Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Water and Sewerage Schemes Provision

The wastewater plant at the southern end of Crossbarry has been malfunctioning for many years causing blockages, flooding, foul smells and a serious nuisance for locals. Cork County Council, Irish Water and the Department have all agreed that it needs to be upgraded. As it was privately developed, the only option to solve the issues is to have it taken in charge. The Minister must release the new taking-in-charge scheme and give Crossbarry the chance to carry out the much-needed repair work and clean up the mess at the plant.

In addition to the large plant at the lower end of the village, there are a number of smaller temporary plants. Individuals in the village want to build houses and others want to upgrade their businesses. They are all stuck because of the inadequate sewerage connection. When Cluain na Croise was built in 2004 the plant at the end of the estate offered the best option for connecting the rest of Crossbarry village. Pipes were laid around other parts of the village and temporary plants were installed, pending the connection of these developments. The estate was not taken in charge and the developer collapsed when the building boom crashed. When problems arose at the plant, residents were left stuck, experiencing blocked sewers and unable to flush their downstairs toilets.

When emergencies occur local councils step in to resolve the problem. However, because the council is no longer a water authority, it is not in a position to carry out the upgrade. This is impacting on the wider village because the plant was meant to service the village and link up existing plants. The 2016 taking-in-charge initiative offered hope because €180,000 was approved for Crossbarry at that point. The expectation that works would be carried out was not realised and no works were carried out. Irish Water wanted to connect to Inishshannon to solve the problem. Surveys were carried out and the company came back with the same solution, namely, the big plant at the lower end of the village was needed.

That pilot scheme, which was the best option, did not advance for Crossbarry. It was the only scheme in the pilot that did not advance to construction. We have been seeking to have the scheme reopened since 2017. I have raised the matter repeatedly in the Dáil with the Minister of State. It was possibly the first question he addressed in the summer of 2017. At that point, we understood a review was to be conducted shortly, but here we are again. I have raised this repeatedly in a series of questions and have been told the review would take place shortly. People are stuck. We know that €31 million has been allocated to the new taking-in-charge initiative but the scheme needs to be opened in order that an application for the project in Crossbarry can be made. The project has already been assessed under the pilot scheme. We know exactly what is needed so it could even be fast-tracked in the new initiative when it opens.

I appeal to the Minister of State to act in order that we can put an end to the blocked sewers, overflowing gullies and smell affecting a particular corner of Crossbarry and give people in the village the opportunity for an improved quality of life. To be fair to them, these people have put up with this for far too long. This initiative is a real possibility for them. The funding is available and I ask the Minister of State to open the scheme so that Crossbarry and other places can apply.

I am taking this Topical Issue matter on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I thank Deputy Aindrias Moynihan for raising this issue and providing me with the opportunity to outline the position on wastewater treatment in Crossbarry, County Cork. Crossbarry is not serviced by a public wastewater collection and treatment system at present. However, I understand that there are three housing developments in the village, Cluain na Croise, Cúl na Gréine and Gleann Álainn, which are not taken in charge and are serviced by developer provided water services infrastructure. The taking-in-charge of housing developments is a matter for the relevant local authority under section 180 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

The Department launched the national taking-in-charge initiative in April 2016, as the Deputy noted, to trial new approaches and working methods in supporting and accelerating national and local action on the process for the taking-in-charge of housing estates, including estates with developer provided water services infrastructure. Under the terms of the initiative, which was underpinned by €10 million in funding, developments subject to valid taking-in-charge applications were eligible for inclusion in the associated call for funding proposals. Ultimately, €7.5 million of the allocated funding was paid to local authorities in respect of 330 developments containing some 14,930 homes. Cork County Council was allocated funding under the initiative for several proposed schemes to resolve developer provided water services infrastructure issues. The Deputy said the figure was €180,000, but I am told that €90,000 was allocated to estates in Crossbarry in County Cork. I understand the funding was used by the council to investigate the optimum sustainable solution for resolving these three developments, while also taking account of the wastewater needs of the entire village.

