Commencement Matters

Closed-Circuit Television Systems Provision

I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, for coming in to take this Commencement matter personally. It reflects the importance he attaches to CCTV in communities. CCTV gives incredible reassurance to people. It is a significant deterrent to crime. I am a member of the joint policing committee in Clare and I notice that CCTV cameras are better in some places than in others. According to An Garda Síochána and others they have worked a dream in Limerick city where there is a very elaborate and comprehensive system in operation. There is also an extremely good community CCTV system in operation in south Kildare and in other areas.

Does the Minister have a plan to unify all these systems, to introduce minimum standards and maybe have a service level agreement with a company to provide them? Does he agree that there should be linkages between the local authority, An Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality and community groups? What does he believe is best practice for the roll out of CCTV? It is important in preventing and identifying the perpetrators of crime. We will never quantify the number of crimes a good CCTV system will prevent. As information and communications technology, ICT, improves, for example, it is possible to view images from a CCTV on a mobile phone, the success of such schemes must also improve. It makes sense that the Government would go into partnership with local authorities in supporting An Garda Síochána and community groups to roll out as good a network of closed circuit televisions as it can.

I thank Senator Conway for raising this important matter. All Seanadóirí will be aware that the programme for a partnership Government commits to supporting investment in CCTV systems at key locations along the road network and in urban centres. I am pleased to inform the Senator that, in pursuance of this commitment, a community-based CCTV grant-aid scheme was launched by my Department in 2017 to assist groups in the establishment of community-based CCTV systems in their local areas.

It is intended that the scheme will run for a period of three years from April 2017, with funding of some €1 million being made available each year.

Under the scheme, which is being administered by my Department, eligible community groups can apply for grant aid of up to 60% of the total capital cost of a proposed closed circuit television, CCTV, system, up to a maximum grant of €40,000.

Four applications under the current scheme have been approved to date, with approved funding totalling almost €120,000. A further four applications are under active consideration. Another three applications have been returned to the applicants concerned to enable them to provide the information necessary to qualify for this grant aid, and I understand that a number of other applications are currently being readied for submission to my Department.

Regarding national standards applicable to CCTV, I can confirm that the rules governing the establishment of community CCTV schemes are provided for in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, as amended, and in the Garda Siochána (CCTV) Order 2006. This legal framework requires proposed community CCTV schemes to have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must act as data controller in respect of the system; be approved by the local joint policing committee; and have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner in accordance with section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

The grant aid scheme is intended to supplement the existing network of CCTV systems in operation in the State. For example, there are some 35 Garda CCTV schemes in operation throughout the State comprising in excess of 500 cameras. There are also some 45 community-based CCTV schemes in operation, established under the previous grant aid scheme funded by my Department between 2005 and 2013, encompassing some 367 cameras to which An Garda Siochána has access.

Regarding the road network, it can be noted that services under the Garda safety camera contract commenced in May of last year provide an annual minimum of 90,000 hours of monitoring and surveying vehicle speed across over 1,000 designated safety camera zones. Further, expansion of the use of technologies including CCTV and automatic number plate recognition is included under the Garda Commissioner’s Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021.

The investment represented by the community-based CCTV grant aid scheme reflects the value that communities, especially rural communities, place on CCTV as a means of deterring crime and assisting in the detection of offenders. I thank Senator Conway in particular, who represents the people of the rural county of Clare, for raising this issue. I advise the Senator to remain in close contact with the joint policing committee and with community groups to ensure there is an appropriate level of information which will assist communities in the matter of these schemes. Senator Conway is right. CCTV schemes are important as a means of deterring crime. They also assist in the detection and recognition of offenders.

I am conscious, too, that in late 2015, An Garda Slochána reviewed the effectiveness of CCTV systems and indicated that it utilises CCTV in almost every criminal investigation, during major public events and sporting occasions, in the investigation of road traffic incidents and in many other areas requiring police attention and action. Community-based CCTV systems have therefore proven to be of significant assistance in the prevention and detection of crime across the State, including in County Clare.

I am very anxious to ensure that all interested groups in both rural and urban areas manage to take advantage of the availability of this grant aid scheme. Full details of the package are available to download from my Department’s website, Officials in my Department are available to provide additional guidance on the application process should that be deemed helpful and appropriate.

I thank Senator Conway for raising this issue. If there are other colleagues interested in it I ask them to join me in encouraging local interest groups to take advantage of the availability of this important scheme.

I thank the Minister for a comprehensive and informative reply.

I thank the Minister.

