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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 15 Dec 2000

Vol. 528 No. 4

Youth Work Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Anything to do with youth and how they can be better educated for the future is certainly a step forward. This Bill will help the VEC and other groups to improve the education of youth in difficult areas. Youth work is defined in the Bill as a planned programme of education that is designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation and which is complementary to their formal academic or vocational education and training provided primarily by the voluntary youth work organisations.

This Bill would be much more relevant if children in second level education were sure they would get an opportunity to study and to sit their examinations. I advise the Dáil of the extremely serious situation in which many students at inter mediate and leaving certificate levels find themselves with the indefinite ASTI strike. It will have major implications for children this year. The year 2001 will certainly go down in history as one of the most serious setbacks for young people in education if this dispute is not settled.

I received hundreds of letters and one from anxious parents of pupils in St. Aidan's comprehensive school in Cootehill questioning what this Government is doing about the serious problem where young people are being kept away from school. I got a telephone call from a business person in Castleblayney who has built up a tremendous industry there and who is involved in community work. He is also a parent. Some 700 pupils in Castleblayney are affected by this strike. While this Bill will help to improve the lot of disadvantaged children, it is hard to see how it will deal with the serious problem the Minister for Education and Science and this Government are allowing to continue at every level. I just telephoned home and heard that a parent was sitting in my house.

Deputy Crawford, we are discussing the Youth Work Bill, 2000.

This is very relevant.

Deputy Crawford, it is not relevant. The Chair will accept a passing reference. You cannot debate something that is in the realm of another Minister when that Minister is not here.

When the Leas-Cheann Comhairle goes home, he will certainly get the same representations I have got, that is, that this dispute be brought to an end. I have no intention of disobeying the Chair. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be aware, one of my colleagues was told to leave the House today on another issue equally relevant. I am making a request on behalf of parents, families and children that this dispute be settled as quickly as possible and that as little damage as possible be done to young people.

The VEC has a major role to play and it plays no less a role in Cavan-Monaghan than anywhere else. It has tried to do all it can for youth in its educational efforts. I am thinking especially of Tannin Outdoor Pursuit Centre where many young people from schools both North and South receive some training. However, that VEC sponsored outreach centre is limited because of a lack of funding and help. I hope that situation will be improved dramatically in the not too distant future.

County Monaghan has the second or third lowest number of pupils in third level education. This is partly because of the economic difficulties of sending students from low income families to Dublin or elsewhere. The maintenance grant has not been increased as it should have been and even the means test for that grant needs to be looked at as a matter of urgency. For that reason, this Youth Work Bill has more relevance to Monaghan and Cavan than most other counties.

I would like to make sure that when we look at a VEC development plan, areas like furniture and the food industry are seriously examined. They are two of our major industries and there is not sufficient local training to make sure that young people who do not go on to third level receive proper skills and qualifications. I met two young men in the meat business. They have set up a business where boners work on contract. They said their biggest problem is that they cannot get qualified young people here. Under some of the schemes run by FÁS, young people go into meat factories but when they receive a certain amount of training, the meat factories offer them full-time employment and they do not finish their course and get proper qualifications. We must ensure young people are allowed finish their training courses and obtain proper qualifications as boners and so on. This is not a problem when times are good but people need certification at the end of the day.

The same applies to the furniture industry. We have one of the most vibrant furniture industries in the country. Furniture is mainly manufactured in Monaghan, Meath and Louth, yet young people must go to the deep south to obtain qualifications. That issue must be dealt with within the VEC or some other structure. To maintain quality, it is important that people do not have to go elsewhere for training.

I thank Deputy Crawford for sharing his time with me.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill which seeks to provide on a statutory basis for youth work programmes and services run by the Department of Education and Science and the vocational education committees. The Bill will not significantly change the current arrangements for youth work services but it will put them on a statutory basis. I have been a member of a vocational education committee for almost 21 years. As a former member of a VEC, the Minister of State will recognise the tremendous work done by vocational education committees over the years to develop this service. This service was provided at a time when resources were very scarce and accommodation was almost non-existent. The chief executive officers and members of the vocational education committees recognised the need to take on the task of providing for the disadvantaged in society when no other institutions within the educational sector were prepared to do so. Since 1974, vocational education committees in County Galway have provided youthreach programmes, adult literacy programmes and training centres for the disadvantaged and Travellers. Were it not for the vocational education committees, generations of young Travellers would not have had any training. We all recognise how difficult it is to provide formal education for members of the Traveller community. The efforts and cajoling of adult education officers throughout the country to encourage young Travellers into education, even in a basic way, must be welcomed and acknowledged. I welcome the fact that we are putting much of the work done in the past on a statutory basis. Given the provisions in the Bill, will the Minister of State indicate whether vocational education committees will receive a separate budget to implement these initiatives? It is important that the funding is not subsumed in the allocation for local schemes.

