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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Jun 2022

Vol. 286 No. 2

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

National Monuments

I welcome our friends from the United States. They are very welcome.

Tomorrow marks Irish AIDS Day created to raise awareness of HIV and the resulting AIDS epidemic. Since the beginning of the epidemic more than 70 million people have acquired the infection and about 35 million people have died. Today around 37 million worldwide live with HIV, of whom 22 million people are on treatment. It is 40 years since the first reports of HIV and AIDS in Ireland in 1982 and much has changed since then. People are now living with HIV and cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners.

I am mindful since I last spoke in this Chamber about HIV that the Channel 4 series "It's a Sin" has put a spotlight on the pandemic in the early 1980s and 1990s and it got everyone talking about it. Crucially, it was an opportunity for professionals in sexual health and well-being, people like Adam Shanley and the MPOWER programme and people in HIV Ireland, to get talking about sexual health strategies and about HIV prevention and sexually transmitted infection prevention right now. That is what we need to be doing with a memorial. The Government announced through the Department of the Taoiseach and the Office of Public Works, OPW, there will be a HIV and AIDS national monument and I welcome that announcement.

I acknowledge the work of individuals such as Tonie Walsh, who have been calling for and encouraging a conversation about having an Irish AIDS memorial for many years. In an address to the National University of Ireland, NUI, Maynooth to mark World AIDS Day in 2016, Mr. Walsh said:

What is remembered, lives. Not just the names of our deceased, but their voices, their bright faces are refocused. Lives lived in adversity and often despair are recalibrated, not only for those of us mourning our dearly departed friends and lovers, but for successive generations.

These hidden histories of how we lived, how some died and other survived, yearn to be heard. … We are in huge need of inter-generational dialogue.

He concluded his speech by saying:

It’s time. Time to dry away our tears and build from them a monument to the destruction and loss from AIDS in Ireland. Please join me as we make this a reality.

I commend all those who have been part of that process who have brought us to a place where the Government is now committed to having a national HIV and AIDS monument. I offer the Government an opportunity to make a statement here in the Houses of the Oireachtas on what that monument would look like and what process will take place. I will have some questions about that.

It is important that, as opposed to just being a monument, it be a memorial that ties the past with the present and gives us an opportunity to talk about why some people are still getting AIDS, why there were 404 new cases of HIV last year, why our sexual health education system is not up to scratch and why our sexual health services are underfunded.

Before the Minister of State responds, I welcome the students from Gaelcholáiste Mhaigh Nuad who are sitting in the Public Gallery. They are very welcome to Leinster House and I hope they will have a lovely trip. Perhaps some day one of them will sit in this Chamber as a Senator.

I join the Acting Chairperson in welcoming the students. It is great to see all the schools back in action. It is only a matter of time before some of those students will be replacing us in the Houses.

I thank Senator Warfield for raising this very important issue. The conversation about the issue is very important also because it is not just about a monument but about framing that conversation with our plans and efforts in this area, which are ongoing.

It has been 40 years since the first clinical diagnosis of AIDS in Ireland and its impact here was no less than devastating to the lives of individuals, their families and communities. The initial outbreak of HIV and the corresponding AIDS crisis was marked by fear, isolation, misinformation and stigmatisation. In those early years, much of the fear and stigmatisation arose from a lack of information and myths about transmission. It is a legacy that many communities still struggle with today. To serve as a reminder that this terrible period has not been forgotten, it was proposed that a monument be commissioned. Many strides have been made in the treatment and prevention of HIV, meaning people with HIV today can live full and enriched lives. The monument will also serve as a tribute to those friends, families, support groups, doctors, nurses, and carers who dedicated so much of their lives and work to the treatment of HIV and to improving care.

A committee chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach was established to oversee the design and commissioning of an HIV and AIDS national monument. The remit of the committee is to consider the views of relevant parties on the nature of the monument to be commissioned, to make recommendations on the location and nature of the monument and projected timelines, to oversee the commissioning and delivery by the Office of Public Works, OPW, through competition, of the design and commissioning of the monument and to assist with the official unveiling and launch of the monument.