Findings and recommendations from the national taking-in-charge initiative process will be included in a report on the initiative that the Government intends to publish shortly. The publication of this report will be of value to local authorities and other stakeholders in applying the lessons from the pilot programme in a more general roll-out of a streamlined approach to taking-in-charge, including through co-ordination, with capital works by Irish Water.

In addition, the national development plan includes a provision of €31 million for the taking-in-charge of developer provided water services infrastructure in the period until 2021, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to transition from the pilot phase under the initiative to a programme phase. The Department intends to write to local authorities to advise them of the future funding arrangements for housing estates with developer provided water services infrastructure that are not taken in charge following the publication of the report of the review of the initiative, which I am told will be published at the start of 2019.

As the Minister of State knows, the council is not a water authority and, as such, it does not have funding to do this work.

It is all very much dependent on the taking-in-charge initiative with the €31 million in funding that is already in place. Not all of the funding that was allocated was used. In fact, very little of it was used because it was identified that there was a bigger job needed on it and that the taking-in-charge initiative would be the only show in town to benefit people in Crossbarry.

I have raised repeatedly the launching and reopening of this scheme so that places such as Crossbarry can apply. In summer 2017, it was happening shortly. In summer 2018, it was happening shortly. In the autumn, it was happening shortly. Now, the Minister of State is telling me that it is slipping off into 2019. People in Crossbarry need a result on it. They need to see that there will be action on that treatment plant at the end of the village and that they will not be pushed on further and further. Each time, we are being told it is some other time. In the interests of people in Crossbarry, we cannot afford to let those timelines slip. They need to see that there will be a result on it. Hearing that it is slipping off into the start of 2019 is not good enough for people in Crossbarry.

When the new scheme opens, because Crossbarry has been through the pilot and assessed and we know exactly what is needed there, can it be prioritised? Can it be fast-tracked through it or do they have to make a new application because it was the only one in the original pilot that did not go to construction? All of the assessments have been conducted on what is needed in linking up the various services in Crossbarry. Can it be fast-tracked?

Will the Minister of State give an assurance that the timeline will not continue to slip? We have seen it already slip from summer 2017 to summer 2018 to autumn and now into the start of 2019. In the interests of people in Crossbarry, will the Minister of State give an assurance that it will happen?

Seeing as it is end of the first week in December, I expect that people in Crossbarry probably realise at this stage that the start of 2019 is the earliest date that this report can be completed. The Government is committed to resolving such issues, not only in Crossbarry but throughout the country.

I reassure Deputy Moynihan that, following the imminent publication of the review, a multi-annual funding programme will be initiated to look at the needs of such housing estates and villages and towns throughout the country. Under the 2016 pilot scheme, the Department established a bids evaluation panel to assist in the evaluation of bids from local authorities and I expect that, under the forthcoming multi-annual funding programme, a similar approach will be implemented for the proposed new programme. In that case, it will be the panel that will make recommendations to the Department on the suitability of projects for funding based on the objective criteria ensuring independence, openness and transparency. The initial selection of the individual projects for funding will be a matter for the relevant local authority, in this case, Cork County Council. The Department will then consider the recommendations of the panel and, based on these, proposed projects for funding will be approved by the Minister.

We have a Minister for the second topic but we are missing the Deputy, who is Deputy Rock.

The two of us could always stand in.

We have a Deputy for the third topic but not a Minister. I would say Deputy Rock might be just held up. We will hold on for a minute or two and see if we can get him.

Unfortunately, I must suspend the House for five minutes.

The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, might be on his way here.

We will suspend for a few minutes until the Minister comes. There is no point in us sitting here.

Sitting suspended at 3.16 p.m. and resumed at 3.22 p.m.

