Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies received from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 13 to 74, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 75 to 85, inclusive, answered orally.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

86 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19453/04]

The pupil teacher ratio at primary level has improved significantly in recent years. The ratio has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 18.0:1 in the 2002-03 school year. The projected ratio for the current school year is 17.35:1.

In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil-teacher ratio within available resources and subject to spending priorities within the education sector. Priority will be given to pupils with special needs and those from disadvantaged areas.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

87 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made to date with regard to his Department’s consideration of the list of properties to be transferred by religious institutions to the State under the deed of indemnity signed on 5 June 2002; if the list of properties proposed to be transferred has been finalised; if he will list the properties that have been transferred to date; if any properties have been rejected; when it is proposed to publish the list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19491/04]

The indemnity agreement provided that the property contribution of the congregations was to be divided into two separate and distinct schedules of properties: (a) properties to be transferred from the congregations to the State, State agencies or local authorities after the date of the signing of the indemnity agreement on 5 June 2002 — the total value of these property transfers for the purposes of the indemnity agreement was to be €36.54 million; (b) properties transferred from the congregations to the State, State agencies, local authorities or voluntary organisations between 11 May 1999 and the date of the signing of the indemnity agreement on 5 June 2002 — the total value of these property transfers for the purposes of the indemnity agreement was to be €40.32 million.

With regard to (a), agreement in principle has been reached with the religious congregations on the transfer of properties and cash to the value of €36.54 million. Just under €5 million has actually been provided by the congregations in cash rather than property, as provided for in the indemnity agreement. With regard to (b), my Department has accepted in principle properties to the value of approximately €27 million. This leaves a current shortfall of approximately €13.5 million. In this regard, my Department is awaiting a valuation on a school property which has been accepted in principle and a number of other properties that have been offered by the congregations are under consideration. It is possible that the conclusion of the position on these properties could finalise this schedule. In this regard, it is anticipated that a meeting between officials and the congregations with a view to reaching agreement in principle on all outstanding property matters will take place shortly.

I do not intend to give details regarding the identity of the properties at this point. However, I hope to be in a position to publish the full list of properties in the near future.

Students in Part-Time Employment.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

88 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the recent ESRI report which found that the number of second level students working part-time had doubled in recent years and that such students receive lower exam grades; the action he intends to take arising from this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19472/04]

The Department of Education and Science is funding the ESRI study, "At work in school: Part-time Employment among Second-level Students". In May 2004, my Department organised a seminar for researchers who are carrying out work for my Department. The ESRI made a presentation on the ongoing research and the broad thrust of its conclusions was outlined.

The ESRI is in the process of completing their report for presentation to me this September. I look forward to receiving the finished report and I will be in a position to respond at that stage about any actions or responses that may be required within the education system.

Special Educational Needs.

Richard Bruton

Question:

89 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the arrangements that are in place for providing assistance to children with dyslexia when at school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19459/04]

Children with dyslexia have, up to now, generally been catered for on an integrated basis in ordinary primary schools where they can be supported by the learning support teacher service or the resource teacher service. At present, there are approximately 2,600 resource teachers and 1,531 learning support teachers in the primary system.

However, the Deputy may be aware that my Department has recently developed a new weighted system of allocation of teaching supports for special needs pupils. An additional 350 teaching posts are being allocated to facilitate the introduction of the new system. The new arrangements will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, such as borderline mild and mild general learning disability and dyslexia and those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs. Further details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

Where the condition of a pupil with dyslexia is of a more serious nature, provision can be made in one of the four special schools or 23 special classes attached to ordinary primary schools and dedicated to the needs of children with dyslexia. All special schools and special classes for such children operate at a reduced pupil-teacher ratio of 9:1. My Department also provides funding to schools for the purchase of specialised equipment, such as computers, to assist children with special needs with their education, including children with dyslexia, where recommended by relevant professionals. Schools may apply, through the special education section of my Department, for this support. Supporting documentation should include reports of psychological and other relevant professional assessments.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

90 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science when the considerable backlog of applications for special educational resources will be cleared; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19428/04]

It is my intention that all applications for special educational resources received by 30 June 2004 will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been considered and schools have now been notified of the outcome. This outcome indicates to schools the resources that may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future and the outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system which I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability and also those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows: in the most disadvantaged schools, as per the urban dimension of giving children an even break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; in all girls schools, including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and this will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. My Department now proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. The Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

Schools which have applied for special needs assistant support will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year. Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned.

Finally, my Department recognises the difficulties some schools have been experiencing while awaiting the outcome of applications for special educational resource and the introduction of the weighted model. The process has been complex and time consuming and I am endeavouring to have all aspects completed as quickly as possible. I also wish to acknowledge the co-operation and support of schools in this regard.

Inservice Training.

John Gormley

Question:

91 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Education and Science if he plans to increase the level of inservice training for the new syllabi for history and geography, which will be introduced in the 2004-05 school year for examination in the 2006 leaving certificate; his views on whether the current one day inservice training in the first term of the 2004-05 year is adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19591/04]

The first phase of the delivery of inservice training to teachers for the revised leaving certificate history and geography syllabi took place in the period February to March 2004. In excess of 1,300 history teachers and 1,800 geography teachers received one day of training in this phase. In the 2004-05 school year, it is envisaged that two further phases of inservice training will take place, one day in the 2004 autumn term and a further day in the in the 2005 spring term.

I am satisfied that the provision of inservice support for both the revised history and geography syllabi is appropriate. Evaluations have shown substantial satisfaction with the inservice sessions as presented by the support service teams for the subjects. In addition to the three days' inservice training being provided, the support services are working to maximise the use of new technologies in the teaching of the subjects. This includes the development of websites that are being designed in collaboration with the NCTE and which will provide access to additional on-line support and materials. The inservice training in both history and geography is being scheduled in conjunction with the introduction of the new syllabi in the classroom to best support implementation.

Teaching Council.

David Stanton

Question:

92 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress which has been made in his plans to establish a teaching council; the timescale for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19558/04]

Plans for the establishment of the teaching council are at an advanced stage. I have recently announced the appointment of Ms Áine Lawler as first director of the council and it is anticipated that she will take up her position in the near future. I wish Áine well in this important and challenging position.

The drafting of the regulations for the first election to the council is also nearing completion and I expect that these regulations will be laid before the Dáil in the near future. The first election to the teaching council is planned for the autumn with a view to the council sitting for the first time before the end of the current year. The teaching council will provide an important and influential forum for shaping the development of the teaching profession from initial recruitment and induction to in-career professional development. The responsibilities of teachers in promoting teaching as a profession and in recruiting the next generation of teachers will also form an important role for the teaching council.

I am confident the teaching council will raise the public profile of teaching as a profession and will be of benefit to teachers, the education system generally and to learners.

School Curriculum.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

93 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to receive the report of the National Council for Curriculum Assessment on the leaving certificate and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19483/04]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

141 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Education and Science when the review of the existing transition year and senior cycle will be completed and if future deliberations will examine the possibility of adding elements of the transition year into three-month modules within the junior cycle. [19589/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 141 together.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has carried out a comprehensive public consultation process on the future direction of senior cycle education in Ireland. This concluded with the publication by the NCCA of "Directions for Development — Developing Senior Cycle Education", which was presented at a national forum in Dublin Castle on 23 September 2003. This forum was attended by representatives of all the partners in education.

The NCCA proposals set out a vision for the type of school system which might exist by 2010. The proposals envisage a restructured senior cycle curriculum consisting of transition units, short courses and subjects. Innovatory features of the leaving certificate vocational programme and the transition year programme would be incorporated into transition units that would focus on areas such as work related learning, special studies, community participation, arts education, ICT literacy and study skills.

The option of a two or three year cycle would be retained and the leaving certificate applied programme would continue as a discrete programme. All pupils, including LCA pupils, would follow at least one transition unit and many pupils would take a greater number. The proposals provide also for an increased emphasis on a wider range of modes of assessment such as practical, portfolio or project work and continuous assessment, with assessment events spread out during courses of study and available at a number of points during the two-or three-year cycle. As the innovatory features of the transition year programme are being retained, there are no plans to provide for inclusion of elements of the programme within the junior cycle.

Publication of "Directions for Development" has been followed by further analyses and consultation by the NCCA in the lead-up to the council's presentation of advice and recommendations to me on the future of senior cycle. I met representatives of the NCCA on 16 June 2004 to discuss the broad outline of its proposals and the written initial advice that has been approved by the NCCA council will be submitted to me formally in the coming days. The advice will be in two stages. While the first stage will be overview advice, the second will include an elaboration of the possible configuration of subjects, short courses and transition units, details of how assessment might be managed, an analysis of the implications for staff development and infrastructure and a detailed action plan for implementing the proposal. This advice is due at the end of the current calendar year.

The NCCA's overview advice proposes that the existing senior cycle will continue until 2007. Over the period 2005 to 2007, extensive actions are planned to rebalance subjects to reduce content and allow more time for embedding of core skills, to develop transition units and short courses and to implement practical bottom-up pilots in schools to develop models of practice and assess implications. It is envisaged that by 2007, junior cycle would commence for new students in year 1 and they would be ready to begin the restructured senior cycle in autumn 2010.

Special Educational Needs.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

94 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department provides assistance to parents towards the cost of extracurricular classes and workshops for children with dyslexia; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties in terms of cost being faced by parents in all parts of the country who have children enrolled in such classes; if he has been contacted by representative groups recently which are concerned that these extracurricular classes and workshops may be no longer viable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19461/04]

My Department has provided annual funding of €63,500 to the Dyslexia Association of Ireland since 1999. This funding has helped the association to operate an information service for members and the public. In addition, this funding has assisted in meeting the costs associated with the attendance of some children from disadvantaged backgrounds at workshops and programmes organised by the association.

My Department has received representations from certain branches of the Dyslexia Association of Ireland expressing concern at the escalating costs of running the workshops, particularly in the context of current taxation laws which they say are resulting in increased costs for the association and, by extension, for the parents of the children availing of the service. Issues relating to tax affairs are a matter between the Dyslexia Association of Ireland and the individual teachers concerned. The question of exempting voluntary groups from tax requirements is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners and my Department would have no role in this.

I am satisfied that there have been significant improvements in the level of school based education services for children with dyslexia in recent years. Such children have, up to now, generally been catered for on an integrated basis in ordinary primary schools where they can be supported by the learning support teacher service or the resource teacher service. At present, there are approximately 2,600 resource teachers and 1,531 learning support teachers in the primary system.

My Department has recently developed a new weighted system of allocation of teaching supports for special needs pupils, including those with dyslexia. The allocation of an additional 350 teaching posts for special needs and a new system for the allocation of resources for special needs in primary schools have now been approved. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, such as borderline mild and mild general learning disability and specific learning disability, such as dyslexia, and those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows: in the most disadvantaged schools, as per the urban dimension of giving children an even break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; in all girls schools, including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. In addition, all schools will be able to apply for separate specific allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

Where the condition is of a more serious nature, provision can be made in one of the four special schools or 23 special classes attached to ordinary primary schools and dedicated to the needs of children with dyslexia. All special schools and special classes for such children operate at a reduced pupil-teacher ratio of 9:1. My Department also provides funding to schools for the purchase of specialised equipment such as computers to assist children with special needs with their education, including children with dyslexia, where recommended by relevant professionals. Schools can apply, through the special education section of my Department for this support. Supporting documentation should include reports of psychological and other relevant professional assessments.

Physical Education Facilities.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

95 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to claims by the INTO that primary schools are not geared up for the introduction of a new physical education programme; the steps he intends to take to address this situation, especially in regard to facilities and resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19486/04]

A new physical education, PE, curriculum is being introduced into primary schools as part of the primary curriculum. It is planned that the new PE curriculum will be in place for the start of the 2006-07 school year.

My Department is aware from recent media reports of an INTO survey on physical education facilities in primary schools. The issue of PE facilities in primary schools was one of a number of matters discussed at a meeting in June held between officials in my Department's planning and building unit and the INTO. At this meeting the INTO accepted that, with regard to schools where such facilities were inadequate, a balance was required in the division of the funding allocation for the various sub-categories of the school building programme with appropriate priority being given to the provision of mainstream classroom accommodation.

The provision of multi-purpose space for primary schools will continue to be considered within the design brief for new schools and/or renovation and extension school building projects. This is being done in the context of available resources and the published criteria for prioritising school building projects. In terms of resources, the Government is delivering on its commitment to provide modern facilities in schools and has progressively increased funding in recent years, with an aggregate total of almost €2 billion being provided since 1998, the largest investment programme in the history of the State.

My Department has never underestimated the scale of the task and the level of capital funding and other resources required to rectify decades of underinvestment in school infrastructure. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Special Educational Needs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

96 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that his recently announced proposals to address the special needs teaching requirements in primary schools fall dramatically short of current and anticipated needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19556/04]

I am satisfied that the new weighted model of teacher allocation for pupils with special educational and learning support needs teaching will significantly improve the level of service provided for such pupils. To facilitate the introduction of the new system, an additional 350 posts are being made available. This will bring the total number of such posts for pupils with low achievement and special educational needs to almost 4,500.

The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with learning support needs and those with higher incidence special needs, such as borderline mild and mild general learning disability and dyslexia. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with more acute needs. The general weighted allocation system will greatly reduce the need for individual applications and supporting psychological assessments and will put resources in place on a more systematic basis, thereby giving schools more certainty over their resource levels. This will allow for better planning in schools and greater flexibility in identifying and intervening earlier with regard to pupils' special needs, as well as making the posts more attractive to qualified teachers.

The previous allocation system placed significant demands on principals, teachers and psychologists. It has also proven to be time consuming, thereby delaying the allocation of resources for special needs. Action had to be taken to reform the system and the model now being introduced will, over time, significantly improve the capacity of the system to cater for children with special needs in a speedier, more effective way. The revised system will reduce the administrative burden on schools and allow them to concentrate on the delivery of services to pupils with special needs. It will also allow psychologists to devote more time to advising teachers on planning for individual children and for whole school provision.

My Department has communicated with schools about their allocations. Permission will be given to fill all specific allocations immediately. The general weighted allocations will be filled following the determination of clustering and reallocation arrangements. To ease the transition to the new system, my Department has already agreed not to redeploy teachers from full-time posts via the panel redeployment process.

Bullying in Schools.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

97 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Education and Science the guidelines which exist for principals and boards of management to deal with allegations of bullying of pupils by teachers; the mechanism which exists for parents to appeal if they have not satisfied themselves with procedures within the school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19594/04]

The investigation of complaints against teachers is a matter in the first instance for school authorities. The normal procedures provide for a complaint to be brought to the attention of the principal, who will seek to resolve the matter complained of. Where the efforts of the principal are unsuccessful in finding a resolution, the complaint may be brought to the attention of school management. School management is required to investigate any such complaint in a fair and open manner and notify the complainant of its findings.

My Department's role in such matters is generally confined to ensuring that fair and reasonable procedures were applied by the school authorities when investigating such complaints.

State Examinations.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

98 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the implications of the fall in numbers sitting the leaving certificate in 2004. [19481/04]

At this stage, the data available for the 2004 leaving certificate reflect the numbers who entered for the examination rather than the number who actually sat the examination. Nevertheless the data since 1998 have shown a consistent decline overall in the numbers who sat the leaving certificate, as shown in the table.

Year

LC Established

LC Applied

Other, including adults

Total

1998

59,297

2,264

4,858

66,419

1999

58,002

2,199

4,842

65,043

2000

55,907

2,747

4,830

63,484

2001

51,935

2,867

4,735

59,537

2002

50,117

3,026

5,257

58,400

2003

51,055

3,299

5,182

59,536

The numbers of entrants, not sits, in the leaving certificate examinations in 2004 are as follows: leaving certificate, established — 48,143; leaving certificate, applied — 3,620; other, including adults — 4,331; total — 56,124.

The decline is in line with changing demographic trends and declining birth rates in the 1980s. The decline in the numbers sitting the leaving certificate as a result of the falling birth rate has been substantially mediated in recent years by an inflow of immigrants and returning emigrants into Ireland. In September 2003, 3,546 students from abroad entered State-aided second level schools in Ireland. Further modest reductions in pupil numbers are expected in the coming years but assuming current trends in inward migration, the reduction is expected to be only of the order of 4% to 6%. By 2013, based on rising birth rates in the 1990s, the numbers of students sitting the leaving certificate one expected to rise again.

The reducing number of students at leaving certificate level does not reflect a decline in the proportion of students remaining in school to completion of senior cycle. In fact, the available data suggest that retention rates have been stable since the early 1990s at 81% to 82%, and a range of actions are in place across the system to prevent early school leaving and increase retention rates in the future.

With regard to entry to third level education, the actual numbers of students entering full-time third level courses have remained relatively stable since 1999 at approximately 35,800. However, the proportion of school candidates who sat the leaving certificate and subsequently entered higher education on a full-time basis has increased from 55% in 1998 to 66% in 2003, allied with an increase in the proportion of mature student entrants from approximately 5% to10%. The modest decline, therefore, in the numbers sitting the leaving certificate is not expected to result in a reduction in third level places in the future but rather an increased entry rate from initial schooling and more opportunities for adult re-entrants.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

99 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he proposes to address the serious problem of the large number of schools throughout the country needing extensions, refurbishment or replacement of deficient facilities or buildings, with particular reference to the undesirable use of prefabricated structures on a long-term basis causing, in many cases, non-compliance with health and safety requirements; the reason for the continued delay in addressing this issue; the consequential cost increases to the taxpayer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19557/04]

Since coming into office, the Government has continuously increased capital funding for educational infrastructure. Since 1997, and to the end of the current year, in excess of €2 billion will have been expended on primary and post-primary infrastructure alone. This clearly demonstrates the Government's unequivocal commitment to addressing our school infrastructural needs.

This year, my Department's school building programme of €388 million will deliver in excess of 260 significant school building projects at primary and post-primary levels. In excess of 200 of these projects will commence on site in the current year; the remaining projects commenced in previous years and are currently nearing completion. Furthermore, over 570 additional schools will benefit in some way from the capital programme directly by means of temporary accommodation, permanent accommodation and/or improvements works. All primary schools will benefit directly from the devolved grant scheme for minor works.

This programme of works involves in many instances the replacement with permanent structures of old prefabricated classrooms. While an extensive refurbishment or rebuild project is either progressing in the building programme or under consideration for inclusion it is sometimes necessary to meet the immediate needs of a school with temporary accommodation. In many instances this arises because of the significant numbers of extra teachers allocated to schools. Putting a high quality prefabricated classroom on site quickly is what enables the appointment of an additional teacher in many instances.

Major building projects cannot be delivered in a short period of time. A complex range of factors governs the life cycle of any potential building project from design through compliance with the planning process to construction. My Department sanctions the wide use of external consultants to expedite the design and delivery of the vast majority of projects. New ways such as the devolved building initiative for small rural schools, the permanent accommodation initiative and the summer works scheme show my Department's commitment to finding innovative and flexible solutions to the difficulties faced by schools seeking to refurbish their buildings or to provide additional accommodation quickly. There is minimal interaction with my Department and schools are fully empowered to drive the design and construction process. I fully expect that these initiatives will inform future policy.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which, in turn, will provide greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement on this matter later this year.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Mary Upton

Question:

100 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science when he intends to introduce regulations adding to the list of institutions included under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19493/04]

At present, 128 institutions are listed on the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act. Section 4 of the Act enables additional institutions that are identified as reformatory schools, industrial schools, orphanages, children's homes and special schools, in which children were placed and resident and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function, to be added to the Schedule.