The Bill refers to young people from the age of ten to 21. Will that encroach on the formal education of ten year olds who may be involved in primary education for a few more years? From then on they may be involved in second level education. Some young people may not be involved in formal education, despite the fact that this is necessary. Is the Minister of State talking about a parallel support scheme in this instance? If so, it is very welcome, particularly for the disadvantaged in society. As a teacher, I know that young children who come from difficult backgrounds, through no fault of their own, may find it difficult to concentrate and confine themselves within the formal education structures that are in place. I welcome support for these young people but the form it will take must be clarified. It must be approached sensitively so that it will not encroach on the efforts and endeavours for formal education at primary level or the early stages of second level education.

The Minister must make every effort not to antagonise the secondary teachers and bring them back on board because he totally misread the situation. As a member of the ASTI, I am aware that the voluntary work done by so many secondary teachers was never part of their contract. It was never part of my contract. If the Minister acknowledged that fact, it would go a long way towards sorting out the problem.

That issue does not arise.

I appreciate that. It is important that the Minister withdraws the threat to deduct payment for the days teachers were working to rule. If he withdraws that threat, perhaps the dispute could be resolved and teachers could get on with the important task of teaching.

We must acknowledge in the legislation the work of the voluntary youth federations throughout the country. They must have a parallel support, a support of partnership, so that this valuable work can continue.

Perhaps the Minister of State will comment on the fact that there is no board of management in any of the institutions such as the youthreach programmes, the adult literacy programmes and so on. There is just one board of management, that is, in the training centres. A board of management may not be necessary on an ongoing basis but there should be some management structure for all the services. The Bill provides that where this does not exist, a committee of between 12 and 24 people will be provided for. This will be important for all the institutions.

It is widely known that for all the Youthreach centres, accommodation was always a problem. Many of the training centres were accommodated within the most basic structures. However, because the committees and the teaching staff were determined to provide a service to those people, they more or less ignored the conditions of the accommodation. That was in the past in the initial stages of growth and development. It is time the Department recognised those people for what they have done by providing adequate accommodation and facilities. Does the Bill provide for funding for the improvement of facilities?

Many of the training centres throughout Galway and probably elsewhere are in buildings which are totally unsuitable, often lacking basic facilities such as toilets, adequate heating and health and safety requirements may not be up to standard. If we are determined to acknowledge the important work being done in helping and training the disadvantaged, proper facilities should be put in place. In many areas groups were lucky where vocational schools were vacated, because of amalgamations, or a new structure was provided. Many other groups were not so lucky and had to be accommodated in back street yards of premises used for storage, manufacturing or whatever. That has to stop because it sends out the wrong signals about training for the disadvantaged if they are not entitled to similar standards and facilities as those in mainstream education. I ask the Minister to make a huge effort in this area.

After one has gone through those centres some facilities should be provided for students of exceptional ability who have responded positively. They should be given some recognition and, perhaps, channeled into third level education if they so wish. If they have the ability and the determination to lift themselves from the past, places should be reserved for them in some of the third level institutions. That would be a worthy reward for the endeavours not only of the students but of those who have trained them.

I welcome the Youth Work Bill, 2000. It is an important Bill given the amount of voluntary work, structures and organisations that exist under the remit of the VEC. They play an important role in the development of local communities and youth services. Section 17 deals with the national youth work advisory committee. That committee will advise the Minister on such matters as the provision and co-ordination of youth work programmes, youth work policies, co-ordination of youth work and formal education, co-ordination of youth work and services for young people and so on. The establishment of that committee is important as is the appointment of an assessor of youth work. Under the provisions of section 16, the Minister is empowered to appoint the assessor. I would like this to be part and parcel of what will actually happen. Empowering the Minister is one thing but I would like the Minister to take that function on board and ensure the assessor of youth work is put in place. One of the functions of that person will be to advise, monitor work programmes and, perhaps, evaluate them. Through that work he may be able to carry out audits in various counties and link the activities of one county to another. Where there is a deficit in one county in terms of activity or financial investment that would be brought to the attention of the Minister and the national youth advisory committee. The necessary steps could then be taken to ensure an equity of spend throughout all counties, thus ensuring that no county is left behind because of inaction or lack of funding.

