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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 Nov 2017

Vol. 961 No. 3

Topical Issue Debate

Special Educational Needs

Last Monday night Deputies John Brassil, Michael Healy-Rae and I met with the parents of the Nano Nagle school in Listowel. They articulated in a very painful way what they are encountering regarding their loved ones, both in terms of the adult services and the lack of respite services in their area. The reality is that, on occasion, an after-service is not available for some months after their children leave school, which is often due to a lack of trained staff at the facility they have been offered. Staff recruitment can take many months so young adults have to stay at home until recruitment is complete. This current process needs to be reviewed. The timescale to find a facility for these young adults is very short and there is rarely any transition time for them to get used to the new day services.

The way it has worked in the past is that, in September, school leavers are identified for the coming year and support services carry out an assessment and report to the adult day services. This should be completed by December in order to have the services available by May. We have been told by both the services that were available, as well as the Nano Nagle school, that the school-level referral process starts too late. They recommend that the students need to know where they are going after Nano Nagle at least two years ahead of time. There is also a problem with funding in that additional funding may be needed. I will continue the point in my supplementary contribution.

To follow on from Deputy Ferris's contribution, I will not be repetitive because there is a very straightforward ask. To commence the process in September for completion the following June does not give enough time and it needs to commence 12 months earlier. If that happened, one would get the assessments done, get the funding in place and get the staff in place, which would give some hope of a smooth transition for special needs children coming out of the school environment and going into the adult environment.

Another important issue is the question of the transition itself. It often happens that a child will finish in the Nano Nagle school or any other special needs school and will not know the person who is going to be caring for them in the day services they are going into and will not know where the day services are. There will be no preparation by the school and no opportunity for the school to meet the new carers. The whole thing is operating on a trial and error basis, which is not acceptable for the most vulnerable in our society.

I ask the Minister of State, first, to bring the assessment process back 12 months and, second, to allow for a minimum of a six-month transition for the special needs child, the parents and the carers to get familiar with the new set-up and to make the transition as smooth as possible for what we all know are the most vulnerable people in society, to whom we, as elected Members, have a duty of care.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. I have some knowledge of this service because it is not far from my area. I am based almost as close to the centre as the two Deputies and I know people from my own constituency are using it. I will refer the points made by the Deputies to the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath. I will ask that he meets the Deputies outside the Chamber to try to progress the issue.

I am pleased to outline the position on services for young people with disabilities who need continuing supports from the health services. The Government is committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities which will empower them to live independent lives, provide them with greater independence in accessing the services they choose and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs.

The HSE disability services engage in a detailed and person-centred process with a wide range of agencies every year to identify the most appropriate service provider and quantum of service to meet the individual needs of each school leaver. This process takes place over a number of months and is led by the needs of each individual school leaver. In addition, the HSE disability services also engage with individual school leavers' families to listen to any concerns they may have regarding the process and work with both families and agencies to seek an appropriate placement for the school leaver.

Some 291 applications were submitted to the Cork Kerry community health care disability services under the 2017 school leavers process, including four from Nano Nagle school in Listowel.

A placement was offered to each and every one of these applicants. However, 57 deferred their placement, chose another option or the individuals remained in school for another year.

Notwithstanding that, the Cork and Kerry community health care organisation, CHO, acknowledges that there are some shortcomings in the school leaver process. In order to enhance the process, the CHO has approved the recruitment of two occupational guidance officers. These additional resources will support enhanced delivery of the school leaver process for 2018 and thereafter.

The Minister of State acknowledges that there are still a number of deficits in the school leaver process that are common to all parts of the country. The available funding does not provide for access to multidisciplinary team support and access to transport to and from placements for day service users. Local HSE disability services management, not only in Cork and Kerry, but in other counties as well, continues to work at local and national levels to address these deficits. The HSE will continue to engage with the service users, their families, service providers, national HSE management and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in this regard.

