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Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 367-383

United Nations

Question No. 368 answered with Question No. 367.

Question No. 369 answered with Question No. 367.

Questions (367, 368, 369)

Sorca Clarke

Question:

367. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has engaged with bodies regarding the development of a United Nations binding treaty on business and human rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61974/21]

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Sorca Clarke

Question:

368. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he plans to bring forward gender responsive human rights and environmental due diligence legislation to ensure businesses respect human rights across their activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61975/21]

View answer

Sorca Clarke

Question:

369. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if a report has been completed on whether the voluntary guidelines in Ireland’s National Plan on Business and Human Rights has had an impact on improving respect for human rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61976/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 367 to 369, inclusive, together.

Under Ireland’s inaugural National Plan on Business and Human Rights, the multi-stakeholder Implementation Group developed Guidelines on Business and Human Rights for business enterprises. These Guidelines have been published on the Department of Foreign Affairs’ website and members of the Implementation Group including Ibec, Chambers Ireland, the Irish Exporters Association, and Business in the Community Ireland, have promoted the Guidelines. Following the launch of the Guidelines, my Department co-hosted practical webinars for businesses, together with partners including the Trinity Centre for Social Innovation and Shift. As the Guidelines were published less than eight months ago, it is premature to fully assess their impact at this time.

It is my understanding that the European Commission is planning to propose a legislative initiative to introduce mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence next year. I consider this a positive development in the context of the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. However, as the Deputy will be aware, the regulation of businesses is a matter for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Regarding the potential development of a United Nations legally binding treaty in the area of Business and Human Rights, the European Union holds many of the competences in this policy area. Accordingly, Ireland is engaging in the process through European Union structures in Brussels and Geneva. At the most recent negotiation session in respect of a potential treaty, the EU offered to work with the drafters to address concerns with the current draft text.

Globally, the European Union and its Member States are leaders in implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 contains a suite of measures in the area of Business and Human Rights. Ireland strongly supports these initiatives and has shared the lessons learned from the review of our own National Plan at EU level. This review was completed earlier this year and noted by Government at its meeting of 7 December 2021.

Question No. 368 answered with Question No. 367.
Question No. 369 answered with Question No. 367.

Passport Services

Questions (370)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

370. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if there has been an audit or review carried out or commissioned by his Department into service user interaction with the Passport Office; the analysis that has been undertaken by his Department into the efficacy of communications between the passport service and the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61997/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

There has not been a recent review of service user experience undertaken by the Passport Service. Passport Service operations have been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as were many Government services. Despite the consequences of the pandemic, the Passport Service has issued almost 600,000 passports to date in 2021 and 45% of simple adult renewals issue within one business day.

A national survey of Irish consumers conducted by a third party during June and July 2021 ranked the Passport Service as the best public sector brand in the customer service category.

The Passport Service continually examines ways to improve its communication and engagement with passport applicants. In recent weeks, all staff working in the Customer Service Hub have received customised training giving them additional resources and tools to provide excellent customer service. Preparation is currently underway for several system and service improvements that will enhance the customer service experience and will improve processing times. These improvements will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months. In addition, the Passport Service participates in the inter-departmental Quality Customer Service Action Team.

The Passport Service Customer Service Hub has been operational since June 2021 in line with the scaling up of passport operations as pandemic restrictions were eased. Customer Service officers respond to customer queries by phone and webchat as well as with enquiries related to Emergency Passport cases. Since June, Customer Service officers have responded to 155,000 queries from customers.

My Department attaches the highest priority to ensuring that the Passport Service is resourced to respond to current and anticipated high demand for passports. My Department is actively working with the Public Appointments Service to recruit and assign additional permanent and temporary staff between now and the end of January 2022, bringing total staff numbers to 920 and effectively doubling the number of staff at the Passport Service. These staff members are currently being trained and assigned across all areas of the Passport Service, including to the customer service team. I am confident that these additional resources will help to improve customer experience and reduce turnaround times.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (371)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

371. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland has supported the call for the TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organisation to be waived to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines and treatments are made more available particularly in developing countries; the steps he has taken to pursue same particularly at European Union and United Nations Security Council level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62422/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Universal and equitable access to safe, effective and affordable vaccines, diagnostics and treatments is crucial in the global fight against COVID-19.

My colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, leads on trade and World Trade Organisation matters (WTO), including on the current discussion on the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.

International Trade is a competence of the EU under the Treaties and in exercising that competence, the European Commission engages fully with the Member States, including Ireland, through a variety of Committees and Working Parties/Groups, including on Intellectual Property.

The EU proposed an alternative to the TRIPS waiver that relates to the use of the flexibilities in the TRIPS Agreement. The proposal is targeted and pragmatic and aims at ensuring that governments can resort to compulsory licences, including to export to countries with no or limited manufacturing capacities, in the most effective manner adapted to the circumstances of a pandemic.

The EU is of the view that there is no single solution and that a multi-pronged approach is needed and that discussions should concentrate on how the Intellectual Property system can contribute towards increasing the manufacturing capacity and the equitable access to vaccines around the world.

Despite the postponement of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, WTO members will continue to engage in a solution-oriented manner to find an outcome on how the WTO can contribute to an effective response to any pandemic, not just the current one.

Ireland will engage with the European Commission and other member states on the EU position for the WTO discussions including discussions on how the flexibilities within the TRIPS Agreement can contribute towards increasing the manufacturing capacity and the equitable access to vaccines around the world.

The global production of vaccines is increasing rapidly and it is estimated that 12 billion doses of COVID vaccines will be produced by the end of 2021. The EU considers the COVAX facility as the mechanism best placed to ensure equitable access to the global supply of vaccines for low, middle, and high income countries.

Team Europe has committed to donate 700 million doses of vaccines to low and middle income countries by mid-2022, of which 250 million should be delivered by the end of this year. In addition the EU is investing €1billion to ramp up vaccine production capacity in Africa.

Ireland has contributed €8.5million in funding to COVAX in 2021 and is donating 1.3 million vaccines to low and middle income countries via the COVAX facility. Further donations via the facility are expected.

Defence Forces

Questions (372)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

372. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Defence if the contract has been signed for the construction of a new cadet school in the Defence Forces training centre, Curragh, County Kildare; and the duration of this project. [61277/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

It is intended that the contract will be signed early in the New Year, with a construction programme of 12 months expected to complete the project.

Naval Service

Questions (373)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

373. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence if the Naval Service made similar requests in relation to compliance with the European Union Common Fisheries Policy to the skippers of fishing vessels of other European Union member states that were fishing in the same area off the south coast of Ireland as an Irish registered fishing vessel (details supplied) when they were requested to return to harbour by the Naval Service on 30 November 2021; and if not, the reason. [61348/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Naval Service is the State's principal sea-going agency and is tasked with a variety of defence and other roles. The primary day-to-day tasking of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. In terms of fishery protection the Naval Service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone. These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed to all areas of Irish waters as necessary.

In relation to national sea-fishery protection roles, the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 established the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) as the competent Authority for securing efficient and effective enforcement of sea fisheries protection legislation and the sustainable exploitation of marine fish resources from the waters around Ireland within Ireland's EEZ. A Service Level Agreement is in place which underpins the relationship between the SFPA and the Defence Organisation.

The Naval Service work in close cooperation with the SFPA in relation to a risk based approach to fishery protection to better utilise resources. This is being undertaken with the encouragement and agreement of the SFPA and the European Fisheries Control Agency - EFCA.

In relation to the 30 November 2021, an Irish Registered fishing vessel (FV) was detained by the Irish Naval Service for alleged breaches of Irish and European fisheries legislation. As part of the detention process the FV was instructed to proceed to a designated port, under escort from the ship, where she was subsequently handed over to An Garda Síochána. Other FVs that might have been in the area were not instructed to proceed to a port as they were not detained for alleged breaches of Irish and European fisheries legislation.

