Ceisteanna - Questions

National Economic Plan

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his plans for a high level review of the economy to be led by his Department. [25392/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach his plans for a high level review of the economy to be led by his Department. [27111/20]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if his Department has convened the well-being expert group. [27069/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

Both the high level review of the economy and the development of new measures of well-being and progress will be taken forward as part of the ongoing work on the development of a national economic plan and its associated work streams. As committed to in the programme for Government, work is under way to develop a national economic plan, which will follow after the budget with a focus on the priorities and objectives for Ireland's economic recovery.

We are living through a time of high levels of economic uncertainty in terms of the pathway of Covid-19 and the final impact of Brexit. Given this, the plan will set a framework of our priorities and policy objectives for sustainable recovery, while signalling pathways and further work streams over the years towards these medium-term goals. Work on the plan is being overseen by the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment. It will set out our approach to an inclusive and balanced recovery, building resilience across our enterprise and sectors and future-proofing our economy and society. Transitioning to a sustainable and low carbon economy will be at the heart of the plan.

The work is also an important opportunity to progress programme for Government commitments, including the development of well-being indices to aid a well-rounded view on how the economy and society are faring. I expect that there will be consultation and engagement with stakeholders and experts as we implement this and other commitments in the programme for Government over the period ahead.

When he stands up to respond, will the Taoiseach tell us when the two errors in respect of the calculated grades came to light? I know this news will be deeply concerning to students across the land and it seems quite something that errors of this magnitude have occurred but I would like to know when the Government first discovered them.

Can the Taoiseach confirm which Departments and organisations have been consulted as part of this high level review and who within the Department of the Taoiseach is heading up this important work? It is clear that the consultative aspect of the review's work is important because whole sections of the domestic economy will face unique challenges in the months and years ahead. As the Taoiseach knows, uncertainty is not the friend of any business. There are sectors within the domestic economy that are blocked from trading because of public health restrictions and the acting Chief Medical Officer has warned of ongoing restraints for the next six to nine months.

Government is assuming a certain level of resilience for micro and small businesses in the next 12 months that does not reflect the reality for many of them. These local businesses employ over 1 million people. Hospitality and local pubs are the typical employers on which many communities rely for employment. These are not just places of social interaction, they are vital employers and stimuli for local economies. Taxi drivers are another sector of workers who are at the end of their tether. Many do not have the financial reserves necessary to manage the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET’s, projected uncertainty despite their viability in normal times. What voice do these businesses have at the Government's high level review of the economy?

I also want to note the legitimate and real frustrations and concerns of the commercial events sector. I met with representatives of the event production industry Covid, EPIC, working group last week. It estimates that the commercial events sector accounts for 90% of the 5 million event tickets sold in Ireland each year and it directly contributes over €3.5 billion to the national economy. It is an industry that is ready to go but this readiness will not last forever. Will the Taoiseach give a concrete commitment to include EPIC in the consultative process of the high level review?

I noted that the Government dealt with the matter of ticket touting at Cabinet yesterday after a long time of those of us on this side of the House advocating and producing legislation on that matter. I could not but be struck by the irony that the Government was dealing with matters of ticket touting, as real as those concerns are, at a time when there are no gigs, concerts or matches.

I invite the Taoiseach to turn his attention to and engage with EPIC members and the industry as these people are finding it very difficult. There is a real danger that this very lucrative and important part of our economy will be permanently damaged unless the Government intervenes directly.

Despite all the talk of us all being in this together, I put it to the Taoiseach that the Government is progressively abandoning many of the workers and sectors that have been most harshly hit by the public health measures it has put in place.

By definition, the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, is given to people who have lost employment because of measures the Government has taken. They have done nothing wrong but they are being victimised with across the board cuts to their income. In the same week, the halt on mortgage repayments that could be used by those people is being lifted and they can now face further harassment from the banks at a time when their employment position may be deteriorating because of renewed restrictions.

Despite repeated calls that I have made for months on behalf of taxi drivers to respond to their requests for assistance, their industry has been absolutely decimated and is being decimated again. They are going to be taking to their cars for a protest on 9 October out of desperation because of their situation but we have had no commitments or assurances. The arts, music and entertainment sector is worth €3.5 billion, with 35,000 people whose livelihood had been decimated, and there is no clear commitment or assurance of financial supports to sustain them through this period. The Debenhams workers, whose employer used Covid-19 as a cynical excuse to execute a tactical liquidation, have now been on the picket lines for more than 170 days and the Government has completely abandoned them. It is absolutely outrageous.

