Further Education and Training: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

agrees that:

— further education and training, FET, is a hugely important sector that provides an important educational pathway for unemployed, disadvantaged learners and second chance learners to access specialist labour focused courses and to secure employment;

— the FET sector has a crucial role in providing education and training for people that the traditional education system has failed and this has been unfairly targeted and cut in budget 2013;

— budget 2013 will cut up to 500 positions from this vital service and will increase the pupil-teacher ratio and reduce the training allowances for further education and training scheme participants; and

— the cuts to the FET sector are socially and economically regressive affecting the unemployed and the most marginalised learners in our education system; and

calls on the Government to:

— reverse these regressive and unfair cuts as unemployment is at 14.6% and youth unemployment at close to 30% and these people need the opportunities that the further education sector offers so that they can re-enter the labour market;

— ensure that no courses will be cut from the FET sector, all student applications will be dealt with and no teaching posts will be lost;

— commit to tackling educational disadvantage and putting it at the centre of Ireland’s education policy;

— publish any impact assessment that was carried out by the Department of Education and Skills into the impact of the cuts on the provision of courses within the FET sector; and

— commit to carrying out an impact assessment in relation to all future decisions on changes to staffing schedules so that the quality of services to students will not be jeopardised.

I will share time and will take just ten minutes to commence. This Fianna Fáil motion objects to the cuts in further education and to post leaving certificate training colleges introduced by the Minister, Deputy Quinn, in the budget and calls on him to reverse them so as to ensure the sector is protected and can continue the valuable work it has proved it can do in the past. I welcome the many representatives of the teaching profession and from the post leaving certificate and further education sector to the Visitors Gallery. The turnout demonstrates the importance of this sector and the danger the cuts imposed by the Minister in the budget pose for the sector and its capacity to carry out its work in the future.

On the morning the Minister introduced these cuts, he intimated he was satisfied with the cuts being introduced. Unfortunately, in the €90 million saving being made in the education budget, the greatest burden falls on the further education and training sector. Fianna Fáil fully understands the constraints and pressures of the economy. Some €21 billion was removed from the national budget when Fianna Fáil was in government, up until 18 months ago. In our pre-budget submission, we prioritised the education budget and suggested three areas in which we should ensure no cuts should be made - education, mental health services and disability services. We found the money that needed to be found elsewhere. We believe the future of this country, as has been stated so often in the past, depends on education. Education is important for our future economy and to developing the potential of our population. The focus must be on education to ensure the country gets back on its feet and that we maximise the potential of our people.

Unfortunately, the approach taken by the Minister and the Government has been to make cuts to the education budget. The cuts to further education we see in this year's budget follow on the policy of the previous budget introduced by the Government. Last year, the Minister introduced cuts to the DEIS schools, removing teachers from them. Afterwards, the Minister said he did not fully realise the impact the removal of those teachers would have and admitted that move was a mistake. However, that was only admitted after severe, prolonged pressure from schools, parents, teachers, the wider community and Government backbenchers. Only then did the Minister admit he had made a mistake.

Last year also, the Minister introduced cuts at second level to career guidance posts. These posts are crucial as it is important to have qualified counsellors to work with students, particularly at a time when students have more issues than they have ever had. At the time, the Minister said these cuts would not have an impact and that he was empowering second level schools to make their own decisions. A survey published this week indicates that the number of one-to-one hours spent by guidance counsellors with students has reduced by 50%.

With regard to SUSI and the reform of the student grant system, the Minister said SUSI would be a prime example of public service reform. When I brought a Private Members' motion before the Dáil on 12 November, it was long clear SUSI was a shambles. On that day, the Minister's initial comment before he came into the Dáil was that he did not fully understand why grants were not being paid on time. These few examples show that with regard to the measures the Minister has taken previously, he did not fully comprehend their impact.

Unfortunately, the same is true again with regard to the cuts being made in this budget, specifically to further education and post leaving certificate courses. The Minister does not, for example, understand and appreciate the impact that increasing the pupil-teacher ratio from 17:1 to 19:1 will have. If he did, he would not make some of the comments he has made in response to this motion. The Minister's counter motion demonstrates the fact that he does not fully appreciate the impact this cut will have. He says at the outset of his motion that "considerable efforts were made to protect front line education services" in preparing for the budget. I have no doubt the people in the Visitors Gallery would beg to differ with the Minister on that. The Minister also notes that "in raising the pupil-teacher ratio for post leaving certificate courses to 19:1, the Government brought it to the same level as that which applies in all free second level schools". He goes on to say that "PLC courses are for adults who have completed formal second-level education and that the current pupil-teacher ratio of 17:1 is in fact more favourable than the pupil-teacher ratio in typical free second-level schools." This is the Minister's justification for the measures and cuts he is introducing to this sector in his budget.

Let us call this cut what it is. It is a cut to front-line services that will decimate the further education and training sector. Hundreds of jobs will be lost and thousands of students will be affected. I plead with the Minister not to insult the many teachers listening to what the Minister has to say tonight by telling them that he is simply bringing the colleges of further education and training into line with second level schools. It is disingenuous and misleading to say that, somehow, these schools have been operating under some sort of preferential pupil-teacher ratio and that they are being brought into line with second level schools. We all know this is not true. Further education and post leaving certificate colleges are not the same as second level schools. The reason they are there is to fill a niche for students that could not be filled at post primary level. They are not the same as second level schools.

The truth is that the cut being introduced by the Minister will bring about a 10% reduction in the number of teachers teaching on the front line. It will amount to a whole-time equivalent of 200 front-line posts.

Many of the courses provided in the post-leaving certificate and further education sectors are niche courses that depend on specialist teachers, many of whom are brought in from the professions and the business community to impart their specialist knowledge and expertise to the students participating in these courses. As many of the teachers in such roles are not permanent, they will be hit hardest by the cut being introduced.

I will elaborate on the impact of what the Minister is doing. In effect, many schools will not be able to continue to provide the courses they are providing, the cutting-edge teaching skills of many staff will be lost and only the more regular courses will be retained. If the Minister had taken the time to conduct an impact assessment of what this approach would mean, in advance of its introduction, he would have seen the impact the withdrawal of teachers would have. If he had consulted the people involved in the sector and listened to them, he would have heard that more than half of the courses in many schools would be affected. When a module is removed from a course following the withdrawal of a specialist teacher, it affects the whole course. In many cases, it affects the ability of the college to offer the course.

