Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Ambulance Service

I raise the problem with ambulance services in Laois-Offaly. There have been a number of cases over the past two years of very long delays and, in one case, a no-show. One case was an elderly man in Clonaslee left lying in a yard. That went on for over two hours. There was a case in Rathaniska in a sports field involving a massive delay. There was a case in Portlaoise recently where there was a no-show to pick up the injured party. They had been advised by the ambulances services not to move the injured person. The reason for this, I am told, is there was no ambulance in the county at the time because the ambulance based normally in Laois could be in Waterford, Wexford or other parts of the south east. The deployment can stretch that far, and it is the same for Offaly.

There was a case in Naas recently where a horse fell on a man and he was trapped underneath the horse with a broken hip and internal bleeding. The ambulance was despatched from Portlaoise to pick him up and when they were within 2 km of him after travelling over 50 km, they were stood down and sent to an non-emergency in Athy.

Kilminchy is across the road from the hospital, 500 yd away. An ambulance was sent from Birr to pick up an elderly woman and bring her to the hospital in Portlaoise. There is a case of a Portlaoise ambulance crew being sent to west Offaly. They arrived at the gate, the people inside saw they were there and the next thing they were told they were stood down. The ambulance staff had to explain that the householders had seen them and they could not be stood down.

Having spoken to staff, there are different problems. Dynamic deployment, because of the shortage of staff, is causing problems. I have raised this with different levels of the National Ambulance Service, and indeed with Paul Reid twice in the last two weeks. There is an issue of a shortage of staff, which he has confirmed for me, of up to 25%. Scotland has 5,000 staff; we have 1,800. There are many graduates coming on stream next year and I welcome that but the distance issue has to be examined in terms of deployment.

I am aware that there are working groups established and that the distance is being examined, but this is a really important issue to try to get a grip on. It is a key issue.

Notwithstanding the debt of gratitude we owe front-line workers, healthcare workers especially, I wish to raise, as my colleague has done, the issue and the plight of the ambulance services. There are serious concerns, worries and fears in my community and constituency as a result of incidents relating to ambulance services. Reports from crews and patients around the country over the past year or so suggest serious concerns about delays in ambulances arriving to treat patients. These delays were once an occasional occurrence but, unfortunately, now seem to be making the news daily. In one week alone, in a small town in my constituency, three cases were highlighted to me in which very serious delays occurred. Paramedics are also being dispatched, as the previous speaker said, to calls way outside of their own regions, irrespective of the levels of cover locally. In turn, many calls in the midlands recently have been answered by crews from as far away as Roscommon, Ballinasloe, Athy, Maynooth and Cavan. This, of course, is because the midlands crews themselves have been dispatched to other regions. Staff suggest that keeping crews in their own areas, as was the case previously, would improve response times. They state that until the centralisation of the control centre there were never, and they do not ever remember, delays of two to three hours or more, as has been the case in recent times. Crews are desperate for things to improve but staff morale because of this, as the Minister of State would appreciate, is very low. It is leading to huge absence levels. I believe up to 50 shifts were left uncovered in one part of the country last week alone. It has been relayed to us that some staff were released from front-line duty to carry out Covid swabbing. Returning them to front-line duty should be considered as an option to improve staffing levels at present. I implore the Minister of State to insist on improvements and measures that can improve operations and to put in place a mechanism by which that is reviewed as soon as possible and regularly thereafter.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on ambulance resources and services, particularly those in the Laois and Offaly region. I join my colleagues in giving my gratitude to the healthcare workers in these very difficult times.

The National Ambulance Service, NAS, does not operate a station-based deployment system but instead uses "dynamic deployment" on a national basis. Dynamic deployment allows staff in the HSE's national emergency operations centre to see all available resources and match them with service demand requirements in real time.

While Laois and Offaly have between five and nine vehicle resources, support is also provided by crews based at Athy, Roscrea, Carlow and Athlone and by crews from the NAS north Leinster region as whole.

