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Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 19 May 2022

Vol. 285 No. 6

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Childcare Services

It is my pleasure to welcome my neighbour and colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, to the Seanad.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for accepting this Commencement matter on the terms and conditions of employment for childcare workers. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to reply to this Commencement matter. I appreciate that it is within his brief and I hope he will have something substantial to tell us on the matter.

Many of us who work in these Houses would not be here without having childcare workers looking after our children. Schools, hospitals, local authority offices and the Garda could not function without having effective childcare. The conditions for the professionals in the childcare sector must be improved. I use the word "professional" very intentionally. These people are educated, many to degree level. They are experienced and are operating in a much more regulated and professional environment than ever before. It is about time this reality was recognised and pay and conditions were improved. We all know the pivotal service that childcare professionals provide to parents, families and our wider society. Without their hard work and dedication, our economy and society simply would not function.

The latest childcare study from SIPTU has concluded that low pay is driving workers out of the industry. The annual early years professionals survey for 2021-22 found that 41% of personnel were seeking roles outside the sector, a factor which SIPTU has said is “undermining the sustainability and quality of services for children”. According to the same report, 94% of managers found it difficult or very difficult to recruit staff in the past 12 months. There is a clear and distinct issue here. The majority of early childhood professionals I speak to in south Kildare see no future for themselves in the industry. They fear for their long-term financial security. Most of them who love their job and want to remain in the industry simply cannot afford to do so.

Something must be done to retain the talent and experience in the childcare industry.

I acknowledge and commend the significant funding provided in budget 2022 to tackle these issues. That is most welcome, but it is my strong view that the rate of pay must reflect the value of these staff to society. The most recent available data indicate that the average wage in the sector in 2021 was just €12.60 per hour, which is below the living wage. I appreciate that this is a somewhat complex issue to tackle, because the State is not the direct employer. The joint labour committee, JLC, has been ongoing since December 2021, and I understand it is examining a wide array of issues facing the sector, with the ultimate aim of providing an employment regulation order, ERO, to improve standards, pay and conditions within the industry.

In December 2021, Nurturing Skills, the workforce plan for early learning and care and school-age childcare was launched. It included commitments to deliver career pathways, promote careers in the sector, and strengthen supports for continuing professional development. We need to see real and meaningful progress on these goals. Staff, managers and many parents simply cannot wait. Will the Minister of State please provide an update and an overview of the progress made by the Government on the working conditions in the sector? When can staff and operators expect to get certainty about the future of the sector? When can we expect to see workers being paid the wage they and their families deserve?

I thank Senator O'Loughlin for raising this Commencement matter on this very important area. She has outlined very clearly the importance of the Government focusing its work on this space, in conjunction with the private sector. I am pleased she indicated that in the most recent budget, and preceding ones, funding was increased to the sector, which was very important. The focus was on quality, policy and so on but, as the Senator correctly stated, we need to address career paths and terms and conditions and also give certainty to the many highly-qualified staff who work in the sector and provide significant assistance and service to all of us. Childcare is a very important area and I am pleased we have such professional people working in the sector.

On the process, I am pleased that a commitment was made in the programme for Government to support the establishment of a joint labour committee in the childcare sector and the drawing up of an employment regulation order, which will determine minimum rates of pay for childcare workers, as well as terms and conditions of employment. The reason it was set up was to address the issues Senator O'Loughlin raises, but also to recognise that it is a complex area because the sector receives a combination of public and private funding. The JLC model has worked extremely well in other areas such as agriculture, catering, contract cleaning, hairdressing, security and so on. It is a good way of doing business in other sectors, including hotels, among others, to bring the parties together to have a conversation around a table and get everybody's agreement.

The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, updated the House in February on the process. Since then I understand the joint labour committee for the early learning and care and school-age childcare sector, which is independently chaired, has met a number of times and is progressing its work. I can confirm that the JLC has published its draft proposals and issued an invitation to any interested persons to submit written submissions to it by not later than the close of business on 31 May 2022. These proposals are available on the Labour Court's website. I encourage all interested parties to have a read the proposals and to make their submissions in the next two weeks.

