Adjournment Matters

Schools Building Projects Status

The Minister of State can do his first job for the south east by approving the capital funding for this school. I campaigned on this issue for many years before I came into the Seanad. I have raised it on five separate occasions here and have tabled four Adjournment motions. I have done so because it is important to me. I have visited the school, Gaelscoil Philip Barún, Tramore, County Waterford, several times and far too many of its students are being taught in prefabs.

The school has applied for capital funding to build a new building to move the children out of prefabs. Since July the school has worked with its design team to clarify the final stage 2(b) report for architectural planning. All of the Department’s queries have been answered. Ms Noeleen Newman, the major design and construction person for the project, has assured it that the project is effectively at stage 2(b) and needs approval. Only four other schools in the country have completed all the architectural planning stages. This project needs to be included in a new building list as it is shovel ready and will benefit the students. It will create jobs in the area and remove prefabs which have been used for far too long.

The Department’s position is that the earliest it can go to tender is 2018. The school would like the Minister and the Department to bring that forward. Are there any plans to increase the number of schools being built? If that was the case, we would hope this school could be included. The Government is talking about stimulus and investment and if there is, as it says, an upturn in the economy, one would hope for an increase in capital funding across all Departments. If there is to be any increase in school building programmes, I will make sure to do my part to see that this school is included on that list.

The minor works grant has been withdrawn and the school’s maintenance budget has been cut by €10,000 with no prospect of a permanent building being provided in the short or medium term. I will continue to track this issue and to lobby on behalf of the people who use the school, the pupils and the parents. It is welcome that the application has come this far because the school is in a much better position than it was last year or two years ago. We want the building to be built and the funding to be provided as quickly as possible.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to clarify the current position on the major capital project for Gaelscoil Philip Barún, Tramore, County Waterford. The Senator will be aware of the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years. Primary enrolments, which have already risen substantially in recent years, are projected to rise by over 36,000 pupils by 2016 and they are set to continue to rise, with a likely peak at around 574,000 pupils to be catered for in 2018. This compares with some 526,422 pupils enrolled in primary schools for the 2012-13 school year. It is vital, therefore, that there is sufficient school accommodation to cope with these pupil enrolments.

In order to meet the needs of our growing population of schoolgoing children, the Department must establish new schools as well as extending or replacing a number of existing schools in areas where demographic growth has been identified. The delivery of these new schools, together with extension projects to meet future demand, will be the main focus of the Department's budget for the coming years.

While the Department would seek to provide additional accommodation to meet demographic growth, it would also aim to ensure maximum use of existing school accommodation. A priority, therefore, for the Department is to ensure schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking places.

The school building project for Gaelscoil Philip Barún comprises a new eight classroom school with ancillary accommodation. The project is at an advanced stage of the architectural planning process and the stage 2(b) submission was recently approved by the Department. This was confirmed to the school by letter on 25 September last. It was explained to the school that due to competing demands on the Department's capital budget, it is not possible to authorise the project to proceed to tender at this time. However, the project for Gaelscoil Philip Barún is now well placed to progress to tender and construction in the event that further funding becomes available to the Department in the future.

The Senator also referred to the restoration of the minor works grant. The Senator will be aware that the focus under the infrastructure and capital investment programme 2012-16 is on meeting the demand for additional school places. Consequently, there is no funding provided at this time in the 2014 capital allocation for the payment of a minor works grant. Circular letter 0062/2013, which accompanied the publication of the minor works grant scheme last November, advised that the grant will be paid in future years only as funding permits. The Minister is very interested in this matter and has spoken about it on several occasions.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to clarify the current position on the matters raised.

I think what the Minister of State and the Department are saying is that the school has done all the preparatory work and it comes down to whether extra funding will be provided to build more schools, whenever the next round of funding is made available beyond the current capital list. I appreciate the Minister of State may not have the answer now but could he tell me afterwards what plans there are to build new schools and provide extra funding for new schools? If there is no plan until 2018 that is bad news. The pupils, parents and staff would welcome clarification in order that they know exactly where they stand.