On behalf of the Minister of State, I wish to inform the House that the assessment of needs for each individual school leaver who will require a day service in 2018 has already commenced and a validation exercise will be undertaken by the national office in terms of profiling in the first quarter of 2018. If it would be of any assistance, I could ask my office to engage with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and suggest that he sit down with Deputies Ferris and Brassil, together with the other Oireachtas Members from County Kerry, whom I am sure have an interest in this matter as well, as soon as he is available to discuss the issues that have been raised tonight regarding the Nano Nagle school, which affect north Kerry and a cohort of people in west Limerick.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is essential that his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, meet the Kerry Deputies so that we can bring to his attention the plight of the parents and their special children. We must find a resolution and try to create a situation in which parents can be confident and secure in the knowledge that their adult children will find placements well in advance so that they can prepare and ensure that the best available care is provided.

Besides the parents and the school, those who attended were led to believe that there was a lack of funding for these services. This is something that we will need to raise with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. There also appears to be a lack of cohesion between the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health.

I welcome that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, will try to ensure that a meeting takes place. Hopefully, we will be able to meet next week, given that we intend to report to the parents and Nano Nagle school on progress in our engagement.

I welcome the indication that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, will meet us. Deputy Ferris and I have requested that meeting. I am sure that Deputies Michael Healy-Rae, Danny Healy-Rae and Griffin have as well. After the previous meeting, we committed to the parents to raise this issue in the Dáil - thankfully, it has been taken as a Topical Issue - and to try to arrange a further meeting. Some of the issues are practical ones. For example, if the timeframe was moved back by six, nine or 12 months, there would be scope to make the transition easier.

Funding will always be an issue. More funding is needed, but when one is recruiting staff for a position that has been approved, the days of ringing someone and asking whether he or she is free to do the job are gone. Now, recruitment has to go through the proper channels, including advertisements and interviews. This can take months. The timeframe that we are allowing ourselves is not enough. We need to be practical on that front.

During the upcoming meeting with the Minister of State, we will also raise the issue of respite for parents, a service that is at a low level, and the need for a practice nurse in the school to help administer drugs and feed some of the children who have life-limiting conditions and need percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, PEG, feeding, etc. The school needs a full-time nurse.

I do not disagree with anything the Deputies have said. Every Deputy will have encountered the parents of children who face personal difficulties in life. The disability sector is one of those areas that every Deputy deals with regularly. On a one-to-one basis, many parents privately tell us that a major concern for them is the question of who will look after their children when they are gone. The safety net of this transitional arrangement is available through these services. The HSE acknowledges in the reply that I read out that the services are not ideal and there are deficits. Unfortunately, we do not have as much money for them as we would like. We are trying to perform a loaves and fishes operation. We have made progress in recent years, but we would love to do more.

As Deputies Brassil and Ferris suggested, if logistical and practical elements can be changed on the ground through dialogue without requiring a pile of money or, indeed, any additional money, that can be thrashed out with the Minister of State.

I have some knowledge of this area because I know a great deal of the west Limerick terrain, and the next closest town to Glin, Athea, Mountcollins and Abbeyfeale is Listowel. No less than is the case with other service providers, there is considerable affinity with the work that the Nano Nagle school does in my part of the world.

This is an emotive and sensitive issue. I welcome the fact that the Deputies have raised it in the House in a constructive manner. The Department involved is not mine, so the only commitment that I can make on foot of what they have said is to ask my office at the earliest possible opportunity to arrange for a meeting between them and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, officials from his Department and the relevant people from the Kerry area with a view to determining whether, as Deputy Brassil suggested, a practical approach can be taken.

Tax Avoidance

The recently released Paradise Papers and, before them, the Panama Papers tell a shocking story of the world's wealthiest companies and individuals using secretive offshore tax havens to shelter their wealth from the legitimate tax demands of tax authorities across the world. Ireland's name features in all this, which, like Robin Hood in reverse, seeks to rob the poor, the working class and the middle class to create a tax-free globe for the rich and mighty, both corporate and personal. The newspapers, including The Irish Times and The Guardian in the UK, that have supported the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ, in publishing this information are to be congratulated even if what they have to say is disturbing.

The Paradise Papers and Panama Papers show that these arrangements and structures are the enemy of a flourishing, open democracy. The secrecy that is the core asset and principle of tax havens, as well as their no-tax status, is the greatest threat to countries such as Ireland and other EU member states. It is also probably a critical factor in the creation of a global elite of oligarchs, billionaires, multimillionaires and companies that are outside of normal taxation. This is one of the scandals of our age. Its consequences in terms of undermining the kind of open and flourishing democracy that we all aspire to are frightening.

