I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to the House and congratulate him on his elevation to a position where he is responsible for matters of tourism and sport. I wish him well and hope he has a long career as a Minister of State.
Sport and Recreational Development
I add to the Cathaoirleach's words of welcome and it is great to see another man from the west obtaining ministerial office. I hope he enjoys the experience and I wish him well.
The issue I want to raise concerns a leisure centre project that is crucial to the Finn Valley area of Donegal. It began as a co-operation between Donegal County Council and a local community group under the aegis of the Finn Valley athletic club. These parties were endeavouring to develop a leisure centre in the Ballybofey-Stranorlar twin towns area. This emerged into a larger project that would service a larger area. A company limited by guarantee has been established and there are a number of directors on the board from Donegal County Council and the Finn Valley athletic club.
The indicative costing associated with the project is approximately €8.7 million, and a commitment for €3.8 million in grant aid was given by the previous Minister responsible for arts, sport and tourism, with matched funding of €5.1 million to be made available by Donegal County Council. Some of the money was to be raised as a loan from the council. Approval was given to proceed to seek expressions of interest from contractors and subsequently to seek tenders from them. That process has been completed in conjunction with the Department and Donegal County Council. The tenders have been obtained. The current position is that completed tenders were submitted to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport by Donegal County Council and the project management company. The Department subsequently forwarded the tender documentation to the Office of Public Works so it could be examined by the office's technical staff. I understand from the OPW and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, that work on the tender documentation has been completed by the OPW and been sent back to the Department.
Just one more step needs to be taken. A great deal of the hard work has been done. The only remaining step involves the Minister getting his hands on a good pen or biro and signing the document giving approval to proceed with the project. I understand that the money is available and has been ringfenced in the Department. The council is ready to go. If we can get the approval, not only will many jobs be created during the construction phase of the project, but an important facility will be delivered to the whole Finn Valley area. I acknowledge the work done by many people on the ground, including Mr. Patsy McGonagle of Finn Valley AC and many councillors, particularly my local colleague, Mr. Patrick McGowan, to bring this project to its current stage. I hope we will hear some good news tonight. The project needs to be progressed to construction stage. If it gets the green light, there will be much delight in the Finn Valley area. If the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, can give the green light, he will be more than welcome to cut the ribbon.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue on the Adjournment. Under the local authority swimming pool programme administered by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, a maximum of €3.8 million in grant aid is provided to local authorities towards the capital costs of new swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. In both cases, this is subject to the total grant not exceeding 80% of the eligible cost of the project or, in the case of projects located in disadvantaged areas, 90% of the eligible cost. Proposals must comply with the standards set out in a departmental document, Procedures for the Planning, Approval and Financing of Swimming Pools and Technical Guidelines. Under the guidelines, there are four principal stages in a swimming pool project following the submission of a feasibility study. These, in order of progress, are preliminary report, contract documents, tender and construction. The Department and its technical advisers, the Office of Public Works, evaluate each stage. Local authorities cannot proceed to the next stage of a project unless prior approval is issued by the Department.
Some 58 projects have been or are being dealt with under the local authority swimming pool programme since 2000. Some 46 of them have been completed and two have passed tender report stage. Ten other projects are at various stages of the programme. Five of them are preparing contract documents, three of them are preparing preliminary reports and two of them are at the tender document stage. Of the 46 pools that have been completed and opened under the current round, 14 are new pools, 21 are replacement pools and 11 are refurbished pools. The 12 remaining pools that are at various stages in the process consist of five new pools, three replacement pools and four refurbishment pools. The total expenditure under the programme from 2000 to 2010 was €145 million. This leveraged a total investment of €406 million in respect of the 48 pools for which grant aid was approved. The €6.65 million that has been allocated for 2011 will be sufficient to meet this year's commitments under the current round of the programme.