The purpose of the competition is to commission a monument that appropriately and respectfully remembers those who have died and to mark their lives and contribution to society, while also showing solidarity with those living with and affected by HIV today. The monument will be commissioned through a competition organised and administered on behalf of the committee by the OPW. The oversight committee includes representation from HIV Ireland, Fast-Track Cities, the Irish Haemophilia Society, members of the LGBTQI+ community and the Ana Liffey Drug Project, along with representatives from the Arts Council and the OPW. The site proposed for the monument is the People’s Gardens in the Phoenix Park, which will be its permanent location. The monument will be the focal point within the site location and must be in sympathy with the People’s Gardens and their green-space environs.

The competition seeks to elicit the most ambitious, creative, inclusive, and exceptional proposal for the monument. The monument must take a physical form but there are no preconceived ideas regarding its design. Applicants are free to choose any artistic medium for the expression of the monument. It should seek to represent hope out of sadness, drawing from the different phases of the epidemic, from the devastation it brought individuals and their families in the early years to the transition from terminal illness to a life lived fully with HIV, as well as the challenge of ending the stigma associated with living with HIV and the hope for a time when HIV will be a thing of the past. The monument should seek to create a better understanding and awareness of HIV and AIDS and their impact on communities. It should also be representative of individuals, families, and communities impacted by HIV and AIDS including members of the LGBTQI+ community, people who use drugs intravenously, people who have acquired HIV through contaminated blood products and people from migrant backgrounds.

The expression of interest for the HIV and AIDS national monument competition was first advertised on 1 June 2022. It will be a two-stage open competition, with a closing date for first-stage entries of 8 July 2022. The first stage comprises the call for expressions of interest to outline the artistic concept and approach to be taken by applicants. The nature of the monument and the medium and format through which it is to be delivered are open to the choice of the applicant. The competition is open to individuals and project teams and professional and non-professional applicants. The jury will select a maximum of ten applicants in the first stage, to be shortlisted to proceed to the second stage.

I congratulate all those who have been involved in the process so far.

I appreciate the Minister of State's statement. As some of it was not included in the initial announcement, I will further analyse that. I will need to write to the Taoiseach and the OPW. I find it a bit unusual there is not a public consultation process but the statement indicated the committee will be engaging in that work.

Ultimately, I want to know what the legacy of the project will be. Will we have a monument that is well signposted and well delivered, that will historicise the past, that will acknowledge loss and mistakes made and that will reflect on our present and further education? I am conscious there was a group, I think from transition year, here as well. What will the involvement in the education system be?

Finally, on consultation, in the early stages of the project there were consultations held in Dublin, Cork and Belfast. If we are going to call this a national monument and it is to be truly national, we must engage with citizens in the North. Their voices must be included. When we are talking about figures they must be included as well. Everyone must be acknowledged. It cannot be a national monument if it does not include all the communities affected on this island.

Naturally, I will bring back the issue Senator Warfield has raised to the Department of the Taoiseach. There is probably enough time to accommodate all the issues of concern there. The competition is under way but as there are two stages, it will be interesting to see what comes back in. I have no doubt the Senator will engage with some of the artists when they are bringing forward their design concepts as well. I hope we will be able to deal with all the issues raised. I will certainly bring it back to the Department of the Taoiseach, especially the extra bits about our colleagues in Northern Ireland as well.

Hospital Services

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach seo inniu. I am again calling for the extension of opening hours and indeed opening days for the minor injury unit at Monaghan Hospital.

Including Monaghan, there are ten minor injury units located throughout the country. Minor injuries are unlikely to lead to hospital admission. A super service is provided in Monaghan. I have experience of it myself. People can walk in or their GP can refer them and there is no charge if the patient attending has a medical card or a referral letter from their local GP. The injuries unit at Monaghan has been in operation since 2009 with patients aged five years and over able to attend. As the Minister of State probably is aware, these units deal with a wide range of minor injuries, including for example suspected broken bones to arms - from collarbones to fingertips, strains and sprains, facial and eye injuries, minor scalds and burns, wounds, bites, cuts and splinters, as well as suspected foreign bodies in the eyes, ears, nose and mouth and minor chest injuries. People also can get X-rays there, if required. The unit in Monaghan has provided a valuable and important service to the public while simultaneously reducing the pressure on the accident and emergency unit in Cavan.

However, while all the other injury units in the country are open seven days a week, the unit in Monaghan has the shortest opening times and that is what this debate is about this morning. Most units around the country operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, but Monaghan is limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. These are the shortest opening hours of any of the ten minor injury units in the country and Monaghan's is the only such unit not operating on a seven-day-per-week basis. Turning to the figures for those attending, Monaghan's figures are almost at the same level as those for the minor injury unit in Bantry, which is open seven days a week. It could well be argued that were Monaghan open for the same hours and number of days as Bantry, its figures would be higher.

