Ceisteanna - Questions

Data Protection

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the data protection unit in his Department. [33883/20]

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

2. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if a review has been conducted relating to the security of documents within his Department in view of the controversy surrounding the sending of a document to the head of a union (details supplied). [34745/20]

Alan Kelly

Question:

3. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the data protection unit in his Department. [35004/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the data protection unit in his Department. [35169/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

My Department is committed to protecting the rights and privacy of individuals in accordance with the European Union General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, which came into force on 25 May 2018. The Minister for Justice was responsible for the enacting legislation in Ireland and the Data Protection Act 2018 took effect on the same date.

In line with the requirements of GDPR, a data protection officer, DPO, was appointed within my Department in November 2017 to prepare for and oversee the Department's compliance with GDPR. The DPO is assisted in this role by a number of data protection liaison officers currently assigned to various divisions throughout the Department. The DPO continues to ensure that the Department's data protection policies, notices and procedures are in place and are regularly updated. The DPO is also the principal point of contact between the Department and the office of the Data Protection Commission. Since GDPR the Department has not experienced any data breaches. My Department has secure policies and procedures in place which are kept under review to ensure the protection of departmental and Government records.

Given the growing importance of digital matters in both the national and international spheres, the economic division in my Department will continue to contribute to cross-departmental work on digital and related data issues which are relevant to Ireland's interests. The Minister for Justice has overall responsibility for data protection policy and legislation.

I wish to raise two specific matters with the Taoiseach. The first relates to the records of the interdepartmental committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries or, as it is more commonly known, the McAleese report. In its statement on mother and baby homes last month, the Government committed to ensuring that the rights of all citizens to access personal information about themselves and their rights under GDPR are fully respected and implemented. The Government also committed to providing the additional resources necessary to fulfil this commitment. The Government's confusion on GDPR rights demonstrates the need for Departments to invest in data protection expertise. This point is relevant to the Taoiseach's Department as it holds the records of the McAleese report. The Taoiseach has confirmed that persons can access their records and I want to know what preparation and additional expertise he has put in place to ensure that this commitment can be met.

I also want to raise with the Taoiseach the significant number of data protection breaches identified by Departments last year. In total there were 778 breaches across 15 Departments but just three Departments accounted for 80% of these breaches. The Department of Social Protection accounted for more than half, followed by the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs. Of considerable concern are the breaches that took place within the Department of Justice, notably the loss of a USB stick relating to the Hickson commission of investigation. The device was lost in transit along a one and a half kilometre route between two Department buildings on Hanover Street and Haddington Road in Dublin and was never recovered. The loss was recorded in May 2019 but the first the victims learned of this data breach was in the media last month. The Taoiseach is aware that victims of Mr. Bill Kenneally have fought a long battle for the establishment of this inquiry. They have also raised very significant concerns that have not been adequately addressed by the Minister for Justice or the Garda Commissioner. I hope the Minister for Justice has informed the Taoiseach of these matters.

Thank you, Deputy. You are out of time.

The failure of the Department of Justice to inform the victims or their legal representatives of this data breach has caused untold hurt and concern.

I am sorry Deputy but there are four speakers and we will run out of time.

I know but these are important matters.

I agree but we will run out of time for answers. Deputy Tóibín is next.

This is a very important issue. Two weeks ago during a debate with the Tánaiste I asked him if he had ever leaked confidential Cabinet information. In his response he prevaricated and said "nothing of this nature". In other words, there was an acceptance that information from the Cabinet had been given out.

Has the Taoiseach ever conducted a review of the security of documentation within his Department or a review of the security of Cabinet information? Has he considered carrying out a review of leaks from his Department under the previous Administration? We had a situation during the term of the last Government where a foreign minister accused the then Taoiseach, now Tánaiste, of leaking in negotiations with the British Government. That is a very serious accusation and I want to know if the Taoiseach has done any checks with regard to leaks of that nature.

Last week I asked the Tánaiste if he had friends over for drinks in the Taoiseach's residence in Farmleigh during the lockdown restrictions in May but he did not answer my question. It is a very serious question and I am surprised that he did not answer it given that Ministers have lost their jobs because they broke the restrictions previously. Has the Taoiseach asked the Tánaiste if he breached the restrictions in May and if so, what answer did he give?

