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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 6

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Education Schemes

I would like to thank the Minister for coming this evening to reply. Some schools were disappointed and surprised that they were not included in the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, programme. I understand that it is a process whereby the Department, as far as it has access to data, has used objective data to try to determine which schools should be part of the scheme. My understanding is that the primary online database, POD, information given is name, address, Eircode postcode, PPSN, pupil ID number, gender, nationality, whether the mother tongue is English or Irish, ethnic or cultural background - presumably that means Roma, Traveller, etc. - and religion. The other source of data is the Pobal HP deprivation index for small area data. My understanding is that data is into the mixer. It is a little bit of one and a little bit of the other. Which of those details is the Department using? Clearly, as the Minister has said previously, it uses the small area data. What weighting is given to each index? For example, the Department knows where the children live because it has their Eircode postcodes and knows their nationality. These are the kinds of questions that I think need to be clarified. What happens if one parent is Irish and one is non-Irish? Does it depend on where the child was born? What happens if both parents are naturalised Irish and a child was born here, etc.? Because the information the Department has is fairly scant, how does it work this out? Schools authorities will look at this and will say:

Hang on the second. Was the information we gave accurate, and did it reflect all of the possibilities? We never realised that such a major decision would be made on our application to the scheme based on this data.

Another issue that arises relates to ethnic or cultural background. Let us take it that that means Roma and Traveller ethnicities. The Minister specifically mentions, in fairness to her, educational disadvantage experienced by Traveller and Roma learners. Here again we might challenge. While I do know how we will deal it, I want to highlight it here this evening. Many people from Traveller or Roma background might not identify as such for various reasons. There were some interesting examples of that on the television on “Claire Byrne Live” last night. People said that they hid their identity for fear that it would be a disadvantage to them. I recall a Traveller parent who came to me. She was really suspicious when she was enrolling her child as to why the school wanted to know whether the parent was a Traveller because she felt that if she said, “Yes”, it might be a reason that the school would use - I knew the school would not have used it, but she did not know that - to not accept the pupil in the school.

I know of two schools in particular that seem to have an odd situation. One is a school that everyone would say is very mixed in terms of nationality and the background of children. It is in an area that is certainly not that affluent. It has missed out on the scheme or the second time whereas, in the same area, other schools that would seem more advantaged have been accepted into the scheme, although I do not begrudge that. The second school is an island school. One school on the island was in and the other school on the same island was out. This seems unusual. Again, if we knew the matrix in detail at least people would have some understanding of how the Department arrived at its answer.

I thank the Deputy. DEIS is the main policy initiative of my Department to tackle educational disadvantage at school level. Schools in the programme avail of a range of targeted supports aimed at tackling educational disadvantage, including additional classroom teaching posts, home-school community liaison co-ordinator posts, DEIS grant funding and access to the school completion programme.

On 9 March, I was pleased to announce the expansion of the DEIS programme. This will see the programme extended to an additional 310 schools. In addition, 37 existing DEIS schools are being reclassified and are eligible for increased supports. These schools were identified as having the highest levels of educational disadvantage. This now means that in the 2022-23 school year, there will be 1,194 schools in the DEIS programme, 960 of which are in primary and 234 in post-primary.

From next September, more than 240,000 students, or nearly one in four students, will be supported in the programme. This is the largest ever single investment in the programme, and it will extend DEIS status to schools that are serving the highest proportions of pupils at a risk of educational disadvantage.

From 2023, the Department will spend in the region of €180 million on the DEIS programme. This is an increase of €32 million. This announcement follows an extensive body of work by the DEIS technical group to develop the refined DEIS identification model to identify the concentrated level of disadvantage in schools. Schools were identified for inclusion in the programme through the refined DEIS identification model, which is an objective statistics-based model. The model was applied equally to all schools. The model uses address information that schools provide under their annual returns to the Department. These addresses were then combined with the Pobal HP deprivation index, which is a method of measuring the relative affluence or disadvantage of a particular geographical area. The HP index divides the country into approximately 18,500 small areas, with approximately 100 dwellings in each.

