Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 9 Oct 2019

Vol. 267 No. 9

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Childcare Services Provision

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, for coming in. I hope he will not mind me saying that I am disappointed the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, is not here. I believe she has a budget press conference at 12 noon but it is only 10.30 a.m. I would have hoped that she would have come into the Chamber to discuss this important issue but I thank the Minister of State for his presence. I hope he will be able to give me some answers and maybe convey the message that I am going to relay today.

I live in north County Dublin, which has the youngest and the fastest growing population in the country. There is a severe issue there in regard to the provision of childcare facilities. When I talk about childcare facilities, I am talking about full-time childcare facilities and not sessional facilities. We have some of those, although we could do with more. We have good coverage of the part-time ECCE-funded facilities but I am talking about full-time crèche facilities. North County Dublin has a very young population that is growing rapidly. Much housing is being built in the area, particularly in Donabate, where I live, and in Lusk. That brings families, people starting families or people who have children. They are moving into areas in the expectation that there will be crèche facilities but that is not the case.

What we are finding is that developers have been granted planning permission for hundreds of houses on the basis that they will provide a crèche in the development. People buy their houses, and spend a lot of money on them, with the promise that there will be a crèche on their doorstep. What is happening is that the second phase of a development might have to go to An Bord Pleanála and the requirement for a crèche is being taken out at An Bord Pleanála level, or at local authority level.

Instead, a proposal for more and denser housing provision is submitted and, suddenly, the community is without the childcare facility it expected to have. When that happens three or four times in a small area, it becomes a real crisis. It is something I have faced personally, as have neighbours of mine. It is upsetting for parents to discover that there is no childcare facility to which they can send their children. This is an ongoing crisis and it is creating all sorts of problems. In the case of large-scale developments which might consist of up to four phases, what is happening is that the provision of a crèche is postponed until the last phase, which may be many years after the first phase was built. In some instances, when the final stage is reached, the builders do not bother to build the crèche and instead leave a small part of the site on which nothing is constructed. By that stage, they have sold 600 or 700 houses on the promise of there being an on-site crèche.

I have an example of this type of thing in Donabate, where planning permission for a development was granted on the basis that a crèche would be provided. The builders have now gone back to Fingal County Council and applied for a change-of-use permission that would allow them to construct two more houses instead of the crèche. When Councillor Adrian Henchy and I arranged a public meeting to discuss the change, there was great interest from families outraged that this was happening. Following that successful meeting, more than 30 submissions were submitted locally to the council and a decision in the case is pending. The developer argued that there was no local demand for a crèche, in response to which we clearly proved there was such demand. The developer also claimed to have been unable to find any local provider willing to offer a childcare service from the proposed crèche. In fact, there are plenty of local providers who are interested in running a crèche from the building if and when it is built. As it emerged, what the developer actually wants is to sell the building for €1 million. The developer simply does not want to rent it for a ten-year term to anybody willing to avail of it to provide a childcare service to people in the village.

Will the Minister of State convey to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, the urgent need for her to get involved, through the local childcare committees, in the planning process? She needs to make submissions to Fingal County Council and, on behalf of communities, to An Bord Pleanála. Parents of young children in the area are already flat to the washers trying to work, provide a home and pay mortgages and other bills. We cannot leave it to them to fight for these essential community facilities. We need the Minister to get on board. All the schemes and reform measures in the world are of little use if we do not have the necessary physical infrastructure in growing and emerging communities and if we allow developers to lead the development of communities to the detriment of families. I could talk forever about the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling and the stress caused to families by the lack of childcare provision, but the Cathaoirleach has indicated that my time is up. I urge the Minister of State to take the message to the Minister that we need her to engage actively in the planning process.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, sends her apologies for being unable to attend the debate this morning. As the Senator will understand, all matters relating to planning, including crèche developments, fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government rather than the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. First 5: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, published last year, has the strategic objective to maintain and extend the supply of high-quality, publicly-subsidised early learning and care and school-age childcare to best serve the developmental needs of babies and young children while also ensuring that such provision reflects the needs and preferences of parents and families. The agreed action in the First 5 implementation plan related to planning is to "review and update the National Planning Guidelines for the development of Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare settings". The lead partner is named and agreed as the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Implementation of this action point has begun but will take some time to complete.

