can be used for, including accessible showers, access ramps, grab rails, stair lifts and so on. The Department has also provided guidance to local authorities since the scheme came into operation in 2007.

Medical aids and devices that require the assistance of a carer who is specially trained in their use are not currently funded under the scheme. Consequently, the funding of ceiling hoists, which are medical devices that require specialised training to use, are not provided for under the scheme. However, funding can be provided for the infrastructure to support a hoist, for example, the reinforcement of a ceiling. In order to provide clarity on this matter, a specific question on the funding of hoists was included in the frequently asked questions document issued to local authorities in 2020, which clarified that funding was not available for ceiling hoists.

I can confirm that officials from my Department are engaging with the HSE and the Department of Health on this issue as it is important that there is a clear avenue for funding of hoists going forward. Officials met in March to specifically discuss fixed-track ceiling hoists and it is hoped that a suitable agreement on funding of hoists will be reached over the coming months. My Department is committed to ensuring that the grant is appropriately targeted.

Housing for All commits to undertaking a review of the range of housing grants available to assist with meeting specific housing needs both for our ageing population and people with a disability. An initial element of this review has begun and is currently focused on the existing grant limits and income thresholds applicable to the grant schemes. The wider scope of the review, to be completed this year, is also under consideration and is being informed by ongoing engagement with external stakeholders, including the Department of Health, the HSE, the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disability Federation of Ireland.

This probably does not provide comfort to the family the Deputy has spoken about but certainly it offers some hope in the sense that the discussions between the HSE and the Department will lead to some conclusion that might have a more streamlined response, as he has requested. I await his response.

I thank the Minister of State. What is going on here is unbelievably bureaucratic in that the reinforced ceiling costs can be provided for but something that requires the assistance of a carer cannot. In this case, a carer inevitably means Mr. and Mrs. O’Mahony. They are caring for their daughter who has a severe disability - cerebral palsy and quadriplegia - but are excluded from the scheme. The Minister of State’s answer would be great except it is the same answer the Department gave in July and September of last year and again last month. While these negotiations are taking place, the family of this child, who I met at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, continue to suffer. Steve O’Mahony said that families like his do not want these hoists for their children out of choice but because they are a basic necessity. Every day that this drags on, he said, is another day of physical stress caused by constantly moving the person with the disability, washing them and so on.

Will the Minister speak to his officials to see if the scheme can be expanded? I would not ask him to do so if it were not essential for young Alexis to be helped and her family to be given a break.

I assure the Deputy I will take this matter back to the Department. I agree with him. A conclusion should have been brought to the discussions between the Department and the HSE to provide clarity to families. Perhaps the issue here is that medical aids and devices such as a hoist require the assistance of a carer and specialised training. That may be the matter under negotiation. As I am not sure, I cannot state that is the case. I will take the specific case of this family back to the Department because it is one that is reflected in other families across the country who are experiencing similar issues. These are good grant schemes, which have provided help to thousands of families. However, there is an issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I will take the matter back to the Department on the Deputy’s behalf.

I thank the Minister of State. I will provide him with the name and address of the family.

I would appreciate that.

Wastewater Treatment

Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil suim faoi leith ag an Aire Stáit san ábhar seo. Is é an t-ábhar atá faoi chaibidil agam ná an ionad cóireála séarachais, wastewater treatment plant, atá beartaithe do Chéibh an tSrutháin ar An gCeathrú Rua i gConamara. Tá sé beartaithe le fada an lá agus níl a fhios agam cé chomh fada agus atá muintir an cheantair ag streachailt agus i mbun feachtais chun ionad cóireála séarachais a fháil. Toghadh mise don chéad uair in 1999, níos mó ná 22 bliain ó shin, don chathair ach bhí mé ar an eolas faoin bhfeachtas a bhí faoi lán seoil i gConamara mar tá séarachas ag dul isteach san fharraige agus muidne i mbun cainte anseo.

I mo thuairim agus i dtuairim formhór na ndaoine sa cheantar, ní raibh an suíomh a bhí pioctha agus atá ann le haghaidh an ionaid seo feiliúnach riamh. Is é sin an suíomh a bhí aitheanta ag an gcomhairle contae, áfach, agus ansin ag Uisce Éireann. Ní raibh mise sásta riamh ach, ar a laghad, bhí an rud ag dul ar aghaidh. Níos tábhachtaí fós, ní raibh muintir na háite sásta ach bhí sé chun dul ar aghaidh ar aon nós.

