Topical Issue Debate

Teacher Training Provision

The Minister knows the importance of this issue for so many young people who have decided to make their career in the noble profession of teaching. When I became a primary school teacher 13 years ago, there were not so many people who were willing to take on that career. It was difficult to find people who wanted that career and to give of their time and expertise and involve themselves in that vocation. However, times have changed.

Unfortunately, in my constituency office I am encountering a number of not just students but also their parents who are extremely anxious about the future young teachers have in our system. It is not that they are asking me where are the jobs. Obviously, there have been changes in the training schedule for teachers. There are new online courses to which the previous Government gave recognition. That is fair enough and we are where we are in that regard. We have a number of newly qualified teachers but we do not have jobs for them. That is a fact. It might change over time because of the number of students coming into the system, which is expected to be nearly 70,000 over the next few years. That gives some hope.

However, the problem is not just the inability to obtain employment, but also the inability to even get probated. After a three year degree it is necessary to spend almost a year in the classroom to be inspected and given one's diploma, or what is known within the profession as the "dip", to be properly probated, after which one can become a fully permanent teacher. The students I have encountered are dying to get into the classroom and have their own class, but they must be probated before they can seek employment within the system. It is devastating for them that they cannot even get their foot in the door. We have discussed previously what is happening in the system. It is an issue across Ireland. When a teacher takes maternity leave or where a long-term substitution is required, it is not the newly qualified teacher who tends to be called immediately, but a retired teacher or somebody well known to the school. The problem is that the new teachers who need to get into the system to be probated and have the chance to be more employable are not given that opportunity.

I wish to put this on the record of the House and to discuss with the Minister ways of overcoming it. It is not necessarily simply the responsibility of the Department of Education and Skills. Obviously, teacher unions, management bodies and the patrons who oversee those management bodies have a role. Nobody wants a situation where newly qualified teachers who simply want to get started on their teaching career cannot even get the most basic validation of their teaching qualification, being probated in a classroom, from which they could move on and, hopefully, get their teaching career started. Ireland is going through a difficult time and we have a difficulty in financing the type of teacher body we require. Everybody accepts and understands that the bulk of what we spend on education goes on pay. However, for the dreams and aspirations of these teachers, not even being able to get started at the first point on the scale is something that must be addressed. I look forward to the Minister's comments in that regard.

The Deputy has raised the important issue of the probation of newly qualified teachers, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss it.

The period between qualification and fully independent practice as a teacher is a vital stage of the newly qualified teacher's career. It is important that coherent and supportive induction and probation structures are in place to facilitate the newly qualified teacher's development as a practising professional during this phase. In Ireland, the Teaching Council is the body with statutory authority, under the Teaching Council Act 2001, for the professional regulation of teachers. All teachers must successfully complete induction and probation requirements specified by the Teaching Council to achieve full registration. The work of the Teaching Council, on behalf of the profession of teaching and in the interests of the public, is grounded in the values of professionally-led regulation, shared professional responsibility and collective professional confidence.

The council is introducing a new model of induction and probation for primary and post-primary teachers on a pilot basis. Central to this new model is a period of post-qualification professional practice called Droichead, the Irish for bridge. I look forward to the outcomes of the pilot. The Teaching Council works closely with my Department to ensure appropriate supports for newly qualified teachers are in place. The Department funds the national induction programme for teachers, NIPT, which provides a comprehensive and systematic support to all newly qualified teachers through workshops, mentoring support at school level, online resources and professional support groups.

I am aware that some newly qualified teachers experience difficulty in accessing teaching hours to complete their probation for registration purposes because they do not yet hold a teaching position in a school. However, measures have been taken by the Department and the Teaching Council to alleviate difficulties faced by new teachers. There are standard arrangements in place for filling teaching vacancies. In this regard, the Department has directed managerial authorities of schools to recruit unemployed teachers ahead of retired ones, in an effort to ease the difficulties for those who cannot find work in the profession. In addition, the JobBridge national internship scheme can provide newly qualified teachers with opportunities to gain experience and to undertake the necessary teaching duties to complete the process of probation.

