Topical Issue Debate

Quality and Qualifications Ireland Accreditation

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment to the Department of Education and Skills. I look forward to working with her over the remaining term of this Dáil to try to further education provision to our citizens. It is a huge task and there are many pressing issues. I am sure the Minister will have a very busy summer reading the portfolio, particularly with a number of immediate concerns that need to be addressed.

I refer to community education. The Minister will be aware from briefings before taking this Topical Issue matter that an issue arises with regard to what is known as a re-engagement fee for community education providers with Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI. QQI is proposing to charge a fee to existing providers of registered FETAC community education groups that want to continue to offer accredited programmes under the National Framework of Qualifications, NFQ.

I am sure the Minister is aware from her constituency of the value of community education groups. They offer a quality education provision that is learner centred, responds to the local communities needs, and has the ability to tailor particular courses to those individuals. The progression rates for those individuals who have taken part in community education provision are very successful. They offer a number of things the statutory and private sector does not have the ability to offer. They offer education in local communities that is learner centred. They appeal to individuals who may have been out of the education for many years or who may not have had positive experiences when they were in education. They offer a ray of hope to individuals who I am sure feel very far removed from the labour market. The value of community education is there for everyone to see. They are also very effective in reaching individuals who are long-term unemployed and looking to upskill and increase their ability to get back into the labour market.

Community education provision is dependent on the ability to continue to offer accredited programmes. We do not know yet what will be the proposed re-engagement fee. QQI is due to report back to the Minister's Department on this issue but some of the figures bandied about, which are probably accurate, are in the region of €5,000. Many of the community education providers are under-funded. They do not have access to large sums of money.

It will force many of the community education providers to re-evaluation their position. The ability of a community education provider to provide these accredited courses, which are vital to local communities, will be affected if this fee is imposed by QQI.

We ask that the Minister's Department take a look at this. I know there is a proposal in some quarters that community education providers should come together and form consortiums. In theory, that would seem to be a realistic solution but in practice, it would negate the very ethos of what community education provision is about. Many of these groups are stand alone and the value is there to be seem. I ask the Minister to comment on that.

I thank Deputy O'Brien for his good wishes. I look forward to working with him and other Opposition spokespersons. I thank him for raising this issue and agree with him on the value of community education. We would be very well aware of it in both of our communities.

As the Deputy will be aware, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, was established in November 2012 under the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 through the amalgamation of the Further Education and Training Awards Council, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland. QQI was given responsibility for the functions of those bodies across further and higher education and training as well as for the external quality assurance function formerly carried out by the Irish Universities Quality Board.

The purpose of the amalgamation of those bodies into QQI was to bring greater coherence to the sector, creating a single body which can deliver a more efficient and integrated service and uphold the quality of Ireland's qualifications and educational institutions while bringing a stronger focus to the creation of flexible pathways for learners.

QQI has very wide-ranging responsibilities, both in terms of the quality assurance of further and higher education and training providers and as an awarding body for certain providers, including many of those in the community and voluntary sector. QQI also has responsibility for safeguarding the standard and quality of its qualifications, all of which are included in the national framework of qualifications.

The 2012 Act provides for the fees to be determined in regard to a number of activities and services carried out by QQI, including agreement of quality assurance procedures, programme validation and the making of awards. To date, fees have been determined for only a limited number of these services, including access to QQI programme validation for providers which do not have an existing relationship with QQI. I understand that QQI is due to publish its policy in regard to re-engagement with providers with which it has an existing relationship, known as legacy providers, shortly.

Re-engagement, or the formal agreement of quality assurance procedures with QQI, is a requirement for legacy providers under the 2012 Act. It will happen only once for a provider. Thereafter, the provider will have to undergo periodic review of the effectiveness of its quality assurance procedures.

The re-engagement process will allow providers to demonstrate their capacity to provide and maintain, on an ongoing and sustainable basis, the infrastructure required to develop programmes consistent with national standards and to assess the achievement of stated learning outcomes by learners.

