Adjournment Debate.

Job Losses.

I thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue. Not only is the loss of 100 jobs in CG Services in my constituency a matter of concern, but the closure of the company sends out a signal with regard to industrial policy in the area and job security in the constituency. The announcement comes in the wake of a number of similar announcements in the Cork region, including job losses in Schering Plough in Brinny, the closure of the Irish Distillers bottling factory in North Mall with the loss of 40 jobs and ongoing job losses in the Dairygold co-operative.

The common factor in all these cases is that they involve companies which are either based in my constituency or employ my constituents. Through the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, I want to make the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment aware that it is not good enough for my constituents to hear Government representatives discuss the ongoing employment problems in complacent terms. We regularly hear that we have full employment, yet only this week a FÁS labour force survey found that job growth in 2004 will be the slowest since 1992 and more jobs are being created in the public sector than in the private sector.

Of added concern as regards the jobs lost in CG Services is that the company was a service industry for the pharmaceutical industry in Cork, a significant employer in the region. We have been consistently led to believe that this sector is recession proof. Combined with recent job losses at Schering Plough in Brinny, the announcement sends out a clear signal that something is amiss in the sector and in the Government's reliance on locating many pharmaceutical industries in my constituency and the Cork region in general. I ask the Tánaiste to respond to this and to show concern about these developments, rather than complacently speaking of all being rosy in the garden. Times are changing; people are losing jobs, job security is increasing and there is considerable uncertainty about those who do not have jobs. The Government has a duty to respond quickly and appropriately to address the uncertainty among many people who are facing unemployment.

On another level, the manner in which the jobs in question were lost creates more uncertainty, particularly with regard to notice periods and subsequent pension entitlements. Despite the introduction in recent years of a range of Acts aimed at enhancing the rights of workers, particularly when they lose their jobs, people are still falling through the net and being made redundant in unacceptable circumstances. Some are finding themselves picking up the pieces having failed to secure the rights and entitlements due to them because their employer has been either inefficient or unscrupulous in living up to his or her responsibilities.

Jobs are being lost in industries which we were led to believe were secure, while workers who have lost their jobs are facing a great deal of uncertainty and are not being appropriately protected by legislation. As the Member for the constituency affected by the most recent job losses, I want the Government to respond proactively and appropriately to announcements of this kind and give some succour by indicating that there will be no further job losses in the pharmaceutical sector in Cork or the industries which serve it.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter on the Adjournment. The Tánaiste is conscious of the adverse effects on the workers of the decision by CG Services, Ballycurreen Industrial Estate, Airport Road, Cork, to go into voluntary liquidation. She understands that many of the workers have been with this long-established company for more than 20 years.

The Tánaiste understands that the closure of CG Services is attributed to increased competitive pressures, a downturn in markets and other factors. CG Services provided electrical and instrumentation services and developed into one of the largest regional companies in the sector, offering a wide range of services, including electrical and instrumentation systems installation and period maintenance. Close attention to customer requirements and specifications were hallmarks of the company, which completed projects for some of Ireland's leading companies, especially in the computer, electronic and pharmaceutical sectors as well as universities and hospitals.

Finding alternative employment for the workers affected is a priority for FÁS and the State development agencies. FÁS has met more than 30 of the 49 electrical-instrumentation apprentices in the company with a view to assisting them to complete their apprenticeships with other employers. Arrangements are being made by FÁS to brief the remaining employees on the range of its services to assist them in securing alternative employment and-or further training opportunities. FÁS is making available its full range of support services, including skills analysis, job placement, guidance and counselling interviews and identification of training needs and courses.

Enterprise Ireland will continue its efforts to support enterprise development in the Cork area, thus providing the opportunity for former employees of CG Services to find alternative employment. The three principal activities of Enterprise Ireland in this regard are support for companies, infrastructural development and working with third level educational institutions as originators of the new technologies which drive future industrial growth. Enterprise Ireland aided companies employing more than 19,300 people full time in County Cork in 2003, the highest level recorded.

In 2003, IDA Ireland announced 11 new projects for the Cork area with the potential to create up to 800 new jobs. Highlighting the continuing confidence in the region, four of these new projects were expansions of existing operations, some of which included significant research and development investment. The seven new start-ups announced during the year included activities ranging from manufacturing and international services to high value research and development based activities. There are 134 IDA Ireland assisted companies in County Cork employing approximately 18,000 people, an increase of more than 20% on the 1999 figure.

IDA Ireland will continue to actively market the Cork area to potential investors across a range of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, medical technologies, internationally traded services, financial services and information and communications technologies, through its network of overseas offices and project divisions.

