Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 12 Feb 2013

Vol. 221 No. 1

Adjournment Matters

Rural Transport Services Provision

I welcome the Minister of State. The issue I wish to raise concerns the rural transport scheme especially in Kerry. I understand the 12 months contracts have been shortened to six months and I am concerned as to what will happen when the six month contracts expire.

The programme for Government commits to maintaining and extending the rural transport programme with other local transport services in as much as that is practicable.

The Government recognises that this programme, which was launched in 2007 following a pilot project between 2002 and 2007, can play a major role in combatting rural isolation and enhancing the mobility, accessibility and community participation of local people, particularly those at risk of social exclusion. This year, €9.1333 million is being allocated to the rural transport programme corresponding to some 93% of the 2012 allocation. This represents only a small decrease at a time when very difficult decisions have had to be taken to curtail or postpone other programmes. Given the limited resources, it is imperative that we deliver the rural transport programme in an efficient and effective way so as to achieve maximum value for the funding while providing a better service to users.

At present, 35 community transport groups around the country are being funded under the programme of which Kerry Community Transport Limited is one. I am advised that Kerry Community Transport Limited carried 145,970 passengers in 2012 and covered over 95 towns and villages. In the period 2003-12 the company has carried 992,964 passengers. Kerry Community Transport Limited has been allocated €574,859 rural transport programme funding in 2013.

I am well aware of the very valuable work done on the ground by these groups in ensuring that the transport needs of their local community are being identified and delivered within available resources.

However, given the limited resources and the recommendations of the value-for-money and policy review of the RTP published last year, it is essential that the current delivery mechanisms and structures are examined and revised.

In particular, the VFM review recommended organisational restructuring of the RTP to achieve greater programme efficiencies and beneficial economies of scale. The review also recommended that better alignment be established between the 35 RTP groups and local authorities.

Against this background, in January 2012 the Government approved new arrangements for the development and implementation of integrated local and rural transport services. These new arrangements are aimed at eliminating service duplication, better targeting of services at those with greatest need and the rationalisation of administrative structures relating to service planning.

The National Transport Authority, NTA, has been assigned national responsibility for local and rural transport services integration, including the rural transport programme, effective from 1 April 2012, putting such services in a broader transport context. The NTA is working to implement the recommendations of the VFM review.

A new high-level committee, the national integrated rural transport, NIRT, committee was established in April 2012, comprising key stakeholders and chaired by the NTA, to oversee and manage a partnership approach to implementing integrated local and rural transport in order to achieve greater synergies, better meet identified transport needs and deliver increased value for money for the Exchequer. I expect the committee to present a number of projects to me over the coming months which will test the level of integration that can be achieved across school, RTP and health services. The NTA is currently working with the committee to identify suitable projects.

I should acknowledge that integration measures are already being undertaken by various RTP groups. A recent survey conducted by the NTA showed that 28 RTP groups are involved at some level in working groups for integrated transport. In total, there are 23 working groups in place around the country, of which 19 could be deemed "active working groups". As a result, some very valuable groundwork is already being done to raise awareness of transport integration opportunities, to establish working relationships with key stakeholders at local level and in a number of cases, to advance integration projects towards implementation of services on the ground.

In relation to the revised organisational structures, work is under way to determine the optimal structure for the delivery of rural transport from an efficiency and service perspective. Discussions are taking place with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the County and City Managers Association and the Rural Transport Network in the context of aligning the new structure with the local authority structure. Any revised structure must be devised having regard to current policy on the public service, including employment and pay policy. I am hopeful that agreement on the revised structure will be achieved in the second half of this year.

I must be clear, however, that the current structures of the RTP are not sustainable if the required efficiencies and savings are to be achieved. If these are not achieved, then with the limited resources available, services will decline. I do not want this to be the outcome.