No further comment will be made as it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing cases.

Defence Forces

Questions (374)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

374. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Defence the mandatory retirement age for serving privates and non-commissioned officers in the Defence Forces; the age that such members become eligible for an Army pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61508/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

A person who enlisted in the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) before 1 January 1994 may be permitted to continue in service up to the age of 60 years. The normal maximum periods of service for personnel enlisted to the PDF post 1 January 1994 are:

- Line Privates, Line Corporals (and Naval Service equivalent ranks) and those in receipt of Technical Pay Groups 1 or 2, may not serve beyond 21 years;

- Privates and Corporals (and Naval Service equivalent ranks) in receipt of Technical Pay Group 3 or above may serve up to 50 years of age;

- Sergeants (and Naval Service equivalent rank) may serve up to 50 years of age;

- Higher ranked NCOs may serve up to 56 years of age.

Arising from an adjudication in 2015, it was agreed that a review of contracts of service for Line Corporals and Privates and Corporals in receipt of Technical Pay 1 and 2 would be conducted. It was subsequently agreed with PDFORRA that all Privates and Corporals recruited post 1994, would be allowed to continue in service to 31 December 2022 (or until they reach the age of 50), provided these personnel meet certain criteria during the interim period, including medical grades and fitness tests. This agreement was extended to include post 1994 Sergeants, who also can also continue to serve to the same date, subject to their meeting similar criteria in the interim period. These measures are in place to provide time for the review to be completed.

A joint civil/military review of mandatory retirement ages of all ranks in the Permanent Defence Force has been conducted. The review has taken into account the Report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force, which included in their recommendations, the need to consider options to tackle barriers to extended participation in the Permanent Defence Force.

As the recommendations in the review require consideration from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in relation to implications on costs and pensions, the matter is currently the subject of detailed discussions with that Department. Discussions with PDFORRA will take place following the conclusion of the consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

As regards the age that such members become eligible for a pension the position is that as with public service employees generally, the specific pension arrangements of members of the PDF depend primarily on when a person first joins the public service.

For enlisted personnel who joined prior to 1 April 2004, pension is payable immediately following retirement and regardless of age. The minimum service required to qualify for a pension is 21 years, or 12 if discharged on medical grounds. Maximum benefits are payable after 31 years’ service.

For enlisted personnel who joined the PDF between 1 April 2004 and 31 December 2012 the minimum pension age is 50. Otherwise, where retirement is before age 50, pension benefits are preserved, i.e. payable from age 60. A minimum service of 2 years is required for pension (whether immediate or preserved) and maximum benefits are payable after 30 years’ service.

A person who enlisted from 1 January 2013 onwards is a member of the Single Public Service Pension Scheme and benefits are payable immediately on retirement from the PDF after age 50, and subject to having a minimum of 2 years’ pensionable service.

Immediate pension benefits may also be paid in a limited number of specific situations such as in the case of ill-health retirement and death.

Defence Forces

Questions (375)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

375. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Defence the proposed arrangements for carrying out a review of wages and salaries of enlisted members of the Defence Forces; if an organisation (details supplied) will be consulted in relation to these arrangements before they are finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61511/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The scheme of Conciliation and Arbitration (C&A) for members of the Permanent Defence Force provides a formal mechanism for the determination of claims and proposals from the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations, relating to remuneration and conditions of service.

Officials from my Department continue to work with the Representative Associations in a positive and collaborative process within the C&A Scheme to resolve issues. There is also ongoing engagement on a regular basis between the Official side (comprising officials from the Department of Defence, military management, the Department of Expenditure & Public Reform) and the Representative side on a range of items.

The current public service pay agreement, ‘Building Momentum – A New Public Service Agreement 2021 – 2022’ provides for increases in pay and allowances to all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces. Most recently a general round increase in annualised basic salary of 1% or €500, whichever was the greater, came into effect on 1st October 2021.

