Scouting Ireland: Statements

I welcome this evening's debate on Scouting Ireland. There are many in this House who, quite rightly, have remained vigilant in respect of Scouting Ireland. I will listen carefully as I value the knowledge and expertise of colleagues who bring an insight from meetings with survivors, children, parents and volunteers of Scouting Ireland. I understand that members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs continued this forensic work yesterday. This type of scrutiny is appropriate and I believe it is the reason we are all elected to represent the people in our communities. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I have found the information and learning that emerges from the committee hearings helpful in respect of decisions that I have to make about Scouting Ireland. It was interesting to hear the Chairman of the committee note that after Tusla, Scouting Ireland is the organisation that the committee has spent the most time on. This reflects the level of concern of public representatives about how the organisation is currently being run, its recent history and the legacy issues with which it is dealing.

It is 22 months since I became aware of serious issues relating to the governance of Scouting Ireland. My Department and I have scrutinised the operation of the organisation to ensure that today's children and young people are safe when they are in the care of Scouting Ireland. The second issue of concern is dealing with what went on in the past in the two legacy scouting organisations, the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scouting Association of Ireland. I would like to deal with today's children first. The Governance arrangements in Scouting Ireland up to October 2018 were dysfunctional and blinkered. I am using a simple definition of governance, namely, the way a group of people does things. The first warning bells about the way things were being done in Scouting Ireland were sounded in February 2018 in a report in The Irish Times. It detailed how those in authority in Scouting Ireland dealt with an allegation of rape by a volunteer. Senior members of Scouting Ireland responded inappropriately and the then board of Scouting Ireland, in my opinion, failed in its duty to respond to this behaviour by its senior volunteers. Therefore, with little confidence in the board, I suspended State funding. Over the following few weeks, the decision to suspend funding was, sadly, reinforced by the continued poor judgment of the then board.

I would like to state clearly that there were senior people in Scouting Ireland who were not involved and who stepped up to the plate to reform the governance of the organisation. They did this despite some internal opposition and were key to ensuring that Scouting Ireland was put on the right track. They should be commended for this. They committed to reforming the structures of Scouting Ireland and they achieved this. That continues to be the start of a long road back for Scouting Ireland. A significant step was the full external governance review conducted, on my behalf, by former Senator, Ms Jillian van Turnhout. She applied her considerable expertise to reviewing the governance of Scouting Ireland. Ms van Turnhout's report set out a pathway for Scouting Ireland to address the shocking deficits in the organisation. She submitted her review to me in June 2018 and Scouting Ireland reported to me last month that it has implemented all of her recommendations in full. I have asked Ms van Turnhout to examine whether this has been done comprehensively and she will report back on this early next year.

Last year, I agreed to provide funding to enhance the safeguarding capacity of Scouting Ireland. This has allowed the establishment of a permanent safeguarding manager to support the wider safeguarding team. I have met the safeguarding manager, who also appeared as part of the delegation attending the joint committee meeting yesterday. I was impressed by his experience and his single-mindedness in ensuring that Scouting Ireland is a safe organisation for children.

Scouting Ireland is close to full completion of the strategic actions agreed with Tusla in March of this year. I understand from senior colleagues in Tusla that it is satisfied with its engagement with Scouting Ireland. This assurance is critical and will continue to be so into the future.

The level of scrutiny of Scouting Ireland is intense but it has to be and it will continue thus. Deputies will be aware that, as Minister, I have extended public funding to Scouting Ireland until April next year. Restoration of funding after then will be dependent on certain developments. My officials and I regularly meet representatives from both the board and executive of Scouting Ireland. I have requested and received regular updates on safeguarding and governance issues in the form of detailed progress reports, all of which have also been shared publicly. We scrutinise these reports very carefully and use our meetings with Scouting Ireland to clarify details therein. My officials and last met Scouting Ireland on 6 November and at that meeting I welcomed progress made to date. Ms van Turnhout's assessment on the implementation of the recommendations of her report will be key to any decision to restore funding.

Past abuse continues to ruin lives. We witnessed this through the heart-breaking testimony of survivors of abuse on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, "Scouts Dishonour", three weeks ago. The men who spoke on the programme dug deep to summon the strength to tell their harrowing stories and share with us the catastrophic effect the abuse has had on their lives. While the programme confirmed information that we have been aware of for some time, including the significant numbers of children who were abused and the clear failure to keep them safe while in the care of previous scouting organisations, hearing the story in the words and the voices of those who were abused is something that will remain with me. These children were failed by those who should have protected them from the criminals who abused them. One cannot help but wonder if those who failed to protect these children were motivated by loyalty, not to the children, but to the organisation. It would not be the first time that has happened but we are trying to make sure it is the last.