The 2014 HIQA report into pre-hospital emergency care highlighted this process as a way to improve response times and NAS performance generally. Using dynamic deployment allows the NAS to prioritise resource allocation to the higher acuity calls that require an immediate emergency response. It also allows the NAS to categorise non-serious or non-life-threatening calls and to provide a resource appropriate to the patient's need. This does mean that lower acuity calls will sometimes experience a longer wait for an ambulance, and this has been a challenge in recent years.

A 2016 emergency service baseline and capacity review highlighted particular difficulties associated with ambulance services in rural areas as Ireland's population density is significantly different from those of many other countries. This review suggested that the most practical way of providing an initial response to many calls in rural areas is through voluntary community first responders, CFRs. Community first responders are members of the community who are supported by the ambulance service in providing a high level of initial response within their local community. The NAS has worked hard to grow the CFR scheme over the years, and in 2021 a total of 275 schemes have been established, including 19 schemes covering Laois and Offaly. While it was necessary to temporarily stand down these groups due to the pandemic response, 103 of the 275 are now operational again, including ten in Laois and Offaly. The NAS is continuing to work on reactivating all such groups.

As the House will be aware, the NAS also continues to provide significant support to the HSE's response to the pandemic, particularly in respect of the national testing and vaccination programmes. This is being delivered against a backdrop of an overall increase in both hospital activity and emergency calls in the latter half of this year. The NAS anticipates that the release of staff from Covid-related duties in the coming months will improve resource availability across the board. I can advise that in 2021, the NAS has been allocated additional funding of €10 million, which includes funding for additional paramedic staff in line with the baseline capacity needs that have been identified.

I wish to highlight to the House the progress that has been made in recent years through the NAS strategic plan, Vision 2020. The NAS has been undergoing a significant process of modernisation that includes service innovations aimed at providing alternative pathways of care and helping to improve resource availability and response times. The Government is committed to this strategic reform plan, which has been developed to ensure we have a modern, agile and responsive National Ambulance Service.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and join the other Deputies in thanking the ambulance crews and the staff for the absolutely magnificent work they have done over the past year, in particular the past year and a half.

As for the reply, the Minister of State said that while Laois-Offaly has between five and nine "vehicle resources", which can mean cars as well, support is also provided by other crews from Athy, Roscrea, Athlone, etc. The problem is that the region has been left exposed because at times all the ambulances are drawn out of the area. It was confirmed for me yesterday and again this morning by Paul Reid that the issue of distance is being looked at. It has to be looked at for a simple reason. I am not going to argue with the Minister of State that there should be a strict county boundary - in other words, that a Laois ambulance has to go to Craiguecullen, which is a distance of 28 miles, and that the Carlow ambulance half a mile away cannot go there. Of course the Carlow ambulance should be able to go there, but there has to be some distance factored into this.

Staff are overworked. They have no breaks sometimes. There is a huge redeployment of Covid staff. That needs to finish. Other staff can provide Covid services. We need to return those staff involved in Covid services to ambulance services now. I appeal to the Minister of State to do that. We need to increase the number of ambulances-----

Thank you, Deputy. We are over time.

-----and staff. The distance factor-----

We are over time, Deputy.

-----needs to be pushed on. Lastly, we need to prioritise deployment in terms of fine-tuning that.

I appreciate the Minister of State's response. Looking over it and listening to what was contained in it, I would respectfully say that the dynamic deployment mechanism, as well thought out and well considered as it may have been, does not appear to be having the desired impact or results one would have expected initially. It is as a result of that and the frustrations and the morale within the service that genuine medics are reconsidering their future role.

I note too that part of the overall package in addressing this included the community first response system, which the Minister of State says is beginning to come back on track after Covid or as it recedes. We welcome that too. There has been a modernisation of many facilities in my constituency among others, which of course helps in ensuring that work is done in a professional manner in the surroundings people deserve. I ask, however, that some effort be made on the part of the Minister's office to liaise with the HSE in order to ensure that there is some local engagement processes that would lead to new processes that can help in the delivery of the service and, as I said, is monitored-----

Thank you, Deputy. We are over time.

