Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Misuse of Drugs

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for taking this Topical Issue matter today.

I hope there can be some clarity on the confiscation of cannabidiol or CBD products around Ireland. Many people are confused about the legality of CBD products. Even I am confused on what is legal or not legal.

In recent months some shops in the country have been raided, for the want of a better word, by the police and the Customs and Excise. They have confiscated CBD products such as CBD flower, CBD tea and CBD oil. This is a great inconvenience for the shop owners because they are not breaking any law.

This stems from the law and in particular, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. There is no exception whatsoever for tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, trace amounts. This is where we run into trouble. The shop owners are perfectly legitimate and law-abiding. They are selling products that are perfectly legal but obviously there is a situation whereby the interpretation by some arms of the State, in particular, the Customs and Excise and the police, contravenes that of other arms of the State, namely, the Health Products Regulatory Authority and the Food Safety Authority. The latter authorities maintain there can be trace amounts of THC in CBD products of up to 0.2%. That is the background. Some of these shop owners will possibly face criminal sanction and thus the stakes are serious indeed.

If the police of this State interpreted the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 by the letter of the law, then there are shops not far from here on Grafton Street that are selling CBD products with trace amounts of THC at 0.2%. If that is the case, then the manager should be questioned by the police. There is a major contradiction in this regard.

Many people use CBD products and find them beneficial for their well-being. This is putting them in a situation whether they do not know whether they are breaking the law. This is a mess and I hope the Minister of State at the Department of Health can bring some clarity.

I have a document to hand from the Department of Health. I understand there are proposed amendments to the 1977 Act to provide for inclusion of trace amounts of THC up to 0.3%. That would give clarity because there is no clarity whatsoever around this issue at present. I hope the Minister of State can elaborate on that point.

The problem lies in laws that were written 42 years ago. They have not been updated to reflect what people are doing at the moment, including CBD shops and CBD derivatives. There has almost been a boom in production of these products during the past two and a half years.

I hope the Minister of State can give some clarity for the people who are listening. Many people are looking and listening to this segment in the Dáil tonight to see where they are going, as shop owners and people who use CBD. I hope they will not be criminalised.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue in the House today. Revenue's Customs service has primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs intended to be smuggled or illegally imported into the State. An Garda Síochána has primary responsibility for the investigation of any offences relating to the smuggling or illegal importation of controlled drugs and sole responsibility for drug law enforcement within Ireland.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is commonly referred to as THC, is a derivative of cannabis, which is a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and regulations and orders made thereunder. This legal framework gives effect in Ireland to the international conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances and must be enforced by the relevant authorities.

Cannabidiol, which is commonly referred to as CBD, is not a controlled drug following extraction from the cannabis plant, as it is not psychoactive. However, if CBD products or preparations also contain THC in any quantity, then these are considered controlled drugs. The legislation currently in operation does not provide for any allowable trace element of THC.

I am informed that it is Revenue policy to treat CBD products that contain any trace elements of THC as controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977. Thus, they are liable to detention upon their importation and, ultimately, seizure pursuant to sections 33 and 34 of the Customs Act 2015.

Under current legislation, it is possible to apply for a licence for the growing of hemp from seed varieties specified by the European Commission. These seeds contain a maximum THC level of 0.2% and are deemed eligible for the purposes of Article 1 of EU Regulation No. 1307/2013. Revenue has advised that it has been involved in some seizures of CBD containing trace elements of THC in recent months, and relates seizures at the point of importation which can include seizures at ports or airports where the product is intercepted in a passenger's personal luggage; seizures at An Post mail centres where the product is intercepted in parcels addressed to either shops or private individuals; and controlled deliveries of product to shops or individuals in conjunction with An Garda Síochána following initial interception in a mail centre or otherwise. The Deputy will be aware that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is in the process of establishing a medical cannabis access programme, MCAP, which aims to facilitate access to certain acceptable cannabis products, which have not been authorised as medicines by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA. The programme will permit cannabis products to be prescribed for three specific medical indications. It is envisaged that over a period, a variety of medical cannabis products - both THC and CBD with trace elements of THC and manufactured by multiple producers - will be available for use in the MCAP. Following consultation with relevant State authorities, the Minister may give consideration to the introduction of legislation to accommodate an acceptable trace level of THC in CBD products.