I put it to the Taoiseach that the Government must support all these people. Money is being given out hand over fist to sections of big business in this country which have not lost anything close to the amount of income that these sectors have lost. The Government has no problem giving the money to them. People involved in arts and music, the taxi drivers and the Debenhams workers have meanwhile been just abandoned. I ask the Taoiseach - and, more important, these people ask him - to do something for them. They are in trouble through no fault of their own.

First, we have not been giving money hand over fist to big business. The funding has been directed through wage subsidy schemes and more than €3.5 billion has been paid through the PUP alone. There are 350,000 workers whose jobs are underpinned by the wage subsidy scheme. By any standard that is an extraordinary intervention as the Covid-19 pandemic is an extraordinary event.

This has been necessary because Covid-19 has had an impact on the very sectors mentioned by the Deputy. Covid-19 has made congregation almost impossible. Supporters cannot turn up to matches in the numbers we are used to and the hospitality sector is facing very challenging circumstances. It is not the Government that is the cause of this but Covid-19. The Government has to respond and it has done so with a suite of measures right across the board, including restart grants and human capital initiatives involving more than 200,000 placements, apprenticeships and different schemes through Skillnet Ireland and so on. That is a €200 million initiative.

Likewise we have seen restart grants and loan facilities being made available. The general feedback, understandably, is that small and medium enterprises do not want to pile debt upon debt. The multinational sector, which the Deputy consistently rails against, is not getting huge support but is doing well, particularly with life sciences. That is helping to underpin the economy as - guess what - many Irish-owned small and medium enterprises depend on multinationals. The multinationals employ approximately 250,000 people but for every job they provide, they also create employment in the SME sector. There are 450,000 jobs in that sphere, all told.

The Deputy mentions the self-employed and taxi drivers, and there is a range of others. I accept the point on EPIC and we will engage with the group and representatives of the events industry. Again, the industry has been very badly affected by Covid-19 as the excellent type of economic activity in the sector cannot easily be carried out when the virus is an issue. In the forthcoming budget we will continue to look at ways in which we can assist sectors over and above what we have done already.

We recognise and acknowledge the impact of Covid-19 on those sectors specifically and we have been consistent about that. Severe restrictions have been introduced in Dublin and prior to that they were introduced to Laois, Offaly and Kildare, and we brought in additional measures to help those areas. We will again look at measures that may be introduced to help those specific sectors.

The Deputy argues that we are abandoning jobseekers and there are challenges in social protection. There are 213,000 people on the jobseeker's allowance. There is the issue with carers and there is a motion before the House on child poverty. We must take measures and prioritise those areas outside of the extraordinary interventions we have made with the economy and employment. That must be acknowledged and some budgetary action will be required for measures designed to help people who are really feeling the brunt of the economic downturn arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are specifically looking to see if we can help particular sectors because there is no rates valuation or because people have not been in a position to avail of existing schemes. We are looking to see if we can create bespoke approaches and schemes to help them. That is being looked at in the budget context to see if we can help people with social protection in such cases. We will continue to do that.

Deputy McDonald mentioned the leaving certificate calculated grades. My understanding is the Department would have been alerted to this by the company, Polymetrika International Inc, which initially discovered the error in the code. The company informed the Department about it and it has since corrected that piece of code. It is now operating as intended. The Department of Education and Skills found a second error while performing checks related to rectifying the first error and the Department is very anxious that it would get all the issues resolved and that it would understand fully what was involved before going public to ensure it can be comprehensive in its presentation to students and all involved.

All students registered with the calculated grades student portal will receive communication from the Department. The Minister will make a more comprehensive statement on this later today. It is important that this is comprehensive and communicates directly to the students.

When was the Department made aware of this?

I said it was last week. I do not have the specific date. That was when it was initially alerted and then the Department had to find out what was involved and the details.

