Topical Issue Debate

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue for the Topical Issue Debate and welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, who will take it. Next week is the closing date for the single payment forms and there is a certain amount of anxiety in my area of west Galway, in particular in Connemara, in regard to the changes in the stocking rate eligibility for the disadvantaged areas scheme, that is, the increase from 0.15 to 0.3 livestock units per hectare. I have explained to many people at IFA meetings and elsewhere that there is an appeals mechanism and that for areas of Connemara and for farmers in Connermara who are farming commage land, SAC or other designated land and, indeed, environmentally sensitive land that a lower stocking rate will be allowed, that is, lower than the 0.3 livestock units per hectare. Will the Minister of State provide that reassurance to farmers in Connemara that this appeals mechanism is there?

In terms of a time line, I am concerned that applications from farmers caught between the 0.15 and 0.3 livestock units per hectare will be left and that it will be Christmas before they receive payments. They need to be fast-tracked in some way over the summer to ensure these delays do not take place in the autumn.

Last Thursday my constituency colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív, made comments that what should have happened to save money was that certain dairy farmers should have been excluded from eligibility for the disadvantaged areas scheme. He said large dairy farmers but he did not specify what he meant by "large". There are no dairy farmers in Connemara but there are many in east Galway and the eastern part of west Galway in good farming areas such as Athenry, Carnmore, Oranmore, Turloughmore and Claregalway. I am hugely concerned that this is Deputy Ó Cuív's view. Dairy farmers should be reassured that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and this Government will protect those farmers in terms of receiving their disadvantaged areas scheme payments.

Deputy Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine ( Shane McEntee)

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and if there is any question I cannot answer, I will come back to him. The changes to the rules governing the 2012 disadvantaged areas scheme have recently been published by my Department. I can also confirm that booklets outlining the terms and conditions of the 2012 scheme are being issued to all farmers with DAS-designated land. However, as these proposals have yet to be approved by the EU Commission, they may be subject to change. That said, however, it should be appreciated that should this prove to be the case, the changes will not impose any additional obligations on farmers in 2012.

In so far as the specific issue of the stocking rates and the appeals mechanism, as mentioned by the Deputy, is concerned, I can confirm that the requirements under the 2012 scheme are as follows. In the first instance, an applicant is required to have met a stocking density in 2011, for three consecutive months, of 0.3 livestock units per forage hectare. Thereafter, while the minimum stocking density remains at 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare for 2012, the applicant must meet the minimum stocking requirement for six consecutive months during the scheme year. In addition, the applicant is also required to meet an annual stocking density average of 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare, which will be calculated over the 12 months of the scheme year.

However, specific provision is being made for those farmers who had a stocking density less than 0.3 livestock units per forage hectare in 2011 where that lower stocking density was as a result of adherence to a lower stocking requirement of an agri-environmental measure such as a commonage framework de-stocking plan, the rural environmental protection scheme or the agri-environment options scheme. All applicants whose stocking density was below 0.3 livestock units per forage hectare in 2011 will be written to formally by my Department and given the opportunity to apply for a derogation on the grounds that his or her participation in one of the above measures resulted in the lower stocking density. The principles offorce majeure-exceptional circumstances will be provided for in the process. Provision will also be made for new entrants to farming. This process will be commenced as soon as the EU Commission makes a formal decision on the proposed changes to Ireland’s rural development programme, including the disadvantaged areas scheme.

An increasing number of applicants under the scheme have discontinued cattle or sheep farming, but have continued to benefit from aid under the scheme by grazing some horses on their land. It is proposed that horses will no longer be eligible for the stocking density calculation on the basis that these applicants' contribution to the rural economy is minimal. However, equine breeding enterprises will continue to be eligible on the basis of the contribution they make to the local economy. My officials have engaged with horse industry representatives and have agreed on criteria that will mean that those equine breeding enterprises, irrespective of their size, that are making a valuable contribution to the local economy will continue to receive support.

It is widely recognised that the disadvantaged areas scheme is an important one, as the total area designated as disadvantaged is almost 75% of Ireland's total land area. From an economic perspective, the scheme is particularly significant and contributes to the support of in excess of 100,000 farm families, whose ability to farm is restricted by the physical environment and, in particular, the impact of the prevailing wet, cold climate conditions.