Over the past number of years I have tried to raise awareness of the injuries unit in Monaghan. The HSE itself has recently done a fantastic campaign informing the public of the wide range of services available there.

Many people do not realise the types of conditions that can be treated at the unit. Since the awareness campaign, and I compliment the staff on their work, the figures are again on the increase.

I am sure the Minister of State will agree that there is a genuine case for extending the hours at the centre. People ask why County Monaghan has been treated differently from other parts of the country. I mean that there are ten injury units and the unit in Monaghan is the only one that is confined to operating five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Unfortunately, the figure for the number of people attending the accident and emergency unit at Cavan General Hospital is on the increase. Many of them could be treated in Monaghan if people were made aware of the unit and if the hours were extended, especially at weekends when people participate in sports and, therefore, as a result there is a higher volume of injuries. In 2021, the average waiting time in the Monaghan injuries unit was one hour while a high number of 401 patients waited for more than 24 hours to be treated at Cavan accident and emergency unit. That proves a case can be made in favour of the injuries unit.

I respectfully ask that consideration is given to extending the days and hours of opening at the unit in Monaghan. I hope that the Minister for Health can facilitate a discussion along those lines.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter concerning the minor injuries unit at Monaghan Hospital. I welcome the opportunity to update the House on this important service. As the Senator has said, the unit assists thousands of people every year, which is great to see.

Monaghan Hospital operates as a single hospital with Cavan General Hospital. Together they share an integrated managerial and clinical governance system, as well as integrated patient care pathways and support functions. This integrated framework provides a stronger role for smaller hospitals, such as Monaghan Hospital, in delivering a higher volume of less complex care which is often closer to a patient's home. It also ensures that patients who require emergency or complex planned care are managed safely in a larger hospital environment.

The emergency department is located at Cavan General Hospital. It provides 24-hour emergency critical care to adults and children. Facilities at Monaghan Hospital focus on elective care and the appropriate streaming of patients to the minor injuries unit. As well as the unit, other services provided at Monaghan Hospital include day services, theatre, diagnostic services, ambulatory care and a wide range of outpatient services.

Minor injuries services, such as those at Monaghan, are specifically designed for the treatment of broken bones, dislocations, minor burns and other injuries that are unlikely to need admission to hospital. In cases where an injury is more serious than originally thought, the patient is transferred to the hub emergency department linked to the clinic for further assessment and treatment.

The opening hours for the minor injuries unit at Monaghan Hospital is within the overall framework for the delivery of care, as part of the integrated operations and governance system for Cavan and Monaghan hospitals. The opening hours for the unit is a matter for the HSE and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, Hospitals Group. However, the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, who could not take this debate today so asked me to take it for him, has assured me that he is willing to engage with the HSE and the hospital group on any request for additional opening hours. I see that as a positive. The Minister is willing to work and engage with the Senator and others.

Last year, we saw a number of new initiatives at Monaghan Hospital, including 18 new step-down beds, a second endoscopy room, centralisation of haemochromatosis services for patients in the Cavan-Monaghan hospital catchment area and the provision of a third ultrasound room. Since 2019, bed capacity at Monaghan Hospital has increased from 31 to 54 beds. Over the last ten years, the minor injuries unit has treated thousands of patients each year, with over 4,200 attendances in 2020 and nearly 5,400 in 2021.

The minor injuries unit at Monaghan Hospital plays a vital role in providing valuable services to the local community. It helps to alleviate the pressures on emergency departments.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. I welcome the positive response from the Minister for Health in that he is willing to engage with the RCSI Hospitals Group and the HSE with a view to extending the opening hours and the days of opening in terms of the minor injuries unit.

I compliment the staff at the hospital on the fantastic service they provide in this area and throughout the hospital. I also compliment management on its information campaign that has resulted in an increase in the number of people attending the injuries unit. I welcome the fact that the Minister for Health is now willing to engage in that regard and look forward to such engagement. I ask that the Minister of State conveys to the Minister that we would like that engagement to commence as soon as possible and to confirm same.

