Topical Issue Debate

Bank IT Systems

The debacle at Ulster Bank continues. This morning we heard from the managing director of branch banking at Ulster Bank, Mr. Jim Ryan, who admitted that despite earlier assurances, customers will continue to experience disruption into next week. More than 150,000 people have now been affected by this failure, which is causing enormous difficulties for families, individuals and businesses. We are almost a week into it, yet key questions remain unanswered. I ask the Minister of State to try to answer them today.

First, how did a relatively minor software upgrade lead to such widespread disruption of the bank's payments system? Second, where was the bank's disaster recovery safety net? Experts say the bank should have had a second mainframe operating at a different location, which should have kicked into action when the initial fault arose.

Third, what is to say that this kind of problem will not occur in other banks operating in this State in future? We know that in 2010, the Bank of Ireland experienced problems with its IT system. How do we know that similar system failures being experienced at Ulster Bank are not unique to that bank? Ulster Bank has not answered the questions adequately.

There also seems to have been a very slow response from the Central Bank, the Financial Regulator and the Government in getting answers to these questions. The Government, the regulator and the Ulster Bank management need to answer these questions before an Oireachtas committee. Hopefully, the Minister of State can shed some light on this matter for us and, more importantly, for the 150,000 people who have been affected by this problem so far. There are hundreds of thousands of customers with other banks in this State who are worried it could potentially affect them also.

I also welcome the opportunity to raise this issue. One of the most disappointing aspects for customers who have been affected is that the goalposts seem to keep changing as to when this crisis will be resolved. It was initially meant to be Monday this week, then it was to be fully resolved by the beginning of next week, yet there seems to have been a change in that position as well. We are now being told that the majority of accounts will be updated by next week.

It is disturbing, to say the least, that the disaster recovery plan the bank is obliged to have in place, as all banks are, clearly did not work in this case. It raises some fundamental issues. The Central Bank was asleep for the first few days of this crisis. This first emerged on Tuesday evening last week but there was no statement from the Central Bank until Sunday. The Cental Bank then updated its statement on Monday of this week. We have not heard enough from the Central Bank and do not know exactly what it is doing.

The absolute priority is, of course, for Ulster Bank to get its systems up to date and for normal services to resume for its customers. I acknowledge and praise the work of ordinary branch staff around the country who are accommodating customers under very difficult circumstances.

What we need is a comprehensive investigation by the Central Bank into what happened, how it is being handled and the systems in place at Ulster Bank. Also, the Central Bank should rigorously test the contingency plans of all banks providing services to Irish customers. This needs to be done. It is not enough for the Central Bank to ask the banks to review their systems. The Central Bank, as the regulator and consumer watchdog, needs to rigorously test all of the systems in the banks here. We cannot afford something like this happening again.

Deputy Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Shane McEntee

Deputies Doherty and Michael McGrath have made relevant points. I always believed something like this would happen. Banks no longer provider a personal service: everything has been computerised. As stated by the Deputies, there is no doubt but that this could happen again. I agree with them that we should call in the relevant people to explain what happened and that many people are under pressure owing to the slowness of the bank to address the problem. While I cannot respond to all of the Deputies' questions now, I will ensure they are responded to in a written reply. This was bound to happen at some stage. Perhaps now the banks will return to employing counter staff rather than relying on computers.

This issue has been ongoing since last week and must be resolved as a matter of priority. Ulster Bank, as part of the RBS group, last week experienced severe technical problems triggered by a software update late on Tuesday 19 June, which caused the RBS group's computer system to fail. As a result, payments going into and out of accounts overnight were not processed, causing a huge backlog across RBS and NatWest branches and subsidiaries, including Ulster Bank. The outage also created some technical instability in the system which exacerbated the problem and caused further delays. An initial attempt to provide a "patch" to the system last Thursday, 21 June failed. This amplified the backlog issue and led to further delays across the Ulster Bank system.

The EMC met separately with Ulster Bank to discuss its current problems. Ulster Bank's chief executive assured the EMC that resolution of this problem is its top priority. He also set out the measures that the bank is taking to assist customers, including the extension of bank opening hours to assist customers to transact their business; the addition of 100 staff to their telephone assistance lines; increased discretion of branch managers to pay out funds to customers so as to ensure they have access to pay and social welfare and the transfer of temporary additional staff from RBS Group in the UK to Ireland to assist in clearing the backlog.

The Minister for Finance, the Department of Finance and the Central Bank are receiving regular status updates from Ulster Bank. Management at Ulster Bank have stated that no customer, including customers of other banks, will be out of pocket as a result of this issue. We know that they will keep to their word and ensure that this will be the case for all Irish customers. We will hold them to that. Once its systems are up and running, the bank will commence the process of refunding customers any interest, fees or charges that have occurred as a result of this incident.