Proposals for an employment regulation order are formulated in the first instance by a JLC where it is satisfied that such proposals would promote harmonious relations between workers and employers. The Labour Court then considers whether to adopt the proposals. In doing so, it will also need to invite submissions from the public. If the Labour Court, having complied with its statutory functions, is satisfied that the proposals are in a suitable form for adoption, it will adopt and submit them to me as the Minister of State with responsibility for this area. My role is to consider the recommendations against the statutory process. If I am satisfied that the process has been complied with and it is appropriate to make an order, I will give effect to an employment regulation order, which would bring a solution to the sector. The timeline for this is approximately six to seven weeks. I see no reason that this cannot be dealt with in the next two months. That is where the process is at currently.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. It is good to hear the progress that has been made. We need to emphasise that it is important for members of the public to get involved in the public consultation process. There is still an opportunity to submit proposals by 31 May. I understand from the Minister of State's response that there is to be a second opportunity to invite submissions from the Labour Court. Those two elements of the consultation are very important.

In terms of the proposals that may be adopted, I welcome the statement that we may have this done within two months. We are now nearing the end of May, so we are looking at an order being ready for the end of July. If that is the case, there could be extra supports and funding available in time for the budget for 2023. I would welcome clarification in that regard from the Minister of State. I appreciate that the process is ongoing.

The Senator raised a couple of issues. I will address the funding. Public funding has increased significantly in the past seven or eight years, and rightly so. There is also significant private funding in this area as well as funding from families. It is not all Government funding, but it is certainly Government assisted. As I said, I think it is possible for the process to be completed in the next couple of months in time for budget negotiations and completion of the budget. However, I am not convinced it will be July. I do not want to pre-empt the work the Labour Court has to do, but a key part of this is that the JLC's public submissions will be finished by the end of May and it will bring its work to the Labour Court. It is possible that this process will be completed in July and I see no reason for it not to be completed in time to feed into the budget negotiations. That would be useful because an agreement on the employment regulations would be very beneficial to the sector as it would mean employees and employers are in agreement on bringing this matter forward and all the relevant stakeholders are at one. That would certainly help to drive on the development of the sector as one with career choice and a roadmap for career development.

The establishment of the JLC for the sector, following a programme for Government commitment, is a significant and welcome development. I am pleased that it was in the programme for Government and also that there is a commitment from the three parties in government to continue funding in this sector and increase benefits. I am very pleased that bodies representing employers and employees have engaged with the JLC process, as there can be significant positive benefits for both parties. An agreement on a new set of terms and conditions of employment will help maintain and grow the talented pool of people working in the sector, as well as providing security and opportunity for career development in the early learning and care and school-age childcare sector.

Pharmacy Services

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for coming to the House today to discuss the all-important matter of the shortage of pharmacists and pharmaceutical technicians. I have been contacted by a number of pharmacists who are very concerned about the skills shortage in the sector. I have communicated with the Minister of State's Department in regard to it. A pharmacist Limerick, who has a number of pharmacies, simply cannot get pharmacists. The person concerned is afraid that the pharmacy will have to close down because it cannot function without having a qualified pharmacist working in it. One or two members of staff came from Brazil, but their qualification is not recognised in this country. They are working with the Irish Pharmacy Union, IPU, to have their qualifications recognised. It is impossible to get staff. Pharmacists I have spoken to say it is taking between six and 12 months from the time they advertise a position until they get people into the role. The sector has reached crisis point.

The IPU conference was held last weekend in Dublin. As part of his speech, the president, Mr. Dermot Twomey, highlighted the fact that he had been in communication with the Department in terms of getting pharmacists and pharmaceutical technicians listed on the critical skills list. He highlighted what I outlined a minute ago, which is that the IPU fears there will not be enough pharmacists to actually open the pharmacies. That really is frightening.

We only have to look back at what we went through in terms of Covid-19 and the number of people who relied on pharmacists. While doctors, we will say, were predominantly online, some pharmacists were open 24-7, and most were open five or six days per week and provided in-person consultation. We are so reliant on pharmacies for anything from a little minor bite to something serious. Certainly, there is a shortage and it needs to be addressed.

I thank Senator Byrne for raising this issue and giving me the chance to address the Seanad on the matter. It is timely with regard to the process.

Ireland operates a managed employment permits system, maximising the benefits of economic migration and minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland's labour market. The regime is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills or labour shortages in the State required to develop and support enterprise for the benefit of our economy. This objective must be balanced by the need to ensure there are no suitably qualified EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is genuine.

