Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Closed-Circuit Television Systems Provision

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I tabled my Commencement matter as I seek clarification, under the current legislation, regarding the community CCTV scheme pertaining to County Cork. In particular, I would like to know who controls the data and when the schemes will be operational.

I brought this important issue to the floor of the Seanad because several towns in County Cork, including Bandon, have been approved for CCTV systems. Unfortunately, even though a contract has been signed for the past three years, agreement between the local authority and the Department of Justice and Equality as to who controls, owns and operates the data and who pays for the operation of the system has never been clarified. We are dealing with a scenario where a scheme was put in place that gives the local authority the ability to purchase equipment and sign contracts, which they have done. We now have a system but no operational budget has been put in place and the big issue is who controls the data. Is it the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality or the local authority?

In the current environment, we are subject to the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and other regulations. The lack of clarification by either the Department or the local authority on this issue means that no CCTV system is operating in Bandon today, which is unfortunate. We have talked about this issue for over a decade yet the systems still have not been delivered. It is unfortunate that local government and the big government in Dublin cannot sit down and sort out the issues that would enable the rolling out of the CCTV system. It is not about making sure that Big Brother is watching society. It is about making sure that when there are anti-social behaviour or litter issues, we can deal with them on the ground. I am very disappointed that we do not have clarity on these issues.

I have read the latest county manager's report that a feasibility study has been put in place on how much it actually costs to run and control the system. Do we need another report three years later without having schemes in place? Enough feasibility studies have been done and we need action. A deep and meaningful conversation must take place immediately between the Department and the local authority in Cork to ensure that the CCTV systems, for which the contracts have been signed, are delivered on the ground, thus benefiting society as a whole.

I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. His reply is quite long and I may not get through it all.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Minister wishes to acknowledge the importance that many communities attach to CCTV and the sense of security it can bring. He also confirms that An Garda Síochána has previously indicated to his Department that it utilises CCTV in almost every criminal investigation, during major public events and sporting occasions, in the investigation of road traffic incidents and in many other areas requiring police action. The Garda considers CCTV to be particularly effective when the cameras are visible and their presence evident in a way that raises awareness among would-be offenders. The Minister agrees with the Senator on the importance and value of this issue. The law on CCTV is of long standing.

Community CCTV, as referred to by the Senator, is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006. This legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must do the following: be approved by the local joint policing committee; have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must also act as data controller; and have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner. This is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes, regardless of how they are funded. These key legal requirements, including the legal requirement for local authorities to act as data controller, have not changed since 2006.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, wants to be clear that this long-standing statutory framework does not place an obligation on local authorities to take part in community CCTV. However, if a local authority decides that it is not prepared to act as data controller for community CCTV, this prevents community CCTV schemes from operating in its functional area.

In effect, the current legislative structure is an enabling one which empowers local communities and local authorities to establish a community CCTV system, to which the Garda has appropriate access. This is provided they meet the statutory requirements, including that the local authority is prepared to assume responsibility as data controller.

It may also be of reassurance for the Senator to know that the Data Protection Commission issued a note in November 2018 confirming that there is a legal basis for community-based CCTV and that the general data protection regulation does not introduce new barriers in that regard. The Data Protection Commission confirmed that:

Data protection legislation does not stand in the way of the roll-out of community-based CCTV schemes that have been authorised by the Garda Commissioner. Once the local authority in the administrative area concerned is willing to take on and deliver on its responsibilities as a data controller for the schemes concerned, there is no legal impediment under data protection legislation to the scheme commencing.

During 2019, the Data Protection Commission released general guidance on CCTV on its website, which the Minister would recommend to all those with an interest in this area.

I could read on. I have about ten pages here.

The script has been circulated and the Minister of State might run over time. The Senator will have the script anyway.

There is another piece at the end that might make things clearer to the Senator.

The Minister of State should go to the end in that case.

The Minister believes that there may be additional interest for financial support in this area. I can confirm that the grant aid scheme remains open for applications from interested groups in 2019.

