Mary Lou McDonaldQuestion:
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [52214/21]
Vol. 1014 No. 4
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [52214/21]
2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [55796/21]
3. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [55802/21]
4. Deputy John Lahart asked the Taoiseach the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit. [57183/21]
5. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [57287/21]
6. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [57672/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.
Social impact assessments, SIAs, are an analytical framework that is designed to examine the demographic profile of public services users and how they are impacted by budgetary policy decisions. SIAs seek to answer questions about the impact of Government expenditure, such as whether the policy change in question resulted in a quantifiable gain or loss to existing recipients, who gained the most or least and whether the profile of recipients was altered. The assessments are underpinned by a framework paper published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2016. The framework complements existing budgetary impact assessment exercises conducted by various Departments and externally by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, as well as the annual spending review programme. SIAs attempt to measure changes in income as a result of a policy or offer qualitative descriptions of how policies affect the financial positions of households. In so doing, they examine the distributional impact of policy changes across a range of indicators, including income, age, household composition and region.
SIAs have been carried out across a number of policy areas, including health, housing, education and childcare. Those areas were chosen for a social impact assessment on the basis that a significant portion of public expenditure is spent on them, they remain a high priority and they have been subject to budgetary changes in recent years. As my Department does not have responsibility for major expenditure programmes in areas like health or housing, it has not completed any SIAs under the framework.
As the Taoiseach noted, the social impact assessment framework examines the demographic profile of public services users and how they are impacted by the Government's budgetary decisions. We are told these assessments should complement other budget impact assessments such as equality budgeting, which was first introduced as a pilot scheme four years ago. The 2019 OECD scan of equality budgeting in Ireland highlighted significant challenges and shortfalls in the initiative's structure and implementation. The OECD recommended that equality budgeting be expanded beyond the performance budgeting foundation to link it with other robust budget policy tools used in Ireland. It advised this should include expanding existing poverty proofing of policies to look at how poverty intersects with different equality dimensions.
Analysis of next year's budget undertaken by the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC, on behalf of the National Women's Council of Ireland, NWCI, tells us the OECD's recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. TASC's analysis found the Government is unlikely to improve gender economic inequality, with lone parents likely to be worse off. It found the gender pay gap may widen, women may be at high risk of unemployment as pandemic supports expire, the increase in the minimum wage is insufficient to maintain the living standards of those trying to survive on low pay, and funding for childcare is still woefully inadequate. I want to echo the NWCI's call on the Government to prioritise gender and equality proofing of budgetary decisions in order that public spending will promote equality.
Thank you, Deputy. We are over time.
Will the Taoiseach clarify whether it is the intention of Government to implement in full the OECD's equality budgeting recommendations?
I have asked repeatedly, for about five years now, for a review of the income thresholds for eligibility for social housing. Is there any assessment being done of the effect of not raising those thresholds? As I said to the Taoiseach last week, as well as to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I am now dealing with two families in homeless accommodation who are going to be evicted from that accommodation. It is not bad enough that they are homeless; they are going to be evicted from being homeless to become roofless. One of the householders got a letter yesterday saying the family has two days to be out of the hotel in which they have been staying. Both families have been homeless for three years.
What is their crime? The parents got a bit of work. For people with a council or housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancy, they do not get thrown out of it because they get work. For people who are homeless, however, who get a job and whose earnings go up a bit, they will be evicted from homeless accommodation and told they will get no more housing support and they are off the housing list. They are thrown to the wolves. That is happening this week and I am hearing of similar cases. It is all because the income thresholds were not raised. I appeal to the Taoiseach to do something urgently about this. In the next two days, a family will put out of homeless accommodation and onto the street. They cannot afford to go anywhere else.
Thank you, Deputy.
In the case of another family, the mother is a care worker and cannot even take a promotion that is going in her organisation because, if she did, she would be thrown off the list.
I call Deputy Kenny.
In any event, she is now being told she is off the list and may be evicted from her homeless accommodation.