The minimum service requirement for probation purposes to secure registration with the Teaching Council was decreased from 170 days to 100 days in the 2011-12 school year. If a registered teacher is unable to complete the requirements of a registration condition within the specified period, the teacher may apply to the council for an extension to that period. Each application is considered on its merits taking account of the stage reached by the applicant in meeting the requirements.

In conclusion, I assure the House that every effort has been made to address the difficulties faced by newly qualified teachers while also maintaining the professional standards of the teaching profession.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Perhaps he would expand on it. He said the Department has directed the managerial authorities of schools to recruit unemployed teachers ahead of retired ones.

Will the Minister indicate how successful this initiative has been? As stated, this matter could be tackled by means of a cohesive approach across the entire education system. I am sure those who work within that system would agree that we must give the best and fairest start to those commencing their careers. The Department, teachers' unions and managerial and patron bodies have a part to play.

The teachers to whom I refer are seeking fairness in the context of starting out on their careers in education. We must ask whether it is fair to take into the system each year the numbers that are currently being taken in for jobs that just do not exist. Effectively, are we just training these young teachers for export? I intend no criticism of what is happening in the context of the online course. The latter has been given recognition and such recognition cannot be withdrawn. However, there must be some mechanism whereby we can control the number of teachers entering the system because otherwise these individuals will be given completely false hope. The latter has been the position with regard to those graduating from the more traditional teacher training colleges in recent years.

I am interested in the Minister's response to these matters. We are trying, on a non-partisan basis across the House, to assist those who those who obtain excellent leaving certificate results - they are the best academic results achieved by people in that age group anywhere in Europe - who have decided to enter a profession in which there are difficulties and challenges and which does not necessarily offer levels of remuneration as high as those available elsewhere in the economy and who are trying to get into classrooms but who cannot even get probated. The Minister accepts the difficulties to which this matter gives rise for people. I would appreciate it if he could indicate how the managerial bodies have dealt with the request from his Department and comment on the oversupply of teachers in the system.

The managerial bodies are the employers. As I have stated on many occasions, there is a public private partnership arrangement in the education system between the State, on one hand, and the patron bodies or employers on the other. We can urge, make requests and engage in dialogue, but we cannot give direction to employers in the context of whom they can or cannot employ. Since I became Minister for Education and Skills, we have strongly emphasised that in short-term situations where a crisis exists, and in isolated parts of the country, the only person available to perform classroom functions may be a qualified teacher who is retired. That is a short-term emergency function and it should be for no longer than a week at the outset. In the context of predictable structured absences of extended duration, such as those relating to maternity or compassionate leave, management bodies should respond to the calls from unions and others to give preference to young teachers.

I am referring here to teachers who are qualified and probated. The point the Deputy has highlighted relates to an even more acute situation whereby young teachers cannot avail of enough days - now 100 as distinct from 170 - to allow them to be considered qualified and probated. The co-operation of the unions is required in this regard. The latter must accept into their ranks newly qualified teachers who are attempting to obtain probationary positions without being used in any way as substitutes for full-time teachers. There is a question of trust in this regard. I have a track record on this matter. When I introduced community employment programmes, there was no dislodgement of legitimate employees when newly qualified teachers were brought into the system on a short-term basis.

The Deputy's second point relates to supply. I accept that perhaps there is an oversupply of teachers, but those teachers are not just being trained for the national market. Teachers are in short supply internationally. Britain is our nearest neighbour. There is a crisis in southern England - from The Wash down to the south coast - as a result of the shortage of highly qualified teachers. As the Deputy pointed out, teachers trained in this country are very well regarded internationally. Likewise, there is a demand in the United Arab Emirates for professional teachers with Irish backgrounds. That is an option of which young Irish citizens may very well want to avail. The problem does not necessarily lie with the online college because some people in their mid-20s, having gone through the initial undergraduate phase, may decide that they want to transfer and they take the conversion course as a result. There is a balance to be struck between the three. There is a problem in this regard and I am glad the Deputy has brought it to my attention.