The refined DEIS identification model being applied to schools in 2022 builds on the objectivity and fairness of the 2017 version, but now captures a greater breadth of disadvantage and accounts for severity of disadvantage through the application of a weighted process. The DEIS identification model takes into consideration the significant educational disadvantage experienced by Traveller and Roma learners and by students who are residing in direct provision or students who are residing in emergency homeless accommodation. Schools were not required to apply for inclusion in the DEIS programme. The model has been fairly and equally applied to all schools. To ensure all schools are treated equally and fairly, those that have not been included in the programme at this time will have an opportunity to have the decision reviewed. The Department will provide further information in the coming days on this appeals process on its website.

I thank the Minister for the reply, but to certain extent it reminded me of Tim Figgerty from long ago, although the Minister is probably too young to have ever heard of him. He was a mythical figure who used to get the figs into the Fig Rolls. He went missing and the story that a certain biscuit manufacturer had was that nobody would ever find out how to get the figs into the Fig Rolls and that they were in serious trouble. I still have not found out how to get the figs into Fig Rolls.

The Minister told me there is a weighted process. I asked specifically about the actual algorithms and weightings. Is it that there are, say, ten marks for certain Eircode postcodes and the small area statistics, 20 marks for Traveller pupils, five marks for Roma pupils or what is it? What are all the weightings and figures and how is the calculation carried out? It is only fair, in the interests of transparency, that the Department would give detail of the mathematical formula it used in order that people making appeals will know how they failed to get into the scheme and what information carries the most weight. As I said, a school might find out, for example, that it had understated the number of Roma or Traveller students. The Department has, obviously, used nationality in regard to people's mother tongue and so on. Will the Minister publish the mathematical formula, or the algorithm as it is now called? Will she give a breakdown of the assessment for each school, showing exactly how the Department arrived at the conclusion for each school that failed to get in?

The Department of Education has engaged significantly with the school management bodies and unions to outline the development of the DEIS identification model. In the coming days, further information will be made available on the Department’s website relating to the development and implementation of the DEIS identification model. This will provide a clear outline to schools on how the information provided by them on the student enrolment database was used in conjunction with the HP deprivation index data to identify the schools with the highest levels of educational disadvantage for inclusion in the DEIS programme. The identification process was applied equally to every school in the country. The HP deprivation index, as employed by the DEIS model, is also employed in a number of Departments, including the Departments of Justice, Health and Social Protection. The tool measures relative advantage or disadvantage. There are 18,500 small areas of approximately 100 dwellings, and the purpose is to identify not individual deprivation but pockets of deprivation, that is, what is called cumulative disadvantage. It has been acknowledged in both national and international studies that, where there is an accumulation of disadvantage in an area, that is an even more significant disadvantage to a student. It is for that purpose that we have this model in order that targeted interventions can take place where there is cumulative disadvantage. The data that were relied on are the same data, as the Deputy mentioned, from the primary online database, POD, and the post-primary online database, PPOD, identical for all school data, and they were combined with the HP deprivation index. The weightings the Deputy mentioned are in the POD------

I thank the Minister but she is out of time.

Coastal Protection

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter and allowing me to speak to it. The ice in the Antarctic and in Greenland is melting at an alarming rate, as was stated in a joint report published in Ireland last year by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Marine Institute. That report, in a finding similar to that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, found that sea levels are, as a result, rising at a startling rate. It is really frightening. John Englander, a climatologist and oceanographer, wrote a book called Moving to Higher Ground, which I would recommend to anybody who is interested in this topic. It is truly frightening.

In my constituency, for example, Midleton, Youghal, Cobh and Shanagarry will be impacted, as will Waterford, Westport and Galway. This is going to happen; it cannot be stopped. I have read a lot about this issue. The sea levels are going to continue rising. We can talk about climate change, reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and so on, but that will not impact on this at all. The sea levels are going to continue to rise. The UK has established a flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy action plan and it is in place. The Dutch saw this coming - they would have, of course - and in 2008, they established a serious action plan.

