Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Affordable Childcare Scheme Implementation

Niamh Smyth

Question:

34. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the affordable childcare scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6967/19]

Seán Sherlock

Question:

46. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when the affordable childcare scheme will be operational. [7070/19]

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

58. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the implementation of the affordable childcare scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7067/19]

What is the status of the affordable childcare scheme and will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

I propose to Questions Nos. 34 , 46 and 58 together.

I am delighted to report positive progress in the development of the affordable childcare scheme and confirm our plans for the scheme to launch this October, with payments flowing from November. The launch of this scheme will, as indicated earlier, alter the landscape of childcare in Ireland. It will provide financial support for parents, establish a sustainable platform for investment in the childcare sector for decades to come and, crucially, allow us to continue to invest in giving our children the best start in life. Following on from the enactment of the Childcare Support Act last July, detailed secondary legislation and policy guidelines are now being finalised. Our information technology, IT, development contractor, Codec, is working with officials from the Department and Pobal to develop the scheme's supporting IT system to ensure that it will be available on schedule. The project is complex and challenging but a rigorous project management methodology and strong governance structures are in place to manage it.

In December, I signed regulations that will provide, for the first time, for the registration of school-age childcare services with Tusla, and these regulations will come into force on 18 February next. This means that school-age childcare services will be able to participate in the scheme from the beginning, which is a very significant change. An information campaign for parents and the public will commence in the near future. This will run alongside comprehensive training and information supports for childcare providers and other key stakeholders, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to be well prepared in advance of the scheme's launch.

From March, my Department will launch a comprehensive communications campaign that will advise parents and guardians how they can avail of the scheme and the levels of subsidy to which they could be entitled. That is important. This campaign will run concurrently with a campaign for childcare providers to answer their queries on the scheme and provide training to prepare them for operating the scheme in October.

Under measures included in budget 2019, I was pleased to have been able to further enhance the scheme by raising the upper and lower thresholds for income-related subsidies. These increases will poverty-proof the scheme for families on lower incomes, allow more families with higher incomes to access subsidies under the scheme and ensure that an even greater number of families overall will now benefit from the scheme once it is launched. Of course, there is a lot of work to do between now and October next to have the affordable childcare scheme up and running for parents. I will continue to work intensively with my Department and Pobal to have the scheme ready and functioning properly. It is an exciting development and will make a real difference to children, parents, families, society and our economy.

That is all very welcome. As we know, childcare costs continue to be crippling for parents, some of whom spend up to 35%, or even more, on childcare services. We are one of the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to childcare costs. Has the Minister any statistics on the uptake of this scheme in crèches in Cavan and Monaghan? Will she give us some indication of the appetite of childcare providers for it?

The Minister referred to communication, which is welcome. It is very important that parents and childcare providers are fully informed. This is especially true for parents because they are all so busy with their own lives and trying to keep on top of mortgage payments and jobs. What form of communication will that be? Will it be via social media or local radio? The Minister also speaks about the training to be provided as part of the scheme. Will the Minister provide some more information on that?

The cost of childcare for many families is still exceptionally challenging, as I am well aware. As the Deputies know, we have seen significant investment over the past couple of years but we started from a low base. It is as simple as that. We are conscious of the need for investment not only to ensure that childcare is affordable but also that it is of a high quality. The latter point relates to what we are able to pay our great childcare providers and professionals.

I do not have any specific information on the facilities in Cavan and Monaghan but I will certainly look at that for the Deputy and get back to her if we have any details. I presume she is asking about the future appetite of providers. My understanding is that there is a great appetite for this, although people do not necessarily have to sign up to it. Ultimately, there will be great ease in administration from a provider's perspective and in the process of signing up children from a parent's perspective.

What role will city and county childcare committees play in communicating this and ensuring that there is support for both parents and providers? We have morning, after-school and full-day sessions, along with breakfast clubs, so an amount of information must be brought to everybody. I am sure city and county childcare bodies will have a large role to play.

There is the matter of information technology and the rolling out of the affordable childcare scheme. If everything fits in a box, that would be perfect, but there are exceptional cases so will there be training for such instances? A person may have an illness and a mum who would normally pay for the service could be out of work, so will those scenarios be taken into account? What will be the level of support provided to deal with those exceptional cases?

