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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] Clearly, there are cases, which have come to my attention, where the discretionary element that always applied in the case of medical cards is being reviewed by the panel of doctors who examine that.

With regard to the pupil-teacher ratio mentioned by the Deputy, this applies for a percentage increase in respect of fee-paying schools. It does not apply in the case of other schools and will not lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs. The education sector is going through a period of quite significant change, and the use of technology should be encouraged far more. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, for example, has connected another 286 secondary schools to 100 megabit speed Internet connection and a further 200 were approved yesterday. There are schools where the number of pupils is not large enough to have a range of teachers due to the pupil-teacher ratio that applies. In many such schools where some students wish to do honours mathematics, for example, they can do so through remote connection to schools where teachers can teach online. For the small numbers of pupils in particular schools who might wish to do honours mathematics because of the extra points or because they have a flair for it but because of the number of pupils in the school they do not have a teacher to teach them honours mathematics up to the leaving certificate, the use of technology is of growing interest and importance. That is both cost saving and very effective in the interest of individual or small groups of students in schools where they do not have such specialist teachers.

The Deputy's assertion that the increase in the pupil-teacher ratio for fee-paying schools will lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs is not accurate.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I remind Deputies that the Standing Order allows for a brief question on a matter of topical interest.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae It is Christmas, a Cheann Comhairle.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I will make a brief comment.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Not on all three or four subjects please.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Okay. I asked one question, but I was given a commentary on what was wrong. People who happen to be in hospital will get no comfort from the Taoiseach's assertion that this extra charge does not apply to just to one illness or disease.

To refer to the question about post-leaving certificate courses, PLCs, my question was not about fee-paying schools but about colleges of further education. The post-leaving certificate courses involved are a liberation for many young people who might not have made it through education the first time around, who might not have made their minds up or who might have been in some other difficulty at the time and they now wish to get back into further education. With respect, the Taoiseach's answer was wrong. The Teachers Union of Ireland has said that the increase in the pupil-teacher ratio will result in the loss of 200 whole-time equivalent posts. This could mean up to 400 part-time posts. The cut is penny wise and pound foolish. It is not good economics, leaving aside the philosophy that underpins it. The Government has saved €4 million, but the social consequences are immeasurable. The Government is robbing many citizens of the opportunity of further education. Contrast that with what the Taoiseach says about retraining people and opening education to people. For many, PLCs are a first step into a successful career. Was an equality assessment of this measure carried out? The Taoiseach did not answer that question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I do not have the detail of everything associated with this. The Deputy referred to the issue of patients being treated. A total of 67,206 discretionary medical cards were issued to people who have particular hardship or because of the nature of the illness being treated. A total of 450 new primary teacher positions were approved as well as 450 post-primary teacher positions. Earlier today, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, announced the provision of 6,000 extra post-primary places for persons who are long-term unemployed with a view to giving them the opportunity to get back into the world of work, where the majority of them wish to be. I am sure the 6,000 extra places will be of interest to colleges of further education.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald What about the pupil-teacher ratio?

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I note the comments the Taoiseach made to Deputy Adams on growth. My question is about the growth figures he quoted because yesterday the International Monetary Fund, IMF, had some telling things to say about the Irish economy, especially the growth figures that are emerging. Indeed, its forecast and that of the Department of Finance are very different. The IMF says growth will be 1.1% next year while the Department of Finance says it will be 1.5%. That is a marked difference. It underlines the fact that the Government, through the Department of Finance, has consistently overestimated the growth figures and growth forecasts. As a result, we have overestimated our ability to repay the debt incurred as a result of the bailout programme.

Yesterday, the IMF urged the Government not to impose austerity cuts in future budgets because the growth figures were so dismal. That is underlined by the figure of 0.2% for the third quarter quoted by the Taoiseach. It is another disappointing figure. Is it not strange that these high priests of austerity and extraordinarily disciplined lenders are standing back in shock at the fact that the Irish Government is continuing to pursue cuts which they say will be damaging to the economy? Is it not strange, even unique, that the lenders in this situation should be less enthusiastic about the repayments and the austerity being imposed on the Irish people than the Government? In view of the attitude of the IMF, which is critical of the Irish Government for being too austere, is the Taoiseach prepared to give a commitment to the House that in the next budget he will at least consider not proceeding with the severe cuts that have been predicted and announced by the Government for future years?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The quarterly figures speak for themselves. The IMF has been largely supportive of the efforts the Irish Government is making towards an improvement of our public finances and a general improvement in our economic circumstances. Nobody said it would be easy. I note the IMF comment in which it recommends no supplementary budget until 2015, if that is the case. The budget for 2013 has been put through the House. While it is challenging for many people, we would expect that the effort in it to focus on business, job opportunities and the creation of jobs through further investment will grow our economy for the third consecutive year. Consider our position just over 15 months ago. It was very serious. The country had no standing or reputation, was not in a position to raise money, was in a very poor state in terms of inward investment and had a domestic economy that was utterly depressed. The decisions made by the Government to change structures, recapitalise the banks and rebuild our reputation speak for themselves.

Nobody wishes to stand here and say we will have to make further adjustments which will mean cutbacks in services. One cannot cut services beyond a certain point. That is why the Croke Park agreement must be implemented in full and in an accelerated fashion. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is negotiating with the trade unions about extra savings to be achieved from that agreement. These are all in the interests of the economy. Ms Lagarde has been very favourable towards Ireland and I note the comments made by the IMF.

The IMF also made the point that a commitment given to this country by our European colleagues must be followed through. That is an important element of hope for our people. The patience they have shown, the challenges they are confronting and the difficulties they encounter must be tempered on the other side through the assistance that was committed to the country on 29 June, when the decision was made in respect of the break between sovereign and bank debt and, on the other hand, the negotiations that have been ongoing about the promissory notes at ECB level.


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