Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Ceisteanna (80)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

80. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Taoiseach the rules under which he flew to Zagreb, Croatia, recently on a Government aircraft. [49194/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I visited Zagreb on 20-21 November. The programme for my visit included official meetings with President Grabar-Kitarovic, Prime Minister Plenkovic, and a reception hosted by our Ambassador, attended by representatives of the small and vibrant Irish community in Croatia.

Unfortunately, due to a technical issue that delayed my arrival in Zagreb, it was not possible for me to meet with President Grabar-Kitarovic at the scheduled time on this occasion. However, I look forward to meeting with her again on another occasion.

My meeting with Prime Minister Plenkovic was especially timely, as Croatia will assume the Presidency of the EU for the first time in January. During its term in office it will manage a number of files of particular importance for Ireland, including Brexit and the Union’s budget for the period 2021-2027, the Multiannual Financial Framework. Our discussions focussed on these issues and also on the future enlargement of the EU. Croatia as a country in the Western Balkans has important insights to offer on this matter, and it will host a Summit on the region during its Presidency.

As a fellow small Member State, with a similarly small administration, Ireland understands well the scale of the task involved in undertaking a Presidency, and I offered the Prime Minister my full support and cooperation.

Whilst in Zagreb I had the opportunity for an extensive range of valuable meetings and discussions with other European leaders principally concerning the next steps on Brexit and the future relationship with the United Kingdom - President of the European Council Donald Tusk, the incoming President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Michel Barnier, the European Union's Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union, President Anastasiades of Cyprus, President Iohannis and Prime Minister Orban of Romania, Prime Minister Borissov of Bulgaria, Prime Minister Karins of Latvi a, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Mitsotakis of Greece, Prime Minister Solberg of Norway and incoming Chancellor Kurz of Austria.

I used the Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) to travel to Zagreb. The MATS provides the Government and the President with an independent, flexible and effective air transport service to assist in meeting national and international obligations.

Departmental Staff Data

Ceisteanna (81)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

81. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach the number of agency staff hired and-or engaged by his Department in the past five years to date; and the cost per year of same. [49304/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

My Department avails of a contract cleaning service as a temporary measure to ensure that service levels in my Department are maintained while a recruitment process for additional cleaning staff is undertaken. In this regard, a total of 3 contract cleaners have been engaged by my Department for varying temporary periods over the past 5 years. The costs per year are outlined in the table.

Year

Cost

2015

Nil

2016

Nil

2017

€24,000

2018

€10,900

2019 (to date)

€22,900

Ministerial Travel

Ceisteanna (82, 83)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

82. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the name of each person who flew on the Government aircraft to the EPP conference in Zagreb, Croatia. [49195/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

83. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the cost of using the Government aircraft to travel to Zagreb to the EPP congress [49214/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 82 and 83 together.

The Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) provides the Government and the President with an independent, flexible and effective air transport service to assist in meeting national and international obligations.

Information relating to the Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) is published on my Department’s website and is updated on a monthly basis. In advance of the next update, the MATS details sought by the Deputy are set out as follows.

Date

Ministerial Time on Board

(Minutes)

Route

Department

Passengers

20/11/2019

595

Baldonnel - Zegreb - Baldonnel

Taoiseach

Taoiseach, MoS

Plus 6

The costs associated with CASA Maritime Patrol Aircraft used in provision of Ministerial Air Transport Service are as follows:

Aircraft

Average Fixed Costs Per Hour

Average Variable Costs Per Hour

Average Total Costs Per Hour

CASA CN235

1,290

1,860

3,150

Ministerial Travel

Ceisteanna (84)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

84. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of times that he and his officials made use of Air Corps aircraft and helicopters in each of the years 2014 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the departure and arrival location for each trip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49202/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The Ministerial Air Transport Service provides the Government and the President with an independent and flexible air transport service to assist in meeting national and international obligations.

Information in relation to Ministerial Air Transport is publically available via a link entitled "Routinely Published Information" on the Department of Defence website where it is updated on a monthly basis: www.gov.ie/en/organisation/department-of-defence/

Defence Forces Remuneration

Ceisteanna (85)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

85. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of the recommendation by a person (details supplied) to appoint an independent chairperson to the conciliation and arbitration scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49252/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The Conciliation and Arbitration (C&A) scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force operates under agreement between the Minister for Finance, Minister for Defence, RACO and PDFORRA.