Hospital Overcrowding

I became involved in politics while fighting for my local hospital in Nenagh which, in fairness, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, visited recently. I have been involved with the Friends of Nenagh Hospital group ever since. There is a serious overcrowding problem in University Hospital Limerick. There are four hospitals in the mid-west, namely, St. John's Hospital, Ennis General Hospital, Nenagh General Hospital and University Hospital Limerick. The first three are model 2 hospitals. University Hospital Limerick has the highest rate of overcrowding in Ireland. We are facing the worst ever overcrowding crisis. There was record overcrowding in the hospital in November, accounting for 15.5% of the nationwide total. It has had the highest overcrowding rate for 18 months in a row, with 1,071 patients on trolleys in recent months. Rather than Members shouting and roaring that it is a disaster, we should work to address it.

Two of my family members who are in their late 70s and late 80s, respectively, were recently admitted to University Hospital Limerick. It is a nightmare to wonder how they will get on in the light of the level of overcrowding.

In the short term, we need to come up with policies and changes that will work and have an impact because the current situation cannot continue. We must consider the role which could be played by the other hospitals in the mid-west, namely, Nenagh hospital, Ennis hospital and St. John's Hospital. The pathways and protocols for accepting patients need to be widened, as does the smaller hospital framework across the country. The minor injuries units do not have enough scope to deal with the type of injuries with which patients are presenting. In addition, too few patients are being directed to those units, which should have longer opening hours. Different protocols in regard to the type of patients who can attend model 2 hospitals post procedure, before procedure and so on are needed. That will require a better ambulance service and intermediate vehicles - not ambulances - to transport patients who are not at risk but need to be transferred to or from hospital. All of this needs to happen quickly.

There is an anomaly in University Hospital Limerick whereby a 60 bed modular unit has been announced for next year but the funding for the unit has not been allocated. Will the Minister of State clarify if that funding will be allocated? The number of consultants in the mid-west is, pro rata, the lowest in the country, as is the number of staff. Last year, 77,600 patients attended the new state-of-the-art emergency department, which includes a new theatre, in Limerick hospital, an increase of 10,000 attendances over three years. The hospital has the lowest length of stay, bed stock, rate of readmission and number of consultants in the country.

I make no criticism of management of the hospital network in counties Limerick, Tipperary and Clare. They are doing as good a job as they can. I have no criticism of the non-acute side either, which is also doing the best it can. The obvious problem is that University Hospital Limerick is too small and does not have enough staff. That will have to be addressed in the coming years. In the meantime, we need to loosen the terms under which the other hospitals in Nenagh, Ennis and Limerick are operating to allow them to relieve some of the pressure. I am fearful about how people will be treated in University Hospital Limerick over the Christmas and winter period. It does not have enough beds and its emergency department is in crisis to such a degree that I doubt it would pass a fire inspection.

I thank the Deputy for highlighting this issue. Of course, all Members accept the seriousness of the overcrowding issue. On several occasions in various forums I have addressed overcrowding at the emergency department in Limerick. We are determined to tackle it. Deputy Kelly made a valid point about more joined-up thinking and better utilisation of the model 2 hospitals which offer great value for money, service, capacity and huge benefits in terms of dealing with chronic overcrowding. Some 82% of respondents to the recent patient experience survey indicated that they had a wonderful or excellent experience in our hospitals. The issue is access. The only way to be admitted to our hospitals is through an emergency department. We must address that.

As Deputy Kelly rightly stated, we face a particular challenge over the winter months. The winter plan will be published tomorrow. As the Deputy is aware, many of its elements are already in the public domain and more will be teased out. The winter plan is not an annual event. Rather, the HSE has been progressing a three-year plan to deal with the acute pressures in our hospitals throughout the year for some time.

The Deputy is aware of the measures being taken to tackle these issues. He is a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and is up to speed on measures such as the 550 intensive home care packages and the €10 million that has been allocated for aids and appliances. We also need to utilise better the capacity in the model 2 hospital system and step-down and transitional care. Efforts in that regard are working very well in some areas. The Deputy is familiar with Bantry General Hospital which is a model 2 hospital in my constituency. It is the only remote rural hospital. This issue was debated at length on Monday with the hospital management group.

