Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Jul 2022

Vol. 1025 No. 1

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Departmental Programmes

This matter relates to Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, status for Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow town. The response will mention the number of schools, including in my constituency, that entered the DEIS system, which is welcome. However, this school's situation is unique in that it is literally adjoining St. Joseph's National School, which was granted DEIS 1 status in the recent round. The two schools are identical in respect of criteria set out for eligibility and share a campus. Pupils in both schools come from the same socioeconomic area and, in many cases, the same families. The only difference is the gender of the schools. One is for boys and one is for girls.

St. Joseph's DEIS band 1 status is needed and welcome and I am not trying to take away from that, but it is a boys' school and the girls' school has missed out. The optics of that are not good. The only difference we see between the two schools is gender. I welcome the opportunity to hear what the position is. I appeal to the Minister, whom I know the school has been in contact with. If we send on the information, can this be examined or appealed? It seems unusual, particularly given that they share a campus. It is difficult for pupils, parents, teachers and everyone involved to see how one school qualified and the other missed out. I welcome whatever the Minister has to say on this.

I thank the Deputy. In March I announced, as she outlined, a major extension of the DEIS programme, which means that for the first time since 2017 the programme is being significantly expanded and eligible schools will gain access to targeted supports to address educational disadvantage. This is the largest ever single investment in the programme, at a cost of €32 million, and will extend DEIS status to schools serving the highest proportions of pupils at risk of educational disadvantage. Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow was granted DEIS band 2 status in the March announcement. From 2023, my Department will spend in the region of €180 million on the DEIS programme, which is an increase of €32 million.

This announcement follows an extensive body of work by the DEIS technical group to develop the refined DEIS identification, ID, model to identify the concentrated levels of disadvantage in schools. That is the key point: that it is concentrated levels of disadvantage in a school. All schools in the country, including the two schools raised by the Deputy, were considered for inclusion in the programme under the DEIS ID model. The model uses information from the school's individual enrolment database and 2016 national census data, as represented by the Pobal HP deprivation index.

The model takes into account the student cohort and the relative disadvantage within a given school. A detailed document outlining the refined DEIS identification model is published and available on gov.ie. The model also takes into consideration the significant educational disadvantage experienced by Traveller and Roma learners and by students residing in direct provision or emergency homeless accommodation.

Schools that were not satisfied with the outcome following the application of the model to their school enrolment data were provided with the opportunity to have that outcome reviewed. Schools were also provided with the opportunity to update their details on the Department's enrolment databases, the primary online database, POD, or post primary online database, PPOD, depending on the school. While Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow did appeal this decision, there was no change to the outcome of the initial application of the refined DEIS ID model. The DEIS appeals process was applied fairly across all appellants using an objective data-based approach and the results are final. I understand the concerns expressed by the school but I assure the Deputy that the model was correctly applied on foot of the data provided by the school.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is present. I should have acknowledged that at the start. I understand that the school has band 2 DEIS status but it is really difficult to get your head around how two schools on the same campus that serve the same geographical area and, to a large extent, the same families fall into different DEIS bands with one in band 1 and the other in band 2. Around the country, where schools are side by side, they tend to be given the same DEIS status. That is what would be expected when that status is based on the socioeconomic and geographical situation. What exactly is the difference here? I know the Minister mentioned concentrated on disadvantage but these schools are literally on the same campus and in the exact same area and, therefore, I do not understand how one can be in DEIS band 1 while the other is DEIS band 2. Is there any way to get further information on that? Where does this leave the school now? I understand that it has gone through the appeals system but what are the next steps? Is this status decided annually? Can it apply next year? The outcome we are hoping for is that this would be looked at again. There has to be some sort of oversight. These are two schools in the same area sharing the same grounds and serving the same community. The schools serve many of the same families because one is a boys' school and the other is a girls' school and many families send their daughters to one and their sons to the other. I will mention the issue of gender because it does not look good that the boys' school qualifies for one status while the girls' school does not. I would welcome a bit more detail. I understand if it is not available right now but if it could be sent on, it would be appreciated.