In January 2009, contract documents were approved for a new swimming pool in Ballybofey. This allowed Donegal County Council to proceed to the next stage, which is the preparation of a tender report. The tender report in this case was submitted to the Department on 30 May 2011. It was immediately forwarded to the Office of Public Works for technical examination. The tender report was approved by the Office of Public Works on 7 June last. The Department is awaiting further information from Donegal County Council with regard to the project before it submits the tender report to the Minister for approval. A request for this information was first conveyed to the council on 1 June last. It has now arrived in the Department. Some of it did not arrive until yesterday. It is being examined with a view to preparing a submission to me to approve the tender report. I expect to receive this submission in the coming days. I will make a decision on the tender report shortly after that. The documentation that was required from the county council arrived in the Department yesterday.
I thank the Minister of State for the clarity of his response. Replies to Adjournment debates in this House are often not clear. This statement was extremely clear. I will give the Minister a copy of the artist's impression of the project. I hope he will look with favour on the request and sign off on it when the final document comes to his desk. As a Mayo man, I am sure he will have no hesitation in looking after these projects in Donegal, which is also a western county.
I have approved two projects already this year. If everything is in order, I will not be found wanting. I will not hold it up when it comes to my desk. The funding is in place. We are waiting for the documentation to come to us.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, to the House. I congratulate him and wish him well.
I also welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him. Perhaps a couple of minutes of time can be given to Senator Mullins, who has an interest in this matter because the victim in this case came from his locality.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I raise the case of an Irishman who died in Mannheim in Germany on 11 December 2010. He had been working for a Cork-based company. I believe its headquarters is in Fermoy, County Cork. There are conflicting accounts of the circumstances of his death. The German authorities say he took his own life, but they have produced no medical evidence to support this contention. The German autopsy reached the same conclusion, despite the fact that there was no psychological evidence to suggest he might be likely to take his own life. In fact, it was contra-indicated. People who take their own lives usually distribute favoured possessions. They do not buy Christmas presents and make detailed arrangements to travel home. There is a contradiction in that respect.
The death of the man in question occurred on 11 December 2010. The autopsy report I mentioned was compiled a couple of days later. A further autopsy was held in Dublin on 18 December 2010. This autopsy is extremely important. I will outline the circumstances of the night this man died for the Minister of State. This man had ended a nine-year relationship with a German woman. He had texted her that night to ask her to return the keys of the apartment immediately. Loud noises — violent blows being struck and anguished voices — were heard by neighbours. In the morning, a neighbouring woman discovered the body and claimed she found it hanging. This is of interest because of the results of the Irish autopsy report and what we know from the German side. The distribution of blood in the body suggested a blunt trauma as a result of the man being struck with an instrument and rendered unconscious. There was evidence of strangulation. There was evidence that he had been suspended artificially post mortem.
After the body was returned to Ireland, the Irish autopsy took place on 18 December. It was undertaken by the deputy State pathologist, Dr. Khalid Jabbar. Some 35 injuries on Matthew's body could not be accounted for. It is important that I read these details into the record. The injuries included a blunt force trauma to the back of the head, numerous contusions and abrasions to the face and body and a severe injury to the lower back consistent with blunt force trauma. There were also some neck injuries, including a fracture to the neck bone associated with forceful ligature strangulation. Both autopsies concluded that death occurred by strangulation. The German autopsy assumed — I believe incorrectly — that he had hanged himself. Matthew's injuries were found by the Irish autopsy to be defensive and could not have been self-inflicted. Dr. Jabbar informed the coroner that the head injury might have rendered Matthew unconscious for sufficient time for strangulation to be inflicted. The German autopsy report did not refer to a head injury at all. That is very significant. The German police are not being co-operative, unfortunately. They are insisting that it was a case of suicide. They are insisting that the family go through a legal process to acquire the records they want to see. By the time that process is exhausted, those records might well have been destroyed by the German police.
I ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to intervene.
I welcome the Minister of State. I sincerely thank Senator Norris for sharing time with me on this issue. As the Cathaoirleach will recall, I raised it some weeks ago on the Order of Business.
Senator Norris outlined in considerable detail the circumstances of this case. Needless to say, the deceased's extended family is distraught at his death. They are convinced that Matthew did not commit suicide. Obviously, the Coroner's Court in Dublin, in returning an open verdict, had serious concerns. The various injuries that Senator Norris outlined are in the public domain at this stage. The Mannheim police, as has been correctly stated, indicated that his death was due to suicide.
