There has been an agreement that our matter will be taken first.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I listened to the Tánaiste during Leaders' Questions with a mixture of disbelief and awe. Does she really believe that the questions about the conduct of the Garda Commissioner are going to go away? Does she really believe that, by saying that the Commissioner made it clear that she supported Maurice McCabe, it is the end of the matter? What the Commissioner's statement actually said was that she had never regarded Maurice McCabe as malicious. Fair play to her, that is very nice, but it is not the issue at hand. The issue in front of the public is that the Garda Commissioner's legal team, allegedly on her instruction, attempted to mislead the commission deliberately by entering false information in order to challenge the motivation and credibility of Maurice McCabe. The fact that legal counsel has stated that the attempt to challenge his integrity was its idea and not the Commissioner's does not make any difference. It is reminiscent of the former Minister, Alan Shatter, throwing Oliver Connolly under the bus.
The commission was told that two senior gardaí would give direct evidence to the effect that Maurice McCabe was present at a meeting and stated that he operated under malice. It was only when irrefutable evidence was presented showing it to be false that the allegation was withdrawn. If the Tánaiste does not have a problem with this, we are in even bigger trouble than I believed. There is an immediate crisis of trust and confidence in the Commissioner. Public statements uttered by her in support of whistleblowers have been contradicted by her actions behind the scenes. The Tánaiste should not be surprised about that because we are not. Eighteen times since the Tánaiste became Minister, Deputy Wallace and I have tabled the issue of Commissioner O'Sullivan's treatment of the whistleblowers Mr. Keith Harrison and Mr. Nick Kehoe. The Tánaiste has done nothing. Will she launch a full investigation into the Commissioner's actions in accordance with the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, under which she can investigate and remove the Commissioner for actions that discredit her office? Will she commission the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Office, GSOC, to launch an investigation? If not, why not?
I am reminded of a memorable contribution by Deputy Wallace in the Dáil when he told the former Minister that it was time for the latter to go and to take the then Commissioner with him. It is obvious that it is time for the current Commissioner to go. Unless the Tánaiste acts, the Commissioner will take her with her.
If Maurice McCabe had not made a recording, the judge would have been compelled to believe the two officers and Maurice McCabe would have been destroyed. This development was not even mentioned in the O'Higgins report. Surely, that undermines the report's integrity.
We still do not know whether Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan's legal team, under her direction, handed documents to the commission that contained a false statement. That is supposedly a criminal offence. This is a serious matter. I find it difficult to believe that, when there is so much discussion about doing things differently in all aspects of politics, Fianna Fáil does not want to know about this situation. It just wants the issue to go away as well. This is shocking.
What the Commissioner says in public is different to what is happening on the ground. Mr. Keith Harrison and Mr. Nick Kehoe have been treated abysmally for two years. Both are out sick now. One gets less than €300 per week and the other gets nothing. Every effort has been made to hound them out of their jobs. It is two years since Mr. Harrison tried to get a proper hearing and he has only had one proper meeting with GSOC. GSOC requested Mr. Kehoe's file after a poor internal Garda investigation. The Garda was given 30 days to deliver it but still has not done so.
Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan asserts that dissent is not disloyalty, but that is not true. Now it is being claimed that the question of integrity was not raised and the senior counsel is being thrown under the bus or is taking one for the team. The Commissioner is not even rowing back on how she questioned Maurice McCabe's motivation. She has not rowed back on the fact that she was questioning his character. Who in God's name would be a whistleblower? She is not fit to be the Commissioner. Nothing has changed. It is as it was. We will not improve or change how we do policing in Ireland until we change the hierarchy and start from scratch.
As the Deputies are aware, I published the report of the O'Higgins commission of investigation into certain matters relevant to the Cavan-Monaghan division of the Garda Síochána on 11 May. The report deserves the most careful consideration so that we can do everything possible to avoid a repeat of the issues that gave rise to the commission in the first place. The Government accepts its findings fully.
Our focus now should be on ensuring that victims of crime receive the level of service from An Garda Síochána that they deserve. However, given the comments made by the Deputies, I want to deal with the matter of the alleged stance of the Garda Commissioner's legal team at the commission. I must preface my remarks by making it clear that there are severe constraints on what I can say in this regard. To do so, I must refer the House to section 11 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. The Act contains a prohibition, with limited exceptions, to the disclosure of any evidence given, or the contents of any document produced, by a witness while giving evidence in private at such a commission. As the Deputies are aware from the earlier discussion, evidence was given in private to the commission by 97 witnesses over 34 days. Mr. Justice O'Higgins in his report referred to the confidentiality of its proceedings saying that, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, the commission took all necessary steps to ensure the confidentiality of its proceedings. All of the proceedings into the evidence were in private and there was no request from anyone to have them in public.