That does not answer my question. I am sure the police of this State have better things to be doing than breaking people's doors down to confiscate products that are not illegal. I reiterate that what these shops are selling is not illegal, but at the same time, these products are being confiscated. There is obviously a contradiction in the law, and there is a contradiction in the arms of the law. The Minister of State is still not answering the question. The document I have from the Department of Health states: "It is envisaged that national legislation will be amended in the future to exempt finished products containing trace amounts of THC at levels not greater than 3%." Is the law going to change, or is it not? Is this going to continue, because it will continue and will get worse because CBD products and cannabis derivatives have become very popular? People use them and find them beneficial. The lack of clarity on this issue is making it confusing for shop owners and those who use CBD products. Is the law in this regard going to be amended? The World Health Organization, WHO, stated in January that it should be amended. Even in the European Union, subsidies are given to farmers for hemp under the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. Cannabis is not as dirty a word as it used to be, and we should embrace cannabis as a drug, a plant, and for all its purposes. Can the Minister of State comment on the amendment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 in regard to cannabis?

It is an offence to cultivate, import, export, produce, supply and possess cannabis, except in accordance with a ministerial licence issued by the Minister for Health. The Misuse of Dugs (Exemption) Order 2017 limits the purposes for which such licences for cannabis can be issued, including, for example, forensic analysis or research, including research involving the cultivation of cannabis for use in approved clinical trials. An exception to the legislation relates to the cannabis-based medicine, Sativex. This prescription-only medicine is authorised by the HPRA as a treatment for symptom improvement in adult patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, who have not responded to other medication and who demonstrate improvement during initial trials. It is important to take this opportunity to confirm that the Government has no plans to legalise what is commonly referred to as recreational cannabis.

On the issue of the interpretation of the law, we have to operate under existing law, and as the Deputy will be aware, interpretation of that law is a matter for the courts.

Hospitals Funding

I again raise the issue of the plans to extend and build a new children's unit in Cork University Hospital, CUH. The Minister of State will be familiar with this but I must articulate my extreme concern at the lack of transparency and honesty in answering clearly whether there is a specific budget for this project and a meaningful timeline for its planning and extension. The Minister of State will be aware that the development of regional units is an essential part of the national paediatric model. Substantial funding has been allocated for the national children's hospital. It will probably cost up to €2 billion, and that involves the completion of Blanchardstown and Tallaght hospitals.

The national model of care for paediatrics involves regional units, Cork being the largest of those and Galway and Limerick the others. The funding envelope for the Cork project was estimated to be between €34 million and €38 million. It was approved for preliminary planning in 2015. There are issues not only in respect of the building, but in the availability of surgical and anaesthetic care. It is available at the moment but the facility has to be built, otherwise the capacity of Cork to attract and retain sufficient paediatric anaesthetic and surgical cover will erode. That will have serious implications for the national children's hospital, and, particluraly, for children in the Munster region in particular, because the Cork paediatric facility is essentially a Munster facility. It performs 5,000 operations at the moment. The national children's hospital would not be able to take that volume of surgical demand on board. In addition, the paediatric centre in Cork deals with paediatric neurology, respiratory, cystic fibrosis, endocrinology, diabetes, allergy, and cardiology cases. It is delivering specialist care as close to home as possible, in line with the national model, in all of those specific areas and it does approximately 5,000 operations per annum. Crumlin does approximately 22,000 at the moment.

We have received different answers to various questions we have put on this. For example, last March, it was stated that funding had been provided for the detailed planning, and that it was funded up to 2019 for detailed planning and design. That reply was signed by Jim Curran, the head of estates in the HSE. Furthermore, on 3 May, I received another reply which stated:

The preliminary scheme design has been completed of the proposed extension to the Cork University Hospital paediatric unit and reviewed by the CUH project team. Progression to the next stage of developed design and submission of a planning application is subject to the availability of capital funding. The HSE capital plan for 2019 is currently being finalised and will be submitted to the Minister for consideration.

