Commencement Matters

If the House wishes to take Senator Dolan's Commencement matter first, I have no problem with that.

We will take Senator Dolan's Commencement matter first. Is that agreed? Agreed.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

I welcome to the House the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. People with disabilities do not have confidence that the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be ratified. I can see no reason why it could not be ratified now. When the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, came to the House for statements on the ratification of the convention on 21 March 2018, he gave two reasons. He accepted that it was in the roadmap in 2015 that the optional protocol would be ratified when the convention was ratified but stated his current focus had to be the ratification of the convention in the first instance. During that debate, however, he said that the instrument of deposition had been lodged with the UN on 20 March. In effect, the convention was ratified.

Ireland's instrument ratification has been lodged with the UN and, therefore, the ratification was completed in March. We have moved from ratification to implementation. The reason for not ratifying the protocol does not stand. The Minister's second reason was "the need for substantive cultural change" and he went on to say, "Work is continuing on the final reforms needed for Ireland's compliance with the convention's requirements". Every provision in the convention relates to compliance and becoming compliant and not having complied with everything before the convention is ratified.

The optional protocol is an instrument that gives people with disabilities the right to complain to the UN disabilities committee when they have exhausted all the normal complaints procedures within their state. Article 3 provides that the committee will confidentially write to the state party and give it six months to respond. There is a long, drawn-out period before anything gets to that stage.

The deprivation of liberty Bill and disability (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2016 are to be passed before the end of the year. I would like the Minister of State to confirm that commitment. Given it is intended to have both Bills enacted by the end of the year and the State has a disability inclusion strategy of which he is proud, that gives a defence to the State if issues are raised. He can say he is on the journey, which is what the convention is about. Why not ratify the optional protocol now? Are the Minister of State and the Government up for it to be ratified now? Are they in the space to say, "Let us do this"? Do his officials want to have it ratified? The Minister of State could quickly and easily, with no cost or downside to the State, ratify the optional protocol now, which would give people confidence, given the ratification of the convention has dragged on for years, that the Government is stepping up and getting in front of this issue. That would be what the Minister of State described as "a critical cultural change". He should lead from the front. Let us get this done and say to people that Ireland is proud of its progress to date and is comfortable with being held to account internationally. Nobody gets it right every time when we go in front of a jury but the Minister of State should be comfortable going there. That would be huge.

I have five questions. Will the Minister of State agree to ratify the protocol now? What reasons does he have for not ratifying the convention? Ireland must lodge its first report on 19 April 2020. By what date will the optional protocol be ratified if that is not done now? Will it be the day after the report is lodged? Will he confirm that the deprivation of liberty Bill and the disability (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2016 will be enacted this year?

I thank the Senator for raising this important topic. I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the issue of Ireland's ratification of the optional protocol to the UN convention. I always lead on this issue. The Independent Alliance did not hang around to ratify it whereas many of the political parties whose members are jumping up and down and having a go at me ignored it for ten years. Some of them were Ministers during that time and, therefore, I will not take lectures from them.

The ratification of the convention was a key commitment in the programme for Government and it has been one of my highest priorities since becoming Minister of State. I am pleased to have delivered on that commitment.

I was privileged to represent the Government at the United Nations headquarters on 19 April - the day the convention came into force for Ireland. That was an historic day and most of the disability leaders and organisations I met in New York over those two days were very impressed with Ireland's role and also with Ireland's services being well ahead of many other countries that had ratified some years previously.

Ratification followed a delay of many years and took much hard work. I am grateful to the committed family members, carers, public representatives and activists who worked tirelessly to campaign for ratification. Both the convention and the optional protocol cover a broad range of commitments, some of which require substantive cultural change. Fundamental to that are the concepts of freedom, autonomy and independence, recognising the right of people with disabilities to make decisions for themselves, rather than have decisions made for them. In this regard, I am pleased to say that I have recently received the report from the task force on personalised budgets and will shortly be bringing a memo to Cabinet on the matter.

