I ask members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode because they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for the parliamentary reporters to report on our meetings. Television coverage and web streaming also would be adversely affected. I thank all the witnesses for their attendance today.
We as a committee felt it was very important to meet during the Dáil recess and have a two-day summer school session on important issues affecting the education of students within the education system.
Today is a big day for many starting in school, both primary and secondary. I have five nieces and nephews starting in junior infants today. It is a big day in our house getting all the photographs. The committee is very conscious, as I know the witnesses are, of everything we need to put in place to ensure that these students, along with their parents, the teachers and the school community, have a positive experience throughout their school life.
During this session the committee wants to address some of the very obvious gaps in funding, the workload for teaching principals in particular, and the provision of school buildings that are adequate for the students. There is obviously a very high level of interest in the topics the committee will discuss over the course of our hearings in these two days. To run our meeting as efficiently as possible, we will be quite strict on time. I thank the witnesses for their written submissions. We will stick to three minutes for the oral submissions. I would appreciate it if they could adhere to that. We could have chosen many stakeholders for all the topics but it was necessary to select some stakeholders for our proceedings today.
This is the first session and we will examine whether the school building programme delivers sufficient school places to facilitate children attending local schools and the potential costs resulting from such places not being available. In addition to costs, the witnesses might also comment on the potential health and safety effects on staff and students due to overcrowding and lack of facilities in some schools.
The committee would welcome views on the provision of new or the protection of existing open green spaces for the use of students. We need to ensure that green space is given appropriate consideration by the relevant authorities. We need to consider any cost implications of such facilities not being available.
The committee met in private session beforehand to deal with housekeeping matters and correspondence. While it is not a topic we can go into now, some members again raised issues about school transport. At an in-depth meeting last year, the Minister and departmental officials assured us that there would be no issues for those going back to school this September. We are hearing from our constituents about issues both within Dublin and outside Dublin. While the Department has assured parents that their children have places on buses, Bus Éireann has not assured parents that their children have places. At this point that issue remains up in the air.
Children with special needs are also having issues in accessing transport, particularly to schools that are not their local schools and where they need a travelling companion. The committee feels that is not good enough. While we cannot address the situation in total here, at our first meeting when the Dáil comes back after recess, we will invite the Minister and departmental officials to appear before the committee and to have stakeholder hearings on that.
On behalf of the committee, I welcome once again Mr. John Irwin, general secretary of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools. Ms Karen Jordan, who is the principal of St. Catherine's national school, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8, and Ms Lisa Ryan, who is from Our Lady's Grove Concerned Parents Group, are also welcome. Mr. John Curtis, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body, JMB, is welcome once again. It is good to see Mr. Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, again. I welcome again Ms Deirdre O'Connor, assistant general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO. It is good to see Ms Moira Leydon, assistant general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI, once again. Mr. David Duffy, education and research officer of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, is also welcome back to the committee. We also have with us Mr. Paul Hogan, who is the senior adviser for the forward planning section of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is very welcome to have someone representing the Department with us. This is Mr. Hogan's first time before the committee, I think, but it may not be his only time. We also have Mr. Hubert Loftus from the Department of Education and Skills with us. It is good to see Mr. Loftus again, and I thank him once again for the hospitality he showed committee members when we visited the Department's office in Tullamore on his invitation the last time he was before the committee. It was a very useful meeting for those of us who attended it and we certainly appreciated it.
The format of this part of the meeting is that I will invite the witnesses to make brief opening statements - as I mentioned, a maximum of three minutes - which will be followed by engagement with the members of the committee.
Before we begin, I draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I also advise the witnesses that the opening statements they have made available to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.
I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. John Irwin, general secretary of the ACCS, to make his opening statement. The stage is his.