Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Animal Diseases

I thank the Minister of State for taking this important matter. I know he prioritised doing so and that he has a genuine interest in the issue to which it relates. His assistance with this serious matter is much appreciated, particularly as it is affecting farmers in County Waterford and further afield. This Commencement matter, a number of parliamentary questions that were submitted in recent weeks and other questions sent to the Minister of State's office emanate from a meeting I held with Waterford members of the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, a couple of weeks ago, at which the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, was present. At that meeting, it was brought to my attention there has been an increase in bovine TB outbreaks in the west Waterford and north Cork areas. The people present felt there was a strong correlation between vacancies in the regional veterinary office responsible for the administration and delivery of the TB eradication programme, which seeks to put effective controls in place.

As the Minister of State is aware, in 2020 bovine TB rates rose above 4% for the first time since 2012. While the specific cause of each of TB outbreak varies, it is a well-established fact that badgers play a central role in the spreading of TB to cattle. In order to eradicate TB, we have to address the risk posed by badgers. I know the Department, through the regional veterinary offices, is committed to removing badgers from areas in which there is a severe TB outbreak in cattle, which has been shown to be linked to badgers and is committed to vaccinated badgers where the risk posed to cattle by infected badgers has been brought under control.

Unfortunately, the success of the programme is determined by the number of staff available to carry out vaccinations and, in many cases, remove badgers from areas where there is a challenge. There clearly is a challenge in Waterford, particularly in the western part of the county. The figures with which I have been provided show herd incidence of bovine TB on 21 October 2019 stood at 2.3%. Today it stands at 4.78% and rising, which is very concerning and the impact of rising TB outbreaks is far-reaching. The disease causes untold hardship for farmers and farm families in rural island whose herds have to be culled. While the Department operates a good TB compensation scheme, it does not compensate for the distress and fear widespread among the communities I represent due to the rising number of cases.

How many vacant posts exist in the Waterford and Cork North regional veterinary offices? What is the current incidence rate within these regional veterinary office, RVO, areas? When will these posts be filled?

While of course we must support farm families who are unfortunate enough to suffer TB outbreaks, there is an element of being penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to having vacancies in our RVOs. On one hand we are paying out in excess of €19 million in compensation for the culling of 22,245 animals across 5,217 herds and on the other hand we have 86 staff vacancies according to a reply I received to a parliamentary question. If we filled these vacancies it would have a dramatic positive impact on bringing the incidence of TB outbreaks under control. From my interactions with farmers, I know they are committed to working with the Department and the regional veterinary offices, but they must have the confidence the staff are in place in those regional veterinary offices to help them in tackling what is a very serious problem. I would appreciate the Minister of State's response in the matter.

I thank Senator Cummins for raising this issue,which is important nationally but obviously in the area of Waterford in particular, as the Senator has outlined. I am acutely aware of the financial and emotional burden faced by farmers after a TB breakdown. We must do everything we can, working together as a sector, to tackle this problem. I come from a suckler farm in south Kildare and I remember more than 20 years ago, when I was a schoolboy, the devastation that hit us by having a reactor. It really is devastating. I remember the feeling around the house. It is a blow to the whole family and the whole family farm enterprise and I would not wish it on anybody.

The bovine TB, BTB, eradication programme is implemented through 16 regional veterinary offices, RVOs, throughout the country. The RVOs are operated and managed by two area management teams, AMTs, whose main function is to ensure delivery of the programme and verification of effective controls. These RVOs are staffed by teams of veterinary, technical and administrative personnel. Teams do not solely work on the BTB eradication programme. They are also involved in various other animal health and welfare programmes.

Unfortunately, due to retirements, promotions and transfers, vacancies can arise within these RVOs from time to time. I have been made aware of the vacant positions and I recognise the urgency in filling these posts. It is imperative that posts are filled as soon as possible. As of 7 November 2021, the number of vacancies nationally within the RVOs is five veterinary vacancies, 17 technical vacancies and 12 administrative vacancies, which is a total number of 34.

