Other Questions

Schools Building Projects

Brian Stanley


22. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress made in resolving the issues that are delaying a new school (details supplied). [28359/16]

I ask the Minister about the school building programme. The school in question is St. Paul's secondary school in Monasterevin. I welcome that it has been put on the capital programme but there are technical problems holding it up. I wrote to the Minister about it. I have spoken to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, and I will explain why I was speaking to him about a school issue shortly. There are many efforts being made to resolve this matter. Perhaps the Minister can give me some good news on it because the new building is badly needed.

The building project for the school to which the Deputy refers was recently approved to progress to the advanced stage of the architectural planning process, stage 2b - detailed design - which includes the applications for planning permission, fire certificate and disability access certificate and the preparation of tender documents.

The design team, in liaison with officials from the relevant local authority, has identified a potential solution to the drainage requirements at the proposed site for the new school building. Officials from my Department are currently liaising with the relevant parties in order to secure the consents necessary to effect this solution. When agreements have been reached the planning application will then be submitted to the local authority.

I thank the Minister for the reply. This is a huge issue because St. Paul's in Monasterevin has been waiting for years to get onto the school building programme. Thankfully, it is now on it.

There are significant capacity issues. At present, the school is full. Basically, no further pupils can be enrolled. Some students from the catchment area are attending schools in Athy, Portlaoise and Portarlington.

I welcome that the new project would cater for 800 pupils. It was to go to construction this year. The problem with the project relates to drainage. I have spoken to senior staff in the local authority about this matter on a number of occasions. I have also spoken to officials in the Department about it. I wrote to the Minister about it. The issue needs to be resolved. Kildare County Council has assured me on a number of occasions that it will provide every assistance to the Minister's officials but it needs active engagement from them in order to move matters forward. As already stated, the problem relates to drainage. Basically, a way needs to be found to drain the surface water adjacent to the school building to the River Barrow via lands that are not owned by the Department of Education and Skills and I must point out that there is a wayleave arrangement in place that falls under the control of the local authority.

When I was Tánaiste, I visited this school with former Deputy Jack Wall and former Senator John Whelan. I wholeheartedly concur with what has been said. The building project for this school has, like that relating to St. Mochta's, been waiting years for approval. Does the Minister propose, in the context of the budget or shortly thereafter, to publish a list of all of the schools - indicating the position in respect of each - that are included in the 2016-2021 capital programme? That would be important for the many school communities by which I am being approached that are really worried about their different projects, whether it be in the context of land acquisition or, as in the case of Monasterevin, finalisation - after what seems like decades - of a vital project.

To reassure Deputy Stanley, my Department is taking an active role on this. All relevant technical issues have now been addressed and the Department is optimistic that the landowner's consent will be forthcoming. As Deputy Stanley will be aware, the project involves the construction, on a greenfield site, of a post-primary school building to cater for 850 pupils and an issue had to be resolved before a planning application could be submitted. To reassure Deputy Burton, this is not some tactic within the Department to delay worthy projects. In this instance, a genuine issue had to be resolved.

The position of each school is available on the website of my Department. When schools are released to commence the detailed design process, that is tracked. However, sometimes those design processes run into unforeseen problems due to issues - in this case, drainage - which may arise and which, obviously, influences the pace at which they proceed.

I assure the Deputy that every penny we get is always spent. We have a very strong process of making sure that we have a pipeline available to use the resources as fully and as effectively as possible.

I welcome the Minister's response indicating that a resolution has been found to the technical issues, as they were difficult enough issues to resolve. I am glad to hear there is active engagement by his officials with the county council and the school authorities locally. The school staff are very concerned about this. There are under great pressure with respect to where they are operating from and, apart from it being unsuitable, there is a major capacity issue having regard to the school catchment area. The population in the area has increased. The Minister mentioned a pipeline for funding. Will he clarify that the funding is in place and that there will be no hold up in funding for this project? Can he give a timeline for this project, as there has been slippage on the initial timeline given?

Obviously, I cannot give a timeline because there are many issues involved, including the planning application, the detail and the design, all of which are issues that have to be completed by the design team. The necessary consents have to be obtained. Those are not in the control of my Department. I assure the Deputy that when projects reach a certain point, as has been the case this year, a block of schools are released to go to tender. We make sure that we are in a position where all moneys are properly utilised. We have a flow of money in the six-year programme, which will fund projects as they come to fruition. As adverted to by Deputy Burton, there are now five schools which have reached a point where they could be released to tender but we have to make sure that we are in a position to complete the construction phase. There can be delays of that nature but I assure the Deputy that the funding is being provided. We are making sure we have projects ready and we release all projects to maximise the impact on school numbers.

