Topical Issue Debate

Foreign Conflicts

As the Tánaiste said in recent days, the unfolding crisis in Ukraine is the most serious to have affected Europe since the end of the Cold War. The armed aggression of the Russian Federation against a fellow European country is absolutely unacceptable, and it is a threat to European security and peace. It is to be welcomed that the Ukrainian authorities have up to this point been remarkably peaceful in their response. It is only owing to their restraint that we have not had open military conflict to date. What will be the response of the European Union to the crisis? What action will be taken by way of economic, political or diplomatic sanctions against Russia for its aggression?

What was the outcome of the Tánaiste's discussion with the Russian ambassador yesterday? Could he brief the Dáil on that meeting? The actions of Russia are absolutely reprehensible but it must be stated that its behaviour is predictable, most obviously in the case of Crimea, because there is a Russian population there and because Russia has a naval interest there. Russia has a track record of interfering in former Soviet republics, including Georgia. Aside from Russia's unacceptable aggression and the response of the European Union, questions must be asked about whether the European Union has behaved in an entirely prudent manner with regard to Ukraine recently and whether it anticipated the likely Russian backlash. One does not have to be too astute to realise Russia is willing to go to war in some of these circumstances. Surely somebody in Baroness Catherine Ashton's office was tasked with analysing the likely Russian reaction to the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych.

There is an argument, given the past behaviour of Russia, that the European Union should have been more prudent in its handling of the crisis in the Ukraine and that, had it been so, it might have helped to avoid the current circumstances whereby part of Ukraine is under military occupation. We can only hope the crisis does not lead to open conflict. I look forward to the response of the Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe.

We must be very careful not to be quick to side with the United States, as happened in respect of Libya. Our role in the European Union will be important. It is ironic that the United States and the European Union talk about illegal invasions. Deputy Dowds referred to Russia's unacceptable aggression but it seems that Russia has learned only too well from the United States about such aggression towards other countries. It probably picked up its message. The reality here is that the tragic circumstances in Ukraine have been triggered in part by the drive of the European Union and NATO to expand into the east. This is a fact. The European Union's offer to Ukraine was not a fair one. It was inherently divisive and, in some ways, it drove Mr. Viktor Yanukovych to become more dependent on Russia.

As the Minister of State is aware, large parts of Ukraine were previously Russian territories and are not part of historic Ukraine. Therefore, there was a very vulnerable set of circumstances in any case. Recently, the decision to scrap the law allowing the Russian language to be official caused much concern and further destabilisation. This is really serious. The Russian-speaking majority in part of the region is as angry with the elite about corruption and as concerned about unemployment and economic stability as those in western Ukraine. However, a clumsy intervention will not sort that out.

There is no doubt that Mr. Viktor Yanukovych was corrupt, but he was elected. Noting the billionaires and millionaires in the new government, one can take it that corruption will not be ended by the new administration. Many of the organisers of the protests that ousted Mr. Viktor Yanukovych are clearly linked to far-right elements with, for example, anti-Semitic agendas. If Ireland is to play a credible role as a neutral country, it must examine the record of neoliberal shock therapy and privatisation that is taking place behind the scenes and destabilising Ukraine. There will not be a solution by way of clumsy EU intervention in this case.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to both Deputies on what Deputy Dowds called the worst crisis Europe has faced since the end of the Cold War. Both the European Union and the Government have strongly condemned Russia's actions over the weekend and they call on Russia to withdraw troops to their barracks immediately. Russia's actions are in clear breach of international law and its obligation to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Yesterday the Tánaiste had a meeting with the Russian ambassador to Ireland at which he expressed Ireland's condemnation of actions in Crimea. He requested that the ambassador convey our deep concern to his government. On Monday, the Foreign Affairs Council held an extraordinary meeting to discuss the unfolding events in Ukraine, and a comprehensive set of conclusions was adopted. The European Union wants to see a peaceful solution and stands ready to engage in talks with all parties to resolve the crisis. We will work with the United Nations and the OSCE to facilitate a peaceful resolution of this very dangerous and volatile set of circumstances. However, at Monday's emergency Council meeting, the European Union sent a very strong message to Russia to the effect that if Russian authorities do not de-escalate the crisis, the Union will take consequential action, including through suspending talks on visa liberalisation and a new economic agreement, both of which are priorities for the Russian Government. Foreign Ministers will continue to monitor developments closely. We stand ready to implement further measures if necessary.

