Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 18 Apr 2013

Vol. 222 No. 10

Adjournment Matters

Health Services Provision

I thank the Minister for taking the time to come to the House to discuss this issue. Among the successes in the health service are the national cancer control programme and the new approach to cardiac care where outcomes are improving. The Minister is very familiar with the fact that the north-west region, north of the Dublin-Galway line and south of Mullingar, is not adequately catered for. We will leave the cancer debate for another day. However, I have probably clocked up a good few hours during the years talking about the issue here. I understand a group is being put in place and that there has been an acknowledgement by the Minister and his officials that, from a cardiac care perspective, there should be an opportunity to insert a stent within 90 minutes of an episode occurring. A total of 80% of the population enjoy proximity to a cardiac centre where that should be possible. However, the north-west region is not adequately catered for in that respect. While there are cardiologists available there, there are no cardio-catheterisation laboratory facilities.

I understand a group has been put together and is chaired by the geriatrician Dr. Colm Henry. I think he is senior in the representative body of clinical directors in the various hospitals. With other cardiologists, he is looking at how best to deal with the anomaly in the north west where, frankly, people who have a heart attack do not have the same potential for survival as those within the catchment area of one of the specialist cardiac centres. I have seen this happen before when the centres of excellence were being chosen. From a clinical perspective, a particular clinic in Sligo was at an advanced stage. However, the Government of the day wound it down and revved up one in Letterkenny in terms of the provision of breast cancer care services.

I gather two cardiologists from Galway will be or are in this group with Dr. Henry. It would suit them to have a cardio-catheterisation laboratory as far away as possible because they do not want to have anything eating into their catchment area, which I know sounds laughable when we are talking about saving people's lives, but there are medical politics. I want to ensure that, if money is made available for the construction and staffing of a cardio-catheterisation to be run at least on a 9 to 5 basis, like the one in Waterford, it will be appropriately located within the region. The appropriate location, notwithstanding the fact that I am from Sligo, is Sligo Regional Hospital which is equidistant from Galway and Altnagelvin in Derry where there is a cardio-catheterisation laboratory and eight cardiologists. The logical location for the laboratory is Sligo.

I hope the Minister will confirm that the group is in existence and chaired by Dr. Henry and outline what it is considering. I want to use this opportunity to impress on the Minister the need to ensure Sligo will be the location of the facility where it would be best placed to serve the entire region. The northern end of the catchment area can be served by Altnagelvin hospital, with the hospital in Galway serving the southern end. I am interested in hearing the Minister's views and hope he will be able to give me some good news.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue which I know is of some interest to Senator Michael Comiskey and Deputy John Perry, the Minister of State with responsibility for small business, as well as Deputy Tony McLoughlin. I was in Sligo a couple of weeks ago and was sorry to have missed the Senator.

The acute coronary syndrome, ACS, clinical care programme was initiated to standardise treatment nationally for patients suffering from a heart attack. It is one of a range of national clinical care programmes established by the HSE with the aim of improving quality access and cost effectiveness. Primary precutaneous coronary intervention, PPCI, is the preferred treatment for ST elevated myocardial infarction, STEMI, in terms of morbidity and mortality outcomes. Where PPCI cannot be delivered within an acceptable timeframe - the Senator mentioned a figure of 90 minutes - administering a clot-dissolving or thrombolysis drug is recommended, with early transfer to a PPCI centre for angiography.

International best practice indicates that Ireland should have four to eight PPCI centres to accommodate the demands of the population.

Based on the European Society of Cardiology guidelines, patients should be transferred directly to a PPCI centre if this can be achieved within 90 minutes of the first medical contact. There is no PPCI centre in the north west and a report for the regional director of operations of HSE west in 2012 highlighted that 91.4% of the population lived at a distance greater than 90 minutes road time from the nearest PPCI centre in Dublin or Galway. This situation is not unique to the north west, however, because other areas of the country are also outside the 90-minute range. The report presented a series of options that would lead to the provision of PPCI to a greater proportion of the population. These options include cross-Border collaborative initiatives that could deliver a sustainable model for a greater proportion of the population of the north west. The solution would also probably involve air ambulance services in order to meet the 90-minute target.

Data from the heartbeat system shows an increase in STEMI patients receiving PPCI from 45% in the period from October 2010 to September 2011 to 67% in the period from October 2011 to September 2012. We have made great progress, although I recognise that is scant consolation to the people of the north west who want to have the same access as everybody else to this service. It is our intention to ensure that happens. We will have to think outside the box to achieve our targets but the group is working to that end and will make recommendations shortly.