I appeal to the Minister to listen to the contributions that will be made during this debate and understand the impact of what he is doing. Perhaps representatives of national schools in every community in the country are not contacting him about this cut, but that does not mean it is right. He should not need to be subjected to massive pressure from the parents of national school pupils in order to realise he needs to reverse what he is doing. I suggest that when he was preparing for last month's budget, the only impact assessment he undertook related to the political impact the budget would have on him, rather than the impact it would have on the education sector. In the light of the political opposition he encountered when he introduced other cuts in the past, it is likely that he considered the measures he could introduce on this occasion that would lead to the least political backlash. I suggest he sat down to assess how many would be chasing his tail if certain cuts were made. That can be the only rationale for his decision to target a sector that looks after many of the most disadvantaged students in society. These students need the support of the existing number of teachers if the current number of courses is to continue to be provided. I ask the Minister to listen and see the sense in what we are saying. He should realise that what he is doing will decimate this sector and do irreparable damage to something that has taken years to build up. He must make savings elsewhere in the national budget to free up the funding needed to protect the educational services on which so many students depend.

I join Deputy Charlie McConalogue in supporting the Private Members' motion before the House. The cuts being imposed on the further education and training sector amount to a disgraceful attack on unemployed and disadvantaged learners who are seeking to access second-level education. I am surprised that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has decided to go down this road, given that he pioneered community employment schemes in Wexford County Council when he held a previous Ministry a number of years ago. At the time I believed he had his finger on the pulse and understood what was needed by the disadvantaged, the less well-off and the unemployed. I have to say he does not seem to be thinking in the same way in his new status as Minister for Education and Skills. Perhaps the years have dulled his thinking in this area. Certainly, his decision to impose cutbacks on the further education and post-leaving certificate sectors is not forward-thinking. The further education and training sector is hugely important. This important educational pathway gives unemployed and disadvantaged learners a second chance to access specialist labour-focused courses and secure employment. I will speak later about the substantial number of post-leaving certificate courses provided in my own county. The Minister recently opened a large extension at Enniscorthy vocational college which cost €12 million. As he is aware, more than 300 post-leaving certificate students are taught there.

The further education and training sector which plays a crucial role in the provision of education and training for people who have been failed by the traditional education system was unfairly targeted for cuts in last month's budget. A reduction of up to 500 positions in this vital service, with an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio and a reduction in the training allowances for participants in further education and training schemes, was set out in the budget. The cuts to the further education and training sector are socially and economically regressive. They will affect the unemployed and the most marginal learners in the education system. I suppose the two-point increase in the pupil-teacher ratio for post-leaving certificate schools will save approximately €4 million. Another €10 million will be saved on foot of the reduction in the training allowances for participants in further education and training schemes. Participants in VTOS, Youthreach and FÁS further education training programmes who move from jobseeker's payments will no longer have their new payments increased to a maximum of €188 a week in cases where the jobseeker's allowance is less than this. The allocation to VECs has been reduced substantially by between €13 million and €15 million. The capitation rates paid to those in post-leaving certificate colleges and on VTOS courses are to be reduced by 2%. This severe attack on the entire vocational education sector is unwarranted and unfair.

It is misleading of the Government to suggest the pupil-teacher ratio in post-leaving certificate colleges is simply being brought into line with that in second level schools. It is certainly not comparing like with like. Post-leaving certificate colleges are not the same as second-level schools. If the Minister is not being disingenuous, he has been badly briefed, as Deputy Charlie McConalogue suggested earlier. The lower pupil-teacher ratio in post-leaving certificate colleges was put in place to take account of the fact that most students in such colleges came from disadvantaged backgrounds and required smaller classes where they could get the extra help they needed. These changes will certainly have a serious effect on them. It is important to note that those who work in the further education and training sector are not ordinary teachers who can be easily replaced. They are teachers with key skills who deliver specialist innovative programmes. The loss of these skills will have huge implications for the type of courses and number of places on offer next year. At a time when there is 30% unemployment in the youth sector, we should be encouraging and supporting as many as possible to upskill to help them to secure employment. How can these cuts be justified in that context? It makes no sense to consign such a large number of teachers back onto the unemployment register, which is what will happen if the Minister follows through on the decisions announced in the recent budget.

In an economic downturn further education is a solution rather than a problem. Deputies will be aware that further education colleges offer training, re-skilling and progression opportunities to the most disadvantaged, including the unemployed. Half of the students in such colleges are availing of second-chance education courses in order to acquire new skills. They are seeking opportunities in a difficult economy rather than coming directly from their leaving certificate examinations. These colleges respond to market demands and work with the local business community to provide courses that meet the needs of employers and the needs of the economy. There is strong evidence that real results are being achieved through the delivery of unique, innovative and creative post-leaving certificate courses in colleges throughout the country.

I would like to speak about Enniscorthy vocational college which has 320 students on post-leaving certificate courses. It is a huge number. Last June some 450 people applied for places at the college. This means that 130 people were denied an opportunity to go to college there. They went back on the dole and receive €100 a week, or €5,200 a year, for doing nothing. I do not think that is what the Minister would want and it is certainly not what we would want.

It is certainly of no interest to young people who want to be reskilled and retrained and to further their education. Enniscorthy College is twinned with Aberystwyth in Wales and Waterford Institute of Technology. It is on record that over 300 students who went through the PLC system in recent years have gone on to university and other third level courses. That must be recognised and, in itself, spells out the success of the PLC courses.

These courses give opportunities to people, particularly those from disadvantaged areas, and the Minister will know this town has a high unemployment rate. People were given the opportunity to go back to education in their own home area at very little cost to the Department. As a result, they were able to train in nursing, beauty therapy, business, law, music, tourism and airline services. The college is now part of an exchange with Aberystwyth University in Wales, and it is very good to have such an exchange system and to have a university attached to a second-third level school.

The Minister must recognise the importance of PLCs and further education. He should reverse the decision taken to reduce the moneys in this area at a time when a huge number of people are unemployed. Last week, we were informed by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government that approximately 157,000 people who worked in the building industry are unemployed at present. Many young people left school and went to work in the building industry without any further education. This gives them an opportunity to get back into the education system and to be reskilled and retrained. I ask the Minister to reverse these cuts and to make sure we have a properly funded further education and PLC system for the future.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on the impact of the cuts to the further education and training sector resulting from budget 2013. I wholly support my colleague, Deputy McConalogue's motion calling on the Government to reverse them. These cuts represent an attack on some of the most vulnerable in society - the unemployed, who are often highly qualified, and disadvantaged learners who are currently completing such courses in order to re-enter the labour market.

The Government is attacking these vulnerable people on two fronts. First, it is reducing the financial means for those wishing to attend and avail of further education courses and simply putting them out of their reach. However, it is also attacking further education and PLC providers by increasing the pupil-teacher ratio, which will in effect cut the number of courses on offer, the quality of courses provided and the level of staff in the sector. Dublin and Cork will bear a disproportionate amount of pain in these cuts to the further education and training sector.

