Topical Issue Debate

The first item is in the name of Deputies Byrne, Cahill, Doherty and O'Loughlin, who are not present. The second item is in the name of Deputy Paul Murphy, who is not present. Deputy Martin Kenny is present. Is the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, dealing with that matter? As the first two Members are not present we will have to pass over those matters and deal with No. 3 in the name of Deputy Martin Kenny, which is to discuss difficulties with the rehabilitation services at the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

Which one are you taking?

I am taking Deputy Paul Murphy's matter.

The Minister of State for disabilities has just left the Chamber.

It is not my job to ensure that Ministers or Deputies are present to deal with the issues. Who is dealing with the education issue?

Okay. Deputies Thomas Byrne and Cahill are present now.

Can the Ceann Comhairle give us a minute because we were not expecting the statements to end so quickly.

No. We are in session and I am sorry but we have to continue.

I understand that.

People are supposed to be monitoring what is happening.

That is fine. Deputy Cahill is leading off.

DEIS Administration

I have been tabling questions on the new DEIS programme since October of last year. I have asked general questions, first, to ascertain the criteria being used and, second, specific questions about schools in my constituency of Tipperary and particularly for the five primary schools based in Tipperary town. The principals, staff and management in all schools put forward compelling cases to have their schools included and backed up their case with credible and detailed statistics.

We all understood that the Department was using a new system to decide on the schools that would or would not qualify. We were told that the deprivation index the Department would use would bring fairness and transparency to the whole process. We must remember that the new system no longer allowed input from staff and management of the schools.

When the Minister made the announcement of 79 new schools being added to the programme for 2017 we were very disappointed that Tipperary town primary schools were not included. However, it is at this point that it became clear that the process was in no way transparent or fair. Despite promises of all schools being informed of where they stood, all queries and questions were met with stonewalling answers.

The group of schools in Tipperary town that I am talking about made a strong case even after the announcement and visited the Dáil to press their case. However, at no point in answers that I received to parliamentary questions was I informed that 257 schools nationally had met the criteria but were not included in the announcement. Why did that information have to come to us through the media? Surely that information was relevant, particularly when there was an emphasis on fairness and transparency in the new deciding criteria, the deprivation index. Why was this information not offered up openly, considering all the questions that were being asked inside and outside this House?

What is clear now is that a further 257 schools were identified as qualifying for support, using the new deprivation index, but were not being included in the new DEIS programme. Was that the reason for not offering this information to all concerned?

Was this deemed reason enough not to offer this information to all concerned? Surely this was a mistake. Surely these facts would have been better understood if they were shared fairly and transparently in response to questions asked here. More importantly, they would have been better understood if they were shared fairly and transparently with the schools themselves. It would have given the schools a better understanding of how the new deprivation index worked, and would have offered them hope that they could be included in a new DEIS programme in the future.

It is wrong for this process to exclude input from staff and management of the schools. These are the people working on the ground who know the children they are teaching individually, particularly the children who are most at risk. They fully understand the communities these children come from and the difficulties they face, and it is wrong to exclude them. Therefore, at the very least, I urge the Minister to review again the criteria used in deciding who qualifies and to allow input from school staff and management. This episode has shown once again that there is an effort to centralise decision making, and proves that a centrally focused decision-making process is achieved at the cost of fairness and transparency.

This is an outrageous state of affairs. Deputy Cahill has outlined the situation very well. Criteria were established but they have never been explained clearly to anybody, either in this House or to schools themselves, as to how schools qualify for the DEIS programme. We are simply told that there is an index which relates to the census of 2011 which is applied to get the list of schools. Clearly it was not applied properly. Some 257 schools are revealed as being classified as disadvantaged by the Department and worthy of support, but they have not received that support. I have accused the Minister of dodging questions on this in the past. He has dodged questions in the past, and he is dodging them tonight. It is disrespectful to the House that the Minister for Education and Skills is not in the House tonight. I am certain he is not too far away.

In fairness to the Minister for Education and Skills, he is usually here for Topical Issue matters.