Within the Waterford RVO, as Senator Cummins has raised, there are no veterinary vacancies but there are three technical vacancies. There are no administrative vacancies, so the total vacancies in Waterford RVO is three. However, I wish to include the Cork North RVO which covers a significant portion of west Waterford and which Senator Cummins referred to specifically. In regard to Cork North RVO there are no veterinary vacancies but there are also three technical vacancies and one clerical officer vacancy, which is a total of four. It is important to note the figures do not include staff members on different types of leave such as maternity, parental leave and so on.

Following many successful years of reducing bovine TB levels to the benefit of Irish farmers and the sector, there is a concerning incremental increase in the disease since 2016. In 2020, herd incidence on a year-to-year basis breached 4% for the first time since 2012 and reactor numbers exceeded 20,000, the highest number since 2009. There are positive indications of progress however. The TB situation for 2021 is likely to represent an improvement compared with 2020. Working together, we can build on this momentum. On a year-to-date basis, as of 7 November 2021, national herd incidence stands at 4.18%. Waterford herd incidence stands at 5.05%. Cork North herd incidence stands at 8.34%. The specific causes of each outbreak of TB varies according to the particular epidemiological circumstances and requires a range of actions to address the problem.

Within each county the TB programme focuses on wildlife, how disease is distributed in the area, continuous programmes, gamma interferon, blood testing, cleansing and disinfecting, testing compliance and isolation of reactors. Each TB outbreak is investigated by a veterinary inspector to identify the likely source of the infection. In the case of every outbreak involving two or more standard reactors, there is a veterinary visit to advise the herd owner on how to eliminate infection and necessary measures to assist in reducing the risk of recurrence. This disease causes untold hardship for farms and farm families, and although the challenge is serious, my Department, working together with stakeholders and engaging with farmers, is committed to driving down the levels of this disease and eradicating it. I acknowledge the concerns Senator Cummins raised, and for us in the Department to play our part in working closely with all stakeholders and farmers, we need the full complement of staff in those offices. My officials are working hard to fill vacancies as they arise.

I welcome the commitment of the Minister of State. I will take up a couple of points. In a reply to a parliamentary question issued on 3 November the Department stated the 16 regional veterinary offices currently had a complement of 738 staff working and 86 vacancies. Today the figure provided by the Minister of State for 7 November indicates only 34 vacancies. Either there was a massive increase in staff between 3 and 7 November or one of the figures is wrong. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could investigate that matter, because I am taking this matter very seriously.

The figure the Minister of State gave for the incidence rate of 5.05% for Waterford is higher than the 4.78% that was provided to me on 26 October. Frankly, the Cork figure of 8.34% is very alarming and that is reflective of what farmers are telling me on the ground. Clearly we have a rising incidence rate and we need to fill those vacancies without delay, specifically the three technical vacancies in both Waterford and Cork North RVOs. As I said, farmers will work with the Department but they must have the confidence the RVOs are fully staffed to assist them in tackling what is a very serious problem in these areas. I know the Minister of State is committed to assisting in that regard.

I thank the Senator for his detailed supplementary reply. I will look at that parliamentary response he received from the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. If there is a discrepancy between the numbers, it is important to note that the figures I have today do not include staff members on different types of leave. However, there is a sizeable gap between those two numbers, so I will check that and revert to the Senator on it.

Earlier this year the Minister launched a new bovine TB eradication strategy for 2021 to 2030. The implementation of this strategy is overseen by the TB stakeholder forum with support from three new working groups on science, implementation and finance to ensure all aspects of the strategy are addressed. These working groups comprise representatives from all stakeholders. Extensive consultation with the three working groups will develop a shared understanding of how collectively we can reduce TB incidence along with implementing the new TB eradication strategy. I accept the Senator's point of concern that, while there are not veterinary vacancies in Waterford, there are technical staff vacancies, as I have outlined. I want to put the full range of that on the record of the House. Only by acknowledging that challenge can we fix it in as timely a manner as possible. My officials are working very hard to do that and I am happy to stay in close contact with the Senator on this important issue for farmers in the Waterford region.

Community Care

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, to the House. I wish to raise an issue which is very important for many people in Monasterevin, County Kildare. This issue has been going on since 2014. I am seeking an update, and wish to go through some detail with the Minister of State. The day care centre in Monasterevin was closed by HSE Estates in 2014 on health and safety grounds, and since then Monasterevan Gaelic Football Club, GFC, has kindly allowed the day care committee to rent its pavilion to continue this service on an interim basis.