Tá an suíomh i seilbh duine phríobháidigh. Tá cead pleanála faighte ag an duine sin le hionad eile a thógáil ar an suíomh. Tá an ceart aige, agus é agus a chlann i mbun feachtais le fada an lá freisin. Is é an deacracht atá ann anois, áfach, ná go bhfuil an chosúlacht ar an scéal nach mbeidh aon ionad cóireála séarachais ar an suíomh sin.

Cad atá le déanamh againn? Níos tábhachtaí, cad atá le déanamh ag Uisce Éireann agus an Rialtas? Ní féidir leanúint ar aghaidh. I mo thuairim agus i dtuairim mhuintir na háite, tá áit i bhfad níos feiliúnaí i Ros an Mhíl ach dúradh linn ag dul siar nárbh fhéidir é sin a úsáid. Tá sé práinneach anois breathnú ar an suíomh sin. Tá an suíomh i seilbh Údarás na Gaeltachta. Tá sé i bhfad níos feiliúnaí. Ní saineolaí mé ach bheadh sé i bhfad níos feiliúnaí, do cheantar níos mó, ná an ceann a bhí beartaithe.

Ag an bpointe seo, níl an dara rogha agam ach é a ardú anocht agus brú a chur ar an Roinn rud a dhéanamh ó thaobh an séarachas atá ag dul isteach san fharraige. I am not going to repeat that in English as I know the Minister of State understood everything I said.

We knew this was the wrong site. I will put it like that. I am not here to say we were right - quite the opposite - but we knew there were difficulties with this site. That is the site that was chosen, however, despite the people of the area highlighting that it was not suitable. I do not want to exaggerate but I have been aware of this matter since I was elected in 1999, even though it was not in my area at the time.

Irish Water put all its eggs in one basket to build a wastewater treatment plant on this site and its owner has just secured planning permission from An Bord Pleanála to build something completely different on it. Fair play to the owner, who has struggled to get that planning but obviously the wastewater treatment plant cannot proceed at the site now. I am seeking urgent clarification first and then I want to hear what steps the Government is going to take to ensure the site that should have been picked in the first place will be picked. I also want urgent steps to be taken to construct a treatment plant there.

Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Teachta as an gceist seo a ardú inniu agus as an seans a thabhairt dom dualgas Uisce Éireann a leagan amach. Tá an freagra as Béarla, agus tá brón orm faoi sin.

The Water Services Acts 2007 to 2017 set out 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. The Deputy will understand the provision of facilities in County Galway is a matter for Irish Water in the first instance. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has had 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.

My Department has made inquiries on the issue mentioned by Deputy Connolly. I am informed that Irish Water has just today been made aware of the decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for an alternative project on the preferred site for the proposed wastewater treatment plant in An Cheathrú Rua. Irish Water is currently reviewing this decision and any implications for the proposed sewerage scheme in An Cheathrú Rua.

The Government is aware that significant and sustained 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, my Department secured funding of over €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, support improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine area.

I agree with Deputy Connolly that this is a critically important project for the area, particularly as the region's population grows. What the Deputy has referenced here is a long-running saga that needs to be addressed by Irish Water. I will take her concerns back through our Department's water section to Irish Water. I hope I have provided some clarity for the Deputy in the response I have given.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. Chuir mé an cheist i nGaeilge freisin. Níl mé ag cur locht ar an Aire Stáit ach b'fhéidir go mbeidh an freagra ón Roinn i mBéarla agus i nGaeilge uair éigin. Maidir leis an gceist, is é an t-aon rud atá suimiúil domsa anseo ná go bhfuil Uisce Éireann i mbun athbhreithnithe ar an gcinneadh atá déanta ag An mBord Pleanála. Of interest to me, other than the background with Irish Water, of which I am fully aware, and the history, which I do not need, is that Irish Water is "currently reviewing this decision" by An Bord Pleanála to grant permission for something else. Irish Water was fully aware of this and was considering a compulsory purchase order for this site for a very long time. It was conveyed to Irish Water over and over again that there would be no co-operation because the owner had other plans for that site. I pass no comment on those plans but this has not come as a surprise to Irish Water. It knew it was under appeal to An Bord Pleanála and it knew well that it was not a suitable site.

