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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 Sep 2022

Vol. 288 No. 3

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

An Garda Síochána

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, to the House.

I spoke about this matter on the Order of Business on 13 July before the summer recess. It is now being raised as a Commencement matter at a time when I feel we are about to have a much wider discussion on the need for an increased Garda presence in our communities.

The widely shared horrific scenes of gangs of joyriding thugs in a housing estate in Cherry Orchard have shocked many, but for many others, it is an all-too-familiar sight and shock has long since given way to resignation. Ordinary law-abiding citizens in certain parts of this country are terrorised day in, day out by low-life criminal hooligans who have no respect for their communities, the people in them or the law. It would seem that there are some areas that have been declared unofficial no-go zones even by An Garda Síochána. Faced with the challenges of policing these areas, the decision has been made not to police them at all or just barely.

The role of gardaí as guardians of the peace should not be limited by post code. Every effort must be made by the Government to ensure that the force is adequately manned, trained and equipped to carry out this role. Every street of the capital would be made much safer if there was a pair of gardaí marching down the street every 30 to 40 minutes. Certain streets do not need this. Others probably need more. If we had as many patrol cars out cracking down on violent crime as we did rounding up non-Covid-compliant persons, this would be a much safer country.

This summer, the residents of Laytown were subjected to a vicious brawl that saw golf clubs and baseball bats being used as weapons. It came less than a month after a mass protest in Bettystown over the lack of a Garda station for what is one of the country's busiest coastal areas. Laytown Garda station is not even close to being fully manned. Most of the area is served by the station in Ashbourne, a full 33 km away. If that station is busy, an emergency call can be taken by the Garda station in Kildare town, almost 100 km away. This is unacceptable in a developed country like Ireland and it is a kick in the face for the people of the area, who deserve a minimum standard of policing. Either we need a brand new 24-7 Garda station in the area or a Minister needs to speak to the Garda Commissioner and ensure that Laytown Garda station is transformed into a 24-hour active service.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice, I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and requesting that the Minister establish a new Garda station to serve the areas of Laytown and Bettystown.

The Senator will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is, by law, responsible for the management and administration of Garda business and for determining the deployment of gardaí throughout the State. The Minister is assured that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends to ensure they are used optimally.

The Office of Public Works, OPW, has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. Works in respect of that accommodation are progressed by the Garda authorities, working in close co-operation with the OPW.

The Minister for Justice has no direct role in these matters. The Government is committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has the resources it needs, not least in the context of a growing population. An unprecedented allocation of more than €2 billion was provided in budget 2022 by the Government. The Government will continue to support An Garda Síochána in recruiting Garda members and Garda staff through the upcoming budget and over the coming years. A key pillar of the programme for Government, Our Shared Future, is building stronger and safer communities. Prioritising visible policing in rural communities will ensure community policing is at the forefront of our police service and is an integral strand of our social contract with the public.

I understand that the Laytown district, consisting of Laytown and Duleek subdistricts, was created in 2008 arising from the county boundary realignment project emanating from the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which saw the introduction of joint policing committees. Laytown Garda station operates on a paired system with Duleek Garda station. This enables a 24-7 service to be provided between two subdistricts. I also understand that additional support is provided, as required, from district headquarters at Ashbourne Garda station, which is operational on a 24-7 basis. In addition, there is a marked patrol car to respond to calls 24-7 and when numbers allow, there is a second patrol car utilised as a second responding vehicle.

I am aware that the Garda Commissioner visited Laytown Garda station on 20 July this year where he met local Garda management and members of the station party. Matters of facilities, resourcing and criminality, including public order and the boundary between the Meath and Louth divisions, were discussed at this meeting. I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are draft plans to enhance the policing service provided from Laytown Garda station and to examine options to upgrade the station. These plans are yet to be finalised, however, and it is not possible to confirm specific details at this time. The Minister looks forward to updating Senator Keogan again on these matters in due course.

I thank the Minister of State. To be quite honest, I am a little taken aback by this response. I tabled this matter previously and the Minister came back to me to say it was not her responsibility. This is her constituency, however. This is her area. The people of the Ashbourne area and Laytown-Bettystown coastal area deserve a 24-hour station.