The recommendation to appoint an independent Chairperson of the Conciliation Council is just one of Mr Barry's recommendations in his report of the review of the scheme.

All the parties to the Scheme are in the process of developing a revised scheme implementing the recommendations in the “Barry” report. When the parties reach agreement on the terms of the revised scheme, the appointment of an independent Chairperson will take place in tandem with the introduction of the operation of the revised scheme.

Departmental Staff Data

A deferred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

Ceisteanna (86)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

86. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of agency staff hired and-or engaged by his Department in the past five years to date; the cost per year of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49294/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

It has not been possible in the time available to compile all of the necessary information requested by the Deputy. The information will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

A deferred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

Defence Forces Reserve Strength

Ceisteanna (87)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

87. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of additional recruits the Reserve Defence Forces has taken on to date in 2019 with regard to each service; the gender breakdown of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49332/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I am advised by the military authorities that, as of 31 October 2019, 102 new members have been inducted into the Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve, as follows:

 -

 Total number inducted

 Number of females inducted

Army Reserve (AR)

 85

 8

Naval Service Reserve (NSR)

 17

 2

The Government remains committed to on-going recruitment to the Arm Reserve and to the Naval Service Reserve. A recent open competition for recruitment to both the AR and NSR closed on 20 October 2019 and it is anticipated that further recruitment will arise from this.

Civil Defence Data

Ceisteanna (88)

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

88. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the budget allocation to the Civil Defence in each of the years 2017 to 2020, in tabular form. [49378/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The budget allocation for Civil Defence in each of the years 2017 to 2020 is outlined in the following table. 

Year

Budget Allocation 

2017

€5.24 million

2018

€4.24 million

2019

€4.74 million

2020

€5.24 million

The allocations for 2019 and 2020 include additional funding from Dormant Accounts towards the upgrade of Civil Defence vehicles, as follows: 2019 - €0.5 million; 2020 - €1.0 million.

Departmental Staff Data

Ceisteanna (89)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

89. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of agency staff hired and-or engaged by his Department in the past five years to date; the cost per year of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49298/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

No agency staff are employed at the Headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

As with the majority of foreign services, the diplomatic Missions of the Department are staffed by a mix of posted officers recruited at Headquarters and locally-engaged staff. As posted officers rotate to and from HQ, locally-engaged staff are essential to the operation of diplomatic missions abroad as they provide continuity to the operation of the mission. They also possess skillsets which are essential to the effective running of missions abroad such as administrative and technical skills, a deep knowledge of the local environment and culture and fluency in local languages. 

Employment agency staff are employed in a small number of missions where the necessity arises. Such Missions include new Missions, those with particular complexities in the local labour market or those where changes in the workload necessitate time for an assessment of the number and type of roles or skills needed.  Open competitions for direct employment of locally engaged staff are generally held once there is clarity on operational requirements and the number and profile of the roles required.  

Set out in the table is the total number and cost of agency staff engaged by the Department since 2015.  The cost includes salary, social, medical insurance and other benefits required under local labour law as well as agency fees.

Agency staff 2015 - 2019 (five years)

Year

Number

Cost €

Average costs

2015

15

308,148

25,430

2016

19.5

368,000

18,871

2017

20

411,000

20,550

2018

22

418,000

19,000

2019

38

624,000

16,421

Passport Services

Ceisteanna (90)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

90. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if all passports and passport cards issued to Irish citizens born in Taiwan will have the description of country of birth as Taiwan as was previously the case; the reason for changing the description; if the practice of other EU states will be followed; if the use of Taiwan as the description will be resumed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49373/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland, like all EU Member States and the EU itself, adheres to the One China policy and does not recognise Taiwan as a State. As such, for Irish citizens born in Taiwan, it is not possible to populate the country of birth information field on their Irish passport with wording other than that of “Taiwan, Province of China (TWN)”. This is the official designation used by the United Nations.

Diplomatic Representation

Ceisteanna (91)

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

91. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to open a new consulate in Liverpool; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49377/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland will seek to maintain a strong and enduring relationship with our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, following its departure from the European Union.  This relationship, and our future engagement, will be underpinned by the Common Travel Area, and the Institutions and principles of the Good Friday Agreement. 

