Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Hospital Staff

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle as an deis seo a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Is cinnte go bhfuil díomá orm nach bhfuil an tAire Sláinte i láthair, ach leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Catherine Byrne.

We all know the considerable work that goes on in our hospitals, for which the staff must be acknowledged. We know there are many difficulties with getting into the system because there is ample evidence of the waiting lists. There was always the feeling, however, that once one entered the Irish system, the treatment and care were excellent. While that continues to be the case, there are growing exceptions. Patients are in the system, but the understaffing and workload are so significant that it has a detrimental effect on the mental and physical health of both the staff and patients. The working environment, therefore, is not as it should be. Although I am speaking about the Mater Hospital, in particular, it applies to other hospitals also.

On St. Vincent's ward, which is an oncology and haemotology ward at the Mater Hospital, the patients are very unwell and they need extensive nursing and medical input. Consequently, the ratio of patient to nurse was historically 4:1. Nowadays, the standard is 6:1, but there are many days when there is one staff nurse for 12 patients, with a student nurse from 1st, 2nd or 3rd year on the ward also. It is difficult, therefore, to give the patients the care they need. For that ward to have the staff it needs to provide that care, there should be six staff nurses and two managers daily. In recent times, however, there have been four members of staff and one manager.

The patients on the ward are there for chemotherapy or complications relating thereto. They must experience a safe, effective delivery of chemotherapy and support with follow-up monitoring, which needs two nurses who are qualified and trained in safe chemotherapy administration practice on the ward at all times, according to the ward's policy and guidelines. In the past two weeks, it was lucky to have one qualified chemotherapy-trained nurse, leading to inexperienced nurses administering chemotherapy or vital chemotherapy being delayed. There has been some improvement in the numbers following meetings with the Workplace Relations Commission, the director of nursing and the union, but the issues leading to those problems are not being adequately addressed. Rather, there is high staff turnover because of the stress involved in working on a ward with very ill patients who do not receive the recommended care from qualified staff.

Experience counts for so much, which newly qualified and overseas nurses who do not have experience of Irish hospitals may lack. Newly qualified nurses need the guidance of qualified staff in order that they will become experienced staff in time. Nurses who are trained abroad are entering a system with which they are not familiar. I am not undermining or demeaning in any way the newly qualified or immigrant nurses, but they need to be guided by the experienced staff in Ireland in order that there is a mix of skills.

Nurses are under a great deal of stress. On a recent Sunday, three nurses were on sick leave, two of whom were trained in safe chemotherapy administration, which left on the ward two nurses who had been qualified less than two years previously and who were not qualified to administer chemotherapy. That is not acceptable for patients or nurses.

It is disturbing that the information I present today is in a context of excellent facilities and treatment for cancer. So many advances have been made and we know so much more about cancers and their treatment. It was disappointing and alarming, therefore, to hear about the staff issues. I know it is not confined to the Mater Hospital because I have information about other hospitals also.

As I will take this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, I asked the Deputy whether she wished to withdraw the matter but she did not.

I understand that the Mater Misercordiae University Hospital has experienced some difficulty in recruiting both permanent and temporary specialist oncology nurses for the oncology day unit in the hospital. Due to a combination of resignation, sick leave and maternity leave, there were several vacancies. The Minister was assured by the HSE that all avenues have been and are being explored to address the lack of oncology nurses. As a result of these efforts, one nurse commenced induction yesterday and another will commence induction in December, after which all staff nurse vacancies will be filled.

The Mater Hospital is working with the clinicians and nursing staff to reduce the impact on service delivery through redeployment of appropriately trained staff and the provision of additional training. The national cancer control programme has also supported the Mater Hospital in resourcing an additional oncologist who has been appointed and will commence in the new year. The hospital continues to work closely with the Ireland East Hospital Group in conducting a review of its operational capacity as demand for oncology day services continues to rise.

