Dáil debates

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Adjournment Debate

Relocation of VEC Centre.

10:00 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I hope the Acting Chairman will have more latitude towards the discourse between the Minister of State and myself. We are both constituency colleagues, so we can continue the discussion afterwards.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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11:00 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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Yes. I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to raise this matter. I am pleased that my constituency colleague the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Martin Mansergh, is taking this Adjournment matter.

In May 2009, the OPW announced in a press release that the old labour exchange building, located in Dillon Street, Clonmel, was being transferred to the VEC for use as the adult literacy headquarters. We are still waiting for the final go-ahead to begin this move, however.

I know it has not been a long wait and that the Minister of State is doing what he can to help the move proceed. However, I am bringing it to his attention today because of a small tragedy in our current offices last weekend. We had several issues with flooding previously and I thank Deputy Mansergh for his efforts in that regard and thank the OPW and the contractors involved in improving flood defences in Clonmel. However, this time the water came from on high. The VEC office is in a rented building and as a result of some accident in the floor above the building was flooded. This resulted in significant damage and devastation. The old labour exchange building is available as it has been idle for some time. It is a good solid building. The Minister of State, Deputy Haughey visited it some time ago and saw that for himself. We are anxious to move into that building, even though it has not yet been renovated, but Rome was not built in a day. Moving into the building in Dillon Street would bring about a cost saving for the VEC as it currently pays €20,000 a year to rent the building it is in. This building now needs repair, but this is a difficult time of the year for repairs. We would pay back the estimated €200,000 cost of upgrading the building over a number of years. It is a fine solid structure and could be improved little by little over time. The savings of €20,000 per annum would go a long way towards the work.

Our adult literacy service in south Tipperary is highly rated nationally. We have won adults continuing education, ACE, awards and have been short-listed for this year's Aontas star awards for the Munster region. We believe more permanent premises would help us maintain and improve the quality of service we offer. The adult literacy service assists more than 600 learners in south Tipperary. Approximately 350 of these attend classes in Clonmel. Space is a major issue and we need larger premises to accommodate adults who need help in basic reading, writing and numeracy. The new premises we expect to acquire with the help of the Minister of State are only 150 yards away from the current headquarters on the Mall in Clonmel. The premises is in a good, central location in the town. Who wants to rent a building when a building of one's own is available? The labour exchange building would help us further develop services and provide a welcoming venue for students. I look forward to hearing a favourable reply from the Minister of State and to his co-operation in the matter. I am sure he and I will have many more discussions with colleagues in order to progress this venture. It would be a lovely Christmas present if we could have access to the premises for the new year.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Seán Haughey. I have some responsibility in the area, but mine is separate from that of Deputy Haughey's. The Deputy might be amused to know that some civil servants thought I might be nervous about responding to him, but I have no hesitation in dealing with the issue, even if it is not 100% good news.

Adult literacy continues to be a priority within adult and further education. Between 1997 and 2008, annual funding for adult literacy increased from €1 million to €30 million. The increase in annual funding has enabled the annual number of participants to increase from 5,000 in 1997 to almost 50,000 in 2008. This is a clear demonstration of the importance the Government places on adult literacy. The challenge we face now is to consolidate this significant investment to ensure long-term sustainability. In this regard, it should be noted that the 2009 allocation has been maintained at a similar level to that of 2008 and despite the difficult economic situation, the adult literacy provision for 2010 will be maintained at a similar level to 2009.

Adult literacy encompasses skills like reading and writing, spelling and numeracy. However, it has expanded to include other key competencies like personal development, learning to learn and IT skills. These basic skills are of fundamental importance to our country as we seek to upskill and reskill. We need to prepare ourselves for the future by equipping ourselves with the skills of tomorrow. By promoting good literacy, numeracy and basic ICT skills, we will help our people engage with these challenges and face the future with resolve and confidence. Having given awards at some FETAC ceremonies, I have seen the satisfaction of people who have completed a course that has helped not only their personal progression but also the contribution they will be able to make to the community.

Our efforts to encourage and support all means of increasing literacy levels and basic education throughout the country help to promote equality of opportunity, which is a foundation stone of education philosophy. It is of utmost importance that those who may not have been lucky enough to be in a position to avail of the educational opportunities earlier in life, particularly our older population, are provided with a means to take advantage of a second chance. Despite our difficult economic situation, there has never been a better opportunity to return to education, be it in a part-time or full-time capacity. Across the country, learners are embracing and engaging in adult and further education in ever increasing numbers. The VECs are a key player in this regard through their nationwide network of services providing a broad range of literacy opportunities to learners everywhere.

The need to address adult literacy was highlighted in 1997 through the results of an international survey. In that regard, the Deputy will be aware that Ireland will participate in a new international survey, the programme for the international assessment of adult competencies, PIAAC. The PIAAC is an international survey of adult literacy, numeracy and skills which is being organised by the OECD. Ireland's participation will be funded jointly by both the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The survey will be conducted in Ireland by the Central Statistics Office. The PIAAC will be an important source of information for informing future policy in this area and results should be available in 2013.

With regard to the specific issue raised by the Deputy, the Department of Education and Science is aware of the development proposed by south Tipperary VEC for its adult literacy service in Clonmel. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dynamism and competence of the south Tipperary VEC and its leadership. The VEC received approval from the OPW to take a lease on the old social welfare building in the town, but there are still some issues. I am actively pursuing those issues so that possession of the building can be taken with security for the future. The VEC applied to the Department of Education and Science for funding to refurbish the building. Unfortunately, due to resource constraints, the Department was unable to respond favourably to the request.

In 2008, the Department provided funding of over €450,000 to south Tipperary VEC, which enabled 560 learners to access adult literacy tuition. In 2009, that funding was maintained at similar levels. I would like to thank the Deputy again for raising this issue and providing me with an opportunity to outline the Government's commitment to adult literacy nationwide. Naturally, we will work together as colleagues to try to get around any difficulties or obstacles that present.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 December 2009.