Hospitals Building Programme

Minister, tá fáilte romhat.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to stand in for the Minister, Deputy Harris. I will not give a protracted commentary on this issue, which is ongoing, but will instead focus on the National Rehabilitation Hospital, NRH, project. I attempted to raise other issues but I will respect the provision the Cathaoirleach has given me, which is to discuss the need for the Minister for Health to report progress on phase 1 of the National Rehabilitation Hospital project in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, and the commitment on the extension of phase 2 and the funding of that. That is important.

If she is in a position to do so the Minister of State might also take the opportunity to comment on the current position regarding beds in the hospital. If she does not have that information I will follow it up with the Minister later today because I have some people coming in about the matter who I believe will make a statement from this House at some point.

I draw the Minister of State's attention to the one line in the national planning framework on this particular project. Under Disability Services, it states: "Redevelopment of the National Rehabilitation Hospital and establishment of Disability Rehabilitation Centres across the country." That is the only line on that in the entire plan.

Without further ado, I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could outline how phase 1 of the project is progressing. We know the Taoiseach and the Minister visited the hospital. Deputy Maria Bailey, the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, and the Minister of State's colleague, Deputy Seán Barrett, are keen to see this project progress, so I would like to hear what she has to say about those matters.

I thank the Senator for his brevity.

I thank the Senator. I am here on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, as this matter falls under his remit.

I take this opportunity to discuss developments at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire here in the Seanad. The Government recognises the excellent rehabilitation programme the National Rehabilitation Hospital delivers and the hospital’s excellent outcomes for its patients.

In terms of capital developments, the current priority is the delivery of the replacement accommodation at the hospital. The redevelopment of the National Rehabilitation Hospital, which is currently under way, will be a major enhancement to rehabilitation services in the country. It will have a direct and significant impact on patient recovery by providing an optimal ward and therapeutic environment for patient treatment. I do not think the Senator has a copy of my script.

Not yet. It is grand.

He is listening attentively anyway, Minister.

This will support staff to deliver quality care and treatment in a facility which affords dignity, respect and privacy to all.

The Government is committed to advancing neuro-rehabilitation services in the community, and the redevelopment of the National Rehabilitation Hospital is central to achieving that. The National Rehabilitation Hospital provides complex specialist rehabilitation services including inpatient, outpatient and day patient services to patients who have acquired a physical or cognitive disability as a result of an accident, illness or injury and require specialist medical rehabilitation services.

An investment of €64 million will ensure the existing ward accommodation at the NRH is replaced by a new fit-for-purpose ward accommodation block of 120 single en suite rooms with integrated therapy spaces, a new sports hall, a hydrotherapy unit, a temporary concourse as well as clinical and ancillary spaces. In addition, links to the existing building will ensure full integration between the new development and the existing hospital on the site.

The contracts for development works at the National Rehabilitation Hospital were signed on 28 August 2017 and construction commenced on the site immediately. The construction of the hydrotherapy unit and the sports hall is expected to be completed by the end of this year, while the remainder of the construction works are due for completion by the end of 2019 and expected to be operational in 2020.

Phase 2 of the redevelopment at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, NRH, involves the expansion of services, to include all existing therapies and support facilities, to the new hospital. Funding for phases 1 and 2 of this major redevelopment project is provided for in the National Development Plan 2018-2027. It is part of an overall €10.9 billion strategic investment in health under the Government Project Ireland 2040 policy initiative.

The area of neuro-rehabilitation remains a priority for the Government. A Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to publish a plan for advancing neuro-rehabilitation services in the community. The HSE’s national service plan for 2018 has identified a number of priority actions in this area, including finalising and progressing implementation of the framework for the neuro-rehabilitation strategy. Full implementation of the strategy will, of necessity, be a longer-term project. The model of care proposed in the strategy is a three-tiered model of specialist rehabilitation services and complex specialist tertiary services, specialist inpatient rehabilitation units and community-based specialist neuro-rehabilitation teams. As a first step, a managed clinical rehabilitation network project is in development to establish collaborative care pathways for people with complex neuro-rehabilitation care and support and-or accommodation needs. The National Rehabilitation Hospital will participate in that demonstration project.

I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive report. All of the news is positive and I have no difficulty with any of it. It is good news that it is going to go ahead. I will today submit this for publication in the local press because it is a good news story and I wish to give credit to those involved.

I thank the Minister of State for providing clarity for the first time on which Minister is dealing with this issue. I was told it is the Minister, Deputy Harris, who I have contacted and written to on the issue. The Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, told me the Minister, Deputy Harris, is responsible whereas the Minister, Deputy Harris, stated that it is the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath. However, we now have clarity. My focus is now with the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, as the matter has been confirmed as his responsibility by the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, in her response today, and I will pursue any further issues in this regard with him. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, for coming to the House and sharing that information with me.

