1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff employed in the Government Information Service. [37670/18]
Vol. 974 No. 1
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff employed in the Government Information Service. [37670/18]
2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff employed in the Government Information Service. [41074/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
Following the review conducted by the Secretary General earlier in the year, it was agreed that the Department should go with a reformed Government Information Service, GIS, model, with a smaller budget, fewer staff and a more limited remit.
Accordingly, the budget has been reduced by 50%. The staff numbers have been reduced by four.
In further alignment with the Secretary General's report, the reformed GIS team now incorporates the Government Press Office, giving a total of 17 on the newly combined team.
This includes MerrionStreet.ie.
The civil servants in the reformed GIS come under the management of the assistant secretary for corporate affairs, while respecting the role of the Government press secretary and the deputy and assistant Government press secretaries in day-to-day management of press and communications. The work of the GIS includes the work of the Government press office, the digital team or MerrionStreet.ie, central support services for other Departments, providing services to the media, managing media events, and producing communications material across all platforms.
The GIS is supporting the development of the single Government identity, the single web portal project, www.gov.ie, and capacity-building in communications across government. The GIS continues to have a co-ordinating and supporting role for national, cross-Government communications, as has always been the case, but such campaigns are being led and funded by the relevant line Department.
While the strategic communications unit may be gone, it is striking how its spirit continues through the obsession with a certain type of marketing presentation and branding. Instead of seeing modern communications, what we are seeing is very traditional old-style marketing. It may use new platforms but there is nothing modern about the focus on selling messages rather than engaging with citizens in a real way.
In recent days, the Taoiseach has begun appearing in paid online advertisements on Brexit. Could he tell us how many views he has bought for his video? With the dramatic extension of policy advertising and the central role played by the Taoiseach and his Ministers, most modern communications companies would undertake a review of its effectiveness. Can the Taoiseach state whether any studies have been commissioned on whether the politician-focused advertising on which the Government is spending millions of euro is effective? Have we become a more creative society? The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and the Taoiseach have been appearing regularly in paid advertisements in supplements telling us that creativity is great. Creative Ireland is costing a lot of money and there have been many supplements and photographs. I am not clear, however, about their impact.
It is purported that the video produced for the UN Security Council campaign cost approximately €100,000, and that €370,000 was expended on it overall. One hundred thousand euro was spent on a five-minute video, which seemed to be more about the domestic audience than the international audience. We have won the campaign before. On previous occasions, we have had people elected to the Security Council but it did not involve this sort of elaborate razzmatazz and videos of the Taoiseach and others with backdrops, music and all the rest of it. That is all fine but people who know what Security Council elections are all about are aware it is about the hard grind of knocking on doors. It takes a long time to make contacts, which are built up over a number of years. Arrangements must be made with other countries and alliances have to be developed. Therefore, I question the need for a video production costing €100,000 for the campaign. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach indicated to me its purpose and audience. The audience seems to be domestic rather than international. Could the Taoiseach indicate whether he has undertaken any analyses or studies of the effectiveness of all this?
I want to ask about the gov.ie portal project, which the GIS has been working with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer to develop. The Taoiseach said previously that it is part of the eGovernment strategy for the period 2017 to 2020 to rationalise existing Government websites and online services over time. Will the gov.ie portal replace in time all the departmental websites, some of which are a bit outdated and many of which are not very user-friendly? Will the departmental websites be redesigned in line with the gov.ie interface?
It was envisaged as part of the eGovernment strategy that there would be, by last month, an online health portal added to the suite of services available through the MyGov.ie service. This has not happened. When will that portal be added? What exactly will the service provide? How will it direct people? How will people interact with it?
No studies or analyses have been commissioned that I am aware of but I will certainly give the Deputy's suggestion some consideration. It might be a useful exercise.
Creative Ireland and the UN Security Council campaigns are not run out of my Department or funded by it. With regard to the UN Security Council campaign more broadly, it obviously has different aspects. There is traditional lobbying at diplomatic and political levels. I used the Asia–Europe summit on Friday in Brussels as an opportunity to do that. I met bilaterally, in a formal context, the President of Mongolia and the Prime Minister of Norway. I also met the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan and the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. I obviously had many other interactions on Thursday evening and Friday with many government representatives and world leaders. I used the occasion as an opportunity to make our case and pitch for a seat on the UN Security Council. Should I have the opportunity to continue in office between now and the election in 2020, that will be a big part of the work I do as Taoiseach. Obviously it is happening all the time at diplomatic level. Ministers are incorporating this work into their regular bilateral meetings.
