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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 Jun 2016

Vol. 915 No. 3

Topical Issue Debate

Charities Regulation

Over the past week, a number of revelations have come to light surrounding the suicide prevention charity, Console. This morning's edition of The Irish Times features a report that Console's former chief executive officer and his wife and son ran up credit card bills of almost €500,000 on items such as groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips over a three-year period. We are informed that the items for which the credit cards were used included large unvouched cash withdrawals, trips to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other destinations, designer clothing in outlets such as Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss, dining out, Rugby World Cup tickets and dental work. The largest single expenditure item on these credit cards was cash withdrawals of €87,026. Of these, the former CEO withdrew €66,296 and no documentation was provided to identify how these cash sums were used.

This report follows last week's "Prime Time" programme which examined how Console spent its money. These revelations have caused outrage and distress. Many of those who did voluntary work for the organisation feel especially let down.

Console was allocated approximately €2.5 million by the Health Service Executive in recent years to help it provide counselling services. Almost half of the charity's revenue comes directly from taxpayers through State bodies and the balance is raised through funding and donations from members of the public. The CEO, Mr. Paul Kelly, has resigned his position.

He said he has not intentionally done anything wrong. "Prime Time" alleged that the chief executive of Console received payments in excess of €215,000, apparently in breach of company law and Revenue regulations. The HSE told The Irish Times last week that some concerns relating to corporate governance, including the appointment of a new chairperson and reporting relationships between the management and the board, were raised in 2009. Certain control actions were put in place at the time, including the placing of a limit on the organisation's funding.

Why did the HSE sit on this audit report for more than six months when credit cards were live, buying Rugby World Cup tickets and drawing down payments? How much was Console allocated in 2016? Why did the HSE continue to fund the charity when concerns were raised about Console as far back as 2009? Was the HSE aware of allegations about the former chief executive, Paul Kelly, to the effect that he pretended to be a doctor to get a job in the Royal City of Dublin Hospital on Baggot Street and masqueraded as a brother in a religious order? Is it the case that following his resignation the chief executive told staff that he was still at the helm and turned up at the charity's office in Celbridge saying that it was business as usual?

The Minister of State may well tell us that the HSE maintains its money was properly spent and that what happened to the charitable donations was nothing to do with the executive. Nevertheless, would it not be good practice for the HSE to examine how Console spends its other moneys given that the HSE is providing so much money to the organisation?

First, I acknowledge the work that RTE's "Prime Time" has done on this issue. In the absence of publicly provided services, for example, for bereavement, the charity sector steps in. Good governance and finances must be beyond reproach because they can bring an organisation into disrepute as quickly as the adequacy or inadequacy of the service that organisations provide.

There are 4,500 charities registered in the country. This presents a challenge of oversight and shows the fragmentation in the sector. Many of these are small organisations but the example of Console shows the importance of good governance and proper financial oversight as well as the serious consequences for those who abuse their position. There should be serious consequences.

I am keen to separate the role of the staff of the charity, who are doing a necessary and fine job, from this controversy. They are paying a heavy price for what has transpired. Instead, we should be paying our attention to Paul Kelly, his wife, Patricia, and their son and other family members. They are the people I wish to direct my concern towards. They gained trust because they understood the need for the service, a service they have now compromised. The series of failures appear to span everything from company law to criminal law to Revenue obligations and the Charities Act. It is a breathtaking series of failures.

Normally, a charity has to have a set of audited accounts to receive State funding. The accountants appear to have had adverse comments on the accounts. The auditor appears to have identified those failures. Did the charity continue to receive State funding after those failures were identified? They also need to provide information on the directors to receive State funding. How could they have been family members in that case? So many flags were raised in this case that it is incredible Console continued to receive State funding.

The HSE carried out an evaluation in 2006. What controls did the HSE put in place after that? How did family members continue to sit on the board? On the "Prime Time" programme, the HSE representatives appeared to identify the need for the service as paramount. Was this policy to the detriment of putting controls in place? Given the constrained public funding, I would have thought even more controls should have been put in place at that point, but that does not appear to have happened because the amount of money seems to have escalated.