I can update the Senator now. We are involved in a budgetary process now and will be next year. The decision was correctly taken to put together a capital envelope for schools for 2012-16. If it is any help to the Senator, that is progressing well. It is ahead of target and provides good value for taxpayers' money. The Minister for Education and Skills is very keen to have additional money spent on capital projects as soon as she can get her hands on it. There is progress in that group of schools.

The aim for this school is to fight to be included in the next project. The school is in a very good position. It has gone through the various stages. It is a question now of when money becomes available. The Senator should keep raising the issue, as he has done today, to ensure it is on the next list of projects. I hope it will not be as far off as the Senator thinks. That depends on circumstances, money and growth. Recent news is good even if the Senator might not want to admit that. I hope that will lead to there being more money available sooner than we all hoped.

My Adjournment matter concerns Colaiste Pobail Osraí and is similar to Senator David Cullinane's but it may not be as advanced. Colaiste Pobail Osraí was established in Kilkenny as an ionad in 1991 with 13 students. It now has 193 students and is the only Irish language second level school in County Kilkenny. Following an inspection by the Department of Education and Skills, it was granted its own roll number. Prior to that it had been within the remit of Kilkenny Vocational School. The application for the next few years shows an enrolment increase of approximately 20 students per year. The only outdoor play area at the school is a basketball court. This is not ideal for 193 students.

The school has been located in temporary prefabricated accommodation on the site of Ormonde College, a post-leaving certificate, PLC, college, since 1995. To date, €930,000 has been spent on temporary accommodation for Colaiste Pobail Osraí, that is, €137,000 per annum, since 2007 and, therefore, it makes sense to move this project on. If some decision is not reached within the next two to three years, there will be no option but for the school to move into temporary accommodation on a more suitable site, which will incur greater expense for the Department, without an overall solution to the problem.

This would incur greater expense for the Department, without an overall solution to the problem. I would appreciate a positive response from the Minister of State.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who wanted to attend but could not do so. I thank the Senator for raising it as it provides me with the opportunity to clarify the current position on the provision of improved accommodation for Coláiste Pobail Osraí, Ormonde Road, Kilkenny.

The Senator will be aware of the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years. Post-primary enrolments which have already risen substantially in recent years are projected to rise by over 19,000 pupils by 2016, as I mentioned earlier to Senator David Cullinane. They are set to continue to rise and will probably peak with around 404,000 pupils to be catered for in 2025. This compares with some 327,320 pupils enrolled in post-primary schools for the 2012-13 school year. It is vital, therefore, that there is sufficient school accommodation to cope with these pupil enrolments.

In order to meet the needs of the growing population of schoolgoing children, the Department must establish new schools, as well as extending or replacing a number of existing schools in areas where demographic growth has been identified. The delivery of these new schools, together with extension projects to meet future demand, will be the main focus of the Department's budget for the coming years.

Coláiste Pobail Osraí operates from prefabricated premises on the grounds of Ormonde College which is in the ownership of the Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board, ETB. I understand it shares woodwork, science, technology and computer facilities with Ormonde College. I can confirm for the Senator that the Department has received an application from the school for major capital funding to provide a new school on a greenfield site. Departmental officials visited the school earlier this year and the Department subsequently provided grant aid to the school to reconfigure existing accommodation within Ormonde College and to purchase additional temporary accommodation. This grant will assist in providing improved accommodation for the school, as well as providing accommodation for increasing pupil numbers.

The forward planning section of the Department is considering the demographic demand for additional school places in all areas of the country, including Kilkenny. The accommodation needs of Coláiste Pobail Osraí and how they might be met will be considered in the context of this review. The review should occur in the timeframe envisaged by the Senator as the forward planning section has been very active analysing various counties. I hope we can work on the report next year to get some indications on pupil numbers, demographics and required school accommodation.

In view of the financial constraints imposed by the need, outlined in the five year plan, to prioritise available funding for the provision of essential teaching accommodation to meet demographic demand, the Senator will appreciate that it is not possible to provide an indicative timeframe at this time for the progression of a building project for the school. The Department will, however, continue to liaise with Coláiste Pobail Osraí regarding its accommodation needs.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to clarify the current position. The analysis will be conducted in a manner that I hope the Senator finds timely.

