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 Header Item Election Posters (Continued)
 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: Instruction to Committee
 Header Item Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: Order for Report Stage
 Header Item Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: Report Stage

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 969 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] We need to look at the regulations and state that it is not just posters. Our returning officers need to be far better equipped and the schools and locations that host this important part of our democracy have to be told that it is not on. I would be very grateful if the Minister of State could relay the fact that we need to revisit the regulations and the education of returning officers. They are getting paid for the job, so they should at least know how to do it properly.

Deputy John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan My concluding remarks are to thank the staff across the country who ensured that this referendum and elections happen smoothly enough in an Irish context. I take on board the Deputy’s point, however, on making it clear to the presiding officers what the rules are on postering and iconography. The Bible issue was mentioned a lot in social media posts. The presence of a Bible is merely for people to make an oath if they so wish to affirm their identity. They do not have to use the Bible either but it is a generally accepted mode used in many other-----

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly It is not supposed to be on display though.

Deputy John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan It is not supposed to be on display. I do not think the rules themselves need to be changed very much but I think there needs to be a thorough exercise on ensuring that those who are operating them on the day are fully aware of what the rules are. I take that on board completely. We will try to endeavour that before our next electoral outing, which should be later this year, that such training can take place.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly Hopefully.

Business of Dáil

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh It is proposed that, notwithstanding today’s Order of Business, the Dáil shall sit at 9.30 a.m. on Thursday to resume the statements on the outcome of the referendum held on 25 May 2018. The statements shall conclude within 60 minutes, if not previously concluded. If the statements conclude before 10.30 a.m., the Dáil shall suspend until 10.30 a.m. Statements shall not exceed five minutes each, with a five minute response from a Minister or Minister or State and all Members may share time.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I am sure that has been agreed by the Business Committee.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Yes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Is that agreed? Agreed.

Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: Instruction to Committee

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 154, it be an instruction to the Committee to which the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 may be recommitted in respect of certain amendments, that it has power to make provision in the Bill:

 (a) to amend section 7 of the Equal Status Act 2000 in relation to its application to recognised primary schools and to further amend that Act to provide for the application for admission to recognised primary schools by students of minority religions; and

(b) for other consequential amendments arising therefrom.

  Question put and agreed to.

Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: Order for Report Stage

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I move: “That Report Stage be taken now.”

  Question put and agreed to.

Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: Report Stage

  Bill recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 1 and 2.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 29. Amendments Nos. 1 and 29 will be discussed together.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 16, to delete “a school,” and substitute the following:

“a school; and to provide that, following a report from the National Council for Special

Education, in certain circumstances the Minister may issue a direction in respect of the additional provision of education for children with special educational needs;”.

These amendments arose out of our discussion on Committee Stage. In recent years we have made considerable expansion in the provision for special education. It has seen a 43% increase in the financial provision with similar increases in both the numbers of special needs assistants and in resource teachers. One of the significant features in that time has also been the large expansion in the number of special units within mainstream schools. They have increased from 548 in 2011 to 1,304 today.

  The purpose of this amendment is to go beyond what was already in the Bill. The Bill already allowed the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, to designate a school to receive or accept a child with special educational needs. The NCSE could override objections or barriers to the placement of a child in respect of an individual school. During the course of the debate on Committee Stage, a number of Deputies, in particular Deputy Thomas Byrne, were keen that we should move beyond that and also make provision that the NCSE could designate or require a school to open a special needs unit. These are units that typically have six children. They would be provided with one teacher and two special needs assistants, SNAs, which would be the typical profile. They are provided by the NCSE and they have provided a very useful way in which we have been able to respond to the growing number of children who present on the ASD spectrum, in particular.

  The Bill provides for that and it is quite a complex process, as Members will see. There are a number of stages in it which start with the NCSE informing the Minister, then a report is prepared, then there are opportunities for people to make representations and then there is a notice of intent served on the school which is followed by the opportunity for comment. That is followed by a notice confirming that the proposition will go ahead and the property arrangements that would be made for it. That is followed by the opportunity for the school, if it so wishes, to go to arbitration in respect of the property arrangements. If the school was not accepting of the direction of policy and the notice provided by the Minister, there would be a further move to provide an order to the board and a notice to the patron in the event of a refusal. Finally, there would be an issue of direction by the Minister.

  People may make comment on the stages involved but these were advised to us when we approached the draftsman. In order to be robust and constitutionally secure, we needed to have these provisions because this raises issues of property rights. That is the reason they are there. That is the backdrop to the proposition.

  Amendment No. 1 amends the Long Title of the Bill. Amendment No. 29 inserts a new section 37A into the Education Act 1998 that gives the Minister the power to direct a school to make additional provision in respect of children with special educational needs following a report by the NCSE. The provision is required to ensure that where there is a gap in provision for the education of children with special educational needs as identified by the NCSE and no school is forthcoming to make such provision available, the gap can be addressed effectively by issuing a direction by the Minister to the school. Under this amendment, exercise of this power will be preceded by a number of steps, which I mentioned, of engagement between the Minister, the NCSE, the board of management and the patron or, where the owner is not the patron, the owner of the school. The direction will require the school to make additional provision for the education of children with special educational needs in the form of a special class or classes. Once initiated, this process involves a number of stages, which I went through.

  As outlined, the amendment will provide that based on a report from the NCSE, the Minister may take steps that will ultimately lead to the exercise of power to require a school to open a special class and increase the number of special classes in the school. The provision also provides that where agreement is not reached with the Minister on the property arrangements, there is a provision for arbitration, as I mentioned. Arbitration between the Minister and the property owner allows for an independent and effective resolution of any disagreement around the property arrangements required to give effect to a direction. The property arrangements required for this purpose may not involve a new build in all cases. These arrangements will differ from school to school, depending on local circumstances and having regard to the usual considerations of capacity, space restrictions and other local factors. The amendment provides that the outcome of arbitration on the property matters will be binding on the parties in the event that the Minister issues a direction to the school.

  The amendment provides for the Minister to make that decision, following the conclusion of his or her further consideration and statutory engagement with the board of management and patron on the other matters - in other words, matters not related to the property arrangements relevant to whether the school should or should not make the provision.

  The provision will apply to all schools recognised under the Education Act 1998.


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