Beyond diplomatic and political lobbying, there is, of course, what we actually do as a country, including the stance we take in the United Nations and the position we take on important issues. As part of the budget last week, there was a very large increase in commitment to overseas development assistance. I often hear political parties in this Chamber demanding that we increase our contribution to overseas development aid by a certain amount. We exceeded any figure produced by any party in our commitment. That now allows us to start moving up the scale again in terms of the proportion of our national income that is committed to overseas development aid. We had been at about 0.5% at one stage but the figure fell to about 0.3%. We are now going to start increasing the proportion again, however. We have an ongoing commitment to peacekeeping. We are increasing our level of participation in the mission in Lebanon, as the Deputy knows, taking the place of the Finns and Estonians, who are not continuing any more. It is important to have a public-awareness aspect to the campaign informing the public about what the Government is doing and how its money is being spent, particularly when it relates to overseas development aid, peacekeeping and our work in the United Nations. In addition, the Global Ireland 2025 initiative, to which I am very committed, is expanding our diplomatic presence around the world. New embassies are being set up and we are expanding significantly the remit and operations of agencies such as IDA Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia and InterTrade Ireland. The Deputies will have seen in the budget a real, substantial commitment to all of those things. This is a new approach to foreign policy that is bursting with substance, whether in respect of Global Ireland 2025 or our UN Security Council campaign.
With regard to gov.ie, I am not fully up to date on how the project is going. The plan is that gov.ie will become the portal for access to all Departments and services. To be honest, I am not quite sure how rapidly it is developing. I believe it is run out of the Office of Government Procurement. I am afraid I do not know the position on the health portal yet but I will certainly find out and advise the Deputy by correspondence.
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has concerns regarding Government leaks, particularly regarding the Scally inquiry. [37671/18]
4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he has concerns regarding Government leaks, particularly regarding the Scally inquiry. [39901/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 4 together.
The leaking of some information from the Scally report before the women and families most affected could be briefed was wrong. The report concerned a very sensitive issue touching on the lives of women, some of whom are very ill, and of families, some of whom are grieving after a devastating bereavement.
The leaking of this information was not done with any regard for the interests of the families and the women concerned and it frustrated the plans that had been put in place to have Dr. Scally brief the women and families and patients’ representatives at the same time as the Cabinet meeting and ahead of the publication of the report.
The matter is being investigated by a senior official who did not receive a copy of the report in advance of its publication. I do not wish to pre-empt the investigation by attempting at this stage to answer questions that will have to be considered as part of that inquiry.
When someone in government decided to leak and spin the Scally report, the Taoiseach said at the time he was disgusted by it, and he condemned in very clear terms what had happened. The question remains whether he was sincere in this or whether he is just scared to find a culprit because the culprit could be very much part of a near-permanent obsession with spin in the Taoiseach's Government.
We should be clear about this. The Taoiseach knows, or it should be easy for him to determine, every person in the Government who had access to the report's findings. It appears that it was in the Taoiseach's office and in the office of the Minister for Health. The leaking of the report was unquestionably morally repugnant, given the significance of the issue involved. As the Taoiseach said, it frustrated the objective in the first instance of meeting with the women who have been affected by this and briefing them on the content of the report. It was also a clear breach of the confidentiality of Cabinet documents and official papers.
Would it not have been preferable to bring in an outsider with the power and authority to get to the bottom of what was a callous and cynical attempt at media manipulation? There is no question that the objective was to manipulate the public discourse on the Scally report in advance of its publication. This is not new. Leaks have occurred with a number of reports in order for the Government to get its line out first. When will the senior official the Taoiseach has appointed report to him? It has been approximately six weeks and the person surely has a timeline as to when we can expect a report on the investigation. Did the Taoiseach give any consideration to asking an outsider to carry out the investigation?
