Vote 24 - Department of Justice and Equality (Supplementary)

Apologies have been received from Deputy Jack Chambers. Before proceeding, I ask members to please put their mobile phones on silent.

The purpose of the first part of today's meeting is to consider a Supplementary Estimate for 2018 relating to Vote 20 - Garda Síochana, Vote 21 - Prisons, Vote 22 - Courts Service, and Vote 24 - Department of Justice and Equality. I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and his officials. Before we begin, members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against either a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.

I am pleased to be present for this Supplementary Estimate. I am joined by Mr. Donncha O'Sullivan, Mr. Seamus Clifford, Mr. Frank Maher and Ms Downey, who is in the building and may be joining us shortly. I thank members of the committee for making time available for this consideration.

The net amount of the Supplementary Estimates is €59 million for the Garda Vote, €10 million for the Prisons Vote and €8 million for the Department of Justice and Equality Vote. The Courts Service Vote does not require additional Exchequer funding but requires that surplus receipts of €600,000 are used to offset current expenditure requirements in a technical Supplementary Estimate. The remaining Votes in the group for the Policing Authority and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will remain within budget and have surrender balances of approximately €2.7 million at the end of the year.

A Supplementary Estimate requirement of €59 million arises in respect of the Garda Síochána Vote this year. This comprises a gross expenditure requirement of €76.2 million, which is offset by a projected surplus in appropriations-in-aid of €17.2 million giving a net additional requirement of €59 million. An additional €46.4 million is being made available to meet payroll and overtime costs, including the Garda College subhead. The additional requirement for pay and allowances is €23.7 million and €22.7 million relates to overtime. I am pleased that in budget 2019, an additional €72 million will be provided for Garda pay and allowances, which provides for the costs of accelerated Garda and civilian recruitment and costs associated with pay agreements. There are additional requirements under a number of other administrative and operational subheads, including travel and subsistence, expenses associated with road traffic policing, maintenance of Garda premises, certain other station services, and clothing and operational equipment amounting to €30 million after offsetting underspends in other areas.

The offsetting underspends arise across subheads such as superannuation due to fewer retirements than expected, at €2.5 million, and compensation, at €1.8 million. There are surplus receipts of approximately €17 million, mainly accounted for by pay-related pension deductions. This is directly related to the increased expenditure on pay and overtime and the Supplementary Estimate is making these additional receipts available to offset a proportion of the overtime and payroll cost. The Supplementary Estimate also includes the reprofiling of €6.649 million in the capital building and refurbishment programme, €3.581 million which it is proposed to carry forward to next year under the capital carryover provisions, and the balance of €3.068 million being reallocated to ICT capital. This is to balance a similar reallocation at the end of last year when a corresponding amount from the ICT budget was reallocated to the building programme.

A total capital allocation of more than €92 million is being made available to the Garda Vote next year. This will facilitate significant further investment in leading edge ICT of €64.8 million, €10 million for transport, and €17.5 million for the capital building and refurbishment programme. The current Supplementary Estimate process and the increased budgetary provision for the Vote in 2019 provide An Garda Síochána with the financial resources to address the challenges it faces and, significantly, to support the ongoing reform programme, which will gain further momentum from the implementation of the recommendations in the report on the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The recommendations in the report are comprehensive and far-reaching and provide a blueprint for future development of the policing service in Ireland. Specifically, on the financial front, it recommends the production of a costed policing plan presented in a multi-annual framework. While the details have yet to be fully worked out, this has the potential to significantly change the way in which budgets and expenditure are presented in the future, including to this committee. I look forward to the output from this process.

A Supplementary Estimate of €10 million is required for the Prisons Vote. The requirement arises across a number of subheads, including pay and additional allowances of €1.997 million, travel and subsistence of €548,000, staff training and recruitment of €1.1 million, building and equipment, mainly maintenance costs, of €2.6 million, prison and operational services at a cost of €2.3 million and compensation payments of €2.4 million. There are offsetting underspends available of €2.129 million, including surplus appropriations-in-aid of €1.5 million, which has reduced the net funding requirement to €10 million. There have been pressures on a number of the non-pay subheads in question in recent years but it has been possible to offset some of the costs from underspends in other subheads, including payroll. This is not possible in 2018 as there are increased payroll costs arising from a pay agreement integrating rent allowance with basic pay. While recruitment is ongoing in the Prison Service, it is not yet at the point, coupled with retirements, that all vacancies are covered. It is necessary to fill some of the staffing shortfall through increased additional hours payments. A number of once-off costs arose this year in respect of training expenditure, for example, where alternative accommodation had to be used while the training college in Portlaoise was being renovated.

In addition, particularly in respect of the maintenance expenditure, the severe weather conditions earlier in the year, the collapse of the Mountjoy circular roof and certain other unplanned works gave rise to some additional expenditure.

Turning to the justice and equality Vote, there is a requirement for an additional €8 million in the current year. This mainly arises across criminal legal aid and asylum accommodation with a combined projected overspend of just under €26 million. However, in a Vote with in excess of 60 subheads across five programmes, there are a number of underspends and overspends against budget which have contributed to reducing the additional Exchequer funding requirement to €8 million.

The budgetary arithmetic underpinning the Supplementary Estimate requirement takes account of the various under and overspends across the budget. As outlined, the areas of overspend relate to criminal legal aid, €15.7 million, and asylum accommodation, €10 million. The volume of cases arising from criminal activity before the courts is increasing and this has a proportionate increase in the criminal legal aid budget. The upward trend in the number of legal aid certificates granted increased by 18% in 2017 and this trend is continuing in the current year. There is also evidence that the length and complexity of cases is contributing to the increased costs.

Another demand-led area of the Vote relates to asylum accommodation. The number in accommodation is approximately 14% higher than this time last year. The number of persons seeking international protection has increased significantly in the past 12 months, which has a direct impact on the numbers in accommodation. Arising from the increased demand, it has been necessary to open six new accommodation centres providing 567 new bed spaces to date this year. This contributes to additional budgetary costs.

An additional provision of €2.4 million is being provided to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. This brings the total the total allocation to €6.7 million for 2018 and the budget mainly relates to the payment of awards made by the tribunal. The areas that have reduced the additional Exchequer funding required to €8 million include surplus receipts in respect of immigration registration and visa fees of about €7 million, underspends on payroll across a number of subheads, including Probation Service, €2.5 million; Data Protection Commissioner, €2.2 million; and Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, €3 million. This is mainly due to the delays in recruitment such that a full year staffing cost is not reflected in 2018.