I have done a lot of work over the past three or four months with the chair of the University Limerick hospital group, Mr. Graham Knowles, on the issue of delayed discharges. For far too long, our focus has been on the number of people waiting on trolleys. It has been an obsession for some politicians and the media. RTÉ and similar agencies periodically highlight the number of people waiting on trolleys. That misses the point substantially.

Deputy Kelly will agree that it is far more important to put energy into recognising the number of people who are in hospitals but ought not to be. As the Deputy is aware, I have particular responsibility for older people. The most dangerous place for an older person who is vulnerable to infection to be is in an acute hospital for any longer than he or she ought to be.

The amount of time spent on trolleys is of more relevance than the number of people on trolleys. To focus on the latter is to miss the point, but it an easy headline to generate. Many politicians and members of the media focus on trolley numbers rather than examining the more substantive issues in regard to the causes of delays in our hospitals, such as freedom of movement into hospitals and the issue of delayed discharges. The chairman of the UL hospital group chaired a working group for me in recent months to identify several initiatives to address that issue in a constructive attempt to create space in our hospitals. We will roll out those initiatives to free up emergency departments and stop the chronic overcrowding.

We obviously have a lot of work to do with general practitioners to ensure patients go to the emergency department only when they absolutely have to do so and avail of healthcare at more local level in primary care centres. That is the objective of the Sláintecare project in the medium term. There is also a short-term objective which comprises the winter plan and the winter initiative. In that regard, a sum of €10 million has been announced. There is a medium-term plan, with which the Deputy is very familiar from his work in the implementation of Sláintecare, key to which is better utilisation of model 2 hospitals.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I live in the mid-west. The Hanly report came and went. Emergency theatres in Nenagh and St. John's Hospital in Limerick were closed. There was no plan. What happened was insane. There was insufficient capacity in Limerick from day one. Instead of standing here giving out, I shall propose some solutions and would appreciate it if the Minister of State put them to the relevant officials.

The opening hours of minor injury units need to be extended. They are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They could be opened for longer, particularly during the winter. St. John's Hospital in Limerick is only open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Why is it different from the other two? The protocols for accepting patients need to be broader in scope.

The second point is that there is a need to change the pathways associated with how patients are discharged. They could be discharged quickly from University Hospital Limerick to the other three hospitals.

The Nenagh clinical support and recovery unit has 17 beds, but it needs occupational therapists, a social worker, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists. Since it has 17 beds, it means that 17 patients could be moved to Nenagh. People in the general region of Tipperary would go there. The unit needs to be opened with all of the staff I have mentioned. Fifty patients in Limerick are waiting to be discharged, but there is nowhere for them to go.

With regard to winter funding, the acute medical assessment unit in University Hospital Limerick needs to be open 24/7. Also, the surgical short-stay unit needs to have longer opening hours.

Staffing is a considerable issue. The hospital has the lowest number of consultants in the entire country. This is a massive problem and disproportionate. As the Minister of State knows, it causes discharge problems because patients have to be clinically discharged by a consultant.

The medical assessment unit in Nenagh needs to be opened at weekends. The one in Ennis is open.

On a wider issue, primary care facilities in the mid-west are not up to the required standard. There are no rehabilitation beds for anybody below an elderly age. This means that there is nowhere to go for somebody in his or her thirties or forties.

Milford hospice is seeking the opening of a small number of new beds, which would be very helpful. I have said repeatedly that, for small amounts of money, we could have more intermediate vehicles to transport patients between the hospitals in the network in order that they could all work together. I have made eight or nine suggestions. I ask the Minister of State to put them to the HSE.

There is a bucket full of suggestions for the Minister of State.

