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Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 893 No. 1

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan] These apprenticeships will come on stream in 2016 and will be supported by more than €10 million in funding.

This is an important reform that the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and I worked hard to deliver. I received support for this initiative from Members across the floor of this House, including Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, who is here today. Technological universities will bring industry-connected university level education to regions around Ireland. Three consortia have reached the final phase of moving to become technological universities in the south, south east and the Dublin area. These consortia will next year benefit from additional funding. A total of €2 million is being made available to develop technological universities in Dublin, Munster and the south east. A further €3 million is being made available to invest in the student assistance fund and more generally for supporting disadvantaged students. More funding will be needed for the higher and further education and training sectors over the coming years. The expert group, chaired by Mr. Peter Cassells, will report at the end of the year. That report will outline options for funding higher education in the future and I will publish it as soon as it becomes available.

SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority, has begun reviewing the opportunities available in the further education and training sector. This sector has been neglected but I want to ensure that we shine more light on it in the future because it really does provide opportunities for people to get meaningful, strong careers. I have met many people in the further education colleges around the country who are benefitting from those opportunities. SOLAS will complete a review of post-leaving certificate courses next spring and then move on to examine other opportunities in further education and training. As it carries out that work I will support it, just as I have by prioritising investment in apprenticeships today.

We have achieved a great deal in reforming education in recent years. Budget 2016 will ensure that we can continue this important work. This year we saw the first improvement in reading and mathematics in a generation, results due in part at least to our successful literacy and numeracy strategy. I am delighted to continue funding the implementation of that strategy with an allocation of €17 million, an increase of €3 million compared with this year. Reform of junior cycle will also continue with an €8 million increase in funding of this reform bringing the total allocation up to €17 million. This funding will be used for teacher training, giving teachers professional time to engage with the reforms and for curriculum development. I am pleased to inform the House that continuing professional development for junior cycle will begin in the coming weeks. The first phase will focus on the education and training board, ETB, sector where the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI represents most teachers.

I have provided €2.5 million in funding in 2016 to replace the philanthropic funding which has been raised to promote music to children through Music Generation. We are investing €9 million to ensure the high-speed broadband, which has been installed in all post-primary schools, thanks to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White, is available to them free of charge.

On top of these important areas this year I have secured €2 million in funding to support new curriculums, which include the revised primary languages curriculum and the roll-out of politics and society as a new leaving certificate subject. It will also support the revised curriculums for art, design and communications for leaving certificate. I am also providing the final tranche of €5 million in a three-year additional investment in the school books fund which does relieve some of the pressure on parents with regard to the cost of education.

A minor works grant will issue to all primary and special schools in November, totalling €28.5 million. There will also be a summer works scheme over 2016 and 2017, for which funding of €80 million has been allowed.

I commend the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, on what has been achieved in early years education. We have been working closely with him on this issue and I commend him particularly on his support for children with special needs. We see education as a continuum and early years are extremely important. I am delighted we have been able to achieve significant progress in the education budget.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I am involved in a national school and welcome the reduction of numbers for a three-teacher school from 56 to 55. We hoped it might have been possible to come down one or two more, to make sure that rural schools would be saved. The bottom threshold is reaching 52.

I welcome the minor works grant and summer works scheme because they are vital to national schools around the country. Some Ministers have stepped up to the mark and delivered certain things. We would have liked more, as everyone would. I thank the Minister for Education and Skills for those grants because I haunt her now and again about them.

Road tax for hauliers is a vital issue. I have been dealing with it for the past year. It costs €4,500 to tax a lorry in Southern Ireland. It costs £900 to tax the same vehicle in the North. Irish hauliers were at a distinct disadvantage when they went to the North. They were being crucified by having to pay £10 a day while there, as a penalty for driving on the roads there. I made submissions on it to see if there was any way we could hit drivers coming down here to alleviate the €4,500 tax for the articulated lorries. The haulage industry has been forgotten for many a year and it is welcome that it has received some recognition.

The amount of money working parents must pay out for child care is a nightmare and a headache. It is a welcome step in the right direction that this goes to age five or five and a half now. There are working families who must pay to have their children looked after from 12 p.m. The child care package covers care only from 9 a.m. to 12 or 12.30 p.m. After that someone else has to step in and pay. I know there is not enough money to throw around but that would have helped middle Ireland.

I was in Brussels yesterday with Deputy John O’Mahony and Senator Paschal Mooney, from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. While there, we monitored what was being said here. I noted the Minister said the reduced VAT rate is coming to an end because Dublin hotels are booming. He needs, however, to understand that there are hotels in the country that will need this rate for a few more years to lift them off the ground. If the Department of Finance is thinking of increasing the VAT rate in Dublin it needs to make sure that something is there for the hotels in the country.

I do not see much in this budget for the development of rural Ireland. We heard the announcement of a €30 million programme at the National Ploughing Championship, which is welcome. We need enhancements, be it rates in small towns, or giving credit unions the environment to trade and compete. They are the new banks in rural parts of Ireland. They want a fair chance to clear their money at the same price as a bank. They want the facilities to issue a card and get direct debits up and running. That is crucial and will be one of the pillars of the revival of rural Ireland. That will not take money. It will take an announcement and probably legislation to make sure it is done.

Everything the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine announced today was there already, bar the partnership. While he is singing and dancing about the partnership he must remember it is not for a 20, 30 or 40-acre farm. That will not keep the youngster at home. That could be done by making GLAS simpler by having two farmers with the same terms and conditions. He is not doing that, rather he is making it more complicated. The beef genomics scheme is complicated. Sad to say, the Minister does not understand what a small farm is because everything is aimed at the big farm. That is not how things will work.

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