Driver Test Centres

The Minister, Deputy Ross, is welcome back to his alma mater. Senator Craughwell has four minutes to outline his case. On a day when an EU Commissioner will visit the House, he might consider doing so in three minutes.

I will endeavour to get through it as quickly as I can. I thank the Minister, Deputy Ross, for coming to the House this morning to take this Commencement matter. Many Ministers send a Minister of State in their stead, so I thank the Minister for his attendance.

Many driving tests for heavy good vehicles, HGVs, and buses scheduled to take place in the past two weeks at the Westside test centre in Galway have been cancelled. To put this in context, as the Minister may know, there is no dedicated reversing compound in the Westside test centre area of Galway. Until recently, those taking the HGV and bus tests were tested in a quiet area on a public road. Due to traffic management changes implemented by Galway council, that area is no longer available and an alternative reversing space has not been secured.

There are two issues here. The first is that the situation was ever allowed to arise. It beggars belief that an agency of the State would be dependent on the use of a public space for such a critical aspect of a driving test and that no investment, foresight or planning has been forthcoming to address this issue over the years. The driving test centre in question is sadly lacking in other respects, such as no parking being available for applicants and the public building having no toilet facilities.

The second and more serious issue is that a very significant number of those scheduled for testing this week and last are participants on an education and training board, ETB, training course for HGV drivers with Galway and Roscommon ETB. They are on the course because they were unemployed but were ready to take up job offers upon its completion. The offers were contingent on their passing the test but, as tests are now cancelled, they cannot now take them up. The Minister will agree that is a horrendous situation for those people and their families.

The situation is equally serious for companies which train HGV drivers. Who would sign up to an HGV course when it is likely there will be no test available in Galway at the end of it? Some of the driving instructor schools employ up to 14 people whose jobs are now on the line.

The Road Safety Authority has provided dedicated reversing compounds in Finglas, Sligo, Limerick and Waterford. In 2016, a similar problem arose in Athlone and within four weeks the Road Safety Authority secured a plot of land and created a new reversing compound. Earlier this week, I wrote to Moyagh Murdock, CEO of the Road Safety Authority, and, to her credit, last night I received a comprehensive reply. She is aware of the problems at the centre in terms of facilities and the testing of HGV and bus drivers and has been actively looking at a number of alternatives over the past two years which, for one reason or another, have proven unsuitable. The Road Safety Authority is currently looking at several locations and working with the Office of Public Works, OPW, to secure a new test centre.

What plans does the Minister have to immediately address the emergency situation in Galway such that drivers can be tested? What plans are in place to immediately provide a safe and appropriate reversing compound in Galway? I thank the Minister for his time and look forward to his reply.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and congratulate him on his persistence in pursuing the subject, in particular through highlighting it to Moyagh Murdock, who is more responsible for it than I, although I am happy to convey to her later in the week the sentiments expressed by the Senator and to support the case he has made.

The provision of driving tests is the statutory responsibility of the Road Safety Authority, RSA. I asked the RSA to provide information on this matter and the position it set out is as follows. All driving test centres across the country undertake car driving tests, with a smaller number also undertaking heavy goods vehicles, HGV, driving tests. HGV tests are scheduled in the larger test centres, including Galway city and are undertaken on a specified route covering a specified time and distance that becomes part of the driver tester’s schedule.

The HGV test requires certain features on a test route in order for the competence of the driver to be assessed. These features include roundabouts, junctions, traffic lights and locations for reversing manoeuvres. In the case of a HGV, given the size of the vehicles and the fact that they are being driven by learners, great care must be taken in creating test routes to ensure the safety of all road users. This is a particular concern for reversing manoeuvres, given the complexity of this exercise and the potential danger to others. This means that a HGV route will usually have very limited locations in which this reverse manoeuvre can be undertaken.

Over the past year, the RSA has encountered problems accessing locations for the HGV test in Galway due to the traffic volumes at these locations which have progressively made such manoeuvres unsafe. To the greatest extent possible, routes have been adapted to ensure all necessary elements of the test are being completed. However, in recent weeks the RSA had to curtail a number of tests because of the inability to acquire a safe location to undertake a reversing manoeuvre. The RSA has rescheduled these tests for a Saturday when traffic is not so heavy, although this does not provide a long-term solution to the problem, as the Senator pointed out, particularly in cases where job offers have been affected by the cancellations.