My Department has received correspondence from both individuals and survivor groups identifying a number of additional institutions that may be eligible for inclusion in the Schedule. Discussions have taken place between my Department and other Government Departments that may have provided a regulatory or inspection function in the operation of these facilities in order to ascertain whether these institutions are, in fact, eligible for inclusion. The initial information received in some cases was limited due to the long period that had elapsed since these institutions were closed and, therefore, the process of verifying each of these institutions has been time consuming and is continuing.

While these inquiries have not yet been completed in respect of all institutions, I am considering proposals which will enable progress to be made on those institutions in respect of which the inquiries have been completed and these proposals are at an advanced stage.

Early School Leavers.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

101 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of students who leave school without completing the leaving certificate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19433/04]

The most recently published analysis by my Department of retention rates at second level was released in August 2003. The report indicates that of those pupils who commenced the junior cycle programme in September 1994 approximately 3,900 or 5.7% left school before completing the junior certificate three years later and approximately 12,500 or 18.2% left school without the leaving certificate.

My Department's commitment to tackling early school leaving is reflected in the national anti-poverty strategy, the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion, 2003-2005, and the latest social partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, which contains a special initiative on tackling educational disadvantage in literacy, numeracy and early school leavers. My Department's approach to addressing the issue of early school leaving comprises legislative and curricular reforms as well as preventative interventions.

The Education (Welfare) Act, which was fully commenced on 5 July 2002, established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education. To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents/guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people.

My Department operates a number of programmes, including the giving children an even break programme and the home school community liaison scheme, which provide additional supports for children in primary and post-primary schools from disadvantaged backgrounds who are most at risk of educational disadvantage and early school leaving. My Department's main programme for tackling early school leaving is the school completion programme, which was launched in 2002. This programme incorporates the learning, experience and best practice derived from previous early school leaving initiatives and assimilates the eight to 15 early school leaver initiative, ESLI, and the stay-in-school retention initiative at second level, SSRI. It is a key component of my Department's strategy to discriminate positively in favour of children and young people who are at risk of early school leaving. The programme is based on an integrated cross-community approach to tackling early school leaving. There are currently 405 schools — 295 primary and 110 post-primary — participating in the school completion programme.

With regard to curriculum reform, my Department's strategies have included widening the educational experience available to students. These strategies aim to achieve a greater level of inclusiveness in curricular provision through such programmes as the junior certificate schools programme, JCSP, the leaving certificate vocational programme, LCVP, vocational preparation and training, VPT, and the leaving certificate applied, LCA.

Vetting of Staff.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

102 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science the vetting procedures in place for non-teaching staff employed in schools; if he plans improvements in this area, especially in view of the findings of the inquiry in Britain into the Soham murders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19489/04]

Dan Neville

Question:

135 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to the introduction of vetting procedures in primary and secondary schools for teachers and all other staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19439/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 135 together.

Ensuring the protection, health and welfare of children in schools is a key concern for me, parents, schools and society generally. At present, the central vetting unit of the Garda Síochána processes requests for clearance from my Department for bus escorts and special needs assistants provided to children with special educational needs and to staff working in children detention schools. However, other employees and volunteers working in the education sector are not covered and I am aware that schools have experienced difficulties having other prospective employees vetted.

A cross-governmental working group was established to consider proposals for reform of vetting by the central vetting unit run by the Garda Síochána. Its terms of reference included defining the type of organisation which should come within the ambit of the vetting process. The group was chaired by a chief superintendent and included officials from the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Education and Science and the Office of the Attorney General. The working group has submitted its final report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Commissioner and I have been informed that it is being given full and careful consideration with a view to early implementation as appropriate.

Considerable work has been done by my Department on the preparation of a draft discussion paper. I intend to use this as the basis for discussion with the education partners once the working group's report becomes available. The issues involved do not relate only to my own Department and continuing co-operation between the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Education and Science will be required in bringing forward reforms.

Bullying in Schools.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

103 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the guidelines which exist regarding bullying amongst students in schools, including the way in which allegations of bullying and substantiated bullying are to be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19593/04]

Individual school management authorities are responsible for implementing effective policies to counter bullying in schools. In 1993, my Department issued "Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour" to all primary and post-primary schools. The purpose of the guidelines was to assist schools in devising school based measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness of the problem among school management authorities, staff, pupils and parents. A further circular in 1994 reminded school authorities of their responsibility in formulating a written code of behaviour and discipline, which should include specific measures to counter bullying behaviour.

The guidelines provide advice on the procedures for investigating allegations of bullying and for dealing with substantiated instances.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Liz McManus

Question:

104 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to new figures produced by the INTO showing that average class sizes in some parts of the country can be as high as 27; his views on whether this level is satisfactory; the steps he is taking to reduce class sizes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19488/04]

I am aware of the figures referred to by the INTO. Significant improvements have been made in the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level in recent years. The ratio has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 18:1 in the 2002-03 school year. The projected ratio for the current school year is 17.35:1. Arising from these improvements, class sizes have been reduced in the same period.

I am committed to reducing class sizes still further. This, however, can only be done on a phased basis having regard to available resources and subject to spending priorities within the education sector. Priority will be given to pupils with special needs and those from disadvantaged areas.

Admission to Schools.

Jack Wall

Question:

105 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science when he will introduce regulations governing admission to schools under the Education Act 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19506/04]

My Department has recently received from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government a draft set of regulations which are intended to govern admission to schools under the Education Act 1998. The purpose of these proposed regulations is to promote greater consistency, transparency and accountability in decision making at school level and to further the objective, under the Education Act, of equality and participation in education.

The draft regulations are currently being circulated within my Department for examination and discussion. Once they have been agreed my Department will engage in talks with the partners in education. Following the conclusion of this process, the regulations will be returned to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for final drafting.

Voice Damage.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

106 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to concerns expressed that widespread damage may have been done to the voices of primary teachers as a result of teaching duties that may leave the State exposed to claims for damages; if information is available to his Department on the extent of this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19484/04]

There is little information available to indicate how prevalent voice problems may be among the general teaching profession in Ireland. The issue has not been highlighted previously by any of the interests concerned. There have been reports recently in the media concerning a new study of voice problems among teachers in the Dublin area, carried out by Professor R. Kinsella with Ms Catherine Munier of the Smurfit School of Business, which I understand has yet to be published. The findings of the study will be considered when it becomes available.

Third Level Fees.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

107 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will review the policy whereby a person with a higher level academic qualification, such as a Ph.D, cannot qualify for free fees to study for a higher diploma in education in order to teach at second level; his views on the fact that this deters many potentially excellent teachers, especially in the science area, from joining the teaching profession at second level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19474/04]

Under the terms of the free fees initiative my Department meets the tuition fees of eligible students. The main conditions are that students must be first-time undergraduates and hold EU nationality or official refugee status and have been ordinarily resident in an EU member state for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to an approved third level course. Students on post-graduate courses are not eligible under the free fees initiative.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Simon Coveney

Question:

108 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the pupil-teacher ratio in schools which are designated as disadvantaged; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19456/04]

With regard to staffing provision for disadvantage at primary level, a range of existing additional supports will continue to be provided in 2004-05. These supports will involve the provision of over 600 additional teaching posts enabling the implementation of significantly reduced PTRs in both junior and senior classes. More than 312 designated disadvantaged primary schools will have over 290 concessionary teaching posts, which are not determined by reference to enrolment, and 32 urban primary schools prioritised for participation in the Breaking the Cycle programme from 1996-97 will continue to benefit from reduced pupil-teacher ratios of 15:1 in junior classes and 27:1 in senior classes. A further 211 urban primary schools prioritised under the Giving Children an Even Break programme will continue to benefit from reduced pupil-teacher ratios of 20:1 in junior classes and 27:1 in senior classes. At post-primary level, 203 designated disadvantaged post-primary schools will have over 220 concessionary teaching posts, which are not determined by reference to enrolment, in 2004-05.

Since my appointment as Minister for Education and Science, I have made it clear that addressing educational disadvantage is my top priority. It is my intention to continue to ensure that additional supports are targeted at this area. A detailed review of all education disadvantage schemes is nearing completion and this will impact on existing schemes. I hope to announce the outcome of this review shortly.

Special Educational Needs.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

109 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the widespread disquiet and concern among teachers at the manner in which he announced his approval of an additional 350 teaching posts for special needs, without proper or adequate consultation or review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19332/04]

In circular 24/03, which issued to all schools in September 2003, my Department stated its intention to engage in discussions with representative interests with a view to developing a weighted system of teacher allocations for special needs teaching. Since then, significant developments have taken place and, in consultation with representative interests, a new system for the allocation of teaching resources for special needs in primary schools has now been approved.

I am satisfied that the new weighted model of teacher allocation for pupils with special educational and learning support needs will significantly improve the level of service provided for such pupils. To facilitate the introduction of the new system, an additional 350 posts are being made available. This will bring the total number of such posts for pupils with low achievement and special educational needs to almost 4,500. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with learning support needs and those with higher incidence special needs, such as borderline mild and mild general learning disability and dyslexia. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with more acute needs.

The general weighted allocation system will greatly reduce the need for individual applications and supporting psychological assessments and will put resources in place on a more systematic basis, thereby giving schools more certainty over their resource levels. This will allow for better planning in schools, greater flexibility in identifying and intervening earlier with regard to pupils' special needs, as well as making the posts more attractive to qualified teachers.

The previous allocation system placed significant demands on principals, teachers and psychologists. It has also proven to be time consuming, thereby delaying the allocation of resources for special needs. Action had to be taken to reform the system and the model now being introduced will, over time, significantly improve the capacity of the system to cater for children with special needs in a speedier, more effective way. The revised system will reduce the administrative burden on schools and allow them to concentrate on the delivery of services to pupils with special needs. It will also allow psychologists to devote more time to advising teachers on planning for individual children and for whole school provision.

My Department has communicated with schools about their allocations. Permission will be given to fill all specific allocations immediately. The general weighted allocations will be filled following the determination of clustering and reallocation arrangements. To ease the transition to the new system, my Department has already agreed not to redeploy teachers from full-time posts via the panel redeployment process.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

110 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science the pupil-teacher ratio at secondary level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19455/04]

The pupil-teacher ratio at second level has improved significantly in recent years. The ratio fell from 16:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 13.6:1 in the 2002-03 school year and 13.48 :1 for the 2003-04 school year. My Department will continue to seek further reductions in the pupil-teacher ratio as resources permit.

State Examinations.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

111 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Education and Science the arrangements for the marking of papers from the leaving certificate examinations; if a sufficient number of appropriately qualified persons have been found to mark the papers; if it is intended to use final year graduating students for this purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19482/04]

On foot of a Government decision, I formally established the State Examinations Commission on 6 March 2003. The commission now has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations. I have been assured by the commission that all the 2004 leaving certificate examinations will be marked by appropriately qualified examiners and that final year graduate students will not be used for this purpose.

However, to meet a shortfall in applications in the case of the written examination in junior certificate home economics, ten graduates who have qualified recently as second level home economics teachers are being used to mark the written scripts this year. The marking will be subject to the full quality control procedures in place which are verified by experienced advising examiners.

Student Councils.

Willie Penrose

Question:

112 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made to date by the working group to promote student councils in post-primary schools; when he expects the working group to publish a report on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19496/04]

The working group on student councils, which is chaired by the National Children's Office and is representative of students and all the partners in education, was set up to encourage the establishment of effective and democratic student councils in all post-primary schools in the country. This is in accordance with the Education Act 1998, which encourages the establishment of student councils in all post-primary schools, and with goal 1 of the national children's strategy which is to give children and young people a voice in matters that affect their lives.

In March, as part of the ongoing work of the working group, my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Brian Lenihan, launched a website and a national leaflet and poster campaign to encourage and support the establishment and operation of student councils. The working group will report on its findings, including a proposed three year strategy to support the establishment and development of student councils, to the Minister of State by December 2004.

Schools Building Projects.

Pat Breen

Question:

113 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has plans to upgrade the science facilities at a school (details supplied) in County Clare in the interest of the educational safety of the students. [19333/04]

Grant aid of €3,500 per science laboratory was available to all schools at post-primary level to enable them provide the revised science syllabus for the junior certificate examination. In addition, further funding was provided to schools which did not have major capital investment to their science facilities since 1995. These grants have been paid to all schools that notified my Department that they were opting into the revised syllabus. The school in question made no application for grant aid under this scheme.

All schools that did not apply for funding in 2003 were recently sent a circular, M42/04, advising them how to apply for funding in 2004. The closing date for receipt of applications is 29 October 2004. In addition, architectural planning has been completed for a proposed large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy and the project is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. The project has been assigned a ‘band 2’ rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large scale projects.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year's programme, including this particular school. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

School Management.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

114 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made to date with regard to the revision of all legal instruments regarding comprehensive schools to provide for the inclusion of parent and teacher representatives on boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19503/04]

My Department has been working for a number of years with all the interested parties on the inclusion of parent and teacher representatives on boards of management of comprehensive schools. Agreement has been reached on the revised composition of the boards with the production of three discrete models, one for the ten "Catholic" comprehensives, one for the five "Protestant" comprehensives and one for the single "Jesuit" comprehensive.

The work on the revision of the legal instruments in the case of the single "Jesuit" comprehensive has been completed and a new board, including parents and teacher, is established. With regard to the "Catholic" comprehensives substantial progress has been made on a revised text. I expect a new legal instrument will be ready next month for signature and that the way will then be cleared for the appointment of new boards. In the case of the "Protestant" comprehensives, a meeting between Church representatives and Department officials is being arranged for early next month, the purpose of which will be to resolve outstanding issues.

I am satisfied that all parties remain agreed on the inclusion of parents and teachers on the board and are committed to concluding the work on the legal instruments, which has proved somewhat more complex than first anticipated.

Political Briefing Packs.

Phil Hogan

Question:

115 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount to be repaid to his Department by Fianna Fáil in respect of the production of party political briefing packs; the breakdown of the costs incurred in the production of these packs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19426/04]

The documents referred to were packs containing information on different aspects of the Government education policy. The amount to be repaid to the Department of Education and Science by Fianna Fáil in respect of briefing packs for election candidates is €2,590.40.

The estimated cost of producing the material was: staff costs — €554.40; cost of paper — €136; cost of photocopying — €700; cost of departmental covers — €1,200. I can confirm that the money has been paid by Fianna Fáil to the Department

Inspection Reports.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

116 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if the recent ruling of the High Court has resulted in the release of school inspectors’ reports to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19431/04]

Section 44(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 provides that effect cannot be given to a decision to release records following an appeals process until the possibility of further appeal has ceased. I understand that the order in the case of Barney Sheedyv the Information Commissioner has not been perfected and that the appellant will have three weeks from the date on which this takes place to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court. The perfection of the order is a matter for the court and I cannot comment on when that might happen. Consequently, as the legal case referred to by the Deputy will not be concluded until the expiration of the period allowed by section 44 or the resolution of any further appeal, it has not influenced the release of inspection reports under the Freedom of Information Acts.

School Curriculum.

Denis Naughten

Question:

117 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science the action he intends to take to address the uptake of science in second level schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5126/04]

A range of actions are being taken to promote an increased uptake of science in second level schools, in line with the recommendations in the report of the task force on the physical sciences. In particular, important progress is being made in regard to curricular reform and inservice support, with new syllabi already implemented in leaving certificate biology, physics and chemistry; revised syllabi in primary science and junior certificate science beginning in schools in 2003-04; and work under way on a new leaving certificate physical sciences syllabus to replace the physics and chemistry combined syllabus. All of these developments are being or have been supported by national inservice programmes for teachers.

The following resourcing was provided: substantial grants issued to schools at primary level in 1999, 2001 and 2002; an additionalper capita grant for physics and chemistry at leaving certificate; a capital grants programme for senior cycle science ICT and science equipment; allied with the announcement in 2003 of a once-off grant scheme, likely to cost of the order of €12 million, to support the implementation of the new junior certificate science syllabus. To date some 614 schools in the free education scheme have opted to provide the revised junior certificate science syllabus from 2003-04. Grants of €5.1 million were issued to these schools at the end of January 2004 and a further tranche of payments to certain schools is currently being processed. The revised junior certificate science syllabus provides for a more investigative approach to science education, with some 30 experiments and investigations which have to be carried out over the period of the programme. This hands-on approach is seen as critically important to enhance the attractiveness of the subject and encourage more students to choose the physical sciences at senior cycle.

There are ICT integration projects in teaching and learning under the schools IT initiative and there is the new TV scope programme in partnership with RTE, NCCA and the National Centre for Technology in Education. Other measures include provision of materials and publications to schools to promote the attractiveness and relevance of science for students as a subject option and career path; reviews on mathematics, grading of subjects in the leaving certificate, gender equity issues in science, and initial reports on teacher training undertaken; awareness measures supported by industry and third level colleges linking with schools; the launch of the new discover science and engineering programme in October 2003 bringing together all the existing awareness activities in a unified strategy; the announcement by the Tánaiste in December 2003 of plans for Ireland's first interactive learning centre for children and adults, designed to give visitors a hands-on experience and understanding of science, and to be an education and outreach centre for teachers and pupils. The exploration station is due to open in 2006 and will be sited in the OPW Heuston Gate development in Kilmainham, Dublin.

This work continues to be progressed and enhanced as resources permit in collaboration and consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Forfás and industry. My Department is fully committed to strengthening the quality of science teaching and learning, promoting increased scientific literacy and encouraging more students to choose science subjects at senior cycle and progress to third level options in this critical area as a vitally important part of the national strategy to support competitiveness and employment.

Streaming of Students.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

118 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Education and Science his intentions to end the practice of streaming of first-year pupils in second level schools, following the advice of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment; if he has seen the NCCA report; his views on its recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19502/04]

The report by ESRI/NCCA examines the experiences of students in their first year at post-primary school. It shows that although students have both positive and negative feelings about moving to a new school, most students settle into post-primary school quickly.

Among the findings in the report are the possible negative effects that streaming of students by ability may have on how students settle into school. It is encouraging that the research indicates that the prevalence of streaming in first year is declining and that the great majority, 70%, of schools surveyed used mixed ability classes in first year, with 16% using banding and only 14% using streaming. We should keep in mind that "streaming" can take different forms and that sometimes different ability groupings may be helpful for the individual pupils at a later stage in their education: for example, various syllabi are available at higher, ordinary and foundation levels and it may be appropriate for classes to be organised along these lines.

Schools have a certain amount of latitude in how they organise their classes and this is essentially an organisational issue for principals and school boards of management. The school development planning initiative, supported by a full-time support service, has an important role in achieving the best organisational arrangement for all pupils. In general, the view of my Department is that mixed ability classes are preferable, particularly in first year. This issue is dealt with through provision by the second level support service of whole school inservice on mixed ability teaching, through the work under the school development planning initiative, through the ongoing work of the inspectorate in evaluation and quality enhancement, and through dissemination of the findings of the ESRI/NCCA report. An information leaflet for schools and parents summarising the key findings and recommendations of the research has been launched and this will inform school practice and planning.

Vandalism in Schools.