There is also an underspend of €5 million in the capital budget for the forensic science laboratory, after proposed capital carryover to 2019, pending the issue of an updated request for tender which is now expected to issue shortly with commencement of the main construction works in 2019. Preparatory works on the site of some €2 million were carried out during 2018.

The transformation programme in my Department is well under way with the internal teams and structures in place and an external support contract to be awarded to the successful bidder shortly.

A technical Supplementary Estimate of €1,000 is required in respect of the courts Vote. This is mainly to offset certain administrative costs by a projected surplus of €600,000 in appropriations-in-aid arising from court fees. It is also proposed that an underspend of €2.5 million in capital will be carried forward under the capital carryover provisions in 2019 and utilised for the implementation of a number of key ICT and reform projects.

In conclusion, I recommend the Supplementary Estimate to the committee and I am happy to address any queries or questions and listen to any observations the committee might have.

This is a Supplementary Estimate. Normally we would take it section by section. As the Minister has addressed everything together, we can open it up to any questions covering each different area, rather than singling them out and parcelling them out. I am open to any indication of who would like to speak.

Does the Chairman want me to do all the groups, or just one by one?

I am open to the committee's comfort in this matter.

I will start with the Garda and see where we go.

That is a good place to start.

I was of the view that we could take it all together if committee members wanted to.

I do not have many questions, so we will see how it goes.

We will see how it goes.

If I am taking up too much time-----

I would have hoped it would have facilitated a quicker passage of business.

I intend to be brief because I know we have another item and we also have business in the Chamber and I am conscious of that.

My first questions relate to Garda pay and overtime. The Minister told us last year that one of the reasons a Supplementary Estimate was needed was Garda overtime because numbers were down due to of non-recruitment and that this year things were going to be much better because of all the new recruits. The additional requirement we are now being asked to approve in respect of overtime is half what it was last year but it is still substantial. Does the Minister think we might get to a point next year where there will not be a Supplementary Estimate for overtime?

Last April, he told us that ICT was a central component of Garda modernisation and renewal. We have been told that €342 million, including €217 million in additional funding under the capital programme, is being invested in Garda ICT infrastructure between 2016 and 2021. The 2018 budget for ICT was €40 million. The briefing note informs us that some of the Supplementary Estimate was allocated to ICT under the heading "Admin non-pay" and underspend in the capital budget elsewhere in the Garda Vote has been relocated to ICT. How much extra did it get and what was it spent on?

We know about all the problems with PULSE over the recent period. The special rapporteur for children, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, devoted a section of the appendix in his section 12 report last he asked to be done was made available to the Garda. Has that been done now? Was any of the additional money reallocated to ICT spent on plugging the massive holes in PULSE, or what was it spent on? Perhaps the Minister could take those few question first, before I move on to other sections.

That is fine. We can come back to the Deputy.

There are three issues. The Deputy initially asked a question about the need for such a Supplementary Estimate on an annual basis. I am keen to obviate the need for one towards year end and will work towards ensuring that these issues can be addressed during the year through the original moneys allocated. This is an issue particularly for Garda overtime which I have discussed, at an early stage, with the new Garda Commissioner, regarding the financial position of An Garda Síochána. We agreed it is essential that value for money be achieved within the resources available and I acknowledge what the Garda Commissioner himself has said to this committee in that regard.

Overtime is an issue. In 2013, provision for overtime was €50 million; in 2014, it increased to €56 million; in 2016, it was €91 million; and it has exceeded €100 million this year. We are anxious to ensure that value for money is attained. There is a continuing recruitment campaign, which will result in a net intake of new gardaí of the order of 500 per annum, with approximately 300 retirements. That will result in a scenario where the overtime requirement should not be as marked. However, arrangements for Garda overtime is not an issue for which I, as Minister, have direct responsibility.

A sum of €3 million has been moved to ICT in the Supplementary Estimate. We have €60 million allocated to ICT for 2019.

That should allow for the increased investment, which will help ensure the implementation of the various projects under way. For example, we expect a phased implementation of the mobility project, aiming to secure mobile access to Garda systems. There is also the roll-out on a pilot basis of the investigations management system, which will standardise, digitise and further support the management of all investigations arising from a PULSE incident.

Perhaps it is because we have had a busy week but I did not really get that. The Minister said he does not have any direct responsibility for overtime but he justified last year's Supplementary Estimate on the basis that it was because of overtime, because the numbers were down. My question, which I do not believe was answered, related to whether we could be confident that next year's Estimate will not address massive amounts of money, tens of millions of euro, for overtime payments. I posed the question in the context of this year's budget allocating an extra €60 million for Garda pay but only €6 million extra for Defence Forces pay. If we have already allocated that in next year's budget, will we be given another Supplementary Estimate, again on overtime? I do not believe that this or the issues about PULSE were answered. Has the ICT money gone into PULSE? I am not sure if I misheard that. There is the question of correcting some of the issues, particularly those highlighted by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon.

We can come back to that.

Maybe I misheard.

My understanding was that I did answer the question. I repeat it by saying that my intention is to ensure that the Garda budget, including overtime, is sufficient for the Garda Commissioner to arrange his planning and the execution of his programme without the need for a Supplementary Estimate. Let me stress again that the funding provided for Garda overtime next year is €95 million, which is entirely consistent with the budgetary measures recently introduced by the Garda Commissioner, as he referred to specifically when he came before this committee. While this is less than this year's total, it is, nonetheless, a very significant level of funding by international standards and by reference to recent years.

I can assure Deputy Clare Daly that the PULSE system is regularly updated. It is continually enhanced with new applications to meet the operational needs. Recent upgrades include further enhancements in integration and a new property and exhibit management system and to ensure that the new ICT strategy is executed in a way that obsolete elements of PULSE can be replaced.

I will not dwell on these things but if we are all here this time next year, we will know if the overtime figure was true or not.

I cannot say any more than what my intention is.

We will adjudicate on that next year. However, I am surprised that the Minister would say that PULSE is regularly enhanced and upgraded as though this always happened. Many of the big headline issues over problems with PULSE have been well flagged and were a consequence of PULSE not being regularly enhanced and upgraded and the need to specifically do that. I am a little surprised by that.