We are a generous people and we contribute a great deal to charities. That we have 4,500 charities identifies that. However, these revelations do extensive damage to public confidence. The Social Democrats have argued that there is a need for an anti-corruption agency. There must be consequences. We must stop the fragmented approach in our response whereby a scandal is followed by an inquiry and a report. A more robust approach is needed to prevent this from happening again and to change behaviour.

Did the provision of public funds continue after the internal audit was carried out? Were controls put on the board? Many questions remain unanswered but the major issue is the question of public trust. Public trust will not be satisfied unless there are consequences and unless we put systems in place to provide for those consequences.

There is little doubt that in recent years, due to the number of scandals, public trust and confidence in the charity sector has been damaged because of the actions of a handful of people in a small number of organisations. Scandals involving generous salary top-up payments, gold-plated pensions and unjustifiable expense claims have been splashed across newspapers and television screens as well as exposed through the Committee of Public Accounts. These scandals have pointed to the need for greater regulation of the charity sector as well as the need for the State to step up to the mark in terms of service provision to avoid these scandals in future and to prevent the wasting of public charitable donations and State support in future.

The public has been rightly upset and dismayed at the recent scandals surrounding the charity Console. The body is known throughout the country and widely respected for its important work on suicide prevention and with bereaved families. Its name has been dragged through the mud because some senior figures were able to take advantage of the lax regulation and unchecked expenses and accounts. Of course, Console must take responsibility for the abuse of the trust of its supporters and those who depend on its services, but the State must play a role as well because it has failed to live up to its role, in spite of previous scandals at other bodies such as Rehab. Obviously, work has been done and improvements have been made to the Charities Regulatory Authority since the Rehab scandal. Still, we have had to rely on investigative work from RTE for the truth to come out.

Many charities operating in this country do so responsibly and they should not suffer for the wrongful actions of a handful of people. Paul Kelly, chief executive of Console, his wife, Patricia, and their son, Tim, benefited from almost €500,000 in salaries and cars between 2012 and 2014 with a further €500,000 spent during that period on Console credit cards for items including groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips. Between them Paul, Patricia and Tim Kelly used 11 credit cards over a three-year period. This scandalous use of charity funds is a slap in the face to other employees, supporters and the people the organisation serves. How much work could have been done with this money? Instead it was frittered away on luxuries. It is truly sickening.

What is the Government going to do to protect against this kind of abuse in future? How will it identify past abuses and bring them to light in order that people can again have faith in the charities to which they donate?

Charities like Console exist for the most part because of the failure of the State to provide adequately for the needs of the people. We are well aware of this. There is no State-wide crisis intervention service for adults and there are long waiting lists for counselling. This is the fault of the State for failing to deliver. It forces people to provide these services through charitable bodies which, unfortunately, are open to these kinds of abuses.

I thank the three Deputies for raising what is an important issue. I share their view that Console, like all charities, relies on the goodwill and generosity of the public. A trust has been broken, and when the issue is suicide and a vulnerable part of our society, it is especially upsetting.

Console is one of the charities funded in part through the HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention, to provide counselling, therapy and support services to people who have been bereaved by suicide. The services provided by the agency are of a high standard and have been of benefit to many individuals. I do not think we would question the service that is being provided.

The HSE audit into Console was initiated in April 2015 by the National Office for Suicide Prevention following an examination of the 2013 returns from Console to the HSE, which were received in late 2014. The HSE has confirmed that concerns arose in a number of areas, including the corporate governance and financial management of the agency. In 2009 the HSE raised concerns over Console, resulting in certain control actions being taken by the National Office for Suicide Prevention at that time. The HSE also put in place a revised governance framework in 2014 for all organisations funded by it.

The internal audit process into Console is continuing and the HSE is considering the most appropriate line of action following the recent response of the agency to the audit findings. All communications with Console continue to be conducted by the HSE according to proper audit processes and having regard to appropriate legal procedures.