The withholding of information was at the centre of the CervicalCheck scandal, and in the immediate aftermath, information was selectively leaked and drip fed into the public domain. The Minister for Health complained in the House about the manner in which some of that information was being drip fed. In the immediate aftermath of this latest leak the people affected said they were incredibly hurt. They had put a great deal of faith in the Scally report and they had put a lot of themselves into getting to the truth in that report. Can the Taoiseach update us on the current stage of the investigation? My understanding is that a limited number of people had access to the information that somehow found its way into the public domain so it is a little odd that the senior person, given whatever assistance the Taoiseach has provided, cannot identify the person concerned. It is not as if there were multiple copies of this report left lying around so I cannot understand the reason for the delay. Has the Taoiseach identified the person who leaked the report? If and when that person is identified, will he or she be subject to disciplinary action? Can the Taoiseach advise if the Minister, Deputy Harris, was aware of the leak in advance?
At the outset it is important to state that the report document was not leaked. None of the recommendations appeared in the press, nor did any of the findings. What appeared in the press in advance was one aspect of the report, which was that it was Dr. Scally's opinion that a commission of inquiry was not warranted. None of the recommendations or findings was leaked, only the aspect concerning Dr. Scally's opinion regarding a commission of investigation. Perhaps one could say that one line from the entire report was leaked to the press in advance.
I note Deputy Martin's allegations. He regularly makes allegations in the House without any evidence to support them. He certainly has a penchant for innuendo and conspiracy theories. The report would have been available to more than the Department of Health and the Office of the Taoiseach. It would have been available to Dr. Scally, his team and many of the advisers who assisted him in putting the report together. Deputy Martin's presumption that only somebody in the Government, a civil servant or a politician had access to the report is not the case. Of course, it could have been leaked by somebody who did not have the report at all because all that was leaked was one aspect of it - the fact that it was Dr. Scally's opinion that a commission of inquiry was not required. It could have been done on a verbal basis. As is always the case, unless there is a paper or documentary trail of some nature it is difficult to identify the culprit. Certainly, if the person is identified and if he or she is a civil servant, politician or adviser, the person will be disciplined. If the person is not, that does not fall to me.
The only people who know are the journalists involved. They have been asked for their co-operation. This should not be treated as a normal story and both journalists who know have been asked to co-operate out of respect to the women and families who were upset by this. The only other person who knows is the person who leaked the information.
The Taoiseach cannot try to reduce the significance of this by saying it is just one item from the report. It was a key issue. The Minister for Health had agreed in the Dáil to a commission of inquiry. He came under pressure in the House and for whatever reason capitulated on that evening and said there would be a commission of inquiry. The Taoiseach followed suit. It was significant, therefore, that prior to the publication of the report a steer or spin occurred, the spin being that there was no need for a commission of inquiry. The cynical or sceptical might say that the last thing those in authority and the various stakeholders wanted was a commission of inquiry into this and, therefore, spun in that direction via the Scally report. That is one possibility. A significant element was leaked and I believe it was done for a specific reason, which was to undermine the case for a commission of inquiry. Whether one agrees or disagrees, the objective of the leak was to move away from the idea that there should be a commission of inquiry into the CervicalCheck issue. I speak as somebody who initially supported the Government regarding a Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, inquiry. However, under pressure on the floor of the House, the Minister caved in and said there would be a commission of inquiry. Ever since Dr. Scally has reported the emphasis has been on moving away from a commission of inquiry. That is the context.
Will the Taoiseach name the senior official who is investigating this? Can he give the official's details, rank and his or her Department? Third, the Taoiseach and I know that the media protect their sources. It is a little much to suggest, given the propensity of Ministers to leak regularly to various senior political correspondents and people across the board, that the Taoiseach is allegedly sincere in wanting them to cough up the source. That is breathtakingly cynical.
The Deputy has quite a history in the past couple of years of engaging in innuendo and making allegations against people that in some cases turn out to be false. If he has any evidence that any individual, politician, adviser, civil servant or anybody associated with Dr. Scally or his team put this information in the public domain by talking to journalists, I ask him to present that evidence. If he has no evidence, he should not make the assumption that it must have been a politician or a member of the Government. He has no basis for that. It should be basic decent politics in the House that we do not make allegations against each other when we have no basis or evidence for doing so.
When a leak happens, I often wonder who did it. One would presume that the person who did it somehow had a plan or thought to benefit from it in some way. The aspect of the report that was leaked was that it was Dr. Scally's opinion that a commission of inquiry was not necessary. Bear in mind that the Government had made a decision to establish a commission of inquiry and the Government still has no difficulty with doing so. Even the innuendo on this occasion does not make sense.
I asked for the name of the official who is investigating.
The Deputy has broken the rules enough. He should withdraw-----
The Taoiseach is not responding.
