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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 May 2022

Vol. 285 No. 9

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Special Educational Needs

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, to the House and invite Senator Eugene Murphy to raise the first Commencement matter.

Fearaim céad míle fáilte roimh na daltaí agus a múinteoirí as Cill Dara. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, to the House. The Minister of State was always very strong on educational matters. The matter I raise this morning relates to St. Teresa's Special School in Ballinasloe, County Galway. Last November we were very proud that the Taoiseach, the Minister for Education and others came to Ballinasloe and gave the go-ahead for a new school for St. Teresa's. St. Teresa's has been based at the enterprise centre in Ballinasloe on Creagh Road for a number of years. It is very cramped. It is very hard for them to do their daily work.

It is a special school with 36 enrolled, all of whom have special needs. Indeed, in September 2022 another class will be added to the school. It was a great day and a great announcement. This morning I want to find out from the Minister of State and the Department where it stands. It was great news when the announcement was made in Ballinasloe.

There were great celebrations in Ballinasloe but it is very important that we now move the project forward. There are 16 special needs assistants at the school. There are also nine teachers, one care assistant, one nurse and nine bus escorts. The school is under the patronage of Ability West. I compliment Anita O'Reilly, who is the principal. She does Trojan work, as do all the staff. They are committed to the students. They give more than their daily hours to the job to ensure all of the students and their parents and families are looked after. The announcement of the new school was unbelievable news for them. I am sure the Minister of State has an update for me. I hope he has some good news on the project because it is very important that it moves ahead as quickly as possible.

I welcome the schoolchildren in the Gallery, who are accompanied by our colleague, Senator O'Loughlin, who is the leader of the Council of Europe delegation from Ireland.

I thank Senator Murphy for raising this matter and for his ongoing strong representation and lobbying for St. Teresa's Special School. I will outline to the Seanad the current position on this major building project. It is included in the Department's construction programme, which is being delivered under the national development plan as part of the Project Ireland 2040 framework. Under Project Ireland 2040, the education sector will receive approximately €4.4 billion capital investment up to 2025. This will allow the Department to move ahead with projects such as St. Teresa's Special School. This investment will build on the good progress being made throughout the country to cater for demographic changes and provision for children with special educational needs. The investment will also facilitate an increased focus on the modernisation of existing school stock and help transition the school system for an era of net zero carbon by 2050.

The Senator is aware of the extensive site identification and assessment exercise, as he was in constant contact with the Minister during that time. This was to identify a permanent site location for St. Teresa's Special School. The Minister can confirm that agreement in principle has been reached with the vendor on a 4 acre site at Parkmore, Creagh, Ballinasloe, for the provision of the permanent accommodation for the school and the legal work is at an advanced stage. The major building project for St. Teresa's Special School will be delivered under the Department's accelerated delivery of architectural planning and tendering, ADAPT, programme. The ADAPT programme uses a professional external project manager to co-ordinate and drive the design team to achieve the best possible timeframe for the project.

The tender process to appoint a project manager has just been completed. The first step to be undertaken by the project manager will be the tender competitions for the appointment of design teams for a number of school building projects. This will include the appointment of the design team for the St. Teresa's Special School project. The Department will shortly be in touch with the school authorities about further developments on these appointments. Upon appointment, the design team will proceed to stage one of the architectural planning, which is preliminary design, and in which the design team will assess the site and prepare initial sketch schemes. The brief for this project is the construction of a new eight-classroom special school with significant associated ancillary accommodation on a greenfield site. The school has an enrolment of 36 pupils and a staffing of principal plus six special classes. The Department also approved additional interim accommodation of two temporary classrooms for the school in 2021 to cater for immediate needs.

I thank Senator Murphy. I know from sitting in parliamentary party meetings and speaking to the Minister, Deputy Foley, he has been incessant in speaking about this project and the need for it. Much credit goes to Senator Murphy for pushing the project through the stages and to the Government's commitment to special education, which is very important for all of us.