That differs from the reply that was given to my colleague in March, which suggested that all the funding was provided for the detailed planning and design and that it was fully funded. I have the letter from 12 March, signed by Jim Curran, which stated that CUH was at stage 1 and was funded up to stage 2b, which is detailed design and planning. That seems to suggest it was covered for detailed design and planning. It also stated that a capital submission to the national capital and property steering group was being prepared. This was back in March. People who are on the ground working in the hospital are fed up of all the verbosity and meaningless language around this. They want to know whether this is provided for in the capital plan for 2019, 2020, and 2021, because we know that the memorandum from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to the Government on broadband mentions the need for €343 million for the national children's hospital. We need straight answers because otherwise, it seems to me that the regions, and the Cork facility in particular, are being neglected. I want a straight answer.

I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the paediatric development at CUH. A national model of care for paediatric healthcare services in Ireland has been developed by the HSE and sets out a vision for high quality, integrated, accessible healthcare services for children from birth to adulthood with an emphasis on early detection and prompt treatment.

The model will ensure that all children access high quality services in an appropriate location and within an appropriate timeframe. The model of care explicitly supports the development of the new children's hospital and an integrated national network of paediatric units. This will strengthen the connections and roles for local and regional paediatric units, including the regional unit in Cork University Hospital, CUH.

As the Deputy is aware, there are a number of distinct phases within the proposed paediatric developments at CUH. The HSE has advised the Department that phase 1 of the development has recently been completed and entails an outpatient facility and day-care, including a separate outpatient clinic facility for children in CUH, plus day-care for surgery and facilities for children living with diabetes and cystic fibrosis and their medical and nursing teams. There is also an attached facility for paediatric medical education.

Phase 2 of the paediatric development includes 74 inpatient paediatric beds and enhanced facilities for children who have to spend some time at the hospital. It is currently at the design stage. Capital funding for phase 2 is provided up to the detailed design and planning stage in 2019. I understand from the HSE that a capital submission for phase 3 of the development is being prepared to enable the "shelled" construction of this phase during the construction of phase 2. This submission will be considered by the HSE's capital steering committee.

I am happy to confirm that the paediatric development at CUH has been included in the Project Ireland 2040 policy initiative announced last year. This provides €10.9 billion for health capital developments across the country, including national programmes and individual acute, primary and social care projects. The delivery of these projects and programmes, including developments in Cork, will result in healthcare facilities that allow for implementation of new models of care and the delivery of services in high quality modern facilities.

My Department is continuing to work with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the HSE in a process to finalise as soon as possible a multi-annual capital plan for the HSE, which will include capital projects to be funded in 2019 and beyond, having regard to the available capital funding and the number of large national capital projects currently under way. The availability of funding determines the timeframe for the delivery of capital projects such as the proposed paediatric development at CUH. It is important to recognise that all capital development proposals must progress through detailed appraisal, planning, design and tender stages before a firm timeline or funding requirement can be established.

It is time for honest and straight answers. This is a variation of the same reply that has been given for the past six months, maybe even the past 12 months. It is incredible that the capital plan for 2019 has not yet been finalised and published even though we are in June. Is the Government taking people for a joke? This is crazy stuff. The Government is still considering the capital plan. I have told the House what Mr. Jim Curran, the HSE's head of estates, wrote to me, namely, that progression to the next stage of development, design and submission of a planning application was subject to the availability of capital funding. Is that capital funding available for the detailed planning and design stage? Is funding available for the hospital's construction?

In terms of paediatric care, this represents a shocking discrimination against the regions. Three facilities in Dublin are covered - that is fine and I wish them the best of luck and I have no issue there except with the inability to control costs - yet there seems to be nothing for the rest. I would ask the Minister of State to contradict me. Is it the case that funding has not been provided for this project over the next three years? Is it the case that no capital money has been provided for this children's facility in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022? Can the Minister of State contradict me? I would be happy if he could, but it is time to be honest with the people on the ground who are providing this service. They cannot find answers.

Do not cite Project Ireland 2040. It is a wonderful piece of fiction and made it into the geography exam in this year's leaving certificate. The terminology involved in that surprised me a little by the way, but the question of who is setting exams these days and the politics of that is another day's work. Project Ireland 2040 is a piece of fiction, though. People want to know what the budget for 2020 to 2023, inclusive, will be. I read the memo from the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the broadband plan. He is saying that the Government's national development plan, NDP, figures do not align with the reality of available funding. It is time to come clean and tell the people of Cork whether money will be available in the next two or three years. Please, do not mention Project Ireland 2040.