Pending agreement on the revised structure, the contracts of RTF groups, including the Kerry Community Transport Limited contract, have been extended until end June 2013, with an option to roll the contracts over for a further six months if the restructuring programme has not commenced. While I can understand and fully appreciate that this creates a level of uncertainty for RTF groups, I am hopeful that the outcome will be a better service delivered more efficiently. I will work with all involved over the coming months to make any transition as smooth as possible.

Rural transport is a critical component of public transport services that is vital for the development of a fully inclusive society from both a social and economic perspective. I assure the Senator of my personal commitment to the continuation of appropriate local transport services to those in need in rural areas, while achieving the best value for money for the Exchequer through more efficient delivery structures and integrated services.

As the Minister of State will be well aware, the rural transport scheme in Kerry is a vital piece of infrastructure, especially in combatting social isolation for those who are living alone and who, except for the scheme, would be isolated not only from their towns and neighbours, but from those of their own age group whom the rural transport scheme manages to bring together.

I note the Minister of State's answer. I am not entirely convinced that those involved in the rural transport scheme in Kerry will be comforted by it. I note he stated it could roll over if agreement has not been reached, but I fear that there are many issues to be ironed out and that if the rural transport scheme is cut back in any way, those benefiting would suffer the most. That is something with which we would not be happy and would not support. All I can say to the Minister of State is that as the situation develops and unfolds, I am sure we will have him back in the Chamber.

I am well aware of the rural transport issues in Kerry. As Senator Daly will be well aware, I know the area-----

In particular, Waterville.

-----including his own town, extremely well. I also visited the group a year or more ago.

We are stuck in a structure where there is a value-for-money report of which we need to meet certain requirements. There is a defined amount of funding. There is a defined requirement that we must meet given the financial circumstances.

However, I am a committed supporter of rural transport groups and the voluntary nature of what they do. I do not know whether there has ever been a Minister who has visited as many of them. I probably have met them all in some way, whether in their own areas or at the various different conferences which I have always tried to attend.

I believe we must get to a stage where there is greater joined-up thinking between rural transport, non-acute HSE transport, school transport and voluntary transport. This, in tandem with the rural hackney licence, which is a proposal that has come out of my Department, would help deal with the transport service issues in isolated rural areas and all of their social and economic consequences. We are making much progress in that regard. For instance, we are close to issuing tenders on some school routes as they go to and from villages and towns all over the country serving schools and the buses come back, and head out on the reverse routes, empty. That is an issue that should have been addressed many years ago and it is being addressed. For many years, the HSE has been spending quite a quantity of funding on non-acute transport, particularly taxis, and we have a working groups looking at that issue.

All of this is aligned with work with local authorities to ensure that there is consistency in approach. For example, there is no point in 15-seat minibuses trying to serve areas where there is not joined-up thinking with the local authorities as regards making provision for those buses to be able to go in those areas. There are also many other areas with which the local authorities can help.

Lining up all of those areas together, not alone can we negate the fact that due to the economic circumstances there is not as much funding available, but we can free up and create more services for rural Ireland. We can also align them with national transport services. For instance, the national journey planner, which is being launched, includes all of the RTP services so that if persons are using national services with Bus Éireann or private bus companies, they can also connect up with RTP services. All of this helps to enhance the services in rural Ireland.

I can assure Senator Daly that he will not get somebody who is dug into this as much as I am. I am hopeful that in the future we will be able to develop more comprehensive services as a result of the approach that I am trying to bring about.

Accident and Emergency Services Provision

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, to the House.

I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy White, to the House.

As he will be aware, prior to the last election the issue of Roscommon hospital and Roscommon accident and emergency department was hot on the agenda in the county of Roscommon. Prior to the election, there were promises given by the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, that the accident and emergency department would be retained under his watch, and everybody in the county bought into that. Anyone who might have considered supporting me at the time decided that the next likely Minister for Health would not let them down and they supported Fine Gael.