The agreement provides for further increases in 2022, i.e.:

- The equivalent of a 1% increase in annualised basic salaries to be used as a Sectoral Bargaining Fund, in accordance with Chapter 2 of the Agreement, on 1st February 2022.

- A general round increase in annualised basic salaries for all public servants of 1% or €500, whichever is greater on, 1st October 2022.

The Government remains fully committed to addressing pay and conditions in the Defence Forces. The Programme for Government provided for the establishment of a Commission on the Defence Forces. The terms of reference for the Commission included an examination of the evolution of all remuneration systems and structures currently in place in the Defence Forces.

The Commission is due to submit their report by the end of the year and I look forward to receiving the report in due course. The recommendations will then be fully considered and will inform future decisions regarding the Defence Forces.

The PDF representative associations will be consulted on matters arising from report that come within the scope of representation.

Defence Forces

Questions (376)

John Brady

Question:

376. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the number of members of the Defence Forces of all ranks who have been selected for mandatory overseas duty in each of the past five years; the number of appeals that were made; the number of appeals that were successful; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61584/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Military Authorities advise that it is not possible to collate the required information in the time available. I will revert to the Deputy as soon as the information is made available to me.

Defence Forces

Questions (377)

John Brady

Question:

377. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the progress to date on the report of Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces; the date the report will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61587/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Programme for Government committed to an independent commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the Defence Forces. The independent Commission on the Defence Forces was established by Government in December 2020, with a mandate to report within 12 months. The Commission’s overall approach is guided and informed by both the White Paper on Defence 2015 and the White Paper Update 2019. The work of the Commission will inform the future development of the Defence Forces and it's terms of reference encompasses the following matters;

- Structure and size of the Defence Forces encompassing consideration of appropriate capabilities, structures and staffing.

- Leveraging the capabilities of the Reserve Defence Force in their supports to the Permanent Defence Force and make service in the RDF more attractive.

- Governance and high level command and control structures in the Defence Forces.

- The evolution of remuneration systems and structures in the Defence Forces.

- A strategic perspective on HR policies and associated strategies, recruitment, retention and career progression.

As part of a broad consultation process, the Commission invited submissions from individuals and organisations on matters related to its terms of reference. The Commission received nearly 500 submissions, all of which have been published on their website.

I understand that the Commission has met with a broad stakeholder group including the Defence Forces Representative Associations, commissioned and enlisted members of the Defence Forces, senior officials and personnel from my Department and the Defence Forces as well as other groups. Members of the Commission conducted site visits to a number military locations across the country, meeting nearly 1,000 military personnel.

The Chairman of the Commission Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll met with members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in April to discuss the on-going work of the Commission. The Commission also held two webinars, one in conjunction with the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) and one in conjunction with the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).

The work of the independent Commission on the Defence Forces underpins this Government's commitment to ensuring that the Defence Forces are fit for purpose, in terms of meeting immediate requirements and also in terms of seeking to develop a longer term vision beyond 2030.

I understand that the Commission are continuing their work with a view to completing the Report as soon as possible. The Report will be fully considered at that point.

Air Corps

Questions (378)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

378. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Defence if the Air Corps is contracting senior aircraft inspectors from a company (details supplied) to supervise and sign off on maintenance being performed by Air Corps technicians; the cost of this; the reason it is not being performed by Air Corps personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61674/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I am advised by the military authorities that the Air Corps operate a maintenance plan which endeavours to ensure that the maximum number of operational flying hours is available from the current aircraft fleet when most needed. The maintenance of the Air Corps fleet falls into three broad categories: scheduled, unscheduled and routine/daily. The use of performance based maintenance contracts with original equipment manufacturers assists the Air Corps in keeping downtime of aircraft to the minimum and this is in line with international best practice.

