Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Disability Services

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I tabled this matter looking for the Minister of State with responsibility for disability to make a statement on the lack of access and supports for personalised transportation for disability drivers. This scheme was effectively abandoned in 2013, but it is a very worthwhile scheme that gave great access to people with disabilities. It is a big issue that we need to revisit.

The discontinuation of the scheme has been highlighted by many people. I received a phone call from a former Senator, John O'Mahony, about it last week. He was campaigning on it the past few years and said it needs to be raised again. I have a 34-year-old constituent with motor neurone disease. His wife is his full-time carer, he has two young kids and he is living in a rural part. He is abandoned and has no ability to go anywhere. The only scheme that is applicable to him to get transportation because of his disease is this scheme, which has been discontinued since 2013. When it was discontinued, it was stated that a new scheme, the transportation support scheme, would be introduced in its place. It is nine years later and that scheme still has not emerged. We have been waiting nine years for the Government to bring forward a scheme in order that people with disabilities will have the opportunity to have some kind of quality of life. At the moment, this man is effectively trapped in his own house with no ability to go anywhere, seven days a week. That is unfortunate and it is an issue for us as a society.

The Ombudsman made a critical and damning complaint in this regard in the past few weeks. He published a report on the issue, which stated that since 2016, 335 complaints have been received by the Ombudsman on this issue alone. In the recommendations he said that the lack of personalised transportation for people with disabilities is unfair and entirely unacceptable.

Those are strong words from the Ombudsman on this issue.

For the last nine years we have talked about this issue but there has been no movement by the Department of Health and we need movement now. I have talked to the people who are affected because of their circumstances and they have no hope that we will do something. If the Minister of State looked at the website tomorrow morning he will see that the scheme has been discontinued since 2013. That is a failing by the Government and the Department. An urgent scheme must be brought forward in the near future and in the next few months otherwise the people for whom I advocate, such as the 34-year-old man in Bandon who has motor neurone disease, will literally be prisoners in their homes. We need urgent action otherwise, unfortunately, we will have failed the most vulnerable in society and that would be not just a stain on these Houses but a stain on democracy itself.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I am here to answer on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte.

The Government decided to close the motorised transport grant and mobility allowance administrative grant schemes in 2013. That was on foot of the reports of the Ombudsman in 2011 and 2012 regarding the legal status of both schemes in the context of the Equal Status Acts. The Government also decided to continue payment of the monthly mobility allowance on an interim basis to the 4,700 people who were in receipt of a mobility allowance at the time the scheme closed.

I would like to make this House aware of other transport supports available to people with disabilities. The Revenue Commissioners operate the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concession scheme that provides relief from vehicle registration tax and value added tax on the purchase and use of an adapted car, as well as an exemption from motor tax and an annual fuel grant. The scheme is open to severely and permanently disabled persons as a driver or as a passenger and also to certain organisations. In order to qualify for relief, the applicant must satisfy certain medical criteria and hold a primary medical certificate issued by the relevant HSE senior area medical officer or hold a board medical certificate issued by the disabled drivers medical board of appeal.

The Minister for Finance has given a commitment to undertake a comprehensive review of this scheme to include a broader review of mobility supports for persons with disabilities. Other transport supports available to people with disabilities include the free travel scheme operated by the Department of Social Protection and measures funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development, under the Ceantair Laga Árd-Riachtanais, CLÁR programme, to provide grants to voluntary organisations that provide transport for people with significant mobility issues.

Under the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017 to 2021, the Department of Transport has responsibility for the continued development of the availability of accessible public transport. The Department is committed to this in recognition of the importance of such services to the lives of people with disabilities.

I would like to inform the House that work is ongoing on the policy proposals for the provision of transport services for people with disabilities. There have been a number of recent developments that may impact on these policy proposals including: the Department of Transport's review of active travel and public transport policy, including accessible public transport; the Department of Social Protection has commissioned a cost of disability study, which will inform policy direction on the provision of adequate supports to meet the needs of people with disabilities, including transport costs; and

under the national disability inclusion strategy, a working group was established to lead a review of all Government-funded transport and mobility schemes for people with disabilities.