The Charities Regulatory Authority and the UK Charity Commission are both engaging with Console arising from the findings of the HSE audit. The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Garda Síochána are also engaged with the agency as a result of these findings. Finally, two independent experts have been appointed by Console arising from the findings of the audit conveyed to the agency.

As the Deputies have pointed out, the need to maintain public confidence in the charity sector is extremely important, particularly in view of the excellent work of benefit to vulnerable people in our society that is carried out in that sector.

I fully support the involvement of the Charities Regulatory Authority in this matter. As Deputies will be aware, the Garda Síochána is also involved in this sensitive matter as a result of the audit findings.

While this is a serious matter that needs to be comprehensively investigated, it is of equal importance that the valuable services offered by Console are not adversely affected. These services continue to be available, including the freefone 24-7 helpline. The HSE has informed my Department that it has not uncovered any issues with the standard of the Console services funded by the executive. It is important for everyone to know that when people have gone to Console, they have received the best help possible.

However, the issues uncovered by the audit are extremely serious and require detailed consideration to ensure that services are delivered in future under the most appropriate governance and financial frameworks. The HSE is in contact with the two independent experts appointed by Console, and the executive is also considering alternative arrangements for services provided by the agency, if this is deemed necessary. Consideration by the HSE of alternative service options has been under way in parallel with the audit process. It is important to allow the due process to take place. The HSE has assured me that all due process regarding the audit and legal proceedings is being followed. It is critical that confidence is maintained throughout the charities sector.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I do not believe anybody in this House questions the work Console does. It is a given that it does fantastic work and hopefully will continue to do so.

However, the problem lies with governance. It is our job, as legislators, to tackle any such problem with governance in order to ensure it does not happen again. If the Minister of State does not have the direct answers to the questions I posed, she should go back to the HSE with the following questions and seek clarification.

I will repeat the questions. Why did the HSE sit on the report for six months when the credit cards were alive and buying Rugby World Cup tickets and drawing down payment? That should not have been allowed to happen. How much was Console allocated in 2016? Why did the HSE allow Console to continue when the initial concerns were raised in 2009? If it was not for the good work by RTE and The Irish Times in uncovering this, it would have continued for a number of years more.

Crucially, why was action not taken sooner? Concerns were raised, but action was not taken. For me that does not add up. We all accept the good work that has been done and that should continue to be done. However, when problems of governance arise and questions are not answered properly, the entire charity sector suffers. It is our job to put that right and ensure it does not happen again.

Unfortunately, it is not just this charity that will suffer, but the entire sector because of the erosion of public trust. Therefore, there must be consequences. Given the number of agencies involved, is there a cross-sectoral arrangement to exchange information? Why was the board not suspended? The Minister of State said that due process should be allowed to proceed. We seem to allow due process in cases where there should be an immediate reaction so that a bad situation is not made worse where there is an issue.

There was a pattern of misrepresentation here which was breathtaking, including the CEO misrepresenting himself as a doctor and a reverend, and stating that people, who were not on the board, were on the board. If RTE could pick that up, why was it not identified in 2006 when the flag started to be raised on this?

Has section 4 of the Charities Act been commenced in order to allow the charity regulator to initiate investigations, and if not, why not?

This will affect the public trust in other charities. We need at least an interim response to this. It cannot be allowed to drift because there will be immediate impacts on the entire charity sector. We have 4,500 charities, many of which do the job that would be done by public agencies in other countries. We rely on them and we rely on public support and undermining it is a really serious issue.

I agree with what the previous speakers said. If it was any other circumstance where some wrongdoings were found to be going on a number of years earlier, action would have been taken. Given that the HSE had flagged this issue back in 2009, why did it not go to the Garda immediately? We are talking about serious allegations involving an extremely large amount of money.