I thank the Minister of State. His response is quite positive and I am delighted with it. The Minister of State mentioned the temporary classrooms which were put in place in the not-too-distant past. The school principal is very happy with that accommodation for now. As the Minister of State said, it is on the move and it is most important that things are happening. As the Minister of State said in his reply, contact will be made with the school in the coming weeks, I hope in the next month or two, to proceed further with the project. It is very important. I cannot stress enough the commitment and dedication of the principal and teachers. They put in a huge amount of work. The children are very well looked after. They days can be difficult with 36 children all with special needs. We can appreciate this. All of the staff work together to make the days better for the children and their families. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Garvey and the Minister of State know, the Government is dedicated to looking after the needs of such children. I welcome this very much. It is long overdue and it is happening now.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. Tá a fhios againn go léir gur ceart bunreachtúil ceart an bhunoideachais sa tír seo agus is ceart an-thábhachtach é sin. Tagann sé díreach ón mBunreacht agus caithfear an ceart sin a chur i bhfeidhm do gach páiste sa tír seo. Ní féidir le haon pháiste a bheith fágtha ar lár maidir leis. I thank Senator Murphy for his commitment to this and I also thank the Department of Education. This is happening and it is going through the normal stages. There is money behind it. It can happen and will happen. Senator Murphy is speaking about the constitutional right to education. As a Fianna Fáil Minister of State I am very proud that it was put in our Constitution in very dark days in the late 1930s. There is a constitutional right to primary education. Everything we do, particularly with regard to primary education, needs to be with this constitutional right in mind. It is a very important constitutional right. It is the only socioeconomic right that is clear-cut and specifically written into the Constitution. Everything we do should be focused on it. The success of the State, and the State has been remarkably economically and socially successful since independence, has been down to our focus on education. Of course it is an ancient Irish trait. We have always been focused on education and learning. We have really put it into practice since independence. This constitutional right and this success must be spread to every child, including the children in Ballinasloe about whom Senator Murphy has spoken.

Water Services

I thank the Minister of State for his time today. Over many years many people in housing estates throughout the county have raised this and it does not seem to be unique to County Clare. We have private housing estates built by developers and construction companies that went bust. The housing estates have been left to their own devices. In particular I want to ask what is being done for housing estates such as Westcoast View, Annagh, County Clare. The people there have been waiting many years for the estate to be taken in charge. At this stage they have been waiting nine years. It has its own wastewater treatment plant and the position of Irish Water is that it is not responsible for taking in charge of developer-provided water services infrastructure. Clare County Council can no longer legally take a private wastewater treatment plant, WWTP, in charge as it is no longer a water services authority. How will we remedy this situation? From doing lots of research and from many emails over and back it seems a number of estates in west Clare are in the same predicament, as they also have their own wastewater treatment plants. They seem to be falling between two stools. There is a disconnect in the legislation and private developments with developer-provided wastewater infrastructure cannot be taken in charge unless the legislation is changed to fund or legislate or both for Irish Water or local authorities to take the infrastructure in charge.

There are more layers to this with the bond companies. There seems to be a bond for estates when they are abandoned by a developer or construction company. Often it takes years for the bond to be released to the local authority to use the money to do the work. Often the bond is a fraction of the costs needed. We have to wait years to get the bond for the local authorities to have the money to do the work and when they finally get it, perhaps eight or ten years later, it is a fraction of the costs needed. This is very frustrating for me and I am the least of those involved. There are the people living in the estates and the local authorities themselves. The county council would like to be doing what it needs to do for these houses but it is not its responsibility and nor is it the responsibility of Irish Water.

It remains to be seen how the taking-in-charge issue will be resolved. As there are other counties with similar to ourselves so maybe this issue will be addressed. The matter needs to be addressed nationally. What will be done? It seems we are in limbo because we have changed the powers of local authorities and given the powers they had to Irish Water, but nobody takes responsibility for these housing estates.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as an ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú. I thank the Senator for raising this issue and providing me with the opportunity to address it, on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Unfortunately, he cannot be here to address the issue.