More generally, there are recruitment and retention difficulties in certain other areas of the health service, including nursing specialties. In these instances, the HSE utilises a range of long-term measures such as overseas recruitment with agencies, rolling recruitment campaigns, recruitment fairs, social media recruitment campaigns and short-term measures such as staff reassignment to support service delivery.

The HSE also continues to offer contracts to graduate nurses and midwives once they have obtained their registration from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, NMBI. The Minister believes the recent pay proposals put forward by the Public Service Pay Commission were a positive step towards making the public health service a more attractive place to work for nurses and midwives. The Government proposals made to address the issue of new entrants' pay will also benefit approximately 10,000 nurses to the value of approximately €3,000 each. The recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives has been a consistent priority for the Minister. Challenges exist with recruitment and retention of these professions against a backdrop of shortages at a global level.

Despite the challenges, the data show that the HSE has managed to increase the number of nurses and midwives employed. When the number of nurses and midwives employed by the HSE is compared between September this year and last year, it shows that there was an increase of 1,050 whole-time equivalents.

I went ahead with this matter today because of its urgency. I see there has been some progress. I had heard that some nurses came into work while unwell rather than let down their patients and fellow staff but that is not good safe practice, especially considering the immune systems of people who have cancer.

We know that nurses are a very skilled workforce. They have degrees in science, some have Masters degrees and other qualifications, and they have done a great deal of work and study to become registered. They want to deliver the service for which they have been trained and give the best care to their patients. For cancer patients, it is about giving them every chance to recover and live their lives.

I know St. James's Hospital and the pressures on its services well. I know from someone who is currently receiving treatment there that it begins at 8 a.m. and the nurses see dozens of patients daily. The first tranche is at 8 a.m. and the next is at 9.30 a.m. or 10 a.m. Not all of these people are receiving chemotherapy; some are getting injections or hormone infusions and blood. There are 12 beds in the ward, and as soon as the treatment of one patient is finished, the next is called. The nurses and doctors are run off their feet from 7.30 a.m. until late at night. It can be after 8 p.m. before they finish. I am sure that like me, the Minister of State has had family and friends with cancer who have gone through our system, facing the illness. The treatment and the effects that go with it are very difficult but we have good success and recovery rates. Cancer is not the death sentence it once was. However, we need the qualified and the experienced nursing staff to work alongside the newly qualified because the experienced staff can bring their new colleagues along.

We know that the problem is the overall pay and conditions, with the cost of living including housing that has resulted in our very well-trained nurses travelling to other countries. It is those countries which benefit from the education and training provided here and it is the patients who suffer in the meantime.

I have the reply and there are issues which I will have to follow up with the Minister.

We all understand there are problems in the health service, particularly with the recruitment of staff for hospitals across all departments. I want to impress on Deputy O'Sullivan and others in the Chamber that both the Minister, Deputy Harris, and I believe that those working in the services in hospitals across Dublin do a fantastic job. Sometimes they find themselves pushed and can work under a great deal of pressure with several cases at once, particularly in units as important as oncology day wards. Living very close to St. James's Hospital, I understand the situation there.

The Minister wants to assure Deputy O'Sullivan that he will continue to monitor what is happening in the Mater Hospital and will work to address recruitment issues in the short and long term and carry out measures which will improve the situation as we go into next year. I assure the Deputy that the HSE recognises the need to focus on recruitment and retention of front-line staff and is committed to making a public health service a more attractive place to work. I understand Deputy O'Sullivan's frustration. It is something that I am contacted about daily in my own office, and I will continue to raise it with the Minister on the Deputy's behalf.

Ambulance Service Provision

I have tabled this matter as the people of County Leitrim seek clarity from the Government as to why ambulance waiting times in the county are so high and why south Leitrim generally has been left without any ambulance cover whatever in recent months. They want to know why the new ambulance service which was based in Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim has been moved to Boyle in County Roscommon. They want to know when the new measures which were promised by the HSE about new personnel, ambulances and first responder schemes will be put in place in Leitrim as advised in the 2015 capacity review of the national ambulance service.