I am delighted to announce that the Minister has recently approved the extension of the CCTV grant aid scheme for a further year in 2020. The Minister hopes that this point is of assistance to the Senator, who had inquired about deadlines in that respect.

The Minister emphasises that grant funding can be considered only for CCTV schemes which meet the legal requirements for CCTV. He encourages all Senators to join him in providing information on the availability of this funding to all interested groups.

The answer is quite long and I am sorry I cannot go through it all.

That is all right.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. We are very much aware of the grants available. I believe Cork County Council has drawn down nine of those grants. Four of them are in limbo at the moment over the running costs and who controls the data. Cork County Council has taken a different view from any other local authority. It has an issue with the data and the running costs. The four schemes, particularly the one in Bandon, have been impacted by that. It is a unique situation.

I call for deep and meaningful discussions between the Department of Justice and Equality and Cork County Council to get a solution to this problem. The legislation is there and we have the will and the budget. We need that interaction between the Department of Justice and Equality officials and Cork County Council officials to overcome the problem. This is nothing more than big government not talking to local government and not having an understanding of the issues on the ground. As a result, Bandon does not have a CCTV system in place even though contracts for some of these schemes were signed three years ago. We have the budget and the grant approval. We now need that deep and meaningful conversation. Otherwise we will just be sending emails and doing feasibility reports with nothing happening on the ground.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, understands specific questions raised by the Senator relating to data control for community-based CCTV schemes in Cork. The Senator will appreciate that all the Minister can do is set out the legal framework. The law on community CCTV is clear and has not changed since 2006. The data control for community CCTV schemes is the responsibility of the local authority. I understand some of the issues the Senator raised and I will endeavour to bring them back to the Minister for more in-depth conversation with the Senator on why the four schemes in Cork have not been put in place. I am sorry if the reply did not give the Senator the specific information he sought. I will ask the Minister to intervene.

Schools Building Projects Status

I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to the House.

I am delighted to welcome the Minister back to the House to discuss a key issue not just for my area but also for south Dublin in general. It relates to the development of a permanent home for Stepaside Educate Together secondary school. As the Minister will be well aware, the school is currently co-located with Stepaside Educate Together national school in its new home in Belarmine in Stepaside. However, the school community - the teachers, parents, guardians, pupils and those living in the vicinity - are keen to get a clear idea when the school will move to its permanent home on the site identified by the Department.

Many things are at play in terms of acquisition, planning and tender. Mild concern is developing among the school community that the school is reaching absolute capacity in its temporary location with the national school and there is a serious need to make swift progress with the permanent development in the site identified. The school has a waiting list of about 70. When it is full, it will have more than 1,000 pupils in a co-educational facility under the auspices of Educate Together.

I know the school well. The Taoiseach visited it last autumn and he remarked how quickly this new school has ingratiated itself with the community and how it has engaged in so many activities. It is a wonderful part of south Dublin which I call my home. It is also a growing part of south Dublin where the population is rapidly exceeding the existing requirements in terms of national schools. We have seen a number of new national schools being opened. Two more are to come on stream, including Goatstown Educate Together national school, which will feed into this secondary school in due course. This morning I seek an update on how the school is proceeding.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it allows me the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the provision of a permanent school building for Stepaside Educate Together secondary school, a co-educational school under the patronage of Educate Together.

The school building project for Stepaside Educate Together secondary school is included in my Department's capital programme which is being delivered under the national development plan. The brief is to provide a new 1,000-pupil post primary school plus a four-classroom special education needs unit together with all ancillary accommodation on a site off the Ballyogan Road adjacent to Leopardstown racecourse.

The project was assigned to my Department's design and build delivery programme in August 2018 following acquisition of the site. This delivery programme uses a professional external project management team to progress the project through the stages of architectural planning, tendering and construction. Architectural planning commenced immediately and an application for planning permission was lodged with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in December 2018 following pre-planning meetings with the council.