It is a fundamental legal requirement that all cases of child abuse be investigated by the relevant statutory authorities, irrespective of when they occurred or were reported. Strong governance and safeguarding policies and processes must be in place in all organisations for children and young people. Scouting Ireland's role, as set out in law, is to forward pertinent information, evidence and records to the relevant authorities, namely, An Garda Síochána and Tusla, and it is the responsibility of these bodies to carry out the appropriate investigation.

Mr. Ian Elliott has been commissioned by Scouting Ireland to review historical sexual abuse in scouting in Ireland.

I am aware some Deputies believe that because Mr. Elliott was contracted by Scouting Ireland in a safeguarding role, his work on this report is not independent. Regardless of one's views on the matter, the report is fundamental to the next steps to be taken by the Government and the Oireachtas in respect of Scouting Ireland. It will set out the evidence which has emerged in recent times and the actions taken by the organisations at the time, namely, the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scouting Association of Ireland. It will outline the lessons for Scouting Ireland as it seeks to continuously improve its safeguarding and it will be an important analysis for all Members to consider. It will be shared with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. I expect to receive it in February. In order to give me and my officials time to digest the report, as well as giving the committee an opportunity to scrutinise it, I have decided not to make a further decision on extending funding to Scouting Ireland until March.

I am aware of calls for a form of statutory inquiry into the handling of abuse in the scouting movement and I am giving this question very careful consideration. I am interested in Members' views in this regard.

Everybody involved in activities with children and young people has a moral and legal responsibility to keep them safe. Children have a fundamental right to be safe from abuse and harm. We have introduced laws and regulations to protect them. I introduced mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse two years ago next week. We need to be vigilant. Those who shared their stories on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme were not given the protections they should have received and have carried the consequences with them into adulthood. The people who abused them are guilty of a heinous crime. Those who should have safeguarded and protected them from the abusers also bear guilt.

It is clear that there have been fundamental failures to which we must face up. We must support survivors to heal and we must hold perpetrators to account. The current situation challenges us all and we must rise to that challenge. We must not simply write policies and procedures or talk about keeping children safe. Rather, we must live and breathe safeguarding as our number one priority. This vital work will ensure a future where children and young people can enjoy the very significant benefits of being involved in youth organisations while being kept safe and protected from harm at all times.

I am sharing time with Deputy O'Loughlin.

I thank the Minister for her most welcome statement. There were undoubtedly failures in previous decades as highlighted in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme entitled, Scouts Dishonour. However, the programme also outlined details of a case involving an alleged abuser who was reported to the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s but only removed from Scouting Ireland in 2018. That is a current failure, not a historical one. The full review conducted by Scouting Ireland in August 2012 found that no volunteers active in the commissioning organisation in 2012 were named in the legacy files but that is not the case according to the information aired in the RTÉ programme. How is it that an alleged abuser was able to continue in his role with Scouting Ireland even though the accusations had been reported in previous decades? Was his file overlooked in 2012? If so, why?

Scouting Ireland has provided a breakdown of 401 sexual abuse files it has in its possession, all of which have been reported to the appropriate authorities, which is reassuring. Of the total of 995 files in its possession, 457 were identified as involving abuse, 516 were identified as not involving abuse and ten were copies of files or legal notes. Of the 457 files involving abuse, 401 were classified as containing allegations of sexual abuse. Some 321 of them involved alleged adult-on-youth abuse. All of them have been reported to the appropriate authorities. Some 247 alleged perpetrators were identified.

Debate adjourned.
^ Ábhair Shaincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Matters ^

Road Safety Data

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a theacht anseo inniu. Is gá obair a dhéanamh ar na spotaí is measa de bhóithre náisiúnta na tíre. Rinne Gamma Location Intelligence anailís ar na spotaí seo bunaithe ar eolas a chuir Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, ar fáil agus aisteach go leor, bhí ocht gcinn de na spotaí sin ar bhóthar amháin i gConamara. Tá sé in am breathnú ar an liosta, tosú ag a bharr agus rud éigin a dhéanamh faoin 20 bóthar is measa sa tír. Táim ag súil go mbeidh dea-scéal ag an Aire dom maidir leis seo, go gcuirfidh an Roinn ciste ar fáil, agus go mbeidh ceangail ar TII an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh ar na spotaí agus na bóithre seo.

On 23 September, Gamma Location Intelligence published an analysis of TII data which identified the worst accident black spots in the country. It gives us an insight into which roads in our national network are deficient. The analysis only applies to national primary and secondary routes. It identified that the worst roads are clustered in counties Galway, Wexford and Longford. Eight of the 20 worst stretches of road are on the N59 in County Galway, with another just across the border in County Mayo.

The road from Aasleagh Falls to Recess had nine of the worst accident black spots on national roads in the country. The spread of the 20 worst locations was: eight in Galway; four in Clare; two in Cork; one in Longford; one in Wexford; one in Mayo; one in Waterford; one in Leitrim; and one in Tipperary.