The area in which the current Laytown Garda station is situated is the middle of a housing estate. There is no way it can upgrade that facility there. In 2009, Fianna Fáil announced it was going to build a brand new Garda station over there. That never materialised either. There have been many promises along the way for the people of the coast. That area has grown substantially over the past five to ten years. Duleek has also grown substantially, but particularly the east coast of County Meath from Southgate right across to Julianstown. It needs a full-time Garda station. I would not be here asking for it if it was not something we need. We have a Garda station in Duleek that is manned part time. It is not a full-time station; it is a part-time station. The needs of the coast are far greater, however. The time it takes members of the Garda in Ashbourne to get to a case on the coast can sometimes be up to one hour. The Minister of State's response mentioned visible policing in rural areas; it does not happen. It did not happen yesterday in Cherry Orchard and it is certainly not happening in County Meath. The Garda needs to do better. It needs to get more boots on the ground and have more visibility to ensure that communities are safe. People want to be safe. They do not want to see what happened yesterday happen in their communities.

I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. I will bring her concerns to the attention of the Minister. I understand that as of 31 August 2022, the latest date for which figures are available, Laytown Garda station currently has a strength of one inspector, three sergeants and 15 gardaí, all of whom are uniformed personnel providing a front-line policing service to the Laytown, Bettystown and Mornington areas of east Meath.

I am advised that on weekdays, the member from the district who opens the station in the morning conducts beat patrols for the remainder of his or her tour of duty in the Laytown-Bettystown area in support of Laytown personnel. I am informed by Garda management that an active management plan is in place at weekends, which is deployed at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and remains in place until 9 p.m. on Sunday to deter illegal parking. Members are briefed to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to traffic and public order issues with fixed-charge penalty notices being utilised, where appropriate.

More broadly, it is important to emphasise that as recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, responsibility for community safety does not rest solely with An Garda Síochána or the Department of Justice but rather as a whole-of-government approach.

This principle is at the centre of the Government's new policing policy on community safety, which will be given a statutory basis. A new policing, security and community safety Bill proposes to establish and support a system of community safety at local level throughout the country. New local community safety partnerships will bring all services and the community together at local authority level, replacing the existing joint policing committees to serve as a comprehensive forum for discussion and decisions on community priorities. The Minister will continue to drive the ongoing concerted activity towards nationwide policy roll-out following the conclusion of the current pilot period at the end of 2023.

The Senator can get a copy of the Minister of State's statement shortly.

Closed-Circuit Television Systems

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. I wish to discuss the issue of CCTV. We all know CCTV is an invaluable tool in deterring people from engaging in offences and public disorder. It is also a valuable tool when a crime is committed or when public disorder occurs. It enhances and enables the investigative process and can assist in the identification of perpetrators. In fact, a 2013 study by the UK College of Policing found that an estimated 16 out of every 100 crimes were prevented through the use of CCTV. Specifically on vehicular crime, for every 100 crimes, an average of 26 crimes were prevented. Inhabitants of many towns could point to instances and certain areas in their towns that have become no-go areas, especially at night. CCTV has the ability to provide major assistance to all crime prevention measures being undertaken across all sectors of society.

People are sick and tired of assaults and antisocial behaviour, including littering. The benefit of CCTV systems, particularly in urban areas, is immeasurable. In that respect, the community CCTV scheme is an excellent initiative but, unfortunately, the implementation of the scheme leaves an awful lot to be desired. It is, and has been for a number of years, the source of significant frustration in towns such as Monaghan, where the application process first began in 2017. This scheme should have ensured that towns like Monaghan and many others elsewhere had their CCTV systems up and running long ago. Communities and the Garda want it. We all have a responsibility to bring in whatever measures are possible to assist gardaí to do their jobs.

There was an impasse for some time with regard to the issue of data control. In the meantime, assaults and burglaries have continued throughout the country. This impasse cannot be allowed to continue when people are at risk of assault on our streets. Many schemes were approved for funding, including €25,000 for Monaghan town in June 2020. Unfortunately, it has yet to get off the ground. I am aware that the general scheme of the Garda Síochána digital recording Bill 2021 was approved by the Government and published on 29 April 2021. We are waiting for that legislation to pass through both Houses. At the time, the Minister also outlined that it was planned to have a further review of the terms and conditions of the current CCTV scheme to bring it into line with the proposals in this new legislation.

In summary, we are saying that there are no doubts about the benefits of CCTV. That much we all agree on, but the lack of progress in bringing schemes like this to fruition is very frustrating. I am hopeful that the Minister of State will give some indication of progress in this regard. Have the obstacles regarding data control now been overcome? When can we look forward to these schemes being rolled out? People have been waiting too long for that.