My question relates to the State policy that has led to 25 years and more of failure in respect of those in society who take drugs. We need to have a grown-up conversation about this. The Taoiseach spoke at a meeting of the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign last week. The figures are pretty sombre, to say the least. In the past 25 years, there has been a 225% increase in drug-related deaths. The statistics go on and on. These people fell through the cracks and their deaths have had a terrible effect on their communities.
I have argued many times that policy on this issue has been an abject failure. We have to do something very different. The programme for Government includes an undertaking to have a citizens' assembly on drugs, which would allow a debate in society on how we are getting things so wrong and failing so many people. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that the citizens' assembly will sit some time next year?
It is getting cold out there. Why is this country almost always near the top of the European league table for excess winter deaths? That number is consistently more than 1,000, sometimes as high as 1,500 and can go as high as 2,000. Can the Taoiseach explain why countries like Denmark or Norway consistently have a lower excess winter death per head of population figure than Ireland? Excess winter deaths are not just about the cold; they are also about poverty. Fuel poverty is a major issue for our society and it particularly hits the old and the poor. Can the Taoiseach provide a rational explanation as to why, in the teeth of energy prices rising faster than they have for many years, the fuel allowance was increased this year by only a miserable €5 per week? Does he accept that this miserable increase will not be sufficient to prevent hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of preventable deaths this winter? Will he agree to review that decision and, at the very least, consider a more realistic increase for those of our people threatened this winter not just by the cold but by fuel poverty?
Has there been an assessment of the social impact the housing crisis is having on people with disabilities? Last week, Ciara, who is homeless and sleeping in a car, told her story on the Reboot Republic podcast. She could not find any suitable private rented accommodation as her HAP was insufficient. There is no homeless emergency accommodation suitable to her needs. She has lost her care support services because she is now homeless. She is living in physical pain because she is sleeping in a car, which is utterly inappropriate for anyone, especially someone like Ciara, who has disabilities.
What is being done to ensure emergency accommodation is available that is suitable for people with disabilities?
What is being done to ensure proper supports are in place so that no one with a disability, like Ciara, becomes homeless?
I thank the Deputies for the questions. First, on equality budgeting and the general approach of Government under the social impact assessment framework, approximately 17 papers have been published since 2016 under the social impact assessment, SIA, framework, embracing education, childcare, energy, poverty, disability and health, including mental health. I mention the assessment of living standards, results of the 2019 survey on income and living conditions, SILC, the SEAI programmes targeting energy poverty, in 2020, the student grant scheme, which resulted in improvements, the specialist disability services for people intellectual disability, and, in 2021, the results of the SILC. In 2019, there was the acute mental health services, assessment of living standards, the survey on income and living conditions, the nursing home support scheme, public service, equality budgeting - relevant findings from ex post valuation, domiciliary care allowance and so on.
Basically, the SWITCH model, deployed by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, is also used in assessing budgetary measures Government takes as well as the fairness of those budgetary measures and whether they are progressive or regressive. That model by the Economic and Social Research Institute supplements and complements the work of the SAI framework.
I mention the assessment of living standards, results from the 2019 survey on incomes and living conditions which was conducted by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. Again, it analysed income, poverty, social exclusion indicator trends and how they have changed with economic cycles. Recent budgets have been progressive. That paper demonstrated that income inequality is measured by the Gini coefficient which after social transfers fell slightly in 2019 by 0.9 points. It also examined the impact that Covid-19 may be having on incomes and poverty using ad hoc CSO publications on the impact of Covid-19 on income poverty metrics.
Deputies might be interested to hear that preliminary findings on the impact of Covid-19 indicate that lower-income employees, and employees under the age of 25, appeared on average to experience an increase in their incomes in the year to Q4 of 2020, due to availing of Covid-19 supports. That underpins the strength of the measures that Government introduced to safeguard the incomes and living standards of some of the most vulnerable to the economic damage reaped by Covid-19. That was a fairly comprehensive study undertaken by the CSO.
