Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Data Protection

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the issue of community CCTV schemes. This was a much-heralded and welcomed scheme, which is not functioning properly or effectively and needs addressing and adjusting. I discussed this matter with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and he concurred that the scheme is simply not working in Donegal and many other areas.

The community-based CCTV scheme is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006, SI 289/2006, both of which I have read. A difficulty with the legislation is that the local authority is specified as the data controller, with no other person or body allowed to take this role. Many local authorities contend it is not their role as local government to monitor or control CCTV, particularly in cases involving criminality. There is a perception that proposed new schemes encountered data protection difficulties and were unable to proceed.

The Data Protection Commissioner issued clear guidelines which clarify her position with regard to the application of data protection law to community-based CCTV schemes. That guidance states that data protection legislation does not stand in the way of the roll-out of community-based CCTV schemes authorised by the Garda Commissioner. As long as the relevant local authority is willing to take on and deliver on its responsibilities as controller of the schemes, there is no legal impediment under data protection legislation to the scheme commencing. The nub of the problem is that some local authorities are unwilling or unable to take on that onerous role. I can see the logic in their stance.

Another issue is that CCTV under the sole monitoring responsibility of a local authority will not be monitored live. Several members of An Garda Síochána told me that the first 48 hours in the investigation of an incident is crucial. If a young person was abducted from a street in Dundalk and the Garda needed access to crucial CCTV footage, it would have to wait until the local authority opens on Monday morning in order to access it.

Although I do not wish to be parochial or solely focus on my constituency of Louth, all of the issues to which I refer are borne out there. Several applications are encountering problems, including in Moneymore in Drogheda, Ardee, my native Knockbridge, Dundalk, Blackrock and Monasterboice. They have all encountered the same basic deficiency and problem in the scheme. There are logical problems which need to be ironed out. The local authority has stated it is okay with the scheme but there is much uncertainty regarding the volume of schemes that may come on stream. How will the local authority record and store the amount of information which would be involved? Will it have the resources to put into this task?

In addition, every CCTV system must be calibrated. If a person is attacked outside a nightclub, there must be a maintenance contract with the provider of the CCTV and evidence it is properly calibrated in order for footage of an attack outside a nightclub, for example, to be admissible in court.

I too wish to acknowledge the importance that many communities attach to CCTV and the sense of security it can bring. The key point is that these are community CCTV schemes, not Garda CCTV schemes. An Garda Síochána previously indicated to my Department that it uses CCTV in almost every criminal investigation, during major public events and sporting occasions, in the investigation of road traffic incidents and in many other areas which require it to take action. It considers that CCTV is particularly effective when the cameras are evident in a way which raises awareness among would-be offenders. I agree with the Deputy on the importance and value of this issue.

The law in respect of CCTV is longstanding. As the Deputy pointed out, community CCTV is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006. This legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must be approved by the local joint policing committee; have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must also act as data controller; and have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner. That is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes regardless of how they are funded. These key legal requirements, including the legal requirement for local authorities to act as data controller, have not changed since 2006.

I wish to be clear that this longstanding statutory framework does not place an obligation on local authorities to take part in community CCTV. However, if a local authority decides it is not prepared to act as data controller for community CCTV, this prevents the scheme from operating in its functional area. In effect, the current legislative structure is an enabling one which empowers local communities and local authorities to establish a community CCTV system to which the Garda has appropriate access, provided they meet the statutory requirements, including that the local authority is prepared to assume responsibility.

It may be of reassurance for the Deputy to know that the Data Protection Commission issued a practice note in November 2018 confirming there is a legal basis for community CCTV and that the general data protection regulation does not introduce new barriers in that regard. It stated:

Data protection legislation does not stand in the way of the roll-out of Community based CCTV schemes that have been authorised by the Garda Commissioner. Once the local authority in the administrative area concerned is willing to take on and deliver on its responsibilities as a data controller for the schemes concerned, there is no legal impediment under data protection legislation to the scheme commencing.

According to information provided to me by the Local Government Management Agency and the County Council Management Agency on behalf of local authorities, at least 28 of the 31 local authorities are or have undertaken the role of data controller for specific community CCTV schemes within their areas.