The economic plan is the subject matter of this question. We want to think about where the economy and society will go after Covid-19. Today's Economic and Social Research Institute report mentions a potentially better balance in housing supply and economic activity in the regions, as well as investment in broadband, the climate change agenda and retrofitting and energy efficiency measures. There is also a digitalisation agenda, which is particularly important given the lessons we have learned about Covid-19 and the capacity to bring more jobs to regions and rural Ireland in particular.

The economic plan will follow the budget.

That will provide a medium-term framework for where we heading socially and economically post Covid-19, and where we should invest more to accelerate new areas of economic development. One key area will be construction.

Cabinet Committees

Alan Kelly

Question:

4. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet co-ordination committee last met. [25396/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet co-ordination committee last met. [27112/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.

The Cabinet co-ordination committee meets in advance of Government meetings and last met on 28 September. The committee was established by the Government to review the activity of Cabinet committees, review the agenda for each week's Government meeting, discuss political priorities, and review the implementation of a specified element of the programme for Government. I am a member of the committee, as are the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party. The Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach, my chief of staff and the chiefs of staff of the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party also sit in on meetings. The committee has held six meetings to date.

I find it hard to speak about anything else today. The Taoiseach's Cabinet co-ordination committee is not doing a very good job when it comes to education. It is very difficult. The few Members who are left in this House can attest that their phones are hopping because of the 6,000 students affected by this absolute cock-up. It is extraordinary. This would bring down any other Government at any other time. The parents of one young lady named Aeva May were on the phone to me. She is resitting her leaving certificate because she missed out on what she really wanted to do very narrowly. Can the Taoiseach imagine the heartache, the absolute torture, that she and other students have gone through and are going through? What about all the parents who have paid for accommodation, or the students who are sitting at home working on college courses and wondering if they will stay in those courses? They will not know until later on today, and perhaps not even then. The 6,000 students who have been affected could be in different courses next week or the week after. This has never happened before. It is extraordinary. These students have gone through absolute hell and this is the cherry on top.

I do not know what we are going to do, but whatever is announced this evening had better be an extraordinary response. We cannot penalise students who have already been offered places. Some students who are repeating their leaving certificates may in fact be going to college. Parents are paying for accommodation which they may never need or use because their children could go to other third level institutions. Some people who have been enrolled in courses with restricted numbers may find they are no longer in those courses based on their results. The ramifications this will have throughout the country are humongous.

The Taoiseach said earlier that the outside company noticed a coding problem. The Government found out about this last week. Then there was a second error. Unless she has changed her mind, the Minister for Education and Skills will not be before the House this evening, although I encourage the Taoiseach to arrange it, even if her appearance is late in the evening, so she will not be able to tell us, so will the Taoiseach tell us if the second error was connected to the first or an altogether separate error? How many errors were there? Were there just two? Was the second error a magnification of the first or completely separate? Are there students who are impacted by both errors or a single error? How in the name of God did this happen? How did the Department not see this problem? Was it because this aspect was outsourced to this company and there were no checks on it? Will the Taoiseach tell us more about the second company the Government is bringing in to audit and check this? I agree with doing that, because the Department is obviously not capable of doing it itself.

This impacts on every single family network in the country. Since the Minister will not come before the House today, will the Taoiseach answer these questions for the people watching?

The leaving certificate class of 2020 have suffered unacceptably because of a series of mess-ups. It is quite unconscionable that they are going to suffer yet again as a consequence of a gigantic and inexplicable cock-up. After all they have gone through and suffered, we now have this situation of uncertainty which could have very severe implications for those already in third level courses, those who may have missed out, and those who got the wrong grades. It is truly extraordinary. The Minister must come into this House today to make a statement explaining what the hell went on and what she will do to rectify it.

The fact that outsourcing may have played a role in this is very telling. That speaks to the general lack of investment in education, which is at one of the lowest levels anywhere in the western world. These are the sorts of consequences that inevitably flow in difficult situations from a lack of investment in education. The class of 2020 are going to suffer as a consequence. We need explanations and we need to know what the Government is going to do to rectify the situation in which thousands of leaving certificate students now find themselves.