School Patronage

Brian Stanley


23. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Education and Skills when a decision will be made regarding the patronage of the proposed new secondary school in Portlaoise. [28358/16]

This question relates to a proposed new secondary school in Portlaoise. The three schools in the town, which are relatively new, are overcrowded but the town continues to grow. The population of County Laois continues to grow. There has been a major influx of people into the area, as confirmed in the recent census of population. The issue here is the patronage of the school. There has been a consultation process on it locally and the school is due to open in September 2017.

In April 2016, applications were invited for the patronage of nine new post-primary schools to be established in 2017 and 2018, including the new post-primary school to serve the Portlaoise area. The closing date for receipt of applications for this process was 8 June 2016.  Patrons submitted with their application a parental preference template in which parents were requested to declare their preference for their child to be educated through that patron's school model and also their preference with regard to education through the medium of English or Irish.

Applications received are currently being assessed by my Department.  The assessment process is detailed and rigorous and numerous applications have been received in respect of each of the nine proposed new post-primary schools.

The final assessment reports will be forwarded for the consideration of the new schools establishment group. It is an external independent advisory group set up to oversee the process.  Following the group's consideration, it will submit a report with recommendations to me for consideration and final decision.  I will then announce who the successful patron of each school is. I expect to receive this report in the coming weeks. The assessment reports and the recommendations of the new schools establishment group will be available on my Department's website following the announcement.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The concern about this proposed new school is that time is slipping by. I understand the school is due to open in September 2017. As I outlined, there are huge pressures in the area, which I am not exaggerating. A number of parents contacted me during the summer as they were not able to get their children into any secondary school in Portlaoise. Haywood school, the school in Portarlington and all of the schools in the county have substantial school populations as well and there is a long distance between Portlaoise and those schools. There is a major capacity issue. The baptism figures shows that the school population will increase. There is still a baby boom in County Laois for some reason. There is a huge population in the area. There has been a substantial consultation process locally, in which I have been involved, and there has been a good deal of lobbying. We have very good Catholic schools on the Borris Road, we also have an education and training board, on which my colleague seated next to me served, the Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board, and Portlaoise College. There is competition for this. I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts on this matter.

I understand there are nine schools for which a decision is required as to who the patron will be. The Minister will appreciate, with respect to a new school for the Castleknock-Carpenterstown area, that this process has been under way for months. We understood that we would know the outcome of the patronage identification recommendation process by now, yet in his response to Deputy Stanley, the Minister did not appear to give any precise timeline as to when the parents, the school bodies and the potential school boards would know. As the Minister is aware, in many areas competition for secondary places is extremely intense and parents have to be able to make a decision quite early on what school will be available for their child. When does the Minister intend to make a decision on who will be the patrons of these different schools? I understand, and he might confirm this, there are nine of them in total.

As I indicated to Deputy Stanley, there are nine. There is an external independent advisory group which oversees the process. The information I have is that it is expected to report to me within the coming weeks. I want to reassure Deputy Stanley that the school will open as scheduled in September 2017 in suitable interim accommodation, pending the completion of construction of the permanent school building. The school is also included in the six-year investment programme. It is clearly a school that has been acknowledged.

The selection of a patron is a process that must be fair and objectively carried out. As I stated in the reply, those engaged in that process listen to the views of parents of prospective children, consider the diversity of offers to make sure that there is the range of choice, and take account of the parents' preferences. The process is designed to be as fair as possible and to offer choice to reflect the parents' views.

The fact that the process is with an external advisory group is giving rise to concern that there is a cut-off point. The Minister said he expects the group will report to him within a matter of weeks and I hope that is the case and that this can be expedited quickly after that. A joint bid has been submitted by the Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board and the Coiste Bunaithe, which represents the parents of the various Gaelscoileanna in the county. They have submitted a serious bid. The education and training board is in possession of former education premises in the town. The Minister mentioned in his reply that this will not move onto a greenfield site but into existing accommodation, if I heard him correctly. There is accommodation and there are opportunities to do that. As soon as all the information is with his Department, this needs to be processed as quickly as possible. The Minister might indicate the timeline for that. He might also comment on the criteria involved.

The criteria were published and are set out on the call for offers. Each school seeks to demonstrate that it meets the requirements of the Department to run a school including very basic things about the way they abide by various approaches that are expected of a school. There is then the process of selecting the patron who best meets the need to promote diversity and meets the parents' needs. The system is fair and transparent. There will be someone disappointed at the end of this selection process but it is conducted in a fair way. I cannot get anymore granular than to say it will be in the coming weeks but I will convey to my officials that there is a lot of local concern about the potential delays. I have received an assurance that the 17 September start date is still absolutely on target.