I will respond to some of the points made by the Senator. I intend to have all the legislation in place as quickly as possible. I intend to continue the public consultation with all the disability groups and the senior citizens' groups. As the Senator knows there are currently 92 signatories to the optional protocol, whereas 176 states have ratified the convention. A clear timescale has been drawn up to address the remaining implementation issues in line with the principles of progressive realisation of services which operates in respect of compliance with the convention. Priority drafting has been approved for the disability (miscellaneous provisions) Bill and a stand-alone Bill to deal with the deprivation of liberty. Some €3 million has been allocated in 2018 for the establishment of the decision-support service. A lot of work is going on all the time and I take a step-by-step approach to the issue.

The Government’s approach to meeting the terms of the convention will be one of sustained and ongoing improvement. Work is continuing on the reforms needed for an optimum level of compliance with the convention's requirements. In the early implementation phase, it is essential that resources are focused on the enhancement of services and not diverted into additional areas such as servicing the optional protocol before we are fully ready. That is the key thing. I will opt in when I am ready. That is the best thing to do. That is an example of best practice and other countries have done that.

For this reason, I see a phased approach as the most practical and realistic way of moving ahead. While the optional protocol is not being ratified at this time, it will be ratified as soon as possible when I am satisfied that certain things are in place. At the latest this will follow completion of Ireland’s first reporting cycle which should be within two to three years. This will provide us with an opportunity to identify any remaining actions needed for the highest possible level of compliance with the convention.

The Senator can take it that I will be opting in when I am ready and when things are in place. That is the approach the Government will take.

I asked the Minister of State four questions. One was if he would do it now; obviously the answer to that is "No". In his reply the Minister of State said he would opt in when he was ready. He also stated that he would do so when he is "satisfied that certain things are in place". What are these certain things? He has not told us what they are. He has also said that it would be within two to three years. We will report by 19 April 2020. Will it be 21 April 2020 or will it be a year or more later? What things is he still awaiting to be in place?

Over 90 states ratified the optional protocol at the same time as they ratified the convention. At the start of his contribution, the Minister of State said he would not be lectured from other parties about what they committed to.

Why does it bother him what other states have or have not done? There is no real reason that we cannot do this. I am pleading with the Minister of State. This can be ratified now. If somebody started a complaint today, it would be years before he or she could take it anywhere, and the State then gets six months when it brings it there. The Minister of State should give people a break and let people see he is on their side.

I am on their side. If the Senator wants to see a recent report on what I have delivered in government, I will send him a copy tomorrow morning. The Senator referred to what has been put in place. The decision support service is one thing I feel very strongly about. We have already appointed the director but we have not got the right person yet for manager, and it has taken longer than I had anticipated. There are real issues out there.

In regard to ratification, I am not ready to ratify the protocol now and I gave the Senator a direct answer - "No" - and outlined practical reasons for that. While I accept a commitment was given in the programme for Government to ratify the optional protocol at the same time as the convention, my recent focus has been on ratifying the convention as a first step.

It is ratified.

The convention and the optional protocol cover a broad range of commitments requiring cultural change, such as decongregation, personalised budgets and deprivation of liberty safeguards. The Government is working hard to address all these issues. Those are the reasons.

An analysis of jurisprudence under the optional protocol indicates that 14 complaints have been heard since 2010, with nine upheld. The average time for complaints to be adjudicated is between two and three years, and I accept that point. Cases have included issues we are aware of, including deprivation of liberty, participation of deaf persons in jury duty, accessibility issues, work and employment, reasonable accommodation, medical treatment and prison conditions.

Becoming party to the convention holds us to international account in regard to our commitments to improve services and the lives of persons with disabilities. I am pleased that Ireland has finally submitted to that degree of accountability. I can assure the Senator I will continue to work to ensure that it is maintained and further augmented by the optional protocol following consideration of Ireland's first report.

Commonwealth of Nations

As many Senators will be aware, I have spoken publicly on this issue many times. In this era of Brexit, my call to explore the potential benefits of rejoining the Commonwealth of Nations continues to provoke an interesting response. Many of us here are democratic Irish nationalists and proud Europeans but we live in a time when our future relationships with Britain will be shaped by Brexit. That is why I believe it is very important that we seek to develop and nurture new relationships.