I acknowledge the Deputy's concerns. The extension of the DEIS programme has been significant. The programme for Government committed to completing the new DEIS identification model and to extending DEIS status to those schools that serve the highest concentration of pupils at risk of educational disadvantage. It is important to say that the extension of the DEIS programme to new schools is just one phase of work in the development of an inclusive education system that supports all learners to achieve their fullest potential. While the programme supports those schools with the highest levels of concentrated educational disadvantage, I recognise that there are students at risk of educational disadvantage in all schools. Conscious of this and recognising the need to target resources to those schools that need them most, the next phase of work begins now. This will explore the allocation of resources to schools to tackle educational disadvantage. This will consider all schools both within and outside the DEIS programme.

With specific regard to the gender aspect the Deputy has raised, there is no question of gender playing a part in the DEIS ID model; the HP index is used. This is used across multiple Departments. There were three additional weightings provided for. These include acknowledgement of children of Traveller or Roma background, children who reside in direct provision facilities and children whose families present as homeless.

The appeals process was applied absolutely fairly across all appellants using an objective, data-based approach. The results are final. The decision was based on the information provided by the school. I understand the concerns the school has expressed but I assure the Deputy that the model was applied on foot of the data provided by the school.

May I just indicate that I raised this matter with the Minister earlier on and would appreciate the information that was asked for?

I have also raised this with the Minister several times and received the same answer.

Health Services

Last Tuesday, 28 June, marked world newborn screening day. I initially submitted this Topical Issue matter last week to coincide with that date after a parent who has two children with spinal muscular atrophy, SMA, contacted me and asked me to ask the Minister for Health a very simple question: why is there a continued delay in adding spinal muscular atrophy to the conditions tested for in the newborn heel prick test? We need progress on this important issue without further delay.

Each year in Ireland, an average of six babies are born with the neuromuscular condition, SMA. This degenerative condition means that most who are affected will never walk. Left untreated, 95% of children with the severest form do not live past 24 months. There are different levels of severity of the condition. We should be thankful that there have been significant advances in drug treatments for SMA over the past five years and that these medicines have the potential to dramatically alter the prognosis for those who receive them. They represent a significant step forward for the treatment of SMA in Ireland. Clinical data prove that the earlier a patient receives treatment for SMA, the better the outcome will be. Many children born with the disease do not present with symptoms until the age of 12 months or later. Regrettably, it is often the case that, by the time an accurate diagnosis is made, significant neuromuscular damage has been done. Receiving one of the SMA medicines makes a significant difference but, again, the earlier it is administered, the greater that difference will be.

A simple PCR test can diagnose SMA with near perfect accuracy from a spot of blood. Each year, approximately 60,000 babies are born in Ireland and each of these receives the heel prick test for a small number of serious medical conditions. It is possible to add SMA to this list for an additional cost of just €5 per individual. Ireland led the way in newborn screening when it introduced the heel prick test in the 1960s but in the years that have followed we have unfortunately failed to keep up with our European peers and now trail in the newborn screening league tables.

In December 2021, SMA Ireland, the representative group for people affected by spinal muscular atrophy in Ireland, wrote to the newborn screening advisory committee to ask for SMA to be screened for in the heel prick test. This submission was looked upon favourably but six months later the group is still waiting for SMA to be formally included. The HSE has clearly signalled that SMA is a condition that should be treated. Considerable resources are directed towards this endeavour every year. However, as a result of SMA not being added to the heel prick test, children are not being diagnosed at the earliest possible opportunity. Precious months are being lost. The medicine is eventually administered but it would be much more effective if each child received it at the very beginning. The status quo makes no sense ethically or financially. I ask that SMA be immediately added to the list of conditions tested for as part of the heel prick test.

I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to update the House on this important matter. The Minister and myself are aware of how difficult it is for parents whose children have received a diagnosis of a rare disease and how challenging daily life can be for those families and children. Advances in technology and treatment for many of these rare, but serious, conditions are continually emerging, which is very welcome for the families and carers of these children.

Newborn bloodspot screening, or the heel prick test as it is more commonly known, can identify some of these treatable, rare conditions in infants. The expansion of the national newborn bloodspot screening programme, which aims to add more conditions to the heel prick test, is a priority for the Minister for Health. I am pleased to report that progress is being made on the expansion of newborn screening, with the recent addition of a ninth condition, ADA-SCID, in May 2022.