Over the past number of years, the RSA has unsuccessfully sought alternative locations to undertake HGV tests. The inability to secure an alternative location from which to conduct HGV tests generally relates to availability or suitability. However, the RSA is currently considering a number of locations as an immediate short-term measure so that it can continue to deliver HGV tests in Galway. The RSA continues to work with the Office of Public Works, OPW, which has responsibility for securing estate for the Road Safety Authority, on a longer term solution in Galway. I recognise the problem. The Senator has his finger on the button and I will relay his comments to the RSA and support the case he has made because this issue has immediate consequences for certain parties to whom he referred.

It is a very positive response for the Senator.

I thank the Minister for that positive response. There are a number of locations the OPW could have a look at, including the industrial estate in Galway, the Údarás na Gaeltachta site and the old Tuam sugar factory. They are three sites off the top of my head that it may be possible to use. I thank the Minister for his time and for agreeing to support this.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

I will be as brief as I can but this is a very important issue. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to address it. The lack of school places at primary and second level schools for children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, came to my attention again when a group of mothers formed an action group, the autism schools discrimination committee, ASDC, in Skerries and sought a meeting with my Oireachtas assistant, Councillor Tom O'Leary. He reported to me that six or more mothers report that their children cannot access school places in Skerries or the area nearby. They claim there are at least 12 children in need of places for September 2018 at national school level; six may have places. One mother has twins and one has a place and one does not. They have contacted all the national schools in Skerries and none can take their children. I have a copy of a letter from the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, of 28 March 2018. He made a representation on behalf of one young boy who was seeking a place at Educate Together in Skerries. He expressed great surprise that despite the fact the boy is diagnosed with autism and has a funding package approved by the Department of Education and Skills, the school refused to offer him a place. There may have been a slight misunderstanding in my request for the Commencement matter debate. From reading the reply to the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, I assume the 12 children have funding packages from the Department of Education and Skills but cannot find school places, hence the reference to two classes of six for special needs children.

My assistant, Councillor Tom O'Leary, attended a public meeting on my behalf and in his own right as a local councillor in Mourne View community centre in Skerries on Monday this week, with more than 50 parents. The mums and dads in attendance all have children with special needs in need of services and school places. The big message from the meeting, which was loud and clear, was the lack of school places locally, the extreme difficulty of dealing with the system to access services and the lack of professionalism, training and awareness in some of the services. It was a very frustrated and concerned gathering of parents who have children with needs the State should be meeting.

The committee of determined and motivated mothers outlined their private personal stories to the room. I will put their first names on the record of the House. I apologise if I leave anyone out. Edel has a son with no school place until September 2019, and has other issues such as being on oxygen by day and on a bypass machine at night. Linda has a son aged five and had to pay for two years of private assistance in Seolta. Her son will be leaving Seolta in July. He has a department funding package but no school place. Georgina's son is five. She had to find a home tutor and train the home tutor herself. Her son is on a bus for more than an hour each day going to County Louth. Wendy has two sons with ASD. One is now an adult and one is diagnosed with moderate to severe autism. He has difficulty with light, sound and heat. He is on the bus every day. He has to leave at 7.30 am. Wendy has a major challenge managing her adult son and younger son at home and is trying to do her best. She is spending €7,500 per annum on private services while on a low income. Wendy is chair of the mothers' committee. Sarah has two boys diagnosed with ASD who are non-verbal. Anne has three children and the last has ASD, is non-verbal and is in Seolta. She is happy with that service as her child has come on socially but now he has to travel on a bus to another school. He is stressed and it is manifesting with him beginning to self-harm. It is his only way of communicating his distress.

I have a patient in my practice who is stressed out because her child has had no school place for the past 12 months and no prospect of one. She has been given funding for home tuition but she cannot find a home tutor. Yesterday , we got excellent news from the board of management of Educate Together that it has decided to step up to this obvious need locally and seek capital funding for four special needs classes at Skerries Educate Together in Kelly's Bay, Skerries. The school operates the excellent Seolta preschool service there.

I am seeking the Minister of State's positive support for this school. It hopes to open in 2020 on a phased basis with the Minister of State's support.

I attended a meeting in St. Michael's House in Skerries earlier this week. It is in dilapidated and damp conditions in an old house with 31 children of all ages. It takes children from four to 18 years of age. They are in cramped conditions and I do not believe it would pass a fire safety assessment. They have been looking for a new school for a long time. The good news is a site has been located and negotiations are ongoing. I hope the Minister of State will support this team of wonderfully committed professionals. I commend the team of Pam, Michelle and all the rest who give such sterling service. They will have to reduce their numbers from 31 to 29. As more children come in with greater need, and autism in particular, they need to be able to move. As a doctor and parent, I do not want to see children being medicated when the situation can be resolved with space.