-----such that engagement is seen to result in improvement.

I thank the Deputies once again for raising this issue, notwithstanding, as we said, the challenges of the Covid pandemic and the demands it places on our services. The National Ambulance Service is committing to reducing response times in the Laois and Offaly regions and across the country.

Deputy Stanley noted that the distances are being looked at, which is to be welcomed. I hope we can have better consultation on such issues. Deputy Cowen said that the dynamic deployment mechanism is not working for Laois-Offaly. He asked that the Minister liaise with stakeholders on the issue and ensure there is local engagement. I will take his points back to the Minister.

In line with the National Ambulance Service's strategic plan, Vision 2020, the service is undergoing a multi-annual reform programme that prioritises investment in new developments, increased manpower and fleet, and improved technology. This year, an unprecedented €187 million-plus is being invested in the service, including €10 million in new funding that has been allocated to priority areas that will continue to progress strategic reform. The funding facilitated an increase in paramedic staff numbers to target capacity deficits and is being used to progress the development of alternative patient pathways. These include hear-and-treat and see-and-treat services that are designed to manage low-acuity calls in an integrated manner, which may mean that emergency department attendance can be avoided for those patients.

I assure the House that the Government will continue to support these developments within the National Ambulance Service and to prioritise strategic measures that contribute to better patient outcomes. Deputy Cowen spoke about the need to retain these very valuable staff, including advanced paramedics and ambulance personnel. There are challenges in that regard, particularly following the Covid crisis, when ambulance service staff, like many front-line staff, are burnt out. We must recognise that.

Tobacco Control Measures

Will the Government consider implementing laws that would restrict the importation of tobacco products into the country exclusively to those with plain packaging that includes both pictorial and text warnings in both the Irish and English languages? A similar system that was introduced in Finland requires health warnings to be provided in words and pictures in both Finnish and Swedish. I am raising this issue because, during lockdown, the value of the sale of tobacco products in Ireland increased by €130 million. This was not because there was a huge increase in the number of people smoking or the number of cigarettes they smoked per day but because people were not able to bring in cigarettes from other countries as they were not travelling abroad for holidays or business. The increase of €130 million gives an indication of the volume of products being brought in from abroad by people coming back from their holidays.

In Finland, only tobacco products with packaging that includes warnings in Finnish and Swedish can be brought into that country. Why not introduce the same requirement in Ireland such that only products with warnings in English and Irish are allowed into this country? That leads me on to another issue, which is that, in Finland, people are restricted to bringing in no more than 200 cigarettes per person. For people coming back to Ireland from abroad, the limit is 800 cigarettes. This is a health issue to which we need to give priority. We want to reduce the number of cigarettes people smoke. It is also a financial issue.

There is another issue arising in regard to the sale of packet cigarettes. Pricing is based on a packet of 20 but there is nothing preventing the sale of 23 or 27 cigarettes, say, in a packet. If we look at the figures, a packet of 20 cigarettes costs €12.20, 23 cigarettes cost €13.80 and a pack of 35 costs €20. The difference is a cost of 61 cent per unit for a pack of 20 compared with 57.14 cent per unit for a pack of 35. In addition, when a person purchases a packet containing more than 20 cigarettes, the likelihood is that he or she will smoke the whole 28 of them, say, in one day, rather than the usual total of 20.

These are issues we need to tackle. The regulations are not precise and concise enough in dealing with the increase in the volume of cigarettes being consumed in this country. It is an issue we must look at very carefully and which could be dealt with in the budget.

All that talk of cigarettes would put the longing on you.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. There is legislation in place in Ireland to ensure that all tobacco products manufactured for sale in the State are in standardised packaging. There is also legislation in place requiring the display of health warnings, comprising a pictorial warning and text warnings in both Irish and English. Under the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015, all tobacco products manufactured for sale in Ireland since 30 September 2017 must be in standardised retail packaging. Standardised packaging of tobacco, also known as generic or plain packaging, means that all forms of branding, including trademarks, logos, colours and graphics, must be removed, except for the brand and variant name, which are presented in a uniform typeface for all brands on the market. All tobacco products for retail sale in Ireland must be packaged in a plain neutral colour, except for the mandatory health warnings. The aim of standardised packaging is to make all tobacco packs look less attractive to consumers, make health warnings more prominent and prevent packaging from misleading consumers about the harmful effects of tobacco.