The Minister, Deputy Burton, has obtained assurances from Ulster Bank that it is taking measures to minimise the impact on customers who have been experiencing delays in receiving their social welfare and other payments from the bank. We expect Ulster Bank to ensure that the impact of delays for elderly or more vulnerable customers is addressed and that flexible arrangements are guaranteed by it during this period.

The basic systems failure has now being rectified. However, there is still a considerable backlog which the Ulster Bank needs to remedy. We have been told this work will continue around the clock until this weekend. Ulster Bank, as part of the RBS group, operates on a commercial basis, at arm's length from the State but where systemic failures occur there are steps that need to be taken by the institution to ensure they are not repeated. Obviously, there are issues around its IT infrastructure. I note that the Governor of the Bank of England, Mr. Mervyn King, has suggested that the FSA should investigate the cause of the system failure at RBS.

For members of the public specifically, the technical problems led to what the Ulster Bank management have accepted as "unacceptable delays" in relation to three core functions, namely, payroll processing, branch batch payments and payment of direct debits and credits. Ulster Bank intends to have the payroll processing rectified by today and has secured support from AIB on batch processing. The bank will continue its work on the issue of direct debits and credits throughout the next few days. Ulster Bank ATMs remain available for use. We expect the backlogs to be cleared as soon as possible to ensure that Ulster Bank customers and other affected customers have correct balances in their accounts. Other Irish banks have sought to provide technical support to Ulster Bank while it works through this process to minimise the effects across the Irish banking system. We are glad that this has largely been achieved. The Central Bank is in constant touch with Ulster Bank. Management at Ulster Bank have been told to ensure that there are sufficient levels of information and constant communication with their customers and the public.

We sympathise with the disruption to Ulster Bank customers and appreciate the efforts of staff at the bank in terms of trying to support customers. However, we expect a rapid rectification of this situation and an assurance that the IT issues will be comprehensively addressed.

I welcome that the Minister of State has undertaken to ensure we receive a written response to any of the questions he cannot respond to today. The Minister of State referred in his reply to the call by the Governor of the Bank of England for an investigation into this matter. There has been no call by our Financial Regulator, which regulates Ulster Bank in this State, for any investigation. Where a problem occurs in a bank, be it hiding of losses in terms of its capital or an IT failure, it is already too late. We have structures in place to ensure this does not happen.

Is the Minister of State satisfied that the Financial Regulator was robust enough in terms of ensuring emergency contingency plans were in place at Ulster bank? Is he satisfied that other banks in this State, of which the majority of people in this state are customers, have contingency plans in place? Ulster Bank assurances aside, what does the Government propose to do in this regard? The Minister of State said he hoped the banks would return to employing counter staff rather than relying on IT systems. That, unfortunately, is not what is going to happen. We all know that the banks will soon lay off thousands of people. IT managers in the banks are working overtime to devise automated systems. This is an issue of huge importance in terms of customer relations into the future and confidence in our banking system.

The Minister of State alluded in his remarks to the thousands of Ulster Bank customers whose social welfare payments and monthly salaries are due to be paid into their accounts this week. It is critical these people are reassured that they will have access to their money. Not everyone has the benefit of an Ulster Bank branch around the corner from them. This affair has caused enormous distress and inconvenience for many people. It is not sufficient to say that people will not be out of pocket. We need an assurance that there will be no black mark recorded on the credit history of people whose mortgage or loan repayments were missed through no fault of theirs. People in the UK are already having difficulty having their record corrected. We need to ensure there is no such consequence here.

I again call on the Central Bank to undertake a thorough investigation into this matter. While it may have originated in the RBS Group and outside of our jurisdiction it is affecting Irish customers and Irish banks. The Central Bank needs to thoroughly investigate this matter and to rigorously stress test the contingency plans in place in all Irish banks. This could happen again.

As stated, this could happen in any bank. It has happened once and could happen again. It is crucial that the relevant bodies are brought before us to explain what went wrong. If this were to happen again the whole country could be brought to a standstill. Deputy Michael McGrath referred to the person who may apply for a car loan in six or 12 months time only to find a black mark recorded against him or her. We must call in the relevant people from the Central Bank and other banks to ensure this does not happen. This matter will be forgotten about in six months time. It is important then that this matter is addressed prior to the recess. This could happen in any bank. I always knew it would happen at some stage. In my view, technology has gone too far. This is a warning, at great cost to many people. I agree with Deputies' comments on the matter, including that a person who applies for a car loan in six months time may be refused it because of this, which refusal will be communicated to the local branch manager who no longer has any say in that regard.

Overseas Development Aid

I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue and thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to do so. I wish to discuss the role of Irish overseas aid in education because it is an area that can be marginalised during times of international recession. It is ten years since the international community including Ireland adopted the millennium development goal of education for all in the Third World. The millennium development goals recognise explicitly the interdependence between growth, poverty reduction and sustainable development. The millennium development goals commit to the achievement of universal primary education and underpins education for all in the Third World.

