Topical Issue Debate

School Staffing

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me time to discuss an urgent matter, namely, the need for the Minister for Education and Skills to review a decision that has led to the suppression of the posts of the resource teacher for Travellers, RTT, and the rural co-ordinator for disadvantage at St. Mary's national school in Edgeworthstown, County Longford. The loss of these posts is detrimental to the continued successful provision of education to the children of Edgeworthstown and leaves the most vulnerable children in the school without essential supports. Furthermore, given the population explosion in Edgeworthstown — an increase of 68.4% since the 2006 census — there is urgent need for an increase in the funding provision for the built environment at the school.

St. Mary's is developing rapidly and is designated as DEIS rural. The school is the base for a rural co-ordinator for disadvantage covering three schools. The current enrolment at the school is 464 pupils, a marked increase from the 203 who were enrolled in 2005 when the service under DEIS was allocated.

According to budget 2011, rural co-ordinator for disadvantage posts were to be suppressed from September 2011. This would be untenable for St. Mary's national school, as making the most vulnerable children suffer would be to the detriment of the school and the community. Its rural co-ordinator visits homes, organises homework clubs, runs parenting courses in conjunction with the HSE, provides English language courses for parents who are not fluent and organises a range of afterschool activities, including drama, French, sport and crafts. The co-ordinator is also responsible for a range of in-school activities.

With an increased number of children from the Traveller community in the school, the projected suppression of the RTT post from 1 September by the Department will be a considerable blow to the school. It will have a detrimental impact not only on the children concerned, but on learning supports for other pupils. The number of children from the Traveller community who attend the school exceeds the 33 pupils required to retain such a post.

Edgeworthstown has recently been reallocated into CLÁR, a status it did not have at the allocation of DEIS. Primary schools serving rural areas, including towns with a population below 1,500 people, are included in the rural strand of DEIS. St. Mary's is no longer in this category, given the population increase in Edgeworthstown. However, I am conscious of the fact that an evaluation is being prepared for the next cycle of DEIS.

It is imperative that St. Mary's be immediately redesignated from DEIS rural to DEIS urban and that the post of rural co-ordinator is recategorised as home school community liaison. The school meets the recommended numbers for this post, as it is now the largest school in County Longford and in the Ardagh and Clonmacnoise diocese. St. Mary's has projected further enrolment growth and hopes to achieve a 20 classroom school on the site.

The Deputy's time is up.

St. Mary's is urgently in need of a permanent structure to encompass 20 classrooms. Currently, it only has five classrooms in a permanent structure, two of which are in a general purpose room and a computer room. This limits both ICT education and physical education. All other classes and support teachers, totalling 27, are in prefab accommodation, which is unacceptable.

I praise the principal, Ms Helen O'Gorman, and the staff, who give 100%——

The Deputy's time is up. Will he resume his seat, please?

——to making the school a vibrant entity. It is up to the Department of Education and Skills to assist them in every way possible.

Do you realise there is a time limit on this debate? You are taking time from your colleagues. When I say "four minutes", I mean "four minutes".

I thank Deputy Bannon for raising this issue, as it gives those of us on the Government benches an opportunity to clarify the position. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, and the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, are attending the IVEA conference in Cork today and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, is out of the country on Government business. They apologise for not being present and I have been asked to respond on their behalf.

The decision to withdraw RTTs and rural co-ordinator posts was taken by the previous Government as part of the last budget. The requirement to make expenditure savings and to ensure that staffing numbers remain within the public service employment control framework prevent us as an incoming Government from revisiting the decision.

The programme for Government sets out that education will be a priority for the Government and that we will endeavour to protect and enhance the educational experience of children, young people and students. To this end, we are committing, during the tenure of the Government, to improving the co-ordination and integration of the delivery of services to the Traveller community across all Departments using available resources more effectively to deliver upon the fundamental principle of inclusion.

