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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 17 Feb 2022

Vol. 282 No. 14

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Legal Aid

I welcome the Minister of State to the House to discuss this important matter. As the Minister of State knows, the cornerstone of decent society is access to justice. Civil legal aid plays a crucial role in this access to justice. A review of the civil legal aid system in Ireland is long overdue. Demand for a root-and-branch review grew over the years, because it became apparent that there was an unmet legal need.

Last summer, it was announced that a review would take place in the third quarter of 2021. I believe it was the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, who announced the review of the legal aid system, on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, who was on maternity leave at the time. The Minister of State, therefore, would be very familiar with this issue. That review was very much welcomed, because there was a wide awareness of the unmet legal need. Unfortunately, that review has not yet commenced, and it is now mid-February 2022. When will that review commence?

Last July, Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, wrote to the Minister for Justice on behalf of more than 40 NGOs. I have that letter here with me. I would like to add that I was a FLAC volunteer for a number of years. It is an excellent organisation and it provides an excellent service. It wrote this letter to welcome this announcement of the review on behalf of more than 40 NGOs, charities and other non-profits working with marginalised and vulnerable communities throughout Ireland. These organisations include Women’s Aid, Inclusion Ireland, Down Syndrome Ireland, Barnardos Ireland, Pavee Point, AsIAm and the Mercy Law Resource Centre. These organisations, as I said, work with a broad range of communities throughout Ireland, such as migrants, Travellers, members of the Roma community, deaf people, lone parents, disabled people, victims and survivors of domestic violence, unemployed people, the working poor and more. They have identified, through their long years of work with people and their advocacy on behalf of these people, an unmet legal need in the current civil legal aid system.

In their letter, they have suggested a number of elements that are essential to the review. I am calling on the Minister of State to confirm that these elements will be contained in the review by the Department of Justice. First, it must be a root-and-branch review that is comprehensive in scope and that will map the unmet legal need. It should explore the functions of the Legal Aid Board. The eligibility criteria should be seriously looked at, including the means test and the financial contribution. The areas of law covered by the scheme need to be updated. The methods of service delivery, such as community law centres and specialised legal services for disadvantaged groups and individuals, should be looked at. An important point is that it must be chaired by an independent person of status, such as a judge with an interest in access to justice and public law. At its centre, the review must have the voices of those currently experiencing the unmet legal need and involve all key stakeholders. It must measure the civil legal aid system against international standards and compliance with the State’s obligation under the Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities and the public sector equality and human rights duty contained in section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality and Commission Act 2014.

This review needs to start immediately. We are failing people every single day. As a modern, progressive and wealthy society, we cannot stand over it any longer.

The Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, on whose behalf I am taking this matter, thanks Senator Clifford-Lee for raising this issue, which gives me an opportunity to update the Seanad on this important matter.

The Legal Aid Board’s provision of legal advice and representation under the civil legal aid scheme plays an important part in assisting individuals to resolve their disputes. It is recognised, however, that demands on the civil legal aid scheme have grown and that to provide maximum benefit to those for whom it was established to serve, a review of the scheme is appropriate, not least in light of societal change in Ireland over recent years. We must also acknowledge the reality that the resources available to fund the civil legal aid scheme are not infinite.

We must aim to ensure that those in most need and whose means are insufficient can continue to avail of the civil legal aid scheme to the maximum extent possible, consistent with their legal needs.

The Minister is committed to undertaking a review of the civil legal aid scheme and her Department is currently working to finalise the mode and terms of reference of the review. As part of the review process, it is intended that there will be significant consultation to ensure that the insights of a range of stakeholders regarding the operation of the scheme, and how best to support those of insufficient means with legal needs, within resources that must of necessity be constrained, will inform the work of the review group. One of the areas which may be considered in the review is eligibility for civil legal aid. The review may also contain a research element which could, among other things, identify international approaches to supporting people with legal assistance needs.

Since the civil legal aid scheme was established more than 40 years ago, Irish society has changed and the demands on the scheme have grown. In order to provide maximum benefit to those it was established to serve, within the finite resources available to fund legal aid, a robust, comprehensive review of the scheme is now timely. Dependent on finalisation of the approach and confirmation of membership, it is envisaged that the review group will commence its work in the coming weeks.