To underline the seriousness of this matter, the European Council will meet tomorrow to consider its response further. It is worth recalling that it was the announcement on 21 November 2013 by ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych of his decision to postpone preparations for the signature of the association agreement at November's Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius that triggered major protests in Ukraine. The initial protests were overwhelmingly peaceful, yet they were met just over a week later by heavy-handed police action, which served only to inflame the situation.

The issue has featured prominently in the agendas and conclusions of successive foreign affairs Councils this year, including at emergency Council sessions devoted to Ukraine on 20 February and earlier this week. It was right for the Council to convene these sessions given the violent clashes between protesters and security forces which resulted in so many deaths, coupled with the deeply disturbing developments in Crimea since last weekend. The situation remains extremely dangerous although, thankfully, there are no reports so far of clashes between the armed forces of Russia and Ukraine.

The Tánaiste made it clear that there is an urgent need for Moscow to de-escalate the situation. The conclusions agreed at Monday's meeting strongly condemn the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and agree that these actions are in clear breach of the UN Charter and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, Helsinki Final Act, as well as Russia's specific commitments to respect Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances 1994 and the bilateral Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership 1997. We call on Russia immediately to withdraw its armed forces to the areas of their permanent stationing in accordance with the 1997 agreement on the status and conditions of the Black Sea fleet stationed on the territory of Ukraine. We also commend the government in Kiev on the measured response demonstrated so far in the face of this provocation.

The EU is ready to facilitate a political settlement. However, this is ultimately a matter for the people of Ukraine as they must decide on their future. The organisation of democratic elections in May which are transparent, free and fair will provide them with an opportunity to make that decision.

I thank the Minister for his response. Is there an intention to have any Irish involvement in monitoring events in Ukraine and, if so, will the Minister elaborate on that? In the run up to this crisis, to what extent was advice from eastern states in the EU sought? Clearly, they would have a greater understanding of the sensitivities of the area than the EU states in this part of Europe.

Can the Minister comment on the question of economic sanctions? It appears that the effective response, if there is to be one, would be in that area. However, there would be loss on both sides if that road was taken. Has thought been given to that?

The quick response of the EU to the Russian authorities' breach of international law is, while welcome, in sharp contrast to the approach to the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by the US and, indeed, Israel's role regarding Palestine. That point will not have been missed. NATO has had a role in this over some time. It has had an undisguised ambition to continue what is, in effect, two decades of expansion into the post-soviet territory. We must consider these issues in the background. It would be very foolish of this Government of a neutral country to align itself very rapidly with the new opposition inside Ukraine.

Behind all of this are economic vested interests, privatisation and big companies such as Chevron Corporation and so forth. People on both the western side and the Russian-speaking side of Ukraine are being equally afflicted by the harsh economic policies and the solution to these issues will come from those people, not from them being used as puppets by big multinational corporations for their own goals. Ireland, as a neutral country, should respect and facilitate that by not doing things or not supporting the EU in its external goals which are, in reality, destabilising the situation for the Ukrainian people.

Three questions were raised by the Deputies. With regard to the Irish involvement in what is taking place at present, which both Deputies raised, an officer of the Irish Defence Forces will participate in an OSCE-led observer mission to Crimea together with officers from a range of countries, including Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, France, Germany and the United States. The reason the OSCE is playing this role is that it is one of the few organisations that includes representatives from all the countries involved in this grave difficulty. Specifically, it includes representation from Russia, Ukraine, all countries of the European Union and other countries in the neighbourhood we are discussing.

As regards sanctions, the foreign affairs Council made it clear in its conclusions on Tuesday that it will consider further measures in the future. It has already outlined measures in respect of negotiations on a trade agreement and visa liberalisation and said it will examine the response of Russia to these measures and engage in what, if anything, is needed further to that in response to how the situation may develop.

