Priority Questions

We congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, on her appointment to the Department of Education and Skills.

European Court of Human Rights Judgments

Thomas Byrne


1. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will discuss the execution of the European Court of Human Rights judgement in a case (details supplied); and if he will address concerns that the planned redress for survivors of child sexual abuse that took place in national schools is mean spirited and against the spirit of this judgment. [31910/17]

This question relates to the sorry legacy of sexual abuse in our schools and the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to that on a limited number of cases, and the implementation by the State of that judgment, which is proving deeply unsatisfactory and is leaving many former pupils who were sexually abused without any form of redress. It is creating significant difficulties and the State is not only failing to comply with obligations under the European Court of Human Rights, but it is failing to show common decency to some of the individuals involved in this case. I look forward to the Minister's response.

I thank Deputy Byrne for raising this issue.

The legacy of sexual abuse against children and young people, whether in residential institutions, in day schools, or in any other setting, is appalling. It is impossible to even imagine what some of these people have gone through. It has been a major project of this Government and those before it to deal compassionately, humanely and fairly with the victims and survivors of abuse. It is obviously important to distinguish between those cases where the State has some fault or liability as a result of its failures in the past to intervene to protect children and those cases where it does not. We must be bound by the judgments of the courts in this respect.

The European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of 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 will be offered in those extant cases of school child sexual abuse being brought against the State where the cases come within the terms of the judgment and satisfy the Statute of Limitations. In this regard, the State Claims Agency, 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 come within the terms of the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment and where the claims were not statute barred prior to the proceedings being discontinued. In addition, where other plaintiffs institute claims against the State in relation to historic school child sexual abuse which are not statute barred and their circumstances come within the terms of the court’s judgment, the State Claims Agency is authorised to make settlement offers in those cases.

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

I am aware of the view that the State's interpretation of the judgment is overly narrow, because of the requirement of a prior complaint of sexual abuse. I do not accept this. It is the State’s view, based on advice from the Attorney General, that the court’s judgment, in assessing whether there was a breach of Article 3, took into consideration the failure to act on the prior complaint of sexual abuse and that our interpretation of the judgment is a reasonable interpretation.

There has been consistent legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General, State Claims Agency, solicitors to the State Claims Agency and senior counsel to the effect that the approach being taken by the State is legally sound and our interpretation is consistent with the circumstances of the Louise O’Keeffe ruling.

The Minister has tried to pre-empt what I was going to say, which is fair enough, because as I said to him when we met privately, there is a narrow interpretation of the Louise O'Keeffe case. The Louise O'Keeffe case is about the State's failures in general in the education system with regard to inspection, supervision and child protection. There was a prior complaint in that particular case. I do not think it is reasonable in any way to say that for everybody else there must be a prior complaint exactly as it was in the Louise O'Keeffe case. It is completely unreasonable. There are people who have been abused by people who have been subsequently convicted. There is no doubt about these people's cases. These are not the floodgates opening. These are people who have had abusers convicted and cannot get redress from the State. What is happening to these people is that they are being forced through the courts by the Department - I would say in a wholly cruel way - where eventually, if they have the resources, willpower and physical and mental ability, some will end up in the European Court of Human Rights again, and the State will lose again in my view. A clear reading of that judgment puts a much wider obligation on the State. Nobody is looking for floodgates to open or to create a bonanza for anybody, but merely to get justice for those people who were abused in schools and let down by failures of the State and the Irish Government.

I understand what the Deputy is saying, but the advice I receive is consistent. Where the liability of the State fell clearly on the State, that occurred in residential institutions, where the State was responsible for overseeing these institutions. As the Deputy knows, the liability, which was met by the State, came to €1.5 billion and continues to grow. We have sought, to some degree unsuccessfully, contributions from the religious orders in that respect. My understanding is what the Attorney General and others have said is that the reason, in the Louise O'Keeffe case, that liability fell on the State was that there was advance knowledge about this person. There had been prior complaints against the individual. That is what created the liability for the State. The State should have been in the position when there was such a complaint to provide protection. That is why a claim was successfully achieved against it, and that is the principle that is being applied in these other cases. If the State was not aware or there was no prior knowledge of this complaint, the establishment of liability on the State for sexual abuse in primary schools - which is what we are talking about and which is a very substantial number of children over many years - is not established, so I cannot make decisions that would potentially expose the State to very substantial sums of money, as the Deputy suggests.