I believe in objective decision-making based on evidence and good data. The data are clear here. It is an impeccable source of data, which is used by insurance companies and anybody who is interested in this issue and wants good data. Will the Minister provide dedicated funding to TII next year and instruct it, as a matter of high-level policy, that it should tackle these accident black spots, starting with the 20 worst first and then working systematically through a long list of roads? I believe some of them could be resolved with quite modest amounts of money. Others will require more. It is interesting to look at the national map and see that there is a big cluster of black spots on the national secondary routes. They are very deficient but not very expensive to upgrade. Then there is a little cluster around the rest of the country.

Will the Minister take responsibility and save lives? He is always talking about saving lives on the roads. Now that we know where the worst accident black spots are, will he act and do something about it?

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for raising this important subject. He has produced some extremely useful information and I have always said that I am happy to consider anything that is evidence based and bears scrutiny and to refer it to the appropriate people for consideration. I will not dismiss out of hand what he has produced today because it is too serious a subject. It appears to be credible evidence in a certain area. I cannot comment on competing data or interpretations that come forward, nor will I. I will certainly ask those who are responsible for considering it and acting accordingly to take it very seriously and to make decisions taking the Gamma Location Intelligence information into consideration.

First, I must explain that, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and securing capital funding for the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the improvement, upgrading and maintenance of individual roads is a matter for the relevant road authority in respect of local and regional roads or for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TIl, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, in respect of national roads. In the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the National Development Plan 2018 to 2027 has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the national planning framework. This provides the strategic and financial framework for TIl's national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. In the ten years covered by the plan, over €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network. Following the economic downturn and the subsequent reduction in the availability of Exchequer funding, Project Ireland 2040 now provides for the gradual build up in funding for the roads network, but it will take time to restore funding to the levels needed to maintain the road network in a steady state condition, and allow for investment in new road improvement schemes.

Each year, the safety section of TII carries out a collision analysis of the national road network, in compliance with the EU road infrastructure safety management directive. The purpose of this exercise is to identify locations that have high concentrations of collisions. Notwithstanding this, the absence of sites from the locations identified in the analysis exercise does not preclude a road authority from submitting a feasibility report to TIl for safety improvement works at other locations on the national or secondary road network. For example, there may be additional information available to the road authority or there may be unreported collisions at a location of which TIl is unaware.

TII assesses the current condition and performance of the network, considering aspects such as capacity, traffic volumes, level of service, road pavement condition and condition of structures and safety. For TIl to consider proposals from local authorities, the road authority is required to: carry out an analysis of the collision history at the location; design an appropriate scheme to deal with the safety issues identified; carry out an economic appraisal of the proposal; and to fully cost the scheme and prioritise it with regard to other works being proposed by the road authority. TII implements a programme of minor improvement schemes on the road network. These schemes are aimed at addressing localised safety issues by improving alignment, cross section and capacity issues. While funding is not specifically ring-fenced for the safety schemes programme, the following sums have been allocated for the years 2019 and 2020. In 2019 an allocation of €20 million was provided for the safety programme and it is proposed to allocate a provision of €21.6 million for the 2020 programme. These allocations do not include safety related funding provisions under other capital programmes.

The definition of "responsibility for overall policy" has changed dramatically since the Minister was appointed. It seems to me that he is simply the begging bowl for funding but that he does not dictate the policy. What is the point in having an Oireachtas and a Government elected by the Dáil if they do not outline the policy? I do not expect the Minister to choose the individual road, but I expect him to save lives. I am always interested in economic appraisals. This is a scientific study. The Minister spoke about validating the information. This information comes from TII data. That is the State agency under the Minister's Department with responsibility for road infrastructure and certain rail infrastructure such as the Luas. It provided the data and all Gamma Location Intelligence did was map it.

Accidents are constantly reported in my area. We find that one stretch of road has the number one black spot in the country, as well as the number four and number eight. There were eight in the top 20 and they are on one road. When the Minister tells me that people's safety is not an absolute overriding priority, I am very surprised because he has brought in law after law with the argument that he is saving lives. Will the Minister ensure that priority is given to starting with the top 20 accident locations in the country and that there will be adequate finance? As I said, some of these will not be expensive to resolve. Will money be provided as a priority to deal with these? We know that where roads are improved, and the ultimate example is the motorways, the accident rate per million vehicle kilometres travelled decreases dramatically. Will the Minister push it away again as if he has no responsibility for this or will he take action?

I wish to make it clear that road safety and saving lives are the top priority as far as I am concerned when addressing this subject. To suggest that I should, and the Deputy named particular roads-----

I did not. The company did.

He identified particular roads in his initial speech. He named the N59, if I am correct.