On child sexual abuse and child protection, the Department's children first sectoral implementation plan this year states:

Consideration is being given to a co-location model for the management of child sexual abuse cases, combining the new Divisional Protective Services Units (DPSUs) and Tusla social workers. Four DPSUs have been established as at February 2018 and they will be put in place in all remaining Divisions as soon as possible.

We know that two thirds of all victims of sexual crime are children. This is an enormous problem for society. The 2012 Garda Inspectorate report recommended the establishment of these agencies. I note that money was reallocated from the capital budget to ICT in these Supplementary Estimates and in that context, there was an underspend of €6 million in the capital building programme in particular. I hope I can take it from that that there has not been any movement beyond consideration of the establishment of specialist co-located centres. Will money be made available for them? Will they be built? Where did the underspend come from that we are allocating? I hope that it was not at the expense of children. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, told us recently that she hoped to have the first pilot open in 2019. That would suggest that money should already have been spent on them, so I am unsure why there has been an overspend. Has funding been made available in 2019 for the expansion of these DPSUs to other divisions beyond the four? Obviously the units are crucial, they were sought in Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's report and by the Garda Inspectorate. Both found a lack of specialised training and of a single point of contact for multi-agency working left huge and dangerous gaps in child protection. This is beyond urgent. When will more be established? When can we expect to have these units in every division? How much money has been given over to establish them in this year's budget?

The divisional PSUs are being rolled out in phases. Phase 1 is in respect of the Dublin metropolitan region west, Louth and Cork city. It was the pilot to which the Deputy refers. The assessment of that pilot is informing a further roll-out to each Garda division. The objective is to have the service across each division by the end of next year. There is sufficient funding allocated for that. It is expected that by this time next year, each Garda division will have a protected services unit.

That would be great. Does the Minister have the figure allocated for that?

I do not have it to hand-----

Could the Minister get it for us?

-----but it will be sufficient to enable an increase from the current four.

It is great to hear that but it would be great if we could get the figure for that.

We can get that figure and circulate it to all members.

That would be excellent.

That is across the 28 Garda divisions.

Great. The Supplementary Estimates before us contain an extra €4 million for Templemore, which is to be welcomed. Was any of that extra money spent in the past year on child protection training? Do we have a figure on that or can we get one?

There is ongoing training. It forms part of the training for new members of the Garda and experienced members who are working within the divisional PSUs, as well as those who will be in the 28 Garda divisions by the end of 2019.

No, the question related to Templemore. I asked whether any of that €4 million was spent on child protection training in Templemore. If the Minister does not have that information to hand, we can get it later. I am not blaming him but I would like an answer.

I do not have the complete course list for Templemore to hand. However, I can say that it does play part of the overall training and the cost of such training figures are not divided out into particular training course costs.

I raise it in the context of how this committee was incredibly impressed by the report and testimony given to us by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon.

We are all deeply concerned about the welfare of children in this State. We need to see a response when we commission these reports. If the Minister could get if for us, that would be great. I do not expect him to have it now but I would like to get it.

There is a training facility but if the Deputy asks me to separate the cost of the training in that particular area, I do not have that figure available to me, in spite of all the information.

I am sorry, Minister, but-----

We do not break it down into costs per hour for each individual training session. I am sure I can get that.

No one is asking the Minister to do that. We all know what Templemore is: it is a training facility. One would imagine that everything that goes on in it is training.

The budget has been presented to us and this is an extra €4 million. I was inquiring how much of that additional training budget went to child protection services.

That is precisely-----

It may be related to one or two guidance counsellors, to specialist testimony being introduced or to an extra module. It may be that simple. I believe the committee would benefit from that information.

Yes. I will get the individual cost of each training session.

There are two items. If they can be noted and the information furnished to the clerk for circulation to all members post this meeting, that will be done.

Good. I have two other issues on the budget. There is an expected underspend of €4.27 million in the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, subhead. I find this worrying. Last year we talked about an underspend in INIS and last year the Minister told us:

The underspend in INIS relates to staff recruitment. Having regard to the ongoing programme of recruitment for INIS, it is envisaged that this will correct itself and it will be rebalanced for 2018.

Sadly, given the information the Minister has provided today, it has not been rebalanced. First, why has it not been rebalanced? Second, we know there are enormous delays throughout the whole immigration system and people are finding it appallingly impossible to get appointments, Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, cards, visas and so on. What is the position in terms of getting staff to plug the gaps? Why is this still an issue one year on, when the Minister told us last year it was going to be sorted out?

I acknowledge there were staffing challenges. Staffing numbers will increase considerably when the processing of intra-EU flights begins, which is expected towards the end of next year. In respect of the savings, €3 million of this will be realised from the INIS pay budget and that is as a result of what was a slower than anticipated filling of improved vacancies. Half of this saving relates to the Irish passenger information unit, which has been established and currently processes extra-EU flights. We require primary legislation before the intra-EU flights can be included but staff numbers will increase considerably when that processing begins. Again, I would expect that before the end of next year, albeit towards the end of next year

Efforts are being made to increase staffing levels throughout this year. That has a particular focus of targeting additional resources at areas where there is a backlog, including in the International Protection Office. I acknowledge we have an increase in staff of the order of 156 this year, although this has been partially offset by the departure of almost 100, or 98, to be precise. That is as a result of increased mobility across the Civil Service and across the economy more generally, given that increased mobility is becoming more of a feature. However, every effort is being made to recruit appropriate numbers of staff and, as I said, we have 156 this year. In addition to savings on the pay side, a saving of in excess of €1 million will be realised from the non-pay budget.

I am very conscious of what Deputy Clare Daly has said about the perception of inordinate delays. We are keen to ensure the system operates in an effective manner but also in an efficient manner.

I am concerned, although I will just flag it for now. The Minister said it is as a result of increased mobility and that recruitment is a problem across the Department, across the service and across the economy. That is not the full picture. It is a specific and acute problem in this area, as has been highlighted in successive budgets. The Minister told us last year that recruitment would sort this out and that is kind of his answer again this time. The problem is that, while we wait another year, there are families and individuals who are going through an incredibly tortuous immigration system. In some cases, families are looking to join family members or visit friends, and all of that good stuff that is a very serious consideration for people in our society. I do not think this is being addressed. There needs to be a specific analysis of why we have had such a problem with recruitment in this particular area. It is a particular problem and if we do not address it, the problems will continue. I will flag it for now but I seriously hope we are not back at this next year. In some instances, we are talking about very vulnerable people in our society.