The Minister takes a different view on the Louise O'Keeffe case, but the view that I have expressed is shared by academics as well. In fact, my view is influenced by those academics and the authority they have. In some of these cases, there could not have been a prior complaint because some of the disgusting teachers who did this were straight out of college. In some cases, in some of the orders, they probably did not go to college. They went straight into schools to start abusing, so there could not have been a prior complaint. It simply was not possible. The reading of the Louise O'Keeffe judgment narrows that down and rules those people out completely, and in fact rules in some other students who were abused subsequently. There needs to be a fresh look at this legally. I urge the Minister to consult not only the Government's legal advisers, but to look at the academic material that exists and research that is being done. It is very serious stuff. I am not in any way being political about it. I am being passionate here because I feel that right is on the side of the case that I am making, and the over legalistic approach does not serve the State well and I do not think it serves politics well.

I can absolutely understand the concern that the Deputy has for people who were abused in this way. We have, as a State, a responsibility to support them in their difficulties. That has to be done through health services and through all the other services. The issue that the Deputy is raising is whether the State becomes responsible for what occurred in these schools and, therefore, liable to pay damages. The advice coming from the Attorney General is that what the Louise O'Keeffe case established was that the State could be considered liable where there was such information available in advance and the State had failed to intervene. Where there was no such information available in advance, the State was not in a position to take precautions and therefore the judgment is that it was not liable. That is the interpretation. Of course lawyers will differ, but I have to rely on the Attorney General, the State Claims Agency, and solicitors to the State Claims Agency. These are the people who have to advise. One cannot avoid the fact that once one starts moving the posts and admits other circumstances, moving away from the ruling, there is no end and no principle that one can apply. That is the difficulty. One potentially opens the State to huge claims.

School Accommodation Provision

Carol Nolan


2. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason a school (details supplied) has been allocated a new classroom teacher but has not been given approval for additional classroom accommodation to provide for increased numbers. [31914/17]

I ask the Minister the reason a school, Scoil Náisiúnta Naomh Eoin, in Rath Birr in County Offaly, which had been allocated a new classroom teacher, has not been given approval for additional classroom accommodation to provide for the increased numbers in the school. I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister on this issue and would like to ask him why this school has not got that.

The delivery of school projects so that all schools in an area can, between them, cater for all students seeking a school place is the main focus of my Department’s capital budget.

To this end, my Department uses a geographical information system to identify the school planning areas under increased demographic pressure nationwide.

The area in which the school, referred to by the Deputy, is located has not been identified as an area of demographic growth. The Department considers that there are sufficient primary school places in the school planning area to meet pupil demand and in that context, the application for additional accommodation was not approved.

While my Department will keep the enrolment position in the planning area under review, it is important that school size is monitored and that a balance is preserved among all schools in school planning areas to ensure that one school is not expanding at the expense of another school.

In that context, my Department has suggested to the school that it use its available accommodation to meet immediate accommodation requirements.

I thank the Minister for his response but I am disappointed with it.

The board of management of this school submitted an application to the capital appraisal section of the Department of Education and Skills for additional accommodation because it is a growing school. The Minister mentioned increasing numbers. There are certainly increasing numbers in this school and the fact that it had been allocated another teacher proves this. I do not buy in to that excuse.

The school received a letter from the capital appraisal section in the Department on 24 April advising that its application for additional accommodation has been refused due to funding. The Department also advised that the school use the multi-purpose room as a classroom. This multi-purpose room is totally unsuitable. It does not have toilet facilities and the room currently is used as a multi-sensory room for children with special needs. The Minister is making announcements about special needs and how things are improving in that end, but how can this school possibly take this room from those children? It does not make sense. The children with special needs use this room and it is unfair not to meet their needs by giving this room.