I will take the Ceann Comhairle's word on that, but he is not here tonight to discuss what is a major issue for schools all around the country. Deputy Cahill spoke about the five schools in Tipperary town. There are schools all over the country affected by this, which is why the Ceann Comhairle has recognised this as a huge issue. Those schools do not know why they have been excluded. They do not know the basis on which calculations were made. A review process took place but it has not been implemented at all, as far as I can see. We have no real information about it.

The DEIS programme was announced and launched at the start of this year on the 2011 census figures, just before the 2016 figures became available. The Minister wanted a good news story to start the year. It was rushed out really quickly and it was not ready. Hundreds of schools were left out of the programme, but the Minister wanted to be seen to be tackling disadvantage. He has picked certain disadvantaged schools to benefit from it. We do not begrudge those schools; we want them to benefit from the programme. However, he has excluded hundreds of others. Furthermore, he still has not produced the 2016 calculations. The 2016 figures are available; the Haase and Pratschke, HP, index was published a few weeks ago. It could be done very quickly if the Government wanted to do it. We are told that it is an easy thing to do.

The Government is not giving children the chance they deserve to prosper and to get the best education possible. Teachers are not being given the best possible chance to teach those students. The Government is further entrenching disadvantage in communities around the country. Educational opportunity is not being given to everybody. We need answers to these questions. This is a major source of controversy. It made front page news. This is massive. Questions are dodged on it all the time. I have been asking questions - I have them all here - and Deputy Cahill has been asking questions too. We have never had answers, and if there are 257 schools which are disadvantaged but not on the list, they should be added to the list immediately. Some of these schools will have cases before the Ombudsman, querying why they are not qualified for DEIS status while others are. I would encourage them towards that path.

I am glad that this matter has been selected and to be in the House at 9.15 p.m. debating this issue. I must record that it is disappointing that the Minister is not here tonight to listen to these concerns and that we are dealing with the Minister for State instead. It is not disappointing for me personally but for the children of the schools I will refer to.

There is no transparency here. When schools in my constituency were not put on the list, schools which in my view and that of teachers and parents should obviously be on the list, I was surprised. Indeed, anybody who knows the area would know about the levels of deprivation and would be able to see that the schools should be afforded DEIS status. When those schools were refused DEIS status I lodged freedom of information requests asking for the scoring for Scoil Naisíunta Ghort an Choirce or Scoil Naisíunta Rann Na Feirste. Each request was refused. This speaks to a lack of transparency. We then hear in the national media that internal documents from the Department say that 257 schools should have been on the list and met the criteria but were excluded for resource reasons.

I want to know, on behalf of teachers and pupils in west Donegal, which schools they were. Were they Scoil Naisíunta Gort An Choirce, which has been campaigning on this issue for many years and which has raised that school's plight with the current Minister and indeed his predecessor? Was it my former secondary school, Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, which also does not have DEIS status despite the fact that every single primary school in the parish has DEIS status? A child in Gaoth Dobhair is disadvantaged in bunscoil but miraculously is not when he or she goes to secondary school. The same situation applies for Gort an Choirce. The primary school in the parish has not been awarded DEIS status, but when one goes to the secondary school in the parish one automatically has DEIS status, despite the fact that the new figures, released a couple of weeks ago from the census, show that the level of deprivation in that area has actually increased dramatically. Rann Na Feirste is clearly an deprived area, and Scoil Náisiúnta Mhin Teineadh Dé is in exactly the same situation. There is no rationale whatsoever. These students are not being afforded DEIS status due to what appears to be a penny-pinching exercise. We all know that DEIS status comes with resources and supports that assist pupils in these schools to reach their full potential.

I would also make the point that the schools we are talking about are schools that are not only in disadvantaged areas but are also in the Gaeltacht agus atá ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge a choinneáil beo. Níl an Stát ag tabhairt an tacaíochta chuí do na múinteoirí, don bhord bainistíochta nó do na páistí, go háirithe, mar nach bhfuil siad ag tabhairt an stádais DEIS dóibh.