And other roads. I named it because it happened to come up.

He named particular roads. He says he is not expecting me to interfere with any particular roads and then he names particular roads as black spots where I should be interfering.

If they are in Stepaside, he deals with them.

What the Deputy is talking about is not relevant to this debate. What I have to do is follow Government policy, which is that road safety remains a top priority, of course it does. What I said earlier is that I will not interfere with every individual road or individual black spot. Were I to do that, I would be running around the country doing it in my own constituency and other constituencies, and not doing something where I have actually allocated expertise in other places. I have, of course, asked TII to do what it is doing. The Deputy knows perfectly well we have allocated €20 million or €21 million in consecutive years specifically to save lives, and TII is doing that, and is doing a very efficient job.

I have to and will ask people far more expert than am I, and far more independent than the Deputy or I am, to make the decisions as to where this money will be allocated and where safety has a priority. That is what they are doing. I accept the Deputy's bona fides in coming to the House and looking after his own particular region and constituency. There is no doubt about his bona fides and I respect him for that. However, I cannot allow Members to come in here, say that a road in their area is less safe than another and that TII is doing a bad job. What I am going to do is continue to allocate money to the experts on road safety and to allocate what I think is a sufficient amount.

Here is the map.

The Deputy is pointing out particular roads to me.

I am pointing that eight out of 20 black spots are on one road. The Minister should listen to what I am saying.

Order, please. We cannot have that debate. Please allow the Minister to conclude.

What I will do, because of the great respect I have for the Deputy's contributions to this House, is refer what he has said and the data he has produced, albeit from a particularly narrow standpoint, to TII for consideration, as well as to those who have an expertise on this issue, which he and I do not have.

Drugs Dealing

I want to ask about the Government's approach to open drug dealing in my constituency of Dublin South-West. This is a scourge on our communities and there is an inadequate and weak response from the Government and the Garda, which is more than aware of the extent of the problem but seems reluctant, perhaps for resource or operational reasons, to act and close it down. In many cases, it is happening in plain view of CCTV and is not hidden away.

What can I or the Minister say to a constituent of mine who says that, every night, drug dealers gather outside their home to sell heroin or cocaine, including crack cocaine? There are children who have had to move from their own bedroom because they cannot sleep, with the shouting and noise from cars pulling up and speeding away, and because they are frightened, they want to move to their mother's bed. What does the Minister say to the shop owner who has to close early because of drug dealing in front of the shop? What does he say to a young person who has grown up looking at open drug dealing in their community and the normalisation of drugs and dealing among a new generation? What does he say to a person who, every day, leaves his home to go to school and sees drug paraphernalia littering his community, or many of his friends trying out drugs and developing an addiction? What does he say to the 12 year old, ten year old or eight year old who is selling or transporting drugs?

A recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol found that Europeans are spending at least €30 billion on drugs each year, making the market a source of income for organised crime groups. The report states that Irish organised crime gangs are rigidly structured and extremely dangerous, which we all know. At the bottom of the criminal gang structure, the report states, is a lower tier of highly disadvantaged young people, generally involved in bullying, assaulting, stealing, vandalising and spreading fear on behalf of their network. The report states gangs in Ireland use intimidation to enforce their social norms within the drugs distribution hierarchy to discourage and punish informants, to recruit new members and to gain control over supply networks or territory. It points out that intimidation is escalating in certain parts of Europe, including Ireland, and much of this is related to drug debts and how the drug markets operate. The report states that many communities in Ireland have been severely affected by intimidation, with major impacts on the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities and the function of local services and agencies.

I have never seen the scale of drugs that are being openly sold in my constituency, and I am around this town a long time. Former Ministers with responsibility for drugs policy are saying the drugs strategy needs to change and the drugs crisis is escalating. It is not just about the Garda not having the resources it requires. New thinking, new strategies and a new approach are needed but I am not seeing that from the Government. I have never seen the situation as bad. It has become normalised, more violent, more vicious and more evident, and intimidation is widespread, with drugs freely available. It is not unusual for a 70 year old to present at Tallaght Hospital with health complications related to drugs, particularly cocaine. That is shocking. It is a wake-up call for us all when children and people in their 70s are involved, and it reflects the extent of the problem. My real concern is the open drug dealing and what message that sends to those communities.

I take very seriously the points raised by Deputy Crowe and I acknowledge his work over many years on behalf of communities in his constituency. Tackling the sale and supply of drugs is a key priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána. The Garda is pursuing a number of strategies to tackle drug trafficking by organised criminal gangs, including the following: gathering intelligence on those involved in the distribution of drugs; conducting targeted operations on criminal networks based on intelligence; working with the Criminal Assets Bureau to seize the assets of criminals and disrupt their activities; and working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction.

