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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 19 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 4

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Health Services Staff

I raise the serious issue of medical scientists and their trade union, the Medical Laboratory Scientist Association's 21-year campaign to implement their pay parity claim, which was approved by the then Minister for Health in 2001. With no resolution in sight, the workers were forced to take strike action yesterday. I wish to put it on the record that in 61 years, the medical scientists have only ever had one other strike, which was in 1969. They are not a mad, radical group of workers dying to get out on to the streets. This was a last resort for them to make their point about what has been going on.

As a brief background, the Medical Laboratory Scientist Association's claim for parity with clinical biochemist colleagues dates to 2001, when an expert group report recommended pay parity between the grades. The then Minister for Health, who is now the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, signed off on that and the Department of Health accepted the findings at the time. The newly awarded pay parity was lost within months as a result of an inadvertent procedural error in the first public service benchmarking award in June 2002. Following the job evaluation process for laboratory aids in 2019, the starting salary for a laboratory aid, who requires a leaving certificate, became higher than the starting salary for a State registered medical scientist with a level 8 degree. In January 2020, against a backdrop of a severe and growing recruitment and retention crisis among medical scientists, the MLSA renewed its long-standing claim for parity of pay and career progression with clinical biochemists and sought engagement with the HSE and the Department of Health.

By way of a timeline of the negotiations, a meeting with the HSE in March 2020 was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic with talks eventually beginning in August 2020. These talks stalled on the commencement of negotiations on the public service pay deal, Building Momentum, in October 2020. In February 2021, the MLSA rejected the terms of Building Momentum, taking the view that they did not deal with the key employment issues in the sector. Further discussion on the career progression side of the claim commenced with the HSE and the Department of Health under the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, in early 2021, but the employer side withdrew in April 2021, without reaching agreement. In November 2021, with no progress made on the parity claim, and in the context of an even more extreme recruitment and retention crisis, MLSA members voted 98% in favour of industrial action in pursuit of their claim.

Despite rejecting Building Momentum, the union has participated fully in sectoral bargaining talks on the Building Momentum public sector pay deal. However, following meaningful proposals from the MLSA, no satisfactory progress has been made or currently appears possible. Following several requests by the MLSA, the WRC conciliation on career progression recommenced in March 2022 but, again, the HSE and the Department of Health failed to commit to an agreement on the issue. I met a number of medical scientists in the audiovisual room on Tuesday after they came back from the WRC. They were asked to go back and they did so. Again, no agreement was put forward by the Department of Health or HSE.

I am disappointed that the Minister is not present and I know the Minister of State will give the reply he has been supplied with, but there is a real need for the Government to get the finger out and actually deal with the issues these workers are facing. It is a parity claim that the Department of Health has signed off on, and it should be dealt with immediately before the two-day strike next week.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. On behalf of the Minister, I acknowledge and pay tribute to the dedication, professionalism and commitment of all medical scientists throughout the country. Medical scientists play a valued and vital role within our health service. Their drive and dedication have been key components in our management of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, they were at the front line of the response, providing a crucial role in testing and this has not gone unnoticed.

I am acutely aware of the ongoing and long-standing claim for pay parity between medical scientists and clinical biochemists. Health management has been engaging with the Medical Laboratory Scientist Association on these issues at the Workplace Relations Commission under the terms of the current public service agreement, Building Momentum. As the MLSA is part of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, it is bound by the terms of the agreement for the remainder of its lifetime.

Building Momentum includes the process of sectoral bargaining to deal with all outstanding claims across the public sector. The bargaining fund equates to 1% of basic pensionable pay for each bargaining unit set up under the agreement. Under Building Momentum, sectoral bargaining is the sole mechanism through which the MLSA can advance its claim. The MLSA requested that it be facilitated with its own bargaining unit in the sectoral bargaining process in order to progress its claim for pay parity. As such, the MLSA has at its disposal a fund equivalent to 1% of basic pay of all medical scientists. While this fund is insufficient to fully resolve its long-standing claims, it can partially resolve the claim and the remainder could be addressed in a future public service agreement, as per the terms of Building Momentum. As I have stated previously, the MLSA and health management have been engaged in talks over the last number of months with the aim of finding a way to advance the claim through this sectoral bargaining process. Several options were explored during these talks, but to date, none has satisfactorily resolved the claim in full, within the terms set out under Building Momentum.