It is unquestionable that Ireland is experiencing an unemployment crisis despite our much-heralded progress in meeting our targets in various troika progress reports. Unemployment is currently at 14.6% and, more worrying, youth unemployment is close to 30%. One of the most at-risk groups which requires urgent intervention is young people who are not in employment, education or training, commonly referred to as NEETs. This group is detached from the labour market and it is access to quality further education and training that will help them to enter the labour market. This is why cuts to further education and post-leaving certificate providers is such a short-sighted and unjustified move by the Government, and will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our society.

The true scale of the unemployment crisis continues to be hidden by the large number of people emigrating from the country. Emigration among Irish nationals has continued to rise sharply to 40,200 in the year prior to April 2011, which was nearly 13,000 more than in the same period in 2010. Some 36,200 non-nationals also left the country during the same period. Ireland's emigration rate is the highest in the EU and almost double that of the country with the second highest rate.

Emigration should not be a Government policy for tackling the unemployment crisis. The provision of courses which fill labour market requirements in Ireland needs to be supported and, thus, funding for the further education and training sector should be ring-fenced from cuts. It can be done. Fianna Fáil ring-fenced the education budget in its alternative budget, which was fully costed. We need to enable our unemployed to up-skill and avail of the employment opportunities that are available here, without having to resort to emigration in order to seek employment on distant shores. Emigration is a plight which has touched every family. It was unbelievable over Christmas to meet so many of my classmates who are now working abroad, not out of choice but out of necessity.

The Teachers Union of Ireland has correctly criticised cuts to the further education and training sector. The increase in the pupil-teacher ratio will have negative implications for further education and PLC providers. The pupil-teacher ratio will rise from 17:1 to 19:1 and the Government is ignoring the fact those pupils coming from a disadvantaged background may require additional education supports. In defending the increase, the Minister is not making a fair comparison with the second level student-teacher ratio. PLC providers also fulfil a role for their pupils left vacant by second level institutions.

This is not just a question of class size and will not simply result in bigger classes, but will lead to the loss of 200 whole-time equivalent teaching posts and could realistically result in the loss of up to 500 non-permanent part-time posts. In my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, this will lead to a reduction of four teachers - three in Longford and one in Westmeath, according to TUI statistics. Those who will lose their jobs are not permanent teaching staff but teachers who have been brought in on a temporary or fixed-term basis. These teachers usually possess specialised knowledge and teach modules or courses geared towards industry requirements that permanent teachers may not have the expertise to teach.

For example, a college on the east coast offering a pharmaceutical course consisting of seven modules engages a qualified pharmacist who has been employed to teach a specialised module. That teacher will lose his or her job under these cuts. This module is a critical part of the course and serious questions have now to be asked over the future viability of the course.

The further education and training sector has already borne the brunt of education cuts. While the number of places in further education and training is capped at 30,000, it is widely acknowledged that some 38,000 are attending such courses at present. These course providers accept that, even though the courses are full, they simply do not wish to turn away marginalised people.

These cuts also raise questions over equity and fairness in Irish society. The Government is simply not tackling the issue of educational disadvantage in Ireland and has comprehensively failed to put this issue at the heart of Ireland's education policy. Budget 2013 represents an attack on the most marginalised and vulnerable in our society - the jobless, the unemployed and those dependent on welfare. These people are making every effort to find employment and many have started further education and training courses in order to improve their employment prospects. These cuts have placed them in an impossible position. The Government has reduced training allowances for those in further education by some €10 million. Furthermore, from January 2013, the €300 back to education allowance will be discontinued for new and existing participants. This will have a direct impact on the education opportunities for this section of the population.

The decision to reduce welfare allowances simply does not make sense at a time when so many young people are unemployed or emigrating. We should be encouraging people to upskill or reskill, not putting financial obstacles in their way. It is often noted that governments do not create jobs but that they create the conditions for jobs.

How does cutting further education and training courses help our unemployed, young and mature, get back into the labour market? These courses play a key role in improving skills and providing new skills for these people in order that they can avail of the opportunities that are available in the labour market in Ireland - for example, in the ICT sector. In its national plan for tackling youth unemployment, which was published last year, Fianna Fáil found that in December 2011, there were approximately 1,800 vacancies in the ICT sector in Ireland. Of the 4,000 IT jobs announced during 2011, 1,000 were filled by workers recruited from abroad because the necessary skills were not available here in Ireland. The further education and training sector can play a key role in providing courses for unemployed people which give a skills base tailored towards industry needs. We have heard some fine talk about the recent success of foreign direct investment during this Government's term of office. However, the Government is not publicising the fact that so many of these jobs are later filled by those recruited from abroad. For example, Louise Phelan, the head of PayPal in Ireland, pointed out in an interview that half of the PayPal workforce of 1,600 in Ireland consisted of people recruited from abroad because the skill set simply was not available in Ireland.

I appeal to the Minister to rethink these short-sighted, callous cuts and to utilise our colleges of further education and PLC courses to ensure that we improve skills and create the skill sets necessary for the economy and society in which we live. In conclusion, I support the motion of my colleague Deputy McConalogue and ask that the Government rethink these short-sighted cuts.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate and I thank my colleague Deputy McConalogue for arranging to use the Fianna Fáil time on the first day back in this new year to highlight the issue of education in areas in which people suffer disadvantage. It is very important. We recognise that the Government must make choices to balance its books but it did not have to make this choice. Fianna Fáil put forward fully costed budget proposals to meet the €3.5 billion adjustment that was required. We decided in that policy to fully protect funding for education and disabilities. That could be done if the political decision was made. It would be funded by a 3% increase in the universal social charge, USC, for people earning over €70,000 a year and a higher percentage for those earning over €100,000. I suspect that the Minister and some of his Labour Party colleagues would like to have seen a 3% increase in the USC for those with incomes of over €100,000 a year. That would have prevented the need for some of these cuts, but the Minister’s right-wing colleagues in Fine Gael would not buy it. As long as the Minister’s party stays in government, it is supporting that proposal. That is why the choice was made. I accept that tough choices have to be made. We all appreciate that, but some of these choices could have been avoided by asking those who could to pay a little more. That was not done. The choice in this budget boiled down to increasing tax or making the adjustment on expenditure. Fianna Fáil said it must be fifty-fifty. Fine Gael wanted most of it to come from cuts to programmes. The Labour Party would, I am sure, have been happier with some increase in costs, but the budget was lopsided in the interests of cutting expenditure rather than increasing taxation and the only real tax increase is the new household tax that will come in during the year.

When the Government started the budget by saying it would cut programmes for people who depend on Government expenditure rather than increase tax on those who could pay a little more, it was inevitable that these hard decisions would be made. I believe the Minister and the members of his party have a social conscience and are not happy with this, but I am satisfied that the other party in government is not as concerned about it as the Labour Party or Fianna Fáil might be. We are here now because of the choices that were made on budget day.