I spoke earlier today in the other House in regard to crime, in particular drug-related crime. As I said there, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau leads in tackling drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland, and it continues to have significant success in tackling these issues. I understand from the Garda Commissioner that, since its establishment in March 2015, the bureau has been responsible for the seizure of controlled substances with an estimated street value of approximately €167 million, the seizure of cash believed to be the proceeds of crime to a value of €10 million and the seizure of 108 firearms and more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition. I further understand that, this year alone, the bureau has been responsible for the seizure of controlled substances to the value of €20 million, cash believed to be the proceeds of crime to the value of €2.4 million and 17 firearms.

I am setting this out because it is important to recognise that the Garda is having significant success in tackling the problem of illicit drugs. While I accept there is more to do, we should not be blind to the ongoing and positive progress that is being made. I understand the Garda works closely with the communities within which it serves for the purpose of addressing drug-related issues experienced within those communities, including through overt patrolling by uniformed personnel and through intelligence-led operations targeting known criminals and gangs.

Investing in capacity-building measures to support the role of law enforcement authorities is important in dealing with emerging drugs trends. The roll-out of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána now occurring meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future, the implementation plan for the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. This model is the norm in many other countries, and I am confident it will serve Ireland well by providing a more agile, more localised and more responsive police service nationwide, including in the area to which Deputy Crowe referred. It will over time increase the number and visibility of front-line gardaí who will be available to combat all forms of criminality, including drug-dealing. Ongoing investment in An Garda Síochána is supporting the ongoing and sustained recruitment of Garda members and staff. We now have more than 14,300 gardaí nationwide, supported by almost 3,000 Garda staff. The organisation is still growing towards the Government's target of an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021, including 15,000 sworn members of An Garda Síochána. I acknowledge the numbers in the Dublin metropolitan region south division, which have also increased.

I assure the Deputy that the role of community groups, the Department of Health and my Department is to ensure that every effort is made to work with communities to stamp out what is a serious issue within society.

The primary purpose of this Topical Issue matter is to draw attention to the issue and get a more proactive response to it. Every day I see drug-dealing in my community. It is an attack on the community in which it happens, and no one should have to live beside it. That is the other big problem. I asked in my initial contribution what one says to those people living beside this open drug dealing. Should one tell them to ring the Garda authorities? They will say they have done that, that they do it nightly but they do not get a response. They want to see this open drug dealing closed down. That is not unreasonable, no matter where it is happening, and it is not just in my community. Anyone who goes outside this door will see it happening within ten minutes. It is happening everywhere.

I am trying to focus on what is happening in my community. I have been on the local alcohol and drug task force practically since its establishment. I was involved in trying to highlight the problems throughout Dublin in the early days of the heroin epidemic and so on. I am one of those who has campaigned for resources and support for those who are in addiction. I am still involved in that work. I also want supports put in place for these communities. We need to empower and encourage people, and I do not see that happening, given the open drug dealing taking place.

To end on a negative, there are fewer personnel in the drugs unit in Tallaght now than ten years ago. I will be told that members of the Garda are all involved in tackling this issue. The reality, however, is that the community almost feels as if it has been forgotten and that it is almost acceptable to society that this drug dealing should be allowed to happen in certain areas. The message we need to send out is that we are aware of this and will act on it. I hope the Minister can do that.

I do not at all doubt the seriousness of the issue the Deputy raised. I stress that Ireland's national drug strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to the problem of drug and alcohol use in Ireland and adopts a balanced, health-led approach, aiming to reduce demand for, as well as access to, illicit drugs. I acknowledge the leadership in this regard of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who has joined us.

I spoke earlier about some of the activities under the strategy but I wish specifically to mention debt and debt intimidation. The strategy is unique among national drug strategies across European member states in recognising the need to address drug-related debt intimidation at community level. The drug-related intimidation reporting programme has been in place since 2013, responding to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing such intimidation. It has been agreed that the effectiveness of this programme will be further enhanced through training, knowledge-sharing and awareness-raising.

The use of detection dogs is also having a positive impact on tackling drug crime. The Garda dog unit, based in Kilmainham, in the DMR south central region, has a national remit. The Commissioner recently indicated to me that he intends for An Garda Síochána to invest in the purchasing and training of additional dogs for drug detection purposes next year.

I met the Garda Commissioner and his senior team this week. We discussed the issues the Deputy mentioned. I acknowledge the fact that this is an ongoing challenge, but we were reassured about the co-ordinated response that has been mounted by the Garda. Action is being taken on community safety, intelligence and drugs and organised crime.

I assure the Deputy and the community in Dublin South-West that he represents and all other communities that the issue of drug dealing and drug-related crime is being taken seriously at the highest level. I would be happy to resume a debate on this in the new year.

The order of appearance of the next two Topical Issue matters, Nos. 3 and 4, by agreement with the Ministers and the Deputies, has been reversed.

