Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

 Header Item Children (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 2
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 76 Next Page Last Page

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan] We all agree in this House that children who have been unlawfully killed should not be covered by the provisions of section 252(1). The Government proposes to amend that through the introduction of subsection (1A), which states:

Subsection (1) shall not apply

[...]

[...]

relating to a child where—

(a) the proceedings concerned relate to the death of the child, and

(b) such publication or [reporting] would not result in [a child witness or a child accused being identified]

Under the law which we are talking about introducing, a deceased child cannot be named if doing so could identify a child witness or a child accused.

  Let us think of examples of how that could occur. Unfortunately, we will have examples where a child will be killed in the future and where there will be a child witness to those proceedings. We could also have a situation where a child could be killed and the accused could be a child. At present, in accordance with subsection (1), the deceased child cannot be named and that will apply if subsection (1), which is in the amending legislation, is enacted. In her speech, the Minister said that we will get around that because subsection (2) has also been amended and because a new subsection (2A) has been put in. Let us look at what that subsection states. It states:

Subject to subsection (6), the court may dispense to any specified extent with the requirements of subsection (1) [It does not mention (1A)] if it is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so in the best interests of the child.

The Minister needs to look again at the fact that we have two subsections within this section which provide for a deviation from subsection (1). We have subsection (1A), which states that subsection (1) shall not apply in the circumstances I have set out already and we have subsection (2) which states that the court may dispense with the requirements of subsection (1A) if it is in the best interests of the child to do so. That must be a reference to the best interests of a child witness because it cannot be a reference to an unfortunate child who is deceased.

  Most alarming of all is the new subsection (2A) which states:

The court shall not, in accordance with subsection (2), dispense with the requirements of subsection (1) in respect of a child where to do so would [identify a child witness or a child accused]

In a way it is contradictory and I would ask the Minister to look at it on Committee Stage. It is important that we recognise that if the Bill goes through as it is as present, it will simply mean that deceased children cannot be named if doing so will identify a child accused or a child witness.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan The Deputy still has a minute to go. I was counting ahead of the time.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan Can I continue?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan The Deputy can have two more minutes.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan The Acting Chairman interrupted me at the crucial part of my speech.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan I know the Deputy was in full flight and I apologise for that because I hate to stem the flow of a speech.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan I presume that was an unintentional mistake.

The point I was making before the Acting Chairman interrupted was that we need to look at this again. The purpose of section (2A) is that it will provide the mechanism for the court to get out of a situation in which a child witness or a child accused may be identified. The reality of it is that when one looks at section (2A), there is no discretion given to the court because it states that the court shall not dispense with the requirements of subsection (1) in circumstances where it can result in the identification of a child witness or a child accused.

I always prefer to commend the work of others but my view is that the Bill I drafted would be more effective, simpler and more comprehensible. It should not be the case that legislation has to simply be comprehensible to lawyers, legislators or judges. It should be comprehensible to the ordinary man and woman on the street who is reading it. I would recommend to the Minister that subsection (1A) should be amended so that we simply include paragraph (a) of that subsection and that we would put a full stop after "the proceedings concerned related to the death of the child". We already have statutory protections in respect of accused children and in respect of children who are witnesses, subsection (2) will facilitate that.

The Acting Chairman is stopping me again. I was told I have 51 seconds left.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan The Deputy still has a minute or so if he moves the adjournment of the debate.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan I would delete subsection (2A) as well. I thank the Acting Chairman for not listening to me.

Debate adjourned.

Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— Covid-19 and public health restrictions have imposed significant hardship and sacrifice on young people, students and all those in education, seriously diminishing the educational experience and negatively impacting on mental health and general wellbeing;

— even before the Covid-19 pandemic, this cohort of people faced very significant stresses and hardships, including:

— the serious stress and anxiety among students generated by the Leaving Certificate and intense competition for access to apprenticeships or places in the further and higher education courses of their choice;

— an unacceptable level of social inequality in accessing third-level education, where, for example, 99 per cent of young people living in Dublin 6 go on to higher education, while only 16 per cent of those from Dublin 10 continue in education after school;