Tá sé soiléir do dhuine ar bith atá ag iarraidh na bhfíricí, go bhfuil ceantar Ghort an Choirce faoi mhíbhuntáiste agus tá sé níos measa ná mar a bhí sé cúig bliana ó shin. Tá Gaoth Dobhair mar an gcéanna, agus ba cheart go mbeadh Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair san áireamh le DEIS. Maidir le Rann na Feirste agus Mín Tine Dé, tá cás láidir ansin go mbeadh status DEIS tugtha díobh. Tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh an tAire athbhreithniú ar an gceist seo go sciobtha.

I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton. If he could be here, he would be. As the Deputies are aware, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, is the main policy initiative of the Department of Education and Skills to address educational disadvantage at school level. No new schools had been admitted to DEIS since 2009. A new five-year plan was published in February 2017 and sets out, as a series of actions, the details of an updated DEIS school support programme which builds on existing supports available to schools in a way that sets out initiatives to ensure that stated targets are reached. A key objective of DEIS plan 2017 is the development of a more robust and responsive framework for assessing individual schools.

The new DEIS identification process uses data, including small area population statistics, SAPS, from the Central Statistics Office 2012, as represented in the Pobal small area HP deprivation index - Haase and Pratschke 2012, and centrally held Department of Education and Skills pupil data from the primary online database, POD, and the post-primary online database, P-POD. This approach removes the administrative burden on schools to provide socioeconomic data relating to its pupil cohort and ensures consistency and uniformity in the assessment process of schools across both the primary and post-primary system. The HP deprivation index, assesses demographic growth, dependency ratios, education levels, single parent rate, overcrowding, social class, occupation and unemployment rates. That data is combined with pupil data, anonymised and aggregated to provide information on the relative level of concentrated disadvantage in the pupil cohort of individual schools.

This system is also very responsive to changes in school demographics, which was strongly called for by stakeholders, in that this new identification methodology can be updated on an annual basis from the school annual census returns, and every five years following the CSO national census of population. The initial application of the model assessed all schools and found that most schools have pupils from disadvantaged areas but that the concentration of disadvantage varied.

The model also identified a number of schools not currently within DEIS, with a very high level concentration of disadvantage. Based on this information, and as a first step in the application of the new identification process, 79 additional schools were brought into the programme and a further 30 schools were identified for increased levels of support. These schools began to receive DEIS supports from September this year. In future years it is intended to extend the DEIS scheme further. This would involve admitting schools which have lower concentrations of disadvantage than this first group. It was in the context of a possible extension of the DEIS scheme at lower concentrations of disadvantage that the number of new schools and the cost that would be involved was estimated. This was the context in which the figure of 257 schools arose. There has been no question of excluding schools.

The first commitment which has been made is to reassess all schools in terms of their identified level of disadvantage, taking into account the updated census data combined with updated school data. The timeline is for this process to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2018. This will allow new pupils and the changes in the profile of small areas between 2011 and 2016 to be taken into account in measuring the profile of schools. New schools at the high threshold of disadvantage may be identified in this process, and it is intended to bring any such additional schools identified into the scheme at the earliest possible opportunity subject to available resources. It remains the ambition to extend the scheme in future years to support schools and students where there is an identified need.

The Minister of State gives the excuse for the 257 exclusions that the decisions were made in the context of a lower concentration of disadvantage. First, nobody knows what level of concentration is now required to be in the DEIS scheme. That information has not been given to anyone. We do not know what the level is. Second, the documents show that when the officials were briefing the Minister about this, they never talked about a lower concentration of disadvantage. They simply spoke about further expansion to include 257 schools in band 2 of DEIS. A school either qualifies for band 2 or it does not. It is clear that the officials who were advising the Minister in this case knew that these 257 schools qualified for band 2. There was no question of lower or higher rates of concentrations. There are schools all over the country in this group that qualify for band 2, as the Minister was advised, but that do not receive the supports. There is no evidence that there was any analysis of concentration carried out.

As Deputy Byrne has said, there is a complete lack of transparency on this issue. As far as the schools in my constituency - the five schools in Tipperary town - are concerned, they met the criteria but have been deprived of DEIS status. From what I can see, this is purely a budgetary exercise by the Department. There is no genuine reason these 257 schools should not have been given the extra resources which DEIS status would have provided. These schools are extremely disappointed at the way they have been treated. I pay tribute to Carl O'Brien from The Irish Times for bringing this to our attention. As public representatives, it was very disappointing that we had to find out from the media that these schools were excluded.

