Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Homelessness Strategy

Thomas Byrne

Question:

35. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the actions taken by his Department to address child poverty and homelessness in view of an organisation's (details supplied) description of child poverty as the crisis of our times. [49723/18]

I seek to raise child homelessness on foot of the report by the Children's Rights Alliance and the response of the Department of Education and Skills to it. I accept that it is not responsible for the full response of the Government but the Department has a key role to play and the report of the Children's Rights Alliance refers to a number of initiatives. The report serves to highlight the challenges that children and their families face with child poverty and, in particular, homelessness. However, teachers also face a challenge in dealing with the crises as presented to them in school.

A range of resources are available to support schools in dealing with identified additional educational needs, including needs which may arise for children who are experiencing homelessness. These include National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, supports and Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, supports.

Identification of need and early intervention strategies are considered key components to supporting children who experience homelessness. NEPS works with schools through the Department of Education and Skills continuum of support framework. The NEPS model of service works through a problem solving and solution oriented consultative approach to support schools to meet the needs of individual pupils. NEPS psychologists can provide advice and guidance to principals and teachers on individual students' needs and in the development of whole-school approaches to support inclusion, participation and integration.

DEIS is the main policy initiative of my Department to tackle educational disadvantage. DEIS provides additional supports, through the DEIS school support programme, to schools identified as having the highest concentrations of pupils from disadvantaged communities. Schools can use the additional resources to meet the identified needs of their pupil cohort, including the additional needs that may arise for pupils experiencing homelessness.

DEIS schools can also avail of home school community liaison and school completion supports provided by Tusla's educational welfare service in relation to school attendance, retention and progression which can be areas of particular challenge to pupils experiencing homelessness.

In addition, the Department of Employment and Social Protection runs the school meals programme, which provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children. My Department is also represented on the homelessness inter-agency group established by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to co-ordinate the State's efforts to tackle homelessness.

In its report, the Children's Rights Alliance recommends a number of measures. I accept that this is not primarily a matter for the Department of Education and Skills but the alliance recommends that the Government set up an inter-agency group involving the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to steer services and to see what each Department can do. The Department of Education and Skills has a particular role. The Children's Rights Alliance has recommended that the school completion programme would be extended to homeless children in non-DEIS schools. What is happening in the private rental sector in particular is that children are not necessarily in DEIS schools. If one is in a local authority estate and the local school is a DEIS school then one has access to all the services based on the demographic of the area. However, if one is in the private rented sector in a non-DEIS area one does not have access to many of the services. Children are losing out significantly on their education whether through non-attendance or due to being exhausted in school. As the Children's Rights Alliance recommends, the Department must track the progress of those children to ensure that they do not lose out on educational attainments.

Something else the Minister could and should do immediately, which is also recommended by the Children's Rights Alliance, is issue a circular providing advice and guidance to schools on educational provision for children experiencing homelessness. There could also be recommendations to boards of management to address school costs, voluntary donations etc. Some instructional advice from the Department of Education and Skills would go a long way.

That is a fair enough suggestion. Anecdotally, I am picking up more examples of the prevalence of child homelessness in feedback from teachers dealing with children in homelessness. It would be a wise and important suggestion to ensure that all the information on whatever supports are available is provided to schools. Reading excerpts from the report of the research carried out by the Children's Rights Alliance, one of the areas highlighted is a failure to retain predictability in educational continuity. That is important in education. I will ensure that boards of management and school principals are aware of the available supports.

The Minister is new to his portfolio but the one word that concerns me, which reflects on the Department rather than the Minister himself, is "anecdotally". Has the Department statistics or information on the extent of the problem in schools? One of the recommendations from the Children's Rights Alliance is that the educational attainments of children be tracked. I am concerned, however, that the Minister and the Department do not have information about individual children.

We know from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government how many children have been left homeless but the Minister for Education and Skills and his Department do not know what is happening to those children in schools. It is not known what schools they are concentrated in, how their educational attainments are being mishandled because of this crisis and what resources schools need. The Department needs to up its game on this issue and make sure these children are looked after and that they do not lose out educationally because of the homelessness situation in which they and their families find themselves.

