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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 7 Nov 2019

Vol. 988 No. 8

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Mental Health Services

I am disappointed that the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health is not here. While I appreciate that he may have other places to be, it is too regular an occurrence that a relevant Minister or Minister of State is not here to answer these questions. I wish to raise the very important issue of overcrowding and neglect in the department of psychiatry in University Hospital Waterford, which serves patients from Waterford and Wexford. My colleague, Deputy Butler, also called for this special debate but she sends her apologies as she is in hospital for a minor procedure and could not be here. She has been very strong on this issue.

We recently heard very harrowing accounts from patients and families of those who have attended the department of psychiatry there, Shauna Aylward on WLR FM and Ray Shannon on South East Radio and many on 'Liveline' on RTE. We have heard accounts of overcrowding, people being over-medicated and over-stretched staff that are totally unacceptable. There are stories of 24 patients in a 14-bed ward, patients on chairs and on floors. I have raised this issue several times in the past. I have asked the HSE how many patients are being kept on chairs and on floors and I have been informed that it does not keep an account of that, which is also unacceptable. A hospital should be a place of comfort, care and recovery. Instead, the patients are in a state of fear and neglect, and staff are overstretched.

I want to humanise this issue because we are all well aware of what is happening in University Hospital Waterford. Shauna Aylward describes hell on Earth. She spent three months in the unit earlier this year. She stated:

I had no idea of what I would expect, I had no idea it would be like that. I thought this would be somewhere I could get help, somewhere I would feel safe and could get better. Unfortunately what I witnessed was a disgrace.

She said she saw a patient being dragged naked down a corridor to be put in the seclusion room and stated: "I was too scared to go to the dining area to eat ... I was starving and I began to feel institutionalised." She said conditions at the unit were sometimes so bad that "you could go out of the ward and come back and your bed was occupied by a new patient". She added, "I didn't need to be pumped full of meds, I just needed somebody to talk to me."

A spokesman for the HSE said it does not comment on individual cases. This is not an individual case, as there are so many patients affected by this. It is an absolute and utter disgrace. I wish we could have some clear indication of who is responsible for the appalling treatment of these people.

I too think it is terrible that the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health is not here. I have raised this issue in the House on several occasions. A few weeks ago, on foot of the most recent report from the Mental Health Commission, I raised it during Questions on Promised Legislation. There were clear warnings, not just in the most recent report but in a series of reports from the commission, that there are serious problems in the psychiatric unit at University Hospital Waterford. It found that residents’ general health needs were not monitored and assessed in line with their appropriate and specific needs, that physical examinations were inadequate, that residents did not have access to a supply of appropriate emergency personnel and that the unit was not clean, hygienic and free from offensive odours. We have since found out that there are people sleeping on floors, there is overcrowding and patients are given a blanket or a chair. That is completely unacceptable.

The nurses are organising a protest on Friday outside the hospital. There is a real urgency to this issue yet the Minister with responsibility is not here. People are scandalised that this is happening time and again at that unit in the hospital. Patients are telling their stories and the Minister of State with responsibility does not see fit to show up to the Dáil to take this matter. I did not get any indication why he is not here. There may be good reason but given the seriousness of this issue, with psychiatric patients sleeping on floors, it is appalling.

I will be taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy Daly, and I will bring to his attention the Deputies' disappointment that he could not be here. I do not know where he is.

I thank each of the Deputies for raising this very important issue. The Department of Health is aware of the issues and officials in the mental health unit have been in constant communication with the HSE to monitor the situation. The 44-bed department of psychiatry is the designated approved centre for acute inpatient services for the counties of Waterford and Wexford, serving a catchment area of 265,000. It is acknowledged that the acute bed numbers in Waterford are below the national average and there can, at times, be issues of over-capacity. Over the October bank holiday weekend, unprecedented demand on the service put significant pressures on the department of psychiatry in Waterford. This included ten involuntary referrals. By comparison, there were 21 in the entire previous quarter.

The department of psychiatry in Waterford took immediate steps to address the over-capacity issue, including using acute beds in alternative HSE areas, private placements and specialist rehabilitation beds in long-stay centres. There are currently 43 patients in the department of psychiatry at Waterford and considerable efforts are ongoing to manage the demand on the service and where appropriate, discharge planning to community mental health teams and facilities.