As for what will happen when the sea continues to rise, the predictions are quite frightening. It is difficult to predict but scientists say that by the end of the century, sea levels could have risen by 1 m. We might not think that is a lot, but the impact that would have on our towns, cities and utilities would be very significant. When the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage launched the national coastal change management strategy steering group in 2020, he stated 2 million people in Ireland could be impacted, as well as all our major cities and utilities, and that cannot be stopped. We have to start planning for it now. We have to ask what we can do. For instance, can people who live in an area that might be flooded get insurance for their homes? Can property be insured in case that happens, which it will? What can we do? Will we put strategies in place to protect property or should we all, as John Englander suggested in his book, move to higher ground? There is no point waiting until the sea water is up to our knees and then saying we should have planned for this 20 years ago. Now is the time to put a plan in place with a series of actions and strategies to mitigate this. There is no point waiting until it is too late.

I am anxious that the national coastal change management strategy steering group would report soon in order that we can debate its recommendations in the House, analyse them and put in place an action plan, as is the case in the UK, the US and elsewhere. Even the US Department of Defense stated in 2016 that the country needed to start planning then, and it did so. Many parts of the world could disappear, including Florida and Bangladesh. Many cities throughout the world will be under threat, but we have to look after our own patch in Ireland. We should not confuse the reduction in greenhouse gases with the real challenge of dealing with increased flooding from the rising sea. They are different things. This is going to happen. The volume of ice melting at an alarming and increasing rate is really scary.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

The challenge posed by rising sea levels is clear and the practical implementation of measures to mitigate these risks, particularly for coastal communities, is critical, as the Deputy set out in clear and strong terms. I welcome the opportunity to bring some clarity on the matter. Climate change projections indicate flooding events are expected to become more frequent and severe in the future. This will have a considerable impact on flood risk in Ireland, particularly where our cities and most of our main towns are located, either on the coast or alongside our estuaries or rivers.

Following the review of national flood policy launched in 2018, the OPW flood risk management plans, which are a roadmap for flood risk management measures, will, in conjunction with flood risk schemes already constructed, provide protection to approximately 95% of properties assessed to be at significant risk of flood. Building on the flood risk management plan, the OPW has published a climate change sectoral adaptation plan for flood risk management 2019 to 2024, in line with the requirements of the national adaptation framework and the Climate Action Plan 2019. The sectoral plan, approved by the Government in October 2019, includes 21 actions, which are being implemented as part of the strategy, to meet the objectives of ongoing research and assessment, adapting our flood risk management practice across government to effectively manage the potential impacts of climate change on future flood risk.

To support the need for adaptation, the Government established the interdepartmental group on managing coastal change to scope out an approach for the development of a national co-ordinated and integrated strategy to manage the projected impact of coastal change. The interdepartmental group is jointly chaired by the Minister's Department and the OPW. It has met on three occasions to date and is also supported by a technical working group.

During 2021, to assist and support the work of the group, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the OPW also engaged in a series of bilateral meetings with relevant Departments and key stakeholders to discuss the emerging work of the group and to allow issues relating to coastal change management to be identified and explored in the context of the particular operations of the participating organisations. These meetings were useful in clarifying matters.

On the specific question the Deputy asked, the interdepartmental group is advancing the drafting and finalising of its report, which will be presented to Government for its consideration shortly.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. She referenced "flood risk" more than once in her reply. A sea level rise does not recede. When it rises, it stays up. There is a difference between it and flood risk - floods which come and go. When the sea level rises, it stays up and does not recede. This is what we have to look at.

I invite the Minister of State to check out Climate Central. It has an interactive map that allows a person to enter in how much the sea level will rise and to see the impact it will have in that person's area. Anything in red will be under water. That part of our island that will be under water will not emerge again. It will be submerged forevermore.

Flood risk is a misnomer in some ways. I would prefer if we were talking about sea level rise. It will rise and it will not go back down because the ice melts. For the Ceann Comhairle's information, there are 200,000 glaciers shrinking in the world. Some of these are enormous; they are as big as Manhattan. If all the ice in Greenland and the Arctic were to melt, global sea levels would rise by 200 ft or 60 m higher than they are at present. Neither I, the Ceann Comhairle nor anyone here will see that, but our children or grandchildren will possibly be affected by this. It is serious, it is happening and there is no point in waiting until it is up to our knees or our oxters. We have to start planning for it now and to start talking about it now.