The system is managed through the operation of the critical skills and ineligible occupations lists, which, respectively, prioritise specified in-demand skills and identify occupations for which a labour supply should be available in the EEA. The lists are subject to regular, evidenced-based review incorporating consideration of available research and a public consultation, providing an opportunity for stakeholders to submit information and perspectives on the extent of skills or labour shortages. Account is taken of education outputs, sectoral upskilling and training initiatives and known contextual factors such as the ending of the pandemic unemployment payment scheme or the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis and their impact on the labour market.

Submissions to the review are considered by the interdepartmental group on economic migration policy, with membership drawn from senior officials of key Departments, including the Department of Health, which will be relevant in the Senator's case, who may provide their observations on the occupation under consideration. The occupations of pharmacy technician and pharmacy assistant are currently included on the ineligible occupations list. Occupations on the ineligible occupations list are occupations in respect of which evidence suggests there are sufficient EEA workers available to fill such vacancies and, therefore, an employment permit shall not be granted. No submissions were received with regard to these occupations in recent reviews.

The next review of the occupational lists is due to take place in quarter 2 of this year, so it will be open shortly. When open, submissions will be invited from sector representative bodies and interested parties via the public consultation form accessible on my Department's website throughout the consultation period.

In the case of the area the Senator is representing, I would urge the IPU to come forward. It made recommendations in the past in other areas and they were listened to. It must be based on evidence, however, and has to be in conjunction with the Department of Health and other relevant Departments. We are happy to engage with the IPU around that process. Again, if the evidence is there, we can adjust to be able to deal with its concerns around the ineligible occupations list.

The Senator raised the timelines involved in processing permits at this time. While no one can stand over the lengthy waiting times for last year, which was far too long for the second half of last year, we came into 2022 with a backlog of more than 10,000 applications. That is because there was a 70% increase in the number of permits that were applied for last year, which was on top of a 50% increase in the years before that as well. There was, therefore, a massive increase in the permits option. We have trebled the staff in the division to try to deal with this and with the backlog, and they are having an impact. The backlog is now back down to under 6,000 permits as of today. We have trebled the outcome per week, which would have been approximately 300 permits on average this time last year. That is now more than 1,000 most weeks and in the week just gone, 1,200 permits were processed. Much work has been done, therefore, to try to speed up the delivery of these. We have now got the critical skills timeline back down to six weeks, which is very competitive compared with the rest of Europe.

The difficulty is on the general work permit. For trusted partners, we have got it back down to 16 weeks now. It was as high as 24 or 25 weeks at one stage. For non-trusted partners, it is still approximately 21 weeks. All our efforts in the weeks ahead will be to drive that back down and to get all permits down to approximately six or seven weeks, if we possibly can.

A big impact on that will be an issue we discussed here quite a lot, that is, the changes we made to the system last October allowing for an extra 3,000 work permits in the horticulture and meat industry sectors. They would all have been applied for quite quickly as they are after October. It put a lot of pressure on the system but most of those 3,000 are nearly completed and being processed now, which will free up our staffing timetable to be able to focus on other key areas like hospitality, chefs and so on. The Senator identified the pharmacy sector, with which I think we can also engage during this review process.

I thank the Minister of State very much. I was of the understanding the IPU had been in consultation, but obviously it has not. I will go back to the pharmaceutical union and inform it of the process. I appreciate this will be opening shortly because, certainly, it is not just affecting my area; it is affecting areas throughout the country. Their union was actually calling for pharmacists to be added to the critical skills list. While I know a couple of hundred people are qualified every year in the role of pharmacist, the industry cannot get people to apply for the jobs. That is the big problem. I think a lot of people are in employment, to be honest about it. A recent report that came out shows that unemployment in my region is down to just over 4%, which is ahead of what it was prior to Covid-19. It is quite a low figure, which is great, certainly in terms of the mid-west. We are all so reliant on our pharmacists, however, so it is critical. I will tell them about the process, and I am sure the Department's website probably lays out the different things they must do to qualify. I thank the Minister of State.

Again, I thank Senator Byrne for raising this issue. It is a very important area because we know the service our pharmacists provide to all of us. Certainly, they have been extremely busy in helping with the response to Covid-19 over the past couple of years. They do great work and it is important they can access the level of staff they need.