As Deputy McDonald said, there have been issues relating to data security in the Department of Justice. I have spoken in the House previously on a whole load of IT issues relating to Windows 7 and the upgrade to same which has still not been sorted. Given Covid-19 and the fact that so many people are working from home, this is a pretty serious issue.

In the context of data protection and judicial appointments, is the Taoiseach provided with information and details on other candidates that may be considered and if so, how is that data transferred to him from the Department of Justice? Is it sent via email or is it done orally? I ask the Taoiseach to confirm to the House whether he has ever been briefed by the Department of Justice or the Minister for Justice on any candidates and their suitability? How is that information stored? Where is it stored? Is the Taoiseach briefed by his Secretary General prior Cabinet meetings in regard to those individuals? Is he briefed on this when he is setting the Cabinet agenda for the following week? Is he briefed on the Thursday or Friday of the week before, prior to setting the Cabinet agenda for the following Tuesday? Is he briefed by the Secretary General to the Government on those issues as well?

Since the recent furore surrounding legislation relating to mother and baby homes and the issues regarding attempts to seal information relating to survivors, I have been inundated with contacts from survivors who are particularly concerned about the issue of industrial schools. One thing that I did not know was that the data in the archive for the industrial schools was outsourced and is in the possession of an American company. The survivors I talked to expressed great concern about that fact and went on to say that they have been given indications that it is the intention of the Government, as a priority, to reverse the legislation that set up the statutory education fund which was to provide support to survivors of industrial schools. They say that the Government is prioritising this and is essentially washing its hands of its obligations to survivors of industrial schools. They said that while there is much talk about data protection, promises that were made by former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, back in 1999 to deliver housing support, mental health and health supports, counselling and so on have not been kept.

Many of those survivors are living in deprivation and poverty, without decent housing and without the counselling and support they were promised. I would like the Taoiseach to respond on this issue.

In regard to Deputy Boyd Barrett's point, they were met at the time. I was Minister for Education and Science during that period and became Minister for Health and Children in 2000. I established the inquiries in question and was the first Minister to open up the dark chapter in our history relating to industrial schools. We put historians into the Department of Education and Science and we put counselling in place for the people who came to access their records. Some of them discovered they had siblings they had never known of because of the way they were separated by the cruelty man or the courts and sent off to these schools. It was horrific what was done to many people.

Ultimately, a redress scheme was established. More crucially, the Department of Health and Children set up a special counselling service that was specifically targeted at survivors of the industrial schools. It took two years to set it up because the Department and the experts said we needed really well-qualified child abuse and sex abuse counsellors who knew what they were doing to staff it. Various support groups were established at the time, the Aislinn centre being one example. We had various State agencies helping with access to education, supports for apartment construction and securing housing. A whole plethora of supports were provided at the time. I understand the Deputy referred to the Caranua fund, which has been ongoing for a number of years. It is coming to an end but we will have a look at it. I am talking to the Minister for Education about that.

Deputy McDonald asked about records relating to the mother and baby homes and the Magdalen laundries. Access to the commission's archive is governed by the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 rather than the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020. I have spoken on the record about the fact that if we had not introduced the 2020 Act, the entire database would have been made redundant and been destroyed. It was correct that the legislation passed through the Houses.

The general data protection regulation, GDPR, will apply to the archive. The Attorney General has been emphatic on that point and has clarified it for anybody who needed clarification. Individuals will have a right to apply for access to their own personal data held by the Minister in the archive of records once it is deposited by the commission, which I understand will be in February 2021. Files have also gone to Tusla and people will have access to them there as well. We are currently examining the matter and hope to be in a position to make a comprehensive statement on it at the time of the publication of the mother and baby homes report. That statement will include, for example, the question of where we archive, how we archive and how we tell the story of all these institutions, from the industrial schools to the Magdalen laundries to the mother and baby homes, in a way that does justice to the victims. We have to consult widely in this regard. I was talking to the groups concerned at the weekend and some of them, particularly direct survivors, have different perspectives on how that should be done. We must try to include everyone in the process. It is the Government's intention to create a centre that could help to provide insights to future generations on all of these areas.