The budgeted expenditure under the 2012 scheme will be reduced from €220 million to €190 million. To achieve this €30 million saving, it is proposed to introduce specified changes to the scheme's eligibility criteria for 2012. The savings will be achieved without the need to reduce the existing rates of aid and, in addition, there will also be no reduction in the maximum area payable, that is, 34 hectares.

The proposed changes are designed to ensure that the payments under the scheme are focused on farmers who farm exclusively in disadvantaged areas, make a significant contribution to the maintenance of a viable rural community and contribute to the enhancement of the environment. My firm intention is that the aid should be focused on those farmers whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in less favourable areas and who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the scheme.

I thank the Minister of State for his comments and I welcome the decision not to reduce the rate of payment or the qualifying hectares for the scheme. In 2009, the last Government reduced payments to all farmers under the disadvantaged areas scheme and many farmers in Connemara with large hectarages of poor quality land endured reductions of more than €1,000.

I also welcome the Minister of State's remark that farmers will be written to formally by his Department and given an opportunity to apply for derogations on the grounds that their participation in one of the measures in question resulted in lowering their stocking rates. It is important that this be done as soon as possible. The sooner they are written to and told that they can apply for derogations because of restrictions under commonage framework plans or the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, or because they farm in sensitive areas, the sooner they can submit their responses and the more likely it is that their payments will issue in the autumn without delay and in time with payments to other farmers.

I have little to say in response. The Minister and I are committed to encouraging and paying farmers to farm. The stocking rate will make a difference to the amount of stock that farmers can carry and to the environment itself. That there are few animals in some of the areas to which the Deputy referred has caused problems, for example, forestry and gorse fires. The proposed changes will help. In terms of the CAP proposals, we want to get our way, look after farmers who want to farm and protect those in less advantaged areas.

Litter Pollution

In one of my first contributions in the Dáil, I asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to investigate the possibility of banning the sale of drinks in glass containers from off-licences. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, agreed to consider the suggestion. Unfortunately, he discovered that an EU directive prevented him from implementing it. I am now approaching the problem from a different direction.

Would it be possible to introduce a system - in the case of glass, reintroduce a system - of providing refunds? If people bought bottles of beer, they could return them once they were empty and receive refunds. In some countries on the Continent, for example, Germany, the practice is to return plastic bottles. The plastic used there is much stronger than the type we use, making it possible to clean and reuse them without breaking them down. It should be possible to do the same in Ireland. Would it be possible to provide refunds in respect of aluminium cans? Doing so might be more problematic, but I would be interested in the Minister of State's response.

I am not trying to pretend that this would be the entire solution to our litter problem. In these difficult economic times, however, it would encourage people who discard these receptacles in public places not to do so. It would also encourage people to collect receptacles. Perhaps this is just a straw in the wind. I was asked to raise the issue a couple of weeks ago by the local Clondalkin Tidy Towns committee. In Clondalkin and the neighbouring areas of Palmerstown and Lucan, there are growing numbers of groups that are trying to set up tidy district committees with some considerable success. There is a long tradition of this in rural areas and villages, but it is more difficult to organise in a city. A measure along the lines of what I have proposed would help the committees. People would become less likely to discard their rubbish and, if they did, others who collected it would receive payment. I thank everyone who gets involved in tidy district initiatives in such a selfless way.

My suggestion would have a number of advantages for my community and the country generally. It would help to tidy up the country and would constitute a green move, in that glass, plastic and aluminium could be more effectively recycled. It would help to boost tourism, given the fact that litter and dirt are the most persistent causes of complaints among tourists. Life would be much easier for sports people and everyone who uses open public areas.

I thank Deputy Dowds for raising this issue. The 2010 national litter pollution monitoring system report indicated that glass and plastic containers accounted for 2.86% of the country's national litter composition. Directive 94/62/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on packaging and packaging waste, termed the packaging directive, classifies items such as bottles, drink cans and plastic containers as packaging. The packaging directive is based on the concept of producer responsibility, which effectively requires producers to contribute to the waste management costs of products that they have placed on the market.

Under the directive, Ireland's requirement to achieve a 60% recovery rate for packaging waste in 2011 has already been exceeded and, in 2010, a recovery rate of 74% was achieved. The material-specific recycling targets of 60% for glass, 50% for metals and 22.5% for plastics had also been achieved by 2010, with recycling rates of 78%, 63% and 39%, respectively.