The users, the committee and the entire town of Monasterevin are deeply grateful to Monasterevan GFC for the use of its premises. However, the arrangement will cause increasing problems for Monasterevan GFC as, with reducing Covid restrictions, the club will need its facilities more. This could limit the time allotted to the day care service and the services the centre provides to many in the community. Planning permission for the refurbishment and development was granted 18 months ago on 27 May 2020. In further good news, the fire safety and disabled access certificates were approved in April of this year. In a recent reply to a parliamentary question from my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, the Minister advised that the project continues to progress to tender stage and, in a further reply, that all capital development proposals must progress through a number of approval stages, including planning and design, before a firm timeline or funding requirement can be established.

The Monasterevin day care committee is a voluntary organisation trying to fulfil a need in the community with the help of the HSE. Its founding members developed with the help of the HSE and HSE estates the day care centre in 1996, 25 years ago. Over the years, the centre acquired a special place in the lives and affections of the community. It was a great shock to the town and a loss to the community when the centre closed in 2014, a loss which is still felt sorely. The community of Monasterevin looks forward to the reopening of the Monasterevin day care centre. I know a number of those who attend the centre and it is their life. Without it, many of them would have a huge void. For many, it is their only social outlet and I would appreciate any assistance on this important matter. The committee is working night and day to reopen the centre. I have spoken to many users over the last couple of days and they have been in contact with me over a long period. They are looking to go back to the old centre they were in in 2014. The facilities in Monasterevan GFC are excellent but we need a purpose-built unit. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.

I thank the Senator for his Commencement matter. I am standing in for the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, who cannot attend.

Day care services for the town of Monasterevin were historically provided from an old GP surgery on Drogheda Street. The HSE had to restrict access to the building in 2014 due to health and safety issues. Services were moved to the Monasterevan GAA Club on a temporary basis while significant refurbishment works are being undertaken. The building on Drogheda Street is an existing two-storey house that is listed as a protected structure which will be renovated and refurbished as part of this project. This will ensure the centre is fit for purpose to house an older persons' day services unit and primary care services.

Work is continuing on the preparation of tender documents for this project and all statutory approvals, including planning permission, fire safety certificate and disability access certificate, have been received. Tender documents are expected to issue in quarter 1 of 2022, followed by an 18-month construction programme with completion anticipated for 2023.

All capital development proposals must progress through a number of approval stages, in line with the public spending code, including detailed appraisal, planning, design and procurement, before a firm timeline or funding requirement is established.

The delivery of capital projects is a dynamic process and is subject to the successful completion of the various approval stages. The final decision to proceed with construction of a project cannot be made until the tender process has been completed and the costings reviewed to ensure the proposal delivers value for money and remains affordable, and that sufficient funding is available to fund the project to completion, including equipping and commissioning costs.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. This is so important for the town of Monasterevin. For many of the older people who use the centre, this is their life. Two days a week they head down to Monasterevan GAA to enjoy the facilities. It is a social outlet. The committee hopes to extend that to three days a week when the new centre opens. The question arising from what the Minister of State has said today and the timelines he has given is whether the HSE is 100% sure we will have a new day care centre in Monasterevin to incorporate the older persons' facilities.

People from the town of Monasterevin and those involved in the project have looked for a firm timeline. The Minister of State has given us quarter 1 of 2022 for the issue of tender documents and an anticipated finishing date of 2023. Will the Minister of State give a commitment that the people of Monasterevin will have a new, modern, fit-for-purpose day care centre in 2023 for those who enjoy this social outlet and benefit from the great committee that organises this on a daily basis? I look forward to that reply.

I acknowledge the case the Senator has put forward. I know and appreciate how hard groups like the committee he referred to work on the ground delivering vital services to vulnerable people. I acknowledge their hard work. The circumstances they operate under can be difficult. He has put forward a strong case. As stated in the reply, tender documentation is to be received in quarter 1 and construction is to be completed in 2023. I will revert to the Minister for Health and try to get a firmer commitment. I know, based on the reply, that it is the intention for this to proceed and the work to be carried out. It is clear there is a demand and it has to be met. The Senator rightly pointed out that there is a significant challenge at the moment but as we emerge from Covid, the club will need its facilities back, which is a good thing in one sense. We have to provide an alternative for vulnerable people. The Senator has made a strong case and I will bring it back to the Minister for Health.