I can assure the House of the Government's continued commitment to find a long-term equitable solution, which meets the transport needs of those people with disabilities with the most significant challenges.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I do not think that the people in Bandon who are watching this debate will get much joy from the statement. There is a need for urgency regarding this issue. The Ombudsman's report was published in the last few weeks and criticised the Government on the lack of action. It has been nine years since we have looked at this review and we have talked about it but nothing has happened. The people whom I represent are prisoners in their own homes at present. I totally understand that the Minister of State present is not the Minister for Health or the Minister of State at the Department of Health who has responsibility for disabilities. This issue is not about politics but trying to ensure that we give quality of life to these people who live in vulnerable circumstances. I remind the Minister of State and the Government that we have had an awful lot of talk but no action and do not need any more reviews and strategies. We must acknowledge that the Ombudsman who received complaints is right and that the public are right that the scheme needs to be reinstated. If not, then the Minister of State and I will have failed our constituents. I passionately believe that we must do something about this issue.

The work we all do in speaking to constituents and members of the public who suffer as a result of their situation or policies is vitally important. I accept that one can understand an issue better after speaking to a 34-year-old man with motor neurone disease who lives in Bandon than from just reading a report.

I closely work with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and I will convey the comments expressed by the Senator. I will also speak to the Minister for Finance, as my office is located on the same corridor as his, on the basis of the review that he has undertaken to carry out into the Revenue scheme for improving mobility for people with disabilities. That review has committed to broadening the categories that are acceptable. I, again, thank the Senator for rasing this important issue.

I thank Senator Lombard for raising the matter.

Hospital Services

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth. I thank the Cathaoirleach's office for choosing my Commencement matter. I am disappointed and it is not good enough that neither the Minister for Health nor one of his three Ministers of State at the Department of Health are here to debate this issue. However, I understand that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is before an Oireachtas committee because she phoned me yesterday.

My Commencement matter concerns the provision of winter beds and permanent beds for Galway. Yesterday, at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health we discussed the winter plan with Mr. Paul Reid, chief executive officer, and his senior officials in the HSE. I pointed out that we need a plan for each hospital so in this case University Hospital Galway or at least for the Saolta University Hospital Care Group. The national plan contains a promise or commitment to provide 205 acute beds over the period of this winter, also community beds, extra resources for GPs and the like. I asked a question based on the fact that the one in eight people who have been on trolleys over the last eight weeks were on trolleys in University Hospital Galway. I asked how many of the 205 acute beds that are proposed to be provided as part of the winter plan will be located in Galway and the answer I was given was zero. I find it unbelievable that no beds will be given to the hospital that has had the highest rate of people on trolleys over the last eight weeks. How does that make sense to anybody? The reason given was that there is no capacity to put beds in place, no wards have been closed and there is no space without major construction. They said they are considering community beds and private care. Obviously there is no capacity in other hospitals. Certainly I would not advocate that patients from Galway would be transferred elsewhere for care. They want and deserve to be looked after within their home area and within University Hospital Galway. The hospital is at breaking point and there is no capacity within the hospital or within Merlin Park.

The resourcing of GPs is an important area and I have previously raised the issue of Westdoc, which is an out-of-hours service in my region. Westdoc does not cover some parts of County Galway and it does not cover my own area of Moycullen, Rosscahill and Oughterard, which is close to Galway city. If one has an out-of-hours patient that cannot avail of Westdoc then where must he or she go? Such people must go to the emergency department. Yesterday at the committee meeting, Ms Anne O'Connor of the HSE said that the HSE would look at resourcing Westdoc to provide extra provision as part of the winter plan because there are resources available. I welcome that and urge the HSE to consider the matter.