An earlier question from Deputy Rabbitte and Deputy Niamh Smyth's question relate to affordability. With our use of information technology, it will be much easier and more straightforward to increase investment for families and make changes to thresholds, whether they are at the lower or higher end. It will be streamlined into one way of looking at a family's income and the supports required by children. We are building a platform where it will be easier for investment and policy decisions to increase lower and higher thresholds to be made.

The Deputies asked about the information campaign and the county and city childcare committees will be involved. I will get a bit more detail for the Deputy but these organisations are at the coalface. We will use many forms of communication, including social media. We did this before and the Deputies would have seen the information everywhere. The Deputy asked about training, particularly for providers; we will have IT processes and there is always an opportunity to have people from the Department standing by if there are difficulties.

I thank the Minister for the information provided. We have received feedback from childcare providers in particular across Cavan and Monaghan. My colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, has been to Cavan to meet some of those childcare providers. The administrative end of all these schemes can cause heartache.

It has become very burdensome for the childcare providers in terms of paperwork. I have received feedback about the absolute frustration that they do not get to do the job they want to do, which is to provide childcare, because their time and energy are so taken up with bureaucracy. I fully endorse keeping checks and balances, however, will the Minister talk about the bureaucracy? Her opening remarks referred to this being eased for childcare providers, which would be welcome, but they want to know what they can expect in the new scheme.

I will take it from the point of view of parents. I return to the exceptional cases. Part of the affordable childcare scheme is that where there are exceptional cases there is streamlining between the parent making communication with the provider and the provider contacting the city and county childcare provision. Where is that going to be logged and assessed for funding? Will it be done electronically or through a paper system, or does the city and county childcare make the application? I am looking at this from a parent's point of view. God forbid something unforeseen happens and that a parent cannot afford to make the payment for childcare for whatever reason, I want to know the mechanism for availing of support in the context of the 35%.

I refer to Deputy Smyth's questions. Absolutely, the intention is that there will be an easing of bureaucracy. That is a significant aspect of the establishment of the scheme. Will it happen all at once? No, probably not, but we are preparing for it and for the transition. The Deputies will be aware that part of the investment has been towards increasing the team in my Department and it has been working closely with all the providers as well as researchers and people across the country in an effort to consider everything and prepare so as to get it right. Streamlining, particularly through the ICT system, will take time as people will need to learn how to operate it. We have continued to invest in order to support providers with bureaucracy and have continued to increase payments to providers in recognition of this. Sometimes this involved difficult fights with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, though I won some of them.

Deputy Rabbitte asked good questions, including how parents can cope if their circumstances change. I will assume that both the county and childcare committees will support the providers, although the providers will be there first. It is a very good question which I will bring back to the Department for consideration.

Aftercare Services Provision

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

35. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the lack of consistency that exists in terms of children in foster care receiving aftercare plans and aftercare workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7063/19]

Has the Minister's attention be drawn to the lack of consistency in the aftercare plans and aftercare workers for children in foster care.

I thank the Deputy for her ongoing interest in this area. I am aware that the rollout of Tusla’s after care policy has been uneven across areas, particularly in the minority of Tusla areas that have recruitment and retention problems. However, overall the service has improved considerably in recent years. Each year, around 500 young people who have been in care turn 18 years of age. The most recent data available relates to September 2018 when there were 2,366 16 and 17 year olds, and young adults, who have an aftercare worker.

Of those assessed as needing an aftercare worker, 93% had one assigned to them. The majority of young adults receiving aftercare services had an aftercare plan according to the most recent data.

Of the 1,979 young adults aged 18 to 22 years in aftercare, there were 393 young people in aftercare in university or other third level college. A further 272 were completing their second level education. In terms of other education and training, 592 young adults were in vocational training, PLCs and accredited training courses. At this time there is limited data on the breakdown of the remaining 700 young people who are either working, unemployed or are in receipt of disability services. Tusla is developing systems to provide further detail in this area, and I have asked that this work be expedited.