In regard to the mother and baby homes, the GDPR prohibits a blanket ban on the processing of personal data. Documents furnished to the Department, when they are deposited with the Minister in February 2021, can be considered in the context of individual requests by data subjects. Those requests must be processed on an individual basis and in accordance with current relevant statute. In terms of the Magdalen laundries, the McAleese committee set out that the archive of the committee's work, which is deposited and stored centrally in the Department of the Taoiseach, would contain only copies of official records identified from across all Departments, State agencies and bodies. The originals of all such identified records have stayed in their original files and locations in order to avoid disturbance to, or destruction of, original or archived files. Access to any personal records can be sought, under the GDPR, from the relevant public bodies, subject to the normal procedures. The committee set out that the archive would also contain certain materials generated by or for the committee in the course of its work, such as correspondence, minutes and some statements and submissions. We will do everything we possibly can in this matter. Our view and disposition is to facilitate access for survivors to their records. No right is absolute, however, and the process is part of the GDPR framework. GDPR stems from European Union law and trumps other regulations.

In regard to the other issues raised by Deputy McDonald, I will follow up on them. The loss of the data device to which she referred was not something that occurred in my Department. This group of questions relates to the data protection unit in my Department. We have gone wide on it, which I accept.

With regard to Deputy Tóibín's questions, I have not investigated leaks from the previous Administration. It would be unprecedented to do so. I have never heard of it happening before that one would routinely go in and start making inquiries about, or having investigations into, previous Governments.

I asked about the Tánaiste breaking Covid restrictions last May. Has the Taoiseach spoken to him about that?

I am not aware that this was an issue.

Will the Taoiseach speak to the Tánaiste about it?

The Tánaiste has often said to me that he does not believe he has breached the restrictions in regard to Covid-19 regulations, as they have applied from time to time.

We are way over time and must move on to the next group of questions.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Alan Kelly

Question:

5. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with church leaders. [33888/20]

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

6. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with a group (details supplied); and the reason the approach to religious services here during the Covid-19 pandemic is different from the approach adopted in most other European countries. [34744/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with church leaders. [35422/20]

Paul Murphy

Question:

8. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with leaders of the Catholic Church on 28 October 2020. [36613/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, together.

On 28 October, I met with leaders of the Catholic Church, namely, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop Kieran O'Reilly and Bishop Dermot Farrell.  Discussion focused mainly on the effect the current Covid-19 restrictions are having on the health and well-being of the faith community and the great desire to return to worship as soon as possible.  The archbishops emphasised that they are fully supportive of the public health messages but highlighted that the coming together in prayer and worship, especially for mass and the sacraments, is fundamental to Christian tradition and a source of nourishment for the life and well-being of whole communities. The importance of gathering for worship as a source of consolation and hope at Christmas time was stressed.

The archbishops emphasised the mammoth effort that has been made by priests and volunteers at parish level to ensure that gatherings in church are as safe as possible. They also pointed to the consistent messaging from the church about the protection of health and life for all in the community, particularly the vulnerable. I thanked the archbishops for their support and acknowledged the major role religious leaders have in supporting people and giving hope at this time of stress and worry by reaching out to those who may feel isolated or marginalised. It was acknowledged that pastoral work continues at parish level, even as the celebration of mass is moved online. The challenges faced by people suffering bereavement at this time were acknowledged, particularly as we enter the traditional time of remembrance in the month of November.

I outlined the reasoning behind the Government's plan for living with Covid-19 and the need to strike the right balance between all forms of social and economic activity and public health.  The archbishops emphasised the need to protect the most vulnerable in society at this time. They also acknowledged the positive value of keeping our schools open, especially for those who may otherwise be educationally disadvantaged by not having access to technology or the daily support of their teachers.  The need for a shared understanding of the effects of the pandemic as it evolves, and an alignment of our responses accordingly, was recognised. All agreed on the importance of ongoing constructive engagement and solidarity in facing and overcoming the challenges of Covid-19 together. In responding to the pandemic, governments everywhere are making decisions that are judged to be the right ones for their country, society and economy. With the introduction of level 5 restrictions in Ireland, our objective, working together, is to reduce the spread of the virus and make it safer to reopen society.

Before I begin, I note that in the Taoiseach's response to the last round of questions, a number of the questions were not answered.

The issue raised in this group of questions is very important and I am glad that we are discussing it. Every weekend, my daughter organises for my mother - her granny - to watch mass from Portroe on YouTube. My mum goes to mass every single day of the year and long may that continue. Mass is a huge part of her life.

