CREED RAISES LACK OF ACCESS TO PRE-SCHOOL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS DURING TOPICAL ISSUES DEBATE
Cork North West TD has raised the matter of the lack of supports for children with special needs/disability to access pre-school services during a special Topical issues debate on the matter, requested by the Deputy. Speaking during the debate Deputy Creed said:
“I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for taking this debate. The issue of appropriate supports for children with disability in the preschool year appears to fall between the remit of a number of Departments. The Department of Education and Skills is responsible for children with a disability attending mainstream schools. I refer to a very welcome initiative in recent years which is the provision of special needs assistants. I have been pursuing this issue as have other Deputies, including my constituency colleagues, on foot of representations made to us about individual cases. I refer to last week’s debate on a Private Members’ motion tabled by Deputy Troy. While there is some momentum to address the issue, it still seems that no particular Department is willing to take ownership of it”.
“To put the problem in context I refer to a letter I received from the HSE on foot of representations I made about an individual case. The HSE letter in reply reads: “There is no obligation for a service under the ECCE grant to take a child with special needs if they cannot provide supports.” In other words, they can simply refuse to take a child and that child will sit at home instead. The Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, will be aware that this issue is a long time on the agenda. In the 1996 report to the Government by the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, it was stated on the issue of preschools that it should be the responsibility of the Department of Education to provide high quality appropriate preschool services to the children with disabilities. The Minister of State might well reply that she was not in office on that occasion and she may wash her hands of that report but the National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan 2013-2015 states as an aspiration to improve supports for children with disabilities in the preschool year. It stated that the outcome desired is to improve school readiness and learning for children with disabilities and that one of the key indicators will be to have more than 50% of children in preschool year in receipt of appropriate supports. The flip side is that almost 50% of children with disabilities are not receiving the appropriate supports and I suspect that a substantial minority of those children who are not getting the appropriate supports are unable to avail of the preschool year and consequently start at a disadvantage in their formal education in the primary school system, behind their peers by virtue of a learning or a physical disability”.
“I take my hat off to many of the community providers of early childhood education who through their own resources are providing funds for special needs assistants or other supports needed for these children. The system is too ad hoc. One child who cannot avail of the preschool year is one too many, but regrettably there are many children. I cannot quantify the number but perhaps the Minister of State can do so”.
“I welcome the cross-departmental endeavour under way but I remain to be convinced that somebody is taking ownership of the issue, even if not to the extent outlined in the National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan 2013-2015, which has a timeline to have this issue addressed by September 2016. It is feasible to have this issue addressed if there is a willingness to so do, by September 2014, in order that children with disabilities would be on the same footing as any other child and available to take up a place in early childhood education”.
I acknowledge that this issue is cross-departmental in nature, coming also under the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The Minister of State referred to additional funding of €4 million that has been allocated in 2014 specifically to drive implementation of the programme on progressing disability services for children and young people. This allocation amounts to the provision of 80 additional therapist posts. My understanding, however, is that this will not facilitate a single child in accessing the early childhood care and education programme.
“The issue I am raising here is not about assessment of needs. I am referring to a situation where a child who has a specific disability, be it a physical disability or a learning disability, is refused a place by a local child care provider on the basis of that disability. My understanding is that these service providers are paid on a per capita basis. Perhaps the cross-departmental group might consider an arrangement whereby a portion of funding would be held in reserve to accommodate whatever additional resources are required by individual service providers to provide, for example, a special needs assistant for one child or a wheelchair for another. In each individual case, the funding held in reserve could be used to facilitate that child’s access. The provision of funding for 80 therapist posts is not the issue. It is about ensuring that when parents approach a local service provider, the latter cannot turn their child away because he or she has a disability. That position would not be countenanced at primary school and it should not be countenanced at preschool. If we are serious about addressing these types of issues, there must be a much faster implementation of the objectives outlined in the national disability strategy for 2016. This particular issue should be resolved by next September”.