Tusla has 100 approved aftercare posts including 11 vacancies, and the NGO sector is funded to provide a further 18 posts. While this works out as an average caseload of 20 per aftercare worker, some young people need more extensive support while others may only need occasional advice and help in accessing State supports. For example, 45% of young people in aftercare remain living with and supported by their former foster carers. This group generally requires less input from their aftercare worker than a young person leaving residential care. They have differing needs which inform how Tusla supports them.

This is one of the questions that I ask regularly because there are so many different views on it and care-leavers have such different experiences. It is so hard to achieve a uniformity so that all needs are met. Does the Department engage with people and garner their views of aftercare service? Does Tusla and the Department have a formal advisory council for young people with experience of the foster care system and, if not, would the Minister consider establishing such a forum? Have we a way of gathering this information? We must listen to the voices of young people, and I do not believe that they are being listened to. I worry that some of the 770 people of whom the Minister spoke will end up in homelessness.

Those are all excellent questions. As I acknowledged, we do not yet have the uniformity that we seek. It is an ambition but it will require more work, particularly to ensure the adequate level of staffing in the different areas as well as ensuring that we improve data collection. That is what I tried to indicate in my answer. It relates to staff and to the need for better data, particularly in relation to the 700 young people.

The Deputy asked if we engage; we do. I had an extraordinary opportunity to meet the advisory council of EPIC who are young people who have been in foster care who represent the interests of those in foster care, and I will continue to engage with them. That may go some way to answering the Deputy's question.

EPIC does play a wonderful role as an advocate for those in foster care and giving young people a platform to have their say. The role it plays is fantastic.

Following on from that, will this year's budget extend the care leaver's package? Currently, unless someone is in education, the supports finish at the age of 18. Has the Minister considered, or has she costed, the extension of supports to 21 years or 23 years, so that being in education would not be the only criteria for supporting young people? There must be more criteria than merely being in education. Every young child deserves a second chance.

Those are excellent questions. I understand that is being considered and will revert to the Deputy more specifically on this. The Deputy's questions relate to supports, including financial and educational, for care leavers. She also indicated concerns over where they go, where they live and so on. We have taken some significant steps for the 9% who leave care and are at the most pronounced risk of entering unsuitable accommodation due to the complexity of their support needs.

They are being included for the first time in the category of funding under the capital assistance scheme to recognise those complex needs. My Department has worked with Tusla and approved housing bodies, AHBs, to identify where housing that will be used for those care leavers who have more complex needs and that will allow them to be supported while living independently can be accessed and set up. At the end of 2018, some 30 properties had been acquired, 20 more were sale agreed, while ten young people were in tenancy under the scheme with more to follow.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Seán Sherlock

Question:

36. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if burial sites allied to former institutions are being examined for the purposes of further investigations and possible excavations. [7071/19]

Will the Minister outline whether burial sites allied to former institutions are being examined for the purpose of possible further investigations? This is in the context of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes and in the light of the speech that the Minister made to the Seanad on 6 February, when she indicated that the commission plans to deliver a substantial report on the burial arrangements for persons who died while resident in the institutions by 15 March 2019. She went on to state that the commission's assessment of burial arrangements at other major institutions is also being considered. What is the state of play vis-à-vis other institutions?

The investigation of burial arrangements of persons who died while resident in what were termed mother and baby homes is a key focus of the terms of reference for the statutory commission of investigation. We know from the commission’s interim reports that it has dedicated significant time and effort to advancing its investigations of these matters. While I understand the urgency and sensitivity surrounding these questions given the advancing age of many former residents and their families, the Deputy will be aware that the statutory commission is independent of Government in the conduct of its investigations.

In response to the commission’s confirmation of juvenile remains at the Tuam site, the Government approved a comprehensive programme of action, including a phased excavation, exhumation and identification programme, in so far as it is possible. We were guided by families and campaigners, the residents of Tuam and the best expertise available to us in making this decision. All reasonable steps will be taken to ensure that the children interred at the site will have a dignified and respectful burial and to assist their families and the wider community in seeking answers to as many questions as possible.

