Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Vol. 285 No. 4

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is appropriate that this would be the first Commencement matter, as Senator Robbie Gallagher is from Monaghan. Today is the anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Senator Gallagher, along with the Taoiseach, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and many others, attended a ceremony to mark the anniversary of that awful day earlier.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. The Minister is very welcome to the House for this very important debate. As the Cathaoirleach said, today, 17 May, marks the 48th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. As he said, I attended a wreath laying ceremony earlier today on Talbot Street, along with the Taoiseach, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland, and the cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council, Councillor Aidan Campbell, along with many others. It was a very poignant event.

Every year, we gather here to discuss this issue, but unfortunately little or no progress or forward movement is being seen for the victims, survivors and their families. Some 33 people lost their lives in Monaghan and Dublin on 7 May 1974. It was the greatest loss of life in one single day during the entire Troubles. As the anniversary occurs today, our thoughts and prayers are very much with the victims and their families.

It is very difficult and frustrating to try to understand how, 48 years on, the hunt and search for the truth and justice for the tragedy in which 33 people lost their lives, seven in County Monaghan and 26 in Dublin, as well as for the 300 people who were injured, is still going on. We can only imagine the pain they have had to endure as a result. That pain, unfortunately, is compounded today in many ways by the fact that, 48 years on, they are still waiting for the truth of what happened on that fateful day.

I pay tribute to all of the families who have worked tirelessly to try to lift the lid on what happened. I also pay tribute to the Justice for the Forgotten group led by Margaret Urwin, which has campaigned vigorously to find out the truth, as well as Members in this House and the Lower House, including the Minister, who have also campaigned to find out the truth.

For years, we have pointed the finger at the British Government for its agencies' refusal to hand over any documentation whatsoever. There was some light or a bit of hope with families in recent times with Operation Denton and an investigation carried out by John Stalker, a former chief constable, regarding what happened. It is heartening that the British entities we have pointed the finger at, and rightly so, for many years for refusing to hand over documentation, namely, MI5, the PSNI and the Ministry of Defence, have now handed it over.

It is deeply worrying, and very sad and frustrating, for the families to learn that the obstacle or blockage now rests with An Garda Síochána. I understand it is a legal interpretation of the terms of reference which it signed off on 12 or 18 months ago. Instead of referring to Operation Denton or the investigation by John Stalker, it is using the term "inquiry". For that reason, it seeks clarity from the Attorney General on what it can and cannot hand over. That is all very well, but meanwhile the families are still waiting.

I would appreciate it if the Minister has some news for us regarding what this blockage is and the imperative and urgency with which the Government will seek to alleviate this problem to enable information to be handed over. As I said, 48 years is a long time to be waiting for justice. People wish to know who was behind this and why it was done and to ensure those responsible are brought to justice. It will only be then that the families of those who lost their lives in Dublin and Monaghan will finally be able to have some closure to this sad episode and put the memories of their loved ones to rest.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue, and particularly for doing so on this day. I express my and this Government’s condolences to the families whose loved ones were killed or injured in the terrible events of 17 May 1974. Those callous acts will always be remembered as the single deadliest day of the Troubles, where 33 people lost their lives, as the Senator mentioned. Many others were injured and had their lives changed forever. It is, frankly, hard to believe on a day like this, when we think of everybody here in Dublin and in other parts of the country going about their daily lives, that so many ordinary people going about their lives on this day in 1974 were so callously and brutally attacked in the way they were. There were many such incidents of violence on this island during the Troubles. This was a tragic reality for those caught up in the bombings on 17 May 1974.

I state clearly the Government’s continued support for the victims and survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We will persevere in our efforts to seek the truth behind these events and, hopefully, to secure some measure of comfort for the families. Even though a long time has passed, it is important that we can secure that form of comfort for these family members. The Government has worked consistently to implement the all-party Oireachtas motions calling on the British Government to allow access by an independent international judicial figure to all the original documents in its possession relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We also continue to raise this case regularly with the Government of the UK. We did this most recently in March at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, raised the Dublin and Monaghan bombings with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, and with the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Conor Burns. Again, the Minister emphasised the need for this matter to be progressed.

