Monday 16 September 2019

Risk of industrial action over merger of Cork and Tralee ITs

There is a significant risk of industrial action over concerns about the proposed merger of the institutes of technology in Cork and Tralee for a technological university application, Cork North-West Fianna Fáil Deputy Michael Moynihan told the Dáil.

Academic staff in both of the colleges have made it clear that they have no confidence in the process at any level, which is a worrying state of affairs, he said. Neither are they convinced by the report published last year by a panel of international experts.

"Furthermore, they are not impressed by the Government's financial commitment," he said. "They are underwhelmed by the lack of engagement and consultation.

"In contacts I and my colleagues have had with the TUI and others and from reading media reports, it is evident that there is widespread concern.

"There is also concern that change will result in a reduction in the number of courses being provided in both institutes. That is an important issue as a wide variety of courses are on offer at present. We have always championed the availability of the proper courses."

Deputy Moynihan said the Government has a poor record of engaging with staff when advancing reforms in the education sector. The debacle over the junior cycle provides ample evidence of that. The prospect of industrial action looms once again.

In reply, Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan said detailed plans were submitted to the HEA early last year by two consortia of institutes of technology as part of the process towards designation as a technological university.

Cork and Tralee institutes of technology put forward proposals for a merger in Munster leading to an application for a technological university for the region. Dublin, Blanchardstown and Tallaght institutes of technology also propose to form a strong new institution for the city and county of Dublin.

"Both consortia have been assessed by an international expert panel appointed by the HEA," she said. "The panel has found that they are on a clear trajectory to meet the very robust performance and quality criteria that have been set down for merging institutes that wish to apply for the new technological university status. I stress the word 'wish' because other regions did not apply whereas the institutes of technology in question decided to apply."

That, she said, concludes stage 3 of the four-stage process towards designation as a technological university for the two consortia. "I know that the two consortia have been carefully considering the reports of the expert panel. Following merger, stage 4 consists of an application to the HEA to become a technological university. The HEA will consider whether the high performance bar has been reached following another independent international expert assessment.

The HEA will then make a recommendation to me on whether technological university status should be awarded."

Government over-promised and under-delivered on childcare - McLellan

The Government has relentlessly targeted children despite all their fine words regarding our youngest citizens' rights, Cork East Sinn Féin Deputy Sandra McLellan told the Dáil.

Budget 2015 may have increased the monthly child benefit payment by €5 but only after Fine Gael and the Labour Party cut it by €47 for the fourth child and €10 for other children, she said.

Speaking in support of a Fianna Fáil motion on childcare Deputy McLellan said the Government has also cut the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance in successive budgets, amounting to a total cut of €100.

"This is a means-tested payment which is only made to children in the poorest of families and was already grossly insufficient to meet the real cost of returning to school," she said.

"For families who are just about keeping their heads above water, this has been a devastating blow. The lone parent income disregard was cut from €146 to €90, as a consequence of which a working lone mother is down €28."

Many of the country's poorest children are in lone parent households and these cuts hurt them even more.

In addition, this Government had lowered the cut-off age for the one-parent family payment to ten years of age and later this year it will drop it to just seven years of age.

"However, the Government has not put in place the necessary affordable after-school care which is required to keep these children safe while their mothers are forced out to work, despite the Labour Party leader promising she would not proceed with her planned cut to the lone parents scheme unless she had a credible, bankable commitment from Government on child care delivery," she said. "As is so often the case with the Labour Party, the Tánaiste over-promised and under-delivered."

The entirely foreseeable result of all of these cuts has been a sharp rise in child poverty, she said. A report from UNICEF published recently put the child poverty rate at 28.6%, which accounts for 130,000 children. Ireland ranked 37 out of 41 countries studied. Child poverty rates are rising more steeply than here only in Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland.

The Fianna Fáil motion was defeated by 98 votes to 46.

Sherlock highlights role of Men's Sheds

Men's shed projects have played an important part in addressing the situation arising from the economic downturn in the construction industry in particular when some men found themselves becoming unemployed, Minister of State Séan Sherlock told the Dáil.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, he said, has funded men's shed projects under both the rural development fund and the Leader element of the 2007 to 2013 rural development programme. Funding has been provided to renovate buildings to house these types of initiatives and also for tools and equipment.

"New friendships have been developed and communities have benefited from the products and services provided," he said.

"There are almost 220 men's sheds in Ireland with over 7,000 members. Some wonderful projects have grown from these initiatives such as the restoration of old farm machinery to the production of some fantastic wooden pieces.

"They have helped men in several communities to come together to work on initiatives which they might not have done otherwise."

The Government, through the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, provides supports and funding to communities, urban and rural, which enables them to identify and address issues and priorities for action in their own areas. Communities have identified men's shed projects as a priority for funding in their areas.


Oireachtas Report