Seán Crowe

Question:

119 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the measures he is taking to tackle the problem of vandalism affecting some primary schools in Dublin. [19336/04]

Individual school authorities are responsible for making adequate security arrangements at schools. The summer works scheme is the appropriate mechanism for schools to make an application for grant aid towards the provision of improved security at schools. Subject to a review of the summer works scheme 2004, it is planned to invite applications for the 2005 scheme later this year. Full details will be posted on my Department's website atwww.education.ie as soon as possible.

In the interim, school authorities should use their devolved grant, in conjunction with insurance policy payments, to deal with any urgent issues arising from vandalism.

Vocational Education Committees.

John Bruton

Question:

120 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the funding that will be made available to vocational education committees to provide child care services for the academic year 2004-05; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19444/04]

My Department provides funding to VECs to assist towards the child care expenses of participants in VTOS, youthreach and senior Traveller centre programmes. The financial provision for child care assistance for participants in these programmes for 2004, January — December, is €4.8 million. Child care funding for 2005 will be decided in light of the overall budget allocation for my Department in 2005.

School Placement.

Joe Costello

Question:

121 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that more than 1,000 children have been refused access to non-denominational Educate Together schools due to capacity problems; if he intends to take steps to increase the capacity of this sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19479/04]

My Department does not have information about the situation to which the Deputy refers. The schools involved should bring the matter to the attention of my officials.

In December 2002, the new schools advisory committee was established as part of a process for new national schools seeking official recognition. Applications for new schools are assessed by the new schools advisory committee, which consults with interested parties and reports to me. In 2003, seven new primary schools were established as a result of this process and seven schools have received approval and are due to commence operation in September 2004.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Paul McGrath

Question:

122 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to the work of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19449/04]

The Government has accepted the recommendations in Mr. Justice Ryan's report, published in January of this year, for legislative amendments to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000. My Department is in ongoing contact with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in connection with this matter and work on the drafting of legislation amending the Act is at an advanced stage. In addition, and as a result of a consultation process that has been undertaken by the commission regarding the future operation of the investigation committee, Mr. Justice Ryan has indicated that he will shortly inform the Government of further legislative amendments which the commission considers are required.

On receipt of these further amendments, I will ensure that they are brought to Government for consideration, following which, if accepted, they will be included in the forthcoming legislation. It is anticipated that the legislation will be published in advance of the Dáil term in the autumn. In the meantime, the commission has indicated that it intends to proceed with its hearings in advance of the amending legislation and I fully support it in this approach.

With regard to the day-to-day work of the commission, the position is that the confidential committee and the investigation committee are both fully operational. The confidential committee continues to hear the stories of those persons who have applied to it and I understand that it has heard some 866 cases at this stage. The investigation committee is currently conducting a series of public hearings into the emergence of child abuse in Ireland. The details of the public hearings are posted on the commission's websitewww.childabusecommission.ie. In addition, the investigation committee has indicated that it intends to commence hearings on St. Joseph’s, Ferryhouse, Clonmel, in July and has scheduled to commence hearings in respect of Upton and Artane in September and October of this year respectively.

School Discipline.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

123 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps he intends to take to assist teachers to deal with the growing problem of indiscipline in schools, especially at second level, particularly in view of a recent ASTI survey showing that 54% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse from students and a third of teachers had experience of parents refusing to co-operate in the implementation of sanctions on students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19501/04]

I am aware of the survey, conducted by the ASTI, referred to by the Deputy. It is important that, while acknowledging that student discipline is an issue in schools, we do not talk this up to being a crisis. It is undoubtedly the case that a small proportion of students cause serious problems in schools. The reasons for this are not simple and are societal as much as educational. That said, today's generation of young people is no more disruptive than its predecessors. The reality of the situation is that as we have progressively increased the retention rate in our formal education system, we are retaining students who in the past would have dropped out of school early. This poses challenges for schools and for society.

A school's code of discipline and the inclusive way in which it is framed is important, particularly in harnessing student and parental support. We also must look at whether the formal school model best meets the needs of all students and whether other models need to be developed. As against this, we must careful not to promote the exclusion of problem students as this will leave us with a greater problem down the road.

School Absenteeism.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

124 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the progress to date of the National Education Welfare Board. [19478/04]

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents/guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers, EWOs, are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare-focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally. The board has appointed a chief executive officer, directors of corporate services and educational welfare services and the necessary support and service delivery staff. The overall authorised staffing complement is 84, comprising 16 headquarters and support staff, five regional managers, 11 senior educational welfare officers and 52 educational welfare officers.

At this stage of its development, the aim of the board is to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas, including areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and an educational welfare service is now available, for the first time, in the cities of Limerick, Galway and Kilkenny. Twelve towns with significant schoolgoing populations, 11 of which are designated under the Government's RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. These towns are Dundalk, Drogheda, Navan, Athlone, Carlow, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo and Letterkenny. In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally.

The board has also moved to provide a service to families who decide to have their children educated in places other than in recognised schools. A small number of people with the appropriate skills have been allocated to this work and assessments will commence shortly. My Department has recently issued guidelines to assist the board in meeting its responsibilities in this area. An information leaflet and an application form have issued to families who are educating their children at home. Work is also proceeding on the establishment of the register for 16 and 17 year olds who leave school to enter employment.

As provided for under section 10 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, I have arranged for officials of my Department to work with the board to ensure that any opportunities for integrated working between educational welfare officers and staff on other educational disadvantage programmes, whose work involves a school attendance element, are exploited to the maximum. I consider the implementation of protocols for such integrated working on attendance matters between the NEWB and, in particular, the home/school/community liaison scheme, the school completion programme and the visiting teacher service for Travellers to be most important. When in place, these will assist the NEWB in carrying out its remit and ensure that all available existing resources are utilised to the full.

The board has sought the first comprehensive data returns from schools regarding attendances and absences in the 2003–04 school year and these will assist it in keeping the level of need for the new service in particular areas under review.

Substance Abuse.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

125 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Education and Science the measures he has taken to address the serious issue of alcohol abuse among the student population. [19338/04]

I am aware of the concerns expressed by teachers and parents regarding the issue of alcohol abuse among the student population. While education has a role in addressing the problem of the misuse of substances, particularly alcohol misuse, effecting change in this area also depends on consistent support from the drinks industry, parents and society as a whole. A responsible attitude to the promotion of alcohol, especially in targeting young people, and ensuring rigorous implementation of the law on legal age limits regarding the sale of alcohol are an essential part of this approach. Parents also have a responsibility in helping children and young people to adopt sensible and responsible attitudes and behaviours. In general the community as a whole needs to reflect on the general attitude to the misuse of substances.

Schools can play an active role in addressing the problems and consequences of the misuse of substances through the SPHE — social, personal and health education — curriculum which focuses on developing an informed and sensible attitude to substances. Through the SPHE curriculum, students are enabled to develop a framework for responsible and informed decision making about their health, personal lives and social development. In particular, the substance use module of the SPHE curriculum focuses on the issues relating to the use and misuse of a range of substances. While most young people are aware of the implications and consequences of misusing substances, the SPHE curriculum actively seeks to promote healthy and responsible choices by students in their lives.

All post-primary schools were required to implement the SPHE curriculum as part of the junior cycle core curriculum from September 2003. The 2003-04 return of pupil information from 743 post-primary schools indicates that all post-primary schools are complying with this requirement. Ongoing support in the implementation of SPHE continues to be provided to schools through the post-primary SPHE support service, which is a partnership between my Department, the Department of Health and Children and the health boards.

Supports are also being provided to schools through the SPHE support service for the development of their substance use policies within which alcohol can be addressed alongside tobacco and drugs. Guidelines for developing a school substance use policy were prepared by my Department together with the Department of Health and Children and the health boards and circulated to schools in 2002 in accordance with action 43 of the national drugs strategy. The central objective of a school substance use policy is the welfare, care, protection and education of every young person. The school policy can ensure schools have a coherent framework for providing appropriate education and managing issues relating to substance misuse, including alcohol misuse, in a planned and considered way. In 2002, schools were asked by my Department to engage with the process of developing their substance use policies, if they were not already engaged with this process or if they did not have one in place already.

Third Level Education.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

126 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science the proposals to change the system of entry to medical schools in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19435/04]

On 24 September 2003, together with my colleague the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, I announced details of the membership and terms of reference for a working group on undergraduate medical education and training which has been jointly established to make recommendations on the organisation and delivery of high-quality training for doctors in Ireland.

The membership of the working group draws on a broad representation from medicine, academia, university, hospital and health board management and Government Department officials. The working group will examine and make recommendations on a range of aspects of medical education and training in Ireland. This will include the areas of course curriculum, teaching methods, interdisciplinary working and other issues relating to the organisation and delivery of undergraduate medical education and training.

The working group has been asked to consider and provide advice on issues arising from the recent Higher Education Authority, HEA, report that recommended a move to all-graduate entry for medicine and other health science disciplines. The report was commissioned by the HEA, at my request, on foot of a commitment in the programme for Government to address the issue of the distortionary impact of these high points courses on the points system. The report recommends that students should undertake an undergraduate programme of their choice in any area before taking a decision to enter medicine or one of the other health science disciplines. The other programmes in question are physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmacy and radiography, all of which currently require extremely high points for entry.

The initial consideration by the recently established working group of the detailed implementation issues that arise for medical education will also inform my approach to the proposed later introduction of changes for the other health disciplines. I expect to receive the recommendations of the working group later this year.

Schools Building Projects.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

127 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made to date in meeting the commitment given in An Agreed Programme for Government that every school building should attain modern set standards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19490/04]

In line with the commitment to tackle sub-standard school accommodation outlined in An Agreed Programme for Government, the level of capital investment in schools has progressively increased since 1998 to a total of almost €2 billion, the largest investment programme in the history of the State. This year my Department's school building programme of €388 million will deliver in excess of 260 significant school building projects at primary and post-primary level. In excess of 200 of these projects will commence on site in the current year, the remaining projects had commenced in previous years and are currently nearing completion. Furthermore, over 570 additional schools will benefit in some way from the capital programme directly by means of temporary accommodation, permanent accommodation and/or improvement works and all primary schools will benefit directly from the devolved grants scheme for minor works.

The challenge facing my Department is how to ensure the State gets best return on investment in educational infrastructure. New ways such as the devolved building initiative for small rural schools and the permanent accommodation initiative, both initiated in 2003 and expanded this year, show my Department's commitment to find innovative and flexible solutions to the difficulties faced by schools seeking to refurbish their buildings or to provide additional accommodation quickly. These schemes fund schools to respond quickly to accommodation difficulties. There is minimal interaction with my Department and schools are fully empowered to drive the design and construction process. I fully expect that these initiatives will inform future policy.

My Department has never underestimated the scale of the task and the level of capital funding and other resources required to rectify decades of underinvestment in school infrastructure. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year's programme, including this particular school. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Government remains committed to continuing the work that it has started and to consolidating the substantial progress that has already been made to ensure that the needs of schools throughout the country are met over time. The process of investment in educational infrastructure begun by the previous Government will be continued as outlined in the agreed programme for Government.

Post-Leaving Certificate Courses.

Simon Coveney

Question:

128 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the way in which the enrolment capacity for colleges of further education and PLC courses will be set for the 2004-05 academic year and subsequent years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19429/04]

There is a range of course options available in the further and higher education sectors for young people who wish to continue their studies after second level or, in the case of adults, who wish to return to education. Post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses represent one such option. In dealing with the question of PLC numbers, the Department is not in a position to approve all the PLC places applied for in any particular academic year. A total of 40,733 places, for example, were sought nationwide for 2003-04 from a planned pool of approximately 28,500 places. Similarly, for the 2004-05 academic year, schools and colleges sought approval for 39,994 places from a planned pool of 28,500 places.

It should be recognised that uncapped growth of the scale featured in the applications for PLC places may not be supported. There is a continuing requirement to plan and control numbers, to manage expenditure and provide for future investment and growth, within the context of overall educational policy and provision. Decisions regarding the number of approved places for the 2004-05 academic year will be conveyed to VECs and schools by my Department in the next few days.

Special Educational Needs.

Joan Burton

Question:

129 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to concerns expressed that many small schools may lose out under the terms of his announcement of 18 June 2004 regarding the new special needs allocation system; the number of schools that will lose out as a result of the clustering of schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19476/04]

Joan Burton

Question:

153 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the main features of his announcement of 18 June 2004 regarding the new special needs allocation system; if it is intended to have an appeals system for schools with a number of special needs children that falls outside the strict criteria for the new weighted system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19475/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 153 together.

In circular 24/03, the Department stated its intention to engage in discussions with representative interests with a view to developing a weighted system of teacher allocations for special needs teaching. The allocation of an additional 350 teaching posts for special needs and a new system for the allocation of resources for special needs in primary schools have now been approved. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability and those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows: in the most disadvantaged schools, as per the urban dimension of giving children an even break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; and in all girls schools, including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and this will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. At present, there are no plans to establish an appeals process for the allocation of teaching resources under the new weighted system.

It is now proposed to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. My Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year. It is not possible at this stage to indicate what the impact of the clustering arrangements may be for any school involved in the process.

It is my intention that all applications for special educational resources received by 30 June 2004 will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been considered and schools have now been notified of the outcome. This outcome indicates to schools the resources that may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future and the outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

Physical Education Facilities.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

130 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science if there are plans to carry out an audit of physical education and sports facilities in schools with a view to carrying out substantial improvements in view of the recent INTO survey and increasing levels of obesity among young persons; if this can be linked to the proposed nationwide audit of sports facilities promised by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19585/04]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

151 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will act on the findings of the INTO survey on physical education in schools, which points to a real lack of facilities and resources; if the physical education and sports grant will be reinstated following this survey; if additional resources will be provided for sports halls; if the active sharing of facilities and construction of joint facilities at greenfield sites will be sought in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19584/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 130 and 151 together.

A new physical education, PE, curriculum is being introduced into primary schools as part of the primary curriculum. It is planned that the new PE curriculum will be in place for the start of the 2006-07 school year. My Department is aware from recent media reports of an INTO survey on physical education facilities in primary schools. The issue of P.E. facilities in primary schools was one of a number of matters discussed at a meeting in June held between officials in my Department's planning and building unit and the INTO. At this meeting the INTO accepted that in the case of schools where such facilities were inadequate, a balance was required in the division of the funding allocation for the various sub-categories of the school building programme with appropriate priority being given to the provision of mainstream classroom accommodation.

The provision of multi-purpose space for primary schools will continue to be considered within the design brief for new schools and/or renovation or extension school building projects. This is being done in the context of available resources and the published criteria for prioritising school building projects. In terms of resources, the Government is delivering on its commitment to provide modern facilities in schools and has progressively increased funding in recent years, with an aggregate total of almost €2 billion being provided since 1998, the largest investment programme in the history of the State.

My Department has never underestimated the scale of the task and the level of capital funding and other resources required to rectify decades of underinvestment in school infrastructure. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

With regard to the PE grant, I decided to withdraw payment of this in the light of the current budgetary constraints. The position will be kept under review as part of the normal Estimates process in the coming years. In addition to the specific grant referred to, both primary and post-primary schools can use their general capitation funding to support the implementation of curricula, including PE.

My Department has no plans to conduct an audit of PE and sports facilities in schools. However, with regard to the proposed nationwide audit of sports facilities, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism intends to establish an interagency steering group shortly to commence work on developing a long-term strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities. One of the first tasks for this group will be to oversee the commencement of a national audit of sports facilities. Careful consideration will be given by this steering group to the scope of such an audit, in terms of the type, size and location of such facilities to be included.

Special Educational Needs.

Seán Crowe

Question:

131 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason his Department will not meet travel expenses in the case of Irish sign language tutors, despite the fact that visiting tutors are paid such expenses. [19337/04]

The issue referred to by the Deputy was recently brought to the attention of my officials by the Irish Deaf Society and is currently being examined.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Willie Penrose

Question:

132 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps being taken to address the issue of overcrowding in school classes, particularly in view of recent figures from the INTO showing that over 40,000 pupils are being taught in classes of over 30 children and that a further 72,000 are learning in classes of over 25; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19495/04]

Liz McManus

Question:

144 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made to date in meeting the commitment given in An Agreed Programme for Government that maximum class size guidelines will be introduced to ensure that the average size of classes for children under nine will be below the international best practice guideline of 20:1; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19487/04]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

166 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Education and Science the contacts he has had with the INTO since the annual conference with regard to the issue of class size. [19339/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 132, 144 and 166 together.

I have not had discussions with the INTO on the issue of class size since last April. Significant improvements have been made in the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level in recent years. The ratio has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 18.0:1 in the 2002-03 school year. The projected ratio for the current school year is 17.35:1. Arising from these improvements, class sizes have reduced in the same period.

I am committed to reducing class sizes still further. This, however, can only be done on a phased basis having regard to available resources and subject to spending priorities within the education sector. Priority will be given to pupils with special needs and those from disadvantaged areas.

School Planning.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

133 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if discussions have taken place or are planned with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding the need for school land to be set aside, at no cost to the State, in future planning schemes, in view of the shortage of school places in many fast-growing towns and cities. [19588/04]

The process of assessing the need for new or additional educational facilities at primary or post-primary level in any given area entails consideration of all relevant factors, including enrolment and demographic trends, housing developments and the capacity of existing schools to meet the demand for places. As part of this process, the school planning section of my Department receives draft development plans or proposed variations to development plans from local authorities. These plans are monitored and, where necessary, meetings with local authorities are arranged to establish the location, scale and pace of major housing developments and their possible implications for school provision. Where appropriate, the local authority may be requested to reserve a site for educational purposes. In this way, every effort is made to ensure that there is adequate existing provision or that timely arrangements are made to extend capacity where necessary.

The school planning section works closely with local authorities throughout the country and especially in the Dublin region in monitoring demographic changes and assessing the likely impact of planned new developments. In Dublin, a specific forum, the Dublin school planning committee, chaired by the school planning section, interacts with the Dublin local authorities. This forum comprises representatives of the local authorities in Dublin together with representatives of the patron bodies of primary schools and meets three times a year. This process of ongoing dialogue with the local authorities obviates the need for direct discussions with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The high cost of sites for schools, especially in rapidly developing areas of major cities, is a cause of major concern to me. I advocate the acquisition of school sites at no cost to the State but I realise that this a complex area. Ultimately, the acquisition of school sites at a reasonable and proportionate cost is a key objective of my Department.

Adult Education.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

134 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science the provisions being made by his Department to support lifelong learning and adult literacy programmes in 2004-2005; the role his Department will play over the coming 12 months in the development of workplace education programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19441/04]

The adult literacy service is organised by and delivered through the vocational education committees throughout the country. The service is resourced and managed by the VECs, with funding from my Department. Funding for adult literacy has increased in recent years from just under €1 million in 1997 to over €19 million in 2004. Client numbers rose in the same period from 5,000 to 30,000 per year. The increase in funding has also enabled the introduction of special programmes targeted at groups with particular literacy needs. Such programmes include family literacy, literacy for deaf people and workplace literacy.

In the area of workplace literacy, joint initiatives have been developed at local level through co-operation between the vocational education committees, FÁS, the National Adult Literacy Agency, NALA, and local employers. Funding has been provided for a course in workplace basic skills training for experienced group literacy tutors in the VEC service. The course is designed to familiarise the tutors with key issues in basic skills training in the workplace and also identifies strategies for the introduction and implementation of programmes in this context.