The public service agreement group, comprising union and Civil Service representatives and an independent chair, met on 11 May to consider the MLSA's claim for pay parity. It recommended that the matter be immediately referred to the Workplace Relations Commission and that industrial peace be maintained in the meantime. Health management met with the MLSA under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission on 17 May but, unfortunately, no resolution was reached. While the MLSA agreed to engage at the Workplace Relations Commission, it did not lift its industrial action, which is a breach of Building Momentum. It is disappointing that the strike went ahead yesterday, despite it being precluded under the agreement. I recognise the significant disruption caused by yesterday's strike and the impact it has had on the health service. The parties continue to engage under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission. The Department of Health and the HSE remain open to engagement with the MLSA, noting that we are compelled to resolve any disputes in compliance with the provisions allowed for under Building Momentum.

I was hoping for a more positive response from the Minister of State. Building Momentum only provides for a fund of 1%, which means that the pay increase will be €1.45 million for the 1,800 medical scientists. That is 7% lower than the 8% committed to back in 2001 in respect of pay parity. Surely, there must be some way that the Department can think outside the box to deal with a legacy pay parity claim dating back 21 years. It is hugely unfair to force these workers to remain under the restrictions of the Building Momentum agreement. They have gone out of their way. Under the Croke Park Agreement, they saved the State €10 million. They have been working flat out. They are working well beyond their contracted 38-hour week and are filling vacancies at weekends. On the issue of the retention of medical scientists in labs, they are losing workers every day and are being forced to fill gaps. For patient safety in the long run, and as part of public health policy, the Government should be thinking outside the box. The only Department that does not seem to have attended these talks is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The latter controls the purse strings of the Department of Health. If the Government is serious, it should think outside the box and immediately implement the 8% pay parity. The Minister of State that he is disappointed that the MLSA has initiated strike action. If he waiting 20 years for a pay increase that had been signed off, would he not think that he had the right to take strike action to make his point?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. It was disappointing that the MLSA initiated strike action and that its vital role and presence in clinical settings across the country was suspended yesterday, causing disruption across the health service.

Of course it was going to cause disruption.

Its decision to strike yesterday was contrary to its commitment under Building Momentum, which states that parties to the agreement concur that industrial peace will be maintained within the lifetime of the agreement. The Department of Health is bound by Building Momentum, which clearly states that sectoral bargaining is the only mechanism for addressing outstanding claims within the lifetime of the agreement. I will take the Deputy's views back to the Department of Health. I assure the Deputy-----

The Department of Health signed off on pay parity 21 years ago.

One speaker at a time, please.

-----that health management remains committed to engaging with the MLSA. I reiterate again how significant its presence is across the health service. We will continue to engage with the MLSA and make every effort to ensure that no further days of strike action take place in the coming weeks. I want to acknowledge the dedication, professionalism and commitment of all medical scientists throughout the country. I hope that the issue can be resolved. I will bring the Deputy's views back to the Department.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Citizens Information Services

I am trying to clear up some confusion and doubt about the Wicklow Town Citizens Information Centre, a very much appreciated source of information and assistance to local residents not just in Wicklow town, but in the area around it. The centre operated very successfully up until April 2020. There was an issue around the building that the centre was operating out of, and it was closed down. I understand that there was an assumption or some reassurance given that another premises would be sourced for the service. It is a vital service. As the Minister of State is aware, Wicklow town is a big, thriving town with a big population. These services are very much in demand. I have engaged with the Minister for Social Protection and her Department on the matter. I received a response in March which stated that the Citizens Information Board had informed the Minister that new premises had been located in Wicklow town, that planning for the change of use of those premises had been granted and that the Department of Social Protection and the Citizens Information Board were in discussions in respect of funding required to complete the new premises and reopen the much-needed office. Everybody was quite satisfied and happy with that response.