I asked a very basic question. Can the Taoiseach give the Dáil the information? Who is leading this investigation? The Taoiseach said it was a disgusting investigation. Is he incapable of telling us who the senior official is?
I did not say it was a disgusting investigation. I said that to leak it was a disgusting thing to do.
Yes, it was a disgusting leak.
The Secretary to the Government is leading the investigation.
Deputy Martin has a really long history of making false allegations in this House against people-----
I do not actually. The Taoiseach said the same one day last week and again the following day.
We are going to move on.
-----and of pursuing innuendo and conspiracy theories.
It is the opposite opinion in relation to the former Minister, Deputy Naughten.
We will move on to the final group of questions.
Deputy Martin's constant charge against me relates to spin because he has no case against us when it comes to substance.
We need to move on the Questions Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive.
My charge against him is that he is obsessed with innuendo and conspiracy theories.
That is why the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, resigned.
Deputy Martin has all sorts of conspiracy theories about that too.
It was you who asked him to resign, having told me the day before that it was out of order.
5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B, social policy and public services, last met. [37672/18]
6. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B, social policy and public services, last met. [38529/18]
7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B, social policy and public services, last met. [41076/18]
8. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B, social policy and public services, last met. [41816/18]
9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B, social policy and public services, last met. [42044/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive, together.
Cabinet sub-committee B last met on 22 October. The sub-committee covers the areas of social policy and public service reform, including education, children, social inclusion, Irish, arts and culture, and continued improvements and reform of the public service.
The Cabinet committee system aims to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the relevant commitments in the programme for partnership Government, and provides the opportunity to shape proposals on issues such as equality and disability, which require input from multiple Departments.
The aim of Government is to ensure that the polices and services approved and advanced by Cabinet sub-committee B bring about sustainable improvements in people's lives, particularly those most vulnerable, and introduce supports and opportunities to help those on the margins of society fulfil their potential and lead full and engaged lives.
Through policy interventions at Cabinet committee level, Government has introduced a number of sustainable reforms aimed at improving the lives and standard of living of those most in need. These include: affordable childcare; ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability; advancing a number of important gender equality measures; and the development of an in-school speech and language therapy service, a pilot of which is now under way.
The Taoiseach referred to speech and language therapy. I was not going to make this point but there is a chronic crisis in speech and language therapy and the availability of such services for young children, even to get diagnosed and so on.
On social policy and public services, does the Taoiseach accept that a huge percentage, I would go as far as to say 10% to 15%, of society does not engage with services and that there are disadvantaged communities right across the State, not only in the large urban centres but also in rural areas, which have not contributed to, or engaged in, their communities for generations and that they have become more and more isolated as the generations have passed? Would the Taoiseach accept that this is one of the major challenges facing society? In the past 50 years, free education has delivered enormously for society. The next major challenge is around how to bring people who are at the periphery of society, and those who are most disadvantaged, back into society. It is through education that it will happen but there is no sense of a coherent strategy at Government level in the Departments of Health, Justice and Equality and Education and Skills to see if we can tackle the social isolation felt and experienced by young people and older people from various strands of society. Perhaps I will come back to that in a subsequent question.
I put it to the Taoiseach that our public services are in bits. We all know about the public housing crisis, and we are aware of the dire situation in our public health service, but one crisis that is less remarked on but which is very severe is the crisis in third level education. That crisis was not in any way addressed or acknowledged in the Government's recent budget. The Taoiseach may have noted that the Irish Universities Association released a statement recently expressing significant regret at the failure of the Government to address the funding crisis for third level education. The Union of Students in Ireland and other student union bodies have also expressed huge disappointment at the Taoiseach's failure to address the funding crisis for third level education and for student poverty. Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that we have a crisis and that Ireland is at the bottom of the league table in Europe for funding per student? The Irish Universities Association has helpfully included a graph with its statement, which compares Ireland with other European countries. It shows the State investment per student in the following countries: Finland €20,000 per student; Germany €10,000 per student; The Netherlands €14,000 per student; Norway €16,000 per student; Sweden €19,000 per student; and Ireland €5,000 per student. Ireland's €5,000 funding per student is a tiny fraction of what is invested in third level education cross Europe. This per student investment is going to further decline, because according to the Minister's budget speech we are expecting another 18,000 people to enter further education and university over the next number of years. The budget, however, gave the sector a 1% increase in funding. It was €19 million extra, which is nothing. It is a drop in the ocean that will be mopped up many times over by the increased student numbers. Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that there is a problem here? Has the Taoiseach any intention of doing something about this funding crisis in third level education?