The unprecedented increase in investment in childcare over the past five budgets has helped to increase capacity in the sector by 100%. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has doubled the provision of free care under the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme from one year to two years. The number of childcare places has also doubled. Baby and toddler places have increased from 13,700 in 2014 to more than 31,000 in 2018, a rise of 128%. In the 2018-19 year, 4,598 early learning and care and school-age childcare services were approved for funding. More capacity is needed, which is why the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is continuing her intensive efforts in this area. There is a need to encourage further capacity for the under threes and for older age groups in centre-based care and to support increased capacity in the childminding sector. With this in mind, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs recently recruited a national childminding co-ordinator and will soon recruit a team of six development officers around the country to support the registration of more childminders with Tusla and thereby enable them to access subsidies under the national childcare scheme, NCS. The creation of places for younger children aged from six months to three years of age was prioritised by the Department in all three of the most recent annual capital programmes for early learning and care services. This year, a specific strand of capital funding was earmarked specifically for the creation of places for under threes, and more than 1,000 extra places will be delivered before the end of the year.

The Minister ensured that childcare was identified as a strategic priority in the national development plan. She secured €250 million under the plan, much of which will be invested in additional capacity. The good news is that there is sufficient capacity in the ECCE scheme. When the programme still had three entry points and before the entitlement to a full two years of care, there were approximately 120,000 children participating. Now that there is two full years and a single entry point, we have approximately 108,000 children participating. The parents of some ECCE-eligible children are using other Government childcare schemes instead. This means that, broadly, there is sufficient capacity under ECCE and the focus of providers and departmental capital schemes can now shift to building places for the under threes and school-age children.

Funding for early learning and care and school-age childcare was increased by a further €54 million in yesterday's budget. This brings the total increase in the past five budgets to an unprecedented 138%. The extra funding will support the continued provision of two years of ECCE provision for all children, ensure the full participation of children with disabilities under the access and inclusion model, and support the introduction of the NCS later this year, which will be a major incentive for providers to expand capacity. The NCS will provide a progressive system of subsidies, starting with the highest subsidy rates of up to €5.10 per hour for children aged under one. The next highest subsidy, for one and two year olds, will be up to €4.35 per hour.

I realise that the Minister of State is deputising for the Minister, Deputy Zappone, but, unfortunately, much of his statement has absolutely no relevance to the points I raised. He referred to providers being able to expand capacity as a result of subsidies. The point I am making is that they do not have the accommodation to do so. This is particularly the case in north County Dublin but also, I am sure, in other growing communities, especially in Leinster. Developers are being allowed to take proposed crèche facilities out of their plans and put in more housing. I want the Minister to start making submissions to Fingal County Council and to An Bord Pleanála in order to solve this problem. Giving more subsidies to providers does not work when there is no building to accommodate them. Are they supposed the run the crèches from a field? Capacity under the ECCE scheme has nothing to do with the problem I am highlighting.

Childminders are an important piece of the jigsaw of childcare provision. However, in areas with a young population like Donabate and Lusk, there is no large cohort of older parents who have raised their own families and now have time on their hands to mind other people's children. People are busy with their own families. Incentives for childminders are no good to the people in Donabate and Lusk who are fighting urgently to secure crèche facilities.

I respectfully disagree with the Senator. The 138% increase in funding for childcare is a very significant development in the past five years.

Where are the providers supposed to go? There is no accommodation for them.

I did not interrupt the Senator.

I invite the Minister of State to come to Donabate to see the situation there.

The idea that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should get involved in the planning process in Fingal County Council is astonishing.

I am suggesting that she go through the local childcare committees.

The planning process is an independent process. The suggestion that the Minister would decide whether two houses or a crèche are part of a development is worthy of rebuke.

The local childcare committees are supposed to represent local families.

The Senator is out of time.

The Minister has directed them not to make submissions on behalf of families. It is a disgrace.

We must move on. If the Senator is not happy, she will have to raise the matter with the Minister on another day.

I take this opportunity to point out that, pro rata, Members on the Government side of the House, including Fianna Fáil Members, are entitled to be allocated at least two Commencement matters every day. Some Members have complained that their submission was not chosen. Given that Senators Kieran O'Donnell and Maria Byrne, for different and genuine reasons, were unable to take up their slots last week, I decided, in order to be fair, to select them again this week.

Senator Wilson had his first matter for ten months and that is why his was chosen. I try to balance everybody's requests.