Tacking educational disadvantage has been one of the positive outcomes of the work of the Department over the past number of years. Currenlty, we are reviewing the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, scheme and educational disadvantage. Educational disadvantage changes and evolves and new issues and challenges arise. As part of our review of DEIS, we are using data we are compiling from postcodes on where people are living and also information on unemployment issues in regard to certain families. We need, however, to be adaptable regarding the changing nature of educational disadvantage. Over the past five to ten years, homelessness has certainly become a major issue. My officials are aware of that and I will ensure, whatever measuring instruments are used to tackle educational disadvantage, that continuity of education and the disruption and lack of certainty for families and children going to school is part of any analysis in the future.

Autism Support Services

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

36. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to address the acute shortage of ASD classes and services being provided for children in both primary and post-primary education nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49596/18]

My question is on the provision of ASD supports. What is the Department's plan to address the acute shortage of ASD classes and services being provided for children in both primary and post-primary education?

 My Department is aware that the establishment of special class provision in some schools and communities can be challenging. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is responsible, through its network of special needs organisers, SENOs, for the development, delivery and co-ordination of education services to children with special educational needs, including the establishment of special class and special school placements. For the 2018-19 school year, 160 new special classes have been opened. That means there are now 1,459 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. There are 1,196 autism spectrum disorder, ASD, special classes.

The greater proportion of children with autism attend mainstream classes, but some require the environment of a special class or special school. Enrolment in a special class should only be considered where it has been demonstrated that a student requires the support of a special class because he or she is unable to learn effectively in a mainstream class for most or all of the school day, even with appropriate supports. The placement decision is based on a recommendation made by a relevant professional. While it is not always possible or practical that a special class placement would be available in a child’s local school, the NCSE has informed my Department that, in general, it is satisfied that there are sufficient ASD special class placements to meet existing demand nationally.

From time to time, the NCSE identifies local areas where additional provision is required.  In those circumstances, SENOs work with the schools and families concerned to resolve the issues involved.  The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, when commenced, will assist in addressing this issue in areas where the NCSE is of the opinion that there is insufficient education provision for children with special educational needs. Section 8 of the Act, which will commence from Monday, 3 December 2018, will provide the Minister with a power, after a process of consultation with the NCSE, the board of management and the patron of the school, to compel a school to make additional provision for the education of children with special educational needs.

I thank the Minister. Some of what he said is welcome. I am aware of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, which we debated in the House. My fear is that we again have a situation where children who have an additional need or a disability are falling through the cracks or being left behind. They are being treated differently from children starting in mainstream schools with no additional needs. It is often at the last minute when the parents of children with an additional need finally find out they have secured a place in an ASD unit. There are long waiting lists and we know that they are increasing. A study in 2016 found that one in every 65 students has an ASD diagnosis and, therefore, we are very much playing catch-up in this area.

One of my main concerns is the attitude of schools when it comes to children with a diagnosis of autism. Many schools are good, as are many teachers. There are also, unfortunately, many schools that just do not want to know about ASD and will encourage parents to send their children elsewhere. There is no written proof but we all know that it happens. Kids are put on a reduced-hour day, perhaps two or three hours, with the hope that the parents will eventually just give up on that school and go somewhere else. We need to tackle that attitude as well as tackling the provision of places.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue because we have been grappling with it over the past ten to 15 years. The statistics from 2011 reported 548 special classes. That is now up to nearly 1,459. We are making gains but, at the same time, affording choice to parents has to be at the heart of that provision. I refer to whether they want their children to go to a special school or a special class or if they need ASD provision. The increase in the number of ASD units throughout the country has proved to be a significant success. That is attributable to the great work of the SENOs and the NCSE, as well as the work the Deputies did on the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, which gave the Minister for Education and Skills the power to compel schools, where there is insufficient supply of ASD classes or special classes, to ensure that provision is made.

I agree that where ASD units are operational they are, in the main, successful. That, however, is the reason I raised this issue. Greater access is needed for students. There are many different examples of where that is needed and I am not the only person who could cite examples; every Deputy could probably do so. Some students cannot start school. They have to go to a special school and were supposed to start in September 2018 but they cannot start until September 2019 because of the lack of access. Those students cannot get access to any more pre-school provision because they have used up their two years. That puts a child with an additional need at a disadvantage. Parents are also being told that their children can have a place in an ASD unit but the unit is miles from their home. They will have to spend an hour and a half on a bus before getting to school. That again puts a child at a disadvantage. In the main, that is not the case for children attending school who do not have an additional need and that is what we need to focus on and tackle.