Work on further expansion, and the assessment of evidence for the addition of further conditions, is under way by the National Screening Advisory Committee. This independent, expert committee makes recommendations to the Minister and the Department of Health on population screening in Ireland. The assessment of the evidence for making changes to screening programmes is a thorough process, done in line with internationally accepted criteria and with scientific rigour. In addition to the scientific and technological information required to make evidence-based decisions, there are ethical, legal and societal issues that arise when planning an enduring population-based screening programme of this nature. The committee works closely with the HSE, HIQA, clinicians and patient advocates in its approach to the expansion of screening programmes such as the newborn bloodspot programme. HIQA is conducting a health technology assessment to look at the evidence for the addition of a tenth condition to the newborn bloodspot programme. This is due to be finalised in the near future and the National Screening Advisory Committee hopes to make a recommendation to the Minister before the end of this year. The committee will also publish its full work programme, including its work plans on further expansion of newborn screening, shortly.

Spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, is a rare genetic condition causing progressive muscle wasting and weakness leading to loss of movement. This may affect walking and upper body movement, breathing and swallowing. A new innovative gene therapy treatment called onasemnogene abeparvovec, brand name Zolgensma, was granted EU marketing authorisation for treating SMA in May 2020. Following the first joint agreement on the price of the drug between Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands, the HSE approved Zolgensma for reimbursement in the treatment of SMA for patients who meet the specified criteria in October 2021. This was a welcome and significant development for the State as it is the first time Ireland has agreed to fund a drug for rare diseases in partnership with other countries, as part of the BeNeLuxA initiative. In light of all this, I trust the public can be assured of the Minister's ongoing commitment to further progress in this important area. I again thank the Deputy for raising this important issue.

I welcome the Minister of State's response and his statement that it is a priority for the Minister for Health. He also said the National Screening Advisory Committee is considering adding a tenth condition, but he did not say if it would be SMA specifically. I ask him to clarify that. Is the tenth condition to be added to the testing SMA? SMA Ireland represents children already diagnosed but it wants to ensure the best possible treatment for children going forward, so all children born with the condition receive treatment at the earliest possible opportunity. We are talking about approximately €300,000 per year. It is not huge money. It makes financial sense. It also makes moral sense because there would be better outcomes for children going forward but if someone was just looking at it from a financial point of view, which unfortunately the HSE and the Department of Health tend to do, it would make sense in that regard as well.

The Minister of State mentioned different treatments that are coming on stream. Other treatments that have already come on stream have made a huge difference. I acknowledge that. The earlier a child is diagnosed and gets treatment, the better the outcome for the child, and the better the financial outcome for the Department of Health and the HSE. I ask the Minister of State to provide that clarification. Is the tenth condition SMA or is it just that the committee is considering a number of conditions and SMA might be one of them?

I will get those criteria for the Deputy and I will ask the Minister's office to follow up on that. I reiterate that the expansion of the national newborn bloodspot screening programme is a priority for the Minister for Health and this work has been ongoing since the establishment of the National Screening Advisory Committee. The work in this important area is continual and is evidenced by the addition of a ninth condition to the programme in May 2022. As I said, work is under way on consideration of the addition of a tenth condition. I will try to clarify that for the Deputy. The Minister is committed to the further expansion of newborn screening in Ireland and to identifying opportunities for future additions to it in accordance with internationally accepted criteria and best practice.

Health Services Staff

I thank the Minister of State for coming in this evening. I also thank the Ministers of State, Deputies Rabbitte and Butler, for previously taking questions on behalf of the Minister for Health. Some day I might get lucky and he might be able to get here in person to debate these issues.

Our health services are stretched. That is evident in the significant waiting lists in various areas within health. The pandemic has also taken its toll on the workforce and there are significant backlogs on foot of the pandemic. We are facing a cliff edge of GP retirements in the next few years. Many employees are approaching retirement and that is going to create significant challenges for staffing. There are also many younger professionals looking for better working conditions and a better work-life balance. These are all issues the Department of Health and the HSE are juggling. We are also reliant on agency staff in many areas, particularly nursing. Despite all this, we are repeatedly told money is not an issue. That is evidenced by the record budget of €22 billion we had last year. It is an inescapable truth that the HSE is recruiting record numbers of staff. That is a fact. Unfortunately, that recruitment is not keeping pace with demand, the backlog and the waiting lists we are all familiar with. There are difficulties in recruiting consultants, nurses, particularly specialised nurses, therapists and psychologists. There is a significant inability to recruit in those areas.