Programmes under way at national level include the return to education programme, which is a joint initiative between FÁS, VECs and NALA, which provides an intensive literacy programme for community employment workers on FÁS community employment schemes. In addition, a focused workplace literacy programme, jointly funded by my Department and the local authority national partnership group, is available nationwide for local authority outdoor staff.

The commitment and support of employers is a fundamental requirement for the successful implementation of workplace literacy programmes. In seeking to support and encourage employers to participate in such programmes, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has approved a project proposal from NALA to design and deliver a workplace basic education programme for SMEs. A pilot programme for the development of a certificate in workplace skills has also been approved by that Department under the ESF-aided in-company training measure of the human resources development operational programme.

Question No. 135 answered with QuestionNo. 102.

Schools Refurbishment.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

136 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the proposals he has to approve the lowest tender in regard to the replacement of windows in a primary school (details supplied) in County Waterford in order that the work may proceed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19334/04]

The scope of works required at the school referred to by the Deputy is appropriate for consideration under the summer works scheme. While the school's application under the summer works scheme for 2004 was unsuccessful, it is open to the school's management authority to reapply for the key priority works required at the school as part of the 2005 summer works scheme, details of which will be announced later this year.

Post-Leaving Certificate Courses.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

137 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science if it is intended to lift the cap on the number of places under the post-leaving certificate courses; the number of places available in the 2003-04 academic year; the number that will be available in 2004-05; if his attention has been drawn to the value of PLCs, particularly as a bridge to third level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19477/04]

There is a range of course options available in the further and higher education sectors for young people who wish to continue their studies after second level or, in the case of adults, who wish to return to education. Post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses represent one such option. In dealing with the question of PLC numbers, the Department is not in a position to approve all the PLC places applied for in any particular academic year.

A total of 40,733 places, for example, were sought nationwide for 2003-04 from a planned pool of approximately 28,500 places. Similarly, for the 2004-05 academic year, schools and colleges sought approval for some 39,994 places from a planned pool of 28,500 places. It should be recognised that uncapped growth of the scale featured in the applications for PLC places may not be supported. There is a continuing requirement to plan and control numbers, manage expenditure and provide for future investment and growth, within the context of overall educational policy and provision. Decisions on the approved numbers for 2004-05 will be conveyed to VECs and schools by my Department in the next few days.

Educational Disadvantage.

Jack Wall

Question:

138 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects the review of initiatives to address educational disadvantage to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19505/04]

Since my appointment as Minister for Education and Science, I have made it clear that addressing educational disadvantage is my top priority. By ensuring that available educational resources are targeted at the most disadvantaged people in the education system at all levels, my objective is to ensure that all young people leave the education system with a high quality education and related qualifications to support their full participation in society and in the economy.

My Department currently operates a wide range of programmes specifically designed to tackle educational disadvantage and one of my key concerns is to ensure that a fully integrated and cohesive overall strategy is adopted in this area for the future. To this end, my Department is currently finalising a review of educational disadvantage schemes and I will be making an announcement in this regard once it has been completed.

Special Educational Needs.

Denis Naughten

Question:

139 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science the plans he has to review Department circular SP ED 09/04; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19343/04]

My Department issued circular SP ED 09/04 to all schools during the week commencing 21 June 2004. The purpose of this circular is to advise schools as to current progress regarding the development of revised arrangements for the allocation of special education resources, SER, and the processing of SER applications. The circular clearly states that it is intended that a further comprehensive circular will issue to all schools for the commencement of the new school year.

John Deasy

Question:

140 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science when he envisages that the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill 2003 will be fully implemented; if he will provide the necessary resources to see that the legislation may by implemented in full; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19448/04]

Section 35 of the Bill provides that within 12 months of the enactment of the Bill I must make an order establishing the National Council for Special Education, NCSE. Section 23 of the Bill concerns the implementation of the Bill once enacted and provides that within 12 months of the date of the establishment of the NCSE it must report to me outlining the steps necessary to fully implement the Bill within a further period not exceeding five years. Accordingly, I expect that the Bill will be fully implemented some time within six years of its enactment but I cannot say precisely when and how until I have received that report.

For the framework for the delivery of services to children with special educational needs to operate, resources must, of course, be made available and the great majority of those resources will be directed towards the implementation of education plans. Section 13 requires that the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Education and Science have regard to, and take due account of, the State's duties under Article 42 of the Constitution which includes a duty to ensure that there is available, free of charge, to every child with special educational needs a level of education which will allow them to make the best possible use of their inherent and potential capabilities, physical, mental and moral, however limited these capacities might be. Failure by me, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Finance to discharge our duties to make the necessary resources available for the implementation of this Bill could very well give parents who are affected grounds for a judicial review to ensure that resources are provided. It is both my intention, as well as my constitutional and statutory duty, to provide the resources necessary to implement this Bill.

Question No. 141 answered with QuestionNo. 93.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

142 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science the total number of persons who have made compensation applications to the Residential Institutions Redress Board at the latest date for which figures are available; the way in which the number of applications compares with the original estimate made by his Department; the latest estimate of the number of likely applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19492/04]

The Residential Institutions Redress Board is an independent body established under the terms of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. Judge Sean O'Leary, a High Court Judge, is the chairperson of the redress board and nine other members have also been appointed.

On the basis of the most recent information available from the Residential Institutions Redress Board, the board has received 3,809 applications. To date, the board has made offers to 1,324 individual applicants. The average award is approximately €77,000.

The board provides regular updates as to the number of claims received on its website,www.rirb.ie. The redress board has recently finalised its first annual report which covers the period 16 December 2002 to 31 December 2003. The report has been laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

Prior to the establishment of the redress board, my Department had estimated there would be approximately 5,000 applicants to the board. It is too early to determine what the final outcome will be at this stage of the process.

School Staffing.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

143 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the decision to reduce a school (details supplied) in County Monaghan from a two-teacher school to a one teacher school in September 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19335/04]

The staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on the 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between my Department and the education partners.

In the current school year the staffing of the school referred to by the Deputy is a principal and one mainstream post based on an enrolment of 12 pupils at 30 September 2002. The enrolment in the school at 30 September 2003 was ten pupils. The agreed figure for the retention of the one mainstream post is 12 pupils. In the circumstances, I regret there is no basis on which I may sanction a continuation of this post for the 2004-05 school year.

To ensure transparency and openness in the system an independent appeals board is now in place to decide on any appeals on mainstream staffing. An appeal in respect of the staffing of the school in question for the 2004-05 school year was considered by the appeals board. The board, having considered the appeal, was satisfied that a departure from the staffing schedule is not warranted in this case. The board of management of the school was notified in writing of the decision of the appeals board on 3 June 2004.

I am sure the Deputy would appreciate it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the operation of the independent appeals board.

Question No. 144 answered with QuestionNo. 132.

Departmental Surveys.

Martin Ferris

Question:

145 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Education and Science if a survey has been carried out by his Department to identify the schools which are known to be targeted by drug pushers. [19340/04]

My Department has not carried out a survey for the purposes outlined in the Deputy's question. However, in line with action 32 of the National Drugs Strategy 2001 to 2008, my Department arranged for the implementation of the "Walk Tall" and "On My Own Two Feet" drugs education programmes in all primary and post-primary schools, respectively, in the local drugs task force areas during the school year 2001-02. These task forces were set up in the areas experiencing the highest levels of illicit drug use, in particular the areas where heroin abuse is most prevalent.

Schools play an active role in addressing the problems and consequences of the misuse of substances, including drugs, through the SPHE, social, personal and health education, curriculum which focuses on developing an informed and sensible attitude to substances. Through the SPHE curriculum, students are enabled to develop a framework for responsible and informed decision making about their health, personal lives and social development. In particular, the substance use module of the SPHE curriculum focuses on the issues relating to the use and misuse of a range of substances. While most young people are aware of the implications and consequences of misusing substances, the SPHE curriculum actively seeks to promote healthy and responsible choices by students in regard to their lives.

All post-primary schools were required to implement the SPHE curriculum from September 2003 in line with action 33 of the national drugs strategy and as set out in my Department's circular M11/03. The 2003-04 return of pupil information from 743 post-primary schools indicates that all post-primary schools are complying with this requirement. Ongoing support in the implementation of SPHE continues to be provided to schools through the post-primary SPHE support service, which is a partnership between the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Health and Children and the health boards.

Supports are also being provided to schools through the SPHE support service for the development of their substance use policies. Guidelines for developing a school substance use policy were prepared by my Department, together with the Department of Health and Children and the health boards, and circulated to schools in 2002 in accordance with action 43 of the national drugs strategy. The central objective of a school substance use policy is the welfare, care, protection and education of every young person. The school policy can ensure that schools have a coherent framework for providing appropriate education and managing issues relating to substance misuse in a planned and considered way. In 2002, schools were asked by my Department to engage with the process of developing their substance use policies, if they were not already engaged with this process or if they did not have one in place already.

Institutes of Technology.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

146 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Education and Science if a study has been carried out into the viability of a third level institute of technology or college campus at Adamstown, Lucan; if such a study is planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19595/04]

There are no plans at present to establish a third level institute in Lucan. The future development of higher education in the west Dublin area will be on the basis of the recommendations of the steering committee on the future development of higher education, which the Government approved in July 1996 as a benchmark for future planning in the higher education sector.

In accordance with its remit, the committee reviewed existing provisions and needs for higher education in specific areas. As a response to the higher education needs of west Dublin, the steering committee anticipated that Tallaght RTC, now Institute of Technology Tallaght, and the provision of a new facility in the north west of Dublin would serve the Lucan region. This new facility, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, was subsequently established in 1999 and was officially opened in November 2000.

Special Educational Needs.

Dan Boyle

Question:

147 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on whether the ratios for the new general weighted system of allocation for special educational needs teaching resources are low enough; if additional posts to the existing 350 will be made available in the coming 12 months to ensure that the system can be implemented fully as planned in September 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19587/04]

The differentiated system of weighted teacher allocation referred to in circular SP ED 09/04 is intended to recognise the evidence that factors such as disadvantage and gender have a bearing on the incidence of special educational need. The new arrangements also take full account of the 350 posts I secured to facilitate their introduction. At the moment, there are no plans to allocate further additional special needs teaching posts to the system. I can confirm that the weighted model will be fully implemented in the 2005/06 school year.

The needs of pupils in lower incidence categories of disability will continue to be met on an individual basis.

Capitation Grants.

Dan Neville

Question:

148 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science his plans for funding mechanisms to be developed to ensure that all non-fee paying secondary schools will be funded on an equitable and transparent basis; if he will introduce common criteria and entitlements to apply to the funding of schools in the second level sector; and his views on whether the difference in funding provided between secondary, vocational and community schools is unacceptable and discriminatory. [19603/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, differing funding arrangements have historically applied to the three sectors at second level. At the core of all arrangements is a reliance upon capitation as the principle determinant of funding. There are, however, significant differences in the approaches to the funding of back-up services, such as for secretaries and caretakers. The Government and its predecessor have removed some of the anomalies and the process continues.

The standardper capita grant for voluntary secondary schools has been significantly increased in recent years and now amounts to €274 per pupil as against the rate of €224.74 that applied in 1997. For disadvantaged schools, the increase has brought the per capita grant to €312 per pupil.

These significant increases build on my commitment towards enhanced equalisation funding measures for voluntary secondary schools. In addition to theper capita grant of €25 that was introduced under the school services support initiative for second level schools in September 2000 and now stands at €99, secondary schools have benefited from further increases bringing the grant for such schools to €131 per pupil from January last. This per capita grant is in addition to a range of equalisation grants of up to some €15,500 per school per annum that were also approved for voluntary secondary schools. For a secondary school with 500 pupils, this amounts to additional equalisation funding of almost €30,000 per annum and overall additional support services funding of approximately €80,000 per annum.

Schools are afforded considerable flexibility in the use of these resources to cater for the needs of their pupils. As the funding provided under the schools support services fund is flexible, schools are permitted discretion as to the manner in which support services are provided. In particular, it allows schools with difficulties in provision for secretaries and caretakers the additional funding to make a meaningful impact.

A measure of the increase in overall funding for secondary schools is that by comparison with 1997, a secondary school with 500 pupils now receives extra annual funding of over €105,000 per annum. I am committed to improving further the funding position of voluntary secondary schools in light of available resources and to addressing the issue of equity highlighted by the voluntary school sector.

Irish Sign Language.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

149 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science further to the Northern Ireland Office’s recent declaration that the British and Irish sign languages are redeemed as official languages, the support he will lend to the attempts of the Irish Deaf Society to have similar recognition attributed to Irish sign language here. [19341/04]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

152 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science the resources in place within the education system for promotion of the Irish sign language. [19342/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 152 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that Irish sign language, ISL, has formal recognition in the Education Act 1998 and that my Department has given practical effect to that legislative recognition through a series of initiatives, outlined below, which seek to promote, develop and implement ISL in order that it will achieve greater recognition and use in the education system for the deaf.

My Department has provided resources and implemented a number of initiatives over the last number of years to promote the use of Irish sign language in the education system. It has established an advisory committee on the education of the deaf to examine all relevant matters in the education of the deaf and hard of hearing, including making recommendations for the promotion of ISL in the education system. A deaf person was chosen to chair this committee and a number of deaf representatives are also on the committee. I have asked this committee to report to me by October 2004. The special schools for the deaf in Cabra, Dublin, have been encouraged in regard to the use of sign language in classes. All teachers now receive ongoing inservice training in the use of ISL which is funded by the teacher education section of my Department. My Department has sanctioned and funded the employment of deaf people as special needs assistants, SNAs, in the schools for the deaf in Cabra who act as communication support workers in classrooms and as role models for deaf pupils.

It should be noted that the number of sign dependent profoundly deaf pupils is a relatively small proportion of the total number of deaf and hard of hearing pupils in the education system generally. My Department has provided funding for an ISL weekly home tuition service whereby deaf tutors visit the homes of deaf pre-school children and deaf schoolgoing pupils to provide training in ISL for deaf children and pupils, their siblings and parents. The value of ISL has already been acknowledged in the Education Act 1998 and my Department has sanctioned a pre-school for deaf children on a pilot basis for five years until June 2007. The personnel in the pre-school deliver a programme through the medium of Irish sign language as a first language.

Funding is also provided for ISL classes for immediate relatives of the children attending the facility. My Department, through the Higher Education Authority, HEA, has established and fully funds a centre for deaf studies in Trinity College, Dublin, which provides diploma courses for ISL/English interpreters, deaf tutors and in deaf studies. Funding is provided for the Link UP project which delivers literacy training to deaf adults in Ireland.

Teaching Qualifications.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

150 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the recent report presented to the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland that the shortage of Protestant teachers is being exacerbated by the requirements for a qualification in the Irish language; if he intends to take steps to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19499/04]

On 15 July 2003, I signed the Church of Ireland College of Education order. The purpose of the order is to reserve 32 places in the first year of the Bachelor of Education degree course in the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines, for students who are members of the Church of Ireland or who belong to the broad Protestant tradition. The making of the order and its laying before the Houses arises from the provisions of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and is designed to ensure that the rights and interests of the college, schools with a Protestant ethos, and the students in those schools are provided for.

Teachers who have trained in another member state of the European Union, whose qualifications have been assessed and accepted by the Department of Education and Science but who do not possess an appropriate Irish language qualification, are granted a five year period of provisional recognition to teach in national schools. During this period of provisional recognition these teachers are required to work towards meeting the Department's Irish language requirements and to prepare for the Scrúdú Cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge. I anticipate that it will be easier for students to gain this qualification, on the basis of my announcement in April in regard to changes in the structure of this exam. These changes include a reduction in the overall pass mark to 40%.

I would, however, point out that as part of the minimum academic requirements specified by my Department for entry to primary teacher training courses provided in the colleges of education, all candidates, including school leavers, mature students and university graduates, must have a minimum of a grade C in higher level in Irish in the leaving certificate or an approved equivalent. This requirement embodies both the written and oral element of a student's proficiency in Irish. My Department considers it to be the minimum standard in Irish necessary for students entering a teacher training course which will equip them to teach Irish to pupils at all levels in primary schools.

Question No. 151 answered with QuestionNo. 130.
Question No. 152 answered with QuestionNo. 149.
Question No. 153 answered with QuestionNo. 129.

Primary Teaching.

Seán Ryan

Question:

154 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps he intends to take to address the considerable imbalance between male and female applicants for the primary teaching profession; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19500/04]

The Department has a primary education committee which is looking at the concerns about the numbers of males entering the primary teaching profession. I have asked the committee to make recommendations on strategies and initiatives to increase the number of males entering primary teaching. The committee is working under the auspices of the gender equality unit.

The committee first met in October 2003 and recently gave me an interim report of its considerations to date. I am very concerned about the falling numbers of males entering the teaching profession and await the recommendations of my primary education committee which I expect by late autumn 2004.

Student Accommodation.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

155 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that guidelines issued in regard to section 50 accommodation for third level students results in discrimination against disabled students attending colleges such as the National Training and Development Institute and students who are apprentices attending institutes of technology; and if he will take steps to have same amended to remove this discrimination. [18557/04]

In recognition of the difficulties third level students can experience in obtaining accommodation and following consultation with third level colleges, a special tax incentive was introduced to encourage the provision of dedicated student residential accommodation in section 50 of the Finance Act 1999. The Act provides for relevant guidelines to be issued by the Minister for Education and Science in consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

I assure the Deputy there is no discrimination in regard to third level students with disabilities. My Department was very conscious of this in drawing up the guidelines by ensuring that disabled access and the provision of accessible bedrooms was incorporated in developments. In this regard, developers are required to provide a minimum of one out of every 50, or part thereof, of the total number of bed spaces, for students with disabilities. The study bedrooms must be fully wheelchair accessible and complete withen suite bathroom facilities. The residential accommodation must comply with Part M of the Building Regulations 1997 which sets out the legal requirements in regard to access to and use of building facilities by disabled persons.

The guidelines define an "educational institution" as an institution in the State which provides courses to which a scheme approved by the Minister for Education and Science under the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992 applies or an institution which offers an approved course for the purposes of tax relief under section 474 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. The National Training and Development Institute, NTDI, does not fall within these definitions.

The guidelines define a "student" as a person who is a registered student of and is pursuing a course of study on a full-time basis at an educational institution. Apprentices attend institutes of technology for a maximum of 13 weeks on each of two phases of their four year apprenticeship and are, therefore, not regarded as full-time students as defined.

A review of the guidelines is currently being conducted by my Department in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Finance and the issues raised by the Deputy will be considered in the context of that review.

Educational Disadvantage.

Seán Ryan

Question:

156 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science his Department’s plans to combat educational disadvantage before children start school; the extent to which his Department plans to become formally involved in preparing children during pre-school years; his views on whether extending the early start programme in disadvantaged areas may be the best means of doing this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19498/04]

I recognise that high quality early education prior to entry into formal schooling can lead to lasting social benefits that persist throughout life, both for the individual and for society. Research also indicates that early childhood education is particularly beneficial for children who are disadvantaged and for children with special needs. Parents, too, can benefit significantly from involvement in early education through improved self confidence and better relationships with their children.

The Early Start pre-school project was established in 40 primary schools in designated areas of urban disadvantage in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk during 1994 and 1995. The Early Start service has not been expanded since 1995.

In regard to future development of early childhood education provision for disadvantaged children, my Department, as part of a detailed review of educational disadvantage programmes, is currently exploring how such provision should best be delivered in the future. I am particularly concerned to ensure that any future actions by my Department in this area are based on a collaborative approach with other Departments involved in the overall early childhood care and education, ECCE, sector. Meeting the overall objective of providing the best possible service to the communities and children involved requires that any educational provision by my Department takes account of child care measures under the remit of other Departments.

