Leaders' Questions

I want to raise an issue of some gravity. It concerns allegations of physical and sexual abuse of varying degrees of seriousness in a school in the country and the subsequent Ombudsman's report, which went on for some years, into how the school's board of management, the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills responded to those allegations.

I know that the child who made the allegations wrote to the Taoiseach on 17 November about these issues. The Ombudsman's report was completed in September 2014. Suffice to say that it is a damning indictment of the manner in which the response to the complaint was administered by the board of management, the HSE and the then Department of Education and Science. The Garda has accepted that its original investigation was not up to standard and it is renewing its investigation and further allegations have been received.

This occurred in 2005-06, not 50, 30 or 20 years ago. I will give the Taoiseach a flavour of the findings of the Ombudsman's report in relation to the then Department of Education and Science:

This office finds that the Department of Education and Science's failure to provide assistance to the board to evaluate the investigative procedures employed by the board was based on unsound administration within the meaning of section 8 of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002.

It continues:

Failed to respond [this is Education] when the HSE alerted the Department of Education and Science that the clinical psychologist was quite concerned with regard to corporal punishment at the school. [In fact, the local health officer had changed the psychologist's assessment. The psychologist was very concerned and had asked for follow-up investigations.] Education failed to respond when the board specifically requested guidance from the Department of Education and Science with regard to their investigation. On becoming further aware of the difficulties arising it limited its interaction to that of writing to the HSE to ask whether the allegations of corporal punishment came within Children First and whether these were being investigated by the HSE. Failed to respond to the board...

In terms of the HSE it states:

This office finds for much of the period under investigation allegations of physical abuse were miscategorised as corporal punishment. Should have been investigated by the HSE but were not properly investigated by the HSE.

[and]

In accordance with section 8 of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 this office finds that these actions were contrary to fair and sound administration.

To give a flavour of what was going on in the school in March 2002, the Ombudsman report quotes from the school Stay Safe Programme which says:

This school states:

The Stay Safe Programme has been approved by the board of management as a teacher's aid to be used in accordance with the Catholic ethos which demands that the law of God and of the church and not the child's feelings be the guiding principle.

There are fundamental questions to be answered by the three bodies concerned. What has alarmed me is the failure of the Department of Education and Skills to respond in any shape or form to the Ombudsman's report of September 2014.

Tusla has initiated an investigation but it seems to be a desk-top investigation. It will not be an investigation of what happened in the past but an investigation to help Tusla understand how things can be done better into the future. Tusla wanted to conduct this investigation in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills. The fact that it is undertaking it on its own suggests to me that the Department is not willing to engage with Tusla in this investigation.

Will the Taoiseach agree to the establishment of an independent panel to investigate this scandal, in respect of which the Ombudsman for Children's report states without equivocation that this matter was not handled properly in any shape or form by the three bodies concerned? Will he indicate why the Minister and Department of Education and Skills have refused to meet the parents concerned and why they do not appear to have utilised the powers available to them under section 17 of the Education Act to intervene in this situation?

I remind Members that it is important in these situations that they do not name any person or say anything that could identify him or her.

I will abide by that.

It might have been helpful if Deputy Martin had given some indication of the nature of the case he wished to raise. This is a sensitive case. Obviously, the matter has to be investigated properly. The report the Deputy referred to was received in the Department of the Taoiseach. The Garda, the Departments of Health, Education and Skills and Justice and Equality and the parents have been contacted by Tusla, which is investigating this matter.

I am aware of the implications of the Ombudsman's report. I would like to await finalisation of the Tusla investigation before making any judgment. From that point of view, I do not propose at this time to establish an independent investigation into this matter. The Ombudsman is independent in its functions. As I said, the Garda, Departments of Health, Education and Skills and Justice and Equality, the parents and Tusla are involved in an investigation of this matter. I cannot answer for the Minister for Education and Skills and, having not met the parents, I am not aware of the details or circumstances surrounding the case.

This is a personal and sensitive matter. I am prepared to come back to the Deputy following clarity on the matter from Tusla, which was set up by Government to conduct matters in relation to children. I would prefer to await finalisation of Tusla's report before commenting further on the matter.