There is a serious question here for the Government. I know it is Irish Water's responsibility. I never agreed with Irish Water happening in the first place, but that is what happened. We cannot stand over a situation where raw sewage is pouring into the bay in the middle of Conamara, i gcroílár na Gaeltachta, when there is a suitable site. We knew there was a site all along. I cannot tell the Minister of State how many meetings I and other Deputies and councillors from the area attended over the last while. We tried to say that while we were not experts, there was another site worth looking at that was in the ownership of a State agency. Irish Water told us it was too costly but nobody has added up the cost of not dealing with the raw sewage going into the water. When we look at costs in a very restricted way, it is stupid in the extreme and here we are. There is a site available. As I said, I am no expert but anyone down there will tell you that the site owned by Údarás na Gaeltachta in Ros an Mhíl is far more suitable and was always thus.

Gabhaim buíochas arís leis an Teachta as an gceist seo faoi áiseanna fuíolluisce ar An gCeathrú Rua a ardú. Geallaim go bhfuil an Rialtas tiomanta do mhaoiniú suntasach a chur ar fáil d'Uisce Éireann. Again, I have a stock response here but this an issue that I will take back through the Department to Irish Water. I am not fully familiar with all of the details of the project but if there is a suitable site, it should be considered. I agree with the Deputy that it is absolutely unacceptable for raw sewage to be discharging into watercourses. It is happening too much in our country. As I outlined in my earlier response, that is why it is critically important that we have put in place record investment for Irish Water to meet these requirements. However, it is important that it is done in the right way. It is important that it is done in the correct way and at the right location. I will take back the Deputy's concerns and will revert to her with a response.

Coroners Service

I wish to raise a very difficult issue that has affected many families over the last number of months in the north Dublin region. I refer to the remains of loved ones being released from the coroner service following a post mortem. Post mortems are required following the death of some people but arising from what appears to be the temporary closure of the mortuary in Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, there is a backlog and hence a significant delay in the releasing of bodies by the coroner service, which is based in Whitehall in my own constituency. This is something that affects people right across north Dublin and I have been contacted by families from right across the area.

The challenge this presents is, in the first instance, to funeral directors who are trying to manage the progression of remains to allow families to bury them peacefully. It also presents a challenge for family members themselves. Ireland has a custom of being able to put people to rest with relative ease but instead of a two- or three-day delay following a post mortem, in some cases remains have been in a mortuary for more than two weeks. This causes real anxiety when families are waiting for two or two and a half weeks to bury their loved ones. Often people will have travelled home from abroad to be with their loved one before he or she passed away. They then have to remain here for much longer than they would have expected. As I said, these delays are a difficulty for funeral undertakers, for families and for people travelling but especially for partners, husbands or wives who cannot lay their loved one to rest and move on.

I do not expect the Minister of State to have all of the answers this evening. The coroner service is the responsibility of the local authority. I was a member of Dublin City Council for ten years and am very proud of the service provided by the coroner. If there are issues with resources or with adjoining facilities not being available, we need to put in place some sort of contingency or redundancy plan. I understand that the facility at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown has been reopened but we must have some contingency in the system that will allow for an overflow.

A funeral director told me that there were four remains being dealt with each day and that as a result, one family was told that it was number 18 or 19 on the list. They are not terms that any family wants to hear following the death of a loved one. I ask the Minister of State to bring my concerns back to the Government to try to ascertain what is happening and why families are experiencing these very unreasonable delays.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an gceist seo a ardú. I would like to convey the apologies of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, who regrets she cannot be here for this matter due to another commitment. On behalf of the Minister, I would like to thank Deputy McAuliffe for raising this important matter. As he said, it is very distressing for families to deal with the loss of a loved one without having to deal with something like this too. It certainly does not help with the grieving process for families.

The coroner service comprises a network of coroners located in districts throughout the country. Coroners are independent quasi-judicial office holders whose core function is to investigate sudden and unexplained deaths so that a death certificate can be issued. This is an important public service to the living and in particular to the next of kin and friends of the deceased. Coroners not only provide closure for those who are bereaved, but also perform a wider public service by identifying matters of public health and safety concern. While the Department of Justice does not have a role in directing the work of the coroner and cannot comment on individual cases, it does actively support coroners in carrying out their statutory functions.

The Department is aware of the increased pressure of work being experienced by all coroners due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has to be said that Dublin is the busiest coronial district and specifically in regard to the situation in the district, the Department has appointed three coroners to the district at the request of the senior Dublin coroner. It is understood that the Dublin coroner and her team are working to facilitate inquests and work through backlogs.

The direction of a post mortem examination, as provided for in legislation, is solely a matter for the coroner concerned and the Minister for Justice has no function in this regard.