The future development of the Early Start pre-school project is being considered as part of this process and I will make an announcement in this regard as soon as the detailed review of all initiatives to tackle educational disadvantage has been completed.

Psychological Service.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

157 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps he is taking to reduce the long waiting period for primary and secondary school pupils in need of psychological assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19497/04]

Several actions have been taken by my Department that will have the effect of reducing waiting times for assessments.

My Department has established the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. Provision of individual psychological assessments is part of the work of the educational psychologists in NEPS. The psychologists do not keep waiting lists of children requiring assessment in the sense of lists of names that are dealt with in chronological order. School authorities refer children for assessment and discuss the relative urgency of each case during the psychologist's visits. This allows psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and such children will be seen or referred on in a matter of weeks, if not days.

In order to add value to the psychological service, NEPS is pursuing a policy of enhancing the skills of teachers in the areas of group and individual testing, programme development and behavioural management. This means that many children's needs can be speedily met without the necessity for individual psychological assessment, although the psychologists are available as consultants to teachers and parents, thus helping the children in an indirect way. This is also having the effect of reducing waiting times.

NEPS is being developed on a phased basis over a number of years and has not yet reached its full staffing complement. Pending expansion of its service to all schools in the country, my Department has allocated funding to NEPS to allow for the commissioning of psychological assessments from private practitioners. NEPS has issued details of how to avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments to all schools.

There have been concerns in the past that some children may have been referred to more than one agency, thus increasing the waiting lists in schools and in health board clinics and leading to a duplication of effort. A joint working party, established by NEPS and the health boards, reported during 2002 with a series of recommendations aimed at promoting effective liaison at national, regional and local level. This report has been accepted by the relevant management groups and will now be implemented. It includes recommendations for effective protocols in regard to referrals and waiting lists and is the third initiative aimed at reducing waiting times for assessment.

My Department has been aware for some time that a substantial proportion of referrals for psychological assessment were made in order that children might be identified as eligible for additional resources to meet their special educational needs. I have recently announced the introduction of a new method of allocating such resources to schools, the weighted system. It is clear that children with certain categories of special educational need are so prevalent that every school may be expected to have to meet their needs. I have, therefore, introduced an automatic resource allocation to all schools, based on school population and expected prevalence of special educational needs. These resources may be assigned to individual children by the school authorities without the necessity for individual psychological assessment. Although there will always be a need for some individual psychological assessments, this initiative will lead to a marked reduction in waiting times for assessment and will allow NEPS psychologists more time to advise schools on the identification of children who need additional resources.

Third Level Fees.

Damien English

Question:

158 Mr. English asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on the dispute relating to the application of fees for apprentices who attend institutes of technology for two phases of their apprenticeships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19445/04]

In 2003, I received requests from a number of governing bodies of institutes of technology for approval to apply the student service charge to defray the costs of registration, examinations and student services, to students enrolled on FÁS apprenticeship courses. The institutes argued that apro rata charge should be levied on apprentices on the basis that they avail of the full range of services provided to students in the institutes. The institutes considered that it was unfair to levy the charge on full-time students only, as this gave rise to a situation whereby full-time students were effectively subsidising apprentices through their contributions toward the cost of providing student services.

The institutes also pointed out that, unlike other categories of student, apprentices receive wages and either a travel or an accommodation allowance while studying in the institutes. Nevertheless, the institutes have indicated they are prepared to consider reducing or waiving the charge in cases where it would cause hardship to apprentices or their families.

Following consideration of the case made by the institutes of technology, I decided to approve the introduction of apro rata student services charge for FÁS apprentices from January 2004. I understand the majority of apprentices have paid the charge.

Having regard to the question of the dispute over institutes withholding examination results from apprentices who have not paid the student services charge, the position is that institutes of technology are statutory bodies established under the Regional Technical Colleges Act 1992 and the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992. Under those Acts, the governance and day to day activities of the institutes are matters for which the governing bodies and the management staff of the institutes are responsible. This includes matters in regard to examination results. Accordingly, it would not be appropriate for me, as Minister, to intervene in this matter.

School Transport.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

159 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects the completion of the cost review of school transport; if he anticipates charges rising for the year 2004/05; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19504/04]

The review of the school transport scheme is being finalised within my Department. I am not yet in a position to say when deliberations on the report will be finally completed.

While I have no immediate plans to introduce charges for pupils attending primary schools or to increase the charges for pupils attending post-primary schools, the matter is being kept under review in the context of the escalating cost of school transport and any future demands on the service. Expenditure on school transport has more than doubled since 1997 and this year's allocation is €110.471 million.

Schools Building Projects.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

160 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science if the new schools advisory committee has received a submission from Educate Together drawing his attention to the considerable financial costs incurred in preparing an application for the building of a new school; if he intends to provide financial assistance for such purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19485/04]

The new schools advisory committee, which was established in 2002, assesses and makes recommendations to me on the applications for recognition of new schools. Its remit does not extend to the identification of premises or locations for the proposed new schools.

While I understand the costs involved in establishing a new school have been raised with the committee informally, a formal submission on the issue has not been made. Any such submission should be submitted to my officials for consideration.

School Curriculum.

Billy Timmins

Question:

161 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of recommendations of the task force on the physical sciences that have been implemented to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19451/04]

There were some 39 recommendations in the report of the task force on the physical sciences, with costed proposals totalling €244 million extra, of which €66.3 million is a recurring annual cost. Funds are not available at present to progress the strategy on the scale recommended in the report. Of the 39 recommendations, four are not for the education sector. Of the remainder, progress has been made on 25 of the recommendations.

In particular, important progress is being made in regard to: curricular reform and inservice support, with new syllabi already implemented in leaving certificate biology, physics and chemistry; revised syllabi in primary science and junior certificate science beginning in schools in 2003/04; and work under way on a new leaving certificate physical sciences syllabus to replace the physics and chemistry combined syllabus. All of these developments are being or have been supported by national inservice programmes for teachers.

Substantial grants issued to schools at primary level in 1999, 2001 and 2002. There was an additionalper capita grant for physics and chemistry at leaving certificate; a capital grants programme for senior cycle science ICT and science equipment; and the announcement in 2003 of a once-off grant scheme, likely to cost of the order of €12 million, to support the implementation of the new junior certificate science syllabus. To date, some 614 schools in the free education scheme have opted to provide the revised junior certificate science syllabus from 2003/04, and grants of €10.1 million were issued to these schools this year. The revised junior certificate science syllabus provides for a more investigative approach to science education with some 30 experiments and investigations which have to be carried out over the period of the programme. This hands-on approach is seen as critically important to enhance the attractiveness of the subject and encourage more students to choose the physical sciences at senior cycle.

Progress has also been made on ICT integration projects in teaching and learning under the schools IT initiative and the new Scope TV programme in partnership with RTE, NCCA and the National Centre for Technology in Education. Materials and publications have been provided to schools to promote the attractiveness and relevance of science for students as a subject option and career path. Reviews on mathematics have been undertaken and changes made to the grading of subjects in the leaving certificate, gender equity issues in science, and initial reports on teacher training.

Awareness measures supported by industry and third level colleges have been linked with schools. The launch of the new Discover Science and Engineering programme in October 2003 brings together all the existing awareness activities in a unified strategy. In December 2003, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment announced plans for Ireland's first interactive learning centre for children and adults, designed to give visitors a hands-on experience and understanding of science, and to be an education and outreach centre for teachers and pupils. The exploration station is due to open in 2006 and will be sited in the OPW Heuston Gate development in Kilmainham, Dublin. This work continues to be progressed and enhanced as resources permit in collaboration and consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Forfás and industry.

My Department is fully committed to strengthening the quality of science teaching and learning, promoting increased scientific literacy and encouraging more students to choose science subjects at senior cycle and progress to third level options in this critical area as a vitally important part of the national strategy to support competitiveness and employment.

School Absenteeism.

David Stanton

Question:

162 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of prosecutions relating to school attendance since the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board on 1 December 2003; the number of such prosecutions in 2003 up to the establishment of the board; the number of such prosecutions in 2002, 2001 and 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19559/04]

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 became fully operational with effect from 5 July 2002. This Act provides for the repeal of the previous school attendance legislation under which responsibility for the enforcement of school attendance rested with four local authorities in the cities of Dublin, Cork and Waterford and the Garda for the remainder of the country.

Under the Act, the National Educational Welfare Board was established to ensure every child attends school regularly or otherwise receives an education. To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service to provide welfare focused services to children, families and schools. It has appointed a chief executive officer, directors of corporate services and educational welfare services and the necessary support and service delivery staff.

At this stage of its development, the aim of the board is to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas, including areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and an educational welfare service is now available, for the first time, in the cities of Limerick, Cork and Kilkenny. Twelve towns with significant schoolgoing populations, 11 of which are designated under the Government's RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. These towns are Dundalk, Drogheda, Navan, Athlone, Carlow, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo and Letterkenny. In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally.

The Act provides that a parent may be prosecuted where the board forms the opinion that he or she is failing in his or her duty towards a child's education. This is a step of last resort after every possible step to improve attendance has been taken and where the board feels that a prosecution will bring about change. I am informed by the board that the practice and procedures for taking legal proceedings are being developed at present and it is intended that they will be in place from the commencement of the next school year.

Bullying in Schools.

Richard Bruton

Question:

163 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will introduce anti-bullying programmes in all schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19458/04]

Individual school management authorities are responsible for implementing effective policies to counter bullying in their schools. My Department has issued "Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour" to all primary and post-primary schools to assist schools in devising school based measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness of the problem among school management authorities, staff, pupils and parents. Each school authority is responsible for formulating a written code of behaviour and discipline, which should include specific measures to counter bullying behaviour.

The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in regard to anti-bullying behaviour is also a central part of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum.

Early School Leavers.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

164 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps being taken to address the high incidence of early school leaving in rural areas such as Donegal; if an additional third level facility or appropriate life skills programme will be considered as part of the solution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19592/04]

My Department's policy in regard to the retention of young people who are at risk of early school leaving is to support young people in school and to support schools to adapt to the needs of the young people experiencing difficulties. It also involves the development of a range of appropriate interventions in the community to support pupils, who are still of compulsory schoolgoing age and are outside the formal school system, with a view to supporting their progression over time back to mainstream education.

The school completion programme, SCP, which was introduced in 2002, is a key component of my Department's strategy to discriminate positively in favour of children and young people who are at risk of early school leaving. Eligible schools were selected on the basis of their retention rates from the Department's post-primary pupil database. Schools are grouped into 82 clusters of one or more second-level schools and their major feeder primary schools. To date, 405 schools have been included in the SCP, 110 post-primary and 295 primary, with six post-primary schools and 22 primary schools participating in County Donegal.

With regard to curriculum, my Department's strategies have included widening the educational experience available to students, which aim to achieve a greater level of inclusiveness in curricular provision and meet the needs of the diversity of pupils in our second level schools, by expanding funding for programmes such as the junior certificate schools programme, JCSP, the leaving certificate vocational programme, LCVP, vocational preparation training, VPT, and the leaving certificate applied, LCA.

In addition, the National Educational Welfare Board, NEWB, was established under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 to ensure that every child attends school regularly or otherwise receives an education. The board has recently written to all primary and post-primary schools requesting an annual attendance report for the school year 2003/04 which will provide comprehensive data on the levels of non-attendance by pupils. Such data are essential for the planning of the development of the National Educational Welfare Service and for the development of services and programmes designed to prevent non-attendance. My Department will be guided by any recommendations and advice on school attendance and early school leaving received from the NEWB following an analysis of the annual attendance data.

At present, there are no plans to build a further third level institute of technology in County Donegal. The north west region is currently served by two third level institutes of technology, namely Letterkenny Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology, Sligo, in addition to the Tourism College, Killybegs. It is deemed that these institutions provide adequate provision of third level places for the region.

Third Level Fees.

Dan Boyle

Question:

165 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Education and Science if there will be no reintroduction of third level fees or increase in registration fees for the 2004/2005 year. [19586/04]

The student charge is levied by third level institutions to defray the costs of examinations, registration and student services. These costs continue to be incurred by third level institutions. On the 13 November 2003, I announced, as part of the 2004 Estimates for my Department, that the student charge will increase from €670 to a proposed level of €750. Students who are eligible for means tested student support have the student charge paid on their behalf by local authorities or the vocational education committees, in addition to any grant to which they are entitled.

I have no plans to reintroduce third level tuition fees for the 2004/05 academic year.

Question No. 166 answered with QuestionNo. 132.
Question No. 167 resubmitted.

Industrial Development.

Jack Wall

Question:

168 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding the securing of a tenant for the IDA advance factory in Athy (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19677/04]

IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment, FDI, to Ireland and its regions.

The facility in Athy is the only available IDA advance factory in the mid-east region. A profile of the facility has been circulated to IDA's network of overseas offices and the factory is currently being marketed to overseas investors as a potential location for FDI. In recent months there has been an increased interest in the facility and the IDA remains confident that the unit will be occupied within the next few months. At present, a company has expressed a serious interest in the facility and negotiations are ongoing.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

169 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a company (details supplied) intends to replace the current two vessel standby and supply boat cover at the Kinsale Head gas field with a single self-relieving dual purpose standby and supply boat vessel; if a written risk assessment analysis, as required in regulation 13(1) of the Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) (Emergency Procedures) Regulations 1991 has been carried out on this new arrangement; if a copy of this risk assessment has been requested and made available to health and safety inspectors, as provided for in paragraph 4 of this regulation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19722/04]

Day to day responsibility for the administration and enforcement of occupational safety and health legislation, including the Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) Act 1987 and the Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) (Emergency Procedures) Regulations 1991, made under that Act, is a matter for the Health and Safety Authority. I am informed by the Health and Safety Authority that the company referred to in the question owns two fixed production platforms/installations in the Kinsale Head gas field.

I understand the company has recently tendered to have a single self-relieving dual purpose standby/supply boat vessel. I am informed there is one certified temporary standby vessel capable of carrying supplies and cargo available. When a crew change is needed at a platform, which is usually every two to three weeks, the certified standby boat will come out from port and replace the original standby vessel while it goes into port to change crew and get supplies. This temporary standby boat will be certified to be a standby vessel. The Health and Safety Authority has informed me that this arrangement will satisfy regulation 13 of the Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) (Emergency Procedures) Regulations 1991, as at all times there will be a certified standby vessel in the vicinity of both platforms, which are approximately three nautical miles from each other.

Regulation 13(1) of the Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) (Emergency Procedures) Regulations 1991, relating to standby services, requires that there shall be on hand at all times, except when prevailing weather and climatic conditions may endanger the crew, passengers or vessels, in the neighbourhood of every offshore installation a suitably equipped standby vessel, prepared to render immediate assistance in the event of an emergency on, in, at or about the said installation or involving persons working from the said installation.

Regulation 13(2) requires that a written risk assessment be made of the geographical limits within which the standby vessel may manoeuvre so as to operate safely and effectively and satisfy the provisions of Regulation 13(1). Regulation 13(4) requires that a copy of the risk assessment be made available to an inspector on request.

Health and Safety Authority inspectors carry out periodic inspections of offshore installations to ensure compliance with relevant occupational safety and health legislation. I am informed that the authority has not had occasion, to date, to seek a copy of the particular risk assessment in question.

Work Permits.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

170 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a decision will be made on a renewal work permit application for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 2; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19778/04]

The work permits section has indicated that a decision has been made in this case and the employer has been notified.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

171 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a decision will be made on a renewal work permit application for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19779/04]

The work permits section has indicated that an application in respect of the individual concerned is under consideration. A decision will be made shortly and the employer will be notified.

Departmental Expenditure.

Joe Higgins

Question:

172 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Defence the number of Army personnel deployed for the visit of President Bush; and the cost of this deployment. [19777/04]

The Garda Síochána has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces is the provision of aid to the civil power, meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána, which duties include the protection and guarding of vital installations, the provision of certain security escorts and so forth. The Garda requested the support of the Defence Forces for the recent visit of the US President. Approximately 2,262 members of the Permanent Defence Force were deployed on security duties in connection with the visit.

With regard to the question of the costs incurred by the Defence Forces in the provision of assistance to the Garda Síochána for the visit, I am advised that such costs are not readily available due to the extent of the Defence Forces commitment to the operation. However, these costs are currently being compiled and I will arrange to have them forwarded to the Deputy when they are available.

Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

173 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reasons an installation aid grant has not been awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19624/04]

The above named person is an applicant under the installation aid scheme and has submitted an application for payment, IAS 2, to my Department. Following an examination by my Department's inspectorate, the application was found to be incomplete. The required outstanding documentation has been requested and on receipt of the same, the application will be re-examined and the outcome notified to the applicant in due course.

Pat Breen

Question:

174 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare did not receive their 2002 extensification premium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19625/04]

An application for 2002 extensification premium was made by the now deceased husband of the person named. Payment of the grant to the person named will be made on production of a grant of probate to will, letters of administration or a letter of indemnity from her solicitor. She was informed of the position in a telephone call on 25 June 2003 and also by letter dated 10 January 2004.

The person named applied to the Department to have the herd number transferred into her name and she became the registered herd owner on 29 January 2003. Since the application for 2003 extensification premium was made in her own name, payment of 2003 extensification premium, which amounted to €880.00, issued to her in the normal way on 10 June 2004.

Bovine Disease Controls.

Denis Naughten

Question:

175 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will review the levels of compensation paid for bovine animals slaughtered due to tuberculosis or brucellosis infection; if compensation will be set in line with market values; the reason such a procedure is not in place at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19678/04]

Since April 2002, compensation for all reactors disclosed under the TB and brucellosis eradication schemes is determined in accordance with the terms and conditions of the on-farm market valuation scheme. All valuations are carried out by a cadre of independent valuers who value animals in accordance with the agreed market to take account of available data on market prices. This updated document is sent by my Department each week to each valuer to assist them in their valuation work. In general, I believe that the valuation system is working well and there are no plans at present to make any changes to the basis on which it operates.

Denis Naughten

Question:

176 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the funds granted to farmers under the tuberculosis and brucellosis hardship scheme in each of the past five years and to date in 2004; the cost of administering the scheme in each of the said periods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19679/04]

Expenditure on the hardship grant scheme for the periods requested is detailed in the following table. This scheme is administered by staff in each local district veterinary office as part of a wide range of duties carried out on all elements of the eradication schemes and the cost of administering this specific aspect of DVO operations is not available.

Year

€m

1999

1.147

2000

1.046

2001

1.100

2002

1.025

2003

0.934

2004 (to 25/6/04)

0.718

Denis Naughten

Question:

177 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans he has to review the tuberculosis and brucellosis hardship scheme; if he will consider the extension of the scheme beyond 1 May 2004 and to part-time farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19680/04]

Denis Naughten

Question:

178 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will take steps to ensure that the tuberculosis and brucellosis hardship scheme commences following the restriction of the period and that the level of payment is increased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19681/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 177 and 178 together.

The hardship grant scheme was first introduced in November 1996 to assist farmers whose holdings are restricted and where animals are retained and fed during periods of restriction. The eligibility period is between 1 November and 30 April each year. An essential prerequisite for eligibility is that the holding continues to be restricted following a full herd re-test following the disclosure of reactors. A maximum of €250 per month per herd may be paid for a period not exceeding four months during the eligibility period.