The Taoiseach is aware of the case and so I would have thought some direction would have issued to the Minister for Education and Skills in relation to a response to the matter. The letter from Tusla to the parents states:

Given the complexity of the relationship between the duties of child and family agency and school management governance relating to the employment of teachers, I would like the independent review to be jointly sponsored with the Department of Education and Skills. However, if agreement to a joint approach is not forthcoming in the short term, I shall proceed to review child and family agency responsibilities unilaterally.

That is what has happened. In other words, Tusla seems to be investigating unilaterally. The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Department of Education and Skills did not wish to engage. We need answers as to the reason the Minister and Department of Education and Skills refused to engage or are not part of this review. I have spoken to the parents. I am not clear on the scope and scale of the review. In this regard, reference is made to inter-jurisdictional issues and so on between the different bodies. This type of silo mentality on the part of the Department is alarming.

I understand that Louise O'Keeffe, to whose attention the parents of the child concerned brought this issue, raised the issue with the Ministers for Children and Youth Affairs and Justice and Equality in the context of discussions in relation to her own situation. It would appear to me that this was broadly known across Government. While I will gladly await a further response from the Taoiseach I put it to him that the response to date does not inspire confidence in the capacity of the State to take such issues with the gravity required. The Ombudsman's report, in terms of its conclusions and recommendations around how what we would term modern systems and guidelines failed so significantly in this particular context, in the politest language possible, makes for shocking reading. I am alarmed that the Minister for Education and Skills and others do not seem to have responded properly to this issue. That is why I believe there should be an independent examination of the entire case.

Deputy Martin is aware that allegations have been made. These allegations are being reviewed. It is not open to me when a case is being actively pursued to interfere in any way. Tusla was set up by Government to deal with matters relating to children. It is independent. As I said to the Deputy, there is no place for this type of activity in any school or home in the country. That is one of the reasons we established the specific post of Minister and Department for Children and Youth Affairs. Tusla is independent in the conduct of its work. I cannot interfere in a case that is active.

Tusla wants the Department of Education and Skills to co-sponsor the report.

As I said, I am happy to come back to the Deputy when I have received a report from Tusla.

Has the Taoiseach spoken to the Minister for Education and Skills?

The matters raised by the Deputy are serious. Nobody wants to have this type of activity not properly investigated, including by the authorities of the State to ensure that the laws of the land are implemented, if that be so.

I am happy to come back to the Deputy. When I have received the report from Tusla I will advise Deputy Martin in that regard.

The Taoiseach does not need a report from Tusla to get a response from the Department of Education and Skills.

Sorry, Deputy Martin, I have called Deputy Adams.

It is well covered in the media already by The Sunday Times and others.

I cannot interfere in a case that is active at the moment.

I am not asking the Taoiseach to interfere. I am wondering why the Department of Education and Skills has not responded

I will ensure the Department corresponds with Deputy Martin.

I am sorry. The Deputy should please not interrupt. The Taoiseach has replied and we will leave it at that for the moment.

Bus Éireann's decision to axe almost 100 routes on its Expressway service represents a major setback for citizens in rural Ireland. A total of 15 communities are now to be left without any direct bus services whatsoever while dozens more will experience drastic cuts to vital bus links. If the cuts go ahead on the major routes affected, namely, Dublin to Cork via Kilkenny, Dublin to Waterford via Wexford and Athlone to Westport, the current 198 services a day will fall to 105. I am sure the Taoiseach accepts that this is a direct result of years of underfunding of public transport by his predecessor, but where Fianna Fáil led, the Taoiseach is now following. The Government has privatised 10% of Bus Éireann routes. The Government is making it harder and harder for the company to provide vital links which are economically and socially essential to rural communities. Bus Éireann has said very clearly that the routes need Government funding in order to survive. Farming and rural communities have condemned the latest cuts as a further attack on rural Ireland. Considering the vital social and economic benefit of linking those communities to major public transport routes, will the Government and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Teachta Paschal Donohoe, review the latest drastic decision by Bus Éireann as a matter of urgency and take whatever measures are necessary to ensure the continuation of those vital bus services?

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is very well aware of the situation. He allocated another €100 million to CIE just before Christmas. Deputy Adams will be aware that the National Transport Authority, NTA, has a fundamentally important role to play in assisting-----

A total of €4 billion has been allocated to rural Ireland.

