Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children

I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. It is his first visit here and only our second sitting in the Chamber.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for taking this matter. The issue is unaccompanied minors from the Moria camp on Lesbos. It is the largest refugee camp in Europe and home - I use that word lightly - to almost 13,000 men, women and children. The camp was initially built to house less than 3,000. Almost two weeks ago, the camp was burned and 12,000 men, women and children were left on the streets with nothing - no shelter, food or water. Security in the camp had already deteriorated prior to the fire, and tensions were high. The refugees were crammed into overcrowded, inadequate tents, with limited access to food, water, sanitation and healthcare. This has been happening on EU soil.

In 2016, Turkey made a deal with the European Union to stop refugees crossing over to Europe. In my view, that deal should never have taken place. Following the breakdown of the deal, the number of refugees arriving at Lesbos increased substantially. In 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, urged the Greek Government to move asylum seekers away from Lesbos, describing the conditions as at boiling point. At that time there were just 8,000 living in the camp; today there are over 12,000. The situation in Lesbos is critical now and Ireland must act, not just as a member of the European Union but as a decent, First World country that has plenty of resources to deal with this issue.

Following the burning down of the Moria camp, the Greek Government closed access to all mainland and other towns to stop migrants entering them. The migrants have essentially been boxed in and have nowhere to go. These people are fighting for their lives. We have been asked to take in a very small number of unaccompanied minors, another way of describing children. They are small children with no parents or family. Can one imagine any of our children in that situation? I note that the Minister announced last Thursday that Ireland would take in four, in addition to the previous commitment to take in 36. To date, we have taken in just eight. I know that the Minister, as an individual, wishes to take in more. Four children is a start. I do not wish to get angry about this, but I believe the Irish people are angry about it because four is nowhere near enough. Isabel Simpson, the executive director of Médicins Sans Frontières, said that while any commitment to resettle unaccompanied minors and children is welcome, it must be noted that 4,000 minors affected by this fire still remain in insecure and unsafe conditions. She added that the EU should take the Moria disaster as an opportunity for real change in European migration policies of containment and boxing people in, and start with the evacuation of all people from that island.

As a decent First World country, Ireland must do more. The constant response from the Government is that it does not have the money or resources. No child in this country is living in the conditions in which these children are living. They are literally on the side of the street. There is no shelter, food or water, or it is very limited. Two weeks ago, on 13 September, the front page of The Sunday Times carried a photograph that I doubt I will ever forget. It showed a mother running with her young baby. It is said that a picture paints a thousand words, and this was a call for the decency and humanity to take in more of these children. We must do something about it. I am sure that whatever the Minister needs from this House will be forthcoming. We are always caught up in red tape and bureaucracy, saying we cannot do something, we do not have the funding and asking how we will manage. Germany stepped up to the plate a number of years ago when it took in a number of refugees. At the time Angela Merkel was heavily criticised domestically and even in other parts of Europe. There are people who wanted her to fail. They wanted that policy to fail, but it has been successful. She showed real and true leadership when she did that. This is an opportunity for Ireland, as a small nation, to do the same.

I remind our Government, and I am aware that I am a member of it, that we recently campaigned for a seat on the UN Security Council on the basis of promoting human rights and being a voice for the world's most vulnerable yet here we are today taking in just four additional unaccompanied minors. We should be ashamed to suggest that this cuts the mustard; it does not. I would like to see this House engage in a real campaign, working with the Minister, to do whatever it takes to take in those children without delay. I am conscious that it is already two weeks since the fire. What has happened in the past two weeks? Can anybody imagine being in a situation where they do not have food to feed their child, they cannot bathe their child, they do not have clothes for their child, their child does not get to go to school, they do not have any shelter and they are not safe? Can we imagine living in that situation every single day? It does not bear thinking about.

I noted some of the commentary online when this matter was being discussed. One person asked how we can be sure they are minors. Who thinks like that? As a start, we should take the children who do not have parents or guardians out of that camp. Every human being should be evacuated from that camp today. That is what should be happening. That camp should not exist. Every member state of the European Union has the money to deal with this. I am conscious that the person who commented was probably sitting in a very comfortable environment tweeting away on their phone, probably with plenty of food available, a roof over their head and clothes on their back.

We need to take a look at ourselves because we have a seat on the UN Security Council. We are supposed to be a leading light. We are supposed to be leading by example. Let us be a leader in Europe on this issue. Let us not wait for other countries to step up. Let us be the first to do so.