A notification of decision to grant permission subject to 18 conditions was received by the Department on 13 June 2019. Two of these conditions requiring the provision of an extensive public greenway on third party land were subsequently the subject of a first party appeal by the Department to An Bord Pleanála. The decision on this appeal was due to be received this month, but has now been extended by An Bord Pleanála until 19 January 2020.

The next step in the progression of this school building project is to proceed to tender and construction stages, which will happen as soon as the appeal decision is received. Stepaside Educate Together secondary school is currently sharing a new school building with Stepaside Educate Together national school under a temporary sharing arrangement. As enrolments in both schools continue to grow, it is expected that alternative temporary accommodation on the permanent site will be required to accommodate Stepaside Educate Together secondary school from September 2020. Temporary accommodation provisions are currently being arranged by the officials in my Department, in conjunction with the project management team.

I want to assure the Senator that we will do everything to ensure that these temporary facilities will be provided with the utmost urgency.

I have no supplementary questions other than to sincerely thank the Minister for that detailed and full reply and I look forward to working further on this project.

I thank the Minister and we will await the arrival of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne.

Services for People with Disabilities

I welcome the Minister of State back to the Chamber.

I thank the Acting Chairman and the Minister of State for being here again.

I am very disappointed the senior Minister, Deputy Harris, is not here today. In the long term, we may have to look at particular Commencement matters where we should have the senior Minister present. Perhaps this is something that the Minister of State might bring back to the Minister, Deputy Harris, because I have a major problem in Carlow which does not involve a huge amount of money.

The Holy Angels day care centre, Carlow has been on the priority list for a new school building for more than five years now. The Government, however, has not yet delivered on this building. The HSE has made land available at Kelvin Grove for the new centre and I wish to know if there is a detailed delivery plan for the new school. I am concerned that the site at Kelvin Grove, which is on the vacant property register, has also been promised as a site for a women's refuge. It is marvellous as this facility is meant to have a site; the problem is there is no concrete plan in place. The children, their families, the staff and the management cannot wait any longer as the current conditions in the school are simply not good enough. I reiterate that the staff members in Holy Angels are among the very best in the country but it is not fair to expect them to make the best of things just because this Government cannot organise itself.

In the summer, following my representations, the Government approved an additional €25,000 for staffing from September to December. This allowed the school management to employ three childcare assistants and two bus escorts. This meant that the centre was able to offer a place to every child on its referral list for the school year. The total number of children currently attending the centre is 31 and they have a range of special needs that are being met by this centre. There is a huge programme to cater for and to implement the services required for these children with special needs.

As we all know, early intervention is essential for children attending such a specialised service in order to develop new skills and to reach their full potential. The staff at Holy Angels are the main daily providers of care and intervention, and even more so this year due to the significant reduction in occupational, speech and language therapy services. Most of the children who started in the Holy Angels this year are on waiting lists for the same services and now rely on the knowledge and experience of the centre staff to begin the implementation of therapeutic programmes.

There are big waiting lists across the country and the most vulnerable children in our society, that is, children with disabilities, are not being looked after.

The new centre has requested €62,000 for the year 2020 to retain its staff members in order that they can continue with what they are doing. I have gone to the Department of Health, to the HSE in Kilkenny-Carlow, and to Minister because unless we get the €62,000, we do not know what will happen in the long term. I have to acknowledge to the Minister of State that the €25,000 that was promised this year was provided recently to Holy Angels. Even though I have repeatedly raised this issue, it is not good enough that I must continually fight for such a small amount of money, which is so late in coming. It is crucial at this point, because it is now about saving jobs there.

The five staff members who are on temporary contracts at present need to know if they are being retained or will need to seek other employment shortly if no such confirmation is forthcoming. This places individuals and their families in a highly precarious position and the Minister of State should come back to me on this question.