On the point Deputy Daly made regarding the role of the European Union in all of this, the Deputy might find it hard to believe but there are many countries outside the EU at present who have communities that wish to join the European Union. The discussion that took place between the Union and Ukraine prior to this was not one the Ukrainian Government was forced into by the EU, but one in which it participated freely. That government enjoyed the support of many of its people in that period. It is a discussion and negotiation in which the Ukrainian Government of the day freely participated with the European Union. That was also the case with the governments of Georgia and Moldova and both of those governments decided to advance the agreement. An overall point has been made about the need for the Union to proceed carefully at this time and to be wary of the consequences of action. All members of the Union are aware of that.

Marina Developments

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this important matter. Kilrush Creek Marina has been an integral part of the economic life of the town of Kilrush for some time. Unfortunately, however, its potential has been untapped in terms of the extent to which it could provide significant employment and increased economic activity in the region.

Much of its unrealised potential results from the poor state of the infrastructure. It is owned and controlled by Shannon Development but, over the last number of years, it has not had the necessary type of investment in the basic infrastructure. First, the access channel is well below what it should be. It is too shallow to accommodate certain types of pleasure craft. There is a requirement to spend money on dredging the channel. It is known within the boating fraternity that the channel is silted up with sediment and is not as safe to access as it should be based on the mapping charts of the area. Considerable work is required there.

The marina gates, which are used to control the water levels in the marina versus the ebb and flow of the tide, are in very poor condition. From a safety point of view they require considerable investment. The marina pontoons are also in poor condition. I inspected them quite recently and it is clear they are not up to even a basic standard from a health and safety point of view. Considerable investment is also needed in that regard.

A boatyard is part of the facility.

There is some interest in reactivating boat building at some level in the yard, which would provide much-needed employment in the region, but no investment has been forthcoming. All of this revolves around the destruction of Shannon Development by the Government. Unfortunately, the Government has dispensed with the duties of Shannon Development and there is nothing left but a shell. The expectation is that Shannon Development will be amalgamated in the very near future. The Government has yet to publish legislation on amalgamating the assets of Shannon Development with those of the Shannon Airport Authority.

It is clear that there is a considerable gulf between owning a marina and operating an airport. For this reason, I appeal to the Government to expedite the disposal, if possible, of the marina. I know there has been interest among third parties and an effort has been made to dispose of the marina. In advance of its disposal to a private consortium, or whoever else, there should be an allocation of capital to ensure the basic infrastructure is upgraded in order that whatever future ownership model is put in place the facility will be fit for purpose and have the capacity once again to drive economic and tourism activity and fulfil the mandate provided by the initial decision to invest in the region. It is heartbreaking to see such fine infrastructure left to deteriorate on the verge of the Atlantic where it provides access to the boating community, tourist and an array of economic activities, including boat repairs and boat building, which would provide much-needed employment in a region of the county which needs this level of investment and access to employment and which certainly needs to be the focus of Government's attention.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I share his concerns about the damage caused to Kilrush marina by the recent storms.

Kilrush Creek Marina Limited was established in 1992 and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Shannon Development. Shannon Development is a self-financing semi-State agency which is in transition to become part of the Shannon Group. Kilrush Creek Marina Limited receives an operating subvention from Shannon Development to cover a small operating loss. Capital works are also funded by the parent company, but in recent years capital investment has been at a lower level owing to budgetary constraints and the impending sale of the marina.

It is worth highlighting the provision of the marina by the State represented a significant investment in the growing area of leisure boating. It is significant infrastructure for the tourism sector and the long-term aim of the project is to ensure Kilrush has an amenity to attract boating visitors who will then contribute to the economy of the town and, I hope, be a catalyst for the development of future tourism facilities.

Shannon Development is very keen that the facility be further developed and, therefore, looked in detail at future ownership issues. The Shannon Development board formed the view that private ownership of the marina was the best option for its future development. In 2009 Shannon Development sought expressions of interest for the sale, development and operation of the marina, excluding adjoining development lands which will be retained in State ownership for the new Shannon Group. On 26 February 2010 the board of Shannon Development approved entering into negotiations with a preferred developer, L&M Keating Limited, subject to planning approval being obtained to enhance and develop the marina. Following lengthy negotiations with the preferred developer, a development agreement for the sale and upgrade of Kilrush marina was signed on 21 August 2012 with L&M Keating Limited. The sale agreement is contingent on securing planning permission to undertake upgrading works to the marina. The agreement will facilitate the development of the marina by enabling it to benefit from significant upgrading and redevelopment works, thus enhancing the marina operation. A planning application was submitted in 2013 by the new prospective owner, but it was deemed to be incomplete. Environmental reports are being prepared in support of resubmitting the planning application for the redevelopment of the marina.