On funding, there is maximum grant aid of €40,000 or up to 60% of the total capital cost. Earlier this year, I expanded the grant aid scheme to allow funding applications for extension or upgrade of existing community CCTV systems in addition to providing for new systems. To date, 22 schemes have been approved, amounting to grant aid of slightly more than €560,000. If the Deputy is aware of further groups in County Louth or elsewhere which wish to avail of the scheme, I ask him to advise them to check the website of my Department for the current regulatory framework.

I am glad the Minister recognised this is a CCTV scheme for communities and not a scheme for the Garda. He allocated approximately €4 million to the scheme. Some 22 applications have been approved for funding totalling €566,000. The money allocated is not being spent in spite of the demand for schemes. I am here to support the Minister and the concept of community CCTV.

I suggest a simple change in the legislation governing the scheme so as to provide that a scheme must have the prior support of the relevant local authority and that the data controller may be the local authority or the local Garda Síochána by agreement. By inserting that into the legislation, the local Garda could, where practicable, act as the data controller of a community CCTV scheme, particularly in situations involving serious criminality such as may be the case in the Border area. It would end the confusion and allow for more live monitoring by An Garda, a function for which local authorities do not have the resources.

We need to provide the Garda with the necessary technology. The Minister stated it is not a Garda scheme. There is no money available for the Garda to put in overt or covert surveillance where it is needed. If the money allocated to the community CCTV scheme cannot be used - it is clear that it cannot - the Minister should divert some of it to the Garda, particularly in troubled areas.

The current legislation is flawed, resulting in a low uptake of the scheme. On behalf of the many people in my constituency and beyond, I ask the Minister to give further consideration to this excellent scheme and to take on board my suggestions to allow us to deal with the myriad issues he is well aware of, particularly in my constituency and the Border counties.

I only disagree with one issue in the Deputy's submission. This is not a Garda scheme; this is a community scheme and it is important that it remains such a scheme. I am happy that the law is clear in this issue and the practice is that the majority of local authorities have also taken on board their role in the scheme. I want to ensure that all interested groups in both rural and urban areas have the opportunity to take advantage of the grant-aid scheme. If the Deputy is aware of groups in the Louth area or any other area, I encourage him to inform the groups of the practice guidelines on the website of my Department.

I want to ensure there is an appropriate volume of factually based information on the scheme. I would be obliged if the Deputy and other Deputies would share the information I have just imparted to all groups in order that we can ensure that people are fully aware of the scheme. However, it is not a Garda scheme; it is a community-based scheme. I would be reluctant to place on the Garda Síochána a greater legal or statutory obligation under what is a community-based scheme above and beyond its existing role and function in society.

Emergency Departments Services

Late last night, I had occasion to visit Naas General Hospital in response to a call from a constituent whose child had been admitted at 5 a.m. yesterday. This child had previously been in the care of child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, and has difficulty getting a place. It is expected that there will be an announcement on an extension to the Lakeview mental health unit in Naas hospital shortly.

What I am about to describe applies to many other hospitals throughout the country. What I saw at almost midnight last night was chaotic. It was a sad reflection on all the work done by many people, including by the Minister and Minister of State, and by various people in this House who have raised this issue in respect of this and other hospitals. It was chaotic in the sense that patients who had been there for ten, 12, 14 hours or more - some were into their second day - were being manhandled onto trolleys in a narrow corridor.

Only one doctor, a registrar, was available. I do not know why that was. No bed was available, even though the parents of this child had made repeated interventions, all to no avail, with consequent stress on the patients. It is not possible to deliver an effective, efficient and workable service in the way the staff were trying to deliver last night. It was not fair to the staff, patients and the public, who expect more. It was not fair on the Minister and Minister of State.

I make this suggestion. I do not care what the cause is; it is time to do something about it. We have all gone down this route previously and raised this issue. Every time we are told of some difficulty or snarl-up, be it a lack of beds, space, accommodation or something else. We expect to deliver a reliable health service, and to deal with patients and emergencies. I do not know what would happen if an emergency occurred in a situation like that. However, it would not be possible to respond in the way that one would be expected to respond to an emergency.