With regard to prisons, funding for 2018 included provision for the financing of a step-down facility for women. I have a problem with this in some ways in that it is a little paternalistic. It is a practice that has been moved away from in other jurisdictions, although I fully accept it is better than incarceration. The step-down facility has not been opened. Has the money been spent? What is the status of the project? Has the Department gone back to the drawing board and looked at alternatives? What is the story?

In respect of INIS, as well as the challenge in terms of staffing numbers which I referred to, we also need to acknowledge recent trends which I foresee will continue, namely, a considerable growth in the number of non-EEA nationals travelling to Ireland and living in Ireland. This year we have seen year-on-year growth of the order of 10% and I would expect that will continue in respect of both visas and registrations. As well as the staffing challenge and the ongoing recruitment, I expect improvements in the throughput of cases, with ICT investment of the order of €1.5 million. I expect that will deal with some of Deputy Clare Daly's concerns but, again, as the Deputy has flagged this as something she will monitor closely next year, I assure her that so will I. It is an issue on which I would be very keen to see a greater level of engagement. I will be happy to keep the committee informed.

On the matter of the prisons Vote in respect of the step-down facility, matters are being advanced. I do not have a date upon which the facility is expected to be completed but I know work is in the course of being carried out and that it is a very important component of our prisons programme. I would be happy to give a timeframe for completion of that facility. Some work has already been undertaken.

Therefore, that is under way in the Dublin area now. The money has been expended on that facility.

It is being spent.

It is in the process. It has not been relocated elsewhere.

The moneys assigned to it are being spent on it.

The unit is in the course of preparation. The moneys have been allocated for that and an appropriate level of money will be expended towards its completion.

I thank the Minister for coming before the committee today. There was a surplus of €1.8 million with regard to Garda compensation. I come from County Louth where in recent years two gardaí were murdered. Day in, day out in the Border area a Garda leaving his or her home is not always guaranteed to come home. Are many claims outstanding? In recent months, I have been speaking to gardaí who have made claims, but there seems to be no movement. All of a sudden there is a surplus of €1.8 million. How much money was spent in 2018? In the area I am from there is fuel laundering and smuggling, and almost every week a Garda car is rammed. I am sure there are a lot of compensation claims, particularly from the Border areas.

Deputy Clare Daly touched on the next issue I will raise. A total of €92 million has been allocated for capital expenditure next year. Does the €92 million include the surplus of €3.5 million being carried over? A total of €3 million is being reallocated from capital expenditure to ICT. I have mentioned a few times at committee meetings the conditions of some of the Garda stations in my area. They do not have the facilities to deal with people, in particular to be able to see to people given the violence of recent years. That €3 million would go a long way to alleviate this problem. I am sure the Minister is aware of incidences where people have come to Garda stations after being battered. Why allocate €3 million to ICT and not keep it where the money should be spent?

I am delighted to see Templemore has reopened. Its closure was a major mistake. There is nothing as good as seeing gardaí patrolling and walking the beat. It is great to have a Garda presence in an area. The Minister said money has been spent on the accommodation used in the training college. How many recruits does the Minister hope will come out of Templemore in 2018 and 2019? A few million euro are left over because, although the Minister said he expected more gardaí to retire in 2018, they do not seem to be retiring. They seem to be staying on the job.

Garda compensation is an issue of great importance. It is not an issue that is unique to Border areas. It is an issue that is of concern not only to the Garda Síochána but to everybody involved in the criminal justice system throughout the country. A sum of €15 million is available for the settlement of such claims. I acknowledge there is something of a delay but one must factor into this the need for the ongoing exchange of documentation and up-to-date medical reports. While there are many cases in the system, a considerable number of them are not ripe for settlement because there are outstanding issues. In many cases, outstanding medical treatment is a feature that forms part and parcel of medical reports that must be furnished to ensure a timely settlement of the claim. I am satisfied that the sum of €15 million expected expenditure means the absence of funds is not an issue in facilitating settlement. We hope that as many cases as possible will proceed to settlement having regard to the issues involved.

With regard to Deputy Fitzpatrick's question on Garda recruitment, I was very pleased in the recent budget to receive an appropriate level of funding to facilitate entry into the Garda College at Templemore of 800 recruits for next year. As I said earlier, with a retirement complement in the order of 300, this will result in a net intake of new gardaí of approximately 500. They will be posted throughout the country in accordance with the priorities of the Garda Commissioner and his team.

Does the €92 million for capital expenditure include the €3.5 million carryover from 2018? Why is €3 million being allocated to ICT rather than updating some of the Garda stations that badly need it? As I keep telling the Minister, most Garda stations in the country are not capable of dealing with violence, especially violence against women. I have mentioned a number of times to the Minister that we have problems. I am not just picking Dundalk but there have been a few incidents there in recent years. The Minister came to Dundalk to look at the Garda station there. It is not fit for purpose because so much is crammed in there at present.

I also asked the Minister how many recruits will come out from Templemore in 2018. It is fantastic that 800 will come out in 2019. The Minister stated he expects 300 gardaí to retire.

The €92 million is in addition to the sum already mentioned. It is not included. With regard to the intake to Templemore, I repeat that next year it is anticipated there will be 800 recruits. I look forward to attending Templemore tomorrow for the last of this year's four graduation ceremonies that will see by the end of the year a further 800 recruits for 2018. There will be 800 for 2019. Allowing for retirements in the order of 300, we have a net intake of approximately 500.

With regard to the €3 million, I would have preferred to spend it on building but it was contingent on projects being advanced by the Office of Public Works. Diverting this money to IT gives more scope for the building budget next year. It will see a release of funds. It is important that we continue to advance the ICT programme in the Garda Síochána. I am pleased, in the context of the budget, to see a facility to allow increased scope for spending on ICT on the part of the Garda Síochána next year. This was an issue that was the subject matter of the address to the committee by the Garda Commissioner.

