Written Answers. - Departmental Telephone Service.

444.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he is aware that claimants for benefit who telephone his Department are being refused information, apparently because of an industrial dispute there; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Civil and Public Services Staff Association, which represents the majority of the staff employed in my Department, placed an embargo on the answering of telephone inquiries in the disability and associated benefits sections with effect from 30 March 1981.

When I became aware of the intention to discontinue this telephone service I had discussions with the association as from 12 March 1981 in an endeavour to have the service continued. They agreed to continue answering the telephones and to review the situation. Following this review the association notified me that on and from 30 March 1981 no telephone inquiries would be accepted in the sections dealing with the payment of disability and associated benefits.

Discussions with the association are continuing with a view to having normal telephone services restored as soon as possible. In the meantime I have had a number of additional telephone extensions provided from the Áras Mhic Dhiarmada switchboard to my private office to deal with queries regarding disability, injury and maternity benefits, which are the only benefits involved.

In the present difficult situation, however, only a restricted service can be given and I would accordingly request that telephone inquiries regarding these benefits be made only in urgent cases. I regret any inconvenience or difficulty caused to benefit claimants and public representatives.