The decision to dispense with Traveller-specific resource teaching posts is broadly in keeping with the Traveller education strategy, which recommends that an integrated, collaborative and in-class learning support structure should be adopted for all children, including Travellers, with an identified educational need. The strategy aims to enhance access, attendance, participation and engagement for Travellers and is underpinned by the principles of inclusion and mainstreaming with an emphasis on equality and diversity.

Traveller pupils who are eligible for learning support teaching from this school now receive the tuition through the existing learning support provision therein. The Government recognises that withdrawing all RTT posts will place a strain on existing learning support services in schools. In recognition of this, limited alleviation measures have been provided to assist some schools that have high numbers and concentrations of Traveller pupils and who were previously supported by RTTs. The school in question had only 16 pupils of a total population of 437 in 2011 who were supported by an RTT post. By comparison with the number in other schools, this number was relatively small and accordingly this school did not qualify for alleviation measures available for schools losing RTT posts. These were allocated to the schools which had the highest numbers and percentages of pupils supported by RTTs.

I understand that, for the current school year, St. Mary's national school has four full-time and one shared learning support-resource teaching posts to support students. Traveller pupils who require additional learning support or resource teaching should be provided with such support through these means.

With regard to the position on the rural co-ordinator service, I wish to clarify the school was selected to participate in the rural element of DEIS, Delivering Equality of Opportunities in Schools, the action plan for educational inclusion. The school was included in a rural cluster with two other rural DEIS schools and had, until this year, the services of a rural co-ordinator. The decision to remove the rural co-ordinator service from 331 rural DEIS primary schools was a measure taken by the last Government as part of a measure to secure some €24 million in savings in the 2011-12 school year under the national recovery plan. The service was discontinued with effect from 31 August 2011. Requirements to make expenditure savings and to ensure staffing numbers remain within the public service employment control framework prevent us from re-visiting this decision.

I hope the Minister will take on board my concerns and commit to restoring essential staff at St Mary's and providing urgently needed improvements to the built environment by way of urgently needed permanent accommodation.

With regard to the designation of St. Mary's as a rural rather than urban school, the classification of schools was supposed to be reviewed in 2009. This did not happen. When will it happen?

St. Mary's has pupils from 15 different nationalities and provides value for money for children under its care. Conscious that all children have only one childhood, I draw attention to the need for financial support from the Department to carry out necessary upgrading and maintain teacher numbers. It is vital that funding be provided. Perhaps the Minister will make a commitment in this regard. I dispute his figures because I was speaking to the principal, Helen O'Gorman, this morning.

The Deputy, as a Member on the Government side, understands the pressure the Government is under in delivering all public services. I will pass on his views to the Minister for Education and Skills. He should know the school is included in the DEIS programme and continues to receive very significant enhanced supports.

A schools building project to provide a new school on the existing site in Edgeworthstown is at an advanced stage of architectural planning. An application for planning permission has been received and a decision of the local authority is expected shortly. This project will deliver a new 20-classroom primary school plus a special needs unit on the existing school site. All in all, there is a good service being delivered to the school. I heard what the Deputy said and will bring his views to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills. The Deputy will, of course, realise that we must ensure we live within our means, and that all areas of public expenditure are under very tight pressure.

Pension Provisions

Deputies Keating and Buttimer are sharing time.

I raise this issue as it is a matter of national importance and of great concern. Some senior civil servants are receiving vast sums of money by way of bonuses, pensions and special lump sums. Perhaps all these packages are tax-free. I raise this on behalf of the many who have been affected adversely by the economic circumstances in which we live. They are suffering as a result of job losses, price increases, reductions in services and difficulties in repaying their mortgages. In light of the exposure of this issue, I ask the Minister who agreed the terms. Can he give us definite information on this? What, if anything, can he do? Can an emergency taxation system be introduced to give the people some comfort?

Many people have been told for a variety of reasons in recent years that terms previously agreed cannot be met. Would it not be in our interest and that of the people to say to Mr. Dermot McCarthy, for example, that we are no longer in a position to meet the terms already agreed in his contract? What message would that send out to the people?