Subsequently, as the Minister of State will be well aware, the consultants in Roscommon were worried that they were short of staff to ensure that the accident and emergency department operated fully within health and safety guidelines and they wrote to the Department of Health to inform it that they needed extra resources.

At this point HIQA got wind of it, and without ever calling to Roscommon County Hospital, shut down the accident and emergency department, more or less implying the consultants stated it was an unsafe place to work. What we have seen in recent weeks, with regard to the hospital in Kilkenny and extra funding for the accident and emergency department in Wexford General Hospital, has re-opened the debate on the accident and emergency department in Roscommon County Hospital. The people of Roscommon quite rightly feel aggrieved because instead of HIQA shutting down the accident and emergency department, investment could have been made in it to ensure it was up to the required standard. We must bear in mind an investment of €17 million was made in recent years in the accident and emergency department in Roscommon County Hospital. It is state-of-the-art and all that was lacking was the support staff sought by the consultants.

I had received a commitment from the former CEO of the HSE, Professor Drumm, that the accident and emergency department at Roscommon County Hospital would not be closed and that albeit it was under threat by the previous Administration, there was no question of it being closed. Although this was a HSE agenda with which Fianna Fáil was going to play ball, I had received a commitment from Professor Drumm that the doors of the accident and emergency department would not close until the advanced paramedics were up and running and had proven to the people of Roscommon over a period of six months that their service was every bit as good as, if not better than, an accident and emergency department. This promise was also reneged upon.

I have always stated HIQA was established by the HSE to be its chopping block and everything it has done to date has proven me right. In recent times HIQA was asked whether a health and safety issue would arise if many HSE front-line staff took early retirement and pressure was put on the services. It answered that it has no role in staffing, but it had a bloody role in staffing when it came to Roscommon County Hospital accident and emergency department. It stated it was time to close down the department because the staffing was not there.

I ask the Minister of State to relay back to the Minister, Deputy Reilly, that at this late stage he should consider putting in place a stabilisation unit in the accident and emergency department at Roscommon County Hospital so people in the area who have heart attacks, strokes or accidents can be dealt with, stabilised and moved to an appropriate hospital. At least they would know there was something behind the doors and would feel safe at night if something unforeseen happened. People feel let down.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. In the notice for this Adjournment debate, the Senator used the phrase the "most appropriate hospital" for treatment of those serious conditions which he described and I also note his appreciation that transfer to such facilities is essential. One of the key functions of pre-hospital emergency care is stabilisation. On arrival at an incident, paramedics and advanced paramedics assess, treat and stabilise the patient, prior to transporting him or her to the most appropriate, which is not necessarily the closest, facility. This treatment continues during transit.

Given this and the fact these types of patient, in particular those suffering cardiac arrest and stroke, are time-critical - which the Senator emphasised and was correct to do so - there is no clinical value in diverting to a stabilisation unit before continuing to a level 3 or 4 hospital, when stabilisation has already been done by the ambulance crew. It is worth noting also that a bypass protocol, diverting ambulances to level 3 and 4 hospitals for life-threatening cardiac, respiratory and other serious conditions was put in place for Roscommon County Hospital before the emergency department was closed in 2011, in line with national clinical care protocols for best practice and safe management of a patient with a heart attack or stroke. These protocols require such patients to be treated in a level 3 or 4 hospital as a level 2 hospital does not have a critical care unit.

Accident victims should only be managed in a hospital with a full emergency department with the necessary available acute care backup, including ICU. The essence is that patients should go to the hospital best able to treat them. This is particularly important for heart attack and stroke victims whose survival rate and long-term prognosis is dependent on how quickly they reach an appropriate hospital.