As an elected representative for the County Leitrim area of the constituency, I also want to understand the problems and to help to identify what has gone wrong with ambulance waiting times in the county. I want to know what is being done by the HSE management to try to improve response times in the county and when the national ambulance service will be returned to its new base in Carrick-on-Shannon to cover the southern part of the county.

There is much concern on the ground about this as there have been several shocking cases where people have been left waiting for hours for an ambulance. In January this year in Ballinamore, a woman aged 85 years who had fallen and broken her leg had to endure a two and a half hour wait for an ambulance. In June, another elderly lady in Ballinamore had to wait for almost five hours. An ambulance was first called at 2.50 p.m. but did not arrive at her home in south Leitrim until almost 7 p.m. The woman was eventually brought to Cavan hospital which is only a 40 minute drive from her home, and had surgery a few hours later.

These are shocking examples of what is going on across the county under the current service. I have done some research on the issue and have been advised in a written parliamentary question, according to the assistant chief ambulance officer, Mr. Oliver Reilly, that County Leitrim only ever had two ambulance rosters on duty, one during the day and a night shift. One is based in Manorhamilton while another was set to be based in Carrick-on-Shannon but, as I noted earlier, is now based in Boyle in County Roscommon where it will remain for the foreseeable future. It is alarming that only one ambulance is ever on call in the whole county. In effect, one ambulance is often not available as under the current system, ambulances must often attend emergencies in other rural parts of the county.

Does the Minister believe this is sufficient ambulance cover for a widespread rural area in which few community first responder units have yet been established? If not, will he agree to make the HSE acutely aware of local communities' concerns on this issue and will the Department of Health make representations to the HSE as a matter of urgency?

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris, regarding the ambulance service in Leitrim. The national ambulance service operates from two locations in Leitrim, namely Carrick-on-Shannon and Manorhamilton. However, services in Leitrim are not exclusively provided by staff based at these Leitrim stations. This is because the national ambulance service is increasingly moving to a policy of dynamic deployment. This ensures that vehicles are strategically located where they are most likely to be required, rather than located at a particular station. In line with this policy, and using the advanced medical priority dispatch system to triage calls, Leitrim is supported by other national ambulance service ambulance bases in Boyle, Sligo, Loughglynn, Cavan, Roscommon and Longford. Several developments have been made by the national ambulance service in order to address the issue of response times and ambulance cover in Leitrim.

I know too that in Border counties the national ambulance service works closely with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service in order to provide a more responsive service for patients.

The capacity review, published in 2016, identifies particular difficulties serving rural areas such as Leitrim. The capacity review indicated that the only practical way to improve first response times in rural areas is through voluntary community first responder, CFR, schemes. The national ambulance service continues to work with local CFR groups across the region to enhance services.

The national ambulance service has undergone a very significant process of modernisation in recent years and there have been important service innovations and developments. This ambulance reform programme is taking place against the backdrop of the HIQA review of ambulance services, which was published in late 2014, and the national ambulance service capacity review.

The National Emergency Operations Centre has been established, where emergency calls are received and emergency resources are dispatched. The national ambulance service has visibility of all available paramedic resources and vehicles in real time, ensuring that the closest available resource is dispatched to an emergency. In addition, the national ambulance service has developed the intermediate care service to provide lower acuity hospital transfers, which frees up emergency ambulances for the more urgent calls.

A permanent emergency aeromedical support service has also been established to provide a more timely response to persons in rural communities.

During recent years additional investment has been directed towards the national ambulance service. This year, an additional sum of €10.7 million has been made available, which includes €2.75 million to fund new developments. New developments include the development of alternative pathways to care with the Hear and Treat clinical hub that went live in the national emergency operations centre in March of this year. This diverts some lower acuity patients to alternative care pathways and frees up some emergency capacity. It is anticipated that such initiatives will help to improve response times around the country, including in the Leitrim area. I will come back to the Deputy on other issues he raised.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply and I have a few queries on foot of it. A capacity review into the national ambulance service was conducted in 2015 and its findings were released in 2016. It found that in order for the service to meet strict HIQA standards, additional staff needed to be hired. Can the Minister of State identify the Government's efforts in that regard and indicate the progress that has been made to date in providing new staff and ambulances for the service? I note the capacity review outlined the case for working with community first responders in rural areas in County Leitrim. They are generally the local GPs who are under considerable pressure, working in large rural areas on their own and they have very busy surgeries without adequate back-up and support. What efforts are in hand to improve matters?