On 13 May, just two months after I received the first response, the regional manager in Wicklow citizens information service was informed by the Citizens Information Board that the Wicklow Town Citizens Information Centre will not be funded by the Department of Social Protection. It gets more complex. I hope the Minister of State is following this. I then raised the issue with the Minister for Social Protection. I was told that the Citizens Information Board is independent and decides on issues of funding and what services it is going to provide. According to a note from the Citizens Information Board, funding will not be provided by the Department of Social Protection. I want to try to get the bottom of the matter.

There is no doubt that the service is required in Wicklow. Many people are extremely disappointed at the kind of messing around that has gone on. There are information services operating in Arklow and Bray quite successfully. However, the public transport links from Wicklow town to Arklow are not great. There are slightly better transport links to Bray. There are two vital services being provided at either extremity of the county. It is in Wicklow town that we need an information service. I want to know who decides to provide the budget for the information centre. Is it the Citizens Information Board, which, the Minister informs me, is independent or is it the Department of Social Protection, which the Citizens Information Board has informed the information centre is not providing the funding? I want to get to the bottom of it. How is the funding decided? Who carries out the assessment to determine that the information centre is required and should be funded?

I understand that is up to the Citizens Information Board, CIB. I want to know how, in a two-month period, it came to that assessment and decided that it was not going to reopen. Hopefully, the Minister of State is going to tell me that the money is there and that it will reopen.

I thank Deputy Matthews for raising this matter and I also thank him for outlining how important the Citizens Information Board is. I know myself when I was starting out in politics how very useful and necessary its advice was in my own local town. The Citizens Information Board is the statutory body with responsibility for the Citizens Information Service, CIS. The CIB provides funding to eight CIS companies that operate a national network of Citizens Information Centres, CICs.

Each CIS is a limited company overseen by a board of directors and makes decisions independently on the delivery of services in their regions. Decisions regarding the delivery of services in Wicklow town are therefore a matter for the board of the south Leinster CIS. In March 2020, the board of south Leinster CIS made the decision to close the Wicklow CIC office as part of its Covid-19 response. Decisions such as these are entirely a matter for the south Leinster CIS board.

In December 2021, I understand that south Leinster CIS made the decision to discontinue services in their Wicklow town office due to health and safety concerns as outlined by the Deputy. The board had undertaken an internal assessment of the premises and identified that they were unsuitable. I understand that the south Leinster board looked to put alternative arrangements in place. A temporary office location was identified in Wicklow town but the board made the decision not to use this office as it looked to procure a longer-term arrangement. An office space in the centre of Wicklow town was considered. However, the premises required substantial financial investment before it could be utilised. Planning permission for the change of use of these premises was granted to the landlord in late 2021 and consequently the costs had not been factored into CIB's 2022 budget allocation estimates process.

CIB provides funding to the various regional CIS companies and funding may be available for projects that are necessary for the effective delivery of service. Any requests for such funding would be assessed in the context of CIB's annual budget allocation and other competing priorities, and also within the normal efficiency and value-for-money obligations that apply to public funding.

In the interim, I understand that CIB has recently asked the board of south Leinster CIS to consider the use of an outreach office for Wicklow town as soon as possible. The board of south Leinster CIS has therefore been asked to develop a proposal which would identify a possible location for an outreach office in order to provide citizen information services directly in Wicklow town. The Citizens Information Board is continuing to engage with south Leinster CIS with a view to progressing its use to meet local needs.

An outreach office is obviously better than nothing but Wicklow town is the county town with a growing population. It is designated under the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy as a key growth town in planning. That is where we are planning to grow populations in County Wicklow, which is in Bray and in Wicklow town. The removal of this service and the suggestion that the service may look for an office to provide an outreach service is not good enough for the residents in Wicklow town.