She is, obviously, very devout. We need to look at these matters favourably as we come towards December and the Christmas period, particularly for our elderly, many of whom go to the religious services of their different faiths. We need to look at this issue in a compassionate way. December is a very important month. November is the month of remembrance but December includes the build-up to Christmas and Christmas itself. If we go down to level 3, there will be no masses unless an exemption is made. The Taoiseach has made it quite clear that it is his ambition to move to level 3 but I urge him to consider some form of exemption for religious services and for small congregations. Perhaps - dare I say it - masses, meetings, comings together and various different religious services could be held on multiple occasions and we could facilitate those who want to attend. I urge the Taoiseach to consider the options to facilitate those of all ages, but particularly the elderly who really miss these services. I say that speaking quite personally.

This is a serious illness so when people raise this issue they are not saying they are looking for zero restrictions. Ireland, however, has the second lowest incidence of Covid in Europe but the sixth most severe restrictions in the world. People might say that those two issues are related but the fact is that restrictions come with a massive cost. Religious practice is one of those costs. Religious practice is a human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is no small issue we are talking about. The practice of religion is a significant element in people's lives. Some 100,000 people in this State do as Deputy Alan Kelly's mother does and go to mass on a daily basis. Well over 1 million attend religious services weekly. I got a phone call from a 93-year-old woman today who said that her physical and mental health are significantly deteriorating due to her lack of access to the social setting that is a religious service. Faith is also a significant pool of strength for many people in very difficult times.

I know we have to make evidence-based decisions, but Government data show very few outbreaks of Covid-19 associated with places of worship. Religious buildings are often the biggest buildings in any given town and services were run like clockwork in most communities until we entered level 5. Significant social distancing was operated. Over the coming weeks, we need to ensure that the safe elements of society start to function. Many people feel that these services are one of the safest elements of society.

The Taoiseach talked about his previous incarnations in government in terms of the survivors of industrial schools and the things he did. One of the scandalous things done under a Fianna Fáil Government was the decision to limit the liability of the religious congregations responsible for the abuse of those who went through the industrial schools and such institutions to €128 million, with the rest to be covered by the State. Contrary to his last contribution in response to my question, the survivors I am talking about are saying their needs are not being met. They say that the promises made by Bertie Ahern and previous Governments in which the Taoiseach was involved to deal with intergenerational poverty, the deprivation suffered by many survivors of the industrial schools, to provide for their mental health and counsellors they choose, to provide real housing support to people in really appalling housing conditions and so on, have not been met. They say that many of the bodies set up were set up without proper consultation with survivors and over their heads and that real engagement, particularly with some of the victims worst affected who tended to come from poorer backgrounds, has not really happened. They say the commitments and promises made have not been met.

Will the Taoiseach clarify whether he is proposing dissolution legislation? If so, is this effectively a case of the State washing its hands of its obligations to those survivors? We have had a campaign to repeal the seal on people's histories and records. Should we not repeal the Woods deal which limits the liability of those religious organisations so that they can use their very considerable property and other assets to support the survivors they abused?

I pay tribute to Deputy Alan Kelly's daughter. That is the kind of intergenerational solidarity that enables us, as communities-----

Her name is Aoibhe.

I have an Aoibhe myself. It is the kind of intergenerational solidarity that will get us through the pandemic. What comes across is the importance of faith to many in our community, which Deputy Tóibín also mentioned. It is good for people's mental health to get out and about and to get to church. The support that is there is important. The meeting really focused on level 3 restrictions because the archbishops accepted that level 5 involved severe restrictions but what was a surprise to them was that in the original iteration of level 3, mass had been excluded and they were making representations on that.

Deputy Tóibín mentioned other countries. In France, places of worship may remain open for private prayer but no religious ceremonies may take place with the exception of funerals with a maximum of 30 in attendance and weddings with a maximum of six in attendance. In Northern Ireland, places of worship remain open with a mandatory requirement to wear face coverings when entering or exiting. Funerals are limited to 25 attendees. In England, places of worship are again only open for individual prayer.

What originally motivated a lot of this was that, in the first phase of the pandemic, religious events in other countries proved to be a vector. These may have involved larger congregations but they proved to be significant in the transmission of the virus. Public health advice has been extremely cautious in the context of such gatherings. That said, we will take on board what the Deputy and others have said. We are reflecting on this in terms of exiting level 5, which we want to do at the end of this month. We will take on board sectoral representations, particularly the issue of worship and people's opportunity to attend mass and other services safely and within controlled environments during Advent and the lead-up to Christmas. That is what we will seek to do.