We can all talk about macroeconomics, but I will tell my own story. Last Monday morning at 9.30 a girl aged almost 20 came to my office for two weeks’ work experience as part of the PLC course she is doing at the Abbeyleix Further Education Centre. Centres in Portlaoise, Mountrath and Abbeyleix have always asked my office and other local organisations to take somebody in for work experience. I see the value of the work she is doing and she is gaining invaluable experience, working hard and diligently in an office environment. The Minister is making her life hard. I spoke to her about her situation, which she is finding very difficult. We should not be picking on lone parents trying to complete their education and making it more difficult for them. This girl did her leaving certificate. Each of us sees these people daily and we know they are real people. We can all talk about the millions and billions and 2% cuts here and there but they translate into effects on people on the ground.

I can speak for the work being done through the further education and adult education programme in the VECs in my own county, Laois. The same applies in every other county. The work they do on the PLC course in Portlaoise College, especially the dedicated further education centre in Abbeyleix and the Youthreach programme, is invaluable. Youthreach needs more funding. Investment at that level will pay dividends because not to invest in the people who need its services will cost multiples of that funding in years to come.

Laois VEC has dedicated permanent staff to the Midlands Prison and Portlaoise prison - I do not know how many - to teach people who have been on the wrong side of the criminal justice system and are serving their sentences. In all probability - the Minister probably knows the statistics - the majority of them do not have even a junior certificate. These staff of Laois VEC are bringing their students up to FETAC level 3, the equivalent of the junior certificate or the leaving certificate applied. Some even go on to FETAC levels 4 and 5. I am sure the same applies in other counties such as Dublin where there are prisons. Great work is being done in these programmes.

The outcome of cutting the ratio for the PLCs by two to 19 will be that some courses will be dropped next year. The managers in the schools will have to choose to spread the teachers they have and the most convenient answer may be to drop a course rather than making classes too big. That will lead to further problems because the present full range of courses will not be available to the people depending on them. It is not fair to compare the ratio for PLC courses with that for schools. These people have been out in the workforce. They were tradespeople working in construction and they are coming back to further their education. They are a different cohort or group of people. It is very difficult for them to come back to the classroom and start learning again. A teenager in secondary school is running through and is part of the system and the ratio there is a very different matter. The Minister’s cuts do not reflect that difference.

The Minister made brave decisions last year and he was man enough to say he got it wrong when he made changes to the DEIS schools. He could do the same with these cuts. People will not judge the Minister on whether he made the wrong call; they will look at his track record over his period in office. If he leaves these further education and PLC programmes fully intact he will be judged as having been a good Minister for having protected those areas where there is most need and the people who are most vulnerable. It is not too late to make some of these changes even though the allowance of €300 payable to recipients of the back-to-education allowance will be discontinued. That is a very severe cut. They are the type of cuts I was discussing with the 19 year old who will be in my office tomorrow morning at 9.30 and who wants to get an education. I ask the Minister to help those who want to further their careers and education and make a good contribution to Irish society, and help them to help themselves.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes that:

— considerable savings of €90 million were required in the education budget for 2013;

— the Government’s commitment to fairness in education remains strong and considerable efforts were made to protect front-line education services through the protection of pupil-teacher ratios in free second level schools and the 28:1 staffing schedule at primary level, continued protection of overall numbers of special needs assistants and resource teachers and the maintenance of overall staffing and funding for disadvantaged Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools schools;

and

— in raising the pupil-teacher ratio for post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses to 19:1, the Government brought it to the same level as that which applies in all free second level schools;

recognises that:

— PLC courses are for adults who have completed formal second level education and that the current pupil-teacher ratio of 17:1 is in fact more favourable than the pupil-teacher ratio in typical free second level schools;

and

— this budget measure will not impact on the overall number of approved PLC places available to the unemployed or to school leavers;

and

recognises the Government’s commitment and resolve, as outlined in Pathways to Work, to tackle the serious unemployment crisis by:

— continued investment in over 430,000 part-time and full-time places across the further and higher education and training sectors in 2013, all of which are open to unemployed people including young people and the long-term unemployed;

— the introduction of 16,500 new flexible re-skilling opportunities specifically for unemployed people in areas of emerging skills needs under the Springboard and Momentum initiatives, with a further 5,000 places planned for 2013;

— initiating the most significant reform of the further education and training sector in its history through the establishment of SOLAS – the new further education and training authority;

— embarking on a major programme of related education reforms, through the amalgamation of the three qualifications bodies, the planned abolition of FÁS and the amalgamation of the 33 vocational education committees into 16 education and training boards;

and

— commencing a major reform of the public employment service, through the creation of Intreo, which will help to ensure that unemployed people, in particular the long-term unemployed, can quickly access the most appropriate activation opportunity.”

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this important issue and outline the considerable efforts this Government is making to ensure we have an education and training sector that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. The motion proposed to the House by Fianna Fáil raises the importance of the further education system to our education system. I agree that the provision of further education and training is of crucial importance, particularly at a time when unemployment and youth unemployment have never been higher. Few present tonight would disagree with these sentiments.

I want Ireland to be recognised as a fair, inclusive and equal society, supported by a productive and prosperous economy. Against the difficult economic circumstances in which we operate that is not an easy challenge, although members of Fianna Fáil seem to suggest otherwise. The challenge is one we can realise over time. This Government must prove to the people that we have credible answers for dealing with the crisis now, and also that we have a vision for the future, namely, that we can create more jobs, grow our economy, improve living standards for our people, and build a brighter future for our children. We have to show that our politics is about improving the lives of our people.

However, it is my view that the further education and training sector has been something of a Cinderella of the education system. Successive Ministers for Education and Skills have understandably been preoccupied with the primary, secondary or higher education systems and in consequence have often neglected the need to reform and innovate in the delivery of services within the extended further education sector. This Government has been determined not to plough that selfsame furrow. Both I, as Minister for Education and Skills, and my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for training and skills, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, have worked to ensure reform of the further education system and bring about closer co-operation than ever before with the social protection system.

We are in no doubt that Ireland's unemployment crisis is similar to the dark days of the 1950s - a decade which eventually spurred a complete rethink of economic and social policy in this country. As then, we must now rethink how we engage with the unemployed. I draw the attention of the House to a comprehensive report published by the National Economic and Social Council in August 2011, Supports and Services for Unemployed Jobseekers. I believe it contains a good summary of the unemployment crisis we are facing. I shall quote in part from the report for the benefit of the House because it is very relevant:

Ireland's labour market will take years to recover from the massive contraction that has occurred in the economy. Males, young people, low skilled workers and nationals from the recent EU accession states have borne the brunt of the collapse in employment. Compared to previous recessions, more among the unemployed today have good levels of education, skills, and extensive work experience. The share of total unemployment that is long term is relentlessly rising. Significant groups do not appear on the Live Register, notably the "unemployed self-employed" and people who have exhausted their entitlement to Jobseeker's Benefit and whose spouses or partners continue to earn. These aspects require changes in approach if supports and services are to reach unemployed people and prevent them being scarred for the rest of their lives by their current unemployment.