As part of “Global Ireland - Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025,” the Government has committed to opening an additional consulate in another location in Britain post-2019 to further strengthen regional engagement. This is a commitment which the Taoiseach reiterated in June of this year during his visit to Manchester for the British-Irish Council. 

It is envisaged that the new consulate will cover the entire North of England, including major population centres such as Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. This broadly matches the area known as the “Northern Powerhouse,” an area with a population of c. 15 million people.  A decision on the optimum location for this new consulate will be taken in due course. 

Additionally, it is worth noting that, since the UK referendum on EU membership in 2016, the Government has committed increased resources to our Embassy in London, already the largest bilateral Embassy in our network. These resources have come from both this Department and from several other Government Departments in order to ensure the Embassy's optimal engagement across all relevant policy areas. It is envisaged that the Embassy in London will continue to expand in order to  support the bilateral relationship and to promote and protect Irish interests across every sector in a post-Brexit context. 

Ireland is also well represented across the devolved regions.  In Scotland, the Irish Consulate in Edinburgh continues to be active in promoting and protecting Irish interests, driving a substantive programme of Scottish-Irish cooperation and exchanges.  In addition, our footprint has also been re-established in Wales, where the Consulate in Cardiff re-opened in April of this year, with a political and economic focus.  

From an FDI perspective, the UK is, and will continue to be, a very important source market for Ireland.  It will continue to be the largest market for many of our exports, and the place in which many thousands of our diaspora continue to live, study, and work.  It is a priority of this Government to ensure that these deep and positive relationships continue to be maintained and strenghtened at every level in the coming years.

Foreign Birth Registration

Ceisteanna (92)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

92. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade further to Parliamentary Question No. 101 of 5 November 2019, the reason for the delay in releasing the approved applications for foreign birth registration certificates for persons (details supplied). [49402/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Further to my reponse to Parliamentry Question No. 101 of 5 November 2019, I am advised that a member of the Foreign Births Registration Team has been in contact with the applicant directly and these applications have now been approved.

Fiscal Data

Ceisteanna (93)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

93. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the way in which the costs associated with pay restoration for section 39 workers in 2019 and 2020 were factored into the fiscal space calculations for 2019 and 2020, respectively; the way in which the costs have been factored into future fiscal space projections, that is, if the estimated costs are included in the pre-committed amounts for public pay detailed in summer economic statements in 2019 and 2020 or if they are factored in elsewhere; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49278/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Non-acute and community organisations under Section 39 of the Health Act, 2004 are not part of the general government sector, i.e. they are not 'on-balance sheet'.

Staff in these agencies are not public servants; instead, the Health Service Executive engages such agencies through service arrangements.   

Accordingly, pay costs for these staff are not recorded in the general government compensation of employee data as presented in the budgetary tables.

Departmental Staff Data

Ceisteanna (94)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

94. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the number of agency staff hired and-or engaged by his Department in the past five years to date; the cost per year of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49297/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I wish to advise the Deputy that the Department of Finance did not engage any agency staff over the past five years.

Revenue Commissioners Enforcement Activity

Ceisteanna (95, 96, 97)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

95. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance if he will address a series of matters (details supplied). [49307/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

96. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance if he will address a series of matters (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49308/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

97. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance if he will address a series of matters (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49309/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 to 97, inclusive, together.

I am advised by Revenue that the construction sector continues to feature prominently in its overall compliance intervention activities and a comprehensive programme of site visits has operated, across both publicly funded and private developments, for several years. A key focus of these visits is the identification and correction of misclassified employments. To give an overview of the scale of activity, the following table sets out the numbers of sites visited, persons interviewed and numbers that were newly registered for tax or whose status was reclassified from sub-contractor to employee for the years 2016 to 2018.

Year

Site Visits

Persons

Interviewed

Reclassifications

New PAYE

Registrations

2016

2,126

11,699

345

848

2017

1,816

10,083

484

723

2018

1,795

8,305

258

492

Regarding the Deputy’s request for a breakdown of reclassifications between public and privately funded sites, I am advised by Revenue that while it operates its inspection programmes across all areas of construction, it does not capture information on the funding models or tenders involved as this is not relevant to the employment status or tax treatment of the workers operating on site. For this reason, it is not possible to provide the Deputy with the information requested.