I thank the Senator for raising this very important matter and for speaking with such passion on it. Before I address her, I want to say that it is an honour to be speaking to this House for the first time. I look forward to working with Members here. I know many Members of this House have a very personal and deep interest in the issues that fall within my Department. We have a lot of legislation and many plans coming from my Department within the programme for Government and I look forward to working co-operatively with all of the Members in advancing those, and with the Cathaoirleach also.

Earlier this month, we witnessed the shocking scenes in the Moria camp on Lesbos with the fire destroying large sections of it. Following that tragedy, the German Presidency of the EU made a call to member states requesting their support for the relocation of 400 unaccompanied minors who were resident in the camp. Ireland supports the EU in the effort to relocate unaccompanied minors from Moria. Our support for the EU is part of the wider commitment we have made to accept unaccompanied children from migrant camp settings across Greece. In 2018, Ireland undertook to accept 36 children and eight of those arrived in the State in June of this year. I am happy to be able to report that those eight children are now settling happily into their lives here.

In an immediate response to what happened in Moria two weeks ago, I asked officials in Tusla to examine our capacity to accelerate the arrival of more children and as a result Tusla has said, as the Senator stated, that it has immediate capacity to take four more unaccompanied minors. Those children will arrive in Ireland in the next number of weeks. However, I very much agree with the Senator that we all know Ireland needs to do more. As such, my officials and I continue to work with Tusla to identify how we can provide additional capacity to take more children. Moreover, in the context of the budget 2021 negotiations, which are ongoing, I will be seeking extra financial support to meet our commitments to the unaccompanied minor children in Greece as quickly as possible.

In recent years, a total of 41 children were relocated to Ireland under the Calais Special Project. That project came to a natural conclusion in 2018 as there were no further children who met the criteria of the Dáil resolution. Identifying and transferring children who are living in the Greek refugee camps and wish to come to Ireland is one of two international commitments we have in this area. Once an unaccompanied child has been identified as wishing to come to Ireland and is granted permission to do so by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Tusla officials work with colleagues in the International Organization for Migration to process and prepare the young person. A young person may have experienced real suffering during their stay in the camps. They may need ongoing support with the English language, medical treatment or various therapies to overcome the trauma they would have suffered.

The Senator referred to one particular picture. We have all seen the conditions in Moria. It brings home the very real suffering that everybody there is experiencing.

The second area of our commitment to minors seeking asylum is when they arrive unannounced at our ports or airports. At the end of July, there were 59 separated children seeking asylum in the care of Tusla. It has a dedicated separated children seeking asylum team which has developed expertise over many years through Ireland's participation in other international protection programmes and caring for the majority of unaccompanied minors who arrive unannounced at Irish ports.

Yesterday, HIQA published an inspection report of a children's residential centre which provides care to separated children seeking asylum. The findings were very positive, with the children reporting that they liked the staff and the atmosphere in the centre and were supported in accessing education. This is a real testament to the work done by Tusla and its staff to support these children.

The eight young children who came in June are aged between 15 and 17 years. Children who are younger than this will usually be placed in foster care if that is possible. Children in the 15 to 17-year-old range are usually placed in small residential care settings. Given their age when they arrive and the length of time it might take for them to recover from their experiences, they have to acclimatise to a very different life. They often need very significant after-care supports, including accommodation after they pass the age of 18.

The cost of providing for unaccompanied refugee children in this way are not inconsequential. However, as the Senator said, we have international obligations but we also have moral obligations which trump everything. We have to respond to the crisis we are seeing across the world.

It should be noted that Tusla was not provided with specific additional resources to enable it to meet its care obligations to the 41 children brought in through the special Calais project. As such, I want to restate what I said earlier, namely, that I will work with Tusla in the immediate term to determine if there is any additional capacity. In the context of budget 2021, I will seek to put in place a sustainable funding stream so that we can continue to regularly meet our commitment to unaccompanied minors in Greece as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister. The Senator has one minute.

I thank the Minister for the response. It is much appreciated. At the outset, I want to say that I am appalled that Tusla was not given additional resources from 2018 by the previous Minister and Government. That is quite scandalous.

The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is being asked to take resources from other children in the State to try to fund children coming in from Lesbos. He cannot make that call. Extra resources are clearly needed. After this debate, I will write to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, to ask that he consider that request positively, and I will also write to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe.

