A new mechanism comes into force today to deal with teachers who are accused of misconduct.

The so-called 'Fitness to Teach' provisions will give the Teaching Council the means, much like the Medical Council does, to adjudicate on complaints related to the professional conduct of teachers.

Complaints will be possible under a number of headings, including professional misconduct or poor performance.

The Department of Education says complaints will continue to be dealt with first at school level.

However it says that while, in general, local procedures should be exhausted first, the Teaching Council will be able to proceed earlier to an inquiry, where there are good and sufficient reasons.

Where inquiries are initiated, they will normally be held in public.

Sanctions include suspension or removal from the Teaching Register.

This means a teacher found guilty of serious misconduct would no longer be able to work in a recognised school.

Sanctions include being barred from teaching again.

These 'Fitness to Teach' provisions are contained in existing legislation but they had yet to be signed-off on, and are being started by Minister for Education Richard Bruton.

Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland, Mr Bruton described the mechanism as part of a wider move to help parents and students be better informed and have more opportunities to be heard.

The Director of the Teaching Council has said the legislation is a compliment to the process that already exists in the system.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Tomás Ó Ruairc said that if parents are not happy with the outcome of those processes already in place the complaint will then go to the Teaching Council.

He said there are three areas in which complaints can be referred to the Teaching Council - professional misconduct, professional competence, and medical fitness.

He said the provision of the legislation says that the hearings will be held by default in public, but there will be exceptions. He said it is modelled on the legislation of the Medical Council.

Deputy General Secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Diarmaid de Paor has said he hopes that meetings would be held in private because, even in cases where teachers were exonerated, a cloud would follow them if accusations were made public.

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office welcomed the introduction of the fitness to teach provision.

Head of Participation and Education at the Ombudsman for Children’s Office Dr Karen McAuley said: "Promoting good complaints-handling practice in schools is a key objective for the Ombudsman for Children’s Office as laid out in our Strategic Plan 2016-2018...

"We want to see effective complaint handling practices affecting children and young people so that any issues can be dealt with as quickly as possible in the best interests of the child."