Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Before we start Leaders' Questions, I ask Members to keep to the time limits or I will interrupt them. I ask Members for their co-operation.

The leaving certificate class of 2020 has endured an extremely difficult year. "Endured" is the only word for it. Three months before the examinations the schools were shut due to the public health emergency. As weeks passed, students faced the uncertainty of whether they would even sit the leaving certificate examination this year. There was postponement, cancellation and then uncertainty about what model would be used. These young people have had a horrendous year. In ainneoin sin, lean siad ag obair leo go tréan agus rinne siad gach rud a iarradh orthu, ach tá faillí déanta ar an dream sin ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna.

These students were entitled to expect standards from the Government and the Department of Education and Skills that matched theirs, but this is not what they got. Instead, they have faced an extraordinary mess and further disadvantage due to errors in the calculated grades model. In May, I made it clear to the Department that the calculated grades model was not the correct one to use, because it would be a blunt instrument that would cause students to miss out when they should not. The Minister for Education and Skills persisted with the model and there have been persistent difficulties since then. The flaws have become apparent following the issuing of the results.

The events of yesterday beg many serious questions. The Opposition and even the Cabinet were kept in the dark. Most importantly, the leaving certificate students were kept in the dark. There is a striking lack of clarity about who in the Government knew what and when. We know that this information was in the Minister's hands for seven days, and she said nothing publicly about it. Incredibly, this was while second round offers from the Central Applications Office, CAO, were being issued and accepted. This is not academic. We cannot forget that this affects the lives and futures of students. There are likely almost 1,000 students who have missed courses due to these errors. The Minister says it will be a few days before the full numbers are known. Many students will have taken up lower choice courses in cities and counties in which they had not expected to be located. They will have paid registration fees and deposits to landlords. They do not know whether they are coming or going.

It is most important that we fix this shambles. Third level places are at the heart of the solution. The Ministers, Deputies Foley and Harris, are making general commitments or statements about additional college places to be made available. However, the Minister, Deputy Foley, also concedes that some will have to defer. That does not cut it. Asking students to spend a year in limbo is not good enough. The Minister, Deputy Foley, said that no student will be disadvantaged. To achieve that, there must be a guarantee that every student who missed a college course will now be offered the place that is rightfully his or hers.

We also must ensure accountability. The Government decided on this model. It hired the company in question. How experienced was this company in doing this type of work? How were the errors not picked up before the results were issued? This smacks of serious incompetence. What is the Government going to do to ensure there is accountability? Can the Minister clarify what he was told about this and when he was told? What did he do as a result? Did he, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste decide not to tell the rest of the Cabinet at its meeting on Tuesday? Can the Minister clear this up?

First, the most important people in this are the students. The Deputy is right that the young people in this year's leaving certificate class have had a year unlike any other. They have suffered probably more than most and as much as anybody else, other than those who went through illness or lost their lives. They have suffered most in terms of the quality of their lives at this critical time. In my experience, anyone making decisions in this entire process had the interests of the students at heart, first and foremost. That will continue to be the case. Included in that, following a coding error in the system, we will ensure there is no student who is unable to avail of a course he or she should have been able to access had that small change in code and those four characters being different in a 50,000 line code. We must ensure those students do not lose out. We are committed to doing that in every way possible.

Nobody was kept in the dark on this. The error only became apparent when the person who had been involved in doing the coding saw a slight variation in running the model again when working on the applied leaving certificate results. The person decided to check, at the person's own instigation, and found out what had happened. The person is eminently qualified. The person worked previously with Statistics Canada, the Canadian statistics agency, and also had specific expertise with regard to the Irish academic system due to work the person had done here in assessing our programme for international student assessment, PISA, results and had published on the very area on which the person was working. The person was eminently qualified. At a time when every country is considering these calculated grade systems, it was difficult to find people with such international expertise and knowledge of the Irish system.

On seeing the variation that occurred when the person ran the model for the applied leaving certificate, the person contacted the Department of Education and Skills late last Tuesday week. The Minister, Deputy Foley, and the Department were only informed on Wednesday morning that there was a difficulty, but it was not clear exactly what it was. The CAO ran its second round of offers on that day because it was not clear whether it was going to have an effect on the CAO process. The Department, correctly, started to address the issue. It employed a firm of American international consultants with expertise - it is the company that runs the SAT system in the US - as an independent, outside consultancy to go through the 50,000 lines of coding to ensure there were no other errors and to check what were the consequences of that code error. That work is due to be completed in the next day or two. Once it is confirmed to the Department, the model will be run again and the CAO will be immediately informed whether there are any upgrades, so it will be able to ensure that those students are not disadvantaged and are able to get the courses they should have received.