I promise not to mention it so as to avoid the risk of annoying the Deputy opposite, but I will not announce the details of the capital spending plan now. They must be submitted by the HSE and finalised.

But this is June.

A submission has been made to the HSE to include phase 3 in its capital plan, but it is yet to be finalised by the HSE's steering committee on capital projects and submitted to the Minister. As such, I cannot preordain what the plan will contain or announce it selectively in the Chamber on a case-by-case basis. We must wait to get the plan from the HSE. When it comes to the Department, the Minister, Deputy Harris, will be in a position to confirm funding, but I cannot do so ahead of then.

I do not see anything dishonest in my reply. I have given the House the facts as they are.

The Minister of State has been given a reply that he has read out.

I refute the Deputy's allegation that there is a dishonest element to the reply. I cannot preordain what will happen with the capital plan. When the Department receives it from the HSE, the Minister will publish it for everyone's information.

Is there funding to take this project to the planning stage?

It is funded up to the detailed design and planning stage. The Deputy understands the phases of development from when he worked in what is now the Department of Health.

I understand the language the Minister of State has read out. It tells me that nothing is happening.

A submission in respect of phase 3 is being made under the capital plan, but I cannot confirm-----

This has been going on since 2015.

That is a matter for the Deputy to-----

I thank the Members, but we must move on.

Litter Pollution

I thank the Minister for taking this debate. Ballymun has been given what can only be described as a bitter pill to swallow in the recent Irish Business Against Litter, IBAL, report on littering. Ballymun is not unique when it comes to having litter and illegal dumping problems. Across the city, illegal dumping and littering have become a major problem, as they have nationally. The damning report from IBAL does not do justice to the considerable amount of work being done by local residents, community groups, Ballymun TidyTowns and Dublin City Council and its personnel. In fact, many residents in Ballymun deserve recognition and commendation for the hard work and dedication they have shown in improving their area and the quality of life for the people there. Communities and residents in many parts of Ballymun have transformed their environment and great credit is due to them. The IBAL report does not reflect the work being done by such dedicated and conscientious people.

It is clear that we have a serious problem with illegal dumping and littering. It should also be clear that the report identifies a particular area of Ballymun that has long been a bone of contention, that being the shopping centre where the report has stated much of the illegal dumping and littering has taken place. The vacant shopping centre site is located on Main Street and was once at the heart of Ballymun and its community. Now, this derelict site is an eyesore that greets people as they drive into or otherwise enter Ballymun.

Since the privatisation of Dublin City Council's bin services, illegal dumping has escalated to the point where, despite the use of private companies, combatting the problem is costing the council substantial amounts of money. In 2018, Dublin City Council spent €1.16 million cleaning up illegal dumping. That was on top of the money paid to private companies. It is unfortunate that so large a sum of money has to be spent in such a manner. Without the scourge of illegal dumping, that money could have contributed to community projects instead.

We have repeatedly called on Dublin City Council to increase the frequency of street cleaning and road sweeping. Currently, these functions are at the discretion of a supervisor or inspector, follow a complaint or are carried out where a road or street needs cleaning. This leads to a lack of consistency. Clearly, the system is not workable in many areas. We need to return to a system of consistent weekly cleaning of roads and streets.

The ill-judged decision to remove litter bins from roads, streets, parks and shops has led to increased littering in many areas across the whole city. When an area has a littering problem, it is disheartening for many people in the community. People in Ballymun do not want to live like this. They are as passionate about the environment as anyone else. The Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun is an example of recycling at its best. It is also an example of the community's commitment to the betterment of the local area. The Rediscovery Centre, which is unique in Europe, places Ballymun at the centre of environmental awareness. Many local schools are actively involved with the centre, which teaches a new generation about the responsibilities and benefits of looking after the local community and the environment. People need to be educated at an early stage and at an early age.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I agree with him that this problem is caused by a relatively small minority of people whose behaviour does not do justice to the many communities that are making considerable efforts in this regard, as is Dublin City Council. I represent similar areas that are afflicted in the same way. It is important that the implications of this survey are taken seriously by those responsible. As the Deputy has indicated, Dublin City Council has primary responsibility for this issue. I am responsible for providing the legal framework within which it operates. To be fair to the council, with which I am familiar, it had a litter plan that ran from 2016 to 2018. I am sure it is in the course of being renewed. The council has an active litter warden service and operates a system of fines. Anyone who examines the statistics will be disappointed to see the rate of payment of fines and the level of success in prosecuting those involved.