I am pleased to hear that the review will commence in the coming weeks. Could the Minister of State confirm that the review group will be chaired by a judge or somebody of similar standing with an interest in public law and access to justice?

I am a little concerned because the Minister of State referred a couple of times to "the finite resources available". For a civil legal aid system to work, it must be properly resourced. I accept every Department works within finite resources, but in the current climate where we are talking about women in particular having access to justice, we know that lone parents and people in situations of domestic violence are especially vulnerable on a number of fronts but, in particular, in their access to justice. I ask that the legal aid scheme be properly resourced.

I will pass on the Senator's views and comments to the Minister. She is committed to undertaking a review of the civil legal aid scheme and the Department is currently working to finalise the mode and the terms of reference for the review. Dependent on the finalisation of the approach and confirmation of membership, it is envisaged that the review group will commence its work in the coming weeks. Significant consultation will be required to ensure that those in most need and whose needs are insufficient can continue to avail of the scheme within resources that of necessity must be constrained. Ultimately, the review should map out a future for the civil legal aid scheme, which in the Minister's view is one that should provide for a flexible service that has, as far as possible, the capacity and resources to respond to the priority legal assistance needs of those with insufficient means. I will pass on the Senator's comments.

Public Transport

It is nice to see the Minister of State. She is very welcome. I raise the very serious issue of the lack of progress in regard to both public and road transport infrastructure for Limerick. It is causing major concern to people across the city and county.

I will cite a few of the key areas on which I would like to get a response from the Minister of State. The first is the northern distributor road. This is a key element of infrastructure for Limerick city. Right now we have serious traffic congestion at the Mackey roundabout. We have serious problems across the University of Limerick campus. At its peak level of busyness, it can take up to 45 minutes to get from the back of the campus to the front gates. We have massive traffic issues across Corbally, all of which would be relieved by the northern distributor road. Unfortunately, the senior Minister has set his face against this road being developed. It is not mentioned in the national development plan.

Then we get on to the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy plan, except we do not get on to that because even though it was supposed to be produced last year, we are still waiting for it. In fact, we do not know what is going to be in that plan at this point in time.

We then have the M20 motorway, something the Minister of State's party colleagues have spoken about for years. The linkage between Cork and Limerick is something I very much support. The vision that most of in the west have is for an Atlantic corridor linking Cork, Limerick and Galway, acting as a counterweight to Dublin and being able to use those synergies to produce a real development alternative for business, people and commuters. Unfortunately, again we seem to be on hold. The senior Minister has set his face against the M20 motorway. He is on record as saying that at a committee meeting on transport just two weeks ago. This is a road that people lose their lives on every year. It is a horrific road. My brother-in-law almost passed away in an horrendous accident on it just two years ago. The project is on hold. The argument being made by the Minister of State's senior colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is that we need to focus on public transport instead. I do not agree with him. I do not think it should be either-or; we need to do both.

Let us look at public transport. The Government has been in place for nearly two years and the Minister has spoken about developing trains across Limerick city. I support that call. Sinn Féin is on record as far back as 2014 calling for a light rail network across Limerick city. Again, all we have had is talk. We need to see simple wins across Limerick city. For example, the Ballybrophy line, which runs into Limerick city, could be upgraded, but instead of doing it rapidly the Department is doing it literally on a piecemeal basis. Just two miles were upgraded last week. We still have six miles to do. We cannot increase the speeds or look at additional services until we do that. Currently, the journey time between Limerick and Galway is just under three hours. We could have stations at Moyross, Corbally and Dooradoyle. We have heard the Minister talk about it, but the problem is we are two years into the Government's term and nothing, as such, is planned. We are talking about a rail review that will not be completed until the end of the year, at which point I predict there will be a further feasibility study and then the lifetime of the Government will effectively be at an end.