Back to School Costs

Joan Collins


24. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the recent Irish League of Credit Unions report showing that back-to-school costs have risen every year since 2012, with almost a third of parents getting into debt to cover the increasing expenses and some 13% of families cutting back on food spending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23034/16]

I ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the recent Irish League of Credit Unions report showing that back to school costs have risen every year since 2012. The report says that back to school costs negatively impact 26% of household bill payments with 13% of parents saying they will have to sacrifice spending on food to cover these costs. It also says that only 14% of parents who are eligible for back to school allowance believe it is sufficient to cover school costs. On average, parents of primary school students spend €145 on uniforms per child and parents of secondary school students spend €234 per child. I ask the Minister for a statement.

I thank Deputy Collins for raising this issue. I have read the report and I strongly support any measures that can be put in place to reduce costs for parents, including measures such as the use of generic type uniforms or the use of sew-on crests. All schools must be sensitive to the financial pressures on parents in making decisions, not just about school uniforms or books, but about any matter that has cost implications for parents. The action plan for education outlines hundreds of actions to be implemented over the three-year period. Some of the actions as part of that plan are to strengthen the focus on reducing school costs for parents by restoring capitation funding over a three-year period as resources permit; increasing the financial support for book rental schemes in order to reduce or eliminate school book costs for parents; and by issuing a strong new circular to school authorities and ETBs regarding school uniform policy and other costs and the need to put a greater emphasis on reducing the cost of school uniforms and other costs.

I will also introduce a stronger complaints procedure and a charter for parents. It is important that schools should consult parents on matters relating to their children's education, including those matters which have cost implications. Schools should be responsive to the views and concerns of parents.  In that regard, requiring schools to have a parents' charter will ensure schools will interact better with parent associations and with individual parents.

Can the Minister indicate how much that would reduce the cost of sending children to school? At the moment, the overall cost for a primary school student is €967 and for a secondary school student is €1,474. The back to school clothing and footwear allowance was reduced from €200 to €100 for four to eleven year olds and from €305 to €200 for 12 to 22 year olds. The cost of uniform clothing for primary school averages at €145 which is well over the €100 allowance. For secondary school children it is €234 and if one includes the average cost of gym gear, which is €57 for primary school children and €97 for secondary school students, it immediately brings the cost above the €200 allowance for primary school children and the €330 allowance for secondary school children. Will the Minister comment on the measure of increasing the back to school clothing and footwear allowance for children? I will come back on another point when the Minister replies.

The clothing allowance is administered by the Department of Social Protection. It is of some reassurance that schools are taking this more seriously. The report shows a consistent fall in the cost of uniforms at schools from €177 in 2011 to €145 in 2016. Similarly, the cost of books has come down from €125 to €94 and voluntary contributions are also coming down. There is evidence that schools are taking their responsibility to control costs more seriously. I am determined that this becomes an issue that includes the continuing drive to reduce obstacles to participation in education. I cannot put a number on it but if capitation increases it will hopefully reduce the reliance on voluntary contributions and so on in other areas. These are issues we will have to develop and address over a period of time.

According to the Irish League of Credit Unions report, in 2015 voluntary contributions for primary schools were an average of €77. This year they are also an average of €77 so the cost has not gone down. In 2015, the average cost of voluntary contributions in secondary schools was €147 and in 2016 it will be €160. They are not going down.

There is another issue which is not part of the Minister's brief but perhaps he could discuss it with the Minister for Social Protection. School children lose their children's allowance at 16 and parents have to reapply for it when children go back to school and continue their education. Parents have an expectation of getting that children's allowance over a critical three-month period when they are under a lot of pressure buying books and school uniforms. They probably end up borrowing that money and paying interest on it. When they get the money back they can pay it off. There are areas where the Government can intervene much more decisively to support families in this way.

I am looking at the longer period because this data goes back to 2011. There is a consistent downward trend. It is not on every item but generally there is a downward trend in the areas directly controlled by schools. We need to build on that. I am sure the Minister for Social Protection will look at the issue of the age at which child benefit is withdrawn. There is an ambition to look at school age so hopefully over time some of the problems the Deputy has referred to can be dealt with. It is a traditional feature of child benefit that it continues to the age of 16 initially, which was the compulsory school age. That is probably what influenced the Department of Social Protection.

The Deputies who tabled questions Nos. 25 and 26 are not present so we will move on to question No. 27 in the name of Deputy Ruth Coppinger.

Questions Nos. 25 and 26 replied to with Written Answers.

Schools Building Projects Status

Ruth Coppinger


27. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will report on his meeting with members of the board of management of a school (details supplied); the progress on the building project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28385/16]

My question is on St. Mochta's school which I have heard the Minister mention already. Since we raised this as a Topical Issue matter last week, a packed public meeting of parents and the community in Clonsilla has taken the decision to withdraw their children from school tomorrow and bring them here to the Dáil. Can the Minister give them good news tomorrow and save them doing it again?