If funding is not confirmed, the number of children who attend each day will have to be reduced in January. Parents will need to be informed in advance in order to arrange alternative childcare. This is also not ideal and in the approach to Christmas, this will place an unnecessary strain on them. The reduction of staff members in each classroom also will have a negative impact on the standard of care that can be provided without the role of bus escorts. Holy Angels will not be able to provide transport for as many families as it should, because supervision is needed for these children in order to use the bus services . I have raised the issue of the lack of public transport here before. The Minister of State will need to look at this issue.

My concern that unless this €62,000 is provided in early January, the two bus drivers will need to be put on protective notice and it will be necessary to consider the redundancy implications. This would be a incredibly bad news story for me. This is of great significance and there are two issues on which I need clarification. First, is the Kelvin Grove site and the funding for the building of the Holy Angels day care centre available? Second, will the €62,000 be available from January 2020, to keep the staff there in post and to retain the carers in the classrooms, who look after the most vulnerable children in our society?

I will begin by thanking the Senator and by noting I do not have an answer on the question of the €62,000 funding in the reply given to me here. That is something new that has been raised by the Senator now because the Commencement matter did not specifically ask for this. It was on the funding generally for the service, rather than for individuals. I will come back to the Senator on this point.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and thank the Senator for raising this important issue today. I acknowledge the great work the staff of the Holy Angels day care centre do for children with disabilities. The current programme for partnership Government commits the Government to improving services and increasing support for children with disabilities, particularly for early assessment and intervention. Significant resources have been invested by the health service sector in services for children with disabilities over the past number of years. This commitment is guided by two principles, namely, equality and the opportunity of improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

As the Senator may be aware, the Holy Angels day care centre was established in 1978 and initially served with the focus on the provision of a day care service for children with disabilities of preschool-going age. The centre now exists as a designated special preschool for children aged 18 months to six years of age. The centre caters for children with a range of disabilities such as Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and autism, as well as other rare conditions.

The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been advised that there are currently 30 children attending the Holy Angels day care centre. The centre has range of facilities to support different aspects of development including a hydrotherapy unit, a soft play area, multisensory rooms, an outdoor play area, family rooms and three classrooms.

For the past ten years, the breadth of the services at the facility has expanded to providing respite services for children with disabilities and their families. Emergency and weekend respite is provided to children with disabilities aged from nine months to 18 years. The criteria for admission of children aged between 18 months and six years with suspected intellectual disabilities, where services are accessed through a multidisciplinary team, are made by referrals through the early intervention team.

The HSE provides funding to the Holy Angels day care centre under section 39 of the Health Act and in this regard, the service received approximately €580,000 in 2019. In this regard, the heads of service for the HSE social care visited the Holy Angels day care centre last month and met the chair of the centre's board to discuss the service and funding matters. Other meetings are scheduled to take place in March 2020.

The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been advised by officials in the HSE that the Holy Angels day care centre has been on a priority list for a new school building for over five years now. There have been a number of challenges in securing an adequate site for the new school building. With the aim of providing assistance to the service, the HSE has designated an area at the site in Kelvin Grove, Carlow, for the Holy Angels day care centre to operate a new school. This project proposal has been submitted to the HSE capital steering committee and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been informed that the proposal has been accepted by the committee and has been approved for prioritisation of funding.

It is important to recognise that all capital development proposals must process through a number of approval stages in line with the public spending code, including details of appraisals, planning design and procurement before a timeframe for funding requirement can be established.

On the €62,000, I do not have an answer for the Senator but I will come back to her on the matter.

My dealings on this matter over the last three years have been with the Minister, Deputy Harris, so I had requested that he come to the House to respond to this Commencement matter. He is well aware of the €62,000 because I have met him on a regular basis at meetings, where I told him about it. While the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is always kind and courteous I am disappointed that the Minister is not here today. The loss of jobs and an excellent facility for children with special needs is an important issue and it worries me that the Minister of State's response is that she is not aware of the situation. Provision of the new building has been an ongoing matter for a some time now yet we have been told it is on a priority list. This is unacceptable. We need construction of the new facility to commence within the next year or two because the current facility is not fit for purpose. We are blessed in Carlow in terms of the Holy Angels Care Centre service and staff. Without the €62,000, which is a minimal amount, this service could lose staff and this is unacceptable.

