Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Rail Network

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin for coming to the House. As always he is prompt and I appreciate his presence in the Chamber.

There have been a number of plans and proposals for a high-speed rail service between Dublin and Belfast on both sides of the Border. The objective is that the journey time between Dublin and Belfast would be reduced to 90 minutes. The direct train between Belfast Central Station and Connolly Station in Dublin takes more than two hours at present. One of the proposals is that the Northern Ireland transport company, Translink, and Iarnród Éireann would work to provide a non-stop, 90-minute service, departing at hourly intervals. The Project Ireland 2040 plan also commits to a feasibility study for a high-speed rail link between the two largest cities on the island.

Mr. Keith Moffat, the former chief executive of Translink, has said that the cost of such a service involving 125 mph trains and an upgrade of the track would be in the region of €733 million. A proposal for this cross-Border service was contained in one report confirming that a high-speed, high-frequency service could be economically viable. There is some momentum behind this. Five local authorities - Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, Louth County Council, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Belfast City Council - also commissioned their own report. That report states that the improved rail connectivity offers the opportunity to tackle some of the challenges facing the island of Ireland in the future, which include the impact of Brexit and attracting foreign direct investment. The report notes that the current service between Dublin and Belfast is slow and infrequent. It outlines that there are currently eight trains a day in each direction, taking two hours and 15 minutes to make the 100 mile journey. The report notes that by international standards that this is slow for a railway connecting two major cities and its vision is for a 60-minute journey time to bring the service to a level on a par with the train service between Frankfurt and Cologne, a service on which I have travelled many times.

The local authority also examined other case studies such as the high-speed rail service between Lisbon and Porto in Portugal and the service between Amsterdam and Rotterdam in Holland. If we want an agreed Ireland, by having a high-speed rail network between the two largest cities in this country, we would send a signal that we have an objective in connecting the two main cities on this island.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter. I am glad to have the opportunity to address this issue in the House. The Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, Deputy Ross, has asked me to convey his apologies as unfortunately he could not be in the Chamber this morning.

The Senator rightly highlighted the importance of the Dublin-Belfast corridor. It does not just connect the two largest cities on the island but it also has a broader all-island context through strengthening linkages between Belfast, Dublin and Cork. Those linkages are well served by high-quality road and rail links and can play a critical role in supporting economic growth and competitiveness. I am glad that Project Ireland 2040 recognises its importance and sets out a number of proposals on how we can build on the corridor's existing strengths and promote its economic potential further. These proposals are a mixture of short, medium and longer-term measures but, collectively, they have the potential to improve the passenger experience for all those who use rail along the corridor.

First and foremost, Project Ireland 2040 states that the priority funding objective in respect of the mainline rail network is appropriate maintenance and renewal of the existing network. While this funding objective might not strike people as particularly exciting, I assure the House that it is critical to improving passengers' journey experience in the short to medium term. The increased levels of funding that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has secured mean we are now in a position to fund the rail network to a steady-state level and provide a degree of certainty in respect of that funding for the next five years. This is a significant and recurring contribution from the taxpayer of €200 million every year over the next five years and is a significant improvement on recent years. This increased funding will allow for increased ballast cleaning, more rail milling and greater levels of track renewal on the Dublin-Belfast line. It is these sorts of initiatives which can result in a smoother journey for the passenger, with improved journey times to boot.

We are also providing funding towards the development of a new national train control centre, which will allow for the better management of the entire network, including the Dublin-Belfast line. Construction on this project is expected to start later this year. Our colleagues in the North are currently working on a package of track improvements around the Lurgan area which will benefit the Dublin-Belfast main line and are expected to be completed later this year. This type of track renewal and investment on both sides of the Border will potentially allow for improved speeds on those sections of the track where they are not currently possible. However, in the longer term, Project Ireland 2040 commits towards an evaluation of high-speed rail, as raised by Senator Feighan, between Dublin and Belfast, Dublin and Limerick Junction and Dublin and Cork. This study will evaluate the economic benefits and value for money of high-speed rail against improvements to existing and planned line speeds along the lines. It can be confirmed to Senator Feighan that it is planned to commence this study during 2020.

