Adjournment Matters

National Drugs Strategy

I raise this issue because on Monday the Irish Examiner examined figures released by the Health Research Board which indicated that in 2004, 34 cases of heroin addiction had been noted in Cork. This figure had increased to 254 in 2010. More heroin is being used and more users are being treated. Since 2008 resources have increased. There was one part-time doctor and a small number of counsellors, but now there are four full-time doctors, three nurses and additional counsellors.

We have been fortunate in Cork. In the past there was no heroin epidemic or high incidence of heroin use by comparison with the position in Dublin. We have had the good fortune to escape the problem. However, difficulties have arisen with the use of ecstasy and cocaine. The use of heroin is very worrying if it takes hold because of the crime associated with it. Heroin users are socially excluded and have poor social skills. Traditionally, they have difficult family backgrounds, high levels of social welfare dependency and low levels of educational attainment. There may be an increase in crime, from handbag snatching to more serious thefts and burglary, because heroin is more expensive than other drugs. It can wreak havoc in a community if it takes hold. There has been a low incidence of heroin use in Cork; it was relatively unknown as far back as 2008. However, it is becoming more prevalent and I am concerned that its use could escalatel I, therefore, ask that the existing facilities be protected.

I congratulate the Garda on the work it is doing. It told a joint policing committee last September that it felt the problem was under control and that there had not been as many seizures of the drug as in previous years. This is positive. The drugs task force is working in the community with families, community groups and youth groups, in particular, to tackle heroin use to prevent an escalation. That is why I wanted to raise the matter. I want the Minister of State to assure me the Government recognises the importance of stemming the tide at this stage. We have not had a major problem in Cork and I would not like to see one develop.

I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly.

Heroin use continues to be concentrated primarily in Dublin and other urban centres, particularly in Leinster and the south of the country. While the prevalence of heroin has stabilised in the Dublin area, its use has become more widely dispersed around the country. One of the aims of the national drugs strategy is to expand opiate substitution treatment provision to meet requirements on a countrywide basis.

The number in opiate substitution treatment outside Dublin increased from 928 in 2004 to 2,436 in 2010. This is a trend that we welcome and one on which we intend to build. The provision of treatment is obviously positive and the increase in the treatment number does not necessarily indicate an increase in heroin use. Rather, for the most part, it involves people being able to access treatment that was not available in earlier years.

The Government considers heroin use to be a very significant ongoing problem and a source of serious concern in many communities. At the end of 2011, 9,251 people were in opiate substitution treatment. In total, 10,711 people received such treatment during that year. Such figures indicate that a substantial proportion of opiate users are now receiving treatment to address their drugs problem.

The total number on waiting lists for opiate substitution treatment in the first half of 2011 was 343 and we expect a reduction in this figure when updated figures become available. There are no under-18s on waiting lists. New opiate substitution facilities have opened in Cork, Tralee, Wexford, Kilkenny, Waterford, Limerick and Dundalk in the past two years. Furthermore, residential detoxification facilities have been established in counties Cork, Limerick, Carlow and Kilkenny.

In regard to the Cork region in particular, there has been significant investment in drug and alcohol services in HSE South in the past two years. For the past year, there has been no waiting list for opiate substitution treatment in the region and there has been a commensurate increase in the number availing of such treatment, from 34 in 2004 to 254 in 2010.

Let me outline recent initiatives in drugs services in the Cork region. Additional opiate substitution clinics were set up at Heron House, Blackpool, Cork, and at Edward Court, Tralee, and services increased at Arbour House, Cork. There is access for people from the HSE South region to dedicated residential detoxification beds provided through the voluntary sector at Farnanes, County Cork, Bruree, County Limerick and Tullow, County Carlow. Additional GPs were recruited — with the equivalent of three full-time GPs now compared to one part-time GP three years ago. Three new full-time nursing posts were established in counties Cork and Kerry. A full-time psychologist was appointed. The equivalent of 11 additional addiction counsellors are working in counties Cork and Kerry and a drugs rehabilitation co-ordinator was appointed for the region.