Hospital Overcrowding

The Cathaoirleach is fair and equitable in his role. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to the House. On a personal note, I wish him well. Politics is a tough game and I very much respect what he is doing. I put on record that he has a phenomenal body of work to his name. I wish him well for the future and he might return at some point.

This matter concerns overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick. There is a sense of déjà vu as I raised it at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Health last Wednesday, 2 October, when the Minister of State was present. There is persistent overcrowding and this is a human issue now, as opposed to a political matter. In September, University Hospital Limerick consistently had the highest number of people on trolleys and that has been the pattern for a long period. An average of 68 people per day were on trolleys this September, but in September 2018, there were an average of 44 people per day on trolleys. I have seen the daily figures since the start of October and over the past nine days, the average per day has been over 70. That figure is too high.

I put a number of suggestions to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, and I concluded by calling for a radical action plan to tackle the overcrowding. There is a 60-bed block under construction and it is expected that it will be completed next June and operational next September. There is also a 96-bed acute care bed block in the planning and design phase, and the HSE has assured me the planning process will start at the beginning of the coming year. I have pushed for both projects and I got €100,000 for preliminary design work by University Hospital Limerick and the HSE in getting it under way.

This is a legacy issue and there was a reconfiguration when facilities at Ennis, Nenagh and St. John's hospitals were closed in 2009. There were supposed to be 138 co-location beds on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick but that did not happen. Over the next number of years we will have 150 extra beds, but until that happens, we must have radical interim measures to deal with overcrowding, which every day is affecting people I deal with.

There should be a number of components in these measures. An additional MRI scanner should be provided, as was mentioned at the meeting of the Oireachtas health committee last week. The existing MRI scanner is old and under severe pressure. It is contributing to the fact that diagnostics are not being completed on time. Recently there were 47 people awaiting discharge but in the previous year this number was always approximately four. There should be funding for fair deal transitional care to allow people to move to step-down facilities quickly. There are many people occupying beds in University Hospital Limerick who could avail of step-down facilities if funding was available. Perhaps facilities at Ennis, Nenagh and St. John's hospitals could be used more efficiently to get non-acute patients out of beds at University Hospital Limerick.

We are at a crisis point and I have campaigned about this for a long period. We must overcome the problems that will arise over winter. A commitment was given by the Minister and the Minister of State at the Oireachtas committee to meet representatives of the HSE and the Department to discuss matters specific to University Hospital Limerick and the mid-west before reverting to us. This is such an urgent issue that I am asking where is the radical action plan and when will it be implemented. Will there be a new MRI scanner as I do not believe that the process could still take up to eight weeks? This is a crisis and if we need a new scanner, it should be found. A transition package for people to avail of fair deal would allow people to be discharged more quickly to step-down facilities. The facilities at Ennis, Nenagh and St. John's hospitals could also be used more efficiently.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the issues raised by Senator O'Donnell. According to provisional HSE TrolleyGAR data, there was a 17% increase in patients waiting on trolleys a year to date in University Hospital Limerick accident and emergency department in September 2019 compared with the same period last year. In September 2019, there were 897 patients counted on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick, which was a 28% increase compared with the previous month. It is acknowledged that this is unacceptably high and the HSE is actively working with the University of Limerick Hospitals Group to ease congestion in University Hospital Limerick, with a focus on facilitating transfers to level 2 hospitals, as mentioned by the Senator, with regard to transitional care, assistance from rehabilitation units and community health organisation services, and prioritisation of diagnostics to aid inpatient discharges. Senator O'Donnell quite correctly and aptly referenced these.

The HSE has advised that University Hospital Limerick is experiencing high levels of occupancy combined with challenges from infection prevention and control measures. Ward rounds are ongoing in the hospital to identify patients for discharge and diagnostics are being prioritised to maximise egress. In addition, transfers to model 2 hospitals are being expedited and the surgical and acute medical assessment units are functioning to assist admission avoidance. The University of Limerick Hospitals Group has reported that indications for an MRI scan have greatly increased over the past 15 years and that an additional MRI scanner would have an immediate benefit in faster discharge of patients and reducing admissions. Proposals for funding of a second MRI machine and replacement of the existing scanner have been made by UHL. The HSE will have to consider the proposal in the context of the budget process.

