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 Header Item Teachers' Remuneration (Continued)
 Header Item Childhood Obesity

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath] The 10% cut for 2011 entrants, along with starting on the first rather than the second point on the scale, were imposed in the budget by the previous Government. The cuts to allowances were unilaterally imposed by the current Government. Will the Minister condemn and oppose these unilateral actions? I believe the teachers have taken a claim to the equality tribunal that the salary cuts amount to discrimination on age grounds. I ask the Minister to look at this again as it is a broader issue than just a grave injustice. There is also an equality issue involved.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The pay agreements are part of the way in which these things function in Ireland. The Haddington Road agreement was signed up to by all the teaching unions. The Lansdowne Road agreement was signed up to by the INTO although the other two unions have issues with it. As I said in my opening remarks, the emphasis in the Lansdowne Road agreement is on restoring salaries to lower paid workers first, which obviously benefits those who have come in on the lower scales.

It is not practical to imagine that no change to entry salaries for public servants would ever be envisaged. Entry salaries are a matter of consideration depending on where the economy is at a particular time. It is not something we can say will never happen; it does happen. What we have tried to do, and are doing in Lansdowne Road in particular, is to put the emphasis on lower paid workers in general, including the newer teachers who are on the lower scale.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I hope negotiations lead to ending this inequality and injustice. The former president of the INTO, Anne Fay, told a rally of thousands of teachers in 2012 that the Government could not defend separate salary scales for teachers doing the same work. She also said that the Government decided to introduce discriminatory and inequitable pay scales for new teachers, and that the teachers' unions opposed that decision and will overturn it no matter how long it takes. She described the pay cuts for new teachers as an affront to the core trade union principle of equal pay for equal work. It is very important that we get on and deal with this issue. I urge the Minister to revisit it and phase out the cuts over time. I believe the INTO is very flexible on that aspect of the matter.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I have no doubt that the INTO and the other teaching unions will represent their members very effectively in these kinds of negotiations, as they always do. We do have negotiations that are agreed and are being implemented by the Government. There was a time when percentage increases always happened, as a result of which we had very big gaps between the better-paid and lower-paid people. We have now started using flat-rate increases, which I believe is an improvement in terms of equality as it ensures that the gap narrows.

The issues raised by Deputy McGrath are constantly subjects of negotiation and will, I am sure, remain so into the future.

Childhood Obesity

 4. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan her views on the challenge by schools (details supplied) in County Wicklow to the locating of a fast-food restaurant close to their premises on public health grounds, and the progress in implementing the Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013 to 2025. [44118/15]

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I ask the Minister for her views on the challenge by a school in Greystones, County Wicklow, to the location of a McDonald's restaurant close to its premises on public health grounds, and for an update on progress in implementing the framework for improved health and well-being by her Department.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English The manner in which the challenge was taken in this case is a matter for the schools involved. We would like to commend the school on prioritising the health of its students in deciding on school policy in this matter. Schools and the wider education sector have a vital role to play in contributing to the Government's Healthy Ireland agenda set out in the framework for improved health and well-being for 2013-2025.

Healthy Ireland was published by the Department of Health in 2013, and is one of the most ambitious programmes we have ever seen focused on improving the health of the nation. Healthy Ireland contains a number of goals for the education sector. The Department of Education and Skills is a key partner in the delivery of this agenda, and this work is a personal priority for me and the Minister. Through primary and post-primary education, students are equipped with the key skills and knowledge to enable them to make healthier life choices. Schools' efforts should be complemented by students' families and their community.

Our Department issued guidance to post-primary schools this September on promoting healthy lifestyles, including healthy eating policies. Similar guidance will be provided to primary schools early in 2016. We want to see more active flags in schools, more schools growing their own food, and more schools adopting healthy eating policies. We will continue to engage with the education stakeholders to find ways of achieving these goals.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the Minister of State for his response. The context for this, as I outlined in my question, is a secondary school in Greystones which brought a legal challenge to a planning application for a McDonald's which was to be located less than 100 m from the entrance to the school and would have been the closest food outlet to three schools. As the Minister of State would recognise, this is a national issue rather than being confined to the local matter in Greystones of which we are all aware.

There is a disconnect between what parents and communities want in terms of the appalling health status of our young people, what the Government hopes to achieve through Healthy Ireland, and the reality of what young people are actually eating at school. Ireland is in the throes of an obesity epidemic with as many as one in five teenagers obese or overweight, yet there is currently no national standard to ensure that healthy, tasty and nutritious foods are provided at second level. The guidelines at primary level are also weak. There is no strategy, plan or guideline from the Department of Education and Skills to ensure that schoolchildren are not used as captive consumers for fast food and sugary food outlets. The Greystones saga illustrates this point.

Will the Minister of State agree to set up in interdepartmental group to design planning guidelines for "no-fry zones" close to schools? Will he agree to a ban on vending machines in schools selling sugary products? Will he put a more ambitious plan in place to bolster nutrition inside our schools?

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English On vending machines and healthy eating, the Department issued guidance for post-primary schools about measures to promote healthy lifestyles. The guidance was drafted in consultation with the Department of Health and the HSE. It encompasses measures to promote healthy eating, healthy vending, PE and physical activity. We have to allow each school, along with parents and pupils, to come up with its own policies in this area. In conjunction with the Department of Health, we give as good guidance and direction as we can through these initiatives. There is local decision making involved as well.

In respect of planning matters, as the Deputy has said the issue is not limited to Greystones. I have seen a similar situation in my own town of Navan and in many other towns. It is a local planning matter, however, and has to remain as such. Naturally, the Department is constantly watching the issue to see if there is a need to develop guidance on it. It is a planning issue and is dealt with successfully in most cases. Some companies are taking a different attitude now and are not proceeding with planning applications. Hopefully they might learn from that as well. It is important that parents feel they have a role so they can make their own decision locally in conjunction with their school. From what I can see, I am glad to say that most schools are taking a very active role and have dealt with the issue appropriately.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the Minister of State. He and the Minister, as Department of Education and Skills leads, should be more proactive in taking a national policy approach to this, rather than confining the issue to whatever local authorities may decide in each individual area. There is an obesity epidemic and a real challenge in ensuring healthy food options are available to students within the vicinity of schools. There is also the challenge of ensuring that we have healthy food options within schools themselves.

What, if any, plans, does the Department have to improve the situation in schools? Will the Minister of State look again at the need for a national policy approach to ensuring that there is guidance and strong principles laid out as to how food outlet development should be carried out close to schools? One very simple measure which could be taken would be to get rid of vending machines that are selling sugary drinks and food from schools.

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