To go back to my first question on Garda compensation I asked how many claims are outstanding. I also asked how much was paid out in 2018 and the Minister replied that €15 million was available and €1.8 million was surplus. I presume €13 million was paid out in compensation in 2018. Many gardaí in my area have contacted me with regard to their claims, some of which go back three, four or five years. I cannot believe information is awaited from doctors. Any Tom, Dick or Harry would find the information a lot quicker than in three or four years. These people leave their homes in the morning. I speak to the wives of gardaí. Two gardaí were murdered in recent years and families are very concerned. If a Garda is injured in the line of duty, he or she should be looked after. It is not acceptable that some of these claims could go back five, six, seven or eight years. Are many claims outstanding? How much money has been paid in 2018 so far?

I do not have the precise number of claims but it is significant. It is important that the profile of these claims is factored in. Many of them are not ready for settlement, and those that are ready are in the course of being settled. This year we have had an expenditure of almost €15 million. I will try to get the Deputy a breakdown of the profile of claims. Many of the outstanding claims of some years standing mentioned by Deputy Fitzpatrick relate to cases that are not ready for settlement because of ongoing negotiations and the exchange of paperwork between the claimants and the State. However, every effort is being made to ensure that the cases ready for settlement can form a basis for settlement. As I said, a sum of €15 million has been expended this year.

I have a number of questions. On the issue of training, Deputy Clare Daly raised training in respect of child protection. Another issue that was raised during the year was the ability of gardaí to give chase. I do not believe the Department ever provided figures on how many gardaí were qualified up to CBD, competency based driving, level 2, although I might be mistaken. My recollection is that the information available was the Garda Representative Association's, GRA's, view that less than half of front-line gardaí had that qualification. Is additional money being provided for training in that area for the coming year?

Second, money is allocated for new technologies next year. I presume, and hope, some of that is related to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland's recommendations. Is the proposal for body cameras to be included in that or will that be advanced in 2019?

Third, there are substantial waiting times for civil legal aid and it is difficult to get that aid. There is a marginal improvement on 2017 in that regard but can the Minister outline what he intends to do to address that?

In respect of driver training, gardaí undertake a wide variety of roles involving different skills sets and driving is one that has been the subject of commentary. All members of An Garda Síochána are not required to have advanced driving skills but I am informed by the Garda authorities that they have introduced a five-level suite of CBD courses with each level specifically catering for a required knowledge-based skills set. It involves a three-week course. I am advised by the Garda Commissioner - and I believe this issue was mentioned in the course of his recent engagement with the committee - that 6,000 members are qualified to drive using blue lights and sirens having completed the standard driving course CBD level 2. There are varying degrees of skills and the Garda authorities are anxious to ensure there is a greater level of the optional course available. This is important in the context of the increased resourcing for the Garda fleet and the fact that over the current six-year period, a sum of €46 million has been available for investment in that fleet. If we are ensuring the Garda has a modern, up-to-date fleet of vehicles it is important that there would be appropriate driving skills. The CBD courses at level 2 and higher are available and over the course of next year, there will be a greater level of concentration on this, with further development of this important skills training.

On the body cameras, I am keen that the Garda would adopt this new and advanced technology. I have discussed the matter with the Garda Commissioner, and the issue was mentioned specifically in recent Garda reports. I cannot say for certain if the Garda Commissioner's budget for next year will allow for the roll-out of body cameras. I expect that over the next few years it will form the basis of An Garda Síochána's plans but I cannot say that it will commence next year.

As regards civil legal aid, significant additional funding has been available to the Legal Aid Board in recent years and the total budget for next year will be in excess of €40 million. I acknowledge that there is an issue with waiting lists in some parts of the country and I accept what the Deputy said about improvements in some areas. This is closely monitored. Having regard to the fact that it is a demand-led scheme, every effort will be made to ensure that not only do we get value for money but also that waiting lists can be kept to a minimum. The more than €40 million for next year is a sizeable figure.

I will ask my remaining questions together. The first relates to an issue that arose on Question Time earlier. A number of additional direct provision centres have been opened recently but it is difficult for people to travel from sites such as Moville, Kenmare and Lisdoonvarna to Dublin and back within a day. Will the Minister elaborate on plans to relocate some of the facilities in Dublin to the centres? In addition, are there plans to provide direct transport to services that cannot be moved such as an appeals tribunal hearing in Dublin, and will the Minister provide details on that?

Second, the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland anticipates substantial time commitments for the Garda being transferred to other bodies, for example, the Courts Service in the case of the transportation of prisoners to court, as well as a number of other obligations. Clearly that will create savings in time and money for the Garda but does this budget foresee any additional burdens on the Prison Service and the Courts Service arising from these organisations taking on responsibilities that were previously those of the Garda?

Third, a point that has been raised on a number of occasions by the National Women's Council of Ireland is the lack of contact centres for supervised access for family visitation and so forth. Currently, there is funding from Tusla where there is a child protection issue, but where there is no such issue, there is no stream of funding or pilot scheme.

Some facilities and family resource centres have even done this off their own bat, but it means that where there is no child protection issue, it is very difficult for a judge in a family court to refer for supervised access in a contact centre of that kind. It is different where there is a child protection issue involved. Tusla would fund that. Where there is not an issue, the option does not exist in practice unless they can finance it themselves, and these things are not cheap. This is something that would be in the interests of the proper functioning of the family courts, in the interests of the family courts, and in the interests of these families. Does the Department intend to do something to further that?

Deputy Ó Laoghaire referred to the distance of the direct provision centres from the capital city, and having regard to the fact that from time to time business should be transacted in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the persons, I am sympathetic to the point that the Deputy has made. It is an issue that has been taken up by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. I would certainly like to see a greater level of flexibility and I would like to see a greater level of interaction on the part of officials on site. I believe that we will be in a position to explore alternatives and opportunities on that matter.

With regard to the family law court funding and the relationship with the family resource centres, it is not something that would come under the Department of Justice and Equality. Primarily it would come under the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

I am sorry but I reject that. The Minister could put it onto the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, but they are putting it back on the Minister's Department and they reckon that where there is a child protection issue, it is a matter for Tusla. I do not mind particularly who it comes under as long as it is funded. As far as the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is concerned, if there is no child protection issue involved, it is a matter for the Courts Service and therefore the Department of Justice and Equality.

We do not directly fund family resource centres.