The Deputy has described a case where families are being told they are 18th or 19th on a list. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. We need to speed up that process for families. It should happen in a timely manner. The issues raised by the Deputy need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

I appreciate that the response outlined by the Minister of State on behalf of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, outlines that three additional staff will be provided to the Coroner Service. That is welcome. It will help to deal with the delay. The response references the pandemic and the impact of it. While we lost many people during that time, this issue only arise this February, March and now into April. We came through the pandemic without those delays, but they are arising now. I believe this is connected to the closure of the mortuary at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown and the overall pressure on the Coroner Service. I appreciate the Minister would have to investigate those matters, but regardless of that we need to look at what contingencies and provisions are in the service to allow for an increase in demand. Whatever else may happen at the Coroner Service, where I know huge work is done, a delay for families of the order of two to two and half weeks is unacceptable.

I will not delay the House any further. I appreciate the response provided to me by the Minister of State and the commitment that the Government has made to improve the service. I ask that it would continue to address this matter, including the provisions for contingency which I have outlined.

As stated previously, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has no role in the timing and conduct of post-mortem examinations. The direction of post-mortem examinations is solely a matter for the coroner concerned. However, the Department of Justice has appointed three coroners to the Dublin district to actively support the Coroner Service in carrying out its statutory functions. This should have a positive impact. According to the statutory annual returns, as required under section 55 of the Coroner Act, as amended, there were just over 2,400 post-mortem examinations carried out at the request of the Dublin Coroner's Office in 2021. It is understood that the Dublin District Coroner and her team are currently working to facilitate inquests, to work through the backlogs and, thereby, to provide closure for those bereaved.

I hope this provides some clarity to the Deputy. As I said, it is critically important that we address this issue. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, will take on board the concerns raised by the Deputy this evening.

School Enrolments

I thank the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, for coming to the House to take this Topical Issue matter on how we will expand our school capacity to accommodate Ukrainian students coming to Ireland.

The suffering and destruction we are witnesses in Ukraine is devastating. I am sure the Minister will share my condemnation of the Russian regime and the horrific war crimes that we are witnessing in the Ukraine at Russia's hands. I welcome all of the Ukrainian people who have come to Ireland and I hope they will feel safe and secure here. As a Government, I am confident that we will do our absolute best to ensure that.

The majority of the people who have come to Ireland from Ukraine thus far are women and children. It is clear that our school system will be under a great deal of pressure to accommodate both existing students and young people coming here from the Ukraine. Within my own constituency, work is ongoing to situate a number of Ukrainian children who are now living in Dublin Mid-West, some with host families and others in hotels. I am also contacted regularly by constituents who are struggling to find a school place in the area for their child, which meets their needs. This capacity issue is particularly apparent in our secondary schools.

I foresee a significant capacity issue in my own constituency in terms of trying to situate existing students and incoming Ukrainian students into what is an already over-subscribed system. I am sure this is not an issue unique to Dublin Mid-West, but rather one that is being replicated across the country in many schools. An issue that some education welfare officers have raised with me and my office is that they do not have visibility on available school places when trying to place a child when he or she has been refused a place in a preferred school. Is there in existence a centralised Department register that could aid in providing that information bridge between Tusla and the Department? The introduction of some sort of register that would provide visibility for education welfare officers would be a really practical measure to upgrade our systems.

We are in an absolutely unforeseen, unique situation. We simply must welcome Ukrainian students while also accommodating existing students. It is possible for us to do that, but I would be lying if I said I was not concerned about how we will manage that. It is a huge challenge. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline the work that her Department is undertaking to expand our school capacity to accommodate Ukrainian students who are fleeing war. I would welcome an update on how many Ukrainian students have already been placed in schools here, how many are waiting to be placed and how we will ensure that existing students who are waiting on news of a secondary school place for September will be accommodated. Many parents are contacting me and they are really distressed because their son or daughter is at a particular point on a waiting list. As we all know, it is not until close to the summer that those who have accepted numerous school places will commit to one school placement, thus freeing up places elsewhere. This leads to a huge amount of stress on the part of parents and students. That stress will be added to this year.

Why can we not have a central registration system for second level schools?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I want to assure the House and the Deputy that meeting the educational needs of children coming to Ireland from the Ukraine is a priority for this Government. I acknowledge the terrific work that is being done on the ground in terms of meeting the needs and the challenges. I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools throughout the country. I visited Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun recently. The welcome, inclusion and effort that is being put in place by school communities is second to none.

The regional teams will be hosted and administratively supported within the ETBs and will lead a network of other key agencies, including Tusla Education Support Service, TESS, National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, regional personnel, National Council for Special Education, NCSE, regional personnel and management body local nominees working together with local schools. All of the key agencies working together in a holistic manner will bring added value and efficiencies to the process of supporting young people and children from the Ukraine.