As the Senator can see, a number of measures are under way and planned which are designed to further improve the rail network between Dublin and Belfast. The Minister is confident that these measures will improve and enhance services over the short, medium and longer term and further strengthen links between North and South.

I welcome the proposed national train control centre, which will allow for better management on the entire network, including the Belfast-Dublin line, and also the works being done around the Lurgan area, which, as the Minister of State said, will benefit the Dublin-Belfast line. I look forward to seeing the 2020 study being expedited as quickly as possible. As I said, however, I was in China nine months ago, and from Shanghai one can travel the same distance as that from Dublin to Belfast in 20 minutes. If we are serious about an agreed Ireland and about transport links on this island, we must start with the cross-Border Dublin-Belfast line. I look forward to the report being implemented.

Organ Donation Data

I thank my county colleague for coming before the House to take this matter on behalf of the Minister. I raised it over six months ago and I raise it again today. Two weeks ago, I tabled the matter for a Commencement debate and then received a reply by email from the Minister. He was only able to come in on that occasion. In the reply to which I refer, he explained why it is not possible for his Department to share on driver licences held by people in this country information to the effect that they want to be organ donors. A person is asked this question as part of the application process, and the response is printed on the licence in the form of a code, 115, which indicates that the person wants to be an organ donor. The Minister stated that under EU rules on data protection, we would need the permission of applicants to share their data. He also indicated that the difficulty was that people had not been asked if they were willing to have this data shared with a third party such as the HSE and that it would not be possible to share it without their consent. He was obviously unaware that he had already allowed his Department to share data from the driver licence registry with private companies such as eFlow and people who clamp vehicles. The Department had also shared the data with the Garda and the Courts Service, as it should have done. However, he stated at the time that data protection rules would not allow him to share the data with the HSE. That was not true. I have with me a copy of the statutory instrument that would allow him to share the data with the HSE. He has signed similar instruments for all the other bodies, including the courts, clamping companies and private operators such as eFlow to which I referred.

We have discovered from the Irish Kidney Association that sharing these data with healthcare professionals is important because of their ability to share the data with the families of loved ones who are potential donors. Only approximately 300 families find themselves in this situation in any given year. If specialist nurses are not involved in talking to families, only 22% will offer their loved ones' organs to be donated. If, however, a specialist nurse who is a transplant co-ordinator asks a family, the figure increases to 52%. Furthermore, if the family is informed, and it is shown, that their loved one wanted to be an organ donor, this increases to 92%. We would therefore go from about 50-50 to 92% if the Minister would only sign the statutory instrument to allow the HSE access to this information. Since we have highlighted this issue in the media, the change in the Minister's response has been interesting. At first he stated that because of European rules, he cannot share the data. Then it was pointed out that actually he had shared the data already. He has now come back with a new reply stating it is up to the Department of Health to ask for the data.

Our request, and I hope the Cathaoirleach will allow it, is that during Organ Donor Awareness Week, which is next week, the Minister for Health would come in and indicate why he has not requested the information from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Perhaps the Minister of State might use his good offices to ask that this simple process whereby the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport would share the data and the Department of Health would ask for the data in order that when families are faced with the traumatic situation whereby they lose a loved one, they would have the information at hand to the effect that their loved one wanted to be an organ donor. The number of people who have indicated on their driver licences that they want to be organ donors is reaching 1 million. This information is available to everyone else - clampers, the courts and the Garda - but it is not available to the families of the loved ones facing a decision that is traumatic and extreme but that can transform and save the lives of many people.

I thank Senator Mark Daly for raising this matter. In fairness, he has been pressing the issue of organ donation for a number of years and has been very passionate about it. I commend him on his work in respect of the matter. As we know, organ donation saves many lives and is critically important. Again, I convey the apologies of the Minister who cannot be here.