Regarding Operation Denton, at the Senator mentioned, it falls under the general umbrella of the Operation Kenova series of ongoing independent investigations or reviews into the Northern Ireland legacy cases. It is led by a former chief constable. Operation Denton is an independent and analytical review into collusion involving the Glenanne gang. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings are included as one of the incidents in Operation Denton. I must stress that An Garda Síochána is committed to co-operating to the greatest extent possible with the Operation Kenova endeavours. A high-level agreement is already in place that supports co-operation and an exchange of information with the operation investigation team in the context of criminal investigations. The historical investigation co-ordination unit within An Garda Síochána continues to support this partnership.

As the Senator also mentioned, Operation Denton is a distinct strand in the work of Operation Kenova, which is an analytical review rather than a criminal investigation. It was as a result of this context that it was necessary to request legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General to progress clarification of how co-operation can take place within An Garda Síochána. Given the lack of a statutory framework for information sharing, co-operation necessarily involves complex legal issues. Following the receipt of advice from the Attorney General, work is already under way in my Department to establish the necessary mechanisms to allow relevant information to be shared with Operation Denton and it is anticipated that the mechanism should be in place by the summer. As Minister, I will do everything I can to ensure that mechanism is in place by the summer and that all information that can and should be provided by An Garda Síochána to this process is provided.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response. One line that struck me and stuck with me when I heard it was that to be forgotten is to die twice. That is why I feel it is imperative that there be a resolution of the blockage the Minister referred to and the problem An Garda Síochána now finds itself dealing with in the context of awaiting clarification from the Office of the Attorney General. The Minister said she hopes this will be ironed out and resolved by the end of the summer. I ask her to do all that is in her power and within her gift to expedite this process and ensure it is undertaken as fast as possible.

Hopefully, if we are all alive and well and back here in 12 months time, we will be able to have some progress made or at least a pathway for the families so that they may finally get closure to this horrible event.

I thank the Senator for his comments. In respect of the quotation and the comment he has just made, I wish to reassure him and those family members and communities who have campaigned tirelessly on behalf of their loved ones that they will not be forgotten and that they have not been forgotten, despite the fact that almost five decades have passed. As a Government, we have consistently raised these issues with our colleagues in the North and with our British Government counterparts. We have continued to insist that there must be engagement and truth, and that we must find answers to all of the questions that these families have. There must be some conclusion to all of this so that they can, in some way, shape or form, be at peace with what has happened and I do not know if that will ever be the case for many of them. There is an onus and an obligation on us to do everything we can for these families and I assure the Senator that every effort has and will continue to be made to ensure that that is the case.

Obviously, we have seen further developments in the UK today with proposals around other legacy-type issues and how they would be dealt with. I want to stress here that any proposals must be worked with and dealt with in a comprehensive and collaborative way. Any unilateral action will simply not be tolerated by this Government and the legislation today is certainly not something that we can accept. We will be making our views very clearly known and, in particular, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will be doing so.

I thank the Senator again for raising this issue and I reiterate my heartfelt condolences to all of the family members on what is a very difficult but very important day for them today. I will do everything I can to ensure that this mechanism is in place by the summer and that An Garda can pass on the information that is required.

I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for coming in today, for taking this Commencement matter personally and for addressing Seanad Éireann. I know that she is a very busy Minister but for the families, their loved ones and the victims, it is important that this issue is raised in Seanad Éireann on this day, the anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and I thank Senator Gallagher for bringing that Commencement matter before the House today.

Disability Services

I thank the Cathaoirleach. At the outset I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to the House and I acknowledge her ambition and that of her Department. That is why I feel confident that we will get results from this discussion. I also acknowledge her recent visit to my own constituency.