I fully share the analysis expressed in this report and my actions to date have sought to respond to this crisis. My work is being carried out alongside the efforts of the Minister for Social Protection to reform the social welfare system into one that activates people to reskill and seek employment. Our changes should be guided by a long-term vision of what constitutes an effective unemployment regime in a knowledge-based economy. Changes must be imbued with greater empathy and less suspicion towards those who have lost their jobs or have the misfortune to be seeking a first one at the present time.

I will explain in greater detail the reform under way to ensure we future-proof the sector so that it can deliver 21st-century education and training programmes for 21st-century skills needs. First, we are abolishing FÁS. Without prejudice to the hard work and dedication of FÁS staff, it is a damaged brand and must be replaced. Second, we are transferring FÁS training provision to the new network of education and training boards, or ETBs. This new network of ETBs will be crucial to the success of the revitalised further education and training sector. As Members know, the 16 ETBs are replacing the existing 33 VECs. Third, we are establishing SOLAS - the new further education and training authority.

The unemployed, particularly the long-term jobless, have to be the priority group for support. However, a revitalised FET sector must be fit-for-purpose for all learners who wish to avail of programmes - the unemployed, job seekers, job changers, those in work, early school leavers who want to develop basic skills and those who want to pursue particular interests. The new further education and training authority, SOLAS, will be responsible for the strategic direction of a distinct but integrated further education and training sector. It will co-ordinate and collaborate with the ETBs in developing new, innovative programmes and will ensure a focus on priority groups, including the unemployed.

SOLAS will have many parallels with the role of the Higher Education Authority in higher education. It will drive the process of making the further education and training sector a distinct one, just like the higher education sector, and will help the new education and training boards play a key role in Ireland's economic recovery through the creation of a revitalised further education and training sector. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, chaired the SOLAS implementation group, which drafted an action plan for SOLAS. The plan sets out the roadmap by which we will achieve this ambitious programme of reform. Drafting of legislation, required for the formal establishment of SOLAS, is currently being finalised, with the intention of having a draft Bill for presentation to the Government, and subsequent publication before the end of this month. I will bring that Bill to the Government next Tuesday.

This major public service transformation fits with the Government's policy of reducing the number of agencies and is consistent with the strategic objectives of transforming the public service agenda through service delivery by a smaller number of agencies, each benefiting from efficiencies of greater scale.

Let me now turn to the recent education budget and the changes made within the further education sector. It is important to place this debate within the context of the wider education budget. The further education sector should not be seen in isolation from other parts of the sector. I reiterate that it is an important constituent element of a lifelong learning system that operates from cradle to grave. Numerous studies show that an individual's life chances are most influenced by educational intervention at the youngest age. Therefore, within our education system our first priority has to be educating our children so that they can get the best possible start in life. In order to ensure this as far as possible, front-line services for children have to be protected and this was at the heart of the Government's overall approach towards the education sector as part of budget 2013. Difficult choices had to be made. I will address one issue in particular - the pupil-teacher ratio for post leaving certificate courses. By raising the ratio for PLCs, which is only one element of the further education and training sector - a point I shall return to later - this Government managed to protect the pupil teacher ratio in free second level schools and the staffing schedule at primary level. We protected overall numbers of special needs assistants and resource teachers. We maintained overall staffing and funding for disadvantaged DEIS schools. Therefore, the Government has succeeded in protecting class sizes in primary and free second-level schools for the coming year, ensuring that our limited resources are rightly focused on the children in our education system. Although it would have been preferable not to have had to make any budget changes, it is worth noting that we will still spend close to €900 million on further education this year.

In making my decisions last December, I found it difficult to justify providing more generous pupil-teacher ratios in PLC colleges, which are largely geared towards adults, than in second level schools, which cater for teenagers. The overall number of approved PLC places will remain at last year's level of 32,688. While this decision may well reduce the subject choice available to students, I trust that the chief executive officers, CEOs, of VECs and principals in colleges of further education will protect the courses which deliver the best outcomes. In the coming months, those VECs will be reconfigured into education and training boards, ETBs. The latter will have a greater capacity to make the outcomes to which I refer easier to bring about.

The further education sector has expanded significantly in recent years. The additional 1,000 PLC places the Government allocated to providers as part of the jobs initiative is one example of that expansion. I cannot but recall the unhelpful criticism that emanated from the Opposition benches when the Government announced that initiative 18 months ago and yet there is now a motion before the House calling for investment in further education. The CEOs must work with principals, staff and unions between now and next September, when the change will take effect, in order to ensure that innovative, modern courses can continue to be offered to learners.

As already stated, PLC colleges are only one part of a vibrant and dynamic further education and training sector. Young people and adults, in particular those who are unemployed, will continue to be able to access a range of courses and programmes offered by VECs and FÁS, as well as institutes of technology and universities. In 2013, the Government will fund over 430,000 part-time and full-time places across the higher and further education and training sectors. All of these places will be open to the unemployed, including those who are long-term unemployed. This does not include investment by the Department of Social Protection in schemes which support jobseekers or those in receipt of the back to work enterprise allowance. Mor than 20,000 people are supported under these schemes. The provision in respect of the technical employment support grant for 2013 will be maintained and expanded.

The Government recognises that more than simply maintaining investment will be required. We are aware that the jobs of tomorrow will require that people possess an increasing level of skills in a range of different areas. That is why we have developed and promoted innovative approaches to upskilling, through initiatives such as Springboard and Momentum, which was launched recently. Members will be interested to hear that Springboard has been in operation for some 18 months and already 10,000 people have benefited from innovative programmes delivered in institutes of technology on a flexible basis. Momentum is funded by the Department through the labour market education and training fund and will enable up to 6,500 people to benefit from a range of courses at different levels, all of which are specifically geared to enabling participants gain sustainable employment pretty much immediately. Crucially, Springboard and Momentum are targeted at the unemployed, in particular the long-term unemployed and the young unemployed, and are available completely free of charge to participants. Investment from the national training fund in these and other programmes aimed at the unemployed is almost €50 million annually. These are two high-profile initiatives but for those who possess lower levels of skills or who require more basic options, my Department continues to fund, through the VECs, adult literacy services and part-time further education programmes for literally hundreds and thousands of learners across the country. These programmes enable adults to engage with the education and training system and build skills and qualifications in order that they can enter or re-enter the labour market.

