Commencement Matters

Equine Identification Scheme

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle.

I welcome the Minister of State. He will be aware that my colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, recently submitted a parliamentary question asking how many prosecutions since January 2013 for the failure of owners to microchip their horses had taken place. We submitted that question after a meeting with Action for Animal Welfare Ireland, AAWI, which, the Minister of State may know, is holding a protest today at 2 p.m. outside Leinster House. The answer came back from the Minister of State's Department that there had been zero prosecutions in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, which in fairness shows a consistency in the Department's approach. It has consistently done nothing to ensure the effective policing of this issue, and has consistently failed to apply the law in this area. The reply to the question stated: "Enforcement of equine identification legislation is largely undertaken by authorised officers across the regional offices of [the Minister of State's] Department", and that the Department's "policy is to adopt a fair and proportional approach in dealing with breaches of equine identification legislation". Let us consider the words "fair and proportional". In the Minister of State's county of Cork last year, 92 horses were euthanised. Is that number fair and proportional? There were 211 in south Dublin, 67 in Tipperary, 139 in Fingal and 138 in my county of Limerick. In total last year, some 1,198 horses were euthanised and there have been numerous documented cases of disgraceful abuse and cruelty to horses, which is why there is a protest here later today.

This is not fair and proportional. This is what happens when the law is not applied year after year and it is the result of the Department not doing its job. It is now a major problem across a number of towns and cities across the State, which interestingly is largely associated with working-class areas of Limerick city, Cork and Dublin, as well as areas of rural Ireland such as Tipperary which have long been forgotten by the Government. If these horses were roaming around Montenotte in Cork, Foxrock in Dublin or the North Circular Road in Limerick, I suspect we would quickly see a different definition of "fair and proportional".

I wish to quote from The Irish Times from last December:

The latest find, on Wednesday, was a decomposing horse beside an isolated walkway at Suir Island in Clonmel. The animal is thought to have died of malnutrition. The remains of seven horses were found in a field in the Knocklofty area on December 18th. The horses were in various states of decomposition, with one foal standing by the carcass of a mare that may have been dead for up to a month. Up to 14 horses were discovered in the field alongside the dead horses’ remains and they were taken to an Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) compound in Cork.

AAWI described last year as the worst for abuse of horses. As I said, it is holding a protest at 2 p.m. today and my colleague, Councillor Catherine Carey who has been outspoken on this issue will be there with the protestors. The Minister of State's Department is failing and I ask him to address the matter.

The current legislation governing the identification of equines is Commission Implementing Regulation 262/2015 (CR 262/2015) which came into effect on 1 January 2016. This EU legislation was subsequently transposed into national legislation via SI 62 of 2016, as amended. Under the current rules all equines must be identified with a passport no later than 12 months from the date of the equine’s birth and must be implanted with a numbered microchip transponder by a veterinary practitioner. SI 62 of 2016 requires keepers to submit an application for an equine passport with an appropriate passport issuing organisation within six months of the date of birth of the animal.

This provides the passport issuing organisations, PlOs, with sufficient time to conduct further examinations, including DNA testing for studbook equines, with a view to ensuring the identification document issues within the required timeframe, which is no later than 12 months from the date of birth of the equine. It is not an offence to apply for a passport outside the six-month timeframe but a passport issued outside of the 12 months specified under the article must be issued as a duplicate replacement document. The latter automatically and irrevocably excludes the associated equine from being slaughtered for human consumption at the end of its life.

In the context of microchipping, the number of the microchip must he recorded on the passport issued in respect of the equine. It must also be recorded on the database maintained by the issuing PIO and must be notified by the latter to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's central database, with all other identification data in respect of the equine that is required under Article 38 of CR 262/2015. The microchip creates a link between the equine and the passport issued in its respect. However, the passport is the required identification document under CR 262/2015. Equine identification documents are issued by PIOs to the Department.

The Senator referred to a response to a parliamentary question which indicated that the Department's policy is to adopt a fair and proportionate approach in dealing with this matter. The problem is that many of the animals referenced have never been microchipped and, as such, there are no traceable owners. All of the animals recorded in registered studbooks are so recorded for other reasons. Much work needs to be done in communities. The Department has invested €127,000 per annum over the past two years in a specific project in Limerick, which has expanded into many other areas. This project, known as the Moyross project, has resulted in some young people taking up training in stables and, in some cases, further education in this area. One particular young man is considered to have a bright future ahead in this field. There is work being done in this area. I am a horse owner and I have taken rescue animals onto my own farm in the past. I understand the difficulties expressed. As a former member of a local authority, I know that when animals are found in a poor state of health nobody admits to ownership of them. These animals are never released until they have been microchipped and only then to persons who can prove they have access to sufficient grazing land for them. This is how the system works.