I do not have any further information to give to the Senator. I do not have any knowledge of the €62,000 to which she referred. I will raise with the Minister the need for this service to be supported until the new facilities are made available. None of us wants to see children, particularly children with disabilities, not being able to access proper services. I will relay the Senator's concerns to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Minister, Deputy Harris.

I thank the Minister of State.

Road Projects Status

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to the Chamber.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to take this Commencement matter on an issue that I have raised many times. For those who are not familiar with it, the N16 is a key route between Sligo and Enniskillen, and the north west and Northern Ireland. The road commences at the junction of the N15 at Cartran in Sligo and travels north east past Sligo Institute of Technology and onwards passing above Glencar Lake and entering County Leitrim. It passes through only two towns, Manorhamilton and Glencar, until it reaches Blacklion in County Cavan. Over the Border, the route becomes the A4 road to Enniskillen and onwards connecting to Belfast via the A4 and M1 motorway.

Sections of the N16 Sligo to Enniskillen are in extremely poor condition, with some sections of it are regarded as some of the worst accident blackspots in the country. There has been some investment on the N16 to address the poor conditions, but it is only in the last couple of years that a more strategic approach has been taken. Two years ago, a route selection process for the N16 was completed, with the aim of a phased upgrade to assist the realignment of several very bad bends. I am glad to note that in recent times plans to correct some of these dangerous stretches of the road have advanced and I welcome that a section of the N16 Sligo to Manorhamilton Road, a 2.5 km stretch between Kilsallagh and Lugnagall townlands, has recently received statutory planning consent from An Bord Pleanála. I look forward to this work being progressed.

Sligo County Council recently admitted that its work on the Sligo section of the N16 had fallen behind in comparison with the work carried out on the route by Leitrim County Council. I hope this Sligo scheme will be the first of many along this section of the road. I also hope that these works will mark the start of a series of schemes along this stretch which will improve its quality and safety for all road users, not to mention journey times. I cannot over-emphasise the need for good quality primary routes for the continued promotion of business and tourism for the north west. The importance of progressing meaningful works along the N16 cannot be overstated.

I welcome the Minister of State's views on the matter.

My colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has overall responsibility for policy and funding in regard to the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design, improvement and upgrading of individual roads is a matter for the relevant local authority in regard to local and regional roads, or for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, Tll, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned in regard to national roads.

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework tor TII's national roads programme for the period 2018 to 2027. In the ten years covered by the plan, over €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network. While there has been no major project identified for delivery on the N16 route under the NDP, funding has been provided to carry out improvement works under other programmes funded by Tll. In conjunction with the local authorities in Sligo and Leitrim, Tll is progressing improvement schemes on the N16, which I will outline later. First, I would like to explain that Tll also provides an annual grant allocation to local authorities to carry out maintenance works on national roads in their respective administrative areas. The planning, prioritisation and implementation of the national road maintenance activities that are funded under this allocation are matters for the road authority concerned.

In regard to minor schemes on the N16, I understand from Tll that the following schemes are being progressed on the N16 route. Under Sligo County Council the N16 Luqatober realignment scheme will result in improvements to a 2.5 km section of the N16 which occurs within the townland of Lugatober and extends between Drumkillsellagh and Lugnagall. The existing road is extremely deficient in terms of horizontal and vertical alignment as well as road width. The project will remove a number of substantially deficient bends on this section of the route and in doing so will improve safety, sight distance end cross sectional width. An application by Sligo County Council to An Bard Pleanála was made on 18 February 2019. The compulsory purchase order was confirmed in May 2019 and the environmental impact assessment, EIA, was confirmed in August 2019. Detailed design and tender documents are under preparation and land acquisition is under way.