In terms of the capacity issue, it is unfair to put the burden on the Minister's Department simply because that is where it sits at the moment. Every Department must play its role. The Department of Justice and Equality has a role to play and should be helping the Minister with this, rather than foisting it on to him and telling him that it is now his problem. That is what is happening. The problem is being pushed around and people are saying that it is not their responsibility and is instead someone else's responsibility. That is how everything happens in this country. It is not acceptable for this particular issue.

As the Minister said, we have a moral obligation which trumps everything else. We have enough money in the State to deal with this and an awful lot more. Why not be a bit more radical about this? Why not put out a public call to Irish citizens for a fostering programme and ask who is willing to take unaccompanied minors from Moria camp in Lesbos? There should be a separate campaign with separate funding to deal with this particular issue.

The Minister should not be asked to take money from other aspects of Tusla's work because it is already underfunded and does not have sufficient money. I would support a very strong call from the House that the Minister be given extra resources to deal with this issue.

I know that 18 aid agencies have written directly to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and other Ministers. The chief executive of Oxfam Ireland said in his letter that the young refugees currently being held in Greece are already experiencing the trauma of separation from and loss of their families as well as displacement. Can one imagine any child who is seven or eight years old having no parents, loved ones or family connections and who is not in his or her own home? Every week that ticks by they are left alone.

Action is urgently needed, not in three weeks or three months' time. It is needed now. We need to be a leader on this. Whatever it takes from the House, the Minister will have our support.

I thank the Senator for her offer of support. If she could send those letters I would appreciate it. I am very happy for the Department to take responsibility but I need additional resources. If they can be achieved it will make a huge difference.

I had thought about the point the Senator made about our fostering campaign and we will have a general national fostering campaign. I have spoken to Tusla, and in light of the significant needs many of these children have some of the level of care required may be best delivered in a residential setting. I will let Tusla make the call on this. I have discussed the issue with it and I am not ruling it out. As we have outlined, these children have experienced trauma the likes of which none of us knows.

The Senator said the 13,000 people in Moria camp call it their "home". If one good thing can be said, it is that the HIQA report demonstrates to me that the children we have been able to move here are now calling this home. They do see themselves as supported and protected. We just need to bring more children over and put them in a similar situation. I thank the Senator for raising this very important issue.

Childcare Services

I welcome the Minister and I will cut right to the chase. Two weeks ago, the Minister conducted a feature interview in The Business Post with the journalist, Michael Brennan. It was a very large splash. In that interview, the Minister set out his plans for childcare in this country, a practice that is becoming the norm in modern politics whereby politicians brief the newspapers rather than the Dáil or the Seanad on their policies. In the interview, the Minister alluded to the fact his civil servants in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs are distinctly unenthusiastic about the 30 county childcare committees that provide support for approximately 4,900 childcare services in Ireland. He referenced a briefing note provided to him by them that states the structure does not lend itself to providing the national consistency sought by the Department. Michael Brennan is one of the most respected journalists in the building. He does not make things up and those comments did not come out of fresh air onto the pages. For a new Minister and, in fact, a new Deputy to belittle an entire system like that was, quite frankly, galling.

This followed a period when the childcare system in this country was working flat out to try to implement whatever was coming out of the Department on a daily basis during lockdown when nobody knew what they were doing. I do not think I have to tell the Minister that the 26,000 underpaid, overstressed and completely undervalued childcare workers in this country do not ring the Department's offices in Miesian Plaza for support on the ground; they ring the childcare offices in the counties, which they know intimately and trust and which provide on the ground support for those who need it and have done so for the 20 years since they were established. I know this first hand because my wife is at the coalface with them. Neither do they ring Pobal, an organisation the Minister praised in the interview, while belittling the childcare structures. Pobal is another quango that has grown bigger than anyone can comprehend. The transcript of its appearance before the Committee of Public Accounts last December, which I was at, is something the Minister should read.

In the interview, the Minister referenced the annual cost of the county childcare structure of €11 million, creating the impression of being reforming by axing the committees. Let us look at the money the Department spends. As the Minister said, 30 childcare committees receive €11 million to support the 4,870 childcare services throughout Ireland. When they were established in 2000, they received a total of €7 million. Back then, they supported 1,163 childcare services. We can see how childcare has grown in the country over the past 20 years, where some additional 4,000 providers are in the system. In that 20 years, by how much has childcare funding increased? It has merely gone from €7 million to €11 million to support an additional 4,000 providers. The system the officials think is not fit for purpose has managed to support an additional 4,000 providers with just an additional €4 million in support over that 20 years. In stark contrast, the big beast that is Pobal was managing a budget of €750 million when last we looked at it at the Committee of Public Accounts in December.

