I propose to take Questions Nos. 143, 144, 151, 779 and 781 together.
The supplementary welfare allowance, SWA, scheme is administered on my Department's behalf by the health boards. An interdepartmental committee is currently reviewing the scheme as part of my Department's series of programme evaluations.
Two health board officers, from the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the Mid-Western Health Board, were nominated to the working group by the health boards. Both have extensive experience in this area, having worked in the community welfare service for many years.
Both SIPTU and IMPACT have indicated that they wish to be represented on the interdepartmental committee that is undertaking the review. As Deputies will be aware, it is not normal practice to have trade union representatives on interdepartmental committees that are preparing policy proposals for consideration by Government. In the circumstances, this request was not granted.
However, there is no question of unions being excluded from this review. On the contrary, the unions representing community welfare staff, SIPTU and IMPACT, were invited to make a submission to the working group last June. This was received last week. In addition, they have been and will continue to be consulted directly at specially convened meetings by my officials during the review. The most recent such meeting took place on 6 September 2000 and the next is scheduled for 29 November 2000.
The current review is a fundamental appraisal of the scheme aimed at improving customer service and administrative efficiency. It also provides an opportunity to refocus the scheme, and the health boards' community welfare service of which it is part, to become more effective in tackling poverty and social exclusion.
I expect that the proposals of the interdepartmental committee will be finalised by the end of next year and I am confident that they will address any uncertainty or low morale in the community welfare service.