I think the Deputy is right when he says that everyone needs to look at the detailed findings in the report. As he has said, the findings relate to several particular locations and the illegal dumping was not confined to those who do not accept their responsibility to use the collection service. Some of this is random. Coffee cups and cans are thrown away carelessly. As the Deputy has confirmed, there is evidence that some of the litter that was identified was very old, which suggests that areas had not been swept for a long time. It is important for Dublin City Council to sit down with the community to look at how improvements can be made.

We provide support for awareness campaigns in schools. We fund the green schools initiative and the anti-graffiti awareness schemes. Local authorities can apply for funds. In addition, I have increased the budget for our anti-dumping initiative by 50%, to over €3 million, this year. Applications from the various local authorities had to be received by the end of April. I hope the city council, which is aware of the difficulties in a number of parts of the city, has made submissions to tackle this problem. I am familiar with the street sweeping approach. The Deputy is correct when he says this happens infrequently. Nonetheless, the council seeks to respond to individual complaints when it receives requests for street sweeping on the fixyourstreet.ie platform.

While the issues raised by the Deputy are disappointing - I can understand his frustration - there is an opportunity for us to develop a multi-agency approach to these matters that involves the community and some of the regional and national enforcement authorities that are seeking to target illegal dumping, in particular, this year. I am wholly sympathetic to the Deputy's concerns. I think reports like this can act as a spur to improvements. The overall picture depicted in this report is one of improvement. Some areas that have been found wanting in the past have improved their performances significantly by working together. I hope the same improvements can be achieved in respect of Ballymun.

It is clear that there is pride in the community of Ballymun. Those who litter or dump illegally strike at the very heart of the community. There are many reasons for the litter problem in Ballymun. I have outlined a number of them. There are many reasons to be proud of Ballymun. There is a great community spirit and sense of community there. This report, which is negative about Ballymun, does not reflect on the many positive aspects of the area. The problem is not insolvable. It will require actions and determinations from the council working with the community. When I was a councillor, refuse was collected far more frequently. A planned timetable was put in place to ensure each area and each street received a refuse collection service on a weekly basis. The situation across the entire city has deteriorated since we moved away from that approach. We have stepped backwards from putting bins into parks and in front of shops. They have been taken away in certain areas because people were dumping large quantities of rubbish in them. That step backwards has helped to increase the amount of litter and illegal stuff thrown around the place across Ballymun and other areas. It is clear that the privatisation of the service in Dublin City Council has not worked. When the city council was in charge, we did not have the problems we have now. Those problems have escalated since the city council service was privatised. Dublin City Council is paying extra money on top of that. The Minister has put in extra money as well. The private services are there. The Minister is putting money in. Dublin City Council and the Minister are making top-up payments. The situation has deteriorated over the years nonetheless. I think it is mad. We should consider the possibility of returning this service to the control of local authorities.

I simply cannot agree with the Deputy's final point. Nothing in this report suggests there are deficiencies in the way litter is being collected or bins are being emptied. The report indicates that people are failing to use the weekly collection facilities. A small minority of people seem to be systematically dumping in areas where they can get away with it. That has nothing to do with the efficiency of bin lorries or segregation. Perhaps it indicates that some people do not understand the system and are not operating it properly. In a small minority of cases, people are not willing to co-operate. I agree with the Deputy that the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun is a fantastic phenomenon. It emphasises prevention, reuse and recycling, which must be at the heart of our strategy. There must be an effective collection service that is used by people in an informed way. We need to see the collectors helping people to use their services more often and in a better and more informed manner. Dublin City Council is responsible for enforcement and effectiveness in this area. I think the council should consider these issues as it formulates its litter plan for 2019 and beyond. To give the council its due, we are seeing improvements in several parts of the city. This problem is not a universal one. The city council is not in the corner being pointed at. It has had many successes as well. Perhaps it is a question of refocusing on particular areas that have difficulty, such as Ballymun. In my own area, parts of Coolock are suffering from the same sorts of problems.