The recent storms in the past month have had a devastating effect on the coastline of County Clare. The storms severely impacted on the marina, causing substantial damage to the pontoons and other marina infrastructure. As the sale of the marina will not be finalised until planning permission for the enhancement works is secured, Shannon Development is managing the remedial works, in conjunction with its insurers. An engineer has assessed the works and it is anticipated that Shannon Development will appoint a contractor to carry out remedial works once the insurance assessment is completed and the scope of work agreed to. As far as we are aware, the remedial works have not been included in Clare County Council's recent submission for funding to cover storm damage repairs along the coastline, where extensive damage was caused to publicly accessible amenities and infrastructure which must be prioritised.

I can confirm that the necessary work has not been included in Clare County Council's submission, nor should it have been. The request from the Government was related to uninsurable public infrastructure in the ownership of the State, either through local authorities or the Office of Public Works. While I accept that the storms caused damage, I hope the risk was insured and that some funding will come through to repair the most recent damage.

There has been significant wear and tear of the entire marina because of the lack of investment in recent years. It would be appropriate, under whatever ownership structure is put in place as a result of the amalgamation of Shannon Development's assets with those of the airport, to include a proviso in the legislation to ensure the asset is protected in the sense that it is provided with a source of funding to upgrade the facility to an acceptable and appropriate level. I support the decision of Shannon Development and supported in principle the sale of the entity to the private company mentioned, which is a very fine Clare company with a fine reputation. If it is ultimately successful in the transfer, it has the capacity to make a real go of the facility. Notwithstanding this, the State has a duty to provide an investment in advance of the sale taking place to ensure the facility is upgraded to the standard to which it should have been maintained while in State ownership.

The marina is a considerable asset for the town of Kilrush. It is one of Ireland's finest marinas, offering 120 fully serviced pontoon berths, accessible at all stages of the tide, as well as a range of amenities. The board of Shannon Development holds the view that private ownership of the marina is the best option for its future development and upgrading. I have been informed by Shannon Development that it is working to ensure the marina will be fully operational for the summer season and that any storm damage will be repaired as quickly as possible.

Community Employment Drug Rehabilitation Projects

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, is well aware of some of the special community employment schemes in the city of Dublin and other areas. A special community employment scheme is one which can help those participating in drug rehabilitation programmes and recovering from drug abuse. It is one way the State has helped those who are down on their luck and have managed to take the first steps in recovery.

This is not simply in respect of recovery from addiction but also from all the consequences of that addiction. It has allowed participants to take part in a three-year programme that allows them to recover their self-esteem and to make up for the fact that in many cases they did not avail of educational opportunities when young because of their drug addiction. Similarly, given their chaotic lives and the results thereof in respect of their relationships with friends and families, such programmes address how to rebuild those, as well as giving the participants the tools and skills required to play as full a role as they can in society in the future.

The scheme that is the subject of the issue I raise today is the Community Lynks Project in the Oblates, Inchicore. It is quite a good scheme, although I do not know whether the Minister has managed to visit it. It is similar to quite a number of other schemes and the participants all play as good a role as they can. Moreover, they have been helped in those roles by the supervisors of the community employment scheme, and in this instance the project has had a number of supervisors. However, a question mark has been raised as to whether the full complement of community employment supervisors will be retained.

I implore the Minister to try to address the situation and the particular problems faced by the Community Lynks Project and other special CE programmes because of the chaotic nature of some of the participants, who are at various stages of recovery. This can affect the number of participants in such schemes on an ongoing basis. There was an agreement between the various projects and the Minister to ensure a ratio would be worked out that would allow the supervisors to maintain some degree of communication on a one-to-one basis. While this is required under these circumstances, it is not necessarily required at the same level elsewhere. There was a recognition that the ratio in these schemes should be reduced. At present the Community Lynks Project has 32 participants, but I am informed that by the end of this week or early next week that figure will have risen to 38. However, as a review is under way at present in respect of the number of supervisors to be allowed, I urge the Minister that no decision on the future be taken without considering the future numbers of participants in the scheme. It allows for 40 participants on the scheme and while it is running below that figure at present, I am informed that by the end of the week the scheme will be close to the maximum number. Consequently, I urge the Minister to deal in particular with the temporary situation that obtains at present, whereby last week was to be the final week for one of the supervisors before the position was extended by one month. There cannot be such a situation on a month-by-month basis in which supervisors have their contracts extended. A sustainable solution must be found in this regard.