Haddington Road Agreement Issues

I thank the Minister for coming before the House to deal with this matter. As he is aware, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, voted to reject the Haddington Road agreement. The ASTI is the only trade union to reject the agreement. The Government has unanimously stated that the Haddington Road agreement will not be changed to accommodate the ASTI. This may be so, but the Government cannot ignore the sentiment behind the ballot and the concern to which it is giving rise. Pupils, particularly those who are due to sit State exams this year, and parents do not need the stress of facing up to the threat of industrial action. Their concerns cannot be ignored.

The ASTI represents 17,000 secondary school teachers who voted - by 63% to 37% - to reject the agreement. In a simultaneous ballot, members of the ASTI voted by 65% to 35% in favour of industrial action - up to and including strike action - in response to what they term the Government's decision to breach the Croke Park agreement and impose the draconian financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation. Yesterday, the ASTI announced that a programme of industrial action in second level schools will begin on Wednesday, 2 October. Some 17,000 ASTI members will withdraw from duties outside of normal school hours, including school planning and policy meetings, staff and parent teacher meetings and in-service training. They are also being directed to withdraw their co-operation from work on the new junior cycle framework and not to undertake any duties arising from vacated middle management duties unless they are pensionably remunerated.

We believe that the Government's original Croke Park II agreement lacked fairness and the proposals it contained would have had a particularly heavy impact on front-line workers, women and family life. The revised proposals in the Haddington Road agreement offer some improvement, but we continue to have concerns. We object to plans to guillotine debate on the relevant legislation next week before all unions have had an opportunity to ballot their members on the proposals being put to them. The intention is to push the legislation to which I refer through the Oireachtas over three days next week despite the serious nature of what is under consideration. The Government has effectively brought an end to the prospect of an overall public sector pay deal by conducting a series of bilateral negotiations, some of which favoured certain unions over others. No agreement was reached with ICTU in respect of the Haddington Road deal, and that could have implications for industrial relations in the future.

In the context of its approach to this matter, the Government seems, understandably, to have been very concerned about reducing the public sector but to have been much less concerned with regard to improving the delivery of public services. There is scant mention in the new agreement of the users of public services. Speaking after a recent meeting, the general secretary of the ASTI, Pat King, said that while teachers were anxious not to disrupt their students' education, ASTI members had voted by a two to one majority in favour of industrial action. He also stated "The loss of classroom teachers from schools, the withdrawal of guidance services, the axing of middle management posts, the tying up of teachers’ time and energy with extra administrative work – these are the actions that have disrupted and damaged the education of our young people in recent years". Mr. King further stated "Despite the fact that vital resources have been stripped from schools, ASTI members signed up to and delivered more for less under the Croke Park Agreement only to find the Government reneging on its promises under the same Agreement".

The Minister should intervene and seek to have the industrial action deferred. At the very least, he should encourage the Labour Relations Commission to intervene and explore whether there are any matters which could be clarified in the context of the Haddington Road agreement.

It is not enough to say the Government is going ahead with the financial measures in the public interest legislation when the pupils of our secondary schools and their parents are facing a winter of industrial discontent.

It is important in any discussion of the Haddington Road agreement to remember the context within which this agreement came into being. This Government on coming to office inherited a financial situation of the most extreme gravity. Essentially, the country had lost its economic sovereignty, and as a Government we were obliged to look at all possible options for retrieving the situation, while at the same time maintaining, to the greatest extent possible, solidarity across all sectors of our community.

The State is still in a very serious financial and budgetary situation. We have to meet the very stringent public deficit targets placed on the Exchequer by the troika. Savings must be made in every area of public spending and a proportionate element of those savings must come from the public service pay and pensions bill.

I have said on many occasions that I have the greatest respect for the role and contribution of public servants in this country. I greatly value the role of teachers and appreciate the importance of their day-to-day work for the well-being of young people and, by extension, for the well-being of this country. ASTI members have voted in a ballot to reject the Haddington Road agreement and voted for industrial action up to and including strike action. ASTI has decided to begin that action next Wednesday, as the Deputy said. This action will see ASTI members withdraw from all meetings outside school hours, refuse to participate in training for the new junior cycle and not take on any management responsibilities without additional pay.