The stark reality of Brexit is already biting at fundamental levels. Here is just one example. Until recently an average of 26 daily meetings took place between Irish and UK officials. Those regular meetings between British and Irish diplomats and politicians at a European level were instrumental in fostering good relations and understanding between the two islands. In my personal opinion, I believe Ireland and the UK's joint entry into the EEC 45 years ago paved the way for the Anglo-Irish and Good Friday agreements, both of which have delivered peace and a shared future to our two islands.

In terms of the relationship building, I do not think it is a coincidence that Ireland has recently applied for observer status to join the Francophonie, a club of French-speaking states with 57 members which is a Commonwealth-style organisation. As a way of fostering links with French-speaking countries, it is a move which is strategic and welcome. I have consistently encouraged debates on the merits of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth of Nations. Indeed, I believe that, by doing so, the Republic of Ireland could pioneer the way for new relationships with Commonwealth countries, which include the UK, and with the EU itself.

The Republic already has strong links with Commonwealth countries in terms of aid, trade, politics, education, common legal systems, the diaspora and sport. Notably, 70% of the people born on the island of Ireland residing overseas live in Commonwealth countries. It is estimated that more than 20 million people of Irish origin live within Commonwealth countries such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. With a combined population of 2.3 billion, the Commonwealth comprises 53 countries, 31 of which are republics like us.

In foreign aid support, the Commonwealth has helped to lift many countries out of poverty and it counts among its member states not just developing nations, but also many high-tech countries such as India and South Africa.

For those who are not familiar with the Commonwealth, it is a goodwill organisation that performs a positive global role. It is not the British Commonwealth of old, but the modern Commonwealth of Nations, to which it was renamed in 1949 to accommodate republics such as ours. It is also important to say that the UK is just one of 53 member states and accounts for less than 3% of the population. Suffice it to say that, while Britain is still an important member of the Commonwealth, it is no longer the boss. Furthermore, the Queen is a titular head who carries no power. She is just a symbol of free association within Commonwealth countries, the majority of which are republics, with five having monarchs of royal households not associated with the UK's.

Let us be clear. I am a realist, so I know that the debate about Commonwealth membership for the Republic of Ireland will involve many issues, complexities and sensitivities. However, I have a firm conviction that, if we put our old prejudices to one side when we consider the merits of rejoining the Commonwealth of Nations, we will find much value in what I am proposing.

The most important reason I have called for a debate on rejoining the Commonwealth is that, if we truly desire a united Ireland, one Ireland or a shared island, we must show our unionist friends that we are not afraid to take this leap of faith. We could look forward to our two islands co-operating North-South and east-west on many new fronts, with sport being just one example. Can we not envisage the possibility of seeing an island of Ireland team in, for example, hockey and many other sports competing in future Commonwealth games? Can we not dare to dream that such possibilities could help to pave the way for an all-island soccer team competing in future World Cup competitions and European championships? This is worthy of serious consideration.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue, which he has discussed many times before and is something in which he believes passionately. He is also passionate about preparing for all of the eventualities of Brexit and ensuring that we continue to work with the UK and have the closest possible relationship with it.

We have strong international relations across the globe - bilaterally with individual countries through our diplomatic networks and multilaterally through our membership of various international organisations, for example, the UN, where we have relationships with a broad spectrum of countries, many of which are members of the Commonwealth. Last year, the Taoiseach announced a doubling of our global footprint. Work has begun on the initial phase of this expansion of Ireland's diplomatic network with new embassies in Santiago in Chile, Bogotá in Colombia, Amman in Jordan and Wellington in New Zealand, and new Consulates General in Vancouver, Canada, and Mumbai, India, opening this year. Further expansion will be considered by the Government and take into account Ireland's political, trading, cultural and other strategic interests and priorities.

