All posts by Editor1

Public Meeting on Plans to Develop the Phoenix Park

I am hosting a public meeting on the proposed strategic review of the Phoenix Park by the Office of Public Works (OPW), on:

Saturday, 30 March at 11am

in the Halfway House, Navan Road

The Phoenix Park plays a central role in the life of Dublin city and is an important public amenity for sporting activity and recreation, as well as being home to vibrant wildlife, flora and fauna. It is also home to a range of important institutions such as Dublin Zoo, An Garda Siochana, and Aras an Uachtarain, The OPW, Failte Ireland and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, commissioned an independent review of the visitor experience of the Park. The ‘Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review’ sets out 29 recommendations and changes to the Park. I believe it is important for all those that value the Phoenix Park, to engage with the review and inform the OPW of observations or suggestions that may have on these proposals.

An exhibition displaying the recommendations on developing the Phoenix Park is currently taking place at the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, Ashtown Demesne, until Friday 5th April. You can make an observation with respect to the draft report, no later than 6pm on 12 April 2019, to visitorpark@opw.ie; or by post to Cathy Mahon, Office of Public Works, Heritage Services, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2, D02 V240.

I have called on the OPW to place the report on public display in libraries and community centres, so that people who use and value the Phoenix Park can engage with the review; and to extend the consultation deadline.

Submission on the Proposed Royal Canal Urban Greenway

Fingal County Council has recently announced plans to develop an Urban Greenway along the Royal Canal that would serve Castleknock, Blanchardstown, Clonsilla, Coolmine and the wider Dublin 15 area. As a long-standing supporter of developing the Canal for leisure, walking and cycling I am pleased to see these proposals from the Council, however the proposed route between Castleknock and Coolmine is unsatisfactory to local residents. I find it unfortunate that local residents were not consulted on the route prior to the publication of plans, as a number of the problems identified with the route could have been dealt with early on.

Residents of Dublin 15 deeply appreciate the Canal and strongly support the improvement of this amenity for walkers and cyclists alike, but the Council must listen to the views of residents and ensure that the Greenway is developed in a way that enhances the areas around the Canal instead of being unwittingly destructive. As part of the public engagement process, I have submitted a letter to the Council outlining the issues I have with the proposed route.

This can be read as follows:

Senior Engineer,

Planning and Strategic Infrastructure Department,

Fingal County Council,

County Hall, Main Street,

Swords,

Co Dublin

To Whom It May Concern,

I wish to make a submission as an elected representative and T.D. for the Dublin West area, on the emerging route for the Royal Canal Greenway. As a public representative and a long-standing supporter of developing the Canal for leisure, walking and cycling to and from the city centre, I find it unfortunate that local residents were not consulted on the route proposed by DBFL Consultants (on behalf of Fingal County Council), as a number of the problems I have identified could have been dealt with early on.

The proposed route between Castleknock and Coolmine is unsatisfactory to local residents and I am requesting the Council to change the route so that the Greenway will proceed on the south side of the Canal, between Granard Bridge and Kirkpatrick Bridge. The proposed route between Castleknock and Coolmine is inappropriate for the following reasons:

 – The Greenway will be running through a stretch of ground on the north side of the Canal, behind Delwood, Bromptom and Roselawn, that is a designated wildlife corridor, and construction on this bank would destroy the habitats of local wildlife, flora and fauna.

 – The Greenway includes plans to open or re-open access ways from existing cul-de-sacs in Delwood, Brompton, Roselawn, and Lambourn, subjecting local residents to a recurrence of the anti-social behaviour they had previously experienced before fighting to have these access points closed many years ago.

 – Opening up quiet cul-de-sacs to a busy Greenway creates serious risk to the safety of children playing on the local roads of Delwood, Brompton, Roselawn, and Lambourn.

 – Excessive parking is likely to occur on the roads of Brompton, Delwood, Roselawn, Glenville, and Woodview, as commuters use local residential roads as an alternative to the paid park and ride facility at Coolmine train station.

 – Several of the properties along the proposed route either back onto the Greenway or have been extended onto the Greenway. Many of these were legally acquired from OPW/CIE.

 – The Greenway would overlook homes in Delwood Park in an intrusive and unacceptable fashion, The “mound” at the rear of the Delwood Park houses backing onto the Canal is roughly the same height as the top of the garden walls; a walkway here would completely overlook and look down on the back of these gardens in an unacceptably intrusive way.