The Department informed my party and myself of the details on Friday. At that stage, because it was a complex issue to look into, there was only still an initial sense of where the difficulty might be. I was fully briefed on Monday in advance of a leaders' meeting where we discussed it at length. It is not a matter of keeping anyone in the dark at any stage. The Deputy can imagine if, at the early stage in this process, someone had gone out without full knowledge of what the consequences would be to all the thousands of students who did the leaving certificate. That would have created real anguish and uncertainty. It was only yesterday that the scale of the issue and the numbers were clear. A press conference was planned for 4 p.m. yesterday in advance of it being raised in the Dáil. There was no intention to keep anyone in the dark. There was an intention to try to get this right so that the risk or anguish to students would be minimised. I think that was the right approach.

The Minister talks about four characters. I have heard the Ministers, Deputies Foley and Harris, talk about them. This is not abstract stuff. Four characters represent hundreds of students and the futures and dreams they have for their courses. This is not academic, it has real implications. What might seem small on a spreadsheet is very significant in terms of the error that was made. The Minister talked about having no intention of keeping people in the dark. People were kept in the dark for over a week. The Minister still has not answered. He was informed on Friday and I would be interested to see over the course of time what was known at that stage. The Minister was given more detail on Monday and there was a Cabinet meeting - a meeting of the Government - at which the matter was not discussed. The Minister was aware of that beforehand. Why did he not insist that this be discussed at Cabinet? It is one of the greatest challenges that this and the previous Government have faced over the last few months yet it was decided that it should not be discussed at Cabinet. There is no logic to that. The Minister should try and tell us why it makes sense. I cannot make head nor tail of it. Surely such a significant issue needs to be discussed at Cabinet. We need a commitment on the third level places to resolve this.

The parties had all been working collectively. The Ministers, Deputies Harris and Foley, were working on sorting out the issue and getting to the stage where we had final detail on the estimated numbers, what the solution would be and how we would manage this. We wanted to get that right and we will get it right. The real issue here is those students. The American company is reviewing and checking the code. The Deputy is right that the characters are not the important thing. The fact that it was a coding error is not the key thing. The key thing is the students. The key thing now is the estimates we have. We will have to wait until we run the full programme on the checked code; it could be something like 6,500 students. From experience, last year some 3,000 students would have been in a similar position where they were due to get an upgrade after an appeals process. No one will know the number until the final coding check is completed and all the other systems are put in place. We can expect that there will be a number of students - no one knows the exact number - but it will be equivalent to the sort of percentage one would expect that was done last year. It may actually be less because they were students who were looking to get up a grade to get to the points that they just missed. It will probably be less but we do not know that until we get the final numbers. They will then be included in the CAO system and will be able to get the course they would have got in the first place. That is guaranteed. That is what the Government is committed to and within a matter of days.

I want us to look at a few figures: 175 is the number of days that the Debenhams workers have been on strike and €175 million is the amount that was paid to KPMG to wind down Anglo-Irish Bank by the State. The value of the stock inside Debenhams is €11 million, and €11 million is what it would take to pay proper redundancy to the 1,000 workers and their families, namely the two weeks that were negotiated and bargained for. The fee that was paid to KPMG to advise the Government on the national broadband plan also happens to be €11 million, a fiasco for which the State is paying six times the cost and which we will never own. I want to bring those figures together to illustrate to everybody and particularly the leaders of the Government that what they are doing in terms of their treatment of the Debenhams workers is disgraceful and unacceptable. I walked behind what looked like an army of ordinary working class women towards the Fianna Fáil headquarters this morning, where they were protesting. I was telling them how shameful it looked for the State to be overseeing the 175 days of their struggle without getting justice, and said to them "you are just ordinary women." They said no, and that they have become extraordinary people. I read the article in The Irish Times describing how Jane Crowe, the chief shop steward, sat in a cell having been arrested after occupying Henry Street, with a bed and a hole in the floor for a toilet. She wondered how it had come to this. I am asking the Minister how it has come to this.