We want to get back to level 3 but we will look at certain aspects of it because, as I said earlier, we have done a fair bit of work over recent months to see as best we can the optimal triggers for the spread of the virus. We have worked to understand what particular events have been triggers and what has caused spikes in case numbers. NPHET will also advise us on all of this. We do not want to open up and then have very high numbers again in January or February. There will be a great focus on personal responsibility and the avoidance of large crowds both indoors and outdoors. The virus thrives where large crowds congregate.

On Deputy Boyd Barrett's point, what happened to those who were committed to industrial schools was an appalling abuse by the State at the time. It is very easy for people living in the modern era to look back. These homes all evolved from previous iterations. A combination of forces committed people, from the cruelty man, to the courts and An Garda Síochána. People made decisions arbitrarily that, because a woman was separated or the father in a home had alcohol problems, someone clearly said a person was going into a home as where they were was no fit place to be. This was said to me by survivors.

The State responded comprehensively and that should be acknowledged. Perhaps the Deputy's point is that it needs to continue to respond but let us not decry and undermine completely and say that nothing was done. A lot was done. The redress scheme was simply designed to make sure that people did not have to go through the courts.

When we originally made the response, we removed the Statute of Limitations requirements to facilitate industrial schools, but in essence they would have been in the courts for years. That would have been too much anguish and it would have been too difficult for them. That is why the redress scheme was developed in a bona fide way to try to accelerate some redress for the survivors of the industrial schools. My view always was that it was much more in redress and that the focus and emphasis should always be on the housing, health, counselling and other supports that people required, given the impact that being in an industrial school had on their lives and the degree to which it shortened their education possibilities. To a certain extent, survivors of the industrial schools felt stigmatised and lacked self-esteem and self-confidence. Their presence in the industrial schools did a lot of damage. I will engage with the Minister for Education on this and I will try to ascertain where we are in terms of the needs of those who survived the institutions.

Will the Taoiseach come back to me on that?

Cabinet Committees

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

9. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health will next meet. [34837/20]

Alan Kelly

Question:

10. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health is next due to meet. [35005/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health will next meet. [36672/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on health was established by Government decision on 6 July and it last met on 12 November. The committee is due to meet again next month. The Cabinet committee oversees implementation of programme for Government commitments in relation to health, receives detailed reports on identified policy areas and considers the implementation of health reforms, including Sláintecare. In addition to the meetings of the full Cabinet and of Cabinet committees, I meet Ministers on an individual basis to focus on different issues. I regularly meet the Minister for Health to discuss priorities in the area of health and in particular our management and response to Covid-19.

The Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19 sets out our approach and priorities for managing and living with Covid-19 in a range of areas including, among other matters, prevention of infection and protection of vulnerable groups; health system response and resilience; and continued resumption of public service delivery, including non-Covid health and social care. It is important to recognise that many vital services have continued throughout the pandemic, ensuring that priority care needs were addressed and the most vulnerable protected even at the height of this crisis.

Winter 2020-21 will be a particularly challenging one for the health service. We recently allocated a record €600 million for the 2020 winter initiative to ensure we meet the demands in the health service in the coming weeks and months. A range of initiatives have been developed, and as these continue to be rolled out, we will see further service resumption and increased capacity across the community, including primary care; mental health; older persons; disability services, and the acute hospital system. This includes implementing new initiatives, new ways of working and ehealth solutions to keep people safe and out of the acute hospital system, for example, epharmacy, eprescribing and virtual clinics.

At the beginning of this month, a range of measures came into effect that will make day-to-day healthcare more affordable for more than 1 million people across the country. Under the new measures, the over 70s medical card income limits have increased to €550 per week for a single person and to €1,050 for a couple, benefiting up to 56,000 people. There has also been a 50 cent reduction in prescription charges for all medical card holders, which will benefit over 1.58 million people with medical card eligibility. The reduction in the drugs payment scheme threshold to €114 per month has the potential to benefit all 1.38 million people eligible under the scheme.

Earlier this year, the HSE commissioned a rapid assessment of a suicide cluster which took place in Ballyfermot last year. The outcome of the assessment was published late last month and it makes heartbreaking and alarming reading. The area considered by the assessment has had a female suicide rate three times the national average since 2015. However, it was the deaths of eight women in their 20s and 30s over a short ten-week period that prompted this assessment. Four of the women were from Ballyfermot and the others were from Clondalkin, Tallaght and Palmerstown.