The Minister of State's response does not quite get to the question I asked in that he states that funding and service provision is the responsibility of the board, which I accept. We have communication from the board to the centre saying that funding will not be provided by the Department of Social Protection. Ultimately, the funding must come from that Department down to the board and it then decides. Has the funding been withheld by the Department or is the funding there and the south Leinster CIS board has decided to spend it elsewhere? If that is the case, I will be satisfied that the senior Minister has provided the funding and I will go then and chase the board to see why it is not providing that service to Wicklow town, considering that the board was all for it in finding premises and in recognising that that service was required.

We are doing considerable work in Wicklow town. A significant growth in population is being added to the town. We are bringing electrified train services there. It is the county town and it needs this service. If the Minister of State can explain to me the question I have just raised with him, that will be fine and I will take my queries then to the Leinster board of the Citizens Information Service.

Again, I thank the Deputy for raising this quite complex issue. The CIB continues to work closely with the board of south Leinster CIS to support the region and to ensure that the delivery of high quality services to citizens remains a priority.

I can confirm that south Leinster CIS is continuing to provide citizens information services to the citizens of Wicklow through the CIC offices located in Arklow and Bray. However, as the Deputy has rightly pointed out, there are difficulties in respect of transport services. Services have continued to be offered throughout the pandemic and will continue to be available through a combination of offices in Arklow and Bray for drop-in appointments and phone-based services. The latter have been particularly successful in ensuring south Leinster CIS continued to support the people of County Wicklow over what has been a very difficult delivery environment since March 2020.

The CIB will continue discussions with south Leinster CIS regarding the future delivery of services and the development of proposals in identifying possible premises including costings and an outline of potential works that might be needed to make these premises suitable for the delivery of services in Wicklow town. The CIB and the regional CIS companies decide on how their funding budgets are allocated and these decisions are not a matter for the Minister for Social Protection.

However, the Deputy has rightly outlined that Wicklow is the county town and that it is a service that was there. These discussions should continue and I will bring his proposals back to the senior Minister. I understand that she has given an allocation of funding and this is an issue, therefore, that has really to do with the Citizens Information Board. The Deputy has made a very strong case that this service would be located back in Wicklow town and I will bring that case back to the Minister.

School Accommodation

I dtús báire ba mhaith liom a rá leis an Aire go bhfuil an méid dul cinn atá déanta ag Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin i bhFionnghlas dochreidte ó bunaíodh í i Meán Fómhair 2005. Tá Gaeilge beo agus ag fás inti agus an-éileamh uirthi freisin. Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin on Bóthar Ghlas Naíon Road, Finglas East, is a co-educational all-Irish school registered under An Foras Pátrúnachta i gcomhair na scoileanna lánGhaeilge.

It is a primary school for pupils aged four to 12 years. It opened on 1 September 2005 using two changing rooms at the back of the West Finglas Tenants Residents Association, WFTRA Hall in Finglas west. In 2008 the school moved to the former De La Salle school building in Finglas east.

The aim of Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin is to support learning and development by providing the highest standards of education through the medium of Irish. As a Gaelscoil, Gaeilge has a central place in the life of the school. Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin is recognised as a school in a disadvantaged area of Dublin and has DEIS band 1 status.

The school has faced major challenges from the day it moved into its present building because of its condition. The windows were either yellowed Perspex or else they were boarded up. Mould, which is especially detrimental to the health of young children, was evident throughout the building.

The school received €20,000 in 2009 to rid the classrooms, corridors and toilets of mould. In 2010 the school received a grant to upgrade the heating system through a summer works scheme. However, it was refused an application for a grant to upgrade the windows.

There is evidence of woodworm in the school hall and in the attic. The yard surface is uneven and the tarmac is old and is a cause of concern as it is where young children play during break times. Children need proper facilities where they can exercise and play.

The classrooms do not have toilets in or even near them and this is very inconvenient for both teachers and the young children. A trip to the toilet for a young child has become more complicated than should be necessary and does result in the loss of teaching time.