I very much want to see the interdepartmental group the Minister of State referred to publish its report fairly soon. The UK and other countries are way ahead of us on this. They have action plans. They have things happening right now to plan for this. We have to start doing it before it is too late. There is no point in having the Minister of State below in Waterford with the water coming in over her wellies and saying, like King Canute, that it will go out at some stage; it will not. It will come in and it will stay in.

I have listened carefully to Deputy Stanton's views. I again thank him for his valuable contribution.

One of the words the Deputy mentioned in the first contribution was "insurance". That is a valid point. I have worked closely with a family whose home has been flooded on three occasions over the past 20 years and, unfortunately, after the third claim, they were no longer able to secure any insurance. It is a real live issue.

The Government recognises the clear challenge posed by rising sea levels for the country as a whole and for coastal communities in particular. Climate change projections indicate that flooding events are expected to become more frequent and severe in the future. This will have a considerable impact on flood risk in Ireland, especially where our cities and most of our main towns are located either on the coast or alongside our estuaries or rivers.

This challenge will require a national co-ordinated and integrated strategy to manage the projected impact of coastal change on these communities. To that end, the Government has established the interdepartmental group on managing coastal change to scope out an approach for the development of such a strategy. Since its initial meeting in September 2020, the work of the steering group was progressed through a series of bilateral meetings, including, inter alia, the threats and effects of coastal change as they relate to the remit of the individual steering group members and the wider stakeholders.

The findings of the steering group are being finalised and these will be presented to Government for consideration shortly. It is envisaged these findings will provide a framework for key decisions to be taken by relevant stakeholders to best manage the Irish coastline in a manner that most effectively mitigates future risks. No doubt we will have a further conversation at that time. I again thank the Deputy.

Passport Services

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for taking the time this evening. This has no bearing on the Minister of State whatsoever, but I want to point out my disappointment that we could not wheel out any one of the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, or the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who would have been appropriate to this issue, because I know the Minister of State will agree with me and she will read out a prepared response-----

The protocol is that the Department involved should make contact with the Deputy tabling the Topical Issue matter and there should be the opportunity to agree or not agree, as the case might be. Some of those Departments, if they did not, should have been in touch with the Deputy about this Topical Issue matter.

In fairness, they were. This is, again, no reflection on the Minister of State, Deputy Butler. I am pleased she is here. The Departments were in contact. They asked me which Department and I helped in their interpretation and said any of the four I have indicated. Funnily enough, and call me old fashioned, I did not mention the Department of Health and specifically did not mention mental health. That is for others to determine.

I want to talk about post offices, which as the House will be aware have been under threat for many years. Consecutive governments of all colours and none have paid lip service. We have gone to the public meetings, we have listened and we have done the three bags full, but we have continued to close them, digitise, strip out services and so on.

Next week, the postmasters' union will contemplate whether to take industrial action and withdraw services. Meanwhile we had a very detailed Grant Thornton report published in 2020. The shortfall is only €17 million for a service the report indicates gives a value to the communities of between €335 million and €750 million. These are hardly snake oil claims from an unknown company because the Government subcontracts many of its decisions to companies just like Grant Thornton.

I have some suggestions. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, was given specific responsibility last year, having trawled through all Government agencies in the Departments, to see what additional work we could give to post offices. As the Minister of State will see, the Ceann Comhairle will agree, and Deputies who are here a hundred years, such as Deputy Ring, will have seen hundreds of times before, there are more questions on the Question Paper today to do with passport applications than in the history of the State. Twenty years ago, when I came here first, there was a drop box out at Leinster House, and when we came in we would put in the applications. If there was a problem, you would get a call, you would get it dealt with and you would be going home to the west on a Thursday evening with the passport for whatever family. Now we have gone in reverse. There is an additional €10 million in the budget, 300 more staff but still there is one child in my neighbourhood waiting eight months for a passport.