I hope the Minister will revisit this issue. If he wishes to visit the school at any time, I am sure it would be delighted. I ask the Minister to look at it. It makes no sense that one section of his Department sanctioned the teaching post and another section then refused to give the classroom for it. Are we going back to hedge schools? What is happening? It does not make sense.

The difficulty for the planning department is that while this school is growing, there are several other schools in the neighbourhood which are declining and which have available spaces. That is where the dilemma occurs.

When the Department is confined to a budget where we build 20,000 additional places every year, we have to apply a rule. These rules apply in all of the 314 planning areas where they look at whether there is a need for places across the catchment. Where one school is popular and others are not so popular, one school is expanding and others are declining, unfortunately, the Department has to be able to manage the increased demand. It cannot continually see, if you like, the popular schools grow and new spaces provided while a school down the street is emptying out. That is the dilemma that the Department faces in decisions like this.

Of course, as I stated in my reply, we will keep the enrolment position in the catchment under review. I can understand the Deputy's concern and I will ask officials to ensure that children are properly catered for. They have reviewed this case. They believe, based on the facilities available, that the school can manage within this. They apply the same rules in every catchment. That is the difficulty that occurs in these cases.

I thank the Minister for his response.

I am deeply concerned. If this room is used, it will put the children with special needs out into an overcrowded classroom. They will not get the same attention. They will not get the same level of teaching. As the Minister will be aware, those children require extra teaching, often in a very quiet environment so that they can learn. This now means that they do not have facilities. They do not have a classroom now because of this decision.

I understand the Minister is keeping it under review but more than a review needs to be done here. If the Minister needs to see it for himself, I encourage him to do so.

The Department has listed the accommodation - I am sure this has been discussed with the school in detail - four mainstream classrooms, one general purpose room, two resource rooms, a staff room, office area, storage etc. The Department has to assess the school's need when it reaches the threshold for an additional teacher as a result of its enrolment. It has to weigh the accommodation with the pupils and weigh the fact that other schools are in decline and that there is no need for additional space in the planning area. That is the difficulty. If there was need for the additional space, of course we would be saying it is a growing school and we should be applying additional space, but when there is no growth in pupil numbers across the catchment, these are the rules it has to apply to manage the capital resources to ensure that in every area there are enough places for all the children who will turn up in September. It is a constant balancing act and it has to apply these catchment rules to be equitable to all children.

I appreciate the concern and I will ask the Department to have a look at it. It is trying to apply in an equitable fashion the rules that it applies in every area. Where there are oversubscribed schools, we run into this problem frequently, where a school will be very popular and is saying it needs more facilities but other schools have available space. That is the dilemma.

Ministerial Responsibilities

Thomas Byrne


3. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will discuss the new delegation of ministerial responsibility within his Department to the Ministers of State; and the way in which it is proposed that this will work. [31911/17]

This question relates to the role of the Ministers of State within the Department, particularly in light of the appointment of the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, whom I wish well in her job. There are a lot of questions about what everyone does in the Department. There have not been any delegation orders made. There is confusion about what exactly the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, will be doing. I also want to raise briefly the question of the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, having responsibility for school buses which, in my view, jars with the rest of his responsibilities. Someone, maybe from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, should be put into the Department of Education and Skills as well to deal with that issue.

First, the Taoiseach makes the decisions about the allocation, not I.

I am pleased to have the support of two excellent Ministers of State in the Department. As the Deputy will be aware, the allocation of responsibilities is: the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, will be handling higher education; and the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, will continue to handle training, skills, innovation, research and development and, as the Deputy states, school transport.

The relevant delegation orders are in the course of being prepared but the areas of allocation are clear. Under higher education, there is student support, the Technological Universities Bill 2015, the action plan for access to higher education, internationalisation of higher education and quality in higher education. I refer to the whole higher education remit. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, has the area of skills, further education and training, adult education, the research area, school transport, ICT skills etc. As always is the case, I retain an overseeing policy direction role. I am keen to ensure that as we develop new opportunities for young people, we see these two sectors grow in harness and together.