The building project for the school to which the Deputy refers is now at an advanced stage of architectural planning. All statutory approvals have been obtained, tender documents have been prepared and the stage 2b submission has been approved by my Department.

I met the school's representatives with the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar and Deputies Joan Burton and Jack Chambers last Wednesday. The school outlined its concerns with regard to the building project and gave me a comprehensive description of the difficulties presented by the current accommodation in the school. I explained the current funding situation and assured the school that this building project is a priority for me when funding is available to allow it to proceed to tender and construction. However, the Deputy will be aware from my answers to previous parliamentary questions that there are a large number of projects authorised to proceed to construction. At the time the latest batch of these were authorised to proceed, St. Mochta's was not in a position to proceed to tender.

The existing contractual commitments fully account for the funding which was allocated for 2016 under the previous Minister. However, the school is on the programme and is a priority and my Department will continue to closely monitor expenditure on the existing contractual commitments over the coming months and, as funding allows, other projects, including the project for the school in question, will be considered for progression through the tender process with a view to starting on site as soon as possible.

There were a number of issues at the meeting we had the other day and my officials met outside the meeting to resolve any remaining issues relating to fees. There is a very active engagement between my Department and the school authorities and we are doing everything to make sure there will be no unnecessary delay. The issue is that I have to be assured the funding can be there to meet the release to tender. That is why the examination of expending commitments is so important. If other funding sources emerge, particularly from the budget, it will put me in a position to deal with some of the issues.

Many of us question how this project has been promised for ten years. The school's board of management agreed to double the number of children attending the school to almost 900. This is a large school yet half of it is not just located in prefabs - in case the Minister believes that - but, rather, in dark, mildewed buildings affected by mould and damp. These are the equivalent of Third World conditions. Parents of children with asthma report they have to regularly collect them from school early and that they miss out on schoolwork as a result. People wonder why - when we are told that there is a recovery and that the Government turned down the potential of billions of euro from Apple, etc. - there is no money for schools. How could building inflation increase so much in six months that a project which was included on the list but in November was removed from it by summer? There can be no conclusion other than there was a rush to get a load of projects on the building list before the general election. I assume there are other schools that have fallen off the list and that people have become cynical about it.

I thank the Minister for clarifying that this project is rightly on the list for the period 2016 to 2021. Although she is now supporting the school community, Deputy Coppinger seems to be suggesting that the project should never have been on the building list. That is wrong and a conscious misunderstanding, as well as a misrepresentation of the circumstances on her part.

The Deputy is not fooling anyone with that.

However, in the past ten years, this project has been deeply unfortunate. Many of the advisory experts to these school building projects, such as architects and so on, went into liquidation owing to the recession and the collapse of the construction industry. Deputy Coppinger knows that as well as I.

Will the Minister reaffirm that, following last week’s meeting - which, unfortunately, Deputy Coppinger did not attend - and the discussions with the school board, huge progress has been made on clarifying the technical issues that were the only barriers remaining to this project, which will cost €10.5 million, proceeding? This is a great school - as the people of Clonsilla deserve - and will the Minister confirm that construction of the new building will commence as early as possible?

I want to reassure both Deputies that this project is on the building programme list. When the previous release of projects was made in April, it had not reached the point of being able to be released to tender because the design stage had not been completed. The matter is a priority from my point of view. Progress has been made as a result of the recent meeting and close engagement is ongoing with the school. We will have to monitor our spending position. Hopefully, in the coming months we will be able to release commitments to go to tender. It is a high priority and I met the parents and teachers. I am fully aware of the pressure the parents and children involved are under. This is an important case.

I do not think it is appropriate to hijack another Deputy’s question to use it to attack them, especially when the Deputy spoke on this school earlier.

On a point of order-----

There is no provision for points of order on Question Time.

As a Member, I am entitled to contribute in respect of any question once it has been answered.

Deputy Burton should resume her seat.

Deputy Burton is already making a show of herself.

There is no regulation against me contributing to the debate on a question.

Could the Deputies please desist?

Parents do not want people like Deputy Burton making mileage out of this by attacking other Members. The key issue is-----

I am supporting the school in question. I wish Deputy Coppinger would support it too.

The Deputy is doing herself no favours by delaying this issue being brought to the Dáil. I would keep very quiet if I were her.

A democratic decision was taken at a meeting of 300 people. People were glad to hear that the meeting went well. Unfortunately, I received a late invitation and was not aware that it was taking place. At the meeting, people heard that there would be an increase in money in the budget for schools. What they did not hear was that there would definitely be an increase in the budget for St. Mochta’s school. Accordingly, they took a decision not to just accept the Minister's word but to bring their children to the Dáil tomorrow to protest, thereby losing a day's pay in the process. These people do not want to harm their children's education but they will repeat their action if needs be.