As the Senator stated, in replies given to him last May, the issue of the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and data protection in general were raised as being an impediment to progress being seen on this matter. One of the issues about which the Minister is concerned is that we need to be very careful about this. One of the suggestions is that it may be possible to add a question to the application form asking whether people consent to the sharing of the information. As a licence is valid for ten years, it would then take a decade to work through the system to cover everyone in this regard. As for the HSE and the Department of Health, there is a significant body of work to be done before it can be established whether the statutory instrument to which the Senator referred could be effective. If it is intended that the HSE could look up lists of potential organ donors, for example, where a patient died and the HSE wanted to know quickly if the patient had signed up to be a donor, there could well be benefits. However, the Minister still needs to hear the HSE's views on this, as well as those of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, before he can take action. There are at present many pressing issues within the Department, particularly in the context of Brexit. As acknowledged since last May, this matter has not received the priority or attention it needs in view of the other constraints currently affecting the Department. However, I will go back to the Minister on the specific question of the statutory instrument to which the Senator referred - perhaps he could give me a copy of it - and ask him to look particularly at the legal issues surrounding it.

If it is the case that a simple statutory instrument, if signed, would address this issue, that would be a major step forward. I will commit to see if we can make progress on it. None of us knows who will be affected by this or whose life could be saved in the short term as a result. This is deserving of further scrutiny and attention, and if a quick solution can be found here, that would be major progress.

I rarely comment on these matters. I am aware Brexit is a headache for the Government, for Westminster and for much of Europe, and it is an important issue of State, but comparing this matter, which is one of life and death, to Brexit is a difficult one to swallow having regard to the issue.

I am glad the Minister of State did not read out the full reply, which, I know, was not written by him. It is ridiculous to say that under current EU rules on data protection we need the permission of the applicant to share the data because the Minister has already shared the data with eFlow, the courts and the Garda. The Minister can do it, and has done it.

I refer to the Minister giving the reply he gave two weeks ago. It is different from the reply he gave last Friday, 22 March in which he stated he had not been asked for it, which I accept. We are making progress. The Minister is still unaware he is sharing the data already. It is unfortunate that the Minister is unaware that he has signed the statutory instrument for private companies to have access to that data.

People indicate they want to be organ donors because they want others to know. They do not want it to be a secret. That is why it is there to be shared.

The issue for next week - hopefully, the Cathaoirleach will allow the debate - is for the Minister for Health to come in and ask why we have not asked for the data. In essence, the Minister is acknowledging that he will share the data if he is requested to do so by the Department of Health. It is obviously of concern to the Minister that what the Department of Health does with it is appropriate. He outlined that it would be the national transplant unit of the HSE, if it makes a formal application, and how that information would be used and how it would be accessed by healthcare professionals.

To use data protection as an excuse when the Minister has already shared this data from the driver licence with others is not an acceptable answer as to why there is inaction. People die on our transplant waiting list because there are not enough organs. It is a systems failure. Countries such as Croatia and Spain have surplus organs because they have better systems. This will help. If it saves one life, it is worth doing.

One cannot shoot the messenger. The Minister of State has given a commitment that he will go back to the Senator.

I am not shooting the messenger.

I am sure, too, he will be heading for Croke Park on Sunday.

I may fire a few shots over the Senator's head, though.

I am sure the Minister of State and the Senator will head for Croke Park on Sunday with linked arms. I would suggest the Minister of State has made a commitment that he would go back to the Senator.

I commit to going back on that issue, specifically the statutory instrument.

As next week is Organ Donor Awareness Week, no doubt Senator Mark Daly will raise it. I do not have total discretion on what I can allow or not. It is something on which progress could be made for humane reasons.

Local Authority Boundaries

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. I was listening to a similar debate with Deputy Mattie McGrath in the other House recently. Without pre-empting the debate, I ask Senator Ó Domhnaill to outline his case.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting the matter for discussion.

This is an issue which relates to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and a decision taken by the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, which would remove the Cahir local electoral area from the Clonmel Borough District following the local elections in May.

Since the amalgamation of Tipperary County Council in 2014, Clonmel and Cahir were joined together as one district. The subsequent review of boundaries by the independent boundary commission recommended that the borough be split into two wards: the Cahir electoral area, with four councillors; and Clonmel, with six elected representatives. However, the borough continues to meet as one unit in accordance with the submission made by the local authority at the time.