None of the national clinical care programmes envisages the development of "stabilisation units" in model 2 hospitals. It is debatable whether these would improve outcomes for patients or whether they would actually delay them from reaching the necessary level of care in an appropriate facility with the necessary clinical expertise and equipment to fully meet their needs. Having said that, I and the Minister for Health acknowledge that Roscommon County Hospital is leading the way by demonstrating the range of services that can be developed in a smaller hospital. In July 2011, Roscommon County Hospital commenced a process of reconfiguring services in line with HIQA recommendations. I respectfully disagree with the Senator's description of HIQA as a chopping block for the HSE. HIQA does important expert work through its role in our health services and is a very important institution. It is also a requirement for excellent health services that we have a body such as HIQA doing the type of work it does.

Roscommon County Hospital now has a medical assessment unit that is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday for the assessment of medical patients who are referred by GPs, after initial phone triage with one of the medical consultants to ensure the medical assessment unit is the appropriate care pathway for the patient. In addition, it has an urgent care centre open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 7 days a week, which deals with minor injuries and trauma, as the Senator is well aware. Developments in 2012 include plastic and reconstructive surgery, sleep studies, urology services, a radiology upgrade, a newly-developed endoscopy suite, dental service, nurse prescribing and re-accreditation for student nurse training.

Roscommon County Hospital played a key role in the Galway Roscommon hospital group, with more than 520 endoscopy procedures transferred from Galway to Roscommon. Future plans for Roscommon County Hospital will see increases in elective inpatient care, in particular in endoscopy, plans for which are well advanced with design agreed, site identified, tender documents complete, funding secured and awaiting planning permission. Roscommon County Hospital is an excellent example of delivering appropriate care in the appropriate setting to maximise patient safety and resources.

I expected nothing from the Department other than the response given by the Minister of State, because it appears it has a total reluctance to revisit the issue which is so important to the people of Roscommon, bearing in mind Roscommon County Hospital was always considered by virtue of the county's rural nature to be a special case. I also note that in his response the Minister of State said a stabilisation unit was debatable. This means it is unclear and that the Department does not know whether it is the right or wrong thing to do, no more than 45 years ago when the Government thought if we took up our train tracks we would never need them again but now we are putting them back down. The Minister of State said Roscommon County Hospital is leading the way. No matter what is put into Roscommon County Hospital which leads the way, the people of Roscommon want an accident and emergency department. This is all they want. I will not let this issue go and I hope Minister of State will relate this to the Minister, Deputy Reilly.

I cannot state the matter any further than I have. I understand the Senator's concern and he has been to the fore on this question and makes his case well, as he has done in the past. Stabilisation is required to be done at an early pre-hospital emergency care stage, and to the extent to which stabilisation is properly done one then looks for the most appropriate facility for the patient. In these circumstances it does not follow that the nearest hospital is the most appropriate. It depends on a clinical assessment. If stabilisation has already been completed it would not be appropriate for a stabilisation unit to be placed in a hospital, as the job can be done at the pre-hospital emergency stage after which the patient goes to hospital. I take the points raised by the Senator.

Schools Building Projects Status

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills to the House and I call on Senator Moran to commence.

I wish to express my sympathy on the death of former Fianna Fáil Senator Jimmy Mulroy who served from 1987 to 1989. He sadly passed away this afternoon. As a colleague from County Louth I would like to express my sympathy.

I welcome the Minister of State here. I wish to raise the matter of a primary school in Dundalk who first applied for an extension 20 years ago. Finally, in 2009 it was added to the Department's list for an extension and the school has already completed stage 1 of the plans for the extension to the Department's satisfaction.

The school personnel, board of management, parents, parents' council, teachers and pupils have reported their dismay to me after they were advised earlier in the year, by letter, that their school had not been included in the five year plan for school extensions and have no guarantee that the project will be completed. I have many years of teaching experience. I have taught in old schools, new schools and in several schools that were hundreds of years old. I can assure the Minister of State that in my experience the environment in which a child is taught is vital to his or her learning experience.