Galway and Limerick are currently operating well as PPCI centres. A project is under way to enhance the provision of cardiac services for the population of the north west in view of the considerable distance factors involved. A project team comprising senior clinicians from the west and north-west area, chaired by Dr. Colm Henry, programme lead for the HSE clinical director programme, was established in March 2013. This team is to provide a report making specific recommendations on the following issues: delivery of cardiology services in the north west, noting findings of the situation report on services for acute coronary syndrome in the north west produced by Dr. Peter Wright in 2012; delivery of PPCI in the north west in line with the ACS programme, to include consideration of cross-Border provision; identification of a fixed elective cardiac catheterisation laboratory for the region to replace the current arrangement whereby services are delivered from a mobile laboratory on both acute hospital sites; and configuration and integration of cardiac services in the north west in anticipation of hospital groupings. Dr. Henry has convened a group including cardiologists from Galway, Sligo and Letterkenny hospitals, the national lead for the ACS programme and representative of the ambulance service. The group has sought and will consider detailed information from both hospitals and will be visiting both hospitals as well as Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry to meet hospital personnel. The group is scheduled to deliver its final report to the regional director of operations by June 2013.

I thank the Minister for his reply and confirming that the group exists. Although I am sure that he intends to take heed of the advice of the clinicians involved, I caution him that heavy pressure will be brought to locate the cardiology laboratory in the northern end of the catchment at Letterkenny General Hospital. While I do not wish to disenfranchise the people of County Donegal, the reality is that it is 20 miles from Derry. I would hate to see us making the same mistake that we made on cancer care. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to impress that on the group.

Asylum Support Services

Although I am disappointed that none of the Adjournment matters I have raised in regard to direct provision has been taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality, who has direct responsibility for the matter, I welcome the presence of the Minister for Health.

The system of direct provision has been in operation since April 2000. However, concerns have been expressed about the lack of a legislative basis for the operation of the system of direct provision. In the light of the Ombudsman's concern about the operation of the former mobility allowance scheme, it is essential that the rule of law operates in all aspects of the social welfare code. When direct provision was initially introduced 13 years ago, it was viewed as a limited system that would operate for a maximum of six months. However, the legal basis for the system is now unclear. When it was initially introduced, it was argued that the system of direct provision for asylum seekers was permitted by providing supplementary welfare allowance in kind rather than in cash. Asylum seekers were offered bed and board by the Reception and Integration Agency and were provided with a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.06 per child, amounts that have not changed since 2000.

Since the introduction of the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, asylum seekers cannot be considered as habitually resident in the State. Given that access to most welfare payments, including supplementary welfare allowance, is restricted to those who are habitually residents, what is the legislative basis for the continued accommodation of and payments to asylum seekers?

Dr. Liam Thornton, a researcher on the law and policy of direct provision in UCD's school of law, recently published an article on the dubious legality of the direct provision system. The article notes that in 2006 the then Secretary General of what is now the Department of Social Protection, Mr. John Hynes, raised his concern with the then Secretary General of what is now the Department of Justice and Equality, Mr. Seán Aylward, that the regular direct provision payments to asylum seekers were outside the powers, or ultra vires, of the Department of Social Protection. According to documents received by Dr. Thornton after a freedom of information request, an attempt was made in 2006 or 2007 to place the direct provision payment on a legislative footing. However, the attempt was subsequently abandoned. I can provide the Minister with a copy of Dr. Thornton's article, the correspondence between the Secretaries General and the draft legislation if he so desires.

It is necessary for the Minister for Justice and Equality to provide an assurance that the direct provision system has a clear legislative basis in Irish law. It is of serious concern that the system leaves individuals and, in particular, families to languish for several years without any definitive decision on their entitlement to remain in the State. I welcomed the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 but it has been on Committee Stage in the Dáil since 2010. We have now been waiting for that Bill for eight years and counting. What is the legislative basis for the continued operation of the direct provision system?

Before I call the Minister to reply, I ask Members to join me in welcoming the Right Honourable Ivan Rombouts, the honorary consul in Antwerp.

He is very welcome. I recognise the tie. I am responding on this topic on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.

The question asked by the Senator presupposes that there must be a specific legislative underpinning for the provision of State services for persons who otherwise would not be entitled to such services. Legislating for legislation's sake is unwise. If a case is being made for a change in how asylum seekers are accommodated, which is a view that the Senator has expressed on a number of occasions, that is an issue for policy in the first instance rather than legislation.