Regarding the allegations made by an employee in the media, I assure all the Deputies that the Department takes patient safety and healthcare very seriously. The mental health unit has asked the HSE to investigate these allegations and report back. The HSE has assured the Department that the situation is being constantly monitored by both local and national mental health service management and the new clinical director for the department of psychiatry, who started this week, is expected to further assist in overall clinical management.

The HSE, in conjunction with Waterford general hospital, is in the process of reviewing the existing department of psychiatry to assess long-term options to increase capacity. They will keep the Department of Health informed of any developments in this regard. The Minister of State, Deputy Daly, will also be meeting Deputy Browne next week to discuss this issue further. A total of €39 million has been added to the mental health budget for 2020, increasing the annual allocation to €1.026 billion. This represents an increase of over €315 million since 2012. This funding will help in the continued improvement and development of mental health services. However, funding alone is not enough. We also need to consider how we deliver services and how we can reduce demand for the specialist mental health services. In this regard, the HSE is introducing a number of digital mental health initiatives that are being driven by the Department of Health. These include telecounselling and telepsychiatry projects.

A pilot has been undertaken in the Wexford-Waterford region and will provide remote psychiatric consultations for the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS. Greater use of the technology available to us will help to deliver services at as early a stage as possible and will help to ensure that mild mental health issues are dealt with before they become more serious. These initiatives exemplify the serious intent of the Government to progress and improve mental health services not just in Waterford but throughout Ireland.

The fact the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health could not even give a reason as to why he is not here is totally unacceptable. It shows the Government’s level of contempt for this House.

There is nothing new in this case. The Mental Health Commission found that the Waterford department of psychiatry had a mere 57% compliance rate this year. The alternate unit nearby, St. Luke’s in Kilkenny, was prosecuted in the criminal courts for patient neglect. This shows the lack of care provided across the south east. There was nothing in the HSE’s capital plan this year for the provision of new units in the south east. There is a mention of a business case. Where is the healthcare or moral case? Why does one need a business case to ensure patients should not be left lying on floors or sitting in chairs?

People recover best when they are treated locally. The Minister of State’s response referred to remote psychiatric consultations. That is of no benefit to people who need inpatient care, however. We used to have one of the highest numbers of psychiatric beds in the world. Too many people were kept in inappropriate facilities. We now have the complete opposite with a complete shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds in which people can recover. The Minister needs to intervene and put a plan in place for the south east to ensure psychiatric patients can recover in a safe and appropriate environment.

In her response the Minister of State referred to Waterford general hospital. It is not a general hospital. It is a university and regional hospital. The Government might want it to become a general hospital. It is certainly doing its best to reduce it to that level. It is a university hospital and it should be given its correct title.

I am not taking this out on the Minister of State but people in the south east and across the State have been shocked by the images of psychiatric patients lying on floors in the unit in question due to overcrowding. It is beyond a scandal. It has been highlighted time and again by politicians in this Chamber and by people who work in the unit. They are not to blame. Nobody can blame the staff in the unit for what is happening. This is a capacity issue. St. Senan's hospital in Wexford was closed several years ago which was the start of this problem. Patients from Wexford are referred to Waterford but it does not have the capacity to deal with them. There are 44 beds, 14 acute and 30 sub-acute, in Waterford department of psychiatry. They are taken up every day and there is oversubscription.

I cannot understand why the Government is not dealing with this issue. What is the point of us raising this issue in the Chamber if the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health is not here? It is frustrating. People are angry that this is happening to patients in that unit in Waterford. The Government needs to do more.

The Deputy is going over time and is reducing the Minister of State’s time to reply.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply but I might as well have been looking at the blank side of the page. It was totally inadequate.

This scandal is happening all over the country, not just specifically in Waterford. The Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and the Minister for Health have copies of protected disclosures from personnel in mental health services. They have not been acted on, however, in the past six months. It is appalling and atrocious how patients are treated.

For Christ’s sake, will the Government do one thing right? Will it respect the people who tell the truth in this country? Will the Government respect the patients in the mental health services and the staff who are doing their best? Of all things, the Government cannot expect young people to sit 31 hours on a chair and 11 hours on a trolley only to be told there is nobody to see them.