We seem to be okay with treating children who have an additional need differently and saying to them that they have to wait, that they might not be able to start until October because we do not have a place for them and they have to put up with being on the bus for an hour and a half. In my opinion that is not good enough, and I am sure it is the opinion of the vast majority of people. That is why we need to ensure we have places. This was one of the good parts of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018. I hope that we will put the pressure on schools that want to turn a blind eye or direct people to the school down the road. That attitude has to change.

I accept the sincerity of the Deputy's contribution on this very important issue. In my early meetings with the officials in this area, I raised the question, even prior to the 3 December change, of compelling schools in cases where there is insufficient supply, a problem with a class or a need for an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit. My message to officials from day one has been to look with favour on any building request from a school for an extension which will accommodate an ASD unit and free up another classroom. That is the message coming across from Deputy Funchion as well. It is important to ensure equality of access for parents who want the best standards for their son or daughter. If they want their son or daughter to be in a mainstream school they cannot be disadvantaged. If they do not have a special class or ASD unit they are disadvantaged. That is the philosophy behind compelling the Minister to ensure this happens where there is an insufficient supply.

Departmental Investigations

Thomas Byrne

Question:

37. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of investigations undertaken by his Department of the role of clerks of work, project managers, architects, designers, engineers and other professionals in both fire safety issues and structural issues identified at schools completed since 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49724/18]

I want to ask the Minister about the Western Building Systems, WBS, debacle. I would like to know the status of the investigation his Department has undertaken of all its advisers, and obviously its investigation into WBS. I said to the Minister in a private meeting that everybody should be taken to the cleaners, including the builders, if that is the legal advice the Minister has received. The Minister launched an investigation as he said he would. Schools do not know what is happening at the moment. The Minister has gone a little beyond the original timetable for all this.

As the Deputy is aware, over the course of the mid-term break my Department undertook structural assessments on all 42 school buildings constructed by Western Building Systems since 2003, following the identification of significant structural issues at Ardgillan community college in Balbriggan during an assessment undertaken by a structural engineer at the school on 19 October.  The safety of school students and staff has been and will continue to be my Department's overriding priority.

I would like to acknowledge the impact this has had on students, parents, school principals, staff, patrons and boards of management of all 42 schools, in particular the 23 schools where precautionary measures where carried out. I would also like to thank all concerned for their patience and understanding over the last several weeks.

My Department will now be moving as quickly as possible to the next phase, which is to initiate more detailed structural investigations at the 42 schools and, following on from this, to implement the permanent remediation works required.  The Department fully intends to pursue the company through all contractual and legal channels for the cost of the precautionary measures and the remediation work.

It is also my intention to initiate an independent review of the Department’s design and build programme, including aspects such as procurement, quality control, workmanship and oversight, both before and after implementation of the amended building control regulations in 2014.  This will also involve the role and responsibilities of clerks of works, project managers, architects, designers and other professionals.  This will be an independent review conducted by a person or entity outside the Department and will be informed by the more detailed structural investigations to be carried out in the next phase of the programme.

First of all we want to know about that independent reviewer. Will this individual, whoever he or she is, have the statutory powers to get to the nub of the issue? If one takes a case to the High Court, powers of compellability, evidence discovery etc. can be utilised. In the first instance anyone who is responsible needs to be brought to court, but in the second instance the Department must carry out a review with strong powers.

One of the aspects of this case that caused some concern was that the project management firm KSN Project Management, KSNPM, was originally involved in quite a number of the projects as a project manager for the Department. It was then involved in advising the Department over recent weeks. Has it raised any concerns for the Minister that KSNPM was involved? Maybe they are excellent people. They probably are. However, the firm was there at the start and it is still advising the Department. It is giving some people the perception of a possible conflict of interest. Did this cause any concern on the part of the Minister?

In regard to statutory powers, we are working with the Office of the Chief State Solicitor on how we can begin a review and what powers it will be given. I will keep the Deputy up to date on that.

In regard to the current situation, last week I was in Tyrrelstown along with the Taoiseach. We met representatives from KSNPM who have been working through this. We met with members of the board of management and the principals of both schools in Tyrrelstown. We are still trying to get the first and second floors into a fit state for the students to come back in the next two to three weeks. That is the focus.

