Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Job Losses

The first issue selected is in the names of Deputies Carey and Quinlivan who wish to discuss job losses recently announced at Molex in Shannon, with the company due to close.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this most important issue for debate. Yesterday's shock announcement that Molex in Shannon was to close with 500 job losses was a devastating blow for workers, their families and the mid-west region. Many of the workers have been employed in Molex for 20 years or more and are distraught at the news. They face an uncertain future. These dedicated workers must be rewarded with a fair redundancy package that firmly recognises their length of service with this profitable global company. I believe a period of consultation with the employees is about to commence and urge the company to respond positively to its loyal workforce.

It is critical that the full resources of the State be deployed to assist the workforce in re-skilling, finding alternative employment and securing a new investor for the site. I welcome the Minister's intervention this morning when she called together all of the stakeholders in the region. I attended the meeting. It was hugely significant that all of the stakeholders were present - IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the local authority, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Shannon Group, the regional skills forum, the university and LIT. There is a willingness on their part to help the workforce. Last night I called for the establishment of a task force. In that regard, I welcome the Minister's move today to confirm that a steering group would be set up to put together a co-ordinated response to the massive number of job losses in County Clare and the mid-west region.

I also thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter which is obviously very important in my constituency, even though the jobs to be lost are listed in County Clare. As everyone is well aware, Shannon is located very close to Limerick city, from where many of the workers involved come. Molex has delivered a number of good jobs for a huge number of years, with generations of families working in the industry. There are also spin-off companies which are dependent on Molex. My sympathy also extends to the employees of Novartis in County Cork. It is devastating news for the workers after the recent job losses, particularly in Roche and at Moneypoint, another big hit for the mid-west region. This is the worst number of job losses the mid-west has seen since Dell closed its manufacturing plant ten years ago. Some of the same workers are now caught up in the new round of redundancies. Will the Minister indicate if there are European funds that can be accessed to retrain and up-skill to help the workers affected by the job losses announced yesterday to find new employment, especially those in Molex? I am aware that in the aftermath of the Dell factory closure European funds were available, but not all of the money was drawn down to help the workers. The available funds must be drawn down and everything must be done to ensure this will happen. The required skills are available to enable it to happen. A number of years ago I was in Brussels when I was informed that Ireland was particularly bad at drawing down funding that was available, if it wanted to access it.

It is essential that the unions be involved in the discussions that will take place in the next number of weeks. Will the Minister inform the Dáil if she has met the union representatives and can she commit to ensuring they will be involved in all future discussions? The workers in counties Clare, Limerick and Cork do not want to hear any expression of sympathy today; rather, they want to hear what the Minister's clear plan is and how the Government will help them. Will the Minister inform the House if she has spoken to IDA Ireland to ask it to focus on finding other businesses to locate in the Shannon free zone which may help to alleviate the effect of some of the job losses? Will the Minister outline the supports the Government and the social protection services will be putting in place for the hundreds of workers affected?

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue.

The announcement yesterday by Molex that it was to close its facility in Shannon was deeply disappointing. I understand fully how important an employer the company has been and the role it has played in supporting jobs and enterprise in the mid-west since 1971. Of course, our immediate concern is for the workers and their families who are impacted on by the announcement. Many of the workers have been with Molex for many years, which makes the news all the more difficult. The Government is, therefore, determined to act as swiftly as possible to address the closure and help to mitigate, as much as it can, the consequences for the workers and the Shannon region.

I spoke to the CEO of Molex yesterday about the announcement to see if there was any alternative and he assured me that the decision could not be changed. I travelled to Shannon this morning, together with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen - Deputy Carey was also present, with other local representatives - to convene a meeting with representatives from the State's enterprise agencies, Departments, Clare County Council, third level institutions and the local business community to help to determine how best we could respond. Our discussions were an important first step in responding to the announcement. The main priority for all involved is to address the short-term needs of the workers impacted on and make every State support available to them. The supports will include assisting the workers in finding alternative employment and helping them to re-skill to ensure they will do so. IDA Ireland will also be marketing the building to try to ensure another business will be established in it. Looking further ahead, we need, as was agreed collectively this morning, to make sure we create new opportunities in the mid-west region that will help to offset many of the job losses. The mid-west regional enterprise plan which was launched earlier this year will be a critical tool in that respect. It was also encouraging to learn more about the skills of the Molex employees. I am confident that these skills will be in demand from other employers in the area.