The Haddington Road agreement has been pursued as one final contribution from public servants towards securing our economic recovery. It has always been the preference of this Government to have a negotiated agreement on how to achieve the savings we require from the public pay bill. I am, therefore, extremely disappointed that the ASTI has not accepted the agreement. Need I remind the House that it is the only public service union to have taken that position?

The Government has sought to reach an agreement that allows substantial costs to be extracted and enhances public service productivity to the benefit of all those who rely on public services while also ensuring that savings are achieved in a way that is broadly equitable and that has the greatest impact on those who are best able to afford it. The principle of making sure the burden was shared by all sectors and that those on more pay would pay more was paramount in the discussions which led to the formulation of the agreement.

The Haddington Road agreement is public-service-wide in its application and follows from a protracted period of very intensive negotiations involving the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and teacher and various other unions, which took place against a backdrop of continuing significant difficulties in the finances of the State. My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has made it clear in his comments on this matter that given this overall context, there can be no renegotiation of this agreement.

Teaching is a valued and important profession in Ireland and I am glad that agreement has been reached with three of the four trade unions representing teachers and lecturers in Ireland, namely, INTO, TUI and IFUT. I ask ASTI to examine the costs to its members of remaining outside the Haddington Road agreement and to reflect upon this matter again. The Haddington Road agreement is a negotiated way of reducing the impact of the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation as far as possible across the public service. The impact to individual ASTI members of remaining outside the Haddington Road agreement will be the full impact of the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation.

In addition to the monetary impact on individual teachers, the Haddington Road agreement also provides additional benefits for young teachers, particularly with regard to securing permanent status as teachers, a matter to which we referred earlier. All of this represents a major impact on ASTI members relative to other teachers. The decision by ASTI to remain outside the Haddington Road agreement and to withdraw from existing commitments means that the protections and benefits of the agreement, including those in regard to security of tenure, are not available to its members. This will be a matter of concern to many teachers and underlines the strong case for reconsideration by ASTI of the situation.

I thank the Minister for his response. He indicated that ASTI members should reconsider and should take note of some of the benefits of the Haddington Road agreement, of which some will not now be able to avail. The reality is that ASTI has spoken and has made a decision in regard to the agreement and the Minister is faced with the reality that it has initiated industrial action. That will cause serious disruption in our schools from next week and will represent serious difficulties in regard to the Minister's plans for junior certification reform, due to the amount of in-service and preparation work that is needed.

Aerial communication between the Government and ASTI outlining their positions very loudly will not be good enough; they need to engage. Will the Minister consider engaging the Labour Relations Commission to consider whether there is scope within the Haddington Road agreement for further clarification which may allay some of the teachers' concerns in this regard? It is important that there be engagement. We cannot allow a situation to develop in which there is escalating industrial action in our schools as the school term progresses. Will the Minister consider ways in which he can engage that might allow for a resolution? We need to ensure we will not see the type of disruption that now looks likely to happen in our schools from next week.

I would like to see a resolution to this disagreement. ASTI is on its own in this regard but its importance to the system is not without significance. The summer has passed. Three of the four teacher unions reflected and waited until their members were back at work, so to speak, to ballot them. We got the results of those ballots in the past couple of days, including that from IFUT. I am sure the consequences of their decision were uppermost in the minds of all of the people who voted. They must reflect on their position before any kind of communication can commence that will have the prospect of a successful outcome. I would like to be able to say something different to the Deputy as I know he is well-intentioned in what he suggests. The ballot came in last Friday evening and the standing committee of ASTI met yesterday. It took a decision that will take effect next Wednesday. We listened very carefully to what Mr. Pat King said. He felt it would not disrupt the delivery of front-line education services but we will have to see how that unfolds and how ASTI responds to the situation. I am open to any suggestions in regard to this matter, but this is a public-sector-wide agreement. It is not a dispute between the Minister for Education and Skills and one teacher union. It fits into a wider context and I must have respect for that context. However, I would like to see a satisfactory resolution to this issue as soon as possible.