I will make the general point that partial disclosures of what happens in private at commissions of investigation are inherently unfair to those who participate in such commissions and properly feel bound by the laws that apply to them. All 97 witnesses before the commission have rights with regard to the confidentiality of the commission's proceedings and I have a duty to respect those rights. I suggest that all Deputies have those rights. Above all, I have a duty to respect the law. That duty is not diminished by the fact that some media reports purport to set out a small part of what may have happened at the commission's private proceedings, notwithstanding any legal prohibitions in that regard.
I am aware of suggestions that it would not be unlawful for the Commissioner to disclose the instructions that she gave to counsel, as this would not involve discussing evidence given at the commission.
Leaving aside the legal position set out in the 2004 Act, it seems it would be a significant change to the generally accepted position that communications between a lawyer and a client should not have to be put in the public domain. To put it mildly, it would be very unusual to ask any party to a legal proceeding to disclose unilaterally its dealings with its legal representatives. In any event, this would actually involve a partial disclosure of what happened at the commission and could serve to undermine its work. It is hardly a demand that the Deputies would make of any other party to the commission.
For the reasons I have explained, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to comment on the specific reports that have appeared in the media, and further reports this evening on the 6 o’clock news, about what happened at the commission. I welcome the Garda Commissioner’s clarification, which was issued last night. She repeated that she accepts fully the commission’s findings. Of course, that includes accepting fully what the commission had to say about Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
There is no obligation on anyone to accept the findings of Mr. Justice O’Higgins. I said on the publication of the report that I hoped everyone affected would accept that Mr. Justice O’Higgins had fairly tried to do justice to the position of all. I believe that to be the case. However, it would be very unwise and unfair to attempt to rerun the commission’s proceedings on the basis of allegations about what may or may not have happened at a part of the commission’s proceedings. Suggestions that there should be some form of investigation, as we have heard tonight, into what happened during the proceedings of the commission of investigation seem to fundamentally misunderstand the nature and purpose of commissions of investigation. As I indicated when publishing the O’Higgins report, we should not lose sight of the central fact that at the heart of this report are victims who were let down. Our focus should now be on taking all the steps necessary to ensure that does not happen again and that we have a policing service that serves all the citizens of this country to the highest standard. I have had preliminary discussions with the Garda Commissioner about taking forward the recommendations about policing contained in the report, and I have every confidence in her commitment to take these forward.
Táim buíoch as an deis a thug an Ceann Comhairle dom caint faoin ábhar an-tábhachtach seo maidir leis an Lucht Siúil. The publication yesterday of the judgment against the State by the European Committee of Social Rights in respect of housing for Travellers is a damning one and must be taken with the utmost seriousness. I welcome the committee's findings as they vindicate the position that Traveller advocacy groups, human rights bodies and some political parties have taken on the issue of Traveller housing or the lack thereof over the years. The committee concluded that the State violated Article 16 of the European Social Charter on the grounds of insufficient provision of accommodation for Travellers on three grounds. First, there was insufficient provision of that accommodation. It was found that of 1,000 transient beds identified as needed by a 1995 task force, only 54 are in place, and not all function as proper transient sites. Second, it was judged that many sites are in a poor state of repair or badly located, and a lack of water, poor rubbish collection and problems with damp, flooding and sewage are persistent. Safeguards for Travellers threatened with eviction are inadequate. The current legislative framework fails to provide for adequate consultation or notice, or a requirement to propose alternative accommodation.
For an illustration of all three issues, we need only consider the disgraceful and degrading treatment of Travellers in my constituency, Louth. Travellers in Dundalk have been evicted not once, but twice, in recent months. Seventeen families were displaced, including 22 children, some only days old. They were effectively put on the side of the road. The distress to the families as a result of the decision by Louth County Council, without consultation with elected members, to evict them from council-owned land has been entirely unreasonable and unnecessary. The common sense and most efficient resolution is to ensure urgently that the council provides a temporary emergency halting site while the State-wide review of Traveller accommodation is ongoing.
Councils are obliged to put in place Traveller accommodation but there is no transient site in Louth and the families have consequently no choice but to park their caravans wherever they can. That position is not tenable. Such issues are no surprise given the fact that, over the past decade, funding for Traveller accommodation has been cut by 93%, from €70 million in 2008 down to €4.3 million in 2015.