-----the response to changes in services that have an impact on rural areas. It is also important to note that the public service obligation, PSO, funding for transport is €210 million per annum and it is important that is allocated for the socially necessary services, in particular in rural areas. The Minister and the Department will continue to work with the NTA on the wider issues concerning rural transport across the country.

Bus Éireann operates three kinds of service - provincial city services, rural stage carriage services and intercity services. Bus Éireann will get a public service obligation of €31.9 million in 2015 under contract with the National Transport Authority for the provincial city and rural carriage services. Bus Éireann receives no State funding for the commercial Expressway intercity services and it must also fund the purchase of buses for Expressway services from within its own resources. As the Deputy is aware, the Expressway services are commercial services operated in competition with private operators on the main trunk routes and motorways. They are licensed by the National Transport Authority. By their very nature, commercial services cannot and do not receive any public service obligation funding from the Exchequer. All of the commercial operators will only provide services where it is commercially advantageous for them to do so. Given the traffic on the main routes between cities, from a commercial perspective, if a bus leaves the motorway to go through the countryside, that will have an impact on the commercial decision that is made in the first place.

We built the motorways. It is our fault.

Deputy Cowen should please not interrupt.

I do not know whether Deputy Adams was at the meeting in Castlecomer last night.

This is Deputy Adams's question.

Bus Éireann has agreed to postpone the changes to route 7 services until the summer. The NTA is now examining what might be the appropriate PSO service to put in place if funding were to be made available for that. It is working with Bus Éireann in that context. The NTA has also been contacted regarding changes on the Expressway route 5 service from Waterford. In view of those changes, Bus Éireann plans to extend route 4, which is the Dublin to Waterford route, to New Ross in order to maintain a link between New Ross and Waterford.

The Government is cutting off rural Ireland completely.

Separately from that, the NTA, in conjunction with Bus Éireann, is examining options-----

One would not think the Taoiseach was from Mayo.

We want to hear the reply.

-----to reconfigure a number of subvented services that already apply that are necessary from a social point of view. Bus Éireann has no immediate plans to consider the withdrawal of the Athlone to Westport service but it did refer to it as an example of the commercial challenges which face any company from private enterprise in operating such a service in a very competitive bus market.

I call Deputy Adams.

This is the most anti-rural Government ever.

Deputy Healy-Rae is not Deputy Adams.

No, I am not. I shave.

Deputy Adams is quite capable of handling the situation himself.

He is. I know that.

I am just trying to decipher what the Taoiseach said to me.

They were facts.

It was a blizzard of detail. Will the Government continue with the services or not? The Taoiseach outlined that the Expressway service is a commercial service and then he went on to say that Bus Éireann will only provide services where it is commercially advantageous for it to do so. That is a significant argument for public services if the Taoiseach does not mind me saying so. At his party's conference at the weekend the Taoiseach promised €4 billion to rural Ireland and now he is going to cut 180 services a day to 105 services. Let me repeat what I have said many times to the Taoiseach: citizens have rights. That includes the right to public services no matter where they live. The Government has been a disaster for rural Ireland. Services are being cut such as rural schools, Garda stations, health services and post offices. When one goes off the main road, one is on pot-holed boreens. Small and medium businesses are starved of credit. The main streets of many villages and towns are dying on their feet because they are neglected by the Government. Some communities will be left without GPs. The Taoiseach is a rural Deputy, yet the Government has consistently made living in rural Ireland more difficult. Coming from Mayo, he obviously knows the effects on rural communities of the scattering of half a million young people in the past eight years. The Government has also cut transport services, including that provided by Iarnród Éireann, and it has increased costs for private car users. Bus Éireann is an essential part of the public transport network. It does provide a good, quality service to a large number of towns and villages which would otherwise be isolated.

Could Deputy Adams please put his question?

Tá mé críochnaithe anois, a Cheann Comhairle. The private model he has outlined does not work in the interests of rural communities. The outworking of the Government's policy will mean a less efficient, less reliable service. It will mean reduced wages and conditions for employees, an increase in fares and no pension arrangements for workers. I again ask the Taoiseach and his Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to review the Government's plans and to outline to the Dáil adequate funding for Bus Éireann and for the connectivity, social cohesion and an end to isolation of small communities which need to be provided with vital public transport links.