Education is the key to breaking the poverty cycle in the Third World. A child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five years. A single year of primary school increases the wages people earn later in life by 5% to 15% for boys and even more for girls. No country has ever achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without first having at least 40% of its adults able to read and write. Gains in women's education made the most significant difference in reducing malnutrition, outperforming a simple increase in the availability of food. Women with six or more years of education are more likely to seek prenatal care, assisted childbirth and postnatal care, reducing the risk of maternal and child mortality and illness in the Third World.

It is easy to lose sight of what is at stake with regard to education. Ultimately, the world economy will recover from the global recession we are experiencing, but the crisis could create a lost generation of children in the world's poorest countries, whose life chances will have been jeopardised by a failure to protect their right to education. Ireland can and must play its part in averting this imminent lost generation. Our international aid policy must place education as the cohesive core behind all our aid priorities.

Our aid policy should reflect a number core principles, which I will now outline. Education is a fundamental human right with each state being the primary provider of education and it should be supported to provide quality education for all in the Third World. Education must be comprehensive and the education for all goals must be promoted as a holistic education policy. The focus on achieving universal primary education must be complemented by an approach which supports education for all across the age spectrum. Civil society is crucial to educational progress and it must be supported to promote democratic institutions and to hold governments to account for policy decisions, including the financing of education and the formulation of education policy. I saw the difficulties civil society has in influencing the situation in Africa during my recent visit to Ethiopia with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. Education for all must mean "all". Discrimination against girls and women in education continues to persist in the Third World. Children with disabilities constitute one third of all out-of-school children.

Ireland must ensure its aid policy reflects the core importance of education to achieving all other development goals. In particular, education is the key to poverty reduction. Ireland must meet its revised commitment of 0.7% of GDP by 2015 and, in particular, must commit at least 8% of overseas development aid to basic education. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, comment on the Government's position on these targets? Irish Aid must provide clear and transparent figures to show annual funding of the education for all goals and what percentage this is of the larger overseas development aid budget.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I welcome this opportunity to address the vital role education plays in the Government's overseas aid programme. We in Ireland know the central role education plays in unlocking potential and enabling economic and social development. We have brought these lessons to bear on our approach to working with developing countries to empower them to drive their own development.

According to the latest figures from UNESCO more 61 million children of school going age remain out of school today. On top of this grim statistic, approximately 200 million children in school are not able to read a simple sentence because the quality of education they receive is of such poor quality. Nevertheless, real progress has been achieved in recent years. Many countries have made significant progress towards achieving universal primary education during the past decade. From 1999 to 2008 an additional 52 million children enrolled in primary schools.

Education is central to the Irish Aid programme because it helps eradicate poverty and hunger and builds the knowledge and skills people require to build better lives. The 2006 White Paper on Irish Aid recognised education as a fundamental human right. Building on this, Irish Aid's education policy has a strong focus on building sustainable education systems to deliver good quality education. Through Irish Aid, we have provided a total of €48.7 million on education programmes in developing countries in 2010.

Our education policy is implemented through a number of different channels. At global level Ireland is a significant contributor to the Global Partnership for Education, GPE, and we will provide approximately €4 million this year. The GPE supports the implementation of education plans in more than 45 countries, many of them emerging from conflicts or natural disasters and in great need of assistance. Another key part of the work of the GPE is getting more girls into school.

We also work directly with education sectors in four of our nine priority countries. Working with partner governments to build the infrastructure, skills and systems is a key priority. For example in 2010, some €26 million was provided to Uganda, Mozambique, Lesotho and Zambia. In these countries good partnerships have been developed between the education sectors and Irish Aid country teams. They are working to ensure the quality of education continues to improve and greater equity in access to education services is achieved. In addition to working with governments, Irish Aid provides assistance to civil society partners such as Concern and Plan Ireland for education projects in fragile states and for improving access to education for disabled children.

As the House is aware, we are reviewing the White Paper on Irish Aid and have been consulting widely. One of the key messages from the public consultation is that there is strong public support for our focus on education, and a view that it reflects our values and our experiences as a people. I am committed to ensuring that education will continue to be a priority area for the Government's aid programme in the years ahead.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. We should acknowledge that earlier this year Irish Aid was recognised as being second best in the field of international aid after the World Bank, which is an enormous compliment. Will the Minister of State ensure we use our influence to support the new global fund for education for all? Ireland must use its influence in multilateral organisations such as the IMF and the World Bank to ensure their policies and practices are aligned to the achievement of the education for all goals.

