Leaders' Questions

Slowly but surely, the Department of Education and Skills and the National Council for Special Education are retreating from special education in mainstream schools, and they are consistently undermining it by developing wrong models. Special education is under-resourced at the moment and it is not prioritised by the Government. I have met with the parents of children with special needs, with the principals of special schools and with principals of mainstream schools that cater comprehensively in their own ways for children with special needs. The National Educational Psychological Service is grossly under-resourced and needs more psychologists. Every school is limited in the number of psychological assessments it can get per year. For example, a school whose representatives I met yesterday is limited to three assessments a year. It needs 20 on average per year and it is told it can only have three. That is the case across the system. The wait for occupational therapists for children in special education is about two years. For speech and language therapy, it is over a year. There is no ongoing intervention for children on the autistic spectrum in special classes providing for autism in mainstream schools.

The new general allocation model that is being proposed is causing enormous concern to principals and teachers and will shock many parents. Essentially, the whole concept of a resource teacher for children with special needs will disappear. They want a general allocation model now in the interest of administrative simplicity, and that is what will happen. They are saying there will be no more need for professional diagnosis and they think this is a good thing.

A question, please.

At the moment parents are waiting because adequate resources are not being put into the assessment and diagnosis of children with special needs from an early age. The new proposal is for schools to take in the children and avail of a general allocation, whereby they can intervene even without a professional diagnosis. It is also shoving everything back to the parent, because the parent will be able to appeal to the board of management of the school and so on. What research has gone into this? What research underpins this new general allocation model? I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that the Government does not proceed with this model and that it instead starts resourcing the existing system far better than it has. Will he agree to increase the number of psychologists available to the National Educational Psychological Service so that they can get involved much more readily and effectively with schools in assessing children from the get-go?

We are spending €1.4 billion in this area in general. We have more resource teachers and SNAs than ever before. This is a priority for parents and for the Minister for Education and Skills. I do not accept that children should not have access to a professional assessment. Clearly, if there is a problem with a child, it is critical that he or she has access to professional assessment to see what the nature of that challenge might be. Perhaps the general allocation model of which Deputy Martin speaks is an issue that is worthy of a discussion, in so far as the increased availability of professional assessment and increased funding are concerned.

That is another discussion.

I accept that there are delays in respect of speech and language therapy and in psychological assessment, but I would not accept at all any model under which children do not have access to professional assessments. Surely nobody knows a child better than his or her parent, and if there is a difficulty it is very important to determine what that is. There is a €1.4 billion spend, and I would be happy to facilitate a discussion about the general allocation model that Deputy Martin referred to.

I find the Taoiseach's response extraordinary because nobody seems to know what is going on in the Government. The Taoiseach is saying he cannot understand the idea of a child not needing a professional diagnosis.

I do not accept it.

It is what the Minister is proposing. This is the document. There was a meeting of 500 people recently in UCC being briefed by the National Council for Special Education, and it is saying that one of the benefits of the new system is that parents will not have to wait for a professional diagnosis any more. The idea is that there is an educational intervention without any professional diagnosis of the child. That is what the Minister is proposing, and the best the Taoiseach can say is that we will have a discussion.

Read it out until I hear it.

Read it out until I hear it.

Have you not read it yourself?

I will not have time in a minute to read it all out. It is a presentation entitled "Delivery for Students with Special Educational Needs: A Better and More Equitable Way," from the Irish Learning Support Association annual conference.

Read out the section where it says-----

This is the Minister's document. Here it says-----

We cannot have documents being displayed in the Chamber.

"No waiting for diagnosis; No unnecessary labelling".

Deputy Martin knows the rules as well as I do. This is Leaders' Questions. We are over time. Please put the question.

The Taoiseach asked him to read it out.

The Taoiseach asked him to read it out because he does not know his own document.

(Interruptions).

Go easy, Mattie.

I happen to be in the Chair.

(Interruptions).

Please put your question.

(Interruptions).

Will you stay quiet?

If one looks at last year's circular on special needs assistants and at this, one can see a fundamental retreat from special education in mainstream schools. That is what it amounts to. It is talking about standardised tests, social context and the whole idea of a special ring-fenced-----

Will you put your question? We are over time.

-----and child-centred approach to special education is going out the window. The phrase "unnecessary labelling" is insulting to parents. One does actually need a definition-----

Put your question.