In view of the expansion of the role of the youth work advisory committee and the various activities which will now have to be undertaken by the VEC there will be a need for a huge investment in youth services. A three-year plan instead of a one-year plan is essential. Currently, throughout the different counties, including Carlow and Kilkenny, a spend is put in place which is provided from year to year. The officers in the field, the youth clubs and organisations in the various counties realise the importance of being able to plan into the future. They realise that a three-year term is needed to focus on the investment required for those three years. There is a need for those in the Department to understand that three-year plan and to fund it. All of this will lead to extra bureaucracy and I hope in the course of implementing the Bill and investing in our young people that the money will not be taken up in new bureaucratic structures through the involvement of more personnel. The money should be used by the current structures and more money should be provided for the delivery of youth services in each county. The existing programmes which are doing well but are starved of cash should be enhanced.

While the various sections of the Bill are to be commended, the cost effectiveness of the new structures must be monitored. We must ensure the money goes beyond that structure and into the field of activity which is looked after largely by volunteers. The Bill will encourage greater openness and transparency and will bring everybody on board in terms of the VEC. It has the potential to bring greater equity in funding to the various counties.

There are benefits in revising the structures at county level. The Bill refers to the VEC and the structures required. Where a satisfactory structure for the delivery of the services is already in place and functioning properly and supported locally there would be a flexibility to keep it in place and not to create some other structure which is just another layer of bureaucracy. We should get straight down to the meat of the busi ness and acknowledge the work that has already been done.

Such a structure exists in Carlow town, where there is a limited company supported by the various groups and organisations and which is pushing forward in the whole area of youth development. I would like to see that maintained and those structures adopted under the Bill.

The funding of the Bill is mentioned in different sections. I referred last night during the budget debate to the fact that a central youth facility is needed to draw together all the activities and spending within County Carlow. The organisations in the county have put forward a proposal for such a central youth facility, which would deliver a youth information service and include a youth café, and an outreach service for unattached young people. Programmes which have been established, with workers in place, could be housed in that building. It would also include a counselling service for young people, a drug abuse prevention service, a special area based project worker, other services to be identified after consultation with the other interested parties, networking facilities and youth arts.

That is the programme that they have set for themselves. That they need £1.5 million in capital to refurbish that building means they are currently at crisis point. As this Bill encourages youth organisations to go down that road, a mechanism should be put in place whereby bodies like the Carlow youth services, which want to access a £1.5 million refurbishment spend, would be in a position to avail of the 63% increase in the new capital funding that is available under the budget.

If that could happen, they could, in partnership with the local agencies which have already been established and the county council, which owns the building, achieve a building and a service centre that would be at the cutting edge of youth development in that county and would be a centre of excellence for what could happen, not only in Carlow town but throughout the county. It is essential for a mechanism to be put in place to enable such a capital spend to be accessed, where the energy and the plan is available locally.

Carlow is unique in that it does not have a youth information service. I have already spoken about the equity in the services that are delivered. Most other counties have such a service. It is referred to in various sections in the Bill. Carlow has applied for such a service but it has not been delivered.

There is a need for disadvantaged project youth workers in Carlow town. I have looked at the system in other counties, where the programmes in place in highly populated areas refer to "disadvantaged areas". Areas that require youth workers, but which are not disadvantaged according to the criteria of the scheme set down by the Department, do not qualify and cannot readily access the funds available for youth workers for disadvantaged areas. As a result, there is one youth worker in Carlow town who is serving a huge population, although there is a requirement for two more.

I ask the Department to look at the applications from places such as Carlow town and to bring them up to speed with what is happening nationally and being achieved elsewhere, so that there will be a level playing field for youth development. There is a need for the Department to commit itself, in terms of the new developments in the Bill, to approving a youth worker for disadvantaged sections of Carlow every year for three years.

We need to focus on what is being achieved in rural Ireland for young people. The Ossory youth services in my county of Kilkenny are well structured. However, they are dealing with a huge and ever increasing population and huge demands are placed on the time of the voluntary workers involved. Nine staff are involved in administration there. They receive a grant of £94,000 which should be increased, although it is only one of many grants that can be accessed. There is a £20,000 shortfall at the end of the year.

I am giving that example so that the Minister can look at what currently needs to be funded. I accept what is in the Bill and the requirements under it. We need to fast track many of the funding applications received by the Department from many of these counties.