I propose to address this issue, in the first instance, by moving from the more particular standpoint to the more general. I met an informal group of parents in Cavan recently, all of whom were parents of children with disabilities and they made a number of points to me. I will deal with those and will then deal with the broader objective evidence. That is not to suggest that these initial points are not also objective but I will deal with the other issues then. One’s heart would be moved by meeting these parents as they are very good people who are concerned for their children and, in some instances, are very distraught. I spent a good two hours with them. It was a very moving experience and it would be a disgrace if I was not doing what I am doing now.

Their first point was that for an initial appointment with Enable Ireland one could be waiting anywhere from six months to two years. The younger children are seen more quickly in respect of an assessment of needs and are prioritised. However, if one has an older child in the new progressing disability services for children and young people programme, one could be waiting for three years for any intervention if that child has received a private diagnosis. The parents made the point, which I distinctly remember, that there was a particular problem if one has had a private diagnosis done, where one might not then get an assessment of needs. That would be bizarre.

There is no clear pathway apart from an assessment of needs in order to get the services. One of the parents said to me that their non-speaking child is waiting nearly three years for a psychology assessment and that their other son is waiting four years in primary care for autism spectrum disorder and occupational therapist assessments. The child should be seen within three months for initial paperwork and a complete diagnosis should take from six to nine months, if they have the necessary paperwork, for an assessment of needs.

The parents referenced that a pay gap of €3,000 to €5,000 exists between those who work in Enable Ireland and the voluntary services, though I know they are section 39 organisations funded by the State, and those in the mainstream HSE, in primary care centres and so on. The pay anomaly is huge. We referenced it at a health committee meeting but I want to hear about it today. Under the Haddington Road agreement, Enable Ireland staff are paid less than HSE staff. A new deal was sorted for HSE staff but Enable Ireland did not receive the same, as per the manager in Enable Ireland. Enable Ireland staff do not have the same maternity leave and pension contracts and it blames HSE funding for lack of recruitment. It states there is a lack of recruitment and there should be international recruitment. It blames the HSE for that. The day the Minister of State was with us in Cavan, this and some of the other points came up. The HSE takes months to approve advertisement of vacancies even when aware beforehand that a post needs to be filled. There is huge bureaucracy that is ridiculous and should not be the case.

I move to some of the surveys and studies. Inclusion Ireland did a report that scarily stated 85% of children wait for more than a year for appointments and assessments. Some 1,000 families were surveyed for that. Down Syndrome Ireland conducted a survey of their parents and 30% of them or 400 families, of whom 44% wait similar lengths of time. The Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, said 4,000 children are awaiting an assessment. All of this makes for a horrendous story. I am aware of the standard operating procedure that is obviously not implemented yet and of the UN convention. It is something we could discuss for hours, but neither I nor the Minister of State has the time. I look forward in her response to getting hope so that I can go back to the parents and tell them she told me this and it will make a difference.

I thank the Deputy for tabling this Commencement matter and keeping it on the agenda. It was fantastic to meet him when I was in counties Cavan and Monaghan. I commend the teams I met with, both the Enable Ireland team and our HSE team on the ground. Both gave their time willingly to discuss the issues the Senator has eloquently raised and both said the same.

One of the issues related to pay, the variation between teams and how difficult it is to recruit into those teams. The Senator is correct that there is a gap between section 39 workers and section 38 and HSE workers. It will have to be addressed because if it is not we will not be able to recruit to those teams. We have teams that have not been fully populated. That can be seen in Cavan and Monaghan, where there is a 25% vacancy rate. Pay is part of the reason for that vacancy rate. It is not the conditions because the conditions include that it is a lovely part of the world to live in. There are reasons to choose to go there, including purchasing of properties and everything else, and the choice that is available. At the same time, those people still have to go for a mortgage and are €5,000 down in their pay grade. They could be on a team with people from the HSE and section 38 organisations who make an extra €5,000 and are sharing the same canteen room. Of course it is a concern and that is not wasted on me. I am trying my best to address that matter. I am addressing it with the National Federation of Voluntary Service Providers Supporting People with Intellectual Disability, FEDVOL, and recently had a meeting with Alison Harnett, who represents many section 39 workers.