I ask for an immediate review of the facilities at Naas hospital with a view to ensuring that day patients can get through the emergency department, ED, in a reasonably efficient, effective and reliable manner. There is nothing as bad as lack of confidence in a system. Without doubt there is a lack of confidence in the system. The staff are not able to resolve the problems. There is a requirement for an evaluation of the situation from above to put in place what is required to deliver the service. There is not much sense in telling me in a year or two that we will have the problem resolved. That will no longer work. I do not blame any of the Ministers personally, but the time is up and we cannot wait any longer. Something needs to be done about it now.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I know that for many years he has been a strong advocate for health issues, particularly for developing and supporting the services at Naas General Hospital.

The Minister for Health acknowledges the difficulties overcrowded EDs cause to patients, their families and front-line staff working in very challenging working conditions in hospitals throughout the country. For the first ten months of 2019, the number of patients attending hospital EDs nationally increased by 2.7% and the number of ED admissions increased by 1% compared with the same period last year.

In October 2019, the number of patients subject to a delayed transfer of care was 16% higher than the same month last year. The Deputy is, therefore, correct. Between January and October 2019, the number of patients recorded as waiting on trolleys at 8 a.m. in Naas General Hospital ED was 3,733, a decrease of 0.2% compared with the same period last year. As of last week, there were 21 patients with delayed transfers of care in the hospital compared with ten for the same week last year.

The HSE winter plan for 2019-20, launched by the HSE on 14 November, seeks to address the challenges of overcrowded EDs and the current high numbers of delayed transfers of care in our acute hospitals. The aim of the winter plan is to ensure that service providers are prepared for the additional external pressures associated with the winter period. The increased pressures include a prolonged holiday period, severe winter weather, seasonal influenza, the spread of norovirus and other healthcare associated infections.

Nine winter action teams, WATs, each aligned to a community healthcare organisation, CHO, and associated acute hospital and hospital group, have prepared integrated winter plans that will focus on demand management and reduction, staffing availability, timely access to the most appropriate care pathway for patients, and appropriate timely discharge from acute hospitals. These integrated winter plans have supported the development of a single overarching strategic-level winter plan for the HSE. The integrated winter plan for Naas General Hospital will be delivered by WAT 7, whose membership includes the CEO of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, the chief officer of CHO 7, and the CEO of Naas General Hospital.

The winter plan is supported by an additional €26 million in winter funding nationally. This funding will support social care measures and local WAT initiatives to improve patient experience times in EDs. Funding for social care will support access to the fair deal, increase home support hours, and provide additional transitional care to facilitate timely discharge from acute hospitals and free up beds for patients awaiting admission.

There has been a consistent increase in the number of staff in the HSE in recent years with approximately 10,000 more staff working in the HSE than in the same period three years ago. Naas General Hospital employed 747 whole-time equivalents, WTEs, in October 2019.

This is an increase of 13 WTEs since the same period last year. The Minister for Health is confident that together with the more immediate measures being undertaken under the winter plan and the strategic approach undertaken by the Government under Sláintecare, progress will be made in addressing the difficulties in the emergency departments. I accept the points made by the Deputy and I will bring them back to the Minister.

I thank the Minister of State for a comprehensive reply that, to be fair, deals with the issues that have arisen. The problem is how soon we can expect a resolution. Patients and their families always look to know how quickly help can come. I am not so sure that it will come quickly enough. I saw a number of people who were there at midnight last night and I could see that they were not pleased. They were upset. They had been there for a long time, including all day or from mid-morning the day before. In those situations, there is a need for an urgent response. The child in question, who was under the care of CAMHS, has been looking for a place and a proper programme for the past two or three years but it has not happened. It cannot happen because there is no bed available in Stillorgan or any of the other places tried by the parents. It is very sad to see the parents crying while waiting for some kind of action. It only affects us all when it comes to our own door.

The time has come to take an initiative in respect of this hospital. I would suggest an immediate review of the facilities there and the number of staff available, on call and ready to work at any given time, particularly over the remaining winter months, to preserve the good name of the hospital because the staff are good if given the chance. It is not fair to them, the patients and members of the public who might become patients and it is not fair for the Minister of State, who has to repeat this again and again despite the fact that he has the best interests of all concerned at heart. I ask that this initiative be taken ahead of the winter initiative with a view to identifying the immediate problems.