For those same 4,800 childcare providers customer satisfaction with regard to that organisation would not be glowing, which I am sure he will find out when he engages with it.

I sincerely hope the Minister improves the lot of those in this sector. Lip service has often been paid to it but it has not received the support it requires. People believe this is a system that is awash with money but it is struggling to make ends meet and has the lowest-paid workers who are providing essential education. I stress that point. It is the first entry point to education for our youngest citizens. I hope that when the Minister engages in the reform that he promised he will acknowledge what is being done by highly-qualified professionals in the county childcare structure rather than trundling out what the civil servants wanted to see published in the paper.

I thank the Senator. I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss the future of early learning and care and school-age childcare in the country, particularly the role of the city and county childcare committees. I appreciate the Senator pushing back this Commencement matter by a week to allow me address the matter directly.

The 20 city and county childcare committees, CCCs, which operate nationwide and are funded by my Department, act as the local agent for my Department in the co-ordination and delivery of national early education and childcare programmes and the implementation of Government policy at a local level. They have a key role in facilitating and supporting the development of quality, accessible early learning and care and school-age childcare services for the overall benefit of children and their parents.

The CCCs provide invaluable support, guidance and advice to the early learning and care and school-age childcare sector. Over the past number of months they have been a vital mechanism whereby my Department has been able to disseminate the information and the guidance needed by the sector to respond to Covid-19. I want to recognise the major role CCCs have played across this time.

CCCs are often the first point of contact for service providers and in that respect they have assisted service providers with a broad range of issues from reopening supports such as how to implement a play pod system and comply with the public health guidelines, providing services with sustainability supports, providing information on funding and assisting services, and childminders, in accessing capital and reopening grant programmes to name but a few. CCCs also provide training, mentoring and information on quality practice and how to meet statutory regulations. As well as assisting service providers, they also have a key role in providing guidance for parents and families in sourcing quality, early learning and care and school-age childcare services.

It should be noted that no decision has been taken on the future of the city and county childcare committees nor has any decision been pre-supposed by the Department, its officials or myself, as Minister.

In reference to the quotation, the Deputy is right that Michael Brennan is a brilliant journalist but he was quoting something that was in a briefing docent. What is in quotes in that are not my words. If it was taken in context as my words I could see how the CCC sector would be very concerned but those are not my words.

In First 5: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2019-2028, which was published in November 2018, the Department committed to completing a comprehensive review of the operating model for early learning and care and school-age childcare in the country.

Following a Cabinet decision that was taken in July, my Department has begun to undertake an independent review process regarding the many bodies and organisations under its remit as part of the existing system and of which CCCs form a part. The review's objective is to ensure that the operating system is equipped to ensure continued high-quality childcare can be delivered to the scale and standards required in the sector which has seen substantial growth in the past decades, with parents and children as the core beneficiaries.

The final operating system will support high-quality, accessible and affordable early learning and care and school-age childcare services to children and families through the efficient and effective administration of a number of programmes, schemes and quality initiatives and other functions such as compliance and communications. The operating model will support providers, operate transparently and accountably, provide value for money to the Exchequer and demonstrate good governance. The model will also enable appropriate linkages and effective working relations with all the other agencies and Departments charged with delivering better outcomes for children and families.

The review will formally commence at the end of this month and will conclude in July 2021. The review will be led by my Department, with appropriate assistance from external bodies secured by tender. In addition, the Department will engage with all relevant stakeholders, including CCCs, in the process.

I assure the Senator that no decision has been reached as to the future status of any of the support structures operating within the early learning and care and school-age childcare sector, including city and county childcare committees.

Next week, I will be meeting representatives from Childcare Committees Ireland, the representative body in this sector. Any decision taken on the future structure of the system used to administer childcare will be informed by a robust evidence base and high-quality, independent analysis. To this end, I will be awaiting the report on the review before making any determination as to the future landscape of the sector.