Postal Services

I will give a bit of background to this issue. There was a public meeting in Greencastle about the fears of the community in regard to the closure of Greencastle post office. This has generated considerable debate locally and the local community will challenge any decision to permanently close the post office, which has been providing an invaluable service to the greater Greencastle area. An Post has not yet made a decision, so it is important to give it a bit of space. However, this House can feed in the views and concerns of the local community in regard to this service.

Obviously, the core-periphery argument can be made quite logically and comprehensively when one is trying to co-ordinate services in a more efficient way. Moville, which is over the road from Greencastle, became the focal point for areas like Lecamey, Carrowmenagh and Meenletterbale, where there had been existing postal services down the years. The argument was a logical one. The people in those communities would say that Moville is quite close. The next stop to the north is the island of Inishtrahull or the Hebrides in northern Scotland. The core-periphery argument is quite a succinct, good and logical one. If one looks at where Greencastle is on a map, as An Post will be doing, and if one draws a line to find the nearest place, one will see that it is in Northern Ireland, where a different postal service is in operation. It does not come into the equation.

It is easy to make the argument that Greencastle is a peripheral outreach of Moville. It is on the periphery near the Border. The reality is different, however. The ferry route between Magilligan and Greencastle is becoming the main transport corridor for a whole new tourism route between Donegal and the Titanic Centre in Belfast. This summer, large numbers of people used the new tourism corridor to visit parts of Donegal like Inishowen and Glenveagh National Park. Many people visit the Titanic Centre, which is the focal point of this new corridor, before going to see the Giant's Causeway and using the ferry to skip across into Donegal. A substantial number of people from Northern Ireland travel through the village of Greencastle. It is not necessarily a peripheral point. It is a main thoroughfare for many people who have holiday homes in Northern Ireland. It is a commercial centre. I do not need to remind Members that it is one of our main fishing ports. It is important to point out that many students attend the National Fisheries College in Greencastle. I say this in support of the postal service in the Greencastle area. It is not just an outpost that is on the periphery. It serves an important function. The community has reacted in a positive way. Local people are willing to work with An Post to see whether additional measures can be implemented to provide for a more progressive service.

I would like to conclude by informing the Minister that as a result of the closures in places like Lecamey, Meenletterbale and Carrowmenagh, the people are queued out the door in Moville already, to put it in ordinary north Inishowen language. If there are capacity issues in Moville already, what will happen if the Greencastle facility closes down? I suggest that Moville will not have the capacity to cope. Such intricate aspects of the matter need to be looked at. I encourage the Minister, regardless of what is stated in the script he has in front of him, to do what he can to give An Post the latitude, the time and the space needed to make a comprehensive decision and not just a reactionary one.

As the Deputy and the House will know, I am responding to this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte. The Minister would like to assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to a strong and viable An Post and supports the maintenance of the maximum number of economically viable post offices. The commercial operation of An Post's post office network is a matter for the board and management of the company. It is not one in which the Minister has a direct statutory function. The Minister understands from An Post that due to the death of the postmaster in Greencastle last month, the son of the former postmaster has been put on a temporary postmaster contract to operate the service pending a review of services in the area. When postmaster vacancies arise, An Post reviews the need for a post office as a standard procedure. In this case, An Post decided to proceed with local consultation. A notice that was put up in the post office on 9 September 2013 invited the views of interested parties no later than this Friday, 27 September. It is the intention of the company after 27 September to consider the position taking account of any relevant factors, including views received, and to take a decision on the future of the office at that stage. At this point in time, no decision has been taken in the matter.