Revenue has also confirmed that it does not capture information on the ratio of reclassified employees versus overall numbers of employees or in regard to sub-contractors versus employees because this data quickly fluctuates throughout the life-cycle of site projects.

I am further advised that it has not been Revenue’s practice to develop estimates of PRSI foregone in these cases as the focus is on establishing the correct classification and tax and PRSI treatment for the individuals concerned. I can, however, confirm that during the three years 2016, 2017 and 2018, compliance interventions carried out in the construction sector generated a combined tax and PRSI yield of €54.7million, €60.2 million and €50.6 million respectively, representing a total yield of €165.5 million for those three years.

Finally, I am advised that site visits are generally conducted on an unannounced basis, particularly where Revenue believes there is a significant risk of employment misclassification.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (98)

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

98. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Finance the estimated amount it would cost in a full year if the threshold for both group B and group C of capital acquisitions tax increased by 10%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49376/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that information relating to the changes to the Capital Acquisitions Tax B and C thresholds is published on their Ready Reckoner. For convenience, the link to this is as follows: https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/information-about-revenue/statistics/ready-reckoner/index.aspx

Pages 17 and 18 shows the yield or cost of changes to the Capital Acquisitions Tax B and C thresholds. Where the exact changes sought by the Deputy are not provided, they can be estimated on a straight-line or pro-rata basis.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (99)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

99. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Finance the status of plans to change flat-rate expenses and the reclaiming of same; the way in which this will impact on teachers; if he will review the case of a person (details supplied) and address the concerns outlined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49406/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Over the past 18 months, Revenue has been conducting a comprehensive review of the administratively based Flat Rate Expenses (FRE) regime.  Revenue has advised me that the purpose of the FRE review, which involved engagement with relevant representative bodies, is to ensure that the expenses granted to each employment category remain justified and appropriate to modern day employments and work practices.  Each category of FRE allowance is being examined separately in the light of the legislative requirements of section 114 TCA 1997, which provides expenses are tax deductible only if they are wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred by the employee in the performance of the duties of his or her employment and are not reimbursed by the employer.

Revenue has also advised me that its FRE review is ongoing but is now nearing conclusion, with an expected completion date by end year.

As I informed the House during the Report Stage debate on the Finance Bill last week, while I am aware of the effect this will have on those who are impacted by the change, I also need to respect the independence of the Revenue Commissioners. They are, though, keenly aware of the issues and concerns of those that may be affected by the outcome of the review.

Having regard to the fact that we are coming closer to the date on which any changes on foot of the review are due to be implemented, I have, as I committed previously to do, written to Revenue seeking a factual update on the review. Once this process of engagement with Revenue has been completed, I will be in a position to comment further on the matter, and conscious of the timeline involved, I anticipate that I will be able to do so very shortly.

Public Sector Staff Career Breaks

Ceisteanna (100)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

100. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on a scheme (details supplied ); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49160/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I have responsibility for the non-pay terms and conditions for the Civil Service. Other Ministers are responsible for the non-pay terms and conditions in the wider public service.

A Special Civil Service Incentive Career Break Scheme was introduced in 2009. There are no current plans to reintroduce this scheme or something similar.

Staff can still apply for unpaid career breaks which allows us, as an employer, to retain staff in cases where they need some time away from work to focus on other opportunities including focusing on family.

The Civil Service is also a leader in the field of flexible working. We estimate that about 17% of our workforce are currently on flexible work arrangements that include work-sharing and shorter worker year.

Departmental Staff Data

A deferred reply was forwarded to the Deput

under Standing Order 42A

Ceisteanna (101)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

101. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of agency staff hired and-or engaged by the OPW in the past five years to date; the schedule of the professions and roles the OPW hired in and-or engaged from agencies; the cost per year of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49286/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I am advised that some of the information sought by the Deputy is not readily available and is currently being collated.  A detailed response will issue to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

A deferred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

Departmental Staff Data

Ceisteanna (102)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

102. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of agency staff hired and-or engaged by his Department in the past five years to date; the cost per year of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49302/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

My Department has not engaged the services of agency staff in the last five years.