State Examinations

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I raise the issue of the leaving certificate Chinese Mandarin course, which is in its infancy and being put together by the Department of Education. This may be a niche issue because we do not have huge take-up on it yet but there is an opportunity for Irish schoolchildren to get involved in and study Mandarin.

An issue of controversy arises regarding the use of the characters or script used for learning Mandarin. Mandarin is the official language in China but is one dialect of thousands existing across that country, many of which are mutually unintelligible and as different as German and Spanish. It is understandable that the Chinese have chosen to identify one dialect, namely, the Han dialect of Mandarin, to be the lingua franca and it allows them all to communicate. When the simplified characters were brought in in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a solid rationale for that. They were brought in by the People's Republic of China and the communist party primarily to address literacy issues after the creation of the state in 1949. One in five people could read or write in China at that time. For understandable reasons, the Chinese Government decided to put in place an easier script for them to use. Traditional Chinese script, which has been in use for thousands of years, has thousands of characters and is complex. The idea of simplified characters existed long before the communist party put it into practise in 1949 and after. However, there are still large communities in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao who continue to use the traditional characters. Those characters bring with them a huge breadth of cultural and historical significance that is lost with the simplified characters. I do not criticise the use of simplified characters. They were effective in bringing an enormous population into the bounds of literacy.

The difficulty I have is that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, under the aegis of the Department of Education, has made the decision that the leaving certificate course here will only deal with the simplified characters used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, thereby excluding those who come from areas where traditional characters are used. That is at variance with many other English-language jurisdictions around the world, like the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. They have offered students the choice between the two different scripts. They can do the exams, coarse and curriculum in either the simplified characters or the traditional ones used in certain areas. I recognise the Minister said on 8 July this was designed for ab initio learners, rather than immigrant or migrant communities. However, many thousands or even tens of thousands of people in this country come from Hong Kong, Taiwan or a community where the traditional characters are used.

By putting this in place, we know they will still study leaving certificate Mandarin but we are denying them the opportunity to learn that aspect of the script and the culture that is attached to Mandarin Chinese. The other aspect is that if they only learn the simplified characters, it denies them access to another corpus of literature and material, and all that comes with that, which they might otherwise have.

The issue I am raising today is not to say we should not have simplified characters or that they are in any way wrong; it is to say that we should be giving students the choice. There is a real gap in the curriculum in that we are saying they must deal with one type of script when there are two available and two in use all over the world, sometimes necessarily, for example, in the United States, to communicate to both communities who use them. I hope the Minister of State can take that on board.

I thank Senator Ward for raising this issue. I want to give the apologies of the Minister for Education, who cannot be present today.

Languages Connect - Ireland's Strategy for Foreign Languages in Education 2017-2026 aims to increase and diversify the range of languages taught and learned in line with the European framework of key competences for lifelong learning of 2007, which recognises the ability to communicate in a foreign language as one of the key competences needed for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment. Enterprise Ireland had identified eight languages as important for Ireland's future skills needs: German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Japanese. In the words of Enterprise Ireland:

A workforce possessed of significant foreign language capabilities will make Ireland a more attractive destination for investment, and provide the skills required by our indigenous companies to enable them to expand into overseas markets.

Languages Connect provided for the development of a "Leaving Certificate specification in Mandarin Chinese for non-native speakers (L3) as a follow on from the Junior Cycle short course in Chinese Language and Culture" and for specifications in "Portuguese, Polish and Lithuanian aimed at mother tongue speakers (L1) to replace existing non-curricular provision". There was very significant consultation in the lead-up to the development of this strategy. Subject specifications, including for leaving certificate Mandarin Chinese, are developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA. The development process is a thorough one, involving extensive consultation, following which the subject specification is approved through the representative structures of the NCCA and subsequently approved by the Department. The State Examinations Commission then implements examinations in line with the subject specification and the overall policy framework.