In reaching its decision, An Post will take account of network coverage needs, the level of business at the post office, customer access to service elsewhere, travel distances and the capacity of neighbouring offices to handle business if the post office closes. Deputy McHugh has referred to this aspect of the matter. As we have heard, the nearest post office to Greencastle is located in Moville, which is approximately three miles away. It has been mentioned that the AIB branch in Moville closed recently. The Minister is satisfied that the criteria used by An Post to decide on the future of individual post offices are robust enough to take account of changes in local circumstances. He fully understands the concerns of Deputy McHugh, Senator Jimmy Harte and Councillor Martin Farren about the future of the post office and the importance of the office to the local community. As a shareholder, the Minister has a strong concern for the ongoing commercial position of the company. It should be noted that An Post is facing many challenges, not only financially but also as a result of the development of communications technologies. Any decision it may take must be considered in the context of maintaining a sustainable post office network. An Post has many strengths. It has the largest retail presence in the country. The Minister has impressed on the company the need to further exploit its unique position in this regard. He has supported its attempts to diversify its income streams and to win a wider range of commercial contracts offering higher margins. The Government recognises the strategic importance of the postal sector. It has been a long-standing policy that An Post must remain in a position to compete in a liberalised market and to continue to provide wide-ranging services to urban and rural communities.

I thank the Minister for his response. I appreciate that no decision has been made to date. I hope the various contributions to this debate, such as the community interjection, the public meeting and all the different observations and opinions, are taken on board. I welcome the fact that An Post officials have agreed to meet public and community representatives. I am conscious that an array of political personnel is involved in this. I am working quite closely with Councillor Mickey Doherty in the area. I appreciate the complete and comprehensive update he has given me.

We need to look at where we are at as a country. The argument we hear from the Executive is that we need to do more with less. That is the mantra. It can be political dynamite to buy into that agenda and vote on that basis, because it can involve rationalisation of hospitals and primary schools. While I can accept aspects of that difficult argument, the philosophy I espouse is that I am looking to the future; in this case, the future of Greencastle as a port and the future of Donegal as a county. Historically and traditionally, County Donegal has been neglected. I accept that partition has played a part in that. There can be a perception that it is in Northern Ireland. During the era of the Troubles, people were reluctant to travel to Donegal. International tourists were more inclined to fly into Shannon Airport or Dublin Airport. Americans were not inclined to travel any further north than County Clare or County Galway.

The future of our region is changing. As a businessman in my local parish said to me, our county has had one of the best summers ever. That was a big thing for him to say because he has been around for a while. He said it might have been the best summer ever. That trend is going to continue. People from places like Wexford, Germany and America will be willing to travel northwards. Greencastle will be the entry point from Northern Ireland. As more people come to stay in County Donegal, the number of people travelling through Greencastle will increase. I strongly urge the Minister to make the point to An Post - I will do so at a meeting tomorrow morning - that Greencastle is not a peripheral area, even if it might look isolated on a map. It is part of a wider community that incorporates many people from Northern Ireland who come to the area on a temporary basis, perhaps while staying in holiday homes or visiting as day tourists. The number of people who contribute to the local community in this way will increase as time goes on.

I understand the point the Deputy is making. I know the Minister, Senator Harte and others are equally concerned. Everybody in Donegal has been affected by the historical legacy of partition, etc.

Let me put some statistics on the table. An Post has 1,144 retail outlets, of which 57 are company-owned and operated and 1,087 outlets are contract offices. A total of 146 outlets are postal agents. In 2009, there were just under 1,500 such outlets - 1,413 to be precise. According to this note, approximately 35% of all post offices could be classified as urban and 65% as rural. It seems to me that we must get a balance between access to services, to which all citizens in Ireland are entitled, and the commercial viability of a semi-State commercial company which must make commercial decisions. Having spoken to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources about this, I know the Government is committed to a sustainable post office network across the country. The An Post review takes account of local circumstances, including that people have reasonable access to post office facilities. Regrettable as the closure of the local bank branch in Moville is, the facility of the post office network to provide an alternative outlet for financial transactions is one that is of benefit to communities. I know it will take into account all of the factors involved and I know the Minister is acutely conscious of the Deputy's concern and that of other Deputies and Senators in the area.

Alternative Energy Projects

Are Deputies Stanley and Colreavy sharing their time?

The Deputies have two minutes each.

I am raising this issue because of the situation developing in the midland counties, in particular, Laois, Offaly and Westmeath, where large-scale wind farm projects are up and running and companies are actively developing them and signing farmers into land deals. We do not have regulations at the moment to govern the construction of wind farms and large turbines and we urgently need them.