I will make an outrageous proposal that we look, as we have often done in the past, to the UK where they have a check and send proposal for UK passports for which the postmaster gets £16 or, if we convert it at today's rate, approximately €19.20. This would go a long way to help the many families throughout the country with basic errors. The postmaster could say the date is wrong, the signature by the garda is in the wrong place or the consent form is not uploaded correctly. We could have a level 1 checking system instead of pallets of post in Balbriggan or, for the Munster passport applications, in Cork. No doubt the public would quite happily pay a score for the purpose so that they would not have to cancel the holiday or miss the loved one's funeral or so they could get medical attention on the cross-border scheme or whatever else.

I suggest to the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, on whom the postmasters' union has been waiting since before Christmas to come back to it, that here is one tangible measure with which not one Deputy in this House or Senator in the Seanad would disagree. Let the post office do a level 1 check on all applications and help applicants to upload digitally. Then we could, in the words of some of my own intelligence officers in the Passport Office, take up to four days' work off an individual application as they are currently being processed.

I thank Deputy MacSharry for the question. I am happy to be here tonight as several of my colleagues are laid low with Covid. When you are a junior Minister, you cover many issues. Today, I am on ministerial rota duty and that is why the Deputy is looking at me across the floor tonight, delighted to be here.

I met the Waterford postmasters three weeks ago to discuss various issues of the postmasters' union that Deputy MacSharry has raised, and I was delighted to meet with them.

The passport service is proactively managing the current demand for passports and has put in place resources and structures to address the estimated significant increase in demand for passports in 2022. The passport service expects to receive 1.4 million passport applications in 2022. So far this year, it has issued 264,000 passports. This means 41% of the total number of passports issued in 2021 have been issued in less than three months this year.

There are currently more than 182,000 applications in the passport service system. While this is a very high volume of applications, it does not represent a backlog. These applications are all being processed in the usual way, with a continuous stream of new applications and a continuous dispatch of completed passports occurring every day. The passport service is currently processing 45% of adult online renewal applications in one working day, while 95% of online child renewal passports are issued within the advertised processing time of 15 working days. These turnaround times, especially for adult renewals, are possible due to the inherent efficiencies of the online system and cannot be achieved in the traditional paper-based system. They also compare very favourably with processing times internationally in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark and Spain.

As a result of the investment the Department is making in the passport service, the turnaround time for first-time applications has recently been reduced from 40 working days to 35 working days, even in the context of the unprecedented volume of applications being received. The passport service is focused on reducing this processing time even further in the coming months. The passport service continually works to streamline the application process and to improve its customer service. It also monitors and responds to issues that arise for applicants during the application process.

A number of measures are in place to ensure that passport applicants complete their applications correctly. The Department of Foreign Affairs website has been updated to include a new passport service section where applicants can easily find out what additional documents are required for their type of application. When applying online, the applicant is given comprehensive instructions on what documents to submit. The customer service hub is available to answer applicants' questions by phone or webchat. The customer service hub handled almost 170,000 queries in 2021 and has responded to more than 60,000 queries since the beginning of this year.

The passport service is also working on public education materials, including video tutorials, with a view to assisting applicants to complete their application correctly. The passport service operates its paper-based, mail-in passport express service through An Post. This provides an option for citizens to submit their passport application through the network of more than 1,000 post offices across the State. All types of passport application, both renewal and first-time applications, can be made via the passport express service. The Department of Foreign Affairs is in regular contact with An Post regarding possible initiatives to develop this service further. Currently, more than 90% of passport applications from Ireland and overseas are received through the passport online service. This is an increase from 47% in 2019.

I thank the Minister of State for reading out the reply. I appreciate that she is here, but the reply is an insult. We got a bunch of statistics. The passport service has 900 staff, has received €10 million in extra funding and it is going to be the devil and all. I expect the other Deputies in the Chamber and you, a Cheann Comhairle, would agree that the lived experience of passport processing in this country is that we have gone into reverse, at warp speed.