On the homeless, the report stated that there are fewer homeless people on the street this year than last year. A significant winter plan is being developed. I would ask Deputy Cian O’Callaghan to bring that case to the attention of the Minister, because that should not be the case. There is a whole range of supports there through the homeless organisations and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to try to deal with cases like Ciara’s. I would be very concerned that the system did not provide a safety net for her in respect of that.
On income thresholds for social housing, that is currently being reviewed. Again, I do not see why, in the case the Deputy identified, that a person who is homeless and gets work is automatically taken out of the homeless services. That should not be the case. There always has to be a degree of cop-on and flexibility in dealing with people within the system. In many instances, I meet that common sense approach. I will engage with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on these points that Deputy Boyd Barrett raised.
On the city wide drug strategy, there is an issue about existing mechanisms. As I said previously, I would like to see an expansion of supports for area partnerships or drug task forces. The Minister of State, Deputy O’Brien, is working on suggestions and proposals on that. In addition to the funding already allocated, we would like to do more to deal with the epidemic and the challenges and pressures imposed on communities as a result of the illegal trafficking of drugs and also to bring a more health-based approach to supporting those who are addicted and those who need help.
In respect of the points raised by Deputy Barry, the Government introduced measures in the budget and we are constantly keeping this under review to make sure we can do everything we possibly can to alleviate the pressure on households in respect of the increase in energy pricing. We will continue to do that.
7. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the international and European Union division of his Department. [52215/21]
8. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the international and European Union division of his Department. [55900/21]
9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the international and European Union division of his Department. [55797/21]
10. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the international and European Union division of his Department. [55803/21]
11. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the international and European Union division of his Department. [56128/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 11, inclusive, together.
The European Union and the international division of my Department works on all aspects of European Union and international policy within my Department, including issues relating to the European Union and the United Kingdom relationship. The division assists me in my role as a member of the European Council and in my other European Union engagements. It provides advice and briefings for meetings of the European Council and other European Union and United Nations summits, multilateral events and bilateral engagements with Heads of Government of European Union member states and other countries. It works to ensure a strategic and coherent whole-of-government approach to cross-cutting EU policies and on international issues generally, including in the context of Ireland membership of the UN Security Council and on matters such as global peace and security, international and sustainable development and the external dimensions of climate action. The division also supports both the Cabinet committee on Europe and oversees the implementation of the Global Ireland 2025 strategy.
I want to raise the issue of Catalonia and the Spanish Government’s continued pursual of politicians who led the Catalan referendum on independence. Spain continues to seek the arrests and prosecutions on political grounds, including that of Carles Puigdemont who is now an elected Member of the European Parliament. The decision of the Spanish Government in June of this year to pardon nine Catalan independence leaders was welcome but it is not the general amnesty for participation in the referendum for which many have called, including the Council of Europe. Its legal affairs and human rights committee called on the Spanish authorities to release all Catalan politicians convicted for their role in organising the independence referendum. The report also called on the Spanish Government to abandon all extradition proceedings against Catalan politicians. These demands were later endorsed by the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe.
As democrats we should be very clear in our position that leaders of a referendum should never be imprisoned and that the continued ban on some holding office is disgraceful. In recent times, EU leaders have publicly criticised other European countries for not upholding democratic values and yet has failed to hold the Spanish Government to account and to the same standards.
Does the Taoiseach agree the European Union needs to be consistent in its demands on member states and economic partners and should it be equally vocal against the use of courts for political purposes?
This Thursday has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Of course, violence against women is very much on the rise. We have had the pandemic and we have had the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence. Does the Taoiseach feel any degree of shame at the fact that in the city and county of Cork there are currently a mere nine permanent refuge units available for the victims of gender-based violence? Does he feel any degree of shame at fact that the workers at the Cuanlee refuge, who do such important work, have had to turn away 56 women due to capacity issues this year alone?
