Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Special Educational Needs

I am delighted to welcome my friend and colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Josepha Madigan, to the House. I am delighted to have her here. I congratulate her on her proactive approach in her Department.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate her on the budget and her securing of investment in special education in addition to that of last year. I thank her for her support to date in Dublin West. She came out to visit Rath Dara Community College, as it is now known, in Dublin 15. She understands the building issue concerning Danu Community Special School. I thank the Government for the opening of Danu Community Special School in November 2019 with the patron, Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board, DDLETB, at the temporary site at Hansfield. I am sure we will talk about the building at some stage but today is more about the resources.

I would prefer it if we were talking about the future of the children, but today I am talking about the future of the school because the school feels it is going from incident to incident and crisis to crisis in managing and not focusing enough on education and learning. When I say "the school", I am talking about the parents and the brilliant work of the Autism School Dublin 15 committee. The committee was behind the opening of the school and campaigned for it.

The children associated with the school have very complex and challenging behavioural needs. They are non-verbal and communicate through their behaviour. They have severe learning disabilities. Some have sensory impairments, and they can have autism spectrum disorder and anxiety. We are dealing with complex cases involving children who were not in school. They are the most vulnerable of all children, and their families are the ones under the most pressure. They need the right resources in their school. They need the wrap-around supports, behavioural therapists, the psychologist, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists. The reality is that they do not feel they are getting them. I am not sure the Minister of State is aware of how serious the circumstances are.

The school has 30 children. This number will rise to 34 in January and to 36, the allocation, in September 2022. The school has a principal, six teachers and 15 special needs assistants, but it feels it needs more based on the assessments of the children.

At the moment they are getting two hours of behavioural support a week with a behavioural therapist. This is three hours remotely. This is their second therapist, which is important to mention in the context of knowledge and consistency. They feel that they cannot focus on education at the moment because they are purely focused on managing behaviours. They need the expertise of a behavioural therapist. They are looking for a full-time behavioural therapist to work with proactive strategies and not to be constantly be dealing with the behavioural challenges.

The school has asked what is the policy and what is the definition of the new special school model. They want clarity on what differentiates them from a special class in a school and about getting those wraparound supports. The needs must be based on the needs of the children not the size of the school. They are constantly battling that with the 1993 Special Education Review Committee, SERC, allocation of one teacher and two SNAs for six students. To the school that is just not enough when dealing with the complexity of the cases. Where does Progressing Disability Services fit around this? We are not just talking about education here, we are also talking about life skills for the future.

The school feels that it is surviving and coping but not thriving or managing. The school is in a building that is not fit for purpose. It has dealt with the pandemic. There is a constant staff turnover. I know the staff personally, and the incentives are not there. Why would the SNAs and the teachers take on these complex cases when they do not feel that they are getting the right supports in this instance? They are overwhelmed. Hopefully we can talk about the building itself in the next section. This is a cry for help.

I thank Senator Currie for her acknowledgement of the resources provided for in the budget. As the Minister of State with responsibility for special education, it was very important to me that we put extra resources into children's additional educational needs of which we are aware there is a whole spectrum. Some 90% of children with additional needs are in mainstream education. If a child has a more complex need he or she will go into a special class, and if it is more severe again the child would go into a special school.

The Senator will be aware there are 126 special schools in the State that look after nearly 8,000 pupils. In the budgets we increased provision for SNAs by 70% since 2011. We are now at 1,165 special needs assistants, and there are 980 new special education teachers, which will help to create about 140 new special school places. We are putting significant funding into this. The Senator mentioned resources at the outset. There is significant funding overall into special education schools and special education classes, and indeed into mainstream schools. It is very important that we provide a flexible and tailored support for each child so that each child gets the appropriate education he or she deserves from the teachers. Obviously, we always look to see if we can do better than we are already doing.

It is important that the Senator has highlighted this issue to me today. My understanding is that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is engaging quite extensively with the school and with the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, in trying to provide a bespoke and tailored support to the school. I understand that the school already has access to a behavioural practitioner, which is de facto the same as a behavioural therapist. There is availability there. One of the issues that is coming back to me is around staff capacity, which the Senator also mentioned, and making sure that staff have adequate training and advice. The NCSE is working with NEPS to make sure that teachers have appropriate training and appropriate insight for this particular area. The behavioural issues often go unnoticed. We often think about education as just teaching the ABCs and the 123s, but it does not work like that. The behavioural issues can be very problematic and particularly in special schools when there is acute need for such training.