I thank the Senator for raising the very important matter of community CCTV, in particular as it relates to Monaghan town and Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Senator for raising this matter.

I am acutely aware of the invaluable role played by community CCTV schemes throughout the country in providing vital reassurance to local communities and helping people to feel safer in their neighbourhoods. It is a priority of the Minister for Justice and her Department to ensure that local groups are supported in their essential contributions to the local CCTV schemes, while ensuring appropriate and proportionate oversight of statutory data protection safeguards.

I am pleased to confirm that as of early August this year, 35 schemes have been approved for funding to a total of €953,689.16. Since 2020, 12 schemes have been approved to a value of €192,021.32. I understand that the application process in respect of Monaghan town and Carrickmacross is still ongoing.

As the Senator may be aware, community-based CCTV is currently governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006, Sl 289/2006. This legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must be approved by the local joint policing committee; have a data protection impact assessment prepared; have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must act as a joint data controller with An Garda Síochána, and a joint data controller agreement must be put in place; and have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner. This is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes, regardless of how they are funded. These key legal requirements have been in place since 2006. Agreement was reached on a revised CCTV scheme, which has been included in the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022. The Bill was approved by Government on 21 June 2022 and published on 4 August. This Bill will provide a new statutory basis for community-based CCTV schemes going forward and will be fully compliant with data protection law. Under the new legislation, only local authorities or Garda Síochána members can be authorised by the Garda Commissioner to operate community CCTV schemes. There is a provision to contract other organisations to operate the CCTV on behalf of the local authority or the Garda. I want to acknowledge the important contribution made by local community groups across the country to local CCTV schemes. Community groups will continue to play their part in CCTV schemes via the establishment of the local community safety partnerships, which will be rolled out under the policing, security and community safety Bill.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. At the outset, I wish to state that I appreciate and understand that responsibility for the particular area of CCTV falls under the remit of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. With that in mind, there is one line of the response from the Minister of State that, unfortunately, stands out like a sore thumb, namely, "I understand that the application process in respect of Monaghan town and Carrickmacross is still ongoing." With respect, the process has been ongoing since 2017. Clearly, people's frustration with the delay in the scheme has gone beyond the beyond. The message I ask the Minister of State to bring back to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, with respect, is that this particular scheme, warranted as it is, is simply not functioning properly. It is an insult to the people and communities on the ground who are trying to make themselves safe by having CCTV that we are sitting here discussing an application process for Monaghan town that dates back to 2017. Clearly, it is not working. I would like the Minister to acknowledge that it is not working and to do something progressive to move the situation forward in order that the people in the many towns listed in the Minister of State's response can look forward to the sense of security of knowing that when they walk down the street at night, if there are no gardaí on the beat, as per the previous Commencement matter, at least there is CCTV in place that might help to prevent crime and to assist in the investigation of crime thereafter.

I thank the Senator for raising this most important matter. I hear the Senator's frustration in relation to the application process for the Monaghan town and Carrickmacross CCTV schemes, which has been ongoing since 2017. I certainly will convey the Senator's frustration on the matter to the Cabinet Minister. Just as the Government's community safety policy recognises that community safety is a whole-of-government responsibility and not solely a concern for An Garda Síochána or the Department of Justice, the strength of the CCTV schemes nationwide results from the collaboration at community level, with gardaí, local authorities and community groups all playing their part to create an effective and robust CCTV scheme. In parallel with the enhancement of community CCTV schemes through the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022, the Government's community safety policy will be given a statutory basis in the new policing, security and community safety Bill that is being developed by the Department of Justice. The partnerships intend to bring all services and the community together at local authority level, replacing the existing joint policing communities.

They will serve as a forum for discussion and decisions on community priorities and CCTV schemes will undoubtedly feature very much among such priorities. Each partnership will be responsible for developing a community safety plan and lessons learned from the pilot phase will be used to inform the roll-out of the partnership model across the State following the enactment of the policing, security and community safety Bill.

School Staff

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, to the House and thank the Cathaoirleach's office for selecting this Commencement matter this afternoon. I submitted it following representations from a group of independent teachers who operate under the name "fair post-primary redeployment for teachers". The group currently has 300 members nationwide, all of whom feel there is no way out of the situation they face.