No decision has been taken about any budgetary funding. Decisions on budgets will not be taken until next Tuesday when they will be announced in the House. Everyone will have information at that time.

I had a good and constructive meeting with the representatives of the parents and the board, the patron and the principal of the school. The frustration that was apparent among those present was well reflected by the Deputies who attended and who supported the school in their efforts. The points were well made. There is a strong realisation in the Department of the priority relating to this school. We will do our best to facilitate the project. That is the position. I will continue to work to deliver.

Teachers' Remuneration

Ruth Coppinger


28. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will end the treatment of newly-qualified teachers; and if he will report on discussions with the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI, on this matter. [28384/16]

This question relates to the ongoing inequality in the pay of different groups of teachers. Obviously, this applies to other public sector workers too. When will that pay inequality end? Will the Minister report on discussions he has had with the ASTI? Will he also respond in respect of the victimisation of members of the ASTI who will not now receive partial pay restoration because they are union members? This is something we thought was meant to have ended with the 1913 Lock-out.

The recent agreement reached with the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, and the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, on the issue of new entrant pay will result in increases of up to €2,000 per year for new teachers at the start of their careers. The estimated value of these increases over a teacher's career is €135,000. This new arrangement will apply to members of the teachers' unions which have signed up to the Lansdowne Road agreement, namely, the TUI and the INTO.

This agreement gives substantial benefits to new teachers and shows what is possible through dialogue and negotiation within the Lansdowne Road agreement.

The ASTI's decision to withdraw from the Croke Park hours means that the union has placed itself outside the Lansdowne Road agreement. However, the benefits of the new entrant pay deal can also be available to ASTI members. With that objective in mind, I wrote to the ASTI in the past fortnight to confirm my willingness to conclude a similar agreement with them and to deliver these benefits to newly-qualified ASTI members in the context of the union's co-operation with the Lansdowne Road agreement.

I also reiterated my Department’s offer to suspend the implementation of measures associated with the repudiation of the Lansdowne Road agreement if the union suspends its directive to withdraw from the Croke Park hours. This would provide a more constructive context for talks to take place and would avoid disruption in schools. It would also mean that thousands of ASTI teachers would receive the payment for supervision and substitution, as well as other benefits and protections under the Lansdowne Road agreement. Unfortunately, the ASTI have refused this offer thus far but it remains open.

Despite this, my Department is making arrangements to continue the ongoing discussions with the ASTI on its issues of concern. Continuing dialogue between my Department and the ASTI would be in the best interests of schools, parents, students and teachers as is evidenced by the agreements reached with the INTO and the TUI. It is regrettable the ASTI seems determined to pursue a route of confrontation rather than dialogue.

There are three sets of pay scales operating in teaching. Whatever happened to equal pay for equal work? There are teachers who qualified after 2011 and 2012 who are doing exactly the same work as, but being paid less than, their counterparts in other classrooms who qualified earlier. How does the Minister justify that? That is why the ASTI is taking a stance.

The ASTI is often told it is the only teachers' union that did not accept the Lansdowne Road agreement. It is the largest secondary teachers' union in the country. The TUI has a mix of different members. That is how I would explain the differing results on accepting the agreement. Obviously, if one does not work in those conditions, one may deliver a different result. The hourly rates of pay have been reduced, as has the qualified rate, and allowances have been removed. Teachers and others are in precarious work, with one in four secondary teachers working part-time and being forced to take up other employment.

The Minister should stop attacking the ASTI when it is trying to take a stand against that.

I am not attacking the ASTI. I am saying very clearly that there is the opportunity for the members of the ASTI to benefit from agreements that are now in place with the TUI and the INTO that can provide real benefits to its members. They include the substitution and supervision amount, which is more than €700 this year, and another payment later. Also included is the qualification allowance which they lost, which is the largest issue for new entrants, whereby a significant loss is being restored in two phases. It includes flexibility in respect of the 33 hours, which are the subject of some of the ASTI's objections. We have provided more flexibility to allow those hours to be used more usefully. It includes addressing the issue of permanency for ASTI members, which is now being facilitated by new provisions. There are real benefits in the agreements we worked out that address the issues.

It is correct to say that there are issues remaining. Some newly-qualified teachers are paid less than those with longer service, but this issue applies across the public service and will be addressed by the public service commission that will be established by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The terms of reference of that will soon be worked out. There is a comprehensive approach to the issues of concern, which are genuine for the teaching profession, but I believe dialogue is the right approach to pursue in the interests of children and, indeed, teachers.