I have noted all of them. I will be chairing the implementation group involving the Department and the HSE to address the issue of delayed discharges and determine what solutions we can come up with. I will certainly take on board each suggestion made by the Deputy. It is an absolute fact that, in a budget that is finite, we do not have endless resources for the health service. If €1 million was to be put into Nenagh General Hospital, as opposed to University Hospital Limerick, how much value for money would we achieve in a model 2 hospital? By how much would turnaround times improve? How many more patients would be seen? How many more procedures could be carried out? How many more beds could be freed up in University Hospital Limerick at the same time? There are numerous models such as transitional care, of which I am a big supporter. I have not seen actuarial evidence, but it has been said anecdotally that it could cost up to €7,000 per week to keep somebody in an acute bed and €1,000 per week to keep him or her in a community bed. When it comes to the mathematics, it is not rocket science. Patients do not need to be in acute hospitals for as long as they are. They need to be moved on in a timely manner. If there is no home care package available for them, for whatever reason, placing them in the community setting is a far more ideal option.

Of course, extending the opening hours of the medical assessment unit and the minor injuries unit and making them more accessible would be beneficial. However, there are protocols. We have to work with the National Ambulance Service on where patients are carried to. We must also consider the referral pathway with general practitioners. As we renegotiate the finer details of the GP contract, we need to rely less on emergency departments. Even nursing homes can over-rely on the emergency department. We need to ensure healthcare workers receive the influenza vaccine to avoid outbreaks of influenza. The Deputy is a big supporter of this. Influenza outbreaks cause chaos in emergency departments at peak times.

We intend to implement numerous measures to ensure better health service delivery for those who require it. I thank the Deputy for his constructive and supportive proposals. It is very easy to diagnose problems, but we need to focus more on solutions.

Language Schools

The unexpected and sudden liquidation of Grafton College language school has left more than 20 members of the teaching staff in a scandalous set of circumstances. They are now without a job and uncertain about their future and have no wages. This is shameful as we approach the Christmas period. Students have been left bewildered and are worried about being able to finish the courses for which they have paid substantial fees. Four hundred students will have to wait until next month before they can continue their courses. While this is welcome, it is still very disruptive and worrying for the students. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. In 2014 and 2015 close to two dozen language schools were closed suddenly. The sudden closure of such schools without regard for the staff clearly illustrates the nature of precarious employment in and the lack of regulation of this sector. The lack of protection for staff of such colleges in a sector that has proved to be highly profitable is unacceptable. Staff are treated as expendable resources. The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill which is before the Seanad today is vital legislation to give greater security and protection to both staff and students. I encourage Seanadóirí to support amendments to the Bill to strengthen employment protections in the sector. We need the Bill to be passed as quickly as possible in order that the exploitation of teachers in colleges such as Grafton College can end. The staff have requested that the Minister intervene in the debacle. I wonder whether he will meet them. This is the wrong time of the year for a closure to happen as it is coming up to Christmas. To be hit suddenly with such a closure is shameful.

I was outside Grafton College the night before last. The teachers who were gathered there were absolutely distraught, shocked and bewildered at what had happened. Without notice, the college closed. With Christmas coming, the jobs have been lost and the weeks of wages owed to the staff are not forthcoming, which is completely unacceptable.

The Government should take this issue very seriously because, proportionately, Ireland is the main destination for foreign English language students. Approximately 122,000 students of English as a foreign language come here. It is a big industry. In 2015 there were a number of collapses of schools that had not been properly regulated and did not have proper protections for students. Some protections for students were put in place but none at all for teachers. The teachers are highly qualified and have been left absolutely high and dry. They are asking the Minister to meet them. Some of them are visiting the Seanad. Today or in the next day or two, the Minister should talk to them. I know one of the teachers personally. This is the third time this has happened in his career teaching English as a foreign language. He was just left high and dry by one rogue employer after another.

Marketing English in Ireland needs to make a statement on this issue. It needs to state what it intends to do in order to address this problem and ensure it will not recur. We need to know whether the Government will support the amendments suggested by Unite the Union, effectively on behalf of English foreign language teachers, that would give some protection to teachers in these circumstances. To cut a long story short, there is a fund that gives some protection to students. It needs to be expanded to give protection to teachers in order they will not lose their wages if a company disappears in a puff of smoke.