— widespread poverty and financial hardship among many third-level students, particularly because of extortionate rents for accommodation in both purpose-built student accommodation and the wider rental sector;

— the financial hardship imposed on many undergraduate students and their families by having to pay €3,000 per year in registration fees and a full cost of up to €7,000 for many, the highest across the European Union (EU);

— the inadequacy of the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant system, where too many students are ineligible, and the grants do not cover the full costs of education;

— the significant additional costs of third-level education also include textbooks that often must be bought new, IT, vaccines for those training in the health professions, uniforms, travel and transport etc.;

— many groups of students having to work without pay on placements, including student nurses and midwives, social care students, allied healthcare trainees and others;

— an alarmingly high number of students suffering poor mental health and depression, where, for example, a recent National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) survey showed that a third of all their students were suffering from depression;

— one in six students dropping out of university in their first year;

— students who live in digs and private student accommodation being classified as ‘licencees’ or subject to private contracts rather than being ‘tenants’, and not being governed by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, and being denied access to the Residential Tenancies Board;

— extremely high postgraduate fees and difficulties with visas for non-EU students;

— the €16,000 plus, per year, fees for some courses such as Graduate Entry Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy;

— PhD stipends set at a dreadfully low level, far below a living income, even with the increase in the Irish Research Council’s Postgraduate Scholarship

Programme stipend in 2021;

— PhD researchers and other postgraduates being treated as students and not workers, despite their indispensable role in research and teaching in all

higher education institutions, with responsibilities of PhD and postgraduate students having grown as a result of reduced Government funding to third-level institutions; and

— widespread precarious working conditions, with temporary, short-term badly paid contracts for those working in higher education, and with over 50 per cent of lecturing staff and 35 per cent of lecturers on temporary or part-time contracts and ‘hourly paid staff’ not being entitled to sick leave, maternity leave and excluded from the unfair dismissal protection;

believes that:

— after the hardships and anxieties impacting young people during Covid-19, the Government owe a particular debt and have a particular obligation to support our young people and students;

— the Government expenditure on third-level education is inadequate at less than 0.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the latest Universitas21 study finding that Ireland is 46th out of 50 comparable countries for the level of Government expenditure as a share of GDP when it comes to third-level investment, a fall of 29 places since 2017;

— higher and further education is reliant on big business to fill the gaps in funding, with areas of study such as humanities, languages and social sciences, deemed to not bring a profitable return and not getting the investment needed, and the courses and what is studied in courses should be determined by academic interest and not by profit;

— due to limited places on third-level courses, with approximately 80,000 people chasing 52,000 places with the Leaving Certificate, and with the Central Applications Process (CAO) points system playing a role in rationing out places in third-level institutions, the system operates as a crude market mechanism where students are pitted against each other, and as such is riddled with unfairness, especially for those from low and middle-income backgrounds, who have additional needs and face other barriers such as disability, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and is a system that distorts education at second and third-level;

— there is a direct connection between the level of educational achievement and the life and career opportunities available to those after they leave education and seek to access the workforce;

— access to the highest levels of education should be a right for all and that access to third-level should be seen in the same way as access to second-level was in the late 1960’s, when second-level was expanded for all;

— with the ceaseless development of science, technology, innovation, artistic and cultural endeavour in the modern world, it makes no sense to limit or ration access to higher levels of education or to impose financial or other barriers to completing such education; and

— it is in the interests of our society to remove all obstacles, provide all the supports and all the needed investment to ensure the maximisation of human potential through education; and

therefore, calls on the Government to:

— abolish the Leaving Certificate Examination as an unnecessary stress on young people, a distorter of the education system and a barrier to accessing higher education and the life opportunities that flow from it;

— provide open access for all to higher education courses or apprenticeships of their choice, without fees or barriers;

— expand the number of higher education and apprenticeship places to meet demand (approximately 25,000 additional places), increase academic staffing levels commensurately, and introduce more omnibus entry courses, especially in areas where there is high demand;

— end the reliance on big business to fill the gaps in funding from central Government;

— invest to expand further education access programmes, to increase the participation of those from disadvantaged areas, marginalised groups or communities;