The Senator asked about the distinction between a special class and a special school. There is a huge difference in terms of the supports that special schools receive. There are much more enhanced supports from a staffing level and an SNA level. All of the supports they receive are above and beyond those in a special class.

From my perspective, the most important aspect is that there is ongoing support with NEPS, and ongoing collaboration and engagement. They are in constant contact with the school around sorting this out. They will be on site visiting the school next week for further engagement and further discussion. This is a relatively new school. I have been out to visit and I am aware of the building and the issue there. It is important that the school is supported. The Senator referred to the increase in numbers of children from 30 to 36, which may well increase into the future. Obviously, there are mechanisms and processes in place so we can ensure that adequate supports are given on an ongoing basis. When considering special needs in general, there has been an increase in special classes by 386% since 2011. We went from 584 special classes to 2,118 special classes, which is significant.

It is great to know NEPS is to visit the school in the next week. I have been raising this issue for nearly a year and I am not getting around the full-time behavioural therapist requirement. The school community feels that it is not being heard on this. They need the full-time behavioural therapist. The Minister of State said that they get access to more resources but when I speak to the school they want to know the definition so they have something by which they can measure what they have, and to know what the new model is. I believe it is about a centre of excellence. In January 2022 the school will be moving to Rath Dara Community College, but we know that they need a purpose-built school. They cannot just have classrooms attached to another school. These children deserve the full wraparound services and joined-up thinking with the purpose-built specific school with a full-time behavioural therapist.

I do not mind interrupting the Senator because there is very little ambiguity in that presentation.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

I should clarify that in general, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and behavioural therapists come from the HSE. The NCSE can sanction it. The most important aspect is that there is engagement and discussion, and the fact that the NCSE is going out next week and will offer a bespoke solution for the school. It is important that the Senator has highlighted the issue today. The NCSE is aware that I am in the House today and that the matter has been brought up, and we will look at it in the round. It is also about staff training, which is important. There is access to a behavioural practitioner. If the NCSE is of the view that they need to increase those hours, they do have a behavioural practitioner, but that post is not in the particular school. That is the way it works. They can discuss this with the school and see if there is more they can provide. I am very grateful to the Senator for raising the matter. It is very important Danu Community Special School will have adequate accommodation. It is good that they are moving in in January. Who knows what the future will hold> We went out there also with the Tánaiste and the Senator. Hopefully there will be a resolution to that in the near future.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan.

Work Permits

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy O’Donovan, to the House.

I thank the Minister of State for taking time to attend this morning. It is much appreciated. I also thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for selecting this matter. I know he understands the importance of this particular issue to the constituency in which he and I live.

Last week, the Government relaxed the rules on working permits for individuals from outside of the European Economic Area, EEA. This will have beneficial consequences for a number of sectors, including horticulture, which I raised in the House some weeks ago. Other sectors which will benefit include construction and haulage. However, the poultry sector and pig operators have been left out of the permit scheme. They are disappointed and feel they have been forgotten. They believe their sector could be in trouble because it has not been included in the scheme. Unfortunately, their best efforts to recruit workers from the resident and indigenous workforce have proved unsuccessful and they have been forced to go down the road of trying to get workers from outside the EEA.

Poultry farmers in Monaghan believe this is not a national issue because the poultry industry is located primarily in the county and that perhaps that is the reason they have been left out. County Monaghan has gained a positive global reputation in many sectors. I would be here for the rest of the day listing them for the Minister of State. One of those sectors is the poultry industry. Monaghan is, in many ways, the home of that industry. To give some facts, of the 413 poultry meat sites in the country, 240 are located in County Monaghan and 184 of the 186 egg production sites in the country are also located in the county. Farmers in Monaghan tell us that it is not only minimum wage jobs they are seeking to fill and that they need a specialised workforce. Unfortunately, they cannot recruit this workforce locally and are forced to go down this road.

It is worth noting in the week that is in it, with COP26 and the Government’s announcement today of the carbon action plan, that the poultry industry has the lowest carbon footprint of any meat sector. As such, it has serious potential for growth, not just in County Monaghan but throughout the country. I am giving a voice to the poultry farmers of Monaghan and I hope their plea, which I am making on their behalf today, will be advanced by the Department and the sector will get the work permits it needs to ensure business continues and the sector achieves further growth. I look forward to the Minister of State’s response.