These issues can be avoided by running the Greenway along the south side of the Canal as far as Kirkpatrick Bridge. I am asking the Council to prepare an amended plan under Section 8 of the Planning and Development Act to ensure that the Greenway follows a route along the south side of the Canal up to Kirkpatrick Bridge. This had been the proposal from the feasibility report (Atkins Proposal) completed in 2012.

It is also not clear whether An Garda Siochana have been consulted in relation to the proposals, but I can attest that when the north side of the Canal was open between these points it became infamous for severe anti-social behaviour. Once the north side was closed off and planted as it is today, these problems disappeared, but before that many of the residents’ lives had been made a misery. If the Council wants evidence on this, it can be easily verified.

In addition, there is no evidence that an environmental impact study was carried out on the proposed route. The north of the Canal is a wildlife habitat for many species, flora and fauna, this includes protected species.

The proposals contain no detailed cost implications but given the structure of the Canal, I believe it is likely the proposals will be expensive to implement. I believe all the objectives of the Greenway can be achieved by upgrading and improving the south bank of the Canal, for the same or for less than the cost of the current proposals.

If there are significant funds being made available for the Greenway, I believe that a better usage of the funds would be to build a pedestrian bridge in the vicinity of the Royal Canal Amenity Group building that would give access to St Catherines Park. This would give safe pedestrian access to an area where pedestrian facilities and cycle facilities are now very limited, due to the number and speed of cars in the area. This would also link the River Liffey and the Canal, and massively extend walking and cycling facilities in the area.

Residents of Dublin 15 and Dublin 7 deeply appreciate the Canal and strongly support the improvement of the Canal, however I urge the Council to listen to the views of residents and ensure that the Greenway is developed in a way that enhances the amenity of the Canal instead of being unwittingly destructive.

Yours Sincerely,

Joan Burton TD

Lobbying for Bank Bonuses Must Be Resisted

Labour Finance spokesperson Joan Burton has called on the Minister for Finance to stand firm against growing pressure from banking lobbyists and investors to lift the bonus and wage caps in State owned banks.

Deputy Burton also called for clarification on any proposed future share of sales in AIB.

Deputy Burton said:

“A report from Bloomberg based on a Freedom of Information request, revealed Minister for Finance Pascal Donohue has yet again come under pressure to lift a 500,000euro pay cap for bankers employed in State owned and bailed out banks.

“This pressure from large institutional investors led by Deutsche Bank and five other groups would appear to be part of concerted efforts to lift the pay caps in place to benefit already well paid senior staff. A review is currently underway, but we don’t yet know when that will be published, but obviously the Government is under huge pressure to drop the pay cap.

“These State imposed measures which include a tax of 89% on bonus payments exceeding 20,000euro, came into force following the 2008 bank guarantee which cost the Irish taxpayer 64.1billion euro.

“The Minister must hold his nerve. Any softening of the current Government stance would act as a slap in the face to the Irish people when the consequences of the bailout are still with us.

“It would be completely unacceptable for state owned banks to start paying out bonuses and salaries of more than half a million euro. We can’t afford to go back to those days again.

“The news that the Minister is committed to selling down bank shares over a series of transactions also needs to be clarified. When does the Minister intend to start selling shares in AIB again?

“The Programme for a Partnership Government only committed to selling 25% of AIB and that the shareholdings would be held in the best interests of the Irish people. AIB is set to pay dividend of 461million euro this year, and 29% of that has been lost to the state after last year’s share sell off which the Dail voted against.

“The Labour Party has previously called for these shares to be retained and dividends reinvested in Ireland rather than using it to pay down debt. AIB and Bank of Ireland were bailed out from proceeds of the National Pension Reserve Fund. Any windfalls should be placed back into its successor, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and the pay caps retained until the legacy of the crash is dealt with.”

Provision of Training for Educators of Children with ASD

Speaking recently in the Dáil, I questioned the Department of Education over the lack of training provided by the Department to educators of vulnerable children with Austism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Teachers are often left to train at their own expense on courses related to teaching children with autism, but do not receive the recognition they deserve from the Department.

There is a lack of a clear career path for teachers and no recognition for these teachers as a specific stream in education. When I have raised these issues before with the Department of Education, it has passed it to the Teaching Council, which is locked in a tight model where it only recognises four streams of teaching: Primary, Secondary, Montessori and other, and Further Education. It is a rigid structure, and there is no mention of children with autism or particular special needs.

In Dublin 15, we have a relatively high number of schools, especially at primary level but increasingly at secondary level, where children are in ASD classes. There is also a broad agreement to develop an ASD-specific school in the Dublin 15, Dublin 7 and Dublin West area because of the numbers of children effectively in part-time education at present and, in some cases, not in education at all.

