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 Header Item Pupil-Teacher Ratio (Continued)
 Header Item Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 915 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton] A key indicator in the case of these schools is a significant increase in junior infant enrolments.

Several criteria are set out and it is these that the appeals board considers. One is fairly standard in that, if a school is providing an additional class, it must receive prior approval, although that is not the criterion that applies in this instance. The other point is that four tests are applied. First, it must be the case that the school is projecting, on a realistic basis, an increase in overall enrolments for the coming September and the level of the projected increase should, first, be sufficient for the school to gain an additional teaching post for the 2017-18 school year, assuming no change in the staffing schedule and, second, insufficient for the school to gain an additional teaching post for the 2016-17 school year under the developing school criteria. Second, it must be the case that the school had an increase in its overall enrolments in each of the past two years, 2014-15 and 2015-16. Third, it must be the case that the number of junior infants enrolled in the school is increasing each year and that it enrolled a minimum of 30 junior infants on 30 September 2014. Fourth, it must be the case that, as a result of the increasing enrolment of junior infants, the school is under significant pressure in its class sizes at infant level, that is, at junior infants and-or senior infants.

Each application to the appeals board will be considered on its merits. The appeals board will assess whether, in its opinion, the school is deploying all of its mainstream classroom teachers in an appropriate manner. It will prioritise those schools that, in its opinion, are under the greatest pressure in their class sizes at infant level as a result of the increasing enrolments of junior infants. Any post granted by the appeals board will be allocated on a provisional basis pending confirmation of the actual enrolments on 30 September 2016.

The appeals board determined that both appeals did not satisfy all of the published criteria as set out in the circular and the board of management has been so notified. The appeals board operates independently of the Minister and the Department and its decision is final. I am sorry that the news is not better, but these are the criteria which are set out clearly. There is no discretion in their operation.

Deputy Martin Heydon: Information on Martin Heydon Zoom on Martin Heydon I thank the Minister for his response, although it is disappointing. If criterion G was not satisfied, is there another mechanism the school could consider to revisit the decision? Rathangan is a growing town. The staff in the boys national school are fantastic in the work they carry out. The Government recently funded a redevelopment of the school, which is very welcome and great to have. However, there is no point in it simply funding infrastructure. Education is all about the students and, without some flexibility, we are facing a third class with 37 pupils, where a single teacher will not be able to cope and reach every child. There are days when a child will need a little extra attention and help, but with 37 pupils in the class the teacher will not possibly be able to do this. I do not imagine there are many classrooms throughout the country in which there are 37 or more pupils.

Perhaps criterion G was not the right one under which to apply and perhaps there is another angle. However, the fact is there are 270 pupils in a school with nine mainstream teachers. Using very simple maths, which the children in the school will be able to figure out, one cannot divide 270 by nine in an appropriate way. Perhaps the officials might give some steer to the school if there is another angle or perhaps there is some way by which the decision could be revisited at the end of September when it has been proved that the 270 pupils have arrived. I have grave concerns about the level of education the brilliant staff at the school will be able to provide in September, given these figures. It all comes down to having missed out by just one. I know that the Minister has to stick to the criteria and stay within broad parameters. However, I ask that the officials engage with the school to see whether there is some other mechanism that could be used, even in September.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton Unfortunately, the two tests of the developing schools criteria and the alternative criterion G are the ways by which the Department has sought to provide some flexibility in the scheme. It is a scheme that has to be applied uniformly throughout the country and a school has to meet the criteria. Obviously, the appeals board exercises some judgment as to how schools are operating. It is independent and has looked at this issue on two occasions using the criteria available to it. I am sure that if it thought the school was overlooking something, this would have given it an avenue to grant approval and it would have informed the school that the application had not been submitted using the correct criteria. Unfortunately, I do not foresee an opportunity for the school to have the decision overturned, based on the numbers submitted.

Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith Before the debate was adjourned yesterday, I was expressing my total opposition to the proposed North-South interconnector. I want to refer to a meeting of the all-party transport and communications committee held last April in which I participated, with others in the constituency. At the meeting the chief executive of EirGrid confirmed that it was technically feasible to place underground the North-South interconnector using an alternative method which employed HVDC technology. Such HVDC technology is employed in the case of the east-west interconnector between Ireland and Britain, which involves undergrounding and an undersea cable. In addition, average overhead line construction costs for Grid Link projects are on a par with the average cost per kilometre for the east-west interconnector. Community groups in the path of the North-South interconnector have demonstrated that the Grid 25 review strategy document shows that the cost of undergrounding has reduced to close to 1.5 times the cost of overhead lines.

This a big climb-down from the EirGrid-commissioned report by PB Power in 2013 which estimated the cost of undergrounding to be six times as much as the cost of constructing overhead pylons. I remember that when this project was first mooted in 2007-08, it was estimated that undergrounding the transmission lines could cost 30 times as much as placing them overground. This shows how the development of technology has dramatically reduced costs in the intervening period and that there is no justification whatsoever for EirGrid even considering the overgrounding of the transmission lines.

Fianna Fáil’s energy policy, launched in 2015, outlined that grid development such as that planned with the North-South interconnector should be subject to a full economic review in the light of our reduced energy needs. Fianna Fáil has consistently maintained that undergrounding the North-South interconnector is the preferred option, with upgrading existing infrastructure.

I mentioned in the House yesterday that I had participated, with many other public representatives from north of the Border and counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath, in the oral hearing An Bord Pleanála had organised some months ago on this planning application. Last August I submitted a detailed objection to An Bord Pleanála, with Councillor Clifford Kelly. My Oireachtas colleague, Senator Robbie Gallagher, with his then Fianna Fáil colleagues on Monaghan County Council, Seamus Coyle, Padraig McNally and P. J. O'Hanlon, made a detailed submission, having commissioned and carried out research. We objected in support of community groups and development organisations in the three counties which have been particularly active in voicing their opposition to the proposed overgrounding of the transmission lines.

It will not be acceptable for EirGrid to try to proceed with the project if it receives planning permission which I sincerely hope it will not. The transmission lines would destroy the heritage and tourism potential of that entire countryside and be disastrous for the region.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I wish to share time with Deputy Martin Kenny.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Why is the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Denis Naughten, not in the House for the debate on Second Stage?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, is present.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I recognise that, but the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources should be here.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly That is what we are faced with.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I will pass on what is said to the Minister, as will the officials. I am sure he is temporarily delayed.

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