What we have had on the one hand is that the Government has put on hold key infrastructural projects that Limerick city badly needs while, at the same time, we have had lots of talk about public transport investments but no deliverables that make a difference. I will give a simple example. Right now, anyone who wants to go from Castletroy to the university, a very common trip, has to take a bus into town and get a bus back out because the service works on a loop basis. There are simple wins that could be implemented to make public transport much more effective. If I want my kids to use the bus service in my village of Castleconnell, there is a wait of three hours for a bus to get into Limerick city on a Saturday. These are simple wins, but we have seen no concrete measures to support people in Limerick. There is great frustration. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to talk about this issue in the House today. I am responding to it on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has responsibility for public transport and roads.

Transport investment in Limerick in the coming years will be guided by the forthcoming Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy. I am sure the Senator is aware that the strategy is being developed by the National Transport Authority, NTA, in collaboration with Limerick City and County Council, Clare County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. A draft strategy was published in September 2020 and was open for public consultation for eight weeks. The draft strategy was based on a comprehensive analysis of population projections, development density and future travel demand patterns. This allowed for careful consideration of transport needs across Limerick and the potential role all modes of transport might play in meeting those needs.

The draft strategy that was published for public consultation placed a strong focus on compact growth in line with the national planning framework, NPF. It supported the development of sustainable transport patterns to enable the planned expansion of the metropolitan area and help meet the projected travel demand set out in the NPF. Since the conclusion of the public consultation exercise, the NTA has conducted further analytical work to inform the next iteration of the strategy. I understand that the key issues raised in the submissions received as part of the public consultation process related to the need for a stronger vision within the strategy; the need for clearer modal shift targets and; and the need for greater consideration of Limerick regeneration areas.

I understand that the role of rail in the region was also raised during the public consultation and that role was further examined by the NTA for inclusion in a revised draft strategy. Planned sustainable transport investment in the Limerick metropolitan area in the coming years includes upgrades to pedestrian facilities, a radical improvement in the cycle network and delivery of a BusConnects programme. BusConnects Limerick is an ambitious programme which will provide a step change in the quality of the bus services in the city by providing for extensive bus priority, new vehicles and increased service frequencies.

It will be implemented alongside a range of behavioural change measures to encourage more people to make sustainable options their preferred modes of transport. The delivery of BusConnects Limerick alongside improved and expanded active travel options in the city can facilitate a modal shift and have a positive impact on transport emissions.

There are also a number of proposed national road projects in the Limerick area, as the Senator alluded: the N21-N69 Limerick to Foynes road, including the Adare bypass; the N21 Abbeyfeale bypass; the N21 Newcastle West bypass; the N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction road; and the N20-M20 Cork to Limerick road. These national road projects are at varying stages in the development process and the national development plan, NDP, funding envelope up to 2030 will enable their progression through the public spending code and the statutory approvals process.

I understand that the NTA will soon undertake a second round of public consultation on a revised draft Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy. Once the public have had their say, it is intended to finalise the strategy and publish it as the completed transport framework for the city. When finalised, it will set out the framework for investment in transport for the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area for the next 20 years. Importantly, the strategy will be integrated within relevant land use plans. This integration is crucial if we are to enable the emergence of more sustainable modes of transport in a Limerick that provides citizens with better access to work, education and leisure opportunities through improved transport infrastructure. I look forward to the delivery of the much improved transport network in the Limerick area in the years ahead.

Before I call Senator Gavan, I wish to acknowledge the presence of Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan and his guests. I thank them for their visit to the Chamber.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. I am disappointed, though. The elephant in the room is the fact that we do not have a republished Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy. The first draft was so poor that councillors from all parties said it was not fit for purpose. It was due to be published last October. We are now heading towards the end of February and it is still not published. We do not know what is in it.

There is a lack of commitment to targeted deliverables that will make a difference for people in Limerick. I have cited examples of simple changes to bus services that could make a difference. I have cited the example of the Ballybrophy line, the upgrade of which needs to be finished so as to allow for increased speeds and additional services. These would be simple wins for the Government but they are not being delivered. Of most concern is that there is no mention of the northern distributor road, which is further confirmation that the Government has abandoned a key project in Limerick's infrastructure.

Transport investment in Limerick and all other cities will be guided by their respective metropolitan area transport strategies. This is evidence-based transport planning, is in line with international best practice and will allow our cities to grow in a sustainable and compact manner.