Mental health services are shambolic. If the Government does not start investing in people and stop giving us fantasy figures, we will have more deaths on the books. It will be the Government’s fault. Will the Minister of State take this issue back to the Minister responsible? The time for talking is over. It is time for action because people are suffering. I will not be responsible for another death but the Government will be.

I acknowledge the frustration, anger and the horrific stories relayed here this afternoon. I am not in a position to comment on them, however. Nobody in any hospital should be subjected to some of the behaviour referred to in the allegations made earlier. I cannot comment on them but when people are sick they need the best care. Staff in all hospitals, mental health or otherwise, do their utmost to facilitate people and look after their health and well-being.

I do not know where the Minister of State is. However, there is an option that if a responsible Minister cannot be here, a Deputy can withdraw his or her Topical Issue matter. I do not know what happened today.

We were not informed he would not be able to attend.

I just know he cannot be here this afternoon.

Everything is being done through private placements and special rehabilitation beds in long-term care centres to deal with the overcrowding in the area. As has been mentioned before, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is confident the HSE will manage the situation effectively by taking immediate action and steps to address overcrowding. The HSE has assured the Department of Health that the situation is being constantly monitored and will be kept informed of developments in this regard. The HSE, in conjunction with Waterford general hospital, is in the process of reviewing existing units to assess long-term options to increase capacity.

I will bring Members’ concerns, as well as the serious allegations made, about the care of people in this hospital. There is an option for a Member to withdraw his or her Topical Issue matter if the Minister responsible is not available to take it. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to respond to some of the allegations made.

We received no notice that the Minister of State responsible would not be here.

We have debated that matter sufficiently.

Gangland Crime

This important debate is at a difficult time for people in my community, particularly in east Meath and Drogheda. A gang war has been going on for some years in Drogheda. Despite the welcome efforts and supports which the Garda and the Minister for Justice and Equality have put in place, we had a second gangland killing this very week. It shocked and appalled everybody in our area.

I welcome the commitments given by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality to our community. They have personally visited the areas in question. Not only that, but they have provided significant additional resources to the Garda in Drogheda to fight this appalling level of crime.

Due to the excellent work of the Garda, some of the criminal activity has been displaced and moved into the county area of south Louth. This week, sadly and appallingly, it moved into a built-up fine estate in east Meath. The people in east Meath are concerned because the Garda actually patrolled the estate in question half an hour before an assassination by a criminal gang of a rival criminal gang member. What the people want is increased resources in the east Meath area.

One concern is that the population of east Meath has grown exponentially. As the Acting Chairman knows, up to 10,000 people now live in the area between Julianstown and Drogheda which used to be a sparsely populated rural area. The Garda station there is physically inadequate. There are 18 gardaí based there, two of them sergeants. They have no operational room and it does not have sufficient opening hours. We need a new Garda station there. I was in communication with the Garda Commissioner some weeks ago about this matter. I do not expect the Minister to give me an answer on that today. However, the issue is presenting a difficulty. The nearest official control centre for the Garda in east Meath is Ashbourne which is many miles away. The Garda station in Drogheda is closer.

I raised this issue with Garda chief superintendent, Christy Mangan, on Monday, the day before this assassination took place. He told me that there are protocols in place and cover for east Meath is provided by Drogheda Garda station which is in the Louth division, as and when the seriousness arises. The people in the community of east Meath are not clear on this issue. We need a statement from the Minister and the Garda Commissioner on this. I know the Garda Commissioner is coming to a joint policing committee in the east Meath area shortly.

Perhaps, when it is appropriate, the Minister will visit the area, as he did Drogheda, to reassure residents that he is doing his best. We need increased physical presence in terms of Garda. The Minister will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is due to visit the area.

The fight against crime is never-ending and drug crime is a significant and serious issue in Drogheda but An Garda Síochána is winning. There is no doubt but that increased pressure in terms of policing, the Armed Response Unit and CAB is making is mark, but we need more. As recently as Monday last, Superintendent Christy Mangan in Drogheda made an application for the retention of the current resources into the future. I am not suggesting there is any doubt in this regard, but there was a serious question raised about the matter earlier in the week.