— commit to supporting the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Education for All pledge to end fees, cut rents and increase student supports;

— end the ‘study now, pay later’ and ‘earn and learn’ policies and move to a publicly funded higher education at the heart of the Government policy;

— abolish all registration fees and tuition fees for all apprenticeships, undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and increase grants and supports to cover the real cost of education;

— return fees paid by students for the academic years affected by Covid-19;

— extend the Back to Education Allowance to cover postgraduate courses, allow students to be eligible for the Housing Assistance Payment and restore Job Seeker's Allowance rates for young people to the standard rate, and extend other social welfare supports, such as the Working Family Payment, to those in education;

— provide free access for all students and apprentices to counselling and personal education services at the point and time of need;

— fund and staff Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services teams, to the levels recommended in Sharing the Vision: A Mental Health Policy for Everyone;

— pay students properly for work on placements, including student nurses and midwives, students of social care, allied health professionals and others who are doing genuine work while on placement, while protecting the degree status of these courses, and work with student representatives and CORU to resolve the issues of placement requirements that have emerged as a result of Covid-19 limiting placement hours available;

— recognise PhD researchers as workers, not students, with contracts of employment outlining major research and teaching responsibilities, collective bargaining rights and public pension contributions, paying at least a living wage;

— comprehensively integrate access routes and student supports from second-level and further education, through to higher educations;

— end precarious working conditions for all academic staff, hiring the 11,200 staff, mainly women, currently on these short-term/part-time contracts;

— urgently commence a major publicly funded programme of building genuinely affordable, publicly owned student accommodation and establish a charter of student/tenant rights; and

— abolish the licencee classification and the private contracts for students living in private student accommodation or digs and give full tenant rights to all students.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan Is Deputy Boyd Barrett sharing time?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am sharing with Deputies Paul Murphy and Gino Kenny. I am taking eight minutes, Deputy Paul Murphy is taking eight minutes and Deputy Gino Kenny is taking four minutes.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan The Deputy has it all worked out. Fair play.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The socialists are extremely well organised. We are also trying to be ahead of the curve with this. It is sometimes frustrating in this place because there is great interest in the barneys and the Punch and Judy show. However, there is not so much interest when Deputies are trying to put forward what I would consider in this motion on higher and further education to be positive proposals for a radical overhaul of the way in which people can access higher and further education and apprenticeships.

The proposals we are making would be important at any time but they are even more important in the context of Covid-19 and the huge suffering, hardship, stress and anxiety that huge numbers of people have suffered in recent times. The people who have suffered most are those who have lost loved ones. Those who are working on the front line to deal with the pandemic have maybe suffered the greatest stresses. Coming quickly after those are a cohort of, mostly but not exclusively, young people. For them, the question of education relates to: the leaving certificate; access to further and higher education and apprenticeships; and doing masters and postgraduate work. I also mention people who, for example, may have lost their jobs or livelihoods, possibly permanently as a result of Covid-19 and who may wish to go back to education to reskill and retrain in order to find a way forward, a new livelihood and a new future in the post-Covid era.

What the Department does in this area of education, particularly in access to further and higher education and apprenticeships, will be critical in the post-Covid future although it was always important. If much of the rhetoric we have heard across this House about learning the lessons of the pandemic and moving to a new future are to be taken seriously, they have to be fleshed out in meaningful plans and policies that will make life better for people and that will pay them back and reward them for the sacrifices, stresses, anxieties and hardships they have endured during Covid.

That is not the case for many of those people. Let us think of a few of them. The leaving certificate students have been through hell, to put it bluntly, and they are still going through hell. That stems from the fact that we have an exam which was putting extreme stress on young people long before Covid. It was a winner-takes-all and one-size-fits-all system which is completely inappropriate for the world we live in and which puts extraordinary stress on young people, to little purpose that I can see. If that was true pre-Covid, it is doubly true now. All of that stress mostly revolves around the fact that there are not enough places in higher and further education and apprenticeships.


Last Updated: 16/03/2021 17:07:32 First Page Previous Page Page of 76 Next Page Last Page