On Thursday at 6 p.m. I will join with women in my community of Blackpool, walking from Blackpool church into town in a show of opposition to violence against women. This is just one of several such protests being organised on the day by ROSA in Dublin, Limerick and across the country. Can the Taoiseach provide these walkers and their supporters with any indication from his Government that their desperate performance on these issues might change any time soon?
Over the past number of weeks, I and others have raised the designation of six human rights organisations and NGOs, including quite a number that receive funding from the EU, as terrorists by Israel. I am sure the Taoiseach has received representations from various Palestinian groups and others on this as well. This is clearly an attempt to, essentially, make illegal any organisation that utters a word of criticism of Israel or shines any spotlight on its apartheid policies, its routine denial of Palestinian rights, its persecution of Palestinians or its illegal occupation of Palestinian land. Those organisations are now designated as terrorists. The Government has expressed concern about this. It said it would be in touch with the Israeli authorities, as has the EU. What is actually happening? This is further evidence that Israel is a rogue state. I am slightly concerned about some of the responses from the Minister and from Government spokespeople, who have started to bandy around the word "antisemitism" if you question the right of Israel to be an apartheid state, which it is. That is clearly coming from the Israelis. I remind the Taoiseach that Nelson Mandela believed Israel was an apartheid state that should be boycotted. It is not an antisemitic statement to call out Israeli apartheid. What is the Government doing to sanction Israel over its designation of human rights organisations as terrorists in an attempt to suppress them?
The majority of the people of the North of Ireland support the protocol, as is clear in the polls that have been conducted there. Indeed, the majority of the people of the North of Ireland voted to remain within the EU. Obviously, there is a benefit to the protocol as it puts the North in a sweet spot economically for trade with the European bloc and Britain. Trade has increased by 60% from North to South and from South to North by about 48% just in the past year. Some unionists are fully against the protocol. That is their right but they believe, for some reason, that a majority of unionists have to support the protocol before it can be agreed by society in the North. That is not how democracy works and those days of unionist majoritarianism are over. The key point for this Chamber is that treating the British gently with regard to the protocol has not worked. Ireland has to get tough with the British and let them know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if they seek to bring down the protocol there will be enormous economic consequences for them. For us to be able to do that we need to make sure the European capitals are on our side. Has the Taoiseach's office been in contact with all the European capitals and governments to ensure they are rock-solid behind Ireland in terms of being tough with Britain if it does decide to bring down the protocol?
On Deputy Martin Kenny's questions, Europe has to be consistent and is consistent. It has been consistent on Ukraine and has had unity of purpose on Ukraine and other neighbourhoods in terms of activities. The situation in Spain is difficult and challenging. I welcome the fact that the situation has de-escalated and that the politicians have been released. No one ever likes to see politicians who would ordinarily be going about their parliamentary business and referendum activity in prison as a result of their activities. There is an overarching constitutional framework within Spain as well that has to be resolved by Spain and by the country. It has had its history and it has evolved. It is important to bear that in mind and to keep that in perspective.
As regards Deputy Barry's points, I abhor violence against women. It is a stain on our society. The Minister for Justice, along with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, is working on a new strategy and on resources, making sure that resources will be provided in areas that have none at the moment, such as refuges in certain counties and that there will be a timeline for the provision of such services. That is ongoing. I am available to support any group that needs additional facilities through the local authorities. There have been good partnerships in Cork on the homeless issue and with regard to refuge for victims of gender-based violence. That has been always the case, consistently over time and I have no doubt that will continue with the support of Government. Any additionality or any requests that come to us from either the NGO sector or local authorities in partnership with the NGO sector will be positively responded to. That has been always the case. There has been a far greater level of awareness of this issue and that must continue. The situation is serious and was exacerbated during the pandemic. We know that and it has been reported. Every effort has to be made in an integrated way across all Departments and every forum, including education, to inculcate and nurture proper respect in our schools and right throughout our society so that we can reduce and, ultimately, eliminate, violence against women. It is shocking that it continues at the level it does.