The family and I are extremely concerned at the number of injuries found on Matthew's body. Certainly, there were grounds to have this case reopened. I support Senator Norris in asking the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to use his influence with his counterpart in Germany to get the police to re-open this case. There are serious concerns and serious doubts. The family cannot be expected to continue their lives with this doubt and uncertainty over what happened their loved one in Mannheim in Germany on 11 December 2010. I note some work has been done on this case but the family is concerned that it is not getting the co-operation from the German authorities that it would like. I strongly support the call by Senator Norris tonight to ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to do everything possible to help the Fitzpatrick family in their hour of need.
I congratulate Senator Paddy Burke on his appointment as Cathaoirleach.
I thank Senators Norris and Mullins for raising this important issue. I take this opportunity to extend my sincere condolences to the extended family of the person mentioned by the Senators. It is traumatic for any family to learn of the death of a loved one and for this to have occurred overseas, in tragic circumstances, can only increase the family's distress. I understand that while he died on 11 December, the family were not informed of his death until approximately 36 hours after his death which greatly added to their grief.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was first alerted to his death in Mannheim, Germany, on 13 December 2010. The German authorities returned the cause of death as suicide. However, when the remains were repatriated to Ireland, a post-mortem examination was carried out in Dublin by the Deputy State Pathologist. On 22 April, at the Coroner's Court in Dublin, a jury returned an open verdict on the cause of death. I understand the family wishes to have the police investigation in Germany into the cause of death reopened.
As I am sure the Senators will appreciate, any re-opening of a police investigation may raise the possibility of future legal proceedings. As I would not wish to prejudice any matter which may be put forward for the determination of a court, I will limit my comments here to the consular matters involved, and the consular assistance provided thus far by the Department to the deceased's family.
The Department has been in regular contact with the deceased's family since we were notified of his death. Consular assistance has been provided by the embassy in Berlin and by the consular assistance section here in Dublin. The arrangements made by the Department included facilitating contacts with police, undertakers and lawyers in Germany and with the Dublin County Coroner's Office and the Garda Síochána in Ireland.
An officer from the embassy in Berlin travelled to Mannheim on 15 December 2010 and met relatives of the deceased. The embassy supplied details of English-speaking funeral directors in the region to assist the family in making arrangements for repatriation. The embassy provided assistance in dealing with the mortuary, local authorities and the appointed funeral director on behalf of the family. The embassy also supplied a list of English-speaking lawyers practising locally so that the family could get professional legal advice on the case and procedures involved.
Following repatriation of the deceased's remains, the Embassy provided unofficial translation services for a considerable amount of documentation to facilitate the family's contacts with the German authorities and also translated a number of representations made by the family into German, as Mannheim police had made clear that it was unable to process communications in English.
Subsequently, the family expressed its desire to gain access to the deceased's apartment to retrieve his personal effects, and informed the embassy that an embassy liaison person was required for this purpose by the Mannheim police. An officer from the embassy again travelled to Mannheim on 7 January to assist the family in this process, and provided assistance in mediating between the family of the deceased and the family of his former partner.
I am also informed that the embassy requested the assistance of the Garda liaison officer in The Hague, Netherlands, to further assist the family. The Department understands, from our contacts with the family, that this link with their local gardaí has been much appreciated, and that the response received overall from the Garda Síochána has been of great support to the family. In addition, the embassy in Berlin provided unofficial courtesy translation of extensive police notes on the man's death.
On 22 March 2011, the Garda liaison officer based in The Hague and the officer from the embassy in Berlin travelled to Mannheim to meet the police officer who led the investigation into the death. I understand that a senior representative of the state prosecutor's office of Baden-Württemberg was also present at this meeting. The embassy assisted the family to communicate its concerns regarding the manner in which the police investigation had been conducted.