We must ensure Irish overseas development aid does not focus on numbers enrolled to the detriment of education quality. The key to quality education is properly trained teachers whose conditions and levels of remuneration ensure their retention. Ireland must emphasise education quality and ensure we address teacher recruitment, training and development in the Third World, and the need to recruit and retain female teachers, teachers with disabilities and teachers from other marginalised groups to provide role models for excluded children in the Third World. This group includes girls, children and adults with disabilities, child labourers and children and adults affected or displaced by conflict or climate change.

Ireland must commit to demand-side strategies, such as the abolition of school fees, and push for a similar commitment among partner governments and other donors. Such strategies would help vulnerable groups to access quality education. Internationally, Ireland must commit to the educational inclusion of everyone of everyone in the Third World. It is a key part of the future development of the Third World. As someone who came through the Irish educational system at a time when this country was on the verge of Third World status, I am aware of the part it played in ensuring Ireland is a First World country today. Education is one of the keys to saving the Third World.

I agree with everything the Deputy has said. Anyone who was born and raised in Ireland will recognise the importance of education in the progress this country has made. Irish parents, like the country as a whole, have always emphasised the importance of education. For that reason, we have no choice other than to introduce the same key principle to our overseas development aid programme. Between 10% and 12% of our overseas aid is spent on education. I am sure education will remain a key principle when the review of the White Paper has been completed. We recognise it as a fundamental right and we will continue to do so. Ireland's expenditure on education as part of overseas development is well above the OECD average. I accept that 61 million young people around the world do not go to school. At least three times as many young people are getting a poor quality of education. Given that difficulties are encountered by many people when they try to go to school, particularly girls, we are concentrating on gender equity in education. We will increase further the number of fellowships for people from Third World countries who wish to come to Ireland to receive a high level of training and education before going back to their own countries to train people in the same way. We are also looking at how best to use the large cohort of people who retired early in February. Some 2,000 of the 8,000 people who retired from the public sector at that time had been working in the education sector. We want to see how best we can harness the information, professionalism and managerialism they have in their areas of expertise. We will try to find new ways of providing skills in countries where training and education are needed and where managerial skills might not be widely available. We are focusing on and doing a great deal. Ireland will continue to regard education as a key principle of our overseas development aid.

Road Safety

Some 92 people have been tragically killed on Irish roads so far this year. There had been 85 tragic road deaths by the same time last year. There have been 88 fatal collisions on Irish roads to date in 2012, compared with 76 fatal collisions during the same period in 2011. Tragically, seven people lost their lives on roads across the island of Ireland over the last June bank holiday weekend. Over the past decade, massive progress has been made in reducing the horrific carnage on our roads. In 2011, there were 186 deaths on Irish roads in comparison with 396 deaths in 2005. This does not include the accompanying number of devastating injuries, which can extend the suffering of families and individuals for decades.

An earlier analysis of road death figures highlighted that approximately 4,500 people died on Irish roads between 1996 and 2006, which exceeded the horrific death toll throughout the Troubles. Since the number of road deaths hit an appalling 396 in 2005, the number of road deaths has decreased to 365 in 2006; 338 in 2007; 279 in 2008; 238 in 2009; 212 in 2010; and 186 in 2011. The Road Safety Authority, which is outstandingly led by its chief executive, Mr. Noel Brett, and its chairman, Mr. Gay Byrne, has done an outstanding job on the road safety front during this period. Great campaigning road safety groups like PARC, which is based in County Donegal and is led by Ms Susan Grey and Ms Donna Price, have also played an major role in driving the road safety agenda.

One death on the roads each year is a death too many. Therefore, it is disturbing that the road death figures are inching up again. I understand that a new road safety strategy, to run from 2013 to 2020, is being prepared. The current strategy will end this year. Given the distressing rise in road deaths this year, I suggest that a reinvigorated road safety and enforcement campaign is needed now to prevent any further deterioration of the figures. One of the key lessons from other jurisdictions that have maintained good road safety records, such as Sweden, is that complacency cannot be allowed to set in. High levels of enforcement and continuous enhancement of road safety standards must be maintained on an ongoing basis if we are not to allow road deaths and injuries to increase steadily again.

Given the need for continuous high levels of enforcement, grave concerns have been raised about the impact of current Garda cutbacks on road safety. It has been reported that 300 Garda patrol cars have been taken off the road this year. If that is true, it would be the highest number in years. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, told me last week that "on 31 December 2011 there were 375 vehicles allocated to the Garda traffic corps and there were 316 vehicles allocated to the traffic corps as at 1 June 2012". Some 337 gardaí volunteered to retire in the period up to February 2012. How many of them have left the traffic corps? What is the current number of personnel in the traffic corps? It seems to be difficult to obtain this information.