The fees involved in the re-engagement process have not yet been determined, as the Deputy said. The proposed levels of fee and any associated issues will be considered when the proposal is made by QQI.

I can assure the Deputy that the role played by the community and voluntary sector in providing training and educational opportunities to marginalised communities is both important and valued. However, it must be recognised that learners, in particular those who may be disadvantaged due to unemployment or who come from marginalised communities, deserve and must be assured of the quality of the programmes they undertake and of the awards they receive.

l completely agree with the Minister on the last point that learners from very disadvantaged communities must be assured that the courses in which they partake are delivered to the highest quality. I have no issue with that. As for QQI itself, I have no issue with it either. When the legislation in regard to it was going through the House, all parties supported it. It has a very valuable and, I suppose, very positive contribution to make to ensure quality assurance in the courses provided.

I do not even have an issue with the re-engagement process because we must ensure that those who provide these courses provide them to the best of their ability, that they are delivered with high education quality and that the progression rates are weighed up. They must also prove that they have the ability and capacity to provide those courses.

The issue I have is around the proposed re-engagement fee. It has not yet been set and it will be looked at when the report is published but we discussed this at the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection and I think all sides have come to the conclusion that one is talking about several thousand euro. It has yet to be determined whether it is €3,000, €5,000 or €6,000.

We are asking for the possibility of a waiver system for community education groups. It my understanding, from reading the QQI legislation, that section 80 gives the Minister the power to introduce a waiver scheme for community education providers. Will the Minister look at that once the report has been published and the costs have been established? It is critical that a re-engagement fee does not become a barrier to community education providers being able to prove that they have the capacity and expertise to deliver these accredited programmes. My concern is not the process but the fee that could be attached to it.

The fees have not yet been determined. QQI has already engaged with a number of representative bodies, including Aontas, the Community Education Network and the community sector committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It will certainly continue that engagement. The Deputy said it is encouraging some co-operation among providers and I know it would hope that at least would be considered by the many community providers. I encourage them to work with QQI to ensure we get something that works.

I agree with Deputy O'Brien that we do not want any insurmountable barriers, given the importance of community education in all of our communities. I am obviously new to the job but I will be interested in finding a resolution that will work for everybody.

State Examinations Reviews

I welcome the Minister to this role and wish her the very best. I have no doubt that with her background and experience in other Departments and the ability she has shown in politics, she will do her best and justify her appointment. I look forward to working with her. On the day that is in it, I wish the outgoing Minister of State, Deputy Ciaran Cannon, the very best. He was very good to work with. He worked very hard and was very committed to his role. It is unfortunate that he is moving on and someone else is taking over. However, I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, well in his appointment. No doubt Deputy Cannon will contribute further in many other roles and I particularly wish him well today.

I remind the Minister that there are many issues which must be a priority for her as she begins her new tenure. The future of small rural schools is one on which I sincerely hope she will change tack from her predecessor. I also hope she will reverse the damage done to guidance counselling and to the post-leaving certificate sector. However, one of the biggest issues facing her as the new Minister is the question of junior certificate reform.

I want to be clear from the outset that my party and I accept there is a strong case, rationale and need for junior cycle reform in our secondary schools. We also acknowledge that such reform must include change in terms of how examinations are done to ensure the junior certificate examination process becomes a much lower stakes examination and that the focus is on learning and not on final examinations and on teaching to an examination. However, we believe that such a substantial reform of our education system needs to have detailed implementation plan and we hold that it is essential to involve all stakeholders in a process of consultation and implementation and that teachers in our post-primary schools must have confidence in these reforms. Above all, we believe that any reform of the system should not diminish the integrity and transparency of the current junior cycle.

It is almost two years since the former Minister, Deputy Quinn, launched his reforms.

