Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Admissions

4:20 pm

Photo of James O'ConnorJames O'Connor (Cork East, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for Education for being present in the Chamber and the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter. I was extraordinarily honoured to welcome the Minister to the Cork East constituency. I wish to convey my gratitude and thanks to her and to her officials and advisers who travelled to the constituency for a very successful visit. We had an engagement with secondary school principals on issues around inbound children who are coming from the conflict in Ukraine and staying in Ireland. Those issues are quite serious for schools and they have to deal with new challenges. This is a matter of great concern to many principals throughout the country, especially in the case of Youghal in east Cork, a concern that was highlighted to all those from the Department who attended the meeting.

What has taken place in Ukraine is an extraordinarily tragic event in its history and it is absolutely harrowing to hear the stories from many people who have come to my constituency office to explain the circumstances. They have had to flee their homes. They have left loved ones behind and do not know how they are in terms of whether they are being affected by conflict on a day-to-day basis. It is extremely traumatic for the children involved. I compliment the work done by the Department of Education and by school principals, school communities, boards of management and school staff in dealing with this extraordinary and unprecedented event that nobody expected to happen, following on from very difficult years of Covid. The Minister has acknowledged this and I thank her for doing so.

In terms of the secondary school capacity in Youghal, they have been doing very good work there to try to host the new students who have arrived. They are expecting approximately 70 into one school, which is very much an outlier on a national basis. What is interesting from looking around country, and in terms of the feedback we are getting from some of the research we have done throughout the constituency and further afield and from talking to those in education, is that schools are very much seeking additional supports when it comes to special educational needs, SEN.

What is absolutely crucial to communicate to the Department of Education and the Minister is the requirement for a degree of certainty around planning for the new academic year. Decisions could be made swiftly about what additional supports will be coming down the line. It is very difficult to make decisions when one is a Minister in a Department that has gone through extraordinary challenges with Covid-19 and now with this conflict. These decisions take considerable time, preparation and work. I acknowledge the work that has been done. However, it is important for the new academic year that decisions be made, especially in the run-up to the Dáil recess, to give schools a little bit of certainty around planning for the employment of staff in the coming year and the additional SEN supports that are required.

The documentation for children with additional and special needs who are coming to Ireland from Ukraine has been highlighted to me. Some of that documentation is not being recognised here when it comes to the supports that are required. We have to be very conscious of that as well.

In the wider context, the Department has had to deal with a new situation extremely rapidly and it has been very challenging. However, it is important to make these points and I thank the Minister for being in the Chamber to hear them.

When it comes to the provision of additional capacity and space, it is important that the temporary units be made available. These have been very successful in some schools where they have been put in. They have gotten considerable positive feedback. We need to see a degree of speed and see processes being expedited to provide the additional temporary units for the new academic year.

The whole situation is extraordinarily traumatic and very saddening. Some areas of the country taking in larger numbers than others need a little bit of further assistance and help. I look forward to the Minister's reply.


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