Notwithstanding this, it is my understanding from local authority councillors that prior to Christmas the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, signed a ministerial order removing Cahir local electoral area from the Clonmel borough. Instead, the Cahir local electoral area, LEA, is being joined with the Cashel Tipperary Municipal District. Local councillors have submitted a notice of motion to the March meeting of Tipperary County Council expressing their dismay and concern at this decision. The motion called on the local authority to insist that the Minister review the decision, for the Department to liaise with the local authority CEO and local authority officials to best address the concerns of the current elected members of the borough district regarding the geographical size of the proposed new super district of Tipperary-Cashel-Cahir.

The logistics of removing Cashel LEA, in terms of staffing and funding, and the negative effects this would have on members of the public seeking services and assistance have been highlighted by local councillors. This is clearly in stark contradiction to the recommendations made by the boundary commission. It appears that it is a solo run being taken by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The motion, which was unanimously passed by the councillors in Tipperary, was jointly signed by the former mayors, Councillors Andy Moloney, Pat English and Martin Lonergan, and the current mayor, Councillor Richie Molloy. This motion was submitted due to their deeply held and serious concerns around this issue.

There has been a linkage between Clonmel and Cahir going back 204 years to the time when Charles Bianconi established a transport connection between Clonmel and Cahir. This link is being severed now by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and that is regrettable. It goes against the wishes of the local people and the local elected councillors. Therefore, it is not the democratic wish of the local communities in Tipperary. The matter has been raised in the Dáil by my colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath.

What the councillors seek here is a simple rational intervention by the Minister, namely, to proceed with the recommendation of the independent boundary commission that both would remain as one entity with separate wards or, alternatively, put the decision on hold pending a review and consultations with all key stakeholders and re-engagement with the boundary commission. That is a reasonable request.

The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is not at that Department, and he probably will be coming here with the civil servants' response to the issue.

This decision goes against local democracy. It is a ministerial interference at a local level which is not being welcomed by councillors, on a cross-party basis, from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Independents. No one welcomes it. The Minister should put this on hold pending further consultations.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me the opportunity to elaborate on the matter.

I am always trying to be helpful. Before I allow the Minister of State in, I welcome my local Deputy, Deputy Michael Collins, from Cork South-West, and his special guests, the O'Mahony family from Kealkill. I am a little short-sighted from this distance but they are also my neighbours. I wish them a very pleasant day in the House. I am a little nervous when I see Deputies from my area coming into the Chamber because they might be watching my position down the road. I wish them a lovely day.

I also welcome the visitors to the Seanad.

I want to thank Senator Ó Domhnaill for raising this issue and for the opportunity to outline the position on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan.

A municipal district is an administrative sub-division of a local authority designated by ministerial order and is therefore separate and distinct, although obviously linked to LEAs. Local authority members and the Association of Irish Local Government had raised concerns regarding a number of issues in respect of LEAs. A concern was raised about the need to ensure large urban centres wore adequately represented.

The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, established two independent local electoral area boundary committees, No. 1 and No. 2, in December 2017 to review and make recommendations on local electoral areas.

In response to the concerns raised, the committees were specifically asked to have regard to, among other things, the need to ensure adequate representation for large urban centres. The committees were not specifically tasked with defining municipal districts, MDs, save where it was considered necessary, as it was intended that MDs would largely remain unchanged. The recommendations made by each committee in their respective reports in respect of local electoral areas were accepted in full and were reflected in the statutory instruments signed on 19 December last. The overall policy objectives, particularly regarding large urban electoral areas with populations in excess of 15,000, have been largely met.

In considering how best to configure the MDs in Tipperary, and to ensure Clonmel is adequately represented, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, varied the recommendation to designate a distinct MD entitled "Borough District of Clonmel". Clonmel is the largest town in Tipperary. It is a former borough town with a population of more than 17,000 people. The LEAs of Cahir and Cashel-Tipperary were aligned in a single MD. The MDs designated in Tipperary largely deliver the key requirements of good local government. The interaction the Minister of State has had with local councillors has been positive on this front. He has engaged with both the elected members and the executive of Tipperary County Council and visited Clonmel and Tipperary town recently to discuss the MDs with local members.