In the meantime, the winter plan does not provide acute beds to Galway and we do not know what will happen long term. We have proposals from an elective hospital, which is likely to be Merlin Park, and an announcement is due to be made.

There were commitments and promises regarding acute beds, but it now seems that none will be provided or the matter is still under discussion.

That is the situation in Galway. We have the most people on trolleys over an eight-week period and there are no short-term or medium-term plans to provide acute beds. There may be long-term plans to provide them depending on how long-term "long-term" is. That is the situation in the largest city in the west and the centre of excellence for hospital care in the west. It is a sorry state of affairs. There are many plans and a great deal of talk, yet the situation on the ground is dire. Nurses in the emergency department are leaving and there is no commitment from the HSE to provide acute beds for this winter.

I am answering questions on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who is appearing before a committee. She sends her apologies.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the issue of additional beds in Galway university hospitals, GUH, raised by Senator Kyne. While additional beds are an important part of the solution to emergency department overcrowding and waiting lists at GUH, it is also important to acknowledge that our response must not be solely based on the provision of extra beds but also on the provision of alternative pathways of care outside the acute sector in line with Sláintecare's right care, right place, right time philosophy.

I acknowledge the scale of the challenge facing our acute hospitals as we head into what is expected to be a difficult winter with increasing levels of Covid-19. The Government is taking action to mitigate the challenges presented. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, published the 2021-22 winter plan on 15 November. The plan centres on three core objectives - emergency department avoidance, patient flow and hospital egress - to mitigate the expected challenges in providing emergency care this winter while also continuing to respond to Covid-19. This year's winter plan recognises that a whole-of-system response is required and outlines how the HSE proposes to manage winter challenges across primary, community and acute care, including measures to allow the public system to access private healthcare capacity.

GUH provides regional services for a wide range of specialties and is also a designated centre for cancer and cardiac services. It has a total of 712 inpatient beds across the specialties - 639 in University Hospital Galway, UHG, and 73 in Merlin Park University Hospital - and approximately 3,500 whole-time equivalent staff.

We continue to invest in UHG to improve services to patients. Six additional critical care beds have recently been opened in GUH. The number of beds open on any particular day is subject to fluctuation as a result of variety of factors. Building works have commenced on the cardiothoracic ward in UHG to provide 12 cardiothoracic beds and are scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2022. The new radiation oncology unit is under way and is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2022. GUH also has access to additional beds in the private hospitals in Galway under the safety net arrangements. Work is progressing to complete a temporary extension to the emergency department to provide additional accommodation. The phased handover is scheduled for the end of April 2022. Merlin Park saw the commencement of building work to deliver two orthopaedic theatres with ancillary accommodation for the provision of elective procedures, which are expected to become operational in January 2022. Finally, the Sláintecare Implementation Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023, approved in May, commits to progressing an elective-only hospital in Galway. The Department of Health is engaged in the preparatory work necessary to seek Government approval to proceed with this project.

I thank the Minister of State for his response on behalf of the Department. He stated: "While additional beds are an important part of the solution to emergency department overcrowding and waiting lists at GUH, it is also important to acknowledge that our response must not be solely based on the provision of extra beds". They should be part of the solution, but they are not in Galway, given that none will be provided despite the fact that it is top of the list in terms of the number of people on trolleys over the past eight weeks. Clearly, the Minister of State's speech should have read, "They are not part of the solution for GUH and we have to look at private care". That is the only solution based on what I heard yesterday from HSE officials at the Joint Committee on Health and today from the Minister of State. We must look to private hospitals in Galway. Thankfully, they are there because they were built and financed, but it is not good enough that there is no physical space to put anything due to bad planning by the HSE and the Saolta University Health Care Group, which have a diversity of opinions about the UHG campus and Merlin Park. Some want to move everything to Merlin Park, some want to move parts to Merlin Park. We are caught in a situation where there are on both sides of the city medium-term, long-term and grandiose plans of €3 billion to €4 billion but there are no medium-term plans to provide extra beds for an area that the national planning framework has identified will see a population increase over the coming years.