With regard to ASD classes, if teachers are taken out of the general primary teaching stream at primary level but have no specific training, notwithstanding their intense commitment to the children, it may not produce the best outcome for children. We need to work out how we facilitate appropriate training for people who are going to take up positions as teachers in ASD classes or in ASD specific schools. It is for the Minister for Education to provide leadership in respect of the Teaching Council.

I understand that when the Teaching Council was established, this may have been an area which did not receive any particular attention. Now that we know that this is an issue, we need to address how we are going to provide for recognition for people who have trained in the ASD area and how to provide the most appropriate and best education for children who have autism and ASD issues. From the point of view of people who want to teach children who are autistic or who are on the autism spectrum, we have to recognize this is a specialised area of teaching and that the current setup of the Teaching Council does not fully recognize this.

After questioning the Department of Education on these issues, the Minister of State at the Department  in his reply said:

“Inclusive education is a fundamental principle of our education and training system. This principle is put into practice in the policies of the Department and the Teaching Council. Under the Teaching Council Act 2001, all initial teacher education programmes in Ireland that lead to registration must have professional accreditation from the Teaching Council. The mandatory requirements for accreditation are set out in criteria and guidelines for programme providers. Under these criteria, student teachers in all accredited programmes are required to undertake study in inclusive education, including special education. This applies to all primary and post-primary teachers. The Teaching Council is carrying out a review of the impact of the current programmes with a view to amending the criteria and guidelines before the next round of accreditation commences in 2020.

“The Department published Guidelines for Schools: Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs for primary and post-primary in 2017. These provide guidance to schools on the use, organization and deployment of additional teaching resources for students with special educational needs, including students with autism. In addition to developing and reviewing their whole-school policies in the education and inclusion of students with special education needs, schools should also be proactive in meeting the continuing professional development, CPD, needs of their teachers.

“The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, support service delivers a range of professional development initiatives and support for teachers working with students with special educational needs, including autism. Moreover, all of the Department’s support services, such as the professional development service for teachers, are required by the Department to have regards to the individual needs of all learners in designing and delivering CPD for teachers.”

Supply of Medicines in the Context of Brexit

I recently questioned the Minister for Health in the Dáil about his plans to ensure an uninterrupted supply of medicines in the context of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. I urged him to ensure that patients do not suffer any disruption to their treatments, and I pushed him on what his plans were to safeguard supplies.

In his response to my questioning, the Minister in his reply said:

“As part of the overall Government response to Brexit, my Department is working on a comprehensive and coordinated set of actions to ensure, as far as possible, continuity of supply of medicines in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.

“Significant work has been undertaken by my Department, the HSE, and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), together with medicines manufacturers and suppliers, to ensure that risks to the continuity of supply are mitigated to the greatest possible extent.

“The Department of Health, HSE and HPRA do not anticipate an immediate impact on medicine supplies should there be a no-deal Brexit on 29 March. There are already additional stocks of medicines routinely built into the Irish medicine supply chain, and these additional stocks, together with planning by Revenue to allow the fast-tracking of essential drugs into Ireland, where necessary, will help deal with any delays that may arise.

“It is important to note that there is no need for hospitals, pharmacists or patients to order extra quantities of medicines, or for doctors to issue additional prescriptions. To do so could disrupt existing stock levels and hamper the supply of medicines for other patients.

“In 2018, the HPRA developed and launched a multi-stakeholder Medicine Shortages Framework to anticipate and manage medicine shortages when they occur. The health system is therefore well placed to anticipate and respond to any additional shortages, should they arise because of Brexit.

“As an additional safeguard, my Department requested that consideration be given to those categories of medicines which are considered most essential to public health, including compounded chemotherapy treatments. As a result, HSE and HPRA technical experts are undertaking a process to verify the contingency planning in place for the continuity of supply of medicines essential to public health, in order to determine those medicines that have the potential to be vulnerable to supply disruption and, where necessary, identify clinically appropriate alternatives. Work on this process is ongoing and will continue in the months before and after Brexit.

“Both the HPRA and HSE have been in contact with manufacturers and suppliers to verify capacity, availability of raw materials and consumables, and contingency planning for supply routes of finished products. To date, no major issues have been identified this process.”

Action Needed on Autism Specific School for Dublin 15

A survey of Primary and Secondary School Principals in Dublin 15 by a group of parents and professionals campaigning for an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Specific School has confirmed what parents already knew, that the educational and developmental needs of some of the most vulnerable children are not being met in ASD classes in mainstream schools.

The survey revealed that 68% of Principals surveyed believe that they have children who are in an inappropriate educational setting and that at least 54 of these children would be better placed in an Autism Specific School that caters for preschool, primary and secondary school age children.