Cannabis for Medicinal Use

I am grateful this Topical Issue matter has been taken. The subject, access to medicinal cannabis where there is a medical need, has caught the Irish public's imagination over the past three and a half years. I have been quite vocal about it. The Minister of State will have to agree that this has been a very protracted process to provide legal access to medicinal cannabis in Ireland. Three years ago almost to the day, the majority of Deputies voted to allow the regulation of cannabis Bill I introduced go forward. That was a milestone in this debate on access to medicinal cannabis. Time is of the essence for people who need this medication. Over the period since that milestone, people have been forced to go abroad, to go to the black market or to go without. It is quite galling that people to whom this could be beneficial have to go without. The announcement last week that two cannabis-based products will be rescheduled will not make a major difference to most. People will still be forced to go abroad under licence, to go to the black market and to go without.

A six-year-old boy called Asseel Osman lives in New Ross. He has cerebral palsy with complex features. I have spoken to his dad many times over the past year. His dad has said to me that his son only knows a life of pain, but the administration of cannabis has made this young boy's life much easier and much better. The tragedy, however, is that Asseel's father is still forced to go abroad, still possibly breaking regulation. It is pretty immoral that people are being criminalised and forced to go abroad for a substance that could be beneficial to them.

It is welcome that these two products have been rescheduled. It is a significant medical milestone in Ireland that two products that contained CBD and THC can now be prescribed by consultants. That is to be welcomed. I have been quite critical of the medical cannabis access programme, MCAP. It is too restrictive and the bar is too high since it is consultant-led rather than GP-led. The conditions for the programme do not stipulate chronic pain and that is very controversial. The best research is available for cannabis use to treat chronic pain.

It is welcome that these products are available. People who are listening tonight will wonder when the programme will be up and running, when these products will be available and who is educating consultants about prescribing medical cannabis. Most consultants have said that they know little or nothing about the subject. It is imperative that the people who prescribe these products know about what they are prescribing. One does not have to go university to know that. It is something that the Department of Health should examine. It is welcome but we need to understand when this will progress for the people who could benefit from medical cannabis.

I am taking this on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris. I apologise to the Deputy that the Minister could not be here. Before I read the statement, I commend the Deputy on his resilience in bringing this topic to the floor of the House over the past year. People can now access medical cannabis but it has to be prescribed.

On 26 June the Minister signed legislation, which allows for the operation of the MCAP on a pilot basis for five years. This new legislation means that commercial medical cannabis suppliers whose cannabis products meet the specified requirements set out in the legislation and have been listed in Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs (Prescription and Control of Supply of Cannabis for Medical Use) Regulations will be able to supply these products to the Irish market via an Irish-based authorised wholesaler.

Once suitable medical cannabis products are made available by suppliers, the access programme will make it possible for a medical consultant to prescribe, in line with the published clinical guidance, a listed cannabis-based product for a patient under his or her care for the following medical conditions: where the patient has failed to respond to standard treatments; spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis; intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; and severe, refractory, treatment-resistant, epilepsy. Cannabis products will only be listed in the Schedule to the legislation once they have been accepted as meeting the criteria for such products to be added to Schedule 1 of the regulations underpinning the access programme. Based on the information provided by applicants, two cannabis-based products have been deemed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, to have met the applicable criteria set out in the legislation. These two products are Aurora high CBD oil drops from Aurora Cannabis Enterprises and CannEpil from MGC Pharmaceuticals. The Minister has accepted the HPRA's advice and the products have been added to Schedule 1 of the legislation. As these products will be subject to international export licensing requirements, which are outside the control of the Department of Health, they are not expected to be available in Ireland for a further period. It will be the decision of the treating medical consultant, in consultation with his or her patient, to prescribe a cannabis-based treatment for a patient under his or her care.

Pending full operation of the access programme, doctors may continue to apply through the ministerial licensing route for a licence to prescribe medical cannabis for an individual patient under their care. Sixty-six licences have now been granted in respect of 31 individual patients.

Departmental officials and the HSE will meet next week to finalise plans for the MCAP patient register and reimbursement procedures. In the interim, the HSE has advised that for an application to be considered for reimbursement approval, prescribers must submit a valid medical prescription for the prescribed cannabis product, provide a copy of the ministerial licence, and the patient must have sourced and positively responded to the cannabis-based product. If approval is given, the primary care reimbursement service, PCRS, when authorised to proceed, will make the necessary arrangements to cover the costs involved for the patient.

I am sorry that I am a bit slow. I have a cough.

The Minister of State will be able to speak again.

Can the Minister of State finish?