I have a accumulated some statistics over the past few weeks through responses to parliamentary questions. With regard to clinical genetics in Crumlin and St. James's hospitals, five posts have thankfully been filled but two are vacant. That is nearly one in three posts unfilled. Some 391 Irish doctors were granted working visas in Australia in the last year while 837 consultant posts are not filled on a permanent basis. Nine highly remunerated consultant posts were advertised last year and none were filled. There are 4,787 older people without a carer due to chronic staff shortages. There were five unfilled posts in BreastCheck last year and 63 unfilled consultant psychiatry posts. In the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, waiting lists have increased significantly, by about 23%.

Parliamentary questions always get the same kind of mundane response, detailing long-standing workforce challenges and so on. I was here a number of weeks ago with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, talking about paediatric patients with type 1 diabetes. The issue there was the delay in getting insulin pumps. Two additional diabetes nurse specialists were advertised in Cork, and one advanced nurse practitioner, but those posts remain unfilled. In 2022, the Cork-Kerry community healthcare area received an additional 14.5 posts for its children's disability network teams, CDNTs. We have no information about any of those posts being filled.

Another issue I raised previously was that of home care workers. At the most recent Cork-Kerry HSE briefing in Ballincollig, we could see from the details presented to us that it takes seven to eight months to hire a home care worker. If I was a home care worker, which is predominantly part-time work, and I was waiting seven or eight months to be told I was getting a job, I would probably have found a different job in that time.

There is clearly an issue here with recruitment. What are we going to do about it?

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for giving me the opportunity to update the House on this important matter. Recruitment and retention of health and social care workers is a top priority. As the Deputy outlined, budget 2022 provided funding for a large expansion of the health workforce, up to an additional 11,369 whole-time equivalents, reflecting the Government's ambition and desire to invest in our health services and to ensure health services are appropriately staffed. The HSE has identified a minimum recruitment target of 5,500 whole-time equivalents alongside a more challenging stretch target of 11,369 whole-time equivalents to be hired in 2022.

Employment levels at the end of May 2022, show there were 134,711 whole-time equivalents, equating to 153,578 personnel, directly employed in the provision of health and social care services by the HSE and the various section 38 hospitals and agencies. This is due to an unprecedented growth rate during the last three years. Since 2019, the workforce has grown by a record 14,893 whole-time equivalents, or 12.4%. In addition to this, approximately 3,000 people were recruited in 2020 and 2021 through third party agencies for Covid-related roles such as vaccinators and contract tracers. The workforce has grown by a total of 2,387 whole-time equivalents in the period between the end of 2021 to the end of May this year, with an increase of 138 whole-time equivalents in May alone.

Officials in the Department are working with the HSE on actions including the HSE's resourcing strategy 2022, which sets out a suite of actions to address recruitment challenges. It sets out the HSE's overarching governance and oversight arrangements which are in place to monitor, on a monthly basis, performance against the target.

A small HSE subgroup has been established which is developing pathways to fill difficult to fill posts for various categories of health professionals. This includes international pathways together with grow your own strategies where they are not available internationally. The HSE has developed a relocation package to ease international recruitment across all grades and, following a Department of Health business case to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the critical skills list has been expanded to facilitate international recruitment of pharmacists, cardiac physiologists, medical scientists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists and chiropodists, psychologists and speech and language therapists. The HSE is reviewing international recruitment for specialist posts, such as nursing and midwifery specialists, with further actions identified to expedite recruitment.

Targeted work is ongoing on the recruitment of medical consultants which includes a streamlining of the recruitment process to reduce the times to hire, focusing on existing consultant posts that are challenging to fill and developing targeted strategies relating to these posts. This includes the development of marketing material to attract applications to certain locations and direct links with the medical training bodies. A microsite is also in development to increase international reach. I conclude by assuring the Deputy of the Minister's ongoing commitment to working with the HSE to address recruitment challenges.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. I have two questions on the response and then I will conclude with a few other remarks. The Minister of State said the HSE has identified a minimum recruitment target of 5,500 whole-time equivalents alongside a more challenging stretch target. What is a stretch target? What does that mean? Is the Minister of State telling me that the 5,500 are to keep things running as they are now, which is chaotic at times? We are all familiar with emergency departments over the last couple of weeks, particularly in certain regional hospitals. I would love to know what the definition of "stretch target" is. How do we get from 5,500 to 11,000? Is somewhere in the middle, at 6,000, 7,000 or 8,000 a success? Can the Minister of State provide clarity on that?