It is the understanding of the Department, at this point, that the state prosecutor's office in Baden-Württemberg is now considering the report of the Coroner's Court in Dublin and is awaiting documentation from the family. Clearly, it would not be appropriate for us to interfere with any investigation currently under way in that jurisdiction. As I am sure the Senator will be aware, the German authorities are fully expected to deal with all operational matters involved in such an investigation. I am also informed that the Department has advised the family to take professional legal advice on its current position and on the legal options now open to it to pursue this case.
The Tánaiste, who asked me to represent him here this evening, has agreed to meet with the family and I hope that this can be arranged for an early date. The head of the Department's consular services in Dublin met members of the deceased's family on 25 May and was due to meet them again this week. I understand that the family have advised that it may not have all of the documentation it had hoped to pass on to the Department available and that this meeting may now take place next week instead.
The Department, through the embassy in Berlin, and the consular assistance section in Dublin, will continue to provide all possible consular assistance to the family, and will continue to facilitate their dealings with the relevant German authorities in pursuit of their case.
Has Senator Norris a question?
It is more of a comment and a congratulations because the Minister of State has satisfied me and, I would imagine, Senator Mullins as well. It is a deeply tragic case. The additional element is that it took place at Christmas when this gentleman was buying Christmas presents and actively preparing to come home, and his family were then not informed in good time.
I encourage the Minister to ensure that the autopsy report from Dublin is made available to the German police. That is terribly important. I do not believe they can withstand the overwhelming evidence that there is something here that needs to be examined further and prosecuted.
I agree with the Minister that it would be invidious for any debate in the Seanad to prejudice a possible future court case. I express my gratitude, and I am sure that of Senator Mullins. I do not have the privilege of knowing this family but it was good, proper and useful that full consular assistance was made available, in particular, language and legal assistance. I thank the Minister for his help.
The case is being considered by the prosecutors, who, we understand, have received a copy of the coroner's report and are currently awaiting further documentation from the family. We should await the outcome of this process.
I apologise for the state of my voice. My throat is still not in great shape. However, I take the opportunity to welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have known him for many years. He is one of the hardest working Deputies I have met in my term of office. Perhaps this is a parochial issue and I should take up the matter in the morning but I believe it will become a national issue. I come from what I consider to be the tourism capital of our country. Not too many of my colleagues could pinpoint the tourism capital of the country. With respect to my west of Ireland colleagues and my colleague from the south east, as someone who comes from the north east of the country and the Cooley Peninsula I state categorically that Carlingford is the tourism capital of the country.
During the week I heard that the Garda patrol car had been withdrawn already from the town of Carlingford. This is a major blow to Carlingford, north Louth and the Cooley Peninsula. We are only five miles from the Border and the population of approximately 4,500 people have been used to a Garda patrol car. Some five gardaí and one sergeant work in the town and the car has been taken from them. I understood this was because it reached the end of its life span at 300,000 miles. Apparently, a low-loader came from Dublin on Friday and lifted it.
This is a densely populated area and Carlingford is a busy town throughout the year with many tourist attractions. There is a wide hinterland, three hotels, many bed and breakfast establishments and, the Minister of State will be pleased to hear, many successful small businesses. Without a Garda car, policing standards will decline. I am deeply concerned that the word will go out that the patrol car has been withdrawn from the Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula area. We are not too far from Dublin and Belfast and the question of apprehending people will come into consideration. We have a busy, deep sea port in the area, several credit unions, ATMs and so on. This is a major blow for the local Garda force. One patrol car does not suffice or meet the policing requirements of this busy tourism area.
I appeal to the Minister of State that if anything can be done to restore the situation whereby a police car operates in Carlingford, it should be done. The car covered 300,000 miles in five years which justifies its existence. I appeal to the Minister to consider replacing that car.
I convey apologies on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, who cannot be here. On his behalf, I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I am aware that the Senator has taken an active interest in the issue and has raised it on several occasions with the Minister. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, the Minister regrets that he is not in a position to respond to the Senator here this evening.
The Senator will be aware that, arising from the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the allocation of Garda resources, including transport, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. The Commissioner exercises these functions in consultation with his senior management team. Such allocations are decided on the basis of the Commissioner's identified operational requirements and priorities, while taking into account several factors, including population, crime trends and the policing needs of each division.