Right from the start, there was deep concern about the absence of any independent assessment of the new proposed junior cycle student award. This concern was underscored by the fact that the Minister ignored the recommendations of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to retain some element of a final independent examination. At no stage did the former Minister appear to be engaging seriously with post-primary teachers on the reforms. Now, there is a very real prospect of industrial action in our schools on foot of this.

Teachers, parents and students alike want to ensure there is consistency in the marks given for the junior cycle student award across the country, that students can have faith their results are genuine and the marking system is independent. That is a fair request. A recent survey indicated over 60% of parents are in favour of retaining independent assessment at junior cycle level. Speaking to many students myself, I know they very much believe in the need for independent assessment.

In this the last week before the recess, will the Minister engage on these issues and delay the start of the implementation of the new junior cycle so that English begins the following September alongside science? In that way, the overall roll-out will not be delayed. This will ensure everyone is working together and we see a new approach in addressing the issues I have outlined.

I thank Deputy McConalogue for his good wishes. I am sure we will have much engagement in the future.

I am committed to reform of the junior certificate to ensure our young students have a programme and an assessment framework that best serves their interests. This reform is best pursued through dialogue and consultation with all stakeholders so the maximum degree of consensus on the reform agenda can be developed.

The introduction of the junior cycle has been slowed down considerably following consultations with all of the partners in education. Phased implementation of junior cycle reform will commence this September with only one subject being changed, English. For those students sitting the junior cycle student award in 2017, only English will be different. All other subjects will be as they are now.

New specifications for the remaining subjects will be introduced on a phased basis between now and September 2019. The junior cycle for teachers support service has seen a highly positive response to its continuing professional development programmes not only in the last academic year, but also from the registration data available for the coming academic year. Up to 4,814 English teachers attended continuing professional development during 2013 and 2014, that is, 90% of English teachers registered with the junior cycle for teachers support service; 5,385 English teachers have registered for the forthcoming school year 2014-15; some 1,690 science teachers across 371 schools have registered with the junior cycle for teachers support service; 1,240 school leaders attended the junior cycle for teachers support service school leadership seminars during 2013-14; and 509 schools have, to date, requested the junior cycle for teachers support service to facilitate junior cycle whole-school continuing professional development during 2014-15.

It is clear a significant number of our schools, their teachers and their leaders, are interested in implementing the new framework. In addition, new members are being added to the junior cycle for teachers support service team this autumn. A deputy director for assessment has been appointed, as has a team of six full-time members, to address whole-school continuing professional development. This team will be supported by 60 to 80 associates who will be recruited in the autumn to work part-time on whole-school development.

Notwithstanding this, I am eager that all voices in education are heard on the matter of junior cycle reform and I am anxious to have a meaningful dialogue with teacher unions on this vital issue. I have also asked my officials to continue to have discussions with the partners on junior cycle reform. A report of the working group, established by my predecessor to enable discussion to take place, was published in May. This report indicated some progress has been achieved and many constructive proposals have been made, particularly by the management-patron bodies, which will inform the discussions. I look forward to receiving similar written submissions from the teacher unions. There is clearly further work to be done to achieve all necessary elements of the reform. Without a written submission from teachers, it is not possible to have a balanced debate, representing their views alongside those of the other partners.

The provision of quality education with its emphasis on skills development and of assessing to improve learning is key to engaging our young people in a meaningful education that relates to their lives, to their experiences and to the opportunities that surround them. The junior cycle should be about learning to learn. Most of all, however, it should be about motivating our young people with the expectations and aspirations they can achieve and progress with confidence, full of creativity and innovation, into their senior cycle. It is essential we begin this work as soon as possible.

The Minister outlined how it is important junior cycle reform is achieved through dialogue, consultation and consensus. Unfortunately, these were absent in the approach taken by the former Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. Despite his welcome willingness to bring reforms forward in the junior certificate, the way he went about it has left very few of the stakeholders on the bus with the first reforms being introduced in September with the possibility of industrial action occurring. All of this is happening with the former Minister, Deputy Quinn, not in charge of it anymore. It is important the new Minister, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, takes a different approach to ensure these reforms are implemented successfully. It is not the right footing to start off on when there is an industrial dispute in the background.