This is most damaging to the NGOs, the voluntary sector and the other charities that deal with suicide and suicide prevention which do amazing work. We are hoping to be able to improve all these services nationwide. It beggars belief that it was not flagged sooner. This is 2016. One has to commend the bodies involved in the investigation.

I welcome that Console has not been adversely affected, but I fear that the staff working there are probably under much more pressure now and that should not be the case. For more than 14 years I have been involved with NGOs dealing with suicide and suicide prevention. This results in an air of suspicion being associated with people who are genuinely interested in helping others. We have to praise the people who are delivering the service, given that the State has failed to deliver the service.

I thank the Deputies again. I stress that my priority and that of the HSE and the Department has been and will continue to be to provide assurances regarding the continuity of the various services that are offered. These matters are not always as black and white as we would like them to be. There is a due process that needs to be followed. If a matter of concern about a particular individual or organisation is raised, those involved must be given time to respond to the issue in question. It is my understanding that many issues have been raised in this instance. It will take time for them to be considered. No funding has been provided to this charity so far this year. It is important to say that all funding has been stopped pending the investigation. Our priority must be to ensure alternative arrangements are put in place to make certain that these services do not stop. We must allow the Garda and the regulatory bodies to conduct the roles we have given them. As we know, the Charities Regulatory Authority has no role in investigating fraud. However, it can move this matter on to the relevant officials. It is with the Garda now. I think we need to allow due process to take place.

Job Losses

I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, is here with us. This is the first opportunity I have had in the Chamber to congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well on his work. I worked closely with him in the previous Dáil as a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. I have to say he was an exemplary Chairman of the committee over a five-year period.

Unfortunately, this is the third time in the past four years I have had to secure a Topical Issue debate in this House on job losses at Liberty Insurance, which was formerly known as Quinn Insurance. There were 285 job losses in the company in November 2012. A further 270 workers were made redundant in June 2015. Now, in June 2016, the company is facing further job losses as a result of the announcement of 70 redundancies. Liberty Insurance has been a major and important employer in Cavan town since the mid-1990s. More recently, it has been a major employer in Enniskillen and Blanchardstown. It had an office in Navan, County Meath, at one stage as well.

When Liberty Insurance purchased Quinn Insurance in October 2011, it gave a firm commitment as an international company to the Government, through which the sales process had to be approved, that it would maintain more than 1,000 people in employment in three locations. My understanding is that there is a total employment level of 470 in Cavan and Blanchardstown today. There are 211 people employed in Cavan and more than 250 people employed in Blanchardstown. The company is now seeking a further 70 redundancies. We do not know how many redundancies will occur at each site. Having spoken to many skilled, diligent and hard-working employees of the company in Cavan, I know they did not believe they would now be facing redundancy. They are very worried about their future employment prospects. Most of them are young people with family and mortgage commitments and the usual challenges of running a home and paying off a mortgage. They are very concerned about their future employment prospects. I have known this company very well since its formation in the mid-1990s. It has given very good employment to many local people and people from a wide catchment area. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy, will be familiar with it as well. I emphasise that this company plays an extremely important role in the insurance industry.

When the Tánaiste; the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor; the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar; and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, were in the House last week, I took the opportunity to ask them to ensure their Departments and the relevant statutory agencies under the aegis of their Departments will work with all the employees who are facing an uncertain future now to ensure they receive the maximum assistance. The departmental agencies need to provide the many employees who are facing job losses with the relevant upskilling and assistance to get them through this difficult period. Those who unfortunately will lose their jobs need to be given assistance to try to find employment elsewhere.

In a subsequent meeting with the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, I asked her to try to ensure her Department and the various agencies, including IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, work with Liberty Insurance. They need to impress on the company its obligation to retain the maximum possible level of employment at its locations in this country, particularly Cavan. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to replace any jobs that are lost in Cavan. I am making a direct appeal to the Minister of State on behalf of the talented and committed workforce in Liberty Insurance. They need every possible assistance to retain their employment.

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, well in his new role.