Has the new Garda roster had any impact on the traffic corps? It has been alleged that the introduction of the new roster has had a significantly negative impact on the operation of the traffic corps. Road safety groups like PARC have expressed serious concern about the impact of cutbacks on the level of general and mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints and on the number of breath tests being taken and tested. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety has reported a 20% decrease in the number of tests sent to it last year and in the previous year. It looks like less testing is taking place.

PARC has also highlighted the inexplicable delay in bringing on stream the 22 extra intoxilysers that were requested by the Garda last October to facilitate the lower drink driving limits. Some 86 intoxilysers were deemed necessary but only 64 were installed. Can the Minister confirm when the 22 missing intoxilysers will be made available to the Garda by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, having been tested and approved by the bureau in 2011? Why is it not standard procedure for the Department of Justice and Equality to facilitate the training of all gardaí in the use of intoxilysers, or at least to ensure there is a garda on every Garda roster, or in every Garda station, who is trained in the use of these devices? It is unacceptable that the budget of the Road Safety Authority, which is based in Ballina, has been subjected to serious cutbacks. High standards of road safety cannot be maintained if key monitoring, testing and enforcement agencies are not properly resourced.

The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has asked me to apologise for his failure to be present for this debate. On his behalf and on my behalf, I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this important issue. Safety on our roads affects all of our lives. It is vital that every effort is made by everyone involved to ensure our roads are as safe as we can possibly make them. The reduction in the number of road deaths has been a positive trend in recent years. Following further reductions up to the end of May of this year, this month has unfortunately proven particularly tragic in terms of fatalities.

The implementation of the measures contained in the current road safety strategy has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of road fatalities in recent years. The strategy, which covers the period from 2007 to 2012, identified a number of actions to be completed by various stakeholder bodies to improve safety on our roads. The core objective of the current strategy is to reduce the number of road fatalities to no greater than 60 fatalities per million population by the end of 2012. That equates to an average of 21 fatalities per month, or 252 fatalities per annum. The number of fatalities first dropped to below 252 in 2009, when 238 deaths were recorded. This number dropped to 212 in 2010. The lowest ever number of road fatalities on Irish roads - 186 - was recorded in 2011. This represented an average of 16 road fatalities per month.

A report that was published by the European Commission recently shows that Ireland has moved ahead of Germany on road safety performance. We have significantly closed the gap on other leading countries. The report states that road fatalities in Ireland dropped by 13% between 2010 and 2011.

As a result, Ireland has moved up to sixth in the road safety rankings within the EU, with 42 fatalities per million population. The EU average in 2011 was 62 deaths per million population. In 2006, when the current strategy was being developed, the total number of fatalities on our roads was 365. The reduction to the 2011 figure of 186 represents a remarkable achievement in such a short time and is down to a combination of a number of factors including standard of vehicles on the road, the upgrade of our road network and increased enforcement by the Garda. In addition, the Oireachtas has played its part, with the enactment of legislation targeted at specific areas such as drink driving. l am glad to say one of the first acts of this Government was to bring through the Dáil the Bill dealing with the mandatory testing of drivers for blood alcohol concentration levels.

Perhaps the biggest single contributor to the improvement in the safety on our roads has been the establishment of the Road Safety Authority. The RSA began its work only in 2006 but its effect was immediate. The many initiatives it has brought about in six years in all aspects of road safety have saved lives. A large number of people, perhaps without knowing it, will be glad of that.

Taken together, the 2007 road safety strategy has achieved its stated objective of reducing road fatalities to no more than 60 per million population, or 252 per annum. The figures for this year, however, and for this month alone, demonstrate that we must continue to examine the causes of collisions and redouble our efforts to reduce them further. Although we use figures as a means of measuring the success of the strategy, these are not just statistics. Death or serious injury to a family member, a loved one or a close friend can have devastating consequences and can affect lives way beyond those involved directly in collisions. We must never lose sight of this aspect.

Unfortunately, the number of road deaths this year, to yesterday, stands at 92, seven more than the figure on this date last year. In this month alone there have been 23 fatalities, the highest monthly figure since October 2010. There appears to be no reason for the increase this month. We can expect numbers of deaths to fluctuate throughout the year but must be cognisant of any possible change in trend. The Garda and the RSA have examined the details, seeking a pattern, but there is none. The deaths cover all age groups and occurred in all parts of the country. The annual decline in recent years has been very positive but we must never allow ourselves to become complacent. The statement, "one death on the road is one too many", has almost become a cliché but we must keep in mind that every life we save, through our individual or collective efforts, is worthwhile. Our actions as politicians, administrators, enforcement personnel or technical professionals have a direct effect on people's lives.