While the news is a significant blow for Shannon and the wider area, it is important to say that mid-west region continues to provide a very attractive offering for multinational and indigenous enterprises. The region has seen significant investment in the last three years and key employers in the region include many large-scale manufacturing employers such as Beckton, Dickinson, Edwards Lifesciences, Analog Devices, Johnson and Johnson, Regeneron, Stryker and Zimmer. The overall trend in job creation in Ireland - it is important to emphasise this point - remains very positive.

As difficult as it may be to appreciate now, we have reason to be confident that we will find new investment and opportunities for the employees of Molex. The Shannon site will not close fully until the end of 2020. In the meantime, I assure the Deputies that it will be an absolute priority for the Government to help the workers to transition into new jobs. What we are doing following meeting this morning is setting up a core team of key people who will co-ordinate the response locally. Deputy Quinlivan mentioned European funds. A contributor at the meeting, at which 30 people were present from all of the different agencies involved, said the one thing one should not do was to rush in to make an application. If one is to be successful in obtaining European funds, one needs to identify the skill set required, find out exactly what one wants to do and the application will then need to be made. The Deputy is correct in saying the money available was not drawn down fully the last time an application was made. That was because it was a knee-jerk reaction. It is important, therefore, that we look at this in the whole, make the right application and receive all possible support from the European Globalisation Fund to ensure the workers will receive the right training.

It is good to hear the Minister say this will be an absolute priority for the Government because it is a huge blow to County Clare, Shannon in particular. It is also a huge blow to the people who work in Molex and their families, to whom I have spoken and listened. They are really concerned as they face an uncertain future. It is critically important that all resources of the State be deployed. I welcome the Minister's confirmation that that will happen. It is also critically important that be communicated directly to the workforce and I encourage the Minister to do so and also to keep up the momentum following her intervention today. We need to get the task force moving straightaway also.

I encourage the Minister to keep all the public representatives in the region abreast of activities in that regard.

I, too, welcome the meeting that took place this morning with workers and business people in Shannon. It is important that the workers be supported and kept informed in the coming period.

On the EU application, I totally understand such matters take time. I am anxious that we do it right. We should take our time but do it right. We did not do so with Dell in the past.

The live register figure in Limerick is quite good but we are back where we were just before manufacturing in Dell collapsed in 2009. A shock wave has gone through the city. The closure of Molex, because of its size, will have a huge knock-on effect across the local economy, including in Limerick city and Shannon, and for smaller businesses.

Indigenous businesses simply need more support from the State. That is why I recently launched my document on local employment offices and on creating a stronger agency for them on par with IDA Ireland. While foreign direct investment is important to the regions and State as a whole, local enterprise offices can work really well if they are supported a little more.

We have proposed the establishment of a group in the Minister's Department. I ask her to make progress on that. Unfortunately, the job losses we have seen in recent days show how volatile foreign direct investors can be. They are often beyond our control, with Trump on one side and Brexit on the other. Can the Minister outline what she is doing to reduce our reliance on multinationals?

We understand fully how important the company is to the region and the role it has played in supporting jobs in the mid-west. There is no doubt that much work lies ahead. The company has been one of County Clare's biggest employers for many years, and the jobs cannot be replaced overnight. At the meeting this morning, however, it was very positive to learn there are many employers looking for the skill set in question. They will be having a jobs fair where potential employees can find out what jobs are available. There are many highly skilled workers in Molex. The highly skilled workforce is a great asset to potential investors. Acquiring a fully trained and highly skilled pool of talent is not always easy. The talent is available and the employees' skills will be needed in other companies. We heard that very clearly this morning.

The meeting I convened today was a strong statement of intent by the Government, key stakeholders and local business community to the effect that we will not allow the closure to reverse the progress made in County Clare and the rest of the region over many years. I look forward to working with all those who attended today as we do everything we can to source new investment and employment for the area.

On Deputy Carey's point, I will certainly keep the local Oireachtas representatives informed about what is going on. It was very clear this morning that it is a matter of putting all shoulders to the wheel. We will all work together to make sure we find new investment and job opportunities for those affected.

Will the Minister keep the local representatives in Limerick city informed?

Yes, we will keep everybody informed.