The two-storey building has no lift, which makes it difficult for the school to accommodate children or anybody else who uses a wheelchair. It also means that all furniture, equipment, boxes for hot lunches etc. have to be carried up the stairs, which raises health and safety concerns. The Department of Education eventually bought the building in 2019, having paid more than €1 million in rent for 11 years. The school has received some grants for building improvements over the years, but this has been done in a very piecemeal fashion and is akin to putting a sticking plaster over a broken leg.

Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin is one of Finglas's success stories. It is well integrated into the community, providing employment, cultural outreach and awareness of the Irish language. It has been to the fore in assisting the families of pupils and the community during the pandemic by providing food parcels and other supports for parents and disadvantaged members of the community. The school needs a proper investment for its 300-plus pupils and 30 staff. Despite visits by departmental officials in 2019 and 2020, management is none the wiser as to the long term future of the school. It has been on a waiting list for works since at least 2010 and, according to the most current information, it is still at pre-stage 1. Huge sums of money are spent each year heating the school. Having run out of room, two prefabricated buildings were installed in 2019. A third will have to be installed to accommodate an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit, for which the school is in the process of making an application.

In ainneoin gach rud, tá an scoil ag déanamh jab an-mhaith ar fad agus táim an-bhródúil as an méid atá déanta acu.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an gceist agus as an deis chun freagra a thabhairt dó ó thaobh na scoile seo. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the current position in regard to the major building project for Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin in Finglas East, Dublin 11. The project is included in my Department's construction programme, which is being delivered under the national development plan, NDP, as part of the Project Ireland 2040 framework. Under Project Ireland 2040, the education sector will receive a total of approximately €4.4 billion in capital investment over the period from 2021 to 2025. This significant investment allows us to move forward with certainty with our ambitious plans to deliver high-quality building projects, with a real and particular focus on sustainability, for school communities throughout Ireland. The investment will build on the good progress being made on adding capacity to cater for demographic changes and provision for children with special educational needs. It will also facilitate an increased focus on the modernisation of existing school stock and help to transition the school system to an era of net-zero carbon by 2050.

As the Deputy will be aware, the brief for the Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin project provides for the development of a 16-classroom school, with an additional two classrooms for pupils with special educational needs, including the refurbishment of the existing school buildings, minor demolitions, construction of a new school extension and all associated works on the school's existing site at Glasanaon Road. The major building project for Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin will be delivered under the Department's accelerated delivery of architectural planning and tendering, ADAPT, programme. Under the programme, a professional external project manager co-ordinates and drives the design team to achieve the best possible timeframe for the delivery of projects through the stages of architectural planning, tender and on to construction.

The tender process to appoint a project manager has just been completed. The first step to be undertaken by the project manager will be the tender competitions for the appointment of design teams for a number of school building projects. This will include the appointment of the design team to progress the project for Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin. The Department will shortly advise the school authorities of further developments in regard to these appointments. Upon appointment, the design team will proceed to stage 1 of architectural planning, that is, preliminary design, whereby the team will assess the site and current school buildings and prepare their initial sketch schemes. The scope and extent of works to be carried out will be established during this early stage. My Department is currently engaging with the school's patron to explore the potential for providing interim accommodation on the school site to facilitate the establishment of a special class for the 2022-23 academic year.

I appreciate all the points the Deputy has made, which are to his credit. I want to be clear that this project is now moving in a positive direction in terms of the appointment of a project manager and the other steps that will follow in suit.

Táim an-bhuíoch den Aire as an bhfreagra sin, ach tá rud éigin ann nach bhfuil soiléir domsa. Luaigh sí go bhféadfadh sé a bheith cúig bliana sula gcuirfear tús leis an obair sin. The appointment of a project manager is a great move forward but I am worried about the timescale for organising the design team and moving on from there. I would not like to see this drag on. I was involved in the founding of Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin in the WFTRA Hall, along with Seán Óg, who was involved in Gaelscoil Naomh Foinnbarra. At the time, there was no Irish language school in Finglas, despite its large population. It was an absolute shambles and a shame. Since then, however, Gaelscoil Uí Earcáin has gone from strength to strength and there is a huge demand for places. As I said, there are prefabricated buildings in place and we are seeking an ASD unit, but these are interim measures. We want to see the proper buildings being constructed. I hope the project will be prioritised, as the Minister said, and will move quickly. The Gaelscoil is one of the great successes for the Irish language and for people in Finglas and the areas it serves.