In terms of invigorating the national road safety campaign, the RSA is currently in the process of developing the next road safety strategy that will include measures to ensure that Ireland continues to build positively on road safety performance for the remainder of the decade and beyond. This strategy will seek to drive new and ongoing measures to ensure that our road safety standards do not slip. We have invested too much effort in road safety to allow that to happen. The RSA is working closely with the Department in drafting the next strategy, which will cover the period 2013 to 2020. Discussion with key stakeholders is taking place and a public consultation process has begun. I urge anybody who believes he or she has a contribution to make in this area to contact the RSA and provide an input. When the consultation processes have been completed, the RSA will submit draft proposals to the Minister later this year.

I thank the Minister of State. The balance of your statement will appear in the official record and if you like to refer to any items that you have not covered you can do so in the reply. We are over time.

Additional material not given on the floor of the House.
In the meantime, there are a number of initiatives the Minister is taking that will help to enhance road safety. In the coming weeks, he will bring 11 additional road traffic offences into the penalty points and fixed charge systems. The Oireachtas joint committee is examining proposals in a Department report that recommend an increase in penalty points for certain offences such as speeding, non-wearing of seatbelts and mobile telephone usage. A steering group in the Department, with assistance from all relevant stakeholders, is examining speed limits and speed signage. In addition, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety is undertaking a study of all aspects of roadside drug testing including reference to and analysis of any equipment in use or whose introduction is anticipated.
The key determinant of road safety performance is the behaviour of road users and the primary focus of any road safety strategy is to influence that behaviour in a positive way. In developing the next strategy, we must aim to influence that behaviour further in order to build on the progress made to date by the current strategy.
June has been a particularly bad month on our roads. The battle to make our roads safer must continue and in spite of the relative successes of recent years the onus remains on all of us to continue with our efforts. Traditionallv, July has been one of the worst months for road fatalities. I appeal to everybody using our roads, motorist, cyclist or pedestrian, to be extra careful. There has been enough tragedy caused by road collisions so let us all play our part in making our roads safer.

I asked about the strength of the traffic corps and its current organisation. Perhaps the Minister of State might liaise with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, in order to provide me with some answers, even outside the Chamber.

I refer to learner drivers concerning whom the Minister, Deputy Shatter, recently gave me some figures. Some 45 learner drivers were involved in fatal collisions during the past three years, 26 of whom were killed in those collisions. The PARC road safety group, known very well to me and to the Minister of State's colleague and fellow Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, from the time the two of us were transport spokespersons, told me that when gardaí set up checkpoints during March and April of this year, they found that 43% of learner drivers had no accompanying driver and that a further 30% were driving without "L" plates, which is completely unacceptable. Will the Minister for Justice, or the Minister for Transport, Deputy Varadkar, take some action on that?

I have another query in respect of penalty points. We are told that some 300,000 people have been stopped on Irish roads who produced an Irish public driving licence but subsequently escaped having penalty points. In a previous arena, when the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, and I were covering transport we sought for penalty points to be applied to drivers from Northern Ireland. I am not sure if that has been achieved but the situation with other EU drivers presents an enormous problem because some non-Irish licence holders have been involved repeatedly in serious collisions. Has anything been done about that?

I refer to drug driving, a subject we used to discuss. We used to ask why we could not be more like the Australians and have the test that country has established in states such as Victoria and New South Wales. Has there been any change in that area?

Cultural attitudes to drink driving have changed, We saw this recently in the Minister of State's personal portfolio area during the European Championships which, unfortunately, did not offer a great national performance. One could see, however, that people did not risk driving to venues where they could see the game.

The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, is very active in the area of sports. Perhaps the Minister for Transport, Deputy Varadkar, should concentrate on the nitty gritty of his own portfolio and ensure that the key elements that need to be implemented in transport are implemented. After all, there is no transport capital programme. Most of the programme that Deputy O'Dowd and I covered has not been implemented.

Certain people lost their jobs.

We could have been the senior and the junior. I would have been very happy with that. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has opinions on everything under the sun - except on transport. Seriously, we need some action. We do not want this year to go down as a bad year in terms of road casualties.

I am the Minister of State with responsibility for sport and tourism and have full responsibility for sport. I wish to put that on the record, as I did yesterday. I do not mind accepting help-----

What about winning the All-Ireland?

The Deputy raised some very serious issues, as I stated in my response. There is a steering group in the Department which is looking at these and talking to all stakeholders. I will ask that group to report to the Deputy and to talk to the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Justice and Equality are interlinked and they must deal with this problem. Some of the questions the Deputy asked today are specific to the Department of Justice and Equality. However, the two Ministers, Deputies Shatter and Varadkar, have regular meetings and I am sure they discuss these matters.

The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is undertaking a study of all aspects of roadside drug testing, an issue I raised on many occasions when I was the Fine Gael Party spokesperson. It is very important. As many people are being killed on the roads because of drugs as because of drink and we should have the equipment to hand to test people on site to see if they are on drugs.