The HSE has advised that in the previous situations where it considered reimbursement support appropriate, a number of steps were completed. The patient's consultant should be satisfied that all therapeutic options have been exhausted and be prepared to accept the responsibility for monitoring the patient's response to the cannabis product. A prescriber then applies to the Minister for a ministerial license and, following consideration, a ministerial licence may be granted. The consultant then completes an individual reimbursement form, setting out the therapeutic benefits for the patient. It is important that this is completed in sufficient detail for therapeutic benefit to be demonstrated. The individual's reimbursement form is considered by the medicines management programme, MMP. On review of the documentation, the MMP makes a recommendation for or against reimbursement support for the patient to the HSE, under the patient's eligibility, and informs the primary care reimbursement service of that recommendation. The Minister for Health has no role in the clinical decision-making process and section 6 of the Health Service Executive (Governance) Act 2013 bars the Minister from directing the HSE to provide a treatment or a personal service to any individual or to confer eligibility on any individual.

I am sorry again for taking so long.

That is quite a long and detailed statement. It is informative for the people who are listening. I am somewhat concerned about some of what the Minister of State said, especially at the end, that this is not expected to be available in Ireland for a further period. How long is that further period? That is slightly worrying. People have been waiting for three years for these products to be approved. It is important that people get access to these products. People are being forced abroad and to the black market. They are also self-medicating, which is not appropriate or suitable, but when one is desperate, that has to be done. Regulation is very important. Is the Minister of State saying that most of the 31 licence holders will be reimbursed? People were previously getting the licence but were not being reimbursed, which caused serious hardship for the families. I welcome that, if people are getting the licences, they will automatically be reimbursed. What people have to do is somewhat bizarre. They have to go to a different jurisdiction with a licence and bring the product back four times a year. There is no other drug in the world for which this has to be done because of the stigma and rubbish relating to cannabis. Will the Minister of State clarify when this programme will be up and running and how patients can access it? Will she address the education of consultants who prescribe these substances? How do they educate themselves and interact not only with the Department of Health but patients themselves?

I cannot answer the second last question but I will try to read back on the script. The Minister for Health looks forward to cannabis products being available to patients living in Ireland who come within the scope of the MCAP. The Department of Health's website continues to be updated with information on the scheme as it comes available. Until such time as cannabis comes available on the Irish market for use, access programme clinicians may continue to apply for a ministerial licence to prescribe medical cannabis for an individual patient under their care.

The Deputy asked when the product can come into Ireland, but I cannot answer that because it is clear from the Minister's reply that the proper legislation and the European programme must be passed first. Finding a supplier seems to be a problem as well.

There is a supplier.

I have taken note of the Deputy's three questions and I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to reply to them directly. I do not want to give him any false information.

School Placement

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to raise the issue of the shortage of second level school places in Wexford and Gorey towns. I thank the Minister for being here to respond.

The issue of the shortage of school places in Wexford town and Gorey featured in the by-election, but this has been a live issue for a number of years. I and others have been in communication with the Department of Education and Skills and with the Minister's predecessors on this matter. The common response tends to be that the Department thinks there are enough second level places in the area. However, it clearly does not understand what is happening in Wexford and Gorey. Both are progressive and growing towns, and both primary and secondary level principals in the area know there is a problem because of the numbers coming through at primary level. Two school extensions were built in Wexford but they did not extend sufficiently to accommodate the growing number of students. A bus travels from Barntown, which is just 5 km outside of Wexford town, to New Ross every day with more than two dozen second level students so they can attend school there. There are two excellent schools in Gorey, namely, Creagh college and Gorey community school, but they have been under a lot of pressure for a number of years, about which we have been warning the Department. A sticking plaster arrangement was agreed last year to accommodate students. After speaking with the schools today, it looks like they could be short up to 69 places next year, although arrangements may be in place to accommodate them. I wanted to ask the Minister about this because he has visited the area and understands the problems first hand. Can he guarantee that every child in Wexford and Gorey towns and their immediate hinterlands will have school places in their respective towns? That is the immediate challenge.

The second matter is the longer-term challenge, because the school populations are continuing to grow. The problems of this year and next year will pale into insignificance in comparison with the numbers of pupils currently in fourth classes in the area. What provisions will the Minister make when we reach that demographic bulge? We have been seeking a second secondary school in Gorey for some time and have identified that need to the Department. Wexford County Council has said that a site is available, and if that site is not suitable, plenty of land can be zoned to facilitate that school. We need to start that process now because the planning and tendering will take some time. The key issue here is the worry it is causing parents and children who do not currently have school places. It is worrying for those who do not have an offer and are on waiting lists, but also for those with children in fifth or fourth class, as they know this problem is only going to get worse. I would be grateful if the Minister could inform us of the immediate plans for this year, as well as the long-term plans to address the demographic bulge.