Local authorities, as planning authorities, lead the taking in charge process of housing estates. The taking in charge of housing estates by local authorities is provided for by the Planning and Development Act.

A small subset of estates nationally that are not taken in charge rely on developer provided water services infrastructure for their water services. This mainly consists of wastewater treatment facilities but a small number provide drinking water services for the estate. This infrastructure was generally provided by the developer of the estate and is not connected to the public water services network. They are privately owned facilities.

In 2019, the Department introduced the multi-annual developer provided water services infrastructure resolution programme to provide funding for the progressive resolution of these housing estates with these legacy issues. The focus of the first multi-annual programme is on estates in towns and villages where the resolution is to connect their water services to the local Irish Water network. This will enable Irish Water to take responsibility for the ongoing operation and management of the water service in the estate once the estate is taken in charge by the planning authority.

In September 2020, the Minister announced allocations of just over €3.36 million for 26 estates across ten counties with almost 950 households to benefit, under the new multi-annual programme, to enable the taking in charge of these estates. A study is being carried out by Irish Water to develop the best solutions for estates with legacy developer provided water services infrastructure. The study will help the Department with developing policy solutions, including issues around funding, for estates, such as the one referenced by the Senator, that due to distance and size are not viable to connect to the public network. This is by considering sustainable treatment technologies either on the same site or another suitable alternative site. I understand the study is expected to be completed by the summer.

It will take a number of funding programmes to fully resolve these estates. The Department is committed to progressing the taking in charge of these legacy estates through increased funding over the coming years.

The Department is supporting the progressive taking in charge of estates with developer provided wastewater infrastructure. Funding of €68.5 million has been secured under the national development plan for this programme and lead pipe remediation to underpin this support.

I understand that it is not just the estate I mentioned. I note that the Minister has allocated just over €3.36 million for 26 estates across ten counties. I contend that there are probably 26 estates in County Clare that need assistance. I know that the Minister has been handed a legacy issue, but the water situation, between lead pipes, poor infrastructure and more, is appalling. Apart from being told that a study might be completed by the summer, which could mean June or September, I have nothing to tell the residents of the estate. I do not know how we can expedite the matter. There is a housing crisis, but at least let the people who live in houses currently have decent water and access to water. It is a basic human right to have access to clean water. People ring me all of the time and they are extremely stressed because their water supply has been cut off. The water situation is especially stressful for people who are at home so people with disabilities or people who work from home full-time or older people.

I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Minister the fact that I know he has to spend money on everything. However, we need to get the water services right for the existing housing estates, regardless of whether they comprise six or 70 houses. I would like to see this issue prioritised and expedited by the Department.

I appreciate that the Senator is interested in resolving the issue. The Department has a funding programme in place to help resolve it but it will take a number of funding cycles to do so. If there is anything else the Senator wants to say or if she has any other information, she should please feel free to provide it to the Minister or the Department and the relevant officials will consider it.

Given the significant funding liability required to sustainably resolve issues relating to these type of estates that are dotted around the country, the Department has asked Irish Water to carry out a study to support it in developing the best solutions. The study will be finished by the summer and will inform future iterations of the funding programme. I hope that the Senator will tell residents that there is money available but that the work is not going to be done at once and that we are trying to work out the best possible way to spend it.

National Cultural Institutions

National cultural institutions are a precious resource. They protect and preserve this country's memory. They are centres for performance and learning. In addition, they offer citizens and residents opportunities to unlock their creative potential. While the focus of this matter is capital allocations and progress with the Project Ireland 2040 plan, I must acknowledge that day-to-day operations and staff numbers have never recovered since the years of austerity. Such a situation remains a challenge for many of the national cultural institutions whose staff numbers compare very unfavourably with their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and England.