I agree with most of the points made by Deputy Durkan. I take on board his question about how soon this will happen. I agree with him that we need a reliable health service. I will bring his point about a review at Naas General Hospital back to the Minister. We cannot have issues like that affecting families in that situation. I understand the impatience and concern of many of these families who do not see things moving quickly enough. I commend the Deputy on his personal commitment and how he was there at midnight last night and saw at first hand what was happening on the front line.

Attendances at accident and emergency departments are growing year on year. The health service capacity review published last year was clear on the need for a major investment in additional capacity in both hospital and community - so there is already an agreement there - combined with widespread reform of the manner in which healthcare services are provided and their location. As set out in Sláintecare, moving care options for patients closer to their homes and into local communities is a key part of the solution. Improving timely access for patients is at the heart of Sláintecare. Building upon the progress made in recent years, the Sláintecare action plan 2019 published by my Department includes a specific work stream on accessing and waiting lists. In addition, many of the other service reforms included in the action plan will support timely access to care for patients in the coming years.

I also wish to clarify that there is no national recruitment embargo in the HSE. There is, however, a requirement for all HSE services to maintain or reach an affordable staffing level that is sustainable through 2019 and 2020 while prioritising the delivery of safe services within available resources. There has been an increase in the number of staff in the HSE, along with an increase of more than 250 doctors since the beginning of 2019. The number of WTE nurses and midwives has increased by almost 800 since September 2018.

The points raised by the Deputy are very serious. We need a review to see what is happening. The HSE has established a medical workforce and patient safety oversight group and workforce planning is incorporated in the Sláintecare action plan.

Audiology Services Provision

I wish to raise a very important issue with the Minister of State, which is the absence of any audiology service in the midlands. In Laois-Offaly alone, 1,383 people are waiting for hearing tests and treatment, of whom 315 have been waiting for more than a year. More concerning is the fact that 255 people have been waiting for more than two years, of whom 185 are children. Some children have been waiting for up to 156 weeks, three years, for an appointment. There has been no paediatric audiologist in Laois-Offaly since March 2019. Two posts are vacant. The only service is provided by an occasional visiting audiologist from the Dublin region, which itself is under pressure. The situation in Longford-Westmeath is not much better, as 273 people have been waiting for more than a year to be seen, of whom 132 have been waiting for more than two years. The service simply is not there. It is chronically under-resourced and is in crisis. It gives me no pleasure to stand up here and say this, which is why I looked for this special debate.

Everyone knows the importance of timely examination and appropriate interventions, such as hearing aids. It is important for everybody for quality for life but it is very important for children. Their education and development can be affected by not being able to follow what is happening at school, at home, in the playground or in the street around them. There are children in Laois-Offaly who have been waiting for up to three years for appointments while some children in Longford-Westmeath have been waiting for up to two years and six months. It is totally unacceptable that anyone must wait that length of time for an appointment. We need to realise that a quality of life issue arises in this regard and that there are issues in respect of child development and people's ability to function.

The Minister of State mentioned earlier that there is no embargo. There is a freeze on recruitment, so let us call it a freeze. We will not argue over words. If the Minister of State does not want to call it an embargo, we will call it a freeze. There is a freeze on recruitment imposed by the Government that is preventing HSE management from filling these posts, which have already been granted. I am asking the Government to lift the freeze on recruitment to allow audiology services in Laois-Offaly and the midlands to function. We must make an effort to get this service back on track. There are significant waiting lists there. I have raised this issue with the Minister.

Families in my constituency are coming to me because they cannot get audiology services. In addition, however, dental services for children do not exist in my constituency. My grandchild will be 14 in a few months' time. She has not yet been seen by a school dentist. There is no service in Laois-Offaly. If she lived over the border in County Carlow, she would have been seen four or five years ago. I was seen by a school dentist many moons ago in second or third class, along with the other children in the school at the time. Child psychology services are difficult to access, as are speech and language therapists. I could go on. We are putting loads of money into it and, yes, Sinn Féin argues for that. I know the Minister of State backs that and the taxpayer is willing to do that but the services are not there on the ground. I meet HSE management and it tells me about what it is doing internally and who is talking to who but no effort is being made to build services at the front line. That is the problem.

I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to address the issue of the difficulties and delays being experienced with audiology services in Laois and Offaly. Under section 67 of the Health Act 1970, the HSE is required to provide free audiology treatment and appliances to preschool children and children of primary school age, including those taught at home, who are referred from child and school health examinations, as well as to adult medical card holders and their dependants.