The Housing Act has also contributed to the crisis as it empowers gardaí to move families on demand without notice. The programme for Government contains some measures that are welcome, including a new integrated framework for social inclusion. I look forward to the publication of a revised national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy by the end of 2016, as promised. The commitment to establish a working group to audit the current delivery and implementation of Traveller accommodation plans also sounds positive but there is a failure to provide a timeline for its completion, which, I hope, the Minister might clarify.
Sinn Féin has called for a range of measures to provide Traveller accommodation, including the front-loading of funding to councils with a good track record in drawing down funding to provide Traveller accommodation. We also believe the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee should take charge of the provision of Traveller accommodation and be given an annual budget and target, and an all-Ireland programme for nomadism should be drawn up, allowing for co-operation between all local authorities across the Thirty-two Counties. Incorporating the provision of Traveller accommodation programmes into local development plans and objectives would also be a welcome move.
Traveller ethnicity is a key issue. We were told in late 2014 by the then Minister of State, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, that recognition of Traveller ethnicity would be a reality in six months. Nineteen months later, we have seen no movement on this. Travellers have such recognition in the North, England, Scotland and Wales. The formal recognition of ethnicity is not a magic wand or a formula that will address the challenges and discrimination faced by the Traveller community, but it would be a step in the right direction. I appeal to the Minister to ensure a temporary emergency halting site is put in place for the families in Dundalk. He should advance all other mechanisms for dealing with the issues raised in the judgment of the European Committee of Social Rights and ensure the Government commits to delivering Traveller ethnicity in the coming term.
I apologise to the House for not being here for the start of Deputy Adams's speech. My understanding was that I would be up next rather than now because we swapped with the previous Minister. However, I picked up most of what the Deputy was saying.
I will give the Minister my script.
The Deputy will get my script, the official response, on a lot of issues. I believe we are meeting tomorrow to discuss housing generally but I am aware that the Deputy has asked to meet me on Traveller accommodation, in particular. We can have a detailed discussion on the Woodland Park issue in Dundalk, in which I know the Deputy has been involved. There are many complications associated with it, which I am sure he knows about. However, we are anxious to find a resolution to what is a very difficult set of circumstances.
On the points raised regarding the European Committee of Social Rights, it is important to put on record the context. In May 2013, a complaint against Ireland was submitted by the European Roma Rights Centre to the European Committee of Social Rights in accordance with the requirements of Article 5 of the Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter, which provides for a system of collective complaints, claiming that the Government of Ireland has not ensured the satisfactory application of articles 16 and 30 of this charter, particularly with respect to accommodation for Travellers in Ireland. Several complaints were examined by the committee in regard to potential breaches of Article 16, concerning the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, Article 30, concerning the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion, Article 17, concerning the right of children and young persons to social, legal and economic protection, and Article E, stipulating rights are to be secured without discrimination on the ground of association with a national minority or ethnic background, of the charter.
The committee completed its report and published its findings on 16 May. It is important to note that the findings were mostly favourable. In particular, the committee found that Ireland is not in breach of Article E of the charter, which upholds the principle of non-discrimination, Article 17, the right of children and young persons to social, legal and economic protection, and Article 30, the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion.
It is also reassuring to note the committee's finding that Ireland is meeting its international obligations in the context of the adequacy of the legislative framework and the delegation of statutory responsibility to local authorities to meet the accommodation needs of Travellers, and has found no violation of Article 16 on this issue. The European Committee of Social Rights found that Ireland is in violation of Article 16 on the grounds that there is a shortfall in sufficient accommodation for Travellers, despite the progress made and the policies put in place by the Government. The committee's report also notes Ireland's commitment and ongoing efforts to provide appropriate and high quality, Traveller specific accommodation. The report states "that Ireland has overall made significant progress in the last decades in the provision of accommodation for Travellers, access to housing and the refurbishment of Traveller accommodation".
I will continue our efforts in the provision of quality, Traveller specific accommodation through the national and local consultation and collaborative structures in place under the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, while also recognising the importance of the role and responsibility of the Traveller community in progressing this objective in partnership with us. Deputy Adams is correct to note some of the challenges we face in the provision of social housing. However, the budget for Traveller specific accommodation increased by 22% between 2015 and 2016 and currently stands at €5.5 million. The figure cited by the Deputy refers to the budget for 2015. The significant increase in the allocation this year is a recognition of the need for more Traveller specific accommodation and the importance of working with local authorities to meet this need.