I met a man from Clondalkin last Saturday morning. He told me he had just read about this issue in the newspaper. He was wondering how we could pay a man €3,000 per week. I am wondering the same.

I ask Deputies to refrain from mentioning individuals. It is not customary to mention those who are not in a position to defend themselves. Deputies may raise an issue with this in mind.

I want to raise the issue of the payment to a former Secretary General to the Government. Such a payment is wrong in the current economic climate. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has given us the line of the day: we must live within our means. I accept this is a legacy issue but to the people, our fellow parliamentarians and other commentators, it is an issue of gargantuan concern that, in a recession, somebody can walk away with a lump sum that is multiples of his or her income, during which time the rest of the country is trying to live within its means.

I do not mean to personalise the issue and am not on a witch-hunt but I want to see fairness and balance. Our fellow citizens want the same. We are told unemployment, a reduction in services and increases in indirect taxation are coming on foot of the next budget. The people want fairness. The giving of largesse to a small coterie of people must be stopped and cannot be allowed to continue.

I appreciate that the Minister will embark on a project of reform and I commend him on this. We will support him in this regard. The people are sickened by what they regard as largesse being given to a small chosen few. To add insult to injury, they see potential for persons in retirement being considered for or asked to take a further job. This is according to the commentary of others, not the Government. This must not be allowed to continue either.

The Government, which has done a great job since entering office, has begun a process of reform and this must continue. We must end the practice of giving excessive largesse to those on the top end of the scale who are retiring, including ourselves. I am not talking about the ordinary people but those at the top.

The topic submitted pertained to reductions in Civil Service numbers. Therefore, my prepared notes relate to a topic entirely different from that raised but I am very happy to address the one raised. We need to tackle these issues face-on. I do not want to personalise the matter and take the Ceann Comhairle's admonition in that regard, but let me deal with the specifics. In 1987, the Top Level Appointments Committee was established to get younger people into the top levels of the Civil Service. The old system whereby Secretaries General were appointed for life and expected to receive a full salary until the age of 65 was terminated and people were given a fixed contract of seven years. In 1987, a deal was done to facilitate this because there was a desire for younger people to apply for the job for a seven-year period. The deal done was that at the end of the seven-year period the person was entitled to continue in an analogous post at the same level of payment or receive a severance payment. Everyone who has retired under TLAC terms since 1987 received these severance payments. Therefore, we should not personalise it to one individual. However, this does not make it right and in the new austerity we must face, everything is under scrutiny.

I will outline the three component parts of the very high sum which both Deputies instanced. The first part is the lump sum payment, which is one and a half times the final annual salary. The second part is the pension, which is 50% of earned salary over the period and which is normal for every public servant, whether a Garda, a nurse or anybody else. The third, more dubious element, is the TLAC severance element. The end of year salary for the person concerned was €285,000 but this has been reduced to €200,000 and pensions and lump sums of all retiring people will be based on this as and from the end of February 2012. We will have a significant exit from the public service — we may have a debate on this separately — because people will want to preserve their pre-cut level of pension entitlements. The very elaborate lump sum and pension entitlements will be significantly reduced for anybody retiring after the end of February next year.

I have a particular problem with the TLAC severance payment and I have asked the Department to see how I can deal with it. In essence, I have sought a way of abolishing it. I want to make clear that I am not interested in grandstanding on this. I do not want to make a pretence that I can do something if I cannot do it and I end up sending lawyers to the High Court costing us more money. I understand one more individual who would qualify under the TLAC terms, and not 55 as quoted in the newspapers, has notified the Department of retirement prior to the end of February. I am not sure what I can do about this. I have asked the Department to examine it. There may be more who have yet to notify the Department. This is a time-limited issue and this is a reforming Government, and once we get over this period we will change the entire process.

This month, I will introduce to the House a new comprehensive single pensions Bill which will fundamentally alter the way pensions are determined for all public servants including Deputies, the Judiciary, gardaí and civil servants. It will not be an end of payment calculation; it will be a career average calculation. This will not affect people with a fairly flat profile of income such as teachers, but it will certainly affect people who end up in very high positions in the public service.