The State Examinations Commission is required to conduct its examinations in a manner that is faithful to the approved subject specification developed by the NCCA and in line with assessment policy as set out by the Department. The assessment of the leaving certificate Mandarin Chinese programme is based on the specification and provides that candidates must respond to questions on the examination paper using simplified characters in line with the specification. Heritage speakers are also welcome to study the course and sit the exam, but it has been designed for students with no prior knowledge of Mandarin. By contrast, the Portuguese specification is intended for learners of all language backgrounds, including heritage learners. While Mandarin Chinese is pitched at pre-A1 or A1 level, Portuguese is pitched at A2 or B1 level.

The new language specifications broadly align with the common European framework of reference for languages, CEFR. Within CEFR, there is an EU project, European benchmarking Chinese language, to incorporate the Chinese language into the CEFR framework. If the design of the leaving certificate Mandarin Chinese specification had been for native speakers and-or encompassed both sets of characters, the differences in the two forms of characters would also have had implications for vocabulary, syntax and language use. This would present great challenges across teaching, learning and assessment, which would also have impacts on higher education language programmes and initial teacher education. The Department will consider the potential to develop a specification for leaving certificate Mandarin Chinese for native speakers, L1.

Much of that is information the Minister, Deputy Foley, has put into the public domain before. One change is that she had said previously that this might have implications for vocabulary, syntax, language use and, potentially, cultural use. She seems to have dropped the cultural aspect whereas I would see this as being exactly the crux of the issue. There is a significant difference in the experience of language learners depending on whether they are using simplified or traditional characters. My concern is that, even with new learners, we are cutting them off from a whole corpus of literature from places like Taiwan and Hong Kong, and many members of the immigrant community here come from those countries.

The real danger is that we are exposing ourselves to an accusation that we are selling out this curriculum to a foreign power - that being Beijing and China - and that we are only adopting theirs because, in that way, students of Mandarin only have access to literature and, indeed, propaganda that comes from the Chinese Communist Party and the centralised government in Beijing. That is an accusation that will be made and, I think, already has been made against this. That is the real danger. We can counter that by broadening the curriculum and allowing the facility for more people to learn the traditional script as well.

I again thank Senator Ward for his remarks and for the very strong case which he has put forward, backed up by evidence. I will revert to the Minister, Deputy Foley, with the content of the Senator's response. I will set out clearly the evidence he has put on the table here today in terms of the benefits to our State that this can potentially have, but also the accusations that the State could potentially be open to unintended consequences, given the direction the Department is currently going in. I will raise that with the Minister, Deputy Foley, and ask her to revert directly to the Senator.

Appointments to State Boards

I would like to use my time this morning to raise the manner in which the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is making appointments to the Climate Change Advisory Council. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. We engaged in extensive prelegislative scrutiny of the climate Bill, where we heard from leading experts on international best practice for climate law and carbon budgets. During that prelegislative scrutiny, the make-up of the Climate Change Advisory Council was discussed at length. It was accepted that the previous council was disproportionately made up of economists and that any new council must have a broader range of expertise. It was also pointed out that Ireland was an outlier in having ex officio members as full members of the council and that representatives of State bodies should only serve in an advisory capacity.

We then heard about the importance of a public appointments process. We were told that the members of the Climate Change Advisory Council must be independent and they must be in a position to hold whatever Government it may be to account if it fails to meet its legally binding targets. We were advised that the hallmark of independence is the appointments process. We were told of the need for positions to be publicly advertised and filled by open competition. The Joint Committee on Climate Action agreed with this advice and included that recommendation in its prelegislative report to the Minister, Deputy Ryan.

In February, before the climate Bill passed, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, made a number of appointments to the council. I questioned the process of those appointments and was informed they were made under the provisions of the 2015 Act and that future appointments would be made when the new Bill passed. Sinn Féin put forward detailed amendments to the new Bill calling for a similar appointments process to that for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Other members of the Opposition supported our amendments calling for a public appointments process. None of those amendments were accepted. In fact, we were assured there was no need for the amendments because a protocol has been in place for appointments since 2014. Therefore, the House can imagine our surprise and disappointment when the Minister, Deputy Ryan, proceeded to appoint more members to the Climate Change Advisory Council in October with no process at all. It was simply that the Minister said that he knows best and that the people appointed were qualified.

If that does not sound exactly like Zappone and the arrogance that we heard from the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on the Zappone appointment, then I do not know what does. Nobody is saying that the people appointed are not qualified. Nobody is calling into question their expertise but it appears that this Government has learned nothing from Zapponegate. Ministers cannot and should not go around appointing their friends to publicly paid positions just because they think they are the best person for the job. If they are the best person for the job, then they have nothing to fear from a competitive process.

