Leaders' Questions

I raise a significant and very serious legacy issue affecting the State. It is one which, in many ways, informs how we continue to approach victims of sexual abuse. In the last number of weeks, we have, rightly, had very significant coverage of the mother and baby home scandal, the way in which single women were treated and the absence of any human response to that. At the same time that we have this outrage, however, the State is behaving in an appalling manner regarding those who were victims of child sexual abuse in primary schools and who have not had any or any significant redress. What many of these victims have gone through is shocking. I have met on a number of occasions an individual I can name, John Allen, who was sexually abused by a Christian Brother. For 17 years, he has tried to seek justice. He is living in a council house and his parents are in care. He is in very difficult financial circumstances and suffering from a chronic disease. He has had huge anxiety and trauma as a result of this. He has been dragged through the courts. There are many other victims as well. Deputy O'Dea has raised this issue in respect of 15 victims who are in a similar situation and have come to him about it. I raised this issue with the Taoiseach in October last.

The State fought against culpability for a long time on this one. Louise O'Keeffe had a major breakthrough in the European Court of Human Rights in 2014. I do this in a non-political way because all previous Governments are culpable in terms of fighting that up to 2014. It is since 2014 that we have had a bogus interpretation and application of the Louise O'Keeffe judgment to the victims which is just shocking, in particular in terms of this idea of a prior complaint. How in the name of God is a child supposed to know whether someone complained to a school manager about an abuser? Nevertheless, that is the litmus test for access to the redress scheme. It is cynical beyond belief. Likewise, it is clearly designed as a ready-up to limit access to the scheme. Many of the victims are in a very poor financial state and some have suicidal ideation because of the trauma that has been visited on them. They have been to the Supreme Court and back and to the High Court and back. They can no longer get redress in our courts notwithstanding the European Court of Human Rights.

I have met with Dr. Conor O'Mahony of the UCC child law clinic to go through this with him and a case is now being prepared to go back to the ECHR. We had all the outrage of two weeks ago, but this is all going on under our noses while the Government resists a proper, humane response. Are we seriously saying to these victims, notwithstanding the breakthrough judgment in the case of Louise O'Keeffe, that they will have to go back to the ECHR to get proper application of that judgment? I put it to the Taoiseach that the State needs to engage very quickly and very proactively on this and stop adding insult to the injury of victims of child sexual abuse in our primary schools.

Every generation seems to carry with it its own set of scandals. I met Louise O'Keeffe and admired her courage in making the breakthrough in her case and the years that she fought for that. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan was Minister for Education and Skills and dealing with this when the outcome eventually occurred. The State has been cautious, to put it mildly, about this. What Deputy Martin is talking about now in the language he uses here is not just those who have come forward and were sexually abused in primary schools, but about looking at all the generations who went through primary schools, some of whom might not have understood the nature of sexual abuse or whatever. It seems to me that what Deputy Martin is saying is that we should go beyond just the cases that have been mentioned by him and one that was mentioned by Deputy O'Dea. I have no idea how many thousands of cases may come forward with views that they were sexually abused or not in the primary school system which has been up and running since the foundation of the State and long before that. If Deputy Martin is asking me that we reflect further on the preparation of a further case going back to the European Court of Human Rights, that is one thing. If he is now asking me to comment on the possibility of an enormous scale of sexual abuse over 100 years in the primary school system, that is a different matter. The language of what he has been referring to has been that people in the primary school system are being abused right under our noses.

I did not say that.

Gabh mo leithscéal then. If he is referring to the particular cases where we know sexual abuse was involved, that is a different matter.

The Taoiseach knows what I said.

Deputy Martin is talking about the primary school system. There are others out there who have claimed sexual abuse. There are some people on the other side of the argument who have had allegations of sexual abuse against them who were not guilty. As Deputy Martin knows, this is an enormously complex personal set of tragedies and circumstances. When the Deputy raises an issue like this with the possibility that it could be very, very broad indeed - and he mentioned the primary school system and all of those who have gone through that system - it raises the nature of sexual or other abuse that applied through the generations and is something we need to talk about. If the question he is asking me is about John Allen or the others who were involved in cases similar to that of Louise O'Keeffe where the point he mentioned is correct there would have to be prior notification and each case is taken on its individual way, that is a different matter. Deputy Martin might just clarify for me what it is he is actually asking. Is it about those cases that are parallel to the case of Louise O'Keeffe or is it for an analysis of the entire primary school system over the generations?