Planning for the winter of 2019 and 2020 has commenced, and the Department of Health is working with the HSE to finalise the winter plan in the coming weeks. Individual community healthcare organisations and aligned hospital groups are preparing integrated winter plans that will focus on demand management and reduction, staffing availability, timely access to the most appropriate care pathway for patients, and the provision of appropriate and timely egress from acute hospitals. The local integrated winter plans will be delivered by local winter action teams. The winter action teams will report to the HSE winter oversight group, consisting of senior HSE staff across the relevant divisions and chaired by the chief operations officer.

The integrated winter plans will support the development of a single overarching strategic level winter plan for the HSE. Additionally, the Department and the HSE have been considering a comprehensive approach to the current high level of delayed transfers of care. However, recognising the urgency of the situation, approval was provided to the HSE to begin actions immediately to the value of €5 million in 2019 with a view to bringing the waiting times for the release of the nursing home support scheme funding back to four weeks, providing additional home support and increasing transitional care.

The health service capacity review published last year highlighted the need for a major investment in additional capacity. Progress has been made on increasing capacity in University Hospital Limerick, and the average number of open inpatient beds has increased by 4% between 2017 and March 2019. Since 2017, an additional 25 beds have been opened in University Hospital Limerick, including eight as part of last year's winter plan. In addition, a capital budget of €19.5 million has been approved for the provision of a modular 60-bed inpatient ward block at University Hospital Limerick, with funding of €10 million allocated in 2019. The new modular ward will include three wards comprising 20 single-room occupancy with en suite facilities, two of which will be full isolation facilities and will provide care and treatment for patients from admission to discharge. The HSE has advised that the enabling works are complete and the main contractor is commencing work.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. We need to see a specific radical action plan and I will hold the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State to the commitment made at the Oireachtas health committee last week. They asked for two weeks and I will give that but it should take no longer. We need immediate action on the MRI scanner and I expect to see results on that over the next two weeks.

The Minister of State referenced bed capacity, which is clearly the fundamental issue at University Hospital Limerick, if not the only one. There are two aspects to this. When a second MRI scanner is in place, it may prevent the admission of people who may not need to be admitted because of the wait for an MRI. Additionally, people could be discharged much more quickly. Will the Minister of State confirm that there will be funding under the budget to allow people to transition to fair deal so they can move to a nursing home before the fair deal scheme kicks in formally? Will it be fast-tracked for University Hospital Limerick?

The action plan must be radical and involve a new scanner with immediate effect, as well as transitional step down funding. The Minister of State made reference to the use of the hospital. I ask for confirmation of transitional funding for fair deal to nursing homes.

The Senator made a comprehensive case at the committee last week, not just to me and the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, but, more importantly, to Mr. Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE, and Mr. Liam Woods, who, along with the senior team in the HSE, addressed the issue of the scanner. The hospital can do no more than put forward a proposal for funding. The HSE is currently examining the situation and I and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, will support the Senator in his endeavour to have that expedited as quickly as possible. We see it as a very practical solution which can help the situation.

Transitional care funding was released on 9 September nationally, which has had an impact. The weeks in the month of August were out of kilter for the fair deal scheme and there was a block on transitional care funding which made everything in the hospital system worse. Emergency funding was released on 9 September, which is playing out through the system and has brought everything back into kilter. The waiting time for the fair deal scheme has reduced to four weeks. The flow of transitional care funding has opened up again. That is why the peaks in September are particularly acute. We hope to see some improvement. Continuing funding will be made available over the winter plan to deal with that.

Hospital Staff Recruitment

I welcome the Minister of State. We have had debates on this issue in the past and he gave me a very promising answer, but I am very frustrated at this stage because it is my understanding that, despite funding having been sanctioned for a nursing position at least eight if not 12 months ago, progress has stalled. When I wrote to University Hospital Limerick to ask it to outline the situation, I was told that the position was advertised in July. I asked why interviews had not taken place and the position had not been filled and the answer I received stated that the position has been advertised and awaits release from the national director for the recruitment process to proceed to the next stage.

I spoke to MS Ireland and people with MS and other neurological illnesses. The nursing position is crucial. In 2016 a report was launched by the hospital group which recommended that there be three clinical nurse specialists in neurology. We are currently looking for one because there are none. The clinical nurse specialist plays a crucial role in the treatment of people who have MS and other similar illnesses. I attended the meeting of the health committee last week, at which we discussed overcrowding and people on trolleys. Clinical nurse specialists help to address that, given that people are taking up beds because they have nowhere else to go as there is no one to give them the advice and support they need.