The school building to which I refer is several hundred years old. While the principal and the staff do their utmost to brighten up the classrooms and the best that they can, I know from visiting the school that their job is made much more difficult because of the current state of the building and their limited space. I find it very difficult to comprehend that in 2013 a school which has no staffroom, no computer room, no staff toilet and no resource room can justifiably be excluded from the Department's list and that they have no guarantee when they will get a badly needed extension.

It must be recognised that all schools are vying for students now. Every school holds an open day to attract students and the numbers of pupils dictates the number of teachers required. The state of the school is detrimental to its bid to attract pupils to the school because it is not on the same playing field as other schools who have been granted extensions and have the resources that they need. The school has two classrooms and three prefabs which have greatly reduced the play area. Despite this there is another building on the site which is hundreds of years old and has now gone into total disrepair. It is dilapidated. In my opinion it would have been better to use the dilapidated building rather than pay the astronomical cost to install prefabs. I appreciate that is not the fault of the present Government and that the prefabs have been in situ for years. I acknowledge that the Minister for Education has done a great job on ensuring that prefabs are being replaced.

On my last visit to the school I had to conduct my meeting with the principal in the schoolyard. As a teacher I found that unbelievable. I had to meet her in the schoolyard as all of the classroom space was occupied. When it began to rain we had to conclude our meeting in her car. If one read about this in the 1940s and 1950s one would wonder what was going on. I was dismayed when the principal told me that this is what happens when she needs to conduct meetings and resource teaching is taking place because the school does not have a resource room. I commend the principal and her staff who do an exceptional job with limited resources.

The school is significant because it caters for a diversity of religions. As a parent I feel that parents and pupils deserve the right to send their child to a school which they feel caters to their religious preference. I am concerned that the lack of facilities available at the school could deter parents from sending their children to it. I ask the Minister of State to convey my concerns to the Minister. I also ask that the Minister visits the school in Dundalk and reassesses his decision in order to give all children of all religions equal facilities and equal access to education.

I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, Minister for Education and Skills.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter of the building project for Dún Dealgan national school, Dundalk, County Louth, as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects over the next five years and to clarify the current position of the project.

I shall first set out the context within which decisions have been taken and in which the meeting of accommodation needs of schools must be considered over the coming years. Overall enrolment figures are expected to grow by around 70,000 students between 2012 and 2018 - by over 25,000 at post-primary and 45,000 at primary level. Post-primary level enrolment is expected to continue to rise until at least the year 2024. In order to meet the needs of our growing population of school going children, the Department must establish new schools as well as extending or replacing a number of existing schools in areas where demographic growth has been identified. The delivery of these new schools, together with extension projects to meet future demand, will be the main focus of the Department's capital budget for the coming years.

The five year programme was announced in March 2012. It will provide over 100,000 permanent school places, of which over 80,000 will be new school places. The remainder will involve the replacement of temporary or unsatisfactory accommodation. The project for Dún Dealgan national school entails the construction of an extension to the existing school of approximately 495 sq. m plus associated refurbishment and site works. The school is a four teacher school which has seen enrolments remain relatively consistent over recent years with 87 pupils enrolled in 2000-01 and 96 pupils in the current school year. The school has also received sanctions amounting to €175,000 under various summer works grants over that period.

The project is at an early stage of architectural planning. The project design team was appointed in early 2012 and the board of management was authorised to commence architectural planning. The stage 1 report, which is the initial sketch design stage, was completed and reviewed late last year and the project was authorised to complete stage 2A which is the developed sketch design. In the approval letter which issued on 1 October 2012 the board of management was informed that: "[A]s this project is not on the 5 year construction programme, the Department would advise the Board of Management against entering into arrangements which are time bound until authorisation is given to proceed to tender following completion of the Stage 2B report". My Department is awaiting submission of the stage 2A report from the board of management and its design team. Due to competing demands on my Department's capital budget imposed by the need to prioritise the limited funding available for the provision of additional school accommodation to meet increasing demographic requirements it was not possible to include the project in the five year construction programme announced earlier this year. Schools which have not been included in the five year programme but which had previously been announced for initial inclusion in the building programme will continue to be progressed to final planning stages in anticipation of further funds being available to my Department in future years. The project for Dún Dealgan national school remains available to be considered for progression in that context.