On the issue of rural youth workers, in my county of Kilkenny in recent days we received further funding of £30,000 for Callan and Castlecomer. There is one youth worker involved in those two population centres, which are at opposite ends of the county. Money is there for a youth worker but there is no money for the back-up services and training required to ensure that worker is able to travel to the various centres, put in place programmes, motivate the volunteers and get the job done for young people there. The salary is there but the other funding is not. We must address this.

There are 12 clubs in County Kilkenny but 20 are needed. If these clubs were properly funded through the youth services and all their programmes had some way of being audited and being found to be good quality, much more would happen for young people. However, what happens is that these young people meet in fairly spread out rural areas around my county – and I know the same is true of many other counties – and have to immediately get involved in fund raising.

While that is a way of generating activity, bonding people together at local level and achieving a certain amount of youth activity, it does not address the reason for having youth services and why those people volunteer, which is to make far more young people responsible within their communities. They are educated through the youth services about civics and the importance of their community. It is too easy for young people to become involved in drink, drugs and many other areas of activity which are not recommended and are causing serious social problems on the margins of this country. This youth activity breaks that cycle and is the way forward. That is why I welcome this Bill and am highlighting the deficiencies in the current structure.

There is a need to train young people in various skills and to improve the skills of the volunteers. The training fund Bill and the education council Bill referred to the need for lifelong training and education. There is a need for the people who volunteer for these services to be skilled up, not just in youth activities but in the broad spectrum of education, so that we can give our young people a meaningful role in mainstream activities in their schools and local communities. There is under staffing in this area, but qualified people are working in the field. They must be given the finance and the wherewithal in their structures to be able to move from where they are and acquire new skills through re-education and continuing education. They can then pass on these skills to those involved on a voluntary basis who will pass them on to the young people.

A youth worker in Kilkenny city covers an area where in one housing estate there is 68% unemployment. In another area a similar proportion of young people are dropping out of school at an early age. This youth worker should be given the proper resources to deal with such problems. There is no building or community centre within reach of a group of 500 houses where young people can come together and participate in youth activities. That must be addressed, as must the deficit in the skills area and the personnel on the ground.

A youth worker can do many things to break cycles and can help young people who are not geared towards mainstream education but who want to work in some way, be it through the arts or through different niches within their communities where they can develop their characters, personalities and skills. At present they are unable to do this because they are being allowed to stray without anybody to look after them. This is where youth workers are needed. The youth worker in Kilkenny city, to whom I have referred, could do with the help of at least two others working together with the appropriate resources in terms of administration and so on to meet the daily challenges that arise in local communities.

Much work needs to be done, including with the volunteers and involving the families. There is a need to involve as many parents as possible in the whole area of youth activity. There is also a need to open our eyes to rural areas that are suffering neglect. The Bill will go some way to establishing the necessary structures. I hope the assessor of youth work will be in a position to examine the plans from the VEC and ensure they are implemented and funded on a priority basis to the extent that they will achieve significant work on the ground and remove some of the serious difficulties we experience with young people.

I commend the Bill. The functioning structures on the ground – I have mentioned some in Counties Carlow and Kilkenny – should be funded to a far greater extent. I hope the huge allocations of funding outlined in the budget will be diverted to areas where there is a plan in place and where there is the most need. Following the fulfilment and extension of the existing plans, I hope the funding will be provided for the buildings required – I mentioned the one in Carlow – perhaps in partnership with the local authorities through the new structure with the VEC.

When the Bill is finally enacted I hope its provisions will be costed. Many Bills passed by the House, which are well worth supporting – the Government and Departments are doing excellent work in this regard – need to be costed. We need to put in place the personnel to ensure the policies adopted in the legislation are enforced.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide the legal framework for the provision of work programmes and services by the Minister and the vocational education committees. The principal features of the Bill are defined and the functions regarding the implementation and co-ordination of youth work programmes and services are outlined. The vocational education committees have been a very important aspect of the country's success to date. Their role in training, together with that of FÁS, has contributed a huge service. Section 3 defines youth work as a planned programme of education that is designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation. It is envisaged as being complementary to the activities of the vocational education committees and FÁS.

The voluntary sector is the backbone of most communities and it is very important that we encourage new entrants. Given the rush to prosperity, it is sometimes more difficult to get people to give of their time. This Bill promotes that concept. It is important for that reason and because it will complement endeavours in the education area.