These initiatives underline the progress being made to address the use of heroin and other drugs in the Cork region. My colleagues in the Department of Health are determined that there will be increased focus on rehabilitation from problem drug use in the coming years. Meanwhile, An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners' Customs service are continuing to tackle vigorously the supply of illegal drugs in Cork and across the rest of the country.

I thank the Minister of State for his summary of the services available. I particularly welcome the positive news that the waiting list has been reduced and that there are no under-18s thereon.

I will pass on the Senator's sentiments to the Minister for Health, to whom the question was addressed, and the responsible Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, who has a particular interest in the matter and done a lot of work in the area.

I am aware of that.

Cycle Lanes

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alan Kelly, and call on him to comment on the newly installed double cycle lane at Stapleton Place in Dundalk which has badly affected the safety of residents and road users in general. The road is one of the widest and most picturesque in the town and of high aesthetic value. It was completely rearranged in recent months to facilitate the installation of the double cycle lane on a one-way street. Prior to the installation, two lanes of traffic were facilitated.

As a result of the new cycle lanes, the area presents a safety hazard for residents. Residents living on the left hand side of the road face cyclists if they get out on the passenger side of a car and face oncoming traffic if they get out on the right hand side. Many people with young families are living in the area and find manoeuvring prams, buggies and car seats very dangerous. I witnessed at first hand the danger for all residents, especially those with small families and people with disabilities, whom I know live on the road. They have considerable safety concerns. No matter from what door they emerge, they are emerging into traffic.

Why were residents not consulted before the road works commenced? I understand there was no obligation to consult them. Surely, however, they should have been consulted and their opinions sought before the works were carried out. I am in favour of the installation of cycle lanes and encourage people to cycle so far as possible. I understand the value of cycling, but where it presents a safety hazard for other road users, more consideration should be given and consultation should take place.

Since the cycle lanes were installed, I have not seen an increase in the number cycling on the road, despite the fact that there is a school at the end of it. The junction at the entrance to this road also has been narrowed to ensure that traffic entering is reduced to a single lane. This is causing huge traffic congestion on the road and in the surrounding areas and is completely unnecessary. Moreover, what I can only describe as an unsightly lump of cement has been placed at the entrance and is extremely dangerous. I have witnessed one car hit against the side of it through no fault of the driver. As a result of these road works, the surface of the road is completely unsatisfactory and for the first few weeks after it was laid, I thought it was a temporary road surface. I question the value achieved for the money spent on this project, which was funded by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and would be grateful for a full review of how this project was carried out.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and for giving me the opportunity to outline the Government's commitment to smarter travel and to address the issue in question.

My Department provided almost €10 million in capital funding for projects under the jobs initiative scheme, which included the improvement of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and other sustainable transport measures in towns and rural areas outside the greater Dublin area. Works completed include cycle paths and cycle parking, pedestrian routes, improvements to pedestrian and cycling accessibility to key destinations including town centres, public transport locations and education centres or schools, low-cost traffic management and signage schemes and low-cost safety measures to enhance the attractiveness of walking and cycling.

Works at Stapleton Place, Dundalk, were funded under this jobs initiative scheme. These works comprised a two-way cycle track, enhanced pedestrian route and speed reduction measures on Stapleton Place from its junction with Hill Street to its junction with The Crescent. I must stress the design of the cycle lanes and associated works was and is a matter for Dundalk Town Council. My Department is not in a position to undertake or supervise that level of detail for each of the many projects funded throughout the country. I have been informed by Dundalk Town Council that a number of design issues have been raised locally concerning safety along this track, such as the interaction between cars and cyclists at certain junctions, car parking along the cycle route and the visibility of the kerb installed to separate the cycle track from the road. The local authority has undertaken to conduct another safety audit of the route and is engaging with the local community to address the safety issues raised. I hope issues pertaining to this project can be resolved locally. I assure the Senator that when I visit the area, which I hope to do in the coming weeks, I will engage with the council, if necessary, in respect of this or any other matter that may be of assistance to the Senator.