Contact centres are the point. I will ask the question again. The reference to family resource centres is because in some instances they have provided this service off their own bat. Contact centres exist primarily for facilitating Tusla referred supervised access visits. In any instances where there is a desire for a judge in a family court to direct for supervised access in circumstances other than where there is a child protection matter, Tusla is unwilling to fund it and Tusla believes it is a matter for the Courts Service if there is no child protection issue involved. It is a decision of the court but the facilities and the funding do not exist to satisfy that direction. I am very relaxed about who funds this but it is important. They believe it is the Courts Service which funds it and maybe it is a matter for Tusla. The discussion needs to be had between the two agencies.

I need the direct spending in Tusla or in the Courts Service, but I would be happy to take up the issue with the Courts Service in view of what the Deputy has said.

Was there a further point to be responded to or have we covered it?

On the matter of the Commission on the Future of Policing, I acknowledge that the committee is preparing a position paper, or at least observations on that, and I would be happy to engage with the committee on this. It is my intention that the high-level engagement group would be settled before the end of the year. I am happy to engage in the ongoing discussions with the committee.

Which we will be doing on 12 December.

I understand. Was there another question?

No, that was it, but the question was more specific than that. Has the Minister provided in budget 2019 for additional resources for the Courts Service and for the Prison Service so they can take on the additional responsibilities they may have if gardaí are no longer doing them in the context of future policing?

On the issue of prison escorts, only yesterday I brought to Cabinet a value for money report on the matter. It is an area where savings can be made, especially in respect of An Garda Síochána. I am anxious to ensure that if this imposes further spending obligations on the Prison Service, for example, then of course the funding could be met. There is a legislative requirement too insofar as the criminal procedure Bill will allow for greater use of technology and video evidence, which would obviate the need for so many escorts. Considerable savings in the overall budget can be made in this area. I would be very happy to ensure that efficiencies can be forthcoming in a way that was not apparent in the past. It would also free up gardaí to engage in what might be regarded as more front-line duties.

Is Deputy Ó Laoghaire okay with that?

The Minister told us that €60 million is allocated for ICT in 2019. Maybe I missed it but what is the figure that was spent in 2018, to the nearest million euro?

It was €40 million.

Of that €40 million, how much went to Accenture?

While that information is being sought, is there another question or does Deputy Wallace's next question move on from this point?

I would like to hear the figure first.

That is okay. We can hold on.

I am going for €39.7 million. I am just trying to lighten the atmosphere here. I hate stony silences.

I do not have the specific figure for what that outturn has been. A budget of €65 million has been made available for investment in ICT next year. This will again allow An Garda Síochána, as has been discussed with the committee by the Garda Commissioner, to continue to deploy advanced technology in accordance with policing plans

Is there a specific question on the Vote if there is no immediate answer available in relation to Accenture?

That is the amount of money spent this year. I do not have that, as we are not yet at the end of the year.

If the Minister does not have the answer to that question he probably will not have the answer to the next one either. Given that-----

I would not really have that figure as we are at the end of November. I will have the figure as soon as the year has expired, or as soon as possible thereafter.

The Minister has told me that the spend was €40 million, so at the end of November it is €40 million for the year. I thought the Minister might have been able to tell me where the money went. In previous years there have been huge procurement breaches in respect of payments to Accenture. By the sound of it the Minister will not have the figure now but I wonder if all procurement guidelines were met in 2018 in relation to money that went to Accenture?

I would expect so, and I acknowledge what Deputy Wallace and other members of this committee have placed on the record about An Garda Síochána procurement. While I neither have the figure for 2018 nor their practice, I would expect that there would be full compliance with any appropriate regulatory framework. I will confirm to the Deputy as soon as I possibly can.

It would be good to get it. I know what the Minister expects but it would be good to hear what happened. It would be great to get that information from the Minister when he has it.

There is a new framework, which we discussed on a previous occasion this year, that is being employed by An Garda Síochána around tendering for its skills requirements.

On a separate issue, the Minister has stated it is predicted that expenditure will increase by 13.5% in the current year compared to 2017. The number in accommodation currently is 14% higher than at the end of 2017. The Minister has also said increased costs arising from improvements in facilities generally, including implementation of the recommendations made in the McMahon report, have led to increased budgetary pressures. Only recently, a worker in the centre in Ballaghaderreen contacted me and said the place was hell on earth. Of late Deputy Clare Daly and I have been working with a number of refugees in direct provision centres. From what we are being told, they seem to be soul-destroying places in which to live. The Minister says improvements are being made. Am I right in thinking most of the facilities are still being run by the private sector? Who is making the improvements and how are they being managed? Are private sector enterprises organising the improvements or does the State have a hand in making them? Does it have any say in what is going on and what actually is being improved? The Minister says the figures are going up, but what is being done to have fewer people in direct provision centres? We know that there is a housing crisis, but we have had it for a long time. Has any effort been made on the part of the State to actually build something proper for the people concerned or are we going to leave them and watch their numbers increase?

I want to admit that it is a challenge. Of course, I have to say being in a direct provision centre is not compulsory. Nobody is forced to stay in one.

I also have to say, as I have before, that it is not ideal. I am really keen to ensure, as is the Government, that we will comply with our national and international obligations, but it is a challenge because the numbers are increasing. There are in the order of 60 new entrants into the system every week. I am very keen to ensure the State will provide the essential necessities of board and lodgings and shelter. In that regard, I acknowledge the need for improvements and can safely say there have been improvements in recent times. I acknowledge the contributions of people such as Mr. Justice McMahon who I met last week. His independent report contained over 150 recommendations, many of which have been implemented. Some have been partially implemented but are in the course of being implemented fully. I want to continue to try to ensure applicants will have their needs met. I acknowledge the improvements that have taken place during the course of the year, for example, providing for the right to work in certain circumstances and access to the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children.

I do not want to underestimate the extent of the challenge. I do not have a huge suite of alternatives in providing housing or more orthodox accommodation, if that is what the Deputy wishes to advert to. I have an issue as far as accommodation provision is concerned. The Reception and Integration Agency will shortly advertise again for appropriate accommodation which will be required to be of a certain standard. There are in excess of 600 people in direct provision accommodation who have granted permission to remain in the State and who, in the normal course of events, might think of leaving it but who are are choosing not to do so. Again, that represents an added challenge to the system.