The Senator mentioned long waiting lists being experienced in the Cavan-Monaghan area. What are we going to do about it? We need to address international recruitment. Where the Senator is located on the Border, international recruitment means looking to our neighbours in Northern Ireland and to the qualifications they have for speech and language therapy. I keep talking about speech and language because it is done in Derry, yet we cannot recruit people qualified in speech and language therapy in Northern Ireland to southern Ireland because there is a component there that CORU does not recognise.

This is an issue I am addressing. The reason I am addressing it is that perhaps we can recruit and give training on the ground in the piece that is missing. This could ensure the requirements of CORU are met and at the same time there is on-the-ground training. This is an open and very live conversation with the HSE. As I said, international recruitment, along with efforts to increase the HSE's reach into the broader domestic supply market for the non-regulated healthcare workforce, is being used as an approach. However, there are limitations to international supply as Ireland is a signatory to the WHO global code of ethical recruitment of health workforce.

Technology to support the recruitment process should be used also. We do not need to go on big trade missions. We can do a lot on LinkedIn. We can manage our time very well. The Senator mentioned Enable Ireland. The section 39 organisations are far more fruitful in their recruitment. They have a quicker turnaround. They can recruit more quickly. Their process is more streamlined as opposed to taking eight months with the HSE. It can be done in six to eight weeks in organisations such Enable Ireland. We need to see why we cannot do it better in the HSE. If the section 39 organisations are able to recruit so much faster, we should release the posts to them as opposed to having 555 vacant posts nationally as I stand here today.

I thank the Minister of State. I am very happy to know she is addressing the pay disparity. It is a big issue. These parents chatted to the professionals before speaking to me. This debate will be repeated because they have also chatted to other Oireachtas Members. This will also be raised in the Dáil. I am happy about the recruitment. The parents feel international recruitment is very important. The Derry issue, which the Minister of State cited, is very important. It would be great if we could correct this and if the CORU rules could be adjusted. These are the fundamental points that parents raised. We cannot raise new issues in a debate such as this but they were also concerned that there is a bureaucracy with regard to establishing parentage. The guardian of the child is the guardian of the child. It is a bit archaic and arcane that they are asked to present evidence they are the parent of the child. I ask the Minister of State to note this.

I will of course.

Surely if somebody is looking after a disabled child on a full-time basis and presenting them, one would hardly want to question their bona fides. The other points are significant and I thank the Minister of State. The recruitment and the salary are major issues, as are the waiting lists.

I thank the Senator for his contributions and concern. Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People is the policy underpinning children's disability services. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and I met the CEO of the HSE, Mr. Paul Reid, and senior officials on Wednesday to discuss a number of disability issues, including Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People. An agreed outcome of the meeting was that a plan would be developed in the coming six to eight weeks with a number of actions to support the roll-out of Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People. I hope this will address some of the matters the Senator has raised. It is important to note the Government has provided significant funding to the HSE for new posts in recent years to strengthen the capacity of the children's disability network teams throughout the country, including in Cavan and Monaghan. Since 2019, almost 500 additional whole-time equivalent posts for children's disability services have been allocated. I will continue in my efforts at local and national level to address the obstacles that exist in recruitment and other important issues. I will take on board the issue with regard to parentage.

National Monuments

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank the Cathaoirleach and Seanad for facilitating this Commencement matter seeking a commencement date for construction of a commemorative site at the national monument on Moore Street. As everyone knows, Moore Street is the most historic trading street in the city. It is the birthplace of our Republic. Despite being rich in history beyond anyone's dreams or what anyone could imagine, the street has been dominated by dereliction, neglect and antisocial behaviour for far too many years.

