Questions on Promised Legislation

Only 15 minutes remain for this business and 19 Deputies have indicated that they want to speak but I very much doubt that I will reach them all. I call Deputy Donnelly.

Page 93 of the programme for Government includes a commitment to improving outcomes for every student. A new report published by the Bertelsmann Foundation reported on today in the Irish media makes very sobering reading. It ranks Ireland 21 out of the 28 countries on educational attainment. A figure I found quite startling is that 80% of the working age population have attained at least upper secondary education. I acknowledge that share has gone up in recent years and I imagine that is something the Minister is examining. However, we are well below the best in the class on this. Will the Minister provide an update on his plans for bringing legislation forward to improve the completion rates for secondary education in Ireland?

We have brought forward a €1 billion extra investment in education and we have set a target that we will be the best in Europe within a decade. On the issue of early school leaving and drop-out, we are now making huge progress. We have seen our position drop from 14th place to seventh. In respect of people in the age bracket 20 to 24, we are now second best in Europe in terms of those who have completed higher level second level, so we are one of the best in Europe. I admit that if one looks at the older population, we are not as good but it is much harder to influence people who are long since out of the education system. We are putting huge emphasis on our work on delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, and on improving literary standards. I would also say that the Bertelsmann Foundation is a very partial view; it does not look at, for example, our investment in special educational needs or our investment in bringing 32% more people from disadvantaged backgrounds into our higher education sector. Therefore, it is a partial measure, but it has lessons for us. Our investment in the preschool sector clearly needs to continue to improve, and the Minister, Deputy Zappone, has put in place a very ambitious programme to do that. Much of this data is quite old.

The programme for Government-----

No, the Deputy cannot come back in. I call Deputy Cullinane.

The programme for Government commits to 10% of all bus routes essentially being privatised and put out to tender. The Minister will know that in Waterford city, 100% or all five of the bus routes have been put out to tender and we will know the outcome of that today.

That is not a question on promised legislation.

It is a commitment in the programme for Government. The question I am putting to the Minister is why 100% of the bus routes in Waterford city are being privatised. Is Waterford being used as a guinea pig in the Minister's privatisation experiment? Will he agree that if the Government privatises and outsources the profitable routes - these are five profitable routes - that will have an impact on the viability of the company which, in turn, will have an impact on the ability of the company to provide services in rural areas? We know that the Expressway services in many areas are under threat. The Minister might respond to those questions.

The decision on which routes ought to be selected for tendering is made independently and not by Government. However, clearly, there is a commitment that we would open up the opportunity for competitive tendering for some elements of our public transport services. That allows other providers to offer alternatives. It is good for the consumer and user to see alternative offerings. There is no guarantee as to who will win in that tender. The best tender offering the best service at the most competitive rates will win and that will be of benefit to consumers who seek to have improvement. We have seen that where there is open competition on the intercity routes - there is a wide variety of services offering - that they meet additional consumer needs. We must recognise that a monopoly delivery is not the sole way to go but, as the Deputy rightly said, certain public services will always have to be supported. The Government has made substantial money available to the public transport companies to ensure that we provide social routes as well as economic ones.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to establish a Public Service Pay Commission to examine pay levels across the public service. Most of us anticipated that the Government would adopt a coherent structured approach to public sector pay. I expressed concern when a much hiked salary was rumoured for the next Garda Commissioner. I am even more concerned at reports that universities are now to be given freedom to pay academics up to €250,000. It appears the Government is willing to make exceptions to pay policy but only at the very top. Does the Government intend to continue to make exceptions to top level public sector pay for the highest earners and where stands the Universities (Amendment) Bill, which would have put a stop to breaches of pay in those particular institutions?

The Public Service Pay Commission is examining areas where there is difficulty in recruiting. The Government recognises that while observing public pay policy in a fair and even-handed way and living within the available resources, we have to be conscious of areas where there is genuine difficulty in recruiting people. The Deputy will know that such difficulties apply in many sectors, including the health sector and others. The same policy informs us that where we are seeking to recruit world class researchers who would become magnets to help develop and strengthen our third level sector, we have to be willing to pay the price necessary to get those. I believe the Deputy has always recognised that we need the best leaders in our public services.

The Government has to show some flexibility in respect of the posts it is filling and the difficulty in getting the right person for those jobs. That is the approach we are taking.

In respect of the 20 year review of the Jack and Jill Foundation, a wonderful organisation, the issue of the in loco parentis rule arose. It is a very hard rule on the sickest children in this country. Jack and Jill nurses, who are inspirational, come in to give some respite and look after a sick child for an hour or whatever. Now the HSE insists that under this new rule, the parent must stay in the house with the child. This is totally against the spirit of what respite is, and respite is much needed for those very sick children. This has to be examined, especially in respect of Jack and Jill which does such wonderful work for children and is extending its services to children up to the age of five. They have increased it by a year not through Government funding, but through money from companies.

This matter should be submitted as a Topical Issue or a parliamentary question.