I do not want to accuse the Taoiseach of being disingenuous but I believe he is being so in this case. He knows full well what I am saying. It is the application by the Government of an interpretation of the Louise O'Keeffe judgment. The invocation of the prior complaint mechanism has no moral status and, I would argue, no legal status. Only seven out of 360 cases have been settled via this mechanism. I am speaking about people where convictions have taken place and the abusers are now in jail. In John Allen's case this is exactly what has happened, but he has been pursuing justice for 17 years. People had to discontinue their cases in the courts because of the threat of legal costs against them-----

-----by the State.

Similar to what was done before.

I am not speaking about every item or accusation. I never said that and the Taoiseach knows it. Let us not introduce confusion or try to create a fog around this. It is very specific. I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister to engage with Dr. Conor O'Mahony in UCC, who has done an lot of work on this and has made submissions to Europe on it.

Thank you, Deputy.

This is not complex, it is quite simple. What happened after the Louise O'Keeffe judgment, it seems to me, is the Government asked how the hell would it limit this and how would it prevent genuine people who have been abused and whose abusers have been convicted and limit the numbers. This is what is going on and it is scandalous. What gets me every now and again is that we had all the outrage two or three weeks ago, but the current policy and current approaches by State victimise even more those who have already been abused. We must remember the Louise O'Keeffe judgment was not about prior complaint.

The time is up, Deputy.

It was about the lack of proactive measures by the State to protect children in schools such as an inspectorial regime. This was the essence of the Louise O'Keeffe judgment. What is now going on is a scandal - the degree to which these victims have been left so high and dry. Many of them are in very difficult circumstances socially, financially and healthwise. It cries out for action and I appeal to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Skills to engage humanely on this issue.

I am glad the Deputy clarified that and that he is not making a political point, in that some of these cases went through when a number of Government were in situ. The European Court of Human Rights found the State has liability in cases of sexual abuse in day schools and primary schools in specific circumstances. These circumstances are where there was a prior complaint-----

That is not correct.

-----and where the case was not statute barred.

What about the first victim?

The Government put in place a process to provide compensation for all victims of sexual abuse who qualify under these criteria.

The Taoiseach is not quoting the court judgment.

The Government is following the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights-----

That is not the ruling.

-----and the approach the Government has taken has been upheld in the Irish High Court in a recent case.

As an aside from this, yesterday the Government approved radical reform of the courts system in the country for the first time in more than 150 years-----

That has nothing to do with it.

-----to be conducted by Mr. Justice Kelly.

The Taoiseach is going well there.

Deputy Martin can nod all he likes. He had his question.

What does that have to do with the question?

Another ten years.

We are talking about the ex gratia payments.

I know the Deputies are bursting with information.

In December 2014, the State Claims Agency, which manages such cases on behalf of the State, was mandated to offer out of court settlements in current and future litigation were the circumstances of the case come within the terms of the European Court judgment and the case is not statute barred, and offers of €84,000 with costs have been made by the State Claims Agency in a number of cases. In July 2015, the Government agreed an ex gratia payment of up to €84,000 plus a specified amount for costs be offered to those who initiated and subsequently discontinued their legal proceedings against the State where it is established their claims were not statute barred prior to the case being discontinued and where they can establish a prior complaint to the school authority or an earlier school authority of sexual abuse by the school employee who abused them when they were children either in primary or post-primary schools. Survivors can submit the details to the State Claims Agency. Where plaintiffs institute claims against the State for historic child abuse which are not statute barred and which come within the terms of the Louise O'Keeffe ruling, the State Claims Agency is authorised to make settlement offers. I cannot comment on individual State cases, but this information may well be relevant to some of the names mentioned by the Deputy or maybe not.

I have all that. That is not helpful at all.

Can I just point out to Members that Standing Orders of the House, not invented by me but ordered by the House, provide for eight minutes for each question. This question has taken 12 minutes.

