1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee which has responsibility for issues pertaining to public transport. [17837/17]
Vol. 947 No. 1
1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee which has responsibility for issues pertaining to public transport. [17837/17]
2. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when it plans to meet next. [17840/17]
3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when it will next meet. [17912/17]
4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee which is responsible for public transport matters; and the membership of same. [17917/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action has responsibility for oversight of delivery of key infrastructure and associated policy, including commitments in the programme for Government. In addition, the committee addresses the climate change challenge in terms of domestic policy, including transport, and in respect of Ireland's EU and international obligations.
The Committee does not have any role in respect of industrial relations matters in public transport or any other sectors. It last met on 30 January and a date will be fixed in due course for the next meeting. I chair the Cabinet committee and the membership is comprised of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach. I want to ask the Taoiseach, precisely, about the urgency of the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action. The reason I believe this is urgent is because the Taoiseach has said that he does not interfere in industrial relations but we have an ongoing dispute, which is a national crisis, in our public transport. It is now in its 20th day and as we speak, the parties are in the Workplace Relations Commission meeting. I draw the Taoiseach's attention to the fact, as already outlined by Deputy Boyd Barrett in the Dáil last week, that Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, now has €100 million extra from VAT that it had not calculated for and was not expecting. A figure in the region of €18 million or €19 million could sort out the deficit in Bus Éireann. Will the Taoiseach comment on the fact that this money is lying there and if it could possibly be used to save the company? When the issue was raised of the €17 million that could be saved by paying Bus Éireann the equal amount of social welfare subsidy for free travel as is paid to the private operator, I noted that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, responded by stating this was like comparing the price of free travel with the price of subsidising Coca-Cola. This indicates to me the utter class snobbery driving this Government. The Government - and especially Ministers such as Deputy Varadkar who were born and bred with a silver spoon in their mouths - does not understand ordinary working-class people and the needs of the poorer and more vulnerable people in the State for free public transport and for public transport that works and delivers for the most marginalised. Nor does it understand the needs of the bus workers and their families who have now been without wages for three weeks.
Time please Deputy.
There is €100 million sitting in the coffers of Transport Infrastructure Ireland that could end this dispute in the morning, save the company and save the conditions and pay of those drivers.
Thank you Deputy.
What does the Taoiseach say to that? What does he say to the dismissive attitude of his Ministers, like the Minister, Deputy Varadkar-----
Deputy, I must give others the opportunity.
-----on the issue that is a crisis for most people in the State?
Will Members agree that we shall take all the supplementary questions now? Agreed. I invite Deputy Boyd Barrett on the same group of questions.
One very important part of our infrastructure is ports and harbours. I want to know if the Government has discussed the very long-running saga of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. The Harbours Act, brought forward by the Government, suggests that the harbour company will be transferred to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. This has still not happened although most other harbour companies have been transferred to their local authorities. This is because a harbour company quango and its very highly paid executives have frustrated the process by refusing to co-operate with the local authority in a due diligence examination of its financial situation. A risk assessment arising out of the due diligence process has identified a whole series of very serious financial risks. The company is refusing to give the information coming out of the risk assessment on those financial risks to the local authorities, to public representatives or to anybody on the grounds of commercial secrecy. This saga has gone on and on and yet we have had crazy plans for cruise ship berths costing millions of euro. We have a beautiful amenity which is just sitting there and rotting while the harbour company quango plays games with the local authority. Will the Cabinet committee discuss this and will it ensure that the Harbours Act is acted upon so this quango is dissolved and we can have real accountability over this critical piece of infrastructure?
I call Deputy Brady on behalf of Deputy Adams.