These nurses provide support and are also able to look at the medication people are taking and advise those with an illness on how to take it. They play a key role in ensuring that people are not admitted to hospital. When people are admitted to hospital due to the lack of a specialist nurse they take up beds which could be used by other people.

MS relapses cost the State approximately €16.9 million per year, according to a report from MS Ireland. That is the cost when a nurse is not in place. A specialist nurse needs to be resourced. As I said, eight or 12 months ago I thought a clinical nurse specialist was on the way for neurology patients. Many other illnesses also require such a nurse. However, to date nothing has happened which is very frustrating. I would like an update on the situation.

I thank the Senator and acknowledge her contribution, along with that of her colleague, Senator Kieran O'Donnell, at the committee last week. She put a formidable case for dealing with the challenges that exist in University Hospital Limerick. She was not behind the door when it came to making the point to the HSE management team and the ministerial team present. Her frustration is understandable and appreciated.

I can appreciate her frustration in looking for an update on the appointment of a clinical nurse specialist, having raised the issue in the House before. Regrettably, the story is much the same. I will not read the script in deference to Senator Byrne. I will not repeat the background to this as it is all on the record of the House from a previous submission I made. As I understand it, the post is with the national recruitment centre and has been advertised. If it is okay with the Senator, I will try to assist her by making direct contact with the CEO of the HSE, Mr. Paul Reid, today and ask him to clarify why this position has not been filled. Part of the recommended model of care includes having a clinical nurse specialist, and I will not rehash that argument. The need is recognised. I would like to know why a nurse has not been appointed. I will revert to the Senator directly after my contact with Mr. Reid, if that is okay with her.

I thank the Minister of State for that offer because I raised this issue with Mr. Reid at the committee last week when we discussed MRI scanners and overcrowding. If a neurological clinical nurse specialist was put in place it would definitely help to reduce waiting lists. The more pressure we can put on Mr. Reid the better.

Army Barracks Closures

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. As he may be aware, in March 2012 the only purpose built army barracks in the history of the State, and the most modern in Europe, was closed. This barracks was Dún Uí Neill in Cavan town.

There has been an Army barracks in Cavan since the 1700s. In 1990, soldiers moved from the oldest occupied barracks in the world to the most modern in Europe. Now, from Donegal to Louth, there are no Army personnel based on the Border. It is an area with more than 350 crossings and it will become a frontier as the UK exits the European Union. The Six Counties of Northern Ireland will no longer be part of that Union.

The closure of Dún Uí Néill barracks was a mistake. I have continually raised this matter in this House, as has my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, in the Lower House. In the years since the closure we have had an increase in dissident republican and lawless activities in the Border area. I fear these activities will only escalate in the context of a no-deal Brexit.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee. The British and Irish Governments have not yet managed to reach a stable agreement after almost three years of negotiations. I take this opportunity to commend the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the Tánaiste on the effort that they are putting in to securing a Brexit deal with the British Government. I know it is a very difficult task, and I wish her and her colleagues well in the weeks ahead.

In 2012, when the barracks was closed, people said that it was surplus to requirements. How can the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, assure us that a purpose-built barracks in the middle of the Border region is surplus to requirements? I am aware that in recent months, personnel from the Department of Defence have been in County Cavan and looked at accommodation, including warehouses, while at the same time a purpose-built modern Army barracks lies mostly idle. The barracks is partially utilised by the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board, which does excellent work there. Before the barracks was closed, it could accommodate up to 200 soldiers and their equipment that included a helicopter. It still can do so. As the Department of Defence officials and Army personnel have visited County Cavan to find temporary accommodation, why has the Government not decided to reopen a state-of-the-art facility that was purpose built to accommodate Army personnel?

My apologies for being late. First, I convey the apologies from the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, who cannot be here this morning as he has a prior engagement with Defence Forces personnel who are about to represent Ireland at the World Military Games. I wish them well.

In 2011, a Government decision was taken to proceed with the closure of four military installations, including Dún Uí Néill barracks in Cavan town. Consolidation of the Defence Forces barracks infrastructure was a key objective of the modernisation programme under way at that time. In February 2013, the sale of the barracks to the County Cavan Vocational Education Committee, as it was then, was successfully completed.