We need proper regulation of this industry to prevent rogue employers behaving like this because it keeps happening. There are very serious questions as to what was going on financially in this company. The signs in this regard are certainly not good because there is not enough regulation of the sector or protection for teachers.

It would be good if the Minister could respond to the following questions. Will he meet the representatives of the teachers? Will he agree to support the amendments that are now before the Seanad and which, it is hoped, will come before the Dáil? Will he get Marketing English in Ireland to make a statement as to what it intends to do about this? Will he ensure that proper protection for teachers is put in place in order that teachers do not lose their earnings in cases such as this?

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, as an seans labhairt inniu faoin ábhar iontach tábhachtach seo. I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I regret that this situation has arisen for the students and staff of Grafton College. The fact that we are coming into Christmas lends added significance to the matter.

It is important to note that the majority of English language schools in Ireland are privately run. The relationship between teachers and private providers of education is based on a private contract, and issues relating to working conditions, including payment of wages, are matters between the two parties and do not come under the remit of the Department of Education and Skills. That said, I know there has been a public request in this regard, which the Deputies have repeated. I would be happy to meet the delegation. I can try to juggle and rejig my timetable this evening. If a delegation is in the House today, I would be happy to meet it in my office. I will stay in touch with the Deputies in this regard. I am, however, also conscious of expectations, which is why I put on the record my role in such matters. From a human point of view, I would like to meet the delegation.

Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, is closely monitoring the situation arising from the Grafton College closure and is engaging with all relevant stakeholders to ensure the closure will be as orderly as possible. Grafton College is a member of Marketing English in Ireland, MEI, an association of English language schools. I understand that students from Grafton College will be able to complete their studies in another MEI member school. Employees affected by the closure of a business may be entitled to apply, through the liquidator, to the insolvency payments scheme, which is administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I have spoken to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, in this regard.

The Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, is progressing legislation through the Oireachtas which is intended to strengthen substantially regulation and quality in the English language education sector. The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill is scheduled for Committee Stage in the Seanad today, 5 December. The new Bill will establish the international education mark and a learner protection fund. The international education mark, IEM, is a core component of the Government's policy for the English language sector. Only those providers that meet the robust quality assurance procedures of Quality and Qualifications Ireland will be allowed to carry the mark and recruit international students. The IEM will provide learners, or potential learners, with the necessary confidence that providers with the IEM have been quality-assured by QQI. Upon enactment, the Bill will also empower QQI to establish a learner protection fund which will be resourced by an annual charge from those providers covered by it. The fund will be used to "teach out" a programme in the event that a provider fails to provide a programme. Should this not be possible, the fund will be used to reimburse students for the most recent fees that have been paid.

The Bill also contains provisions to provide QQI with additional statutory powers to examine the bona fides of a provider. Providers will have to satisfy QQI in respect of issues such as their legal personality, ownership and corporate governance arrangements in addition to ensuring that adequate financial resources are in place to ensure the viability of these businesses. This will mean that only providers that satisfy QQI in these areas will have their quality assurance procedures approved by QQI and be eligible for the international education mark and to recruit international students. These measures will militate against the prospect of further college closures.

The issue of employment rights for English teachers has also been raised in the context of the qualifications and quality assurance Bill. I understand that the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, will respond to issues raised by Senators on Committee Stage of that Bill this afternoon. As in the case of any Bill going through the Houses, the Minister of State will consider any amendments and they will be subject to her decisions as they are dealt with. A number of amendments have been tabled.