This as an appropriate decision by the Taoiseach because we see the need for growing investment in higher education. The Deputy has often pointed out that there is need for additional investment. At the same time, we need to see the balanced expansion of apprenticeships, traineeships and opportunities that, in my view and in the view of the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, have been neglected over the years, and we are trying to ensure that those evolve. These appointments are appropriate to that challenge.

I welcome the answer. If the announcement is that the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, will have delegated responsibility for the area that she has been given, I am delighted with that. If higher education has that completely separate voice at Cabinet, that is important. I think Deputy Mitchell O'Connor was treated pretty badly and if this is the job that is envisaged, that is a different story altogether. It is an important role, but one that we would expect a Minister sitting at the Cabinet to have full delegated responsibilities for, and that she would be the one answering questions on third level. As a senior academic said to me yesterday, and Dr. Kissinger said of Europe, "Who do we talk to?"

Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

I am delighted to hear it. I welcome this appointment. That has not been clear.

I believe delegation orders were before the Cabinet this week in respect of other Departments. They have not cropped up in this case. I believe the way the Cabinet reshuffle was dealt with has created uncertainty. While the issue of the salary is not a matter for the Minister, I believe it is discriminatory that the senior person - who happens to be a woman - is not getting the allowance and that the allowance is being given to two men who are actually junior to her in the Cabinet order of precedence.

I am pleased Deputy Byrne is supportive of the new team and the work we will be doing in this Department. I believe the two briefs are important. I have a strong belief that we have neglected apprenticeships and traineeships and the associated skills. We are seeing new opportunities regionally and nationally to strengthen the skills offering. That is why we have regional skills councils. Equally, higher education is going to be central to regional development and to innovation as part of the agenda. Deputy Byrne will be pleased to see that we will be working as an effective team to try to respond to the challenges, which are considerable in this brief.

I welcome what has been said today. I hope this brings an end to it. We will be keenly looking out for the delegation orders as, I imagine, will the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, and she will be right to do so. Certainly, we support that.

I appeal to the Minister to consider the position of the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan. He has an important role in research in the other Department but I am referring to skills and training. I am concerned at the idea that he has to deal with school transport as well. That is going to take up a good deal of his time over the summer, in particular. In fairness, the Minister of State deals with representations and he cannot change the rules unless he gets a budget or whatever. He will spend a great deal of time dealing with that. Is there someone else who could do that? It is an important job. It is a live issue in rural Ireland and, finally, it has become live in the Fine Gael Party too, or so we read in the media. Someone else who could put a little more time into that should be appointed to allow the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, to focus on his important responsibilities.

The allocation of areas of responsibility in the different Departments is a prerogative of the Taoiseach. We, as a team, manage the responsibilities that we have, and these include school transport. We are providing in our delegation orders for the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, to continue to deal with that area. It is an important area with an allocation of €175 million. I believe the Minister of State has proven rather adept in dealing with this issue, which is a tricky one.

School Accommodation Provision

Joan Burton


4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the delays experienced in commencing the construction of the permanent buildings of a school (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the fact the 2017-18 first class needs to be accommodated off campus at a site in Broombridge; if his attention has been drawn to the concerns parents have regarding the part of the school to be relocated off site and fears that the school will not remain on its existing campus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31913/17]

The question deals with the issue of the Educate Together school that opened in Pelletstown in September 2015. It appears that children will now have to be bussed to and from the school. The suggestion that is worrying some of the parents is that some of the lessons are going to be on a bus. The Department has had plenty of notice about this school, which is serving 2,000 apartments and houses in a lovely area of Dublin called Pelletstown. The Department seems to have lost all sense of activity and urgency in facilitating this essential new school for the community.

I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department has been liaising with the patron body of the school referred to by the Deputy with regard to additional accommodation required for September 2017.

As the Deputy may be aware, this is a developing school located in rented temporary accommodation in Rathborne, Dublin 15, which will require two additional classrooms for September 2017. Work is ongoing to provide additional prefab accommodation at this location as soon as possible.

