Tuesday, 13 July 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to update the House on my Department's processing of parliamentary questions since the cyberattack on 13 May. Parliamentary questions are a core part of how democratically-elected representatives seek information from Ministers on behalf of the people of Ireland. The cyberattack caused severe disruption to my Department's parliamentary question process and I fully understand that this situation has been very frustrating for Deputies. I wish to assure colleagues that we are determined to get everything back on track as soon as possible. I thank colleagues for their ongoing support and patience as we continue to work towards this goal. It is important to note that my Department is routinely assigned the highest number of all parliamentary questions tabled. The Department of Health, for example, received 25% of the 30,000 parliamentary questions tabled in the first half of this year. To put that into context, the Department of Education came second with 9%.
As colleagues will be aware, a significant proportion of parliamentary questions assigned to my Department are referred to the HSE for direct reply. Following the attack, the HSE shut down all of its ICT systems, including email and its ICT links with the Department. As a result, HSE systems were not able to receive or process referred parliamentary questions. The HSE has advised that while the restoration of HSE staff email, which is critical to responding to parliamentary questions, is taking place on a phased basis, problems still remain in some areas. Furthermore, discussions are ongoing between my Department, the HSE and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer in order that links can be safely restored between the Department and HSE ICT and parliamentary questions can be securely processed and answered by the HSE. I am informed that good progress is being been made and anticipate that connectivity will be in place shortly.
As parliamentary questions continued to be submitted immediately after the cyberattack, a backlog has developed, which my Department is working to tackle. As soon as it became possible to transfer parliamentary questions to the Department, which was two weeks ago, the Oireachtas Questions Office transferred batches of 100 to 150 per sitting day. This will increase to 200 per day from next week. As it stands, because of all this, there are approximately 1,400 parliamentary questions on hand, which the Department is in the process of answering. While steady progress is being made, as Deputies will understand it will take some time to process responses to these questions. I ask Deputies for their continued understanding and forbearance in this regard.