We see how this Government acts. The Government used the Acts - the threat of FEMPI - to get those agreements passed with the other unions. One or two unions stuck it out and did not heed those threats. What happens? The Government victimises the members and young teachers and tries to stop them getting partial pay restoration as a result. Equal pay for equal work used to be a core principle of trade unionism. That is how women won the right to equal pay and it is how migrants and others should win it as well. It has been a long-standing principle. There has been a rise in employers treating new entrants badly, and it is important in the so-called recovery that workers take a stand on that. I support the ASTI in its ballot for industrial action against this measure. I also support anything that takes young workers and new graduates out of low pay and precarious work.

What happens here is that a teacher has to sign a book that is passed around the staffroom stating what union they are a member of. If they are a member of the ASTI, they do not get the increase while if they are a member of the TUI, they get the increase. I ask people in the TUI not to go along with this kind of division.

In respect of the first part of the question relating to newly qualified teachers, while I welcome what happened a few weeks ago, does the Minister acknowledge that it is only a start and that more must be done to equalise pay? Is the Minister prepared to be a champion for teachers, particularly young and newly qualified teachers, in this regard?

The Lansdowne Road agreement has the support of over 90% of people who work in the public service. It allows progress to be made on the genuine right of people to see a restoration of their pay. However, it allows this to be done within a framework where we can also address the pressing needs in homelessness, housing, health, education and many other spheres, and we have to balance the amount of money being assigned to different tasks. If the entire FEMPI allowance were restored, a figure I read in the newspapers stated that it would require €2.3 billion. That would be more than we have available either in this budget or the following one, so there must be a balance in this approach. This is what the Lansdowne Road agreement has done.

Contrary to some people's views, it has succeeded in addressing issues such as newly qualified teachers and the qualification allowance. Many thought that this would not be possible but it has succeeded and that was through the persistence of my officials, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and mine in making this work for people who are willing to work the agreement. If unions decide that they are going to remain outside an agreement and are going to renege on commitments that are part of it, they cannot expect the benefits to come through. This is an approach that demonstrates the benefit of negotiation, and that is what is on offer here.

Capitation Grants

Thomas Pringle


29. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will increase the capitation rate for children in primary education in the upcoming budget in order that parents and communities will not have to fund-raise constantly to provide an education for their children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28378/16]

This question is whether the Minister plans to secure an increase in the capitation rate for primary schools to ensure parents do not have to fund-raise constantly to support schools to ensure that heating and electricity bills are paid.

I recognise the need to improve capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools having regard to the reductions that were necessary over recent years. The previous budget resulted in the first increase in education spending in recent years. I am determined to continue pressing the case for increased investment in education in the forthcoming budget.

The Government has just launched the first action plan for education aimed at making the Irish education and training service the best in Europe by 2026. The plan outlines hundreds of actions to be implemented over the three-year period from 2016 to 2019.  One of the actions as part of the plan is to strengthen the focus on reducing school costs for parents. The plan also integrates with the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to increase capitation funding and to set out capitation rates to schools on a rolling three-year basis allowing for forward planning by schools.

There are limited funds available in budget 2017 to meet a wide range of needs. Discussions are ongoing on how best to deliver on our various priorities and commitments as part of our drive to deliver the best education service in Europe within these constraints. Details of the 2017 Estimates will be announced on budget day.

I am afraid I must disagree with the Minister when he says that the reductions in capitation grants were necessary over recent years. There is a hell of a long way to go in terms of the Government's so-called ambition to make the Irish education system the best in Europe, and it will need to do a lot more than hundreds of actions and tick boxes to make sure it delivers that. The reality is that the capitation grant for primary schools works out at something like 92 cent per student per day, which is not nearly enough.

There was talk earlier about pay restoration, but the Government could do a lot for families if it ensured they do not have to fund-raise for schools. Increasing the capitation rates would have the effect of giving all families a pay rise as well because they would not have to put their hard-earned money into supporting schools to pay electricity bills and heating costs. I have seen figures whereby the Government could provide completely free primary education for €103 million per year. Surely that would be a good step along the road to making our education system the best in Europe.

I do not agree with the Deputy. There are remarkable strengths in our education system. We attract some of the most talented people into teaching. Our performance in reading and mathematics is very strong, perhaps not so in science. We have one of the lowest school dropout rates and one of the highest third level participation rates in Europe, so we have a good education system. Of course, we need to do more to make sure it is better and the best in Europe.

We would like to be in a position to increase the capitation grant, which is currently €170, and the ancillary grant, which is currently €153 per pupil. However, it comes at a time when €600 million across all Departments is available in the budget for discretionary spend, which puts a constraint on our ambitions. I assure the Deputy that bearing in mind the views of other Deputies who have placed emphasis on the need for postgraduate education, counselling in our education system or investment in school buildings, I seek to balance all those calls in a fair way. Another factor is the need to restore qualification allowances for newly qualified teachers. All those elements are competing for resources in the budget and I will try to be as fair as possible in allocating them.