The UK's decision to leave the EU is regrettable and has serious implications for Ireland. Indeed, Brexit is not good for anyone. However, we must maintain a strong and constructive bilateral relationship with the UK. We are fully committed to developing and enhancing that relationship over the coming years no matter what the outcome. In the context of the UK's exit from the European Union, we will work to secure the closest possible positive relationship between the UK and the EU.

While the UK and Ireland share a turbulent past, our relationship in recent times has been close. For example, a number of successful high-level visits have had a positive impact on our relationship, most notably the state visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in 2011 and the reciprocal state visit by President Higgins to the UK in 2014.

Most recently, President Higgins travelled to Dumfries House in Scotland at the invitation of the Prince of Wales, following the visit of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to Ireland last year, their third visit in as many years. Relations are good and strong and of course we want to keep them that way.

Numerous channels will continue to exist for Irish-British engagement and both Governments continue to make extensive and effective use of these. The Good Friday Agreement provides for important institutional co-operation on an east-west basis including through the British-Irish Council, BIC. In addition, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly brings together elected representatives from the Oireachtas, Westminster, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies. These structures have, for the most part, shown their value and will continue to evolve in response to the changing circumstances. In addition, we will also explore other avenues to maintain the “habit of co-operation” that currently exists where Ministers regularly meet their counterparts and work together in Brussels. This deeper working relationship should allow for co-operation across a broad range of issues of shared interest many of which the Senator has raised with us today.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I absolutely agree that the doubling of our global footprint and work with the expansion of Ireland's diplomatic network is very welcome. We are now at a place where we can make a change as leaders for good throughout the world. Joining the Francophonie and Commonwealth of Nations and many other organisations will be of benefit. I am also delighted we are fully committed to developing and enhancing our relationship with the UK over the coming years and to developing the closest possible relationship between the UK and the EU. The visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in 2011 and the subsequent state visit by President Higgins to the UK in 2014 was a groundbreaking change in culture in our two islands. We need a lot more of that. Numerous channels will be open to us in that regard but we cannot do too much through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which is meeting in Sligo in a month's time, and the various cross-Border institutions, North-South and east-west. We must ensure that our parliaments and parliamentarians across these two islands work even more closely together in the absence of the UK from the EU.

We had €1 billion of trade every week with the UK. For centuries, our countries have had a relationship, albeit not with the levels of trust it should have had. We took our relationship for granted and despite 200,000 jobs on both sides of these islands and centuries of trade, it is ironic that the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce was only set up in 2011 after the Queen's visit to Ireland. We need more of such initiatives to break down those barriers of mistrust and allow us to work together North-South and east-west.

I fully agree with the Senator that we need to continue such visits. We must ensure that our relations stay strong. We have had a turbulent past but in recent years - in particular through our common membership of the European Union - the United Kingdom has been our closest neighbour, friend and ally in many different areas. We must ensure that is not affected because of Brexit but that our relations stay strong.

While the Government is not considering rejoining the Commonwealth at present, the Embassy of Ireland in London will remain our biggest bilateral embassy globally. The focus on expanding Ireland’s global footprint is key to our foreign policy at present. Many of the countries and areas under consideration in this regard are members of the Commonwealth and we believe we can develop and enhance our bilateral relationships with them in this manner. The focus on our relationship with the United Kingdom will continue to be a priority for us, particularly through these difficult negotiations on Brexit. I thank the Senator for raising this issue.

Environmental Protection Agency Licences

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House.

Today I am raising the issue of the licensing of heavy industries, in particular the licence application made to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, by Irish Cement with regard to its facility in Mungret in my own constituency of Limerick city. The context is that Mungret is now a highly built-up residential area, unlike other locations in the country. A public meeting was held by the group Limerick Against Pollution in the South Court Hotel last Friday night at 7.30 p.m. More than 300 people across all age groups attended. It was a very representative group. These are decent, ordinary people who are worried about the implications of the licence which Irish Cement is seeking in order to convert the Mungret plant from running on fossil fuels to alternative fuels. This involves, in layman's terms, the burning of tyres. It will effectively use an existing kiln, which is over 35 years old and which is currently being fired by fossil fuels, to burn tyres.