I thank the Minister. I take some satisfaction from his reply because three things are very clear. First, I am delighted but not surprised to see the Minister is as passionate about this issue as I am and as are many people in Ireland. Second, the Minister sees this as a major issue and, third, we are a Government of reform and we will deal with these unacceptable issues. I thank the Minister for his reply.

I also thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome the reform process he is initiating. This is about higher paid civil servants and is a major issue that cannot be underestimated. As a people, a Government and a Parliament we must decide what is important to us. Today, the Minister has exemplified that although tough decisions and days lie ahead, the Government will show leadership. If this determination for reform is shown people will be brought with us and they will understand our economic situation. This is a matter of grave importance. It is not about cheap headlines or one person; it is about sending a message to our people that we can reform our economy and bring back our country. It must be done by those in authority and those at the top.

I thank both Deputies. I do not want to give any illusion that we will not have other instances between now and February. I do not know whether any senior civil servants are contemplating retiring and if they have a contractual arrangement, I may not be able to dislodge it. I have asked for advice on this. As I stated, I will not make false promises nor will I accrue legal costs to grandstand on it. However, we will fundamentally reform the system. We have already done so by capping top-level pay, starting with ourselves on our first day in government. We migrated this through all levels of the public service and we will copperfasten this process in law in the new pensions Bill. I hope Deputies on all sides of the House will engage with us in this reform process and support the legislation when it comes to the House before the end of the year.

Is it possible for the Attorney General to go to the High Court without incurring costs to the State?

The State covers its own costs but if it loses a case, it covers the costs of the other party and I am afraid these can be considerable.

National Internship Scheme

I welcome the creation of the topical issues debate. Of all the Dáil reforms that are taking place, this is the most significant in terms of shifting the balance in favour of the ordinary Deputy. It puts us centre stage in the middle of the day able to raise issues which are topical and of concern to our constituents and this is extremely important.

Will the Minister for Social Protection considered changing the qualification period for JobBridge from signing on the live register for three months to a shorter period of time? This is to ensure people who are unemployed and who are anxious to apply for vacancies are enabled to do so. Concerns have been raised with me about this issue. I met someone who would like to apply for a JobBridge vacancy but is not in a position to do so because of not being unemployed for long enough and because of not being in receipt of benefits. One must be in receipt of a payment or signing on for credits for three months. The person concerned had not been employed for three months and was not signing on for credits because of not knowing that one could do so or what this means. The person also did not see the point because one does not receive payments for doing so; there is no incentive to sign on for credits.

In my view, this person is very representative of the many people who would not qualify for a jobseeker's payment because of not meeting the means test requirements or not having enough credits to receive unemployment benefit. Most people do not sign on for credits, or they might do so intermittently and give up on it because they do not see the point as it involves a cost for people who do not receive a payment. It would cost people with no income to take the bus to sign on. Prior to this, it was not possible to avail of schemes such as JobBridge by signing on, so there was no incentive for people to do so. Therefore, as people have not been signing on for the required period of time, they are not eligible for JobBridge. A vacancy might be advertised on the site but they cannot apply for it.

Students may also be affected. Students can sign on the live register after finishing a course even though they may not be entitled to a payment but they would have to sign on for three months. Why do applicants need to have signed on for three months to be eligible for one of these vacancies? Many of these vacancies are actually ideal for graduates and those who have just finished a training course. However, they must wait and sign on for three months before they can apply for an internship. I do not see the reasoning to this delay. We should be doing everything we can to facilitate people who want to apply for JobBridge vacancies. I recall that to apply for the former social employment schemes, one needed to only have signed on for one week, a move which showed certain flexibility then. There is no logic to the three-month wait for the JobBridge internship scheme when it could easily be just for a week.