The Minister of State said the HSE is reviewing international recruitment to specialist posts such as nursing and midwifery, with further actions identified to expedite recruitment. Will the Minister of State outline those further actions? I would love to know what actions are being taken. Are we going to roadshows across the world? Are we attending exhibitions? Are we at universities? What specific actions are being referred to?

To conclude more generally, the majority of us here hold weekly clinics. I am Fianna Fáil's party spokesperson on special education. It is well documented that people have been waiting for a physiotherapy appointment with a children's disability network team. People may be waiting two, three or four years, if they are lucky, for a speech and language therapist to come to see them. In my opening statement, I acknowledged that the HSE is hiring more staff than ever, but it is clearly not sufficient. Nothing drives me more demented than to see budget underspends and funding not being drawn down. We need to do more. We need to engage internationally and to look at waiving work visas for non-EU applicants. We need to throw the kitchen sink at it. I would appreciate any further feedback.

I understand a stretch target is a target that makes the organisation alter the process to get the result it wants to achieve.

Is it not shocking that the Department did not provide for an answer for a fairly straightforward question? It is not the Minister of State's fault but whoever writes answers could maybe do a training course in basic English and communication. I recommend that to the HSE and Department officials.

I will bring the Ceann Comhairle's view on it back to the Department.

I thank the Minister of State.

That is what I understand about stretch targets. It sets a parameter that people have to work within to try to achieve the target. "Stretch target" is a first for me too. The continued growth of the health and social care workforce is a top priority for the Department. The Deputy will appreciate that given the competitive international situation and the high demand for skilled health and social care workers, we will probably continue to face ongoing difficulties despite our best efforts. Many factors have impacted international recruitment. We will continue to market Ireland as an attractive destination and we will endeavour to retain as many of our current employees as possible to provide timely and quality health and social care for the citizens of Ireland. It is good to note that recruitment activity and employment levels of those directly employed in the provision of health and social care services shows continued sustained growth in the HSE census figures for each month, with a 1.9% growth increase, equating to 2,387 whole-time equivalents since the end of 2021. Officials in the Department continue to liaise with the HSE and other Government Departments and stakeholders to address recruitment challenges and to ensure we recruit and retain the required workforce to deliver our health services.

An Garda Síochána

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this item and the Minister, Deputy McEntee, for being here to respond. I think this issue is fairly simple to rectify. It should not cost any money.

I have been approached on behalf of students working on ships who are required to go to sea in a training capacity. Many of these companies operate in Europe and are not registered here, but they require police certificate clearance. Police certificates state whether somebody has a criminal record. They are issued by the Garda in certain circumstances, solely for the following purposes. One is for foreign consular authorities, foreign visa applications, naturalisation applications and so on. Other reasons include establishing and registering a business in another EU member state; employment in EU institutions; and for development and humanitarian aid workers deployed overseas on behalf of an NGO. Another one, which I thought might be used in this case, is Irish citizens participating in or engaging in an accredited academic programme on a full-time basis for a minimum period of one academic year with a recognised third level education institution in the host state outside this jurisdiction.

Basically, these certificates are sought in other countries when people go abroad to work or live. None of those five criteria can be used for the purposes I am requesting.

Other jurisdictions issue police certificates for the purposes of training on ships but we do not do so here. The student in question was sent off to maybe get Garda vetting. However, Garda vetting is only used for people who work in Ireland with vulnerable children or adults. That will not work for the student. The final option is a subject access request. This comes under the GDPR regulations. This could be obtained but it specifically states that it is not a police certificate, nor is Garda vetting. The students I am talking about are stuck. They cannot get their berths on a ship to complete their training. I suggest that the Garda Commissioner and Minister make one small change to the five conditions by adding in this one. In other jurisdictions, if employers in foreign countries look for a police certificate, they can get it. That is not the case in Ireland.

I do not know what underpins these police certificates, whether it is legislation or regulations, and who decides on these five criteria. I have been chasing this matter for a while and I have not been getting very far. At the same time, the students in question are totally frustrated and may not be able to complete their training. Cobh is in my constituency and we have more and more cruise liners coming in to the harbour, up to 100 per year. There are lots of companies involved and there are fantastic opportunities for our young people. Ireland is a seagoing nation, or we should be because we are surrounded by water.