There are no plans at present to alter the eligibility conditions or rates currently applying.

Denis Naughten

Question:

179 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will review the procedures for the payment of income supplement for restricted herds; his views on whether it is acceptable that it takes more than three months to receive the first payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19682/04]

There are specific eligibility conditions attaching to the payment of income supplement under the TB and brucellosis eradication schemes. In particular, income supplement is payable when more than 10% of the herd is removed as reactors and where depopulation of the herd is not the chosen veterinary option. Income supplement is paid in arrears in respect of each full month of eligibility.

Income supplement payments are processed promptly in the district veterinary office and are paid in accordance with the targets laid down in the Department's customer service action plan.

Denis Naughten

Question:

180 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the payment granted to applicants for income supplement for restricted herds to date in 2004 and in each of the past five years; the administration costs in each period concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19683/04]

Expenditure on the income supplement scheme for the periods requested is detailed in the table below. This scheme is administered by staff in each local district veterinary office as part of a wide range of duties carried out on all elements of the eradication schemes and the cost of administering this specific aspect of DVO operations is not available.

Year

€m

1999

4,438

2000

3,967

2001

2,920

2002

2,792

2003

2,759

2004 (to 25/06/04)

1,197

Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

181 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a suckler cow grant cannot be awarded in respect of an animal ear tag in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19780/04]

The person named is an applicant under the 2003 and previous years' suckler cow premium schemes. He has received payment in full in respect of all animals applied for. According to CMMS records there is no trace of any details held relating to the ear tag number quoted in the question. However, an animal with a similar tag number, RKST0007M, was applied on by the herd owner and, as stated, has qualified for payment.

Tax Yield.

David Stanton

Question:

182 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Finance the moneys remitted to his Department by year and by company in the period 1 January 1994 to 31 December 2003 pursuant to section 307 of the Companies Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19756/04]

David Stanton

Question:

183 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Finance the use to which moneys remitted to his Department in the past ten years pursuant to section 307 of the Companies Acts have been put; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19757/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos.182 and 183 together.

Section 307 of the Companies Acts 1963 to 2001 provides that unclaimed dividends and unapplied or undistributable balances arising out of voluntary liquidations are to be lodged to the companies liquidation account, which is under the control of the High Court. If the moneys are still unclaimed after seven years then, under section 307(4), they are paid into the Exchequer.

Under this section, the Courts Service has remitted sums annually as follows to the Exchequer, in the period 1 January 1994 to 31 December 2003.

Year

IR£,000

€,000

1994-1997

Nil

1998

228

1999

372

2000

6

2001

27

2002

182

2003

130

The Courts Service does not supply a breakdown by company of the moneys paid into the Exchequer.

It should be noted that section 307(4) also provides that where the High Court is satisfied as to the entitlement of any person claiming any dividend or payment out of the moneys paid into the Exchequer, it may order that such sums as may be necessary shall be issued from the Exchequer to provide for that dividend or payment. To date, no such claim has been received.

Article 11 of the Constitution requires that State revenues, including tax revenue, non-tax revenue and Exchequer borrowing, are paid, in general, into the Central Fund, the Exchequer. In this regard, the moneys referred to by the Deputy are transferred into the Central Fund as part of the non-tax revenues for the year in which they are collected. As such, they are part of the total resources that underpin the Government's expenditure targets for that year.

Work Permits.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

184 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if a person (details supplied) will be accepted or refused a work authorisation. [19674/04]

On 24 July 2003 the person applied for a work authorisation through the Consulate General of Ireland, Chicago. He was subsequently asked for additional documentation on 31 July. The application was faxed to my Department's visa office for consideration. The person concerned withdrew his application on 12 September and collected his documentation from the consulate.

A subsequent application was submitted for a different employer on 6 February 2004. Again, his application was faxed to my Department's visa office for consideration. It subsequently informed the consulate that the application had been refused on the grounds that neither the job description nor the salary offered fell within the criteria applicable for the position. On 19 February the staff at the consulate office wrote to the person and confirmed that the work authorisation application had been refused.

Foreign Military Aircraft.

Finian McGrath

Question:

185 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason US warplanes are not inspected at Shannon Airport and if they transport depleted uranium and prisoners. [19740/04]

Under the terms of the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952, foreign military aircraft are normally granted permission by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to land at Shannon Airport on condition that the aircraft meet the policy stipulations that it is unarmed and not carrying arms, ammunition or explosives. This would preclude the carrying of depleted uranium munitions.

In the case of US military aircraft, the US Embassy submits applications to confirm that the aircraft seeking landing permission will comply with the operative criteria. The US and Ireland enjoy excellent relations and the details of applications received are accepted in good faith. The question of searching aircraft does not arise.

I have no information to suggest that prisoners are being carried on US military aircraft transiting Shannon Airport.

Prisoner Transfers.

Joe Higgins

Question:

186 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if prisoners were transported through Shannon Airport in transit to or from the US base at Guantanamo Bay or other US holding centres. [19771/04]

The Government has no information to suggest that prisoners in transit to or from Guantanamo Bay, or another US holding centre, were transported through Shannon Airport.

Foreign Conflicts.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

187 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention was drawn to the Palestinian Human Rights Centre’s report this week; and if he contacted the Israeli Embassy about Israeli troops continuing to shell Palestinian residential areas, especially in Khan Yunis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip and that Israeli occupying forces conducted five military incursions into Palestinian areas and destroyed two houses in Rafah and razed 14 donums of Palestinian agricultural land in Deir al-Balah. [19663/04]

I am aware of the report. The Government's and the EU's concern at many of the operations conducted by the Israeli Defence Forces in the occupied territories was brought to the attention of the Israeli authorities on many occasions.

On 17 May, EU Foreign Ministers met and they called on the Israeli Government to cease the demolition of Palestinian houses. The quartet statement on 4 May emphasised that the Israeli Government should refrain from attacks on civilians and the demolition of Palestinian homes and property as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction.

The recent European Council called for renewed efforts towards a comprehensive ceasefire and reiterated that violence and terror have no place in the search for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

188 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason, despite repeated assurances to the 20,000 Nationalist and non-Unionist persons represented on Lisburn City Council, the Government chose not to send a representative to observe and monitor its annual general meeting, which has institutionalised discrimination at council level by refusing to offer positions of responsibility to members of the non-Unionist community; and if by giving into the Unionist protests the Government was not sending out the wrong signals that will further exacerbate Unionist intransigence and sectarianism. [19666/04]

In my reply to Question No. 197 on 3 March I indicated that the Government "availed of all opportunities to advocate the principle and practice of partnership politics" in Northern Ireland. I also said that I had asked my officials to "closely monitor the situation in Lisburn City Council and to keep me informed of all relevant developments", particularly in the context of its annual general meeting in June. Since then my officials have closely monitored the situation, including through contacts with nationalist public representatives on the council, and have kept me informed of developments.

The question of an Irish Government official attending last week's AGM was considered in the light of whether such attendance would be conducive to the achievement of partnership politics. It was decided that attendance could give rise to unhelpful controversy rather than positively contribute to a power sharing outcome. Nevertheless, in the immediate aftermath of the AGM, my officials contacted Sinn Féin and SDLP public representatives and were briefed on the outcome.

I am disappointed that the AGM did not result in any demonstrable progress towards the achievement of a power sharing dispensation on the council. We will continue to monitor developments and to avail of all opportunities to constructively encourage the operation of partnership politics on the council.

Human Rights Abuses.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

189 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of meetings that he, his Ministers of State or officials held with members of the political opposition in Belarus. [19760/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

190 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the assistance the Government is providing to the political opposition party in Belarus; if contacts are being maintained on an ongoing basis; and if there will be further meetings. [19761/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

191 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans in view of concerns expressed to him by the opposition party in Belarus about human rights abuses committed in that country; and if he plans to highlight the matter at EU level. [19762/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

192 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he plans to meet or contact the President of Belarus or senior officials to express his concern about human rights abuses in that country. [19763/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 189 to 192, inclusive, together.

EU enlargement on 1 May saw Belarus become a direct neighbour for the first time. Belarus now has a land border with three members of the Union, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. As a result contacts with Belarus have never been so close and the Union's relations with Belarus have never been so important.

During the Irish Presidency enlargement was underpinned by several important initiatives. These included the adoption of a neighbourhood policy for the new neighbours and an intensive review of the Union's relations with its neighbouring states.

The period of the Presidency coincided with a significant deterioration in human rights in Belarus, an increased repression of the opposition, the media and civil society, and the intensification of a peaceful democratic struggle in the country. The EU's three goals were: to maintain the EU's Presidency led dialogue with the government of Belarus to encourage basic democratic reform; to maintain pressure on the Belarusian Government to end repression of human rights groups, the opposition and the media; and to ensure that the people of Belarus benefit from the incentives and funding that will become available under the European neighbourhood policy.

A number of meetings with the Belarusian political opposition were held in the course of the Presidency. A meeting at official level took place in the US embassy in Minsk during the first ever joint EU-US mission to Belarus in March. Its purpose was to underline EU and US concern about the human rights problem and to encourage the administration to embark on a series of reforms. During the course of the mission the Presidency, on behalf of the EU, invited a number of the opposition leaders to visit Brussels. The visit was co-funded by the Irish and Swedish Governments and lasted from 24 to 26 May. Leading figures from Belarusian human rights organisations were also included in the Belarusian delegation. An allocation of €15,000 was made available towards the cost of the visit. Travel costs were shared by the Swedish and Irish Governments. Ireland also co-funded interpretation costs, local travel and subsistence.

The opposition leaders also met Deputy Tom Kitt, Minister of State at my Department, in Brussels. He acted on behalf of the Presidency. They also met Commissioner Verheugen and the High Representative-Secretary General, Mr. Solana. Deputy Kitt's discussions with the delegation were positive and conducted in a frank, open and friendly atmosphere. Members of the Belarusian delegation underlined the need to increase EU assistance for civil society and to maintain pressure on the government in Minsk on a range of issues.

Deputy Kitt confirmed that the EU was ready to engage in a constructive dialogue with Belarus to promote common values. He stressed that it was vital, in the period leading up to the forthcoming elections, that the opposition parties consolidate their efforts to provide a genuine democratic alternative for the people of Belarus. He underlined the EU's deep concern at the deteriorating human rights problem. He also confirmed that the EU insists that an independent investigation be held into the cases of the disappeared and the early release of political prisoners.

Ireland does not believe that Belarus should be isolated from the international community. I was pleased that the ENP conclusions, that were agreed by the Union's Foreign Ministers in June, confirmed that it would be possible to extend the full benefits of the ENP to Belarus when it established a democratic form of government, following free and fair elections. I was particularly happy that the Council confirmed its intention to strengthen support for civil society in Belarus under the ENP and to examine possibilities for further supporting the humanitarian needs of the people of Belarus, including addressing the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

As regards contact with the President of Belarus and his government, I wrote twice to the Belarusian Foreign Minister, in my capacity as President of the Council of Ministers, on specific human rights cases. My first letter concerned the attempted closure of the European Humanities University in Minsk. My second letter was on the harassment of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and its president, Mrs. Tatiana Protko. I was particularly pleased that the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, joined me in making representations in the latter case.

During our Presidency we broke new ground in co-ordinating EU policy with the US Government's policy on Belarus. This was witnessed by the joint EU-US mission to Belarus and co-operation with the Secretary of State on human rights issues. We have also regularly raised the human rights problem in Belarus as part of our dialogue with Russia. I have no doubt that the initiatives that were taken during the Irish Presidency will be developed during the Netherlands Presidency so that the democratic transformation of Belarus, that we all wish for, can be further advanced.

Vocational Education Committees.

John Perry

Question:

193 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science if a VEC centre (details supplied) in County Leitrim received funding in 2000 to 2004, inclusive, for adult training. [19630/04]

My Department gave financial support to County Leitrim VEC to defray general overhead costs for post-leaving certificate courses at the centre. The funding provided in recent years is as follows:

1999-2000

186.00

2000-2001

186.00

2001-2002

3,151.46

2002-2003

5,932.16

2003-2004

5,580.00

School Transport.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

194 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will consider making a subsidy available to persons (details supplied) in County Cork whose children attend an all Irish speaking school. [19631/04]

A number of families from the area receive grant aid towards the cost of transport for their children to the school. My Department is examining the possibility of establishing a service to facilitate these pupils. The Deputy will be advised of the position as soon as possible.

Schools Building Projects.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

195 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science if a site was purchased for a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and the planned timescale for its construction. [19632/04]

The school's overall need for accommodation will be considered in the context of a review of all projects, with a view to including it as part of a multi-annual schools building programme from 2005. Details of the latest programme will be announced later in the year. Final determination on the acquisition of a site for Summercove national school will depend on the outcome of the review.

Higher Education Grants.

Paul McGrath

Question:

196 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason for the delay in introducing the 2004-2005 higher education grant scheme; its expected date of publication; and his views on whether it is beneficial to finalise it prior to the summer recess. [19638/04]

The grant scheme is administered by the local authorities under the aegis of my Department. Its terms and conditions are reviewed annually by my Department. They are revised as necessary and distributed to the awarding bodies as early as possible before the commencement of the new academic year.

On 25 June my Department issued details of the 2004 HEG scheme to the various local authorities. The student maintenance grant schemes are administered by the VECs under the aegis of my Department. They were issued at the same time. Last May, application forms were issued to the awarding bodies.

The distribution of this year's schemes of student support has been earlier than last year. They were issued to the awarding bodies in early July. My Department is taking the necessary steps to ensure that in future years the revised schemes are issued before the end of April.

The following is a copy of my press release on Sunday, 27 June, for the Deputy's information. I announced full details of the increases in the reckonable income limits and various rates of maintenance grants under the terms of the 2004 schemes.

The Minister for Education and Science, Noel Dempsey, T.D, today reaffirmed his commitment to the promotion of equitable access to higher education, on the issuing of the 2004 student support schemes to the awarding bodies, the Local Authorities and the Vocational Education Committees. Minister Dempsey stated that in line with the principles which underpinned the €42m package of student support measures provided for the 2003/4 academic year, this year's schemes are giving particular priority to addressing inequities in participation of students from the lower socio-economic groups through the Special Rates of Maintenance (Top -Up) Grant. There will be a significant increase of 18.6% in the "Top-Up" element for the 2004/5 academic year. The higher, non-adjacent rate has been increased to €4,855 an amount based on the maximum personal rate of Social Welfare Unemployment Assistance. The adjacent rate has been increased to €1,945. These rates represent ‘top-ups' on the ordinary grant of €1,910 and €765, respectively. The annual income threshold for the special rates of maintenance grant has been increased by 6.8% to €14,693, ensuring that at least 10,000 students will benefit. Minister Dempsey said that an increase of 2.0%, in line with inflation, is being provided for in the ordinary maintenance grant to give a maximum grant of €2,945 in the 2004/05 academic year. The reckonable income limits for these grants have been increased for the 2004/05 academic year in line with the increase in the average industrial wage, as has the allowance by which the income limits may be increased for each dependant where two or more children are in further or higher education. The top income limit has been increased from €40,000 to €42,360, ensuring that a significantly higher number of students from households with moderate incomes will not have to pay the Student Service Charge of €750. It is anticipated that up to 56,000 students will benefit as a result of the full range of increases announced. Minister Dempsey said: — "I have continually highlighted, as a key Government priority, the need to promote and facilitate equitable access to education including, in particular, higher education. Support has to be targeted at those who are most in need and at an appropriate level. The improvements which are being effected in this year's schemes are giving effect to this objective and are central to its achievement." The Minister said that he is also taking steps, including consultations with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, to ensure that students will be aware of the financial assistance available. The Minister thanked the CAO for agreeing to issue an information leaflet to all CAO applicants in the coming weeks.

School Completion Programme.

Liam Aylward

Question:

197 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will approve funding for a project (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [19658/04]

The project is part of the Kilkenny school completion programme. Local management groups are required to assess the needs of marginalised educationally disadvantaged young people at local level. They must devise integrated, costed, focused and targeted annual retention plans that support these young people in their school, home and community life. The retention plans for 2004-2005 were submitted to my Department for approval. In July my Department will notify the project when its retention plan is approved.

Special Educational Needs.

Liam Aylward

Question:

198 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Education and Science when special educational resources will be approved for a person (details supplied) in County Carlow. [19659/04]

My Department received the school's application for special education resources for the pupil. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including the one for the pupil, for which a response is outstanding were considered. All schools were notified of the outcome. They were informed what resources may be put in place immediately.

Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future. Schools will be notified before the commencement of the 2004-2005 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system that I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate its introduction. It will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs. This means that pupils with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability and learning support needs are included. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows. In the most disadvantaged schools, as per the urban dimension of giving children an even break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater that 30% boys, there will be one for every 150 pupils; and in all girls schools, including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, there will be one for every 200 pupils. I intend for the details of the new model to be set out in a comprehensive circular. It will be issued to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs. It will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities.

My Department proposes to devise clusters of allocations under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in that context and the weighted arrangements. My Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

School Staffing.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

199 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will extend the 30 June deadline set for school principals to apply for special needs assistants in view of the enormous difficulties they experienced; and the reason such short notice was given to schools. [19665/04]

My Department has no plans to extend the deadline for the receipt of SER applications. This includes applications for special needs assistant support. The deadline covers applications received by my Department after 31 August 2003.

Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future. Schools will be notified of the outcome before the commencement of the 2004-2005 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system that I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate its introduction. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs. This includes pupils with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability and also those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

Schools that applied for special needs assistant support will be advised of the outcome as soon as possible in advance of the next school year. Account is being taken of existing levels of such support in schools. Provision will be made for schools to lodge an appeal where a reduction in support is proposed. The care needs of the pupils concerned will be taken into account.

My Department recognises the difficulties some schools experienced while awaiting the outcome of SER applications and the introduction of the weighted model. The process was complex and time consuming. I shall endeavour to have all aspects completed as quickly as possible. I also thank schools for their co-operation and support in this regard.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Tony Gregory

Question:

200 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Education and Science if further consideration was given to the issue raised in correspondence (details supplied) by the Let Our Voices Emerge organisation. [19716/04]

In April 2002 the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 was signed into law by the President. It provided for the establishment of the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the residential institutions review committee.

The board can make awards based on a lower threshold of proof than is required in taking a case through the courts. An applicant is expected to provide proof of their identity, that they resided in an institution, that they were injured while a resident and that the injury is consistent with alleged abuse that occurred while a resident. An applicant may accept or reject an award or submit it to the review committee.

The Act specifically provides that the making of an award to an applicant shall not constitute a finding of fact relating to the fault or negligence on the part of the relevant person. The Act also stipulates that any award made to an applicant will not constitute a finding of fact relating to fault or negligence. Awards are made based on medical reports.

I am satisfied that the issue raised by the organisation is adequately catered for by the Act's provisions and no further action is required.

Special Educational Needs.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

201 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science when his Department will sanction a classroom assistant with medical experience and a resource teacher for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [19721/04]

My Department allocates teacher posts and special needs assistant posts to second level schools and vocational education committees to cater for pupils with special educational needs. A school authority applies to my Department for the support. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil involved. The nature and level of support is determined by the advice given by the psychological service.