On the N16 Drummahan, under Leitrim County Council this proposed project is a realignment of the N16 at Drummahan, consisting of the improvement of 1.5 km of single carriageway. It is located between Glencar on the Sligo-Leitrim boundary and, as referenced earlier, Manorhamilton, and it adjoins the recent N16 improvement in Mulkaun. An application to An Bord Pleanála was made in March 2018. Leitrim County Council obtained planning approval for this scheme in July 2018. Detailed design and tender documents are under preparation.

On the Munakill realignment scheme, under Leitrim County Council this proposed scheme is situated in County Leitrim approximately 4 km east of Manorhamilton and consists of the improvement of approximately 2.7 km of national primary route. The existing section of this route at Munakill has a high accident history. The proposed project is a continuation of various schemes completed over the years to remove a current substandard realignment and road width section. The project appraisal plan was approved by the Department in October. Planning and design on this scheme is ongoing.

The overall objective of the proposed developments are to provide an all-purpose road for the safe transport of people and goods, with the purpose of serving the community in a manner that minimises impact on the environment and is in accordance with national, regional and local policy. In addition, there are a number of pavement improvement schemes scheduled to be carried out on the N16 route in Sligo and Leitrim. Details of these are as follows: Sligo - N16 at Lugatober to Willbrook and Willowbrook to Barroe; and Leitrim - N16 at Pollboy to Cornastauk. A grant of €600,000 was provided in 2019 to Sligo County Council to progress planning and design on the N16 Lugatober realignment scheme. A further €900,000 was allocated for pavement improvement works. Sligo County Council also received €568,000 for maintenance works on the national primary routes in Sligo. The planning and prioritisation of road maintenance activities to be funded under this provision are matters for Sligo County Council.

A grant allocation of €150,000 was provided in 2019 to Leitrim County Council to progress planning and design on the N16 Drummahan realignment scheme. A further grant allocation of €100,000 was provided to progress planning and design on the N16 Munakill realignment scheme. A further €730,000 was allocated for pavement improvement works on the N16 in Leitrim. Leitrim County Council also received €304,000 for maintenance works on the national primary routes in Leitrim. The planning and prioritisation of roads maintenance activities to be funded under this provision are matters for Leitrim County Council.

As all of these schemes are at an early stage of development, it is not possible at this time to indicate a likely timeframe for construction and completion of these projects but I will keep the Senator fully apprised of what is happening with regard to timeframes. I know the schemes are important to people in that part of country. As the Senator has raised these concerns, we will try to ensure he has open channels to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to get the information as it emerges.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Clearly, the costs of realigning this road are being met from various sources of funding. There is significant investment in other road schemes in Sligo, such as the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin upgrade and the western distributor road in Sligo. Government investment is good news for the north west. I have said many times that with proper investment in infrastructure in Sligo and Leitrim, both counties will be able to drive growth and investment throughout the north-west region. The north west is similar to Galway in that many young couples and businesses want to locate in the region. After many years of underinvestment and underachievement now is time that the north west can leapfrog other areas. Sustained funding in key roads such as the N16 can open the region to more investment. We talk about North-South co-operation. This is a North-South and east-west corridor and we certainly need more business. This road is needed for tourism. This is an important message that I have brought to the Minister of State and I know he has listened.

I thank the Senator. With regard to his comment on the north west, there is enormous potential in that part of the country. Wearing my tourism hat, Yeats country in County Sligo has so much potential. It is incumbent on all of us to get the infrastructure right to allow access. Various community groups and local authorities on the ground, working with agencies such as Fáilte Ireland, are doing very progressive work, which will drive demand. However, access is also required, which is why the matter the Senator has raised today is so important. We must get the infrastructure right and ensure there are proper channels to bring people in and out of the area safely. We need a whole-of-Government approach in all sectors of the economy. It is vital that we have safe and adequate infrastructure for the 21st century. There is clearly some catching up to be done. There is pent-up demand after a decade of underinvestment as a result of the economic crisis. I will continue to work with the Senator on all of these issues because I know they are critical for him and the region he is from.

Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.