I apologise for my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English, who is unfortunately unable to attend the Seanad this morning. He asked me to reply on his behalf and indicated he will facilitate a discussion with the Senator to go through the issues he has raised. He also thanks the Senator for having raising them in the House.

The employment permits system is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-European Economic Area nationals to fill skills and-or labour shortages in the short to medium term in circumstances where there are no suitably qualified Irish or EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is a genuine one.

The system is managed through the operation of the critical skills occupations list and the ineligible occupations list. These are subject to twice-yearly evidence-based reviews in consultation with other Departments, sectoral representatives and the economic migration interdepartmental group. Where shortages are clearly evidenced, the employment permit system is flexible enough to address them in real time.

The most recent review concluded with the announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy English, on 27 October, of a broad suite of amendments to the occupations lists to address the skills and labour shortages of most immediate concern across a number of key economic sectors, including the agricultural sector.

The agrifood sector shows evidence of significant challenges, most notably in meat processing and horticulture, and is continuing to experience unprecedented labour challenges due to the pandemic, in spite of initiatives to attract and retain staff. The number of unfilled vacancies continues to increase with an attendant risk to supply chains and harvests. The Government has responded to address these immediate needs with additional permit quotas for horticulture operatives, meat deboners, meat processing operatives and dairy farm operatives. Ireland is an outlier in Europe in not having a seasonal employment permit. While legislation proceeds to rectify this, these new quotas will assist in the sector.

While mindful of the labour shortages in the agrifood sector but also the continued uncertainty in the labour market, consideration was given to the poultry sector. Changes to the labour market as the economy continues to reopen will help the poultry sector. However, changes specific to the sector for roles such as poultry catcher were not recommended for change at this time. The sector needs to provide more evidence of recruitment efforts undertaken within the EEA through structured engagement with the Department of Social Protection.

As I said, the Minister of State, Deputy English, will be available to discuss the matter further with the Senator. I apologise for the short notice given for his inability to attend. I will bring to the Minister of State's attention any matters the Senator wishes me to raise with him. I fully understand the position of the poultry industry. While County Monaghan is probably the largest producer of poultry, counties Mayo, Waterford and my home county of Limerick are also significant producers of poultry.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. While he is here, I would like to acknowledge the help I have received from officials in his Department. I ask him to pass on my sincere thanks to them.

On the poultry sector, I see some light in the Minister of State's response in that it is now over to the poultry sector to provide the evidence the Department requires showing that it has tried to recruit locally. As I said, that road has been travelled without success. I will, however, communicate with the sector on again producing the evidence of having travelled that road. When that evidence is submitted, as I have no doubt it will be, the Department may then see fit to issue the number of permits the sector requires. The poultry sector is of great importance to County Monaghan and we cannot allow anything to interfere with its continued growth.

The Government’s policy is that employment opportunities which arise in the country should, in the first instance, be offered to suitably skilled Irish nationals and then to EEA nationals, and should only be offered to non-EEA nationals where no suitable candidate emerges from within the EEA to fill the vacancy. The last sentence of my initial contribution is the most important in that the sector needs to provide more evidence of recruitment efforts undertaken and to show engagement with the Department of Social Protection.

This issue arises in other sectors and the Minister of State, Deputy English, has indicated that he is not averse to discussion or negotiations. The Government has shown flexibility with other sectors. We note that the horticultural and agrifood sectors are having particular problems. The Minister of State, Deputy English, represents a rural constituency and is a pragmatic individual. I will bring this matter to his attention and I hope that, in conjunction with Senator Gallagher and farming representatives, a resolution to this matter will be found.

Animal Welfare

I welcome this opportunity to ask the Minister whether the Government will consider banning slug pellets containing metaldehyde from discount stores and garden centres so they are not readily available to households. Britain recently introduced an outright ban on metaldehyde that will come into effect in spring 2022. It did this following research carried out by an expert group on pesticides and health and safety, which found incontrovertible evidence that pellets containing this chemical are harmful to wildlife pets and freshwater supplies, including ornamental ponds. While any outright ban would, of course, require consultation and a lead-in time, surely we could stop the use of these pellets in suburban gardens and public grounds? I volunteer with a hedgehog rescue and every year it takes in hedgehogs foaming at the mouth after ingesting slugs and snails that have consumed the pellets. As the Minister of State will be aware, hedgehogs are a protected species under appendix 3 of the Bern convention and the Wildlife Act 1976 and the amending Act of 2000. However, when it comes to the risks to wildlife from the use of metaldehyde, just hedgehogs are affected. Birds, including birds of prey, have been poisoned, as have foxes and family pets. In Britain it is estimated that at least ten family pets or dogs die a year just from ingesting slug pellets. When it rains, the metaldehyde is washed off the soil and into watercourses, which include ponds, and leads to the poisoning of fish, toads and frogs.