-----if one is on the autistic spectrum. That is not an unnecessary label. One does need to know that. A parent needs to know where the child is on a particular spectrum. If one has Down's syndrome, it is not an unnecessary label. It has implications in terms of education requirements and provision. The whole thing is stealthily endeavouring to undermine the edifice that has been built up over the last 15 years and certainly needs ongoing review and change, but not this kind of stuff. That is totally removed from people working at the coalface. There is a lot more I could say about it, but what really frightens me is the Taoiseach's detachment and disconnection-----

This is Question Time.

-----from what his own Government is proposing in relation to these issues. I ask him to change it and to stop it.

Paddy needs to know. The Taoiseach needs to know.

Would Deputy McGrath ever stay quiet and keep his mouth shut?

This is Deputy Martin's usual spiel every week. For the Deputy's information, in case he did not realise it, this Government was the first to appoint a senior Minister for children. This Government was the first to set up a Department of children. This Government was the only Government to hold a referendum of the people giving children their rights as citizens.

The Government's actions jeopardised the outcome. The legislation to give that effect is still going through the Dáil.

This Government has children as a central priority of its focus.

The Taoiseach is misleading the House.

Will the Deputy stay quiet?

I do not accept it, from Deputy Martin or from anybody else. I do not accept it - I do not care what model the Deputy is reading from - that professional assessment of children is not necessary to determine what their particular challenge is.

It is the Government's model.

Will the Deputy stay quite, please?

The focus has to be on meeting the needs of the child.

But this is not doing that. This is going in the opposite direction. It is a general allocation model. The child's needs are becoming irrelevant.

Deputy Martin can twist the words any way he likes. I do not accept Deputy Martin's weekly rant about detachment.

Deputy Martin was there for 15 years and he did nothing only prevent divorce.

I did, actually. I did an awful lot.

This Government made children the focus of political responsibility, with their own Department, their own senior Minister and their own funding, and what is involved here is to determine what are the needs of each individual child.

No, it is the opposite.

I do not accept from Deputy Martin, or from anybody else, that a child who has a problem should not have a professional assessment of what that challenge is.

That is what this document says.

I do not know about the document. I call Deputy Adams.

Neither does the Taoiseach.

Making a mess of the big issues of Government has become the Taoiseach's speciality.

They made a mess of that.

Would the Deputy please keep his mouth closed for five minutes?

I often wonder to myself and cogitate why this is so. The First Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, from Mr. Justice Brian Cregan makes it clear that the commission's terms of reference, prepared on the Taoiseach's watch and signed off by him, are an absolute and utter shambles. This has been a hallmark of his Government. Look at the calamity in the accident and emergency departments which has become so severe that the INMO and nurses in emergency departments have been forced into industrial action. Look at the utter chaos of 5,000 women, men and children living in emergency accommodation. These scandals are not only because of the incompetence of the Government, although undoubtedly that is a fact. It is not only because of the Taoiseach's reliance on half-actions and spin. Let us be straight about this. It is because the Government is against a universal health service, it is because it is against the State making provision of social and affordable housing and it is because it is against holding the golden circles to account. That is why the Taoiseach made a mess of the commission of investigation's terms of reference and dismissed Sinn Féin's amendments and suggestions. That is why the Taoiseach blocked and stonewalled any effort to bring transparency to the actions and transactions undertaken by the IBRC-----

Deputy Adams can block anything he likes.

-----and billions of taxpayers' money was written off or found its way into the deep pockets of the elite. This is money that could have been invested in social housing. This is money that could have been invested in the health services.

A question, please.

However, as I said, the Taoiseach and the Government have no real interest in shining a light on the IBRC transactions. We got a letter-----

Deputy Adams is over time.

-----from the Taoiseach, in which he asked the Opposition parties for their views on new terms of reference and which I responded to last evening. Will the Taoiseach now accept responsibility for this mess, will he publish the terms of reference that were brought forward by the Attorney General and approved by the Taoiseach, and will he at least belatedly try and unravel a mess which is entirely of his own making?

Another cock-up.

Deputy Finian McGrath should know.

Deputies should not be smart.

Deputy Adams has circled all the issues today. It is not his usual specific attack.