At divisional level, responsibility for the efficient deployment of Garda vehicles to meet operational requirements is a matter for the divisional officer, a Chief Superintendent. In this regard the process involves the allocation of the resources available to meet policing needs of the division as a whole and full account is taken of the needs of all the areas concerned, including particular requirements.
The Minister for Justice and Equality consulted the Garda Commissioner in respect of the specific concerns raised by the Senator. In this connection he has been advised by the Garda authorities that the patrol car previously allocated to Carlingford Garda Station was withdrawn from service on 23 June this year. However, the Minister has been informed that arrangements have also been put in place by the divisional officer to deploy the Garda car assigned to Omeath between both stations, to ensure that services to the local community are maintained. In addition, the Garda authorities have reported that this arrangement makes the best use of available resources and they are satisfied that it will contribute significantly towards the policing of both areas. The Minister has been further assured by the Garda authorities that the allocation of Garda transport along with overall policing arrangements within the Louth division will be kept under ongoing review to ensure that the best possible service is provided to the public. I am aware that Carlingford is a beautiful part of the world. The Minister is aware of the situation and will monitor it closely. The Senator can be assured of it.
I thank the Minister of State.
National Carers’ Strategy
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The matter for discussion is the need for a comprehensive strategy for carers. Last week in the Chamber we held a discussion about people being cared for and the need to ensure that elderly people were treated in the home as much as possible. This was in the context of discussing the fair deal scheme and people being treated in nursing homes. The Minister referred to the need for a comprehensive strategy for carers.
Many people in communities look after children with disabilities, elderly, frail people and people with various disabilities. They do Trojan work in the community. According to the 2002 census a total of 148,754 people cared for others in the State. This figure will be updated shortly. Of that, some 40,526 are full-time and 108,228 are part-time. They carry out 3 million hours of work every week, saving the State more than €2 billion.
In Waterford there are more than 4,000 carers which makes up more than 5% of the population. I have worked closely with the Carers Association in Waterford in recent years. I have attended many conferences and events that the association has held to raise awareness about the needs of carers and to advocate on behalf of carers and those for whom they care. I am acutely aware of the desperate situation in which many carers find themselves. The Minister of State will agree that many people become carers overnight when a loved one is the victim of a stroke or when a child is born with a severe disability. This can be a daunting situation. Often it falls to organisations such as the Carers Association which relies on fund-raising to fill the gaps. Many of those caring for very ill people do not have adequate supports, training and education. Individuals are carrying out work in their home in the course of caring for elderly relatives or those with disabilities which would be undertaken by multidisciplinary teams of staff working around the clock in private nursing homes and residential care facilities. For example, I met a woman last year who was caring for her husband. She weighs nine and a half stone but has to lift her husband of 13 stone into the bath tub. Carers throughout the State are experiencing the same difficulties. They do very good work which is often neither recognised nor rewarded by the State.
The Carers Association is seeking the publication of a national strategy for carers which deals comprehensively with all of their needs. Financial support is part of this in terms of the respite grant, carer's allowance and so on. However, carers also have health needs. I am aware of many who have become ill as a result of the stress associated with caring. They do it out of love for the person for whom they are caring and because they consider it their duty. However, they often put themselves in danger because of the strenuous nature of their activities. A recent "Prime Time Investigates" programme showed the difficulties experienced by parents caring for children with disabilities. A lack of adequate supports makes the job of all carers much more difficult. There are also social aspects to consider. The provision of adequate respite support enables carers to live some type of normal life.
The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, recently said there would be a review of funding for caring for people in the home and that we had to prioritise health spending to ensure there was a greater focus on community care. I hope the Government will go further than this. I have attended various national events organised by the Carers Association at which members of the parties now in government gave clear commitments — not only in the lead-up to the general election but over many years — that they would come forward with a national carers strategy. It would be useful if the Government established an interdepartmental task force to examine the holistic needs of carers in order to ensure they were part of the strategy.