The European Union (Manufacture, Presentation and Sale of Tobacco and Related Products) Regulations 2016 transpose the EU tobacco products directive. These regulations contain comprehensive provisions on the labelling and packaging of tobacco products. Each unit packet and any outside packaging of tobacco products must carry a combined health warning, an image and text. The regulations are clear that the textual warnings must be in both the Irish and English languages. The pictorial and textual warnings are also prescribed in the legislation. The legislation on labelling and packaging of tobacco products is very clear: a person may not manufacture or import a tobacco product that is intended for sale by retail in the State unless it is in compliance with the 2016 regulations.

The Deputy raised some interesting issues, particularly the point that there was an increase in the sales value of tobacco products of €130 million during the pandemic. He referred to the quality and health aspects and rightly pointed out the issues arising from the sale of cigarettes in packets of 28, say, rather than 20. That is worrying because if a person who smokes 20 a day gets a pack of 28 or 30, he or she is likely to finish the pack. We have seen this anecdotally in respect of minimum unit pricing of alcohol, where a person who might previously have bought two 500 ml cans of lager at a cost of €10 will buy four cans for the same price. There is an issue if people are buying packs of more than 20 cigarettes when they would previously have bought a pack containing 20. I thank the Deputy for raising that important point.

I accept the Minister of State's reply in respect of tobacco products that are sold in Ireland, but my question referred to products being brought into the country. We allow people to bring in 800 cigarettes, compared with a limit of 200 in Finland. There is not the same requirement in respect of products being brought back by people returning from holidays or a business trip that the health warnings be in English and Irish, whereas the corresponding requirement does apply for products being brought into Finland. I am asking that this issue be looked at. I also ask that consideration be given to dealing with the situation whereby manufacturers can still dictate the retail selling price.

They are dictating the terms and that is why, for example, they can have more cigarettes in a pack than one would expect. We need to consider this whole issue and deal with health warnings, making sure that we follow through on what we want to do on this. I am not sure that the sales level indicates that more products were imported into the country; it is that there were more sales during lockdown. The figure in question is €130 million. It is a substantial figure and it gives an idea of the scale of product that is being brought in by people who are travelling out of the country and back into the country. It is something we need to look at.

Some interesting areas have been looked at. I will ask the Minister to investigate the fact that in Finland people are allowed to bring in no more than 200 cigarettes while in this country 800 cigarettes is the maximum. We will consider that. There is also the fact that the manufacturers dictate the retail selling price in the context of the number of cigarettes that can be in a packet. The Deputy is right that €130 million is a substantial sum. We need to consider that.

As the Deputy is aware, the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products and the display of both written and pictorial warnings on all tobacco products are central to our efforts to reduce tobacco consumption and meet the objectives of a tobacco-free Ireland and the national tobacco control strategy. The Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015 sought to decrease the appeal of tobacco and reduce the ability of product packaging to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking. The goal of standardised packaging is also to increase the effectiveness of health warnings on tobacco products.

Irish law had provided for health warnings on the impact of tobacco smoking before the introduction of the tobacco products directive at EU level in 2014. The Irish regulations that give effect to the tobacco products directive could not be more clear on the requirements for the labelling and packaging of tobacco products that are imported for sale in the State. They must display pictorial and textual health warnings and the warnings must be in both Irish and English.

A key aspect of the strategy to reduce tobacco use, particularly uptake among children and young people, is de-normalising tobacco use by reducing the visibility and attractiveness of tobacco products and associated imagery. The advertising and promotional potential of tobacco products has been greatly reduced by legislation governing how they are packaged and presented.

