This is a very lengthy answer and I say this before I begin lest the House thinks I am prevaricating. It is very interesting because Deputy Howlin asks me to outline the schemes operated by my Department, if any, which implies that we are somehow tardy or remiss. As Deputies will hear, there are more schemes operating than I would have thought possible. I wish to inform the Deputy that I make provision annually on a bilateral reciprocal basis for student exchange scholarships with the following European Community member states — Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. I hope in addition this year to provide for third level student exchange between this country and Portugal.
I have been particularly interested in promoting school and student exchanges with the United Kingdom.
Irish schools in the North and South as well as English schools are already cooperating in the European Studies Project. The aim of the project is to encourage pupils in the participating schools to explore the shared elements and the rich diversity in their heritage in a local and a wider European context. The project is co-funded by the Department of Education in Belfast, London and ourselves and a contribution is made by the Commission of the European Communities.
The Department of Education in Belfast and ourselves are also initiating an environment education project involving 24 schools from North and South this school year. The project will be jointly funded by both Departments. A pilot programme of teacher exchanges between North and South is also being operated for the first time this year.
Many school children participate in cross Border exchanges under the schemes administered by the Youth Exchange Bureau on behalf of my Department and steps are being taken by the Youth Exchange Bureau and the Central Bureau for Educational Visits in Belfast to improve the quality of these exchanges in the future.
My Department provide funding to Co-operation North towards the cost of their youth links and school links exchanges schemes. My Department also promote and participate in many European Community programmes involving student exchanges such as Erasmus, Commet, LINGUA, Petra and Youth for Europe. The prepared answer in relation to these programmes takes two pages and I am sure the Deputies are aware of most of the components of the third level programmes. Therefore, I will not go into them.