This really is the icing on the cake, the final cock-up for the class of 2020. It will have ramifications not just for that class, but for secondary school students in fifth and sixth year who were already anxious and went back to school at the height of a pandemic. They look to the State and the people in charge for some reassurance that they have some idea what they are doing, and here we find ourselves now. I am very concerned by the fact that the Taoiseach had this information last week and clearly it was kept from the Opposition. The Minister for Education and Skills did not brief anyone or indicate that there was a difficulty. Last week students were hoping to start their university and third level courses. Now all of this has been thrown into disarray for a second time. They were told at the last minute that they could not be on campus, that their teaching would be online and so on. Now we have this. To say this is a mess is very much an understatement. There are two parts to it: the fact that errors were made and the fact that they were discovered last week and the Government kept them to itself. None of this builds confidence. All of this causes further anxiety for students and families who have already been through the mill.

This is very worrying and upsetting for the students concerned. Of that there is no doubt. Covid-19 has had an extraordinarily negative impact on their educational year. In the first instance it resulted in the cancellation of the normal physical leaving certificate exam as we knew it.

In May, it was decided to proceed with a calculated grades process which in itself was a unique approach to dealing with the leaving certificate results and, critically, students' progression to further courses, particularly at third level. It was an enormous logistical exercise. Outside expertise was brought in in terms of the coding and all of that. It was examined internally by the Department and through a parallel process.

The key error appears to have been in the coding and has given rise to this issue primarily. Given the questions that have been asked, the Minister, Deputy Foley, will make a comprehensive presentation. That is why, when the Department first became aware of this, it was important to ascertain comprehensively what is involved so that when a public statement is made, as many questions as possible can be answered to reassure students, do the very best for them in terms of their situation and ensure mechanisms and portals are in place to enable individual students to access new grades as a result of results being upgraded. The nuts and bolts of the rectification of this and the presenting of this to students were uppermost in the priorities of the Minister and the Department, which is correct. When an error of this kind is discovered, it is important that its full implications are ascertained. In addition, the external independent audit was introduced. A separate company from the United States has been brought in to go through the entire system again. That has to be done.

How long will it take?

It is important that that be done. There is a set timeframe which the Minister will reveal. It is very, very regrettable. Believe me, it is not something about which I or anybody wanted to hear, least of all the students themselves. I know it will cause additional alarm and worry. The objective now is to reassure students in terms of the places they already have and, if necessary, in terms of creating additional places for students who may now qualify for third level courses. All of that has to be still worked out in terms of the CAO and the availability of places on various courses. I know the Minister is particularly sorry for students that this has occurred. The system was introduced to replace the physical leaving certificate. External expertise was brought in. I understand the code was developed externally and it was the first error identified by the external consultant, Polymetrika International Inc. The second error was discovered by the Department as it was going through the matter.

Is the second error connected to the first?

No. The Department will make a presentation on that this afternoon publicly and comprehensively, which is the correct thing to do. The Department has carried out a series of further checks. It has identified no further errors in the coding and it has checked that the coding-----

Will the Minister come before the House?

There is no issue with the Minister coming in. She will present to the Dáil.

Will she come to the House today?

That depends on logistics. My understanding is that a comprehensive statement will be made at 4 p.m., which is important.

Will the statement be delivered on the floor of the Dáil?

It will be made publicly such that students and everybody else can hear it. That is the intention of the Minister.

She should come to the House to answer questions.

Of course, the Minister will make herself available to come to the House and answer questions. The Department has contracted Educational Testing Service, which is a US-based non-profit organisation that specialises in educational measurement to review the essential aspects of the coding that underpinned the calculated grades system. The results data are now being rerun through the corrected model. The Minister will give a more comprehensive statement this afternoon regarding all of the issues the Deputies have raised. There is no point coming in with piecemeal, drip-feed details on this. A strong and comprehensive response is required to what is a very regrettable error that no one is happy about. I am not at all happy it happened. We are in a unique situation as a result of Covid-19 and its impact.

Cabinet Committees

Alan Kelly

Question:

6. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet Committee that deals with matters relating to the Defence Forces and security. [25397/20]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

7. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet Committee that deals with matters relating to the Defence Forces. [27068/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together.

While there is no formal Cabinet committee dealing exclusively with security matters, I receive regular updates on the security situation and any relevant incidents and events. Ministers can also update the Government as necessary on security-related issues that arise in their areas of responsibility. In addition, the national security committee is concerned with ensuring the Government is advised of high level security issues and the responses to them. It is chaired by the Secretary-General to the Government and comprises representatives at the highest level from the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Equality, Defence and Environment, Climate and Communications as well as representatives of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. Representatives of other Departments also attend when necessary.