National Parks

I thank the Minister of State for being here to address this issue. There are many things that need to be fixed in Ballycroy and County Mayo, including broadband, mobile phone coverage, roads, housing and health. However, one of the things that did not need to be fixed was the name of Ballycroy National Park, which has been changed to Wild Nephin National Park. The people of Ballycroy and its diaspora throughout the world are extremely angry that this decision has been made. Nobody asked for it and nobody was consulted about it. Who made the decision and when was it made? When we know that, I will expect that person to reverse or overturn the decision.

I do not want the Minister of State to give me the letter that Deputy Calleary and I have already received as an answer on this issue. It points out to me the names of areas such as the parish of Kiltane, Bangor Erris, Ballymunnelly, Bellacorick, Newport, Mallaranny, Srahmore, Derra, Tubridge, Keenagh and Altnabrocky. I come from Ballycroy, next door to the national park. I know all those places, where they are and their size, so I ask the Minister of State to please not repeat that to me. The letter states that the wish is to reduce confusion. The Minister of State might tell me who is confused. It is certainly not me, Deputy Calleary, the people of Ballycroy or the members of its diaspora who are confused about this. It seems that the Government is confused and completely out of touch with what is happening in these areas. People ask me many things but nobody has ever asked me to change the name of Ballycroy National Park.

Ballycroy National Park was established in 1998. The visitor centre at Ballycroy was opened in 2009. At establishment, it had 11,000 ha of some of the most rare and precious bogland in the world and that was to be at its heart. There was never any difficulty with the name Ballycroy National Park. Ballycroy is a centre and a community. It was the people of the area who campaigned for the visitor centre in the first instance. It was they who put their land up and who are the guarantors of the land we are supposed to be protecting.

The national park was added to in 2017 with another 4,000 ha from a Coillte industrial process. That is now being used as the reason the name of the park needs to be changed to Wild Nephin National Park. We are also being told by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, that Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park is too long. I point out to the Minister of State that there is a national park in Scotland named Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Killarney National Park comprises 10,500 ha that extend way beyond Killarney but nobody is suggesting removing Killarney from its name.

This decision speaks to more than just a name. Deputy Conway-Walsh referred to the lack of consultation. Nobody will take responsibility for this. The fact that a decision such as this can be made without any engagement with the community or public representatives speaks to a system that thinks it is not answerable to anybody. It speaks to a system that thinks it does not have to answer for decisions. That is happening across so many areas. As Deputy Conway-Walsh stated, the name of the national park is incredibly important to the people of Ballycroy and its diaspora, but this is also about the principle of how this was and is being done. There is a hope that we will go away and accept it. I know that Deputy Conway-Walsh and I will not do that. It was previously agreed that it would be known as the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park. Why was that changed and who changed it?

When the extra land was added, it was identified for rewilding. Experts proved at that time that the direct participation of local communities would be essential to rewilding. With this decision, the NPWS is destroying participation by communities. It needs to be stopped now.

I thank the Deputies for raising this very important matter that I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, who sends his apologies for not being able to be present. He has asked me to assure the Deputies that his Department is deeply committed to the development of the national park in Mayo.

In December 2017, the Department with responsibility for heritage announced the expansion of Ballycroy National Park to include the area known as Wild Nephin. This expansion was the result of a long-standing collaborative project between Coillte and the NPWS of the Department. The addition of the Wild Nephin area and, separately, a private acquisition of 1,200 acres at Altnabrocky have expanded the total size of the park to more than 15,000 ha of the Nephin Beg mountain range. The expansion adds significantly to the overall biological diversity of the national park, which will be augmented further under park conservation management.

With the consolidation of the entire Wild Nephin area into the ownership of the NPWS, the potential for the park is enormous. One of the major advantages of this consolidation of land is that access to the national park, which historically had been problematic, will be greatly improved. The expanded park will be the key link from the Great Western Greenway going north into Bangor Erris and Ballycastle and will be an important tourist hub and a gateway for cyclists and hikers from the greenway into north Mayo.