I want to raise a couple of points. Irish Cement is looking at burning 90,000 tonnes per annum. There is a move away from fossil fuels as a result of carbon credits and so on, however the question is whether what is being proposed is safer or less safe. There has been very little engagement from Irish Cement. I personally made contact with it to encourage it to attend the public meeting last Friday night. It declined. There has been some engagement, but not enough. From speaking to residents in the area and, more recently, calling to their homes and meeting them, I know that there is a distinct lack of trust among the public in the area as regards what is happening with the Irish Cement plant. There is an issue with what residents regard as blow-outs, although Irish Cement say they are not blow-outs. However, from speaking to people, they are. There are concerns about the way in which the plant is designed. People's cars are regularly covered with lime and so forth. There is a worry. There are three new schools in the area. There are many young families and an awful lot of houses which have been built very near the Irish Cement plant.

How does the Minister intend to regulate these heavy industries in light of environmental concerns? In respect of the Irish Cement plant more particularly, the council has granted planning permission for the physical storage structure. However, the operation of the alternative fuels incinerator is licensed by the EPA. The application is currently before the EPA. It is due to issue a draft response on 16 May. That may change. I encourage people in the area to make submissions. The question I really want answered is how is it intended to regulate in this area?

I brought this issue up previously and the Minister agreed to put extra air monitoring locations into operation, one of which was to be in Mungret. There is a need for many more. The outputs from that particular location for the last three months of last year were analysed and the analysis showed spikes. People need assurance that this area will be properly regulated. There is a strong need for the EPA to license activities before applications for physical structures are made to the council. The council should not be able to grant permission if it has any environmental concerns. The Minister of State might deal with the general point but also comment on the specific licence application Irish Cement has before the EPA. People in the area have grave concerns that what is being proposed will be more harmful to health. This is about public health and ensuring that Government policy promotes public health. We must avoid a situation in which seeking to reduce the use of fossil fuels results in unintended consequences from the burning of alternative fuels.

I thank Senator O'Donnell for raising this issue. I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, who is unavailable.

The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is the independent statutory body responsible for protecting the environment in Ireland.

The agency performs a wide range of statutory functions in fulfilment of its mandate. These include the agency having a key role in licensing facilities with the potential for significant environmental pollution to ensure that their emissions do not endanger human health or harm the environment. The agency is responsible for issuing industrial emission directive licences, integrated pollution and control, IPC, licences, waste licences, wastewater discharge authorisations, genetically modified organisms authorisations and radiological protection licences.

The EPA is responsible for the licence and enforcement of large industrial plants listed in the first schedule of the EPA Act 1992, as amended. The Irish Cement site in Mungret falls into this category and is covered by the industrial emissions directive, Directive 2010/75/EU. This directive specifies the emission limit values that apply on the basis of the best available techniques. Conditions implementing the directive’s requirements are written into the industrial emissions licences granted by the EPA. Details of current licensed facilities and applications for new and revised licences are available on the agency’s website.

I believe it would be useful for me to outline briefly the application process in place for applications for industrial emissions licences, to emphasise the rigour of the process, and the wide scope for public participation in the decision making processes in each case. Before an application is even made, applicants are required to publish a notice in a local newspaper and to erect a site notice of their intentions. Then, on making the actual application, the applicant must pay the required fee and provide all the necessary documentation to the agency. Within eight weeks of the application, the agency is required to publish how it proposes to determine an application. This stage allows any person or body to make an objection within 28 days, and any such person or body is furthermore entitled to request an oral hearing. Only then, having considered the application and all objection submissions received, is a final decision on the licence application made by the agency. This decision is published on the agency’s website and any person may then apply to the High Court and seek a judicial review of the validity of the decision.