As the Taoiseach is aware, schools that have been built by Western Building Systems are now under investigation by the Department of Education and Skills. The Taoiseach spoke earlier about public services. Reference was also made to how woefully inadequate they are, but inadequate as they are, people cannot access the service if they do not have a school building to go to. Students in schools in my constituency, and in the Taoiseach's constituency, and their parents are worried and, naturally, very anxious. Significant structural issues have been found. They relate to fire safety concerns, especially in Ardgillan community college. I understand that the part of the school that was built by Western Building Systems is now closed and the students are not in school this week. The students are off school next week for mid-term but the school wants to know if there are any plans for those students. Where will they go and where will they be accommodated? There is already serious pressure on school accommodation in north County Dublin.
I take some of the points made by Deputy Moynihan in his contribution. I am not sure that I fully understood the question. If the Deputy wants to come back with a supplementary question I would be happy to try to answer it again, once I understand the question.
With regard to Deputy Boyd Barrett's comments, I acknowledge the shortcomings, challenges and failures that exist in our public services in Ireland. On listening to Deputy Barrett again and again, one would think that we lived in the worst country in the world and that Ireland was some sort of wasteland, and that it was an awful place to live and be a citizen. Yet, this is a country that the UN human development index ranks fourth in the world. That is not a measure of GDP. It is not a measure of the size of our economy. This index takes into account health, education, life expectancy and the quality of our public services. The UN human development index ranks Ireland as fourth in the world, which is up from tenth or eleventh place not that long ago. If a small UN committee made a criticism of Ireland, Deputy Boyd Barrett would be the first on his feet to tell us how awful we are, but when the UN Development Programme, with its well respected human development index, ranks us fourth in the world, the Deputy does not want to acknowledge that. Ireland is rising, for example, when it comes to the social progress index, and it has been for a number of years. The Deputy does not want to acknowledge that. When we consider the Central Statistics Office statistics, the survey of income and living conditions shows that poverty and deprivation is falling in Ireland, that income inequality is narrowing, and that inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient is narrowing. Again, the Deputy does not want to acknowledge any of that. The Deputy also does not want to acknowledge the fact that employment levels in Ireland are at their highest. It seems to me that there is very much a double standard here. The Deputy wants to come in, use every example of anything that is wrong in the country but he never acknowledges the progress that we are making in the country, and he never acknowledges the fact that when taken in the round Ireland is a good country, it is a good place to live and we offer our citizens a lot of opportunities. Yes, we can do better, but if one wants to do better one starts by acknowledging what is going well and then try to fix the things that are wrong. One does not just rubbish everything and everyone and everything they do. That is a defeatist and nihilistic attitude and it will not bring about any positive change for any citizens in our country.
The Taoiseach has not answered my question.
On higher education specifically, the budget provides for an increase of between €50 million and €60 million next year. This is funded by an increase of 0.1% in employers' PRSI.
That comes on top of a similar increase last year. We have also identified a super surplus of approximately €300 million in the national training fund. That money will also be available to our higher education institutions. Project Ireland 2040 includes a pretty major investment in our higher education institutions including our universities and institutes of technology. One only has to travel around the country and visit our colleges and institutes of technology to see how many new buildings have been built in recent years and we are going to see a lot more. The year 2019 will be the third year in a row in which we see a significant increase in funding for our third level institutions.
We always have to bear in mind that it is not just about a simple calculation of how much money is spent. If we divide the total amount of money we spent on health in Ireland by the number of patients we are one of the highest spending countries in the world, but spending does not necessarily result in outcomes. The same thing applies in education. It is a very simplistic and facile analysis to just take the budget and divide it by the number of students or the number of patients.
It is the universities' analysis.
What actually matters is the outcomes and delivery for patients and students. If it was just about spending more money our problems would be very easy to solve. Of course it is about much more than that.