I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this issue. I confirm that the Minister will assist and engage with those who want to increase the hours, the hospital group and the HSE. The success of the minor injuries units can be seen in Monaghan and many other places. I am happy to make sure that we maximise the use of that service. The Senator makes a good point in that there are similar numbers in other parts of the country and units in those areas are open for longer hours. Like the Senator, I compliment the service. There has been great feedback from the more than 5,000 people who are using it every year. The Senator made a point with regard to an information campaign. That is a conversation we are having with regard to our services in County Meath and it is also being had in other parts of the country. It is vital that the HSE and the hospital groups give very clear information and detailed advice and guidance as to where people should go for different types of treatment. That is how we can maximise the use of all of our health assets. It should be explained to people where the best place to get services at a given time is and they should be directed to those services. That seems to be done quite well in Monaghan. Hats off to those involved. I will reaffirm with the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, that the Senator wants to see that engagement as soon as possible.

Departmental Programmes

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This Commencement matter relates to the LEADER programme, which the Minister of State will be very aware of. He knows of its enormous benefits. I am asking some questions and seeking clarification on the next round of LEADER funding. The local development companies under the LEADER programme were initially set up in response to the multidimensional nature of social inclusion throughout local areas. This was to be a responsive, innovative and integrated approach to building the partnership model, with which the Minister of State will be very familiar, based on local ownership. This arose from the OECD's 2005 recommendations. Today, the LEADER programme offers best-placed local solutions to the challenges for urban and rural development across Ireland. These companies have worked very successfully. There has been great partnership and buy-in to the LEADER programme. The programme has a great future and potential to expand, given the right supports and appropriate resources.

There are 14 urban and 35 rural local development companies covering the entire Twenty-six Counties of the State. More could be done if there were more resources. The implementation of their plans is really important, which raises the issue of the next phase of the LEADER programme. All of us, including the Minister of State, know the significance and importance of the programme so I will not give a history lesson on the success of LEADER. I will say that I know the Government is committed to it, that there are limited resources and that there is always pressure on central government resources and finances. However, this programme has worked really well. I am very familiar with a number of these companies and I will mention a few that I have been in touch with: the Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership, the Bray Area Partnership, Cavan County Local Development and Galway Rural Development. Where are we with regard to the next round of funding for the LEADER programme? The organisers and the people involved need to know in order to plan for the future.

I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this important issue. Like him, I am a big supporter of the work of LEADER groups. They have achieved quite a lot over recent years and I look forward to their future success. I am happy to recognise and confirm that I support their work, as do many people in these Houses because they have achieved quite a lot in working directly with our communities, both urban and rural. We want to build on their success. I look forward to continuing to work with them and to supporting their work. I am glad the Senator has raised this issue on behalf of all the LEADER groups.

The LEADER programme is a key intervention of Our Rural Future, the Government’s policy for rural development launched last year, which aims to deliver a range of actions to rural communities over its lifetime. As the Senator mentioned, LEADER is a multi-annual programme for rural development co-funded by the EU through the Common Agricultural Policy. The programme is based on a community-led approach to rural development and plays an important role in supporting communities and enterprises in rural areas and certain urban areas in progressing job creation, social inclusion and environmental projects at local level.

Local action groups, LAGs, which administer the programme at local level, have approved more than 5,200 projects to the value of €220 million nationally since the 2014-2020 LEADER programme began in the middle of 2016. The type of projects supported include construction projects, biodiversity and renewable energy projects, analysis and development-type projects and marketing and training projects.

These projects bring much-needed assistance to small businesses at this time, as well as supporting job retention and new employment opportunities.

As we look to the future and the next LEADER programme, in April 2021, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, launched a two-year transitional LEADER programme for 2021 and 2022, which ensured for the first time that there was no funding gap between this programming period and the next programme, which will begin in 2023. Some €250 million has been made available for LEADER for the period 2021 to 2027 maintaining the level of funding provided for the current programming period. This funding comprises €70 million for the transitional period 2021 to 2022 and an additional €180 million from 2023 to 2027. This level of funding is evidence of the Government’s continued support for the LEADER programme.

Preparations for the design and delivery of the next LEADER programme from 2023 to 2027 are well under way. There is ongoing engagement between the Department of Rural and Community Development officials and stakeholders in this regard. Decisions relating to all aspects of the programme will be considered as part of the ongoing programme design phase. It is proposed to hold the local development strategy and LAG selection process over two stages. The selection of the LAGs cannot commence until the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan, CSP, is approved by the EU Commission, which is expected to happen later in the year. However, the first stage, which is an expression of interest by eligible groups, could commence in advance of the CSP approval in order to be ready to launch the second stage once that approval is forthcoming.