To answer the Deputy's specific question, the commission has yet to issue findings in respect of burials at other locations. Last month, I announced that it plans to report on the burial arrangements at these institutions in March 2019. The extensive technical reports prepared in the course of the commission’s work on the site of the former Tuam mother and baby home will also be included in the report and, therefore, it will significantly assist my Department’s ongoing work to advance the necessary legislative and operational arrangements for the Tuam site. Most significantly, I have been informed that the commission intends to use the report to outline its findings in respect of the burial arrangements for the other institutions within its remit.

I welcome the Minister's reply and acknowledge that the commission has captured the personal experiences of more than 500 people, as the Minister noted in her speech in the Seanad. I ask her to be a little more specific about other institutions, if possible. Can I deduce from the Minister's reply that other former institutions are being examined, and that there will be a report to that effect? The Tuam site is well documented and a process is under way. Can we expect a process in respect of other parts of the country?

The commission has recently conducted geophysical testing on the burial grounds located on the site of Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, County Tipperary. The work is being undertaken following the receipt of further information from a member of the public. I understand that the commission has examined the burial plot at Bessborough but has not conducted a similar geophysical examination. Burial arrangements at Bessborough are being examined, however, and will be reported on in the burials report.

The commission’s initial testing may lead to more invasive test excavations if it believes such work would be of assistance. I will seek formal Government approval to publish the burials report as soon as possible after I have had an opportunity to consider its findings. It will be a significant report.

In that case, we can assume unambiguously that no geophysical testing of Bessborough has thus far taken place but that if the need arises, such testing will take place. Can a decision on that be expected when the report is published, or is the Minister, in consultation with her Cabinet colleagues, taking steps in the interim to have geophysical testing done at the site?

Yes, I confirm that no geophysical examination of Bessborough has taken place. I reiterate that if the commission decides there is a need to undertake an examination, I expect it to do so. As I have stated, I do not know what the commission will do because it is independent. Nevertheless, having questioned the chair of the commission, Judge Yvonne Murphy, when I met her regarding the fourth interim report, I know that the commission will provide us in its report with the final word on its findings in respect of burial sites.

Childcare Services Funding

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

37. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on whether existing levels of capital funding for childcare providers are sufficient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7065/19]

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

38. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will target funding from the upcoming 2019 early years and school-age capital programme for north-west areas of County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7043/19]

Is the Minister satisfied that the existing levels of capital funding for childcare providers are sufficient, and will she make a statement on the matter?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 37 and 38 together.

A key priority for me as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is to support the early learning and care and school-age childcare sector through the provision of capital funding where it is most needed. In this regard, I have allocated significant funding in recent years for the creation of early learning and care and school-age childcare places where most needed and for improving the quality of the infrastructure nationwide. In 2019, I have secured a capital budget of €9.606 million for the sector, which will enable us to focus on increasing the number of places available and supporting the transition of services to the forthcoming affordable childcare scheme. Some €6.106 million of the funding has been allocated for the 2019 early learning and care and school-age childcare capital programme.

The funding will be delivered in three strands. Some €4.231 million has been allocated to strand A, which will offer grants of up to €50,000 in value to early learning and care providers for the creation of places for children up to the age of three where there is clear evidence of demand. Some €0.875 million has been allocated to strand B, which will offer individual grants of up to €15,000 in value to aid community and not-for-profit early learning and care services in addressing fire safety issues that have been highlighted in inspection reports by Tusla, the HSE or local authorities. Some €1 million has been allocated to strand C, which will offer individual grants of up to €20,000 in value to school-age childcare providers for the creation of new school-age places where there is clear evidence of demand. Funding will be available nationwide in a competitive process, with the application window open between Monday, 25 February and Wednesday, 27 March 2019. Applications will be appraised on a number of criteria, including demonstration of need, value for money, the capacity of the organisation, that is, its compliance with the scheme rules, project achievability and socio-economic deprivation in the service’s location.

Grants will be allocated to applications of the highest quality. In accordance with the principles of fairness and equity no funding will be earmarked in advance for any particular area in the country such as the north-west part of County Cork.