The helpline for Deputies is not fit for purpose. I will give an example. The Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, will be annoyed that I am putting this on the record but I am going to do so. He rang the Deputies' helpline on a Tuesday and said he was a Minister and had someone who needed a passport by the Friday to attend a funeral in New York on the Saturday. He was told there was not a hope. He was laughed at. He dutifully went back and told the person seeking the passport he was sorry but he could not make it happen. The Minister of State was told he was useless and the person said he would go to someone else to get this done. The Minister of State told the person he was welcome to do so but that, in his view, the person would not succeed. On the following Friday, the man in question rang the Minister of State from an airport departure lounge and told him he was useless as he had collected his passport at Iveagh House the previous night. That is unacceptable, but it is consistent with the way elected Members of this Oireachtas are being treated. It is consistent because we are merely to be tolerated while Robert Watt and Co run the whole show.

I do not think we need to bring Mr. Watt into this.

He is a very well-paid public servant.

I do not think we need-----

I happened to use parliamentary privilege to put his name on the record.

We do not need to bring his name into this particular debate.

I reiterate that more than 90% of passport applications from Ireland and overseas are currently received through the passport online service. This is an increase from a figure of 47% in 2019. While the Department of Foreign Affairs has no current plans to enable passport applications to be checked at An Post locations, the passport service will continue to consider ways in which to enhance customer experience and reduce errors on applications.

Company Liquidations

It saddens me tonight to have to raise this matter in the Topical Issue debate. It is outrageous that a major company such as Roadbridge would leave so many people without work. I want to speak about the subcontractors. In Mayo alone, anything up to €13 million may be owed by Roadbridge. It really annoys me that the ESB and Bord na Móna are involved in a big job in north Mayo. I am disappointed that no one from the Department is here to listen to the concerns raised. They need not think they are going to bring in a contractor from England, Northern Ireland, Dublin or wherever. There will be no contractor going into north Mayo until our people are paid their money.

You and I are here a long time, a Cheann Comhairle. I remember many years ago when I spoke in this House against the great public servants and Ministers who are not Ministers when they suggested we had to get major companies to come in and they had to have €1 million plus in their current account before they could apply for contracts from the State. If we had ten or 12 small contractors doing this now-----

The time is up now.

I will have to raise this matter again tomorrow, a Cheann Comhairle, because this is not good enough.

I represent a lot of people who are hurt, out of pocket and will lose their jobs.

I thank Deputy Ring.

As we can imagine, the news that Roadbridge entered receivership came as a massive blow to the workers and their families, and also to the subcontractors who are now in a state of incredible uncertainty. It is scandalous. While the receivers, Grant Thornton, go through the necessary processes over the next 30 days, it is important that affected workers and subcontractors can have access to social welfare. They are in the most awful form of limbo at the moment. If they want to take on new employment, they should not lose their redundancy entitlements if there is to be a transfer of undertakings, TUPE, situation.

Where does this matter currently stand? It is more than a week since the individuals in question were informed of the situation. Have Enterprise Ireland and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment engaged with the company to try to protect these jobs? There are literally thousands of jobs on the line. Urgent action must be taken. The workers in question are doing vital infrastructure projects. There is a serious issue with the eTenders process if it has come to this and this has been allowed to happen.

The receivership of Roadbridge is leaving a trail of human and economic destruction across County Mayo. In the short time I have I will make a couple of requests. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment needs to establish a task force to identify what bonds and insurance are in place for the various projects in which Roadbridge is involved. The Government has responsibility for this because, as recently as July, it awarded a major tender to Roadbridge to complete the N5 from Ballaghadereen to Scramogue, thereby sending a message of confidence in the company. Subcontractors, who have been in business for generations, have been left on the hook for this. They have secured contracts from semi-State companies and Government agencies.

They are entitled to their money and their employees are entitled to their wages. I cannot tell the Minister the level of distress this is causing throughout our county.

I know the Minister will not have the answer to this but for those listening from the Department, where stands the Construction Contracts Bill 2013 championed by the late former Senator Feargal Quinn, which is supposed to protect suppliers in situations like this? It is an indictment of Government tendering policy, going back several administrations, that it seems to be price above everything. When the foundations were not there for the company, it collapsed and it is bringing subcontractors and employees with it.