Job Losses

Three hundred and twenty jobs were axed at Novartis in Ringaskiddy, Cork, this morning when the workers were called in. Many of those workers rely on the wage packet to pay their mortgage. Many households have not one Novartis wage packet coming into the house but two. Sometimes this involves two generations. Retailers, garages and restaurants will be hit, particularly in the harbour area but not just there. This will reverberate right throughout the city and the region.

The announcement was a scandal. Yesterday, 24 hours ago, Novartis announced worldwide operating profits had increased by 15%. That is the name of the game for modern capitalism. Profit-hungry sharks record massive profits one day and lay off hundreds of workers the next. Novartis is a company whose market capitalisation is more than $200 billion. The company has been built up by workers the likes of whose jobs were axed this morning.

There is now a question over the industrial model the State uses, which involves relying first and foremost on foreign direct investment. We saw what happened at Molex yesterday. Increasingly, there is a stronger case to base the State's industrial jobs policy on directly State-run investment, including directly State-run investment in the pharmaceuticals and drugs sector. We need cheap generic drugs, not least in the context of Brexit. The State should step in and do as I propose.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter and I thank the Minister for attending in person. Today's announcement by Novartis represents a really significant blow to Cork, not only to the harbour area and the Carrigaline area, where I live. The workers come from all parts of Cork. That 320 employees, out of a total of 550, are affected is a measure of the scale of the reduction to the workforce that is to happen over the coming years. It is my understanding that there are a significant number of contractors on the site. The figure I have been given is between 150 and 200. If one of the two production buildings is to be shut down over the next two years or so, inevitably those contractors will lose their jobs also. Can the Minister provide any clarity on this? It is a key issue.

I spoke directly today to representatives of IDA Ireland and the company. I implore the Minister to make every effort to save the jobs. This happened before when Pfizer announced the closure of a plan in Loughbeg, Ringaskiddy. It was bought by a Portuguese company, Hovione, which continues to operate successfully there. More recently, GSK in Ringaskiddy, Cork, was acquired by Thermo Fisher, which prevented potential significant job losses also. There may well be a solution within the pharmaceutical industry. I ask the Minister to become directly involved with the company and IDA Ireland to ascertain whether a solution can be found. While 2022 is mentioned in the context of the losses at Novartis, 80 of the jobs affected are in the global service centre. Those redundancies will occur in the middle of next year. That is only six or seven months away for many of the workers. The redundancies will start next year and will conclude in 2022. This is not something that is way out in the distance; it affects individuals here and now. I ask the Minister to become directly involved. My party and I will do whatever we can to help her to achieve a resolution.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. It is extremely disappointing to hear 320 jobs will be lost across two sites operated by Novartis in Ringaskiddy, particularly following the announcement yesterday that Molex is to close its facility in Shannon, resulting in 500 jobs losses there by the end of 2020.

As I have said before, our immediate concern, whenever jobs are lost or are under threat at any firm in the country, is for the employees who will be directly affected. I assure the House that every form of State assistance and support will be made available to them. These supports will include assisting the workers in getting alternative employment and helping them to re-skill to ensure that they do so.

Novartis has informed IDA Ireland that the decision to make these redundancies is part of a company global restructuring and consolidation strategy. We understand that the firm will be relocating some manufacturing roles to contract sites and some business services positions elsewhere in Europe and to Asia. While it does not change the fact that valuable jobs will be lost, it is important to recognise that the redundancies at the Novartis firm will take place over the next three years: 60 in 2020, 80 in 2021 and 180 in 2022. That does, at least, provide time in which intensive efforts can be made to offset some of these future job losses through the creation of new employment opportunities in the Ringaskiddy and Carrigaline areas. We should remember also that both of the companies will continue operating in Ireland, with at least 210 employees once all the planned redundancies have taken effect. We are optimistic that, in time, the firms will be able to scale back up to their current employment footprint in Ringaskiddy.

Novartis has assured IDA Ireland that its other operations in Dublin will not be impacted by its restructuring plan.

Ireland has a strong biopharmaceutical industry, with virtually all of the world's leading firms having a presence here. As Deputy McGrath will be aware, a number of those companies are also present in Ringaskiddy and the wider Cork area, for example, Pfizer, GE Healthcare, Janssen Sciences and BioMarin. This means that we can be confident that we will be able to find new job opportunities for the impacted workers.