In regard to KSNPM's involvement, at no point in this process was the firm involved in any certification of compliance. The responsibility at all times, on any project before or since the 2014 legislation, is with the contractor, the builder, the architects and the design team. At no time was KSNPM involved in any certification of compliance. Second, KSNPM's knowledge of the buildings was very helpful during the process that took place over the Hallowe'en break when we were under pressure to get work done in a very speedy way. My first personal contact with KSNPM was last week. I met a few of the firm's officials and I would like to acknowledge all the work they did over the last several weeks.

None of this absolves a builder of the responsibility for building bad buildings if that is the ultimate outcome, and clearly it is. Information can be given to people for various reasons. One piece of information I have discovered is that of the 42 schools, 13 were originally project-managed by KSNPM and 27 were project-managed by another company, which I understand was Turner & Townsend. I understand that of the 13 originally project-managed by KSNPM, 12 passed the recent audit and one failed. Of the 27 that were originally project-managed by Turner & Townsend but examined this time by KSNPM and the Department's other advisers, 20 failed and seven passed. I do not know if the Minister can confirm that information. Does it cause the Minister, his advisers or his officials any concern if it is correct? The builder is ultimately responsible for this, but we want to make sure the Minister is satisfied that there are no issues or conflicts and that he has the best possible advice.

We are going to undertake a review immediately. It has to happen quickly. That review will be independent. We are going to look at every aspect, including KSNPM, Turner & Townsend, the contractor and the Department's own clerks of works, which since 2017 have been appointed on every site.

Second, it is important to put on record that we have set up an independent unit within the building unit in Tullamore. We now have dedicated officials working on this issue to take it through the independent review and to do everything to make sure that the remediation and precautionary work is paid for. A lot of scaffolding and fencing was required. Some of it was imported at short notice. At the three school campuses at Ashbourne, for example, 3 km of fencing went up over a weekend. That costs money, and the taxpayer will want to know who has paid for anything that costs money. My officials are determined to look at culpability and accountability and follow the people who put children's lives at risk.

Third Level Education

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

38. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on whether there is a crisis in third level education developing as a result of student poverty, the chronic shortage and expense of student accommodation, the access barrier created by student fees and the low level per student subvention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49782/18]

My question points to what I argue is a rapidly escalating crisis in almost every aspect of third level education.

That crisis encompasses matters such as student poverty, the student accommodation crisis and the chronic underinvestment in third-level education generally. There has been an incredible 50% drop in investment per student since 2008. This crisis will bite very badly at every level and will cause hardship among many students unless we address it by means of significant increases in investment and assistance for students experiencing accommodation problems, poverty, difficulties paying fees and so on.

I thank the Deputy for his question. This year alone, my Department will spend in excess of €400 million on access measures for further and higher education students. This includes circa €380 million on student grants and related activities, which is expected to benefit approximately 78,000 further and higher education students. In terms of access initiatives, under the national access plan approximately 16,000 students are expected to be assisted in 2018 through the student assistance fund at a cost of €9 million, whereas 12,000 students are expected to be assisted through the fund for students with disabilities at a cost of €10 million. Approximately 400 students will benefit from the 1916 bursary fund under the programme for access to higher education, PATH, at a cost of €2 million.

The national student accommodation strategy, NSAS, was published in July 2017 to enable an enhanced supply of student accommodation as part of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan. It set a target of 7,000 additional purpose-built student accommodation bed spaces to be delivered by the end of 2019 and construction of at least 21,000 bed spaces by 2024. This initial target is expected to be exceeded, with over 10,000 bed spaces either completed or on site as of October 2018. The Government is also developing measures to provide better rent predictability in purpose-built student accommodation in the forthcoming residential tenancies (amendment) Bill.

Finally, the block grant paid to higher education institutions includes a specific weighting to promote access to higher education. This involves an additional premium for all eligible access students. This takes account of the cost of additional measures to support the enrolment and retention of students from under-represented backgrounds. For those from targeted socioeconomic groups and mature students, this is applied for the first two years of course duration to reflect the higher support needs during this period. For people with disabilities, a further weighting is applied for the entire length of the course to reflect the higher support resources required.

It sounds good until we look at the facts. With regard to access, 90% of students in Donnybrook attend university but 16% of students in Darndale do so. This reflects the fact there are so many different barriers to access. The cost of living per annum while studying at third level is €12,000, which is a big expense. We have some of the highest registration fees anywhere in Europe and accommodation costs increased 11.5% in the first quarter of 2018 alone.

