Thursday, 19 June 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I am grateful for the opportunity of raising this matter and I expect the Minister of State to be as outraged as I am about this incredible blow to integration. Last Thursday, 40 teachers and four support staff were told the language and integration service they had been providing to over 3,000 people who had arrived in Ireland over the last couple of years would be suspended. As a result the 44 employees have been served with redundancy notices. The Department of Education and Science did not consult with the staff on this and neither has it provided alternative services. Instead, in its rather dishonest press release, it suggested:
What in fact happened was that the Department of Education and Science told the board that it was not going to fund IILT any more. The board had no option but to fold and give its employees redundancy notices. The press release from the Department continued:
That is not in place either, so the existing system, which looked after 907 people in 2006 alone, and 3,000 over the last four years, employing 44 people — with technical information and a website that was being used and appreciated in about nine centres throughout the country — is closed down, with no notice to staff and without an alternative service being put in place. The former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, had suggested that since the OPW had sold the property in which IILT’s headquarters was located, it was to move to a school. The original headquarters had been at the veterinary college in Ballsbridge which was sold to private developers, as one might expect from the Government. The then Minister announced in 2007 that IILT would be moving to Greendale comprehensive school. In February 2008 the staff had been invited to look at the new headquarters. Then last Thursday they were called in to be told the service was gone, their jobs were no more and they would get statutory redundancy. That is integration — close down the service before a replacement is put in place. The different materials and aids that IILT had been using so successfully are to be transmitted to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, and in time they will go somewhere else.
I believe the Minister of State knows very well that the service which was being provided was at five levels, and was not only about language. It was about being in a new country and how to read, as it were, the demands of a new situation. There was a long history to all of this. It would have been very interesting, for example, to provide that in the short term the service could be continued while the mainstreamed alternative was being put in place. However, that is not happening. There is no sign of the mainstreamed alternative. There is neither a better nor equal alternative.
In all of these circumstances, one should bear in mind that the Irish Refugee Council is in support of what I am saying and in terms of expressing horror at this. One should remember whom we are talking about. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’s newly arrived placement refugees will receive in the interim no language or integration training as a result of this disastrous and undemocratic decision last Thursday.
Deputy Conor Lenihan: I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House my Department’s position regarding the mainstreaming of the English language tuition service for adult refugees which has to date been provided by Integrate Ireland Language and Training Ltd.
IILT is a non-profit campus company of Trinity College Dublin which was established in 2001 to co-ordinate language training for adult refugees with the support of the Department of Education and Science. Since then IILT has provided direct English language tuition to adult refugees, primarily in the greater Dublin area and increasingly in recent years in a number of outreach centres around the country. At any one time it had approximately 450 students receiving English language tuition. IILT in the past also provided some in-service seminars to language support teachers in schools, although the company ceased providing such seminars in mid-2007. The Department is currently exploring other options to provide in-service for English language support teachers in primary and post-primary schools.
IILT approached the Department of Education and Science earlier this year with a proposal to withdraw from direct tuition, except for provision for programme refugees, and requested that the Department mainstream direct tuition within the education system. I assure the Deputy that this was an approach by IILT itself, not a move initiated by the Department. This is a request the Department is happy to agree to at this time as it accords with the overall approach to provision of services to migrants as set out in Migration Nation, a statement on integration strategy and diversity management recently launched by me, as Minister of State with responsibility for integration.
Following the withdrawal of IILT from direct provision and from in-service seminars, the Department has decided to redirect the funding for these activities to other providers. The Irish Vocational Education Association has confirmed that it is happy to co-operate and collaborate with the Department of Education and Science in delivery of necessary English language services. The VEC sector has already developed best practice in ESOL provision. The sector is providing English language services for those whose first language is not English. At present services are provided to over 12,000 people annually, which makes a mockery of claims made in some quarters that the VEC system is not capable of carrying out this task.
Deputy Conor Lenihan: A further advantage of mainstreaming such provision through this sector is the fact that the VECs have a nationwide network that can readily provide classes across the country using their facilities in schools and centres.
The learning and support materials already developed by IILT will transfer to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment which will ensure that they continue to be available to schools and ELS teachers throughout the primary and post-primary system. These materials are currently available on IILT’s website and I assure the Deputy that they will continue to be available in that way until suitable alternative arrangements are put in place.
Deputy Conor Lenihan: IILT, which is a limited company registered under the Companies Acts, will commence the process of voluntary liquidation and will cease operations on 31 July. As part of this process, the staff members will receive their statutory redundancy entitlements.
Deputy Conor Lenihan: I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and point out that this decision to put language provision on a sustainable long-term footing is both timely and appropriate and fully consistent with the overall approach as set out in Migration Nation, the document I published some weeks ago. Delivery of these services is being mainstreamed and there is no loss of funding for such services whatsoever.
Deputy Conor Lenihan: I appeal to those who I understand are planning a protest march in Dublin tomorrow on this issue to call the protest off. There are channels for dealing with the issues that arise here.
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