I thank the Senator for allowing me the opportunity to outline the position and I will pass on her concerns to the Minister.

I shall allow Senator Moran to ask a brief question.

I appreciate the Minister of State's comments but he has not given me new information. He gave me information that I already knew or discovered. The argument stands because he said that enrolment has remained static. The enrolment has remained static principally because the school cannot cater for any more students because the buildings are bursting at the seam. From my experience of other schools, and other schools in Dundalk who deservedly got their projects, this school has been seriously curtailed. It is a minority religion school. It has been in Dundalk a long time and has a proud tradition. I ask that the Minister visit the school and reassesses his decision not to include it in the five year plan. There is a case for its inclusion.

I suggest that the Senator extend a written invitation to Minister to visit the school.

I have done so.

I do not want to give a sense that somehow the pause button has been pressed on development in Dún Dealgan and other schools. There are a number of schools across the country who are in similar circumstances. The process whereby they reach the point where they are ready to go to construction will continue. The school has not been set aside because of the five year programme and the demands being placed on the resources on the Department in completing the five-year programme.

These other schools which are outside the programme at present will be progressed to the point at which they are ready to go to construction on the basis that we may be able to look at another iteration of the programme in the years to come or that other funds may arise in circumstances of which we are not aware to allow us to begin that development.

Let me assure the Senator that the school will be progressed along that parallel process to bring it to the point at which it is ready to go for construction. However, as I said in my reply, at this point the pressure on the building unit of the Department is to deliver on the five year programme to meet the major demographic challenge of 75,000 new school entrants in the next four to five years. That is what the unit must respond to at this time and I hope it will get to schools such as Dún Dealgan and others that are in similar situation as soon as possible.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Provision

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. Senator Moloney is very excited that the Minister is present to take this matter.

I am absolutely delighted the Minister is present to deal personally with this issue and did not send anybody else to take his place. I know I have him plagued about the saga of the Kilcummin sewerage scheme as I raise it with him on the corridors and everywhere I meet him. This is a very important issue.

Kilcummin is located just outside Killarney and the saga of the provision of the sewerage scheme is a long and sorry story. In 2007, the proposed sewerage scheme for Kilcummin was given the green light and funding was provided in conjunction with the Barraduff sewerage scheme. Tenders were issued and the contractor was selected to carry out the works. Work started on the Barraduff scheme first. Along the way problems developed with the contractor which resulted in the Kilcummin part of the scheme being pulled. This was the start of the problem for the people of Kilcummin. Nobody knows what happened to the funding that was provided for the Kilcummin scheme. We cannot get a straight answer to that question in County Kerry. We do not know whether the funds were returned to the Department. All we know is that six years later, Kilcummin has no sewerage scheme.

For the information of members, Kilcummin is the largest parish in Ireland and that is one reason for it having proper facilities to deal with sewerage. I will outline other reasons for my belief that funding for the Kilcummin sewerage scheme is necessary. Probably the most important one is that Kilcummin is in the catchment area of Lough Leane and this scheme was listed as a priority in a campaign to tackle pollution in Lough Leane. Lough Leane is one of the major tourist attractions in Kerry and, as the Minister will appreciate, Killarney is renowned for the beauty of its lakes. A number of businesses in Kilcummin pay significant rates to the local authority. One business alone pays more than €10,000 in rates every year. There is a well established nursing home in Kilcummin. In 2006, when the current owners took over the nursing home as a going concern, they were advised by the planners in Kerry County Council that a sewerage scheme would be provided. Since 2006, they have increased their workforce from 26 to 91 staff and they are ready to open a further 16 to 20 beds in the facility and take on another 40 members of staff. Kerry County Council, however, will not entertain the company providing a further expansion of beds until such time as it upgrades its sewerage scheme. This has been costed at €100,000 and it simply does not have that money. The lack of a sewerage scheme is hindering job creation. There is planning permission for a number of houses, subject to the provision of a sewerage scheme, and many people must look for an extension of their permission as the current permission is due to expire. As Members will know, extension of planning permission is for a limited period.