Section 8 sets out the functions of the Minister in terms of the development and co-ordination of youth work policy. If the Minister implements a national policy, will the vocational education committees be allowed the discretion to pursue their own policies or will they be bound by what may be termed the Minster's mission statement? The vocational education committees can be politicised to the extent that they engage in competition within the education system. For example, there could be conflict in certain towns over the amalgamation of secondary and vocational schools. This can create pressure on the system. The quality of education provided by the vocational education committees is excellent and this is often reflected in the student intake.

It is important that the legislation is not merely concerned with the establishment of just another body. There is a need to provide funding for research in youth work and the monitoring of such programmes and services. It is important that the Minister introduces a benchmark system in this regard. Various Departments do a good job compiling reports, but the Minister should ensure there is an independent assessment of activities in this area.

Last year I was elected to a local authority. I have noticed that following stipulations from Government, bodies are established within the county. In some cases they are established merely to keep the Minster happy and to look well in terms of producing programmes. The Minister should establish an inspection mechanism to ensure such bodies do more. For example, the Minister could send in an inspection team unannounced. In my experience the best display is made when an announced assessment is made, whereas an unannounced assessment provides the best benchmark for testing the effectiveness of a system. In any business, whether in the retail trade or elsewhere, an unannounced inspection by an audit team is the most effective.

A national youth work advisory committee will be established. I have no doubt the Minister intends its composition to be representative. It is important to include employers as well as State bodies. I welcome this Bill because we are talking about providing services in hotels and restaurants where there are staff shortages. It is important to have people from those industries on the committee, whether they are from the Irish Hotels Federation, the Small Firms Association or a body representing the retailers. Services will be important in the future. Some 750 jobs were recently lost in Motorola. High technology companies could move their entire operation to Hungary on four articulated lorries if they so wished. It is not a case of having to move heavy equipment.

The youth work programme will complement people's academic education by giving them training. The vocational education committees have been good in this regard. The leaving certificate applied is a good course which has allowed students in vocational schools to work for two or three weeks in a school year. This will give them a different viewpoint of what an employer wants and how to participate in the workplace. That is important. The Minister should also look at the role of vocational education committees and the youth work programme in recognising certain businesses as being competent to offer people skills. It is beneficial, for example, for a girl to go to work in an office having completed a course in a vocational school.

Section 9 outlines the functions of the vocational education committees regarding youth work. Among the vocational education committees' functions will be the requirement to ensure the provision of youth work programmes and services in their areas and they may do so by providing financial assistance to approved national voluntary youth work organisations, designated local voluntary youth work organisations and authorised organisations subject to terms and conditions. The Minister, on the advice of the national youth work advisory committee, will draw up guidelines for the vocational education committees. When will the guidelines be published? It will be important to get that correct and to keep them as simple as possible so they are effective.

The Minister must promote these schemes. It is important to have a good campaign on the concept of this Bill. The draftsman does an excellent job drafting Bills. However, their concept can be lost once they pass through the Houses. There is a lot of important legislation in place but it is not used effectively. Does the Minister intend to bring all the vocational education committees and chief executive officers together and to encourage them to actively promote this concept and the ethos of the vocational education committees? Members of VEC boards are probably unaware of this Bill and its far-reaching implications and benefits. The people who will use this Bill effectively will be well advised. It is important to spread the message.

Section 11 deals with the provision of programmes and services where none are currently provided. This is a good point. If a VEC is of the opinion that a particular youth work service or programme is required in its area but is not being provided, it may advertise to invite the submission of proposals from appropriate organisations. The VEC will assess and prepare a report on each proposal. If none of the proposals is satisfactory, the applicants will be informed and given 21 days in which to make further submissions. Is it the Minister's intention to ask the vocational education committees to sell the principle of what must be done to make this work to communities and organisations?

This Bill is important in terms of staff shortages. Almost four out of ten businesses have at least one job vacancy at present. Vacancies have been reported across all business sectors. The sector most affected is the hotel and catering sector. Some 59% of businesses have vacancies, while 43% of businesses in the manufacturing sector have vacancies. It is a great time to be in Government given the number of job opportunities available. However, many people do not have employers and that is costing the Exchequer money. This programme will cater for the youth work needs of those aged between ten to 20. It is a good definition of youth.

Each VEC, in consultation with its youth work committee, will prepare a youth work development plan every three years. Will this run in tandem with the term of a council? If this plan is put in place, will it last for the three or five years before a local election is held? I understand a county development plan will fall when a new council is elected. Could it be a two year plan to the next election when there would be a change in membership? Will the plan carry forward to a new term?