I thank the Minister for his response. He spoke about a review but that review has clearly been prejudiced. Any report on the system has clearly been prejudiced by the interview in the Business Post. I acknowledged a briefing note was provided to Michael Brennan and prepared by civil servants but Mr. Brennan was going to publish it. As a result of this, the Minister has adopted a scorched-earth approach, beginning a Borg-like attack on the childcare system and creating yet another monster like Irish Water. The approach is taking away the on-the-ground structures. The old water departments in the councils knew what they were doing. We are now creating a giant of a body that will not. How can anyone have confidence in the independence of the review if it has been prejudiced from the get-go?

When he was proceeding in the way that he did, did the Minister think about the professionals who were reading his remarks without his having engaged with them? Imagine if the Minister saw an article by the Taoiseach in the Sunday newspapers in which he wanted the Minister gone in the belief that he was not providing the consistency sought by the Taoiseach's office, thus echoing the words used by the Department about the professionals, without having a chat with him. It would not be nice to read when listening to "Sunday with Miriam" and eating one's corn flakes. I ask the Minister to think for a moment about the thousands of professionals who had that very experience two weeks ago as a result of the interview, and about the hurt it caused in the profession. I ask him to acknowledge that.

Absolutely nothing has been prejudiced by me. I am listening very carefully. Over the past 12 weeks, since I have taken on this role, I have met a large number of providers in the sector. I am meeting representatives from Childcare Committees Ireland next week and we will discuss its valuable role in this process.

In any public engagement I have had, and in every opportunity I have had over the past 12 weeks, I have noted the incredible work done across all areas in childcare. It has been a tough year. The childcare sector led the way on 29 June when it started to reopen across the country. The good model and way in which the public health guidance was applied with such rigour by childcare professionals and other providers across the country made me genuinely confident that when we were to reopen schools at the start of this month, September, it would work well. We have had only 63 instances of Covid among all the childcare providers in the country. These have been addressed in accordance with the public health guidelines.

I am incredibly supportive of the work done by everybody in this sector. I am aware that some bodies, such as the city and county childcare committees, have been invaluable in supporting providers. I look forward to meeting representatives from Childcare Committees Ireland next week to discuss these matters.

Light Rail Projects

This matter is being taken by the Minister of State responsible for land use and biodiversity, Senator Hackett. I thank her for attending again. This is her second day in the Seanad Chamber. That is nearly a record.

I echo what the Cathaoirleach said. I welcome the Minister of State. I very much welcome the fact that a Member of this House is a Minister of State. I congratulate the Senator on her appointment. It is a major innovation. The last time this was tried was with the late Senator James Dooge. That was a long time ago. The Constitution provides for someone such as Senator Hackett to be a Minister of State. I am very glad that is the case.

The topic I am raising concerns the future of the MetroLink project and the southern route to be adopted in respect of it.

Deputy Ryan, who is now the Minister with responsibility for transport, passionately supported routing the southern end of the project towards Rathfarham and Churchtown, between the red and green lines of the existing Luas structure. On other occasions, he suggested routing it between the DART and the Luas green line towards Belfield and places like that. The one thing he was very clear about was that he opposed the cannibalisation of the Luas green line and its incorporation into the MetroLink project for two reasons. First, it would involve closing the Luas green line for between 18 months and two years. Second, we have that transport corridor which has public transport already established and the aim must be to have different corridors for major investment in public transport infrastructure. I noted that the Government has recently made a statement about the possibility of doing an extension of the Luas toward Finglas and the like. It may be a good idea in itself, but the worrying thing is that it would take at least ten years to be put in place. There is already a complete study and proposal for a Luas-type service to Lucan, which has just been shelved. The vibe I am getting from those involved in the MetroLink project is that they are going ahead with a project as they originally suggested, namely, to bring it to the Charlemont station on the Grand Canal and extend it south from there in a tunnel which would act as a kind of underground depot. This would eventually facilitate the incorporation of the Luas green line into the metro system.

During the last general election campaign, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in particular campaigned extensively on the proposition that he did not want to end the Luas green line at Charlemont as is proposed by the MetroLink people, but that he wanted to afford different parts of Dublin the advantage of being the southern end of the MetroLink project to Dublin Airport. I now see it is proposed at some stage in the next year to publish a transportation strategy, but my information is that the planning of the MetroLink project, which has already cost a staggering total of €170 million, is proceeding at pace. They are drilling and taking samples of earth in Ely Place, Ranelagh and places like that. They are proceeding as if there were no real option open but to proceed with the proposal they have themselves. As such I ask the Minister of State, who is representing the Minister at this Commencement matters debate, to indicate what it is the Government is proposing. Has it decided to allow MetroLink to proceed as if the election had not happened and as if all of the commitments had not been made, or has there instead been no change in Government policy in this regard?