On Monday, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Muldoon, issued a report that is a damning indictment of the Government. His report dealt with those children who are awaiting scoliosis surgery. As the Taoiseach well knows, in some cases children living in absolute agony are waiting up to a year and a half for vital treatment. Dr. Muldoon's report highlights the reality that children with scoliosis suffer what he calls severe physical and psychological effects due to these delays. Anybody paying attention to the media over recent weeks would have heard and read the overwhelming and heartbreaking personal stories of some of these children and young people forced to wait for surgeries which could change their lives. I am sure every parent and person is horrified by these stories.

Yesterday the Irish Examiner carried the story of Jane who, after a very long wait, eventually got her surgery after travelling to England. Her words are powerful. Jane wrote and reflected:

I was just so relieved to have the operation done but now, looking back, it's annoying and makes me angry. My operation could have been so much simpler and better. I wouldn't have been out of school for months afterwards. I wouldn't have been in hospital as long.

Jane is just one of very many cases. I am sure the Taoiseach would agree that no child or young person should go through what Jane went through. No child or young person should have to feel what Jane feels. The Ombudsman is damning in his assessment of the Government's failure to address the issue of access to scoliosis surgery for children. This is nothing short of a national disgrace. As Dr. Muldoon rightly reflects, this should not be happening in Ireland in 2017. It seems the Taoiseach, the Government and the Minister for Health are quite happy to preside over the chaos that is in our health system and these children and young people pay the price for this chaos every day of their lives.

Does the Taoiseach recognise the scale of the suffering inflicted on these children and their families? Does he accept the assessment of the Ombudsman for Children in respect of the Government's failure to uphold the rights of these children?

I thank Deputy McDonald. The Minister, Deputy Harris, welcomed the report published by the Ombudsman for Children which highlighted the need for significant improvements to be achieved in waiting times for scoliosis procedures for children and teenagers in this country. Nobody can justify a child having to go through these difficulties and challenges and this pain. I understand the children's hospital group board and the Office of the Ombudsman for Children have developed a joint initiative based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to listen to the voices of children and young people using services in three hospitals in Dublin which will be rolled out this year. Improvement in scoliosis services is absolutely a priority for the Minister, the Government and the HSE in 2017.

I welcome the fact the HSE has committed that no child such as Jane or others will wait longer than four months for such a procedure by the end of this year. This will bring Ireland into line with NHS waiting times in the United Kingdom. As requested by the Minister for Health, the paediatric scoliosis waiting list action plan for 2017 has been jointly developed by the HSE and the children's hospital group. Engagement continues between the Department and the HSE towards finalising this plan. As part of the new proposal to address the scoliosis waiting list a number of children have been identified as clinically appropriate to have their scoliosis surgery in other hospitals, such as the Mater, Cappagh and Temple Street.

The Minister will meet again with the scoliosis advocacy group in the coming weeks to update them on that progress.

An additional €2 million in additional resources was allocated for scoliosis and other orthopaedic service developments this year. A further €5 million of capital funding was provided to develop a new laminar flow orthopaedic theatre and there were difficulties in recruiting staff for this additional theatre. The service development funding was used to outsource patients with scoliosis for their surgery there during the 2015 to 2016 period. Additional funding provided in 2015 facilitated 105 patients to have their treatment provided in an alternative public or private hospital. Some 15 paediatric scoliosis patients who were waiting 18 months and over for treatment were facilitated to have their surgery in the Blackrock Clinic as part of the winter initiative in 2016. In addition, the Department of Health provided another €350,000 directly to the children's hospital group for a further nine patients from Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin to have surgery in the Blackrock Clinic. Further, 34 adolescent or young adult patients from Tallaght were clinically reviewed, treated, and planned care was put in place for them at the Mater hospital.

Our Lady's Children's Hospital has also advised that the additional funding received in 2016 will facilitate a further 30 spinal fusion surgeries to be carried out there in 2017, which will be a total of 88 spinal fusions by the end of this year compared to 58 carried out in 2016. As well as an increase in the numbers of scoliosis surgeries being carried out at Our Lady's Children's Hospital and the Mater, Cappagh and Temple Street, they are all working together to develop immediate and sustainable solutions to increase capacity to address the current waiting list at Crumlin. This will include transition of children over 15 years of age to the Mater hospital and under 15 years of age as appropriate to either Temple Street or Cappagh hospital to have their scoliosis surgery in 2017. These things and the ombudsman's report have led to a significant improvement in dealing with children and young adults who have this enormous challenge and the frustration and pain that they have had to put up with.