In 2019, we declared a biodiversity emergency and we were the first country to do so. Will the Minister of State consider as a bare minimum that we restrict the use of these pellets in household gardens? Today, anyone can just walk into any of the very well-known discount stores we see in all of our towns and villages and on the high streets and buy these slug pellets for as little as €1.50. I encourage the Minister to roll out a public awareness campaign. I do not think people are deliberately putting down slug pellets to destroy wildlife. They want to protect their plants and they are not aware of the alternatives. Ferric phosphate has been proven to work just as effectively as metaldehyde. Ultimately, we should show people that rather than using ferric phosphate they can make their gardens wildlife friendly by taking very small measures. There are simple measures such as creating a small entrance gap in the fence or gate to encourage hedgehogs to come in. If people encourage their neighbours to do the same, they can ensure hedgehogs have a viable habitat and food to survive in the suburbs.

Any of us who are into gardening, and particularly wildlife watching, will know that if we can encourage hedgehogs and birds into our gardens we definitely do not need slug pellets because they are the best slug and snail deterrents we can have in the garden. Will the Minister of State give a commitment to roll out a public awareness campaign and give serious consideration to at least stopping the sale of these products to people in ordinary households which do not need them for their gardens as there are other alternatives that are safe, and encourage people to make space for nature in their gardens?

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I have a response from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine but in quick response to the Senator's two asks on the restriction of use in household gardens I wholeheartedly agree. People can buy stuff off the shelf in supermarkets and garden centres for domestic use. People should stop doing it. I do not recommend people use those products. They are doing huge damage. We saw it in the past with song thrushes and the impact on wild birds. Certainly we will give consideration to a public awareness campaign from the National Parks and Wildlife Service side. We are more than happy to do this. I will give the Senator the response from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and then sum up and we can exchange views.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the competent authority in Ireland with responsibility for the authorisation of plant protection products, including slug pellet products. Pesticide active substances contained in plant protection products are approved centrally at EU-level based on detailed assessments prepared by member state regulatory authorities and a rigorous peer review process managed by the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA.

Products are subsequently authorised nationally by the relevant competent authorities in accordance with evaluation and decision-making criteria agreed at EU level and taking account of local agri-environmental conditions. Products are only authorised if it can be reliably concluded that the intended uses have no unacceptable impacts on human or animal health and the environment. We have seen with the impending ban in the UK that there is a considered different view out there.

Potential impacts on small mammals, such as hedgehogs, and on other wildlife were considered as part of the active substance approval and product authorisation processes in all cases. Products may be designated for professional use only or may be permitted for amateur or domestic use, depending on the specific intended uses and their risk profiles. They may only be used for the purposes and in the manner for which they have been authorised as outlined on the approved product label.

Slug pellet products authorised for sale and use in Ireland contain one of two EU-approved pesticide active substances. The products are used to minimise the potential for damage to crops or garden plants. Products should only be used if necessary and users should always consider the potential for alternative control methods, such as sowing seeds to a greater soil depth or planting slug resistant crop or plant varieties.

Most of the products are authorised for domestic use by amateur users but some are for professional use only. Products allowed for amateur use generally have a lower risk profile, with less concentrated formulations and lower application rates. I agree with the contention that they should not be used in domestic settings.

Active substance and product authorisations are time limited. They are reviewed by member states if an application for renewal of approval of the active substance is submitted or withdrawn, or if there is no application for renewal. Subsequently, member states review authorisations for products containing the active substance based on the outcome of the EU review process, including amateur uses, in accordance with EU procedures.

The current EU approval period for one of the EU approved active substances used in slug pellet products is due to expire on 31 May 2023. An application to renew its approval is now being assessed by Poland on behalf of all member states. Poland is due to submit an assessment report to EFSA towards the end of this year. The authority will then arrange for a detailed peer review to be carried out, involving public consultation and input from member state technical experts. The assessment and peer review will be based on the most up to date scientific information available, including information on possible impacts on small mammals and other wildlife.

I want to give my commitment, and I want to say that I do not recommend that people use these products domestically. There are alternatives and people should not be using them. We will give active consideration to a public awareness campaign on this.