It is currently the case that various aspects of aircraft maintenance are out-sourced by the Air Corps because the cost of in-house provision of such niche expertise and the specialist equipment required to certify airframes would be prohibitively expensive and not cost effective in the context of the number of airframes operated by the Air Corps.

In this regard, the Military Authorities have advised that the Irish Air Corps has a contract with Leonardo Aircraft, the original equipment manufacturers, for service support provided by a number of their aircraft technicians. These personnel provide additional specialist helicopter maintenance services on site in Casement Aerodrome and are directly employed by Leonardo Aircraft and are not outside agency aircraft maintenance workers employed under a contract for services directly by the Air Corps. In addition, they are not senior aircraft inspectors and the work undertaken by them is carried out under the supervision of senior Air Corps Technicians and Aeronautical Engineering Officers. The invoiced cost to date in 2021 for this original equipment manufacturer service support is €172,000.

I am satisfied that the Defence Forces have the necessary modern and effective range of equipment available to them to ensure that they can fulfil the roles assigned to them by Government.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (379)

Denise Mitchell

Question:

379. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Education the supports that have been granted to schools (details supplied) in relation to measures seeking to prevent the spread of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61127/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Department of Education has always been guided by public health advice in relation to appropriate Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures in place in schools. These measures protect students, their parents and school staff and are very effective.

Public Health continue to advise that the two most important actions to prevent the introduction and spread of Covid-19 (and other respiratory viruses), is by ensuring no-one with new onset symptoms attend school, and that all recommended infection prevention and control measures are in place in line with school Covid response plans.

Each school was provided with an updated COVID-19 Response Plan in advance of the return to school. Significant additional resources of €639m were put into schools in the last academic year to keep schools safe.

Further funding of €57.6 million has been paid by way of Covid-19 capitation to schools in September for the implementation of infection prevention and control measures for this term. This funding will cater for school costs related to hand hygiene measures, PPE requirements, enhanced cleaning supports and supervision.

At primary level, additional management resources for principal release days were provided for Principals and Deputy Principals. Teacher Supply panels were also expanded to cover the majority of primary schools nationwide, and a recent review saw an additional 200 teaching posts added resulting in approximately 680 teaching posts on these panels available to provide substitute cover in schools.

The schools referred to by the Deputy have received €142,411 capitation related funding for 2020/21 school year. To date both schools have also received additional financial supports of €71,927 to provide for Cleaning, PPE and hand hygiene costs under the COVID-19 response plans.

My Department has committed to ensuring that the full range of measures necessary to allow schools operate safely in the Covid-19 environment will continue to be available for the 2021/22 school year.

School Staff

Question No. 381 answered with Question No. 380.

Questions (380, 381)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

380. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education the extent to which adequate staff and relief staff remains available in schools throughout County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61152/21]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

381. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education if a means has been found to address the issue of shortages of relief staff within schools throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61153/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 380 and 381 together.

A range of measures are in place to provide enhanced substitute cover in the context of current challenges.

The higher education institutions (HEIs) have ensured flexibility to programme delivery to enhance the availability of professional master of education (PME) students to undertake substitute work. PME student teachers have been advised to register with the Teaching Council and to register with Sub Seeker, the national substitution portal service to make their availability known to schools.

In addition, the HEIs providing undergraduate programmes of initial teacher education have agreed to facilitate the release of 3rd and year 4th year students to support schools up to the end of the current term. They have also agreed to explore flexible options in relation to the assessment requirement for programmes in the context of students being available to support schools.

The education stakeholders, including the Department, the HEIs and the Teaching Council, will continue to work together to address any practical issues and ensure the ongoing availability of student teachers to support schools pre and post-Christmas.

A further 200 posts have been allocated to the primary substitute teacher supply panels in existing/new areas where significant challenges in sourcing substitution has continued, bringing the total to 680 posts covering approximately 2,600 schools. There are 7 primary substitute teacher supply panels in operation in County Kildare, covering 104 schools. A further 13 positions have been recently sanctioned, increasing the allocation in the county to 33 supply panel teachers.