The Taoiseach's response, far from reflecting a level of priority or a thought-out strategy for dealing with these children and young people, reflects rather the chaotic nature of his Government and the very reason why he failed to get to grips with this problem. This is not a new issue. I and others have raised the issue of children and young people awaiting scoliosis surgery many times here. I remember on one occasion, having raised it, I was accused by the then Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, of ranting. That was back in January 2016. Whether I was ranting or not is a matter of opinion but what is for sure is that I stand here now, towards the end of March 2017, and we are still faced with the same problem.

The Taoiseach did not mention the new orthopaedic ward in Crumlin in his response.

Will it be up and fully operational in April? The initial promise was that this would happen in April 2016. April 2016 becomes April 2017, and my worry is that then becomes April 2018, and all the while these children suffer and wait. A confused approach like that where the Taoiseach gives an emergency response to the ombudsman's report is not sufficient. He needs to tell us now exactly when the necessary amounts of funding will be applied, when that ward will open in Crumlin, and he needs to tell these children and young people and their parents when it is that they will have their surgery, because they have waited a long time and suffered a great deal.

The Deputy is certainly in the top league of Deputies in putting forward the problems that we have. I have never heard the Deputy give one solution or potential solution-----

-----to any of these problems.

The Taoiseach is clearly not listening.

In her eloquent remarks Deputy McDonald never referred to any of the 88 children and young adults who are going to have their scoliosis operations carried out this year and the treatment that they are going to get, to the highest level. It seems that they do not interest the Deputy. She is only interested in the usual political problems. The extra capacity will be available in that theatre that she mentioned in April of this year----

I did not hear that.

The Deputy did not miss much.

The microphone is on. The Deputy should listen carefully.

The Taoiseach needs to enunciate a bit more clearly.

Decisions about acceptance of patients by these hospitals will be made based on clinical assessment and age requirement and following review by paediatric young adult orthopaedic surgeons in these hospitals. Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin has commenced contacting families on their surgical waiting list whose children fit these clinical and age criteria, to ask their permission to share the child's medical case details and history with the relevant hospitals. Crumlin hospital expects to undertake significantly more spinal procedures by the end of 2017 than last year and will achieve significant reductions in waiting lists for scoliosis and waiting times for scoliosis patients. No child will wait longer than four months by the end of this year. That will be in line with the best practice of the NHS across the water. I hope that is of some consolation-----

And the ward in Crumlin?

-----to the parents and the children who are involved here. I am sure that Deputy McDonald welcomes that in the interests of those children and the treatments being had this year.

I have been contacted by three sets of parents over the last number of weeks. They include John and Marie whose 12 year old child has autism on the moderate to serious autistic spectrum, and has other complex needs, Claire, whose ten year-old child has Down syndrome, profound speech delay and other complex needs, and Melanie whose nine year old child is on the moderate to serious autistic spectrum and has other complex needs. All three children attend St. John of God Special School in Islandbridge in Dublin 8. This school has two classes of six. That is 12 children in total, who are mainly on the autistic spectrum, and are not very mild or mild but are affected profoundly. Three out of the 12 parents have independently come forward. A quarter of the parents at the school have actively approached me with serious issues about accessing service in the school.

The school is funded by the Department of Education and Skills and run by the St. John of God organisation, in the same grounds as the Menni services building, which is funded by the HSE. Menni services can provide multidisciplinary services to children who have complex needs. One can literally walk from one building to the other. It is a long walk for these children because they are instead met with serious problems accessing speech therapy. They have problems accessing the swimming pool, and the Taoiseach knows that the pool is for more than just swimming for autistic children. There was no July provision last year and no July provision this year because the application has not been made for the school to get the July provision. There is no health nurse, no occupational therapy or physiotherapy, no access to multidisciplinary teams and the head principal has been out of school with a long-term illness. The deputy principal has also been in and out of school with illness and is retiring this year. As a direct result, there is no effective management of the school.

The parents have sought to resolve their issues despite all these serious problems. In May last year, they wrote to the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and they have written to the Minister of State with responsibility for children and disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath. People are well aware of the problems. I submitted a question two weeks ago asking the Minister of State if he had been contacted by these parents and what was going to happen. They have been getting the bog-standard reply from private secretaries and HSE people. The principal, board of management of the school and chair of the board have also been contacted.