This and other projects are important in making progress on sustainable travel. Persuading people to travel smarter is a key element of the Government's transport policy, that is, helping people to make smarter choices about their personal travel habits by choosing to walk, cycle or take public transport rather than taking the car for every journey. Smarter travel can be sidelined in the transport debate, as getting more people to cycle more often is not as straightforward a deliverable as a new stretch of motorway or a fleet of trains. No one disagrees with the idea that increased walking and cycling or active travel is good. What we need to accept as a nation is that a move to active travel is fast becoming a necessity. Active travel is necessary to improve the nation's health, to make our communities liveable and to reduce our emission outputs and energy use. A sustained shift to more active travel modes will contribute to our national competitiveness, as well as our well-being. Increased cycling and walking increases the health and fitness levels of the workforce, a less congested road network improves the movement of goods and people and towns that are not blocked with traffic are more attractive places in which to live and do business. My Department has taken a two-pronged approach to promoting active travel, namely, improving cycling and walking infrastructure around the country, thereby making it safer and more attractive to walk and cycle, allied with the promotion of active travel to persuade people to get out of their cars.

The final point I will make to the Senator is this is a matter for Dundalk Town Council. While she has brought it to my attention, it primarily is a matter for the council. That said, when I visit the area, if necessary I will discuss this and other matters with the council.

I thank the Minister of State and welcome his statement that he will visit the area affected when he comes to Dundalk. I look forward to showing it to him on that day and to consultations with Dundalk Town Council to resolve the matter locally.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and first wish to acknowledge there was good news for Carrick-on-Suir earlier this week. I commend the Minister for Education and Skills for including a new VEC school for Carrick-on-Suir in the five-year capital programme. The Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, visited Carrick-on-Suir within the past ten days, when he and I discussed this matter, with which he is familiar. The present position, according to correspondence received by Presentation primary school on 2 March, is the school is to lose eight teachers from September 2012 in the event of the proposed cuts going ahead. Four of these teachers were in legacy posts put in place through the giving children an even break scheme, two posts derived from the general allocation model and one post was allocated as part of the English as an additional language scheme. In addition, because of a reduction in numbers, a further teacher will be lost to the school. The school has the highest number of teacher losses of the 15 non-DEIS schools in its category. In 2001, the school was allocated four posts as part of the Giving Children an Even Break scheme. When the school applied for DEIS status in 2005, it unfortunately was unsuccessful but the aforementioned four posts remained in place and this position has continued until the present.

Carrick-on-Suir actually went backwards economically during the Celtic tiger period and the benefits of the latter did not reach that town. As a result, when the RAPID programme areas were brought into being, Carrick-on-Suir was designated as a RAPID town because of its levels of disadvantage. The south Tipperary social inclusion report of 2008 was based on the 2006 census and makes reference to deprivation indices. The relative deprivation score for the south east is 3.5 but that for Carrick-on-Suir is minus 13.9, which indicates it is an electoral district with one of the highest levels of disadvantage within the country. The report highlighted the problems of unemployment and high levels of lone parent-headed families. It states that Carrick-on-Suir and district are educationally disadvantaged, with unemployment currently running at 20% within the town.

Another issue within the town of Carrick-on-Suir is the high number of asylum seekers. I note that 120 asylum seekers from 12 countries are based in the Bridgewater House hostel in Carrick-on-Suir. The number of foreign nationals within the area has increased from comprising 2.9% of the population in 2002 to a total of 407 in 2006. As a result, the school has an English teacher as an additional language teacher with a class of 24. Despite the class having 24 pupils, this post is due to be extinguished as a result of these cutbacks.

I earnestly ask the Minister of State to consider how a school with 26 teachers will have its complement cut by eight teachers or almost one third. It is not practical to run a school in this way. Both the parents' council and the teaching staff understand and realise there must be some clawback of posts. However, I ask that this be done in a structured fashion and over a number of years, rather than in one fell swoop. I seek a favourable response in this regard.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter, to which I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. I wish to outline to Members the allocation process for primary schools, including the reforms to the teacher allocation process that are being made and that will take effect from September 2012, and in so doing I will address some of the Senator's concerns.