The safety net arrangements are being used to utilise capacity within the private hospitals in Galway and a number of other beds are in train for next year. The health service capacity review was clear on the need for major investment in additional capacity in acute and community hospitals combined with a widescale reform of the manner and location of where health services were provided. The current winter plan builds on significant investment in last year's plan, which committed to delivering 1,146 additional beds over the number at the start of 2020. Of those additional beds, 800 are now in place and a further 50 are expected to be delivered by the end of December. Six additional critical care beds have opened in Galway and 12 cardiothoracic beds are due to open early next year.

The health sector is expected to face significant challenges this winter in dealing with Covid-19, the presence of which places additional and unpredictable demands on our hospital systems, including staffing pressures. The Senator accepts and understands that it is not all about beds. Reducing pressure on acute hospitals also requires providing egress arrangements such as additional nursing home places, step-down care and, as he mentioned, providing pathways for people to avoid going into emergency departments because that is their only choice. The Senator stated that Westdoc was under pressure. If people cannot access primary care and their only option is to attend the emergency department and wait for hours, that is not something that they want to do or that the health service wants to happen. The Senator is right that there needs to be a focus, not just on the hospitals themselves, but also on the reasons people are attending hospital and cannot leave hospital.

Departmental Schemes

I welcome the Minister of State.

Councillor Ben Dalton O'Sullivan of Cork County Council and a number of other Independent councillors around the country have asked me to raise this important issue. There has been much discussion in both Houses about our second winter with Covid. While it is not yet known whether we will find a way to live with the virus or will finally kick it, there is one threat that winter will always bring, and that is the cold. We are touching the bottom of the thermometer in some places in the country and snow is on the way for others. In the face of the winter chill, our houses must be up to scratch, doubly so as energy prices rise. The energy efficiency of people's homes is as much a climate issue as it is a comfort one and a health one. That is why schemes such as the better energy warmer homes scheme are of such important, but a scheme can only be as good as its administration. That is why I have raised this Commencement matter.

Last week, I received some information from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. There are 7,280 applicants awaiting works under the warmer homes scheme. The average time from application date to survey completion is 14 months and the average time from application to date to works completion is 26 months. I understand that works under the scheme were suspended this year in line with Covid-19 health measures. These figures do not reflect a significant backlog on account of the health measures, which is positive, but the Minister of State will appreciate that the 26 months from application date to works being completed has entailed an additional two winters in homes of subpar energy efficiency. Combined with talk of power outages over the coming winter, this paints a bleak picture.

I understand that funding for the scheme has increased significantly this year, with €100 million allocated to it, and that the capacity of the SEAI to deliver the scheme is to be expanded.

How will this funding lead to a reduction in waiting times for families on the waiting list? I ask the Minister of State to outline to the House the specific steps being taken by the Department in terms of its funding of the SEAI, and by the SEAI, in addressing this issue.

I thank Senator Keogan for raising this important issue and for the opportunity to give an update on Government action to lower the average waiting times for applicants to the better energy warmer homes scheme.

The programme for Government and the climate action plan have set ambitious targets to retrofit 500,000 homes to a building energy rating of B2, cost optimal or carbon equivalent and to install 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings over the next ten years. These targets represent a very significant increase in the volume and depth of retrofit activity in Ireland. The recently published national retrofit plan sets out how we will achieve these targets and identifies an unprecedented €8 billion up to 2030, to support homeowners to retrofit their homes.

My Department funds a number of grant schemes to support homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their properties. These are administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Since 2000, more than 450,000 homeowners have upgraded their homes with support from these schemes, representing almost one in four homes across the country. This has resulted in warmer, healthier and more comfortable homes that are easier to heat and light.