He mentioned that the Government has failed to deal with the big issues-----

-----such as fixing the economic mess that we inherited, putting our people back to work, and the situation where the rate of unemployment has gone from 15.2% to 8.9% and is heading downwards.

(Interruptions).

We had a situation where this crowd locked us out from all the markets and the interest rates where 15%, and now they are less than 2%.

(Interruptions).

A Deputy

Take the rod out of teaching-----

I will not ask Deputy Mattie McGrath again. He will be out that door as fast as he can go, I promise him.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan's, intention, on behalf of the Government, is to have the deficit wiped out by 2018. The national debt is falling rapidly towards European norms and by the way, for the information of Deputy Adams, 130,000 jobs have been created in the private sector. These are the big issues that Deputy Adams says the Government has failed on.

Will the Taoiseach answer the question?

However, we are not happy.

A Deputy

Will Deputy Adams ask it?

The Taoiseach is well able to answer for himself.

We are not happy because what we want to do is to secure that recovery for all the people and have a strong economy for the benefit of the people.

We did not follow Greece.

More big tax cuts for the fat cats.

Deputy Adams mentions golden circles and-----

A Deputy

Corporate tax policy.

First, Deputy Adams has responded to the letter that I sent him and I thank him for responding to me.

Will the Taoiseach act on it?

The common objective of everybody in this House of all parties and none is to have a situation where the intention of what the Government did when it set up the commission of investigation under Mr. Justice Cregan, to have a transparent, comprehensive and fully-accountable report in respect of all of the transactions in regard to which a write-off of over €10 million was involved, is achieved. That is the intention of Government, Deputy Adams and everybody else.

I thank Deputy Adams for his letter but I make this point to him. When we put through a decision here to have a commission of investigation, neither Deputy Adams nor anybody else raised the questions that the judge has pointed out in his interim report.

We did not see the Attorney General's advice. That is why.

The Attorney General cock-up on the Taoiseach's watch.

That is why I sent it to Deputy Adams at an early date.

These are legal issues, not terms of reference.

Would Deputy Martin hold on?

That is why I sent it to the Deputy as soon as I could. That is why I sent it to the other leaders of the different groupings.

We were only consulted on the terms of reference.

I asked them for their written response because it is in everybody's interest.

This is Deputy Adams's question.

I have got Deputy Adams's. I have not got Fianna Fáil's. Whether it has a view or not, I do not know. Deputy Catherine Murphy's is on the way and I thank her.

(Interruptions).

The Government will receive those responses in writing from the Deputies. We will consider those responses and we will have a report at Government next week as to how best we should proceed to deal with the issues that Mr. Justice Cregan has raised in his interim report.

They are 15 months at it now.

Let me repeat that it is the intention of Government to have a fully transparent, accountable and comprehensive report-----

The Taoiseach has to bury this as long as he can.

-----in everybody's interests on the Siteserv issue. The judge has pointed out what he considers are difficulties and problems. We want to deal with those in the most transparent and most accountable way possible.

I thank Deputy Adams for his letter. Deputy Catherine Murphy's is on the way. I will await Deputy Martin's response.

The reason the Taoiseach makes a mess of matters is characterised by his response. He refused to answer the questions. We tabled amendments to his terms of reference and the Taoiseach voted them down. We ended up voting against the Taoiseach's terms of reference because they were inadequate. Since 2012, Deputies Catherine Murphy, Pearse Doherty and I have raised questions about Siteserv. It has been three years. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, and the Taoiseach blocked it, prevaricated, sent obtuse opaque answers and refused to deal with the issues involved.

I repeat the questions. Will the Taoiseach publish the Attorney General's advice? Will he commit to dealing with this issue before Christmas?

One of the big omissions in the commission's terms of reference relates to the lack of clarity surrounding the definition of a capital loss. We have this ridiculous situation where the capital loss is defined by the liquidators of the IBRC. They define what Mr. Justice Cregan could look at and the judge acknowledges that there are upwards of 156 transactions where losses on loans in excess of €10 million were recorded by IBRC during the relevant period but are not included in the schedule of transactions because the special liquidators defined it otherwise. This equates to at least €1.5 billion of taxpayers' money which could have been used to build homes or to fix the health services, and these are not even going to be investigated by the commission. The Taoiseach thanked me for my letter. Will he act on the recommendations?

I will thank Deputy Adams, if he adheres to the Chair. He is over time.