I ask that the Minister use her good offices with the Garda authorities to make these changes to allow these certificates to be issued to students in the circumstances I have outlined. It would make a huge difference to their lives and careers, would not cost any money and should fit in, broadly speaking, with the criteria already outlined. I look forward to the Minister's response.

I have vivid memories of my own father covering a Topical Issue matter one night and having the same response read out but that is for another day.

I thank the Deputy for raising this Topical Issue matter. As he correctly outlined, police certificates are issued for the following five purposes: the foreign consular authority and foreign visas; the establishing or registering of a business in another EU member state; employment in the EU institutions; development or humanitarian aid workers employed overseas; and, as the Deputy mentioned, Irish citizens participating in and-or engaging in an accredited academic programme on a full-time basis for a minimum period of one academic year with a recognised third level education institution in the host State. As the Deputy said, the fifth criterion is perhaps one that might suit the individuals the Deputy mentioned, but it clearly does not.

The Deputy has clearly done the groundwork, as the students have, in engaging with members of An Garda Síochána in this instance. We have had limited time to engage to enable us to respond this evening. In the interaction we have had with An Garda Síochána, the issuing of police certificates is done on a non-statutory basis. It seems that there is enough scope and flexibility within that for An Garda Síochána to include or expand that if it considered it possible. The initial conversations we have had suggest the Garda does not believe there is room for police certificates to be provided under the current rules in relation to the exact areas the Deputy mentioned. However, this is based on an early conversation we have had with the Garda and it is important that I speak directly with the Garda Commissioner or someone on his team to try to identify if this is an issue we can address as a matter of urgency. I appreciate there are people who need this now and it cannot wait until the next term or beyond.

I will give an absolute commitment to follow up with the Garda Commissioner to see whether it is something we can do, while obviously acknowledging that it is an operational matter for the Garda and one for the Garda Commissioner to decide, particularly if it is done on a non-statutory basis. There is clearly a gap here where certain individuals do not fit within the police certificate criteria and do not come under Garda vetting. As the Deputy stated, a subject access request would not be accepted by those the students wish to work for. In addition, An Garda Síochána does not recommend the use of subject access requests in this instance, so people find themselves in circumstances where there is nothing available that would be sufficient.

It would be interesting to get information on other countries or EU member states that provide this type of certificate. Perhaps the Deputy already has this information. We could look at how it is done in those countries and perhaps replicate what they are doing. Without overstepping my reach, it is important that I first speak with the Garda Commissioner to examine where we can go with this. I will certainly revert to the Deputy as quickly as I can.

I thank the Minister for her response. I know the Garda Commissioner, having engaged with him in a previous role, and he is very reasonable. I am sure that when the Minister and Garda Commissioner have a conversation, they will be able to find a way of resolving this issue.

Other cruise liners and shipping companies across Europe also have these demands and they work with other jurisdictions, I am told, with no issues. They can get these police certificates from every jurisdiction except Ireland. It is a matter of changing the five rules we have in place here or adding a sixth to allow people who work on ships and cruise liners as part of the training to apply for and be given a police certificate. That is a requirement of these shipping companies for people to complete their training, get certification and have a career. This broadens their skill sets. We talk about skill sets here in Ireland. This is a way we can do it. It will not cost anything but it means somebody has to think about this and put something together.

The Minister has acknowledged that there is some urgency about this. As we speak, there are students waiting for this to be done. They are very frustrated and their careers could go down the Swanee unless this is sorted. I encourage and support the Minister in her work and in talking to the Garda Commissioner. Perhaps he is listening this evening and, knowing the man, he may already be working on this to get it done. It is a small matter but for these young people it is a very big and important matter.

I fully agree with Deputy Stanton. We are not talking about students going on holidays on a cruise liner. This is something different, which would benefit them for their entire lives. It is about their career and, unfortunately, through no fault of their own, they find themselves in a position where there is no police certificate or vetting procedure and nothing that would allow them to continue their training. I am sure this was never the intention when the various criteria were set out. They are quite broad criteria and one would assume they would cover most reasons for which people travel abroad, be that to work, study or for humanitarian reasons. Unfortunately, these individuals have found themselves stuck in this situation. I give a commitment to Deputy Stanton to speak to the Garda Commissioner as a matter of urgency to try resolve this matter as soon as possible.

I thank the Deputy and the Minister for raising this important matter and dealing with it so efficiently and pragmatically.