I ask the Minister of State to come to Leitrim to meet the local doctors to hear at first hand their genuine fears for their patients, namely, the prospect that they face the worst outcome as a result of longer than acceptable response times.

As per the commitment given by the national ambulance service, will she agree to facilitate a meeting with the management of the north west ambulance service to enable its members to outline their efforts to increase resources in the area, place more than just one ambulance in the new base in Carrick-on-Shannon to serve the people of south Leitrim and west Cavan and reduce waiting times to under one hour?

I have been advised this evening that the Boyle ambulance crew has filed a health and safety complaint regarding the deployment of the second ambulance from Carrick-on-Shannon to their base, thus prompting serious concern that only one crew from Carrick-on-Shannon will be moved and that the crew currently based there will be moved to Sligo, leaving no ambulance service for Leitrim in the county. That would be regrettable and it is a matter of great concern to me as Deputy representing the county. While the Minister of State is responding to the requests I have made, it is vital that these facts be brought to the attention of the Minister.

The Deputy has raised a number of specific questions to which I do not have a response. I will, therefore, have to go back to the Minister and ask him to respond to the Deputy on a personal basis. I understand the Deputy's frustration and the concerns he raised. He has outlined the difficulties that arise when people who have suffered an injury are not transported by ambulance immediately and often have to wait for up to two and half hours or even longer for an ambulance. I will raise those with the Minister and, if the Deputy wishes, I will also ask the Minister if he will consider meeting him and visiting the area to enable him to fully recognise and understand the problems that have occurred in the past as the Deputy outlined. I have taken a note of all of his questions and I will ask the Minister to respond to him on a personal basis.

I thank the Minister of State for that.

Employment Rights

The continued use of bogus self-employment throughout Ireland means that workers are not defined as employees and they are not protected by some key employment legislation. As a result, they are entitled to fewer benefits such as sick pay, overtime, increments, pension contributions, maternity leave and holiday pay.

Department officials attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection last week to discuss the issue of bogus self-employment. I was dismayed to learn the Department does not keep any records on bogus self-employment, despite carrying out inspections to supposedly identify it. Despite keeping no records of cases of bogus self-employment, the Department believes from some reports it cites that the issue of bogus self-employment is not significant or prevalent in the State. That is in stark contrast to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, for example, which has estimated that over an eight-year period the State may have missed out on €640 million in unpaid PRSI due to bogus self-employment in the construction industry alone. The newly-formed Connect trade union, which represents 40,000 craft workers, has estimated the practice is costing the State €300 million a year. Bogus self-employment is prevalent not only in the construction industry but in other sectors. The Eversheds Sutherland report highlights significant difficulties and inconsistencies in employment practices at RTÉ. The Unite union has highlighted the problem faced by workers in the English language teaching sector. I understand there may be some employees - or they are not employees in the correct sense - in this establishment who are suffering from bogus self-employment practice. The Minister needs to investigate that and come back to us on it. With the increase in the prevalence of fast food, delivery services are becoming a major issue in this regard. Does the Minister have any intention of introducing measures to combat this problem, which is costing the State significantly in lost tax revenue and leaving thousands of workers vulnerable in their employment?