I thank the Senator for his kind words at the start of his remarks. I am here on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who is taking Oral Questions in the other House. It is a rather unfortunate clash but that is the way it goes. I thank the Senator for the opportunity to address this issue in the House today.

This Government is committed to a fundamental change in the nature of transport in Ireland. We believe that to deliver on this commitment means we need a whole-system perspective across all modes of transport, whether that is active travel, bus or rail. That means developing evidence-based, multi-modal transport strategies that guide development over the medium and longer term. These transport strategies should be integrated with land-use plans and enable local authorities to locate houses, jobs and other demand attractors along high-capacity transport corridors.

This is the type of framework that many of our European and international peers use and it is the framework that can deliver fundamental change. We are beginning to see the emergence of that framework in Ireland.

There is a statutory 20-year transport strategy in the greater Dublin area, GDA. The strategy covers all modes in all counties in the GDA, that is, Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. The transport strategy must be reflected in all land use plans and is subject to extensive and statutory consultation during its development. The historical complaint that there is no transport strategy for Dublin no longer holds. As part of the current transport strategy, there were plans for two metro lines, effectively, a metro north and a metro south. Those projects were initially considered for development as one project, known as MetroLink. That project was subject to extensive, non-statutory public consultation. During that consultation various issues were raised regarding the proposed route, particularly regarding the proposed upgrade of the existing Luas green line. In response to those issues, the preferred route for MetroLink is now proposed to link the estuary in north County Dublin with Charlemont on the Grand Canal. The project will be future-proofed so that a connection between the MetroLink and the Luas green line can be provided in the future.

However, we still must tackle capacity on the Luas green line. There are two approaches to that. First, there is an ongoing Luas green line capacity enhancement project. This project has already delivered an expanded depot in Sandyford and is increasing all 26 existing trams to 55 m in length. Fifteen of those extensions are already in service, with another two due this month. Second, there are eight additional 55 m trams arriving, with three of the trams already here and the rest scheduled to arrive in the first quarter of next year. This project will increase capacity by almost 30% compared to previous capacity. However, more is needed to cope with the expected increase in demand on the Luas green line and other options are under consideration over the medium term, above and beyond the current project.

Returning to the transport strategy, there is a need to review and refresh it to ensure it is kept up to date and informed by latest developments. The need to review and refresh is a requirement of the legislation, which states that the strategy must be reviewed every six years. The NTA has started work on the review and, next year, will launch a public consultation and engage with the public on this issue. As part of the review, the NTA will commission analysis of other potential metro routes in Dublin, such as a metro to the south east or to the south west, and establish a refreshed evidence base to underpin transport planning in the region. These analyses will be published as part of next year's consultation on the broader strategy.

I hope this clarifies the situation for the Senator and look forward to hearing his views.

I note there were some additions in pencil in the document that was given to me. One of them is particularly revealing because it suggests that the Minister is considering doing a turn-back facility at St. Stephen's Green. That suggests there is a proposal to have a loop at St. Stephen's Green for the MetroLink project. That is interesting. However, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, told the voters in his constituency, at great length and repeatedly, that he wanted a different outcome from the one that was then being proposed, to marry the MetroLink to the Luas green line. He proposed two alternative routes and spoke at various public meetings about this. He has also spoken on the record of this House about it. I know he is planning a transport review, and he now says he will consider alternative routes. This pencilled piece of handwriting on the document appears to suggest that other things are being considered and the public is not being made aware of them. I do not know whether the Minister, Senator Hackett, wrote on this or it is somebody else's writing, but I would like somebody to explain what this new facility at St. Stephen's Green, a so-called turn-back facility, is.

Indeed, those are my scribbled notes. I did not bring the original copies with me so the Senator is getting some inside information.

The Minister made information available.

I queried that before I came up here. I asked about it because I noticed there was mention of other options in the script. I chatted with some of the officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. That turn-back facility in St. Stephen's Green seems a potential option. I could certainly engage with the officials and find out if there are other options because the script indicates that there are. I am interested to know what those options are. I will pass that information back and if I get information to share with the Senator in return, I will be happy to pass it on to him.

I was not seeking to embarrass the Minister of State at all.

The Senator is fine.

Senator McDowell would never do that.

I thank the Minister of State for her frank confession.

Sitting suspended at 11.20 a.m. and resumed at 12.35 p.m.