I thank Deputy Tuffy for raising this matter and her recognition of the positive elements of the national internship scheme, the JobBridge initiative. It is only ten weeks old so I must emphasise we are all learning from it quickly. It is interesting to see how much positive interest it has generated from employers and applicants. Interning has been popular in the United States, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom for some time. All the leaders of the British Government started as interns in politics but probably acquired them, however, more on the basis of who they knew.

The national internship scheme is new to the Irish context. The overall jobs initiative is part of the process of restoring confidence in the economy but also restoring hope and confidence in the large numbers of people who find themselves out of employment.

JobBridge, the national internship scheme, is a key element of the initiative but with a relatively modest capacity of 5,000 places. It is the first initiative operated under the new national employment and entitlements service, a commitment contained in the programme for Government. The scheme's aim is to assist individuals bridge the gap between unemployment and the world of work. It provides those seeking employment with the opportunity to undertake a six or nine month internship in a host organisation. Participants will benefit from learning new skills to complement their existing skills. Upon completing their internship, participants will have improved their prospects of securing employment.

In the current labour market environment, JobBridge provides individuals with a unique opportunity to secure work experience in a new field. The scheme enables people to break the cycle whereby unemployed people are unable to get a job without experience, either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training or as unemployed workers whose existing skills would not be appropriate to the types of jobs that will emerge in post-recession Ireland.

Since JobBridge was launched in July, it has already achieved significant milestones. There are in excess of 2,600 internship opportunities being advertised on the JobBridge website. In addition, as of last Friday, 1,124 interns had commenced their internships. Up to half are new to interning while the remainder have transferred from the old workplace programme to take advantage of the extra €50 a week payment.

When this was negotiated with the IMF, it was designed to assist those who have been unemployed for three months. Many wanted the scheme to be open to those who have been unemployed for more than a year. However, I insisted it was for those unemployed for three months to make it available to those types of applicants referred to by Deputy Tuffy. Labour market activation, which is getting people back into work experience and training, is a feature of our social welfare system. The EU-IMF-ECB troika programme sought that critical reform in Ireland. As such, it is imperative people are taken off the live register.

Will the Minister reconsider or, at least, keep under review the eligibility criteria for the JobBridge programme? The troika and others are somewhat mistaken in insisting on a time requirement for such schemes when it wants to avoid people drifting into long-term unemployment. For example, a person unemployed for two months but who could not sign on until now would have to wait another three months to be eligible for the scheme. In effect, he or she would be unemployed for five months when a suitable vacancy could have been available in that time. The qualifying period for the Springboard scheme has been reduced from six months to zero. Why can such a relaxation of the rules not be applied to the national internship scheme? If we want to prevent people drifting into long-term unemployment, we need to be as flexible as possible.

We are constantly reviewing every element of the JobBridge scheme because it is the first time we have had an internship scheme in place. I appreciate the Deputy's concerns. However, there is a requirement to show that such a scheme is taking people from the live register. It has only been in place for ten weeks with 1,100 internships. In several months time we will be in a position to evaluate this scheme and learn from the experiences of those offering places, interns and those who wish to join the scheme but are restricted from doing so.

Suggestions have been made to improve access to the scheme already. I am keeping them under review. If the Deputy has examples of appropriate applicants who could not get on the scheme, she can pass the details on to my Department confidentially and we will review them. The response from potential host organisations and employers has been extremely positive. While there have been teething problems and there is a need to ensure quality placements, the feedback from interns so far has been positive. I will keep the Deputy's suggestions under review.

Hospital Staff

I submitted this matter to get clarity on the shortage of junior hospital doctors, non-consultant hospital doctors and the need to fill the gaps on certain areas. What is the current position in all hospitals? Will the Minister for Health furnish me with the details of every hospital and those in which the Medical Council stated adequate supervision was not in place?

We passed emergency legislation before the recess — the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Act — to facilitate the recruitment of additional junior doctors. It was reported on 6 September that just 60 of the 280 junior doctors recruited in India and Pakistan had been given the go-ahead to work in our hospitals. It was also reported that more than 30 of the junior doctor recruits failed the clinical skills examination. Will the Minister confirm if those details are correct?