The social housing provision and homelessness challenges we face, and which I am facing on behalf of the Government, involve many travelling families. Almost 1,000 of the families accommodated in hotels are from the Travelling community. I am well aware of this issue and the programme for Government signals the need to prioritise this area. I look forward to having detailed conversations with Sinn Féin and other political parties on the response needed in this area.
Special Educational Needs Service Provision
Tá mé buíoch go bhfuil deis agam labhairt ar an rún seo. Ba mhaith liom gach dea-ghuí a thabhairt don Aire Stáit, an Teachta Finian McGrath, ina ról nua. Tá mé ag tnúth le bheith ag obair leis chomh maith.
Go raibh maith agat.
I propose to raise a number of important issues that have been brought to my attention by the parents of children with disabilities who are encountering obstacle after obstacle as they seek to secure essential and basic services for their children. These services are not available in counties Laois and Offaly, which has resulted in Laois Offaly Families for Autism, LOFFA, staging ongoing protests to highlight the absence of basic services for their children. I refer to speech and occupational therapy services, which are essential to the development of all children, especially those with autism.
LOFFA has held a number of meetings on this issue with Health Service Executive management in the past year. However, little progress has been made and the services available are declining further in both counties. Almost 1,000 school age children are on a waiting list for occupational therapy, with waiting times currently standing at approximately 47 months. This is scandalous in this day and age, especially given that these services are crucial to the well-being and educational attainment of the children in question. Such waiting lists are at odds with the provisions of the Education Act 1998 which states that every child has the right to a high quality education. The children on waiting lists in Laois-Offaly cannot attain a high quality education when basic, essential services are not in place. I highlight this important issue because it has been ongoing for some years and must be resolved once and for all.
Last year, LOFFA published a report clearly outlining the decline in the services available for children with disabilities. It is hard to believe that, rather than improving, services for children for disabilities are deteriorating. Children are waiting for three years to access speech and language therapy services and a further three years to access a psychologist. The school age team has yet to be put in place, which means no worthwhile intervention is available for the children in question. Were it not for the work of LOFFA, which represents 400 families, the position would be much worse. I commend LOFFA on the work it is doing but the children in question should get more support.
I ask the Deputy to conclude.
On the assessment of needs, the compliance rate in respect of the time limits set out in the Disability Act 2005 stands at 9% in counties Laois and Offaly. This means the failure rate stands at 91%, which is disgraceful. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, advise as to when sufficient resources will be put in place to provide necessary and basic services for these vulnerable children? What funding will be provided for the provision of such services? What are the plans for recruitment of a school age team for the children in question? Will more effort be made to improve the low rate of compliance?
I must call Deputy Barry Cowen as Deputy Nolan is eating into his time.
I commend and thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing Deputy Carol Nolan and me to ask the Minister of State questions on this issue. I join Deputy Nolan in making representations on behalf of the Laois-Offaly Families for Autism, LOFFA, whose members number 400. Fifteen years ago when the organisation was founded, members of LOFFA did not expect to be pleading for the rights of their children, families and communities to be met 15 years later.
During the recent negotiations on the formation of a Government, the Fianna Fáil Party insisted on the reappointment of a Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs. We expected that this Minister of State would have a handle on all Government legislation, across all Departments, that deals with the provision of services. The lack of this type of process in recent years is especially evident in the deficiency in services in the Laois-Offaly region. As Deputy Nolan indicated, the information collated by LOFFA in recent years proves that the provision of special educational facilities and services in the Laois-Offaly district of the Health Service Executive lags far behind comparable regions elsewhere in the country.
As a result of the efforts made by LOFFA and the consultations with public representatives, including me, in which it has engaged in recent years, the HSE and Department gave a commitment in May last year that four psychologists and 20 therapists would be appointed in the region and efforts would be made to dilute the substantial waiting list in the area and improve services and facilities for children with autistic tendencies or diagnoses. That is not to speak of the extensive waiting lists for early examinations and consultations and the services to be provided thereafter. However, no progress has been made since that commitment was given. It has been shown, for example, that in respect of the assessment of needs, the compliance rate with the statutory obligations set out in the Disability Act stands at 9%. This is shameful, unfortunate and inappropriate.
In our consultations on the formation of the Government, the Fianna Fáil Party insisted that many of the guiding principles would require the provision of early intervention, diagnosis and other appropriate services to assist people in this area.