The Minister informed me that 10% of English teachers have not taken part in the necessary induction courses for the new curriculum which will start on 1 September. She also said the timetable as to how the other reforms will be rolled out has already been re-arranged because of the impasse. It is now time to take a fresh approach. The Minister should postpone the introduction of the new English curriculum in September until the following year alongside science. By that stage, all involved will be on board. The genuine concerns of parents, teachers and the wider community about independent assessment of the written part of the examination, accounting for 60% of it, will have been addressed. My party and the rest of the House support much-needed junior certificate reform. However, we do not support the approach taken by the former Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, which has left the reforms, so important to our education system, mired and will result in them taking off on the wrong footing. Will she consider deferring the implementation of the new junior certificate for 12 months to ensure we are properly prepared for it and that it happens in an appropriate manner?

I expect to meet with the education partners in the near future and look forward to hearing their views, as well as having a constructive relationship. I will not give any commitments today in advance of these discussions. The phased approach gives everyone involved the opportunity to develop competences, capacity and to manage the reform in a measured way. This was the approach of my predecessor and will continue to be the approach.

What about the 10% of teachers not trained?

I gave the Deputy figures for the numbers who have signed up for the coming year. There has been a considerable engagement from teachers. There are other partners involved as well and I intend to listen to them all before I make any decisions on changing the timetable set out already.

When one gets to the point of having discussions, that generally resolves issues. That is the approach I intend to take.

Clinical Trials

I appreciate the opportunity to debate this critical issue. From the information I have garnered it appears that if the matter is not addressed it will seriously and adversely impact on our current and emerging indigenous clinical research industry and our ability to grow the sector. That will, in turn, affect our ability to engage in research and development for veterinary medicines, medical devices and human pharmaceuticals. We are a big player in the latter area given the number of multinational pharmaceutical companies in this country.

I congratulate the new Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, on his appointment. I wish him a fruitful tenure. I think this might be his first time in the Chamber in his new position. There is an urgent need for a review of the new authorisation procedure, which commenced on 1 January this year, for the conduct of clinical trials on animals being operated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, formerly the Irish Medicines Board, which arises from the transposition of EU Directive 2010/63 into Irish law.

The European Union (Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes) Regulations 2012, which give effect to the directive, will severely impede the ability of existing Irish companies to compete for such work internationally, as licences which they hold for this activity under the previous regime expire. As we speak, it is crushing the ability of fledgling and start-up companies to get business at all.

Affected individuals and companies explained to me that the physical care and treatment they give to the animals will not change under the new regulations so there will not be any changes affecting animal welfare. They already operate to the highest animal welfare standards and under the previous licensing regime companies conducting such clinical trials were regularly inspected by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In fact, from the point of view of standards, Ireland is a very desirable place to have the necessary clinical trials conducted. In a recent interview with The Irish Times, Mr. Pat O’Mahony, chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Agency set out his belief that we should "ramp up Ireland’s presence in clinical trials where we should be running about four times our current level". He said we should be big players in the sector.

The problems with the new authorisation process are excessive and inappropriate costs and difficulties with the timelines for processing applications and paperwork. In effect, what is at issue is additional red tape and bureaucracy on an existing system of checks and monitoring for animal welfare. The regime does not appear to be implemented in such a burdensome manner on business in other EU jurisdictions. The business conducted by Irish companies is now beginning to go to eastern Europe and further afield.