I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for raising this important issue and assure him that I am very familiar with the Oblates and am aware of this project. As the houses of my dad's sister and my grandad backed onto the grounds of the Oblates in Inchicore, I have known them all my life. Consequently, the Deputy may rest assured that I know exactly where we are talking about. It is an important project.

First, I wish to confirm that there is no departmental moratorium in place for sponsoring organisations in respect of the recruitment of community employment supervisors. I do not know why the Deputy might think some kind of moratorium was in place because this is not the case, and I now confirm this for him formally. Where the sponsoring organisation wishes to proceed and the number of participants employed on a project warrants the hiring of additional supervision, an application setting out the justification for the additional resource should be submitted by the sponsor to the Department for approval under the community employment supervisory grant. The community employment operating procedures outline the required ratio of supervision to number of participants, which on mainstream CE projects is 1:25. As the Deputy is aware, however, in practice it can often be considerably below that. Where the number of participants exceeds 25, an assistant supervisory post can be approved. Community employment schemes in the drug rehabilitation strand have a lower participant-to-supervisor ratio due to the different nature of the clients participating on these schemes. In the case of dedicated drugs rehabilitation schemes, the standard ratio is seven drugs rehabilitation referred participants and two mainstream participants to each supervisory post. As the Deputy is aware, since becoming Minister I have ring-fenced 1,000 places for people rehabilitating from drugs and other addictions. This adjusted ratio was agreed in consultation with statutory, community and voluntary sector representatives under the nine special conditions to support the delivery of drug rehabilitation places on community employment schemes.

I have been advised that officials from the Department met representatives from the Community Lynks Project special drugs CE scheme last Thursday, 27 February, to discuss matters with regard to a particular situation that has arisen in the scheme. I have been informed that a temporary supervisory post on a six-month contract had been due for completion last Friday. However, I understand this has been extended for one month to facilitate the scheme with regard to maintaining a sufficient number of participants to warrant this post. The matter will then be reviewed. Officials from the Department of Social Protection confirmed to the Community Lynks representatives that there will be no change in the number of places on the scheme, at 40 approved places. The scheme currently has just 36 participants and has been asked to review the intake of participants to ensure sustainability of take-up of places on the scheme. Furthermore, officials have advised the scheme that they will sanction approval for additional places if the sponsors show a demand for such places.

I stated that as Minister I have ring-fenced 1,000 places, but as I have discussed from time to time with Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Maureen O'Sullivan in the Chamber, for reasons I do not understand these places are not fully taken up. People appear to be willing, but perhaps the Deputy can throw light on how this can happen because the Inchicore area has a serious issue with regard to the number of people who have problems. Moreover, people in neighbouring areas also have problems, and the opportunity for rehabilitation is really important for them. The Deputy is also aware that people participating in a rehabilitation scheme are entitled to three years in community employment, and if they make a case for it the Department will allow for a fourth year in order to ensure the person is able to recover and get his or her life back in an orderly, structured way. Indeed, quite a number of people succeed in so doing and perhaps move on to further training, education or another community employment scheme. That is how matters stand at present.

I welcome the Minister's clarification regarding the moratorium. While I was not aware that one was in place-----

It was in the Deputy's question.

The reason I included it in the question was that it had been raised with me by a number of groups. At least there is now clarification that no moratorium is in place and, hopefully, that will help groups to address issues. As the Minister stated, in the case of the Community Lynks Project, a review of the intake of participants is under way. The nature of these schemes is that the numbers can be down one week and then suddenly there is an influx, as has been the case over the past week alone. When I first raised this matter with SOLAS there were 32 participants, but as the Minister indicated today, a further four have joined, and as far as I am aware there will be another two participants by the end of the week. Hopefully, it will be possible to fill the entire complement of 40. At present, there is no indication that the scheme will seek numbers beyond that, despite the problems in the area or neighbouring areas such as Ballyfermot.