In order to assist with the recruitment of teachers to supply panels, and in the context of the Covid-19 emergency, the Teaching Council has confirmed that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) who secure posts on supply panels in the 2021/2022 academic year may complete Droichead, the induction framework for NQTs. This is an exceptional time bound measure. Further guidance will be provided by the National Induction Programme for Teachers regarding the role of the base school and partner schools in the process.

The supply panels work alongside the existing methods of sourcing substitute teachers, such as the national substitution portal service Sub Seeker, operated by the Irish Primary Principals' Network and developed in accordance with my Department's Teacher Supply Action Plan. Schools can also make local arrangements to have their own regular substitutes to call on if needed.

In addition to the expansion of the supply panels, qualified teachers on secondment to the Department’s teacher education support services have been asked to make themselves available to provide substitute cover in schools. Arrangements have been made for available teachers from these services to register with Sub Seeker.

Continuing professional development (CPD) where substitution is required has been suspended until after the February 2022 mid-term, with the exception of planned CPD relating to reforms in senior cycle examinable subjects. This measure is being taken on an exceptional basis.

Retired teachers returning to classrooms until the end of the current school term will not have their pension abated.

In exceptional circumstances where there is no substitute available it may be possible for the Treoraí (formerly co-operating teachers) who host student teachers on school placement to provide substitute cover for absences of a very short duration in their own school if another substitute cannot be sourced at short notice. This should be for the shortest time possible until a substitute can be recruited.

At post primary level a new temporary arrangement has been put in place to provide principals with an alternative means of sourcing appropriate substitution cover, preferably with subject appropriate qualifications, where none is otherwise available. This scheme will assist post-primary schools to ensure that they can source sufficient substitution cover, in circumstances where schools cannot source cover through the existing arrangements. Post-primary teachers will now be able to work over 22 hours per week, working extra hours to provide substitute cover, up to a total of 35 additional hours between 29th November and 28th February, 2022.

These recently announced measures are in addition to those already in place, including, for the current school year, changes made to the career break scheme to permit teachers on career break to carry out unlimited substitute work. Changes have also been made to the job sharing scheme to permit job sharing teachers carry out substitute work on the days they are rostered off, in their own or in other schools.

The Teaching Council has undertaken a communications campaign with the over 111,000 teachers on its register to raise awareness to the current teacher substitute challenges and to ask registered teachers who are available to do so to register with Sub Seeker, so that their availability to sub is known to schools seeking substitute teachers.

Primary schools with teaching principals have also been asked to cluster their allocation of principal release days to form a full-time fixed-term post to minimise the requirement for substitute teachers.

The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for Government. The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) are at unprecedented levels.

Budget 2022 announced details of funding for an additional 1,165 SNAs (in 2022) to provide support to children with special educational needs, which will bring the total number of SNAs to 19,169 at the end of December 2022. This represents an increase of 81% in the number of SNAs provided since 2011 at which point 10,575 SNAs were available.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. It has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents. NCSE seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special education placements.

The Special Needs Assistant (SNA) scheme is designed to provide schools with additional adult support staff who can assist children with special educational needs who also have additional and significant care needs. Such support is provided in order to facilitate the attendance of those pupils at school and also to minimise disruption to class or teaching time for the pupils concerned, or for their peers, and with a view to developing their independent living skills.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource. The deployment of SNAs within schools is a matter for the individual Principal/Board of Management of the school. SNAs should be deployed by the school in a manner which best meets the care support requirements of the children enrolled in the school for whom SNA support has been allocated.

Where circumstances in school change during the course of the 2021/22 school year that materially increase the level of care need in a school to the extent that the school can clearly demonstrate that it cannot be met within the existing SNA allocation, the school may apply to the NCSE for a review. Detailed information on the NCSE exceptional review process is published on the NCSE website ncse.ie/for-schools.