When he introduced the Medical Practitioner's (Amendment) Bill, the Minister stated:

Some 450 posts, including approximately 180 non-consultant hospital doctor vacancies, mostly in-service rather than training posts, are due to be filled from 11 July when the next rotation takes place. The number of vacancies is decreasing on an ongoing basis as doctors are appointed via the HSE centralised recruitment process. Following an intensive recruitment drive by the HSE, more than 200 doctors from India and Pakistan have applied to fill these vacancies.

I ask the Minister for the up-to-date figures in that regard. What are the other posts to which he referred at that time and about which we spoke at some length? Of the 450 posts, 180 related to non-consultant hospital doctor vacancies. To what range of specialties and consultant posts did the balance of posts correspond? I seek the detail of the other posts and how many of them have been filled through the normal recruitment procedure process.

What is the Minister's view on the reported cost of €113,768 to send 36 people from the HSE to India and Pakistan for ten days to recruit the doctors? That significant expenditure is another reason to ensure a new and better recruitment practice, something he is already on the record as supporting.

The Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Act facilitates — for the time being only — the current system or, should I say, at least prevents its collapse and the consequent loss of services. As I asked during the passage of the Bill, for how long will this ramshackle structure stand before it is replaced by a proper system of medical training and hospital staffing? This year's experience must be the last of what I can only describe as panic recruitment by the HSE. Will the Minister commit to making the required changes to banish those bad recruitment practices to the past where they belong? What is the Minister for Health's plan to end the reliance on junior doctors and to get better value for patients from consultants? He has also shown an interest in achieving this. Does he have such a plan on the resumption of the new Dáil term?

I am pleased to be able to lay out for the House the substantial progress that has been made in the recruitment of junior hospital doctors, or non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs. It should be noted that this is being achieved against a background of a general shortage of NCHDs affecting western Europe.

As the Deputy indicated, as an emergency measure, I introduced the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Act 2011, which was signed into law on Friday, 8 July 2011. It provides for the establishment of a new supervised division of the medical register. Registration in the supervised division means that a person is registered for a period not exceeding two years in an identified post approved by the Medical Council and subject to supervision by the employer in line with criteria set down by the Medical Council.

Medical Council systems are in place to ensure patients will be treated by a doctor who has the education, training and skills to provide safe and appropriate care. In the interests of patient safety, doctors therefore can be registered in the supervised division only once they have met all of the registration requirements.

On Monday 11 July, the Medical Council published draft rules outlining eligibility to the new supervised division. As required under the Medical Practitioners Act, the Medical Council held a period of public consultation on the rules. Following a minimum consultation period of one week, rules were published and disseminated by the Council on 18 July 2011. Simultaneously, the council was developing multiple specialty specific examinations for entry to the supervised division with involvement from medical schools and postgraduate training bodies.

Seven speciality-specific examinations were held for 266 candidates between 2 and 12 August and the results have been published. This sequence of work was undertaken and completed in a very short timescale. I commend the Medical Council on its efficiency in bringing us to this position. I can confirm that 236 candidates were successful and, to date, some 144 junior doctors have been registered by the Medical Council with contracts issued by the HSE and they are now attached to posts in the health service. These doctors are making significant contributions to vacancies which existed in areas such as anaesthetics, paediatrics, emergency medicine and general surgery, delivering a safe, effective service to patients. In addition, and significantly, they are reducing the HSE reliance on expensive agency staff.

I am pleased the situation has improved greatly and I have been assured by the HSE that levels of service are being maintained. In July the chief executive of the HSE informed the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that approximately 190 vacancies had been identified at junior doctor level. Today, 76% of those vacancies have been filled and that number is growing at a rapid pace. That is a commendable achievement within a short space of time and the complexities involved in the entire process.