My Department approved an additional allocation of 1.59 whole-time equivalent teacher posts and 0.16 special needs assistant posts to Millstreet Community School to cater for special needs pupils, including the pupil referred to, in the school.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

202 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science about a special needs assistant for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [19764/04]

My Department allocates teacher posts and special needs assistant posts to second level schools and VECs to cater for pupils with special educational needs. A school authority applies to my Department for the support. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil involved. The nature and level of support is determined by the advice given by the psychological service.

County Cork VEC applied for additional resources for pupils enrolled for the 2004/05 school year, including the pupil referred to by the Deputy. My Department is considering the application. The VEC will be notified of the outcome as soon as possible.

School Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

203 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science about extra facilities for a school (details supplied) in County Kildare. [19781/04]

My Department's school planning section is considering an application for grant aid towards improvement works submitted by the school's management authority. The school shall be contacted when a decision is made.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

204 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science about extra facilities for a school (details supplied) in County Kildare. [19782/04]

My Department's school planning section has considered all of the applications for temporary accommodation for 2004. A list of successful applicants was published on my websitewww.education.ie.

It was not possible to approve all of the applications due to the amount of funding available and the number of applications. Only schools that could demonstrate a need for additional accommodation were approved. The school in question will be required to maximise existing accommodation until my Department can provide additional facilities.

Psychological Service.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

205 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he will provide full psychological assessments in line with requirements at primary and second level. [19786/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

206 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he will meet the psychological assessment requirements at primary and second level schools throughout County Kildare. [19787/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

207 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he will meet the psychological assessment requirements at primary and second level schools. [19788/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 to 207, inclusive, together.

My Department is committed to providing a full educational psychological service to all schools. Over the past few years the National Educational Psychological Service has expanded gradually on a national basis in accordance with the Government's decision of February 1999.

It was envisaged that approximately 180 psychologists would be employed in NEPS by the end of the five year development period. Notwithstanding the time consuming aspects of recruiting professional staff, there are 130 psychologists in NEPS, including three on career break. Since Easter four psychologists have taken up posts. They will be assigned to schools after they have completed an induction course.

The psychological service has not reached its full staffing complement and, therefore, it cannot offer a service to all schools. In County Kildare approximately 67% of pupils at both levels have access to the service. This is the typical situation in many counties. NEPS psychologists and administrative staff are included in my Department's overall staffing complement. The future recruitment of psychologists must be dealt with in that context. I cannot say when the service will be fully staffed even though it remains a priority for my Department.

An element of the service is the provision of psychological assessments, where needed. During its development phase some schools experienced difficulties in accessing such assessments. I funded schools that did not have direct access. They can avail of the scheme for commissioning private assessments that NEPS administers. The organisation circulated details of SCPA to all schools and full information is also available on my Department's website. The scheme is an interim arrangement and is not a substitute for a full educational psychological service. Such a service provides a wide range of supports for schools, including assessments.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

208 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he intends to accelerate the school building programme in line with pressing requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19789/04]

The Government is delivering on its commitment to provide modern facilities in schools and has progressively increased funding in recent years with an aggregate total of almost €2 billion since 1998, the largest investment programme in the history of the State. My Department has never underestimated the scale of the task and the level of capital funding and other resources required to rectify decades of under investment in school infrastructure. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Bullying in Schools.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

209 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of incidents of school bullying reported in the past 12 months; the action taken arising therefrom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19790/04]

Schools are not required to report incidents of bullying to my Department. It is the responsibility of individual school management authorities to implement effective policies to counter bullying in schools. My Department has issued guidelines on countering bullying behaviour to all primary and post-primary schools. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist schools in devising school based measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness of the problem among school management authorities, staff, pupils andparents.

Schools Refurbishment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

210 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to provide the necessary resources to carry out improvements, modernise and upgrade the top 100 primary schools throughout the country in need of such attention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19791/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

211 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to provide the necessary resources to carry out improvements, modernise and upgrade the top 100 second level schools throughout the country in need of such attention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19792/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 210 and 211 together.

When publishing the 2004 school building programme, I outlined that my strategy will be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. My officials are reviewing all projects which were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme, with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual school building programme from 2005 onwards. As part of this process, consultations were held with the education partners about the prioritisation criteria used for large scale building projects. The purpose of these consultations is to ensure that the criteria have optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors. The revised criteria are being used to frame the multi-annual programme. I expect to be in a position to make further announcements on this matter in the course of the year.

Special Educational Needs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

212 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to meet the full requirement in respect of remedial, resource or special needs teaching in all primary schools throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19793/04]

It is my intention that all applications for special educational resources received by 30 June 2004 will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004/05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been considered and schools have now been notified of the outcome which indicates to schools what resources may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future and the outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004/05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system which I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability, and those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows: in the most disadvantaged schools as per the urban dimension of the programme, giving children an even break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; and in all girls schools, including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and this will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. My Department proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. The Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

Schools which have applied for special needs assistant support will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year. Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned. My Department is considering applications submitted by schools for the establishment of special classes.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

213 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science his efforts to date to bring about a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio with particular reference to densely populated urban settlements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19794/04]

The pupil-teacher ratio at primary and second levels has improved significantly in recent years. At primary level the ratio has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 18.0:1 in the 2002-03 school year while at second level the ratio has fallen from 16.0:1 to 13.6:1 in the same period. The projected ratio at primary level for this school year is 17.35:1 and at post-primary level the projected ratio is 13.48:1.

In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil-teacher ratio within available resources and subject to spending priorities within the education sector. Priority will be given to pupils with special needs and those from disadvantaged areas.

Schools Refurbishment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

214 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the extent to which he has met or proposes to meet the requirement for extra facilities at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare including special needs resources or structural improvements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19795/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the extension and refurbishment project for the school in question is listed for proceeding to tender and construction as part of the 2004 school building programme. The tendering process for this project has been completed and the school authorities were recently authorised to place a contract for the project. This project is due to commence on site very soon.

Special Educational Needs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

215 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the extent to which remedial, resource or special needs teaching requirements at primary and second level throughout County Kildare is deficient; if he has in mind proposals to address the issue in the short to medium term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19796/04]

My Department allocates teacher posts and special needs assistant posts to second level schools and vocational education committees to cater for pupils with special educational needs. Applications for such support are made to my Department by the relevant school authority. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil or pupils involved and the nature and level of the support provided is determined on the advice of the psychological service. The second level schools throughout County Kildare have been allocated 45.45 whole-time equivalent teaching posts and 11.65 special needs assistant posts to date to cater for pupils with special educational needs for the 2004-05 school year.

In addition, learning support — remedial — teacher services are provided to all second level schools. This service is focused on students with literacy or numeracy difficulties. Twenty three whole-time equivalent teaching posts of this nature have been allocated to second level schools throughout County Kildare for the 2004-05 school year.

My Department is considering a few applications for additional resources in respect of pupils in second level schools in County Kildare. The relevant school authorities will be notified of the outcome as soon as possible. I intend that all applications for special educational resources for primary schools received by 30 June 2004 will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been considered and schools have been notified of the outcome. This outcome indicates to schools the resources that may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed soon and the outcome notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system which I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability, and those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

Schools which have applied for special needs assistant support will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year. Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned. My Department is considering applications from primary schools in County Kildare for the establishment of special classes.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

216 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the degree to which he has met the requirements in respect of special needs teaching at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; his intention to augment the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19797/04]

The school to which the Deputy refers has the services of two full-time resource teaching posts, one full-time learning support post and four special needs assistant posts. My Department has received an application from the school in question for special education resources. Applications for resource teacher support received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been considered and all schools have been notified of the outcome. This outcome indicates to schools the resources that may be put in place immediately. It is my intention that all applications for special education resources received by 30 June 2004, which includes one application from the school in question, will receive a response before the commencement of the2004-05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system which I recently announced. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with high incidence special educational needs, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability, and those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows: in the most disadvantaged schools as per the urban dimension of the programme, giving children an even break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with high incidence special needs; in all boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; and in all girls schools including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils.

It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year. The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with high incidence special educational needs which will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the high incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with low incidence disabilities. My Department proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. The Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

School Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

217 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the serious lack of accommodation to meet the requirements of special needs, resource and other school classes at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that health and safely regulations are being breached in an attempt to accommodate the classes with the current restricted accommodation; if he will provide the urgently needed funds to meet the school’s requirements in the academic year 2004-05; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19798/04]

The school planning section of my Department has considered all applications for temporary accommodation. A list of successful applications is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. In the context of the available funding, and the number of applications for that funding, it was not possible to approve all applications received, and only those with an absolute and demonstrated need for additional accommodation were approved. The school in question is required to maximise the use of existing accommodation until my Department is in a position to provide additional facilities.

Schools Refurbishment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

218 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science his proposal for the provision of permanent facilities at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19799/04]

The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department in dealing with site acquisitions generally, is exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for Ardclough national school, County Kildare. Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify specific sites to be acquired. This information, however, will be placed on my Department's website when the relevant acquisitions have been completed. The question of the provision of new accommodation for the school will be considered further when a site has been acquired.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

219 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the stage of the development plan in respect of the provision of facilities in the case of a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; the next stage and remaining stages in the process; the time scale likely to achieve conclusion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19800/04]

The planning section of my Department has not received any application for capital funding from the school to which the Deputy refers.

School Transport.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

220 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if provision can be made for school transport on the 67 and 67A bus for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare. [19801/04]

A report on this case has been requested from Bus Éireann. The Deputy will be advised of the position when the report has been received and assessed.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

221 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science his plans for the future development of a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19802/04]

The school to which the Deputy refers has applied for grant aid towards refurbishment works. All projects that are not going to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme are being re-evaluated with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005 onwards. The school in question will be included in this process during which a brief for the school will be finalised. My Department has, as part of the 2004 summer works scheme, sanctioned a grant in the amount of €15,233, inclusive of fees and VAT, or 90% of the total cost of the works, whichever is the lesser, for roof repairs at the school.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

222 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the developments to date in regard to the provision of a new primary school at Kill, County Kildare; the action or actions likely by the end of 2004 in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19803/04]

The property management section of the OPW, which deals with site acquisitions on behalf of my Department, is exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for Kill national school, Kill, County Kildare. Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed to identify specific sites to be acquired. This information, however, will be placed on my Department's website when the relevant acquisitions have been completed. The provision of new accommodation for the school will be considered further when a site has been acquired.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

223 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the extent of the facilities required or likely to be provided at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19804/04]

The school to which the Deputy refers has applied for an extension project. All projects not going to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme are being re-evaluated with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005 onwards. The school in question will be included in this process, which will include finalising a brief for the school.

Schools Refurbishment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

224 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to be in a position to provide the extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare which was built to cater for 650 students but now caters for 811; his views on the fact that toilet facilities are totally inadequate for staff and students alike and, taking into consideration that the Kildare VEC obtained planning permission on 18 December 2001 from Kildare County Council to build a ten room extension and full size gymnasium to cater for 850 students, that the facilities at present are totally inadequate resulting in serious health and safety issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter with a view to early resolution. [19805/04]

A large scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project is at early stages of architectural planning. My Department has assigned it a ’band 3’ rating, in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large scale projects. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year’s programme, including the school to which the Deputy refers. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

225 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to be in a position to provide the extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19806/04]

As I recently announced, over the remainder of this school year a new school planning model involving published draft area development plans will be piloted in five areas. Included in the pilot scheme is the area around the N4 from Leixlip through Kilcock, including Maynooth and Celbridge, Enfield, Longwood, Kinnegad and Rochfortbridge to Kilbeggan. The school to which the Deputy refers is included in this plan, which was published on my Department's website on 29 June 2004.

The purpose of this new approach to school planning is to ensure that, in future, the provision of school infrastructure will be decided only after a transparent consultation process. Parents, trustees, sponsors of prospective new schools and all interested parties in the locality will have the opportunity to express their views in the process, following which individual plans will set out the blueprint for schools' development in an area covering a period of up to ten years.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

226 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when it is expected to provide extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19807/04]

Provision was made for additional accommodation to be provided at the school to which the Deputy refers, as part of my announcement of an additional €30 million investment in school buildings. My Department has devolved authority and responsibility for the delivery of this project to the school and its design team. The tendering process has commenced and it is envisaged that enabling works will be carried out over the summer months and the remainder of the project will proceed to construction later in the year.

Asbestos Remediation Programme.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

227 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to be in a position to provide funding to replace a roof at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare as same has been temporarily repaired; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19808/04]

In the circumstances that there may have been asbestos present in the roof of the school to which the Deputy refers the matter was referred to the health and safety unit in the Office of Public Works, which carries out all asbestos surveys for my Department, for examination and report. Officials in my Department recently received and are considering the report. They will contact the school authorities in due course.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

228 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to acquisition of a site and permanent structures for a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19809/04]

The school to which the Deputy refers was granted provisional recognition by my Department, effective from 1 September 2002. The school authorities were advised at that time that the question of permanent recognition would be considered when the Department is satisfied that the long-term viability of the school has been demonstrated and the school is operating in accordance with the rules for national schools. Until permanent recognition is granted to the school, it does not qualify for capital funding. If and when permanent recognition is granted, budgetary factors will determine the rate of progress on the delivery of permanent accommodation for the school.

Schools Refurbishment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

229 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to be in a position to provide extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19810/04]

The school planning section in my Department has considered all applications for temporary accommodation for 2004. A list of successful applicants has been published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. It was not possible to approve all applications received and only those with an absolute and demonstrated need for extra accommodation were approved. The application from the school to which the Deputy refers was not successful on this occasion because the provision of temporary accommodation to meet shortfalls was given a higher priority than the replacement of existing accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

230 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to the provision of extra facilities at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19811/04]

A large scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project is at early stages of architectural planning. It has been assigned a ‘band 2’ rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large scale projects. It is planned to progress this project to the next stage of architectural planning during 2004.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will clarify which projects are not progressing to tender in this year's programme, including the school to which the Deputy refers. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

231 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to the extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19812/04]

The extension project for the school in question is listed for proceeding to tender and construction as part of the 2004 school building programme. The tendering process has been completed and the school authorities were recently authorised to place a contract for the project.

Schools Refurbishment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

232 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to be in a position to provide extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19813/04]

An application for grant aid towards improvement works has been received from the management authority of the school to which the Deputy refers and is being examined by the school planning section of my Department. When a decision has been taken in the matter, contact will be made directly with the school authority.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

233 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to extra requirements and facilities at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19814/04]

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that provision was made for additional accommodation to be provided at the school to which he refers, as part of my announcement of an additional €30 million investment in school buildings. My Department has devolved authority and responsibility for the delivery of this project to the school and its design team. The tendering process has commenced and it is envisaged that the project will proceed to construction later this year.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

234 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding negotiations between his Department and the authorities at the Kildare VEC about a school (details supplied) in County Kildare with particular reference to relocation of the school to an alternative site; the state of these discussions; the imminence or otherwise of a favourable decision on the issue; the likely schedule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19815/04]

The question of the relocation of St. Patrick's post-primary school, Naas, County Kildare, to an alternative site is under examination in my Department at present. Discussions have been held with County Kildare Vocational Education Committee and the local authority in the matter. These discussions are ongoing and it is not possible to indicate at this stage when they may be concluded and a decision taken in the matter.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

235 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to the provision of the extra permanent classrooms at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19816/04]

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that provision was made for additional accommodation to be provided at the school to which he refers, as part of my announcement of an additional €30 million investment in school buildings. My Department has devolved authority and responsibility for the delivery of this project to the school and its design team. The tendering process has commenced and it is envisaged that enabling works will be carried out over the summer months and the remainder of the project will proceed to construction later in the year.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

236 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of national schools in County Kildare which he intends to improve, extend and upgrade in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19817/04]

The school building programme for 2004 has been published and full details about individual projects, including those in County Kildare, are available on my Department's website atwww.education.ie.

When publishing the 2004 school building programme, I outlined that my strategy going forward will be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. My officials are reviewing all projects which were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme, with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual school building programme from 2005 onwards and I expect to be in a position to make further announcements on this matter in the course of the year.

The multi-annual building programme, when published, will provide a comprehensive picture detailing all planned building projects, including those for Kildare area.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

237 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to the provision of the extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19818/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the extension project for the school in question is listed for proceeding to tender and construction as part of the 2004 school building programme. My Department's school building section recently received the pre-tender documentation for this project. My Department expects to be in a position very shortly to authorise the school authority to proceed to tender with this project.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

238 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to the provision of the extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19819/04]

The large scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project is at stage 3, developed sketch scheme, of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large scale projects. It is planned to progress this project to advanced architectural planning during 2004.

Indicative time scales have been included for large scale projects proceeding to tender in 2004. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year's programme, including the school referred to by the Deputy. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

239 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress to date in regard to the provision of the extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; his predictions in this regard over the foreseeable future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19820/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the new school project for the school in question is listed for proceeding to tender and construction as part of the 2004 school building programme. The tendering process has been completed and construction work has commenced.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

240 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress which has taken place or action proposed to address the accommodation issues at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19821/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the extension and refurbishment project for the school in question is listed for proceeding to tender and construction as part of the 2004 school building programme. The tendering process has been completed and the school's design team is currently preparing its tender report.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

241 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress he has achieved in acceding to the requests of the authorities at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare for the provision of extra facilities thereat; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19822/04]

The school planning section of my Department has not received any application for capital funding from the school to which the Deputy refers.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

242 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress to date in regard to the provision of the extra facilities required at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19823/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the extension project for the school in question is listed for proceeding to tender and construction as part of the 2004 school building programme. The tendering process has been completed and the school authorities were recently authorised to place a contract for this project.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

243 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he proposes to address the issue of extra accommodation requirements at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19824/04]

The 2004 building programme has been published and full details on individual projects are available on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. On the basis of the funding allocation and the competing priorities for that funding, it was not possible to include the project for the school referred to by the Deputy in the 2004 building programme.

However, a key strategy for the future will be grounded on the budget day announcement of multi-annual allocations for capital investment in education projects. All projects that are not going to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme will be re-evaluated with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005 onwards. The school in question will be included in this process. I expect to be in a position to make a further announcement in this matter during 2004.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

244 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding a licence for a boat for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19629/04]

The licensing authority for sea fishing boats has informed me that in December 2003 the applicant was issued with a letter of offer of a sea fishing boat licence, subject to certain conditions, one of which is the provision of replacement capacity in respect of his boat. The authority is awaiting compliance by the applicant with the conditions set out in that letter and will respond expeditiously on receipt of the required documentation demonstrating compliance with those conditions.

Benchmarking Awards.

Michael Ring

Question:

245 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when staff of the Western Regional Fisheries Board will be paid their benchmarking increments. [19672/04]

The benchmarking payments referred to by the Deputy are in respect of the general operative grades in the central and regional fisheries boards.

Under the general operatives and related grades parallel benchmarking pay arrangements, payment is contingent on approval of scale increases and the drawing up of a modernisation plan, which is formally agreed by both the management of the central and regional fisheries boards and the unions. The agreed plan will then be submitted to my Department for assessment by the performance verification group, PVG. Arrangements to pay the awards will be made as soon as possible after the modernisation plan is approved by the PVG.

Foster Care.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

246 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the fact that relatives who care for children whose addicted parents are incapable of fulfilling their role as parents cannot avail of other payments which are available to relatives who qualify for relative foster care allowance; his views on whether this is discriminatory; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19653/04]

The foster care allowance can only be paid in respect of children who are taken into the care of a health board under the Child Care Act 1991 and placed in foster care or relative care in accordance with the Child Care Regulations 1995.