I understand that everything is in order for the Kilcummin sewerage scheme to proceed at Kerry County Council but it must await the approval of funding by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I hope the Minister has come into the Seanad with good news for me to take back to the people of Kilcummin.

I thank Senator Moloney for providing the opportunity to clarify the position on Kilcummin sewerage scheme. As she rightly says, she has made many representations regarding this scheme.

The Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2013 provides for the development of a comprehensive range of new water services infrastructure in County Kerry. The programme includes contracts under construction and to commence to the value of more than €92 million in Kerry during the period of the programme. It also includes a number of schemes in the country to advance through planning.

Kerry County Council has completed eight schemes or contracts which include sewerage schemes for Firies, Milltown, Farranfore, Rathmore and Barraduff and water supply schemes or contracts in Listowel, Caherciveen and Ardfert. The council expects that the Scart reservoir contract, which is part of the central regional water supply scheme and the Waterville water and sewerage scheme, will be completed by this summer. Kerry County Council also expects to go to tender shortly for the sewerage schemes for Ardfert, Ballylongford and Tarbert. The council is also pressing ahead with its water conservation programme throughout the county. The Kilcummin sewerage scheme is included in the programme as a scheme to advance through planning during the life of the programme.

As the Senator mentioned, Kerry County Council awarded a contract for the combined Kilcummin-Barraduff sewerage scheme in 2007 and work commenced on this contract in April 2007. The contractor at the time, however, was also engaged in construction work on another sewerage scheme, the Milltown sewerage scheme. As a result, progress on the Kilcummin-Barraduff contract was slow. In July 2007, the council suspended the contract in accordance with the terms that were set out in it. The contractor agreed to withdraw from the Kilcummin portion of the contract and resumed work in Barraduff. As a consequence of the problems, no work was carried out on the Kilcummin scheme.

Kerry County Council submitted a revised proposal for the Kilcummin sewerage scheme to my Department in December 2009 and in view of the high unit costs associated with providing this scheme, my Department requested the council in May 2010 to review the scope of the scheme. The council submitted a further proposal to the Department in June 2012. There are still concerns regarding the unit costs of the scheme and arrangements have been made between my Department and Kerry County Council to meet shortly to discuss this latest proposal.

I am conscious of the impacts that the discharges from Kilcummin are having on the local environment and on Lough Leane. I am keen to have these issues resolved and I hope the discussions which will take place between the Department and Kerry County Council will resolve the issue to the benefit of Kilcummin community and I hope, as Senator Moloney has advocated, the scheme will proceed.

When will funding be made available for this scheme? It seems to me from the Minister's response that the issue has gone back to Kerry County Council but according to Kerry County Council everything is in order at its end. Why has the issue gone back again to Kerry County Council? The funding was made available and it was accepted. The Department asked for a revised figures and that was provided. Now the Department is asking for more discussions on the issue. Must we wait forever for this scheme as every time the council submits the information, it is asked for revised figures as the unit costs are too high? Will the Minister give me some indication as to when this sewerage scheme will be provided, because, as I outlined, many business decisions are dependent on it.

As the Senator will see from my reply under the Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2013, the question of funding for the Kilcummin scheme was not included; it was to advance through planning only. I have been conscious of Senator Moloney's representations on this matter and Kerry County Council and the Department's inspectors have not reached agreement on the unit costs of the scheme. It is up to the technical people in Kerry County Council to convince the Department's inspectorate that this is a viable scheme. If they reach agreement, we are in a position to look at the funding.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 February 2013.