The Deputy is correct in respect of an astonishing figure. In 2006 there were 365 deaths, one for every day. I am glad to see that in 2011 the figure was 286, an improvement of almost 50%. The Deputy is correct about the figures for this month, which are very worrying. According to the Garda and the RSA there is no pattern. The deaths are represented by all age groups and in different parts of the country. We must be very vigilant. The RSA is planning a new safety strategy. I will ask the Minister and the RSA to do something about this because in recent years July has been the worst month of the year for road deaths.

I cannot answer some of the issues the Deputy raised, which come under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality. I will ask the steering group to ensure it raises them with the Minister because they are very important. Road deaths have an awful effect on families. There is no family in the country that has not been affected by a road death. I offer my sympathy today to anybody who has lost a loved one to a road death, this or any other year. I know families in my town and county who have been affected by such deaths for the rest of their lives. For every life we can save, for every garda who can do his or her duty and ensure that people on the roads are protected from those who are speeding or on drink or drugs, we are doing a good day's work. All the State agencies are working together to ensure we can take that percentage of deaths below 186. That is what we are working towards.

Hospital Accommodation

I do not mean this as any reflection on the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, but it is regrettable and disappointing that neither the Minister for Health nor one of the two Ministers of State from the Department is here to respond to this matter.

The front page of our local newspaper in south Tipperary, The Nationalist, carries the heading "Trolley case at South Tipperary General Hospital". The treating of patients on trolleys in the corridors of the hospital has been an ongoing feature. There were 13 patients on trolleys on Monday last, 18 June, 20 on Tuesday, 16 on Wednesday, 12 on Thursday and 16 on Friday. Patients on trolleys is an ongoing feature of the delivery of health services at South Tipperary General Hospital as a significant number of beds in the hospital, some 31, have been closed due to Government cutbacks.

There is no better way of outlining the current position at South Tipperary General Hospital than to record what a patient at the hospital said in recent days. He stressed that hospital nursing staff, doctors and other staff were outstanding and gave excellent care but he was shocked by the number of patients on trolleys, particularly the number of elderly people, and was angered at the lack of privacy and dignity they had. He said there was little changing facilities for them and they had to use the hospital public toilets. He said that patients had to share screens and it was very difficult for doctors to speak to patients privately about their illness. He said patients found it very difficult to sleep on trolleys due to the general noise of the hospital around them and people passing though staff tried to keep the corridors where there were trolleys free of traffic as much as possible.

That is a totally unacceptable situation, particularly when there are 31 beds closed at the hospital. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that some of those beds are open to deal with this situation.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing Deputy Healy and myself to raise this matter today. I do not mean any disrespect to Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd either but it is downright shameful that neither the Minister nor a Minister of State is here to answer this matter. We will get the a standard answer that we always get and that is not good enough.

Deputy Healy referred to the more than 30 beds that are closed. We have never that this level of overcrowding in South Tipperary General Hospital with the patients being treated on trolleys last week numbering 13, 18, 16, 12 and 16, respectively, and this is an ongoing feature. It creates too much pressure. It affords patients no dignity. It is not good enough or acceptable.

I compliment the doctors, the medical people and all the staff at the hospital for operating on a daily basis under that pressure, keeping their sanity, having good manners, maintaining a good relationship with the patients and doing their best, as reported by patients in an article on the front page of our local newspaper. I hear those comments all the time. However, this situation is clearly unacceptable.

Where is HIQA when it comes to dealing with this situation? It is up and down the country closing nursing homes, two or three in my county. Its officials are looking for the carrying of name badges and other nonsensical requirements. Why are its officials not on the corridors when the treatment of patients on trolleys is clearly unsafe, unhealthy and undignified? What are HIQA officials not in this hospital? This sham must stop. They are attacking the running of private and public nursing homes and putting them under savage pressure. Where are they when trolleys are blocking up the place? Patients are on trolleys for up to a day and half. Where are the HIQA officials then? This farce must stop. The Minister promised he would eliminate the need to have patients on trolleys.

The Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, closed St. Michael's unit at the hospital, which means that anybody with a psychotic attack in south Tipperary, other parts of Tipperary and parts of west Waterford must go to the accident and emergency department in St. Joseph's, adding to an already disastrous situation there. This is totally untenable, it cannot last and it will not last as something drastic will happen here.

It is beyond time that the Ministers came in and answered to the elected representatives of Tipperary South. I wonder what Deputy Tom Hayes and Senator Denis Landy are doing about this. It is not good enough for them to be merely rubbing their hands. We need action on this and at least the respect the Minister or one of his junior Ministers could show by coming in here to answer this matter.

I am replying to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health. I can assure the Deputies that the comments they made will certainly be brought to his attention as soon as possible.