Okay, fair enough.

Will the Taoiseach correct these glaring omissions? Will he commit to giving an assurance that all the necessary changes to legislation and to the commission of investigation into the IBRC's terms of reference will be put in place by Christmas, and will he commit to facilitating extended or additional sitting days of the Dáil and Seanad to do that as opposed to kicking it beyond the election?

A commission of investigation, once approved by the Oireachtas, becomes the responsibility of the sole member appointed to conduct it.

They are approved by the Chief Whip. That is all.

They do so in an entirely independent manner. In this case, Mr. Justice Cregan has done considerable work, identified what he considers to be obstacles, difficulties and challenges and written his interim report, which I have forwarded to Members. My letter to Deputy Adams and the other party leaders was to ask their views of the action that should be taken to deal with the issues pointed out by the sole member.

It is the same as it was in 2012.

I do so in the interests of everybody, in that the Government wants a situation in which Siteserv and the others are part of the commission of investigation in a fully accountable, transparent and comprehensive fashion. Mr. Justice Cregan has taken a line individually, objectively and independently in respect of confidentiality, privacy and other issues he has pointed out. We need to respond to it in a way that makes it work effectively.

Will the Taoiseach respond to my questions?

I am responding. Mr. Justice Cregan pointed out that if he is left to deal with it alone, it could take eight years. Does the Deputy want this or can we have a much more effective and swifter response? The Government will respond next week, taking into account the views of the Deputy and the other party leaders. I would like whatever structure is established to deal with it to be put in place as soon as possible, and if it is necessary to have the support of the House for extra time, it can be considered. I thank the Deputy for his letter and I will consider the points he made. I have a duty to do so. The Government will respond collectively when we receive the written responses of the other leaders.

Will the Taoiseach publish the Attorney General's advice?

No, I will not.

He is protecting her again.

Mr. Justice Cregan, in his complete independence, has sent his interim report and has pointed out what he considers are the challenges.

Did the Attorney General point them out to the Taoiseach?

We need to find a way of dealing with it as a response from the Oireachtas.

There is a major disparity between the pace of development and job growth in Dublin, other centres along the east coast and other large urban areas vis-à-vis that in rural Ireland. This was illustrated in a parliamentary question reply I received from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, yesterday, in which he said, of the total foreign direct investment, FDI, companies located in Ireland, 50%, totalling 596 companies, are located in the greater Dublin region. The east coast has seen a significant recovery and growth, with annual employment growth of approximately 5%. In the other urban areas around the country, there is employment growth of approximately 2%. Unfortunately, in the rest of rural Ireland, employment growth is practically nil.

The Minister stated that Cork has 146 IDA Ireland client companies, Galway has 63, and Limerick has 48. In my county, Kerry, there is an industrial wasteland and we are down to a meagre 12 IDA Ireland companies, while Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice's county, Roscommon, has eight companies, Tipperary has 11 and Monaghan has six. In a plethora of counties one can count the FDI companies on one hand. I refer to IDA Ireland investment being carried into the rest of rural Ireland. Some 1,090 IDA Ireland visits took place between 2013 and 2015, of which 561 were directly to Dublin. In contrast to my county, Kerry, our neighbouring county, Cork, had 83 visits. My peripheral county, Kerry, is an industrial wasteland and this reflects what is happening in the rest of rural Ireland. It is very late in the time of the Government to ensure there is an economic balance. Will the Taoiseach correct the imbalance, set out to do so immediately, and put the plan in place in the lifetime of the Government? Will he take the focus off the major urban areas and give an equal opportunity to rural Ireland, which has been decimated?

I thank the Deputy for his comments and question, which is well thought out. Deputy Griffin raised the same matter in a Topical Issue a couple of weeks ago. As a representative of a very large tract of rural Ireland, the Deputy knows that when one ploughs a field, seeds it and rolls it, one has to let it grow.

One has to till it first.

It is a one-pass system.

It is the same with trying to get an economy moving, coming from the depths of where we were to a point where we can see real improvement. I agree that many places in provincial Ireland have not seen the return to growth we would like. In Kerry, there has been a drop in the live register of 34% since the regional action plan was introduced. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, introduced a national Action Plan for Jobs focused on FDI, developing small and medium enterprises with Enterprise Ireland and changing the structure of the local enterprise offices, LEOs, in every county council.