I was first elected to Dublin City Council in 2004. From even before that time I have worked with relatives, street traders and those who owned properties on the street to encourage the State, in the form of the city council, the Government and all the national bodies, to support the regeneration of the street and its market yet create an adequate and appropriate a commemorative centre at 14 to 17 Moore Street. I have served on a number of committees and far too many to remember. In fact, it is too depressing to think about that. There have been far too many reports with the latest report being delivered to the Minister of State more than a year ago. It was the third report from the third ministerial advisory committee on Moore Street. So there has been plenty of talking and consideration given to this issue. There is no doubt that there is enormous support for a proper commemoration of the historic events that took place on Moore Street. The report made six recommendations but, more specifically, it made a recommendation on the national monument. The report specifically endorsed the concept that was proposed by the Irish Heritage Trust that would require State bodies such as the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the National Monuments Service to be engaged to create an imaginative, fitting and appropriate commemorative museum.

Ireland has many examples of great commemorative sites of which we can be very proud but it is shameful the neglect that the State has allowed to take hold on Moore Street. It is unacceptable. Everybody appreciates that the majority of the properties in and around the historic site are privately owned. However, it is impossible for us to be critical of the private owners and the neglect that they have presided over when the State has failed to take adequate action. The State must stop dithering, delaying and ignoring the dereliction and deterioration of an historic national monument that is located in the heart of our capital city. The monument is not just for us in Dublin central or in Ireland; it is for all of the Irish people who descend from our Republic. I ask the Minister of State to please give us a commencement date for works at the national monument and let us accelerate whatever works can be done because the dereliction that is taking place is shameful.

I thank the Senator for her Commencement matter. I also thank her for the positive interactions and work that she has done on this issue over many years. I say that because not all of the contributions towards Moore Street have been entirely positive. We want to progress this project and I appreciate the leadership that she has consistently shown concerning a national monument at Moore Street.

Shortly after I was appointed I visited the monument at 14 to 17 Moore Street. Having been allowed entry into the buildings, they were really quite stunning. Even in its raw current state, and some enabling works have taken place, the project is impressive. It is critically important that this important story of our history is told and I agree with the Senator wholeheartedly that we need to move the project forward and not just the national monument but the regeneration of that entire part of the city. I am not from Dublin and I saw the street for the first time in quite a number of years. I was shocked to see the deterioration that had taken place in that part of the city and it is incumbent on us all to move forward.

In March 2021, €121,285,388 was allocated to Dublin City Council in respect of the north inner city concept area 1 under call 2 of the urban regeneration and development fund. The north inner city project involves the regeneration and redevelopment of several areas of the north inner city that have experienced a degree of decline and dereliction over a number of years resulting in poor perception issues and a depiction of an area that the market has been largely forgotten.

The main objective of this project is to achieve long-term sustainable regeneration and redevelopment of various areas centred around the fruit and vegetable market, Parnell Square and Mountjoy Square. Complementary projects include Moore Street public realm renewal works, with the intention of reactivating one of the most important trading streets in the city, along with structural and restoration works on the national monument at 14 to 17 Moore Street. Works on the national monument, which is in State ownership, will facilitate the protection and reuse of these historic buildings as an iconic heritage and visitor attraction in the form of a 1916 commemorative centre alongside the rejuvenation of the historic street. The regeneration of Moore Street market and the street is a matter for Dublin City Council, and I am assured that an expert advisory group was appointed in that regard.

The Moore Street advisory group, of which the Senator was a valued member, recommended in its report to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and me last year that the process embarked on by the OPW and the national monuments service of our Department to restore the national monument and open it up to the public as soon as possible should continue. Officials from the Department and the OPW have been liaising to progress that. I understand the OPW is in the process of appointing a team to carry out phase 1 essential works to the monument, which will ensure stability and provide a pathway for the phase 2 completion works at the monument. I understand this is imminent and I hope to make an announcement in the coming weeks. The Senator will, I am sure, appreciate that the Minister and I are keen that those essential works commence as soon as possible.

We will make an announcement in the coming weeks. It is our intention to begin this essential phase of the works. That will be most welcome as the wider issue of the regeneration of the Moore Street area and central Dublin needs to be addressed. I am confident we will move forward very shortly.