With regard to the recent FÁS labour market survey, the organisation forecasts an increase of 11,000 net new jobs in 2004, with estimated total employment of 1.8 million. The FÁS report predicts that growth in employment this year will come from the private sector and forecasts a strong performance given the recent appreciation of the euro against the dollar, which compares favourably with the rest of the European Union. The current unemployment rate of 4.7% is approximately half the eurozone average. The Tánaiste wishes to assure the Deputy that the State development agencies, in co-operation with local interests, will continue to promote actively the Cork area for investment and job creation.

Special Educational Needs.

I thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important matter. I am also grateful to the Minister of State for coming to the House to address the issue. Drimnagh Castle primary school is a famous school in Dublin located on the Long Mile Road in Drimnagh, Dublin 12. There are currently 13 boys in the school who have been assessed by a psychologist and qualify for resource help under the Department circulars 07/02 and 08/02. As a result of their educational needs, these boys are probably the most vulnerable in the school system.

The school made an application dated 14 April 2003 which comes under the February to August assessment period dealt with by the dedicated team. A reply from this departmental team was expected on 9 December 2003 but no communication has been received. In September of this year, the school will have a further nine boys enrolling who also have been sanctioned for special needs assistance in their existing schools. The current 13 boys have now been waiting for 12 months since they were assessed.

I raise this matter in the context not just of Drimnagh Castle primary school, but of the general issue. I am aware that the INTO and the Department of Education and Children are in negotiations to review the model of providing teaching resources to children with special needs who are included in mainstream primary classes. The review arises from the problems experienced by teachers, schools and the Department in managing the automatic response which has been in place since 1998. The current system has resulted in a significant expansion of teaching and staffing in schools in recent years. It has, however, been criticised for being too slow to respond, overly bureaucratic and hugely demanding of time for all concerned. The Department circular of 24 March indicated that it wished to move to a weighted system of allocation of resource teachers with effect from September 2004. It was stated that this would involve an annual allocation being made to schools based on a predicated incidence of special educational needs within different sized school populations. Such a system would obviate the need for individual applications for resource in respect of individual pupils other than the most exceptional circumstances. In developing a weighted system, regard will also be had to the level of the caseloads of learning support teachers.

There are different types of educational disabilities. The prevalence of specific learning difficulty is between 1% and 4% of the schoolgoing population; mild general learning disability can affect 1% to 1.5% of the school-going population; there is also borderline mild general learning disability and educational disadvantage and the prevalence of disabilities.

Although I am raising this matter in the specific context of the Drimnagh Castle primary school, I am informed that 5,000 children have been assessed and are awaiting an allocation of resource teaching. I am not sure if that is the correct figure. I do not wish to be critical of the Government because I understand it is changing the system from the automatic response to a weighted approach. The Department needs to understand that children are growing older and they are missing out on opportunities while this system is being changed. I ask the Minister to urgently implement the new system and to provide the extra resource teaching for these children.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to clarify the position on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, regarding the matter referred to by the Deputy.

Drimnagh Castle primary school, Long Mile Road, Dublin 12, currently has the services of one part-time and two full-time resource teaching posts. This school also has the services of a full-time learning support teacher. I can confirm that the Department has received applications for special education needs supports for a number of pupils attending the school in question during the period from 15 February to 31 August 2003.

SEN applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including the applications made by the school concerned, are being considered at present. More than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to before or soon after the commencement of the current school year.

The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of the Department's inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of special educational resource provision conducted over the past year or so. Account is also being taken of the data submitted by schools as part of the recent nationwide census of SEN provision.

The processing of the applications is a complex and time-consuming operation. The Department of Education and Science is endeavouring to have this completed as quickly as possible and Department officials will then respond to all applicant schools. Pending a response, schools are advised to refer to circular 24/03, which issued in September 2003. This circular contains practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for special educational needs within the school.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy and I thank him once again for giving me this opportunity to give an update on the current position in regard to the applications for special educational needs resources for the pupils concerned.

Education Welfare Service.

I am requesting guaranteed funding over at least a three-year period for the Carline centre in Balgaddy because it is in a funding crisis at present and its good work needs to be continued. I discussed the subject of educational welfare officers with the Minister for Education and Science and with the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, today. I criticised the slow roll out although the Department argues this roll out is not necessarily crucial.

Education welfare officers seem to be in position in the RAPID area of north Clondalkin and three officers will begin work shortly. The work needs to be continued. The education welfare officers are in place but one of the centres in which they will be working is in danger. It is not in danger of closure but it is in danger of its services being severely curtailed. I will outline the circumstances.

The Carline centre of learning was set up in 1993. It deals with young people between the ages of 13 and 18 years. Its aim is to provide a stable environment so that job training, skill building and education can take place in a more efficient manner with a higher probability of success. Young people assisted by the Carline centre include early school leavers, teenage mothers, drug and solvent abusers, those with ADHD, those with child protection concerns or those whose parents are separated. Issues facing young people include anti-social behaviour, parental or peer suicide, drug overdose, bullying, anger management or simply the need for secure care.