Under Project 2040, a sum of €460 million has been set aside for national cultural institutions. Those institutions are: the National Library of Ireland; Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA; the National Museum of Ireland; the Crawford Gallery; the National Archives of Ireland; the National Concert Hall; the Abbey Theatre; the Chester Beatty Library; and the National Gallery of Ireland. The refurbishment of the National Gallery has led the way. It is a beautiful redevelopment and shows what can be achieved when investment is committed to, put aside and delivered. Many of these institutions have never been redeveloped although promises have been made in the past. In many ways, the Investing in our Culture, Language and Heritage plan is a political wish list. These developments are critical not only in the context of artefacts but also to ensure universal access for all citizens and audience safety

The reason I tabled this matter is because I want a progress report. I do not want these Houses to be in the dark about the national cultural institutions and the current status of their redevelopment. I hope that the statement, which the Minister of State will give on behalf of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, will detail whether the €460 million is still a realistic figure. I am sure that it is not. What institutions are now in progress with regard to those investments? What phase has been reached in the context of each of the national cultural institutions? I mean in terms of a business case, investigation works, planning and contract procurement. The Minister is the one who signs off on all of the funding, and this is the Government's plan. In light of that, I would appreciate an update on all of the aforementioned.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach agus leis an Seanadóir. Táim an-sásta a bheith sa Teach chun labhairt faoin infheistíocht tábhachtach inár bhforais chultúir náisiúnta.

Under the Government's national development plan, a programme of investment of €460 million, is envisaged to upgrade and reimagine Ireland's national cultural institutions. As the Senator indicated, this was set out in Project Ireland 2040, Investing in our Culture, Language and Heritage 2018 to 2027, and reaffirmed in the most recent review of the national development plan.

The ambitious investment programme for the national cultural institutions, as put forward in the plan, is one of the largest single commitments to investment in these institutions in the history of the State. The investment is aligned with the national planning framework objective of ensuring that Ireland has a creative, innovative and culturally attuned society.

These major redevelopment projects will provide a world-class network of cultural infrastructure to increase capacity, deliver improved visitor experience, and address long-standing infrastructural issues, future-proofing our national cultural institutions, NCIs, for generations to come.

In recognition of the expectation that the majority of funding for this programme would be available from 2023, my Department has, over the past four years, invested heavily in ensuring that a robust appraisal and project development process is in place for the national cultural institution programme. This has meant that projects which were at concept stage in 2018 have undergone a rigorous process to fully elaborate the scope of the projects to be delivered, including through undertaking extensive investigative and survey works which are essential.

This has seen flagship projects move from initial concept, to appraisal, to detailed design. As a result, the projects emerging are better designed, better meet the objectives of the Department and the Government, and are based on the best available cost information than might otherwise be the case.

Over the next few years, there are a number of key projects. These include a project to provide a secure environmentally controlled archival repository in full compliance with internationally accepted archival storage standards at the National Archives, which is currently being tendered with a view to construction commencing later this year. There is also an ambitious development of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, for which it is anticipated that the planning process will commence later this year. Moreover, there is a phased re-imagining project of the National Library to enhance the building, visitor experience, collections and works. Works as part of the earlier phases have already delivered a new and permanent home for the prints and drawings collection in the refurbished former seminar room of the 1827 wing and a state-of-the-art book store, which have both maximised the storage space available. These works have also provided an appropriate environment in which to safeguard the books. Design of the final works for the entire development is expected in 2022.

There is also a new development plan for the National Concert Hall complex, including a newly refurbished and extended main auditorium, improved musicians' facilities and a reorganisation of public facilities. The Department is currently reviewing the preliminary business case submitted in respect of this project. In addition, there are redevelopment and modernisation works planned at the Chester Beatty Library in conjunction with the Dublin Castle master plan of the Office of Public Works, OPW. The Department is currently reviewing the preliminary business case submitted and it is expected that an integrated design team will be procured later this year.

The Department is currently reviewing a preliminary business case in respect of the development project at the Abbey Theatre, a flagship development that will re-imagine our national theatre, while also contributing to the regeneration of this historic and important part of Dublin's city centre. A preliminary business case has also been completed in respect of the Natural History Museum, next door, a branch of the National Museum of Ireland, also next door, and the procurement of an integrated design team is due to commence in parallel with an investigative and preparatory works contract.

The Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, is currently at strategic assessment report stage in respect of the redevelopment of the full site at Kilmainham.

At the National Gallery of Ireland, design and investigative work is under way in respect of 88-90 Merrion Square. This project will create a new entrance to the gallery, restore and enhance the gallery's library and create fit-for-purpose facilities for gallery administration, curation and research. In addition, work on the preliminary business case is underway for phase 4 of the National Gallery of Ireland master plan which will provide a detailed appraisal of options and related costs for the gallery's redevelopment. The National Gallery of Ireland redevelopment will build on the very successful reopening of the gallery's historic wings in 2017, a project, as the Senator has acknowledged, which showcased what is possible when we invest in our national cultural institutions.

The investment programme under the national development plan represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine these important public resources, which contribute very significantly to the social and cultural fabric of our society.

Just like in the education area, I am very proud to be back in government as part of the Fianna Fáil Party, because our commitment and record on the national cultural institutions, on culture and the arts in general, has been very strong throughout our periods of office. I very much look forward, as does the Senator, to seeing these particular projects which I have mentioned progress.

I thank the Minister of State for that detailed response on behalf of the senior Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. I encourage all of our political and public representatives and staff in these Houses to visit these institutions, many of which surround this site. We can then have more champions for these projects and for the work of the institutions. I wonder how recent announcements around inflation, and such Government announcements around paying 70% of inflation costs, affect these projects or our national cultural institutions. I will read the Minister of State's response in more detail over a lengthier period but I welcome the fact that 2023 seems to be a key year for these projects.

On many of the sites and the business cases for them that the Department is currently reviewing, does the Department have the resources for these? This is a very significant investment and I wonder whether the Department has sufficient resources to deal with these projects, because time is of the essence and inflation is only going in one direction. Promises, as I have said, have been made to the national cultural institutions in the past and I hope that the Government will keep every commitment that it makes.

I again welcome Senator Warfield's interest in these important matters and I echo what he says about us being champions for the institutions that are right beside us, whether it is the National Library, the National Museum, the Natural History Museum or the National Gallery of Ireland. These are very important institutions which are right beside us and having engaged myself with the National Museum before the pandemic, the museum was very keen for Deputies and Senators to be in touch with their constituents and with school groups who might be coming to the Dáil, etc. The same would apply with the other institutions and I feel that they would be very happy for us to be their champions. We must remember that we have very important work to do here. Everybody who works in this country has a very important job, whatever one's role in society is, but culture and the arts brings us to a different space. Senator Warfield appreciates that, as certainly does Senator Murphy from his own background. It is very important that we become champions of these institutions.

The Senator mentioned the ongoing price inflation. That is a fact and a problem. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and his officials have engaged extensively with industry and with public sector stakeholders involved in the national development plan to take steps to introduce measures to tackle the risk to the delivery of public facilities under the national development plan. They have introduced an inflation co-operation framework for those parties who are engaged in public works contracts.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and the Government remain entirely committed to the delivery of the investment programme and officials in the Department continue to keep the impact of these issues under constant review.

Inland Fisheries

We move now to our final Commencement matter. The Minister of State is very busy this morning as he has also to deal with this matter in the name of Senator Kyne, who is very welcome to the House this morning. This Commencement matter deals with the need for the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to make a statement on the review to be conducted under section 18(3) of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 in respect of the functions of Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Senator has four minutes to introduce the matter.

I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and I thank the Cathaoirleach's office for choosing this Commencement debate. I must, however, express my concern that the wording I submitted was not exactly the wording chosen by the Cathaoirleach's office. The wording that I submitted was the need for the Minister to make a statement on irregularities within Inland Fisheries Ireland from 1 January 2021 to date. That has been rephrased by somebody. That is the wording-----

It has not been rephrased in my response. It is there as the Senator has called it out.

Has it been rephrased by the office of the Cathaoirleach?