I am sure the Taoiseach is well aware that the Bus Éireann strike is in its 20th day. Talks at the Workplace Relations Commission collapsed yesterday. Following that, the unions and management referred a number of issues to the Labour Court for non-binding arbitration. The Labour Court heard the issues from yesterday and the talks have resumed this morning. It is clear, however, from the emerging speculation around the possible outline deal that any agreement that might emerge could see significant job losses within Bus Éireann. It would seem that this would also seriously undermine Bus Éireann's ability to provide an essential public transport service to communities and towns right across the State. The Government's refusal to engage constructively in the dispute has contributed significantly to the duration and impact on the travelling public. The financial crisis in Bus Éireann has been exacerbated because of the refusal of the key stakeholders, including the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the National Transport Authority and the Minister, Deputy Ross, to protect an essential public service. Rural Ireland has been brought to a complete standstill. Local businesses are being starved of customers because many people are unable to get to town centres and retail areas. The Government's stance reflects the lack of priority given to rural Ireland. What is the Taoiseach and his Government doing to bring this strike to an end? What is he doing to ensure the financial crisis within Bus Éireann is addressed?
One thing that has become absolutely clear during the current Bus Éireann dispute is that the Government does not have a transport policy. While the transport portfolio has been held by various high-profile Ministers over the last six years, the Government's only strategy is to try to get through the latest crisis. There is no sense that there is a policy on what level or quality of public transport services should be available or what the State subvention levels should be. Each of the public transport companies is being defined by what it can do without going bankrupt, rather than working to implement an overall vision for access and quality. If we had that policy framework in place, we may have never seen this Bus Éireann strike. The workers have gone through an awful lot of sacrifices and have lost a lot over the last four weeks. Belatedly, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has said he will convene a forum and that the free travel scheme and the public service obligation will be applied differently. It is past time for the Government and the Minister to produce a formal statement of Government objectives and resources with regard to public transport provision in Ireland. The overriding feeling of people on the ground is that had this dispute been in Dublin, it would have been resolved a long time ago. We need to be very careful that we are not going down the road of a low-wage public sector economy. That would be detrimental overall to society and to the value of public sector interventions.
I am concerned that there is no clear enunciation of a transport policy from the Government. It is unacceptable that this company is so distant from Government, although the Government owns it 100%, that the Government cannot have a vision of what public transport in Ireland should look like and how Bus Éireann will fit in to that vision. Most people are aghast at the complete lack of involvement from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. He has emerged occasionally to say that he has no involvement in the dispute and cannot have any involvement. The Taoiseach knows that in various disputes over time, Ministers have been involved in trying to assist matters especially when the actual viability of the company was at stake.
May I ask the Taoiseach about the attitude of the Government in terms of public transport? Will there be a clear statement of what bus transport in Ireland should look like and how it should be constructed? Are we just to presume that it is to be a matter for the market to determine? Will the Government accept the view put forward by the Labour Party? When we were in Government together, we agreed on having minimum standards of decency for workers and that there would be a negotiated fixed floor below which bus drivers could not fall so that public and private would be on a level playing field.
Deputy Bríd Smith raised a question about the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. I disagree with her comments about him. Ministers are well in tune with the many sections of society that make contact with them daily. This case is before the Labour Court. I hope that will result in an early solution which will bring about a return to work for the drivers and members of Bus Éireann, and that members of the travelling public have the service restored to them as soon as possible.
For Deputy Boyd Barrett's information, the committee does not deal with individual issues such as those he mentioned in respect of the harbour company in Dún Laoghaire. It is an issue that has been going on for quite some time. I am not sure of the responsibility here in respect of the independence of these companies. I will inquire for the Deputy as to whether the issue that is causing the problem can be resolved or expedited. It is a magnificent facility and has been for so many years. There is always room for potential for the future. I know the Deputy is interested in that.