Picking up on Deputy O'Reilly's question on the schools, of course what is paramount for us is the safety of students and staff. It is going to be necessary to inspect approximately 40 schools that were built by this particular company. We anticipate that work will be done this week, over the Hallowe'en break. We anticipate it being completed by the middle of November. In some cases works are going to be needed. Those works will be done. In some cases it may be necessary to partially or entirely vacate some schools, in others it may be possible to introduce temporary measures and to do the works over the summer. We will pursue the builder in the courts. In fact, that is already under way in respect of some of the fire safety issues. It certainly appears that corners were cut back in the Celtic tiger period when it came to the building of some of these schools. That is truly disgraceful. We are in a very different position now. For the last couple of years a clerk of works was present on site every day when a school was being built in order to make sure that it was built up to standard. It certainly appears that prior to 2014 or 2015, and particularly during the Celtic tiger period, schools were built without proper oversight. We now have to go back, make sure they are safe, fix them, and pursue the people responsible.
There are two points to my question. One relates to social policy. The Taoiseach speaks about everything that is right in this country. I preface my remarks by saying that one of the greatest social changes was free second level education. It has now empowered almost three generations of people. It has certainly worked enormously well but I believe that as many as 18%, or at least 10% to 15%, of people in our society are severely disadvantaged in where they are living because of family backgrounds and so forth. They suffer from social problems, drug addiction and everything else. They are living all over the country; they are dispersed and are not only located in the large urban centres. The major challenge as we go forward as a society will be developing a coherent social policy that will empower these people. People 50 years ago used the education services to improve their lot. These people are not engaging with the education services, with the health services or with society as a whole in terms of community activity or anything else. The major social policy question is what is the Government's thinking? Has it come up with any special Cabinet committees to look at what social policies should be developed? It is not an easy question but it is a challenge for society as we go forward.
There is nothing facile about my analysis of the funding of third level education. This analysis was provided by the Irish Universities Association. Its authors are academics so I think the Taoiseach should take them a bit more seriously rather than just trying to score political points. The analysis points out that we are spending a small fraction of what most other European countries are spending per student. The Taoiseach's comparison with health is facile because it fails to acknowledge that quite a considerable amount of that expenditure is out of pocket expenditure by people paying accident and emergency charges, overnight bed charges, and prescription charges. That is all included in the expenditure as is, for that matter, private health insurance. Public funding of health is a very different matter but we are talking about universities. The point is we are way down the league table and our universities are now tumbling in the international rankings. The Irish Universities Association, to say nothing of the students' unions, says that there is a very serious problem. I would have thought that the Taoiseach should acknowledge that as an issue and seek to respond to it in a sensible way.
The Taoiseach mentioned that legal proceedings are under way in four out of 40 of the cases. Are there plans to initiate legal proceedings in respect of the remainder? With regard to the contingency arrangements, reference was made earlier to the question of spin versus substance. There will have to be a roll-out of information for the parents concerned. There is probably no need to hire an orchestra or someone to make a video about it, but it would be an idea if parents could get timely information. My understanding is that staff in Ardgillan community college moved very quickly to inform parents but they still do not know what the plans are for the next number of weeks. There will have to be some sort of information roll-out. Perhaps the Taoiseach might comment on that.
I thank the Deputy. I see that she has a Topical Issue matter on this later so I am sure the Minister for Education and Skills will be dealing with it in detail.
On Western Building Systems, there is legal action under way in respect of four schools where works related to fire safety have been or are being carried out by the Department. That number includes Ardgillan community college. We will have to see how this issue develops with regard to structural problems in the schools but if the company has not built these schools up to standard it is absolutely the intention of Government and the Department of Education and Skills to pursue that company for damages in the courts. I agree with the Deputy in respect of information. It is very important that parents are afforded with information and that we give them information as soon as we possibly can. The priority is, of course, the safety of students and staff. The second priority is to carry out the inspections of the 40 schools and to get that done as soon as we possibly can in order to find out what kind of works need to be done, to get them done, and to pursue the builder for the costs through the courts.
In terms of Deputy Boyd Barrett's further contribution, I did not think there was a further question but I did answer his original question in my previous contribution when I said that funding for higher education is being increased. It was increased last year and it will be increased next year as well. It is important we make sure that the money is spent as well as possible. We should judge ourselves on outcomes, not on how much we spend. That applies across all areas of the public service.
On social policy, I think I understand the question but I do not have the answer. If the Deputy has specific examples-----
Does the Taoiseach accept the challenges that are there?
I certainly do. The Deputy referred to people who are not accessing education, healthcare, or employment and social protection services. I am trying to think through exactly to whom the Deputy is referring.