I fully recognise that, despite progress on recycling, we need to continue to improve our performance, which is the Deputy's point. The programme for Government contains a commitment to drive a waste reduction programme as part of the overall policy in the area of sustainable waste management. One of the possible elements of this waste reduction strategy, which is contained in the programme, is the introduction of a levy on packaging. In 2011 my Department commenced a process of consultation with industry, other stakeholders and the public on the possibility of introducing a levy on packaging. The main issues examined in this initial consultation were as follows - the overall views of stakeholders on a packaging levy; how a packaging levy might be operated; international experiences of similar levies; and how a packaging levy might be structured in order to contribute to a reduction in packaging waste.

While submissions acknowledged the achievements Ireland has made in recycling packaging, there is recognition that aspects of the current system need to be reviewed, as is best practice for all long-standing agreements, to ensure that the structure remains as efficient as possible and continues to deliver the best possible results for Ireland in terms of packaging recycling and recovery performance. To this end, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has determined that the issue should be given further consideration in the context of a review of the producer responsibility initiative model to inform the policy development process which is now under way and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. It may be useful to include the Deputy's views in the review and I would be happy to pass his comments to the Minister.

I am glad that progress has been made in dealing with packaging waste but problems remain. The angle from which I approach the issue is my concern about waste in public areas such as football pitches, where broken glass can cause problems for players. It is appalling that people who give up their time to train soccer teams must carefully walk the pitch before a match starts to clear it of glass. I would welcome any initiative that tries to put an end to that problem.

I do not dispute the impressive figures on waste reduction but I urge the Minister of State and the Minister to consider a refund system that would encourage people to recycle glass and plastic bottles. It could become an effective means of reusing material. People are more open to this idea than they were during the boom years of the Celtic tiger, when they did not care about small amounts of money. I acknowledge that the Minister of State is prepared to take account of my suggestions in the review and I would like them to be part of the mix.

The concept of a deposit and refund system can certainly be included In the review. Everybody would agree it is dreadful that people have to ensure the grounds used for sporting or community events, or for children's play, are clear of broken glass bottles and other litter. We want to do all we can in this regard and if a deposit and refund scheme can be shown to be effective in reducing the amount of material thrown away rather than recycled, it would make a positive impact. If the Deputy wishes to submit his views in more detail I am sure they will be considered in the review.

National Commemorations

There have been numerous discussions around commemoration ceremonies in recent times. I welcome the opportunity to raise the role of women and the contribution they made to Irish society in our turbulent past. I am sad to note there is scant acknowledgement of those brave and patriotic women who, alongside their men, fought for Irish freedom in different ways, some as pacifists and others as militants. Even in a recent supplement on the Home Rule Bill inThe Irish Times, the 13 contributors and staff writers, all of whom were male, made little reference to the role played by women. None of the articles was dedicated to this subject.

I wish to focus on the events of 1912, when votes for women became entangled with the Irish Home Rule Bill introduced in Westminster. Irish and English feminists came to the issue from differing perspectives. Most women and men in Ireland were Nationalists who wanted home rule. Most Irish feminists wanted votes for women in an Irish Parliament of one kind or another. However, Irish Unionist women and men did not support home rule and both Unionists and English feminists wanted the vote in the UK Parliament.

What outraged feminists here and in England was the attitude taken by the Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, and the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond. I do not blame them. In a conversation with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, the deputy leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Dillon, stated:

Women's suffrage will, I believe, be the ruin of our Western civilisation. It will destroy the home, challenging the headship of man, laid down by God. It may come in your time - I hope not in mine.

It is no wonder they were cross.

A mass meeting was held in June 1912 at which 19 women's organisations were represented. Patience finally ran out and some of the members of the Irish Women's Franchise League smashed windows at the GPO, Dublin Castle and the Custom House. Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins were sent to jail and Mary Leigh and Gladys Evans, who were members of an English organisation, the Women's Social and Political Union, were sentenced to five years imprisonment for disrupting the Prime Minister and went on hunger strike in Mountjoy Prison. Forcible feeding was practised in England at the time and there was considerable debate on the issue. Augustine Birrell, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, stated:

Personally I am dead against forcible feeding which always ends with the release of the prisoner long before her time. I want to keep these ladies under lock and key for five years and I am quite willing to feed them with Priest's Champagne and Michaelmas Geese all the time if it can be done ... but these wretched hags ... are obstinate to the point of death.