I cannot say enough about the people who have been involved in the school. There has been massive input by the local community, volunteers and others to get this project off the ground to where we are now. People talk about the Gaeltacht and other areas. Ballymun is located beside us in Finglas and there is lots of Irish spoken there. Ballymun has three Gaelscoileanna and we have one now in Finglas. I really hope this project moves quickly. It will be a dream come true for me if it does happen.

Tuigim cé chomh deacair is a bhí sé go dtí seo agus tá a fhios agam freisin go bhfuil géarghá ann an scoil a chur chun cinn go tapa. I absolutely understand all the Deputy has outlined and I appreciate the enormous tribute that is richly deserved by the community, which has worked so hard to advance the school and promote it. Indeed, credit is due also to the community for the manner in which it has embraced the school and ensured it has thrived, as the Deputy outlined. I appreciate how important it is to everybody involved in the school that the project be advanced as a priority.

I thank the Deputy for his graciousness in acknowledging the positive step forward that is the completion of the tender process for the appointment of a project manager. The project is part of the ADAPT programme, as I indicated. The next step is the appointment of the design team, which will incorporate a consultant architect, civil structural engineer, building services engineer, quantity surveyor and others. Once it begins, that process will take approximately 12 weeks. The design team will then begin stage 1 of the architectural planning, which will encompass the site investigation, including the condition of the existing school buildings, which is an important consideration, site suitability, the initial sketch scheme and all of that. The next steps will be submission of a pre-stage 1 report to the Department for review and sign-off to develop an agreed design option, followed by the submission of a summary stage 1 report to the Department, based on the agreed preferred design option, for review and approval.

I am absolutely determined that this process will move as quickly as possible for all of the reasons the Deputy rightly outlined. I commend everybody involved in growing and nurturing this very significant school.

School Admissions

I thank the Minister for Education for being present in the Chamber and the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter. I was extraordinarily honoured to welcome the Minister to the Cork East constituency. I wish to convey my gratitude and thanks to her and to her officials and advisers who travelled to the constituency for a very successful visit. We had an engagement with secondary school principals on issues around inbound children who are coming from the conflict in Ukraine and staying in Ireland. Those issues are quite serious for schools and they have to deal with new challenges. This is a matter of great concern to many principals throughout the country, especially in the case of Youghal in east Cork, a concern that was highlighted to all those from the Department who attended the meeting.

What has taken place in Ukraine is an extraordinarily tragic event in its history and it is absolutely harrowing to hear the stories from many people who have come to my constituency office to explain the circumstances. They have had to flee their homes. They have left loved ones behind and do not know how they are in terms of whether they are being affected by conflict on a day-to-day basis. It is extremely traumatic for the children involved. I compliment the work done by the Department of Education and by school principals, school communities, boards of management and school staff in dealing with this extraordinary and unprecedented event that nobody expected to happen, following on from very difficult years of Covid. The Minister has acknowledged this and I thank her for doing so.

In terms of the secondary school capacity in Youghal, they have been doing very good work there to try to host the new students who have arrived. They are expecting approximately 70 into one school, which is very much an outlier on a national basis. What is interesting from looking around country, and in terms of the feedback we are getting from some of the research we have done throughout the constituency and further afield and from talking to those in education, is that schools are very much seeking additional supports when it comes to special educational needs, SEN.