The boundary committees, having fulfilled their remit and presented reports of recommendations, now stand dissolved and, therefore, no longer exist. As a result of his engagement with elected representatives, the Minister of State is considering a proposal to change the name of the Cahir-Cashel Municipal District to the Tipperary-Cahir-Cashel Municipal District. Municipal districts have been largely welcomed by councillors and representative groups. They have been effective since the 2014 elections. With changes to the LEAs, to ensure the areas covered are not too big and large urban areas are well represented, they will be even better following the next local elections. In that context, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is currently examining ways to increase the autonomy of MDs and the number and extent of functions carried out at district level.

This is the response I was expecting. It would appear the Minister of State has made his decision. This will have drastic consequences for the town of Clonmel. Councillors in the Clonmel borough area have told me this will reduce the funding available to the local government unit there. As Clonmel has a population of 17,000, there will be a big impact not just on Tipperary but also on the wider region. This is a retrograde step. I appeal again to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, although I know this is not his brief, to use his good offices to try to influence the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to cease from pursuing this decision.

I also ask that he engage in further consultations and put off the implementation of this decision until those consultations have concluded. I know he was in Tipperary recently and met elected members and staff. Following that, however, the council passed a motion at its monthly meeting. That was because it did not accept what the Minister of State was stating. He was informing the councillors and not consulting them, as was outlined in the response. I ask the Minister of State to have another look at this issue.

I thank the Senator for raising an important matter. I will convey his points to the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan. As the Senator stated, the Minister of State visited Clonmel but circumstances have changed. There was a discussion locally afterwards and a motion was passed by the democratically-elected members of the council. As a former city councillor myself, I think those voices should be listened to. I will bring these concerns back to the Minister of State.

Regional Development Funding

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is my namesake. I call Senator Gallagher who has four minutes.

Go raibh maith agat. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire-Stáit go dtí an Teach seo. I thank the Minister of State for taking time out of his schedule to be here. As he knows, the Border, midlands and western, BMW, region has now moved back from what is called a developed region to a region in transition. This reflects the two-tier economy on the island of Ireland. Dublin, the east and Munster are growing while the west and the north flatten. I will be interested to hear what plans the Government has to address this. After 2020, the BMW region will be recategorised as a region in transition while the southern and eastern part of the country will continue to be described as developed.

EUROSTAT has confirmed that funding to this country will continue under three categories of region in the post-2020 period. These are less developed, transition and more developed. That certainly is good news. The European Regional Development Fund, ERDF, has been delivering on providing funding to the regions in Ireland since as far back as 1999. It was also important that there was regional representation at both national and EU level.

However, the regions have taken a backward step over the past number of years. That is proved by this recategorisation backwards from what is called a developed region to a region in transition. The EU has stated and confirmed what we have been saying in this part of the world for a long time. The BMW region has been left behind in recent years. It is no surprise to anybody living there. People living in the Border region are at a greater risk of poverty compared with the rest of the country. A recent report from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, showed that 25.7% of the residents in counties Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal and Leitrim struggled financially in 2017. The report also outlined that several counties within the Border region suffer compared with other parts of the country regarding access to broadband, transport, disposable income and housing vacancies.

The good news, however, is that the EU has recognised this. Our recategorisation means there is an opportunity for increased funding from the EU to address this underinvestment in the region. This is a serious opportunity for us to address that underinvestment and I will be interested to hear the Minister of State's plans to address that particular issue. There is also an opportunity for the regional assembly to address the legacy of underinvestment and increased EU Exchequer funding post-2020. It is vitally important that the regions take, and continue to have, control over the allocation of funds to their regions.

Brexit is staring us in the face. People wonder why the British community decided to make the decision it did. I suppose some people may feel disconnected and distant from Europe. It is important that the EU has a connection with people on the ground, so that no matter what part of the world or this country they live in, it is possible to see a tangible connection with the EU. From that point of view, I understand the Minister of State's Department is conducting a review of the delivery of European investment funds to the regions with a view to, perhaps, removing responsibility from the regional assemblies to a centralised system. That would be a serious backward step. I hope he will confirm that will not be the case.

I apologise at the outset on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. I am taking this Commencement matter on his behalf. The BMW region is one of Ireland’s two regions for the purposes of EU funding. During the 2014-2020 period, the ERDF alone will deliver more than €320 million worth of investment to the region. This investment is concentrated primarily on research and innovation, information and communication technologies, ICT, small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, and promoting a low-carbon economy.