One of the central aims of the capital programme is to allocate funding for projects where need is clearly evidenced, regardless of the region or area in which a service may be located. The capital programmes are necessarily a budget-limited exercise. The maximum available under each of these strands has been determined in consideration of optimising what can be delivered by each individual grant, as well as maximising the amount of providers and children who will ultimately benefit from the funding.

In addition, I am very pleased to have ensured that childcare was identified a strategic priority in the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and to have secured €250 million capital funding for childcare under the plan. This represents the kind of large scale investment in the sector by the State that has not been undertaken since the wrapping up of the national childcare investment programme in 2010.

This investment will be essential, I believe, to respond to the increased capacity we expect as the new affordable childcare scheme is introduced. The scheme will radically change how this country supports the cost of early learning and care and school age childcare. Research is ongoing in my Department to determine areas of specific need that the national development plan funding will address when it comes on stream in the coming years.

I welcome the €9 million and I have seen the progress to which it has given rise. I am still not convinced, however, that it is enough. I am still not convinced it is hitting the targeted area completely. How do these figures match up with the Department's growth projections with demands in the sector within the next ten years? This is the second time I have spoken about Mountbellew Community Childcare Centre. If those who run the centre were to add on an extra room, the cost would be approximately €170,000. However, the maximum grant for which they can apply is €50,000. That centre is turning people away. Mountbellew is a feeder town for Athlone, Galway and Ballinasloe. The centre has a capacity issue and we need to see if there is another strand for exceptional circumstances where we could support childcare infrastructure and capacity.

I hear the Deputy and I acknowledge that she does not believe the investment of €9 million this year is enough. Deputy Rabbitte questioned the capacity to target the funding to where it is most needed. She also asked if we miss some places because we do not have enough money or if it is possible that we just miss certain places. The Deputy stated that there is not enough funding. I accept what she is saying and there is no question but that I will continue to seek further investment. I am grateful that I was able to obtain €9 million for 2019.

The Deputy also commented on the targeting of funds. The Department and Pobal do a pretty good job in targeting the funding, with scenario analyses and the ongoing feed in from the different providers. They are not, however, always necessarily on the mark and this is why it is important for others to feed in if there are concerns. The Deputy referred to exceptional cases. The Deputy is aware that the Department is always open to hearing that and to working with providers in some way to continue to ensure their sustainability.

Parents are concerned that they would have availability of childcare places locally and that they would not have to travel all over the country to get access to a naíonra, a Montessori or other such facilities. Populations are growing in different areas. Ballyvourney and Ballincollig, for example, are two fairly different scales. The Cluain Réidh housing development in Ballyvourney is now fully occupied and planning permission has been obtained for the building of additional houses behind Cúil na Carraige. This is on top of demand that was already there. Parents are keen to have the centre or a naíonra available to them. I put it to the Minister that the scale of the funding is too small. Is there going to be a targeting of funds to fit in with the Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030 to provide additional support for naíonra positions?

The situation in Ballincollig is on a much larger scale. There are 50 houses already occupied in Lisheen Woods. Murnane and O'Shea Limited is building 130 houses behind the Gaelscoil. The houses at Nagels garden centre are occupied and the field across the way from it has planning approved. Clearly, there is much bigger growth and demand in that region and yet no spaces were approved over the last year. Will additional priority be given to places that have not received funding previously?

Generally speaking I would think yes, but obviously they would have to meet the various criteria in that regard. It is also dependent on the scale of funding. I have already accepted the Deputy's colleague's comments to the effect that the funding is not enough. We will continue to seek as much capital investment as possible. If it is required for naíonrí or other smaller facilities that were not able to access funding previously, it could be taken into account in the future, but they will also have to meet other criteria.

With regard to larger capital investment, especially in areas identified by Deputy Moynihan has having a growing population and housing developments, this is one of the reasons it is important to plan. My Department is engaged in research to determine the current and future need for that kind of capital investment. It is anticipated that this will give rise to a larger, more in-depth exercise whereby we will look at - and take into account - the issues identified by the Deputies to see how to go about setting the criteria and identifying the areas of most need.

We shall now have three short and snappy supplementary questions.