This was highlighted as a major issue some years ago but people's activities have been reined in year on year in the meantime. I agree that the cruelty to which reference was made is unacceptable. As an owner of animals, I could not stand over such cruelty.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I appreciate that he did not just work through the script because, with no disrespect to the civil servant who drafted it, it does not address the issue raised. I accept the Minister of State's bona fides but, with no disrespect, the Department is not policing the system effectively. According to Action for Animal Welfare Ireland, there are repeated behaviours year on year because there are never prosecutions. A fair and proportionate response must include prosecutions. It is not acceptable that there have been no prosecutions for the last five years. The Department should and must do more.

There are two offences in respect of which prosecutions are taken. The Senator did not ask about prosecutions for cruelty. The question is specifically about the failure of horse owners to have them microchipped. Were the Senator to ask for the statistics on prosecutions for cruelty to animals, including horses, he might receive a different response.

I will submit a further Commencement matter in a few months, if I may.

The Senator is entitled to do so.

State Examinations Reviews

I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to raise this important matter and the Minister for taking the time to come here to deal with it.

This issue which is already in the public domain arises out of the judgment in the case of Rebecca Carter. Ms Carter took proceedings in the High Court to ensure she did not lose out on a place in veterinary college owing to a totting up error on a leaving certification examination paper. While she was successful, she missed a number of weeks of the course. As a parent of children who have sat the leaving certificate examination and of others who have yet to sit it, I understand the pressures involved. For students who sat the leaving certification examination this year, the results were issued on 15 August 2018 - five days prior to the first round of offers of third-level places on 20 August. The second round of offers took place on 29 August. Mr. Justice Richard Humphreys who, I understand, will soon hand down a written judgment in the case of Ms Carter has asked that this process be reviewed and amended before the examinations next year.

The Minister has previously stated the State Examinations Commission and the third level institutions will meet to discuss the matter this week. Will he confirm if that meeting is going ahead? Would it be of benefit for the chief executive officers of the institutions to also engage in discussions on the issue with the Minister and his Department? In terms of this year's leaving certificate examination, there were approximately 284,000 scripts for correction and 1,652 examiners. The process took 54 days to complete. In terms of the appeals mechanism, in respect of which there were 400 examiners, the process of rechecking 9,000 scripts and 5,900 oral examinations - approximately 15,000 rechecks in total - took 40 days. Between 15 August when the results were issued and 5 September, the deadline for receipt of applications for rechecks, there were 15 working days or almost three weeks, which is a long time. There are then 25 working days, or almost five weeks, between the date for recheck of the scripts and the issuance of the results. When will the results of these rechecks be announced? Overall, this process will take approximately 40 working days.

What is the position regard on totting up errors similar to those which occurred in Rebecca Carter's case? This is about real lives. Of the 55,400 students who sat the leaving certificate examinations this year, 5,200 appealed their results and 1,400, or 15%, received upgrades, 400 of whom were offered places on other courses.

There is a time gap. It appears to take a very lengthy period of time under the appeal mechanism to get scripts back, which takes 15 working days, nearly three weeks, and then a further 25 days for them to be checked, which amounts to 40 days in total. That compares to 54 days for nearly 384,000 scripts as against 9,000 scripts on the appeal.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am pleased that Rebecca Carter has started her course. She is in University College Dublin, UCD, and I am happy for her. I certainly do not want to see students having to go to the courts to exercise their rights on this. The judgment was just issued yesterday and it is 44 pages long; therefore, the Senator will understand that my Department and the State Examinations Commission, SEC, need time to absorb that judgment before any comment will be made on the detail of it. However, what has happened immediately, as the Senator said, is that the SEC board instructed its executive to review those very timelines which the Senator outlined. As he rightly said, there is a 16 day period before students view their scripts and then there are another five days before they appeal.

There is the possibility for rectification, which happens immediately. However, rectification, as I understand it, is only allowed by the SEC where it is a figure added up on the front of the script. If there are issues inside in respect of one question being weighed against another question the SEC does not regard these as a simple addition in this sense because there can be revisions in the course of quality control of correction that can result in changes. Therefore, if it is at that detailed level within the script, a full examination of the script can be required. As the SEC is an independent body, it is obviously for it to decide and not for a Minister to issue a diktat. The SEC has a simplified procedure for rectification where it is a totting error. In the other cases, it has the procedure the Senator mentioned.