I have no control of what the office does-----

Absolutely , but it has been rephrased.

The Senator may take up the issue with the Cathaoirleach's office himself.

In a note to Deputies and Senators on 16 May from the private secretary of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, with regard to the focus of the review, it mentions that there is an investigation being carried out from the specific dates of 1 February to 27 April of this year. I have to ask the question why these specific dates were chosen. Are letters of correspondence which came in early or mid-January to be excluded from the debate and the engagement?

I welcome the fact that there will be engagement under this review with all board members and I suggest that they may have a great deal to say. Who set the terms and chose these dates? Did the CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland have a role in this or was it just the Department? Why is the Minister using his powers to investigate the board but not the organisation of Inland Fisheries Ireland?

It was suggested in the Minister’s note that reports of significant irregularities that have been identified, including in relation to dormant accounts funding, procurement, vehicle insurance, use of Inland Fisheries Ireland vessels and leasing of the Aasleagh Lodge property, have been previously considered and addressed in statements of internal control. The statement of internal control did not come to any premature conclusions on these items. Some including property lease, procurement and dormant accounts funding are still subject to investigation by the Comptroller and Auditor General. All of these issues were very much under active investigation during 1 February to 27 April, so why are they not included in Conleth Bradley’s review? Why was not the Comptroller and Auditor General’s investigation mentioned by the Minister in the note to Oireachtas Members?

In response to reports by ASM Accountants and ByrneWallace law firm commissioned by the board, the CEO stood down the Inland Fisheries Ireland outreach and education operation and refused to accept some €800,000 dormant accounts funding in 2021. The Aasleagh Lodge lease agreement was also ended. Why did the board, with the agreement of the CEO, take these decisions if it did not think the concerns were serious, as outlined in the Minister’s note? If the Minister’s note to Oireachtas Members states that these matters were addressed, why was there no explanation given in the note to Oireachtas Members and why is there no investigation into these matters?

The Minister’s 16 May note also states that it was entirely inaccurate to suggest that an angling club that exists got funding. IFI confirmed the club has a club constitution, bank accounts and tax clearance. However, it did not have those when the fund was applied for or when the fund was approved. How was the funding issued to a club with no bank account? I think it was issued through a third party and I understand that there was an email thread to this effect.

Following thorough investigation by the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland, it was discovered that there were 16 uninsured vehicles on the road at the time of a crash involving one of these vehicles on 10 August 2021 in Donegal. Inaccurate information was presented to the board about the failures within IFI to ensure vehicles were insured. This is evidence of an organisation that is not able to do its basic work.

Why, after all this, is it the board that is being investigated? It is the board that has pursued the truth and carried out investigations into wrongdoing. It is simply because the board did not go along with the CEO and the Department. It was independent, as it should be. It was not willing to bend to the CEO’s will if it disagreed. The Minister, to my disappointment, has agreed to investigate the board, in my view, in the hope that the board will be disbanded and a more obedient board might be put in place.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Senator will have to understand that I am here on behalf of the Minister, who cannot be here. I will simply have to be very faithful to the script in front of me. I am sure the Senator can take up the issues further with the Minister.

I want to thank the Senator for the opportunity to clarify these important matters which were raised, of course, in this House earlier this month and were subsequently the subject of media reports on Inland Fisheries Ireland. These reports have suggested significant irregularities have been identified in the organisation. On 10 May, these assertions were fully addressed in a detailed information note provided to the Senator setting out the factual position in relation to same.

The fact is that these issues have been previously considered and addressed through the then chair's statutory statement of internal control, external audit reviews and correspondence between IFI and the Department, and the IFI board's own assessment of these matters, which my Department has accepted.

It should be noted that the suggestion made in this House and contained in media reports that IFI grant aided, via dormant accounts funding, an angling club that "did not exist" are entirely inaccurate. IFI has confirmed that the club in question was established before the funds were applied for, has a club constitution, bank account and tax clearance certificate and is affiliated to the Irish Federation of Sea Angling Clubs.