The practice of bogus self-employment and employers forcing workers on to self-employed contracts when they should be employees is, unfortunately, on the increase. According to the Connect trade union, which organises more than 40,000 tradespeople, it is now rampant in the construction industry. We also see it in the media and film industries, particularly in RTÉ, and in many other sectors.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions calculates that the loss to the Exchequer is approximately €80 million per year and amounts to €680 million since 2007. With all this in mind, it is baffling that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection keeps no records in cases of bogus self-employment, despite carrying out inspections to apparently identify the problem. The Department cites that in 2017 it carried out 2,698 employer reviews with savings of €2.27 million recorded, which we welcome, but it could not tell the joint committee the number of these reviews which resulted in bogus-self employment being identified. We have a bizarre situation where inspections are being carried out, yet no data are being kept on the level of bogus self-employment found. That begs the question as to why the Department would even bother carrying out the inspections in the first place. Despite keeping no records of bogus self-employment, the Department believes in some reports it cites that bogus self-employment is not significant or prevalent. This shows a very lax attitude on behalf of the Department to the issue of bogus self-employment and no real intention of tackling it. While on the one hand the Department is happy to put pressure on ordinary citizens to recoup money where it makes a mistake and an overpayment is made, and the Government was happy to roll out a campaign on so-called welfare cheats which itself turned out to be bogus, it does not show the same urgency when it comes to employers using this practice.

The Government has said time and again that this is not an issue, yet it is not collecting the data to demonstrate how serious an issue this is. That is a failing on behalf of the Government and I want to know how that will be rectified.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

False self-employment is consistently brought up by Deputies as a prevalent issue. If any Deputy is aware of any particular cases, the Minister strongly urges them to bring these to attention of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to ensure they can be investigated.

The Department’s scope section makes in excess of 1,000 employment status determinations each year covering a range of issues including directors of companies, family employments, partnerships and public sector employments. The number of cases involving a direct conflict of employment or self-employment status is relatively small. In 2017, the scope section made 138 decisions resulting in a class A employment decision. Of these, 35 could be described as disputed employment/self-employment cases. In the current year, the section has made 113 decisions resulting in a class A employment decision of which 27 could be described as disputed employment self-employment cases.

Following a scope section decision, the employer will be liable for class A PRSI for the full period of employment. This can be a significant penalty for a business. Most employers co-operate fully with the Department’s inspectors in insuring compliance following a scope decision. Where they fail to comply, additional measures, including prosecution, can be brought to bear. Cases referred to the Department’s central prosecution service, CPS, for consideration of prosecution are examined using the principles established by the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP.

Employer-specific social welfare offences have been considered by the courts as being of a technical nature in that they relate to a failure to keep and maintain prescribed records and remit PRSI. If, during the proceedings, the employer remits the PRSI or provides the records that were requested, the case is commonly withdrawn or struck out. The Department will generally only pursue a case where the employer refuses to comply.

The Department carried out a media campaign on false self-employment in May 2018 to ensure better public awareness of the important service the Department provides in determining employment status, as well as to help develop a better understanding of the scale and nature of false self-employment. The scope section received 50 calls and 30 emails during the campaign from individuals who had become aware of the service directly as a result of the advertisement campaign. Up to 15 scope section investigations were created as a direct result of the media campaign.

Given the relatively low number of formal requests for determinations, there may be some reluctance by individuals to seek a scope section determination due to concerns over how an employer will react. This suggests that the most appropriate way to address the issue will be through inspection. Anti-victimisation measures may be required to provide assurance to workers that they cannot be victimised if they raise legitimate concerns regarding their employment status.

Although the response was low, the response to the campaign will inform the inspection work of the Department, Revenue and the WRC, including in sectors other than construction. The Department has intensified its employer inspection activity since the campaign. A separate series of investigations took place in the west focused on the construction sector. Two further projects with a particular emphasis on identifying false self-employment are planned for the Dublin north and mid-west divisions.

It is difficult to identify hard data on false self-employment without individuals coming forward for investigation and decision. While there are some cases of false self-employment in particular sectors, this has not translated into any increase in overall levels of self-employment as might be expected if there was a growing problem. The self-employed continue to make up just over 15% of total employment. This is in line with the average rate of self-employment in the EU and has not increased in the past 16 years.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. However, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has not grasped the scale of the problem with bogus self-employment. We all meet people in our constituency offices who believed they were on different contracts but found out that they were not employees but self-employed. This, in turn, caused problems when they retired or needed to access social services.