Again, to clarify for the record, the IPU does engage quite a lot with our Department. It also feeds into our retail forum quite successfully and engages quite a lot. What is important on these processes is the evidence. From memory, I think the IPU had submissions for certain categories of workers. When we are doing the Department's review, however, each area of concern must be specified. A formal response was not sent in for the previous two reviews. There might have been on the ones before that. It is important, therefore, we have that formal piece of evidence as well. There was engagement, and some progress has been made in other job categories, but the specific ones the Senator mentioned are probably the focus of this year's involvement. The IPU will no doubt be involved. I am happy to meet with it because it provides a great service.

Abortion Services

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

I thank the Minister of State for being here today. I would have like to have seen the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, here to discuss this very important matter and answer the questions I put down.

I raised the issue in March in this House about the state of telemedicine provisions for abortion in Ireland and the risk surrounding its operation. Telemedicine abortion was introduced in March 2020 as a temporary Covid-19 emergency measure. While virtually all emergency measures have been pulled back, telemedicine abortion remains in place, with no signs of the Minister for Health seriously committing to pulling it back. This is regrettable as there are serious acknowledged risks associated with telemedicine that must urgently be addressed. I raised some of these in my contribution on 1 March.

I am aware the Minister for Health ordered a review of the revised model of care for termination of pregnancy in quarter 4 of 2021, which took a largely positive view of telemedicine abortion and valued its convenience for women having an abortion.

However, I must stress that there are considerations more important than convenience and ease of access, such as the physical and mental safety of women and girls in this country. As such, how can the Government stand over the acknowledgement from the HSE, in reply to a parliamentary question, that meeting the woman in person increases the likelihood of the provider identifying any coercion or domestic abuse, yet it continues to operate a policy that facilitates the abuse of vulnerable women? I understand the Minister is considering a blended approach for telemedicine, which would allow operational in-person consultations. Under this proposal, the most vulnerable women would inevitably fall through the cracks. Women suffering from domestic abuse, coercion and those trapped in human trafficking would not benefit from a blended approach. It cannot be seriously argued that abusers would permit their victims to opt for an in-person consultation over a remote, impersonal phone call. Moreover, a phone call is an inadequate substitute for an in-person consultation and examination. There is no way to guarantee a woman's privacy in a phone call scenario.

Recent findings from a BBC Four poll reveal that 15% of women between the ages of 18 and 44 in the UK have experienced pressure to go through with an abortion they did not want to have. Allowing telemedicine at-home abortions to continue without the requirement of a face-to-face consultation for such an important decision leaves open an extremely likely probability of women being coerced into having abortions by the malign influence of a partner or third party. How does the Minister for Health intend to address this alarming probability? Clearly his "whatever you are having yourself" attitude to a blended approach fails to adequately redress this alarming issue.

I fail to see how telemedicine abortion, including even a blended approach, could accurately verify a woman's gestational stage. If a pregnant woman were beyond nine weeks and six days and had inaccurately self-assessed her last menstrual period, she could receive and self-administer abortion pills, which could impose immense health risks. Moreover, there is no way to guarantee a woman would take the pills at home as soon as they are received. Situations like these could lead to complications like haemorrhaging, infection, incomplete abortions and ongoing pregnancy. I cannot see how telemedicine, either in full or in a blended approach, would adequately address these risks. I am calling on the Minister for Health to acknowledge the realities of the situation. People's lives are in danger here. Women in abusive situations are being utterly failed by telemedicine abortion. The Minister cannot continue to live in a bubble where the only issues around abortion relate to how easy and convenient it is to have one. The argument that this measure is a temporary Covid response is increasingly losing its relevance. The Minister needs to address these very serious matters and ensure a full return to mandatory in-person consultations for women seeking abortions.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Health. The model of care for the termination of pregnancy service became operational in January 2019, following the enactment and commencement of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. Termination up to nine weeks’ gestation is carried out in the community by GPs or doctors working in family planning and women's health clinics, providing clinical supervision and supporting women's self-management. Women with a pregnancy between nine and 12 weeks’ gestation are referred for hospital-based care.

The arrival of Covid-19 in 2020 required a substantial shift in how care is provided across the health service, including the adoption of measures to facilitate social distancing and reduce personal contacts and footfall within medical facilities, as appropriate. As part of the health system response, a temporary revised model of care for the termination of pregnancy service was agreed to facilitate remote consultation with a medical practitioner for the purposes of accessing termination in early pregnancy. The revised model of care stated that face-to-face consultations could be held if clinically necessary but that such consultations should be kept to a minimum. It is recognised that the current public health guidance, including guidance on managing risk of transmission of respiratory viruses including Covid-19 in general practice, continues to apply and advises limiting footfall through the practice by discouraging unnecessary attendance at the practice by people who can be dealt with equally well by telephone.