I thank Deputy Fergus O'Dowd for again raising this matter. I condemn the violent loss of life that occurred on Monday last in Bettystown, County Meath. As Deputies will be aware, An Garda Síochána is conducting a full investigation into this matter and I am limited in what I can say about an operational matter. Deputy O'Dowd has been unstinting in his advocacy on this issue over a long number of months. I acknowledge his leadership in the area and I echo his appeal to anybody with any information on this matter to contact An Garda Síochána at the incident room in Ashbourne Garda station or the Garda confidential line I800 666 111.

More generally, I am aware of the concerns of the people in the area referred to by Deputy O'Dowd and of the constituents of County Louth, which is also the constituency of the Acting Chairman, Deputy Breathnach. I can assure the people of Drogheda and east Meath that neither the Government nor An Garda Síochána will permit a small number of individuals to continue to put local communities in fear for their safety.

The Taoiseach and I visited Drogheda over the summer and we were both very impressed by the robust response which has been put in place in the region by the Garda authorities under Operation Stratus, which consists of high visibility patrols and checkpoints, days of action, covert policing initiatives and the targeting of specific parties engaged in fued-related criminality. This operation, supported by divisional and district uniformed and plain-clothes personnel and, in particular, the roads policing unit, community engagement and public safety personnel, detective drugs and crime units, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and the emergency response unit. The Garda has made important progress in tackling the threat of organised crime and they work closely with colleagues in other jurisdictions in investigating the supply of drugs and guns.

I remind Deputies that co-operation with relevant agencies and intelligence-led policing is producing significant results in the fight against organised criminality in Drogheda and elsewhere. For example, last week gardaí attached to the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau intercepted a commercial haulage vehicle in Dundalk and recovered cannabis herb with an estimated value of €3.2 million, subject to analysis. Two men were arrested and investigations are continuing. Against this background, the Government has made unprecedented resources available to An Garda Síochána of €1.76 billion this year, plus €92 million in capital investment, which is a 50% increase in capital funding on the allocation for 2018. Provision for next year has increased to €1.882 billion, as well as capital investment of €116 million, which is a further 26% increase. As Garda numbers are increasing, we are on track to meet the Government's target of an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021.

I acknowledge the work of Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan and his team in Drogheda and Louth. An Garda Síochána has the full support of the Government in its ongoing work and we are providing record resources to enable it to perform its critical role in difficult and challenging circumstances, as outlined by Deputy Fergus O'Dowd. The purpose of this funding and the Government's support for police reform is to ensure the best possible policing services are provided across the country and, in the context of this debate, Drogheda and east Meath.

I again thank Deputy Fergus O'Dowd for raising this important issue this evening.

I welcome the Minister's comments and his continued affirmation of support for An Garda Síochána, in particular Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan and his team and Superintendent Fergus Dwyer who is also very active in this area. The people of east Meath want public awareness of the increased co-operation between the two divisions. Crime knows no boundaries and for criminals who want to target particular people for money, or an enemy, there are no barriers. There are equally no barriers between the two police services but there is an administrative issue, but I acknowledge this is a matter for the An Garda Síochána, not politicians. The people of east Meath need a public initiative or a statement from the Garda Commissioner regarding the co-operation of services in relation to this issue and an assurance that all available resources will be deployed. There is a need for additional resources because of the displacement of crime, particularly into east Meath. The level of Garda activity in Drogheda is high but, unfortunately, this has displaced some criminal activities. Both of the assassinations-murders related to this feud took place outside of the town of Drogheda, although that is not to suggest there were not attempts in this regard within the town as well.

I reiterate that An Garda Síochána is winning this battle but it needs our continued support. Like me, Deputy Breathnach is aware that Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan announced on Monday last that he would be making an application this week for the retention of current resources. He is not seeking additional resources in his area but he wants an assurance, and demands, as we do in support of him, that the current level of resources be retained, and I do not think there is any doubt about that. However, there are additional resources in east Meath. I appreciate the Minister listening to what I have to say.