The direct provision system ensures the delivery of services alongside legislative provisions which would otherwise specifically prohibit asylum seekers from being provided with the basic necessities of life. For example, asylum seekers cannot work under section 9(4)(b) of the Refugee Act 1996, cannot access rent allowance under section 13 of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2003 and are not entitled to a range of benefits, including child benefit, as they are deemed to be not habitually resident under section 246(7) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

As an administrative system, direct provision is unique in the State but as a result of it no asylum seeker has ever been left homeless. Clearly, the system is not without its faults but in the 13 years of its existence over 51,000 asylum seekers have been accommodated under it. Asylum seekers receive nourishment on a par with, and in some cases superior to, that available to the general population. They receive a health service on the same basis as Irish citizens and in many cases the service is far superior to what is available in their countries of origin. Children of asylum seekers are provided with primary and secondary education in the local community on the same basis as the children of Irish citizens. The system of direct provision is not unique to Ireland. Many other countries operate similar systems for meeting the reception needs of asylum seekers and all face challenges which are broadly similar to the issues arising here.

There are no cheaper alternatives to the direct provision system. If we were operating a system which facilitated asylum seekers in living independent lives in individual housing with social welfare support and payments, the cost to the Exchequer would be double what is currently paid under the direct provision system, even discounting the additional pull factor this would entail.

This was a key finding in the value for money report in 2010.

Allowing asylum seekers access to the full array of welfare and housing benefits would run a real risk of resulting in a large upsurge in economic migrants masquerading as asylum seekers coming here in the expectation of accessing these services. Furthermore, in respect of any major change of policy, we have to take account of the common travel area between Ireland and the United Kingdom which facilitates free movement between the jurisdictions.

It must be borne in mind that the persons residing in direct provision accommodation are here for a specific reason, namely, to claim international protection from the State. This entitlement is protected by international obligations which the State has entered into and by a comprehensive national and EU legal framework and accompanying administrative processes which govern the processing of protection applications.

The Minister acknowledges that there is an issue with the length of time applicants spend in direct provision accommodation. While not suggesting applicants are not entitled to the protection of the courts and due process, a consequence of frequent recourse to the courts to challenge decisions in these legislative processes is an extension of the length of time spent in direct provision accommodation. This underlying problem does not arise from a lack of legislation - quite the opposite. There are many reasons applicants spend lengthy periods in direct provision accommodation. I have referred to legal challenges as one reason. Undoubtedly, another significant issue is the cumbersome and multi-layered legal protection process in the State. There is a clear imperative to change and radically reform that process and the Minister is committed to introducing it.

As the Minister has stated, he intends to republish a revised immigration, residence and protection Bill which will substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements for asylum, subsidiary protection and leave to remain applications. It will do this by making provision for the establishment of a single application procedure in order that applicants can be provided with a final decision on all aspects of their protection applications in a more straightforward and timely fashion, thus reducing the length of time they spend in the direct provision system.

Pending the enactment and commencement of the new legislation and with a view to improving processing, the Minister proposes to introduce new arrangements for the processing of subsidiary protection applications in the light of recent judgments in the superior courts. His Department, in consultation with the Attorney General's office, is developing a new legislative and administrative framework for the processing of current and future subsidiary protection applications. This work is being given high priority and applicants will be advised of the new arrangements as soon as possible. In the meantime, the system is overseen by the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice and Equality. The RIA is subject to the same Civil Service obligations of fairness in the implementation of policy as any other area of government in implementing a scheme, statutory or non-statutory. It is worth noting that since the Minister took office, the number of persons being accommodated in direct provision accommodation has fallen significantly, by approximately 1,000 or 25% in the period in question.

Perhaps my question was not clear enough. I will take it up again with the Minister for Social Protection. The correspondence between the then Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality in 2006 states payments made to asylum seekers were ultra vires the Department of Social Protection. The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2009 clearly states asylum seekers cannot ever be considered habitually resident in the State. My question is: how is the State making these payments? I advise the Cathaoirleach that I propose to submit a request to raise this matter on the Adjournment with the Minister for Social Protection. While I appreciate the response given by the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, it does not answer my question.