Public Sector Pensions

Ceisteanna (103)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

103. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the timeline to reinstate the levels of payment of pensions to workers which were cut under the FEMPI legislation to pre-FEMPI levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49418/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I am taking it that that the Deputy is referring to the Public Service Pension Reduction (PSPR), a reduction applied to public service pensions above certain exemption thresholds, which was introduced on 1 January 2011 under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) Act 2010.

A three-stage partial reversal of PSPR was provided for in the FEMPI Act 2015, with rate reductions (through revised PSPR tables) occurring on 1 January in each of the years 2016, 2017 and 2018. 

The Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 provided for the substantial further lessening of the impact of PSPR by way of rate and/or threshold changes in each of the years 2019 and 2020. The significant further lessening of PSPR occurring under the 2017 Act means that:

- as of 1 January 2019 all pensions up to €39,000 per annum are exempt from PSPR, and

- from 1 January 2020, all pensions up to €54,000 per annum will be exempt from PSPR.

For more recent retirees (February 2012 - 1 April 2019), no pension with a value of up to €60,000 per annum has been subject to PSPR since 1 January 2019, and those who retired after 1 April 2019 are not subject to PSPR at all. This implies that only those pre-March 2012 pensions that are linked to salary rates of a minimum amount of €108,000 per annum, or €120,000 per annum for the February 2012-1 April 2019 retiree group, will bear any persisting PSPR impact from 1 January 2020 on. When fully in place from the beginning of 2020, the changes will mean that the vast majority of public service retirees - approximately 97% - will be entirely free from PSPR. 

Section 27 of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 Act provides that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will, no later than 31 December 2020, make an order which will specify a date for the full removal of PSPR from that residual group of PSPR-affected pensions. Accordingly, the date specified in the order will effectively be the date for the complete abolition of PSPR.

Special Educational Needs Data

Ceisteanna (104)

Pat Casey

Ceist:

104. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of primary and secondary schools in County Wicklow that have autism units; the number of primary and secondary school students diagnosed with autism in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49162/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The provision of education for children with special needs, including those with Autism, is an ongoing priority for Government.

Currently, almost 20% of the total Education Vote or €1.9bn is invested in supporting children with special needs.

Since 2011 investment in Special Education supports has increased by 50%, which is significantly above the 7% increase in total student numbers over the same period.

As a result the numbers of special education teachers, special needs assistants and special class and school places are at unprecedented levels.

My Department does not hold information in relation to the number of children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in school.

The National Council for Special education (NCSE), an independent agency of my Department, is responsible for planning, coordinating and advising on education provision for children with special educational needs in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The NCSE’s policy advice on Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (2016) noted a national ASD prevalence rate of 1.55% or 1 in every 65 students.

The majority of children with Autism attend mainstream class, where they may access additional supports if required.

But some students may find it difficult to manage full-time placement in mainstream and so placement in a Special Class or Special School setting may be deemed appropriate where placement in mainstream class is not in the best interests of the child.

The enrolment of a child to a school is a matter in the first instance for the parents/guardians of the child and the Board of Management of a school.  My Department has no role either in making or deciding on enrolment applications to schools or keeping waiting lists. In these matters, schools are required to adhere to the requirements of relevant legislation and the policies of my department.

The NCSE has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide and has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents.

Nationally, 167 new special classes opened this school year, which means there are 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011.

Of these 1,353 special classes cater for students diagnosed with ASD.

Provision in our 124 special schools has also increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year.

In Wicklow alone there are 62 special classes and 3 Special Schools providing specialist support to children with more complex special educational needs.

The NCSE has planned a further expansion of special class and school places in Wicklow for next year.

It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, there is a range of supports including capital funding available to the school.

Normally, special class and school places are established with the full cooperation of the schools in areas where they are required.  However there are some parts of the country where the Council has faced challenges in getting schools and their Patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or school places. 

I know that this can cause much anguish for parents and families involved.

As Minister I have a power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed. 

I would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from me. It is the right thing for the children in a community.

All schools have the contact details of their local SENO, while Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs and to identify appropriate educational placements, using the contact details available on the NCSE website www.ncse.ie.