Deputy Brady mentioned the question of the Labour Court. It is not for me to comment on the court's independent way of, we hope, bringing about a resolution. Things are not at a standstill in rural Ireland. I pass through large swathes of it every week. The Government is expanding the public bus service in rural Ireland by increasing the amount of public service obligation money pumped in there and increasing funding to Bus Éireann and to the rural transport programme as well. Bus Éireann got a 21% increase in its PSO funding in 2016. Total funding for both PSO and rural transport will amount to approximately €277 million this year, which is a substantial amount and a €28 million increase on last year. Will the Government subsidise the Expressway routes? No. They are commercial services operating in competition with other commercial services. As with any other commercial operator, Bus Éireann cannot receive taxpayer funding for those services. Taxpayer support is available for public service obligation services. Bus Éireann receives taxpayer funding for those socially necessary but financially unviable services that form part of its legally contracted PSO network with the National Transport Authority. I am sure Deputy Brady understands that.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister for Social Protection have instructed officials in respect of the free travel arrangements to which Deputy Micheál Martin referred. I hope that will take effect immediately. There was mention of transport policy. Obviously, there are competitive forces at work in the private sector providing transport to many locations throughout the country. The National Transport Authority has a very robust, expanding rural transport scheme. In respect of this particular problem which caused the Bus Éireann dispute, namely, the Expressway service, where Bus Éireann is in competition with private enterprise on motorway routes, if its buses have to come off the motorway and go through towns and villages, it causes a delay for passengers who want to get from point A to point B. The National Transport Authority has said that any changes brought about as a result of a settlement of this dispute can be taken up by the National Transport Authority in servicing areas that might not be serviced in future and by Bus Éireann but that is a matter-----
Will the Taoiseach answer the question about the €100 million that Transport Infrastructure Ireland has-----
This matter is before the Labour Court, as Deputy Smith is aware.
I am asking for the Taoiseach's comment on what will be done with that €100 million.
Please, Deputy Smith. Give the Taoiseach an opportunity.
They are aware of that, as is the Deputy. I will leave the Labour Court in its independence to make its decisions. Deputy Howlin raised the point-----
The Taoiseach is not answering me.
It is an infrastructure question.
It is very frustrating to come here and ask a question and not get an answer.
I am telling the Deputy that I am not interfering in the issue of the Labour Court attempting to resolve this dispute.
I am not asking the Taoiseach to interfere. I am asking him about the €100 million that Transport Infrastructure Ireland has.
Deputy Smith is mentioning what she thinks is a facility to end this dispute. The Labour Court-----
I asked if it could help the company survive. Will the Taoiseach please answer the question?
I have no control over the Taoiseach's responses.
The Labour Court is dealing with the matter. It is hoped this dispute will be resolved. The court is completely independent in its deliberations, as Deputy Smith is aware.
Deputy Howlin raised the need for the forum that the Minister, Deputy Ross, has mentioned. If this matter is settled up, I would expect that out of that forum will come repeated emphasis on the overall strategy for the public transport system.
The 15 minutes have expired so we will move on to responses to Questions Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive.
It would be great if we could get answers to direct questions during the 15 minutes.
5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [16551/17]
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health last met; and when its next meeting is due to be held. [17831/17]
7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health last met; and when it next intends to meet. [17853/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5, 6 and 7 together.
The Cabinet committee on health last met on 21 March. It will meet again on 27 April. That response is inside the time limit.
I welcome the agreement between Vertex and the HSE. We got positive news yesterday on the provision of Orkambi and Kalydeco for sufferers of cystic fibrosis, CF. It comes during the national awareness week for cystic fibrosis. I commend Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, all the families and their supporters for their persistence in campaigning for this issue over a considerable period. However, the crisis around CF therapies is also evidence of the wider crisis in our health service. Two weeks ago, Dr. Tom Keane, former director of the State's cancer control programme, said that if any other country had the kind of problems found in the Irish health service, the Government would not survive. He described the health service as being close to total systems failure and called for the delivery of health care to change before there is what he described as a profoundly negative impact on people dependent on the public system.
The Towards 2026 report argues for greater accountability, clarity on funding, better leadership and stronger political support. The Government has failed dismally on all of these fronts. This week, we learned that there are 82 unfilled posts across community mental health services that cater for children and adolescents with severe mental health disorders, including suicidal youngsters. This is a damning indictment of the Government. What measures will it take to address this matter urgently?
I also pay tribute to Cystic Fibrosis Ireland on an extraordinary and very fair campaign by Philip Watt and his team. I also pay particular tribute to Jillian McNulty, who very bravely led the campaign for Orkambi. There are lessons to be learned. I wonder if the Cabinet committee has considered the broader question of how we deal with orphan drugs. That is the term given to drugs used for rare diseases. In respect of conditions and diseases that are particular to the Irish DNA and are more prevalent here than in other areas, there is a need for a more effective approach from the Government to the approval of drugs.
In the earlier phase of this campaign, there was no engagement going on if the truth be told. That is what worried me more than anything. There was then an attempt to undermine the quality of Orkambi as a drug.