It did not focus on Kerry.

We followed this with introducing regional action plans which are focused on both the strengths and weaknesses of each area, including the Deputy's. Hospitality, the Wild Atlantic Way, broadband development, road infrastructure, water infrastructure and wastewater treatment are all opportunities to make areas more attractive for investment.

We do not have broadband either.

Although not every crossroads will have FDI, there is no reason that small and medium enterprises cannot follow through with the LEOs on establishing businesses, recruiting people more easily and having access to credit that was never there before. Two indigenous Kerry companies have gone global, namely, the Kerry Group, which has established another investment in Kildare which is an international magnet for the best companies in the world, and Dairymaster, which has gone beyond the county bounds. They have become international global companies, and this is where we need to grow.

Regional development is a specific priority of the Minister, Deputy Bruton. The regional action plans which have been launched and developed for each region are focused on it. In the Deputy's area in the south west, infrastructural developments need to be put in place, and this is part of the capital programme with the new Garda stations, 300 schools and other improvements.

The Government closed down the Garda stations.

Deputies Healy-Rae and Mattie McGrath are like Tom and Jerry. When one goes quiet, the other starts.

The improvements of all these facilities are very important. While the Deputy's question is well meant, employment is growing in his area and the live register numbers have fallen because of new jobs being created.

It is because of emigration.

We want it to continue into the future.

We are all very optimistic that economic growth will continue. However, we are still faced with the reality that, as of the beginning of November, 203,000 people are jobless. The Taoiseach mentioned my county, Kerry, where we are fortunate to have a buoyant tourism industry. However, it is seasonal. We are very hopeful that the Wild Atlantic Way will contribute and will add very much to the tourism product, which I am sure it will. We need to stretch out the shoulder ends of the year to gain the major benefits we can reap from it.

Can we have your question now?

We still have to face the whole matter here. It is very much mirrored in the Kerry situation as well. Some 55% of those who are unemployed are long-term unemployed. That is a very frightening figure, to be honest about it.

Come on, Deputy, put your supplementary question.

The rate of long-term unemployment increased from 1.5% in 2005 to 6.7% in 2014. The current rate is the highest in Europe. It is 1.6% above the EU average.

Sorry, Deputy, you are not listening to me. Would you put your supplementary question? You are over time.

I will conclude by making the point that the longer people stay on the unemployed register, the harder it is for them to get back into the workforce. We need to address the matter of rural renewal to get a bit of life back into our villages and towns. We should incentivise small-time employers by giving every possible support to them. We need to take a serious look at the rates situation.

The exorbitant rates in this country are putting people out of business. We certainly have to implement the budget measures.

I think you have done a good tour of the whole economy.

The Wild Atlantic Way.

He has done a tour of south Kerry.

I remind Deputy Fleming that the level of unemployment has fallen from 15.2% to 8.9%. People said a few years ago that this was impossible. The number of people who are long-term unemployed has decreased by 46%, from over 204,000 when the action plan was launched in 2012 to 109,800 today. One sixth of the 136,000 new jobs that have been created throughout the country, or 22,000 jobs, have been created by IDA Ireland. The remaining five sixths of new jobs have been created in small and medium-sized indigenous enterprises. That is what we need to focus on in the future.

Some 56% of them are in Dublin.

The Minister has changed the structure so that anybody with an idea can walk into his or her local enterprise office and get all the advice and information he or she needs to set up a company.

The local enterprise offices have no money.

People get advice on how to employ people and access credit so that they can promote their ideas for manufacture or for export. We need to ensure companies throughout the country have no fear. They should not be afraid to go beyond the bounds of their own localities. Many companies are proving that they are well able to sell competitively on the international market the software or manufactured goods they produce. Deputy Fleming's county has invested serious money in quality hospitality enterprises over the last 40 years. I think the development of the new Wild Atlantic Way concept is paying dividends throughout counties Kerry and Cork and will continue to do so for many years to come. The action plan, which focused on Deputy Fleming's own area and on other individual areas throughout the country, was based on their strengths and weaknesses. It looked at what could be done in counties Louth, Wexford, Donegal, Monaghan and Laois and the other relevant areas. Plans were drawn up in consultation with the agencies in each region so that the individual matters could be worked through. As I have said, the live register figures speak for themselves.