I should also address the issue of allowances for participants in further education and training programmes. Up to now, jobseekers who moved on to Youthreach, the vocational training opportunities scheme, VTOS, or FÁS courses could have their jobseeker payments brought up to a maximum of €188 per week. From now on, people under 25 years of age will receive a lower top up to €160 per week while those over 25 years of age will keep their existing payment, which will have been means tested by the Department of Social Protection. FÁS and VEC meal, travel and accommodation allowances remain the same and child care support, provided by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs through the child care education and training scheme, is also available. Essentially, the new arrangements provide for an element of continued top up for those under 25 years of age so that they will not be discouraged from returning to education or training. They will also enable those who are over 25 to retain their existing payments. These arrangements are mirrored in the back to education allowance scheme operated by the Department of Social Protection. This carefully considered approach will not exacerbate the difficulties we are currently experiencing in the context of youth unemployment.

As I have emphasised, the further education and training sector is but one element of the overall education sector. This Government has, unlike many before it, shown a sustained commitment to enabling adults reskill and upskill for the changing labour market. We will not give up and, despite the economic crisis, we will persevere. We will continue to invest in further education and training and we will maintain the number of places available to citizens. Most importantly, we are fundamentally reshaping the further education and training sector in order that it will be fit for purpose in the 21st century.

I welcome the opportunity address the House on this important issue. I am a graduate of the College of Commerce in Cork so I have first-hand knowledge of the important experience people gain within the post-leaving certificate sector. From personal experience I am aware that at a particular stage in one's life one may not be entirely sure of the direction one wants to take. The PLC sector fills an important gap and allows people to take some time and pursue courses while they decide on the ultimate direction they wish to take, both academically and in their working lives. I have always been grateful for the experience I gained from my time at the College of Commerce in Cork, particularly as it afforded me the opportunity to take the time to make the decision to pursue my education further by proceeding to the university sector. I place these facts on the record of the House because it is important to convey to people the fact that there is an understanding of the importance of the PLC sector. We do not want to pay lip service to that sector, particularly as we are conscious of its progressive nature in the context of affording people the space to decide to proceed to achieve even further educational or vocational attainment. Ultimately, it can also facilitate them in the context of career attainment.

I wish to focus on the position in respect of Cork. I do not wish to be overly parochial but I do want to discuss the impact this cut will have in County Cork. I am only too well aware of the level of focus there has been on the level of reduction in the two Cork VECs. At present, there are just under 5,400 PLC places available at City of Cork VEC and Cork County VEC. This represents a significant tranche of the overall number of such places throughout the country. There are 316 staff at the two VECs. The VECs are expected to have the same number of places available and 284 staff from next September. This is, by some margin, one of the biggest allocations of PLC places and staff in the country. It is only right that a county as important as Cork should have such a high level of resources available to it. The Department sanctions the teaching posts to the VECs which, in turn, allocate them to the schools and colleges under their remit.

As the changes will not take effect until September, the VECs have the opportunity to plan how best to deal with a slightly reduced allocation. I know there has been concern that the most innovative courses, particularly in cloud computing, veterinary nursing and computer programming, are at risk. We acknowledge this. However, that is the challenge every principal of a college of further education will have to manage carefully with his or her CEO. With the Government and colleagues in Cork, I will work closely with the CEOs and local principals to ensure the breadth of course provision is maintained, particularly in the cutting edge areas that are so vital to our economic recovery. This should include examining whether similar courses offered in more than one college can be merged to ensure niche offerings are maintained. Teacher allocations should not be fixed in isolation in each college. A joined-up approach to course delivery and necessary redeployment within each VEC area is absolutely vital.

I welcome and acknowledge the fact that within one week of the budget announcement last month the Minister met personally all of the CEOs and chairpersons of the VECs. He asked them to ensure the changes that had to be made would have the minimum of risk for front-line services in so far as was possible. I support that approach fully. This reflects the Minister's awareness of the good work of the PLC sector in the education system. We now have a nine-month window of opportunity to ensure the changes required are made carefully and with appropriate consideration. My priority remains to ensure all those using further education services in Cork and other areas can access the courses that will help them to up-skill and eventually find employment.

Deputies on both sides of the House constantly say we have to look to other parts of the education system if further adjustments are needed. We share that sentiment and that is precisely what the Government has done in this instance. One of the measures announced in the budget will see the teaching allocation in PLC colleges increased by two points from 17 to 19. This will have the effect of bringing the pupil-teacher ratio in post-leaving certificate colleges which teach motivated adults into line with that in second level schools. This will provide for equity. We acknowledge, however, that it will result in the loss of 200 full-time teaching posts across the sector. However, we must support a strategy of prioritisation at a time of reduced resources. Having a more preferential pupil-teacher ratio in PLC colleges than in second level schools is not sustainable.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this important issue. It is entirely appropriate that we highlight the importance of the further education and training sector, both as part of the education system which promotes the concept of lifelong learning and as part of the country's future in terms of re-skilling and upskilling of citizens, particularly for those who are unemployed. While it would be preferable not to have to make any reduction, the Government has sought to protect front-line education services to the greatest extent possible through the protection of class sizes in free primary and second level schools and the protection of the overall numbers of special needs assistants, resource teachers and the staffing allocations to disadvantaged DEIS schools. Because of rising demographics and the protection provided in the budget for current teacher allocations, this will mean that we expect to hire an additional 450 primary teachers and 450 second level teachers for the next school year. It is worth reiterating the point about rising demographics and the economic pressures on the Department's budget. We must ensure sufficient numbers of primary and second level teachers to plan for the rise in the population. Despite the economic climate, the Government has shown its strong commitment to protecting and investing in education and creating employment for teachers.

It is also worth reflecting on the record of the party opposite during its last term of office in education-----

The Minister of State was not long in forgetting his own record when he got into government.

I have never been in government before.

The Minister of State's party thought very differently when it was on this side of the House.

Almost 4,450 posts in primary and post-primary schools have been taken out of the education system since 2008. The vast majority of the work done was carried out under budgets constructed by some of the Members opposite. In that time there was an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools from 27 to 28. There was an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools from 18 to 19. There was also the removal of eligibility for student support grants from those in receipt of the back to education allowance, the allowance that helps many in the PLC sector. VTOS allowances were removed for those pursuing post-leaving certificate courses in 2010.

Which the Minister is now cutting.

The party opposite changed the favourable pupil-teacher ratio of 17:1 to 19:1 for the leaving certificate vocational programme in 2011 in order to secure a reduction of approximately 200 posts which was justified at the time by saying it would bring it into line with the normal pupil-teacher ratio in second level schools. I refer to the withdrawal of resource teachers for Traveller children at primary and post-primary level in order to secure a reduction of approximately 600 posts in 2011. I refer to the announcement of the elimination of 500 language support teachers from primary and second level schools in 2011, not to mention the elimination of the posts of primary rural co-ordinator and visiting teacher for Travellers.

