Header Item Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Education (Guidance Counselling Provision) Bill 2017: First Stage
 Header Item Trade Union (Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces) Bill 2017: First Stage

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 947 No. 2
Unrevised

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  1 o’clock

Education (Guidance Counselling Provision) Bill 2017: First Stage

Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision whereby the Minister for Education and Skills shall publish an annual education impact study on the effects his or her decision to continue with the provision of guidance counselling within the standard staffing schedule on schools; such study to include details of the names of schools that have reduced their guidance counselling provision as a direct result of this arrangement, with particular emphasis on those schools that have DEIS status and the impact of the reduced provision of guidance counselling on those schools including the impact on student’s wellbeing and progression to further education and training.

I wish to introduce the Education (Guidance Counselling Provision) Bill 2017. This is a very simple and short Bill, the purpose of which is to seek to compel the Minister for Education and Skills to conduct an annual educational impact survey for every year that guidance counselling provision is provided from within the staffing schedule for second-level schools. The Minister will contend that 400 guidance posts have been restored outside of the staffing schedule and that the pupil-teacher ratio has been reduced as a result. This contention is disingenuous. While I acknowledge that the pupil-teacher ratio has been reduced by 0.4 at second level, there is no clear requirement that this reduction must be used to provide guidance.

  The concern is that second-level schools may use this reduction to provide an additional teacher for other subjects in the curriculum or other posts within the school. Sinn Féin believes that schools must be given a specific allocation of guidance hours based on levels of enrolment. This was the norm in previous years before the system was changed on foot of budget measures in 2012. The Education Act 1998 requires that students have access to appropriate guidance to assist them in their educational and career choices.

  Removal of ex-quota guidance counselling hours has put the responsibility on principals to determine appropriate guidance and effectively forces principals to choose between subject provision and guidance counselling. Given the many cuts to education in recent years, it is little wonder that guidance counselling provision has reduced as a result. Figures from the Institute of Guidance Counsellors show that there has been an overall reduction of 24% in guidance counselling, with a massive reduction of 59% in time for one-on-one counselling. In a study by the National Centre for Guidance Education on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, it was recommended that the ex-quota allocation for guidance to schools should be restored as a priority. Sinn Féin supports this call.

  Research by the ESRI shows that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more reliant on the supports and guidance at second level and that these supports play a more significant role in the choices made by these young people. It also found that the cuts to guidance counselling provision impacted most in disadvantaged schools and that the provision of guidance counselling was not equitable across the board. DEIS schools report a 30% decline in guidance counselling compared to 26% in non-DEIS schools. However, fee-paying schools showed an increase of 1.7% in guidance, which clearly shows that not only is guidance important and valued by schools, particularly as they are willing to spend funds on the service where such funds are available, but also that vulnerable students fully reliant on the public system are losing out and being disenfranchised by such a move.

  This Bill will require the Minister for Education and Skills to comprehensively analyse the educational impact of the decision to retain guidance counselling provision under the current arrangements and publish the findings. Such a study would examine the impact on disadvantaged schools, the effect on progression to further education, which has become very topical and is an issue of great concern, training and details of schools that have reduced guidance provision as a result of the policy decision. While I recognise that, in itself, this would not solve the problem, it would provide the hard data to inform future policy decisions in this area and, hopefully, would improve accountability for all decisions that have such a profound impact on our students and give every student a fair chance to achieve his or her potential. I commend this Bill to the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is the Bill opposed?

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty No.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.

Trade Union (Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces) Bill 2017: First Stage

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to remove the bar on a Garda Síochána or Defence Forces association from associating with, or affiliating to, any trade union or any other association; to remove the bar on a Defence Force member from becoming a member of a Defence Force association that may wish to reconstitute itself as a trade union; and to prohibit the use of strike action by an Garda Síochána or Defence Forces associations and trade unions for reasons of public safety.

Ba mhaith liom an Bille seo a chur chun cinn leis an Teachta David Cullinane. An fáth go bhfuilimid ag cur an Bille Cearchumann (An Garda Síochána agus na Fórsaí Cosanta) 2017 chun tosaigh ná chun aitheantas ceart a thabhairt do bhaill an Garda Síochána agus na Fórsaí Cosanta mar oibrithe. The intention of the Bill is to remove the bar on a Garda Síochána or Defence Forces association from associating with, or affiliating to, any trade union or any other association and to remove the bar on those members becoming members of proper Defence Forces associations, such as the GRA, PDFORRA, AGSI, RACO or even the Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association. It is about allowing those associations to become trade unions in their own right and to apply for the negotiating licence that has been denied to them by the State.

  The impetus in respect of this Bill has been quite clear in recent times. However, most people are not aware that in October 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the absolute ban on trade unions within the French armed forces was a violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 states that everyone has the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join a trade union for the protection of one's interests. The European Court of Human Rights found that while it is perfectly legitimate of the State to put restrictions on freedom of association, a blanket ban on forming or joining a trade union encroached on the very essence of this freedom and is, as such, prohibited under the convention. Obviously, Ireland is also bound by that decision.

  This Bill intends to address that anomaly as well as to give voice to the representative associations that have not been allowed to properly represent their workers, the members of the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána, many of whom have suffered greatly in recessionary times. I have received numerous letters from members of the Defence Forces and their partners and families explaining the tragic circumstances of some cases and the horrific financial circumstances in which they find themselves. The associations that are supposed to represent them do not have the right to represent them in talks on pay and conditions. That needs to end, which means that Ireland must come into line with other European countries. That is why we have proposed this Bill.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane This is a Bill to: remove the bar on a Garda Síochána or Defence Forces association from associating with, or affiliating to, any trade union or any other association; remove the bar on a Defence Force member from becoming a member of a Defence Force association that may wish to reconstitute itself as a trade union; and prohibit the use of strike action by an Garda Síochána or Defence Forces associations and trade unions for reasons of public safety. We believe that the Bill and the restrictions outlined in it strike a balance between the rights of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and the rights of the people to protection. This Bill would, for the first time, allow members of the An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and their organisations to be classified as workers in law and allow members to join trade unions and engage in the State's industrial relations mechanisms in pursuit of improvement of pay and conditions. The only associations that members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces would be able to join under this Bill would be those already established under existing legislation. These associations can apply to register as trade unions and then apply for negotiation licences.

The Garda and the Defence Forces associations, once reconstituted as trade unions, would be allowed to engage in industrial action in pursuit of the protection of the pay and conditions of their members with certain restrictions. We believe that the Bill strikes a fair balance. I know that previous Bills have been introduced by Opposition parties in the past and that some concerns were raised about the lack of restrictions. We have taken all of those concerns on board and the Bill takes cognisance of them. I hope the Government will support the Bill when, at some point, we move it at Second Stage.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is the Bill opposed?

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty No.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.


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