We on this side of the House support alternative energy, including wind, but it can only be part of it. It cannot be all of it and that is the problem. It is being driven forward as the solution to everything in the same way as the house building boom was promoted as solving all our problems 12 or 15 years ago. We just had to keep building houses and piles of hotels and everything would be okay. Local communities, elected representatives and county development plans are being brushed to one side. Companies developing wind farms are ploughing ahead. They are able to ride roughshod over communities because all we have are outdated and inadequate guidelines that are not fit for purpose. The maximum setback is 500 metres and the guidelines do not cater for these. Companies are moving ahead at speed and we need regulations in place as soon as possible in Laois, Offaly and Westmeath to protect communities, the landscape and the environment. There needs to be robust regulations.

Companies have projects well advanced in areas not zoned for wind farms under county development plans. Therefore, is local government being swept to one side as well? Will this be allowed? I made the comparison with the building boom. We had light-touch regulation during the noughties and saw what happened with house building. We had light-headed financiers. Are we witnessing the same thing again - light-headed financiers with light-headed developers driving this approach? It is irrational and insane and we need a rational debate about this. Will all of these turbines be economically viable and sustainable?

Undoubtedly, Ireland is uniquely situated in terms of wind speeds and a map will demonstrate this. There are glorious and significant opportunities in wind energy. However, we must have full community participation in the process of maximising the benefits from this. Planning guidelines relating to the erection of wind turbines have been flouted. In Donegal, for example, we have witnessed turbines which were located far closer to homes than the existing guidelines stipulate. The Minister is talking about introducing new guidelines on this issue.

We are arguing that there needs to be a moratorium on planning permission until the new regulations are agreed and in place. There is little point in bolting the stable door after that horse has gone. We also want wind turbines to benefit the State. We do not want to see a situation similar to our oil and gas industry where we are giving away our energy for little or nothing with no benefit to the Irish people. Wind is a natural resource and is for the benefit of Irish citizens yet even now when we talk about the midlands, the Minister cannot or will not tell me and the Dáil what financial benefit to the State will arise from our export of energy from the midlands.

We need a national wind energy strategy that lays out in full the Government's plan for the development of wind energy over the short, medium and long term. The strategy must require full community participation and project evaluation and approval that are patently open and transparent. We can no longer accept discredited practices such as people who are key advisers in respect of Government policy also being beneficiaries of private companies with a stake in wind energy production. We have had enough scandals in respect of energy projects under previous Governments and do not want any more.

I thank Deputies Stanley and Colreavy for raising this issue. I am very much aware of the concern about this issue, particularly in the midlands. We must ensure that we take those concerns into account but at the same time, we must recognise the importance of renewable, clean energy for the future of our environment and economy.

I stress that the construction of wind farms is subject to the planning code in the same manner as other developments. Since 2003, approximately 1,250 turbines in 160 wind farms across 22 counties have been commissioned with a total capacity of approximately 1,800 MW. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's current wind energy development guidelines were published in June 2006. They provide advice to planning authorities on catering for onshore wind energy through the development plan and development management processes. The guidelines are also intended to ensure a consistency of approach throughout the country in the identification of suitable locations for wind energy development and the treatment of planning applications for such developments.

Our Department, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and other stakeholders, is now undertaking a targeted review of the onshore wind energy guidelines 2006 focusing on noise, proximity and shadow flicker. Earlier this year, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources commissioned the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, to invite proposals from suitably qualified organisations for the completion of a study to examine the significance of noise related to onshore wind farms. The objective of the study is to obtain evidence upon which to evaluate the appropriateness of the existing guidelines in respect of noise impacts and if considered necessary, suggest changes. It will take account of the following key contextual issues: the evolution of wind turbine technologies since the current guidelines were published in 2006; experience to date in the application of the current guidelines; research relating to wind turbine noise issues, including an examination of international practice, since the current guidelines were adopted; and Ireland's binding targets in respect of renewable energy update and penetration.