The relevant appointment and retention figures for mainstream staffing for the forthcoming school year have been published on the Department's website. However, the staffing arrangements in schools for the 2012-13 school year, including the one referred to by the Senator, can also be affected by changes in enrolment, the impact of other budgetary measures and reforms to the teacher allocation process. The reform of the teacher allocation process has been designed to bring about a more equitable distribution of existing posts between schools. Inevitably, some schools will lose posts, while others will gain them.

While the Government has tried to protect as best as possible front-line services, difficult choices had to be made to identify savings across all Departments in line with the requirements of the EU-IMF programme of support for Ireland. Achieving savings in education is particularly difficult, given the significant increases in the overall numbers of pupils in schools. Notwithstanding this, the Government has protected the 28:1 pupil-teacher ratio at primary level, prioritised targeted support for the most disadvantaged schools and maintained the overall numbers of resource teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, to support children with special needs.

The new arrangements incorporate a long overdue updating of the general allocation model, GAM, learning support allocation for all schools. Inevitably, this involves changes to existing clustering arrangements, whereby a teacher is shared between schools. A further change is that schools in any locality are empowered to cluster and arrange their GAM resources in a manner that best suits local needs. This should be completed by schools by 16 March.

There are new and separate arrangements for how resource hours for individual pupils are converted into teaching posts in schools. The requirement for resource hours in a school varies from year to year, depending on the number, if any, of its pupils with autism, etc. Small schools generally have a lower requirement for resource hours. The new arrangements take account of the later timescale for the allocation of these hours necessitated by individual assessment by the National Council for Special Education. All the changes have been designed to enable a more efficient operation of the teacher allocation and redeployment process in the new climate of a fixed ceiling of teacher numbers.

Budget 2012 provided for the phased withdrawal of approximately 428 posts allocated to some schools under disadvantage programmes prior to the introduction of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, initiative in 2005. As announced, the withdrawal of 192 posts from primary schools outside DEIS band 1 and 2 and DEIS second level schools will proceed, including the 38 posts from 15 non-DEIS schools which include the four posts in the school in question. Three posts will also be withdrawn as a consequence of a combination of falling enrolments and reforms to the teacher allocation processes. The school has the option to cluster 15 GAM-English hours as additional language hours with a neighbouring school to retain a further post.

The staffing schedule also includes an appeals mechanism for schools to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent appeal board. Details of the criteria for appeals are contained in primary Circular 0007/2012. The existing staffing appeals criteria have been extended to enable limited phasing arrangements for schools where the combination of budget and reform measures impacts in a particularly adverse manner on a school's overall allocation. Schools such as the one in question that are due to lose three or more posts as a result of a combination of budget and reform measures will be able to apply to the staffing appeal board with a view to having a portion of the loss of posts deferred to the 2013-14 school year. This may assist the school in question. The closing date for submission of appeals for the April meeting of the staffing appeal board is 23 March. The board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final. It is intended that the board meeting will take place on Wednesday, 18 April, which will be prior to the release of the main redeployment panel and allow for any impact of the board's decision on redeployment panels to be taken into account. However, it is important to note that all schools that have surplus teachers for redeployment are required to return the completed redeployment forms to the Department on or before Friday, 16 March.

I acknowledge the Senator's concerns and see the issue in the light in which he presented it. The Department will be working with schools and the relevant education partners to ensure the new arrangements operate as efficiently as possible.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. The school in question is preparing its appeal which I understand has almost been finalised. I hope common sense will prevail, as the school wants to continue to operate. It is already operating in difficult circumstances. I have outlined the position of disadvantage in the town and that the school is also providing an education for 24 asylum seeker children living in the town. I am glad the Minister of State has said cognisance will be taken of local circumstances.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.45 p.m. until 12.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 21 March 2012.