I raised the matter with the Taoiseach several times on Leaders' Questions. Despite all the leaks to the various newspapers, it took six weeks to two months to get acknowledgement that Orkambi is a valid game-changer in terms of its impact on people with cystic fibrosis of a particular mutation. That has concerned me somewhat and it speaks to a lack of an overall policy.
I am unsure whether Fine Gael has a policy on health anymore. Compulsory health insurance was dropped. The damage of the Reilly and Varadkar years has been left in place. One of the core issues that emerged from that period was the degree to which there was direct interference with transparent and honest service planning within the HSE. Repeatedly, Ministers have required the HSE to promise a level of service for which the required funding has not been provided. Will the Taoiseach provide an assurance that no member of Government has interfered with the wording of this year's service plan to cover up a mismatch between promises and funding? Can the Taoiseach explain why we have had repeated failure to implement funding for mental health services? The Government's existence rests on having promised this funding. The Government has not delivered in terms of mental health funding as promised this year.
I commend the Government and all those involved, especially Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, on their efforts to reach a conclusion on the Orkambi issue. I hope it will be a pathfinder for similar issues as they arise, especially for discrete groups of people who suffer terribly despite the fact that breakthrough medicines are available.
Will the Taoiseach address the status of a Government commitment, that is, free GP care for those under 12 years? I am sure this matter was discussed at the Cabinet sub-committee. The Taoiseach will remember that this was announced in October 2015 for budget 2016. It was announced 18 months ago when we were in government together. A total of €10 million was allocated in last year's budget to provide GP visits for children aged between six and 12 years. Where is this provision? When will we see it fully rolled out?
Does Deputy Burton have a short question?
Before the Christmas recess, I brought to the attention of the Taoiseach the very distressing case of a young child aged nine years who has scoliosis. Not only does she have scoliosis, she also has severe intellectual disabilities. I received some letters from the Taoiseach's office and from the Minister for Health, who spoke to me personally. He reassured me that, at the outside, by now the child would have received the urgently needed operation. As the Taoiseach can imagine, the child's mother is in touch with the hospital all the time but she and her daughter have simply been told to wait and wait. The operation now seems to have been put well back into the next couple of months. We were sure it would have been performed by now. I have not raised the matter with the Taoiseach again since then.
I cannot understand a system that keeps a child of nine years with a well-diagnosed condition and exceptional other difficulties and issues waiting. Notwithstanding all the funding that was provided to renew the operating theatre at the hospital in Crumlin during our period in government – a matter on which we all strongly agreed and which we supported – it seems that the hospital is now down to performing one operation per week. That is unbelievable. Will the Taoiseach give us an update on what is happening? Children are in pain and their families are experiencing some level of desperation.
I cannot give Deputy Burton an answer to her question because I do not have that information, but I will find out for her. We have discussed previously the opening of a theatre which was paid for by the taxpayer for some years but which has not been opened. On the previous occasion on which this was raised, my understanding was that the appropriate and qualified personnel would be there to commence performing operations. Let us find out. I will come back to Deputy Burton on that.
Deputy Micheál Martin raised the question of health policy. It has always been accepted that Orkambi is a game-changer in the sense of improving the quality of life of patients with cystic fibrosis. The problem lay with the price being demanded by the company involved. This is one of the most expensive drugs ever in the history of the State. The pharmacoeconomics group met the company. As Deputies are aware, a change has taken place whereby the group makes a recommendation on whether a given cost is valid. The Minister proceeded to make contact with other Ministers in other countries where similar problems have arisen. In any event, I am pleased the matter has been resolved. It was never a case of not recognising that Orkambi is a valid drug for improving the quality of life for patients. Cost was the issue. The earlier exchange was on looking at the process. This is not confined to Ireland. If this is the first case in Europe of having a portfolio of drugs that provide certainty and stability for patients, then that is probably the way to go. It may well reduce the cost over a five or ten-year period. While Orkambi and Kalydeco will cost a substantial amount of money over ten years, they give that certainty and emotional support for patients who suffer from cystic fibrosis.