I thank the Chair and Deputy Smith for their good wishes. I wish Deputy Smith well in his new role as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence. I know he will do a good job in that position. He was a great member of the previous committee. I thank Deputy Smith for raising this issue. I apologise for the absence of the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, who is otherwise engaged on official duties. I spoke to her this morning in advance of this debate.

I assure Deputy Smith that everything possible will be done to ensure Cavan is considered an important area in the Action Plan for Jobs. I share his concerns regarding the recent developments at Liberty Insurance. The most significant area of concern following last week's announcement of job losses at the company is the proposal to reduce the number of jobs in Cavan town. This would be a significant blow to the employees and their families. We have to think about those employees who are facing an uncertain future. The reason for these redundancies is that the company has announced that it is conducting a strategic review of its business. The company has cited difficulties in the insurance sector, including perceived market volatility and claims increases. The company has highlighted its intention to strengthen its long-term competitive position in Ireland. I suppose it is heartening that the redundancy programme is being rolled out on a voluntary basis. I hope there will be people who want to take redundancy of their own free will. It is important that the redundancies which are to be offered will have attractive terms. I remind Deputy Smith that the services of the Workplace Relations Commission, which provides information on employment, equality and industrial relations rights and obligations, are available if they are required.

Despite this bad news, there has been a positive job creation development from Liberty Insurance. In 2013, it announced the creation of 150 jobs in an information technology project at its Blanchardstown operation. This project is unaffected by the recent announcement. Our immediate focus rests on IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, which are redoubling their efforts. I assure Deputy Smith that these agencies will drive job creation in County Cavan by exploring all options to replace the jobs that have been lost there. I can inform him that IDA Ireland is engaging with Liberty Insurance to develop a skills profile of the affected workforce, based on feedback received regarding voluntary redundancies, so that it can aim to match staff with other potential employers. I know Deputy Smith has raised this issue. The experience of the dedicated and skilled workforce in Cavan is extremely important. The past couple of years have been encouraging for Cavan and Monaghan. It has been particularly encouraging to see the strong performance of a number of Irish-owned companies in recent times. A number of companies across the Cavan and Monaghan area, including Lakeland, Combilift, Glanbia, Swift Fine Foods and Lagan Brick, have expanded their operations in recent times.

We will press on with our efforts to drive job creation in County Cavan, which is included in the action plan for the north east and north west that was launched on 30 November last. This plan aims to deliver an additional 28,000 jobs in the region by 2020. The key targets in this regard include an increase of at least 25% in the number of start-up companies in the region, an improvement of 25% in the survival rate of new businesses and an increase of between 30% and 40% in the number of IDA Ireland investments in the region by 2019. The sectors targeted as part of this plan include the traditionally strong sectors for the region, such as agrifood, manufacturing, engineering and tourism. There will be active promotion of the tourism potential of the lakelands region, which includes County Cavan.

Finally, both the Minister and I are fully committed to regional development. Centres like Cavan deserve to recover. Together with the relevant agencies, we will drive economic development, counteract setbacks such as this and press forward with job creation initiatives.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Will he and his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, maintain contact with the statutory agencies under the Department's remit to ensure they maintain contact with the employees who will be affected and that all possible support is given to those people when they seek upskilling, retraining and alternative employment? I must emphasise again the need for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the State's other industrial promotion agencies to maintain contact with the company to maximise the level of employment at the Cavan site. In 2012 and a year ago, when I raised the issue before in the House, the then Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, stated the company gave a commitment that it would maintain more than 1,000 jobs at the three sites. That commitment given to the Government, and specifically to the Minister of Finance, Deputy Noonan, has not been honoured. Accordingly, there is an onus on the State, through the Ministers' good offices and the statutory jobs agencies, to impress upon the company its obligations.

It has a particular obligation to the Cavan town site. The company was founded there and has expanded with additional offices in Blanchardstown. The Minister of State referred to the company's proposal to develop an IT project which will result in 150 jobs in Blanchardstown, which I welcome. However, I am concerned about the diminution in the influence of the Cavan office and the number of employees there. We need jobs in Blanchardstown but it is easier to bring jobs to the greater Dublin area than it is to Cavan. That is why I am appealing to the Minister of State to ensure the maximum level of employment is maintained in Cavan.