I will finish because I see the Cathaoirleach is getting a bit concerned. It was stated at the public meeting in Skerries that there are difficulties in getting special needs classes established in schools, particularly in new schools, and that there is a reluctance and resistance on behalf of some principals and boards of management to establish these changes. A senior special educational needs officer from the NCSE confirmed that to be the case at the meeting. It is an issue of national concern. We cannot have a situation in which Government puts funding and packages in place but school principals and boards decide they will not provide it. I hope the Minister of State can address this through the new admissions policy Bill that is before the Dáil. Perhaps she will let us know in her answer when the Bill is expected to be passed and enacted.

I call on the Department to engage as a matter of urgency with Educate Together in Skerries and start a fast-track process to approve a special needs class facility at this excellent progressive school. It wants to open in 2020. Will the Minister of State please assist it to do so? As a parent, one is in a constant state of anxiety and panic as time passes because the clock is ticking and one's child is failing to progress because he or she is not getting the help he or she needs. The help should be available. I pay tribute to the board of the school and principal Tomás Hickey for stepping up to meet this need. I pay tribute to the Minister of State and her Department on the massive investment in new school facilities in particular in my area of Fingal where I estimate there are five new school builds entailing an investment of €70 million.

The Senator had four minutes and he almost hit eight minutes. I am very lenient.

I thank the Senator for raising the issue. From listening to the Senator, I know the issue is as important to him as it is to Edel, Linda, Georgina, Wendy, Sarah, Anne and the Senator's patient and also to the many other children around the country. I will try to answer the Senator's question globally and then specifically.

I am taking this Commencement matter for the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. The Department provides for a range of placement options and supports for schools which have enrolled students with special educational needs in order to ensure that wherever a child is enrolled he or she will have access to an appropriate education.

Such placements facilitate access to individual education programmes which may draw from a range of appropriate educational interventions, delivered by fully qualified professional teachers with the support of special needs assistants and the appropriate school curriculum. The Department therefore provides for a continuum of provision which includes mainstream school placements with additional supports, or for pupils who require more specialist interventions, special school and special class placements. This network includes 130 autism spectrum disorder, ASD, early intervention classes, 641 primary ASD classes and 277 post-primary ASD classes in mainstream schools and 125 special schools. ASD early intervention classes are available for children aged three to five with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Early intervention classes are intended to provide early support for children with ASD before they start school. Following early intervention, children will attend a mainstream class unless there is professional guidance that they require a special class or a placement in a special school. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, which is a separate independent statutory body, plans and co-ordinates the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive.

The NCSE is aware of the emerging need in north Dublin, as the Senator has spoken about, from year to year, and where special provision, including special class or special school provision, is required, it is planned and established to meet that need. This process is ongoing. The school referred to by the Senator includes a two classroom special needs unit in which it currently operates two ASD early intervention classes. The NCSE has informed the Department that it has agreed in principle to this school establishing additional primary ASD special classes subject to accommodation being available. It has also advised that the school is in the process of submitting an application to the Department for capital funding to reconfigure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the classes or to construct additional accommodation. The Department has also provided a new two classroom special needs unit in Scoil Chormaic, CNS, Balbriggan. The NCSE is currently engaging with the school in relation to establishing ASD primary classes for the forthcoming school year.

The Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 was published on 6 July 2016. During the Committee Stage debate of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, outlined his intention to include a provision that will provide, based on reports and advice from the NCSE, a power for the Minister to require a school to open a special class or increase the number of special classes in schools identified by the NCSE. Officials from the Department are currently engaging with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on the development of legislative proposals on this matter which the Minister, Deputy Bruton, hopes to bring forward to Government for approval shortly. The NCSE will continue to work with schools, parents, NEPS, health professionals and other staff who are involved in the provision of services in the areas referred to by the Senator for children with special educational needs, to ensure that each child has a placement appropriate to their needs for the 2018-2019 school year.

I thank the Cathaoirleach, who has had to leave, for the latitude he has shown me so I will be brief with my response. I thank the Minister of State for her response. I welcome that the Minister will make provision in the admissions Bill to obviate this problem of schools not stepping up to the mark across the country. I welcome the news about Balbriggan but have to point out that Fingal has the youngest population not just in Ireland but in Europe. The needs there will continue to grow. We clearly have a challenge to meet them. I welcome that the Minister of State has given me such a positive response. I hope that she and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will ensure that we get the necessary support to fast-track this special new Educate Together unit of four classes.

Sitting suspended at 10.45 a.m. and resumed at 11 a.m.