I agree with the various speakers that cystic fibrosis patients have an exceptional commitment to dealing with their particular challenges. I am pleased that in recent years we have had public expenditure in cystic fibrosis units at various locations throughout the country. The improvement in the air quality in these centres - the air is changed so many times every hour - adds greatly to their comfort and ability to go to the next day and so on. In that sense I am pleased this matter has been resolved. I hope the Minister for Health will now be able to move on to other drugs companies and discuss portfolios of drugs for particular categories of patients who need them.
Deputy Micheál Martin spoke to me before about the mental health situation. I know he is concerned about it. I will give the Deputy an update from the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, on where we stand, what money is being spent and on what it is being spent in order that we can see whether we can progress that matter.
Deputy Brady referred to Professor Keane. Obviously, he did his job with the cancer centres of excellence. That was a difficult issue for many hospitals. I disagree with Deputy Brady's suggestion that there is anything like a total systems failure. The vast majority of people who have gone through the public health system have nothing but credit and praise to offer in respect of those who work in the system. In many cases, staff are working under pressure. A total of €14.6 billion has been allocated for 2017 - up €1 billion on last year. We can see how issues can intervene in that in the light of the Orkambi and Kalydeco question.
A total of 60 more people are lying on trollies.
The problem is to get inside the system in a way that is efficient and realistic for people. That is why we have had pressure in emergency departments. In the context of Wexford General Hospital, for example, the layout of the new emergency department has greatly eased the pressure that used to apply there. That is what we need at many other locations as well and that is part of the plan for the capital expenditure programme. The Minister has visited various hospitals throughout the country. There are particular pressures in some. The filling of posts is another issue. An incentive is being set up by the HSE to bring back nurses and other medical personnel to work in Ireland because we need them.
Deputy Howlin referred to the general practitioner contract. Several measures have gone through, as the Deputy is aware, including the universal GP services for all children under six years and all persons aged 70 years and over.
We did that at the time. I am asking about the next stage.
I know that. The category Deputy Howlin mentioned is being examined with a view to implementing it. We did the asthma cycle of care for children under six years and the diabetes cycle of care for adult patients with type 2 diabetes. Obviously, there needs to be a decisive shift in the health service towards primary care.
When will it be provided?
A number of primary care centres are being built. Many of these close at 5 p.m.
We need to look at the contract with the GPs in terms of the way that service is provided. The development of a new and modernised contract, which has not been done for years, is an issue the Minister is very concerned about and one he is obviously working on. He has stated his wish to have that kind of consultation with the GPs to help to chart a future for primary care services. The process that he set up here-----
When will the under-12s get their GP care?
I do not have a date for that but I will come back to Deputy Howlin on it. The process will include consultation of members of the public, service users, advocacy groups, a range of health professionals and so on. I will advise the Deputy on what the state of progress is.
8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the role his Department has in the event of a national emergency. [16727/17]
National emergency planning and management in this country is based on the lead Department principle, that is, the Department with lead responsibility in the area in question takes the lead in co-ordinating the response to the emergency.
The framework for major emergency management lists some 50 types of emergency and sets out the lead Department for each. The framework is available on the website of the office for emergency planning in the Department of Defence and is currently being updated.
When a co-ordinated national level emergency response is required, the lead Department will request the office of emergency planning to convene a meeting of the national emergency co-ordination group. The national emergency co-ordination centre is activated and staff from the office of emergency planning provide support to the lead Department in chairing the national emergency co-ordination group.
My Department does not have a lead Department responsibility. However, if the nature of the emergency warranted a special Government meeting, my Department, with my agreement and at the request of the lead Department and the national emergency co-ordination group, would call such a meeting.
In addition, officials of my Department attend national emergency co-ordination committee meetings in support of the lead Department and I am briefed as required as the emergency progresses. Also, a representative of the Government information service attends such meetings and provides support as required for the provision of information to the media.