These acquisitions also mean that some 65% of State-owned lands making up the park are outside the Ballycroy catchment area. Of the circa 15,000 ha making up the national park, 33% is in the parish of Ballycroy, 26% is in the parish of Kiltane, approximately 20% is in the parish of Burrishoole and 20% in the parish of Crossmolina. Included in this are the 4,200 ha leased from Coillte and the acquisition at Altnabrocky, neither of which is within the parish of Ballycroy.

The name change is intended to assist the integration of the original park and the newly acquired land fully into the Nephin Beg mountain range in the north Mayo landscape, to integrate with all the communities in the townlands in question and to provide a clearer indication of the location to tourists and reduce confusion, especially in terms of the Nephin wilderness area.

The new name provides a clearer indication and reflection of the entire landscape, which fully represents this unique area on an international platform, with International Union for Conservation of Nature recognition for Ireland's sixth national park.

The Minister of State has not answered any of my questions. He did what I asked him not to do, which was repeat the written answers that Deputy Calleary and I have been given already. We asked who made the decision, when it was made and whether it is going to be overturned or reversed. Nobody has asked for this. If there is nobody capable, within the Department or politically, of marketing, advertising and branding Ballycroy National Park, and the name needs to be changed to Wild Nephin National Park when nobody asked for it, then its capacity needs to be looked at seriously. Why does this Government do these things to people? Why does it insult people, when national parks and wildlife and Government have enjoyed the co-operation of landowners and people around the national park? For many years, relationships have been built up but they have been destroyed.

The make-up of the national park and the percentage of parishes within it has not changed much with the addition. It was always thus and it was always fine when it was called Ballycroy National Park. There was no demand for the other parishes to have their name attached to it. I acknowledge that the Minister of State is not the line Minister. I ask him to go back to question the process. We need to know who is responsible and who has the power to take such decisions.

Finally, the Minister of State said that the name change is to provide a clearer indication of the location to tourists. I assure him that somewhere such as Ballycroy can be found. It is not just a place; it is a community that is strong and proud. It fought hard for this park and for the creation of it, and made sacrifices doing so. It will fight hard to retain its name in the naming of the national park. Wild Nephin is not an area. It is a marketing concept, which we all support and we see the benefits of, but it is not immediately identifiable to visitors. I ask the Minster of State to talk to his colleagues and get them to see sense on this, and to challenge the process that ignores people in the way this is.

I thank the Deputies for bringing up what is clearly a most important matter for them both and for County Mayo. I am not in a position to answer the specific questions on who made the decision and when it was made, and on the issues in respect of consultation, but I understand and hear the incredible importance of the name to the Deputies. I will certainly bring those points to the relevant Minister. I thank the Deputies again.

While the name has changed to better represent the areas the national park inhabits, the commitment of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to both Ballycroy and the national park remains unchanged. The official state-of-the-art visitor centre remains in Ballycroy village. The Department of is currently developing proposals, in conjunction with Mayo County Council and Fáilte Ireland, to upgrade and invest in this area, including examining the potential for a planetarium and observatory to complement the national park's designation as a gold tier dark sky park. The location of the visitor facility in Ballycroy village and the associated walks and educational facilities, which attract visitors to Ballycroy, will remain on all road signage in the region as we continue to grow the visitor numbers and new link to both the parish of Ballycroy and the wider north Mayo region, with the support of Mayo County Council.

Overall, this reflects the ongoing commitment of all stakeholders to improve the recreational potential of this area while ensuring the high standards of nature conservation. This Government is committed to preservation and presentation of our natural heritage for future generations of citizens and visitors alike to enjoy. In a nutshell, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is looking to improve the recreational potential and visitor amenities of our national heritage sites, whilst also ensuring the high standards of nature conservation. I hear the Deputies' questions and comments and I will convey them to the Minister.