I am sure it is a source of great celebration when teachers become permanent or are awarded a contract of indefinite duration, CID, and become permanent employees in their school but if, for whatever reason, they wish to move school or county, their choices are limited. In many cases, they would lose their permanency. Teachers who work for education and training boards, ETBs, for example, the Galway and Roscommon ETB or the Laois and Offaly ETB, can be redeployed but only within the specific ETB which limits the amount of options available. As I understand it, nurses, gardaí, primary school teachers and most public servants have the option of redeployment which is all the more frustrating for post-primary teachers who wish to move.

There is a post-primary voluntary redeployment scheme, applications for which must be made by February each year and decisions have to be made quite quickly. Some decisions will be made before vacancies are announced and before teachers have made the decision to retire or move on. Under the scheme, redeployment must be completed by the end of May each year so for the Department to complete a redeployment, schools have to be made aware of any vacancies - most likely retirements - by the end of May, which is a problem.

Teachers feel there is no way out if they want to work closer to home. I know of one woman in County Galway who teachers in County Cork. She just got married to a guy from Galway and they live in Galway. They have a mortgage and this is putting pressure on their marriage. Another member of the aforementioned group lives with his young wife and family in County Galway and travels to County Meath each day to work. They have to pay a mortgage so he cannot just give up a job in the hope that he will be made permanent in a new school. Again, this is putting the relationship under pressure.

A motion was passed at the Teacher's Union of Ireland, TUI, congress calling on the executive council of the union to negotiate with the Department of Education and other employers to establish a national voluntary redeployment panel and to ensure that those teachers who wish to relocate would keep their permanent or CID status. The motion called on the Department and other employers in the post-primary education sector to devise an appropriate online portal through which teachers seeking voluntary redeployment could enter their details to seek a direct swap with a matching teacher seeking a reverse relocation. Teachers believe that the establishment of such a scheme is essential for the well-being of teachers who may have to travel for hours daily to and from work. A guy living in Galway who works in Offaly travels 160 km per day. If he were to get a position within 10 km of his home that would mean 140 km less driving every day, not to mention 140 km worth of emissions. If the teacher who swaps with him does the same, then 280 km worth of carbon emissions would be saved per day. In a standard school year that equates to 46,480 km less driving for those two teachers, greatly enhancing their quality of life.

It makes sense on paper. There may be issues with it but I ask for positive engagement from the Department, unions and school patrons on this.

I welcome our visitors from Presentation Secondary School Warrenmount in Dublin to the Public Gallery. I apologise for delaying the Minister of State.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Cathaoirleach Gníomhach. It is lovely to see the students in the Seanad. I passed them as I was walking down the corridor from the Dáil. They are welcome, as are their teachers.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am answering on behalf of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley. This affords me the opportunity to outline the position with regard to teaching redeployment schemes currently operating in post-primary schools. Teacher allocations to all second level schools are approved annually by the Department in accordance with established rules based on recognised pupil enrolment. The criteria for the allocation of posts are communicated to school managements annually and available on the Department website. The recruitment and appointment of teachers to fill teaching posts is a matter for each individual school authority. The deployment of teaching staff in the school, the range of subjects offered and the quality of teaching and learning are, in the first instance, a matter for the school management authorities.

The core function of the redeployment arrangements is to facilitate the redeployment of surplus permanent teachers to schools where vacancies exist. Such a scenario may occur where enrolment drops in a school. This scheme includes provision for a teacher in a surplus school who wants to volunteer to redeploy from that school to another location, subject to the agreement of school management. This provision can be facilitated as a means of avoiding a compulsory redeployment. Ensuring efficiency in the annual redeployment processes is significant in terms of managing the overall teacher numbers.

Following discussions between the relevant stakeholders, a voluntary redeployment scheme has operated on a pilot basis in specific regions in recent years. Permanent teachers employed in these regions are given an opportunity to volunteer for a transfer to other areas in the country if such a transfer would create a vacancy that would facilitate the redeployment of a surplus permanent teacher in the region. To date, the pilot voluntary redeployment scheme has operated in 24 counties. The scheme assists the Department to achieve its objective of redeploying all the surplus permanent teachers. Teachers who applied under the scheme and were not facilitated with a transfer continue to have the option of applying for posts in their preferred location that are advertised in the normal manner.