The higher education institutions and the SEC are meeting today. The objective will be to shorten that period from 15 August to 10 October. While I appreciate the independence of the SEC and that it has to make sure that whatever it does is robust, I am confident those timelines can be shortened in some dimensions. To be fair to the SEC, it is particularly robust when looking at re-examinations. It applies more intense quality control with the re-examination of one in five scripts being appealed as opposed to one in 20 in the general scheme. The SEC is rigorous and it is defending the robustness of the system. The norm for all colleges was to accept someone who got an upgrade in their examination, but what changed this year was that UCD decided that it would only allow such people to continue their course if they had a change by 30 September. That was prior to the date when appeal results would come out and that clearly had implications for students. UCD has since indicated that it is lifting that requirement so that students in a similar position who get an upgrade will be able to continue-----

Is that for the current year?

To be fair to UCD, it was making the point that people starting a course on 10 October which had started in September were at a significant disadvantage. Although the exam results always came out on 15 August and appeals were always on 10 October, the trend in recent years has been for colleges to bring the start date further and further forward to try to fit into a new semester system. The colleges depend exclusively on the leaving certificate results. They do not operate any alternative admissions system so there is an onus on colleges to respect the integrity of the examinations system, including its appeal process. That is why I am bringing both together to ensure we get a solution that meets the needs of any student who sits his or her examination and is the victim of an error and that he or she does not find himself or herself at a disadvantage. We need to shorten the timelines and get clear protocols in place. I hope that will be the outcome, but they are obviously two independent groups. We will work with them to ensure students do not have this same experience next year.

I thank the Minister and welcome the change made by UCD. There appears to be enough scope-----

As we are well over time, please be brief.

-----in the rectification rules which the SEC applies, that it should be able to deal with the entire script on totting numerical errors. When does the Minister anticipate that the SEC and the third level institutions will conclude their deliberations and advise him of the changes that will be implemented? When does he anticipate that we will have a definitive outcome in order that parents and students will be aware of the process that is in place in order that if we have a situation in numerical totting in particular, we can have an immediate resolution? Most students start in a third level institution at the beginning of September. Students are six weeks into a course before they get the examination rechecks. That is too long and many of those cannot change because they will not be able to adapt to the new course. That issue needs to be looked at. It is about timetables and fairness. The Minister might give us an indication of what he expects the timetable to be in terms of the outcome from the discussions between the SEC and the third level institutions in order that parents and students doing their leaving certificate will have full clarity.

The Senator will appreciate that it would be foolish for me to set rigid timelines when the groups are only meeting today when we will only fully unearth the complexities that might be involved in resolving this issue.

What does the Minister anticipate the timeframe to be?

It will be well ahead of next year's examinations in order that people will know for certain. On the issue of when the SEC allows a simple rectification and when it seeks a re-examination, we have to rely on the independence of the SEC in making that decision. I understand the reason it does not allow additions inside to be simply added is that often the reason for additions of figures inside the paper can be a revision in the marking based on quality control in the course of the examination. There may be changes in marking that a student would perceive as having been unfair to them that were not and so on. The simple rectification within a day or two is done within very specified circumstances only. By all means they should be allowed to re-examine those circumstances to see if they can be eased, but I respect the need for caution in that area.

Mental Health Services

I welcome the Minister of State. As she knows, Jigsaw began a national review of its national youth mental health services. The review aimed to report on finance, clinical and governance matters. It is welcome and there is certainly merit in stopping to take stock and examining if things can be done better, but there has been a serious problem in the delay of the completion of this report.

To put the matter in context, my colleague, Deputy Brady, has been in contact with groups in Bray, County Wicklow which have been working hard to secure a Jigsaw site for many years.

Jigsaw has a development procedure and the community has undertaken to ensure it is ready and it is. Those involved in Bray have done Trojan work and young people have done the majority of the work. Jigsaw has deemed Bray to be ready for the service for well over a year now. Action was taken to begin this service in 2012, more than six years ago. In 2017 the HSE advised through parliamentary questions that the 2018 mental health budget would not have any funds for the expansion of Jigsaw services. As Members can imagine, this is disappointing for young people and adults in the communities that have been working tirelessly for the service and that have been promised its delivery time and again.