Services for adult medical card holders include hearing assessments; hearing aid prescription provision; hearing aid management and rehabilitation; advice on assistive devices; and onward referral as required, for example, for medical intervention, assistive devices, communication supports and additional support.

Services for children include screening, assessment, investigations, treatment, habilitation and devices. This includes screening of babies shortly after birth, under the newborn hearing screening programme, to identify risk of hearing defects and speech and language therapy and referral of children with a hearing loss to the visiting teacher of the deaf services provided by the Department of Education and Skills.

The community audiology service for CHO 8, which includes Laois and Offaly, has experienced severe difficulty recruiting and retaining audiologists in the midlands. There is currently an allocated workforce of 6.6 whole-time equivalents allocated for the CHO, with 2.5 whole-time equivalent vacancies. Difficulties in recruitment and retention of staff have had a detrimental impact on waiting lists. There are currently 729 children aged up to 18 years and 654 adults on the audiology waiting list in Laois and Offaly. The longest waiting times for children aged zero to four is 156 weeks. The longest waiting times for children aged five to 17 is 140 weeks.

In March this year, the paediatric audiologist working in the midlands resigned and has not yet been replaced. In the interim, a 0.6 whole-time equivalent locum has recently been approved by the HSE and is now in post.

In addition, both the national clinical lead in audiology and assistant national clinical lead for audiology are providing clinical support to the service. The service continues to look at options of increasing capacity on a temporary basis through waiting list initiatives. This is something we are taking very seriously.

The Minister of State mentioned that the Government is looking to increase capacity in the short term. That is fair enough to clear a waiting list but there is a problem here. The Minister of State mentioned that there are 2.5 whole-time equivalent vacancies in CHO 8, and the great number of counties included in that catchment area, but there are two audiology positions missing in Laois. There is one visiting audiologist who comes from another area. That is what is happening.

The Minister of State has confirmed the figures that I got in reply to a parliamentary question to the effect that children aged zero to four are waiting up to 156 weeks for a hearing test. One can see the damage that is being done if a child aged between zero and four years of age is waiting 156 weeks for a hearing test and the delays that would be experienced if there is a problem with a child's hearing. Children between five and 17 years of age can be waiting for up to 140 weeks, which is almost three years. That is an absolute scandal.

I take on board the point the Minister of State made about the difficulty with recruitment of audiologists but the HSE needs to be focused on recruiting these people. How many are in training? Are we encouraging people to go into training to become audiologists? If there is a shortage, what are we doing about it? I highlighted this matter in the Dáil over the past eight years. It takes roughly three to four years to train somebody in college. Have we been encouraging people to choose this as a career path? What are we doing to try to make it a career option for people so they will stay in these posts? This is a significant challenge.

We are putting more money into the HSE and the health service, there is no argument there, but we are not seeing the benefits at the other end. There are 10,000 more staff in the HSE than there were three years ago, and that is good, but where are they? What are they doing? The Minister of State said there are 800 new nurses and they will be useful but I suspect there is much existing dead wood in the system. There are roughly 110,000 people working in the HSE and yet we do not have a full-time audiologist in Laois-Offaly, among other gaps in service.

I want the Minister of State to take up the urgency of this matter with the senior officials in the Department and the HSE. Children cannot be left waiting three years for hearing tests.

The Minister of State to give his response.

The development, future and education of those children are at stake here and it is important that the children in Laois-Offaly have the benefit of that.

I will, of course, take back the urgency of the issue to the Department and I have a particular interest in this area as Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities. I absolutely understand the urgency and importance of the issue and I will bring the Deputy's concerns to the Minister and the HSE.

There is an issue with recruitment and retention right across therapies. I have encountered a similar problem in speech and language therapy. We had a budget of €100 million. We have allocated €63 million of that and we are trying to slide in the next €37 million between now and Christmas. It has been difficult. There has also been one resignation in the Laois-Offaly area.

I take the Deputy's point that we need to focus on this issue and take on board the urgency of it and increase capacity. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, accepts that the situation in Laois-Offaly is far from satisfactory. Officials from the Department will continue to work with our counterparts in the HSE, exploring all opportunities to address the level of services in the Laois-Offaly area.