We also insisted that public services would outnumber taxation issues by two to one. We need to see concrete evidence of this and need an indication from the new Government that this will be addressed. I expect we will be given reasons as to why progress has not been made and as to why appointments have not been forthcoming. However, Ministers must learn from that and make sufficient changes to the methods by which people are sought and appointed in order for the service to be provided to those who need it most.
I thank Deputies Barry Cowen and Carol Nolan for raising this issue and I welcome Deputy Carol Nolan to the Dáil as a first time Member of the Oireachtas.
I will begin by assuring the Deputies that this partnership Government is committed to the provision and development of services for children with special needs and to improving access for these children to therapy services. The current programme for Government commits the Government to improving services and increasing supports for people with disabilities, particularly early assessment and intervention for children with special needs. This is an issue I pushed for during talks regarding the programme for Government. While significant resources have been invested by the health sector in services for children with disabilities over the past number of years, I am acutely aware of the large body of work that needs to be done to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and I am in agreement with the two Deputies on that.
As the Deputies will be aware, health-related therapy supports and interventions for children can be accessed through both the HSE's primary care services and its disability services, depending on the level of need. In 2013, additional funding of €20 million was allocated to strengthen primary care services and to support the recruitment of more than 260 prioritised front-line primary care posts. In terms of primary care services nationally, the HSE is currently finalising its proposals to improve access to primary care speech and language therapy services and to addressing the waiting lists for assessment and therapy treatment. Some €4 million has been provided in the HSE's service plan to address this issue and details of the proposals will be announced shortly.
The HSE has also recognised that early intervention services and services for school aged children with disabilities need to be standardised. To this end a major reconfiguration of therapy resources for children with disabilities aged up to 18 years is currently under way. The HSE's national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people from birth to 18 years aims to bring about equity of access to disability services and consistency of service delivery, with a clear pathway for children with disabilities and their families to services, regardless of where they live, what school the child attends or the nature of the individual child's difficulties.
There is also a greater emphasis than heretofore on the health and education sectors working more closely together in terms of supporting children with special needs to achieve their potential. Implementation of the programme is taking place on a phased basis in consultation with stakeholders, including service users and their families. It is a key priority for the executive's social care directorate for 2016. Since 2014, the roll-out of the progressing disability services for children and young people programme has entailed targeted investment of €14 million and the provision of 275 additional therapy staff to increase services for all children with disabilities. This level of investment underlines the Government's ongoing commitment to the development of therapy services, including early intervention services.
Reconfiguration of disability services in line with the programme is already under way in the HSE midlands, with Laois-Offaly receiving a total of 27 new therapy posts since 2014. It is acknowledged that waiting times to access required therapy interventions are unacceptably high in some areas, including Laois-Offaly. I accept the points made by the Deputies in regard to the major problems there. Access to these therapy services is not always equitable, with children in some areas facing longer waiting times than in other areas, where services are better resourced and more streamlined. However, the HSE midlands is committed to reducing waiting times for assessment and treatment.
I am confident and hopeful that the additional resources being invested into both primary and disability services will have a positive impact on the provision of clinical services to all children with disabilities, including autism, and to those who may currently be on waiting lists to access therapy inputs not just in Laois-Offaly but across the country.
I call Deputy Mick Barry to raise his matter.
Do I not get the opportunity to respond?
No, Standing Orders clearly allow for just five minutes for a statement and five for a reply.
I am inordinately disappointed the Minister of State did not respond accurately or effectively to the questions on the issues raised by me and Deputy Nolan. Previously, we would have been allowed make a second contribution.
Standing Orders clearly state there are only ten minutes for each issue, five minutes for a statement and five for a reply.
What is the Luas dispute about? It is about whether the Luas drivers will get a real slice of the profits they have created for their company. In 2014, Luas drivers carried an extra 2 million passengers on the line. Transdev's profits from 2014 to 2015 increased from €24 million to €82 million and the profits for one of the two parent companies, Veolia, amounted to €352.7 million for the first six months of last year. Meanwhile, Luas drivers have been operating under a de facto pay freeze for the past five years. This situation is mirrored in hundreds and thousands of companies throughout the State, giving rise to the second question regarding this dispute, namely, will working people get a big slice of the economic recovery? So far, they have not done so.
The National and Economic and Research Institute, NERI, states that between 1995 and 2015 the share of gross domestic product going to wages declined from 55% to 44%. Of 37 countries with similar data available, in only one country - Romania - had the wage ratio declined by more. What is at stake in this dispute is whether the Luas workers can win and in doing so whether they can open the door through which other groups of workers can enter, submit and win pay claims. In that way, working people can win a real slice of the recovery.