On foot of the Seanad Order of Business matter on 5 May, it was also suggested in the various media reports that the Minister had appointed a senior counsel to examine these matters. This is inaccurate. The Department fully accepts the assurances of the former chair and the board that these issues and allegations have been addressed, are being addressed or should be entirely refuted.

The Minister has appointed Mr. Conleth Bradley, senior counsel, under section 18 of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 to carry out a review of the exercise by the board of its functions under the Act. The focus of the section 18 review by Mr. Bradley is quite specific and relates to issues in correspondence between the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the board members of IFI from the period of 1 Feb to 27 April. It includes letters of 4 March and 7 April from Department to the then chair, the 22 April letter from the then chair to Department, as well as email notifications and subsequent letters from other board members.

As part of the review and as required under section 18(4) of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010, IFI board members, including those who were members between the above dates but have since resigned, management and personnel are required to co-operate with the review and provide help to Mr. Bradley. It is likely that Mr. Bradley will engage directly with all board members on an individual basis. The review does not in any way relate to the matters raised on the Order of Business on 5 May and in subsequent media reports.

I thank the Minister of State for reading the reply, which is similar to the note that was issued to Oireachtas Members on 16 May. The last line said the review does not in any way relate the matters I raised on the Order of Business on 5 May. That is the whole point – it should. It should investigate all of the matters that I have raised.

The Minister of State is right, it states my wording in relation to the matter is there on the top, but that is not what was read out by the Cathaoirleach. It changed along the way, and it did not change within the Seanad Office without the intervention of the Department. There was quite specific wording given to the Seanad Office by the Department. For some reason, it did not want this to appear on the record - irregularities within Inland Fisheries Ireland from 1 January 2021 to date. It had the wording that I put down, yet the script it provided to the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, did not answer any of the things relating to 2021. It related to just 1 February to 27 April.

The response from the office of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Department is a total whitewash. There needs to be a thorough investigation into the matters that I have asked. There needs to be a new note sent to Oireachtas Members regarding the inaccuracies that I have reported here today regarding its 16 May note. I would ask that the terms of reference of the investigation be broadened to include the matters I outlined today. I also ask the Minister to carry out a review, similar to that which was arranged for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I ask for a full review of Inland Fisheries Ireland. I had hoped, with a new CEO being appointed in 2020, I think it was, that we would have a new approach-----

I have been very generous with time.

-----into Inland Fisheries Ireland. However, unfortunately, I am very disappointed with the road that the new CEO is taking. In addition, now I see the Minister is targeting the board rather than investigating the matters that the board has raised and pursued.

I am sorry I interrupted, but I let Senator go way over on time. Can the Minister of State make a short response, please?

I would reiterate that the current review under section 18 does not focus, as the Senator said, on the allegations raised on the Order of Business on 5 May. It does not focus on those allegations which gave rise to subsequent media reports, nor does the section 18 review include other allegations made in an anonymous disclosure earlier this year against a senior member of IFI staff. That is already the subject of a separate independent internal investigation in IFI and in respect of which the relevant staff member remains on suspension. That investigation is entirely within the remit of IFI and neither my Department nor I have any role. I want to be clear that the statutory provisions of section 18 are very specific, connected entirely with the performance of the board and could encompass in their scope the issues raised on the Order of Business on 5 May. The focus of the review is entirely on the functioning of the board.

Separately, I would like to inform the House that IFI is preparing a strategic plan for the consideration of the Minister, which would set out the structures and resources necessary to support Inland Fisheries Ireland in delivering its key statutory role of conserving, protecting, developing and promoting Ireland’s precious inland fisheries resource.

Obviously, the Senator will take this matter up again. I wish to express my thanks to the Minister of State for taking the four Commencement matters. I know some of them were not in his area. I also thank Senators Garvey, Warfield and Kyne for being with us. As always, I thank the staff of the House for their assistance and co-operation, and the ushers as well.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.19 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.04 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 11.19 a.m. and resumed at 12.04 p.m.
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