I have been saying it for years and I will say it again. It makes absolutely no sense that the schools which I mentioned - Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, Scoil Ghort an Choirce, Scoil Rann na Feirste agus Scoil Mhín Teineadh Dé - are kept out of DEIS status. It does not make any sense whatsoever. The Department has refused freedom of information requests for the criteria it uses. Will the Minister of State explain how every primary school in the parish, every feeder school to the secondary school, can have DEIS status, but the secondary school does not? Will he explain how an area which has increased in deprivation over the past five years still does not qualify for DEIS despite the fact that it is a disadvantaged area and always has been? Every other primary school in the parish has got DEIS status, as has the secondary school. Will the Minister explain that to me, because that is the situation in which Scoil Ghort an Choirce finds itself? Will he explain to me how a proud Gaeltacht school in Rann na Feirste, which is a deprived area, is still denied DEIS status? It does not make any sense. I have asked the Minister to meet me in respect of these four schools. I have asked the Department to publish the criteria. It is denying these children and schools the additional supports. There is never any transparency. The Minister of State says that he will review every school in the first quarter of 2018. When will a decision be made? When he finally realises that these schools should have been afforded DEIS status, when will the Department make the decision that they will be afforded that status? Will it be at the end of the first quarter of 2018 or will it be in September 2018?

I apologise to Deputy Mattie McGrath who wanted to contribute on this issue. The rules around Topical Issue debates are quite clear. The time belongs to the Member who has nominated the topic or to a nominated substitute, so I cannot bring in other Members.

On Deputy Doherty's contribution, it is perfectly understandable why there may be primary schools in an area which have DEIS status and post-primary schools which do not have the same status. The Deputy referred to the levels of deprivation within the rural area as a whole. Part of the assessment process consists of an in-school assessment in respect of the levels of educational attainment within each individual school, the pupil-teacher ratio within the school and pupil data - in other words, the ongoing success or lack of success of students within a school. Therefore it is perfectly understandable that there may be a primary school which has poor scores in those areas but that those scores improve when the children move into a post-primary school because that school is run on a more successful model.

This is completely wrong.

They are being punished for their success.

That is new information about the DEIS scheme.

That is not the case at all. It is here. That is the first point I want to make.

Successful schools are punished despite the fact that they are in deprived areas.

The whole point of the DEIS programme is to support schools that are less than successful and to ensure that all of our schools nationally reach a certain level of attainment. That is quite a logical approach to take when using scarce resources.

Does the Minister of State know what DEIS stands for?

The Minister of State has-----

There is no point in tabling Topical Issue matters if we are not prepared to listen. We do not have to like the answer, but we should at least let the Minister of State speak.

The Minister of State has given incorrect information.

I have not. The final point I would make is that the Department of Education and Skills has, for the first time, introduced an objective statistics-based model for deciding which schools merit inclusion in the DEIS programme in order that all stakeholders can have confidence that we are targeting extra resources at the schools that need them and have the highest concentrated levels of disadvantage. The Deputies should be welcoming that. I do not see why people have a problem with that. With effect from September this year, the schools included in DEIS will be those which have been identified as serving the pupil cohorts with the highest concentrations of disadvantage. The schools which have not been included are those which have not been identified as having those levels of concentrated disadvantage under the new identification model. Prior to any further adjustments to the allocation of DEIS supports, the identification process will be updated to include the most recent and current data available in terms of small area data derived from census 206, which is again something the Deputies should be pleased about. The update of the associated Haase-Pratschke index was recently published. The plan is to reassess all schools in terms of their identified levels of disadvantage. The timeline for that process of assessment is for it to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2018. I would hope that in the aftermath of that, having determined which schools are at the most serious levels of disadvantage, those schools will be the first ones to be supported.

