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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 867 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams] Last month, I crossed the floor of this House and gave the Taoiseach a letter I had received from HIQA in which it pointed out that the recommendations of the 2012 report on Tallaght hospital had not been implemented. It said that if these recommendations had been implemented, the current risks would be significantly reduced for patients. It also said that it told the Department of Health and the HSE this. It said all of this in very clear language, publicly and in correspondence.

It is the explicit responsibility of the Department of Health and the Minister for Health to take prompt action to implement HIQA recommendations. When I asked the Taoiseach why the Minister for Health had failed to implement these recommendations, he failed to answer me. When I gave the Taoiseach the letter, he promised to write to me. He never did. I am still awaiting a letter from the Taoiseach dealing with this core issue, which is that HIQA states that if its recommendations had been honoured, this risk would have been significantly reduced. Will the Taoiseach explain to the House why the HSE, the Department of Health and the Minister for Health, in the face of this ongoing crisis, have failed to implement HIQA's recommendations on patient safety in our hospitals?

Deputy Noel Harrington: Information on Noel Harrington Zoom on Noel Harrington What about the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast?

Deputy Ray Butler: Information on Ray Butler Zoom on Ray Butler In Deputy Adams's back garden.

Deputy Noel Harrington: Information on Noel Harrington Zoom on Noel Harrington Scandalous.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I have made the point that the Government put more than €600 million extra into the health budget this year. It takes time for that spend to filter out in terms of treatment for patients and facilities.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams The Taoiseach has been Taoiseach for four years.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I am surprised that Deputy Adams did not get a letter back from me. I will see that he gets it today.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams An sin é? Will the Taoiseach not answer the question now? He must know the content of the letter.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I will answer the Deputy's question in the letter.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams What is in the letter? The Taoiseach should tell the House what is in the letter.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen It will be a one-pager.

Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan The Taoiseach is getting more like Bertie Ahern every day.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I do not mind sharing the correspondence.

A Deputy: The Taoiseach should acknowledge receipt.

Deputy Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming I, along with other public representatives in Kerry, attended a monster meeting in Caherciveen on Monday night regarding the future of our rural schools. Strong opinions were expressed regarding the frustration and concerns of parents, teachers and boards of management. A very dismal picture was painted of boarded-up schools and of many other schools which are in danger of a similar fate in the very near future. Every one of us from rural Ireland, particularly the Taoiseach, is well aware that these schools are at the heart of communities. They have been the main focal point of rural Ireland since the instigation of the education boards in 1931. The situation has been exacerbated, particularly by Government policies, over the past number of years. There has been a phased increase in the pupil-teacher ratio in two-, three- and four-teacher schools since September 2012. This has affected schools with fewer than 86 pupils and approximately half of the 3,200 primary schools.

In 2011, a two-teacher school needed 12 pupils to retain its teachers, a three-teacher school needed 49 pupils and a four-teacher school needed 81 pupils. From this September, a school will need a minimum of 20 pupils to retain two teachers, 56 pupils to employ three teachers and 86 pupils for four teachers. This is replicated across the country, particularly on the western seaboard and across rural Ireland.

Rural depopulation, migration, emigration and the economic decline in our rural areas are significant factors. It was suggested at the meeting that the introduction of emergency measures be examined. The figures quoted are impossible for these schools to reach. It was suggested that, as a gesture, a minimum retention figure be allowed. Otherwise, we will be faced with a serious dilemma and another hit on our quality education and, as already pointed out, on these communities in general. I ask the Taoiseach to seriously reconsider what is happening and to intervene.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Save our schools.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring Deputy Fleming stole a march on Deputy Healy-Rae.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Deputy Griffin brought this to my attention yesterday.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae He was in a coma for four years and he voted to close them.

A Deputy: Deputy Healy-Rae should look to his right.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae The local election woke him up.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Deputy Healy-Rae is advised to watch his blood pressure.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Taoiseach should get his teacher's cap now.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I thank Deputy Fleming for raising this matter, which is very sensitive and important in many locations in rural Ireland.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Government has done this for three years.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Monster meetings began with a Kerryman many years ago.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It was as big as the one in Roscommon.

A Deputy: I hope they are not arrested.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I am not sure whether that one is considered to be a monster meeting or not.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher Daniel O'Connell had more success, though.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny This is an issue that needs to be considered very carefully.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin What does the Taoiseach mean when he says he is considering it very carefully? This has been going on for three years.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Deputy Fleming mentioned four, three and two-teacher schools, and some that have become one-teacher schools. The Government has no intention of closing any schools. The problem is that in many areas, the demographics over the next period are going to mean a continued drop in the number of children who are born-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin No. The Government changed the ratio.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Change the ratio.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett It is not Deputy Martin's question. Deputy Fleming is entitled to a reply. I ask the Deputies to stay quiet.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The pupil-teacher ratio is one issue. The number of children born and living and eligible to go to school in any locality is another. Where I come from, there has been a huge drop in numbers in many rural areas. There are 14 one-teacher schools in the county at the moment.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The former Minister, Deputy Quinn, reduced the pupil-teacher ratio.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I do not support the concept of one-teacher schools. They are not in the best interests of children. The numbers can be very small and the schools do not have all of the facilities or the competitive peer activity that children would expect in school.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae So the Taoiseach wants to close them.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Will the Deputies please allow a reply to the question?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny This is an issue that needs to be looked at very carefully and in the longer term. I did not hear any proposition coming from the monster meeting in Kerry except "Do something about it."

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny What needs to be done is-----

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Reverse the ratio.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----to look at the projections for the number of years ahead for every school-----

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen They have been looked at long enough.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----and say to people, if the trend continues, that the population of school-going children is dropping in many localities in rural Ireland.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The Labour Party did this.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny This has got to be examined in the context of what we must do for the future. Do we provide incentives for communities in order that they will want to continue with the school if it becomes a one-teacher school-----

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The Government will have made it a one-teacher school.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----or should the school consider amalgamating with another school? These are issues that need to be addressed.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The Taoiseach has addressed them, but disastrously.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny There are many parishes in my own county where the number of eligible children of school-going age has dropped away completely.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The Taoiseach is waffling.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny It is not like it used to be a hundred years ago, when schools were built within walking distance. It is all very different now. Population numbers are way down in many areas.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae It is different because of the Taoiseach's policy.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I accept that this issue is of great importance to people all over the country.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen So why did the Government make those cuts?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny An enrolment Bill is coming before the Dáil in the not too distant future. We need to look to the longer term and to the future of the numbers in these schools. I thank the Deputy for raising the question.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Government targeted rural schools in the cuts.

Deputy Arthur Spring: Information on Arthur Spring Zoom on Arthur Spring Fianna Fáil broke the country. Wake up to that.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I find it very disturbing that people who did not ask a question are interrupting, which means the Deputy who asked the question cannot hear the reply. Will Members please show some respect to the Deputy who asked? All of the Deputies had their turn. Please accept that Deputy Fleming is entitled to ask a supplementary question without interruption and to hear the reply.

Deputy Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming The Taoiseach has a better grasp of this than probably any other public representative or any Deputy in this House today, as teaching was his profession. He is well aware of the situation facing rural schools. The Government has not been looking at many options to address the matter. It is not too late at this stage. It may be the 12th hour before the September term starts.

The Government is giving a fiscal reason, but we have to get away from the policies of austerity and recession at this stage.


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