I refer to the €121 million in urban regeneration funding for the north inner city quarter to regenerate places such as the fruit and vegetable market. It is absolutely shameful that the market is still closed. There is the promise of a city library on Parnell Square. The most basic thing in a capital city is a decent city library. All of that is really welcome and reflects the Government's understanding of the need in the area. I welcome that the OPW has indicated it will imminently commence works on the national monument at 14 to 17 Moore Street, but we need the OPW to keep to that commitment, to actually deliver and to demonstrate within the coming weeks that works will commence on the national monument. The Minister of State is absolutely correct that if the State were to demonstrate its commitment to the street and a real regeneration of the national monument site in the form of a commemorative museum, it would be a vote of confidence not just in our history but also in the future of Moore Street. It would be a vote of confidence in the street traders and all the businesses in the area and would demonstrate that this Government, unlike previous ones, will actually deliver in a respectful way for our history. I look forward to that. The Minister of State is welcome to Moore Street any time. I ask him to come down as soon as he can so we can see commencement of the works.

I would certainly take the Senator up on that invitation. It is an area of the city that is, as she said, hugely important not only historically but also culturally, given the new communities that are part of inner city Dublin now. It is critical to traders and everybody else involved to have that certainty. I can say with certainty from our perspective in respect of the national monument and the work on which we are engaging with the OPW that we will be in a position to move very soon on that. I cannot give a specific date but, certainly, that is our commitment and we are determined to see it through. The report of the Moore Street advisory group, of which the Senator was a part, presented to us by Dr. Tom Collins, was a very good one and it was universally accepted as the way forward. Further to that, Dublin City Council needs to move on its commitment to the wider regeneration of central Dublin, a hugely important area of the city. That would be critical for communities. We talk about town centres first. This is the town centre of Dublin and it has been left too long. We need to move on it.

Thank you, Senator Fitzpatrick, for raising that issue yet again.

Waste Management

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to the Seanad Chamber. This Commencement matter relates to the burning of green waste and, in particular, the derogation he is aware the Minister signed in January or February. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This issue has exercised that committee but it has also exercised farmers across the country.

As the Minister of State is aware, traditionally many farmers clear out dykes and ditches and cut debris, branches, timber and so on and then amass or collect this greenery at certain locations, often in fields set in from the roadway network. As such, they have had a practical issue with getting rid of the waste. There is a practice, however, of leaving it there and then burning it rather than shredding it. The Minister of State knows enough about the land to know that in certain circumstances it is not possible to get machinery in, particularly on damp or boggy land. There has been a long tradition of burning well dried-out vegetation that has been cleared by farmers, and this is a concern.

This year, it came as a surprise to farmers that the statutory instrument was out of date, but the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, signed a statutory instrument on 9 February 2022. The purpose of those regulations was to extend until 1 January 2023 an exemption provided for under SI 286/209 - Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal By Burning) Regulations 2009, which exists to allow farmers to dispose of waste generated from agricultural practices. The concern is that some people, including farming organisations, thought this new statutory instrument would be in place for three years. Indeed, I indicated in the wording of the Commencement matter I submitted to the Seanad Office that it would be in place for three years but that did not find its way to the final draft. In short, there is a concern. There is an appreciation, albeit with a bit of stress and misunderstanding in the context of communication, that the statutory instrument was signed but farm organisations and small farmers would like to see the derogation extended.

I do not know what is the plan or feedback. That is what I am trying to ascertain. I understand that a review group was established by the Minister to consider the practice of burning green waste and explore alternatives. Has that review group been established? Has it met? What are its timelines for issuing a report? This is a critically important issue. It is better to deal with it now than to be surprised. Let us plan for it and find out who is on the review group, what are its terms of reference and whether there is any feedback in respect of what is going on.

I thank the Senator. The Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal By Burning) Regulations 2009 make it an offence to dispose of waste by uncontrolled burning. As an exemption, Article 5 of the regulations provides for the permissible disposal of agricultural waste by burning under certain conditions, including, among others, where the material to be burned consists of uncontaminated wood, trees, tree trimmings, leaves, brush and similar waste. It should be noted that the exemption only applies to waste generated by agricultural practice and on the strict understanding that such burning is done as a final measure following the application of the waste hierarchy, under which the prevention of waste or its preparation for reuse, recycling or other recovery are preferred options to the disposal or landfilling of waste. In addition, the relevant local authority must be informed in advance of the intention to burn agricultural green waste.