Redundancy Payments

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic. Christmas Grinch of 2017 goes to Capita PLC, the parent company of AMT-SYBEX, which has made at least six Unite members compulsorily redundant. We are now two weeks away from Christmas and Capita is refusing to abide by the Labour Court recommendations LCR 21574 which would give those workers, who have up to 20 years' service, five and half weeks redundancy pay per year of service instead of the statutory two weeks. This is a company which employs 73,000 people worldwide. It is a business services provider. It made a profit in excess of £500 million sterling in 2015 and 2016. Most importantly for our discussion here, 40% of its clients in Ireland are in the public sector, including the Department of Justice and Equality, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, Fáilte Ireland and Irish Rail. It developed and runs Ireland's national postcode system, Eircode, and it has a contract to service Anglo Irish Bank loans on behalf of NAMA.

Replies to parliamentary questions have revealed that Capita currently holds contracts with the State worth approximately €140 million across a range of Departments and State enterprises. However, it treats the industrial relations machinery of the State with absolute contempt. It described the Labour Court redundancy recommendation of five and a half weeks' wages per year for staff who are being let go as inappropriate and not in line with company policy and went on to infer that the workers' decision to be collectively represented by a union of their choice, Unite, had contributed to the negative outcome of their appeal. The inference that a decision by workers to collectively organise in a union was a contributory factor in their dismissal again highlights the significant deficiencies in the industrial relations legislation and the ongoing failure to properly provide for collective bargaining.

The union has written to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. There was a protest today, which I attended, outside the Department of Finance, to which another letter was handed in because no substantial response has yet been received to the letter of 18 October. I raise the matter to seek an answer to the key questions being asked by the union. Although the company cannot be made do what is right by the Government and it cannot be forced, as I think it ought, to pay at least the five and a half weeks' redundancy per year of service that was recommended by the Labour Court, the Government should make a policy decision that such rogue employers that refuse to engage with unions, as Capita refused to engage with Unite throughout the process, and refuse to implement the recommendations of our industrial relations machinery should not be facilitated by the State. There should be a policy decision not to award any more public contracts to companies such as Capita that refuse to implement Labour Court decisions in this way.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, who cannot attend the House this evening.

The Labour Court is an independent adjudicative body under the remit of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and has discharged its statutory function in the matter. The Minister has no function in respect of the implementation or otherwise of the Labour Court recommendation in the case. The Labour Court recommended an enhanced redundancy package for a group of workers in Capita following a referral by the trade union Unite to the Labour Court under section 21 of the Industrial Relations Act 1969. Although referrals under that section of the Act require the referring party to agree to be bound by the court’s recommendation, there is no obligation on the other party to be bound by or accept the recommendation. In this case, the responding party, as is its right, did not attend the hearing of the court and the court did not have the benefit of its position in framing the recommendation. In line with its statutory obligation, the court issued a recommendation based on the information presented to it.

As regards trade union recognition, Article 40 of the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to freely associate and join unions. It has been established in several cases before the courts that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association does not guarantee workers the right to have their union recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining. Industrial relations in Ireland is voluntary in nature and it has been the consistent policy of successive Governments to promote collective bargaining through the laws of the country and the development of an institutional framework supportive of a voluntary system of industrial relations premised on freedom of contract and association.

To improve the situation for employees, the Government enacted the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 to facilitate employees’ rights to engage in collective bargaining. That provides a mechanism through which the fairness of the employment conditions of workers can be assessed where collective bargaining does not take place. It ensures that such workers, aided by a trade union, even where the trade union is not formally recognised by the employer, can advance claims about remuneration and conditions of employment and have them determined by the Labour Court based on comparator companies. Any determinations by the Labour Court in that context are enforceable before the Circuit Court.

The Government always encourages all sides in a trade dispute to engage constructively and in good faith, with a view to all parties involved making every effort to reach agreement and to come to an arrangement that recognises the concerns of both sides.

That was not an answer to the letter written by Unite, the protest held today or the questions I asked. It is very unfortunate that neither the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, nor a Minister of State at the Department of Finance is available to deal with these queries, which are directed at the Minister.

Capita holds extremely lucrative State contracts that are currently worth €140 million, which is a significant amount of money. It forms part of a small minority of rogue employers that are prepared to disregard the State's industrial relations machinery. Some 95% of all Labour Court recommendations are implemented by employers and Capita is, therefore, in a minority of 5%.