I ask the Taoiseach to intervene directly. It looks like parents have been sent from Billy to Jack. The Departments are not talking to each other and in the meantime parents and children cannot access the services outside school because the children are in the school where those services should be provided. I ask the Taoiseach to intervene in this, or to get someone directly under his charge to intervene and pull the Departments with responsibility for education, children and disabilities, and the Menni services and the school board together to resolve these issues. This has been going on for a long time in this school and it needs to be resolved very quickly.

The Minister for Education and Skills has set out as his priority the delivery of the best education in Europe inside ten years. A key part of that is becoming the best at supporting children with special educational needs.

The Government is committed to ensuring that all children with special educational needs, including those with autism, are given the best opportunity to fulfil their potential. Everybody would agree with that.

The overall budget for special educational needs supports has increased from €1.28 billion in 2011 to more than €1.6 billion now, with special educational needs accounting for approximately one fifth of the overall education budget and correspondingly improved outcomes for students. I am surprised by the issues the Deputy has raised. I know that, for example, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been to St. John of God's on a number of occasions and meets those parents regularly.

No, he does not.

The outline the Deputy has given is not in accordance with what one would expect from the very best standards here. The number of special classes has doubled from 548 in 2011 to 1,153 across the country now, of which 889 are special autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, classes. The number of special classes at post-primary level has doubled in the past three years and continues to rise rapidly. All of these are paid for by the taxpayer and are all in accordance with the best standards.

As the Deputy knows, early intervention classes are also available to support pupils who have ASD. The Department of Education and Skills invests over €300 million in providing additional resources specifically to support students who have autism in schools, enabling 63% of them to attend mainstream schools, 23% to attend particular classes in mainstream primary and post-primary schools, and about 14% to attend special schools.

The July provision scheme is available to support pupils with an extended school year to include the month of July. Approximately 14,000 students are diagnosed with autism, which indicates a national ASD prevalence rate of about 1.5% or one in every 65 students. Therefore a great deal of effort is being made. I will take to heart what the Deputy has said in respect of the issues she raised concerning St. John of God, including the proximity of the two buildings. However, the Deputy has made a clear statement that there are practically no services being provided at all here for these children. Let us verify whether that is the case because we are spending €1.6 billion a year on children with special particular circumstances, including specifically those with autism. I will take what the Deputy has said in the best spirit in respect of the three children she mentioned. Let us just see, however, if the facts she has outlined correspond with the reality of what we find on the ground.

It is frustrating when three parents come to me individually, not organised, and tell me that they cannot access speech therapy, physiotherapy or multidisciplinary teams. They are in a school that is supposed to provide these services. The HSE admitted that during the moratorium it lost staff in the multidisciplinary team and has a limited service to offer these children and because they are in the school they cannot get a multidisciplinary team anywhere else.

I will quote what John, one of the parents of those children, said:

If we had to describe the crisis as a short-story in a short film, it would be similar to that described below. We parents of autistic children would be invited to a magic show to be held in St. John of God, Islandbridge. The performers and magicians would be the Departments of Health and of Education and Skills. Their assistants would be the many services in St. John of God. These magicians promised us parents that we were in for a treat and would have something wonderful. The show starts and the magician shows us around the establishment whilst pointing out that our children will get the best services. Like any magician, in order to convince us, he actually shows the staff of a multi-disciplinary team. As parents we cannot believe that these special people are real.

John goes on to say that at the end of the day they have been duped because they cannot access those services. The Taoiseach needs to intervene in this matter. What I am saying is true and I want a response. The Taoiseach should pull those Departments together and deal with the issue.

As I said, we are spending €1.6 billion at the moment and the number of classes has doubled to almost 900.

That is not helping to fix the problem.

The Deputy should be clear on this point. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, has set out the figures. The number of resource teachers has gone up by 41% from 5,200 to 7,500. Since 2011, the number of special needs assistants has increased by over 22% from 10,500 to 13,115. Since the previous Fine Gael-led Government took office in 2011, and despite an adverse economic climate, the sanctioned National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, staffing numbers have been maintained at the same level. NEPS now provides a service to an additional 20,000 pupils compared to 2011. We are committed to the programme for Government's commitment to deliver an additional 65 NEPS psychologists over the lifetime of the Government. We are also committed to recruiting a total of 21 educational psychologists by September 2017.