An exemption under the legislation has been provided in recent years to allow farmers, as a last resort, to dispose by burning of waste generated by agricultural practices. SI 51/2022 - Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) (Amendment) Regulations 2022, published on 11 February, was the fifth such extension to the exemption and will run until 1 January 2023. It was never intended that the exemption would extend in perpetuity. I anticipate this will be the final extension.

My Department has engaged with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on this matter and it has agreed to conduct a feasibility study to examine this matter in some detail with a view to establishing alternative measures to the burning of agricultural green waste within the Irish context and to access the practicality of these alternatives. The feasibility study will include a literature review of alternative practices internationally carried out in regions comparable with Ireland that are viable, practical and environmentally sustainable. The study will also include a public stakeholder consultation. The study, which is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2022, will identify potential alternative measures to burning and the potential benefits and challenges associated with them. This study will help inform appropriate policy actions to take in order to establish alternative measures to burning on Irish farms.

The issue of air pollution caused by this practice is well established and is addressed in a draft clean air strategy, developed by my Department, which identifies and promotes the integrated actions across government required to reduce air pollution. The draft clean air strategy, which it is intended will be published later this year, was open for public consultation until 3 May this year. The final published clean air strategy will provide the high-level strategic policy framework necessary to identify and promote the integrated measures across government policy that are required to reduce air pollution and promote cleaner ambient air while delivering on wider national objectives. The key strategic priorities of the clean air strategy are as follows: to ensure continuous improvements in air quality across the country; to guarantee the integration of clean air considerations into policy development across government; to increase the evidence base that will help us to continue to evolve our understanding of the sources of pollution in order to address them more effectively; to enhance regulation and improve the effectiveness of our enforcement systems; and to promote and increase awareness of the importance of clean air.

As I said, I am a member of the Oireachtas joint committee. It was my understanding from the paper briefing I have that a group would be established. We have now heard it will be a study. There is a very subtle difference between a focused named group of people and a study. There is some ambiguity about that. The Minister of State might ask the Department to come back to us on that. If a group is being established, who will be represented on it? Will the Irish Farmers Association, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and Macra na Feirme be represented? It is my strong view and recommendation they should be represented on it? They are major stakeholders in agriculture as are the other smaller agricultural groups. That is one key issue.

There is no ambiguity about the message here. For the record, this was the fifth such extension to the exemption and it will run until 2023. It was never intended the exemption would extend in perpetuity. I anticipate this will be the final extension. That is putting it up to everyone and we have time on our side. The Minister of State's Department needs to engage also with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Would he bring a message to the Minister requesting that there would be proactive discussion and engagement with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on this issue? That is another critical component of this debate. I ask that we would have meaningful and constructive engagement and that representatives of the farm organisations and communities would be part of this review. A review group is somewhat, I would suggest, better than a study group. Let us have environmental people included also, indeed, everyone concerned, and a meaningful engagement. We now have sufficient time to do that in the run up to an exemption that will run out in January 2023.

I thank Senator Boyhan. He is right in saying that is the key point. The exemption will run out in 2023 and it is not intended to extend it. A feasibility study is being carried out by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It will involve public consultation and proper engagement with stakeholders, including farmers, who are the most important people in this context. That process will result in a report in the third quarter, which will lead to a decision on whether an extra extension to the exemption is needed. It is all contingent on whether we can find feasible and realistic alternatives to the burning of this waste. I know the Senator cares deeply about the environment. He realises what the environmental benefits are and what we are trying to do. We are trying to steer a course here and at the same time do the right thing for members of the public in breathing air and also for farmers. I am happy to bring the Senator's comments to the Minister and ask him to bring those points to the Oireachtas joint committee.

I thank the Minister of State.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, and Senator Boyhan for raising this Commencement matter issue about which I know he is passionate.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 3.20 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 3.30 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.