In view of those factors, it is the Government's right to say, as it should, that Capita will not receive any more public contracts until it agrees to implement the Labour Court recommendation and other recommendations. It is appropriate and right for there to be a public obligation on companies that receive public contracts not to treat their workers in the extremely cruel, Grinch-like fashion that Capita has, nor to disregard the industrial relations mechanisms set up to decide on disputes involving workers.

As regards the more general references made by the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to collective bargaining and so on, Capita refused to engage with Unite or attend the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court and is now refusing to implement a Labour Court recommendation. That illustrates a weakness in the so-called voluntarist model of industrial relations in this country. The right for workers to freely organise, become involved in unions and collectively bargain means that if the majority of workers in a workplace join a union, the employer should deal with the union rather than ignoring it and the industrial relations machinery.

All Members acknowledge that a redundancy situation in any workplace is difficult for workers and their families. However, we are fortunate to have an industrial relations system whereby the fundamental approach of successive Governments has been one of voluntarism. In general, our laws do not try to impose a solution on parties to a trade dispute but, rather, are designed to help support the parties in resolving their differences. The State has largely confined its role to underpinning voluntarism through the provision of a framework and institutions through which good industrial relations can prosper.

The recommendation in the Capita case was made under section 20 of the Industrial Relations Act and, as such, is only binding on the referring party, which is the union. It is important to point out that the company is not breaking any law by not recognising the recommendation of the Labour Court for more favourable redundancy terms.

Services for People with Disabilities

This issue is in respect of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire but there is no negative connotation in terms of its staff or the work they do. The National Rehabilitation Hospital has a strategic partnership with a private company, Ability Matters, which provides prosthetic limbs. The difficulty in that regard is that many people who acquire a prosthetic limb do not do so from that company. If such a person does not acquire it from that company, he or she is denied access to services in the National Rehabilitation Hospital. However, the State provides a large amount of funding to the hospital every year and pays for its consultants, staff and the team that provides rehabilitation services to patients. The limb provided to the person, be they in Cork, Dublin, Waterford or elsewhere, is usually paid for by the HSE using State funding. Thus, the State funds the prosthetic limb and the hospital that is meant to provide rehabilitative services but if the patient does not purchase the prosthetic limb through the National Rehabilitation Hospital he or she is denied services there. The National Rehabilitation Hospital is denying services to citizens of the State and providing professional services only to people with whom it has a contract.

It is totally outrageous. We find that Government funding is working in a situation where there is a cosy little arrangement which does not work for the people.

A constituent of mine came to see me to discuss a prosthetic limb he had received from a company in County Galway. When he needed to get services, he was refused those services in the National Rehabilitation Hospital. That is how this came to light. I contacted many of the other providers throughout the country of prosthetic limbs and they all told me the same story. There is a nod and a wink going on here and someone needs to get to the bottom of it. The truth is that it is not about money. The service is not being provided because of a reference to some value for money statistic because they are getting them cheaper from them; in most cases they are up to 20% to 25% more expensive than those sold by other providers. The issue needs to be dealt with quickly because people are suffering because of this cosy little arrangement.

I state my disappointment that when Topical Issues were about to start, the Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities left the Chamber. This is no reflection on the Minister of State present, but the Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities should be answering these questions.

I apologise to the Ceann Comhairle and the Deputy for my late arrival. I did not expect-----

I do not think the Minister of State is being criticised for her late arrival. Others-----

It is more the early departure of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath.

As the Deputy said, I am taking this Topical Issue on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. I received this statement a short while before I entered the Chamber. The Deputy will not be happy with what I have to say-----

-----but I will read the statement and hope something will come of it. I extend my apologies to the Deputy because, having read it, I do not believe the reply is comprehensive.

On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to respond. The National Rehabilitation Hospital provides complex specialised rehabilitation services to patients who have acquired a physical or cognitive disability as a result of an accident, illness or injury and require specialised medical rehabilitation services. We are all aware that such injuries or illnesses can have significant implications for individuals and their families. They impact on their social, educational, vocational and recreational participation and present serious challenges to their quality of life.