The loss of more jobs at Liberty Insurance in Cavan is a serious blow to the local economy. It is particularly difficult for the employees who will be affected. For the past several years, we have seen a severe reduction in the number of employees in Cavan. I know practically all of them who have lost their jobs. They are predominantly from the Cavan-Monaghan area. Those working there now are concerned about their future and need every possible reassurance and support from the State.

I agree with Deputy Brendan Smith that the regions have been most affected by job losses over the years. There is a perception that new jobs are only going into the greater Dublin area and other urban hubs. That is why we have put into place the Action Plan for Jobs which has been successful. Last year, the IDA supported 1,165 jobs in the Cavan area. Some of the jobs announcements there have been positive for the region.

I will talk to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to ensure the employees in question are looked after. They are skilled workers who have dedicated their careers to this specific area. That is why the agencies and the IDA are working with Liberty Insurance to look at the profile of those employees affected by the redundancies and ensure they can be matched with potential employers.

The Action Plan for Jobs in the northern region has done well and its targets will be met. We will establish a north west regional skills forum which will include the flow of critical skills to enterprise in the region. There will be collaboration between the enterprise agencies, the education and training boards and the institutes of technology. They will develop a marketing proposition around insurance and tentacle services clusters in the north-west and Cavan area.

I am confident we can create jobs in the region. I regret very much that there will be 70 job losses at the Cavan and Dublin Liberty Insurance offices. However, I hope the company will get the necessary voluntary redundancies and there will not be forced redundancies. I hope those taking voluntary redundancy will get a good package. Both the Minister and I will work hard to ensure jobs are brought to the region.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

There is a slight error in my submission for which I apologise. Rathangan boys' national school has nine teachers plus a principal. It is looking to go to ten mainstream teachers in the school year, 2016-17. The expected enrolment for 2016 is 270 pupils. This is well in excess of the 255 pupils required to have a principal plus ten mainstream teachers. The criteria used for the allocation of posts for the 2016-17 year looks at the enrolment on 30 September 2015. On 30 September 2015, the school had 254 pupils, just one short. Last September, the school applied for developing school status but was refused. It subsequently appealed this decision but was again refused.

The loss of a teacher will have a significant impact on the school, affecting the pupils most of all. In September, there will be 40 new entrants in junior infants, 37 in senior infants and 27 in first class. The Department prioritises infant classes to be as small as possible, so the principal will have a junior class of 25, a mixed junior-senior class of 25 and a first class of 27. If the extra teacher is not secured, the difference between class sizes in second and third class will be stark. Without the additional second teacher, second class will have 33 pupils and third class will have 37 pupils. With the additional second teacher, the principal estimates he would have 24 in second class, a combined second and third class of 23 and a third class of 23. Thirty-seven pupils to one teacher in third class is not teaching but crowd control.

Will common sense prevail and will the officials re-examine the case? I understand any national system which deals with thousands of pupils and staff has to have rules. However, there also has to be some mechanism for dealing with extreme changes in circumstances, as is the case with St. Patrick's national school in Rathangan, particularly when it is missing out by one pupil. Will the Minister review the case and allow a practical solution which could prevent excessive class sizes for a school of 270 pupils but which will only have nine mainstream teachers?

I thank Deputy Heydon for raising this issue.

The criteria used for the allocation of teaching posts are set out in an objective way and are applied uniformly across the country. In budget 2016, the then Minister announced a one-point improvement to the primary staffing schedule which reduced the average pupil-teacher ratio to 27:1. In September 2015, enrolment at Rathangan boys' national school was 254 pupils with nine classroom teachers. It submitted two appeals seeking to gain an additional teaching post for the 2016-17 school year under criterion G of the agreed appeals criteria. This covers alleviating some of the pressure on class sizes at infants level for schools which make a significant contribution by absorbing demographic growth. This appeals criterion is targeted at schools which are not gaining an additional teaching post under the developing schools criteria but, nevertheless, make a significant contribution to the provision of school places which assists the response to demographic growth within their area and, as a result, means they are under significant pressure on their class sizes at infants level.