As wider public health restrictions began to ease in 2021, the Department requested the HSE's national women and infants health programme to undertake a review of the operation of the revised model of care for termination of pregnancy services from a clinical and patient safety perspective. The purpose of the review was to consider whether the revised model of care should be retained going forward. This review was completed and submitted to the Department. Having regard to the experiences during Covid-19 and the review work undertaken, consideration of the model of care is ongoing.

I was not expecting anything else from the Department, to tell the truth. I am very disappointed. I understand the review is ongoing. I am unfamiliar with how long it will take to conclude the review or when the results will be published. There are safeguarding issues here, specifically with regard to coercive control and domestic violence, and there are also difficulties in identifying the gestational age with telemedicine. There are side-effects to these drugs and pills. Healthcare for abortion is not something that should be given through telemedicine. It is not something that can be ordered online like Amazon or fast food. That is not what abortions and healthcare for women are about. The sooner we get back to in-person consultations the better. It does not serve women well to have abortions available through telemedicine, particularly women who are in vulnerable or coercive relationships and subject to domestic abuse. I look forward to seeing that review. When will it be published? I will be back in September on this issue and hopefully the Minister will be free the next time. I thank the Minister of State for coming in this morning.

I again thank the Senator. I do not have a date for when the review will be announced but I will follow that up in the Department. Timely access to care, as close to home or the community as possible, is a key principle of the vision of Sláintecare. The review of the changes to the termination of pregnancy model of care adopted during the pandemic is an appropriate and timely initiative. The Department is continuing its engagements with the HSE regarding the final considerations related to this review and the next steps. The outcome of the review will be made available once this deliberative process concludes. In the meantime, it is important to reflect that the temporary model of care, along with the relevant public health advice, remains in place. The Senator has raised a few issues regarding her views. I will bring them to the Minister and the Department.

Electric Vehicles

I welcome our visitors to the Gallery. It is great to see young people coming back in and having the opportunity to listen to the debates, in both the Dáil and the Seanad, on issues that impact on their lives. I hope they have an enjoyable day in Leinster House today. If there are any follow-up questions they would like to ask us about afterwards, I will be very happy to respond.

I thank the Cathaoirleach's office for choosing this Commencement debate and welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber.

I tabled this matter to Deputy Eamon Ryan as the Minister for Transport but also as the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, given that the issue of electric vehicle, EV, charging points is one that is covered by both of his ministerial responsibilities in ensuring an adequate network of charging points across the country.

The roll-out of electric cars is running apace, which is to be welcomed, and the car manufacturing industry is increasing production of electric cars in light of fossil fuels being phased out across Europe by 2030 or 2035. EV charging point access will become increasingly important. While it is estimated that home charging will be responsible for more than 80% of EV charging, there will still be a need for an adequate network of charging points across the country. People are on the road, tourists are going to and from various parts of the country and people have anxieties about electric cars' ranges. While ranges and battery lives are improving, there will be a need to reach a point eventually where every town has at least one public charging point.

Local authorities should be central to the siting and placing of charging points. The then Minister, Deputy Bruton, established a grant scheme for local authorities in 2019 with €5,000 payable per point to support the development of on-street public chargers. The uptake of the public charging points scheme is low so far. I do not know whether there is an inadequate level of funding or local authorities are too short-staffed for the design, acquisition and installation of facilities. Perhaps there needs to be an investigation into why there has not been a greater roll-out. I understand that some local authorities are ramping up delivery now, which is to be welcomed, but the reality is that private businesses are leading the way. For example, some exclusive hotels have facilities that are out of the reach of the ordinary person who is not staying there. Understandably, it is an important offering that such hotels provide to people who stay with them.

I contacted the ESB this year and a number of years ago about its policy. Its policy is to start with motorways and national primary routes, which are the most travelled routes. The ESB is supported through the climate action fund. Everyone who pays the carbon tax pays into this fund. There is an attempt to look at destination points, for example, national parks, visitor centres, Office of Public Works properties, etc. This is to be welcomed, but there is a need for public charging points in towns in my area - Moycullen, Oughterard, Barna, Claregalway and Oranmore – as well as in Galway city. There needs to be increased visibility of public charging points to allow people to grab a cup of coffee or tea nearby, relax and wait for their cars to charge.