It is important to bear in mind that there are many young people who are carers; the role is not confined to older people. Each group of carers requires different supports. A national strategy must make provision for a vast range of needs. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. The programme for Government contains a commitment to "develop a national carers strategy to support carers and address the issues of concern". The Government will consider how best to progress the development of the strategy, taking into account the prevailing economic realities and the work previously carried out.
Each Department is carrying out a comprehensive review of expenditure. This will help to clarify strategic priorities and the resources available within each Department. Following this, the Government will be in a position to consider how best to progress the development of a carers strategy. A significant amount of work was carried out by the previous cross-departmental working group which was chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach. The Departments of Finance, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Health and Children and Social Protection, the Health Service Executive and FÁS were represented on the group. The group met on six occasions during 2008 and the expertise of other Departments and agencies was drawn on as particular issues were considered. Discussions were also held with colleagues in Northern Ireland. A wide-ranging consultation process was undertaken which included a meeting with the social partners, two meetings with carer representative groups and a public consultation process.
While each of the themes set out in the terms of reference was examined in terms of the current position, because of the prevailing economic situation it was not possible to agree future targets or time limits which could be achieved. Given that these economic difficulties have intensified, the delivery of a strategy will not be easy, despite the Government's commitment to it. It will have to be developed and implemented within the resources available, taking into account our IMF and EU commitments, as well as the outcome of the comprehensive review of expenditure.
Caring is a complex field involving several Departments. Although carers can sometimes feel their work goes unnoticed by the State, their communities or even their families, the important and valuable role played by them in society is recognised by the Government. Caring for another person can have a huge impact on carers and their families and this is particularly true when that care is provided on a full-time basis. Becoming a carer can be a rewarding experience, but it often involves great sacrifices. It can have implications for all aspects of a person's life from taxation to transport and from social welfare payments to accessing health services. Reflecting this, services and supports for carers are delivered by a variety of Departments and bodies.
The Department of Social Protection which provides several income support payments on a weekly basis will have a major role in developing and implementing a strategy. There are more than 51,000 in receipt of a carer's allowance payment from the Department. This includes more than 21,000 who are receiving a half-rate carer's allowance in addition to another social welfare payment. More than 1,600 are in receipt of carer's benefit. In addition to this group of 52,600, more than 17,000 people who are not in receipt of a carer's allowance or benefit payment received the annual respite care grant of €1,700 this month.
The estimated expenditure for carers in 2011, including carer's allowance, carer's benefit and the respite care grant, is approximately €658 million. This does not include the household benefits package or free travel which carers also receive. However, many of the issues of most concern to them are the responsibility of other Departments, in particular the Department of Health. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, recently met representatives of the Carers Association who outlined the particular concerns of carers. Together with the development of a strategy, these include issues such as front-line services and general supports for the disabled. The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive are committed to the continued provision of supports to allow people, as far as possible within the constraints of available resources, to remain in their homes.
It is not possible at this time to outline the contents of the strategy as it has not been drafted. However, the commitment to develop a strategy during the lifetime of the Government is important. It will prompt all Departments to address issues of concern for carers, some of which I have mentioned. I take the opportunity to acknowledge the significant role played by carers in Irish society and reiterate the Government's commitment to providing appropriate support both for carers and those who are being looked after.
I thank the Minister of State for his response and welcome his acknowledgment of the role played by carers. I also welcome the recent meeting between the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and representatives of the Carers Association. The Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, has indicated that the delivery of a national strategy and the allocation of resources will be dependent on what is possible within the commitments we have given to the IMF and the European Central Bank. It should not be accountants or financiers, either nationally or internationally, who decide whether people in the State receive care. That is the primary responsibility of the Government and it has social as well as economic commitments. We must ensure the State vindicates the rights of its citizens in an area such as this. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure that is the case.
I reiterate that the Government has great concern and respect for the role of carers and will be as sympathetic as possible to their needs within the limited resources available to the State. The Government's strategy is to maintain quality of life for people being cared for in their home, the best location in which to receive care. I know from the experience of my own family that the role of carers is absolutely essential. The Government is committed to ensuring, within the constraints imposed by our limited resources, that we secure value for money in delivering the necessary services. We will deal directly with those who provide the service, that is, carers.