What is absolutely crucial to communicate to the Department of Education and the Minister is the requirement for a degree of certainty around planning for the new academic year. Decisions could be made swiftly about what additional supports will be coming down the line. It is very difficult to make decisions when one is a Minister in a Department that has gone through extraordinary challenges with Covid-19 and now with this conflict. These decisions take considerable time, preparation and work. I acknowledge the work that has been done. However, it is important for the new academic year that decisions be made, especially in the run-up to the Dáil recess, to give schools a little bit of certainty around planning for the employment of staff in the coming year and the additional SEN supports that are required.

The documentation for children with additional and special needs who are coming to Ireland from Ukraine has been highlighted to me. Some of that documentation is not being recognised here when it comes to the supports that are required. We have to be very conscious of that as well.

In the wider context, the Department has had to deal with a new situation extremely rapidly and it has been very challenging. However, it is important to make these points and I thank the Minister for being in the Chamber to hear them.

When it comes to the provision of additional capacity and space, it is important that the temporary units be made available. These have been very successful in some schools where they have been put in. They have gotten considerable positive feedback. We need to see a degree of speed and see processes being expedited to provide the additional temporary units for the new academic year.

The whole situation is extraordinarily traumatic and very saddening. Some areas of the country taking in larger numbers than others need a little bit of further assistance and help. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. It gives me an opportunity to present the most up-to-date information to the House. I will say to the House, as I did to the Deputy personally, that it was an excellent visit to east Cork. I very much appreciated the opportunity to meet the schools and school communities on the ground and have very positive engagements. We are very appreciative of that. I acknowledge that many of the points raised with me on the day with regard to issues did not pertain to my Department. There was an absolute acknowledgement, in terms of the resources for English as an additional language, EAL, or additional hours required by schools to meet the demands of having additional students from Ukraine, having already been met by my Department. I gave a commitment on the day that will continue going forward.

As Minister for Education in the Department of Education, I acknowledge that our schools throughout the country have done great work in welcoming Ukrainian children and young people into their communities. I have witnessed this excellent work first hand when I have visited many schools, including in the Deputy's constituency. The Department of Education published figures on Monday which show that almost 6,000 students from Ukraine have enrolled in primary and post-primary schools. The Department has allocated additional resources as required for these enrolments, including teaching hours for EAL. All schools who enrol Ukrainian students are eligible for additional EAL support.

The Deputy will appreciate the scale of the response needed when more than 30,000 Ukrainians have arrived to date. This was why the Department moved quickly in the early phase of the Ukrainian crisis to establish regional education and language teams, REALTs, throughout the country to co-ordinate school enrolments for Ukrainian families. They have been a key element of the Department's supports for all schools, establishing relationships with each community response forum and with the Tusla education support service, TESS. Other agencies are also linked into these teams, including the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, and the inspectorate.

All school management bodies have nominated representatives to liaise with each REALT. The primary role of REALT is to build on existing regional education support structures and the initial focus is on assisting families in securing school places, when they are ready to engage with the school system. It is important that it is when they are ready to engage. REALT will also support schools in the area to meet the needs of these children as they emerge, to advise and support the Department in developing new capacity where required and to co-ordinate the provision of education services to schools and families across their defined area. The Deputy will recall that there was a very positive endorsement of the work of REALT in our engagement with school management.

These teams will ensure that clear, accessible information flows are in place between schools, local education support services and national support structures. The Department is committed to providing every support possible to all those fleeing war in Ukraine and seeking protection in Ireland. These teams will provide critical support in aligning current school capacity with the placement of Ukrainian families as much as possible.

The Department's data show that there is generally good capacity across the country, albeit there may be capacity pressures to be managed in some areas. Many resources for teaching, learning and inclusion of Ukrainian pupils have been published to date, including a central repository of information and continuing professional development, CPD, resources for school leaders and teachers to support cultural and linguistic diversity, which is available on scoilnet.ie. A helpline for school principals is also in place. NEPS has delivered a series of well-being webinars via Education Support Centres Ireland to further support schools. It will develop further advice and resources as needs emerge and its psychologists are actively engaging with school principals to provide advice and support in this initial stage of welcoming children and young people.