Section 14 details the procedures for an annual review and reporting by the vocational education committees, in consultation with the youth work committee. The review and reports will concern the provision of youth work programmes and services, including the areas to be covered. The criteria include the efficiency and effectiveness of the programmes and services, access to youth work by males and females, the numbers of males and females participating in youth work and the co-ordination of youth work services provided under the plan with other youth services in the VEC area. The VEC will furnish an annual report to the Minister who may direct the VEC in relation to the preparation of such a report. I presume that will be an annual report of all the vocational education committees.

Part 4 of the Bill deals with youth work officers and organisations. Section 18 deals with the membership of the national youth work advisory committee. The Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Social Community and Family Affairs, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children, Environment and Local Government and Tourism, Sport and Recreation will each make one nomination. I am delighted that FÁS will also nominate a member. Will CERT be included under the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation? It has done an outstanding job in providing quality workers. The chairperson will be appointed by the Minister as well as two other members who should have youth work experience. Will private partnerships be involved, although perhaps not directly on the board? It would be important to include representatives of the services.

Section 22 deals with the composition of the voluntary youth councils. Each voluntary youth council will have between ten and 20 members. A minimum of 75% of the members, as far as is practicable, should be volunteers and where a professional youth worker is elected, he or she should work in the VEC area concerned. At least one fifth of the members shall be under 25 and regard is to be had to the representation of Travellers' groups on the voluntary youth council. It is important that the marginalised in society are embraced and that Travellers will be represented on the council.

With regard to training, the vocational education committees have been very effective. The vocational education committees have given people who may not wish to attend third level the opportunity to avail of lifelong learning and they are playing an important role in that area. At present, mature students must be over 25 years of age before they can obtain grants. This matter should be given consideration. Certain people take a year or two out from their college studies and they should be encouraged to do so. However, that they may not be entitled to a grant can prove somewhat restrictive.

The evening courses run by the vocational education committees have been extremely effective because life long learning is very important. The growth in the IT sector and changes in the technology base have altered the basis on which the education system operates. The vocational education committees have done a good job but vocational schools are often seen as the poor relation when it comes to competition with other schools. In towns where there are only two schools it often happens that a career guidance teacher may not be appointed because neither school has the required number of pupils to allow such an appointment to be made. The Youth Work Bill will certainly improve the position in this regard, but funding should be made available on a county by county basis and controls should be put in place to monitor how the money is spent. When administration and staff costs are deducted, grants should be given to communities to participate in this area.

Part 5 of the Bill deals with financial matters. Section 32 stipulates the procedure for the preparation and approval on an annual basis of the youth work budget of the vocational education committees. It requires each VEC to prepare a youth work budget giving an annual estimate of its income and expenditure on youth work and the youth work programmes or services it intends supporting. Is it envisaged that new groups will be purposely formed in small rural towns and parishes to avail of this? Will it be promoted through the schools or will the vocational education committees encourage students to establish a scheme in their community? How much money has been allocated for this in the first year?

Section 34 deals with grants. Under this section the Minister may make funds available to the vocational education committees or the various classes of youth work organisations for the purposes of the Bill. Any VEC or organisation in receipt of funds will keep proper accounts and submit them annually. Will those accounts be audited and who will sign off on them?

Section 35 deals with the withdrawal or reduction of grants. Under this section the Minister may, for failure to comply with a direction or other good reason, withdraw or reduce the amount of a grant to a VEC or youth work organisation. Is it intended to pay the youth work grant directly or will it be paid by vocational education committees or local authorities?

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. It is important that young people come to realise that there is much work to be done. Once they finish their academic careers they must come to terms with working for employers, show discipline and realise that they have certain responsibilities. We must seek to foster an atmosphere of partnership between employers and employees.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill which is extremely important in the context of the proper organisation of various aspects of youth work. It provides definitions of youth work and sets out the functions of the Minister and the vocational education committees.

The need for expenditure on the work outlined in the Bill was highlighted clearly earlier in the week on a programme shown by RTE. Some people took what they saw quite seriously while others were more frivolous in their reaction to it. One person said to me that the predecessors of the young people who appeared on the programme would have been drinking to excess in Camden Town or in US cities some years ago. That is not the point. The programme put across a clear message that a major problem exists vis-à-vis the consumption of alcohol by young people. The problem of drug abuse has been in the headlines in recent years but it is obvious that alcohol abuse is becoming widespread.

The Bill will not provide all the answers. However, it promotes an alternative form of lifestyle and sets down mechanisms to facilitate this. The television programme to which I referred highlighted the need to support organisations such as the No Name Club and other drink-free groups. These organisations must be treated in a positive fashion and be seen to be given specific support because of the programmes they promote.