I acknowledge what the Deputy said in respect of the administrative issue. I trust it is an operational issue that will be dealt with positively by An Garda Síochána. Over the past three years, and due to Government funding, the Garda strength in the northern region has increased to approximately 1,500. I take this opportunity to assure the Acting Chairman, Deputy Breathnach, and Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, who raised this issue, that this figure includes, for example, the 25 new gardaí assigned to Drogheda in June by the Garda Commissioner. There are now more than 150 additional gardaí deployed in the northern region, as compared with the position two years ago. I trust that this will continue in the context of further gardaí coming on stream from Templemore over the next few weeks. I visited Drogheda and I met some of the 25 new gardaí. I have seen their enthusiasm, ambition and expertise and I acknowledge their work. They are supported by approximately 160 Garda staff in the region, which has increased by almost 35% over the past three years. The increase in Garda staff means that gardaí can be redeployed from administrative duties to operational policing duties where their experience can be utilised to best effect. Significant financial resources are being made available to An Garda Síochána. The efficient use of these resources, including the deployment of personnel, are matters which are, by law, for the Garda Commissioner. I fully support him and the wider management team in An Garda Síochána in their tireless efforts to keep our communities safe, in particular our communities in Drogheda and east Meath, as raised by Deputy O'Dowd. I assure the people of Drogheda and east Meath of the continued support of Government until the small number of people responsible for most unacceptable crimes are brought to book and taken out of business.

Public Inquiries

Deputy Eugene Murphy is beside me on these benches and, with others in this House, we have joined together to highlight the case of Shane O'Farrell, a 23 year old law student who was murdered on a road close to his home. His mother Lucia, father Jim and his family have continued to lobby for an independent public inquiry. In June of last year, this House endorsed their wishes and democratically came to the view that an independent public inquiry was necessary. The Seanad did the same the following February. Then negotiations opened in terms of the appointment of Judge Haughton. The Minister allowed the family to discuss the terms of reference with Judge Haughton and they had their input into it. The family members were encouraged by that and felt, with their additions and amendments to the terms of reference given by the Department, that the terms of reference were adequate to cover an investigation into the night of that event, the previous charges brought against the driver of the car, the conduct of the Garda, the conduct of the courts, the conduct of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and so on. Then their hopes were dashed. All of the suggestions made to improve the terms of reference have been rejected by the Minister's Department. I find that very difficult to take, given the fact that all of the evidence in respect of this has been collected, dated and put in perfect order by Lucia O'Farrell in the interest of uncovering what happened her son Shane and in the interest of justice and protecting their right to have a public inquiry, which is supported democratically by the wishes of the majority in this House.

The Minister and his Department are about to embark upon an inquiry that will not answer the questions that are relevant to the full inquiry that Lucia O'Farrell is asking for. Will the Minister re-examine the submission made by Judge Haughton? Will he re-examine the submission made by Lucia O'Farrell? Will he expand the terms of reference to include all of the issues that are of public concern contained in this case where Shane O'Farrell died? If he does not, he will be ignoring the democratic wishes of this House. I feel that if he refuses to change the terms of reference, he should bring the terms of reference that he is suggesting back into this House so that we can debate them and suggest amendments where we feel the issue is not being addressed. If the Minister has respect for Shane O'Farrell's family and respect for this House and its wishes, surely he must feel obliged to bring the terms of reference back for a fuller debate. In answering the call for an independent public inquiry and having the terms of reference expanded, it will shine light on the system that needs to be reformed and corrected if we are not going to have another case similar to that of Shane O'Farrell and all of what happened to him and his family in the course of the investigation of that death.