No fewer than 36 women were imprisoned during this campaign and many of them went on hunger strike for political status. We should not forget these wonderful women and what they achieved. Margaret Cousins put it well when she stated:

I am not a criminal but a political prisoner - my motives were neither criminal nor personal - being wholly associated with the agitation to obtain Votes for Women. I shall fight in every way in my power against being branded a criminal.

With these thoughts in mind I call on the Government to dedicate a commemoration ceremony to these women and the role they played as we approach June 2012.

I thank Deputy Corcoran Kennedy for raising this subject and commend her academic and professional treatment of it.

The introduction of the third Home Rule Bill to Parliament at Westminster on 11 April 1912 was a pivotal moment in our history. This Bill is the point of departure for the centenary commemorative programme which will take place over the coming decade and which will centre on the proclamation of the Irish Republic at Easter 1916. With the introduction of the Home Rule Bill, a series of events gathered pace that culminated in the establishment of this State. It was a period of profound change for Ireland, Britain, Europe and the wider world. States and societies were transformed and the outcomes have shaped the world we know today.

It is my intention that the commemorative programme will address the key political events and, most important, provide a comprehensive presentation of the economic, social and cultural issues of the period. It is appropriate that we keep these events in mind as their centenaries approach. A centenary anniversary is of special significance. It is perhaps the earliest opportunity for a generation without direct contact with the period to assess the historic events and their consequences. A more balanced and informed understanding can be achieved than is possible in the aftermath of such profound changes. It can also be expected that a better understanding of the issues and circumstances will be assisted by the release of records and the progress of research over the years. I believe that this may particularly be the case with regard to the roles and contributions of women in the revolutionary period. With some distinguished exceptions, the role of women has not always been fully recognised over this period. I hope that this may be redressed in the commemorative programme. With this in mind, in discussions with colleagues with regard to the composition of the expert advisory group emphasis was placed on the need for particular consideration to be given to women's history, experience and contribution throughout the period.

The initial events of the official commemorative programme this year related to Carson and Redmond and were arranged around the anniversary of the Home Rule Bill. In these presentations, it was noted that the Home Rule debate was not insulated from the other issues of the day. This perception was particularly reflected in the photograph presented in March to the First Minister of Northern Ireland following the Carson lecture in Dublin. The photograph shows Sir Edward Carson being confronted by suffragette protestors at Iveagh House in 1912 while he was campaigning to resist the Home Rule Bill. The suffragettes were very prominent in political demonstrations of the time and were doubtless also involved in the hostile reception given to Winston Churchill in Belfast that year.

It is not unique to Ireland that the pages of history are dominated by the political and military headlines that define a period. The progress of society in the same period in matters of employment, migration, health and education does not often provide the equivalent moments and anniversaries that facilitate commemoration. Nonetheless, these issues are of fundamental importance, essential to an informed understanding of the period.

The transformation of society by the Reform Acts of the 19th century, incrementally extending the franchise for men, brought a consciousness of future possibilities for all. It has been suggested that the Representation of the People Act 1832, which specified that only "male persons" were to vote, was the first explicit statutory bar to women's suffrage and itself a trigger to campaigning for equality.

New Zealand was the first nation in the world to achieve universal suffrage in 1893 and Australia followed in 1902. The campaign for reform in Britain and Ireland reflected this growing consciousness of the times. The Women's Social and Political Union was founded in Manchester in 1903 by six women, including Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, who soon emerged as the group's leaders.

The Irish Women's Franchise League was founded in 1908 by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Members pursued their campaign through civil disobedience, demonstration and protest - commonly including, as the Deputy mentioned, window breaking. Arrests and imprisonment resulted in hunger strike, for which the authorities introduced release under the Prisoner's (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act, followed in due course by re-arrest. The campaign for voting rights brought interaction with the other issues of the day and during the 1913 lockout suffragists worked in Liberty Hall, providing food for the families of the strikers.

As with the Home Rule Bill, the progress of the campaign for voting equality was overtaken by the coming of the Great War. However, the experience of the war - both the horrors for men fighting at the front and the experience of the women mobilised to sustain industry and output at home - ensured that the future would be different from the past.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 extended the franchise to men over 21 and women over 30 with certain conditions. With this restriction women accounted for approximately 43% of the electorate and would otherwise have been in the majority owing to the loss of men in the war. Following the passing of the Representation of the People Act, the Eligibility of Women Act was passed, allowing women to be elected into Parliament. The first election held under the new system was the 1918 general election. Polling took place in December 1918. Several women stood for election. However, only one, Constance Markievicz, was elected for the constituency of Dublin St. Patrick's.