The programme for Government committed to ensuring that the retrofit programme is socially progressive, with a focus on low-income households and the better energy warmer homes scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low-income households vulnerable to energy poverty. Energy poverty is influenced by a person's income, the energy efficiency of his or her home and the cost of the energy used in the home. The scheme is currently available to households in receipt of either fuel allowance under the national fuel scheme, jobseeker's allowance for more than six months, having children under seven, family income supplement, one-parent family payment, domiciliary care allowance and carer's allowance where the applicant lives with the person being cared for. To date, more than143,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme.

Funding for the SEAI energy poverty retrofit schemes has increased significantly to over €109 million in 2021, with €100 million allocated to the warmer homes scheme. This is an increase of €47 million on last year's allocation and means that almost half of the total SEAI residential and community retrofit budget is available to support people vulnerable to energy poverty. The funding will mean that more households can receive free energy efficiency upgrades, leaving them better able to afford to heat their homes to an adequate level. I have also secured additional resources this year to expand the capacity of the SEAI to deliver the scheme. In addition to delivery capacity, supply chain has increased due to a new broader contractor panel that commenced at the end of 2020. Every effort is being made to maximise outputs in construction activity in the residential sector recommenced earlier this year. The commitment will not only help in reducing our carbon emissions, it will benefit low-income households in many homes. Homes will be warmer, easier to heat and more comfortable, supporting improved occupant health and well-being. Households are also more protected from changes to their income or in the cost of energy.

There are currently just over 7,000 homeowners on the warmer homes scheme work programme. Recent data from the SEAI indicates that for homes completed in the first half of 2021, the average time from application to completion was approximately 26 months countrywide. It is important to note that the average wait times have increased significantly due to the extensive Covid-19 related restrictions on construction activity during much of 2020, as well as between January and mid-April 2021 when the scheme was fully paused in line with Government guidelines. Wait times have been also negatively impacted by challenges associated with availability and longer lead times for materials. The SEAI has advised me that the average wait time should only ever be used as a general guide and that wait times vary based on the demand for the scheme at the time of application, as well as other factors, including the scale of works to be completed, access to the property, availability of materials and the weather.

Looking to next year, budget 2022 has allocated €202 million for the SEAI residential and community retrofit scheme and a further €10 million for the solar PV scheme. More than half of this amount, €109 million, will be used to provide free energy efficiency upgrades to households that are in or at risk of energy poverty. It is estimated that over 4,500 upgrades will be provided under SEAI energy poverty schemes in 2022.

I appreciate the response. I note this matter does not come within the remit of the Minister of State, but the Minister, Deputy Ryan, may not have been available this morning. I am very disappointed. Twenty-six months is a very long time, particularly for those who are on the poverty line. All of the people who can avail of these grants are on the poverty line. It is not only for this winter they will not have an upgrade, but next winter and the winter after that. It is only after that they will get the works done and, as such, it will be three years before people will be able to avail of the warmer homes scheme.

More must be done. We must either reduce the VAT rate or apply a zero VAT rate in respect of retrofit works to make houses warmer for those who are not eligible for works under the free scheme. We need to do something for the people who, possibly, can pay to retrofit their homes to make them warmer. Since 2001, only 11 homes per week have been retrofitted. That is not a success story.

I will take the Senator's proposal with regard to reducing VAT rates to the Minister, Deputy Ryan. The Senator will know that there are two parts to the major retrofit scheme, the better energy warmer homes scheme, which is free, and a further scheme for people who are owner-occupiers and outside of that. To help people to afford it, there are two parts to that, one of which is a grants scheme. We are bringing in a cheap loans scheme as well to fund the other portion of the investment because we know that many people who are working hard but do not fit within that category will be faced with a large expenditure. The idea is that the savings made from reduced energy bills would be used to meet the repayments on the loan. That is important to remember.