Changes made in budgets over the past number of years have seemingly discouraged some people from participating on these schemes. I am at a loss as to why the opportunities are not being taken up other than the fact one is dealing with a client group which can, on occasion, be very chaotic and can drop out of, and try to come back to, schemes. I hope there will be no gap when the need for additional supervisors arises and that the fluctuation in numbers is taken into account before supervisors are discontinued.

The Deputy knows I have met quite a number of the schemes. He has been there when I have visited schemes and have been at the presentation of certificates and in Merchant's Quay also. I do not know where some of these rumours start but there are 1,000 ring-fenced places for the whole country, although a large number is in the Dublin region. Not all of those places are taken up and at times I am at a loss as to why given the level of difficulty a number of people have around addiction. Many people want to try to get off what they are on and get their lives back together, in particular for their families and their children.

Last night I attended a fantastic production of "A Hundred Years Ago" in Liberty Hall by RADE, one of the schemes associated with the city centre. It was up to Abbey Theatre standards. This is one of the examples of the creativity so inherent in many of the people who, unfortunately, develop a serious drug problem along the way and, having freed themselves from it, they have got their lives together again.

I reiterate that there is no moratorium. The reorganisation which has happened means that we have a number of very dedicated staff in the Department dealing with schemes like the Lynks scheme and who are very mindful of the importance of the scheme for the community and the areas about which we are talking.

I recall the level of work being done in Star in Ballyfermot ranging from people getting involved in growing vegetables to other forms of self-expression and education. We, as public representatives, should try to persuade people who have a problem to look at the opportunities which are certainly there. I am committed to seeing that as many as possible are taken up.

Health Care Professionals

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic which has been discussed on an ongoing basis since 2005. Currently, there are no regulations in Ireland for the registration of psychotherapists and counsellors and no State control over the qualifications held by those practising in the area. It is dangerous for untrained and unskilled people to probe a person's unconsciousness. They are dealing with human vulnerability and serious damage can be done to such delicate people.

The Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 provides for the registration of persons qualifying under the title of a designated profession for the determination of complaints relating to their fitness to practise. Psychotherapy and counselling were not included as the various organisations could not agree but then 22 of them set up the psychological therapies forum and came to an agreement on what to do.

On 20 February 2014, the director of the National Office for Suicide Prevention of the HSE, Mr. Gerry Raleigh, stated that people in distress should avoid these services because counsellors may not be fully trained or may not base their counselling on best advice. He said it was important that a person seeking psychotherapy and counselling identifies processionals who are members of the psychological therapies forum, encompassing 22 professional organisations.

The psychological therapies forum said that it provides protection to clients but that it falls short of optimal protection as, under our common law system, it is possible for any person to take the title of "counsellor" or "psychotherapist" and to practise accordingly without training or competence. Any person can put up a sign and say he or she is a counsellor or psychotherapist and charge €80 an hour to perform psychotherapy and counselling. It is extremely dangerous for such untrained people to do so.

I would like to give the example of two courses. One course ran for eight weekends leading to a diploma in eating disorders. One should be a professional to deal with that but I tested the system a number of years ago. A secretary, who had no qualifications or interest in any clinical, medical or psychological area, applied and was immediately welcomed on to the course and provided with a handwritten note inviting her to commence the course on the following Saturday. A course covering a number of weekends led to a higher diploma in suicide studies. It is highly dangerous for people to counsel those who have suicidal ideation after such a short course, when they are not fully trained. It takes four years plus of supervised practice to qualify as a psychotherapist. My objective is to include psychotherapy and counselling in the 2005 Act. It only requires a ministerial directive to do so and not legislation.

In response to me putting this to him, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, when dealing with the Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2012, stated:

However, I am supportive of addressing the regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists sooner rather than later. Replies to parliamentary questions and meetings with various delegations have been based on a policy position that statutory regulation for this profession would be considered for designation by regulation under section 4(2) of the 2005 Act in time to come when all regulations boards.....have been established......I share his concern about the lack of standards and the fact that people who have taken courses over six weekends are calling themselves counsellors in the same way as those who have completed three or four year university courses or postgraduate degrees in psychology. We have to address this issue, but I hope the committee will give [time to do so].