Deputy Adams obviously did not listen to what I said.

I could not understand it.

I will say it again for Deputy Adams. I will say it very slowly so that he will be able to get the complete picture.

He would prefer to speak in Irish.

Bus Éireann operates three types of services - one, two, three-----

A haon, a dó, a trí.

The Taoiseach should give up the condescension.

The first one is provincial city services. That means from city to city. Generally, they go along the motorways and the main routes.

I asked the Taoiseach about cuts.

That is a commercial operation and no public service obligation funding is provided for it. CIE-Bus Éireann must buy their own buses from their own resources and they are not subvented in any way. I hope that is clear. In some of these cases, where the existing buses go off the motorway and service rural areas and then go back onto the main routes, it is not commercially advantageous when one is competing against private enterprise that does not do that.

That is why we need public services.

Yes, and that is why, under the rural development programme, which was negotiated by Ireland during our Presidency, there is a €4 billion fund between 2014 and 2020, part of which includes a very extensive rural transport service for the entire country where small bus operators bring elderly people to various towns, villages and other locations on a regular and daily basis. Deputy Adams is well aware of that.

The position is there was a meeting in Castlecomer, County Kilkenny, last night. As a result of that meeting, Bus Éireann has said it will continue with route 7 facilities until this matter is looked at during the summer.

It is working with the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport-----

When is the by-election?

-----to see how best a number of routes currently subvented might be changed to provide the sort of service we are talking about.

In other words, ended.

It has also said in view of the changes and the change in respect of route 5 from Waterford, it will extend the Dublin to Waterford route 4 to New Ross in order that the service can continue.

The Deputy is deliberately mixing it up in that he wants the mainline buses, which are not subvented and not the subject of any PSO, to drive all over the boreens of the country.

I want the Taoiseach to serve the people, one, two, three, citizens' rights.

There is a rural transport scheme which is funded to a great extent. The Minister has said subvention is more than €200 million and, just before Christmas, a further €101 million was allocated to CIE. It is in the business of buying new buses for its fleet to continue the very good service Bus Éireann has always given. The changes being made are the subject of work between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the NTA and Bus Éireann. I hope out of this the situation can continue and services can be provided to people. Change is necessary and we will not have mainline buses leaving the main routes from city to city and driving throughout the countryside. There is an opportunity for a different kind of service to be supplied that would meet the demands of people throughout the land.

Private services.

Last Thursday evening, five anti-water charges activists were ordered to be incarcerated by a High Court judge for protesting against the installation of water meters not wanted by the overwhelming majority in this country. For the record, the judge discounted all suggestions of bad behaviour and jailed them solely on the evidence they had contravened and come inside a 20 m exclusion zone around meter installing. This was not based on a law passed in the House but on an injunction sought by GMC Sierra, a company owned by the richest man in Ireland, Denis O'Brien, who is a media magnate in this country.

These jailings follow hot on the heels of outrageous dawn raids on 23 people arrested in Tallaght last week. How far is the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government willing to go in its vain attempt to break the mass movement against the water charges? Just how isolated the Government is from the lives of ordinary people was graphically demonstrated last weekend at the Fine Gael conference in Castlebar when the Taoiseach had to surround himself with not one but two rings of steel, 10 ft. high fences and a phalanx of gardaí and security.

And Deputy Bernard Durkan.

Does this look like a Government which has brought about a democratic revolution? Does it not look more like what it is, a Government which has bled dry ordinary people to feed the greed of bankers and the financial markets, just as he is shamefully assisting in throwing to the wolves the people of Greece who are suffering the same fate?

His attempt to criminalise the movement against the water charges is anti-democratic. It is an affront to the right to protest and his use of coercion to try to split the movement against the water charges and austerity is failing. The national demonstration on 21 March will remind the Taoiseach of this once again. In April and May he will also face a massive boycott of the water bills. Will the Taoiseach join the Anti-Austerity Alliance in demanding the immediate release of the four residents imprisoned in Dublin? Will he stop the attempted criminalising of protesters? Will he recognise reality and listen to the majority of people in this country and abolish the water charges, or will he limp on and wait, alongside the Labour Party, until he, the Labour Party and the water charges will have to be obliterated in the general election?

