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 Header Item Education Standards (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2015: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Leaders' Questions

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 870 No. 1

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Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan While no specific assessment, as referred to by the Deputy - although she did not use the term "austerity" in her question - has been done we measure education standards through published national and international assessment and monitoring of standards. In this regard, I have welcomed the recently published report on the 2014 national assessments of English reading and mathematics, which shows us that literacy standards have improved across the system, in both DEIS and non-DEIS schools. This is also borne out in recent international benchmarks, notwithstanding the fiscal situation. In the context of measuring education standards, the Deputy should note that SNAs are allocated to schools to enable them to support pupils with disabilities who also have significant care needs as distinct from educational needs.

Any discussion about the impacts of budget measures has to be considered in the context of the over-riding requirement to stabilise the public finances and move the country onto a pathway of growth. This is the most sustainable way of protecting education standards into the future. It is important to note that additional teaching resources have been provided to schools to cater for increased demographics and also to provide for pupils with special needs. Over the last two years, teacher numbers have increased by approximately 2,300 posts. Budget 2015 includes provision for 1,700 additional teachers and SNAs in our schools in the coming school year. This is a very significant investment at a time of scarce resources. The challenge for all our schools is to maximise what is achieved with the resources that are provided to them.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger There have been improvements in reading and mathematics. One principal has sent an e-mail to me asking what the reward for teachers and schools has been. It has been a continuation of cuts that were brought in by Fianna Fáil in the previous Administration, but which were then added to by the current Government, such as a 15% cut in resource teaching hours. The reversal of the cuts has not applied to teaching English as an additional language, which particularly affects areas like my own, where 25% of the population hails from outside Ireland. There has been no reversal of the resource teaching cuts for Travellers, or of cuts to the number of counsellors. While the Minister has said that there has been an increase in the last year, that in no way makes up for the cuts that have taken place since 2009. Is the Minister trying to say we are at pre-crisis levels? The basis for those cuts was that we were in a bailout situation. The Minister is saying we are in a recovery, so when will teaching staff be restored and when will SNAs be restored to pre-recession levels?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan In the last two years, teacher numbers increased by 2,300 posts and the number of SNAs and resource teachers increased by 1,700. For the first time, we had an increase in the overall education budget last October. That is an indication of progress. We have gone through very difficult times, but we have turned the corner. Perhaps that indicates that some credit should be given to the Government in terms of the policy that has allowed us to recover our economic sovereignty and start putting money back into areas like education. With regard to the area of special needs, a new model has been proposed. That is under consideration. Areas like the kind of supports to be offered to children with special needs will be part of that. We will introduce it at first on a pilot basis. I will be announcing details of that shortly. It was discussed earlier. The new model will not be introduced, apart from as a pilot programme, by next September.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger It is despicable that the previous Government, which brought the troika into this country, particularly targeted children, as the UNICEF report clearly indicated, and gutted the education system with, for example, 100 primary school teachers lost around that time in Dublin West. The present Government has continued to make children and education pay. For example, 98% of second level schools have had to drop subjects. Approximately two teachers have been lost per school. Class sizes are much larger, meaning that there is a mix of levels, and yet the Minister expects teachers to implement a new junior certificate regime. Subjects like accountancy, physics, economics and chemistry, which we keep hearing are essential for foreign direct investment, are the very subjects that are being dropped most in schools when cuts have to be made. Some 30% of schools are losing their guidance counsellors, which seems bizarre in a country with one of the highest levels of youth unemployment. It seems that schools and children are still being made to pay. We heard at the Labour Party conference at the weekend that austerity ended when the troika left. What an insult.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan No matter how often the Deputy repeats that mantra, we have had extra teachers and SNAs-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That is the demographic dividend.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan -----and for the first time, we have seen progress in terms of international measures, in mathematics and English in particular. We have reached targets now that we were not supposed to reach until 2020. We have also been improving in terms of retention figures in schools and the number of young people who stay on until the leaving certificate. It is all very well to keep repeating these slogans, but they do no good for anybody. I am giving figures that show improvements with regard to education.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger Will the Minister restore all those cuts to teachers now?