I look forward to the Minister of State's response on the roll-out across Galway county and city.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue, which is worthy of many local authorities and towns across the country. I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

The Government's policy regarding the increased usage of EVs is primarily driven by the climate action plan, which sets a target of having 936,000 EVs on Ireland's roads by 2030. To support these EVs, Ireland has a comprehensive charging network available to EV owners to charge their vehicles. A number of operators provide these charge points, with the majority being rolled out by EasyGo and by the ESB through its ecars programme. Each provider has a map outlining the availability of these charge points, which is updated in real time.

Charge point operators in Ireland mainly provide charge points that are standard 22 kWh or higher 50 kWh and 150 kWh. Standard charge points are located on streets and in strategic destinations, such as train stations, hotels, shopping centres, etc. The fast and high-powered charge points are mainly focused along the motorways. In addition to the main network, charge points are provided at locations such as places of employment and private car parks. Currently, there are circa 2,000 charge points in Ireland, with this number continuing to grow.

Some €10 million was committed from the climate action fund to support ESB investment in the charging network. This has leveraged a further €10 million investment from ESB.

(Interruptions).

This intervention alone will result in 90 additional high-power chargers, each capable of charging two vehicles; 52 additional fast chargers, which may replace existing standard chargers; and 264 replacement standard chargers with more modern technology and each consisting of two charge points. The project is due to be completed in 2022.

In March, the Department of Transport published a draft EV charging infrastructure strategy, which is currently out for public consultation. Once finalised, the strategy will provide a key framework for ensuring that we continue to have sufficient infrastructure in place to keep ahead of demand as we move towards the climate action plan goal of almost 1 million vehicles on the road by 2030.

Regarding Galway city and county, the Department of Transport has been informed by ESB ecars that its charging network in Galway has 12 standard charge points, nine fast chargers and four high-powered charge points, with all 12 of the standard charge points featuring two connections for a total of 24 individual points where an EV can be charged.

In addition to the existing network, the public charge point scheme has been in place since September 2019, providing local authorities with a grant of up to €5,000 per charger to support the development of on-street public chargers. It is intended that this scheme will be expanded significantly to coincide with the launch of Zero Emission Vehicles Ireland, ZEVI, in the coming months. The primary focus of the scheme is to provide support for the installation of infrastructure that will facilitate owners of EVs who do not have access to private parking spaces but rely on parking their vehicles in public places near their homes to charge their vehicles. The Department is making significant funding available this year and next through ZEVI to support the installation of destination charge points in locations such as hotels and parks.

I thank the Minister of State for that response on behalf of the Department. I welcome the information in it, according to which County Galway has 12 standard charge points, nine fast chargers and four high-powered charge points. County Galway is the second largest county in the country and has a large tourist destination in the form of Connemara, where public charge points are non-existent. Work is needed if there is to be a proper roll-out of facilities in towns in such areas, for example, Moycullen, Oughterard, Barna, An Spidéal, An Cara Rua and Clifden, and if we are to ensure adequate facilities so that tourists or people who are on the road travelling for business, weekend vacations or the like have certainty that there are electric charging points in those areas. I urge the Department to engage proactively with local authorities to ensure that the level of ambition and delivery is ramped up across County Galway.

I apologise for the disturbance caused by my phone during that exchange.

Senator Kyne has raised an important issue. I would have expected there to have been more than 12 standard charge points in County Galway. More needs to be done.

We continue to expand the national charging network through support for on-street chargers. A report was published by the County and City Management Association giving guidance to local authorities on the provision of charging infrastructure. The document may be viewed online.

To support home-charging, the SEAI, on behalf of the Department of Transport, administers an EV home charger grant of up to €600 towards the purchase and installation of an EV home-charger unit. As regards existing apartment buildings, work is currently being progressed to expand the EV home-charger grant to include shared parking in apartment blocks and similar developments. The Department of Transport is working closely with the SEAI and expects a scheme for apartments to open shortly.

On new builds, there are charging points. The Senator has highlighted an issue. We probably need more chargers in County Galway and in many other counties and cities around the country. I look forward to all of the stakeholders working together to achieve that.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.21 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar meán lae.
Sitting suspended at 11.21 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.
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