Perhaps the final vindication of the suffragette campaign came with the provision of the 1922 Irish Free State Constitution which, in theory at least, removed the limitations on Irish women's access to the full rights of citizenship. It was to the detriment of our society that this provision of the 1922 Constitution was the last real advancement of the rights of women for the following half century.

Mindful of their campaign sustained to 1918, I am confident that the campaign for women's voting rights and the activities of the suffragettes in Ireland will be a consistent consideration in the commemorative programme. The events planned for later this year focus on the signing of the Ulster Covenant and the associated Declaration which was signed by a 250,000 women. As the commemorative programme continues, I would be very pleased to see initiatives that bring attention to the suffragettes' campaign and the other activities of women in this historic decade.

I thank the Minister for his response. We need to increase awareness and highlight the role of women in Irish history, including the impact and contribution they made to the political, academic, economic, social and cultural life of the country. From the Minister's response it is clear that this is the year for us to take the opportunity to do that.

I wish to acknowledge the input of my friend, Margaret Hogan, an historian from Birr, County Offaly, who gave me some material on this and enabled me to give an accurate account of what happened at that time. I will be parochial to relate an interesting story. Some of the prisoners were moved from Dublin to take the political heat from them. They were moved to Tullamore, County Offaly. It was reported that in 1913 the Tullamore Urban Council passed a resolution demanding political treatment for Irish suffragette prisoners.

The Deputy will have an ideal opportunity to do something in June to mark that occasion. I am chairman of the decade of commemorations committee and I would be delighted to do something through the committee with the Deputy. If she can suggest an event and a location we can certainly do that following her initiative today in raining the matter in the House. I am sure the committed would be delighted to accommodate her.

Women's rights and the suffragette movement were specifically mentioned when we were appointing the academic advisory group. We added a number of experts to the advisory committee, including one in particular who has a special interest in the area of women's rights and the suffragette movement to cover precisely the issue the Deputy has highlighted. I can talk to the Deputy about organising an event to coincide with the anniversary of what happened in June 1912.

Community Employment Schemes

I welcome the opportunity to raise the impact the cutbacks in community employment schemes will have on child-care provision services, particularly for those in receipt of the one-parent family payment who are working on community employment schemes. There are 1,288 community child-care facilities, many of them heavily subsidised and many operating in very socially and economically disadvantaged areas. Approximately 20% of the 8,200 employees in these facilities are community employment workers. This means that approximately 2,000 people who are involved in community child-care facilities are community employment scheme workers. Approximately 70% of those people are lone parents. It is important to consider any change the Government makes in this area because it will have a disproportionate impact on lone parents working on community employment schemes, which have been cut as a result of the recent changes.

In the budget in December, and in the Social Welfare Bill that was then introduced by the Minister for Social Protection, changes to the community employment scheme for lone parents make it less attractive for single parents to stay on community employment schemes. Until recently, lone parents participating in community employment schemes could keep their one parent family payment, as well as receiving the community employment payment of €208 per week. Since January, they must give up one of these payments. Since then, we have seen people whose terms have ended on community employment schemes leaving those schemes and very few lone parents are now applying to start the schemes. As a result, many schemes are now finding it difficult to recruit people to work in child care facilities.

It is the norm for the majority of one parent families to have some part-time work and such a person can earn up to €146 per week and retain the entire allowance or earn up to €450 per week while still keeping a small part of the one parent family payment. A person earning €146 can keep the full payment of €188 per week. I cannot understand why of all employees, the only group to which the rule does not apply is to those on community employment. A person on community employment who earns more than €200 per week loses the entire entitlement to the one parent family payment. If that person was working in a shop next door to the community employment scheme, or even working in a child care facility but employed directly by the facility, she could earn more than €200 per week while keeping most of the one parent family payment. If she happens to be on a community employment scheme, however, she will see her income cut. It is discrimination, singling out the one parent family parent who is participating in the community employment scheme. It is also having a detrimental impact on child care facilities around the country. What has the Minister against one parent families and the community employment schemes? The Minister is singling out those in receipt of the payment and on a community employment scheme for the biggest cut in income that does not apply to any other category of employment.