The issues of concern which are affecting competitiveness include the fees which became operative on 1 January - €1,000 to process an application, €2,000 for an ethical review and a further €2,000 to fast-track an application. When the Minister hears the timelines involved he will understand the need to fast-track applications. Every job requires authorisation, regardless of size, and the same cost applies. Let us contrast that with the previous regime in which companies operated where no fees applied and a five-year licence was issued. Regular inspections were part of the system. The new regime involves major additional expense that companies must pass on to customers, and it is disproportionate for small projects. For a job worth €800 a company would have to potentially add €5,000. Companies have said work is going abroad as a result. The timeframe of 54 days can be reduced to 21 days on payment of an additional €2,000 but that is still not fast enough. One company described to me how it lost out to a company in the Czech Republic which can do the work in two weeks. Therefore, we seem to be out of synch.

The HPRA requires an ethical review is provided. That, in itself, is acceptable but eight people are required to perform it, which is not feasible for small companies. Such an approach is not prescribed in the directive. While, in theory, such work could be farmed out, due to the sensitive nature of the information companies do not wish to engage the services of a third party. There also appears to be a disparity between the approach being taken in this country and what is required by the EU Commission. The Commission says one thing and we appear to have interpreted matters in another way.

Deputy Mulherin is correct that this is my first appearance in the Chamber as Minister for Health. I am at a disadvantage as she knows much more about the matter than I do at this stage. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the position in regard to this matter.

Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes introduced a significant change in the systems for authorisation and conduct of scientific procedures on animals. The introduction of the legislation into Irish law will significantly enhance the welfare of animals used for scientific purposes. My Department has designated the Health Products Regulatory Authority, formerly the Irish Medicines Board, as the competent authority for the purposes of this legislation. This includes ensuring the application of the 3Rs. These are replacement, reduction and refinement. The HPRA has the relevant expertise in relation to both human and veterinary medicine to undertake this regulatory work. Given that many of the additional requirements under the above directive are of a highly specialised nature, the HPRA has put in place a small but expert cadre of officials well versed and experienced in this area. In preparing for its role as competent authority in this area, the HPRA undertook extensive engagement with the industry on implementation of the directive and I am informed that it continues to do so.

In transferring the functions involved to the HPRA in 2013, the Department agreed to provide it with the necessary funding for the setting up and provision of the service involved in 2012 and 2013 - the provision of further Exchequer funding for 2014, 2015 and 2016 being gradually scaled back so that the HPRA will ultimately regulate the sector from within its own funding. Accordingly, the HPRA consulted with the sector on the application of an appropriate funding model during 2013. Based on the feedback from the consultation the HPRA proposed a fee regimen and my Department sanctioned certain fees for the provision of HPRA services in 2014. The fees are included in the Irish Medicines Board (Fees) Regulations 2013, SI No. 501 of 2013. A similar process will be undertaken during 2014 on the fees for 2015.

The introduction of this legislation into Irish law will significantly enhance the welfare of animals used for scientific purposes. In this regard, the HPRA is obliged to verify compliance with the requirements of the directive in as practical a manner as possible and by so doing assist the industry in its development. Finally, we are mindful of the importance of research to the Irish economy . However, we also need to be cognisant of the potential implications of any changes made in this area for the regulation of other research undertaken by the HPRA.

First and foremost, my concern relates to the disparity between the transposition of the directive into Irish law and its transposition in other member states with the result that others areas are put at more of an advantage. I am told the British system is similar to ours but the sheer volume of applications means that it can be more readily self-financing compared to the small number of companies engaged in such activity in this country. Difficulties arise for small companies. Multinationals in this country require the service to develop pharmaceutical products and medical devices but we now face the possibility that such work will be sourced outside this jurisdiction. Certain individuals have told me their companies will go out of business. These companies were up and coming, thriving businesses which dealt with Enterprise Ireland and were expected to grow. However, the new authorisation procedure is crippling them. I referred to a potential cost of €5,000 being added to a job worth €800, for example, or for any other value. That is not feasible. The situation is not tenable. The current one-size-fits-all approach to fees will not work.

I do not argue against the need for animal welfare. I believe we are to the fore in that regard in this country, rightly so. We must continue to take such an approach. The issues I raise relate more to competitiveness than animal welfare. It is untenable to ask the companies involved to carry the entire burden. We will choke them. The Minister is a pragmatic person who is known for his no-nonsense approach.