The State has no end of largesse when coughing out to companies like KPMG for failures, indeed, as KPMG was supposed to have overseen the accounts of Anglo and Irish Nationwide. It failed to alert us before the bank bailout that there was a problem. Why is it that the State has no end of largesse to treat those big conglomerates in this way but cannot hold up its hands and say it failed to implement the terms of Duffy-Cahill? It has failed to give those workers a mechanism whereby they could receive justice and should admit that the hard-won rights that they fought for having given years and years of service are being thrown back at them. It is five days now that the workers in Waterford are occupying their store. Last night an official from KPMG walked in and more or less asked them what it would take to settle this. They said it would take negotiating with them and KPMG said no way. The State is the best customer of KPMG. Here is the way to settle it. The Government should tell KPMG to sit down and negotiate and that the State, regarding its ability to collect the insolvency money, will take one step sideways and allow the workers to have first preference as a creditor. That is what should have happened under Duffy-Cahill but the State failed to legislate. The Minister is now part of the Government. How can he sit there and say it is not possible to look after 1,000 workers and their families while it is possible to throw the largesse of the State at the big conglomerates? Which side is he on?

I am on the side of every worker in this country. Our partnership process, our model of working with unions, employers and the various interests, is critical. The social democratic partnership model is the strength of our country and vital for our country. If there is one first priority it is social justice and rights. Those rights are preserved when we have law. The rights of the workers are protected in law so that employers are not able to exploit them, which would happen in the absence of that legal system and outlook in a country. We do have to abide by the law.

The role of this House is such that if there are deficiencies in the law in protecting workers, then of course we would look to see if we needed to amend legislation, strengthen law or provide further funds. On us going another way and ignoring the law, even as hard, cruel and significant as the circumstances of workers in any one situation are, including in this case of the Debenhams workers, although one wants to do everything one can, what one cannot do is start going outside the law. Once one does that, some of the protections that exist in the law are lost and it actually undermines and weakens workers' rights. This Government is committed to doing whatever it can within the law. The liquidation is proceeding under the supervision of the High Court. Once it is in that High Court process, we cannot directly interfere. Under the Companies Act, a liquidator is under statutory duty to realise and distribute the assets from an insolvent company as prescribed by law. For State creditors including Revenue, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and local authorities in respect of rates, their legal frameworks have to be respected. We do not have the discretion to forego debts owed to the State by a particular company. At the same time, we do guarantee statutory employment rights to the workers of Debenhams and if a company is unable to pay statutory redundancy then the State will step in. The first case is that the company has to pursue all possible avenues to provide that its statutory obligations are honoured and met.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection expects to receive claims on behalf of the former employees of Debenhams under two separate schemes, namely, the redundancy payment scheme and insolvency payment scheme. The Department estimates there will be approximately 1,750 claims between the two schemes with some 300 claims arriving per week and that it might take three or four weeks for all the claims to be submitted. As of 18 September, the Department received 600 claims under the redundancy payment scheme and 646 under the insolvency payment scheme.

Members on every side of this House believe it is important to protect and meet workers' rights. We cannot, however, do that outside the law. Where we need to change the law, we have committed to review the various pieces of legislation in this area in the programme for Government. We will certainly commit to do that.

I am impressed the Minister started off his speech by saying his first priority is social justice and social rights. I would not expect anything else from the leader of the Green Party. He finished with more or less the same sentiment. In between, however, he read out some Civil Service claptrap that makes no sense to me. I do not think the Minister understood it. Does he expect 1,000 workers and their families to understand it when we know there is stock in those stores, which those workers are protecting, that is worth the same value of their redundancy payments?

I ask the Minister again which side he is on. If it is the side of social justice and social rights, and the law has not provided for it, then the law is an ass and the Minister and the Government can sit down with KPMG reminding it that the Government is its best customer. The Government pays KPMG millions for every other project it wants to engage in. Therefore, KPMG must listen to the Government. Tell KPMG to negotiate with the workers and that this State will step aside in terms of what it is owed as a creditor and allow the workers to be first creditor because this State failed to implement the Duffy Cahill report. Now, the Minister is making a promise to do it. That is great. Do it. However, it will be too late for the Debenhams workers so the Minister needs to make a special case. He can do somersaults for vested interests in this country. Do somersaults for the workers in this country. There are 1,000 of them and their families and they must be looked after.

I read out those details which were given by the public service because I want to let people know the facts of what people are entitled to under the law. With regard to the Duffy Cahill report, as I said, the Government is seeking to implement a whole series of measures and is reviewing whether the current legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies protect the workers' rights effectively. It is reviewing the Companies Act 2014 with a view to addressing the practice of trading entities splitting their operations between trading and property. I am aware that is more relevant to the Clearys case but it will have a result where any trading company is trying to separate out its operations. We will examine the legal provision that pertains to any sale of a connected party following the insolvency of a company, including who can object and allow grounds for it.