Will the Minister of State forward our concerns to the Minister? Will the Minister introduce legislation to outlaw this practice? If not, why not? It has been done in other jurisdictions. For example, in Australia, the Fair Work Act 2009 protects genuine employees from sham independent contracting arrangements and outlines an employer’s obligations in establishing an employment relationship. In addition, the Prohibition of Bogus Self-Employment Bill 2018 has been introduced in this House.

As a result of the evidence provided to the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection last week, will the Minister make the necessary changes to ensure inspection records are kept in order that evidence can be gathered to establish how widespread the practice is? Bogus self-employment needs to be addressed immediately to ensure workers have their full employment rights and the State does not lose out on millions of euro in lost revenue and PRSI. The Minister needs to act on this issue.

There is a commitment in the programme for the Government to address the increase in casualisation of workers and to strengthen employment regulations. The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 is currently going through the Oireachtas and it addresses several workers’ rights issues, including prohibiting zero-hour contracts in most circumstances and requiring the terms of employment to be produced by an employer within five days, a new minimum payment for employees called in to work but sent home again without work, a new right for employees whose contract of employment does not reflect the reality of the hours they habitually work, and for employees to be entitled to be placed in a band of hours that better reflect the hours they have worked over a reference period, as well as strong anti-penalisation provisions for employees.

The Minister welcomes the broad support for the Bill, which aims to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours. It particularly focuses on low-paid or vulnerable workers.

I am aware of people attending my constituency office with these issues. I go directly to the Department about these cases. I urge the Deputies to bring these matters to the attention of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, as well as writing to the Minister about them.

Public Procurement Regulations

The concept of tendering for State contracts is, in principle, worthwhile, placing an obligation on the Government to get the best value for money for taxpayers. Several issues have arisen, however, in how the State's procurement process has been implemented. Ireland is a small open economy and has vulnerabilities that other European countries do not have. The size and scale of our economy has put Irish contractors at a distinct disadvantage in the process.

It has been brought to my attention that a product supplied by a company, which was successful in winning the tender to supply the Garda training college in Templemore, County Tipperary, does not match the normal standards for food labelling. The contract was won at the expense of a local producer who had supplied the college for many years. The product in question is a roasted coffee product. The following issues have been presented to me which are of serious concern.

The product is branded to suggest that it is from a company registered in Ireland. However, there is no such company registered in Ireland, despite the packaging implying so. The packaging implies that the product is roasted in a specific town in Ireland. I can emphatically state that there is no coffee roasterie in that town. There is a minimum of three different types of coffee making up this product but the packaging does not state this. There is no labelling as to the origin of these coffees. A high percentage of the coffee from the sample pack tested was damaged, under-roasted and of low quality and consistency. A list of ingredients is not labelled on the sample pack examined. This is one product from one supplier. I am offering the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, evidence that normal standards of food labelling and safety have not been adhered to.

This raises serious concern about the effectiveness of the State's procurement process and demands that the particular incident be properly investigated. On this evidence alone, it is clear the process is completely unable to guarantee the same standard of food which local companies supplied for generations.

I have raised this issue on at least four occasions over the past two years and it is now a matter of urgency that we see real change in the national procurement process. No account is made in the tendering process for the local supplier with generations of experience in the supply of quality, safe foods to the public sector. I can also quote a furniture company, an office stationery company and a building company in my home town of Thurles which have been frozen out from supplying the public sector. They offer well-paid sustainable jobs in our communities and can match price and service, yet the Government says "No thanks". The Government believes some big international supplier can do better than our indigenous companies but it is wrong. These big international suppliers cannot do it better than our own local Irish suppliers. In this case, the big international companies are supplying a substandard product with very questionable labelling. I remind the Minister of State that this is a food product that we are talking about. In this case alone, the State's procurement process has got it terribly wrong. No one can be expected to believe this is an isolated incident. With the hundreds of thousands of products being supplied to the public sector daily, there is every chance that this is not the only low-quality product being provided. I argue that the business model of these international suppliers involves replacing quality products with cheaper substitutes to secure contracts. The Government is being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