I thank the Minister. I am glad to hear he will meet the teachers, have a word with them and find out what their feelings are. There needs to be some form of oversight of this industry. The Bill going through the Houses will help us in this regard, but we must stop this from happening in the future. This is not the first time this has happened. In recent years, we have had several cases of colleges closing down at short notice. I am sure reputational damage must be done to our image in other countries because these cases involve overseas students. It is incumbent on us all to sort this out and prevent it from happening again. Help is needed for the teachers, whether by way of social protection or some form of compensation to tide them over the Christmas period. The Minister said there is a fund, but these issues need to be addressed over the Christmas period. Everyone knows that this is one of the worst times of the year to be caught in a situation such as this. It is a horrible thing to happen to anyone no matter when it happens, but particularly at this time of year when there are huge expectations on people who have families, friends and children to deal with.

I welcome the Minister's willingness to meet the delegation which is sitting in the Gallery. Perhaps he could indicate how we might arrange this meeting. I think they are delighted he is willing to meet them, and fair play to him. Could he tell me - or tell them - how we might arrange that this afternoon?

Beyond that, the Government needs to put its eye on this issue. Two years ago, there were 122,000 students in this sector, which is a huge number, and it is probably higher now. We are talking about an industry worth between €700 million and €1 billion. It is too big to take the attitude that this company is a private business and not an issue for the Department. I would like to see the whole sector nationalised, but if the Government will not do that, it must regulate it properly. In addition, these teachers are paid very badly, are often disgracefully laid off for the whole of Christmas in any case, even though they are taken back on in January by the same employer, receive very low levels of pay and do not get proper entitlements. It is not right for such highly qualified people to be treated this way and then to be landed in this situation. We need protections for teachers. We need to take this industry seriously and we need proper monitoring and regulation of the many fly-by-nights in the sector who are in for the quick kill and then disappear off into the night. God knows some of them will end up coming back and setting up other schools in a few years' time, having left a great many people high and dry. While things have improved slightly for the protection of pupils, we have a hell of a long way to go in taking this industry seriously and protecting the teachers.

Given the seriousness of this issue, I allowed the Deputies a little extra time.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

I apologise for interrupting them, but we must stick to the guidelines.

The Minister has two minutes to respond. Perhaps he will meet the Deputies after the debate-----

-----or arrange to meet them.

Yes. We will work out the logistics afterwards. I thank the Deputies again. We are talking about the current human problem we have so close to Christmas and the disruption and difficulties it is causing. We are also talking about how we will prevent this from happening again. The QQI legislation is integral to this, as is the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. I know all Deputies of all parties and none have been working and pushing that agenda very hard. We must look at employment rights. I have been speaking to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. We will continue to ensure that the Bill passes all Stages in the Dáil. It is progressing through the Seanad. The Deputies will be aware of its key provisions, which relate to zero-hour contracts in certain circumstances and the introduction of banded-hour contracts. That second element is really important.

I have come across this issue so many times in my time in politics. In Gweedore, in my county, we had to deal with the heartbreak and difficulty of a company that went belly up on the eve of Christmas.

One of the big issues at the time was that employees wanted to find out what was available to them, how could they pay for the important stuff over Christmas and how could they get through it. They were the questions. What we did, collectively, in County Donegal on a joint Oireachtas basis, was to ensure the people with the answers, that is, representatives from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, were available. When we are thinking about how we are going to organise the meeting, I want to ensure the people with the answers will be there also. I will try to organise for somebody from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to attend the meeting. I would meet a delegation in my office, but as everybody wants to have a say, let us try to figure out some way to do it. We can have a chat about it straightaway afterwards, if the Deputies are agreeable. Across the spectrum, we have all known of recent examples of subbie busters, where people have not been getting paid and companies have gone into liquidation, etc. There is nothing more heartbreaking, difficult or disruptive to family life. I understand that and I am happy to meet the people who have come here today and not just out of courtesy. I am here as a representative of the Government to see how we can organise a pathway to deal with this problem. If it is a case of looking at long-term progression such as extra training or employment prospects in the sector, let us look at all of the options. I am happy to do so, but I would like to have the right people in the room to give the right advice, especially this close to Christmas.