In terms of Brexit and possible implications, the Senator had rightly outlined them and I thank him for his comments. As part of a whole-of-Government approach, the Department of Defence continues to engage in forward planning with the other Departments involved in addressing all of the issues relevant to the UK's decision to leave the European Union. On 9 July, the Government published the Brexit contingency action plan update. This reflects the extensive contingency work that is under way. The work has taken place at an EU level and on a whole-of-Government basis, including the Brexit omnibus Act of 2019, to prepare us for a no-deal Brexit. Given that we are 22 days out from Brexit, that is a very real and possible threat. The plan sets out the next steps to be taken between now and the end of this month. In this regard, I can confirm that there are no plans to reopen an Army barracks in Cavan or in any other Border location.

It remains the Government's view that the best way to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border is for the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, to be ratified. The backstop is so important when we talk about the Border or the reintroduction of infrastructure. In the context of the latest proposals by the UK side, the Government remains absolutely committed to the avoidance of a hard border, and Ireland and the EU are at one on this.

In terms of the deployment of military personnel, it is very important to point out that primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Minister for Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Accordingly, responsibility for the security aspect of Border control rests with An Garda Síochána while the Revenue Commissioners also have responsibilities relating to their particular mandate.

Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power, which in practice means to provide assistance and support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. The Defence Forces also provide support to the Revenue Commissioners, but again when requested to do so. There is ongoing close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters, and regular co-ordination and liaison meetings take place. The Department of Defence continues to monitor the ongoing situation to ensure that both it and the Defence Forces are fully prepared to address any possibilities that might arise in the defence area, particularly now as a consequence of Brexit.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee and I understand that the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, could not be here himself. I wish the Defence Forces team the very best of good luck at the World Military Games.

In 2010, when rumours started that the barracks in Cavan town was being considered for closure, I raised the issue in the House and we had a Private Members' debate. In 2011, we had a similar debate and we were assured by the then Minister for Defence, Mr. Shatter, that there were no plans to close the Army barracks in Cavan, but exactly four weeks later it was announced that the barracks would close. I take comfort from what the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, has said on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. She said, "I can confirm that there are no plans to reopen an Army barracks in Cavan or in any other Border location", but I am aware that the situation could change before she leaves the Chamber. I wish to impress upon her the importance of reopening the barracks. In an ideal situation we would hope that the Army personnel never again would need to be used on the Border. However, when dealing with an international frontier in changed times, it is important to have Army personnel strategically located along the Border. Unfortunately, due to the deficit in infrastructure that the Border has suffered over the past 40 or 50 years, it would take hours for Army personnel to travel from their present locations to Cavan town to aid the civil power. Therefore, it makes logical sense to reopen the Army barracks in Cavan and deploy personnel, particularly as the barracks can accommodate up to 200 personnel. I look forward to the barracks being reopened.

The Senator has brought together two separate issues. In terms of Brexit, our sole focus and priority is to prevent the introduction of Border infrastructure and prevent the need for personnel to be deployed along or anywhere near the Border because we know what happened in the past and that the threat is very real if that were to be the case. I cannot say why an announcement that was made a number of years ago was changed. I can explain, from the point of view of the present Department, why the decision was made and why the situation is not going to change.

Specifically in terms of the reopening of an Army barracks in Cavan, or indeed across the greater region, the position is that the barracks consolidation programme, which included the closure of the Cavan barracks, has resulted, as the Department very much believes, in an enhancement of operational readiness and the deployability of Defence Forces personnel. Along with other measures, the consolidation that occurred in the earlier part of the past decade involved the redeployment of personnel away from non-operational barracks, headquarter and administrative posts into front-line operational units.

It is a matter of ensuring that people have the ability to be where they are needed when they are needed. Reopening the barracks now would result in a range of unnecessary inefficiencies arising from an unavoidable increase in the administrative burden and the need to introduce a layer of non-operational barracks management and security. This would clearly have an adverse impact on the operational effectiveness, efficiency and overall deployability of Defence Forces personnel.

With regard to deployment of military personnel to the Border, I reiterate that the primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Minister for Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Accordingly, responsibility for the security of Border controls rests with An Garda Síochána. The Defence Forces, in their role of providing aid to the civil power, will provide assistance and support when they are requested to do so by An Garda Síochána. Directly linked with what we have been talking about with regard to Brexit, our sole goal is that that will never be the case. We will continue to work towards that until the deadline of Brexit, whether it is 31 October or later. I thank the Senator for raising the issue and I will bring his concerns and responses back to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe.

Sitting suspended at 11.25 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.