I ask the Minister of State formally today to begin a root and branch review of the process and to put at its heart quality of product and service throughout the tender process. I ask the Government to show some support for our local companies and to stop hiding behind EU regulations. For once, let us support Irish jobs in Irish companies.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, I thank Deputy Cahill for raising this matter this evening. As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for carrying on and managing the administration and business of An Garda Síochána and the Minister has no direct role in the management of the finances of the Garda College in Templemore. It is important to note that the Commissioner is the Accounting Officer for the Garda Vote and that expenditure in relation to the Garda College and the procurement procedures operated at the college are primarily his responsibility. The Deputy will also be aware that the Garda Síochána's internal audit report on financial procedures in the Garda College, which was completed in February 2017, raised serious issues in relation to governance and accountability in the college. Oversight of the implementation of the recommendations of that report was referred to the Policing Authority by the Minister's predecessor in March 2017.

One of the issues of concern highlighted by the report was that the manner in which goods and services for the college were procured was not in accordance with public procurement legislation. The Commissioner accepted the findings set out in the report and put in place arrangements to ensure that its recommendations were implemented. The Commissioner has advised that, upon a request from An Garda Síochána, the Office of Government Procurement issued a request for tenders on 16 November 2017 via the eTenders procurement portal to establish a single supplier framework for the provision of goods to the college. To encourage small businesses to bid for this contract, the competition was divided into 13 product lots. The Minister is further informed that the request for tender for the food contracts for the Garda College restaurant clearly outlined that all labelling of the goods must comply with national and European food labelling requirements. The tender also included requirements in relation to HACCP and food safety compliance. The Minister is advised that the procurement process is complete and that contracts have been awarded to the successful tenderers.

The Policing Authority has assessed the action taken by An Garda Síochána regarding the recommendation in the audit report dealing with procurement at the Garda College and has deemed it completed. The Garda Commissioner has advised that the principal administrator at the college continues to ensure that the procurement of all goods and services is in line with public procurement procedures.

While I thank the Minister of State for his reply, the procurement policy operated by State bodies is the Government's responsibility. The fact of the matter is that small local companies are being frozen out. Templemore is just one example of what is, unfortunately, happening in the vast majority of tendering processes nationally. I can set out other examples besides the issue with the quality of the coffee which I cited in my opening statement. The quality of products being sourced is not up to the standard that obtained previously in the depot. There were 14 or 15 local companies supplying products to the depot previously and they provided valuable local employment which was essential to the local economy. All bar one lost out in this procurement process, however.

I have seen the tender process that was forced on these small companies. It was not possible for small companies to do what the procurement process demanded. It was extremely expensive and required the expenditure of a great deal of money in a lot of cases. Questions were also asked of suppliers which it was unreasonable to expect them to respond to. No small company could deal with them. One example relates to a local fruit company which had been supplying the depot for over 30 years and was asked what it would do in the event of a storm and about its capacity to source product. During the storm event which took place a couple of months ago, however, it was ironic to find the depot having to turn back to local suppliers to source supplies for the students and employees of the college. The procurement process which has been put in place renders it impossible for small local companies to win contracts.

I make the following point forcefully to the Minister of State. We now have proof that the product being supplied to one particular State institution is of an inferior quality by comparison to what was supplied previously. I am sure the same will apply elsewhere. This warrants investigation and I ask that one takes place.

The disappointment of local businesses which previously supplied goods and services to the college but were not successful in the recent tender process is understandable. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate the obligation on the Commissioner to ensure that best practice under public procurement legislation is followed in the sourcing of goods and services at the Garda College. However, the points the Deputy makes in his contribution and the concerns he raises are serious and an investigation is merited. I will therefore ask the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to investigate this matter.