Direct Provision System

I want to raise a story that broke on Monday where 30 children in an emergency direct provision centre in Carrickmacross have been denied education for two months. This is absolutely shocking. Any time we have to deal with a child who does not have access to a school place is wrong. This raises many questions. When did the Department of Justice and Equality become aware of this? When did the Department of Education and Skills became aware of it? What type of monitoring is in place in the Department of Education and Skills for direct provision centres and, of course, those children in direct provision who are in emergency accommodation? Every child in direct provision has the same absolute right to education as an Irish citizen child.

I was in a school in Newbridge recently and was told about extra resources and supports that were needed for four children that the school has had since May. This situation, where 30 children have been essentially told to watch television during the day, is not good enough.

The Minister will be aware that, in 2018, regulations were introduced in respect of reception standards for people applying for direct provision. Regulation 17 expressly deals with the right of children who are in direct provision to have access to educational services in the exact same way as though they were Irish citizens. I would be extremely concerned if I was the Minister for Education and Skills and learned that there were 30 children who had not received education and had not been attending school for a period of over two months.

It is very important that the Department gets more involved in this matter. The Minister needs to seek answers as to why it is the case that these very vulnerable people, in particular the children, have not been given access to education. We have a responsibility to people who are coming into this country and seeking direct provision. It is an extremely challenging environment for people who are coming in, particularly if they do not have the language. They need the support of Government and the Minister's Department to ensure that they are able to access education the same way that any Irish child can. I ask the Minister to look into this matter.

Nearly 2,000 children are in direct provision at the moment. It is regrettable that 30 of those children are failing to access education in Monaghan. I wonder if this problem has arisen because they are housed in temporary accommodation. Is that the problem behind it? If so, is there a way that the Departments of Justice and Equality and Education and Skills can ensure that, when we are relocating families to direct provision, we do not put them into temporary accommodation but instead put them into accommodation in one of the 39 direct provision centres where there is support from wraparound services?

I was listening to the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, on Newstalk yesterday. He complimented how well the direct provision centre in Borrisokane, where wraparound services are in place, is working. It is unforgivable that a lady had to go on Newstalk yesterday and talk about her three children.

In respect of one of the children, it concerns the early childhood care and education, ECCE, preschool services. It is not only a matter for the Minister's Department. It is also a matter for the Department of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs because that child could not access those services.

I thank the Deputies for observing the time.

I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil chuig na Teachtaí uilig fá choinne an cheist iontach tábhachtach seo a ardú. Ba mhaith liom mo fhreagra a thabhairt dóibh anois.

My Department engages on an ongoing basis with officials in the Department of Justice and Equality in respect of education issues arising from the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees. In addition, Tusla Education Support Service, TESS, which is under the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, assists with school enrolment and attendance for children residing in accommodation centres.

The International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, formerly RIA, of the Department of Justice and Equality has sourced temporary accommodation in Tracey's Hotel, Carrickmacross, since mid-September. Some families with children of schoolgoing age have been accommodated in this location while the Department of Justice and Equality seeks more permanent accommodation for them in a dedicated accommodation centre under the system known as direct provision.

The priority for newly arrived applicants for international protection is to address their immediate needs, apply for accommodation, make an application for international protection, apply for a PPSN to ensure access to weekly payments from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and ensure that they are linked with the HSE for medical care.

In line with the provisions of the EU directive, every effort is made to enrol children of international protection applicants who are residing in accommodation under contract to the Department of Justice and Equality, including emergency accommodation, in local schools as soon as possible. Schools enrol pupils in accordance with their respective enrolment policies. Following the receipt of an application for a school place each school must advise of the outcome of each application in writing.

In instances where difficulties arise in sourcing school places locally, the assistance and support of Tusla Education Support Service is sought, similar to the assistance given to all other families who reside in the community. TESS is responsible for assisting with school enrolment and attendance. Where necessary, school transport is arranged under the school transport scheme operated by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.

Every effort is made to ensure that all children of schoolgoing age receive an education at the earliest possible date. I understand TESS is working with the families concerned to ensure that arrangements are being made for school enrolments for the children in the accommodation centre in Carrickmacross.