Cork North West TD, Michael Creed has called for the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald T.D. to take responsibility for children with special needs who are currently being excluded from mainstream pre-schools. Speaking during a Dáil debate on Childcare, Deputy Creed said “it is an indictment of us all that we could table a motion and an amendment and discuss universality while locking the door on these children. It is also an indictment of the HSE to claim that there is no obligation”. During his speech Deputy Creed continued
“I refer to a response I received from the HSE in reply to representations I made about access for a child with autism to the ECCE year. The relevant section of the letter stated that on querying supports for children with special needs attending mainstream preschools under the scheme, the HSE was advised that there is no obligation for a service under the ECCE grant to take a child with special needs if it cannot provide supports. The letter stated that the preschool should have a meeting with the parent and child before enrolment to identify whether or not it will be able to meet the needs of the individual child. I regret to say that I have tried to pursue this issue with the Department which says that it is not its responsibility”.
“I have tried to pursue it with the HSE to be told that it is not its responsibility and that it is the responsibility of the contract holder to provide the service. I have tried to pursue it with the Department of Education and Skills which tells me it deals with children with disabilities, universal access for children to primary school and providing special needs assistant supports but that this is not its baby, to pardon the pun. In response to a parliamentary question on this issue, the Minister for Health said that “while the Health Service Executive has no statutory obligation to provide supports for children with special needs wishing to avail of the free pre-school year, it works at local level”, blah, blah, blah, ad hocery”.
“If we are to achieve anything in this debate, I implore the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to take a hold of the issue. Thousands of children and parents throughout the country are locked out of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, year. If we want a universal system, it must take account of such children and their needs. Like the Department of Education and Skills, the Minister should hold a little in reserve. We may not necessarily have the additional resources necessary, but she should hold a little in reserve and pay a higher capitation level to the individual contract holders under the ECCE scheme who will take on these children. They deserve the early childhood year as much as any other child. It is an indictment of us all that we could table a motion and an amendment and discuss universality while locking the door on these children. It is also an indictment of the HSE to claim that there is no obligation”.
“I congratulate the Minister. This is my first opportunity to discuss these issues since she became Minister. She has achieved much in a short time. I also acknowledge what has been achieved by others, but this is a glaring deficit. There is no universality if we lock the door on children with disabilities. I implore the Minister to take this issue on board”.
Cork North West TD and member of the Oireachtas Finance Committee Michael Creed T.D. reiterated his call for a solution to the conflict being experienced between tracker and variable mortgages. Commenting after yesterday’s Joint Oireachtas Committee meeting with the Fiscal Council, Deputy Creed said:
“I was keen to seek the views of the council on the ongoing increases being experienced by those with variable mortgages despite the ECB dropping interest rates to record lows. On the other hand tracker mortgage holders continue to benefit from these record low interest rates while the banks continue to pass the burden to other mortgage holders”
“I recently called on the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach to re-double their efforts to see the Eurozone decision of June 2012 implemented and suggested the prospect of the ESM or the ECB refinancing the tracker mortgage loan books of our banks.”
“I am pleased that Professor John McHale, Chairman of the Fiscal Council shared some of my concerns with regard the plight of variable mortgage holders. It is important that the Council exert their influence to ensure this matter is monitored and acted upon”.
Cork North West TD Michael Creed has expressed his sadness on the announcement of the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela. Commenting on Mandela’s passing Deputy Creed said:
“Rarely – if ever- does the entire world pause to mark the passing of just one man. It is testament to Nelson Mandela’s immeasurable legacy that his death is mourned in every corner of the planet. I was fortunate enough to meet with President Mandela in 1995 and I will forever be deeply grateful for the opportunity to come face to face with a man whose footprint will be etched in history for eternity.
“Mandela proved that a life dedicated to people can be a life well lived. In an age where those in public office are held in low esteem, Nelson Mandela will continue to be the definitive benchmark for those who hope to serve their people. May he rest in peace”.