The ongoing engagement and consultation with stakeholders, combined with the funding allocation of €250 million indicated, will ensure that the LEADER programme from 2023 will continue to support and further develop our rural communities and businesses, and certain urban areas as well.

I thank the Minister of State. His reply, while welcome, involved some uncertainty and vagueness. There were references to what will, could and may happen with the programme. I would like something a bit stronger than that. I know this does not relate directly to the Minister of State's Department but he might bring back to the officials in the Department some greater certainty.

We are very familiar with the CSP and LAGs, as is the Minister of State. I welcome the fact that he has confirmed there is engagement. However, we need something more solid. I am hearing from people engaged in LEADER who prompted my submission of this matter. I am acting on behalf of people involved in the programme who say there is a certain degree of uncertainty involved. The Minister of State's reply has confirmed that sense of uncertainty because it contained references to what could, may, shall and will happen with LEADER. It referred to what is hoped will happen. I do not doubt anyone's commitment to the programme but it is important that we continue the communication because 2023 remains a while away.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and for his positive response. We need communication with all the people involved in the LEADER programme. I wish the programme continued success.

I thank the Senator for raising the issue. I am sorry that the Minister could not be here to take the debate herself. She is committed. I will certainly bring back to her the Senator's message that we need to strengthen the commitment and the language involved. I will again point to the budget that is set aside and approved by the Government as well as to the targets to have the engagement completed this year and plans rolled out in good time. I will bring those points to the Minister in the hope those concerns can be dealt with.

I am meeting representatives of the Meath Partnership this week, along with our MEPs, to analyse and discuss their work. Every time we meet, the partnership is doing more work and providing more services. I know the story is similar throughout the country. There are great interventions happening as we work with communities and bring them together in many areas. We are committed to that. I have heard the Senator's concerns about the length of time involved and the commitments in that regard. The commitments are strong. It does take time but we need to speed it up. I will bring that back to the Minister. As the Senator knows, she is a can-do Minister. She will drive these matters on and ensure they are done in time.

Special Educational Needs

I welcome the Minister of State. It is great to see him here.

I wish to raise the plight of a school that is perhaps the school furthest away from this complex, namely, the Beara Community School in Castletownbere. Its location is very peripheral. It is right on the coast. Its catchment includes not only the town of Castletownbere but also the surrounding villages from Eyries to Ardgroom and Adrigole. It is the centre of secondary education on the Beara Peninsula.

The school has a major plight. It is trying to supply special education on the school complex. I acknowledge that an application has been lodged by the Beara Community School for an important single-storey special education unit and associated works. That application has been submitted. It is important. We are concerned with the timeline involved. The pre-planning proposals with regard to this project dragged on for years.

Now it has gone for planning permission. I spoke to parents over the weekend and last night when I was in Glengarriff. They are genuinely concerned about the length of time it will take to deliver the proposal. A significant number of steps have to be taken. Design detail, specifications and a bill of quantities have to be set out. Tender documents have to be produced and a tender process has to be completed. Following that, the unit has to be constructed and fitted out. That will take a considerable period of time. There is a need for the facilities in September when children will be going to Beara Community School without a dedicated unit for special needs. That is not good enough in this day and age. What we need to see here is a two-pronged approach. First, a special needs unit must be put in place on a temporary basis immediately. The school needs the support of the Department to deliver it. It is most important that happens between now and September for the children who will be going to the school. The school does phenomenally well. It is a wonderful organisation and it is coping really well but, unfortunately, it does not have the building it requires. Second, we must see the proposals in respect of the construction, tendering process and the bill of quantities fast-tracked. Otherwise, given the length of time the pre-planning stage took, it could take years for the unit to be built. I must stress that geographically, Castletownbere and the Beara peninsula are as far away as one can possibly get from Dublin. A special approach needs to be taken for this school. The children in the area have no other option. They cannot go to the next nearest school. The next nearest school is probably in Kenmare in County Kerry or towards Bantry on the other side. We are not talking about a distance of 3 or 4 miles. We are talking about a distance of 50, 60 or 70 miles. The geographical issue here cannot be underestimated. A different approach must be taken to ensure this educational needs unit is delivered in a very short space of time. I ask the Government to seriously rethink how these strategic units are planned going forward so that children are not left in a situation, such as the one I am fearful they will face in September, whereby they are going to a school with no dedicated special needs unit.