A key indicator in the case of these schools is a significant increase in junior infant enrolments.

Several criteria are set out and it is these that the appeals board considers. One is fairly standard in that, if a school is providing an additional class, it must receive prior approval, although that is not the criterion that applies in this instance. The other point is that four tests are applied. First, it must be the case that the school is projecting, on a realistic basis, an increase in overall enrolments for the coming September and the level of the projected increase should, first, be sufficient for the school to gain an additional teaching post for the 2017-18 school year, assuming no change in the staffing schedule and, second, insufficient for the school to gain an additional teaching post for the 2016-17 school year under the developing school criteria. Second, it must be the case that the school had an increase in its overall enrolments in each of the past two years, 2014-15 and 2015-16. Third, it must be the case that the number of junior infants enrolled in the school is increasing each year and that it enrolled a minimum of 30 junior infants on 30 September 2014. Fourth, it must be the case that, as a result of the increasing enrolment of junior infants, the school is under significant pressure in its class sizes at infant level, that is, at junior infants and-or senior infants.

Each application to the appeals board will be considered on its merits. The appeals board will assess whether, in its opinion, the school is deploying all of its mainstream classroom teachers in an appropriate manner. It will prioritise those schools that, in its opinion, are under the greatest pressure in their class sizes at infant level as a result of the increasing enrolments of junior infants. Any post granted by the appeals board will be allocated on a provisional basis pending confirmation of the actual enrolments on 30 September 2016.

The appeals board determined that both appeals did not satisfy all of the published criteria as set out in the circular and the board of management has been so notified. The appeals board operates independently of the Minister and the Department and its decision is final. I am sorry that the news is not better, but these are the criteria which are set out clearly. There is no discretion in their operation.

I thank the Minister for his response, although it is disappointing. If criterion G was not satisfied, is there another mechanism the school could consider to revisit the decision? Rathangan is a growing town. The staff in the boys national school are fantastic in the work they carry out. The Government recently funded a redevelopment of the school, which is very welcome and great to have. However, there is no point in it simply funding infrastructure. Education is all about the students and, without some flexibility, we are facing a third class with 37 pupils, where a single teacher will not be able to cope and reach every child. There are days when a child will need a little extra attention and help, but with 37 pupils in the class the teacher will not possibly be able to do this. I do not imagine there are many classrooms throughout the country in which there are 37 or more pupils.

Perhaps criterion G was not the right one under which to apply and perhaps there is another angle. However, the fact is there are 270 pupils in a school with nine mainstream teachers. Using very simple maths, which the children in the school will be able to figure out, one cannot divide 270 by nine in an appropriate way. Perhaps the officials might give some steer to the school if there is another angle or perhaps there is some way by which the decision could be revisited at the end of September when it has been proved that the 270 pupils have arrived. I have grave concerns about the level of education the brilliant staff at the school will be able to provide in September, given these figures. It all comes down to having missed out by just one. I know that the Minister has to stick to the criteria and stay within broad parameters. However, I ask that the officials engage with the school to see whether there is some other mechanism that could be used, even in September.

Unfortunately, the two tests of the developing schools criteria and the alternative criterion G are the ways by which the Department has sought to provide some flexibility in the scheme. It is a scheme that has to be applied uniformly throughout the country and a school has to meet the criteria. Obviously, the appeals board exercises some judgment as to how schools are operating. It is independent and has looked at this issue on two occasions using the criteria available to it. I am sure that if it thought the school was overlooking something, this would have given it an avenue to grant approval and it would have informed the school that the application had not been submitted using the correct criteria. Unfortunately, I do not foresee an opportunity for the school to have the decision overturned, based on the numbers submitted.