There are a number of other major problems facing young people. For example, there is a huge suicide rate among young males in particular. These problems must be studied, but we can begin to tackle them by putting in place the necessary infrastructure and facilities. There are many formal organisations which do excellent work with young people such as the scouts, guides, etc. These organisations should not be taken for granted. There is a grave danger, for example, that the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and other movements might be taken for granted.

A common issue to which many Members referred is the need to monitor the operations of the system when it has been put in place. There is also a need for funding, whether this takes the form of revenue for youth workers and social workers or capital grants for premises and facilities. We must ensure that this funding is made available and we cannot afford to shirk our responsibility. I have no desire to make a political point but the amount of money provided in this year's budget is what is needed. This level of funding should have been in place for the past ten years or more, once people had come to realise that there were major problems among young people.

There are shows on television on which adults kick each other around the place and it is called "wrestling". In addition, every type of abuse is shown on TV. However, we criticise young people if they ape this type of behaviour on our streets. We need to counteract the type of example being shown to young people on television shows. We must ensure that they get the assistance they require to come to terms with the modern world.

A number of Members referred to the need for an equality of standards throughout the country. Deputy McGuinness drew attention to the position that obtains in Carlow town and other Members also provided examples of what occurs in their localities. It is obvious that the standards which apply in some places are higher than those which obtain in others. The reason for this is not only related to the availability of funding, it also relates to the contribution of voluntary workers, professionals, the members of vocational education committees and other organisations. One example is an organisation called Ogra Corcaigh which has been working in my area for the past 25 years or more. It is well organised, well drilled and its workers, even its voluntary workers, adopt a professional approach, if that is not a contradiction in terms. These people bring a professional ethos to everything they do. This organisation has been able to establish youth organisations, clubs and different types of youth facilities throughout the city but it needs support. It was fighting for a premises for a long time and I think we have managed to give it money. There is a need to support such groups.

I received a letter from the Irish Lupus Support Group Limited, Cork branch. Even though it mostly deals with adults, it also deals with children. The secretary of this organisation works from her kitchen. Facilities have been made available to voluntary groups in Dublin and they have come together. I would like to see this replicated, particularly in larger urban areas where there are greater numbers of voluntary groups and a greater struggle for whatever facilities are available.

In my parish of Togher there is an application for a second resource worker for the area. It is important that this application is granted, not just because it is in my parish but because it arises from an innovative project being carried out by the Government, namely, the integrated social services project which is running in four areas – three in Dublin, including Fatima Mansions, and one in Togher. Young people have come together under this scheme and set up a youth council and examined what is needed. They have put forward their needs and demands and we must respond to them. We are only playing charades if we do not acknowledge the work being done.

The idea behind the integrated social services scheme is to examine how social and State services integrate. If a good programme is devised, such as co-operation between city and county vocational education committees, youth groups, health boards and so on, it should be replicated throughout the country. It should not just depend on the population of an area. Many rural areas suffered because they did not have large numbers of people. It is probably easier to get voluntary workers in such areas as people have a greater commitment to and identity with their own areas and seem more willing to get involved in GAA clubs and other organisations and to do more voluntary work. We should not abuse that commitment but help such people and, wherever possible, back them up with whatever is needed. In most cases this means finance and structures.

This Bill deals with structures and I am happy at the composition and functions of the national youth work advisory committee. I say so because, for the first time, there is a deliberate policy of co-operation across Departments. The fact that each Department will be represented should avoid the previous problem where voluntary groups would be told they did not come under a particular programme or should go to a different Department which would tell them its money was spent. We need to give clear signals to young people. One such signal is that we can manage our work, co-ordinate our efforts and facilitate them.

There has been criticism of the length of time taken to introduce this Bill. As someone involved in youth work, I would prefer if the Minister had taken the necessary time to consult with interested parties rather than rush into legislation which raised more questions than it answered. However, there is support for the provisions in the Bill. I have not heard any criticism yet, and that is fairly unique.

Questions were raised at the time of the Youth Work Act, 1997. Work on that legislation was of assistance to the Minister in preparing this Bill. The Minister acknowledged this fact and thanked those who worked on the 1997 Act. There is no conflict between people trying to improve the situation and those who wish to raise some opposition. That is how things should be done once it is constructive.