This scheme has changed enormously. It has moved from a scheme which had only about €20 million in funding per annum to a scheme that is now six times that size. Every year, it is massively increasing. The sum of €109 million is provided for this year for the better energy warmer homes scheme. The funding for next year will be larger in that there will be a capital carryover from unspent money. For a quarter of this year all construction activity was banned and so works could not be done. This is not just an excuse. There is a huge desire to do this. One of the most important things any Government can do is to keep poorer people warm in their homes in the winter, in particular older people who feel the cold more. It is an absolute necessity. In the face of rising energy prices and so on, it is a priority that we manage to do that. We cannot achieve our climate action goals without doing this. We need to insulate all these homes in this country. It is an enormous project, costing €25 billion over ten years and it requires 25,000 staff. There is huge retraining going on and huge redirection of financial resources. It is a massive priority for us. Any suggestions the Senator may have would be welcomed by my office or the office of the Minister, Deputy Ryan.

Education Schemes

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to the Seanad. I thank him for taking this Commencement matter, which is about the DEIS, that is, delivering equality of opportunity in schools. Schools have not been assessed for years for DEIS and, as such, schools cannot get DEIS status. This has been going on since 2015. A small number of schools were added in 2017 but no schools have since been added to the DEIS programme. This is a huge issue.

A Department of Education report states that schools in higher level of disadvantage are outside of the DEIS programme. DEIS supports include reduced class size, which means more staff, additional funding, access to literacy and numeracy programmes, the home-school community liaison which is funded through Tusla, the school completion programme to support students in second level to progress to third level, again funded through Tusla, and access to the school meals programme through the Department of Social Protection.

I first tabled a Commencement matter on this topic in April this year. In October, I made statements about the urgency of the DEIS identification model. I am again raising the issue today. In welcome the announcement by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, with regard to the roll-out of the hot school meals programme to a further 55,000 students. That is so welcome but, again, this is for existing DEIS schools. In the recent budget, the Government made available an additional €18 million for 2022, with €32 million planned for 2023, to extend the DEIS programme to schools with disadvantage. That is an increase of more than 20% in that budget. What is the status of the technical group that is putting together the model of DEIS school identification? This process has been going on for years. What are the elements and the eligibility criteria?

I believe the Minister, Deputy Foley, has noted there will not be an application system for this programme. How, therefore, are schools to be evaluated? Is it going to be based on a census that is not happening until April of next year? Are we going to have to wait until the census and gathering of data is done? That is just not good enough.

In Ballinasloe we have a DEIS band 1 primary school with additional supports in place for children, though Scoil an Chroi Naofa is still awaiting capital funding for a school building. However, there are no supports at secondary school level in my town. Perhaps we are very special in my town and disadvantage disappears at the age of 12. It is just magically gone - poof, and there is no disadvantage. That would be absolutely fantastic but in the real world that is not the case. I repeat the quote from the home school community liaison, HSCL, there who stated:

The retention of pupils following transfer to secondary school here in Ballinasloe, particularly amongst boys, is challenging. Children leave sixth class having had huge levels of support in primary with DEIS initiatives such as the breakfast club, school lunches, homework club, HSCL and SCP support, affordable book rental schemes, parenting courses, one-to-one pupil parent support targeted at work and attendance including regular home visits with the HSCL and educational welfare officers and so on. These supports are not available in non-DEIS secondary schools. As such, pupils start out in secondary schools at a disadvantage. They quickly disengage and then ultimately we are faced with school drop-outs.

I have also received a letter from a principal in Gortaganny, Loughglinn, County Roscommon. Loughglinn is on the county boundary with Mayo. It is less than 5 km to Ballyhaunis and it is very close to the direct provision centre. In 2014, the school applied for DEIS status and was unsuccessful. There are 89 pupils, 23 of whom are from the direct provision centre. The school reapplied in 2017 and again was unsuccessful. At the moment, over 62% of the children in the school in Loughglinn are coming from direct provision centres. These children are at huge disadvantage. They probably do not even have English as their first language. They need things like first steps reading recovery and maths recovery. It would be invaluable. They need extra support. The current Miss Ireland, Pamela Uba, is a former pupil of the school and would have resided in the direct provision centre in Ballyhaunis. It is all about equality and inclusion but there is no equality of opportunity when children and schools in areas of severe disadvantage cannot access supports.

