Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Assistance for School Leavers.

1.

asked the Minister for Labour whether the discussions he has been having with the Minister for Education, to which he referred in a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 26 on 22 October, 1987, have been completed; and the further initiatives which he contemplates to assist those experiencing difficulties in making the transition from school to working life.

The discussions between the Minister for Education and myself on measures to assist school leavers with minimum educational qualifications will be completed soon. An announcement will be made on the decisions taken in a matter of weeks.

I should like to ask the Minister if he will confirm that in early November a statement was issued indicating that the ministerial discussions were over, that it was now a matter for a group of senior officials and that an action programme for implementation in this calendar year was to be unveiled? Will the Minister accept that as we are entering into the second month of the year it is a bit off to expect delivery within this 12 month period?

That is not correct. What I said in November was that we had passed a proposal at Cabinet to set up an inter-departmental committee, involving the Departments of Education and Labour, to examine this matter. We asked that committee to report back at the end of January, if possible. The report should be with me in the next week or two.

There have been press reports to the effect that what is involved here is that the young people concerned can expect to be offered a two-year programme and I should like to know if that is the Minister's expectation.

Following discussions in the House I put a number of questions to the inter-departmental committee. Under the present system 6,000 young school leavers are accommodated on a six month scheme. It is my view that that period should be extended to at least 18 months or two years. I would hope to try to build that up to a two-year programme but I do not wish to pre-empt the recommendations of the inter-departmental committee. Many people who work with early school leavers agree that a period of between 18 and 24 months would be more realistic. The difficulty is that to do that within the present financial constraints would mean moving from one area to another. We will have to look at that. The Deputy is correct in thinking that my view is that the period should be extended to at least 18 months.

Are we dealing only with early school leavers or will the discussions involve all those entering the working environment? Is it the intention that the group involved will be catered for from within existing resources? Does the Minister envisage extra resources being made available? Will the Minister say whether this exercise will have any implications for the number of years that students will be putting in at second level?

I would like to think that additional resources will be available but I do not think that is likely. We will try to get ESF aid for the programme in 1989 but if we get the programme in operation in the autumn, as I hope to do, it will have to be funded from existing resources. The programme is confined to early school leavers, those considered to be the drop-outs from our education system. I do not see the programme having any implications for the number of years that students stay in the second level system. We have asked the committee to see how we could keep young people in the education system because in my view that would be better for them. However, we must accept that no matter what happens 6,000 will drop out every year.

I should like to tell Deputy Birmingham that we cannot dwell for an undue length of time on this question. The Deputy has put three supplementaries to the Minister.

If it is the Minister's view that young people should be kept within the school system as long as possible I should like to know how that is consistent with the decision taken by the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Education, to shorten the period from six years to five years?

I spent five years at second level.