It is a very important issue and the HSE South Tipperary General Hospital regrets that because of increased activity some patients are experiencing delay in being transferred from the emergency department to a hospital bed. The HSE apologises for inconvenience caused and wishes to assure patients and the public that staff are working hard to minimise this inconvenience.

Patient care is paramount in South Tipperary General Hospital. The situation is a priority for hospital management and is being continuously and actively reviewed. Additional staff are in the emergency department to ensure patient care and safety at all times. Hospital management wishes to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of all staff during this busy period to ensure that all those waiting for treatment and admission are accommodated in a manner that is in keeping with proper dignity and respect for all of the people in these trying circumstances.

The hospital has experienced an 11% increase in activity from 2011. Of this increase, general medicine has increased by 32%. There has also been a 14% increase in patients from the north Tipperary area. On a normal day, about 108 people attend the emergency department and 21 of these patients, on average, are admitted. From time to time, a surge may occur in patients attending and this has been the case recently.

At 10 a.m. on 27 June 2012, there were 13 patients on trolleys. It is planned that at least four of these patients will be discharged today. In addition, four other patients will be discharged later today from wards to assessment beds or step down community hospitals. Further discharges may be made following ward rounds during the day.

The hospital escalation plan is in operation. The plan includes additional inpatient surge capacity, regular assessments of all emergency department patients by hospital consultants, evaluation of inpatients for discharge and management of elective activity. There are a number of meetings held throughout the day between the bed manager, the discharge planner, director of nursing, clinical director and hospital management to review and manage the situation.

Liaison officers in the special delivery unit, SDU, are in touch with management on a daily basis and the situation is monitored as part of the three times daily trolley count by staff in the SDU. The SDU high intensity support programme is working with senior management to resolve the issues of overcrowding and reduce the number of patients on trolleys.

The SDU is working closely with hospital management to implement integrated discharge planning and to further develop the acute medical assessment unit in an effort to decrease admissions and length of stay. In this context, it is noted that the hospital's average length of stay, at 3.5 days, is below the national average and the latest hospital bed capacity review identifies the appropriateness of admissions and care as well within the recommended national levels.

That response is outrageous and shameful. It did not address the issues raised. There is an acceptance in it that the hospital activity level has increased significantly and substantially with an 11% increase in activity over 2011 and a 32% increase in general medicine. The reply states that the average length of stay at 3.5 bed days is below the national average and admissions are well within recommended limits. The thanks that the hospital staff get for that is that they have to operate in a situation where patients on trolleys in the corridors on a daily basis is an ongoing feature

The patient I mentioned who was in the hospital recently and made this matter public confirmed, for instance, that patients on trolleys in corridors are a fire hazard and also pose obvious infection control dangers. Trolleys also pose a difficulty for cleaning staff who had to physically move the trolleys from one side of the corridor to another.

It is past time that some of the beds that are currently closed at South Tipperary General Hospital be re-opened. The basis for doing that is outlined in the Minister of State's reply in terms of increased activity levels, a shorter length of stay than the national average and more than an appropriate admission policy.

I must agree with my colleague. This response is pathetic nonsense. All we get is jargon. The reply states that a number of meetings are held throughout the day between the bed manager, the discharge planner, the director of nursing, the clinical director and hospital management to review matters. When we had the sisters as matrons, there were none of these titles and we had good hospitals. As Deputy Healy said, we have worked very hard, kept within the guidelines, done everything we were asked to do and we are being punished. There are all these people in positions with titles and, no disrespect to those involved, they are pen pushers. There are all these new positions that carry fancy names. We need front line staff and the wards open. We do not need all these people in positions with fancy names, using all this jargon and going around carrying their folders. There is a bed manager, a discharge planner and a director of nursing. These positions were unheard of in the past.

This is what is wrong with the HSE and there has been a complete system failure. We have all these people while the front line staff such as doctors, nurses and consultants, are working tirelessly. The next development will be a clamping of beds in corridors. It is a shame and a disgrace and it is untenable. Nenagh hospital has been closed, there is not enough space in Limerick and that is why people are coming to Clonmel. The situation is the same in Waterford. Ministers avoiding the issue will not do anything for us. It is time we got some honesty, decency and fair play in Tipperary.

I assure the two Deputies opposite who have articulated their strong views that the Minister will be made aware of their points of view. Either the staff are doing their best or they are not and it is clear that the two Deputies are commending the staff and the organisation of the hospital and its capacity to respond, given the difficult situation.

I refer to three significant achievements of the hospital. In 2010, South Tipperary General Hospital was chosen as one of the first implementation centres for the national colon cancer screening programme. It achieved second place in Ireland in the national audit of end of life care standards and it now receives postgraduate medical students from the University of Limerick and from Cork. This identifies the talents and capacity of the staff to deliver the best possible service, given the very trying circumstances under which they work. It is a national recognition of the significant work and the calibre of the staff of the hospital.

They are now being punished.