Commissions of Investigation

I am sure the Minister of State will be aware of the documentary that was aired on RTÉ over the past number of weeks on this issue. On an evening in 1985, Fr. Molloy was found dead in a bedroom in a house in Clara, County Offaly, the home of the Flynn family. They were a wealthy family with whom Fr. Molloy had both personal and business relationships, as it subsequently turned out.

The issues around this are clear. We have had 36 years of cover-up and an unwillingness of the State to examine the issue. From the beginning, it was clear that every effort was made to smother what was happening. I believe the first that people outside of the household knew of the death of Fr. Molloy was when the parish priest in Clara knocked on the door of the local Garda station. The conversation immediately was about how it could be kept quiet. That has been how it has gone on since then.

I wish to commend the family of Fr. Molloy, and Bill Maher in particular, who was one of the key people involved with the recent documentary, and indeed, RTÉ on showing the documentary. It is an outrage that we have a situation where a priest was found dead in a bedroom and the people who were involved walked away without any recourse to justice. If we remember, at the same time in the mid-1980s, how the family of Joanne Hayes in County Kerry was treated, we will note the stark contrast between a poor family and a wealthy family and how they were treated by the State. It is something that slaps us all in the face and should wake us up to what needs to happen here.

There needs to be a full investigation into how this happened. The only way that can be done is through a commission of investigation that will compel people to tell the truth about what happened. It is a scandal that has gone on for too long. I certainly hope that the Minister of State will inform us today that the commission of investigation will be put in place as quickly as possible to ensure that this family gets justice. It has gone on for too long and it simply cannot go on for any longer.

Names were mentioned. I advise caution in the mentioning of names.

They are all in the public domain.

Fr. Niall Molloy was a son, a brother, an uncle, a neighbour, a friend and a parish priest to the people of Castlecoote, County Roscommon. He was held in the highest regard by those who knew him and those whom he served in his parish. Fr. Molloy was brutally murdered 36 years ago. It is 36 years later and there have been no answers and, more importantly, there has been no justice. There has been no justice for Fr. Molloy or for his family who has to live with the injustice every day. I cannot begin to imagine the pain of that.

This happened before I was born, but there is not one person growing up in County Roscommon who does not know about Fr. Niall Molloy. The recent documentary shown on RTÉ has put a spotlight on the case yet again. There is no doubt in my mind that this was a cover-up. It is wrong. This Government should bring the injustice to an end, once and for all, by establishing a commission of investigation into the death of Fr. Molloy. It is the very least that he and his family deserve. We must remember in all of this that Fr. Niall Molloy was a person. His life mattered. I plead with the Minister of State and the Government to end the injustice for this family, 36 years later. I ask them to establish that commission of investigation into his death to give the family the justice they deserve and those answers that they have not yet received 36 years after somebody that they loved was killed.

I thank the Deputies for raising this most important matter. As the House will be aware, Fr. Niall Molloy was a Catholic priest who tragically died in undetermined circumstances on 8 July 1985. Fr. Molly was the parish priest of Castlecoote, County Roscommon at the time of his death. I wish to send my sympathies and those of this House to the family of Fr. Molloy for the grief and trauma this tragedy has caused them in the years since his death.

It is important to emphasise that the investigation of any crime is strictly a matter for An Garda Síochána, which is, by law, responsible for all law enforcement in this State. I advise the House that the Garda serious crime review team, SCRT, carried out a major review of the case, which involved an extensive examination of the original investigation, as well as a detailed inquiry into additional issues raised.

The SCRT report was submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, who advised in July 2013 that there should be no further prosecution in the case. The DPP is, of course, completely independent in the exercise of her functions, and the Minister for Justice has no role in any decisions made by the DPP regarding any case.

In an effort to address continued concerns over Fr. Molloy's tragic death, it was decided to appoint Mr. Dominic McGinn SC, to independently assess what information could be put into the public domain regarding the SCRT review of the case and to advise as to whether a further inquiry would be warranted.

This was an exceptional course of action, motivated by the desire to bring the greatest possible transparency to bear. On 31 March 2015, the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, published the report. The thrust of Mr. McGinn's report was to shed light on as many issues as possible to minimise the number of unanswered questions regarding the case.