Ar dtús báire, gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Teachta agus a chomhghleacaí ar son a mbua tríd an bhfothoghchán a chuaigh thart. Gabhaim onóir mhór orthu faoi choinne a bpoist nua, chomh maith leis an díograis agus an tsárobair a rinne siad tríd an toghchán. Gabhaim comhghairdeas leo arís.

The new Deputies are up and running. They are not going to hang about, and they have only been here a few hours. I extend my congratulations to both the new Teachtaí Dála in front of me in particular. They both have considerable education experience at both higher and second levels, which will add value to the debate in this House. This is where we need to continue to work and explore new ways of doing things. I wish both of them well.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. As he noted, I am familiar with Gorey and I had the opportunity to meet different primary school principals when I visited the area. I was invited there by Deputy Michael D'Arcy. Long-term issues were on those principals' minds at that time, and they even pointed to third classes and where the pinch points would be in years to come. We continue to look at the demographics in such areas, using a geographical information system and planning permissions. We work very closely with the officials within the planning unit in Wexford County Council as well. Wherever there are options, we look at them seriously. We always look at existing capacity in schools within in area. There are over 314 school planning areas within Wexford, including Creagh college and Gorey community school in the Gorey area, as the Deputy pointed out. I have been in both schools, and they are fantastic schools with fantastic leadership.

If there are issues, fears or uncertainties for September 2020, I ask the Deputy, through his own communication channels, to encourage the principals to get in touch with the Department. As of now, we have not had contact with the principals, but we are open to helping if there is any uncertainty. The Deputy used the word "worry" and said that parents are worried about 2020. There is a long-term worry as well, but I reassure the Deputy and anyone listening to this in the Gorey area that we will not allow a situation to emerge where there are no places for secondary school students in the Gorey area in September 2020. We will continue to work to prevent that happening. Other areas such as Kilcock have been raised in the House in the last few weeks, as well as north Dublin, Skerries, and east Cork. There is also an issue in Trim. The principals and the officials in Tullamore are engaging with each other in each of those cases. We try to keep on top of such issues. Last August we dealt with a temporary situation in Ennis and provided a solution at that late hour. It is now December so we have good time to put this together, but I am not working on the basis of providing a solution for September 2020. We will continue to analyse the data and look at the projections and planning permissions. We are looking at the long-term issues as well, but that decision will be based on demographics.

I thank the Minister on behalf of my colleague and myself for his welcome to the House. We both look forward to engaging with him constructively on policy matters with regard to education.

I welcome his commitment and assurance that every child in Gorey and Wexford towns will be guaranteed a school place in one of those towns in 2020. That will provide some level of assurance. I appreciate that there will be difficulties but I welcome the Minister's commitment that we will get the solution for 2020. However, there remains a long-term challenge.

Looking at current projections is fine but if we continue to see young families moving into the area, in addition to the primary school enrolments, this will present a challenge. Nearly every board of management meeting in schools in the area deals with transfer requests so that is causing additional pressure. While I welcome the Minister's commitment that we will not have a problem in 2020, what I would like to hear is that there will be some sort of commitment regarding looking at 2021 or 2022 because additional school places are certainly needed in Wexford town and in the case of Gorey and north Wexford. It is very clear and certainly the schools have communicated, as have Wexford County Council along with myself and others, that we need a third second level school in the town. The Minister will appreciate the length of time it takes for that to be built, a patron appointed and so on. We really need that process to start now to ensure that this school is in place by 2021 or 2022.

I assure the Deputy that we will continue to monitor developments. He is correct in saying that there have been representations in terms of looking at future capacity. We are trying to build and project towards the future. Under Project Ireland 2040, our plan is to spend over €12 billion in capital infrastructure across the primary, second and third level sectors and to spend €8.8 billion in the primary and secondary school sectors between 2018 and 2027. We need to do it in a managed way, project and acknowledge the fact that Gorey is now a commuter town for Dublin city. I am very much aware of that. People are making the decision to move there and commute to Dublin so we must take all these factors into consideration.

A total of 840 students are enrolled in Creagh college. It has a capacity of 1,000. Obviously, there is no pinch point there this year but there is always the next round of enrolment. We will continue to monitor developments. Where I would ask for the Deputy's indulgence and observations is in the area of inclusion. When I say that every student will not prevented from going there, we will not be in a position in terms of space. We must continue challenging ourselves and that means everybody. There are challenges around special education. There are special education units in Creagh college. Other challenges will present themselves in the future in terms of a fully inclusive education system but I know that the Deputy's own considerable experience and that of his colleague beside him in education will be invaluable in this debate. One of our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a fully inclusive education system. This will require far more thinking around how we move forward as a country but also ensuring that we do not dismiss the things that are working because we have 126 special schools. I was in one yesterday. There is still a need for special schools but we must also continue to challenge ourselves in respect of parents' choices to either send their children to a mainstream or special school.