These are the types of investments that can make a difference to inclusive growth and regional development. The region also receives support through a range of other EU programmes including the European Social Fund, ESF, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, EAFRD, and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF.

I agree with the Senator on the importance of achieving balanced regional development and I note the recent data released by EUROSTAT regarding levels of GDP per head for the regions of Ireland. The development of all of the regions of the country is something that this Government takes very seriously. In 2018 the Government launched Project Ireland 2040, an ambitious, strategic vision for Ireland’s investment in critical infrastructure in the future. It consists of two core elements: a national planning framework and the investment of €116 billion over a ten-year period. For each regional assembly area, regional, spatial and economic strategies are being developed to support the implementation of the national planning framework and the economic policies and objectives of the Government by providing a long-term strategic planning and economic framework for the development of the regions. The national development plan envisages investment across a range of areas aimed at delivering public infrastructure over the coming years including increased investment in broadband, roads, tourism and agriculture and an investment of €4.5 billion in our regional and local roads.

The year 2018 saw the launch of the rural regeneration and development fund. With a total budget of €1 billion over the period to 2027, the fund will promote rural renewal in order to enable towns, villages and outlying rural areas to grow sustainably as vibrant places in which to live and work. The first call for proposals under the fund was launched in July 2018. Some 84 projects have been announced with a total value of €117 million. The newly-established Department of Rural and Community Development has made considerable progress with €237 million invested across a package of supports to strengthen our rural economies and communities. By promoting development in all regions we can bring new life back into towns and villages which were previously neglected.

Given the potential impact on rural and Border areas of this country arising from the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, a Brexit resilience package of €78 million was announced for the agrifood sector for 2019 in the last budget. This includes a range of measures to support farmers and industry against the background of the challenges that lie ahead. I also acknowledge the special role of the PEACE and INTERREG programmes in the Border region. Ireland and the United Kingdom are currently partners in two EU-funded cross-Border co-operation programmes which incorporate the Border counties with a total value of €550 million over the period up to 2020.

In conclusion, the Government is extremely committed to balanced, sustainable development in all regions, including the Border, midland and western region. This is demonstrated by investment in sectoral strategies. It is underpinned by the national development plan which will deliver modern public infrastructure over the coming years which, it is to be hoped, will improve the lives of people throughout the country and allow our companies and economy to continue to thrive in a globalised world. I will bring the points the Senator has raised to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. I appreciate that this is not a matter for his Department, but the increased EU funding of 55% for any particular project is a serious opportunity for Government to invest in the region. I ask the Minister of State to stress to his colleague that it is vitally important that the regions should be responsible for the allocation of that funding and that the system should not be centralised. Perhaps the Minister of State could get a response to that question for me. I thank him for his time here this morning.

I am a Minister of State in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, so it is my Department that looks at this issue. With regard to the areas to which the Senator has primarily referred in respect of economic development, it is important to point out that unemployment in all of the regions, particularly in those outside Dublin, has fallen. That needs to be recognised. Every labour exchange, as we previously called them, across the regions has noted a huge drop in unemployment from the high point in 2012 and 2013 to where we are now.

There is a role for local authorities with regard to some of the investment that is available to access. We all need to examine our individual local authorities and their county managers to see whether they are putting projects forward for the various funding streams. In the last round there were massive disparities in respect of the projects allocated funding. It really calls into question what our local authorities are putting forward. The money is there and the schemes are there. I am a former local authority member, as are some Members of the House. We need to scrutinise what our local authorities are putting forward.

A number of different Departments have a role in the matter to which the Senator is referring. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is very important as the keeper of the purse, but others are involved in respect of the regional strategies that have been outlined, for example the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. With regard to the economic throughput, the Ministers, Deputies Ring and Humphreys, are also involved. This has been taken as a whole-of-Government issue and it is being taken very seriously. A more co-ordinated investment by Government is already being seen in all of the regions in parallel with the drop in unemployment across the country but there is always more that needs to be done. We are very cognisant of that. That is why we are going to continue on the path we are on.

I thank the Minister of State for his very expansive response.