What is the Minister going to do about this in terms of Ireland's reputation, which risks being shredded, and what actions will he take? When I was a member of the previous Government, the Labour Party in particular sought to include Ireland fully in the OECD process. That stands to us now as we face the difficulties of Brexit. However, I hear a deafening silence from Fine Gael in particular, but also from the Independent Alliance, regarding the scandal of international taxation.

Multimillionaires in Ireland can park their recently-purchased jets for an hour or two in the Isle of Man, thereby cheating the Revenue and Irish taxpayer of the VAT that would be due on such a luxury product, and the Minister has his hands up and open and has nothing to say about it. I realise the Minister of State who is to respond is not personally in charge of this area but all I can say is that we are fooling ourselves.

As the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, we must address this area. We only want people to pay their fair share of taxation. We do not want particularly punitive tax rates. Why are people in ordinary jobs in Ireland, including civil and public servants and those in private businesses, paying quite a lot of tax while other people are flying in on jets or sailing in on yachts, having spent two hours in the Isle of Man? They are not even contributing VAT.

I am taking this issue on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. The Minister is aware of the publication by media outlets of information deriving from the Paradise Papers. The Paradise Papers are not currently publicly available but the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ, has indicated that it intends to release them in the coming weeks.

To the extent that these or any similar papers identify individuals or entities associated with Ireland, Revenue will examine the cases and intervene as appropriate. At an international level, Revenue will also work in close co-operation with other tax administrations within the framework of the OECD’s Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration, in addressing issues raised by the papers and will, as appropriate, share information under existing legal frameworks. The Minister for Finance has confidence that any issues of concern will be investigated by the Revenue Commissioners, as appropriate, as soon as the papers become available. On the media references to the Irish banks, as the Deputy is aware the Minister for Finance has no direct function in strategic or operational decisions made by the banks in which the State is a shareholder. Decisions in this regard are the responsibility of the board and management of each institution, under the supervision of their regulator and equivalent authorities in the jurisdictions relevant to their operations. The Minister must ensure that the bank is run on a commercial and independent basis and in this regard a relationship framework has been specified that defines the nature of the relationship between the Minister for Finance and the bank. As the Deputy is aware, these frameworks can be found on the Department of Finance website.

The Deputy will be aware that AIB has indicated it does not support or facilitate tax evasion and acts in accordance with all relevant tax and data protection laws in any jurisdiction in which it operates. Under the terms of its EU restructuring plan, AIB was tasked with becoming a simpler, smaller and more domestically-focused banking group, to ensure its stability and return to viability. AIB previously had banking operations in many jurisdictions around the world and provided a range of standard banking services to its international customers. As part of the EU restructuring plan commitments, the bank made the decision to dispose of some of these operations, such as its Polish subsidiary, and close others, which included the winding down of their operations in the Isle of Man and Jersey. The bank has confirmed to the Minister for Finance that it was decided to wind down AIB ISL Limited in the Isle of Man and AIB (CI) Limited in Jersey in 2012 and they ceased operations on 31 December 2013. The banking licence of both companies was terminated and the administration of both, which is a legal and regulatory requirement as part of the orderly wind-down of the banking operations, was migrated to and continues to be carried out by two companies, namely, Estera Trust (Isle of Man) Limited and Estera Trust (Jersey) Limited. The bank has also advised the Minister that it fully complied with a series of disclosure orders made by the High Court in Dublin between 2004 and 2012 in favour of the Revenue Commissioners in respect of information held by the bank’s Irish operations as part of Revenue’s offshore products investigation. Bank of Ireland has advised the Minister for Finance that it is its group’s policy to fully comply with all the requirements as set out in tax legislation in the countries in which it operates. The group is also committed to maintaining open and co-operative relationships with the relevant tax authorities in the jurisdictions in which it operates. To this end, the bank has informed the Minister for Finance that the group has signed up to and operates within the co-operative compliance framework with the Revenue Commissioners and the equivalent banking code of practice on taxation with the UK's HM Revenue and Customs. The group closed the last of its retail operations in the Channel Islands in June 2014 following a general business review. Significant action has been taken, in Ireland and internationally, in respect of offshore activity in recent years. Revenue originally launched an investigation into offshore activity in 2003 and has collected more than €1 billion in tax, interest and penalties to date as part of this investigation. Changes were also made in 2016 to the voluntary disclosure tax regime. Since that change, the Minister for Finance is advised by Revenue that the number of disclosures exceeds 2,700, with a value of more than €80 million. As already noted, as soon as any information becomes available it will be closely examined by the Revenue Commissioners.