Ms Michelle Byrne, vice president of the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, spoke at a meeting we held during the week and she told me an incredible story that she says is typical. She related how a young postgraduate student is travelling every day from Cork to Dublin and back again to attend her third-level institution because she cannot afford student accommodation. At Dublin City University, student accommodation providers tried to increase rents by 27%. The Irish Universities Association has pointed out that we are now have one of the lowest levels of investment per student anywhere in Europe and, as already stated, that investment has dropped 50% since 2008. There was only a 1% overall increase in the recent budget, which is not good enough.

There are two aspects to access to third-level education. The first is providing the platform to ensure students stay on after the junior certificate to sit the leaving certificate. I came across a very positive story at Larkin community college in Dublin's north-east inner city. When I spoke with the principal and staff at the college, I was informed that there is an 80% progression rate from leaving certificate to third level, including for trades and apprenticeships. It is an ambitious school and it is able to compete on the points scale as well, with students getting into the top courses and universities. There are examples of the fact that people will get to third level if the support system is provided.

The Deputy's second point related to the barriers of cost and I can pick that up in my county, with parents making the decision as to whether it is affordable to send a son or daughter to college in Dublin. These are the questions on the minds of parents. We need to continue an all-of-Government inclusive support. I acknowledge Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil for tabling their motions, which we support, seeking to ensure that we can have more supports in high-pressure zones and where the rental costs are high. We must continue to work in an all-of-Government and inclusive manner because this is such an important matter.

There has been a proliferation of private developments of student accommodation. This accommodation costs an absolute fortune. It is a complete waste of time because people are just making money out of a student accommodation crisis. We need purpose-built low-cost student accommodation on or near campuses. That needs significant investment. I will make a simple point on overall investment in third-level education. We give €700 million in research and development tax credits, mostly to big multinationals in this country. That money should be redirected to our universities and third-level education. Instead of giving money to Apple and Google through tax breaks for so-called research and development, it should go to our universities in order to offset the chronic underinvestment to which I refer.

This crisis is taking a serious toll on students. We have the fourth highest rate of youth suicide in the world. The USI report indicates an absolutely massive demand for counselling services in universities, with tens of thousands of students needing counselling and a large number reporting burnout or an inability to carry on because of the stress they are being put under on all fronts, including in the context of costs, accommodation, overcrowding, etc. There is a serious problem and we need a hell of a lot more investment and support to address the crisis.

There is no question but that this brings pressure on students and parents when they are trying to provide the best education for students. I know some students go on their own and do not have that support. I realise that there is pressure. There is an acknowledgement that we must ensure there is accommodation on campuses. A number of important provisions in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, which was passed by this Oireachtas, facilitate higher education institutes in borrowing money from the Housing Finance Agency for the purpose of financing student accommodation provision on campus. That is happening not just in the capital but throughout the country. Universities and other third-level institutions are considering at ways to make more accommodation available for students. There are also rapid planning applications for student accommodation developments with in excess of 200 student beds. They are made directly to An Bord Pleanála.

We must continue to focus on affordability and what universities can do. We should also acknowledge that universities and other third-level institutions are under financial pressure as well but we must examine ways to keep affordability at the heart of this conversation.

School Accommodation Provision

Clare Daly

Question:

39. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to improve capacity for schools across north County Dublin in view of a widespread shortage of places and a deterioration in accommodation for students. [49582/18]

This question and a number of others before the Minister relate to capacity of schools across north County Dublin, the shortage of places and the deterioration of accommodation. I have been a public representative for a long time but I have never seen this matter raised as much as now. When we try to deal with one matter, another pops up. Of the 16 major projects for the area, only two are at the on-site stage. In addition, we have had the problem at Ardgillan community college and other issues. This is unsustainable in a growing area and we need a serious strategy to deal with such concerns.

I thank the Deputy and acknowledge that this is an issue of concern. When I walk down the corridor and meet Deputies and Senators from north County Dublin, it is the only matter they raise.

In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a geographical information system, using data from a range of sources to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. With this information, my Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level.