To update the Deputies, my Department has seconded an official to the Department of Justice and Equality to deal with any queries from schools that are enrolling children from accommodation centres. This official is also available to advise schools on specific queries on the range of supports available to schools and how to access supports. I want to further update the Deputies on this matter. Officials had contact from a post-primary principal earlier today who is happy to offer school places to the three post-primary age children. We are still waiting on feedback from the primary school principal but there is confidence that a sufficient number of places will be available in the local area for all the primary school children.

I take the point raised by the Deputies that there is a collective responsibility for this matter. While an official has been seconded from my Department to deal with it, the Department of Justice and Equality, Tusla and all of us are collectively responsible for it. If there are better ways to move more quickly on it, we would be interested in working as efficiently as possible in that regard. There is a requirement in a European directive to provide education within three months of arrival. I am of the opinion, having attended various camps in Jordan in recent years, that it is important to get as early an intervention as possible in terms of providing education.

It is a given that access to education and intervention is vitally important, particularly for vulnerable groups. While I accept that some measures have begun to be put in place since this news broke on Monday, we still do not know when the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Education and Skills became aware of it. They should have been aware of it. It should not have taken two months for this matter to come to their attention. Has the Department of Education and Skills been in contact with the families? One mother said on a radio station on Monday that she was told both by the direct provision centre and the schools that they had to wait. The Minister might let us know the position on that. Is he aware of any other children in any of the direct provision centres across the country or any of the emergency centres who are waiting for school places? Also, Tusla is responsible for any child who is absent from school and not engaging with educational services. There are questions to be asked about Tusla's engagement with this matter.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire. Tá a lán ceisteanna fós le freagairt. I thank the Minister for his answer. He is correct when he states that the different Departments are responsible but there does not appear to be anyone who has taken charge of it. That is what happened in respect of this Topical Issue matter. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs first looked at it. The Department of Justice and Equality then looked at it and now the Minister was left with responsibility for it. We need to ensure that these people who are coming here with their families are provided with a pathway for the provision of education for their children.

I had the opportunity yesterday to speak to people from my constituency who are operating a community sponsorship initiative for refugees coming into the country who have already been granted international protection. They are providing a pathway for those families and their children. There is a responsibility on the State to provide a similar pathway to ensure that when people arrive here they are not left to their own devices or expected to look for schools themselves when they have a language barrier. We need to ensure that we accept the responsibility we have for the children in the same way that we have a responsibility for our own children.

To continue on from where my colleague left off, it seems there is no collaboration on this Topical Issue matter, even in terms of trying to get it organised here this evening. That has played out in terms of what has happened in Monaghan. We are an open nation, and we are welcoming, but we have to lead from the top. We need to ensure that all Departments are working together and that there is this wraparound service.

The Minister spoke about the Tusla education support service, TESS. TESS is a pilot service. It is not up and running across the country. It is only being rolled out to 2,000 schools. The Minister is looking for the intervention of TESS but we can hardly get that service in many schools that need it. There is a very long waiting list for it to be rolled out. We need to ensure that we do not put families into temporary accommodation. We need to ensure also that there is a wraparound service for all those families, particularly in terms of early years education. In terms of the children who need to engage in the ECCE scheme, it is not just the Department of Education and Skills that has a role. It is about ensuring that the younger children have the same opportunities.

I take this issue in the vein in which is has been raised, which is a genuine call for more streamlining of communication in the first instance. When this question was presented to me today I was happy to take it because it is to do with education and young people. I reiterate that there is a collective responsibility but we want to get the intervention at an early stage also. One of the Deputies asked if the reason for this was because it was temporary accommodation. The problem was created because it was temporary accommodation but if there are actions we can take at an earlier stage or new ways of doing it we will look at them. We provide home tuition in some instances. Perhaps there is something we can do in that space.

I am prepared to work with my colleagues across the floor on this issue. Separate to it being raised here tonight and in the media on Monday, I asked my officials last week to arrange for me to go to one of the direct provision centres and meet with families and the young people. I am more than happy to do that and a date has been arranged to do so before Christmas. I am open to suggestions on this matter. I have a very close working relationship with my colleagues, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan. We will continue to keep this matter on the radar.

At a major camp in Jordan that I went to, the families were all talking about the importance of education. They had to offer it primarily through their own families but they were emphasising its importance. Education is not lost on anybody in this country. We must ensure that we act where rights are not being respected.