Tugaim buíochas don Teachta as an cheist seo a thógáil ag an am seo.

There are currently 23,300 community employment places of which 2,200 places are ring-fenced for the delivery of child care services. Over the years community employment has become a valuable resource in the provision of a range of services to communities, including child care services. The total community employment expenditure on child care amounted to €29.4 million in 2011. There has been no reduction in the number of community employment places dedicated to supporting child care services.

The overall trend in demand for community employment places has not declined in recent months. All participants on community employment receive at least €20 per week in excess of their original social welfare payment. There are a large number of social welfare recipient categories eligible for community employment, for example, persons on jobseeker's allowance, as well as lone parents and community employment participation by lone parents is not restricted to child care projects. Notwithstanding this, the participation of lone parents on community employment make a valuable contribution to child care provision.

The Department is working closely with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in relation to strengthening child care provision at community level. Child care support provided under community employment fully supports the Early Childhood Care and Education Framework. While there is some indication that participation rates by lone parents have declined somewhat between January and March on community employment, it is too soon to say if this trend will continue. The Department will be monitoring participation rates of all the cohorts on community employment to identify any impacts of the removal of double payments to lone parents and people with a disability.

The one parent family payment is one of the range of social assistance payments available to people on limited means. In the past in Ireland, income support for people of working age, including the one parent family payment, has been passive in nature, with little systematic engagement by the State with the customer. This passive income support to people of working age is not now considered to be in the best interests of the recipient, of their children or of society.

Lone parent families continue to experience higher rates of consistent poverty in comparison to the population generally. EU-SILC figures published in November 2011 show that in 2010 9.3% of lone parents in Ireland were experiencing consistent poverty, compared to 7% of two-parent households and to 6.2% of the population as a whole. This indicates that the long-term income support that the one parent family payment scheme provided up to 2011, until children were aged 18, or 22 if in full-time education, to lone parents without any requirement for them to engage in employment, education or training was not effective in addressing the poverty and social exclusion experienced by some of these families.

The Department of Social Protection considers that the best route out of poverty and social exclusion is through paid employment. Work, and especially full-time work, may not be an option for parents of young children. However, supporting parents to participate in the labour market, once their children have reached an appropriate age, will improve both their own economic situation and the social well-being of themselves and of their families.

I also wanted to point out the benefits of people participating in this scheme. Until now, they were able to get FETAC qualifications.

I note the Minister of State mentioned there are indications that participation rates by lone parents declined between January and March. The change was introduced in January and it had an immediate effect, which has continued for the subsequent three months for which there are figures. The decline is continuing still. Logic dictates that if we cut the payments of people on these schemes, fewer people will offer to go forward. The Minister of State's script also pointed out that the level of consistent poverty among lone parents is 9.3% compared to 6.2% in the population as a whole. Consistent poverty, in other words, is 50% higher among lone parents. The Minister's response is to help them out of poverty by cutting their payments. I do not understand that logic. Perhaps I am stupid but I do not get how the Minister can say a group has the highest level of consistent poverty and to help that group, she will cut their payments. The Minister of State claimed this will improve their financial independence. It will remove their dependence on the State but the Minister seems to think there is a pot of gold there for them to earn money somewhere else, allowing them to be financially independent.

Two reviews of community employment are under way. Has the Minister considered as part of those reviews the impact of cut-backs on the one parent family payment recipients? Will they cover the impact of the cuts to child care schemes? Will the Minister of State consider the value of the training offered by these schemes until now?

The training and materials allocations have been cut while the reviews are under way. The schemes are now holding back from allowing people to go on training courses because they do not know what the budget will be for the rest of the year. Effectively, at local level within many of the schemes, approval to take up a training scheme or training day or week has been suspended because this review is continuing. I ask that it be concluded, the results published and the funding restored to the training and materials budget as urgently as possible.

I stated in my original reply that there are, nationally, 23,300 community employment schemes of which 2,200 are specifically ring-fenced for the delivery of child care services. I understand that, as of April, there were 1,792 participants in ring-fenced child care places in community employment schemes. That is a significant number. I also stated there was some indication that participation rates for lone parents declined somewhat between January and March. We cannot be more specific than that at present but the situation is being monitored. Within the resources available, the Government places a high premium on the provision of child care places, given that 2,200 are already ring-fenced. The situation will be monitored as the year progresses.