Roadbridge entering receivership has come as a major shockwave to workers, contractors and suppliers throughout Mayo and this State. The extent of the devastation for workers and contractors is unfolding each day before our eyes as employees find that their pension contributions have not been paid, their health insurance has lapsed and they cannot afford to keep paying their mortgages. It was alarming earlier today to hear the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment refer to the liquidation of Roadbridge when, in fact, the company has gone into receivership. It begs the question whether he or his Government know what is happening and whether they have a handle on this.

What engagement has taken place with Roadbridge? What bonds are in place? We all know that construction inflation has gone through the roof. We also know that due diligence carried out by companies before allocating major contracts has fallen short and there has been auditing of verified companies as financially stable when they were anything but that. The fact is many subcontractors and suppliers have now been burnt twice in the past decade and this is catastrophic. These are intergenerational companies and local employers that operate to the highest ethical standards. They are loyal to their communities, their workers and to the families who sacrificed and worked hard to build reputations and to carve out businesses in the toughest of times. The Government needs to step up here.

As others have said, the announcement by Roadbridge that it is entering into receivership has been met by major concern throughout the State but especially in my town of Limerick. There is concern for the plight of the workers, many of whom worked for that company for decades or more. This is, of course, a terrible blow to the workers, subcontractors and their families. There is also a huge concern regarding if or when important local projects contracted to Roadbridge will ever be completed. The projects in Limerick I am referring to are the Coonagh to Knockalisheen road and the houses in Moyross and Southill.

I welcome the intervention by SIPTU in securing supports from the Department of Social Protection for these workers, although it is disappointing that there was ever a suggestion that such supports would be withheld. These workers must now be compensated appropriately for the sudden loss of their employment. We cannot have a repeat of the defeat of the Debenhams workers in 2020. Will the Minister of State outline what steps the Government intends to take to ensure that these workers receive a fair payment, their entitlements and appropriate training, if required, following this receivership? The Minister of State will be well aware that employees have told us they do not know whether money they paid into their pensions, or money they paid to private health companies, is there. All this stuff needs to be clarified. For us, the core of all this is protecting the workers and their families.

I thank all the Deputies for raising this very difficult issue. I am very concerned to learn of the difficulties being experienced by Roadbridge Limited and the potential knock-on effects on its sub-suppliers and customers. I am answering on behalf of the Tánaiste who is the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I extend my sympathies to all employees and subcontractors who have been affected by this decision by the company to go into receivership. I know that this news will be very concerning for all the workers involved and their families. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Social Protection will support the company and the employees in any way they can. Officials have been monitoring the situation carefully and have been working closely with the Department of Social Protection in order to assist affected employees during this difficult time.

The Government is committed to rebuilding a strong economy that provides stability for workers and helping those who have lost their jobs to secure alternative employment. We will continue to be as responsive as we can to the issues as they unfold. During this period of uncertainty, I am glad to report that employees have received assurances from the receiver regarding their redundancy entitlements and access to income supports. Following joint engagement late last week with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Social Protection, the receiver has confirmed to employees that there is no statutory restriction on them taking up additional employment during a statutory redundancy consultation period in circumstances where they are not expected to attend the workplace. Provided that they do not resign from their current employment, there should be no obstacle to retaining their statutory redundancy entitlements.

Officials from the Department of Social Protection have already met with the receiver and employee representatives to provide information and assurances regarding measures taken to accept online applications for income support as quickly as possible. My Government colleague, Deputy Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Social Protection, has already gone on record to encourage individuals now seeking jobseeker's payments to apply online so that her Department can process their claims as quickly as possible.

Enterprise Ireland has been in regular contact with the company, including engaging in discussions with the acting CEO of Roadbridge and the receiver to investigate whether any Roadbridge contracts can be fulfilled by other operators in the market. This, however, will be challenging given the current inflationary pressures. Nevertheless, these discussions are ongoing and everything possible will be done to achieve as positive an outcome as possible. Indeed, the receiver has given an undertaking to continue discussions with Enterprise Ireland on the ground in the coming days to further discuss how Enterprise Ireland can further support employees and subcontractors impacted by the receivership.