Irish Prison Service

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for accepting this important issue for discussion. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for being here. With no disrespect to him, I am disappointed the senior Minister could not be available given the issues at stake. Through my work in the Committee of Public Accounts since last January questioning and researching for the questioning of the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice and Equality, tens of prison officers and other prison staff from all over the country have come to me unsolicited to share their concerns about what is going on within the Prison Service.

I put on record, very clearly, that the vast majority of prison staff work extremely hard in a very difficult and challenging environment. They deserve our respect and support, including proper remuneration, equipment, terms and conditions and facilities. Despite utterances by the prison officers' union, those facilities should include the availability of hot meals and tuck shop facilities while on duty.

Sadly, a small number of prison staff, at various levels, including senior ranks, are supporting, nurturing and facilitating a culture of omerta, whereby what goes on in the prison and Prison Service stays in the Prison Service - "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours". Through the evidence alleged to me - and to the Government through various protected disclosures, media reports and the Gilheaney report, which it has been sitting on for three months without publishing - it is clear that in some instances there is a parallel investigative, judicial and prosecution system within individual prisons and the Irish Prison Service. I am sure the Minister of State will agree, and certainly the Minister for Justice and Equality who is a solicitor in private life would agree, that we cannot allow this to continue.

I have met tens of prison officers over the past few months and have received reports from them that victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault have been bought off and pressurised to accept money instead of going through due process with An Garda Síochána. It has been alleged to me, and proof provided, that career blocking and spurious transfers have taken place against those who do not play ball and do not row in with the few who pursue and nurture corrupt procedures and systems. On the misappropriation of State funds: it is alleged a governor channelling funds and materials owned by the State to the governor's favourite sporting clubs, organisations and charities. Even - listen to this one Minister - having their homes decked out with prison materials from the prison workshop, put in by staff on duty for the Prison Service at the behest of the governor in question. A store's employee in another prison selling prison uniforms and equipment online when found out was allowed to resign without any recourse to the rigours of the law and without any recovery to the State. Mess committee and tuck shop profits were flagrantly used for sporting trips abroad, including a significant trip to Savannah and New York, costing tens of thousands of euro, to the benefit of just a few at the expense of many.

In terms of illegal surveillance, I have evidence, as does the Government and it is sitting on it, that covert cameras were put in place to monitor prison officers in their workplace who were not implicated in or suspected of any wrongdoing. Covert listening devices were placed in visiting boxes, listening to solicitors and their clients, betraying the age-old law that we must respect this confidentiality. Covert cameras were placed in Portlaoise Hospital to monitor prison staff but, of course, also the poor Joe Soaps who went in there to have their medical issues dealt with. Surveillance of prison staff outside the prison environment: a company, AOC Security Solutions, was paid €28,500 by the State, and that is all we know about, to carry out this work. It has been alleged to me that it was provided with false identification to get into prison and install equipment to spy on hard-working prison staff, and we are paying for it.

I thank the Deputy for raising these very serious issues this evening. I also wish to convey the apologies of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who cannot be here because he is dealing with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 in the Seanad as we speak. However, he will note with great interest what the Deputy has just said. As the Deputy will be aware, the Inspector of Prisons furnished the Minister with a copy of the report of her investigation, carried out under section 31 of the Prisons Act 2007, into allegations of improper surveillance and other wrongdoing in prisons. The Minister is considering the report in the light of recent advice from the Attorney General with a view to publishing it in accordance with section 31 of the Prisons Act 2007. This will provide the basis for consideration of what further steps may need to be taken. It is his intention to publish that report as soon as possible.