It is a very serious issue. It is affecting very sick children.

I have to admit that I do not know the background to this issue. I will have to ask the Minister to respond to the Deputy.

The Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 completed Committee Stage on 28 June 2017, when the Minister indicated his intention effectively to remove the baptism barrier. A lot of time has now elapsed and I am wondering if the Minister is ready to bring forward his amendments in that regard. What timescale is he now working to for the completion of that legislation?

As I think I indicated to the Deputy before, we are working with the Office of the Attorney General to get robust drafting of amendments to deal with that issue and others raised on Committee Stage, such as the power for the National Council for Special Education to oblige schools in certain circumstances to open special units. Both of those provisions require some careful drafting. No effort is being spared in trying to get to a conclusion but they are tricky enough in the drafting. That work is ongoing. My ambition is to complete it as quickly as possible but I am not in a position to give the Deputy an absolute timeline.

When can we expect the student and parents charter Bill to be brought before the House? What are the benefits of this legislation?

We have received a report from the committee following pre-legislative scrutiny which is broadly positive. We will now proceed to the drafting of the heads. A lot of work has already been done in my Department. The advantage of a parents and students charter is that it clearly sets out the rights of parents and students as full partners within the school to access information, participate in decision making, and to have smooth ways of resolving difficulties. Having good protocols for resolving those issues locally builds a stronger school.

The Minister will be aware that a number of years ago, the previous Government suspended the motorised transport grant. There was a promise that it would be introduced again within six months. It is almost six years later and we are still awaiting the reintroduction of the scheme. It is preventing people with restricted mobility from having access to a very worthwhile scheme. Can we have a definitive timeline as to when we and, more importantly, the people relying on this scheme can expect it to be reintroduced?

I thank the Deputy. This matter is coming up every day.

I can only repeat the response that the Taoiseach gave yesterday. I understand that he indicated legislation will be needed to introduce this, and that such legislation is in preparation. I do not know the exact state of play as to where that legislation-----

It has been six years in preparation.

When will it be complete?

I do not have that information to hand.

In the programme for Government, there is a clear commitment to building a visible and familiar policing presence. In Cavan-Monaghan, we have a rural crime crisis with homes being broken into in broad daylight. Business and particularly farmyards and the elderly in our communities are being affected. Community employment schemes, which are doing good in our communities, have had all their equipment stolen. My local district had 12 sergeants in 2007 and 2008. We are down to six. In 2010, our division had 413 gardaí and that number is now down to 330. Ballyconnell Garda station is a case in point, where we are left with reduced services and reduced hours. I ask the Minister to commit to building that visibility and presence in our constituency.

I fully recognise that this is an issue of particular concern. Garda recruitment effectively ended in 2010 and after that there was a continuous decline in the Garda's strength. That undoubtedly impacted on local communities, but we are now rebuilding the police force. Templemore was reopened and it is increasing recruitment every year. It is operating to full capacity. If I am not mistaken, the Minister for Justice and Equality has committed to a figure of 21,000 for the overall Garda workforce by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. Those will be the resources that the Garda Commissioner will have to deploy in the most effective way to support the real concerns that the Deputy is highlighting.

Under the programme for Government, the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Finance are committed to investigating the German Sparkasse model, and also to examine An Post and the League of Credit Unions as well as other interested stakeholders. Both Departments convened this project in early 2017. When will the report come before us?

I will have to get the Minister to revert to the Deputy. I do not have that information to hand.

In July of this year, legislation went through the House to facilitate the hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2023 which, at the time, was described by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, as "the most energising piece of legislation" he had ever introduced in the Dáil. Yesterday, however, our bid did not seem to have the required energy, place kicking or indeed the front row power of Mr. Chabal from France. Given that the Government has put over €1.25 million of taxpayers' money behind this bid, as well as significant political capital, will we have a report examining the ballot process that saw us get only eight votes yesterday as well as the entire process of the failed bid? We need to get to the root of it. Other nations did not believe our commitment on stadiums. They looked at the likes of Casement Park where the meadow is growing 6 ft high. We need to consider the Government's commitment to stadium funding across the country, and possibly adopt the municipal stadium model they have across Europe. This would ensure our reputation was in such a way that we could make a successful bid in the future.

It is disappointing that we did not win. However, every time a ballot goes against us - I am sure the Deputy has seen ballots go against him - we cannot announce that we are going to have an examination as to why we did not win. Sometimes one does not win these ballots.

I am asking for a report.

The effort of making this bid will certainly help us for the future. Many lessons will have been learned.

What are they?

In terms of this Government, the maintenance of the sports capital grant right through the very difficult years was a very inspired decision. It has helped communities across the country to build facilities that have kept up the involvement of people in sports on a very practical basis.

It is down in Thurles.

This year, we have made enhanced investment in the sports capital grants so that more communities can benefit. The long-term aim for sport is to see more people actively involved. We need to see at least half of our population actively involved in sporting activities.

They did not believe us about the stadiums.