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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1002 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] Perhaps they can. The leaving certificate as an exam has served us well. I have spoken to a lot of fifth year and sixth year students who now say to me they would much rather sit the leaving certificate next year than have predictive grades, which says something significant. It is a trusted exam. It might be brutal on occasions but it is fair. Much of it is based on rote learning and it is out of date and undervalues apprenticeships and other things, as the Deputy said.

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin Despite the massive efforts of everybody involved in our school communities in Kerry to try to contain and keep out Covid-19, unfortunately we have seen a significant outbreak of Covid in the mid-Kerry school catchment area. In particular, one school in the mid-Kerry area is reporting extremely serious figures and each pupil and member of staff in that school has been asked to stay at home and get tested. In this context, there is huge worry in the mid-Kerry area that there will be contagion throughout the school network. We have three post-primary schools and a large number of primary schools in the network. I have to declare to the House that my two little boys are part of the network. Will the Tánaiste ensure this situation will be given the most urgent consideration at the highest level in government, including the Departments of Health and Education, so the situation will be fully considered and all actions will be considered, including the possible early closure of the schools in the catchment area, given the significant risk that I and many others feel now exists?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I want to express my support and solidarity for the people in Killorglin and mid-Kerry. I assure Deputy Griffin this will be given the highest priority. We are not particularly concerned about contagion or spread to other primary schools or schools in the area because we are told there is not really much contact or interaction between the different schools. However, it is something we have to bear in mind. Public health guidelines state that when a Covid-19 positive case connected with a school arises, the public health section contacts the school and undertakes a public health risk assessment to identify what action is required. When a risk assessment is undertaken, it takes into account all of the evidence in the particular circumstances, and advice is provided to the school on this basis. Schools are then required to follow public health advice, and where a school is advised by the public health section to close, it must do so. All schools will close for the Christmas holidays on Tuesday, 22 December and will remain closed until 6 January when they will reopen.

Deputy Paul Donnelly: Information on Paul Donnelly Zoom on Paul Donnelly I want to raise the issue of funding for Genesis counselling service in Corduff. It serves the entire community of Dublin 15. It is a low-cost service, with a minimum of €15 and a maximum of €35 per counselling session. It also allows for people with payment difficulties to pay what they can afford. It is an incredible service that is struggling with the volume of people coming to it at present. There is a two- to three-month waiting list for adults and a 12- to 16-week waiting list for children. I was privileged to train as a counsellor and psychotherapist in a similar service. Many councillors and psychotherapists offer hours for free to ensure people can access counselling services. Will the Tánaiste raise this with the Minister and ask for exceptional funding for Genesis counselling service to get it over the current crisis and the current numbers attending its services?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I do not have any detail on the matter to hand. Certainly, if the Deputy or the Genesis counselling service wants to contact my office directly, we will see what we can do. It is very much appreciated and understood that there has been a real increase in mental health issues, depression, anxiety and others during the pandemic. A lot of people have really struggled with it. This is why additional funding is provided for mental health services next year. There will be well over €1 billion in funding for mental health next year. If the Deputy would like to get onto my office with the details, or ask the service to contact me directly, we will see what we can do.

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan: Information on Maurice Quinlivan Zoom on Maurice Quinlivan In part of the Ceann Comhairle's review of 2020 he told us how bizarre the world was. Bizarre was having the all-Ireland final in December. I congratulate the Limerick team on winning. It gave joy to everybody in Limerick and our diaspora across the world and, because of the amazing team it was, to all hurling fans everywhere.

I want to raise the issue of the Coonagh to Knockalisheen road in Limerick city. Yesterday, among other contributions he made, the Taoiseach stated he is not expected to know about every roundabout or road in the State and that is fair enough. I agree with him. The Coonagh to Knockalisheen road is more than a road. It is a critical piece of infrastructure of the regeneration programme in the city. It is partially built and millions have been poured into it. Recently, I met the principal of the local school in Moyross. I have also met the late parish priest and the residents' association. I have been campaigning on this for a number of years. The road was supposed to be delivered in 2011. It is partially built. A further decision on it is awaited from the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I ask the Tánaiste to speak to him so he gives the approval for this to go ahead and end what is the biggest cul-de-sac in Ireland, which is the Moyross area. Open up the Moyross area and build the road.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I am familiar with the road because, long ago, when I was Minister with responsibility for transport, I allocated the funding to get it moving, at least in terms of transport and planning. I know there is an active debate at present on this in the area. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, is examining the proposal. He does have some concerns about the prospect that it may result in further road-based development of the city and the city being developed into Clare. I know the people in Moyross in particular feel it will end their cul-de-sac status and would point to the fact it was promised as part of the regeneration. It is a matter with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, at present and it is being discussed.

Deputy Pat Buckley: Information on Pat Buckley Zoom on Pat Buckley I want to raise very briefly the national development framework. We have been speaking for months and years about housing. The local authorities must follow this framework. I am also aware Irish Water does not follow the framework and it seems to be hindering a lot of development. Is there any way we can get Irish Water to follow the exact same rules as all local authorities do? It would alleviate a lot of the complications and delays and the denial of building proper infrastructure and servicing sites in order that local authorities can provide local housing.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I will have to come back to him about the framework. I am not familiar with it. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien to do so. What I can say is that in 2021 there is a further increase in the budget for Irish Water to invest more in capital infrastructure and water services next year. There is a very long list of work that needs to be done to improve water quality and open up areas for development. It will not get it all done next year by any means but it will have an additional budget to do so, which I hope will make a difference.

Deputy Chris Andrews: Information on Chris Andrews Zoom on Chris Andrews When we moved to the level 3 lockdown restrictions, it was great to see all of the swimming pools reopen. The chlorine in the pools makes them relatively safe and it disrupts the transmission of Covid. What has happened now is we have a situation where free swimming is allowable. Children can dive bomb into the swimming pool but there are no structured classes. They are not allowed. There is no control or management of swimming. If classes were allowed, it would provide a much more structured way to enjoy swimming. Swimming groups and swimming classes throughout the country do not really understand the logic in structured and managed classes not being allowed and free swimming being allowed. I ask the Tánaiste to explain it and perhaps consider it.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. At present, when it comes to swimming, sports, gymnastics and dance, only individual classes or individual tuition is allowed. This is based on the view from our public health experts that where there are classes, whether a group of six or 12, people will congregate and may interact before and after. They may also be brought there by parents or guardians who may then interact. The whole idea behind the public health restrictions is to reduce the opportunities of people to interact. This is why classes are not allowed at present.


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