I do not know that there is anything new in what the Minister of State has said. I would like to know what new demands, if any, the Minister for Finance has made in respect of the banks since the publication of this information. I refer in particular to those banks which were bailed out at a significant and continuing cost to Irish taxpayers. Was any new initiative undertaken as a consequence of the publication? Has any squad been assembled in the Revenue Commissioners or the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, to ensure that what the banks say they are doing has actually been carried out? Will the Minister commit to a full Dáil debate before the Christmas recess on this matter? I appreciate that the Minister may not have all of the data until everything has been published.

We already see too many Irish-based organisations, companies, individuals and so on popping up in the reports which have been released on a daily basis by the Irish media, in particular The Irish Times, as well as by The Guardian in the UK. Is the Department monitoring those reports? Is it examining the status of individuals and transactions which have been identified? Will the Minister commit to continuous reform of the structure of tax inquiry and monitoring in order to catch up with this brave new world of global financial organisation and tax evasion and avoidance? It is happening on a global basis and is outside the reach of almost every country.

I have repeatedly recommended a standing tax commission in Ireland which would enable the Revenue Commissioners to do this on a continuous basis. Can the Minister of State tell us about the yachts and private aircraft, which rest for a couple of hours in the Isle of Man, directly across from Dundalk? Can he tell us what the heck is going on?

The Minister asked that I reiterate that the sooner the ICIJ makes the papers publicly available, the better. Revenue has already spoken to the Minister. As far as I know, the Minister was with the finance committee and said he discussed this matter with the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners. The Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners has assured the Minister that as soon as the papers become publicly available and the revelations which are currently circulating in the media are published, Revenue stands ready to investigate them.

Everybody in the House would agree that the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform will not and has not been found wanting in respect of issues in the past. We do not have evidence that significant issues affecting Revenue will arise but if they do when the papers are published, the Minister has committed to dealing with them. He will not be found wanting on the issue.

As he stated in the reply I have given to the House, the sooner these papers are published and made available the better because it will allow Revenue and other tax authorities around the world, with which we will co-operate, to act. As I stated, it is in Ireland's interests to have as clean a reputation as possible.

We have no interest in having a question mark over our reputation and it is certainly not the way the Revenue Commissioners operate. Deputy Burton was a Minister and knows it is in Ireland's best interest to continue to have an intact and good reputation. This Government and its predecessor have taken any necessary steps in our tax code to ensure our reputation is maintained. I have no doubt the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is prepared to continue that process. I encourage the House to give its co-operation in this respect.

Student Grant Scheme Administration

In recent months I have assisted a family in Dundalk with a Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, application. This family has two children in third level education and they face a dilemma, as both children's SUSI applications, SUSI appeals and appeals to the student grant appeals board have been refused. We have now been told the process has gone as far as we can with SUSI. The family must now come to terms with the fact that their children have to leave college because the family cannot afford the fees and expenses. Unfortunately, the father's business went bust and he has been declared insolvent, with the family entering into a personal insolvency arrangement, PIA. The mother's income, which is the sole income of the household, is now an allowance from her salary, with the remainder going to the PIA to cover debts. The family does not have access to the amount that SUSI has calculated as income and they are working from extremely tight allowances, where every cent is accounted for in the PIA. The husband cannot claim social welfare as he was self-employed.

The response from the student grant appeals board states:

There is no provision under the student grant scheme to provide for any exceptions to those involved in the process of insolvency. The assessment of means is applied equally to everyone. This ensures all applicants have the same starting points and eliminates any distortion which might arise from the different individual spending decisions.

This is very unfair on the family as they are not equal to other applicants and they do not have the same starting points as all other applicants. This family should be assessed on the allowance only, as it is the only money they have. If that were the case, the family would qualify for the full SUSI grant.