Cork North West TD, Michael Creed has raised the importance of progressing the N22 bypass project with Transport Minister, Leo Varadkar TD, during a topical issues debate on the matter. Speaking during the debate Deputy Creed said:
“The realignment of the N22 is a critical piece of regional infrastructure. The work stretches from the eastern side of Macroom town, at Coolcower, to the western side of Ballyvourney to Sliabh Riabhach, and represents approximately 40 km of realignment involving five roundabouts and 20 bridges. This is a significant piece of infrastructure that will cost €200 million plus. I thank the Minister for his assistance in progressing this project to date. I thank him particularly for dealing with the CPOs that have been issued to landowners and their entitlement to a goodwill payment. As far as I am aware, all of the landowners along the route have, by and large, co-operated fully over a long number of years. As the Minister is aware, the project was delayed for a significant period in the courts, but this was beyond the control of the landowners.
“Most towns, like Macroom, have a natural hinterland which drives their economic development. Macroom is hindered by the lack of a bypass. Most of its western residents are pulled towards Killarney and most of its eastern residents are pulled towards Cork City, simply because of heavy traffic congestion in the centre of the town. A number of fatalities have occurred in the town, and in the past week an elderly citizen was knocked down because of congestion. A number of pinch points need to be addressed and will be addressed in the context of the bypass.
“We need to make up for the lost years. This project was drip-fed during the so-called boom years of the Celtic tiger during the previous Administration. We have an opportunity now to hitch our wagon to other infrastructural projects locally, particularly the Dunkettle interchange, which has a high ranking with the NRA. We need to catch up and I would like the Minister to assist us in this regard by working with the NRA and directing it to fast-track this project so that both projects can be bundled together”.
In his response Minister Varadkar said:
“The N22 project is the Ballyvourney to Macroom improvement scheme which aims to bypass Macroom town and involves the construction of 43 km of new carriageway from the end of the Ballincollig bypass to Ballyvourney. The project was the subject of a judicial review against approval of the scheme, but the legal challenge has been rejected. As a result, notices to treat have been served on affected landowners who, as Deputy Michael Creed mentioned, will be eligible for the goodwill payment as it went to An Bord Pleanála many years ago. I thank him for raising the matter with me some weeks ago. This means that once the land is bought, the project will be shovel ready. The NRA has made an allocation of €400,000 in respect of this project for 2013.
I have had some discussions with the NRA on the matter with a view to pursuing it as a public private partnership. The intention is to go ahead with the Gort to Tuam road project which is first on the list and has already gone to tender and then to deal with the New Ross and Gorey to Enniscorthy projects. As the Macroom to Ballyvourney and Dunkettle projects are the only ones with full planning permission – at that stage the land will be purchased – it is planned to pursue them either separately or as a bundle under a public private partnership scheme”
Cork North West TD. Michael Creed has this morning (29/11/2013) welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn that Cloghduv National Schools is to receive funding for a new extension to the school. Commenting on the announcement Deputy Creed said;
“I am delighted that Cloghduv National School has been included in the 2014 School Building programme. Funding will be provided for the construction of a new extension to the school under the Government capital investment scheme in education”.
“I am aware of the hard work and dedication to this project on behalf of the staff, board of management and parents of Cloghduv National school, and am pleased that their efforts are now being rewarded”.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on what I think is one of the most significant motions to come before the House. If the loss of our sovereignty in 2010 was such a significant event, it is important that the Dáil has its say on the matter, and I welcome the fact that the Government Chief Whip acceded to my request for a debate on it.
It is important to put the debate in some sort of context. When the troika came to town in 2010, our banks were bust, the number of unemployed people had trebled to 450,000 from 150,000 in 2008, our tax receipts had collapsed from approximately €50 billion to €30 billion, and our international reputation was in tatters. All of those issues combined led to a loss of market confidence in the Irish economy, and in order to maintain some degree of normality, we sought outside assistance through the troika’s programme. Three years later, in a tribute to the resilience and forbearance of the Irish public, whose sacrifices have ensured the progress that has been made, our international reputation has been re-established, and I commend Deputy Costello and the Tánaiste in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the leading role they have played in that respect. All of our Cabinet representatives have equally been responsible for that restoration of our reputation, which has enabled us to renegotiate with credibility some of the worst excesses of the bailout agreement as originally foisted on us by the outgoing Government of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.