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department recently announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years up to 2022, including six new primary and two new post-primary schools to be established in north Dublin. The four year horizon will enable increased lead-in times for planning and delivery of the necessary infrastructure. In addition to the new schools announced, there will be a need for additional school accommodation in other areas in the future. Based on the current analysis, this need can be addressed through either planned capacity increases in existing schools or additional accommodation or extensions to existing schools. Approximately 40% of extra school places are delivered by extending existing schools. The requirement for new schools will be kept under ongoing review and will have regard for the increased roll-out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040.

I know that the issue for the Deputy is the here and now, what happens today and what happens in September in the context of enrolments. I am working very closely on this with my officials to see if we can expedite the land acquisition, provide temporary accommodation and ensure that we meet the basic needs of students next September.

The problem is that it is not working. We all saw the day that was in it yesterday but parents, teachers and students from St. Joseph's Secondary School in Rush organised a protest in the town. They walked from the existing school to the field where the new school is supposed to be built. The school is oversubscribed this year by 140 students. They were outside the Dáil earlier this term and while it is an incredibly useful education for them in the need to protest to get things delivered, they should not have had to do that. What answer does the Minister have for them today? I appreciate that the Minister has outlined the method that the Department is using but I am telling the Minister that it is not working. The situation is critical for St. Joseph's and for St. Maloga's school in Balbriggan, which I have discussed with the Minister previously. In that school, 58% of students are in 20 year old, crumbling prefabs in the current appalling weather. St. Maloga's is only at the project brief stage even though it has been in the pipeline for so long. The same situation prevails at St. Michael's House in Skerries. We have been told that it is a priority but the Department has not even acquired a site yet. The system is broken. The needs of these young people whose education is time sensitive must be addressed in a better way.

As politicians, we all live in the here and now and we all face challenges in terms of young people who are protesting for the right to appropriate school accommodation. There is a drive on now to acquire the site for St. Joseph's. The project is included in the Department's six-year plan up to 2021. The capital funding has been ring fenced and there is no question of this not happening. We must try to move forward within the time constraints and pressure.

We must bear in mind that there has been an explosion in housing in north county Dublin. We are constantly hearing in this House that the Government is not building enough houses but there has been an explosion in the provision of accommodation in north county Dublin in the last five years. However, that is not an excuse for not acting. I will bring the concerns of colleagues from north county Dublin back to the officials in the building unit in my Department and ensure that this issue is kept on the radar.

In respect of St. Joseph's school, the Department will be providing two science laboratories, one technical graphics, design and communications room and one general classroom as an interim measure. The main issue is completing the site acquisition.

The problem is that the population explosion did not happen in the last five years but happened well before then. The children who live in that community and who are part of a population that has been growing for the past 20 years are now in primary and secondary school. They are facing a logjam, not to mention the children to whom the Minister refers who will be starting school in the next few years. It is critical at this stage and the point I am making is that the system is broken. To take St. Joseph's as an example, the issues in that school have been long flagged. It is not the case that the school community has only taken to the streets in the last month: they saw this coming. The Department was warned and the concerns were flagged. The issue has been raised in this House and with the local authority. In this House, we are told that the local authority is dealing with the matter and is looking for a site but when local councillors raise it with the local authority they are told that no-one in the Department has contacted the authority about finding a site. Meanwhile, children and their parents are out on the streets, protesting. The story of St. Joseph's is replicated in other areas, including Skerries and other parts of north Dublin. I did not even get a chance to address Swords, a town with a population approaching 40,000 where there is a critical school accommodation problem. I have tabled another question on that matter which we will come to later, hopefully.

The system is broken and the children and their parents who were out in the rain yesterday deserve better. We really need to look at this.

There is no solace in repeating for the Deputy what I have said already. Obviously the population in the area has been growing over the last ten to 20 years. Our Geographical Information Science, GIS, system is factoring in recent house building and family formation in the context of future planning. That is why we have identified the need for 42 new schools nationally. There is obviously a gap in this area and that is something of which I am very conscious. I will continue to liaise with colleagues on this issue and keep the pressure on with regard to the land acquisition. The Deputy is correct in saying that there are similar issues in Skerries and other parts of north county Dublin. In terms of school planning areas, the list includes Beaumont, Whitehall, Swords, Scribblestown, Portmarnock, Malahide, Donabate, Donaghmede, Castleknock, Carpenterstown and so on. There has been a population explosion in north Dublin with which we must deal and this is a priority for me.