It is also unfair that the board states this "eliminates any distortion which might arise from different individual spending decisions". This family's individual spending decision is no longer theirs, as every decision is made for them, with the allowance from the bank right down to what they can spend on groceries. The comment is very unfair. I have no interest in playing the blame game and we all know the difficulties in dealing with banks. I am more interested in what my Government can do for this family and families in similar positions. The Taoiseach speaks about rewarding people who get up early in the morning and go to work, and this family is an example. The family members are hard working. The wife is a hard-working professional and the husband was an entrepreneur who, due to unfortunate circumstances, has been left in this position. They want a bright future for their children. These people could have gone down the route of declaring bankruptcy and living on the State, receiving free education, social welfare, medical cards etc., but this was not an option. The family wants to repay its debts.

In the Minister's previous role with responsibility for jobs and enterprise, he encouraged people like this family to do well in business. It is vital that the Government helps families when business does not go to plan. My Government needs to assist our entrepreneurs at all stages as they are valuable to our economy. This is one of the nicest families I have come across in my time in politics and the stress being faced by them is unimaginable. The parents have been losing sleep and carrying guilt because they cannot assist their children in obtaining an education, as every parent wants for their child. Their children will have to drop out of college after working so hard to gain places in their respective colleges. The family is also worried about banks that will not allow them to alter the allowance in any way. This is affecting their overall health and particularly their mental health. They are exhausted, stressed and understandably depressed. The mother was in my office and broke down, telling me, "Peter, there is no more I can possibly do. We have let our children down."

In this day and age, no family in Ireland should have to face this problem. I ask the Minister to insert a provision under the student grant scheme to provide for exceptions for those involved in the insolvency process.

I certainly sympathise with the case outlined by Deputy Fitzpatrick. The difficulty I have is that SUSI is a national statutory-based scheme and its allocation of student grants is based on an assessment of gross income. That assessment is applied uniformly in all cases. Where people have other outgoings, such as a mortgage or any other payment, they are not deducted. It is not a net means test and it has always been based on gross income. People might argue that it should consider net income in certain circumstances but it does not. It is applied nationally in that way and there is no special arrangement for people in insolvency, as the Deputy outlined in the comments he made. SUSI treats this in the same way as other means-tested arrangements and there are no special means tests available through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, for example, dealing with insolvency cases. Again, it is income that is assessed and allowance is only made for tax paid or similar items.

Although it is not in my area, it is my understanding there is an arrangement whereby a family means requirement is carried out before the personal insolvency agreement would be arranged. Within that process I understood there was an obligation to ensure provision was first made for children, including cases where young people were in college. I do not know if that assessment of means was made before finalising what was deemed to be a reasonable contribution to the debt. I do not know if it failed to take account of the fact that children were in college.

The only scheme I can point to within my Department is where students in third level institutions experiencing financial need can apply for support under the student assistance fund. This helps students in a sensitive and compassionate manner who may otherwise be unable to continue their studies due to financial circumstances. Information on that fund is available through the access office in the third level institution being attended. The fund is administered on a confidential and discreet basis. This year we increased the allocation to the fund to assist access for students facing hardship.

Unfortunately, the system under SUSI is statutory-based and it takes into account gross income. I do not have the authority to waive those provisions for any individual case. There is the possibility of appeal but that is still on the basis of existing legislation. It seems the only direction I can suggest to Deputy Fitzpatrick is the student assistance fund. Has there been a failing in the personal insolvency agreement in considering the outgoings of the family in respect of the children's education? I do not know if that can be examined under the Insolvency Service of Ireland arrangement.

I understand that in SUSI guidelines and rules there is no provision under the student grant scheme to provide any exceptions to those involved in the insolvency process. That is why I have brought this matter to the Minister's attention as a Topical Issue matter. I hope I am not wasting my time. I am asking what the Government can do for this family, which needs help. I am convinced that with the stroke of a pen, this family and those in a similar position could have their problems resolved. As a previous Minister with responsibility for jobs and enterprise, he can understand their position. The students' father does his best and the mother is working her fingers to the bone to pay off debts. The two children are being deprived of an education. This Government has the opportunity to put this right. The family has been no burden to the State and this Government cannot deprive these children of an education.

The Minister is the last hope for these children. We speak about homelessness, health and education and, health aside, the most important thing for any family is their education. I am pleading with the Minister. Many people have the same problems as this family in Dundalk and many kids will not get the opportunity to get a third level education. This Government has been through a recession.