We must acknowledge the efforts made in the 1997 Act but we must also give credit to the Minister for the important improvements outlined in this Bill, such as improved co-operation and co-ordination. It is important that all vocational education committees, not just the good ones like Cork, bring forward youth work development plans. Standards must be high but it must be mandatory for vocational education committees to put forward a plan. Too often we hear excuses such as shortages of staff and so on, but the priority of dealing with young people can slip in such circumstances. We cannot tolerate such situations.

Another important proposal in the Bill is that the budget for the year is brought forward. For the first time the Government is now dealing with multi-annual budgets and we must introduce such practices into youth work. I appreciate that the budget outlined in the Bill will be an annual budget, but we have to recognise the rollover aspects of many programmes. It is no good employing, hiring or renting facilities if one does not know what money will be available the following year. We need to examine this issue and I ask the Minister to look at the long-term funding which would take pressure off voluntary workers in particular.

It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but the services by voluntary workers and young people are now provided in a very professional fashion. There are very committed people, particularly young people. I worked with the scouting organisation and youth clubs, and five of my sons were involved with the scouts. They carried out projects which were needed for a merit badge, to qualify for a shield, to win the national trophy or something like that. However, young people now take the initiative and take over projects working with the elderly and so on, not for a merit badge but because they want to do so. We should foster such activities and great credit is due to young people given the alternatives available to them.

Youth work is becoming more difficult in terms of its scope and the statutory requirements, including the vetting of personnel, which we all support. However, this places a considerable onus on those involved. The back-up services provided by the Department, vocational education committees and local authorities must be co-ordinated. From personal experience, the funding and co-ordination of the youth at risk programme has been good because the vocational education committees linked in with local authorities and organisations to put together working teams. It is no longer the case that people say a particular problem is for the VEC or the local authority. These organisations are working together and money is being well spent. Funding should be increased as we can identify young people at risk and we should do that bit extra for them when we have the money.

The most important ingredient of voluntary participation is by young people. I want to see them running their own show wherever possible. They are capable of doing so and they should do so. Not all those involved in youth work are young and I pay tribute to, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to, the men and women who give up their time on a voluntary basis to help provide recreational and educational facilities for young people. There are thousands of such adult volunteers who provide a service we could never afford, and I pay tribute to them on their contributions. I mentioned the GAA in particular, although there are dozens of other organisations whose members give freely of their time. They are the unsung heroes. They are often criticised for the wrong reasons, but the only reward they seek is to see their charges do well. They are to be complimented for their contribution.

There is also another in between section, those who participate in CE schemes, who fall between being full-time State employees and volunteers. I am concerned about the loss of posts under those schemes.

Deputy Mattie Brennan from County Sligo has remained in the House because he considers this is an important Bill. While I would like to say more, I will share the remainder of my time with him.

I wish to share my limited time with Deputy Roche.

That is agreed.

I welcome this Bill, which is excellent for young people. I attended a meeting of the Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation at which I met representatives of CERT who told us of the difficulty they face in recruiting people. I remember the bad old days in the 1980s when we made representations to CERT to try to get people to take up its courses. It now has to go outside the country to recruit people to work for it.

A welcome but difficult change.

There is no doubt that is it a welcome change. The Deputy was here in those bad old days.

I also welcome the fact that so much time and effort is being invested in training our young people, particularly in the GAA sports, hurling and football. The Sligo team has improved no end in recent years due to—

The Deputy is not crowing about the fact that Sligo beat Meath recently.

We can always beat them in the league. Those involved in the GAA have done excellent work with our young people, which I very much welcome.

I know quite a bit about disadvantage, particularly among the Traveller community. I taught some members of the Traveller community some years ago when I was employed by County Sligo VEC. FÁS paid many Travellers who participated in its courses. Travellers have many skills. They were excellent people. We should invest in the training of the Traveller community, as its members have the ability to do a great deal of good work.

I support the Bill. It is good legislation. It is a good framework for work in the youth work area. As I looked around the House earlier, I thought that if, in our day, we had what is provided for in this Bill and the level of funding that is now available, perhaps fewer of us would have spent such a dissolute youth and ended up in this place. We may have ended up somewhere better.

The Deputy should speak for himself.

I was thinking of the Deputy in particular.

This legislation is overdue. I commend the Minister on it. Resources are currently available. As Deputies on all sides of the House have said during the course of this constructive debate, there is no point in throwing money at the problem without the necessary structure being in place. The structure that will be put in place as a result of the enactment of this Bill is very good.

I particularly commend the involvement of the vocational education committees. The VEC system has served us well down through the years.

Debate adjourned.