In the interim, a number of options were explored with the patron body of the school. Following a board of management meeting in May 2017 the preferred option of the school, supported by the patron body, was to temporarily accommodate two of the classes in the nearby Broombridge Educate Together national school, Bannow Road, Dublin 7, which is in the Department’s ownership, as a short-term arrangement, pending delivery of the additional prefabricated accommodation. Broombridge Educate Together national school is a new 16-classroom school that opened in its permanent accommodation only last year, with most of its purpose-built rooms available for use.

Once the prefabs are installed, the classes temporarily located in Broombridge Educate Together national school will move back to the existing rented accommodation in Rathborne, Dublin 15.

I wish to clarify for the Deputy that the current site of the school in Rathborne is a temporary site. A suitable permanent site for the school's permanent accommodation has been identified. Discussions are ongoing with the landowner with a view to acquiring this site. Following this, the project for the new school building can progress into architectural planning.

I imagine the Minister is familiar with Pelletstown. It is just behind Ashtown. It is on the railway line. Is the Minister seriously saying to parents that this is the best he can offer? This is a 2,000 home development. They are mostly apartments but there is housing too and more housing is being built. The community has been building for ten years and the school has been open for almost three years. It is somewhat unbelievable that the Minister is unable to move to have the prefabs built on the marketing suite site by the end of September. Can the Minister give us a date for when the prefabs will be on-site?

The Minister made a somewhat ambiguous comment on the second issue. Let us be clear about it. I invite the Minister to visit the site. The parents and community want the permanent school to be built on this site. I understand the site is owned by the same landowners who own the other proposed site. Perhaps the Minister can confirm this. I have visited the other site but in my view it has many deficiencies.

This is a primary school. It is important for the new community to send out a message that it is their lovely primary school on a nice site. By the way, the school has already been in fairly unsatisfactory temporary accommodation. The school got into the marketing suite site. Can the Minister please explain to me why his Department will not now seek to acquire the marketing suite site and make it the permanent site for this school? The school is going to help to define and build a great community of people.

I will outline the position in respect of prefab accommodation in the Rathborne site. It is anticipated that the temporary accommodation at the Rathborne site should be available prior to the end of the first term of the coming school year. However, it is not possible at this point to give a definite completion date. As the Deputy will be aware, standard timeframes are involved in the planning process. The project is a high priority for my Department and we will endeavour to have the temporary accommodation in place as soon as it is feasible to do so.

Unfortunately, the site acquisition process has taken some time to date. A number of complex technical issues arose in the process. These required detailed consultation with the relevant stakeholders. These issues have since been resolved and the acquisition is now at conveyancing stage. It is not possible at this point to give a timeframe for the completion of the acquisition, as legal complexities can arise during this stage. However, all parties are working towards completion of the acquisition at the earliest possible date.

The Minister seems to be washing his hands of any concern for the parents and children involved. A 2,000 unit development is, by any standards, a large development. A school represents cornerstone infrastructure. The site for the school is now the marketing suite. This requires the Minister to have an open mind to enable him to do the best for children and parents.

We can go on and on about regulations and so on. The prefabs might not be in until the end of the first term. The children will be going on their Christmas holidays when the two prefabs arrive. That is simply not adequate. The Minister's predecessors were able to address these matters far faster. I believe the Minister can do the same and I imagine he would be willing to do the same, but he needs to do some work on it.

The Minister knows the area. The school is in a prominent site that will link into the local district development centre. That would provide a key building in terms of community infrastructure.

The population in Pelletstown is extraordinarily diverse. There are people from all over Ireland, all over Dublin and from the rest of the world. Can the Minister not see it? Does he not have the vision as a politician to see that, as the Minister for Education and Skills, he has an opportunity to make a mark that will provide a basis for this community to flourish and prosper?

As I indicated in my earlier reply, the site acquisition process is at conveyancing stage, following detailed consultation with the relevant stakeholders in the community. The Deputy is suggesting now that a different site be acquired.

No, I was speaking about the current site.