Effective rehabilitation draws on a broad range of disciplines to meet the particular needs of individuals, with the objective of assisting them to return to their lives in the community. The National Rehabilitation Hospital provides patients with an opportunity to meet their rehabilitation goals through personalised treatment plans which are delivered by consultant-led interdisciplinary teams that are expert in their fields. Rehabilitation programmes at the hospital are tailored to meet the individual needs of both paediatric and adult patients. Depending on the level of limb loss and a person's general health and fitness, the activities that can be undertaken with a prosthetic limb could range from running or other sports to returning to employment, walking a few kilometres or simply being able to get around the house.

The Minister of State has requested the Health Service Executive to provide a response on the specific operational matters raised by the Deputy concerning the very important service provided by the National Rehabilitation Hospital. The executive has advised that the hospital is reluctant to provide a response on the matter the Deputy has raised without the input of the consultant in charge of prosthetics at the hospital. The consultant was, unfortunately, unavailable today. The executive has also informed the Minister of State that it expects to be in a position to provide a more detailed response tomorrow on receipt of information from the hospital. The Minister of State will forward the information requested to the Deputy as soon as it is available, which I hope will be tomorrow.

That is the response I have.

That is a very disappointing answer. The Minister of State is saying he will be able to respond on the specific operational matters raised when the consultant comes back to the hospital to deal with them. The issue is not about the consultant but the arrangement at the hospital. It is a management issue. There is no problem with what the consultants do or the clinical service they provide.

A number of companies throughout the country provide prosthetic services. They include Atlantic Prosthetic Orthotic Services, APOS, in Galway; Independent Disablement Services, IDS, in Dublin; Sota Prosthetics & Orthotics in Cork, as well as others. They all provide an excellent service, but if patients need rehabilitation, particularly if they need to go to Dún Laoghaire for, say, a week, every excuse is found for why they cannot take them. That is the problem. It is a cosy little cartel that is being run and it needs to be dealt with quickly. There are patients throughout the country who go through the agony of losing a limb and then the mental torture of trying to deal with and work with that. They receive prosthetic limbs and must try to teach their bodies to cope with them. They find this difficult and there is both frustration and annoyance. The only way they can deal with it is by getting intensive physiotherapy in some place like Dún Laoghaire. Yet they are refused it unless they play by the rules set by these people, which is totally inappropriate and wrong.

I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure this issue is dealt with properly because it is simply unfair on the constituent with whom I am dealing. This person has been looking to see whether it could be sorted out in Belfast or somewhere else because the reality is that, for some reason or other, the people in Dún Laoghaire are slamming the door in the faces of Irish citizens who are taxpayers just like everyone else and deserve an equal service. This is not happening and not only is it unfair, it is also simply wrong. It is wrong that in this day and age people who are suffering in such a way are being let down by the State. They feel very let down. There are steps in this Chamber that we move up and down. Everywhere people with disabilities go, whether it be a restaurant or anywhere else, they face all of these difficulties. The least we can do is ensure there are adequate rehabilitation services available for them.

I made it very clear to the Deputy in my opening statement that I was not happy either with the answer I had received. I will relay the Deputy's concerns to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, in the morning. My mother-in-law was an amputee for 30 years and I was in the National Rehabilitation Hospital with her many a time. The work the staff did on her was remarkable. It is very difficult for a person who loses a limb at any stage in his or her life to cope without proper rehabilitation. It defies logic that because they do not have a specific limb from a specific company people cannot access the national rehabilitation service to be looked after. On a personal level I will pursue this issue tomorrow with the Minister of State and, if needs be, the hospital through the Minister because the reply is inadequate. I agree entirely with the Deputy that it should not be up to a consultant to respond on a Topical Issue he has raised on such a sensitive matter which has affected a great many people. Many of us in the House know people in our families and neighbourhoods who rely totally on the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire to look after them when they need extra help to get back on the road again. I will convey the Deputy's concerns to the Minister of State tomorrow and give a guarantee that he will receive a reply.

The Minister of State's response is appreciated.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 15 December 2017.