Appointments to boards cannot be about rewarding friends who canvassed for you or who took to social media to support your leadership challenge or who argued strongly for the Green Party to go into government during those talks. That is not the appropriate way to do business. It does not matter if the people are qualified. They should have nothing to fear from a public appointments process. What has happened here is not about the individuals in question. It is not calling into question their expertise. Just like the Zappone appointment, this is cronyism through and through. I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation for why the Government did not follow the protocol that is in place with regard to public appointments.

I thank the Chair for inviting me to address this Commencement matter. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 sets out the process for appointing members to the Climate Change Advisory Council and the qualifications and experience that members must have. The four appointments made in October followed these requirements scrupulously, and I am fully confident that the council has an excellent set of members who have the knowledge and experience needed to fulfil their crucial role. The Act allowed the Climate Change Advisory Council to expand to 13 ordinary members. Three members are ex officio, including the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency; the director of Teagasc - the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, and the director of the Irish National Meteorological Service, Met Éireann. The remaining members are to be nominated by the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and are appointed by the Government.

Section 10(4)(a) of the Act requires that each member of the Climate Change Advisory Council has knowledge of or expertise in at least one of the following areas: climate science; adaptation policy; transport policy; energy policy; agricultural policy; behavioural and communication science; biodiversity and ecosystem services; economics; finance; or political sociology or ethics in relation to climate. In October, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, recommended four additional members for the council to the Government and the Government decided to appoint these nominees. The new members are Dr. Cara Augustenborg, a distinguished climate scientist; Dr. Morgan Bazilian, a distinguished climate and energy scientist; Ms Sinead O'Brien, a prominent environmentalist and water specialist; and Ms Jillian Mahon, a highly experienced financial executive and director with expertise in climate finance. Commenting on the appointments at the time, the Minister, Deputy Ryan said:

A critical part of our transition to a low carbon society is the provision of accurate and timely advice. The Climate Change Advisory Council needs to have a broad and diverse balance of skills and experience that will advise Government on both carbon budgets and progress on implementation of the Climate Action Plan.

I am sure any objective observer would agree that these appointments achieved that aim.

I find it astounding that the justification echoes exactly what Deputy Simon Coveney said about Katherine Zappone's appointment, when he asked if anyone was seriously questioning the person's expertise or ability. Nobody is questioning that. At no point am I questioning any expertise or ability of the people who are on the Climate Change Advisory Council but these people have to be able to hold the Government to account. They have to say whether a Minister is doing the job or not. I am sorry, there is no process, paper trail or anything. The Minister basically went out and said he thinks that these are the best people, with no process. It just so happens that some of those people were members of the Green Party, canvassed for the Green Party and took to social media to defend the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in the leadership battle. Can the Minister of State see why a member of the public might look on and say that it does not matter that that person was the best one for the job because there was no process and the person is in receipt of public money? Will they be able to hold the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to account if he does not fulfil the legally binding emission targets?

I thank the Senator. As I have explained, the proper process was followed in making these appointments. This has ensured that an exceptional group of members has been appointed to the council to allow it to fulfil its crucial functions. That process is outlined in the climate legislation passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas earlier this year. I believe it was the most important legislation to have passed in many years. It was passed with consensus, including support from every party, apart from some Independents, with only ten people voting against it. That Act details how people would be appointed to the Climate Change Advisory Council. The steps of that process were followed exactly and scrupulously. Dr. Cara Augustenborg is probably the best-known woman in climate science in Ireland. She has extensive experience and academic qualifications. She is a senior fellow in environmental policy at University College Dublin. She has an MSc in environmental health sciences; a PhD in environmental sciences from University of California, Los Angeles; she is one of seven people appointed to the Council of State under President Higgins; and, I am happy that she is one of the four people who was appointed. Dr. Morgan Bazilian is equally somebody of great repute, as are Ms Sinead O'Brien and Ms Jillian Mahon. We have a Climate Change Advisory Council which will be well capable to deliver on this extremely important challenge that is facing Ireland and the world.

They would have flown through an interview.

Sitting suspended at 11.17 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.