I can advise the Deputy that a number of policies and procedures are available both within the Department of Justice and Equality and the Irish Prison Service in respect of the various issues raised. All matters relating to bullying, harassment and sexual harassment are addressed by the service under its dignity at work policy. Regarding assaults, any criminal act carried out within our prisons, including an assault on a staff member, should be reported to An Garda Síochána for investigation and prosecution. The Irish Prison Service's policies on dignity at work, protected disclosures and the grievance process are accessible to all employees. I can also advise the Deputy that there is an extensive financial control environment in place in the Irish Prison Service. As part of its protected disclosures policy, workers are encouraged to report any concerns about relevant wrongdoing which come to their attention in connection with their employment without fear of penalisation.

In respect of an independent prisons inspectorate, Ireland has signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, OPCAT, but has yet to ratify this instrument. The protocol is preventative in nature and provides for the establishment of national preventive mechanisms which would inspect facilities where a person is held involuntarily. This instrument impacts on a number of sectors and a consultation process with key stakeholders took place during 2018. On foot of these consultations, a draft scheme is being prepared which the Minister intends to circulate to stakeholders for their comments as soon as possible before it is finalised for submission to Government for approval and transmission to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for formal drafting this year.

I take note of what the Deputy said and will ensure that the Minister is made aware of the serious issues raised.

I appreciate there was a pre-prepared statement for the Minister of State to read and I appreciate him being here. I am doing this with the benefit of Dáil privilege because the shutters come down, whether at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts or the justice committee, in the media or in written and oral parliamentary questions. Everybody knows what is going on but nobody wants to know. I want the Government to publish the Gilheaney report. Because of the mismanagement of this illegal surveillance that went on under the Government's watch, the State is liable to cases being taken by many prison staff who were illegally surveiled, prisoners, solicitors and so on, which could financially expose the State to an awful lot of money. The Government must get on and publish the report. Beyond that, I call specifically on the Minister of State to get the Minister to acknowledge my call and to give a response. We need to establish an independent inspectorate of the Prison Service, at arm's length from the service, with GSOC-style statutory powers. The Inspector of Prisons does not have the power to insist on documentation, for example, as was the case for the report she recently carried out, whereas a GSOC-style entity would.

Staff of the Prison Service are terrified. Of the 20 to 30 I have met, some have made protected disclosures but most have not. Why? Because there is no confidentiality with protected disclosures. It goes around that X made a protected disclosure, X is labelled a rat, is intimidated and ostracised, and the system goes on. We want an independent inspectorate with GSOC-style statutory powers and appropriate resources to give hard-working prison staff the confidence that they can go to a body that is above reproach. They do not have that now because the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 in that sense does not function within the Prison Service.

Second, under the Commission of Investigations Act 2004, I call on the Government immediately to commence an investigation into corruption in our Prison Service among the chosen few - I am at pains to point out the vast majority of staff are very hard-working and want to get on with their lives and do the best they can - on issues to do with misappropriation of State funds, examples of which I have given, sexual harassment, intimidation, career blocking and illegal surveillance. Simply, nothing less will do. We owe it to the Prison Service and and to hard-working prison staff. We faced some of our demons in this country in the past in terms of clerical abuse. We have cleaned up politics a little bit with the Standards in Public Office Commission and we have made a start with An Garda Síochána. It is time that we rooted out the small number who are nurturing a corrupt culture within the Prison Service.

I will bring these matters to the attention of the Minister and assure the Deputy that he will treat them as seriously as he is treating the report he received from the Inspector of Prisons recently. He intends to publish that report as soon as possible.

I am advised that there are policies and processes in place to deal with many of the issues raised by the Deputy. The financial procedures in place in the Irish Prison Service and the Department are comprehensive and deal with the assignment of responsibility, accountability, reporting arrangements, audits, the safeguarding of assets, risk and cost control.

In respect of protected disclosures, the policies and procedures in place are designed to ensure that all such disclosures will be subject to an appropriate investigation by independent external investigators. The Irish Prison Service further commits that any resulting actions arising from investigations will be undertaken as soon as possible in the circumstances. Further, as part of its commitment to protecting workers who make protected disclosures, the Irish Prison Service has signed and complies with the integrity at work pledge to ensure that workers reporting wrongdoing will not face penalisation and that appropriate action will be taken in response to protected disclosures.

If the Deputy has any evidence of a crime being committed or of serious wrongdoing, he should consider bringing this to the attention of the relevant authority and the Garda as soon as possible.

The Deputy is the Minister of State. That is what I am doing here.