On the Palestinian question, I am very concerned at this designation by Israel's ministry of defence of six Palestinian NGOs, including Irish Aid and European Union partner organisations. We partner with a number of these organisations and they have now been designated as terrorist entities. That is wrong. Ireland supported the holding of a discussion on the designation and on the recent settlement announcements at the UN Security Council on 8 November and we made a press statement following the meeting with France, Estonia, Norway and Albania, as an incoming UN Security Council member. In the joint statement, we underlined our serious concerns at this designation and the potential political, legal and financial consequences.
Ireland is committed to funding civil society organisations and human rights defenders through the Irish Aid programme, including Palestinian civil society. We as a country have been strong supporters of Palestinian civil society through the years. We carry out robust checks to ensure our funding is used only for the purpose intended and we have no evidence to suggest otherwise. In the absence of any detailed evidence from the Israeli authorities to support the designations, Ireland will continue to support the organisations concerned. This does not impact on our continued support but-----
What about sanctions?
-----it is still a regressive move. I am also aware of reports that Palestinian human rights defenders were hacked using Pegasus spyware. We attach great importance to the freedom of civil society and people's ability to act without surveillance.
We have also asked Israel to respect international law and to avoid loss of life in the context of Palestinian prisoners who are currently on hunger strike in protest at their arrests under the Israeli policy of administrative detention. We are aware of the concerns raised by the International Committee of the Red Cross regarding the health of some of these prisoners. I welcome the news that one of the individuals concerned has recently reached an agreement with the Israeli authorities to end his strike. We will continue to call on Israel to respect international law and to avoid loss of life and reiterate the right of all detainees to a fair trial. Likewise, in respect of settlements, we have consistently raised our opposition to the Israeli Government's plans for more than 3,000 settlement units in the West Bank. On 20 October we released a statement jointly with 11 other European countries urging the Israeli Government to reverse that decision and reiterating our strong opposition to its policy of settlement expansion. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, raised these issues during his recent visit to the region.
On the protocol, suffice to say that the discussions have taken a turn for the better for the time being. That has to be acknowledged and stated. I was at the British-Irish Council on Thursday and Friday and had a good constructive discussion with the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, and with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales. They were very clear on the impact of invoking Article 16 on their economies.
There was general consensus all around on the need to avoid any disruption for the people on the ground in Northern Ireland. The EU and the UK are now working towards a negotiated resolution of the issues that have arisen as a result of the protocol. Some legitimate issues have arisen and they need to be resolved. We should do that by negotiation and that is the intention.
12. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach the names of each commission of investigation established by his Department in each of the past ten years; the costs incurred by each; the number not yet concluded; and the expected time by which they will be dissolved. [55848/21]
The only commissions of investigation for which I am the specified Minister under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 are the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation commission of investigation and the National Asset Management Agency commission of investigation. Both commissions are fully independent.
The IBRC commission was established in June 2015 following consultation with Oireachtas parties. It is investigating certain transactions, activities and management decisions at the IBRC and in its first module it is investigating the Siteserv transaction. Its original deadline was 31 December 2015 but following several requests from the commission, and after consultation with the Opposition, its timeframe for reporting has been extended. Most recently, in October this year, I granted a further request for an extension, this time until the end of March 2022. From the time of its establishment to the end of October 2021, the commission cost €10.75 million approximately, excluding third-party legal costs that have been incurred but not yet paid, which will be a matter for the commission to determine at the end of its investigation.
In its seventh interim report in February 2020, the commission of investigation estimated that the final cost of the Siteserv investigation will be between €12 million and €14.5 million. This estimate assumed the investigation would be completed by the end of 2020 and not the end of March 2022 as is now the case, and excluded costs or delays associated with possible judicial review hearings. The commission also acknowledged that it involved a substantial degree of uncertainty regarding the amount of costs actually recoverable by the parties before it and assumed its legal costs guidelines are not successfully challenged.
