White Welcomes the European Investment Bank Commitment to Provide EUR 90m for UCD Campus Redevelopment

November 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Deputy Alex White has welcomed the support of the European Investment Bank in agreeing to fund redevelopments at University College Dublin as part of the government’s strategic support for the knowledge economy inIreland. The European Union’s long-term lending institution will provide a EUR 90m loan for the on-going transformation of campus facilities.

Commenting on this progressive development Deputy White said “The Government is committed to ensuring, where possible, that world class education and research facilities can help future generations contribute to the knowledge economy. The redevelopment of University College Dublin is an exciting development and will benefit students studying on a modern, vibrant and sustainable campus and foster a greater contribution to Ireland’s future.

“UCD’s Belfield Campus is one of the finest university facilities in Europe and a central driver of the greater Dublin South economy. Funding will be used to develop six buildings including the second phase of UCD’s Science Centre, construction of a new School of Law and refurbishment and construction of student accommodation.”

The UCD Campus Development Plan 2010–2015 will make the campus more compact, concentrating related activities and separating academic and leisure functions. The overall redevelopment aims to consolidate and enhance this position of pre-eminence by providing future generations with a sustainable, healthy, and living campus.

Development of the campus follows the Government’s efforts to increase investment in research and higher education, and will strengthen UCD’s role in an increasingly competitive academic environment. Deputy White commented that ‘the ability to locate both industry and academia on the same campus will help increase links between the university and key Irish companies’.

The new campus development will combine refurbishment of existing award winning buildings and provision of new facilities.

We must sit down and work out what we cherish, rather than slash indiscriminately

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

In the United States yesterday, as we have seen overnight on the news, there has been another change election. From my perspective, I am sorry to see that there would appear to have been a sharp shift to the right in American politics on foot of this election. Much of what we have seen happening in the United States in recent weeks has some resonances in this country because there are many candidates in those elections who appear to think that the way forward for a modern democracy and modern economy is to cut, slash and emasculate the state and cut the heart out of public services. That has been elevated almost into a political mantra in the United States. It is not as if it is something new, but certainly it has come back very much as a major agenda item in that country.

It has resonances in this country. Unfortunately, there are many people in the debate in our country who seem to think that all we must do is to cut the heart out of the State and out of public services, and have an effect on public services and public entitlements, for example, those who hold pensions.

There is a genuine concern, shared by me and my party, about areas of waste in public services. We must look at that and consider it carefully. Can we begin to have a debate on public services about what we want to have in this country, not what we want to cut? I refer to this indiscriminate slashing of the knife for two or three weeks in public before a budget. Can we sit down and work out what we cherish, what we want to have and what is worth keeping, rather than taking the debate from the other perspective? That would be a useful exercise for us to undertake here.

Of course, one of the areas that we should be considering as part of that debate is education. I have made the point in this House previously, we all have areas that we will say in the debate that we want to see preserved. It must be the case, and I believe this to be the position of the Green Party, that education at all levels is an area which should be preserved, nurtured and fostered. Particularly in the case of third level education, it would be a terrible pity if the Green Party was to abandon its previously stated position, for example, on third level fees or third level fees being introduced by stealth through a hugely increased registration fee. It would be a great pity if they were to abandon that. I appeal to them not to do so.

It is easy enough to say about education that there are many who can afford a higher registration fee and maybe it is the case that most Members in this Chamber could afford a higher registration fee for their children. That is not the point. The point is that higher education should not be the preserve of the well-off. We have made a commitment to higher education and education at all levels, that it is not a commodity to be parcelled up and sold off to the highest bidder and that it is something that we believe to which all children and all young people should have access irrespective of the wealth of their parents.

Education should be based on ability rather than wealth

April 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday there was a report on third level education which gave information that might have been obtained under freedom of information legislation. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate as soon as possible on the important question of funding third level education. Apparently, the Higher Education Authority is of the view that there will be a requirement for more than €4 billion – a familiar figure has been given to the banks and other places in recent times. However, this €4 billion is to meet a most important requirement in order that we can invest in our third level education system and, ultimately, the future of the country.

I am not sure whether the publication of this report – I do not know if the information was obtained or leaked – is intended to soften up public opinion in regard to the reintroduction of university fees. However, it should form one important element of the discussion we should have in the House. The reintroduction of fees would be a mistake. The Opposition is always being accused of being negative, including during yesterday’s debate on banking. However, one thing we have managed to do in the past 15 years, as a country and society, is maintain a progressive level of funding and a progressive approach to third level education, for which people are not charged. We regard it as a public, not a private good to be parcelled up and sold to the highest bidder. People are educated based on their ability, rather than on the wealth of their parents.