We are starting from a base where the country is borrowing €300 million a week. Nobody wants to preside over a situation where teachers lose their jobs. We are trying within the education budget to ensure the courses delivered for those who want to retrain and upskill will be provided within the VEC structures. We seek to do this to the best of our ability. It is necessary, therefore, to effect the savings required. I am the beneficiary of accreditation. I have a diploma in business studies which I acquired through the College of Commerce in Cork. I have first-hand experience of PLC courses which assisted me in the not too distant past and assists others in a way that allows for progression to take place.

Notwithstanding the loss of these teaching jobs, if CEOs work with us and a lateral approach is taken, we are confident that the new and highly innovative courses which allow people to progress to universities and institutes of technology can be preserved in a way that will allow for progression through the system. It is vital to ensure pupils will have that opportunity to come into the PLC system in a manner that it will cater for their needs as they progress through their careers.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is sharing time with Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Michael Healy Rae.

I commend Fianna Fáil on this motion. This is a very important debate in our first week back. Unfortunately, owing to the nature of the budget announcement, this is the first opportunity the House has had to discuss the impact of the €19 million cut to the education budget. Although we are focusing on the increase in the pupil-teacher ratio tonight, we must realise the use of the word "vast" is inappropriate. The change seems like nothing; we are changing the ratio from 17:1 to 19:1. The reality is that we are actually reducing the number of front-line staff employed to teach the most disadvantaged and marginalised.

I listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, speak about his experience as a student of the College of Commerce. I am also a former student of that college. I took some time out on leaving secondary school. I was not really a model student. Most people recognised that, certainly my teachers. I took a bit of time out and did a bit of work and eventually reached a place in my life at which I wanted to return to education. I am thankful there was a road back to education for me and I will always appreciate that.

Although reference has been made to 200 whole-time equivalents, the reality is that we face the loss of between 400 and 500 teaching posts. The Minister of State knows that as well as I do. He made much play about trying to protect front-line services. The reality in my county is that we are taking 10% of the staff from the sector and expecting the remainder to deliver education of the same quality as was delivered heretofore to the same number of students. According to the Minister of State, we hope the CEOs and the principals can get around the table and protect existing courses. It is just not true or honest to say this Government's priority is to protect front-line services, as the measure under discussion is achieving the complete opposite. We are removing 10% of staff from the further education sector in my county and there is no way of trying to paint that in any different light. Consider the impact it will have on colleges of further education in my constituency and community, including Coláiste Stiofán Naofa and Terence MacSwiney Community College. The impact will be felt for many years.

Terence MacSwiney Community College, which is in the heart of Knocknaheeny on the north side of Cork city, an area that has seen much disadvantage down the years, has a proud tradition. Many good people are working on the ground day in and day out to try to improve the quality of life of young people leaving post-primary education. The area has one of the highest rates of unemployment. The courses that are offered by the college are helping people to improve their skills and regain employment. They give people back a bit of dignity and self-esteem. This is what colleges of education do for a vast number of people. They help students regain self-worth and get back on the education ladder. They even help students who took a few years out and who want to proceed to education although they did not gain sufficient academic qualifications after the leaving certificate examination. Such people can use further education as a stepping stone to education. However, the Government is removing that stepping stone for many people.

At the outset, I stated there would probably be 400 to 500 job losses.

Where is the Deputy getting the figures?

The figures are being provided. If the Minister of State has the figures, perhaps he should publish them. Ours suggest that 400 to 500 jobs will be lost in the sector. Even in respect of Cork city, the proposal is such that 10% will be lost. If a private company announced in the morning an operational change that would result in job losses in the order of 10%, the Government would do everything possible to engage with the relevant sector to save the jobs. Despite this, a Government decision is resulting in 400 to 500 people losing employment. Up to tonight, the decision was justified in only one way, namely, by stating the pupil-teacher ratio was to be brought into line with that in post-primary schools. The Government is now saying its priority is to protect the educational needs of children. If this were the case, it would not be cutting the capitation grants for primary and post-primary schools, and it would not have attacked DEIS schools last year.

The funding for DEIS schools was restored.

It is the Government's priority now because it suits it today when it is trying to justify the cuts it announced.

The Minister of State said it was up to the CEOs and principals to sit down to determine whether there can be a joined-up approach to course provision. This should have happened before the announcement was made. The Government will be risking a lot if such an approach is not agreed.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta McConalogue as an ábhar seo a chur ar an Chlár. Tá sé rí-thábhachtach go ndéanfaimís déileáil leis an ábhar seo agus is trua nach bhfuair muid an deis déileáil i gceart leis roimh Nollag, uair a rinne an Rialtas cinneadh an seasamh seafóideach seo a ghlacadh maidir le cúrsaí iar árd-teistiméireachta.

Céim ar chúl atá i gceist anseo. Impím ar an Aire seasamh siar uaidh agus déanamh cinnte, seachas an gearradh siar seo a dhéanamh, níos mó airgid agus achmhainní a chur isteach ins na coláistí atá ag soláthar na gcúrsaí seo do mic léinn atá ag teacht ar ais ó gan bheith gafa le hoideachas nó a aithníonn nach bhfuil na scileanna acu chun dul chun cinn a dhéanamh.

We should have dealt with this matter just after Christmas. However, because of the manner in which the budget and other measures were announced - very quietly in some cases - the full effects of the cuts were not understood for a day or two after the announcements. This is a regressive step and the Government should reverse it. Rather than pursuing this step, it should be investing in PLC courses to a greater degree. This would be in line with everything the Government stated during the election campaign. I include the statements of Fine Gael, those in the programme for Government and the statements made in respect of Pathways to Work. I attended the launch of Pathways to Work - I believe I was the only Opposition Member in attendance – because I am interested and believe there needs to be a change. We need to use all the arms of the State together and exploit all the resources of the Department of Education and Skills to ensure we have the best possible outcome for everybody going through the education system and everybody who wishes to return to the system to improve their skills.

The affected people are, in many cases, those who have been out of the education system for many years. In my area, five colleges offer PLC courses. From dealing with my constituents and people from outside my area who want to attend the colleges, which are experts in the fields pertaining to their courses, I am aware the courses are oversubscribed. If the courses were not delivering, people would not be seeking to do them. There is proof that these are the very courses that are required at this time to rebuild the economy and lay the groundwork for its future.

Those courses are often innovative and well ahead of courses in some of the universities. Sometimes the universities are playing catch-up. There was a huge demand for animation courses in my area because the Oscar winners who produced "Avatar" were trained in Ballyfermot college. That is proof of the success of courses that could be affected by the Government's cuts. The Minister of State can shake his head all he likes but if the Government reduces the staffing criteria, that will affect the delivery of courses. Some of the colleges not only do not have the staff to deliver them, they do not have the space or the equipment to deliver them. The roof of Ballyfermot College is leaking and it has been for many years but thankfully it is now being addressed but in the meantime where are extra classes to be delivered?