The NAMA commission of investigation was established in June 2017 following consultations with Opposition parties to investigate the sale by NAMA of its Northern Ireland portfolio, known as Project Eagle. Its original deadline for reporting was 31 June 2018 but following several requests from the commission, its timeframe for reporting has also been extended. Most recently, in September 2021, I granted a further request for an extension, this time until the end of December 2021. From the time of its establishment to the end of October 2021, the commission cost €3.75 million approximately, excluding any third-party legal costs incurred but not yet paid and which will be considered by the commission at the end of its investigation.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The estimated cost for the NAMA commission of investigation when it was established was €10 million approximately, excluding the cost of any litigation that may arise. The commission has not provided an updated estimate for the cost of its investigation but the expenditure incurred to date suggests it is unlikely to exceed the original estimate.
The Fennelly commission is the only other commission of investigation for which the Taoiseach was the specified Minister in the past decade. Its work related to certain allegations made by Garda Maurice McCabe and its final report was completed in March 2017. The total cost of that commission of investigation was €3,528,658.
The commissions of investigation are not working in many ways. Justice delayed is justice denied and what we see happening at the moment are commissions of never-ending investigation. Accountability is simply not happening. It has been argued in the Dáil previously that commissions of investigation are used to kick issues into touch and take them out of the political environment. The IBRC commission of investigation was set up following a scandal that broke in 2015. It was an incredible issue which has just disappeared from most people's consciousness. Deputy Michéal Martin is the third Taoiseach to be in a position to grant an extension to that particular commission of investigation.
The financial costs to the State of these commissions of investigation are eye-watering. We are talking about massive amounts of money. A previous Taoiseach admitted that the final cost for the IBRC commission could exceed €30 million. This means that €30 million is taken away from some sector in society that really needs it. The NAMA commission of investigation was meant to be completed in June 2018 at a cost of €10 million but the costs are spiralling on these commissions of investigation.
I have a proposal which I would like the Taoiseach to address. The Oireachtas is currently discussing various Bills dealing with white-collar crime, one of which deals with corporate authority. The Oireachtas is also dealing with legislation to give further powers to the Central Bank to enhance its ability to tackle white-collar crime. It is now necessary to reform this whole area and create one State investigation authority to deal with all white-collar crime in our society. We must build an authority that will be able to investigate this area properly. It must be of a sufficient size and have the personnel with the requisite skills and knowledge to deal with all of these elements of society. Reform in this area must mean that investigations are done expeditiously and not at massive cost to the State so that justice happens in real time, the people involved in wrongdoing are punished in real time and there is real-time accountability.
I certainly agree that the commission of investigation format is not working. The delays and
costs involved are inordinate and often by the end of the process, a lot of people are left wondering what it was all about in the first place. There is an air of Dickens's Jarndyce and Jarndyce about a lot of these commissions.
I refer to the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes as another example of where we have got it very badly wrong. I know we will be discussing this in greater depth later this evening but a number of the survivors who were outside Leinster House today are absolutely furious at the proposed redress scheme. They are angry at arbitrary time periods and thresholds for those who were in mother and baby homes being used as some sort of meaningful guide for redress. This is just typical of the way the State gets it so badly wrong. People must have spent six months in an institution to be eligible for redress, as if the human story, tragedy, hardship and trauma can somehow be equated to a particular time period or amount of money. This is an example of how the State really get things wrong. We will debate it further this evening but I would simply say that the key in such sensitive investigations and in the production of reports is to listen to the survivors and those with first-hand experience. The establishment of schemes and the production of reports must be done in step with survivors. The failure to do so has landed this Government in a mess. The Taoiseach and the Government must consider that.