The assessment notes that there was a palpable sense of fear and anxiety that these deaths would have a further contagion effect. The report sets out that underlying trauma is at the root of anxiety, depression or poor mental health for women in the area. Various examples of childhood trauma, including alcohol or drug use, mental ill health, domestic violence, childhood violence and abuse, were identified. The housing crisis was also notable for its inclusion in the challenges faced by young women and their children who experience persistent homelessness and housing insecurity. The report found that a fear of Tusla removing children from mothers is a reason women do not seek help. Young mothers living in poverty and with abuse are afraid of State intervention. That needs to change. Almost all cases cited in the report refer to domestic violence as a key issue.

The HSE is to be commended for commissioning this rapid assessment. Its purpose is not to apportion blame, but to identify gaps in service provision, protections and strategy. I am gravely concerned that there is a lack of pace in urgently delivering the resources, services and reforms that are essential to protect women and their children, despite the fact that many of the solutions are in plain sight right in front of us and have been delivered in other jurisdictions. I want this to become a matter of priority all across the Government. It should be an absolute priority for the Cabinet committee on health.

This is a process issue with the Minister for Health but what happened yesterday with regulations going to the Cabinet and then being dismissed has happened before. This is not the first time the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has been involved. Surely we do not need to have this crazy situation in which Ireland takes off because of some half thought-out plan for health measures that is then jettisoned by the Cabinet.

I want to raise two issues, both of which the Taoiseach knows are close to my heart. The first of them is the case of John Wall. Last Tuesday, he wrote to the Minister for Health and said he would not be in a position to support what the Minister is doing. John Wall and I support the medium-term and long-term plans of the Minister for Health and I commend the Minister for a number of them. However, in the short term, and the Taoiseach knows well that John Wall is terminally ill, we need to sort out 24-month terminal illness medical cards. In fairness to the Taoiseach, he told me last week he would get this done, which is the most emphatic thing he has ever said back to me. I am begging the Taoiseach to get it done. John Wall needs this and he has worked on this.

The second matter I wish to raise is the CervicalCheck tribunal. The Taoiseach knows that is in a no-go area and at a standstill. The 221+ group, particularly Vicky Phelan, Lorraine Walsh and Stephen Teap, are not willing to support it as it is constituted on the basis of the Statute of Limitations issue, the returning cases issue and a number of other issues. I have had long discussions with the Minister for Health on this. This is at an impasse. The Minister for Health has said he will go forward with this one way or the other. That is not the right thing to do. He should resolve the issues but this cannot go on any longer. It cannot go on beyond this week and for those three individuals, it will not go on beyond this week without them making a statement on it.

I got a letter yesterday from the HSE's health business services, HBS, in response to a parliamentary question. It is the interestingly named business division of the HSE, which seems like a contradiction in terms. Why do we need a business section of the health service? This was a response to a question about the contract that was awarded to CPL for recruitment in the context of Covid-19. As the Taoiseach knows, CPL has been recruiting people from Be On Call for Ireland, nurses, contact tracers and those working in testing on rubbish temporary contracts, as I would see them. By the way, if the Taoiseach wants to know why the numbers are not going down, he might look a little bit closer at the fact that people on CPL contracts do not get sick pay and so they are under pressure to go into work. The people we are recruiting to the front line do not get sick pay. It is no wonder we have cases of Covid-19. Leaving that aside, this letter confirms that CPL went through no tendering process for the contracts to recruit for the health service during Covid-19. Rather, it was "using existing HSE Procurement Frameworks" and "a framework agreement for other recruitment services", to mention some of the jargon it employs.

This is a hugely valuable contract, although it has not been said how much it is worth. It is worth noting that in the past week CPL has been sold to a Japanese multinational company for in excess of €300 million and the two owners of CPL walk away with €110 million. To what extent has the State inflated the value of that company and the huge payout that those people are getting by giving contracts where there is not even a tendering process and where they are recruiting to the health service for rubbish contracts without even sick pay? That is a scandal, as far as I am concerned. Whatever excuse there might have been in the emergency in the early months of the pandemic, for that to continue to be the situation and for CPL to be the vehicle for recruiting to the front line of the health services in the current situation is an absolute scandal and unacceptable.