I acknowledge the input of Deputy McGuinness in this sad and tragic case. I thank him for allowing me the opportunity to update the House on developments. I want to make it very clear that there is no conspiracy here. There is no cover-up here. I want to uncover the truth and the facts as much as any other Deputy in this House. That is why I am pleased to have the opportunity to clarify a number of issues that have arisen in the public domain. First, as I have said in reply to parliamentary questions and other fora, the terms of reference of the scoping exercise being conducted by Judge Gerard Haughton have been finalised. While the terms of reference for the scoping exercise are focused, they allow for review of the issues intended. I want to assure the Deputy that there is no intention on my part to limit in any way or curtail the scoping exercise. Second, as Judge Haughton has been asked to make an initial report by mid-November, I am expecting to receive that interim report in the very near future. I expect that Judge Haughton will, in that interim report, set out for me the expected timeframe for completion of the scoping exercise he has been charged with. I want to be very clear that Judge Gerard Haughton, a man of integrity and honour who has been on court benches for many decades, is independent of me and is free, as I said to him at the outset and as I confirmed by way of parliamentary question. I make it clear to Deputy McGuinness again now that Judge Gerard Haughton is free to make any recommendation he deems fit, including the setting up of any form of statutory or non-statutory inquiry or investigation. Indeed, should Judge Haughton recommend an inquiry of whatever type, I have asked him to provide draft terms of reference for such an inquiry in order to ensure that there is no element of greater delay involved here. I hope those points clarify any concern or confusion which may have arisen.

I want briefly to address the question of the terms of reference of Judge Haughton's scoping exercise in some detail. As the Deputy will appreciate, in establishing the scoping exercise itself and in determining its terms of reference, I have been guided by legal advice from the Attorney General. In advance of finalising the terms of reference, the most recent advice available to me and my Department recommended more focused and specific terms of reference to take account of the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Shatter v. Guerin, a judgment with which Deputy McGuinness will be particularly familiar. Notwithstanding this requirement to amend the original draft terms of reference, it is important to say clearly that there is no impediment or obstacle in respect of Judge Haughton and his position to make any recommendation he deems fit in respect of any future inquiry. Furthermore, the O'Farrell family is free to make any representations to Judge Haughton in relation to any matter it would wish to see inquired into in any future inquiry.

As I have said, Judge Gerard Haughton is an experienced and respected judge. He is also most dedicated to the work he has been asked to undertake. He is free to make any recommendation he sees fit in respect of this matter. I know, as Deputy McGuinness has said, which I appreciate, that he has been engaging with the O'Farrell family. I hope that this engagement would continue. For my part, I am as anxious as anybody to make progress on this matter but as Minister for Justice and Equality I must endeavour at all times to act clearly within the law and that is what I am seeking to do in this most sensitive and tragic case. I look forward to receipt of Judge Haughton's initial report. I should have it before the end of this month. I would be happy to engage further with Deputy McGuinness and others at that time.

I would welcome that but I am confused by the reply the Minister has given. I did not mention conspiracy or cover-up: I never mentioned that. Nor did I question Judge Haughton or his integrity or anything else about the judge. The Minister seems to defend something that has not been presented to him as an argument.

The family has said to me, and I wrote it down, that subsequent to Judge Haughton having met it, he submitted terms of reference to the Department on 24 April 2019. The family respects these terms, which go some way to reflect the motion passed in the Dáil and Seanad. That is what it has said but it also said that the Department has rejected Judge Haughton's terms of reference, and narrowed the original terms of reference which the Department had proposed in February 2019. It has removed reference to Shane and to the family's right, under human rights, to ensure an effective investigation into the unlawful killing. To date, the State has failed in its obligations in that regard. It further said that it has removed consideration of the prosecution of Shane's case, which was the first thing for consideration by the Department in the February terms of reference. It removed any consideration of the coroner's inquest into Shane's death, in which serious irregularities emerged. It removed any investigation into the previous prosecutions of the accused, despite him being in breach of multiple counts of bail when he killed Shane. It limited the judge's taking into account of the outcome of reports prepared, being reports which in the family's view are deficient in many ways, rather than having a review carried out of the investigation behind these reports, as originally envisaged in the terms of reference.

The family engaged with the Minister and with Judge Haughton and is deeply dissatisfied with the manner in which this is progressing. I appeal to the Minister, based on the vote taken in this House, to please re-engage with Lucia O'Farrell and her family and with Judge Haughton. Please respect the type of inquiry that was asked for, which was a public, independent inquiry. There is too much at stake here.

We will learn a great amount from this case if we allow the judge full scope to deal with every single aspect outlined by Lucia O'Farrell. It will benefit the State.

I agree with Deputy McGuinness that all those concerned, in particular, the family in question, would engage fully with Judge Haughton. I am very aware, having met with the family on a number of occasions myself, having engaged with Deputy McGuinness in the past, and having seen his advocacy and interest, that at the heart of this matter is the loss of a loved one by the O'Farrell family. I know that the family continues to feel acute pain arising from this dreadful loss and continues to seek answers.