In 1998, the then Minister of State in the Department of Health and Children set up a working group on foster care. The task of the working group was to make recommendations on all aspects of foster care. The report recommended that all payments made in addition to the basic foster care allowance should be abolished and that the basic allowance should be increased. In line with the report, the foster care allowance was substantially increased in August 2001 and all discretionary payments were abolished. There are only two instances where discretionary payments may still be considered — educational fees, excluding expenses such as books, school uniforms, school trips and so forth, and medical expenses not covered by the general medical scheme.

The issue of relative care was dealt with in detail in the 2001 report of the working group, entitled "Foster Care — A Child Centred Partnership". The report sets out a number of basic principles that should guide placements with relatives. These are: that the best interests of the child are paramount; that the child should be placed only in an appropriate, safe, healthy and stable environment; that the standard of care must be equivalent to that provided in a traditional foster care arrangement; that relative placements should only be made where a secure attachment exists or has the potential to develop between the child and the relative concerned; that a partnership approach should be used in developing skills and supports for relatives providing foster care; that placements should not be made as a means to provide income support.

The working group considered the possibility that some children are placed in the care of the health boards in order to provide income support for the family of the child. The group was strongly of the view that such a practice would be highly inappropriate. Income support is a matter for the Department of Social and Family Affairs and those in need of such support should contact that Department. The working group stated that children should only be brought into the care of the health boards if they meet the criteria regarding the need for care and protection set out in the Child Care Act. In addition, the choice of placement of any child in the care system should be based on the particular child's individual best interests.

Under the current legislation, a health board must assess the needs of a child placed in care and the suitability of the prospective foster or relative carers and draw up a child care plan. The implementation of the child care plan places significant responsibilities and duties on foster carers, whether relatives or non-relatives. The foster care allowance is paid in recognition of these additional responsibilities and the additional costs of looking after foster children.

In view of the consideration given by the working group on foster care to the issue of relative care my Department has no current plans to review the Child Care Act 1991 or the Child Care Regulations 1995 in this regard.

Medicinal Products.

Liz McManus

Question:

247 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children his views regarding the continued use of SSRIs and a drug (details supplied) in view of recent reports of the adverse effects caused by these drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19634/04]

The Irish Medicines Board is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of medicinal products in Ireland. The board, in consultation with its European colleagues, has continuously monitored the safety of the class of medicines known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs, since they were first licensed for the Irish market. The board has taken regulatory action on these products when deemed necessary.

Most recently, the board took part in a Europe wide review of medicinal products containing paroxetine, which is one of the group of SSRIs which is used to treat mild to moderate depression and which includes Seroxat. This review was undertaken on the basis of safety concerns relating to these products. The board actively participated in this review, which involved a complete benefit/risk re-assessment, and concluded that the benefit/risk profile of products containing paroxetine remains positive. A number of recommendations were made for inclusion on the product's licence documents, the purpose of which was to harmonise the information on these products across member states. The majority of these recommendations are already reflected on the licence documentation currently approved in Ireland. This documentation includes special warnings and precautions for use, particularly about the need for close monitoring of patients using medicinal products containing paroxetine.

The board will continue to actively monitor the safety of all medicinal products licensed for use in Ireland, evaluate all new scientific data that emerge and take any regulatory action deemed appropriate.

Hospital Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

248 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for physiotherapy. [19635/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Michael Ring

Question:

249 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called to Cappagh Hospital in Dublin for a knee operation. [19636/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

John McGuinness

Question:

250 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Health and Children if an appointment and treatment for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny who is on a waiting list at Waterford Regional Hospital and requires urgent attention will be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19637/04]

Responsibility for the provision of services at Waterford Regional Hospital is, in the first instance, a matter for the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter and reply directly to the Deputy.

Michael Ring

Question:

251 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be given an appointment to attend a consultant neurologist in Galway. [19639/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Michael Ring

Question:

252 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for a cataract removal operation. [19640/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

253 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children if a fully fledged Mayo orthopaedic unit, as detailed in the Western Health Board service plan for 2004 and envisaged in the plan for Mayo orthopaedic services 2002-2006, will open, as announced, in September 2004; his views on whether he feels there is any point in the three times reiterated statement as pronounced by his office through the Ministers of State, Deputies Tim O’Malley and Brian Lenihan, that discussions are continuing between the orthopaedic staff at Mayo and Castlebar, which statement is denied; if this is an attempt to water down a fully fledged Mayo orthopaedic unit as promised in the above plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19644/04]

I have provided funding of €3.9 million to the Western Health Board to allow for the opening of the new orthopaedic service at Mayo General Hospital. Currently, one consultant orthopaedic surgeon has been recruited by the Western Health Board. The orthopaedic service at Mayo General Hospital will be part of the overall regional orthopaedic service provided by the Western Health Board.

Officials of my Department have met with the Western Health Board. They conveyed my wish that the new orthopaedic service at Mayo General Hospital commence as soon as possible. In-patient orthopaedic service is scheduled to start in September 2004. In the meantime, patients will be seen on an out-patient basis. The preparation of the unit, development of policies and procedures and staff familiarisation will also take place in the meantime. I am committed to ensuring that the new orthopaedic services are established at Mayo General at the earliest possible date.

Health Board Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

254 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will lift the embargo on the extension of home help to new patients in County Roscommon; the waiting list for home help in the Western Health Board Region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19660/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Roscommon area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. The board has advised my Department that it is not in a position to recruit or start new home help staff. However, the board advises that it is currently contracting hours out to an independent agency, in order to provide a social care service which will enhance the home help service in the Roscommon region.

The information on the waiting list for home help in the Western Health Board region is not routinely collated in my Department. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to provide the information sought, which will be forwarded to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Denis Naughten

Question:

255 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the action he intends to take to support polio survivors in view of the recently published survey which highlighted that this group is among the most marginalised sections of society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19661/04]

The provision of health services to people with physical and sensory disabilities, including polio survivors, is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards. My Department met with the Post Polio Support Group in 2002 and discussed a number of issues, including the possibility of setting up a high level committee to look into the issues surrounding this condition. While it is not deemed appropriate to establish such a committee, my Department undertook to investigate a number of issues which were raised and has been in contact with the group in this regard.

In accordance with the commitment in Sustaining Progress, my Department will conduct a strategic review of existing service provision for people with disabilities. Questions of access to aids and appliances and respite care, which have been raised by the Post Polio Support Group, will be examined as part of that review.

Hospital Services.

Dan Neville

Question:

256 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children when a hip replacement procedure will be completed for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [19667/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Limerick is a matter for the Mid-Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Denis Naughten

Question:

257 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon will be called for a hip replacement operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19684/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Roscommon is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Finian McGrath

Question:

258 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the lack of space in the Mater Hospital accident and emergency department; if he will respond to correspondence from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19724/04]

Services at the Mater Hospital are provided under an arrangement with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Health Board Services.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

259 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding an application for a person (details supplied) in County Galway for increased subvention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19766/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Galway area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

260 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19784/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

261 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19785/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

262 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19825/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 260 to 262, inclusive, together.

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board/authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the Eastern Regional Health Authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Driving Tests.

Willie Penrose

Question:

263 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Transport about an application for a driving competency test for a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath, who requires a licence now as they are changing their employment which will necessitate leaving home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19657/04]

The person's application will be placed on a cancellation list on receipt of documentary evidence from her new employer regarding the need for an early driving test.

CIE Staff.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

264 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Transport the reason a number of temporary employees with CIE who were made redundant on 23 December 2003 have not yet received their P45s; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that these persons are still waiting to be paid back money for pay increases over a period of seven and a half years; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that those who have found alternative employment are paying income tax on the emergency rate as they cannot produce their earnings and PRSI paid in their previous employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19670/04]

I wish to advise the Deputy that this is an operational matter for the company concerned.

Road Safety.

John McGuinness

Question:

265 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the urgent need for a public inquiry, including a safety audit, regarding the construction of the Piltown-Fiddown bypass, County Kilkenny, in view of the number of accidents at this location. [19743/04]

The planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority and the local authority concerned, in this case, Kilkenny County Council.

With regard to the Piltown-Fiddown bypass, I understand from the NRA that the scheme was opened to traffic in February 2002 and involved the realignment of 9.3 km of single carriageway, bypassing Piltown and Fiddown. The project contains three road bridges and one railway bridge and 13 junctions to cater for traffic using local roads. The scheme was constructed in accordance with applicable design standards for national roads.

Design standards for national roads are kept under review by the NRA and are updated, as appropriate, at intervals. The current design standards were comprehensively reviewed and updated in 2000. The Piltown-Fiddown scheme, which had been planned and approved prior to publication of these standards, was reviewed in the light of the updated standards to assess the need for incorporation of ghost islands. The latest standards require that consideration be given to providing such islands in circumstances where minor road traffic flows exceed 500 annual average daily traffic or where other conditions so warrant. Following a review of the junctions on the Piltown-Fiddown bypass ghost islands were provided at Owning Road and Rathmore Road.

At-grade road junctions such as those on the Piltown-Fiddown scheme are a common feature of the road network throughout the country. Road users must exercise due care and caution when approaching or using such junctions. Road design standards seek to reduce the risk of accidents at such locations and generally provide for measures to improve definition in an effort to enhance safety.

Four fatalities have occurred on the bypass since 2002. I understand that driver behaviour was a contributory factor in these cases and that a truck driver has been charged with dangerous driving in connection with the fatal accident on 18 June 2004. I also understand that specific junction design features and the absence of ghost islands at certain junctions is not regarded by the NRA to have been a significant contributory factor in the case of the fatalities that have occurred having regard to the particular circumstances involved in each case.

The NRA is, however, arranging to review the safety situation on the bypass. As part of this process, the NRA will liaise closely with the Garda Síochána and Kilkenny County Council and will revisit accident reports as part of the effort to identify possible additional measures that could further reduce the risk of accidents attributable to road design.

Light Rail Project.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

266 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Transport if he will intervene with the Railway Procurement Agency to ensure that the opening of the Luas line to Tallaght is marked by five free days of travel similar to the initiative being offered on the Sandyford line; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that failure to offer such free travel on the Tallaght line will result in a public relations disaster for the project and clearly undermine local support for Luas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19765/04]

As the Deputy is aware, the Railway Procurement Agency, or RPA, is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Luas project. However, I understand that the RPA is considering how best to mark the launch of the Tallaght to Connolly Station line — the Red line — and as part of those plans, I have asked it to give consideration to having a number of days on which travel will be free. I await to hear from the agency.

Air Traffic.

Joe Higgins

Question:

267 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport if prisoners have been transported through Shannon Airport in transit to or from the US base at Guantanamo Bay or other US holding centre. [19772/04]

Under the Air Navigation and Transport Acts, there is no requirement for my Department to be notified of the transportation of prisoners through Irish airspace.

Joe Higgins

Question:

268 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport the details of the arms and armaments brought into the State by any agency of the US Government in the context of the visit by President Bush. [19775/04]

My Department received no application for exemptions under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973 from civilian air carriers carrying arms and armaments on behalf of any agency of the US Government in the context of the visit by President Bush. The regulation of military and diplomatic flights through Irish airspace is a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Visa Applications.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

269 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a person (details supplied) can re-apply for a visa. [19642/04]

The person in question, a 21 year old non-EEA national, made a visa application in March 2004 for the purpose of coming to Ireland for a period of about three months. The application was refused because it had not been established, on the basis of the documentation supplied to my Department, that the applicant would observe the conditions of the visa. In particular, it was felt that the applicant had not displayed evidence of any obligations to return home following her proposed visit.

It was noted that the applicant named a reference in Ireland on her visa application form, and that he would provide for all her funds and accommodation for the proposed three month visit. However, no evidence was provided with the application to show that the applicant and her reference had ever met.

An appeal against the refusal, which included a letter from the Deputy, was received in my Department on 20 May 2004. Although the Deputy stated in his letter that the applicant owned a farm in Thailand, no evidence of this or any other commitments was submitted with the application. The visa appeals officer considered the application afresh and upheld the decision to refuse the application. On 28 May 2004, a letter to this effect issued to the applicant's reference in Ireland. The letter also indicated that if the applicant still wished to travel to Ireland she should make fresh visa application with up to date supporting documentation. The applicant was not informed that she could not re-apply for a visa, as suggested by the Deputy in the details provided.

Pat Breen

Question:

270 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when an application for a stamp 4 will be processed for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19643/04]

The application to which the Deputy refers has recently been received by the immigration division of my Department. A decision on the application will issue when all the circumstances peculiar to this case have been considered.

Family Law.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

271 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the proposals he has to introduce legislation to change the law on guardianship to meet the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19645/04]

Under section 6A of the Guardianship Of Infants Act 1964, as inserted by section 12 of the Status of Children Act 1987, an unmarried father may apply to the court to be appointed a guardian of his child. Alternatively, where there is agreement between the parents, they can make a statutory declaration under section 2(4) of the Act, as inserted by section 4 of the Children Act 1997, conferring on the father the status of guardian.

Under section 11 of the 1964 Act, a guardian may apply to the court for its direction on any question affecting the welfare of the child, including directions as to custody and access. In addition, the section provides that the unmarried father of a child, even if he is not a guardian, may apply to the court for orders on custody and access. Section 3 of the Act provides that, in deciding on an application relating to the custody, guardianship or upbringing of a child, the court shall regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration.

I believe the existing provisions, which I have outlined, strike a good balance between the interests involved. In particular, they provide that, where a mother does not consent to the appointment of the father as guardian, he may apply to the court to be made a guardian. Even if he is not a guardian he may still apply to the court for custody or access. The overriding point is the weight which the court is obliged to give to the welfare of the child under section 3 of the 1964 Act.

Garda Investigations.

Seán Crowe

Question:

272 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3; and if the Garda files on the case were lost. [19673/04]

The matter raised by the Deputy is an operational matter for the Garda Síochána and as such I have no role in it. I have, however, sought a report from the Garda authorities in respect of the matter. I will convey the information to the Deputy as soon as it becomes available.

Garda Stations.

Joe Higgins

Question:

273 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the arrangements put in place at Shannon Industrial Estate regarding setting up a Garda station and holding cells for prisoners; and the cost of same. [19773/04]

On the advice of the Garda authorities, I designated, on a temporary basis, a converted commercial unit in Shannon Industrial Estate as a Garda station and place of detention because facilities at Shannon Garda station would not have been sufficient to accommodate a large number of prisoners in the event of serious public disorder.

The costs associated with the works necessary to convert the commercial unit into a Garda station and holding cells are not yet available.

Garda Operations.

Joe Higgins

Question:

274 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if water cannons were deployed in the State during the visit by President Bush; and the cost of same. [19774/04]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that two water cannon vehicles were supplied on loan by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and were on standby for the EU/US summit meeting at Dromoland Castle, County Clare, on 25 and 26 June which was attended by President Bush. The cost incurred, which relates to travel and subsistence costs of the maintenance team and fuel for the vehicles, is estimated to be €6,000.

Garda Deployment.

Joe Higgins

Question:

275 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí deployed for the visit by President Bush; and the cost of the security operation. [19776/04]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that there were in the region of 3,800 gardaí deployed for the EU/US summit. Complete costs of the security operation for the summit are not available at present. However, the estimated additional cost of providing gardaí for duty in the Shannon area, based on the initial operating police plan, is €4.9 million. When all expenditure returns have been received and collated, a full costing of the operation will be made.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Dan Neville

Question:

276 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when a sewerage scheme (details supplied) in County Limerick will be funded for refurbishment. [19641/04]

The Askeaton sewerage scheme is included in my Department's water services investment programme 2004-2006 to commence construction in 2005. I approved Limerick County Council's proposals for the appointment of consultants to prepare preliminary reports for this and a number of other schemes in the county in April 2003 and the submission of these reports is now awaited by my Department.

Local Authority Staff.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

277 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the local authorities which have not yet paid wage increases under the first phase of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to their workers; the action he is taking to ensure that undertakings under the programme are fulfilled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19633/04]

Pay increases under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness were payable on 1 October 2000, 1 October 2001 and 1 October 2002. Payment of the final phase increase was conditional on specific modernisation objectives being achieved and verified independently. To this end, a quality assurance group was established for the local government sector to assess the objectives set and verify progress in implementing those objectives. The quality assurance group confirmed that the level of progress during the period warranted payment of the final phase increase.

My Department is not aware of any local authority which has not paid these increases.

Local Authority Housing.

Jack Wall

Question:

278 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding a remedial works scheme for a housing estate (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19676/04]

My Department wrote to Athy Town Council in April 2004 requesting the council to respond to a number of issues relating to this proposal. The council's full response is awaited.

Community Development.

Willie Penrose

Question:

279 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his Department is in a position to fund a playground development for enhancement at a primary school (details supplied) in County Westmeath under the CLÁR primary school outdoor play facilities enhancement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19718/04]

The school referred to by the Deputy is not located in the CLÁR region of County Westmeath and so cannot be considered for funding under the primary school outdoor play facilities enhancement scheme of the CLÁR programme.

Social Welfare Code.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

280 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if consideration has been given to setting up a new social welfare payment to allow the relatives of children whose addicted parents are incapable of fulfilling their role as parents to care for them without declaring them orphans; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19654/04]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

281 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has taken steps to bring the level of orphan’s allowance into line with the foster care allowance to address the anomaly between the payments raised in the recent Ombudsman’s annual report. [19655/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 280 and 281 together.

The definition of an orphan for the purpose of orphan's pension and orphan's allowance was extended in 1995 to include children where the parents are still alive but have abandoned or refused or failed to provide for them. This was seen as a necessary response to changes in family and social circumstances. I am aware of concerns raised in recent times by social workers and representative organisations about the appropriateness of the titles of these payments. Any change would involve legislative change to the social welfare code. I am keeping the matter under review for further consideration in the context of future social welfare legislation.

At present, the weekly rate of the orphan's contributory allowance and maximum rate of orphan's non-contributory pension is €107 per week. This is a substantially higher rate of payment compared with other payments made by my Department in respect of children. The foster care allowance paid by the health boards is paid at a rate of €289.50 per week, per child under 12 years of age, and €316.50 per week, per child of 12 years and over. Foster carers operate within a very specific framework; they are subject to rigorous scrutiny and ongoing monitoring by the health boards and the children in their care are subject to a care plan. This means that foster carers have additional responsibilities and duties in respect of the children in their care.

The two payment systems have significantly different objectives and purposes and I do not consider that there is a case for standardising payments in this area.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

282 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, further to Question No. 357 of 2 December 2003, if the working group which was reviewing the illness and disability payment schemes has completed its task; if she will publish its report and recommendations; and the steps she is taking on foot of this review. [19671/04]

The working group on the review of the illness and disability schemes has completed its deliberations and arrangements are currently being made for the printing of its report.

The key elements of this review, which forms part of the expenditure review initiative, include clarifying the objectives of the schemes, identifying gaps and overlaps in the overall provision, examining overall trends in numbers and expenditure, examining the extent to which schemes support access to work, training or rehabilitation, and looking at possible alternative approaches to the design and delivery of social protection for people who are ill and people with disabilities.

I expect this report will be available in the coming weeks and arrangements are being made for its distribution to various interests. In addition, the report will be available on my Department's website,www.welfare.ie. The conclusions of this review will inform the future development of the income maintenance payments for people who are sick and people with disabilities.