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 Header Item School Completion Programme (Continued)
 Header Item Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Leaders' Questions

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy In 2008, the then Fine Gael spokesperson for children expressed sharp criticism of the proposed decrease in funding. He stated:

In the current economic climate the Government, in implementing cutbacks, needs to differentiate between services that are essential and those that are not. It should not simply engage in a crash and burn approach which implements overall reductions across a broad range of sectors indiscriminately.

He was referring to a 3% cutback. In 2012, there has been a cutback of 6.5%. In 2013, there will be a further cutback of 6.5%. I am concerned about the future of this important programme, given the level of financial commitment it has received heretofore.

  The Minister mentioned a review. What will it cost, will it consult the relevant stakeholders and when can we expect its publication?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald A full review of the scheme will take place in 2013.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy Did the Minister say "2015"?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Its terms of reference will take account of the need for local innovation in developing programmes and address the variations in approaches and cost bases. The truth about the programme is that there is considerable variation in its schemes and in how it is administered. I acknowledge the work that is being done, much of which I have seen at first hand. I also acknowledge the programme's importance, how supportive it can be for principals and teachers and the difference it can make in children's lives. However, it is important that a national approach be taken.

There are significant variations in the projects and their cost bases. The programme needs to be analysed and reviewed. The review was signalled when the comprehensive review of expenditure was published. A working group has been established to steer the process. There has been an input from my Department, the National Education Welfare Board, NEWB, and the Department of Education and Skills. The review's terms of reference are being finalised. It is intended to commission an independent external evaluation of the programme to progress the matter. I will keep in mind the Deputy's points concerning the involvement of the stakeholders. It is important that we hear at first hand from those who are delivering these services.

I recognise the importance of school attendance. I have seen some interesting projects, for example, one in Ballymun and another in the inner city, through which significant differences were made in school attendance rates. The schools focused on the issue and the agencies in the locality worked together. One project in the inner city saved 57 years of school attendance through its work in approximately six schools.

The question of school completion is critical. I regret the cutbacks that must be made. I hope that, when economic growth resumes, we can begin to invest more resources into such issues.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy We all recognise that early school leavers are more likely to experience social exclusion and unemployment or underemployment. For these reasons, I am concerned about this important programme's future. I welcome the Minister's commitment to consulting those who have first-hand experience of it.

  It may have been a slip of the tongue, but the Minister mentioned 2015.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald 2013.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I presume 2013 is when the review will commence. What will that review cost? The Minister referred to using an independent firm to conduct it.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Given the €26 million, the 124 projects and the 13% cut in the past two years, has it been the Minister's experience since entering office a year and a half ago that most of the projects are successful and are we getting value for money from the school completion programme?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The current information on school completion is interesting. For those who entered second level between 2001 and 2006 in the schools in question, the average leaving certificate retention rate increased substantially from 68.2% to 80.1%. Last year, the proportion of early school leavers in Ireland was 10.6%, down from 13% in 2004, and was well below the EU average of 14%. Whatever about the range of initiatives being undertaken, it is good to see the relevant statistics are improving so substantially.

I agree, however, with the Deputies' points. We are undertaking the review because the projects need to be examined and value for money needs to be considered. We also need to determine which projects are working successfully and how they can be mainstreamed. There is significant variation.

I do not expect the review to cost much, but I will revert to Deputy Troy on that question. In our analysis of the projects and their outcomes, we intend to link with those involved to benefit from their experience.

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 Derek Keating - the increased incidence of tuberculosis throughout Dublin city and county; (2) Deputies Michael McNamara, Clare Daly and Martin Ferris - the need to protect the public interest in the event of the sale of Coillte forests; (3) Deputy Simon Harris - the lack of primary school places available in Greystones and Kilcoole, County Wicklow; (4) Deputy Brendan Griffin - the problems with the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, higher education grants system; (5) Deputy Shane Ross - the proposed closure of the Stepaside Garda station, County Dublin; (6) Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan - the need to respond to the increase in homeless numbers from the recent sleeping rough count; (7) Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív - policy on rural policing and urban community policing in view of the closure of rural stations and the reduction in the number of gardaí in urban areas; (8) Deputy Jonathan O'Brien - the effects of the increase in the pupil-teacher ratio from 17:1 to 19:1; (9) Deputy Michael P. Kitt - the closure of the residential centre of Toghermore House, Tuam, County Galway; (10) Deputy Charles Flanagan - the need to address the high costs associated with the inter-country adoption of children; (11) Deputy Colm Keaveney - the proposed closure of the residential unit on Toghermore mental health campus, Tuam, County Galway; (12) Deputy Noel Harrington - the need to provide adequate broadband speeds in all areas of the country; (13) Deputy Brian Stanley - the recent report of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on the threat posed by Sellafield; (14) Deputy Seán Kyne - the need to reform the way Irish is taught in schools; (15) Deputy Mattie McGrath - the need to debate the McCrystal judgment handed down by the Supreme Court last week; (16) Deputy Joe McHugh - Irish culture and bullying in Irish society; (17) Deputy Mick Wallace - the announcement of a grant scheme to assist with the repair of septic tanks; (18) Deputy Dessie Ellis - the implications of cuts to St. Michael's House national school, Ballymun, Dublin; and (19) Deputy Niall Collins - the foiled attempt by the Continuity IRA to murder a British soldier in Limerick.

The matters raised by Deputies Charles Flanagan; Niall Collins; Michael McNamara, Clare Daly and Martin Ferris; and Seán Kyne have been selected for discussion.

Leaders' Questions

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath The manner in which the Government is seeking to ram the property tax Bill through the House today is ridiculous and unnecessary. Some 88 amendments have been tabled, none by the Minister for Finance. The Government is allowing three minutes of debate per amendment tabled. The tax does not fall due until next July. This begs the question of why the Government needs to use its massive majority in the House to bulldoze through this legislation through without proper debate or scrutiny.

The Government has no mandate to introduce this property tax. In last year's general election, the Taoiseach and his party campaigned vigorously against the introduction of any annual recurring tax on the family home. The Labour Party advocated a site value tax with provision for exempting certain home owners. It stated that the needs of people who paid stamp duty and those in negative equity would need to be taken into account. The Bill that has been published makes no such provision for those people.

In the Minister for Finance's Second Stage speech on the Bill last week, he acknowledged for the first time that the Government had the discretion to use alternative measures to achieve the troika's targets, yet the Government has chosen not to do so.

When the full effect of this tax hits, it will push many low and middle income families over the financial cliff. They will not be able to pay. Some 180,000 family home mortgages are in trouble. Does the Taoiseach even realise that a family with three or four children and a gross income of more than €480 per week will not be able to avail of a full deferral of the property tax? Does he realise that the homeless charity Focus Ireland estimates that it will be hit by an annual property tax bill of €100,000? Home owners in Dublin, Cork and other major centres will be particularly hammered by this tax, which ignores ability to pay and the value of the mortgage attached to the property.

Will the Taoiseach at least honour one of the commitments made in the programme for Government by not guillotining debate on this property tax legislation, which cannot in any way be described as urgent?

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