The recent Pobal report, The Early Years Sector Profile Report 2017-2018, indicates that 34% of toddlers were on waiting lists for early years care. The report stated that there was capacity for 88% of Ireland's three to five year olds. This blends into a cohort to attend childcare at any given point. When one breaks it down that way I do not believe that €281,000 per city and county is sufficient for delivery. I again ask the Minister if there is a need to support critical infrastructure in identified areas.

I have cited two examples - Ballincollig and Ballyvourney - but we are aware of many other areas across north-west Cork. The current allocation of €9 million leaves approximately €200,000 per county. For a county the size of Cork that allocation would be immediately swallowed by each of the places I have mentioned. Is there any indication that the Minister will be able to put additional funding towards larger counties where there is larger demand such as those areas of Cork?

I also asked about the straitéis 20 bliain and the need to support naíonrí and other centres that conduct their business as Gaeilge. Will this also inform the directing of funds towards those types of childcare?

Deputy Sherlock also has a relevant supplementary question.

I could go around the houses in north Cork - and in east Cork for that matter- but I will not do so. Does the Minister anticipate that the €9 million allocation will actually be used up? Will those funds be fully taken up?

I will answer the last question first. Yes, from our past experience I see it being taken up in full. There are usually more applications than we can fund.

Deputies Rabbitte and Moynihan are aware that the Department works very closely with Pobal on the waiting lists to the extent that it is possible and with the science available. We work regularly with Pobal in scenario analyses to anticipate where the need is and around the costs required to build the capacity. This is not to say that there might not be some gaps around critical infrastructure in certain areas. Again, this is part of the information that needs to continue to be fed into the Department, especially through the county childcare committees or directly.

In the context of the amount of money available for a big county such as Cork, I shall remember that.

The Minister has not visited Cork since she was appointed.

The Deputy will be aware that, usually, if it is a large county and a large population, more investment in capacity would be required.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Denise Mitchell

Question:

39. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has considered the request by some survivors of the Tuam mother and baby home to collect DNA from survivors and their relatives to ensure that as many human remains as possible can be identified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6780/19]

Has the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs considered the call by some survivors of the Tuam mother and baby home to collect DNA to ensure that as many human remains as possible will be identified and will she make a statement on the matter?

I am aware of calls by the Tuam Home Survivors' Network for the Government to begin collecting their DNA samples immediately. They describe this issue as urgent, in light of the age profile and health status of some survivors.

The purpose of collecting samples would be to compare against any DNA profiles that may be generated from the juvenile human remains found at the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam and, if possible, to make positive identifications. These issues will ultimately be addressed within the legislation that is currently being scoped by my Department. However, I am sympathetic to the concerns of survivors that their ages and health profiles introduce an element of urgency.

I would like to respond as positively as possible to the survivors' request having regard to the current legislative framework. With this in mind, I have asked Dr. Geoffrey Shannon to examine whether it is possible to meet this request. This examination will be done in the context of what is legally and scientifically possible. In examining this matter, we need to be conscious that important issues arise in respect of the handling of sensitive personal information. It should be possible to find a solution that takes account of survivors' wishes, while providing appropriate safeguards.

Dr. Shannon will consult my officials in the course of his work and provide a report to me in the coming weeks.

I am pleased that the Government is looking favourably on this request. This is a sensitive and sad topic. I hope that Dr. Shannon also looks favourably on it because it is important to the relatives and survivors.

It is my understanding that legislation would not be required if somebody is volunteering DNA. I hope the Minister can clarify where she expects there to be concerns around this. It is positive that Dr. Shannon will report back to her in eight weeks. How long after the report comes back will a decision is made?

I am aware of the concerns of, and the questions and request, from the survivors. I have heard them through the media, they have been in correspondence with me and I have talked to them directly. Because of that and having known and worked so well with them over the years, we want to respond positively.

In answer to the Deputy's question on why, if they volunteer it is not possible to move forward, I will outline the terms of reference agreed for Dr. Shannon's report. Even if people volunteer, we need to ensure that we have the proper legislative framework. The intention and purpose is to compare whatever is collected with what is found in respect of the remains of the children. The terms of reference include the collection of biological samples for comparison purposes – we need to be sure we are okay on that from a legal perspective – the extent to which any relevant family rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights might apply, and how best to ensure that the rights of those who wish to give biological samples could be safeguarded in respect of sensitive personal data and informed consent.