Every effort will be made to work with the company to see whether there are new opportunities. Sometimes when things change, one finds that there are opportunities for companies to create more investment and jobs in a region. I assure the Deputies that IDA Ireland will do everything it can to engage with the company on examining options and maximising what is available in Ringaskiddy. My door is always open and I am happy to work with Deputies and hear their views or new ideas on what we can do to help.

When it comes to job losses, we all know what it is like for workers. One cannot imagine what is going through their heads when they hear about it or the uncertainty they are facing, especially coming up to Christmas. They are worried about how they will pay their bills and mortgages. It is difficult for them, and it takes time for them to come to terms with it. Every public representative in the House supports the workers and we will all do what we can to ensure that there are more opportunities and jobs for them.

The workers should hold the Minister to that promise. This morning's meeting was organised by the company, so it will be important for the workers themselves to meet to discuss how to push back on this issue. Something that they can, and should, consider is the fact that, with a general election coming in the next six months or sooner, there is an opportunity to put pressure on the Government to match the fine words we have heard with action in the form of alternative jobs. The workers' union, SIPTU, has stated that its focus is on saving the jobs. That is a positive comment, but one that will need to be backed with action.

There are 124,000 Novartis workers in 60 plants across the world. There needs to be a conversation between them, aided by social media, about how to push back collectively against a company that moves them like pawns on a chess board.

There is an idea of an industry-wide meeting of pharmaceutical workers in the Cork Harbour region to discuss this crisis and an appropriate response by workers and trade unionists to push back. With a global recession coming, what is happening is unlikely to be the final example of this, and it is important that workers get organised to face the threat.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The company has provided valued employment in Cork for the past quarter of a century or more. It started out as Sandoz in Ringaskiddy. That was the name it operated under for a number of years before becoming Novartis. The workers have valuable skills and experience, so there will be a market for them. First and foremost, however, the priority must be to work towards protecting the production capacity at the Novartis plant and keeping it operational. That is achievable and may well be done through some form of collaboration within the industry, for example, contract manufacturing. There is production capacity at the site, with a building that should now be used and marketed internationally. The IDA needs to do that.

I do not expect the Minister to have the answer to the contractors question now, but will she make inquiries and write to me? My understanding is that there are up to 200 contractors on site. Some have been there for between ten and 15 years. Their jobs are likely to be lost as well. Will the Minister please revert with details on this matter?

We will find out about the contractors. Two hundred is a lot of people and families to be impacted. We will make contact with them in some format, be it through the local enterprise office or Enterprise Ireland.

Will the Minister revert when she gets the details?

Yes. I share the Deputies' deep sense of concern and disappointment regarding this morning's announcement. There is no denying that it has been a bad week for Cork, Clare and the wider Munster region. However, I assure the Deputies that the Government is treating this as a priority and will make every State support available to the impacted employees. The redundancies will take place on a phased basis over the next three years. Intensive efforts will be made in that time to offset these losses through the creation of new employment opportunities in the Ringaskiddy-Carrigaline area. IDA Ireland will work closely with Novartis to determine its plans. As someone stated at this morning's meeting, there is no reason opportunities cannot arise further down the road while operations at the plant continue. We will capitalise on any that do. IDA Ireland will also consider the plant's production capacity to see if other companies are interested in going to the area. There is a rich pool of talent there. I have visited Pfizer in Ringaskiddy, for example. The area is a hive of activity for the pharmaceutical sector and is an attractive place for any investor.

Primary Care Centres Provision

Deputy Ellis wishes to discuss the proposed developments at the site of the Church of the Annunciation in Finglas. We do not often get to discuss church-related matters.

I am sure the Deputy will tell us what he has in mind.

The population of Finglas is estimated at 32,000. It is an old area with a long history and has many new projects and developments under way. Finglas is an area that faces many challenges on a daily basis. There is a strong sense of community spirit. However, it has the problems often associated with many built-up urban areas.

It is important to have facilities in place for a growing and ageing population. There is also growth in the number families moving into Finglas and a demand for more. That is why I welcome the development of the site of the former Church of the Annunciation, which is in a prime location in north and west Finglas and which is due to be demolished shortly. The adjoining Fergal's Field site up to Fergal's Lane have been included as part of this development. The Church of the Annunciation has been a well-known and loved landmark for more than 50 years. Thanks to its iconic spire and elevated site, the church can be seen for many miles, not just across Finglas, but across Dublin.