As the question relates to emergencies, I am sure the House will wish to join me in expressing our appreciation of the work and commitment of Ireland's emergency services. This was shown most recently in the loss of Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 and I wish to express my sincere sympathy to the families of Dara Fitzpatrick and Mark Duffy, and also to the families of Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith, who are still missing. I also thank all the members of the emergency services and indeed all those who have been taking part in the search for Paul and Ciarán and those who have been supporting them. The local community in general and the people of Blacksod have shown absolutely phenomenal support during these difficult days. Last weekend, there was an extraordinary turnout from all over the country, not just the local region, with every kind of facility searching the thousand square miles in the hope that one or both of the bodies could be recovered. We hope and pray that they will be found soon.
I associate myself and my party with the remarks of the Taoiseach with regard to the ongoing search for the two missing crewmen of Rescue 116. There has been extraordinary public support and anguish empathising with the bereaved. These are people who have selflessly given their lives in this instance to support communities. I am reminded of that every time I cross Wexford Bridge to go home and see the flag at the RNLI station permanently at half-mast until those bodies are recovered.
With regard to emergency planning, in the past we talked about what might constitute an emergency, such as a nuclear explosion at a British nuclear plant and how that would impact on us. I do not want to get the Taoiseach into trouble, as I know a former Minister of State got into a lot of bother answering a question like this about iodine pills many years ago. I believe we need to think beyond just those sorts of incidents. Please God there will not be an explosion or mishap in a nuclear institution in Britain, but we have to plan for that.
A much more likely attack is a possible terrorist attack. We would be foolish to think that we are immune from that in this jurisdiction. I know that An Garda Síochána monitors some people in this country and so on. We need to up our game in this area. I believe it is a good thing that part of the review of An Garda Síochána will look at whether we need a bespoke security agency bringing together the best of military intelligence with Garda intelligence.
The cybersecurity area is where we are probably most prone to attack. It could cripple us. Over the years, all of our Departments have been subject to cyber attacks, some of which did not go into the public domain. It could have been absolutely crippling if, for example, the Department of Social Protection was shut down by a cyber attack. It would be hugely disabling for us. With regard to preparing for eventualities now in a completely changed environment in which even a football team on the way to a football match is not immune to attack, does the Taoiseach think we need to up our own game? I ask for his own thoughts on the need now perhaps to have a bespoke security agency separate from normal policing, which would in a way free An Garda Síochána to be the community police force it was initially envisaged to be, and on the need to up our game to prepare ourselves for the real challenges that exist.
It is a very valid question that Deputy Howlin raises. The way these are structured depends on the emergency. If it is infectious animal diseases, feedstuff contamination or food safety, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine would obviously take the lead. Tsunami warnings, communication services, ICT, cyber attacks or energy are led by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. Nuclear accidents will move under the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment as well. Hazardous materials, radioactive contamination, environmental pollution, severe weather flooding response, coastal erosion, water supplies, fire, landslide response, building collapse, accidental explosions-----
There are probably not emergency experts for each of those areas in each Department.
They are the lead Departments for those kinds of emergencies. I take the Deputy's point, for instance, in respect of cyber attacks. We now have such an enormous investment in digitisation in so many companies throughout the country. This is an issue that needs to be looked at. By coincidence, I have called a security meeting for tomorrow, arising from the incident in Sweden and the incident involving the football team, Borussia Dortmund. These are things that we cannot be distant from. We are a non-aligned, non-aggressive country, and though the threat is always present, it is not at a high level in Ireland and we try to keep it that way.
Sweden would have thought the same.
However, as the Deputy pointed out, it is not beyond a possibility that issues can arise in Ireland.
In respect of the commission that is going to look at the root and branch analysis of the kind of police force that we need for the next five, ten and 20 years, this is certainly a subject that should be discussed in the context of intelligence, where it should come from, whether it should be shared, what the entities are, what the roles of the Department of Defence and military intelligence are, what the real responsibility of policing is as against security and all that goes with that now, given the nature of cross-country intelligence, digitisation and the way information flows from one to the other. Other areas like aviation security and terrorist activities are issues that are led by the lead Department, but as Deputy Howlin will know, Government will respond immediately in the unlikely event, we hope, of any of these things happening. I take the Deputy's central point that perhaps the Oireachtas should have the opportunity to reflect on these things. In respect of the central issue, once the commission is set up by the Tánaiste for a detailed analysis of the future of both policing and security, it is something on which we should reflect and for which we should make arrangements.