The Minister would like to be here, but that is not possible. On his behalf, I acknowledge the points made by the Senator. However, this is essentially about policy rather than legislation, as emphasised by the Senator in her follow-up remarks. The reasons behind that policy remain unchanged. The direct provision system was not put in place by accident; it was a necessary response to the increasing number of asylum seekers arriving in the State. Before 1999, asylum seekers were treated as homeless persons under the structures in place. These structures were unsuited to the situation facing Ireland; the homeless persons service of the then Eastern Health Board could not cope and there was a serious prospect of widespread homelessness among asylum seekers. The direct provision system is only one element of the State's response to its international obligations on the asylum issue. As well as educational, health and welfare costs, there are asylum determination system and downstream judicial and policing costs. Meeting our international obligations in this respect consumes considerable public moneys. However, Ireland is not unique in this respect. All countries which take this issue seriously are faced with similar calls on their financial resources. The role of the Reception and Integration Agency is to adapt to circumstances in ways which specific legislative provisions might not anticipate. In recent years it has introduced child protection measures, including Garda vetting, and will in the coming months begin to publish on its website completed inspection reports on each of the centres under contract to it. It has also to adapt to the decline in the number of persons seeking accommodation. In the four year period 2009 to 2012, inclusive, it closed 25 centres and accommodated 2,161 fewer persons. This flexibility and adaptability of the direct provision system would not be assisted but, possibly, hindered by specific legislation underpinning it.

My question is about the legal status of the payments being made. It is not about the legal status of the policy in place. I appreciate the Minister's response, but it does not address my question.

I will make the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, aware of the position.

Garda Recruitment

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and thank him for taking this matter. Like Senator Jillian van Turnhout's, my question is also directed to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and I am disappointed he cannot be present.

I would like to know if consideration has been given to the circumstances where a change may be effected to the upper age limit of 35 years for recruitment to An Garda Síochána. I had not anticipated that the issue of recruitment to An Garda Síochána would be in the news today for other reasons. My specific purpose in asking this question is to focus on the upper age limit for recruitment. I have received a communication from a constituent who has been prevented from applying to join the Garda Síochána because of the upper age limit of 35 years. My constituent is 37 years old and the recruitment requirement was introduced when she was 32 and unable to apply. She is conscious that age is not an issue in other jurisdictions, including for the Swedish police, Strathclyde Police which is now part of Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI. I am told that the Scottish recruitment team was surprised to hear that there was an age bar in Ireland.

This matter has been the subject of questions in the Dáil; the most recent I can find is from Deputy Thomas P. Broughan on 12 July 2011. When he asked the Minister about the upper age limit, the Minister responded that he was giving consideration to the issue of the circumstances which might effect a change to the upper age limit for entry to An Garda Síochána. The Minister went on to outline the position and said recruitment was governed by statutory regulations, namely, the Garda Síochána Admission and Appointments Regulations 1988 and 2005. He also said the recruitment age had been considered as recently as 2004 when, on the recommendation of the Garda Commissioner, the maximum recruitment age was increased from 26 to 35 years, which, I acknowledge, was a substantial increase.

Given that a substantial and significant increase could be provided for in 2004, I wonder why the upper age limit of 35 years cannot be increased. The Minister's response to Deputy Thomas P. Broughan in 2011 was that consideration was being given to the issue. The Minister also gave as a reason for setting the upper age limit at 35 years the need to have regard to equality legislation. I cannot see where that is relevant, as I am sure equality legislation would pre-empt any arbitrary age limit being set. The current age limit appears to be somewhat arbitrary. While 35 years is perhaps a little more justifiable than 26 years, it is an age limit that might not be so objectively justifiable under equality legislation. The Minister gave three reasons for this in July 2011: the cost of training which I am not sure is valid; the need for recruits to serve for a sufficient period of time as full members of the service to recoup this cost, which is a more substantial reason; and the operational requirements of the service in terms of having an age profile appropriate to the physical demands placed on members in the course of their duty.

He then said:

Consideration is being given to changing the upper age limit, in limited circumstances, in a way which would be beneficial to An Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána ... Regulations 2006 already allow the Public Appointments Service to give due recognition to any satisfactory service by a person as a reserve member of the Garda Síochána.

I think I am correct in saying there is no age limit for joining the Garda Reserve.

I am right. There is no age bar for the Garda Reserve. It sometimes carries out front-line Garda work but it does not have full Garda powers. I simply ask, in the light of a direct request from a constituent, whether there have been updates since July 2011. Has the Minister given consideration to changing the upper age limit for entry? If the age limit was raised in 2004 by a significant amount, it should be possible to raise it again. The three arguments given by him do not seem to me to be sufficiently weighty to justify 37 years as being too old. The third issue of operational reasons is a matter of physical fitness which could be the subject of a very different test and perhaps does not require a blanket or rigid age limit. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who is unable to attend.