The implementation of the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy will facilitate the sustainable development of the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area and the delivery of associated transport investment. The NTA will soon undertake a second round of public consultation on a revised draft strategy. Once the public have had their say, it is intended to finalise the strategy. I encourage everyone to take part in that consultation process, given that this strategy will outline the vision for the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area for the next 20 years.

Work Permits

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, and thank her for taking this Commencement matter. I understand that the Tánaiste is abroad. I thank him, his staff and the Minister of State, Deputy English. While I wish to discuss the frustration among employers and people who are coming to the country with the work permit system, it is first important to acknowledge that the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy English, are committed to solving this problem. They have a plan in place as well as people who are working to accelerate the process.

There is significant frustration. In Tipperary, I am inundated with calls from people who are trying to get work permits for construction workers, agricultural workers, engineers and hotel chefs. The process from when they start looking for someone to the very end is frustrating. Often, it is not a good end and they do not get anyone.

At this time of year, it is important that the agricultural sector get staff. For example, farms need to be able to get extra support during calving season. If people have to wait 12 weeks, as is currently the case, or even longer to get work permits, the calving season will be over. If someone applies in December, the season will be well and truly over by the time a worker arrives. Even if the process goes well and a work permit is obtained, a visa must then be acquired, which takes a further eight weeks. The whole process takes almost six months.

There is a large backlog and considerable demand worldwide for workers. That is understandable and we are not the only country with this problem, but there are other European countries that are fast-tracking the process and operating much faster than us. Germany is delivering work permits and visas within six to eight weeks. Ireland's reputation abroad is decreasing. We get many people coming over from India on work permits. If people from India have a choice between Germany or Ireland, they will choose to go to Germany because they know that the process there is quicker and they will be able to work, get paid and provide for their families. Our delay has a knock-on effect in terms of the people we are trying to bring to Ireland. People who are in the application process are pulling their names out and going to other countries, such as Germany, because it is taking so long here. This means that the employer who has, on average, paid more than €1,000 is left with the bill but no one to show for it.

People in Tipperary are telling me of their frustrations with the system on a weekly basis. I understand that the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy English, are committed to solving it but demand is significant and the level of frustration is high. Even though we have increased the workforce that is assessing applications, there needs to be urgency in getting applications processed as quickly as possible, especially for the agricultural sector. Special cases can be made where people need workers extremely quickly. A special case needs to be made for agriculture, particularly at this time of year.

I will be interested in the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter, which is of concern to him and his colleagues. I am taking it on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

The employment permit system is managed through the use of lists that designate highly skilled and ineligible occupations. These lists are subject to regular review in order to ensure they remain relevant to the needs of the economy. On 27 October, the Minister of State, Deputy English, announced the most recent changes to the system. This was the third biannual review undertaken since the onset of Covid-19 and the impact of the pandemic on the labour market was a significant consideration in the review's outcomes. As the economy emerged from the pandemic, an increased demand for employment permits became apparent. The changes announced targeted the more immediate skills and labour shortages across a number of key economic sectors, which the Senator mentioned. In order to address demand, the main changes included a substantial opening up of eligibility for the construction and agricultural sectors. Additional permits allocated to the agricultural sector alone totalled over 3,000, with a consequential impact on processing times.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment saw unprecedented increases in the volume of applications for employment permits over the course of 2021. From the start of January to the end of December 2021, 27,666 applications were received, representing a 69% increase over the same period in 2020 and a 47% increase on 2019, which itself represented an 11-year high in applications. The Department issued 16,275 employment permits last year and processed a total of 17,968 applications, which represents a significant volume of activity. This has had a significant impact on processing times, with applications waiting up to three times as long to be processed as was previously the case.

The Department recognises the impact delays in the processing times for employment permits has on businesses and their workers and it has developed an action plan to meet the challenges and reduce the backlog that was built up over recent months. This action plan includes additional staff and systemic changes. By late March this year, the processing team will have more than tripled in size compared to early November 2021, with additional temporary reassignment of staff and increased overtime.

I thank the Minister of State. Her final comments are significant. A tripling of the staff numbers will obviously have an impact. It will make a big difference in March. That is to be welcomed.