Since the introduction of redeployment at post-primary level, more than 800 teachers have been redeployed, ensuring an equitable and fair teacher allocation system to all schools. The Department is mindful that, in selecting areas of the country for inclusion in the voluntary transfer scheme, it achieves its key purpose, which is to ensure that surplus teachers are successfully redeployed. Any future considerations around expanding or selecting new locations will be made in the context of the operation of the redeployment scheme.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. She said more than 800 teachers have been redeployed. The figures for 2019 are 126 applications, of which eight were redeployed, while in 2018, 178 applied and 21 were redeployed. Those are relatively small numbers of successful redeployments. If teachers are willing to transfer, both have permanent contracts and teach the same subjects and no one is being coerced or forced, I do not understand why that cannot be done. If someone is living in Galway and wants to move to Cork while someone in Cork wants to move to Galway and they can be accommodated without losing their permanent status, a scheme needs to be developed that will allow that to happen. I ask for positive engagement from the Department of the Minister, Deputy Foley, following the TUI motion at congress. I look forward to future developments on that.

I thank the Senator.

I agree with the Senator's point about that simple exchange where there are two people who are compatible in terms of the exchange and what they are teaching and where both school communities agree to it. One must wonder why there would be any barriers there. I will certainly raise this with the Minister. I agree also with Senator Kyne that the only way to reach a solution to an issue is through positive engagement around the table. I will certainly take on board the Senator's comments and I will feed them back to the Minister, Deputy Foley, and her Department.

Vaccination Programme

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, to the House and thank her for taking this Commencement matter. The matter I raise is the issue of the monkeypox vaccine, the lack of supply of vaccines and of a programme of vaccination, and the disappointing lack of communication with the gay community. It is causing huge anxiety. I appreciate that this is not the Minister of State's area of responsibility but I thank her for being here today.

The issue of the supply of vaccines is a challenge not just for Ireland but for the wider world. If we look across the world to parts of Europe, our near neighbours, and to North America, we see that vaccination programmes have been rolled out quite successfully. I ask the Government, the Department of Health, the HSE and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, NIAC, to put in place now - in the autumn of 2022 - a comprehensive vaccination programme. I hope the Government will acknowledge that the vaccination programme is necessary but is incomplete. At the moment we have an initiative targeted at a small cohort of men in the gay community. It is not expansive enough and it does not cover the wider community but it needs to do so.

In tandem, the messaging from the Government, the HSE and NIAC has been very disappointing. It has been uncertain. The whole issue of the vaccination programme and the messaging has been slow and uncertain. We need to have a promotional campaign and messaging for the MSM community. I say this as a member of the gay community. I am conscious that many people may think monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection, STI, which it is not. It is much more than that.

For many of us, it seems that we are going back to the 1980s, when we had another epidemic called HIV, and the way we were treated then. I do not want that to happen now and to have a situation where we have people pigeonholed or victimised. We need a whole-of-government approach in which clarity and accessibility are pivotal and part of what the Government does for the gay community. I accept the Minister of State's bona fides have always been extraordinary. I know she will go back to the Minister for Health following my genuine attempt to have a comprehensive vaccine roll-out. It feels as though the gay community has been forgotten about again by the Government.

I wish to ask about access to the vaccine. I am aware that Ireland is part of the EU-wide approach to the vaccine. Where stands Ireland now with regard to vaccine supply? What is the status of our order? What is the approach of the Government and the HSE to a post-availability increase in supply of the vaccine in the context of the target audience? Who will be allowed to get the vaccine? When can it happen? Have we a roadmap? As other countries have done with the intradermal route in terms of administration of the vaccine, have we put in place an operation to change the issuing of the vaccine so we can administer more doses to more people? It really is about defining where we are going to be in ten weeks or in ten days as opposed to where we are now, which is a very disappointing place.

I look forward to the Minister of State's reply and thank her for being here. This is a matter of extreme importance. We cannot go back to where we were in the 1980s. It is about ensuring we have a whole-of-government approach to the provision of the vaccine and to supply at a European level.

I thank Senator Buttimer for giving me the opportunity to speak to this issue and provide an update on the monkeypox vaccination programme. I acknowledge his genuine contribution on this matter. I believe I might have some information that might not be in the public domain.

Since the notification of the first case of monkeypox in Europe, Ireland has moved quickly to respond to the disease outbreak. The Department of Health and the HSE have implemented a broad range of public health measures to control the outbreak and continue to engage and raise awareness in respect of the disease. I take on board what Senator Buttimer said, namely, that the message is disappointing and that there is a lack of communication. He feels a promotional campaign is required.