The people of Ireland have helped this Government get to where we are at the moment. We cannot deprive these two children of an education. I will give the Minister the address and mobile number of the mother, and I would appreciate it if he would contact her and tell her, her husband and two children that this Government will look after them. This family deserves it. I am convinced that with the stroke of a pen and with the authority the Minister has we can help these families. This mother came into my office and she was pleading for help. I know that she would sacrifice anything for the education of her children. I do not think this family should have to deal with this at the moment. I am pleading with the Minister to do something for people in insolvency. We are talking about mental health problems and depression. This family needs help. I have been a Deputy for seven years and I have never pleaded with a Minister to help anyone in the Dáil before. I am pleading with the Government to help this family.

As I have outlined, there is no provision for ministerial discretion in this scheme. This is a statute-based scheme. SUSI was appointed to carry out the assessments, and it does so under the provisions of the scheme. It is not open to me or indeed to anyone else to, at the stroke of a pen, change the operation of that scheme. I draw the Deputy's attention to the student assistance fund, which is administered in each college. It has funding available to support, in confidential way, the position of any individual family. That has to be decided by the administrators of that fund on an individual basis, but it is designed to meet situations of particular hardship. The Department makes provision for that fund each year, and I will make arrangements to send the details of that fund to the Deputy.

Teacher Recruitment

I thank the Minister for taking the time to discuss this most important issue which not only affects primary schools within my constituency but across the State. We are facing a massive crisis at primary level, which needs to be addressed by the Government. Principals across the State and indeed in my constituency of Dublin North-West are facing huge difficulties in obtaining substitute teachers to cover sick days and maternity leave, and in filling permanent positions. This has resulted in pupils being crammed into other classrooms, or in the case of smaller schools closing for the day. In 2017, this is unacceptable. We are dealing with the future of our State and we cannot afford for pupils to be left behind in the education system due to a lack of substitute teachers to cover illness or maternity leave. I do not believe it is good enough for the Government to congratulate itself on budget 2018, having reduced the pupil-teacher ratio to 26:1 one week only for that ratio to become 26:0 the next week due to the lack of a substitute teacher or the lack of cover.

One of the issues we are facing on this issue is the number of young, newly qualified teachers being recruited for positions in the Middle East. We have seen this affect our health service with nurses taking up employment abroad and now we are facing this in our education services. When answering my parliamentary question on 24 October the Minister advised that his Department has no evidence of a recent or current shortage of primary teachers. The evidence is there to be seen in the data from the academic years 2010-2011 and 2014-2015 provided by the Teaching Council working group. The same group noted that substitute cover was required 915,000 days per year on average. However, teachers were employed by schools for an annual average of 590,000 days of substitute cover, which means that only 62% of substitutable absence was actually covered.

I am worried that this has resulted in special needs assistants, SNAs, being taken away from the most vulnerable pupils in an effort to cover these absences. Such testimony has been provided to me by a number of principals and teachers. This is completely unacceptable and something which will unquestionably worry the families of these students.

Another concern is the drastic effect this will have on DEIS schools, many of which are in my constituency. I have met with the Catholic Primary School Management Association, CPSMA, which believes it is these schools which will be affected the most by this shortage. There are also a number of DEIS schools in the Minister's constituency, and I am sure he does not want to see those schools or their students being at a further disadvantage when it comes to staffing issues. He is aware that the CPSMA conducted a survey of principals on this matter. The results are startling and the feedback from principals is extremely worrying. Some of the relevant feedback was as follows, and I quote:

I accidentally entered Galway instead of Dublin into the TextaSub service one day and I got about 15 responses. I spoke with many of them and offered them the position. They informed me the rent was too expensive in Dublin to sub here.

Another example is as follows:

For the last sick leave I rang 16 qualified teachers and sent out a TextaSub to 112 substitute teachers. Only one person responded to the text.

This appear to me to not only be a shortage, but a potential crisis in the making. Only 66% of substitutable days were covered. If we are to look ahead to Saturday in Copenhagen, were Martin O'Neill to have three injured players on the pitch but only be able to substitute in two players, people would have to ask about the managerial effectiveness at play there. It is perfectly reasonable to ask about the managerial effectiveness at play here if we can only substitute in two teachers for every three missing on a given day.

I hope the Deputy is not tempting fate.