As the Senator rightly stated, the age limit is set out in statutory regulations. She has already put those regulations, for the information of Senators, on the agenda of the House. She also acknowledged that there had been a substantial increase in the age limit from 26 years to 35 years.

I understand from the Minister that the upper age limit of 35 years was set following a comprehensive examination of the issues surrounding recruitment to the Garda Síochána. In particular, the assessment took account of developments in equality legislation and the Senator asked a question about it but I cannot sufficiently answer her at this point. She also outlined the criteria: the cost of training; the need for recruits to serve for a sufficient period as full-time members of the service to recoup the cost; and the operational requirements of the service. Having considered all the relevant matters, the Garda Commissioner recommended that the recruitment age be extended from its then limit of 26 years to a revised limit of 35 years. The Minister agreed with his recommendation which led to the introduction of revised regulations.

The Minister does not have any proposals to increase the recruitment age for entry to the Garda Síochána at this time. He believes that when recruitment begins again, as it inevitably must, there will be a sufficient pool of suitably qualified and eligible candidates who will be provided with excellent training at the Garda College in Templemore and on the job in Garda stations throughout the country.

The training programme was recently revised as a result of the recommendations contained in the report of the review group on training and development in the Garda Síochána. Following the publication of the report, a working group was set up to examine the current entry requirements and amend, if necessary, the Garda Síochána (Admissions and Appointments) Regulations to accommodate the recommended changes to the student-probationer training programme. The aim is to improve and realign recruitment training in line with best practice in order to meet the new challenges of a changing society. It is anticipated that the amended regulations will be finalised in the near future.

The Minister has asked me to point out that there is an ongoing civilianisation programme in the Garda Síochána. While the moratorium on recruitment in the public service still applies, the recruitment age for civilian staff is well in excess of 35 years of age.

I thank the Minister of State for his response but some of it reflects what was said in the Dáil in 2011. The updated part of his response refers to the report of the review on training and development in the Garda Síochána. I am not sure when the report was published. I am glad to hear that a working group was established, following publication, to examine the entry requirements and amend, if necessary, the regulations. Given that the regulations also set the minimum age limit I hope that, at the very least, some consideration will be given in the working out of changes to the regulations to increase the minimum age. I ask the Minister to State to convey my following comment to the Minister. One might anticipate that the working group would examine the minimum age in the course of generally examining the recommended changes to the regulations. It would be a good opportunity to do so and would be in keeping with the Minister's previous response that consideration was being given to the circumstances where an increase in the age limit could be affected.

The Senator made a helpful suggestion. There is a process under way to examine the amended regulations and I understand the working group is due to submit its report in the near future. It is important and opportune that the Senator raised the matter. I hope the question of limitation of age would be part and parcel of the work of the working group.

As the Senator mentioned, there are special circumstances, from time to time, where an individual might apply to be a member of the Garda Síochána. There should be some flexibility in that regard, particularly if people can bring expertise and specialist knowledge to the force. That would be a logical outcome of what we are trying to encourage in terms of members of the Garda Síochána. I shall convey the Senator's view to the Minister for Justice and Equality and ask him to consider the matter in the context of the working group.

I thank the Minister of State.

Island Communities

I thank the Minister of State for attending. As he will know, Dursey Island is served by a cable car which was the first cable car to connect an island to the mainland. A number of difficulties have arisen in the past 12 to 18 months. The islanders have successfully accessed the island by cable car for some decades. They also transported animals but due to health and safety concerns and other issues the practice has virtually stopped. There are two points of severe concern at present. First, it has been announced that the cable car needs its structures and cables upgraded and improved. It has been proposed to cease the service for a full calendar month to carry out the work. How will people gain access to the island?

I shall outline the second concern. I tabled this Adjournment matter about four weeks ago but I have not got around to dealing with it for a number of logistical reasons. Since I tabled the matter I have learned that there is a proposal by the office of the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, to provide a ferry service to transport animals to and from the island at certain times of the year. Perhaps it will assist people who also want to repair houses. At present two properties are being upgraded so blocks, plaster, timber and bits and pieces must be transported to the island. People who either live on the island or originally came from it and still view it as their home need access on a daily or weekly basis. Today I was told by an island representative not from Dursey Island that the next proposed ferry to transport bulk loads to or from the island, or transport cattle to the island for summer grazing or transport cattle, sheep or other animals off it, will be in August. A cable car that has successfully transported animals for over 30 years is being stopped.