Deputy Burton said:

“As one of the TDs for Dublin West, I have attended numerous meetings with parents frustrated with local services for children with complex needs. Dublin 15 and Dublin 7 has a large population of families with young children who urgently require an autistic specific school, this is something the Taoiseach has acknowledged, but has so far failed to act upon. An autistic specific school needs to be established before the beginning of the next academic year. Hopefully the results of this survey will help speed up this process.

“I will continue to push the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Skills on these issues in order to ensure parents do not face the prospect of another year of stress and uncertainty in attempting to find an appropriate education for their vulnerable child.”

Proposed Royal Canal Urban Greenway

Fingal County Council has recently announced plans to develop an Urban Greenway along the Royal Canal that would serve Castleknock, Blanchardstown, Clonsilla, Coolmine and the wider Dublin 15 area. The Urban Greenway would aim to protect and enhance the existing environment along the canal, and would offer an attractive alternative transport choice for local school children and commuters.

Fingal County Council are now welcoming comments from local residents on the plans, and will be holding a public engagement process from Monday 25th February to Friday 22nd March. As part of this process, there will be a public information day in the Atrium of Blanchardstown Civic Offices on Tuesday 5th March from 11:30am to 7:30pm.

While I am pleased to see these proposals from the Council and believe it will bring significant environmental, economic and health benefits to the community, local residents have to be given a say in the route of the greenway. I encourage all those interested in the greenway to attend the public information day, and to let me know their views.

Additional Prefab Accommodation at Pelletstown Education Together NS

At a recent meeting of Pelletstown Educate Together National School, I undertook to the parents and teachers that were present at the very pack meeting that I would raise the urgent need to obtain additional prefabs on the current temporary site of school before the next academic year in September. Pelletstown Educate Together National School has proven a very successful school so far and has been great in terms of helping to give local children a head start in life, and has provided a community base for the entire locality.

I later questioned the Department of Education over the issue of prefabs and I urged the Minister to get the permanent school building underway as quickly as possible at the designated permanent site. I think it is very obvious to anyone that knows the area that has been a very significant expansion in the child population. It seems at times however, that the Department of Education has not done its homework to find out on the ground how many children that are looking for places in local schools.

In his response to my questioning, the Minister in his reply said:

“In September 2019, the school will require additional interim accommodation. Officials at my Department are very aware of the additional accommodation requirements of the school and work is ongoing to ensure that there will be sufficient suitable additional accommodation available to the school for September 2019.

“The Department has been seeking the landlord’s permission to install the two prefabs which will be required for September 2019. The landlord has recently given consent and the Department is currently working on the planning application which will be lodged with Dublin City Council shortly.

“With regard to the permanent school building project for Pelletstown Educate Together NS, I am pleased to advise that the Department has secured the permanent site for the school and planning permission has been lodged with Dublin City Council. Providing the planning process runs smoothly and no issue arise, the project is scheduled to be on site in Quarter 2 of 2019. It is intended that construction will take place in a manner to allow for a phased handover of sufficient accommodation to meet the schools need by the end of January 2020. Phase 2 of the project is expected to be ready for Quarter 2 of 2020.

“The Department is in regular contact with and holds monthly meetings with the school Patron Body in relation to this and a number of other projects under their remit and will continue to keep the schools Patron Body fully informed of progress.”

Dail Eireann Debate – Report of Joint Committee on Education and Skills: Motion

Speaking recently in the Dail on the ‘Report on Training and Supports for Providers of Special Needs Education and Education in DEIS Schools,’ Labour TD for Dublin West, Joan Burton, thanked the Joint Committee on Education and Skills for producing this very valuable report, and commended all the people who work in special needs schools and in schools, as well as the genuine efforts being made to integrate children.

Deputy Burton said:

“Parents want their small child with special needs, to be mainstreamed into our educational system with other children as far as possible. That is understandable and good but definitely require appropriate nursing and clinical support. There needs to be cooperation between the medical and social services and the schools.

“Many issues involving a child with sever behavioural issues go to board level for action and I am concerned about this. The behavioural issues may be very severe and may involve actual or perceived threats to staff or other children in the school. This can sometimes result in the child effectively being excluded from school. We need to think about such exclusions because this is a difficult issue for everybody. Boards of management and patrons of schools should be specifically included in training opportunities.