I really appreciate the response of the Minister of State from his Department and I would be happy to work with him on a public awareness campaign, as would the hedgehog rescue organisations with which I volunteer. I am disappointed we cannot get a commitment from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on putting a stop to them being sold in discount stores. I agree that farmers are trained on how to use these and they know when they should and should not be used. The incontrovertible evidence from the British expert committee on this has found they are very harmful. I echo what the Minister of State has said on encouraging people not to use these products at all. It would be better if they were taken off the shelves. We all know we might live in a bubble and follow the news but most people will just go in and pick something up. If it is cheap at €1.50 and they think it will protect their garden plants, they probably do not realise the damage they are doing. I appreciate the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator. She showed me photographs of some beautiful hedgehogs before we came into the Chamber. They are essential to our biodiversity. It is essential that we have connected habitats for nature. Natural pest control should work far better. Barn owls on a farm are natural predators and pest control in themselves. We need to restore nature as part of this bigger picture.

Looking at the pending UK ban, we will have a situation where one part of the island will have a ban on such products but not down south. An EU-wide review should take place in this regard. We are in the depths of a biodiversity crisis. It is very important that we do this. There are alternative slug control methods out there. Certainly there is a different set of circumstances for commercial crop growers and we recognise this. Once again, I reiterate to the public they should not use these products in their gardens.

Homeless Persons Supports

I welcome the Minister of State. This issue relates to homelessness and young people. If the various controversies relating to homelessness in the past few months - and I do not intend to go into them here - have taught us anything, it is that we need to be constantly vigilant to ensure that those experiencing homelessness are given all the supports they need, that there is no exploitation of them or their vulnerabilities and that the necessary protections, including legislative protection, Government protection and protection from the institutions of the State, are afforded to them at every level. I know there is a high-level homeless task force whose business is under way. I acknowledge the enormous amount of work of the Peter McVerry Trust, the Dublin Simon Community, Focus Ireland, Threshold, Crosscare, Depaul, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and, for that matter, the local authorities, which do a tremendous amount of work. People are not aware of the extent of the work a lot of the local authorities do in co-ordinating homelessness initiatives, nor are they aware of the work of the Minister of State's Department. I am glad to say I have had opportunities to pick up the phone and talk directly to very senior staff in his Department with responsibility for homelessness and housing generally. They have always been responsive and have got back to me, including outside of office hours, and they have assisted these people to get into appropriate homes and care.

What am I asking in the few minutes available to me? I think we know that young people are at a crucial point in their personal, emotional, cognitive and social development. It is a difficult transitional period for many of them but it is more difficult for people coming out of direct provision, hostels, institutions or care centres, where they are meant to be cared for, protected and supported. Such people are leaving an institution or an institutional support system rather than a functional family situation. We know the huge issues facing homeless people. Their needs relate to issues ranging from childhood experiences to poor mental health and problems with drugs or alcohol, and in many cases a combination of all those issues. These are therefore vulnerable people. As I said, many of them are leaving State care, detention or direct provision and others are from migrant or ethnic groups. They need our support.

I will leave the Minister of State with this. I am deeply concerned about the practice of young people being placed in inappropriate accommodation - including emergency accommodation - with adults where they are at risk in the broadest sense of the word "risk". These are vulnerable people, with the State knowing they are vulnerable, and they are placed in situations of risk, intimidation and exploitation. If the Minister of State talks to any of the agencies I have mentioned, they will tell him the same. I am therefore trying to find out how the youth homelessness strategy is working, how it is going and when we will have a definite strategy in place to address and tackle what is a very difficult set of circumstances for young people?

I thank the Senator for raising this really important issue. Yesterday, I opened the Little Houses exhibition in Collins Barracks with the young people from Stoneybatter Youth Service. I urge the Senator, if he gets a chance, to go and look at that exhibition. It highlighted young people's experiences during lockdown of being at home and lots of the myriad issues they faced, in particular being restricted to home life and, perhaps, in some cases, homelessness. I thank the young people I met there. It was a wonderful collaboration with the National Museum of Ireland. It is really important to document that and it is critically important, particularly for young people who have experienced disproportionately the challenges of Covid and homelessness, that we address this. I will outline the Government's priorities in that regard.