I am often struck by those who say it is mainly wealthy people or those who have money who are able to avail of free fees. However, whenever the issue of equality in the taxation system is raised, perhaps by taxing more than we do those with greater wealth, the very same individuals recoil from such a suggestion. That is the real contradiction. If we want to have equality, the single, best and most progressive instrument we can use, in terms of income and generally, is the taxation system. We should maintain our free third and second level education systems at the points of delivery to young people. If we cannot educate and give them an opportunity for the future, we will not achieve anything in this country.

Young Scientists Exhibition

January 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Earlier this month, I met some young people from the constituency at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.  The projects were all very impressive.  Above, you see me trying out an exhibit from Andrej Pacher of Rockbrook Park School.  His exhibit was a ‘General Use Augmented Reality Project (GUARP)’.

Below, I meet Kate Lally and Lauren McCauley from St Colmcille’s Community School whose project was entitled ‘The Fear Factor: Who is more daring?’

Special Needs Assistance in danger of ‘a serious backward step’

January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Will the Minister for Education and Science explain why it appears that within the next few days, the system is to lose 1,200 special needs assistants? This has not been denied or confirmed but can we have an indication that the report is wrong? Will Senator Dan Boyle tell us if it is wrong as his colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was on radio no more recently than at the weekend again emphasising the importance of education to the Green Party?

Will the issue be clarified to this House if it cannot be clarified on radio or to anybody else? Special needs assistance is one of the small number of things we have achieved in the past ten or 15 years of prosperity. It is a genuinely progressive step that has occurred in our schools. It would be a most serious backward step for people who are genuinely needed in the system, special needs assistants, to be made redundant at the end of this week or anytime soon. That appears to be what is contemplated by the Department.

The Department’s evaluation paper on these matters, submitted to the Department of Finance, stated in a rather prescient manner that there is a redundancy scheme in place. The document states:

However, removal of SNAs, even on a moderate scale, is likely to result in significant rearguard action by schools. It may result in schools refusing to continue to retain pupils with special needs and will undoubtedly attract significant adverse public and media reaction. Previous experience in the special needs area indicates that even where criteria are not met, removal of resources can be very contentious.

This is a genuinely contentious issue and it should be dealt with in this House.

More :: Department reviewing SNA posts (RTE)

Government should hang head in shame over broken promises to children

January 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

I would to congratulate the Children’s Rights Alliance on their Report Card 2010, published today.

The report shines a light on how the Fianna Fail/ Green Government is meeting their commitments to children, or to be more precise, how they are failing to meet them.

In three of the four headings: health; material wellbeing; and safeguarding children, the government’s performance this year is worse than last year. Only under the heading of education has there been any kind of improvement, and even that is a very modest one.

Safeguarding Children receives a D grade this year, compared to a C grade last year, while Health is downgraded from D- last year to E this year.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the Government’s performance with regard to Material Wellbeing. Their grade has gone from a mediocre C- last year to a shockingly poor E this year. Indeed under every sub-heading of this category; financial support; access to education; access to healthcare and access to housing; Government performance has deteriorated.

In other words, not only are children worse off financially compared to a year ago, they are also finding it more difficult to get access to vital services.

Each time the government rolls out its latest wave of cutbacks – from sacking hundreds of Special Needs Assistants, to slashing Child Benefit, to ending support for homework clubs in disadvantaged areas – they claim that they do so with a heavy heart, and that they have somehow managed to ‘protect the vulnerable’.

Today’s publication gives lie to that and would actually suggest that when it comes to wielding the axe, services for children are seen as very easy targets

Time to talk with childcare providers regarding free pre-school

June 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

Many will be aware that in the recent supplementary budget, the Minister for Finance indicated the Government intends to introduce a scheme of free child care places throughout the State. That announcement was partly welcome. It is proposed that the scheme will be rolled out over the next year or two. The question of how precisely the scheme will work is the subject of serious uncertainty. Although it may have gone against the grain, I was happy to welcome the principle underpinning the announcement that was made in the recent supplementary budget.

I reiterate that my party supports the concept of providing free preschool child care places to children across the State. We need to have clarity about how precisely it will be implemented. Will it be implemented at all? There are many concerns in this regard.

Our only concern relates to the need to ensure that an efficient and accessible childcare scheme is available to children, through their parents. Many child care providers will be expected to step up to the plate, for example by providing sessional care. They have serious concerns about how this scheme will be implemented. The providers’ concerns relate to the level of the subsidy, for example. One might well say that people who are running businesses will always have a concern about subsidies, and that our job is not to bolster individual businesses.

If our objective is to provide childcare places, our job is to talk candidly to the providers and listen carefully to what they are saying about whether it will be possible to implement the scheme that was so enthusiastically announced by the Minister for Finance in the supplementary budget.

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