One of the frustrations very often expressed to us by employers is the reason they are refused. For example, in one case the owner of a steel company in Tipperary put forward three candidates for work permits, one of whom was approved and the other two were refused. The reason for the refusal was they had not provided police clearance from another country there were in previously. It is impossible for them to get police clearance without being in that country and to go there they would need a visa. In other words, they are seeking a work permit but in order to get it they need to get a visa to go to another country to get police clearance and it is not possible for them to do that.

I am happy that Senator Lombard is here because he speaks quite regularly on this issue. There is another issue where employers place advertisements in the newspapers, which Senator Lombard has spoken about previously. In this case, three advertisements were placed in a newspaper in respect of which one person got a work permit, but the other two did not. The reason for the refusal was the advertisements were not as they should have been. This may be related to demand and the numbers of applications being made but there is a frustration from an employer's point of view. There are flaws in the system.

I will raise those issues with the Tánaiste. On the action plan, it will speed up processing times. The Department expects to see improvements in the backlog by the end of quarter 1 and that it will be substantially reduced by the end of quarter 2 of this year. It is monitoring new permit demand on a daily basis and will react quickly by further increasing capacity if predicted demand levels are exceeded.

The Department updates the employment permit processing timelines on its website on a weekly basis and regularly issues updates on relevant employment permit matters to trusted partners. It engages on an ongoing basis with enterprise agencies, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, businesses, sectoral representative groups and individual companies to keep them updated on the employment permits system, including processing times and the Department's action plan.

As I said, I will relay the Senator's suggestions to the Tánaiste.

State Examinations

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Although her portfolio does not fall under the Minister for Education, it is great to have her here.

I am seeking clarification with regard to an issue that has emerged in my part of the world in the past four or five days. I would like the Minister for Education to make a statement on the plans in place to accommodate students who are due to sit the State examinations in June and are deemed to be close contacts of a person who has Covid-19. We have put in place a platform of work for the leaving certificate such that a student who is due to sit the leaving certificate examinations may resit the examinations if affected by a family tragedy, Covid-19 or other circumstances. However, the junior certificate student does not have the ability to do that. Many of those due to take the junior certificate examinations this year are 16 years of age. They are not eligible for the booster vaccine so if they are deemed to be a close contact they must restrict their movements for seven days. Today, there are three young people in west Cork who should be sitting their mock examinations but because they have been deemed a close contact they have had to remain at home. I was contacted by their parents at the weekend. While they are willing to put up with this for the mock examinations, they want to know that if this happens again in June their children will have an opportunity to resit their examinations. That is an exceptionally stressful issue not alone for the students but also for the parents and teachers.

We need to find a solution for those under 16 years of age who under regulation are not eligible for the booster vaccine but when deemed to be a close contact must restrict their movement for seven days because on that basis they will not be allowed to sit their State examinations. It is an appalling situation. The Department website provides clear guidance in respect of leaving certificate students who, ironically, are eligible for the booster vaccine. Junior certificate students who are under 16 do not have that opportunity. This is a really significant issue that has the potential to affect thousands of students over the next few weeks. This is happening at the moment in my constituency. I am sure that Deputies and Senators throughout the country have similarly received telephone calls about it. We need to find a solution that accommodates teenagers who are under 16 years of age and therefore not eligible for the booster vaccine, but if deemed a close contact must restrict their movements for seven days and on that basis will not be able to sit their State examinations.

I realise that the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, is meeting today. If one reads the papers, which are rarely wrong, NPHET is to recommend the lifting of the requirement to wear a face mask within the education sector but there is nothing about amending the State examinations process in regard to the junior certificate cycle. We need to find a solution. We need NPHET, the Department of Health and the Department of Education to come together in the next few hours to find that solution; otherwise this dilemma which thousands of students, parents and teachers are in will continue. It is totally unacceptable.

I thank the Senator for raising the issue. I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley.

Following a Government decision on 1 February, the Minister for Education announced details regarding arrangements for the 2022 State junior cycle and leaving certificate examinations. These details were finalised following extensive engagement with the advisory group on planning for the State examinations. The advisory group includes representatives of students, parents, teacher unions, school management bodies, the State Examinations Commission, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education.