Dublin City Council has purchased the church site and the adjoining Fergal's Field site and has reached an agreement with the HSE to make available a part of the site for a much-needed primary care centre. The centre has been a top priority for the HSE for many years. I have fought for it on behalf of the community in Finglas for a long time. The primary care centre is urgently needed in light of the ageing population in north and west Finglas.

The Church of the Annunciation site is ideally suited for the proposed projects to be located at the new development. Several buses service the area, there are many shops nearby and the West Finglas Tenants and Residents Association, WFTRA, community centre is across the road along with the HSE Odin's Wood day care centre for the elderly.

I have raised the site's development a number of times in the House and, therefore, I am delighted that it appears to be coming to fruition. Part of the plan for the development is to include a Tusla service.

I also welcome Dublin City Council's plans to build accommodation for senior citizens. That will help to alleviate the housing crisis in the area by allowing Dublin City Council to buy-up the houses of those senior citizens who wish to avail of the senior citizens' financial contribution scheme, thereby allowing such houses to become available to accommodate families on the ever-growing housing list in Finglas.

Planning has also been sought for a new church that would be more suited to the needs of the community and its population. I have also requested that for further community gain the Finglas boxing club, which has been in existence for almost 60 years and has had generations of young people from around the area come through its doors, should have its own dedicated premises. I have also requested a room for the local pigeon club. It is very important that the community and the residents in the area are fully consulted on all plans for the site and the proposed developments. The new development will greatly impact on them in the future and any concerns that they have should be accommodated as much as possible.

Did Deputy Ellis get any pigeon lofts in there?

No, just a room.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am taking this on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. It provides an ample opportunity to discuss future developments in the Finglas area. When listening to the Deputy's opening remarks, I was reminded that the Church of the Annunciation is visible from the top deck of the Cusack Stand in Croke Park. When someone is sitting near the Hill 16 end, it can be seen it quite clearly.

I have had the opportunity on many occasions. I must confess I was not aware that the population in the greater Finglas area is 32,000. It is a significant population centre and we need to provide additional facilities for it. Following the closure of the Church of the Annunciation in Finglas last October, Dublin City Council acquired land on two adjacent but separate sites from the archdiocese at that location. The council is now working to develop this land. I understand that the smaller site at the rear of the church will be developed for social housing and that plans are at an early stage, as the Deputy indicated, to develop 45 homes for older people on that part of the site. The initial feasibility study is currently under way and it is hoped that the study will be completed shortly.

It is a matter for the council to advance this housing project and the Department will consider its proposal on receipt of a formal capital appraisal and will assess the proposal speedily. The Department is eager to support proposals such as the one we are discussing in Finglas. Next year, funding of more than €2.6 billion is being provided by the Government to support projects such as this. The Deputy referred to Fergal's Lane, which I presume is the artery to link the site known as Fergal's Field to the wider world. Fergal's Field will be used by the HSE for the construction of a primary care centre. The development of the centre is a matter for the HSE.

Under Rebuilding Ireland, the Government has committed more than €6 billion to meet social housing needs and to support more than 138,000 additional households throughout the country. That includes 83,760 housing assistance payment, HAP, homes, 3,800 rental accommodation scheme, RAS, homes and more than 50,000 new homes under build, acquisition and leasing. It is positive to see in the latest construction status report for quarter 2 of this year that 6,439 social homes are currently on site. The delivery of those homes along with the additional 8,387 homes in the pipeline will substantially aid the continued reduction in the number of households on social housing waiting lists. Those numbers continue to decline, with a 5% reduction of households on the waiting lists between 2018 and 2019, and a 26% reduction since 2016. This progress has been possible due to the strong delivery under Rebuilding Ireland with 84,147 homes being delivered under the programme since 2016.

The primary care centre, which was promised for Finglas and is a priority for the HSE, is part of this proposal. I hope it is at an advanced stage. My worry is that there might be problems getting funding to build the primary care centre. I hope the matter can be sorted out and that there will be no such problems. Everyone is worried about the amount that was committed to the children's hospital on the St. James's Hospital site. I have lived all my life in Finglas and there has not been a GP in north Finglas and most of west Finglas for as far back as I remember and, therefore, we would welcome a primary care centre with all the facilities it would provide. There are primary care centres in Ballymun, Corduff and Cabra and they are magnificent facilities that enhance the lives of the people of Finglas.

