I wish to share time with my constituency colleague, Deputy Power. It is important that in the early days of this official dispute every effort is made to find an acceptable solution.
As this issue affects education and its provisions in Kildare, it is of paramount importance that the Department on the one hand and the trade union on the other do not become so entrenched in their views that it prevents them from finding an acceptable solution. I stress that time is of the essence.
Kildare VEC is one of the most active in the country, with ten post primary schools, more than 4,000 students, three VTOS centres, two Youthreach centres and a teaching facility in the Curragh Prison. In addition, it operates a huge adult education programme in the county with more than 1,000 adult participants. The VEC also helps hundreds of people through its literacy programme.
The VEC also has to deal with the primary and post-primary transport scheme as well as third level and post-primary grant schemes. Having been a member of the VEC, I recall the problems which occurred in 1995 in relation to this matter. The small gains made by the staff on that occasion were to be supplemented by further action from the then Department of Education. Sadly, this has not happened. If the previously mentioned work of the VEC is not to be damaged in the long-term, it is imperative that the Minister and his officials enter into dialogue with IMPACT, the officials' trades union, to resolve the present impasse.
County Kildare is the second fastest growing county and it cannot afford to have a vital link in its development, such as education, undermined by a lack of action on the part of the Department. The staff have, to my knowledge, which is first hand due to my involvement with the VEC, acted honourably at all times in this matter. However, the lack of personnel to meet the workload involved to ensure the successful running of the VEC has left the workforce with no other option but to bring this matter to a head. The members of staff have on many occasions been forced to bring work home to ensure that deadlines are met. Surely it is totally unacceptable that staff who have given such excellent service over a long number of years should have to endure such unnecessary and unsustainable pressure. The Minister should put a mechanism in place to ensure an equitable solution can be reached in order to resolve this very important matter for the staff of County Kildare VEC and for the development of education in County Kildare.