Regarding the questions from Deputy McDonald, I too commend the HSE on its analysis and study of a very worrying and deeply troubling female suicide cluster in Ballyfermot and in other areas the Deputy identified, and the multiple factors that gave rise to the issues there. I will engage with the chief executive and board of the HSE to ensure that this issue gets priority attention. The lessons from this will inform wider application of policy and engagement and intervention, because that is a significant cluster in a relatively short period. I think the Deputy mentioned ten weeks. On the lack of pace, I will put the point made to me to the HSE in that regard. There is no shortage of resources. There are other issues outside the remit of the HSE in respect of housing, for example. The Deputy also referred to Tusla, and that also needs more assessment in terms of the fear the Deputy said there was in respect of removing children from families and that could cause considerable distress. I will pursue those issues. They are grave and they need focused action in terms of the lessons to be drawn from it, and whatever additional supports are required in that locality among a cohort of women who could be under pressure should be provided across all fronts.

On the questions from Deputy Kelly, as I said earlier, I think it is very important that the issue regarding the gatherings on our streets arising from takeaway pints is addressed, discussed and brought to Cabinet, because I think it needed to be highlighted from a public health perspective. The word has to go out that enforcement will intensify regarding recurrence of this phenomenon, which has been ongoing for about two weeks, mainly in the cities, and does need to be addressed and responded to. There is existing legislation in the form of by-laws in the two cities that have been identified this weekend. The Garda is reporting that crowds are dispersing, but it felt there was a significant change in behaviour last weekend. That might have been some degree of complacency because the figures were better the previous week and people felt that perhaps we had turned the corner in respect of reducing the incidence rate. We have not; the numbers are back up. Remember, the numbers we are seeing in the past three or four days were seeded a week or ten days ago. That is of concern to us in respect of where we will be at the end of this month with numbers.

Numbers are critical. If we keep community transmission rates low, we keep hospitalisations and ICU occupancy levels low for Covid-19. That enables us to keep schools going well and keep the non-Covid related health services in particular at the levels where we want them to be. That is the objective. We are doing this to try to keep the pressure on the virus and stop it from spreading and damaging people, lives and livelihoods, as it has done since it started, and not just here but across the world. If we look at what is happening in Europe, many health systems are under real pressure in respect of their acute hospital systems and their ICUs now. Thankfully, we are not in that position. We are the third best at the moment in the incidence of cases and the impact on hospitalisations and ICUs. We want to keep it that way and we want to keep that performance. That demands all our collective efforts and people have sacrificed a lot to get here.

Regarding the situation concerning 24-month, terminally ill patients, and John Wall has been a strong advocate for this for quite some time, the Minister published the clinical report, and the Deputy said that he supported his longer - I do not think they are that long - and more medium-term ideas. The Government considered the issue last week and the Department of Health is currently examining it.

On the CervicalCheck tribunal, as the Deputy will know, the Meenan report gave rise to the need to establish negligence. That then moved on to legislation, which was passed by the previous Oireachtas. The Government has decided that it will consider this issue again next week at its Cabinet meeting, and the Minister will bring a memorandum outlining where we are in respect of the outstanding issues. It is down to recurrence. The Deputy mentioned the Statute of Limitations. We do not believe that will be that significant an issue. We think we can deal with it.

We are running out of time, Taoiseach, and I am obliged to stop. Deputy Boyd Barrett also had an issue.

I am sorry. We will come back to this issue again next week. There was also Deputy Boyd Barrett's question.

Yes. Again, the HSE was under a lot of pressure in this House concerning the need to recruit contact tracing staff and have a separate workforce as quickly as possible. The agency is being called on from all fronts in the House to do this, that and the other. I presume that is why it did what it did in respect of how it procured the services of CPL. I can get that checked, but I presume that is the rationale, because there was pressure on from all fronts to ensure we recruit and get a separate workforce in place to deal with contact tracing and swabbing and to get testing to the level where our capacity now exceeds demand. Again, we want to be ready for any further spike, if one were to happen, and to have the necessary workforce in place as quickly as we possibly can.

We are over time, unfortunately. When we come back, we will have questions to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney. The motion that was tabled will be taken tomorrow.

Sitting suspended at 4.47 p.m. and resumed at 5.09 p.m.