Recently, I understand the Irish Congress of Trade Unions allowed two further proposals it believes will assist workers where a collective agreement is in place. The Government is committed to ensuring those proposals are considered and this will meaningfully involve engagement with all stakeholders. We cannot, however, say to an auditor that because we are working with it on some other line of business we will not pay it or use it unless it treats stock in a certain way. That would be completely outside the law.

I did not argue with that. I am telling the Minister what I want him to do.

In the long run, it will undermine the strength of workers when it comes to the need for legal protection in any such instance.

This morning, one could almost hear the collective groan of hundreds of thousands of families as they listened on morning radio to the latest instalment of this Government's fiasco factory. People around the country are wondering if anybody is in charge at all. In a few short months, this Government has proven itself efficient in only one thing and that is the creation of chaos.

The predictive grades process has turned out to be a complete dog's dinner. What has actually been delivered looks nothing like what was designed in the first place. The Government said the process would be accurate, reliable and fair. It is none of these things. The predictive grades situation is a disaster for many students across the country.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, in particular, have a fierce fondness for outsourcing serious State roles to private companies. This has obviously caused untold damage right across the sectors, especially in areas such as cancer screening. However, from the responses of the Minister and other Government Deputies over the past while, it looks like the Government is trying to outsource the blame for this particular issue to the private sector as well. At this juncture, the key question is: who is responsible for what has happened? I do not ask that question for the purpose of the blame game but because there will be a cost to this cock-up.

The class of 2020 has gone through extraordinary turmoil over the past year. Many will have serious financial costs heaped upon them. Some students will have taken courses in certain cities. They will have been set up there and have paid big deposits for houses, flats, etc., only to find out they have another preference in another city they want to take.

The Government now states it will provide extra places for those students. Those are extra places for students in a third level sector that is already on its knees financially. There is a €500 million shortfall in that sector. It will not be feasible to provide places for everybody; it is just not going to happen. Many students will be left in limbo in respect of their preferences for a full year and many of these cases will lead to court cases.

Did the company make this mistake? Is it consequently liable for the financial costs that will accrue to the State or did the Department give the incorrect directions? Will the taxpayer be left pick up the costs again?

The Government is ultimately responsible for managing our public administration system, the laws and the spending of taxpayers' money. The Minister for Education and Skills, specifically as part of the Government responsible for this particular area, her Department, the calculated grades office and all the tiers of administration we have are responsible. To assist this calculated grades process - no one wanted to do it but the pandemic forced it on us - they decided they wanted to get in some of the best international expertise they could, that is, people who had knowledge of the area in this country. It was appropriate for them to seek that international expertise and bring it in.

There is a critical strength and benefit to the leaving certificate. There are some downsides to the leaving certificate but, to my mind, one great strength is that it is a level playing field for everyone and for every household in this country. No matter where one comes from, what school one went to or what one's background is, we all believe, truthfully, the leaving certificate is a level playing field test and not an arbitrary one. There is no benefit to someone living in one part of the country or to someone coming from one side of society or from another side. Everyone knows it is fair, and I believe in the grading, the testing and the process. No one wanted to not be able to do the leaving certificate this year. I believe, however, at the end of this process that still holds true.

It is far better that a mistake is recognised, admitted to and immediately acted on in an open way to retain that trust in the integrity of the system.

Various Members have had a chance to interview and question Department officials, people from the calculated grades office and others on how they are managing this. My view is that they have done the best thing in a difficult and almost impossible situation. We have seen similar difficulties in other countries. However, I trust that what they are doing here is to address an unfortunate error. There is deep regret that it occurred. The error was recognised by the person who made it. When they discovered they made the mistake they immediately said that. It is far better that the person said an error was made, and we need to reflect on what the consequences are. Far better than that, to my mind, is that the Department said it wanted to get the truth of this and that it brought in international, independent and highly-regarded experts so that it could have confidence that their review would tell it that, hopefully, there were no further errors and would explain how and why the actual error was made so that it is absolutely clear what happened and that trust in the system is ultimately protected.

It is important that the younger students, who are key to this, believe they got the correct result in the end. That will be the outcome of this very unfortunate process. They will also get the college place they should have got based on that revision. I think any teacher would say that if a student or anyone else made a mistake, they should admit it, rectify it and learn from it. That is what will happen here.

