Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

2:15 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Following the third wave of Covid-19, we took a decision to reduce the number of times we would meet at Cabinet committee level. This does not mean these issues came off the Government radar or anything like that. In fact, the opposite is the case, especially in terms of mental health and education. A number of specific meetings have taken place in the intervening period with the Minister for Education on the leaving certificate and with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris. We had a Cabinet committee on education meeting and held a series of meetings with the Ministers for Education and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on the leaving certificate and the return to school more generally.

The position of Deputy Boyd Barrett is that we should provide places to everyone straightaway. That is not achievable or doable. It is simple to say that but it is utterly ridiculous and cannot be done. We could create many difficulties with that approach too. What we have done, however, is provide €200 million for targeted places and apprenticeships as well as a range of training opportunities for young people who many not wish to pursue further or third level education.

The further education colleges have got additional resources. We have created thousands of additional places at third level as well. The policy of providing a broad suite of opportunities for young people is key. The idea that we simply open up the CAO system to everyone who wishes to do whatever they want does not work. People need to think that through very carefully. It does not make much sense to me and could undermine the well-being and development of young people in future. I say this as a educationalist and as someone who knows a thing or two about education. Deputy Boyd Barrett's approach to politics of giving people whatever they want when they want it is not grounded in reality.

There has been reform in how the leaving certificate operates. I support further reform of assessment and the modes of study and so on. We need to create opportunities across the board in further and higher education and in a range of other areas that people wish to pursue. One area where this is relevant is youth strategy. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, brought forward the draft national youth strategy to Government yesterday. It was very much focused on developing opportunities for disadvantaged young people, especially for young offenders. One of the areas where we engage on a good deal is the past but we must be focused on the present as well especially on those children who are highly marginalised. When we go through why they offend and get into offending, it is clear a range of background issues are relevant, including addiction and family issues. This needs intense resourcing and supports. That will form part of the national youth strategy. This kind of work has been ongoing and the Minister of State has brought forward a comprehensive strategy in that regard. Another area is school completion, which has been a passion of mine for a long time. I believe we have to give every child born in the country an opportunity to complete second level education and we have to support and resource that. This is something we are highly committed to as well.

Deputy Kelly raised the question of early education and I agree this is a key priority. There is a long journey yet to go in terms of equalising the comparisons between early education and the later years of primary education. The Deputy referred to the joint labour committees. The Government and the Minister are committed to progressing that to support the entire sector. The age group from zero to three is key to the development of any child. A child learns more between the ages of zero and three than in the remainder of his or her life. That is something we want to progress.

I was asked about mental health. The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 decided to provide even more additional resources to mental health, in particular to non-governmental organisations. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Mary Butler, has put major efforts into mental health. She is an excellent Minister of State for that area and is working hard, especially in the context of Covid-19. It is without question that Covid-19 is putting considerable strain and anxiety on young people.

That is evidenced by the reports from mental health non-governmental organisations that help young people. We are conscious of that also. We provided additional resources this year through the national HSE service plan to deal with waiting lists for CAMHS. We have provided additional resources in terms of mental health more generally.

In terms of Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's question, I will revert to the Minister with responsibility for children in respect of that. We are willing to do our part in respect of the commitments that we have made. When we make those commitments, we have to fulfil them, and not just optically in the short term. There has to be a comprehensive follow-through plan in terms of the well-being of those whom we assist to make sure it is sustainable for the individual children involved and we follow through on those commitments.

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