I am glad the Senator has raised this most important issue of special needs education provision for Beara Community School. The Senator made a passionate case in highlighting the geographical location of the school and in stressing why it is so important that we fast-track a solution as soon as we can. There is no easy option for children to travel to attend units elsewhere. That has been made clear by the Senator. I will certainly bring that to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister for Education. The Minister of State would like to be here today to take the Commencement matter, but is unable to do so. I will also engage with the Senator directly on the issue. We are keen to fast-track a solution as soon as possible to ensure the needs of the children are met.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter today. At the outset, I want to stress that enabling students with additional needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs, and as close to home as possible, ideally in their own local school, is an ongoing priority for this Government. As the Senator said, that is most important. This year, the Department of Education will invest in excess of €2 billion, or more than 25% of the Department’s budget, in the area of special educational needs support. As a result, the numbers of special education teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, and special class and school places are at unprecedented levels, and rightly so. For the 2021 to 2022 school year, the number of special classes in mainstream schools stands at a current total of 2,148. Of these, almost 1,900 special classes cater for students with autism. Recognising some of the difficulties experienced by parents in securing appropriate school placements, over the last two years the Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, have worked closely on a more streamlined and joined up planning process which has ensured a targeted approach to meet demand for special needs placements ahead of each new school year. Overall, this intensive intervention has seen an additional 300 special classes, providing 1,800 new places, already opened nationwide for the 2021 to 2022 school year. For the 2022 to 2023 school year, an additional 315 classes, providing 1,800 additional places, will become available in September.

The NCSE has responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on the education provision for children with special educational needs nationwide. It has well-established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents. The NCSE seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.

I assure Senator Lombard that the Department continues to prioritise and support this work. The Department also recognises that where parents have difficulties in securing an appropriate school placement for their children, particularly a child with additional needs, it can be a stressful experience. The Department is working hard to ensure there are sufficient school places appropriate to the needs of all children available on a timely basis nationwide.

As matters stand, I can confirm on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, that there are two special classes in Beara Community School which cater for children with multiple disabilities and autism. While the Department has already approved funding for two permanent special educational units under the additional school accommodation scheme, it is open to the school to request further funding for interim accommodation under this scheme pending delivery of the permanent building project.

The Department is engaging with the school on the issue in terms of identifying the most appropriate solution. While the Senator is correct that we need to fast-track the system of delivery after the initial allocation of funding through planning and all the different phases, sometimes there is also the need for a temporary solution. That option is open here and there is engagement. I am happy that we will try to continue with that engagement in order that we have solutions for this coming September.

The Department and the NCSE are always grateful to schools that express a willingness to open a special class to meet the educational needs of students in their local communities. There are special educational needs organisers located across the country and they have a specific remit in helping and supporting parents in accessing the education necessary for their children, including in identifying suitable school placements.

The NCSE is currently engaging in a process of establishing new classes for the 2022-23 school year and beyond. The NCSE is looking at local information with regard to projected demand for future special education places, particularly to cater for students with autism who have associated complex needs. It will continue to work in Cork for a number of years to identify the needs for the county and the various areas.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. This issue is about trying to make sure we have this dedicated unit put in place. The amount of work that is being done by the Beara Community School to make sure that it is managing very capably with what it has at the moment is appropriate, but it really needs to get this dedicated unit on the ground. It needs for this process to be fast-tracked. I cannot understate that. It really is important. The geographical location of the school means it has no other option and because of that, there must be a special approach here. I ask the Minister of State to go back to the Department to ensure that when planning permission is granted in the next few weeks, we can move ahead with speed to deliver this project.

Again, on behalf of the Department of Education, I thank Senator Lombard for raising this very important issue of Beara Community School and the surrounding community. The Department will work with the school and the Senator in order to try to find a timely solution. Naturally, it is important that the planning is granted and the hopefully we be able to fast-track all the other stages.

It is also important that we have access to temporary accommodation if that is deemed appropriate. I think the school is happy to go down that route as well. This would, however, be a twin-track approach to have some temporary immediate accommodation as well as a full commitment to fast-tracking and delivering the permanent accommodation as quickly as possible. Again, I thank the Senator for raising the issue. I will bring his concerns back to the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, and Minister, Deputy Foley, directly.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 12.43 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 1 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 12.43 p.m. and resumed at 1 p.m.