The Deputy has cited particular circumstances from parents who have approached her and others. Let me assure the Deputy, however, that the Minister for Education and Skills has secured exceptional resources from the Government and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is the deployment of those resources that the Deputy is raising. We will query the Deputy's points with the school involved.

I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been to that school on a number of occasions and has met with the parents. He will be down there again before too long. However, the Deputy has raised specific issues and I will see that they are followed through on.

Last month, during priority questions to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, I asked about the anomalies emerging between IDA Ireland and ConnectIreland. There have been a number of articles in the Sunday Business Post which have caused me to question what actually transpired between the two agencies and if this is likely to result in a cost to the State because of the disagreement. In her reply, the Minister told me she could not go into detail because there was an ongoing legal dispute between the parties.

Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation heard allegations that ConnectIreland was possibly stymied in creating jobs in what sounds essentially like a turf war. On the other hand, IDA Ireland has noted that ConnectIreland failed by a long shot to reach the target set for the number of jobs the scheme was meant to create. Whichever side is correct, the fact remains that there is a significant and fundamental difference between the job numbers claimed both by IDA Ireland and ConnectIreland.

Earlier today, RTE's "Morning Ireland" programme reported that the verification process used by IDA Ireland to ascertain whether a connector would be due a payment under the scheme had refused a significant number of connections, yet one third of these were overturned on review. This suggests a serious issue with the verification process used by IDA Ireland.

The core issue is that jobs were potentially lost to Ireland. If this is the case, the reasons for that must be made clear. An important element of this is the potential reputational damage caused. One can imagine it from the viewpoint of someone who wanted to invest, but there are two State agencies essentially almost in dispute with each other. We must look at the confusion that would create.

The issue is time-sensitive in that the contract expires this coming Sunday. Clearly, these issues must be satisfactorily addressed, and not just behind closed doors, before any new contract is entered into or the current one is cancelled. Why is there such a fundamental difference between IDA Ireland and ConnectIreland regarding job numbers? Who is nearer to the truth here? If it transpires that ConnectIreland is telling the truth, how much public money will IDA Ireland have to fork out in compensation? Is that figure likely to be many millions, as has been reported in the media, with sums of around €14 million circulating? Will IDA Ireland or the Department be called upon to pay out compensation if that is the case? Has any amount been factored into the budgets of IDA Ireland or the Department for this?

I am quite sure the Deputy welcomes the improvement in the numbers of people working in the country.

That is not what I asked about.

Unemployment has fallen from 15.2% to 6.6% with over 2 million plus people now working in Ireland, spread throughout the regions in every sector.

I was recently accused in Cork of being responsible for clogging up the roads with people going to work which is, I suppose, a challenge of success. I was interested in this initially because this was borne out of an initiative that came from the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum, with the aim of involving the global diaspora in job creation here when things were very bad. The intention was that if a person's son, cousin or daughter or whoever was working for a firm in Brazil, for example, and if that firm intended to invest in Europe, then that employee would suggest that if the firm was going to invest in Europe, it might consider Ireland. If sustainable jobs in Ireland resulted from this a finder's fee would be made available for the person who initiated that.

It was never intended that the numbers involved would be on the scale of IDA Ireland as it generally deals with foreign direct investment in this county. Many of these would be smaller job numbers in places where IDA Ireland would not normally be in a position to invite or attract jobs. There could be four, ten or 20 jobs, and the number might grow subsequently. That was the intention of the scheme. I remember, arising from the 2011 Global Irish Forum, meeting all of the players involved in Government Buildings and we set that up. It started off in a very successful way.

The Taoiseach is not answering the questions.

The Deputy has had her say. There are three issues here. One is the legal issue, which I cannot comment on. That is in respect of the financial situation. The second is the number of jobs that were, and are, created by the ambassadors and by the connectors of ConnectIreland. The third relates to the current position. This was a four-year scheme. It was extended, after contact was made with Government, for a further 12 months and that runs out on Monday. Irrespective of whether we wish it to continue after Monday, there would have to be another tender process. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is carrying out a review of the issues that pertain to the Department, IDA Ireland and those numbers. I cannot comment on the legal dispute here.

That review has not started.

There is a discrepancy between the numbers concerned here.

The terms of the review are not agreed.