We can go all way back into history and say we can blame whoever. In this case this is a decision that comes on top of other cuts in the education sector carried out by the Minister of State's Government. This is being done on his watch. This will affect the PLC sector as a whole. As Deputy O'Brien said, this will possibly result in the loss of 500 teachers delivering PLC courses, the equivalent of 200 full-time teaching posts. They will not be won back because what the Minister of State is saying to those teachers is "Goodbye, go to Germany, Australia or somewhere else where you can ply your trade because you are not wanted here. To all those students who would have availed of and gained an advantage from completing these courses, he is saying "Forget about it, you are not wanted here, we are not going to train you up because we do not have the jobs". Perhaps that is what the Government decided at the Cabinet today, namely, that it will not be able to produce the jobs so why bother training these young people? Its attitude may be "why not cut a bit more and make sure they leave as soon as they have sat their leaving certificate or perhaps before that". Why not put them on the emigration boat when they are in the pram and then it would not even have to educate them? That is how ridiculous this is. For us as a country to come out of this economic crisis, we need the best possible educational standards. We also need the best possible training and to meet the demands of the market, we must ensure we have people trained to deliver those skills to employers when those jobs come up or in the meantime we should create our own jobs. This is a retrograde step.

The Minister can make much of the Springboard and the JobBridge schemes and they are fine but in many cases what they produce is only yellow pack in comparison to what is being produced by the PLCs. In many cases people from those courses go straight on to work - in other cases people go on to university and excel at that level - and there is much more progression from them than the JobBridge scheme will ever produce.

The Minister of State can row back from this. He can reconsider this and instead of cutting, the Government should invest further in this sector.

I sincerely thank the Sinn Féin Members for allowing me time to speak to the motion. I thank the Fianna Fáil Members for bringing forward this important Private Members' motion. I have followed the contributions of speakers on the monitor in my office and great contributions were made by Members who support this vitally important motion. We did not get a chance to discuss this matter since the announcement was made in the budget. These cuts will be detrimental and extremely hurtful. Any person with a shred of intelligence will know that the more money one invests in people at this vulnerable point in their lives could mean the difference between those people finding themselves in a position where they would be able to get gainful proper employment later on rather than going on to and staying on social welfare for the rest of their lives. That is what these cuts will mean to families. A person who needs further education will not be able to get it and will be reduced to a lifetime dependence on social welfare. That is what this will mean. If the Government was forthright enough to realise that we have to invest in this sector, ensure courses and education is provided for these people, it could completely change their lives and the lives of the next generation. Statistics show that the children of people who are long-term unemployed end up also being unemployed. We always need to educate.

My filing system may not look great but 15 people contacted me about SUSI grants today. I have to get a dig in about the processing of them. What is happening in terms of the delivery of SUSI grants is a disgrace.

It is disgraceful.

Some people are still waiting for their grants and people are worried about whether they will have to leave their college courses. I ask the Minister of State to do something about that.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the debate on this motion on further education and training. I totally support the motion because it is a very important part of the equation in getting this country up and running after the economic crisis. All economists, teachers, educationalists and most sensible TDs in this House recognise that education is a huge part of our economic recovery and ending disadvantage in our society. If we fail to do this we do not have a hope in hell of getting people back to work or ending the emigration crisis. Further education is a huge part of that strategy and it is also part of the equality debate and the poverty debate. I commend Fianna Fáil for putting forward this motion. It states:

Further Education and Training ... is a hugely important sector that provides an important educational pathway for unemployed, disadvantaged learners and second chance learners to access specialist labour focused courses and to secure employer; the FET sector has a crucial role providing education and training for people that the traditional ... system has failed and this has been unfairly targeted and cut in Budget 2013; [more importantly] Budget 2013 will cut up to 500 positions from this vital service and will increase the pupil-teacher ratio and reduce the training allowances for further education and training scheme participants; and the cuts to the FET sector are socially and economically regressive affecting the unemployed and the most marginalised learners in our education system ... [I am calling] on the Government to reverse these regressive and unfair cuts as unemployment is at 14.6 percent and youth unemployment ... [is at] 30 percent ... ensure that no courses will be cut from the FET sector ... commit to tackling educational disadvantage ... [and] publish any impact assessment that was carried out by the Department of Education and Skills.

That is what this motion is about and that is what we need to do. If we need the extra revenue, we need to make those who have the most pay the most. That is what is real equality and fairness.

I wonder where the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, Deputies Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Tommy Broughan, Seán Kenny and Terence Flanaghan are tonight. Not one of the north side Deputies is in the House for this very important debate on education.

The Deputy is incorrigible.

I call on them to act and stop the cuts that will affect many people who live on the north side of Dublin.

I will do my best to follow that. I would say to my colleague that they do not need to be here when they have the likes of the Deputy representing the north side of Dublin.

I am appalled and aghast at the change of tack since the members of the Minister of State's party moved from this side to the opposite side of the House. The Government needs to reverse these regressive and unfair cuts as unemployment is at 14.6% and growing, youth unemployment is close to 30% and these people need the opportunities that the further education sector offers so that they can re-enter the labour market. The attacks by the Minister of State and the Government on education are despicible.

My colleague, Deputy Healy-Rae referred to the delivery of SUSI grants. Will the Government have the cop-on and manners at this stage to recognise that it has made a total ham-fisted mess of that situation by putting 60 awarding authorities into one? I want to ask the Minister of State's officials - I do know where they are - who awarded this grant to Dublin City VEC about this. This is an appalling mess and people are being driven nearly to distraction with concerns about having to leave college, having no funds and having to get food parcels. The Labour Party, my goodness, has been reduced to this.

I am a strong proponent of lifelong education and am very involved in adult education and encouraging people to return to education, to further enhance and upskill themselves and make themselves better equipped for all the different types of economies that we have to try to fight. The Labour Party is presiding over this disgraceful attack and we remember prior to the election that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, was out there signing a pledge and carrying a placard. The Labour Party should come out of the bunkers, see what is going on, take off the blinkers and ear muffs, listen to the people and empathise with them. The Minister of State can smile but those are the facts. The people are incensed.

This is downright nonsense.

The Minister of State's colleagues said things were nonsense when they were on the opposite side of the House. These are the facts. They are putting people into penury. They are denying them the chance to further educate and upskill themselves and be ready for any job market that might come their way. The Minister of State and his colleagues should hang their heads in shame in continuing with this. They had Christmas to reflect on this and they did nothing, precious little other than eat trifle I would say. The Minister of State is here and this continuing blackguarding of ordinary people is outrageous.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 17 January 2013.