The allocation of 1,165 SNAs announced in Budget 2022 is to meet the care needs of pupils in 2022 and will enable the establishment of new special classes, creation of new places in special schools, support children in mainstream classes for the 2022/23 school year.

My Department provides funding to recognised primary and post-primary schools in the Free Education Scheme to enable them cater for ancillary services. However, the Boards of Management of these schools are responsible for the employment of ancillary staff and ensuring relief staff are put in place as needed. My Department also provides each Education and Training Board (ETB) with an administration and maintenance staffing allocation to support ETB schools, colleges, head office and other centres of education. It is the responsibility of each ETB to recruit and manage staffing levels within this allocation including ensuring relief staff are put in place as needed.

My Department has sought to support ancillary staff during the Covid-19 period through certain actions. For example special working arrangements were put in place and the Employee Assistance Service was extended to ancillary staff.

Question No. 381 answered with Question No. 380.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (382)

Paul Murphy

Question:

382. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Education if she will provide a list of the schools that have and do not have HEPA filters. [61165/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

Managing ventilation is just one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe. Updated guidance for schools on Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools was provided at the end of May following the work of an expert group that carefully considered the role of ventilation in managing COVID-19. A copy of the guidance is published on the Gov.ie website.

The Expert Group in its report notes “very good advice is contained in the Department of Education’s Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools” And that “It must be emphasized that ventilation should be delivered as part of a layered strategy of protective measures to control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.”

The over-arching approach in the guidance is for schools to have windows open as fully as possible when classrooms are not in use and partially open when classrooms are in use. The Expert Group also note “consider using a portable carbon dioxide (CO2) monitor to identify areas of the school with inadequate ventilation. The Departments guidance outlines CO2 monitors can play a part in providing a useful general indication that areas/rooms may not be adequately ventilated. They can enable occupants to become familiar with the impacts of activities, outdoor weather and window openings on levels of good ventilation. The provision of portable CO2 monitors provides schools with the flexibility to focus their use to those rooms where most beneficial to inform strategies for optimising ventilation in the school. In excess of 35,400 monitors were delivered to schools nationwide at a cost of circa €4 million.

A dedicated team has been established in the Department to support schools that may have concerns about ventilation. Officers are also available to contact schools where required, walking through the steps the schools should take to deploy good ventilation practices etc. Where it is not possible for a school to access the expertise of an engineer or architect, and where necessary, a technical assessment to assist the school can be facilitated through the Department.

Schools that identify inadequate ventilation in a room can utilise their minor work grant (for minor improvements) or apply for emergency works grant assistance to address ventilation enhancements on a permanent basis.

There is no one solution that fits all scenarios, each application requires bespoke analysis and selection of the appropriate unit(s) matched to the specific room size and volume. If, following consultation with a supplier a school feels that its individual space may require specific technical specialist advice then the assistance of a Chartered Engineer or Registered Architect can be sought.

The requirement for air cleaners in schools will depend on advices provided to schools by their Architect/Engineer. As part of contingency planning, the Department has put arrangements in place for a small reserve of air cleaners to facilitate quick deployment to any primary or post-primary school which has an immediate need and has been unsuccessful in sourcing locally. To date there has been no requirement to draw from the Department of Education's reserve.

The Departments approach on good ventilation in schools, as part of a layered strategy of protective measures to control the spread of the virus, is fully consistent with Public Health advice and the Expert Group recommendations on good practices, the use of portable CO2 monitors and the targeted deployment of HEPA air filter devices where necessary for poorly ventilated areas.

School Accommodation

Questions (383)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

383. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Education further to Parliamentary Question No. 377 of 23 November 2021, the options her Department has considered; if her Department has liaised with the school's patron; if not, when this will be done; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61191/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department is currently exploring the options available to address the accommodation needs of the school in question for the 2022/2023 academic year. My Department will engage with the school's patron when a suitable option has been determined.

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