The challenge is that IDA Ireland is the statutory body, which does a superb job in attracting jobs into Ireland-----

The review has not even started. It is closing down on Monday.

-----but if somebody in another country wants to invest in Europe and an indication is given to them to consider Ireland, it is through IDA Ireland, or the agency dealing with investment into the country, that that contact is made. If it is only for five or ten jobs however, then they are more important in Kinvara or Ballyvary than they might be in central Dublin.

So why close it down?

Jobs are jobs however, and when we had none we were very lucky to get any kind of jobs in here. Deputy Howlin knows this because he was a member of the Government that approved it.

Is the review under way?

I cannot comment on the court case but look forward to seeing the Minister's review. That is difficult given that there is litigation at the moment. The intention was to have smaller numbers dispersed throughout the country. That was the original intention, which worked very well initially.

We were told yesterday that the terms had not been agreed yet.

I am disappointed that this dispute has arisen.

Given, as the Deputy has said, some of these matters are sub judice, we need to be careful.

Whether a review is under way or not is certainly not sub judice.


Deputy Quinlivan, this is Leaders' Questions. The Deputy is not his party's leader. Please hold on.

We were told the terms were not ready.

The Taoiseach's reply was a disgrace.

An absolute disgrace.

It is very disingenuous to question whether I or others support jobs. Of course we support investment in jobs in this country. I know what the "succeed in Ireland" programme is about. I think most people in this House know what it is about. I asked the Taoiseach specific questions and I believe I am entitled to a response to those. The contract ends on Monday. There are people employed by ConnectIreland. What are they going to do on Monday? Is there an issue in respect of their jobs? When did the issues in respect of the number of jobs that do not seem to reconcile between ConnectIreland and IDA Ireland emerge?

The contract, as the Taoiseach has said, ended last year and it was continued. We were told it was continued so that there could be an orderly wind-down. Were there similar disagreements or concerns last year? Are there additional liabilities or potential liabilities as a consequence of extending that time? The Department has been lobbied by people like, for example, John Moran, on ConnectIreland. It would be useful to know who is lobbying. Is there a review actually taking place? It is time-sensitive in that this is closing down on Monday. The Taoiseach needs to address that issue.

Of course I know the Deputy supports jobs. I just thought it conveniently absent from her contribution that she never mentioned the fact that we have more than 2 million people working in the country now.

The Deputy is asking about ConnectIreland.

That is the point I am making. Perhaps the Deputy genuinely forgot about it.

This is a question.

I will allow her that. The board of IDA Ireland considered this ConnectIreland scheme in November 2016. I am a big supporter of ConnectIreland. One of the reasons it was extended for a further 12 months was to allow for this very matter to be dealt with. I am disappointed that it has not been dealt with. I want to assure Deputy Catherine Murphy that if the contract were to be extended, we would be legally bound to go to public procurement. It might be ConnectIreland which would be awarded an extension of that contract, or it might not be.

The Department can take it up without a contract. The Taoiseach's officials told us yesterday that can happen.

I am not suggesting that the Minister and the Department in their review of this will agree that there should not be some continuation of a scheme like ConnectIreland. It has brought a verifiable number of jobs to dispersed regions of the country, jobs that are very valuable in those regions. I was always a strong supporter of this, with the ambassadors, but it seems to have run into difficulties between both the ConnectIreland personnel and IDA Ireland. I cannot comment if that was in regard to the litigation there but I can say that if the Minister was to extend this contract, she or IDA Ireland would have to go for public procurement. The board considered that last November and it made its decision on that.

The Department can take it up without going out to contract.

I think it is in order, and right and proper, to consider all of the issues to be taken into account by the Minister's review.

Is the review under way?

I cannot comment on the legal case.

Is the review under way?

The jobs are verifiable one way or the other. I am very glad that people are working.

The review is not under way.

There is no review.

The terms of reference have not even been agreed.

They add to the overall number, whether it be 500 or 1,000, that is claimed by ConnectIreland versus IDA Ireland.

It is closing down on Monday.

IDA Ireland is a world standard agency for bringing investment into the country.

Is there a review?

Is the review under way or not?

It is disappointing that it has ended up in this fashion.

The Taoiseach did not answer one of the questions and it is closing down on Monday.

It is closing on Monday. Is the review under way?

Obviously the court case will make its way.

Can we get answers?