In her announcement, the Minister confirmed that the junior cycle examinations will run in June 2022 as normal for the first time since 2019. This year is also the first year that all of the new subject specifications for the junior cycle will be examined by the State Examinations Commission. To take account of the disruption to learning experienced by junior cycle students, adjustments to the assessment arrangements for the junior cycle were announced in August 2021. These included a reduction in the number of classroom-based assessments to be completed, the removal of the requirement to complete assessment tasks and adjustments to the requirements in coursework and practical performance tests. Junior cycle students normally complete two classroom-based assessments in each subject. In the current school year, however, each student must complete a minimum of only one such assessment in each subject, with discretion in the case of most subjects as to which of the two assessment will be completed. These adjustments will provide for more teaching time in schools.

The junior cycle summer written examinations will begin on 8 June and finish on 20 June. All aspects of staging these examinations will be guided by the prevailing public health advice. The Department of Education and the State Examinations Commission have met with public health to discuss matters around the State examinations and this engagement is continuing in the lead-up to the examinations. The Minister would like to express her thanks to our public health colleagues for their ongoing assistance to the Department of Education throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

A junior cycle student who is unable to sit his or her examinations for Covid-related reasons, which is the issued alluded to by the Senator, will still receive a junior cycle profile of achievement, which certifies the completion of a course of junior cycle studies for students. It is provided to them by their schools and draws upon and reports on achievement across all elements of assessment and not only performance in the State written examinations.

This includes, as appropriate, ongoing formative assessment in the classroom; classroom-based assessments across subjects and short courses; level 1 and level 2 learning programmes; the area of well-being; and other areas of learning, such as performance in the school choir or debating society. There have been occasions when students could not sit the junior cycle written examinations due to illness. In these cases, students have still proceeded to the senior cycle. Schools and teachers facilitate the transition of students from junior to senior cycle by reflecting on the learning, interests and achievements of students in the junior cycle.

I thank the Minister of State for her response, the last portion of which was where the detail came in. I do not understand why, when it comes to the leaving certificate cycle, we have a completely different approach. The leaving certificate gives an opportunity for the resitting of the examination process in certain circumstances. It gives people the opportunity to sit the examination and go through a process. I know students who cannot do the mock examinations because they are self-isolating. A leaving certificate student would have the opportunity to retake those examinations. I do not understand why there is a different approach in the case of the junior cycle. That information is not out there. There is no clarity among the general public, teachers, parents and students about how the junior certificate cycle will work for a 16-year-old who has not had a booster jab and must restrict his or her movements. Such people fear they will sit at home for seven days and move into fourth year without having to do that State examination. Surely after three years they would have the opportunity to do that State examination. Surely after three years the Department of Education can accommodate them in the same way it can accommodate leaving certificate students.

I realise the pandemic changed things beyond all control but I do not think we have thought through how we are going to deal with the junior certificate State examination for a student who is under 16 and cannot get a booster jab. More thought must be put into the issue because I do not think enough thought has been put into it.

We all know junior cycle students, directly or indirectly, who are about to sit their State examinations and have been affected by this. They have travelled a difficult journey in recent years. The Senator alluded to this but I know representatives of the Department of Education and the State Examinations Commission have met with members of the public health team to discuss matters around the State examinations. That engagement is continuing. NPHET is meeting today and should any changes be made to public health guidance, they will be included in the decision around State examinations.

The note I have here makes reference to why junior cycle students who cannot sit the main junior cycle examinations cannot avail of the same alternative set of examinations in the same way as leaving certificate students. The opportunity for certain categories of leaving certificate students to sit an alternative set of examinations recognises the high-stakes nature of those examinations as, effectively, the gateway for many to further or higher education, training, apprenticeships or the world of work. That is why resources have been prioritised towards making available an alternative sitting of examinations for leaving certificate students. The junior cycle examinations are not in the same category. I will relay the Senator's concerns to the Minister for Education.

I thank the Minister of State for spending the time with us and completing all of the Commencement matters this morning. We in this House value her time and her presence, as a Minister of State, with us.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.13 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.04 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 11.13 a.m. and resumed at 12.04 p.m.