Local councillors and the council gave a commitment to provide a ferry which must be funded by the Department. However, it has been suggested people must wait until August for a ferry service. That is not on. As I said here before, the people who live on Dursey Island and farm the land, some of whom live on the mainland, have the same rights as people who live in Dublin 4, Cork city or wherever. It is ridiculous to leave the islanders totally cut-off and isolated without access to the island. It is not good enough to simply provide a ferry to the island in lieu of the animals and other materials not being taken on the cable car twice a year. There should be a monthly service weather permitting. Many people say one could use boats but Dursey Sound is known traditionally as one of the most inhospitable stretches of water owing to severe currents.

In this weather, it is normally inaccessible by any boat. Only a lunatic or a madman would envisage trying to land on the island in these appalling conditions. I hope the Minister of State has some good news for the island about the cable car and the ferry. I have spoken about the rights, worries and concerns of the island people and those near Dursey who access the island regularly. Many access the island on a daily basis. Their rights are being encroached upon and they deserve better treatment.

This is a case of passing the buck from Cork County Council to the Department and there is also the matter of health and safety and regulations. There should be joined-up thinking to deal with the problem people on Dursey Island have. I refer to people who live on the island or own land on the island and regularly farm it. One of my hobbies is affected by this, because the area is part of the Beara walkway. The two or three hours of walking are a wonderful experience. From a tourism point of view, it is a terrible drawback that there is no access to the island. The islanders deserve all the facilities we can give them.

I am coming to the conclusion that we might as well say goodbye to Dursey Island because of the problems with the cable car and the loss of a ferry to transport animals and materials. It will be like An tOileánach or "Farewell to the Blaskets". I would hate to see another island off west Cork becoming depopulated. The Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy McGinley, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, will understand the plight of the islanders, and I hope the latter will give me a good news story.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, who is taking a Bill in the Dáil. He wanted to be here because of his interest in the islands and because of his commitment, on behalf of the Government, to do what we can for the long-term sustainable development of all inhabited islands.

The cable car to Dursey Island is the responsibility of Cork County Council and the Department has no role in its operation. I am aware that Cork County Council engaged consulting engineers in 2010 to undertake a complete structural assessment of the cable car, in accordance with national and European legislation and with the Eurocodes. As a result of the structural assessment, the consultants recommended that the transport of animals on the cable car be discontinued. Based on this recommendation, Cork County Council prohibited the transport of animals on the cable car with effect from January 2012.

In order to alleviate the difficulty of transporting cumbersome items to the island, the Department agreed to allocate a grant for the provision of a cargo ferry service to allow for sailings on three separate days during the period 1 July 2012 to 31 August 2013. This allowed for the transport of essential cargo to the island and facilitated the occasional transport of animals on the return journey, although the subsidy was not provided for this specific purpose.

Cork County Council commissioned a further study in 2012 entitled, Dursey Island Cable Car Strategic Review, the purpose of which was to consider access to the island that would sustain growth, allow farming practices to be facilitated, attract people to the island and ensure compliance with relevant legislation. The review considers different scenarios with regard to the future of the cable car and access to the island. I understand the review will be published shortly, and it will form the basis of future decisions on the cable car and the island. The Department will consider any proposal it receives from Cork County Council on island infrastructure or access, while bearing in mind the very limited funding available for infrastructural development.

The Minister of State is acutely aware of the issue and committed to doing what he can to help the island and its long-term sustainable growth. In any circumstance the issue of funding arises, but in the first instance we will wait to see the published report from Cork County Council, which has responsibility in the area, before seeing what further action can be taken.

I thank the Minister of State and acknowledge that he is taking the matter on behalf of the other Minister of State, Deputy McGinley. The Minister of State suggested Cork County Council should commission a report on facts that are patently obvious. All it needs to do is to listen to people who live on the island and who access it. The demands are very basic and simple. They need access and they need the cable car not to be out of action for a calendar month. It sounds crazy. I hope the Minister of State can convey to the Minister that there should be a monthly cargo ferry service, subject to weather conditions. It could be funded by the council or co-funded by the Department. It may not be used every month, but if there was an emergency, such as an outbreak of TB on the island, the current cargo ferry service could not meet the needs of the islanders. With or without the report, the Minister of State could listen to the islanders and their demands, which are very reasonable. The Minister of State should convey my deep concern to the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, who has a love of all islands and rural areas.

I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and making the argument on behalf of the community in a sensible and reasonable way. I will convey his remarks to the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, in order that he is aware of the position. We all await the report commissioned by Cork County Council, which will be published shortly, before seeing what further action can be taken.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.50 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 23 April 2013.