On his last point, the Minister has said they are choosing not to leave. That is because they have nowhere else to go. The alternative is to live on the street, which is not very attractive. Is there anyone monitoring conditions in the centres? I know that it costs money to maintain them, but a lot of money is being handed to the private sector to run them. By all accounts, from what we are being told, they are hovels. Does the State actually monitor conditions in the accommodation the private entities are providing?

The Minister has made the point that we have international obligations to maintain. Obviously, there are people coming into the country who are moving into direct provision centres. The numbers are going up because so few are coming out of the centres. The Minister can say they are choosing not to do so, but he cannot walk away from the fact that the Government has failed to deal with the housing crisis. That is why 600 people who are free to walk out have nowhere else to go, apart from the street. I think we all agree that direct provision centres leave a lot to be desired, but it also leaves a lot to be desired that the Government has done bugger all about actually trying to improve things or change the procedures through which the people concerned have to go. Is there any forward thinking or plan to do things a little differently?

I reject the language used by the Deputy. He used the word "hovel" in describing conditions in of some of the centres. While I readily admit that the model of direct provision is not ideal, I do not have an immediate suite of alternatives. What I can say is that there are minimum standards in the provision of accommodation and facilities in reception centres for applicants. They most certainly cover the provision of education services nearby, healthcare services and labour market access, among other issues. I acknowledge the independence of Mr. Justice McMahon in the work and duties he is undertaking. Strenuous efforts are being made by those involved to fully comply with his recommendations. It is an ongoing process. It is expected that further expressions of interest in providing places will be sought between now and the end of the year. Every effort is being made to ensure conditions meet our standards. I very much regret the language used not only at this committee but also outside in which the most unfair analogies have been deployed.

I asked the Minister a question which he did not answer. He tells me that there are minimum standards. I asked him what State body was checking to see the minimum standards were actually being observed.

We are working with a number of interested and expert NGOs to ensure there is independent monitoring. I again acknowledge the independence of Mr. Justice McMahon in the process.

Is the Minister telling me that there is no State body monitoring these units? Is he saying NGOs are monitoring them?

I am not sure what State body to which the Deputy is referring.

For example, if someone is building a house, the local authority is supposed to inspect how the work is being done to ensure it meets proper standards. Is there any State entity inspecting these units to make sure they are fit for purpose?

These are units run for profit by private enterprises.

I am not sure of any units that have been specifically built to accommodate persons in direct provision. With respect to hotel accommodation both of recent origin and of longer standing, there are certain minimum standards that have been incorporated and are being monitored by many of the agencies involved, all of which keep in very close contact with agencies under my Department.

The Minister mentioned non-governmental organisations, NGOs, but will he name those involved with making sure of the minimum standards, as there is no State body doing it?

We keep in direct contact with any of the NGOs which care to make submissions or observations on the running of or conditions in these locations. I know many of the interested NGOs have people who visit these centres on a regular basis, as I do myself.

Will the Minister name them?

No, I will not name NGOs. If the Deputy wishes to indicate any NGOs that he feels have a grievance, I would be happy to have the matter pursued.

It was not me who invented the idea that NGOs were carrying out examinations. The Minister told us that. I am just asking for the names.

There is an ongoing process of engagement and that will continue.

That is a ridiculous answer.

That is the Deputy's opinion. I can only facilitate the exchange for each member. If that is the full extent of the reply, all I can do-----

It is a very innocent question. I imagine if an NGO was working in the field, its people would feel they have been left out to dry by the Minister. He is implying they have some problem. The Minister said these organisations were scrutinising these facilities. Either they are scrutinising them or they are not.

I did not say they are scrutinising them. I said there is a range of NGOs acting as interested parties in the system. The Reception and Integration Agency, under the aegis of my Department, regularly carries out inspections, some unannounced, and both the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and I visit centres on a regular basis.

The optional protocol to the convention against torture, OPCAT, has still to be signed, and that would allow some inspection of units like this. Would it be a good idea to sign it?

I am not sure if legislation is required for that but we are working to ensure that the obligations are met. If it requires legislation, it is not something that is imminent.

The heads of Bill have been produced. Previous pronouncements indicated the legislation was imminent. Those related to the establishment of the national preventative mechanism in order for us to ratify the protocol. It is supposed to be one of the advanced Bills. I expect many organisations will go into a frenzy if the Minister is saying this legislation is not imminent given that it is supposed to be.

It will not be taken before the end of the year.

I will make a point to guide our passage through the remainder of this discussion, which is meant to be on the Supplementary Estimate. The points relating to asylum accommodation are absolutely valid because the matter is part of the provision, and I underlined it in the Minister's opening address. Does Deputy Wallace have further questions pertinent to the Supplementary Estimate?

I would die of frustration if I kept going. It is incredible that these places are not being monitored by a State body.

I reiterate that the Reception and Integration Agency regularly carries out announced and unannounced inspections. It is not true for Deputy Wallace to say there is nobody carrying out inspections.

The Minister told me NGOs did it and no State body did it. He will not tell us which NGOs do it.

NGOs play a very important part in the system as well and we liaise on a regular basis with them.

We will go through the transcript later.

I have three questions pertaining to the Supplementary Estimate. The largest increase outside of Garda pay and administration arises in respect of the justice and equality Vote, with an increase of €15.6 million for criminal legal aid. I note the comments the Minister made in this regard. Does this increase in the number of certificates being granted arise as a result of an increase in criminal activity?

Yes, it is a demand-led scheme and there has been an increase in the number of certificates granted.

Under the prisons Vote, an increase of €2.4 million has been provided for compensation. Is that compensation for prisoners or prison officers? Why has a significant increase been provided?

It involves prison officers on duty and in some cases claims made by visitors to prisons.

It relates to prison officers' claims. Is there any explanation for the significant increase this year on what was originally estimated?

I do not have the figures to hand but there has been something of an increase in assaults on prison officers, which is a cause of some concern.

Under the Garda Síochána Vote, an increase of €700,000 has been provided for witness expenses. What is that? Does it relate to gardaí going to court and getting expenses in respect of that?

Much of this relates to professional witnesses who would be required to give expert evidence and also, in some cases, retired gardaí.

Deputy Fitzpatrick referred to the Garda compensation scheme, which is a very important statutory scheme for gardaí injured in the course of duty. Is there a proposal in the Department to introduce new legislation in respect of that? If so, when is it due to be introduced?