I also welcome the fact that a new church will be built. We all have great memories of the old Church of the Annunciation, in which many family members were married, but unfortunately it had reached its sell-by date. We look forward to a new church being built there that will suit the needs of the people of Finglas.

The Minister and the Government should put on pressure to get the project moving forward quickly. I spoke to Brendan Kenny in Dublin City Council, which is advancing the project, and it is going to the design stage. We must push it on. Hundreds of people in the Finglas area alone are waiting for financial contributions and this project, should it proceed, would release much needed houses in the area.

The redevelopment of the smaller site, as the Deputy indicated, is being taken forward by the council and is supported by the Department. The homes for the elderly are a priority for the Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, held a conference on housing for the elderly last year with the Minister of State, Deputy English. A policy document on housing for the elderly was published within the past 12 months. It is very much the intention of the Government to ensure that a proposal brought forward by the city council will be speedily dealt with.

I have spoken frequently with Deputy Rock about the development of the primary care centre. As I said in my initial response, it is a matter for the Minister for Health and the HSE, but I reassure the Deputy that the funding for the provision of new primary care centres is reserved and is, therefore, unaffected by any other project. Each of us as constituency Deputies is acutely aware of the importance of primary care centres. The Deputy referred to the centre in Ballymun. Primary care centres have been developed and are at different stages in the development pipeline around the country. They are crucially important. I reassure the Deputy that funding is not the issue in that regard but a consultation process must be undergone on the ground. Having spoken to my colleague, Deputy Rock, I am aware of the sense of urgency that exists in Finglas to see the two landmark sites redeveloped for important local social need on the housing or community development fronts.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

I welcome the opportunity to raise this important Topical Issue debate relating to the Offaly school of special education based in Kilcruttin, Tullamore, which has capacity for 36 children. The school currently caters for 34 children with a 35th child to start in the coming weeks, which will leave it with just one vacancy. The school has a staff of 26 with 11 bus escorts. The children catered for are in the severe to profound range of intellectual disability, moderate to severe intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder, ASD.

They require teaching in a specifically-designed premises away from mainstream education schools. The circumstances of each child attending the school in Tullamore are unique. Their needs include learning difficulties, communications disorders, physical disabilities and behaviour and emotional problems, to cite some of the many possible issues pertaining to these children. I was recently invited to the school to meet the staff and some of the board of management members. I saw first hand the important and sometimes challenging issues that the teaching and support staff deal with every day. I thank the Minister for his informal meeting with the principal, Ms Denise Cole, and Mr. Frank Brennan, a member of the board of management. Deputy Barry Cowen and I imposed on the Minister's official engagement when he went to visit the Midlands Skill Centre. I thank him for that and I thank the centre for allowing our intervention and the hijacking of a few moments of his time. It is much appreciated. It is clear that the staff are providing a great service to the children. I learned how each child will have a fully tailored education and care programme to ensure that their specific needs are met. The staff provided me with some of the positive outcomes that have been achieved in Kilcruttin for the children. The ethos of the school is to work towards incremental improvements and learning outcomes at a pace that suits each child's own needs and abilities.

There are three ASD classes and three classes for severe, profound and multiple disability. Many of the children have challenging behaviours and they do not have a general purpose room or a playground. As the Minister may be aware, movement breaks are essential for children with ASD to manage their sensory regulation which, in turn, reduces episodes of challenging behaviour. Only one room has a break-out room where children can go in the event that a classroom environment becomes intolerable for them. Pupils may need to take time out during the school day and it is essential that the students can avail of physiotherapy or relaxation and that there are facilities in the school to allow this. I was advised during my visit that other students can be negatively impacted and upset during events such as this, and that a lack of suitable facilities currently at the school often escalates situations that would ordinarily be more easily managed.

The school is in a good position to avail of additional rental space directly adjacent to the premises, if the Department would sanction this development. I am advised that it will cost approximately €16,000 per annum and I call on the Minister's officials to re-examine the proposal, which I understand was received negatively in the context of the significant benefits that this would bring to the school community. This proposal is also supported by the HSE physiotherapy department, which says that the children need it, and that equipment is required to be moved around and that storage for it is an issue. I hope that the Minister can give this matter the urgent consideration it deserves.

Gabhaim buíochas don Teachta as ábhar seo na Saincheisteanna Tráthúla a ardú. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and also thank her, along with her constituency colleague, Deputy Cowen, for meeting Mr. Frank Brennan and Ms Denise Cole. It was a brief meeting but the message was direct and they certainly put on record the importance of this issue. We are treating it seriously.