On the back of Deputy Tóibín's question, I wish to raise the issue of establishing a commission of investigation into the death of Shane O'Farrell. The scoping exercise into Shane's death has not yet been completed. In the Dáil four years ago, the Taoiseach, who was then in opposition, said: "In all honesty and sincerity, it is time the Oireachtas responded in the only way possible, which is the establishment of an inquiry." The Taoiseach was correct then and I hope he will follow through on that. The failures of the policing and justice system leading up to Shane's death and the actions thereafter, including by the courts, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Justice, are significant, not just to the O'Farrell family but to the general public. This should also be of interest to the Taoiseach in his position as leader of Fianna Fáil because in 2018 the Fianna Fáil confidence and supply negotiating team raised Shane's case with the Secretary General of the Department of Justice who, in turn, committed to providing a briefing note. It was recently reported by Ms Justine McCarthy in the Sunday Times that the departmental memo did not inform Fianna Fáil of significant information pertaining to the driver who killed Shane. So serious was this information that the Secretary General submitted to the Minister for Justice the terms of reference for a review to be undertaken by a senior counsel into Courts Service failings. The Department of Justice did not provide the information to Fianna Fáil and the review in question did not ultimately proceed. No explanation has been provided for this. It should not be up to the O'Farrell family to try to uncover these issues. The Taoiseach must deliver this inquiry.
In response to Deputies Tóibín, Boyd Barrett and Kenny, I would point out that it was the Deputies opposite who called for, if not demanded, the investigation. It was not about kicking the can down the road, as Deputy Tóibín suggested. There was a demand from this House, and I was in opposition at the time, that the Government establish an inquiry. All in opposition wanted an inquiry into this. The Deputy is correct that the Department has estimated that it could cost €30 million but there are no precise figures. That could be the ultimate cost but no one knows.
I have been in the House for a considerable length of time. Because of the view that people have rights and so on, all inquiries take an inordinate length of time. To date, no one formula that I have seen has been optimal. Parliamentary inquiries have had difficulties and have ended up in the courts where citizens have taken the Legislature to court in respect of how they were treated. Commissions of investigation were originally brought in by Senator McDowell when he was a Minister as a means of finding a shorter route to get a more efficient outcome to inquiries because inquiries under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act were proving to be very long as well, and were taking years or even decades in some cases. Some tribunals of inquiry took ten years or more. Everybody is entitled to their good name and everybody is entitled to cross-examine and there are huge legal costs attached to all of these inquiries as a result of all that. One of these inquiries was established in 2015 and the others not too long after that. We should go in with our eyes wide open. Very often, the first response from the Opposition and Members of this House is to set up an inquiry. Parties are in government at different times. That is the first resort and I am not sure if it is the correct response.
In answer to Deputy Tóibín, the idea of a State investigation authority was looked at by the Law Reform Commission in 2005. It looked at public inquiries, including tribunals of inquiry. It gave the pros and cons for what it called a permanent inquiries office. In the end, it opted to go against setting it up. It said the office would have a permanent team of staff experienced in investigations and paid salaries rather than a daily rate, thus resulting in savings. The staff would have "easy access to precedents and guidance on ... procedural issues" and would provide a one-stop-shop for those seeking information on inquiries. It then gave the disadvantages. It stated: "Although a number of public inquiries may be in existence at present, there is no guarantee that there will be a need for similar bodies in the future". It also stated: "public inquiries ... are ad hoc bodies [by their nature] ... and their structure and personnel should reflect this." Deputy Tóibín might consult the report.
My view is that irrespective of what form of inquiries we decide on, they will be lengthy, given our legal system and people will never be entirely satisfied with their conclusions. It is a very challenging situation. What we need to do is build up permanent systems. We established the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. People are unhappy with GSOC. It was to hold gardaí to account for any misdeeds. Deputy Tóibín spoke about white-collar crime. The Garda should be investigating white-collar crime. Our existing agencies should be doing this work and reducing the need for inquiries in the first instance.
The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, was established. It has made a transformational change compared with where we were before its establishment in 2003. Prior to that there was no inbuilt system within health to drive standards and proper approaches to public policy and the provision of healthcare facilities, taking the rights of patients into consideration.
We are running out of time.
It is a topic that needs serious discussion, but we must build up the existing capacity of the system to deal with these issues in a substantive way and avoid the necessity for inquiries that take an inordinate length of time, by any yardstick, to come to a conclusion and at great cost.