When an emergency happens in Britain, everybody expects what is known as COBRA, which is basically the Cabinet Office emergency unit, to come into existence under the auspices of the British Prime Minister. Is it appropriate that we would have our own prime ministerial command centre to deal with any emergency that might arise and to bring in the particular expertise we need? Bluntly, it is not my experience that one would go through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. There are experts in every Department, right down to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, although I do not know what issue would affect it - maybe the collapse of a national monument. We certainly do not have that skill set available in every single Department and it seems unnecessary to have it available. What is needed for a country of our size is one set of crisis managers who can take command under the auspices of the Taoiseach and regardless of whether it is an agricultural issue, a food issue or a nuclear issue, bring in whatever expertise is needed to assist in the management of that. Is there a view that a COBRA-style office might at least be discussed?
When we talk about national emergency and the role of the Department of the Taoiseach, it is opportune to again express thanks to all in the emergency services who put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis for the citizens of this country and those who visit. In particular, as Deputy Howlin said, we remember the crew of Rescue 116, Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith and their heroic contribution to life saving in this country.
I put it to the Taoiseach that our current national arrangements for emergency management have effectively been left unchanged since they were first introduced by Deputy O'Dea a decade ago. Even though the scale and nature of potential emergencies has evolved dramatically since then, all structures are the same and there is no legislation concerning co-ordination of a State response to a major emergency. Ireland is one of the only countries in the world without any form of statute legislation concerning the structure for responding to national emergencies, such as widespread flooding or a public health disaster. It is the consistent model internationally that the prime minister's office takes the lead responsibility. I believe it is time for us to review our structures and implement appropriate legislation.
I met recently with the professional representatives of our Defence Forces, the Army in particular. It was shocking to listen to some of the revelations. For example, in Kilworth Camp, so low is the strength, the requisite number of corporals are not available to facilitate live fire tactical training, so they cannot do the training. The Air Corps is essentially a nine-to-five operation and is not in a position to do 24-7 operations. I understand there were fundamental changes in the bomb disposal unit and the exit of very experienced bomb disposal personnel. I agree with Deputy Howlin in regard to our state of readiness in the context of a terrorist attack. We are far too complacent, as a country, in regard to that threat and we should do far more to prepare our responses.
The Defence Forces have been in decline and numbers are below strength. Is it not time to have a proper review of structures to ensure we have the capacity to respond to these potential emergencies?
As the Deputy is aware, we have provided significant funding for naval vessels as part of the operation of the Defence Forces. The Office of Emergency Planning, which is in the Department of Defence, co-ordinates the response to an emergency and it promotes best practice in emergency planning. The Government task force on emergency planning is comprised of representatives of all Departments and relevant agencies and it meets regularly to discuss emergency planning and management. The framework for major emergency management lists various types of emergencies, some of which I read out to Deputy Howlin.
The Office of Emergency Planning has prepared a draft document entitled, Strategic Emergency Management - National Structures and Framework. That is due to come to Government very shortly and we will publish it before the summer so people can reflect on the very issue that Deputies Micheál Martin and Howlin rightly raise. When an emergency occurs that requires a national level response, the current guidelines for co-ordinating a national level emergency crisis response, which are publicly available on the Office of Emergency Planning website, set out the steps that are taken to manage it. In a national emergency, the lead Department convenes the national emergency co-ordination committee. The paper that is to be presented will provide a forum to discuss these central questions.
Deputies will be aware of the vigilance of the Garda and the intelligence units in monitoring a small number of individuals who do not have this country's interests at heart. That is a very precise and confidential matter.
Deputy Martin raised the question of the Air Corps. There are cadets in training and a cadet recruitment campaign is under way. Four personnel will complete air traffic control training between May and September this year and the Air Corps is currently inducting a further air traffic control course. NCO vacancies in the Air Corps will be filled from the recently launched NCO promotion competition. Deputy Martin is aware that when somebody qualifies through the Air Corps, they are on contract for 12 years before they have the opportunity to leave, so it is not a question of training people and they then leave for private enterprise as soon as they are trained. There is a period of contract which they give back to the State in respect of the training they receive.
I would be happy to associate with the party leaders in regard to the central question raised by Deputy Howlin.