The report by Mr. McGinn outlines how some of the concerns expressed regarding this case were not supported by evidence. It details shortcomings in the original investigation, which were identified by the SCRT review.

The McGinn report concluded that the precise events surrounding Fr. Molloy's death cannot now be ascertained. It concludes that, given the passage of time, the death of many of the pertinent witnesses and the reluctance of others to give evidence, it is unlikely any further inquiry would have a reasonable prospect of establishing the truth.

In light of all of the above, the establishment of a commission of investigation would be inappropriate at the current juncture because, as Mr. McGinn pointed out previously, it is unlikely that any further inquiry would have a reasonable prospect of establishing the truth. As such, this course of action is not being considered by the Department of Justice or the Government at this time.

I am surprised and deeply annoyed that the Government would refuse a commission of investigation having seen what was put before the public in recent weeks in the documentary on RTÉ, which exposed the reality that there was no appropriate or full investigation, even at the time of Fr. Molloy's death. Many of the people who were at the party in the house on the evening in question were not interviewed. Many of them were never spoken to. Issues concerning the business involvement of the woman of the house and Fr. Molloy were never properly investigated or looked into. The manner in which the case was hushed up is really what needs to be examined. Anyone with an ounce of common sense will realise that the only way this can be done, and the only way we can get to the truth here, is by compelling people to tell the truth and to speak clearly and openly at a commission of investigation. It is simply not good enough that the family has been let down. It is not the only one. There are many other families in similar circumstances around the country but the one in question is one we are focusing on this evening. It is absolutely wrong that the Government would refuse point-blank to have a commission of investigation when it has realised what has been seen on our television screens in recent weeks.

In the Minister of State's contribution, he referred to the major review that was conducted and the subsequent report of Mr. McGinn. Neither has provided any answers or justice to the family. It is not good enough to say it is unlikely that what actually happened will come to light, and that this is why a commission of investigation will not be established. This is a position that the Minister of State and Government should re-examine. It is not good enough to say it is unlikely that evidence will be found and that the Government will therefore not even consider a commission of investigation. That is deeply regrettable. Ultimately, the family of somebody who died 36 years ago remains without answers and justice. In this day and age, that is a great shame. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the proposal for a commission of investigation.

Again, I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I am very aware of the claims that have been made over many years regarding Fr. Molloy's death but I must emphasise again that the Minister for Justice has no role in any investigation of any crime or the decision to prosecute any crime. These are strictly matters for An Garda Síochána and the DPP. The question of any further prosecution is a matter for the DPP, who has already issued a direction in that regard. It is important to recall that the investigation into the death of Fr. Molloy remains open and that anyone with any relevant information is encouraged to contact An Garda Síochána.

I must also emphasise the independence of the courts and the Judiciary in the exercise of their functions. Neither I nor the Minister for Justice can comment on the conduct or outcome of any court proceedings, no matter how long ago they occurred, or the claims made. These are strictly matters for the presiding judge.

I acknowledge that the Minister's position is not the outcome that the Deputies would want or that the family of Fr. Molloy have sought but it remains the only reasonable conclusion that can be reached following Mr. McGinn's careful analysis of the SCRT review. A further inquiry into Fr. Molloy's tragic death is not appropriate at this juncture as it is very unlikely that any further inquiry would have a reasonable prospect of establishing the truth, which must be the fundamental criterion in establishing any further inquiry. As the McGinn report concluded, the precise events surrounding Fr. Molloy's death cannot now be ascertained. It concluded that, given the passage of time, the death of many of the pertinent witnesses and the reluctance of others to give evidence, it is unlikely that any further inquiry would have a reasonable prospect of establishing the truth.

I would like to close by extending my sympathies and those of the Government and this House to Fr. Molloy's family on its terrible loss, the pain of which is still clearly felt by many of them so many years later.

I thank the Minister of State, and I thank the Deputies for raising these matters.

Sitting suspended at 4.57 p.m. and resumed at 5.03 p.m.