Indications are that the staff of Roadbridge should be able to find alternative employment very quickly. The Department of Social Protection will provide all relevant supports through the local Intreo offices. The Department is still gathering information as to the scale of the potential adverse impacts on sub-suppliers and subcontractors and it would certainly welcome any further intelligence or information that Deputies may have in that regard.

There were a couple of questions. Will employees be able to access income supports? Yes, the Department of Social Protection has moved quickly to ensure that employees can access income supports through online application. Can an employee take up another job? There is no statutory restriction on employees taking up additional employment during the 30-day consultation period in circumstances where they are not expected to attend the workplace. Provided they do not resign from their current employment, there should be no obstacle to retaining their statutory redundancy entitlements. While there was initially some confusion regarding this matter, the receiver clarified the issue with Roadbridge employees on 15 March.

The people of Mayo supported many of the projects Roadbridge was involved in. They thought it was going to create jobs. Little did they think they would be taking away jobs from established businesses. I will put on the record that this is wrong. Businesses that have been in operation, some of them for 30 or 40 years, and family businesses that have been in operation for 70 or 80 years, will now be put out of business by a company like this. The Government has to step in. I again say to the receiver, and it was in the Minister of State's reply, that another company will not come in to finish that project. We had the Shell to Sea debacle. We will now have another debacle but I will be with those businesses, as will Deputies Calleary and Conway-Walsh. We will not allow another contractor to come in unless our people are paid.

The best support the Government can give is to get these subcontractors paid. I welcome the changes that have been made for employees but there are subcontractors tonight who are facing redundancy decisions for their employees. Semi-State companies, such as Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and Government agencies, had these contracts. Bonds are in place on these projects that can be used to pay subcontractors and insurance policies are also in place. That is why I reiterate the call for an urgent taskforce from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to establish what is available so these companies can be given that information and can pursue it. I reiterate what Deputy Ring said. Other companies are being asked to price jobs. As we speak, they are on-site pricing jobs for some of the projects, while Mayo-based companies are being left without any money. That cannot be allowed to happen.

The people of Mayo will not stand for this. We will not be pushed to one side. People and contractors who have worked in our communities for years and years are not going to stand by and be pushed around like this. Something needs to be sorted and the Government has to step up for them and for the workers. One worker told me today of his experience of having to go to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It is all right saying they are entitled to income support but the fact is they have mortgages, commitments and all these things that will not be met by income support

They are being driven into poverty. Something has to be done and the Government has to step up.

I want to clarify something in the Minister of State's response. I want to ensure that we can get a guarantee from the receiver that it will be the case that if workers do not resign from their current employment there should be no obstacle to retaining their statutory redundancy entitlements. That is what the Minister of State said and I accept her bona fides but I would like some more of a guarantee and for the Government to go back to the receiver and ensure that we get that commitment in writing for employees. I spoke to some today and they are in limbo. They are not looking for work at the moment because they believe it will affect their redundancy. We need to get something in writing from the receiver that we can give to those employees.

It is in the speaking note and in the supplementary note too. There was some confusion on that matter. The receiver clarified the issue with Roadbridge employees on 15 March that provided they do not resign from the current employment there is no statutory restriction on employees taking up additional employment during the 30-day consultation period in circumstances where they are not expected to attend the workplace. Those are the two caveats: if one is not expected to attend the workplace and also that one does not resign from one's current job.

The Government is now working in a co-ordinated way to assist the workers in terms of employee supports. The receiver issued a clarification on 15 March which should at least ease the fear of workers and provide assurance that the State will provide appropriate supports to them. The Intreo services of the Department of Social Protection will proactively help them to assess opportunities available for employment or appropriate training and development options. The concerns expressed by the Deputies about sub-suppliers and subcontractors are very real. The Department does not know yet the exact scale of the debt problem in Roadbridge but it could be significant. It may be that the only route for recovery is through the normal insolvency and receivership process. It may be, therefore, that certain major construction projects will suffer delays if such projects need to be retendered. However, the Minister and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment are working across Government, including with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications and the Department of Transport to examine what options are available with regard to how these projects might be progressed.

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