I hope I am not tempting fate, but I have no doubt that Martin O'Neill and the boys in green are adequately prepared for any such issues that arise in the game. Nevertheless, I would be keen to hear the Minister's response to the issues that have arisen.

It is not correct to suggest that there is a massive crisis in primary teaching. As the Deputy knows, the Government has reduced the class size twice in the last three years, and last year we provided 1,093 additional teachers. This September an additional 1,160 teachers will start. That amounts to 2,250 additional teachers in the last two years. Those are permanent, full-time positions. There has been no difficulty in filling those positions. They have been filled, and there are currently a total of 37,000 teachers across the primary school system. In urban DEIS schools there are now smaller class sizes. There is great strength in that.

In respect of resource teaching for children with special needs, even in those very difficult crisis years we continued to expand those numbers, and the number of teachers provided for resource teaching has increased by 50% over the years since 2011. We have a well staffed primary school system, and we continue to make very substantial improvements. Next year I will be making 637 additional teaching positions available.

On the issue of supply and demand, there is no doubt that we have successfully filled the full-time positions by recruiting at that level, with over 2,250 additional teachers hired in a very short space of time and where 1,750 have been recruited. However, substitution may involve working for one or two days here and there. I recognise that poses difficulties within an economy where there are increasing opportunities. It is less attractive for teachers to wait for short periods of placement. In order to ease that I have made a number of changes. There are a very significant number of career breaks - 1,750 in the primary system - so I have made arrangements to increase the limits for people who are on career breaks. They are now allowed to do substitution work for up to 90 days. I have also arranged that those who have recently retired can, if they remain registered, take up opportunities for substitution positions.

For a number of years there was an effort to restrict the use of retired teachers to fill those positions because there was a need to prioritise those who were coming out of college who did not have opportunities.

There is some pressure in this area but I took the opportunity to examine the recent trends. It might reassure the Deputy to know that there is an increase this year over last year in the payments we are making for substitution to people who are qualified to substitute. We are paying more people who are qualified, available and in the schools to meet casual vacancies than we were last year. It is significantly more, going from €100 million to €125 million. That is a 25% increase in the payments being made to people who are undertaking substitution duties. Unless there has been a massive surge in absences that I cannot see, we are making provision.

However, there is no doubt that there is a particular problem in Dublin. I will monitor this issue carefully but according to the most recent data I have, and admittedly it is data from the end of 2016, some 7.5% of the days when there could have been substitutes were not paid. In other words, people were not available to be paid substitution where substitution was justified.

I thank the Minister. Let me be clear that I am not saying there has not been significant progress made under the Minister and in his Department with regard to teaching, the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio, the increase in budgets and the increase in standards in both primary and secondary levels. This specific issue has been brought to my attention by the CPSMA and I feel duty bound to act on it given the figures. Many of them are disputed by the Minister's account. Nevertheless, it is clear that 90% of schools have indicated in a recent survey that they have difficulty sourcing a substitute teacher and 82% of them have indicated that it has been more difficult this year than in any previous year. These figures speak for themselves.

However, it must be accepted that the Minister has increased the budget by €25 million, or 25%, this year over last year. It appears that there might be some structural issues in certain areas. There are difficulties in getting substitute teachers in Dublin, in particular. That might be something that could be reviewed in due course because it is a particular pressure point. Indeed, that is why I am coming under pressure in this regard. I would be interested to hear what the solutions might be in that respect in the future. The CPSMA has outlined a number of potential actions for alleviating the substitution issue which it would be more than happy to share with the Minister and his Department. The Minister might be interested in that.

My Department and I are always in discussion with the various stakeholders. I will examine the survey. I note that it was conducted over an eight week period and suggested that there was a difficulty filling the vacancies that had arisen in the previous eight weeks. We will examine that, get the data and see if a particular issue has arisen here. The difficulty is that where there is a short-term vacancy of only a day or two teaching it is hard to make that an attractive offer to qualified teachers when there are permanent positions available. We have made it easier to get permanent contracts. We have reduced from four to two years the period when one gets a contract of indefinite duration. We are giving better permanency and conditions, increasing the number of full-time permanent positions and increasing the pay. We now pay nearly €36,000 to a graduate straight out of college who is starting in a position.

I can understand that there are difficulties with substitution. We will meet with those involved to see what initiatives might be taken beyond those we have already taken.