When operable, such facilities are then subject to ongoing monitoring by the agency. The agency also encourages public participation in its ongoing regulatory and enforcement activities by welcoming reports from the public of any negative environmental impacts arising from facilities that it licenses, including odours, noise or water pollution. The Mungret facility is currently the subject of a licence review. This process allows the public to view documents for this application or to make a submission to the EPA. The EPA licence reference number for Irish Cement site located in Mungret, Limerick is No. P0030-05, should anyone wish to raise concerns. The EPA operates in a fully transparent and open manner and publishes comprehensive details about its activities. Further information is available to the public on The Minister is precluded under legislation from interfering in the agency’s licensing decision making process. The Minister believes that the agency has a sufficient range of powers under the existing legislative code to adequately regulate and monitor such facilities in order to protect the environment and human health, ensure that key standards are met and enable the public, particularly local communities, to input should any issues relating to the day-to-day operation of any facility emerge.

The Minister of State believes the agency has sufficient powers to adequately regulate and monitor such facilities. I believe that is not being done by the EPA, certainly not in terms of the Irish Cement site in Limerick. An emissions monitoring service has only recently been installed in the Mungret area. That should have been in a long time ago.

I want to quickly address three elements. First, I ask that Irish Cement now engage properly with the residents living in the area on this licence. It is the minimum that is required and should be in the form of a public meeting to address people's concerns and deal with the lack of trust the public in the greater Mungret, Dooradoyle and Raheen area have in what is happening in Irish Cement. Second, I ask that the Minister of State looks at the laws for the operation of the facility. The EPA should come before the council looking for permission. Third, will the Minister of State give a commitment that the level of resources provided to monitor what is happening regarding emissions from heavy industries like the Irish Cement site in Mungret will be enhanced, because as of now it is inadequate?

This is about public health and the concerns of people living in the Mungret, Dooradoyle and Raheen areas for themselves and their children. We cannot have houses built virtually right up alongside the Mungret Irish Cement plant. People are worried about their health. It is the least they deserve. I also encourage those in the area who have concerns to make submissions to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. It is critically important that the EPA grants an oral hearing to the residents and the Limerick Against Pollution group when it makes its draft decision. These are reasonable people.

I thank Senator O'Donnell for his comments and welcome them. I understand the concerns that he has. He will accept that it is difficult for me to comment on an individual licence application lest I be accused of interfering in the EPA's independent licensing process. We have to take that on board.

I would also point out that while overall compliance with EPA licences is good, the EPA's office of environmental enforcement introduced a new methodology in 2015 for risk-ranking national priority sites, which takes account of enforcement performance giving a timely, dynamic and accurate picture of what regulatory responses should be directed.

Targeting actions in the right places is also of critical importance to the EPA in addressing the problems in an effective and efficient manner. It is placing a particular focus on any licensed industrial waste and wastewater facilities creating a nuisance for adjacent communities. EPA prosecutions are particularly focused on priority sites. In 2016, the EPA conducted over 1,500 site visits at licensed facilities and 17 prosecutions were pursued. Anyone with concerns in respect of the operations of the Mungret facility should raise them directly with the agency. As the Senator said, people have the opportunity to make submissions as the Senator has done, and to request an oral hearing at which these issues can be aired in public. I would hope that all parties would engage in processes as required and that the concerns of people in the locality will be taken on board in any decision made by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Institutes of Technology

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, atá tagtha anseo chun eolas a thabhairt dúinn maidir le GMIT. I want to talk to the Minister about the implementation of the report of the working group on the development and sustainable plan for the Mayo campus of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. I will not beat about the bush. The report recommended that the permanent head of centre be appointed. I know the post was advertised in September. Why was it re-advertised in February? After the short-listing, why was the recruitment process stopped and referred to the governing body? Why was a decision made to postpone the interview process? I understand it was referred to the risk unit, where the review took place.

Was the review completed? What were the results of the review? Can the Minister of State assure me and others that the correct procedures were followed?

The governing body sub-committee had its first meeting in March, yet I believe there was no consultation with staff members or the programme boards around that. I am concerned about that. I am aware that €40,000 was allocated for the promotion but I am concerned about the lack of consultation. Who decided how that money should be spent?