School Accommodation Provision

Thomas Byrne


30. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for further second level provision in County Meath, including language diversity and general provision for the parts of County Meath in which pupils currently predominantly attend secondary school in Drogheda. [28285/16]

This question concerns an area of expanding population in east Meath that consists of Laytown, Bettystown, the outskirts of Drogheda, Duleek, Donore and surrounding areas. Traditionally, many people in those areas have gone to secondary school in Drogheda. There are a huge number of primary schools in that area with very large primary schools either having been built, being built or remaining to be built. I am wondering about secondary school provision. There have been calls for a secondary school in Duleek and possibly another one on the outskirts of Drogheda. What provision has the Department made in respect of that?

In identifying the requirement for new school provision and for additional school places, my Department uses a geographical information system to identify the areas under increased demographic pressure nationwide. The system uses data from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Department of Social Protection and information from my Department's own databases. With this information, my Department carries out nationwide demographic analyses to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and at post-primary level.

Following the 2015 demographic analysis, 13 new schools will open in 2017 and 2018 to cater for increased demographic need nationwide. Regarding the school planning areas in County Meath, my Department's demographic analysis shows these areas are experiencing demographic growth, however, the level of growth and the rate of year-on-year increase are not to an extent that would warrant the provision of additional new schools. My Department is keeping these school planning areas under review to take account of updated child benefit data, enrolment data and the impact of capacity increases in these and adjacent school planning areas. When it is decided that a new school is required to meet demographic need, a separate process is undertaken, as the Deputy knows, to determine patronage. Regarding the specific issues the Deputy raised about pupils who predominantly attend secondary school in Drogheda, a Gaelcholaiste, Coláiste Ghlór na Mara, was opened in Balbriggan in 2014 to provide Irish medium post-primary places for north Dublin, east Meath and south Louth areas, including Drogheda.

Coláiste Ghlór na Mara is a school to which my children might go, given that they are in a Gaelscoil that feeds into it. However, it is in north County Dublin and I would probably prefer children to have an option locally. The Department got away lightly, given that Gormanston College went into the free education scheme. If it had not happened, the Department would have faced a major crisis. This was in an area in which the Department said provision was not needed. I also ask the Minister to look separately at Ashbourne. There is a serious problem there and the Department is getting the numbers wrong. They were wrong this year at primary level. Houses are being built, and people who move into the town may have difficulties regarding second level provision.

The Minister cannot accept everything the Department says. It is good to question it. It was shown that the Department got it wrong in Ashbourne this year and I am not convinced that future planning around the east Meath area is up to scratch. Duleek should be examined regarding second level education, given the range of schools and the changing demographics. It is a significantly expanding area. I am not sure the current systems are working and are fit for purpose.

I bow to the Deputy's greater knowledge and I have requested that officials meet the Deputy to discuss some of the issues, given that he has a concern. The six-year investment programme includes 31 projects for Meath which have been committed to. In Ashbourne, my Department is building a 1,000 pupil school to cater for the long-term needs of Coláiste De Lacy, which opened in temporary accommodation in 2014. Phase 1 of the permanent school is under construction and is expected to be completed shortly. Given the pressure of population growth, proof of population need has been a key criterion for prioritising projects. If a pattern emerges of people crossing county boundaries to attend another school, the pattern is factored into the planning process although, maybe, from an objective perspective one might say it might not be the preferred way. I will ask officials to meet with the Deputy. He has raised these concerns at committee and elsewhere and the Deputy needs reassurance.

The primary schools in Drogheda are massive. There has been no new second level provision on the south side of Drogheda. The primary schools in east Meath are massive and are doing a great job. There are some great buildings and some are still on the list. However, there has been no extra second level school in the area, apart from Laytown, which is six years old. Balbriggan is not an answer to the east Meath issue, and I worry increasingly about Drogheda and the numbers there. Sacred Heart Secondary School in Drogheda takes pupils from south Louth and east Meath and should be considered very carefully for extra provision. The school needs it, given that it has not had much work done ever and it does a great job, as does St. Mary's Diocesan School. I urge the Minister to examine it. I keep raising it because a mistake was made on the primary side. The Department was off the ball and off its game this year in Ashbourne, and this worries me regarding the future.

I just have the list. I am not in a position to give the Deputy a comprehensive answer. On the programme there is an extension to the post-primary school in Gormanstown, an extension to Ashbourne Community School and a five-year plan for Coláiste De Lacy with the first phase due to be completed this year. A number of projects are listed. I acknowledge the Deputy's concern and, hopefully, we can offer some reassurance.