It was a tragic event that caused the Carline centre to be established in 1993. A young person was killed in a joyriding accident and the initial goal was to allow young people to become involved with cars. They refurbished cars and then expanded and acquired the current premises in Balgaddy in 1996. It was opened in 1997 by the then President, Mary Robinson. A second building was opened in 2000. The centre has had over 150 referrals since 1997. It offers junior certificate studies, FETAC accreditation and tries to involve young people in mainstream education or employment. It operates exchange programmes such as with Co-Operation North, an access programme and tries to involve young people with drug-free lives and non-custodial care.

The centre is trying to develop skills for the future in the young people and it is doing a very good job. The people at the centre are not very politically motivated but they called a meeting of public representatives last Tuesday because they were so concerned about the funding shortfall.

I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, met with them earlier this week yet no apparent clarification was given as to whether the Department of Education and Science or the South Western Area Health Board would provide the funding guarantee. I understand approximately €166,000 comes from the Department and approximately €79,000 from the health board. The Clondalkin drugs task force also makes a contribution. There is a shortfall in 2004 of almost €240,000 which is a significant shortfall because much of the centre's costs relate to staffing. The staff tend to stay because they are very dedicated people.

I ask the Department of Education and Science to consider providing a three-year marginally increased tranche of funding to ensure that the Carline centre can carry out its good work. As we have seen in the case of the 17 year old who was in Balgaddy, then before the courts and who is now back in Balgaddy, there is a need to ensure that vulnerable young people have somewhere to go and have an opportunity to rebuild their lives. The Carline centre is doing an excellent job in my local area of north Clondalkin and Lucan.

Those involved with the Carline project are not moaners or whingers. They rarely contact politicians, but I was touched by the fact that they invited all local and national representatives to a meeting last Tuesday to show us around. We were presented with a framed portrait as an example of the work done by the students. The non-political nature and dedication of the staff should be considered, as should the need to ensure that the Carline centre's services continue and expand. Will the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and the Ministers of State, Deputies de Valera and Brian Lenihan, examine ways of increasing the funding made available to the centre? The centre's large shortfall for 2004 should be covered so that those involved in the project do not have to be concerned in 2005 and 2006. Any advice or information that the Minister of State can give in this regard would be useful to me, my constituents and those working in the Carline centre.

I thank Deputy Gogarty for raising this issue. The Line project steering committee is an independent organisation based in the community. The Line group operates in a voluntary capacity and is a wholly autonomous organisation. One of the principal aims of the Line project is to bring together the community, parents, State agencies, such as schools, health boards, FÁS and the probation and welfare service, and the relevant Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science, Health and Children and Enterprise, Trade and Employment to provide a direct and immediate response to assist young people who have dropped out of the education system.

The Department of Education and Science supports three projects on a pilot basis: the Carline project, the City Motor Sports project and the Phoenix project. The Carline project offers education and job training programmes to young people without training or qualifications for gainful employment and who are at risk of becoming involved in drug and alcohol abuse and crime.

Since 1998, the Department of Education and Science has provided financial assistance to Carline, Phoenix and City Motor Sports on a pilot basis. Annual increases have been provided since then at levels in line with VEC non-pay norms. The value of the assistance provided since 1998 exceeds €1.3 million. The annual financial assistance provided by the Department of Education and Science is €106,658 to the Carline project, €82,533 to the Phoenix project and €27,934 to the City Motor Sports project. This comprises a sum of €217,125 per year. In addition to this support, a further sum of €51,000 was provided to Carline for minor repair and refurbishment works in 2002. The Department also gives each of the three projects an allocation of tuition hours to cater for specific children.

Financial assistance provided by the Department of Education and Science in respect of the projects is paid to the relevant local vocational education committee which, in the case of the Carline project, is County Dublin VEC. There is an ongoing need for VEC oversight of activities supported by the Department to ensure that they meet local needs, are effective, that quality assurance measures are in place and value for money is obtained. The continuing financial support for Carline, under its service contract with County Dublin VEC, has regard to the requirement that educational services provided by agencies in the area should be, as far as possible, consistent and complementary with VEC service plans.

I have indicated that the Department of Education and Science will renew financial support in 2004 for the projects through the VEC at existing levels. No absolute guarantee of financial support in future years may be given at this time, however. It is essential to develop school based measures to address the problems of such children and to prevent alienation from the mainstream system rather than developing alternative education provisions. Most school based interventions being developed are preventative in nature. If support for the Line project is to continue until 2006 on a pilot basis, an evaluation by the VEC of its impact on the problems of the current cadre of disaffected young persons will be required. This will allow a reasonable timeframe for the effects of the preventative school based measures being developed in mainstream education to become effective and to be assessed. If these latter initiatives prove successful, the school based measures being developed could be expanded, thereby reducing the need for further out-of-school projects to be supported.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 20 February 2004.