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Cabinet to hear recommendations over school transport

Minister for Education Norma Foley will this morning update Government on a review of the school transport scheme, which carries 160,000 students.

The new study recommends that school transport should be made available to more students.

Difficulties in finding more buses and drivers mean that the rules of the scheme will not change in the next school year.

However, big changes could be on the way in the years ahead depending on funding.

The Cabinet will hear that this includes scrapping the rule where students must choose the school nearest their home to get State-funded transport.

There could also be moves to make transport available to primary school students who live just 1km from a school.

The current requirement is that these students must live 3.2km from a school to qualify for the scheme and it would most likely be first reduced to a 2km distance.

Post-primary students must live 4.8km from their place of education to get school transport, and this could also be cut to 2km.

The transport fees, which stand at €50 for primary students and €75 for those attending secondary school, along with a €125 cap for families, will remain unchanged for the next school year.

The review also highlighted the environmental benefits of the school transport scheme in reducing the number of individual car journeys and lowering emissions.

Almost 200,000 avail of free contraception

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly will tell Cabinet that almost 200,000 women availed of free contraception in the first ten months of 2023.

Free contraception is available for women aged 17-31 and the Minister will update Government on the latest figures which show that more than 198,000 women availed of it between January and October 2023.

More than 2,400 GPs and 2,050 pharmacies are providing the service.

A Government progress report on women’s health initiatives shows that six regional fertility hubs now provide access to publicly-funded assisted human reproduction treatment including IVF, ICSI and IUI.

A total of 17 of the 19 maternity hospitals are providing full termination of pregnancy services, as prescribed in the 2018 Act, with services commencing in the final two hospitals this year.

Some 16 same-day ‘See-and-Treat’ ambulatory gynaecology clinics are fully operational with four more opening in 2024 and six specialist menopause clinics have opened.

Two specialist endometriosis centres for complex care have been established, along with five regional hubs.

Five new postnatal hubs are now open, giving women access to postnatal care in community settings.

A new National Perinatal Genomics Service has been established to ensure women have access to critical testing both during pregnancy, and in planning for future pregnancies.

Adult literacy memo

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris will also bring a memo to Cabinet outlining a number of measures to be taken in 2024 to improve adult literacy.

Mr Harris will confirm that his department will fund 38 staff members across Government departments and agencies, Education and Training Boards, public, health and community services and non-governmental organisations to become plain language editors.

The aim is to ensure information provided by Government is accessible to all.

Mr Harris will tell Government colleagues that 25% of adults in Ireland struggle with basic addition and subtraction or working out a discount.

He will say that access to numeracy literacy needs will be a focus in 2024.

Meanwhile, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman will seek Government approval to appoint the Special Advocate for Survivors.

This person will function as an independent advocate for survivors of Magdalene Laundries, Industrial and Reformatory Schools and Mother and Baby Homes.

It follows a commitment made as part of the Mother and Baby Home Action Plan.

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