Obviously it is better not to make a mistake in the first place than have to put up a hand to admit making a mistake. The Minister has tried to paint the Government as noble for having admitted the mistake in this case. However, the Government knew about this mistake a week ago. The Taoiseach, who has made a big play of education during this Government, knew about this mistake a week ago. The Minister for only good news stories, Deputy Harris, who did not appear at the press conference yesterday, has not been available to answer questions since. The Minister, Deputy Foley, is making herself available in the graveyard shift tonight at 9 o'clock, when hopefully from the Government's perspective most Deputies will have hit the hills. That does not look like a Government with its hands up saying, "We've made a mistake. Let's be transparent about this."

The Minister may have answered this key question. Is the Government taking full responsibility for this? Does that mean the taxpayer foots the bill yet again?

I have said that confidence in the system is critical. I prefer that I am here able to answer some of the valid and appropriate questions Members of the Opposition have. The Minister, Deputy Foley, will be able to answer any further questions this evening. I would prefer to be able to stand up now with the full knowledge, as I do now, of what had actually happened, which I do not believe would have been available or was not actually available earlier this week. It was more important to get the facts right, get the resolution and rectification of the problem right and then to present the approach we plan to take.

Had we taken the other route and immediately said there was a problem without being sure about the consequences, the numbers or the implications for the CAO and college places, tens of thousands of students, all of whom would fear that there are implications for them, would spend a week wanting to know the answers to those valid questions. It was more appropriate to get this sorted as best we can - and we will - and then openly and transparently go to the Dáil and outline the difficulties we have.

On contractual arrangements, if someone's contract has not delivered or a mistake has been made, obviously that is a legal contractual issue to be managed after the fact. The first thing is to get the code checked, which will be done, get the revised assessment of students with higher grades and then allocate third level places to them in a timely manner. That is what we will focus on.

I am glad the Minister for Transport is here. This week Bus Éireann announced that it is to scrap a number of its Expressway routes, significantly reducing connectivity between our major cities and the regions. The removal of the X8 service between Dublin and Cork, for example, will have a major impact on students and commuters travelling from Tipperary to either Cork or Dublin and patients travelling for hospital appointments if they can ever get one these days. Cork and Shannon Airports are facing a serious crisis and our rail services are nearly non-existent in terms of connectivity.

The programme for Government commits to prioritising public transport projects that enhance regional and rural connectivity yet six months in, we are learning that the Government is shutting down services instead of promoting them. At the same time, appallingly, 3,100 students have been refused school transport tickets this year. I understand the Government had agreed last year to have a review in an effort to sort this out and do something about the situation. It is providing money for physical distancing to Bus Éireann contractors only. Where will that come from?

What extra funding has been allocated to ensure the 3,100 students will get a school bus ticket? From a green point of view, it is astounding. How can the Minister for Transport stand over instances where in the same household two siblings can get a ticket but one cannot? That is bullying of young children and the pressure it is putting on their parents is disgraceful. Then the parents, grandparents or carers must get into a car to follow the bus down the road to the school. How does that fit in with the green agenda?

In October 2019, the then Minister announced a review of the school transport scheme to ensure funds are being spent in the most effective way to meet the objectives of the scheme. Terms of reference and everything else were agreed, but now because of Covid it has all been abandoned. The school transport scheme is a pure mess.

I know a man in Cloneen in Tipperary, Michael O'Brien, whose daughter Bianca is a recovering cancer patient and doing well, thank God. He has to drive her to school. He must make a choice between work and his child. Obviously, his child comes first so he has had to give up his job. This is shameful. The bus passes quite close but she cannot get a ticket on it. It is not acceptable that the review of the school transport scheme has been delayed because of Covid. With 3,100 students left to find alternative arrangements, the Government needs to sort this urgently. It is beyond urgent; it should have been sorted last year.

The future of the X8 Expressway service is in jeopardy and we cannot get a train out of Clonmel, Cahir or Carrick-on-Suir before 9 a.m. any morning. The bus service is very poor. I salute the private carriers and others, whom the Minister knows, who do the work there. We have 85,000 people waiting for driving tests. They are not allowed to drive and they cannot get on the system. The system is badly broken. I ask the Minister for Transport to try to fix it.

I commit to that.

In an ordinary year the Government would provide about €300 million in public service obligation supports to the public transport system. This year we will provide that, but we will also provide an additional €460 million because carriers have lost fare revenues owing to the Covid restrictions. If necessary, we will do the same again next year.