There is such a proposal and I am very keen for us to proceed with overhauling the system of Garda compensation. Arising from the sheer volume of business, both Private Members' business and otherwise, I am not in a position to say when the legislation will be ready. It is an issue that I expect to be given priority next year. I acknowledge the legislation is somewhat overdue.

I thank the Minister.

I have a couple of questions on asylum accommodation. The Minister indicated in his opening statement that because of increased demand, it has been necessary to open six new accommodation centres, providing 567 new bed spaces to date in 2018. Will he identify the locations of the six new accommodation centres? Is it the case that, for whatever reason, some subcontracting arrangement has been made in the securing of hotel accommodation across a number of hotel facilities that are not accommodation centres? A significant number of asylum seekers are being accommodated in a range of hotels in different locations across the country but there has been no consultation with the host communities and very questionable consideration as to the suitability of the locations with respect to the needs and expectations of the asylum seekers.

The daily needs, hopes and expectations of asylum seekers for the future need to be properly evaluated but they do not appear to have been seriously considered according to some of the instances that have been flagged to me. Can the Minister comment on that? If six new accommodation centres have been designated, providing 567 new bed spaces to date this year, how many others are accommodated in non-accommodation centre facilities such as working hotels that may not have a 100% take-up of their capacity, which have been secured through a subcontracting arrangement? I am anxious to know the full facts for same.

I reiterate that there is a challenge in respect of numbers on the basis that the total expected number for the end of the year will be approximately 3,500. That presents us with a challenge. As a result of the ongoing demand increase, six new accommodation centres opened this year providing 567 spaces. Centres were opened in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare; County Westmeath; Monasterevin, County Kildare; Abbeyleix, County Laois, Mallow, County Cork; and Kenmare, County Kerry. New centres are being planned to open in Moville, Donegal, and Wicklow.

The hotels to which the Chairman referred, other than the ones mentioned, to my knowledge would involve a form of temporary and emergency accommodation. I do not have any knowledge of the subcontracting arrangement to which he referred. The Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, has published calls for expressions of interest a number of times this year, having regard to the increased demands. The response to such expressions involve a visit from members of the agency, and an assessment of all of the offers, the standards of accommodation and the ability to provide the type of services that are important in the areas of education, health and sports and recreation. This is the manner of the challenge. Having regard to the increase in numbers, I expect that there will be a further round of expressions of interest shortly. There are minimum standards and they raise an element of local consultation, often with local public representatives. Every effort is made to ensure comforts and basic requirements of those seeking international protection are fully met. However, entry into the direct provision system, while not ideal in many circumstances, is not compulsory.

That is no comfort at all to those who find themselves in such centres for inordinate periods. We could all agree that there is some toleration for short-stay needs but it is completely and wholly inappropriate for long stays. I ask that, on behalf of the committee, that the Minister explores the issue that I have indicated. The issue was brought to my attention and I have only recently received a response from him a to parliamentary question regarding one such instance. The reply does not go beyond a limited provision of the information that I have sought. I ask that the Minister checks because the reference to subcontracting suggests that the situation is getting worse rather than better. The option is open to people who have no specific involvement and responsibilities to block-book rooms in hotels over specific periods. Then we find that perhaps RIA is doing business with them but the point of contact is with these individuals. I notice that all sorts of heads have nodded as I look from my left to right and right to left. If it is not RIA, then the Minister can refer to his reply to my parliamentary question that he furnished only this week, or perhaps at the end of last week, check the details of that specific case and revert to me and advise on how that option is functioning when between 70 and 80 people are in a rural hotel with next to no facilities and no access to public transport. That does not tick the box in terms of serious consideration of what those unfortunate people require.

I ask the Chairman to provide me with the details.

I have. If the Minister refers to my parliamentary question, he already has the information. I ask him to relook at the reply and properly inform himself because I do not doubt that, he is not aware of what may be the methodology employed in this instance, but I want him to know and to be across it. I would appreciate if he would reply to us because, bad and all as the situation has been throughout all of the years of direct provision, this has entered a whole new area, which only suggests a significant deterioration in standards.

I am concerned about this. The Minister listed six new places and one is in Monasterevin. The facility in Monasterevin has existed for years. Is there a new facility in Monasterevin? Why did he mention Monasterevin? The facility in Monasterevin has existed for a long period. If it is the same facility, then it is not one of the six new centres. If it is a new centre, that is grand. The Minister's answers are unhelpful and lead to more questions. I ask him to deal with my query because the facility in Monasterevin has existed for a long time.

Does the Minister wish to comment on the matter?

I mentioned the centres that were opened this year. I mentioned three centres that are in the course of preparation, with a view towards opening. I have said that, furthermore, it is likely that there will be expressions of interest sought in respect of more new centres.

I am keen to ensure applications for international protection are dealt with in a more timely, effective and efficient way. We reformed the system in 2015. I acknowledge the fact that everybody seeking international protection has basic entitlements to legal advice and legal representation. Oftentimes that legal representation entitles people to seek a number of avenues towards redress. I refer, in particular, to the number of cases currently under judicial review. I am keen to ensure that the delay in having these judicial reviews heard is minimised. I am actively examining this with a view to ensuring that everybody who has a case before the courts, or has an application for consideration, can have that application dealt with in a timely fashion.

Did I hear that six new centres have been opened and that, in answer to the Chair, the Minister confirmed-----

-----that one of them is in Monasterevin?

There is a new centre in Monasterevin in addition to the existing facility.

That is my information. The centres are located in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, Templemacateer, County Westmeath, Abbeyleix, County Laois, a centre with which I am familiar; Monasterevin, County Kildare, Mallow, County Cork and Kenmare, County Kerry. Two centres are under consideration, namely, a hotel in Wicklow town and the hotel in Donegal that was the subject of an unacceptable attack last weekend.

Those centres were opened this year. That is fine. I was looking for a yes or no answer.

We thank the Minister for his responses. I ask that he ensures that urgent responses are provided by the Department to the earlier questions and on the latter area focused on, namely, direct provision. Concerns have previously been expressed regarding long delays in the receipt of replies from the Department and we would appreciate the provision of that information as soon as possible. I thank the Minister and his officials for their attendance and for assisting the committee in its consideration of the Supplementary Estimates.