A lot of work is already being done on service provision in this area, and I acknowledge the commitment of those involved in local authorities, as the Senator himself said, voluntary organisations and statutory bodies. Housing for All, the Government's strategic action plan, published in September, details how the Government is further approaching this challenge. It includes commitments to develop a youth homelessness strategy within quarter 1 of 2022 and to work to eradicate homelessness by 2030. Having specific policy and actions in this area is based on a fundamental understanding that supporting young people at risk of becoming homeless through strategic interventions can help avoid a cycle of longer term homelessness.

Preparing this strategy involves co-operation and co-ordination between the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman. Key operational elements in the provision of supports to young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness fall within the responsibility of a range of agencies and stakeholder bodies. Action has already commenced on the preparation of the youth homelessness strategy. The Ministers, Deputies Darragh O'Brien and Roderic O'Gorman, and their respective Departments have been engaging with one another, and work in this regard is proceeding.

On his appointment, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, also established a high-level homelessness task force to provide a forum for engagement with key organisations working to address homelessness. The task force is also inputting to the implementation of the commitments on homelessness in the programme for Government and Housing for All. The membership of the task force consists of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, Crosscare, Depaul, Focus Ireland, the Peter McVerry Trust, the Dublin Simon Community, Threshold and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Minister has discussed the preparation of a youth homelessness strategy and sought the views of members of the task force. Work on the strategy will continue through the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, involving broader stakeholder engagement.

It is well understood that certain young people leaving residential care, foster care, prison or juvenile detention services may be at enhanced risk of homelessness. Tusla has a responsibility in this area, which it addressed through the provision of aftercare supports for such young people. Since September 2017, young people leaving care at the age of 18 have the right to an aftercare plan prepared by Tusla. Tusla can provide assistance to young people up to the age of 21 who have been in care. This can be extended until the young person reaches 23 years of age in order to facilitate the completion of an education course. The plan, which includes arrangements for accommodation, is a key response in preventing a young man or woman from falling into homelessness.

Funding for a dedicated accommodation centre for care leavers is also provided through the capital assistance scheme operated by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The scheme funds approved housing bodies that work with local authorities in developing this accommodation. Housing for All specifically recognises the importance of this scheme.

Tackling homelessness across all ages has been a key priority of the Government. Significant progress has been made in recent times, with homelessness among children and families in particular decline. From a peak of 3,873 in September 2019, the number of children in emergency accommodation has fallen by almost 40% to 2,344. I assure Senator Boyhan and others in the House of the work being done to address homelessness among children and young people. Our commitment is to see this work enhanced over the coming years.

I thank the Minister of State for that comprehensive reply. I will reflect on it and perhaps come back to the Department later. The reply has confirmed that we have 2,344 children who are homeless. That is too many. I know the Minister of State knows that. It is desperate that 2,344 of our children are in emergency accommodation. It goes back to the long-term plan and the strategies being worked on, and I acknowledge and accept that. However, we have to be continually vigilant and ensure the protection and safety of these children this very night, not in six months' time. I say that as someone who has been in contact with these agencies and who was a member of the joint committee on housing. No more reports, no more inquiries and no more discussions about the death and cruelty faced by our children. In Ireland, where the State has a responsibility, we see that these children are exposed, are experiencing homeless, are vulnerable and need our supports.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and going through this report from his Department. I appreciate it.

Again, I agree with the Senator. As a statistic, 2,344 is way too high a number. We want, and the Government is committed, to end homelessness. I reiterate that addressing homelessness is a priority of the Government. Budget 2022 reflects this priority with provision of €194 million in funding for homelessness services. When account is taken of Covid-related costs, this is an increase on the baseline funding provided in 2021. Good progress continues to be made, which is shown by recent homelessness reports published by my Department on Friday, 30 October 2020. These reports show that exits from homelessness remain strong and that the number of people in emergency accommodation remains well below the numbers recorded in 2019 and 2020. While there remains a lot of work to do on this front, I recognise the progress that has been made on the ground by local authorities and our NGO service providers in changing people's lives. I appreciate the fact that the Senator has mentioned local authorities specifically. They do amazing work on the ground. I know that from my county.

Significant numbers of households continue to exit homelessness into a home each month. We will continue to build on the good work already being done in this area. In the case of young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, I reassure Senators that my colleagues in the Government and I are doing everything we can in that regard. We will continue to work towards our national goal of eradicating homelessness by 2030. We recognise the key challenges, particularly for young people, and we are deeply committed to continuing to address this issue together.

Sitting suspended at 11.21 a.m. and resumed at 11.34 a.m.