Bus Éireann has announced that it is seeking to withdraw from four of its intercity express services to consolidate the other 14 services and to provide additional bus services in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Meath and Louth. That was a decision by the company over how it wants to meet what it sees as growing demand and areas where it was suffering significant losses. It was not because of a lack of financial support or a lack of willingness to support public transport services. There will be an increased employment of drivers and a redeployment of drivers on existing routes. As I told the company - I commit to it here - if there is any loss of service with any town left out or left behind, we will apply the public service obligation to ensure no town is left behind.

This was the commercial side of its bus operations. It was not under the public service route network, but that does not matter. We still need to ensure every town is connected. Indeed, we seek to expand the public transport network. Under the towns first policy, we can use the strange opportunities Covid presents to change our transport system away from long-distance car commuting towards having local bus services. People who are able to work remotely without the need to commute will have good quality local bus services in their own town as well as between cities.

Obviously Covid restrictions have presented considerable difficulty for school transport. With the recommencement of schools, the Government set up the school transport system to work effectively with student safety in mind. The Department of Education and Skills provided funding for all the proper sanitisation and hygiene requirements on buses. Because the numbers spiked about a week before the schools came back, we had to revise the plans further. We did not have the 1,600 drivers needed and the extra coaches to meet the higher standards that the health authorities required. The Minister for Education and Skills has been working on that. We will introduce it shortly. I estimate it will cost over €100 million to further protect and improve the school bus transport system.

Everyone in the House knows there are difficulties with that system. About 20,000 students get buses in a separate private system. There are issues with concession tickets, none of which are optimal. There is no lack of support, no lack of commitment and no lack of funding. Many hundreds of millions of euro of additional funding will be allocated to public transport this year and we will do the same again next year.

That is not very helpful. The school transport system is a mess. The Minister is talking about €750 million this year, €450 million more than last year. He would be better off subsidising parents to drive their kids to school and forget his green ideals. We have buses passing by and cars travelling in front of them and behind them and the whole thing is organised chaos. The Minister said the numbers spiked in September but the Government knew, since the schools closed last March, that this problem was coming down the track. Can the Government not think ahead? The Department managers would not survive in business for a week. The Minister should know as he is a former businessman. Surely one plans ahead when one sees what is coming down the track.

We have 85,000 people waiting for driver tests, we will have a carbon tax hitting us in the budget, we literally have no rail services in County Tipperary, although the Minister has made the right noises about how he wants to see stations restored, and we have no guarantee on the Expressway services. Thank God for PJ Kavanagh, McCarra's, Lambert's, Denny and Kit Whelan and Mr. Toohey up in Nenagh. Thank God also for the parents' groups who are able to organise private routes. They can do it efficiently with buses. Those bus owners have got no support whatsoever from the pandemic unemployment payment or anything else. They are getting no support to sanitise their buses either. It is discrimination against rural people all the time and rural children are being bullied. Can the Minister imagine the damage it does to a child when his or her two siblings are taken on and they cannot be taken on? Just think of it happening to a child of five, seven or eight years of age. The Minister should think about that for one minute.

I spoke earlier about confidence in our systems. We also need confidence in the return to schools. People should have that confidence because-----

The Government has lost €100 million.

What we have seen is our schools and the public transport system supporting them - Bus Éireann is the company that has been largely managing this and it has managed it well-----

It has not. It has managed it badly.

What we have heard from the health authorities is that any increase in incidences of the virus have not come as a result of the return to schools. We have actually managed it well, both within the schools and the public transport and other systems we have been using to get our children to and from school. It has actually worked. We have not seen a spike and an increase. However, at the last minute the health authorities came to us saying that because they were worried about rising numbers, as an extra precaution they wanted to see a further change in the arrangements. As I said, that will involve something like 1,600 additional coaches. Some of these will be from the very businesses the Deputy is aware of which are in real difficulty because they are not able to operate services in other areas of the economy. The Government was willing to take on the financial implications and the organisational arrangements even though we felt the system we had in place was a good one, because it had not lead to an increased incidence of the virus.

The Minister has left children behind.

Thank you, we are over time.

We said that to be absolutely sure we would deliver those extra buses-----

The Minister is avoiding the most important part.

-----and we will deliver those extra buses.

The Minister never referred to the children who were left behind.

Thank you, Deputy McGrath. We are moving on to Questions on Promised Legislation. I ask Deputies to keep within their time so that as many can get in as possible.