The teams will initially focus on ensuring that children find school places when they are ready to engage with the school system. The utilisation of capacity within existing schools across the country will be a very important aspect for addressing the need for education provision for Ukrainian children. The Department already has data on potential capacity and under or over subscription at individual schools from its national inventory of school capacity based on schools' annual enrolment returns, and utilises its Geographic Information System, GIS, to facilitate spatial analysis of this and other data. The Department will be engaging further with schools and education partners to supplement this data.

Additionally, the Department is currently working to put arrangements in place to share all of this available information on school capacity with the REALT. The spatial analysis facilitated by the Department's GIS supports the production of capacity reports to help the REALT to identify potential local school take-on capacity, based on a given geographical location, such as an accommodation centre. Reports will include data on schools within ranges of travel distances from that identified centre. This facility is expected to be available to the REALT shortly.

TESS will work with all local providers on an ongoing basis to ensure that children and young people are enrolled in school as soon as possible. As part of the process to ensure this, TESS will receive information on families with children of schoolgoing age in different locations. TESS will play a key role in identifying school places through linking with local schools as part of the REALT and in working collaboratively across all Departments and agencies to identify and remove all barriers to school attendance. The education and welfare officer teams in TESS have been briefed on the co-ordination role of the REALT. The education and welfare service is a key part of the REALT co-ordination response and will be part of the teams.

I thank the Minister for her response. I welcome her establishment of the REALT and all the work being done to, as she said, analyse the data and demand. I do not doubt that accommodating so many new students is a considerable challenge but I have no doubt it is a challenge that the Minister and her Department will work hard to overcome.

The capacity issue speaks to the urgent need to push ahead with the school building programme. A number of schools in my constituency have building works at various stages of application and construction. The truth of the matter is they will not be in a position to welcome additional students and to keep classes at a suitable size until and unless these works are carried out. My overarching plea this evening is that we push ahead with all school building projects to ensure school capacity is bolstered as soon as possible to cater to current students and to children and young people arriving from Ukraine.

To my knowledge, schools, including Holy Family Community School in Rathcoole, St. Joseph's College in Lucan and Lucan Community College, are oversubscribed already for September and all of those schools are due to get new buildings. In the meantime, students are having to travel outside the county to places such as Kildare in order to find a school place. I can only imagine that the addition of Ukrainian students, while welcome, is going to increase waiting lists and put further pressure on those schools. We must push ahead with the school building programme. We need to do it at an advanced rate to ensure that we are accommodating all students in buildings that are fit for purpose and that we are creating positive learning environments.

I represent a rapidly growing area with not one but two strategic development zones and yet recently the Department of Education rescinded a site earmarked for a school in our new town of Clonburris, which will accommodate 11,000 people. In the context of the increased demand for school places, demand that is driven by local growth and the influx of Ukrainian children and young people, who we have an absolute moral duty to accommodate, will the Minister commit to reconsidering this decision and to establishing a school in Clonburris?

I want to be clear that the school building programme continues apace. It is to the credit of all involved that even during lockdown, we managed to continue to do the work that needed to be done. There is no question of the school building programme not progressing as it should, and rightly so.

The primary issue raised by the Deputy related to accommodation being made for Ukrainian students. I reiterate to the House the commitment of the Government to welcoming people fleeing the war in Ukraine and seeking protection here in Ireland. I appreciate that is also the view of the Deputy, as it is the shared view of this House. The Department's primary concern is to ensure that children and young people of schoolgoing age from Ukraine are provided with appropriate educational opportunities in the coming period.

I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to address this matter. The Department already has valuable data, as I have outlined, on the potential capacity of schools and is working to supplement this further through engagement with schools and education partners. The Department's GIS facilitates spatial analysis and reporting capabilities to better interpret and utilise this data. Arrangements for the REALT to have access to this information are currently being put in place and this will support those teams in their work to find appropriate school places for Ukrainian children.

To be clear in terms of capacity and demands, going forward, we have a significant building programme in acknowledgement that there will be growth and specific development in particular areas, which demands particular consideration. Some areas have been designated as having growth potential and as areas of high growth as a consequence of our GIS studies and engagement with the local authorities, which are a significant source of information for future planning. All of these points are taken into consideration when areas are designated and earmarked for future development.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 10.55 p.m. go dtí 9.50 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 6 Aibreán 2022.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.55 p.m. until 9.50 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 April 2022.