“Nobody wants to see children being expelled from school or being excluded. In the UK, many children are being excluded from school and much subsequent analysis suggests that some of those children have behavioural issues that could be helped were they to receive expert help. Equally, no one wants parents to be told that their child can only be in school for an hour, that a parent has to be on the premises ready to intervene, should that be required, or be available to stay in the school if the child cannot be taken home. I like the idea of a nursing presence.

“I also am aware of a number of children who have transitioned from primary school and are now in their first year of secondary school. They are on the autism spectrum but also have difficult behavioural issues. In Castleknock, there has been no prescribing consultant psychiatrist in the Child and Adult Mental Health Service, CAHMS, panic attacks or other severe behavioural issues cannot be prescribed the medicine that may be essential to him or her to help manage his or her behaviour while attending school. The medicine prescribed can have important effects on the lives of both the child and his or her family. We are just developing knowledge in this area and not every school has access to this knowledge.

“Parents raise another issue with me all of the time. Children, in Dublin and elsewhere, are obliged to go on long bus journeys everyday. Some children may like and enjoy that. It is, however, very demanding on a child on the ASD spectrum who might have particular sensitivities to lights, movement, noise or traffic, to have to be on a bus for an hour or an hour and a half twice a day. I am sure it is something the educational experts have factored in. Parents usually welcome their child being in a special school but it is a very long journey.

“As Minister for Social Protection, I carried out a review, with the chief medical officer of the Department, on the domiciliary care allowance. It was changed at the time to specifically include the behavioural disorders that many of us have only learned of in relatively recent years. I am not sure those behavioural disorders are fully accounted for and recognised by the Department of Education and Skills. Behavioural issues, therefore, need some expert attention.

“I return to my experience in the then Department of Social Protection during the examination of the domiciliary care allowance. By consulting with various people with great experience in the field in a range of different countries, it was possible to make vast improvements in who qualified for the allowance. That took some of the pressure off of the families and gave them acknowledged support. I think the same thing is happening in the area of schools. We are at the beginning of further and better developments. I know many special needs assistants (SNAs). They give enormous support to children and are very important in the life of a school, both for the other children and for the school staff. There should be a focus on providing much more training capacity and opportunities to SNAs because many of us are aware of the great care they give to children.

“I refer also to school secretaries and the care they too give to children and to children with special needs in particular. If they can be included in the positive developments to come, that would pay major dividends in developing our understanding of how, as a society, we can best respond to special needs. That would be to everybody’s benefit.”

Introduction of Bill to Provide Legal Certainty for Informal Adoptions

Labour TD for Dublin West, Joan Burton, has introduced in the Dáil her Informal Adoptions (Regularisation) Bill 2019, which if passed into law would provide legal certainty following the illegal registration of informal adoptions where a false birth certificate was issued.

Introducing the Bill, Deputy Burton said:

“Adoption was first introduced to Ireland and regulated by the Adoption Act 1952. There was no lawful adoption in Ireland before 1952 and for a period after 1952 there was a widespread practice of informal adoption. Sometimes that took place within the wider family and sometimes through the aegis of a church or other voluntary agencies such as St. Patrick’s Guild.

“In May 2018, 126 cases of illegal registrations were finally confirmed by Tusla following analysis of files from St Patrick’s Guild. In those cases the adoptive parents were incorrectly registered as the birth parents on the birth certificates between 1946 and 1969. Instead of applying under the Act and registering with the Adoption Authority, infant children were simply transferred directly into the hands of their adoptive parents.

“The information provided to register the births was false and the children were as a result given false birth certificates, as the children of the adopting couple. That is where the illegal registration occurred. That generation of children are now in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s. They are without the benefit of a valid adoption order and their status within their families is legally uncertain.

“To date, the Minister has not indicated what legislative action will be taken to address the illegal registrations and to provide legal certainty to those affected.

“Under this Bill, where documentation is available and an individual desires a valid adoption, a person who was informally adopted could apply to the Circuit Court for a declaration of adoption. If satisfied with the evidence presented, the court may make a declaration that the applicant is deemed to have been validly adopted on a particular date. The Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths will then cancel the false birth certificate while the Adoption Authority of Ireland will issue a valid adoption certificate.

“The second remedy deals with individuals who may have been told and had believed that they were indeed that natural children of those who reared them as their parents. They had no reason to believe they were adopted, regularly or irregularly. There may be no surviving records to enable them to trace the original parties to this informal arrangement. The Bill would change the rules of evidence to protect those who wish to preserve what they had considered to be the status quo.

“The Minister is offering social workers to people in their 40’s, 50’s, 60s or 70s so that they can pursue the issue. These people do not need social workers. They need a fairly simple court process to regularise their status. It is the children of today who are homeless who need the attention and support of social workers.”