I assure the House that the education of children with special educational needs remains a key priority for this Government. Amid the unknowns of Brexit and the constraints that this imposed on budget 2020, we remain dedicated to doing our best for the most vulnerable children including those with special educational needs. Equality of opportunity is at the heart of our vision. Currently, €1.9 billion is being invested in special education, almost one fifth of the overall current education and training budget, which includes almost 13,500 special education teachers and nearly 16,000 SNAs. Some 124 special schools with 1,500 teachers cater for more than 8,000 students and an additional 1,000 special class places have been provided in this school year, with the establishment of 167 new special classes. The recent budget includes funding for an additional 1,064 SNA posts, which will be available for allocation next year. This will bring the total number of SNA posts in our schools to 17,000. An additional 23 posts will be provided for special schools, designed to meet expected increases in enrolments in special schools due to increasing enrolments and demographics in 2020, providing more than 8,000 places. It also provides for the continued provision of administrative deputy principal posts in special schools with more than 15 teaching posts introduced in special schools for the first time this September.

A pilot of the new school inclusion model approved by Government on 8 February is being implemented in HSE CHO 7 for this school year, with the continuation of the in-school speech and language and occupational therapy demonstration project to provide in-school and preschool therapy services as part of the school inclusion model. Children who are attending pilot schools and who receive therapy supports from the HSE will also continue to access such services. The in-school therapy model is designed to supplement, not to replace, existing services. Children who require therapy services and who are not attending one of the pilot schools will continue to access services from the HSE. Health therapy supports for children with disabilities, including physiotherapy supports, are provided by the HSE. These services are currently being reconfigured into geographically-based teams for children and young people aged zero to 18 who have complex needs under the executive's national programme, Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People.

The special school to which the Deputy refers has access to physical and sensory therapy supports, including physiotherapy supports from the HSE. The executive also provides nursing support to the school. An application from the school to my Department for funding to rent additional accommodation, including space for physiotherapy supports, was unsuccessful as the school confirmed that it does not have an immediate need for the space and my Department would consider the renting of the property in anticipation of the increased need in the coming years. A further letter from the school seeking additional accommodation has been received by my Department and the school's long-term accommodation needs are currently being reviewed by my Department. In a nutshell, there is an updated request and I have asked my officials to look at that to see how we can progress it.

The Department's priority, with the limited funding available, is the provision of essential classroom accommodation in areas where significant demographic need has been established, including special class and special school places, to ensure that each child, including children with special educational needs, will have access to a physical school place.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. I note that the school said that it does not have an immediate need for the space. However, another student is coming in, which means that 35 of the 36 places will be taken, leaving only one available. The school management knows from the other schools in the catchment area that further students will require its services. I welcome the fact that long-term accommodation is being reviewed by the Department. The Department encouraged the school to convert the existing physiotherapy room into a classroom at a time it had lower numbers. The need for this particular room is more pressing now. The Minister referred to the HSE's welcome supports. It is very supportive of the requirement for the daily programme that is required for children with complex needs and says that more space is definitely required. The HSE has supported the school's application to the Department and outlined the requirement in detail.

I also wanted to raise the fact that I have been contacted by parents in Edenderry who said that they are concerned that there will not be any space at a second level school for children with ASD who will finish primary school next June. I am told that there is only one place left in Edenderry and that up to 36 children in the catchment area will require access to special classes at post-primary level. I hope that the Minister will take that into account and bring it back to the Department to examine how this will be dealt with. Naturally, parents are most concerned that their children would be catered for in an environment that is most appropriate for their needs.

I acknowledge again Mr. Frank Brennan and especially Ms Denise Cole in the special school, who is an advocate of long-term sustainable planning within her school. That will be the focus of the request. The situation has changed, as the Deputy outlined, and will be a factor in the decision. We will make a decision quickly.

On the Deputy's second point on Edenderry, I will get my officials to look at the specifics of that issue but at a general level, when schools come along, particularly post-primary schools in respect of which we are under pressure in certain densely populated areas, we will work with them. My message all the time is that if there is a school interested in providing additional ASD classes that provide the opportunity for young people to be part of a whole-school community in special ASD classes or in mainstream classes, we have to facilitate that. I will check out the specifics of the situation there and get back to the Deputy directly.