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Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2

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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Martin Browne: Information on Martin Browne Zoom on Martin Browne] It is scheduled to be published by 30 October at the latest but can we expect it earlier? Will the Taoiseach make a statement on this matter and assure these families that there will be no more delays?

Deputy Pat Buckley: Information on Pat Buckley Zoom on Pat Buckley The long-awaited report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has been subject to numerous delays. Many survivors and victims have contacted me in recent days and even this morning. They are asking for a commitment from the Taoiseach that the final report, which is promised to be published in October, will not be delayed any further. I ask the Taoiseach for a concrete commitment that the report will be published in October, as promised, in order that the survivors can read it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I respect the Deputies' genuine concerns in this regard. I cannot speak to the accuracy of the figures to which Deputy Martin Browne has referred with regard to deaths at the home at Roscrea or at any other particular home. I will check the status of the report and I will talk to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs about it to get a response for the Deputies.

Deputy Martin Browne: Information on Martin Browne Zoom on Martin Browne Will the Taoiseach give a commitment in this regard?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I cannot. I understand that legislation was required to underpin what the previous Minister did with regard to Tuam.

Deputy Chris Andrews: Information on Chris Andrews Zoom on Chris Andrews In 2017, the then Minister for Health said on an RTÉ programme that by the end of that year, no child would be waiting for longer than four months for a scoliosis procedure. In July 2020, children with scoliosis are still waiting longer than four months. I was contacted by the parents of a wonderful and brave 11 year old named Sophie Redmond. She has scoliosis resulting in a 70% curvature of her spine, which is pressing on her lung. When will children who, like Sophie, have scoliosis get the treatment they badly need? It is an emergency and this is a time-sensitive condition. These treatments are needed as soon as possible.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I accept the gravity of the situation and the need for Sophie to have her operation carried out as quickly and as safely as possible. There is no doubt that Covid-19 has had an impact on non-Covid strands of medicine. Surgery has been very significantly impacted. That is a growing challenge for us as we resume services while the virus continues to be prevalent and while the measures that had to be taken in hospitals to protect against its spread are still in place. Doing operations safely is a challenge in this context. Having said that, time is important for scoliosis interventions. The early delivery of surgery can have a significant positive impact for patients. I will check out the specific case with the hospital concerned and look into the broader question of scoliosis services. I know the Minister is aware of the situation.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív The Supreme Court recently issued a decision on various issues with regard to the legality of the leave to apply for substitute consent process. Substitute consent allows applicants in exceptional circumstances to make a retrospective application for a project on which an environmental impact assessment should have been carried out before being undertaken but where that assessment was not carried out. The exceptional circumstances pertaining must be set out in a leave to apply application to An Bord Pleanála. The board determines whether the circumstances are sufficiently exceptional to allow the applicant to be provided with the opportunity to apply for substitute consent.

The Supreme Court has found that the legal provisions on substitute consent do not sufficiently implement the directive on environmental impact assessments in light of various decisions of the European Court of Justice describing how the elements required by Irish law for an application for leave to apply for substitute consent could not be described as exceptional. Urgent amending legislation is needed to deal with that issue. When can we expect such legislation to be brought before the House?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I will revert to the Deputy in that regard. My understanding is that legal advice to Government on this issue is being considered. I will come back to the Deputy with a more comprehensive reply.

Deputy Niamh Smyth: Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Foley, on a very comprehensive and detailed roadmap and on the financial package of €377 million to reopen our schools. The additional teachers and support staff, the enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures, and the extra psychologists and guidance counsellors will go a long way in supporting our principals and teachers.

I will speak on the important matter of social distancing and the associated physical implications and need for extra classroom space. Bailieborough community school has an enrolment of 650 students. It is a victim of its own success and has exceeded its physical capacity and therefore needs more space in the form of prefabricated buildings. Will the Taoiseach outline the elements of the Government's plan which deal with the delivery of such buildings to allow for the reopening of our schools in September?

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire We have been looking for a roadmap since April, so it is welcome that we now have one. There are, however, deficiencies. Parents of children with special educational needs and those who work in the area, including teachers and special needs assistants, have concerns. I know the Taoiseach has often talked about this issue. I am not here to criticise him but to ask him to fix something in the coming weeks. There is concern that yesterday's circular opened the door to special education teachers being used as substitute teachers. They are also to have a significant role in delivering remote teaching to students who cannot attend school. A dedicated resource should have been provided for this. I am concerned that special education teachers will be pulled from pillar to post to cover absences, breaks and remote learning. Specific resources are needed. Special education teachers' hours need to be ring-fenced for special education. Children with special needs lost out the most. They need greater attention than they are receiving under this package.

Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I also welcome the package for the reopening of schools. It is very important. One of the biggest issues relates to social distancing for students in third to sixth class. That has become a big issue and many schools have contacted me in that regard. The Minister has asked all schools at what stage any planning applications they have made are. The Taoiseach will know that there are about 20 stages involved in making a planning application for a school building through the Department. The time it takes to complete these stages is now very long. A school applies to the Department, then goes to the planner, then goes back to the Department again. Could these particular builds, which are urgently needed, be fast-tracked because there are a lot of them? I know the Minister is waiting on word back from all the schools that have made such applications as to the stage they are at. Can we fast-track these projects? It is a very important issue and this measure would be a great help.

Deputy Thomas Gould: Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould I also welcome the safe reopening of schools. One of the biggest issues on which I am being contacted by the people of Cork North-Central is that of children's access to autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units. There is a complete shortage of such units at the moment. This morning and yesterday, parents have told me that, although schools are to reopen in four weeks' time, their children have nowhere to go. There are no places for them. I ask that new units be set up urgently in Cork city and particularly in the constituency of Cork North-Central.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins The severe overcrowding in St. Brogan's College has been of great concern to the people of Bandon for quite some time. What will the situation be for children going into secondary school in Bandon in September? Will extra Portakabins be put in place? What is the situation in that regard? Parents were last year advised to send children to Cork rather than to send them to school in Bandon. This is still an issue. There are plans for new accommodation down the road. What is the status of those plans? Parents need answers.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin A range of queries were raised with regard to the reopening of our schools.

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