The exit from the bailout is a red-letter day, but in early 2013 we had a renegotiation of the promissory note. That represented significant progress on the liability that the Irish citizen carries as a result of this collapse. Market confidence has been restored. How else would we have accumulated a domestic backstop of around €20 billion to give us some comfort as we put our toe back in the money markets and try to fund ourselves? Of significance in the context of the sacrifices that the public have made, we have reduced the gap between what we spend on a daily basis and what we raise in taxes, and we are committed to reaching the 3% deficit target by 2015. That is the backdrop to all of this.
I am reminded of the line that the moment of absolute certainty never arrives. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by Deputy Martin’s response last week when the Taoiseach announced the Cabinet’s decision. It seemed to me as though he were suffering from Stockholm syndrome, surrounded by former Cabinet colleagues Deputies Smith, Ó Cuív and O’Dea, as he was less than gracious about the efforts and the endeavour by ordinary citizens to get us to a stage at which we can exit the bailout. I listened this morning to Deputy Michael McGrath’s contribution – it is noticeable that not a single Member of the Opposition is in the Chamber for the debate at the moment – and while I agreed with many of his observations in respect of the context within which this exit from the bailout is taking place, there was an element of political cute-hoorism and having an each-way bet regarding the Government’s decision.
When faced with such a decision one must make it as wisely as possible. The moment of absolute certainty never arrives. Deputy Martin’s approach to this is regrettable.
In the context of this debate and as we contemplate the sustainability of our economic model, it is an appropriate time to raise the EU Summit of 29 June 2012 and ask where we are in breaking the vicious link between sovereign and bank debt. The Minister, his Cabinet colleagues, the Minister for Finance Deputy Noonan and the Taoiseach are as anxious as everybody else to build on that. However, to call a spade a spade, we have run into a cul-de-sac in our efforts to build on that. It is worth recalling that the summit statement stated:
We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns.
The Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme.
We are some 18 months on from that and, unfortunately, we have seen practically no tangible progress on that matter. Is it any wonder that politics stretches credulity on occasions with the public when we see that lack of progress on an issue of such enormous significance? We have pumped €64 billion into our domestic banks in an effort, originally, to stop the contagion. “Contagion” was the buzzword in 2009 and 2010 when they were fears across Europe. We were asked to take a hit for the team and we did so. It is a reasonable conclusion that we are having difficulty getting retrospective recapitalisation, although I do not want to make that conclusion. There is another way to skin the cat in respect of getting back that money for the Irish Exchequer. Our level of indebtedness is unsustainable and we need a game changer on this matter.
AIB and PTSB are State-owned and we have a 15% stake in Bank of Ireland. The Irish banks have a €70 billion tracker mortgage book on which all those banks are losing their shirts. That is somewhat akin to the €64 billion we put into our banks to comply with the terms of our bailout. It is good news for 400,000 tracker mortgage holders that last week the ECB sought to reduce its lending rate by 0.25%. That has been passed on to those 400,000 tracker mortgage holders, but at whose cost? There are reports that the 300,000 variable mortgage holders will see a commensurate increase in their repayments. That is grossly unfair.
As a way of dealing with the capital we put into our banks, is it possible to take the tracker loan book out of the three banks I mentioned by virtue of the ESM, ECB or however? PTSB has a survival strategy with the Commission. Because of the significant drain those tracker mortgages are on our banks, could we financially engineer a solution to the tracker mortgages that takes pressure off our banks and allows them to get on to the normal business of banking? It could allow the State to extricate itself from the banking business by selling its stake in banks that would be then viable and get something back for the money we have put into these banks in recent years, particularly the three I mentioned. It is grossly unsatisfactory that this issue has not been resolved yet. However, I commend the Minister and Government on their efforts in getting us to this situation where we are exiting. We have a backstop and market confidence, and we can go back to the market early next year to further build on that backstop. On balance, it is the right decision.