No, I will not. I recognise the courts of the country. I recognise the law of the land. The people in contempt of court knew very well what they were doing. It seems as if Deputy Coppinger is inviting people to break the law, no more than Deputy Murphy beside her inviting people to break breach of contract.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

She should speak to Deputy Butler today in respect of fear and intimidation and frightening young children, no more than the family of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I do not agree with her. The law of the land is the law of the land, and the courts are completely independent of this House and they make their decisions. In this case the judge was crystal clear.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Does the Taoiseach agree the treatment of the five people who were sentenced is in stark contrast to the sentence passed down last July to two executives from Anglo Irish Bank who gave illegal loans which led to huge financial problems in the country? In a two-minute sentence from the judge they were handed 240 hours of community service. They live in mansions in Rathgar and Malahide. Does this make them less suited to prison life? It used to be said there was one law for the rich and another for the poor in this country. Is there any law at all for the rich in this country? The HSBC tax evasion for example-----

Sorry, Deputy, we cannot be straying all over the town, please.

What will the Taoiseach do about this?

I ask the Deputy to put her supplementary question.

In imposing the sentence the judge said they were encouraging civil disobedience. I would like to point out to the Taoiseach that civil disobedience is a vital method of challenging unjust laws and it has been through the ages.

A question, please.

We would not have the right to vote or trade union rights if we had not challenged unjust laws.

You have those rights now.

Is the Taoiseach aware that Photocall Ireland was visited by gardaí with a warrant to take away film it had taken-----

Sorry, Deputy, put your question please.

-----of a protest?

This is a Second Stage speech.

This is not statements.

What does the Taoiseach think of this type of development? Yesterday 30 gardaí were in a small lane in Rialto to assist with the installation of water meters by Irish Water.

Sorry, Deputy, put your question please and listen to the Chair.

Sorry, Ceann Comhairle, I do not know if you have noticed but these are questions.

You are over time.

I am not over time.

You are over time. Please resume your seat.

My final question-----

Would you please resume your seat?

Respect the law and respect this Chamber.

You gave Deputy Micheál Martin over four minutes to ask his questions. I would like to finish mine, thank you.

The Taoiseach does not seem to be concerned about the laws of the land. Another Deputy in the House asked on Leaders' Questions about GMC Sierra and how it managed to get the contract for water meter installation in this country-----

Deputy, please resume your seat and put your question.

-----when it did not even have a company registration number. Does the Taoiseach believe there should be a High Court investigation into this?

You are fond of the courts.

I am not aware of the treatment of the persons sent to prison in contempt of court. I have read the comment from the Prison Officers Association that their treatment was the same as anybody else's in prison. These people knew very well what they were doing. They wanted to be in contempt of court as far as I can assess. Clearly the courts are completely and utterly independent of the House.

Deputy Coppinger asked me whether I thought their treatment was fair. It is for the courts to make their decisions and these people were jailed for contempt of court. I do not think it is fair to have the kind of treatment meted out to the Tánaiste of the Government, to the family of a Government Minister or, last night, to the family of a Deputy going about his legitimate business.

What does that have to do with it?

Water protesters' tactics.

It is not in order to stop any person from going about their legitimate business in this country. The point is that while peaceful protest has always been part of our democracy, contempt of court is not. The law of the land-----

They were jailed for peacefully protesting.

You are leading your people into contempt of court.

Deputy Murphy is encouraging people to breach a contempt of court. He knows as well as I do what is the law of the land. If you want political leadership then do not attempt to lead a mob.

That completes Leaders' Questions for today.

What about HSBC and the Anglo two? Will the Taoiseach answer that?

We now move on to questions to An Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach conveniently brushed over that one.

Deputy Higgins is leading the people astray and misleading them.

You did a bit of time yourself for protesting in the 1960s. Does the Taoiseach know that? How long were you in Mountjoy?

You were in there yourself but you did not stay too long.

We have finished Leaders' Questions, thank you.

How much time did you spend in Mountjoy?

Would you please stay quiet? Thank you.