Estimates for Public Services 2015: Message from Select Committee

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The select sub-committee on the Department of the Taoiseach has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimates for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2015: Votes Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Topical Issue Matters

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 27A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Mattie McGrath -

the discriminatory practice by property insurers of withholding cover to landlords willing to accept tenants in receipt of rent allowance;

(2) Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - concerns regarding both breast cancer and urology services at Letterkenny General Hospital, County Donegal; (3) Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice -

the funding requirement for fabrication operators to comply with more compliance;

(4) Deputy Pat Rabbitte - the need to allocate responsibility for the national drugs strategy to an existing Minister of State;

(5) Deputy Martin Ferris - structural and design changes in the new forestry programme;

(6) Deputy Anthony Lawlor -

the need to develop a comprehensive service of autistic spectrum disorder classes for children with autism at post primary level to meet demand;

(7) Deputies Terence Flanagan, Thomas P. Broughan, Seán Kenny and Finian McGrath -

job losses at the Cadbury's factory in Coolock, Dublin;

(8) Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin - increasing the powers of HIQA to investigate complaints so that it might prevent vulnerable people being put at risk; (9) Deputy Paul J. Connaughton -

the need to accommodate people due to finish on community employment schemes who are nearing retirement age;

(10) Deputy Seán Conlan - the importance of retaining the Department of Social Protection offices in Ballybay;

(11) Deputy Peadar Tóibín - the increasing number of house repossessions in County Meath;

(12) Deputy David Stanton -

the need to develop marine tourism in Youghal, County Cork; (13) Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh - Pobal's decision to discontinue the funding of €200,000 for sports centres at St. Michael's, Inchicore and Clogher Road, Crumlin resulting in job losses;

(14) Deputy Mick Wallace -

the need to extend the terms of reference of the Fennelly commission in light of allegations of unauthorised bugging of witnesses;

(15) Deputy Clare Daly -

the need to extend the terms of reference of the Fennelly Commission in light of allegations of unauthorised bugging of witnesses;

(16) Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett -

the proposal to submerge the Dublin fire brigade ambulance service under HSE ambulance service;

(17) Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl -

the proposed takeover of the Dublin fire brigade ambulance service by the HSE;

(18) Deputy Brendan Smith - the assassination of former Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Boris Nemtsov;

(19) Deputy Colm Keaveney - the overcrowding crisis in emergency departments which is compromising patients' dignity;

(20) Deputy Brendan Griffin -

the need to upgrade the N22 Kerry to Cork road;

(21) Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan - the need to ring-fence funding for the school completion programme;

(22) Deputy Dessie Ellis - the need to bring rent certainty to the private residential rental market;

(23) Deputy Niall Collins -

the need to address the dramatic rise in repossession orders before the courts;

(24) Deputy Dan Neville -

the need to address the issue of Lyme disease;

(25) Deputy Robert Troy -

the plans to reform the system of guardian ad litem;

(26) Deputy Ruth Coppinger -

the sale of the State's shares in Aer Lingus; (27) Deputy Joe Higgins -

the sale of the State's shares in Aer Lingus;

and (28) Deputy Paul Murphy -

the sale of the State's shares in Aer Lingus.

  The matters raised by Deputies Martin Ferris, Dan Neville, Colm Keaveney, and Terence Flanagan, Thomas P. Broughan, Seán Kenny and Finian McGrath have been selected for discussion.

Leaders' Questions

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I wish to address the issue of mortgage arrears, particularly family homes in danger of imminent repossession and legal actions pertaining to same. The scale of the problem is still enormous. Over 118,000 family homes are in arrears and about 37,400 family homes have been in arrears for more than two years. The latter group of family homes is in imminent danger of repossession because we have witnessed since the beginning of 2015 a wave of repossession applications and court actions across the country. Every Deputy could relate their own court system in their area. In Cork alone this week another 100 cases, between yesterday and tomorrow, are listed. Some 208 cases are listed for Limerick on Friday alone. That is just to name two examples. Up to 8,000 cases were in the courts last year, 2014. It seems that the banks have become emboldened by the property price increases. The value of the houses is going up, so they can now get back all of their exposure. They are prioritising that issue over sustainable solutions for families. We have all met families in which both parents are working, some in State jobs, yet which are being pursued in terms of the house being repossessed, with no real engagement on the part of the banks regarding sustainable options, through split mortgages, debt for equity swaps or other solutions.

My colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, has put forward the Family Home Mortgage Settlement Arrangement Bill to be debated in Private Members' time tonight and tomorrow night.


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