He further stated:

While the [various counselling bodies] have now come together, they have as a consequence of speaking with one voice highlighted huge gaps in standards and we will have to do considerable work with HETAC to develop a shared standard. HETAC intends to provide us with a report on the matter in early or mid-2013 which will allow us to start immediately with the task of setting up a registration board for counsellors.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue and giving me the opportunity to update the House on the ongoing regulatory programme being undertaken by the Department of Health, including the regulation of health and social care professionals. The 12 professions currently designated under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 are clinical biochemists, dietitians, medical scientists, occupational therapists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, psychologists, radiographers, social care workers, social workers and speech and language therapists. The structure of the system of statutory regulation comprises a registration board for each of the professions to be regulated, and a Health and Social Care Professionals Council with overall responsibility for the regulatory system.

Six registration boards have been established to date and the registration boards and their registers for the remaining designated professions should be established by 2015. The Minister for Health may, under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, designate by regulation a health and social care profession not already designated if he or she considers it is in the public interest to do so and specified criteria have been met.

While the immediate priority is to proceed with the establishment of the registration boards for the 12 professions currently designated under the Act, the Department is committed to bringing counsellors and psychotherapists within the ambit of the Act as soon as possible. A number of counsellor and psychotherapist national groups have come together as the Psychological Therapies Forum to advise as a single voice for the professions in so far as it is possible to do so. A number of issues remain to be clarified, including decisions on whether one or two professions are to be regulated, on the title or titles of the profession or professions and on the minimum qualifications to be required of counsellors and psychotherapists.

Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, the successor to HETAC, has established a standards development group for counselling and psychotherapy which aims to establish standards of knowledge, skills and competence to be acquired by candidates for educational qualifications that will be required for careers in counselling and-or psychotherapy. This is an essential prerequisite to regulation of the profession. In addition, the standards of proficiency to be required of existing practitioners for registration will need to be established and the necessary qualifications prescribed. QQI has produced a draft report to which my Department furnished a response in November 2013. My Department will closely study the final QQI report as soon as it is available and will then engage with relevant stakeholders in order to work through the outstanding issues with a view to achieving regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists as soon as possible in the best interests of the protection of the public. Such regulation is also in the interests of the many fine psychotherapists working here. Their reputation is being damaged by those who are not qualified and will not qualify for registration once the regulations are in place.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. It is welcome that Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, is setting down the standards which were promised in 2012 by the Minister for Health during the debate on the Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill. I was told previously that regulation of these two professions would happen when all of the other professions referred to in the Act were regulated. I put it to the Minister of State that counselling and psychotherapy are as important as the other professions to which she referred. They were not included in the 2005 Act because when the legislation was going through the House, the then Minister of State at the Department of Health, former Deputy Tim O'Malley, said the professions had not reached agreement on the process of regulating counselling and psychotherapy. He argued that in such circumstances statutory regulation would have serious legal implications. While accepting the principle of the need to regulate these professions, he argued that he would wait for agreement to be reached before doing so. Agreement was reached several years later and a joint report by 22 bodies outlined how best to regulate counselling and psychotherapy. It was not done originally because of the lack of agreement among the professional bodies, but they stated in their report, submitted to the then Minister of State, former Deputy John Moloney, that it was necessary to have statutory regulation. There is no such regulation. I could set myself up as a counsellor in the morning and do untold damage. The Bodywhys organisation, for example, is extremely concerned about this because it has received several complaints from families with members suffering from eating disorders who received counselling which was highly dangerous.

I could not agree more with the Deputy. I am aware that it was the lack of agreement, rather than a disagreement, between the various groups which meant that counselling and psychotherapy were not regulated. Now that there appears to be uniformity in thinking on the matter, what the Deputy is advocating is more pertinent than ever. We try to bring people along in formulating the basis for regulations and standards and are now at the point where this needs to be done as a matter of urgency. I know, from people I have met, about the damage that can be done by someone who is ill equipped and badly trained in the provision of counselling or psychotherapy services for people who are often in a very vulnerable position. We need to move quickly on this issue. It is not just about protecting the public which is the paramount concern but also about protecting the reputations of those who are well qualified and do an extraordinarily good job. We do not want everyone to be tarred with the same brush.

Sitting suspended at 2.10 p.m. and resumed at 3.10 p.m.