I am very concerned that none of the structural repairs have been carried out. The building required urgent repairs. The independent external facilitator has not yet been appointed. I was happy, like many other supporters of the Mayo campus of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, when the Minister of State and the Government agreed to facilitate the report of the working group. That group's work is undermined while its recommendations are not implemented. The recruitment process also concerns me. Perhaps the Minister of State could speak about some of the points I have raised.

I thank the Senator. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, has also been in touch with me in the past day or two. I have a comprehensive reply but if there are aspects I have not covered at the end, I will make a note and get back to the Senator on them. I visited Castlebar and saw the work that needs to be done. I agree that it should be done as quickly as possible.

I reiterate the Government’s commitment to the future sustainability of the Castlebar campus of GMIT. This is the reason the Minister for Education, Deputy Bruton, established the working group in March 2017 to develop a plan that would safeguard the future of the Castlebar campus. I also confirm that the Department and the Higher Education Authority, HEA, are focused on ensuring that the recommendations of the working group are implemented as soon as possible and with appropriate consultation with relevant stakeholders.

The GMIT working group was chaired by the HEA and comprised representatives from GMIT, the Department, Mayo County Council and other local stakeholders. It also comprised representation from the staff and students on the Castlebar campus. The report of the working group was published in December 2017. It provides a wide-ranging assessment of the context within which the campus is currently operating, and outlines a proposed vision for the future of the Mayo campus. It also provides a strategic and comprehensive plan to address the financial and sustainability issues which have been experienced by the GMIT Mayo campus in recent years.

The working group recommendations are primarily for GMIT to implement. However, there are recommendations that relate to the Department. The Department has responded to these as a matter of priority. To this end, the Department has provided ring-fenced funding of €750,000 for the Castlebar campus for each of the next five years while the plan is being implemented. Capital funding is also being provided for the replacement of the roof of the GMIT campus, which is currently in need of repair. The Department and the HEA are working with GMIT to ensure that the other recommendations are being progressed. One of the significant recommendations was the re-establishment of a sub-committee of the governing body of GMIT to oversee the management and development of the Mayo campus. This will give campus issues more focus from a governance perspective but will also facilitate the involvement of regional stakeholders within this structure.

The group is scheduled to meet again this month.

Another key recommendation is the appointment of a dedicated permanent head of campus at vice president level. I understand that the appointment process for this role is under way. The appointment of an independent external facilitator to oversee the transition to new structural and operational arrangements is another significant recommendation. The facilitator will play an important role in supporting the implementation of a number of the other working group recommendations. The facilitator will also contribute to rebuilding relationships where this is necessary. In that regard, the Higher Education Authority, HEA, wrote to the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, in March, requesting that progress be made on the appointment. The terms of reference for this position are being developed by GMIT in consultation with the HEA. The HEA will continue to monitor progress made by GMIT in implementing all of the working group's recommendations. The HEA will report to the Department in the event that progress is not being made in particular areas.

There has been a significant investment in this process by all relevant stakeholders. It is in everyone's interest that the recommendations in the review are implemented as soon as possible, and in consultation with those stakeholders. I would like to thank Senator Conway-Walsh for affording me the opportunity to respond to the House on this matter.

The head of centre is absolutely integral. Something wrong has happened here. I ask the Minister of State to investigate, and not to go on what is being presented to her. She should look behind some of the detail. The Mayo campus is absolutely integral to the education system in Mayo, particularly because of the cost of accommodation in many of the other towns. It is hugely important for both adult education and for those trying to access courses. There is a wonderful staff there. There are wonderful education opportunities, but we need to implement this report. It needs to be implemented immediately. We need to see action, not words. We need to see that money being spent on the roof and the structural repairs immediately.

I hear the Senator, and want to echo what she has just said. It is a wonderful facility. As I have said, I have visited it and I know exactly how important it is to Mayo, to the region and to the west of Ireland. I saw that roof myself. I thought the work would have started by now. It certainly needs to be refurbished and updated.