As the Minister of State notes, the school is sharing a site with Ormonde College, a post-leaving certificate, PLC, college, and is sharing some of its woodwork, science, technology and computer facilities. The school has now been granted three rooms in Ormonde College, which means that the PLC college is being squeezed for space. It is imperative that this matter progresses because the concept of a pobail school was not taken into account at one time but there is now a growing demand for children to be taught through Irish. There is a Gaelscoil in Kilkenny but only 50% of its students, around 25 to 30 pupils, go on to Coláiste Pobail Osraí each year. Other students come from outside areas to attend the school. I urge the Minister of State to keep this matter on the agenda in order that if a site is identified the school can proceed to apply to the Department for a new school on a greenfield site.

Just to clarify, an application has been made relating to a greenfield site. I will discuss this issue with the Minister and her officials. I am interested in this because the PLC area falls within my remit and I am concerned that PLC colleges are not too squeezed. When I travel around the country, I see a greater demand for PLC places and we must work on this issue. I will take an active interest it, with the Minister, and we will give the Senator feedback.

Nursing Home Services

I am raising a matter relating to dieticians employed by the Health Service Executive. I understand that in many parts of the country elderly patients who seek access to a dietician must attend a clinic in a hospital. This costs the health service because an ambulance or taxi must be provided to take the patient to the hospital. As a result, many nursing homes now rely on privately employed dieticians, many of whom are employed by pharmaceutical companies. I do not doubt that these dieticians are above board and I do not question their decisions, but they tend to prescribe drink supplements, some of which are extremely expensive, that are added to the health budget. I was surprised to learn there is no procedure whereby dieticians are employed to visit nursing homes on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to assess patients and advise as to their management. I am seeking to reduce costs to the health service regarding care of the elderly.

I accept that existing dietician contracts cannot be changed and that what I have proposed is not currently part of a dietician's work programme. I know that there is a recruitment embargo but in future when contracts are offered by the HSE to dieticians they should state they may be required to visit nursing homes to give assistance. More than 22,000 people are in nursing homes under the fair deal scheme - that is in addition to those in public nursing homes - which is why I have raised this Adjournment matter.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and for allowing me to address the matter. I am answering on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is responsible for social care.

The HSE is responsible for the delivery of health and personal care services. The current health reform programme involves a major change process which will see a

greater integration and a streamlining of service access and provision for the public. The staff appointed to dietician posts will be required to work as part of multidisciplinary teams delivering a co-ordinated approach to client care. Currently dieticians practice across health promotion, acute hospital services and primary care and interact on a daily basis with service users. There are 129 community facilities through which the HSE provides residential care for older persons and all of these facilities have access to dietetic services. This service recognises the fact that making healthy and nourishing food choices easily accessible to older people in residential care can help reduce the incidence of poor nutrition - both under-nutrition and over-nutrition.

The nursing homes support scheme, the fair deal, provides financial support towards the cost of long-term residential care in nursing homes. The scheme covers the cost of standard components of residential care. While access to dieticians is not covered by this scheme, older people in residential settings are entitled to be referred and assessed for HSE ancillary services and therapies. These include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, OT, and access to dieticians - access is provided in the same way as to those who are resident in the community.

In conjunction with the development of primary care teams, specific development funding has been provided to develop services for older people in the community. Referral protocols, direct access to diagnostics, individual care plans, discharge planning, integrated care pathways and shared care arrangements will allow for a more fully integrated primary care service.

As the HSE implements the reform programme, it continues to review the job descriptions for all posts with a focus on maximising the contribution of all professionals to the overall well-being of the public and all service users.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply which deals with the issue I raised by acknowledging that patients are entitled to access to dieticians under the fair deal scheme but not in a nursing home setting. Short cuts are being taken and dieticians who are not employed by the HSE are being used by nursing homes.