Schools that have enrolled students from Ukraine can apply for additional English language support and hundreds of schools are already receiving this support. Included among the wide array of resources available to schools is information on free digital tools, including apps that can assist with text and voice translation. These resources are particularly useful in terms of making forms and documents accessible to all and for assisting with communication between schools and parents. Further information is available on the website of the Professional Development Service for Teachers. Further information on the Department of Education's approach to supporting children and young people from Ukraine is available on the Department's website and is updated regularly.

I acknowledge the contribution that has been made. I certainly will go through it and feed that back to the schools with which we are engaging and are in discussions. I appreciate the time and effort the Minister is putting in into this. It cannot be understated how much of a challenge this is for the Civil Service. We face considerable criticism but this a very unique and new challenge we have to deal with. I emphasise the need for urgent and rapid progress to be made on planning for the new academic year to give the schools that degree of certainty about what new departmental measures will be taken and to perhaps look at what is happening at present and try to refine and improve on it for the new academic year. It is very important and will give schools certainty about what they will need to do around staffing provision and additional accommodation. Getting those processes under way is a matter of urgency.

I am pleased to hear the Minister reference REALT. The decisions around placement and enrolment of children have been brought to my attention.

Some schools tell me that it is difficult since REALT is in communication with them, but the placement of children is left up to schools and individual communities. They would prefer more fine-tuned engagement in that area to some extent. I would appreciate it if the Minister could take that up.

One other matter of great importance is the provision of home school liaison, which is funded through DEIS. It would be nice to see this looked at, especially in Youghal. I know there has been much engagement on that topic. I hope the Government might consider providing further funding over the next months for what was a very successful further enhancement of the DEIS scheme. I commend the Minister on the work she did. We would love to see that being implemented in Youghal. That is important to me.

The issue of translation is arising. We need to see translators recruited, hopefully permanently, to work directly with schools and children, and also to have counselling services for children who have gone through extraordinary trauma because of what has happened in Ukraine. That process of moving to a new country, to surroundings they are not familiar with, and obviously what happened prior to their departure is all deeply concerning and has been raised with me. Perhaps the Department of Education could work with other Departments to look at that and raise those points. I thank the Minister for being here.

I reiterate to the House the Government's commitment to welcome people fleeing the war in Ukraine and seeking protection in Ireland. That welcome is extended across society. The Department's primary concern is to ensure children and young people of schoolgoing age from Ukraine are provided with appropriate educational opportunities. I acknowledge, as I did at the outset, the tremendous work that our students, school leaders and staff are doing and continue to do in welcoming Ukrainian children and young people into our schools over the past three months. I acknowledge the professionalism and care and welcome that they give to Ukrainian families every day. Specifically, as I have outlined, a suite of resources is being made available to schools and being drawn down by them. I have seen that first-hand, whether that includes English as an additional language or additional teaching hours and additional teaching posts as required, depending on the numbers that arrive to our schools. That has been acknowledged.

We are currently seeking to roll out the English for speakers of other languages, ESOL, project, which is where we are putting in place additional language tutors for those who do not have English as a first language. That resource will be available to post-primary students and adults. A community and family approach is being taken to accessing language. Regarding planning for the new school year, all the requirements that schools currently have for additional staffing and resources are being provided for. The Deputy will appreciate that it is a fluid situation. Families continue to arrive at different times and they will continue to arrive over the summer. Whatever resources are required in September will also be put in place. The Deputy referred to counselling and NEPS facilities. NEPS psychologists are on the ground working with schools. All resources required to ensure that children and young people are adequately, suitably and appropriately catered for in schools are being put in place. That supplements the excellent work taking place in school communities.

I have visited many counties and there has been positive feedback on REALT. Schools are not required to take students if they do not have capacity. It is REALT's function to find appropriate accommodation in appropriate schools where there is capacity or to make alternative arrangements. As I said earlier, we know that we have great capacity in some areas and less in others. We are working closely with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to ensure that, if at all possible, accommodation matches capacity in our schools. I appreciate it can be difficult to do that.

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