SEAI awarded the contract for carrying out the study to Marshall Day Acoustics in July 2013. Marshall Day has significant international experience in this field and has previously participated in reviews of the wind farm noise guidelines for the Australian and New Zealand governments. This study will form a key input into the review of the statutory guidelines. The indicative timetable for the publication of the draft statutory guidelines is quarter four 2013. The draft guidelines will, like all other new or revised guidelines, go out for extensive public consultation for a period of six weeks to two months to allow for publication of the final guidelines in 2014. Once the consultation period is closed, the submissions received on the draft guidelines will be considered and taken into account in the final form of the guidelines. Again, I stress that public consultation is central in respect of this - first, in the publication of draft guidelines and second, when that period is closed for comment, they will be fully taken account of.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. The problem in regard to the publication of the draft statutory guidelines in the fourth quarter is that many of the companies in question are already far advanced with their plans. They are well on their way and are beating the Government to the clock on this, deliberately rushing ahead to try and do this under the current flimsy guidelines, which are as weak as dishwater.

In regard to trying to identify suitable locations, which the Minister of State mentioned in her reply, they are sweeping the county development plans to one side and are developing projects in areas that are not zoned by local county councils, taking into consideration the Minister of State's existing guidelines. We need a moratorium, a cooling off period. We must press the pause button. There is no reason not to do so. I have written to all parties in the Dáil, including that of the Minister of State, asking that we have a joined up approach to this. There is nothing to stop us halting this for four, five or six months in order to put proper regulations in place, ensure we do this right and that we do not make the mistake we made with the housing boom. Like the Minister of State, I am a supporter of alternative energy but we want to do this right. That is what our party is seeking.

There is a credibility issue here. When I asked the Minister of State what were the financial arrangements for the development in the midlands she assured me that a memorandum of understanding only has been signed, and no financial arrangements have been agreed. Yet there are at least three companies that are buying and leasing land in the certain knowledge that turbines are going to be put on it. I did not come down in the last shower-----

-----nor did the people of Ireland who know what is happening here. These companies have been given the nod and the wink which tells them that turbines will be going up on the lands in question and that they should proceed with their investment because their money is safe. We are being fobbed off with the answer that nothing has been decided or agreed yet. This kind of smoke which hides what is really happening is precisely what we tried to get away from under the last Government.

There is another point that needs to be checked. In her statement the Minister of State said the SEAI was awarded the contract in July 2013 for carrying out the Marshall Day acoustic study. Have we checked there is nobody in a key and influential role in SEAI who is also a financial beneficiary in any of the companies negotiating for or purchasing land in the midlands?

Thank you, Deputy.

That is a question of ethics.

Companies cannot sweep aside county development plans. Any planning application is subject to planning rules and must take account of such plans, whether the issue is being decided locally or is going to An Bord Pleanála. There is no nod and wink. I want to make that clear to Deputy Colreavy.

It is well to be clear there are two types of wind projects currently being processed - those that contribute to our domestic targets and those for export to the United Kingdom. They have very separate hoops to negotiate. Before they can progress, the proposed export projects - those I believe the Deputy is concerned about in the main - must await the completion of an intergovernmental agreement with the UK, as the Deputy noted; the putting in place of an overall policy and planning framework, underpinned by a strategic environment assessment, to ensure that only appropriate development takes place; and the obtaining of planning information informed by this policy framework. The framework will be prepared over the coming year and will provide an opportunity for all stakeholders, including local authorities, potential project developers and local communities to be consulted and have an input into the national policy for wind export. There is a difference, therefore, between the export projects and those that are for our own need and use and it is important people understand that. Obviously this crosses over and the Marshal Day research is being done under the Department of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, while the planning guidelines are being done under my Department.

In regard to planning guidelines, there were already 550 submissions in the pre-consultation process which we initiated earlier this year. I reiterate there will be another round of public consultation after the revised draft guidelines are made available. When published, the final wind energy development guidelines will take cognisance of all views. The two processes are side by side, with the guidelines under my remit. We will publish the draft guidelines later this year which will then go for public consultation that could last up to two months. They will be adopted some time next year. The others that concern export have a considerable number of hoops to go through, which I have just put on the public record.