Tuesday, 3 February 2004
Róisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
I thank the Minister for coming to the House at this late hour to respond to this matter. This is an important matter and it is very important to the people of Ballymun who are in the process of a major regeneration of their area. Ballymun is a significant town of approximately 15,000 people. As the Minister will be aware from the profile of the area, there is a very high social welfare dependency and a consequent very high health care dependency. There is only one health centre to cater for a town of 15,000 people which is unusual for most Irish towns of a similar size. That health centre was built many years ago at a time when the Ballymun estate was first developed. It is now completely inadequate and is a very dilapidated building in very poor condition. It is impossible for clients to attend in many cases and it is very off-putting. It is very difficult for the staff who work there. There is not enough room in the building for all the staff and this has been the case for the last few years. They are dotted around the northside in rented accommodation in Santry and Fairview. The situation is wholly unsatisfactory.
In light of the emphasis which the Minister is seeking to place on the important role of primary care, it is critical that should an area of high dependency like Ballymun, have good quality primary health care services available which are inviting and can accommodate the needs of the local area.
In 1998 the then Eastern Health Board identified Ballymun as an absolute priority area. The requirement to replace the existing health centre was identified and included in the Eastern Health Board's capital programme in 1998 and in every year since. A short while later Ballymun Regeneration Limited came up with a proposal to build a flagship centre on the main Ballymun Road. Anyone passing through the area will be familiar with that magnificent new building which has been completed since this time last year.
The agreement between the Northern Area Health Board and the ERHA which was entered into through the Minister's Department, was that the health board would take some 60% of that building in order to provide an adequately sized health centre for the whole town of Ballymun and to provide office accommodation for the area 7 headquarters of the health board. That agreement was entered into in 2000. Ballymun Regeneration Limited developed that proposal and brought it to fruition last year. The project was brought in on time and on budget.
There is great disappointment in Ballymun — on the part of the residents, the public representatives and the city council — at the fact that the health board and the Minister's Department have not delivered on their side of the bargain. That excellent and modern accommodation has been lying idle for the past 12 months. The rent has to be paid. It was built on a design, build and finance basis and rental purchase must be paid at approximately €3.5 million per year. The Minister is a year overdue with that payment.
Dublin City Council has been carrying that debt for the Minister since then and he will know that local authorities are not in a position to do that. As far as the council and I are concerned, the Minister's Department has welched on that agreement. The Minister was part of the deal and the cost of the project was always understood and there were no surprises for anybody. The project was completed on time but once it was completed, the Minister was not prepared to provide the money. He is not prepared to provide the money for the rental purchase but more critically, he has not been prepared to provide approximately €9 million which is required for fit out and furnishing of those premises.
The primary care health situation in Ballymun is at a critical stage. There are vacancies in many of the posts, particularly in the therapies such as public health nursing and social work. Very few children in Ballymun have developmental tests, for example.