The media say the Luas workers turned down an offer of 18%. This was not because Luas drivers are greedy. In part, it was because of the extra hours that were part of the package. Luas drivers are in a job where for health and safety reasons they need to be alert. However, first and foremost, the reason the package was turned down was because the package included a seriously reduced rate for starter staff. In other words, there would be a seriously reduced rate for young workers. The Luas drivers refused to go down the road the public sector was forced to go down and refused to open the door to a two-tier workforce. It is to the shame of the trade union leaders of public sector workers that they allowed a two-tier workforce establish a foot in the door and it is to the credit of the Luas drives that they refused to allow that happen.
Transdev is operating like a cowboy. Veolia is the largest privatiser of public water in the world and Gerry Madden of Transdev earned his management spurs across the water at Royal Mail, where he brought in cuts, outsourcing and yellow pack rates. Look at how Transdev and its management team are handling industrial relations here. They have reduced pay rates by 10% unilaterally.
They have taken away the sick pay scheme and are threatening to dock a full day's pay for every half day's strike - something which is of dubious legality - and they have threatened a lock-out. Does the Minister agree that these policies are Thatcherite policies? Does he agree that Transdev and its management team are acting like cowboys? Does he feel that such a company deserves to run the light rail system in our capital city?
The Minister will be aware of the clause in Transdev's contract that if it fails to deliver a service for 14 days or more in a year, the contract can be reviewed. I and the AAA-PBP are for democratic public ownership of light rail and all public transport. Does the Minister agree that if it goes over the 14 days, as it looks like it will, the review should be implemented and that he should give serious consideration to relieving Transdev of responsibility for running light rail in this city, given the disgraceful, Thatcherite way it has behaved and the cowboy tactics it has used in recent weeks and months?
I thank Deputy Barry for raising this topical issue. I share the pain of the hundreds of thousands of commuters who have been inconvenienced by the disruption caused to Luas services since the commencement of this industrial dispute. The fact that it looks like we will endure yet more disruption over the coming period is particularly disappointing considering that agreement was possible with the other three grades involved initially with this dispute. I hope that all in the House would share my view that the taxpayer cannot be expected to bear any financial burden in this dispute.
Any resolution reached cannot impact on the contract that is in place between Transdev and the National Transport Authority-Transport Infrastructure Ireland relating to the operation of the Luas. My focus is to protect the interests of the travelling public and to encourage the parties to work to resolve their differences. Any agreement must deliver sustainable wage rates that do not involve higher fares for the travelling public. Of course, I am aware that there are those who have sought to capitalise on this dispute to attack the very manner in which Luas services are operated. However, I think the success of the Luas speaks for itself.
Luas has been a fantastic addition to our public transport offering since its introduction in 2004. Its success is down to many things: the State's provision of the infrastructure, the private sector's provision of a quality service in a cost-effective manner, and of course the extremely hard work of the employees themselves. The Luas operating framework means we, as taxpayers, continue to own a fantastic piece of public infrastructure and allows the State to ensure value for money for the taxpayer in its operation through allowing companies tender for the right to operate it. In fact, it is a statutory requirement that there be competitive tendering before any award of any Luas contract.
As with other Members, I am of course aware that Transdev has now written to SIPTU regarding the activation of certain clauses in their collective agreement regarding the operation of the sick pay scheme. Similarly, I am aware of announcements by Transdev regarding the measures it may take if the dispute continues, as well as the fact it is now imposing financial penalties on employees engaged in strike action. These actions highlight the seriousness of the situation and underline the importance in securing agreement between both parties to resolve this dispute.
I believe that any intervention by me, or indeed by others without a legal function or role in this dispute, is not helpful. Some of these calls for intervention appear to believe that the taxpayer should be forced to take out the public chequebook or raid the State's ATM machine and underwrite the resolution of a dispute between a private company and its employees. That will not happen. Resolution of the dispute lies with the employer and the employees. If the two sides can narrow their differences, then I hope that the State's industrial relations institutions can assist in facilitating an acceptable and affordable settlement.
There have been other calls for the establishment of a specific task force to deal with the issue. I do not favour the establishment of such a task force given that we have industrial relations bodies in place which stand ready to assist the two parties in reaching an agreement. Agreement is possible. We know that from the agreement already reached with three of the four grades. Therefore the two parties need to get around a table, and if they require assistance, the State, through the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, is ready to help. I know that all of us in the House would encourage both sides in this dispute to agree a sustainable and affordable agreement which is beneficial to all sides and ends the disruption being inflicted upon the travelling public.