As I said, the terms of reference of the scoping exercise are finalised and Judge Haughton is expected to make his initial report to me within the next couple of weeks. He is free to make any recommendation he deems fit, including the setting up of any form of inquiry or investigation. Indeed, in the event that Judge Haughton recommends an inquiry, of whatever type, I have asked him, in order to ensure no further delay, that he might include draft terms of reference for such an inquiry in his report. I will be happy to continue this engagement with Deputy McGuinness and Deputy Smyth, who also has an interest in this case.

I would also urge all concerned to engage fully with Judge Haughton, who is independent of me, and to continue to acknowledge and engage in the input to his important work. I look forward to receiving his report, which I understand will be completed and ready for me in the next couple weeks.

Passport Applications

I wish to raise the issue of the granting of a passport for Sofia, the child of Sinéad Deevy and Kashka Sankowska. This is in light of the fact that the Children and Family Relationships Bill has not been fully enacted, leaving Sofia effectively stateless and unable to travel home to Dublin.

Both Ireland and Poland have refused to acknowledge the existence of Sinéad's and Kashka's daughter because they are both women and are unable to obtain any documentation for their daughter, apart from her Spanish birth certificate which has both of their names on it. That does not, however, get Sofia any kind of passport or official identification. Their daughter remains stateless and as a result, they are unable to return home to Ireland or to travel anywhere else that involves a hard border. This is a clear violation of Articles 7, 21, 24 and 45 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Articles 3, 7 and 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. She has fallen through the legislative cracks of all these countries, rendering her illegal in every country. They have applied for Spanish citizenship, which is going nowhere at the moment. Both are now at the end of their wits and are truly concerned for Sofia's safety on so many levels, not least because she has no photographic identification saying who she is, thus, in reality, she does not exist. This is a very frightening reality for any parent.

We also know that the Minister, Deputy Harris, confirmed recently that he would be signing off on the pertinent regulations of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 which will recognise two mothers on a birth certificate from 2020. The parents have that. They are not looking for an Irish birth certificate but are looking for a temporary passport in order to bring their daughter home and, hopefully, to make it back in time for Christmas so that her 84 year old granny can welcome her home to Ireland.

I concur with everything Deputy Collins just said. It looks, on the face it, like a very simple case of an Irish citizen stuck in Spain, because her mother is Irish, looking for travel documents to allow her, at the young age she is at, to come back to Ireland, to enjoy the company of both parents, to hopefully grow up in Ireland and to avail of a passport when that opportunity arises next May. Can the Department and the Minister exercise discretion and compassion in this instance? This is literally looking for travel documents to allow this child to return to Ireland.

Sofia is stuck in a legal limbo which is not of her making and which none of us expected when we passed the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. We intended, as a consequence of this Act, that children in this instance would be able to avail of an Irish passport, but bureaucratically we are going to have to wait until May. The intent and the effect of the law should be to look at cases such as this one, which are harrowing for the parents who are afraid for their child who has no passport and who basically has no rights in the country she is in because she has no identification documents. She has a birth certificate which states clearly who her parents are but does not grant her the right to travel. I hope the Minister will be able to intercede on the family's behalf.

I thank both Deputy Collins and Deputy Ó Snodaigh for raising this important and, indeed, personal and very sensitive issue. I hope that we will be in a position, if not this evening, but certainly at some early date, to chart a future path which will allow for advice towards a resolution. It would not be appropriate for me at this stage to share personal details in relation to any person or their family, but I would, for the purposes of this debate be pleased to address the broader issues raised by the Deputies and, specifically, the entitlement to Irish citizenship of children born to same-sex couples.

The Passport Act 2008 that has been referred to sets out the legislative framework within which the passport service processes all applications for passports.

Pursuant to section 7 of that Act, a passport cannot be issued unless the Minister is satisfied the person is an Irish citizen and satisfied as to the identity of the person. Citizenship, as Deputies will be aware, is governed by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, which is under the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Equality. Legislative measures in regard to citizenship do not fall within the remit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. They do fall within the remit of the passport service. In this context, the service has received a number of applications from same-sex married couples seeking to obtain Irish passports for their children born abroad and, in giving due consideration to these applications, has raised a number of issues in regard to both citizenship and guardianship with the relevant Departments and the Office of the Attorney General.