I acknowledge that things take time. However, the review of Jigsaw services was supposed to be published in June. This would allow plenty of time for the findings to influence budget 2019. Recently, it was revealed through a parliamentary question I submitted that the deadline was pushed to September. It now seems the report will not be available until the end of the year. Is the delay in the publication of the review's findings going to be used as a justification for excluding expansion of funding for the mental health budget in 2019? Is Jigsaw still marketing itself as a service that wants to be in every county and does the HSE support this? It is absolutely vital that the Minister of State outlines in her response the reasons for the delay in the publication of the report and her Department's detailed plan for the expansion of Jigsaw services to other areas. We need to inform this House, the adults who have worked for years on this issue and, most importantly, the young people who have committed to developing Bray for this service since 2012 and so desperately need it.

I thank the Senator. Unfortunately, the Minister of State with special responsibility for mental health services, Deputy Jim Daly, cannot be here. He has asked me to take this Commencement matter.

Mental health continues to be prioritised by the Government within the wider health sector. This has been underpinned by significant new investment annually since 2012. More than €200 million in additional funding has been provided over this period to enhance all aspects of services, thus bringing HSE mental health funding for this year to around €910 million. This is significant by any measure, notwithstanding the need for further investment in the modernisation of services to meet emerging needs and demands.

The HSE funds Jigsaw to provide early intervention mental health services which focus on the needs of young people. Their model provides tangible supports for those with mild or emerging mental health difficulties. There are 13 Jigsaw services in communities across Ireland, underpinned by HSE funding of around €9.8 million last year. In recent years Jigsaw has provided a new service option and approach for the HSE whereby young people can access free and confidential supports from trained mental health professionals. Aside from front-line care, it has been to the fore in tackling wider issues around changing attitudes, raising awareness, reducing stigma and promoting early intervention and recovery. An independent evaluation of the Jigsaw service model was commissioned by the HSE to better understand Jigsaw’s approach to youth mental health and how the service fits alongside other youth mental health services. As has been said, the evaluation took place between March and July 2018. Participants in the evaluation included young people, staff based at the Jigsaw national office and at four local sites in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Kerry and representatives from five community-based mental health organisations.

In addition, Jigsaw data for 2017 was analysed, three online surveys were conducted and relevant literature was reviewed. A delay in the publication of this review arose because the executive wanted to ensure widespread input from the fullest range of stakeholders in the evaluation. As the Senator stated, the HSE expects to have this process completed by end of this year. Such a review is a normal process for any organisation funded by the HSE and was particularly apt in this case following earlier consolidation of Jigsaw services nationally, thus developing a more formal partnership approach with the executive in recent years.

The Government remains firmly committed to following through on the benefits generated to date by the collaboration between the HSE and Jigsaw. Collectively, they have achieved significant progress over a relatively short period of time and this detailed review will help clarify how best to meet future challenges and service requirements.

The Minister of State is leading important and wide-ranging changes across mental health legislation, policy and services. These range from updating the Mental Health Act 2001 to refreshing A Vision for Change. The review of Jigsaw should be seen in the broader context of new opportunities and the Senator can rest assured that the Minister of State will continue to liaise closely with the HSE to conclude the review as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister of State. She will forgive my cynicism. This review was supposed to be commenced in February but only started in March. It has now been pushed out to the end of the year and that is causing concern. Obviously budget 2019 would seem to be an appropriate time to carry out an expansion of the service, particularly for the Bray area, where the community has been site-ready and psychologically ready for the opening of services for young people for many years. I agree that any organisation funded by the HSE must undergo a rigorous audit process and must be reviewed to find the best way to improve its service. However, we are now ignoring the need for expansion. A report out today from Mental Health Reform shows that the vast majority of people do not believe the HSE places enough focus on mental health services. Here we have a site that is ready and people who are ready to expand this much-needed service to the Bray area. I am disappointed that it has been pushed to the end of the year, therefore probably falling outside the window of opportunity for funding for expansion.

I take the Senator's concerns on board. I do not know whether the budget is part of the reason it has been postponed or pushed out to the end of the year. As I am not 100% sure about that, I cannot answer. I acknowledge the work Jigsaw does. I know the work that is done on the ground by Jigsaw, having been in some of the counties around the country where it operates. I heard a conversation about mental health services in this country on radio this morning. More than €910 million is being put into the services. I hope that will continue because we need to focus on young people and mental health, particularly in communities. We must bring mental health services back into the community in order that young people can be assessed in the community in which they live. I will bring the Senator's concerns to the attention of the Minister of State.

Sitting suspended at 11.10 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.