As a result, an additional cost is imposed on the HSE in real terms. I urge the Minister to examine the matter. While dieticians do have access to community facilities and provide support in community facilities, we should now examine the issue in the context of the fair deal scheme in order to ensure we get value for money for the service they provide. The matter should be addressed in future contracts.

The Senator makes a very good point. I must admit I have never read the contract of a dietician; therefore, I am not sure what is in it. Many of them would be private to the individuals concerned. However, what would seem to me to be eminently logical is where a dietician is part of a primary care team or is employed within the community, that he or she would be available to go to nursing homes and speak to relatives in the way a GP does, as suggested by the Senator. The situation is different where a dietician is based in a hospital and his or her job is to work full time in the hospital. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the HSE.

Fire Service

I welcome the Minister. The matter I raise is directed to his colleague in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. It relates to the fire service nationally and the changes that have occurred, specifically the concerns of members of the fire service in County Kerry. The view is that the changes put members of the fire crew at risk.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I am responding to the debate on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. It relates to the development of fire services in Ireland using the standards and norms in the policy document Keeping Communities Safe.

It is a function of each individual fire authority, under the Fire Services Act 1981, to provide a fire service in its functional area. Kerry County Council's fire services are provided primarily through a retained staffing system with full-time officers. Retained firefighters are employees of fire authorities and are organised to provide a fire service through a network of ten fire stations located throughout the county.

Published as national policy in February 2013, the national standards contained in Keeping Communities Safe are in keeping with international good practice and considered crucial to achieving consistency across fire services. From the outset, the work undertaken has focused on the integration of national norms and standards into service planning within each fire service in the period 2013-15.

The approach in Keeping Communities Safe is based on an area risk categorisation system which will be applied by all fire services. That will result in fire station areas being graded across five bands from very high to very low risk categories. The fire service approach to risk management, including response in terms of numbers of fire appliances and fire crews in an area, is to correspond to the risk categorisation. The risk categorisation process has been completed for County Kerry and appropriate risk designations for each station area in the county have been determined.

For the first time Keeping Communities Safe sets national norms for crewing levels. The Keeping Communities Safe standard is that the normal crewing level on the first responding class B fire appliance is five, including an incident commander, with four personnel on the second or subsequent appliances mobilised from the same station. In establishing national standards and norms, the Keeping Communities Safe document reflects widespread practice in Ireland and elsewhere for crewing levels on appliances. A series of task analyses has been prepared to show how an initial crew of five may be used to safely undertake tasks normally associated with a range of fire scenarios.

Rather than compromising or threatening the safety of firefighters, initiatives under Keeping Communities Safe enhance the safety of firefighting personnel. The policy provisions are based on the systems approach and international best practice which have shown how the approaches adopted in Keeping Communities Safe can achieve better results in terms of public safety. Safety provisions under Keeping Communities Safe include guidance on managing safety in fire services and risk assessments for equipment. They complement existing safeguards such as the national incident command system, the ancillary safety statement, breathing apparatus guidelines and a comprehensive suite of standard operating guidelines.

It is expected that fire service management will bring any proposals for significant change in fire service provision to their local authorities for consideration. The principles of local democracy and local accountability for service provision are maintained in Keeping Communities Safe, while the objectives of national standards for important public services such as fire services are introduced.

I thank the Minister for the comprehensive reply. I wish to raise a point to seek clarification. I accept that the matter does not relate to the ministerial responsibility of the Minister, but is it the case that the final say on the proposals rests with local authorities and their members or will the county manager or CEO have the final say on the adoption of the new proposals?

I am not fully sure, but what I am told is that it is an objective in Keeping Communities Safe for each service to develop a new format fire and emergency operations plan. That is provided for in section 26 of the Fire Services Act. Proposed plans are then put forward for consideration and adoption by the relevant county council or city council. All services are developing section 26 plans, taking account of the area risk categorisation, which requires consideration and adoption by the council. I am afraid that I do not know whether that is an executive function or a reserved function, but I imagine section 26 of the Act clarifies the matter.

I thank the Minister.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 1 October 2014.