To return to Deputy Sherlock's question earlier, a geophysical survey was carried out by the commission at Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary. The same religious order was responsible for Bessborough. The records contradict each other on the numbers who died. Many of the survivors are convinced that there may be other burials on site. The Minister said the commission is independent, but would she support a similar survey?

That is a great question. The Deputy started by referring to the records showing that the numbers do not add up. The most comprehensive record and analysis of the records will be the commission's report on the burials and we will get that pretty soon. We have many others to be grateful to in regard to the records, not least some of our journalists. What the records show will be part of that report. As a result of that report, the commission will make some finding and some recommendations probably but it has not conducted any geophysical work on that site. I am not privy to why it has made that decision or even if it might change before the report comes out but I suspect not. Should there be evidence in the records that it offers and more work needs to be done in that regard, I am the one who got the decision on Tuam.

May I ask a brief supplementary question on that subject?

We have to acknowledge that the Minister is giving the House some signal here that if the report makes an adjudication or finding in respect of Bessborough, there will be an action there and she will consult her Cabinet colleagues. I would be grateful if the Minister would reiterate on the record of the House, given her bona fides in respect of Tuam, that the same set of principles will apply in respect of Bessborough.

I am looking forward to the report and its recommendations and analysis, and I do not expect that I will employ alternative principles in making recommendations to my colleagues on how to respond to it.

To Bessborough?

Childcare Services Inspections

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

40. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of inspectors available to conduct inspections in naíonraí and the various early years centres operating through the medium of Irish outside and inside the Gaeltacht; if the inspections are conducted through Irish; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7059/19]

I am conscious of the role early learning and care services play in promoting Irish as a living language and how this helps children to develop proficiency in the Irish language. My Department has participated proactively with colleagues in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in agreeing a comprehensive set of early learning and care actions to be implemented under the Action Plan for the Irish Language 2018 to 2022. Inspections of early learning and care services are carried out by two inspectorates. The first is located in Tusla and the second in the Department of Education and Skills.

Tusla's early years inspectorate seeks to provide a high standard of service through the medium of Irish and is committed to supporting early learning and care services where Irish is spoken. At present, Tusla has one inspector with high level proficiency in the Irish language. This inspector carried out 17 inspections through the medium of Irish in 2018. There are a number of inspectors with conversational Irish who engage with the providers outside and inside the Gaeltacht at an informal level through Irish. The Tusla inspectorate is currently engaged in recruiting a further specific Irish language inspector with expert proficiency in both oral and written Irish.

With regard to the early years inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills, of the current total inspection team of 20 inspectors, seven have strong capacity to engage in early years education inspection fully through Irish, including the writing of inspection reports, providing feedback for continuous improvement and responding in Irish to issues raised by personnel in the early years services.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In addition the inspectorate deploys primary inspectors, who have special expertise in early years education, in the quality assurance of reports that are prepared for publication in Irish.

The Department of Education and Skills inspectorate also has an active continuing professional development, CPD, programme to build the capacity of the wider early years inspection team which includes early years and primary inspectors.

Tá sé sin an-tábhachtach. Nuair a bhíonn cigireacht ar siúl, seoltar teachtaireacht an-soiléir chuig na páistí má bhíonn ar an múinteoir aistriú go dtí Béarla nuair a thagann an cigire isteach. Seoltar teachtaireacht láidir agus diúltach ar fad. An bhfuil go leor cigirí ann chun gnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaelainn?

Is the Minister satisfied that one inspector is sufficient to cover the entire country? Bearing in mind that Irish is spoken by a significant portion of the population throughout the country and not just in Gaeltacht areas, is one inspector enough to serve the naíonra population throughout the country?

I am not so satisfied. As I indicated, another inspector with a high level of proficiency in Irish is being recruited. We will see whether that will be sufficient. A point I may not have made in my opening remarks is that there are several actions in addition to inspection to support the use of the Irish language in early years services.