With regard to the Defence Forces, depending on the issue in question, be it progressing reform measures, EU related defence issues or international peace-keeping missions, the issue may be discussed at a meeting of the most appropriate Cabinet committee or at bilateral meetings with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence.

I will address the question, but if I did not ask the Taoiseach today a question about the leaving certificate, we would not be talking about it. That is not the way to do politics.

We would not at the time. What would have happened is the spokespersons would have heard about it at 4 o'clock. The Government should at least have had the courtesy to bring in all of the spokespeople here and to meet with them at lunchtime to explain. It would have been the right thing to do. They have all worked incredibly hard. My colleague, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, has done a significant amount of work to support the Government through this and to make suggestions. That is the least the Government should have done. If I had not asked the question, we would not be dealing with it. The Government must ensure that students who have been offered places are not demoted. That must not happen.

It will not happen.

The Taoiseach needs to give that assurance. We must find additional places in very tight situations in that scenario. I will get to the matter raised in Questions Nos. 6 and 7. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his indulgence. It has been an unusual day. The work to be carried out by the external company that is now coming in must not go on for too long because if it does, we could have another issue. That must not happen. I want to know the detail of the second error because it is a direct error by the Department. It does not matter if something is outsourced; an error is an error. This has been one of the worst days I have ever spent in this House. It is appalling for the students.

On the issue raised in Questions Nos. 6 and 7, the previous Government had a special Cabinet committee on defence and security matters but the current Government does not. Why not? Pay, allowances, recruitment, retention and career progression are among the six proposed issues listed to be dealt with in the context of the commission on the Defence Forces which is included in the programme for Government. Through which Cabinet subcommittee will that commitment be met? It was reported in August that personnel were leaving the Naval Service to join the Army because its allowances and conditions are better. This has to be dealt with. Does the Government intend to bring in emergency pay measures to address the problems that have been outlined? Will there be progress on these matters in the budget? Core pay is a significant issue in terms of retaining personnel. When will we see the terms of reference of the commission? Under what Cabinet committee is it being dealt with?

My colleague, Senator Wall, who is very passionate on defence issues, has raised the issue of honouring the soldiers involved in the siege of Jadotville. As the Taoiseach is aware, a campaign has been waged for a number of years to acknowledge and honour those soldiers for their amazing actions in the siege in 1961. Is that being considered by the Government? Will the Taoiseach make a statement on the matter?

Two errors have been discovered in the calculated grading system.

Are we satisfied that there are no other errors? Is there a possibility that this new expertise and review might, in fact, turn up other problems or errors?

The Taoiseach said the objective of keeping the information to themselves was to prioritise contact with students. What has been the nature of that contact? There has been none. The Taoiseach said they were putting students first. I believe the Department is establishing a helpline today. Is that happening today? The Taoiseach might clarify that for us. We need at least some sense now that the information is in the public domain that it is two errors and no more. The Taoiseach needs to give that assurance to people today.

The pay, conditions and accommodation of the serving Defence Forces is, as the Taoiseach will be aware, a long-running issue. Wives and partners of members of the Defence Forces have been put in the terrible position of having to campaign for fair pay and treatment for their families. Last year, the executive council of congress agreed in principle the application by Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, for affiliation as an associate member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and that further discussions were necessary to bring the matter to a conclusion. The then Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, stated in the Dáil that he was giving the ICTU affiliation careful consideration taking into account all the concerns, specifically those of military management and the Chief of Staff who had written to him. Has there been any progress on these matters within Government?

The Taoiseach will also be aware of the criticism of the previous Government to adequately progress the high-level implementation plan. What focus has the Cabinet committee given to the implementation plan and what approach will it take to expedite its delivery? Specifically, what is the committee's view of what the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers described as the unsustainably high level of staff turnover, which last year reached 10.5%. In July, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, warned that despite Government commitments to boost numbers, they have fallen to an all-time low of 8,485 personnel. RACO attributed the fall in numbers to poor conditions of service, low rates of pay and outstanding pay issues. Accommodation is also a significant concern. I have seen at first hand these dire conditions. What focus is the committee giving to all these critical issues?