I would like to set out the current legislation. Section 7 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, addresses citizenship by descent and provides that a person is an Irish citizen from birth if at the time of his or her birth either parent was an Irish citizen, although an additional requirement of registration is imposed in respect of children born outside the State of Ireland where the Irish citizen parent was also born outside the island of Ireland. The passport service has received legal advice that states that, for the purposes of the 1956 Act, a parent is understood to mean either the mother or father of the child. For the purposes of Irish law, the mother of a child is the person who gives birth to the child or a female adopter of the child. In general, the father is the person identified as the genetic father of the child or a male adopter.

The passport service has received passport applications for children born outside the State to same-sex couples where one member of the couple is an Irish citizen and the other is not. The question arises as to whether, under the current legislation, where the Irish citizen is neither the birth mother nor the genetic father, or alternatively the male or female adopter of the child, the child qualifies for Irish citizenship by descent. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sought advice on its understanding of the 1956 Act from the Office of the Attorney General, which recommended that confirmation should be sought from the Department of Justice and Equality. The passport service has sought clarification on this and other related matters, including the effect on citizenship of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, once commenced in May 2020, from the Department of Justice and Equality. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will issue passports in accordance with any legislative changes on commencement.

While I will not get into the detail of any personal case in the House, I will bring today's debate to the attention of all appropriate colleagues in my Department and the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Health, which may also have certain responsibilities in this regard. I assure the Deputies that my officials are working closely with officials from other relevant Departments to ensure this matter is clarified as soon as possible.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He clarified and outlined the circumstances of the legislative process for a mother or father in recognising citizenship. In the case in question, Sofia was born in Spain. Kashka is Polish and Sinéad, who lives in Bangor Road, Crumlin, is Irish. That information is in the media so my mentioning it is not a problem. Their daughter is stateless. They are in Poland now and need to bring their daughter home. The have the birth certificate. Their two names are on it. They have gone through the process of applying for citizenship in Spain but that is going nowhere fast. They need some sort of temporary travel documents to get themselves and Sofia home as soon as possible so they can start the application process here. It is to go through next May. The child is stateless and has no photographic identity and Sinéad and Kashka are very concerned about her. I realise that the Minister cannot talk about specifics. Could he at least give an indication? I wrote to both the Minister and the Minister for Health about this issue on 30 October.

I welcome what the Minister said at the outset, that is, that he will consider this matter and hopefully find a pathway to allow Sofia to travel to Ireland. I genuinely hope he will be able to find that pathway as quickly as possible. It is specifically a matter of allowing passports for genuine cases in these instances until we have legislation in place. It is not a catch-all. As always in law, there will be exceptions or complications, and this is one of them. It falls between the cracks. I genuinely believe the Minister will examine this.

As the Minister stated, what is at issue is the interpretation of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956. That was produced in a different era, an era long before some of the reproductive methods in question were in place and when we, as a society, had not addressed the issue of same-sex couples. It is not just same-sex couples who are caught in these circumstances; heterosexual families can also get captured. I have outlined why we have addressed this and the relevance of next May. I thank the Minister. I hope the matter will be addressed over the weekend and that there will be a positive outcome.

I do not doubt any of the issues raised by Deputies Joan Collins and Ó Snodaigh. There are a number of issues involved that require some clarification. I would be happy to engage by way of written correspondence with the Deputies as soon as it is practicable after this debate. As they have acknowledged, there are a number of Departments involved. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has overall responsibility for issuing passports. It is very much aware of recent legislative changes. My Department and the Department of Health are also involved. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social protection may well have an impact in this area also in terms of civil registrations. I assure the Deputies in any event that there are discussions between ministerial colleagues and civil society groups and families in regard to rights that follow from the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 as an effort to address some of the outstanding issues that may well incorporate the issue raised. I ask the Deputies to allow me to go back to my Department and to consult colleagues in the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Health and Employment Affairs and Social Protection with the view to seeking an early resolution in respect of the matter raised.