I am answering on behalf of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue about DEIS schools. Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools is the main policy initiative of this Government to tackle educational disadvantage at school level. Budget 2022 has provided for an allocation of €18 million for 2022 and €32 million for 2023 to extend the DEIS programme to further schools with the highest levels of disadvantage. This represents an increase in funding for the DEIS programme of over one fifth. This year the Department of Education will spend in the region of €150 million on providing supports for schools in DEIS. The programme supports 884 schools and over 180,000 learners. This investment includes providing for over 400 home school community liaison co-ordinators, in the region of €16 million in DEIS grants, additional posts for DEIS band 1 primary schools, curriculum supports, enhanced book grants and access to the school completion programme. Schools in the DEIS programme can also avail of the school meals programme which is provided by the Department of Social Protection.

This package follows an extensive body of work which has been undertaken by the DEIS technical group regarding the development of a model to identify the concentrated levels of disadvantage of schools. This group contains representatives of the Department of Education's statistics and social inclusion units, the inspectorate and the Educational Research Centre. This work involved an initial process of consultation by the Department with the education partners on the technical aspects of the model. The purpose is to ensure that, as far as possible, the refined DEIS identification model can provide an objective and independent means of identifying schools serving high concentrations of pupils at risk of educational disadvantage and also to ensure there is a full understanding of the refined model and its potential application.

The DEIS identification process under DEIS plan 2017 is an objective, statistics-based process, based on school enrolment data and Central Statistics Office data from the national census of population as represented in the Pobal HP index for small areas, which is a method of measuring the relative affluence or disadvantage of a particular geographical area. It is important to note that schools are not required to apply for inclusion in the DEIS programme and all schools will be considered under the refined model. It is also important to note that educational outcomes do not play any part in the identification of schools for inclusion in the DEIS programme at either primary or post-primary level.

The programme for Government set out a commitment to: "Complete the new DEIS identification model, ensuring the extension of DEIS status to schools that are identified as being suitable". This additional funding under budget 2022 has been provided for the extension of DEIS supports to those schools with the highest levels of concentrated educational disadvantage that are not currently in the programme and will allow for that commitment to be achieved. I thank the Senator for raising this matter.

I understand the Minister, Deputy Foley, is not present but as the Minister of State is the representative of the Government today, I must tell him I do not see the timeline in the response. Is there a timeline for when we are going to see the identification model being completed? When is that? Is it going to be as a result of the census? Is that the reason it has been held back? These schools and these children are at concentrated levels of educational disadvantage. The last amount allocated funding under this programme was in 2017. It is crucial we allow even the smallest of supports. How can the Department of Social Protection allocate hot meals programmes to schools outside of DEIS? How can it justify that when it knows others schools are at a higher level of disadvantage? How is it going to do that? The Department of Social Protection cannot do it until the Department of Education decides we have got an actual model it can use for the allocation of schools into DEIS. We do not have that right now and I see no timeline in the Minister of State's reply for when it is going to happen.

I thank the Senator. Her question is about timelines. She asked when the model is going to be ready and when additional schools are going to be added. I would need to ask the Minister, Deputy Foley, for her response to that and I can come back to the Senator through my office if she contacts my office directly. I have no problem with that. As she has seen, there has been a huge increase in funding for DEIS schools and many new programmes. That does create the situation where other schools wish to be included in DEIS, or feel they should be, as well as a desire to see what the outcome of the new model is going to be. I commit to coming back to the Senator on that.

I acknowledge the commitment the Minister of State has made to the House. Coming in to take four Commencement debates is no mean feat and his commitment to us is duly noted.

Sitting suspended at 11.18 a.m. and resumed at 11.31 a.m.