As I said, there is no security committee of Cabinet in the first instance. The main focus of the questions as they evolved is around pay, recruitment and retention. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Defence are engaged in terms of what measures can be taken, in particular to assist the Naval Service in its situation without creating issues for the wider public service pay agreement and pay framework. There are certain aspects that both Ministers and both Departments have been engaged in to facilitate some assistance for those who work in the Naval Service because, as has been articulated and as I myself have articulated, the overall strength of the Defence Forces is at 8,374. It was 8,724 in July last when the pay commission recommendations were accepted.

There are issues of both retention in, and recruitment to, the Defence Forces. The strength levels are continually impacted, even by the Covid-19 emergency. Covid-19 has resulted, for example, in the postponement of the majority of general service inductions that were planned to take place in the first half of the year. The planned induction was in the order of 310 personnel for the first half of 2020. The 2020 recruitment efforts have resulted in a total of 9,281 applications being received across 13 recruitment competitions. That issue of retention and recruitment of members to the Defence Forces continues to receive priority by Government.

The officer strength of 1,200, as of 31 August, represents 99% of the agreed establishment strength of 1,233. Certain officer ranks are under subscribed. Captains and others, such as lieutenants, are over subscribed. That will balance out over time.

A campaign to re-enlist and recommission former Permanent Defence Force, PDF, personnel has also yielded significant interest, with 736 applicants received. Ten personnel were re-enlisted as of 11 September. Three officers were recommissioned.

The establishment of the commission will be a further initiative designed to improve the situation overall in terms of the retention and recruitment of personnel to the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps.

Progress has been made on the implementation plan and the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission. There is the review of technical pay. They are the issues that are currently under consideration. Both Ministers are at an advanced stage in terms of the outcome of that technical review.

A report on incentivised long-service arrangements for certain officer and NCO ranks was completed and will be used to inform future pay negotiations. A final report on bespoke management training for leaders and managers was signed off by the project sponsors on 13 July.

There will be further initiatives undertaken. In terms of the commission on which the Minister will be bringing proposals to Government, that will create a further opportunity to look fundamentally at the Defence Forces and how can we ensure they are fit for purpose in terms of strength and capacity to retain over a sustained period of time personnel who enlist in them.

In terms of the union issue and ICTU, that is under ongoing consideration. There are issues to be fully thought through in terms of the long-term implications and the need to make sure that we are not in any way prevented from doing things for the Defence Forces that we need to do. The Defence Forces are key to underpinning our State, our society and our democracy. I worry that the numbers have been consistently below establishment for quite a number of years. That is something we need to redress and change for the future, and more permanently.

In terms of the issues that were raised in the context of the leaving certificate examination, I indicated already that the Department said that there were no further errors following its examination. Of course, the issues are ones that will be addressed comprehensively by the Minister later.

It needed to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. Much of the work over the past number of days has been done by the Department officials going through what the implications of all of this are. That is necessary. We need to make sure that when this is announced, there are mechanisms in place to alleviate the anxiety students will undoubtedly have. There is no point going off half-cocked on an issue of this importance. For students and for people generally, it is important that the presentation by the Department and by the Minister is as comprehensive as it possibly can be at this juncture.

On the external group that has been brought in, its work needs to be conducted in a timely manner as well, subject to capacity, etc. My understanding is it will be done in a time-limited way so that it will not go on for any prolonged period of time.

As I said, the Minister is making a comprehensive statement today. I do not want to second guess any of that but that is the intention.

The Taoiseach already knows.

That is the intention. I am making it clear that depends on the company, as it looks at it. I do not want to pre-empt its work but, obviously, it has to be done in a timely way. The point is that students will have to be given assurances in terms of places they already have.

A lot of work will have to be done with the third level colleges, the universities and the CAO system to assist students in every possible way in order that they are not in any way disadvantaged as a result of the discovery of these errors. Prior to this, significant efforts were made to increase the number of places at third level to help students in an extraordinary year for them because of Covid-19, which resulted in the cancellation of the physical exams and the introduction of the calculated grade system. As it has been worked through, errors have been discovered which creates further anxiety for the students. That is deeply regretted. The most important response is to ensure we do everything we possibly can to allay any concerns students have and assist them in their progression into third level and education more generally.