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board

Clare Daly


31. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide an update on the terms of reference for the review of services by Caranua; and when he expects that review to conclude. [28181/16]

I have two related questions and we may not have time for the second one. They relate to the operation of the Caranua scheme. The first question deals with the terms of reference of the review. The legislation which gave rise to the scheme provided that it would be reviewed after two years. Deputy Bruton is the third Minister to have this brief and it has not yet been reviewed. When I asked the Minister in June, he told me the terms of reference would be set in July and that the review would take place in the autumn. We are almost at the end of autumn and none of the groups has been consulted. I am seeking an update on it.

I am told the terms of reference and arrangements for review are being considered, and I am hopeful they will be finalised shortly. The review will be confined to the issue of eligibility and will have regard to the level of uptake of the funding available to Caranua. Over €50 million of the €110 million earmarked for the organisation has already been expended in the provision of supports to eligible former residents. I intend that the review will have regard to the views of all interested parties and I expect the draft terms of reference will be published and submissions invited from the public.

I look forward to seeing them. The Minister said it would deal with eligibility. It is open only to people who originally received an award under the State redress scheme. Is the Minister saying the Government is seeking to expand the number of people who could potentially avail of it? In our contact with people, the criterion by which people can access services is critically important, as is the way in which people are consulted with. We are dealing with incredibly vulnerable people who were abused at the hands of the State, and the manner in which many of them feel their cases are being addressed by Caranua is almost akin to a re-abuse of them. They feel they are not being listened to or updated on their claims, and they are being kept in the dark and treated poorly. Regarding the customer service charter operated by Caranua and the lofty aspirations about treating people courteously, listening to them and giving timely information, none of those has been the direct experience of survivors. Will this also be part of the review?

I understand Caranua endeavours to ensure the greatest support to the residents involved and to deal with people in a fair and equitable way. The review will examine issues such as the extent of improved services to those who have made applications, the way in which it is been promoted to eligible people and the potential changes to eligibility to include other groups or categories of assistance. The review will examine the operation and, hopefully, ensure the money available is used to best effect for the clients involved.

It has been severely delayed. The review is years overdue. The Minister told me he thought the terms of reference would be available in July. Can we take it with absolute certainty that the terms of reference will be published, for example, by the end of the month? What is the likely timeframe for the review? This will not work unless there is full consultation. What process will be embarked on to ensure the information gets out there and that the service users who have interfaced with Caranua know their input can come in? They are the best people to say whether the scheme is working, given that they have had the direct experience. If we block out their knowledge, we are on a severely rocky road.

The full amount has not been handed over by the residential institutions. There were reports in the newspapers earlier in the week about the shortfall of hundreds of millions of euro in the State redress scheme. Some €25 million has yet to be put into this scheme. The idea of capping the amount to people is reprehensible.

Who will decide? To whom will the terms of reference revert?

They will come to me for approval. The reason for the delay is that this was to happen two years after the operation began. As the Deputy acknowledged, applications did not begin being accepted until 6 January 2014, so the startup delayed the review date. The purpose is to open the process to those who want to make their views known based on their own experiences. That purpose will form part of the terms of reference.

Child Abuse Prevention

Carol Nolan


32. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education and Skills his Department's implementation in relation to the O'Keeffe ruling. [28334/16]

Will the Minister outline his Department's implementation of the O'Keeffe judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, in respect of child sex abuse?

The ECHR judgment in the case of Ms Louise O'Keeffe delivered on 28 January 2014 determined that there had been a violation by Ireland of certain articles of the convention and awarded the applicant €30,000 in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and €85,000 in costs and expenses.

The Government agreed in December 2014 that out-of-court settlements be offered in those extant cases of school child sexual abuse being brought against the State where the cases came within the terms of the ECHR judgment and satisfied the Statute of Limitations. In this regard, the State Claims Agency, SCA, which manages such cases on behalf of the State, has made settlement offers, which have been accepted in six cases. In July 2015, the Government approved proposals to offer ex gratia payments up to a maximum of €84,000 to those who initiated legal proceedings in such cases against the State but who subsequently discontinued their claims against the State where, similarly, the circumstances of the claims came within the terms of the ECHR judgment and where the claims were not statute barred prior to the proceedings being discontinued.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Persons who believe that their cases come within the criteria can contact the SCA and provide supporting evidence. Where there is a disagreement between the SCA and the individual as to whether their circumstances come within the terms of the ECHR judgment, provision will be made for the application to be reviewed by an independent assessor.

As a result of the ECHR's judgment in January 2014, the Government provides bi-annual action plans or updates to the Council of Europe on developments. The fifth such action plan was lodged in July this year. These reports include the progress by the State in reviewing and, where necessary, updating child protection procedures in our school system to ensure that this generation of children have the benefit of the best child protection measures. The action plans also provide details of ex gratia payments made to people who suffered abuse in the Irish school system in previous decades and who come within the terms of the O'Keeffe ruling.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.