Following the World Health Organization's declaration of a public health emergency of international concern, a strategic advisory group, chaired by the interim Chief Medical Officer was convened to provide oversight and advice on the surveillance and management of monkeypox at national level, as well as the ongoing strategy to contain the outbreak. The work of the multidisciplinary group builds on the significant work already undertaken by the HSE and the ongoing work of the HSE's national crisis management team.

To date, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre has been notified of 173 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Ireland. Anyone, regardless of their sexuality, can get monkeypox if they are in close physical contact with a case. However, the epidemiological picture to date in Ireland remains similar to that seen in other countries where cases are predominantly in the gay and bisexual men who have sex with men, gbMSM, community. To help prevent and reduce infections in gbMSM community, the Department of Health and the HSE have implemented a proactive communications programme. As Senator Buttimer will be aware, at this time, supplies of monkeypox vaccines in Ireland and in the EU are limited. Ireland, along with other EU countries, is actively exploring options to increase our medium to long-term supply of vaccines. The Department of Health and the HSE have been working closely with the European Commission's Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, HERA, to secure additional vaccine doses. The first supply of vaccines procured by HERA and donated to member states has been received by Ireland. HERA has provided a boost to member states' vaccination programmes by announcing that it has secured an additional 170,000 doses from the manufacturer with delivery available before the end of the year. This brings the total number of vaccines secured for member states to more than 330,000 doses.

The vaccination programme in Ireland is based on advice from the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC. The vaccine is currently being offered to close contacts after a risk assessment and to some healthcare workers who may be at risk of exposure through their work. Following updated NIAC advice, the vaccination programme is being expanded on a phased basis to vaccinate those at high risk of infection before they are exposed to the virus. The HSE estimates that approximately 6,000 people may be at heightened risk of monkeypox infection. The first phase of the vaccine programme, which is under way, is offering the vaccine to 600 people. A proposed second phase, using the new intradermal method of administration, is expected to allow for vaccination of 40% to 50% of the estimated number in need. The HSE is finalising a range of operational issues before beginning the second phase of the vaccine roll-out.

I have listened intently to Senator Buttimer's genuine contribution. I will bring his comments back to the Minister and the Department.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. I appreciate what she said, but what we have heard is quite similar to what we got last August. Let us roll out the vaccine programme and look at the intradermal method of administration and how we can extend it more broadly. The Minister of State referred to the intention to vaccinate "those at high risk of infection before they are exposed to the virus". It is important that we administer the vaccine across the community. We know vaccines work. We have seen that with Covid and other vaccines. They do work. We are part of the European approach. I welcome the increased provision. The intradermal method is one we should be exploring more. I hope it will be part of the consultation process. Will the Minister bring back to the Department, NIAC and the HSE that more gay men must be on the steering group and involved in the administration, campaign and promotional programme for the vaccine.

I welcome the increased supply but it is important that we recognise that we are way behind other countries. While the response is encouraging with regard to the numbers, it is also disappointing. I thank the Minister of State for being here. I hope the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, will engage further with us. As one of the seven members of the Oireachtas LGBT community, I would be happy to meet the Minister to discuss this with him. I thank the Acting Chairperson for her patience. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for being here. I know it is not her area of responsibility, but in fairness to her, she has always been a strong advocate and leader for us in the gay community. I thank her sincerely for that.

I thank the Senator. The Department of Health and the HSE will continue to work with the European Commission and the manufacturer to secure sufficient doses to enable us to vaccinate all of those recommended by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, NIAC. The Senator is right about how, when we look at the last two and a half years, the Covid vaccine was rolled out to all communities. Based on current indications about global supplies of vaccines, Ireland is likely to have increased vaccine supplies later this year and next year. The aim is to ensure that people at risk are offered a vaccine at the earliest opportunity.

However, it is important to emphasise that vaccination is only one part of our response to prevent monkeypox infection. Since the initial outbreak, significant work has been undertaken to raise awareness about the disease. There has been extensive public engagement with local community representative groups. I take the Senator's point about having more gay man on the working steering group. The Minister for Health met the gay and bisexual men who have sex with men, gbMSM, representative groups and the HSE to discuss the outbreak and engagement events continue to be held around the country. The Senator said it would be nice if his group in the Oireachtas could engage directly with the Minister. I will bring that request to him.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 3.17 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 3.30 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 3.17 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.