The Medical Council and the HSE are continuing to work diligently to ensure the necessary procedures to facilitate the registration of doctors are completed without delay, so that they can take up duty as soon as possible. I convened a meeting of the HSE, the Department and the Medical Council earlier this week. There are a number of elements to the processing of the applications. The first is the paper-based application by the candidate submitting all relevant documentation on qualifications, and home state clearance among other requirements. The second is the passing of the practical examination stage and the third is the approval of the posts by the HSE including a declaration from the hospitals regarding the appropriate supervision of the applicants. My Department has been informed by the HSE that all outstanding declarations of supervision from the hospitals will be submitted to the Medical Council by the end of this week and issues relating to the necessary candidate documentation will be also finalised as soon as possible. This will allow for further registrations to be completed quickly and the necessary number of junior doctors to be put in place providing safe and effective treatments to patients.

On the so-called "HIQA Nine", the hospitals about which there has been some concern relating to the potential for medical supervision of recruitments, what is the position with individual hospital sites? The Minister did not have the detail in his reply and if he does not have the information immediately to hand could he furnish it to this Deputy with an update on the situation?

The Minister does not want to have to go through this again and we do not want to look at such a slovenly method of recruitment in such a key and important area of public service provision. On the alternatives that must be pursued in terms of recruitment, what plans are being devised by the Minister to ensure the recruitment process is up to the standard we would expect in 2011?

Yesterday in The Irish Times it was reported that doctors who had resigned their posts in India and Pakistan and made arrangements to travel here were told to stay put, such was the delay in the processing programme. Will the Minister comment on that? I am sure he has seen the report. I wonder if that is the case. Is the Minister aware that some doctors who have travelled here and have been in this country for some weeks have returned home without even being assessed, such was the delay in the process? That is what we are reading in the newspapers. I would like to know what the Minister understands to be the factual position.

The HSE has said the registration process is complex. We understand that, but it also indicates that the Medical Council amended the required HSE documentation in late August, some two to three weeks ago. That was damn late in the process and just prior to our return to the Oireachtas. Surely, going back to the passage of the facilitating legislation, all of that should have been in place, regularised and accepted long before that point in time? What upset has that caused? Does the Minister have any concerns on the Medical Council's position in regard to all of this?

I will try to answer the Deputy's queries in the short period available. I do not have information on the individuals for the hospitals but I will undertake to supply it. I believe in openness and transparency and all Deputies should have that information. There is an ongoing plan, and good will has come from this difficult position. I agree with the Deputy that the circumstances were not ideal. There is now co-operation between colleges, the council and training bodies, and we must introduce other stakeholders.

This process is nearly finished but after that I hope to bring the groups together again with extended stakeholders to examine the training of doctors and the ability to provide clear career paths. We must lay down protocols through the special delivery unit with regard to behaviour and specifically how colleagues behave with peers, juniors, members of the public and other staff. Non-consultant hospital doctors should also be treated with dignity and be allowed a clear career path. It is strange that we could train people to specialist registrar level but only one in four gets a consultant post. It takes almost €1 million to train people to such a level when we take into account the various costs involved.

I want to see the creation of a new specialist grade, which would be a further step on the way to becoming a consultant. Many professions were concerned that career progress would stall without future progress but that is not the intention. We hope to open discussions with various colleges to address the matter.

The Deputy raised the issue of doctors who may have returned to their home. Some 236 doctors passed the exam and only five, to my knowledge, have returned home. I am given to understand some may have done so because of personal issues and those doctors intend coming back, although I am not saying that all intend to come back to Ireland. That number is small.

The Deputy also raised a matter concerning the Irish Medical Council around the end of August. The council sought further adjustment to the supervisory posts, which was done very quickly and did not cause much of a delay. The main delay now is documentation for doctors. I acknowledge the co-operation of the House as we experienced a very difficult problem, which should never have arisen. We addressed the dilemma when it occurred and as the Deputy noted, we have implemented proper plans so as to avoid such a calamitous problem in future.

There was nothing remotely slovenly about the manner in which the recruitment took place. It happened in an orderly fashion, although this is not the preferred way to do business. There should be far better planning and we will have that in future.