Written Answers. - Departmental Services Contracts.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

783 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the current position in relation to the renewal of the Department contract with An Post for the delivery of social welfare services which expired on 31 December 1999. [20424/00]

The Government decided that the contract under which An Post supplies payment delivery services to my Department should be extended for a further three years, 2000 to 2002 inclusive.

Certain legal issues regarding the extension of this contract have been raised with the EU Commission which has not yet completed its examination of the matter. I expect that the Commission will complete this process in the reasonably near future, but I am not in a position to give a definite time scale for the completion of this process.

Question No. 784 taken with Question No. 752.

Frances Fitzgerald

Question:

785 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will increase the maternity allowance. [20426/00]

Last year's budget provided for a weekly increase of £4 in the minimum rate of maternity benefit and a £10 increase in the maximum rate. These increases took effect from the beginning of May 2000, four weeks earlier than in previous years.

In line with commitments in the Government's action programme and in the programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has established a working group to review the maternity protection legislation. As entitlement to maternity benefit from my Department is contingent, in the first instance, on the woman qualifying for maternity leave, any changes to the maternity leave arrangements will have a corresponding impact on maternity benefit entitlements.

I understand that the work of the review group is now nearing completion.

All proposals relating to improvements in the maternity benefit scheme, including proposals arising from the current review, will be examined in the context of formulating proposals for the forthcoming budget, having regard to available resources and the Government's other priorities.