What the Deputy suggests would result in further delay. The pretext on which Deputy raised the question was her concern, and rightly so, about unnecessary delays. On the installation of temporary accommodation, I respect the planning process, as did all of my predecessors. The statutory planning process must be complied with and my Department and I will comply with those obligations.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Thomas Byrne


5. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will discuss the lack of notice given to schools of SNA allocations for the coming year; and if he will address concerns that SNAs do not know whether they will be in employment in 2018 in view of the fact that the 2016 to 2017 school year has now ended. [31912/17]

This question relates to the allocation of SNAs, which, for some reason, was inordinately delayed this year and took the good out of the announcement the Minister made yesterday. Owing to the failure of the Department to make this announcement a month ago, schools were left in confusion, SNAs suffered deep insecurity about their jobs and parents were left extremely worried for their children. I note what the Taoiseach said about changing the system for not next year and that any change made now would be too late in terms of the forthcoming school year, but I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say on this matter.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am glad that I was in a position this week to announce that 975 additional SNAs will be made available for allocation to schools from September 2017. Schools have been informed of this, following on from a Government decision this week on the matter.

This represents an increase of 7.5% in the number of SNAs for this year and a 32% increase over the years since 2011 in the allocation of SNAs. The method of allocation followed this year, which provides for the allocations to be made in late June-early July, is the same method that has been followed for the past six years. The Deputy is correct that this is not satisfactory. It was done in this way because there was no satisfactory forecasting model for identifying at Estimates time the level of necessary provision. This allocation requires Government decision each year after the NCSE has done an assessment, which creates an additional bureaucratic obstacle in making these decisions. We intend, for the coming year, to make these decisions at Estimates time.

The NCSE has been working on a more reliable forecasting model which is now proving itself in terms of the reliability of the data for this year. The NCSE is undertaking a comprehensive assessment of this model, as the Deputy knows. We are keen to improve the SNA model. We have had consultations and people have indicated that they believe improvements can be made to the way in which the SNA service is delivered and other needs of children are met. The Deputy will be aware of the commitment in the programme for Government that speech and language should be delivered in-school to make it easier for children to access it.

None of what the Minister said explains why this year the process took a month or more longer than it did last year. As far as I am aware, this is the first time this decision was made during the summer, after schools had closed. People with children with special needs, SNAs and schools have been done a disservice and there has been no explanation given for why the process took so long. The system which has operated for the last number of years, which may be imperfect but nevertheless operates, has been blamed. Why did the system fail so spectacularly this year? I accept that there is a lot of manual work involved in determining need without a forecasting model but what was the reason for the late announcement of the allocations?

Given what happened, does the Minister believe that he and the Department owe the children, the SNAs and the schools an apology for the stress caused to them this week in terms of the delay in the making of this announcement?

The announcement this year was earlier than the announcement in 2015 and only a few days off from the announcement made in 2016. A regular feature of this process is that it has to go through a whole of Government process of approval. Approximately €30 million is being committed to in the coming year and so not surprisingly agreement on that has to be processed through Government.

We have done the work to be in a position to discontinue the practice that has applied for the past six years, which has been unsatisfactory as the Deputy rightly pointed out. Work is under way for the forthcoming year and for the Estimates process to deal with it in a more satisfactory way.

If the Minister is not prepared to give an apology will he at least give a guarantee that this will not happen next year and that the system will be sorted by then? The €30 million to which the Minister referred was allocated in the budget last year and was approved by these Houses at that point, so I am not sure what the rigmarole about it is now if it was already approved.

I made the point earlier that this year we are providing an SNA service for 34,000 additional children, which is 4,000 more than were available two years ago. We are expanding this service. We are providing a very necessary support to allow more children to fulfil their potential in the education system. I set as a major goal that we should seek to be the best in Europe in accommodating children with disadvantage or disability coming to the school system. I am delivering in that area. There has been a 41% increase in resource teachers over the last number of years. This year, I am providing 900 additional resource teachers and over the last two years, 2,000 additional SNAs have been provided. We are putting huge commitment into supporting the children about whom the Deputy expressed concern. I am satisfied that the work the NCSE has done means that we will have a better system for the future.