We must cut through red tape to revive the floundering research and development sector. A great deal of hard work has been done to bring multi-national companies here and spin-off companies could carry out their research and development but they cannot do so at the moment due to cost and excessive red tape. This matter must be addressed or we will fail to adhere to our action plan for jobs. The Taoiseach said the 2014 action plan has a strong focus on the domestic economy, improving competitiveness and supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses. There can be no lessening of our efforts until we have full employment. I hope the Minister supports this.

This relates to a European directive the purpose of which is to advance animal welfare and ensure it is upheld even where animals are used for scientific purposes. As a general point it is appropriate that businesses pay for the cost of their own regulation as this is a principle that applies across the economy. This is a good thing because if businesses do not pay for their own regulation the cost will fall to the taxpayer and taxpayers' money should be used for better things.

I think the essence of Deputy Mulherin's point is the regulation is being interpreted differently in Ireland than in other European countries and as a result the fees are higher with more administrative delays. This may be a cause for concern because Irish research businesses should not be at a disadvantage when compared to European competitors that are bound by the same laws. I can arrange for the Deputy to meet the lead official on this in the coming weeks to see if something can be done to modify fees or change the system for future years.

I thank the Minister.

JobsPlus Scheme

I want to address improvements needed in the JobsPlus scheme, a worthy Government scheme that was launched to great fanfare in my constituency of Waterford last year. Many exciting companies participate in the scheme and speak highly of it, including Eishtec, a locally-owned Waterford company. It encourages and rewards employers that employ jobseekers from the live register. It is designed to encourage employers and businesses to employ people who have been out of work for long periods. Employers get a payment of €7,500 for each citizen recruited who has been unemployed for more than 12 months but less than 24 months and if that person is long-term unemployed the employer gets a payment of up to €10,000 for each such person recruited, but the scheme is far from perfect.

There is an issue in terms of equality of access to this scheme and it seems that JobsPlus is discriminating against lone parents. I am sorry to find myself having to point out that, according to the rules of JobsPlus, a person in receipt of a one-parent family payment is not considered eligible given the focus of the scheme. A single parent getting the one-parent family payment may be eligible to do a springboard programme and the State will give some support in terms of re-entering education. After that, a person who has completed a springboard course might decide to get some experience. However, after education and training a person who was unemployed should, in theory, be able to get a job. Despite having done all this and jumped through various hoops, a person getting the one-parent family payment who is more than 12 months unemployed cannot take part in the JobsPlus scheme. I argue that this amounts to discrimination and said so to the Department of Social Protection.

In reality, if an employer is faced with two possible candidates with similar skills and training but one comes with a guarantee of €10,000 through the JobsPlus scheme and the other is a single parent with no such incentive then who will he or she opt for? With so many businesses and companies struggling in a tough economy the payment incentive that an employee might be able to bring to the table is attractive to employers. We are informed by the Department of Social Protection that periods spent under JobBridge are counted towards eligibility, so why is there deemed to be a difference between a mother trying to get back to work and the long-term unemployed? The answer we get from the Department of Social Protection is that the focus of the scheme does not lie with single mothers.

As I said at the outset, JobsPlus is aimed at people on the live register. Governments like to see the live register coming down and, indeed, the number on the live register dropped by almost 7.5% in Waterford during the past year. However, for people who are flying under the radar, such as those on the one-parent family payment, and are not on the live register, JobsPlus is closed off. Is JobsPlus simply a way of manipulating the live register figures? It is a cynical view, but we need to make sure that people who need this scheme are not being discriminated against.

I call on the Department and the Minister to ensure the JobsPlus scheme is extended to single parents who want to get back to work, given the new focus and cut offs implemented by the Department of Social Protection for people in receipt of lone parent payments.

I am taking this Topical Issue matter on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton. Support for job creation is central to Government policy. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste have re-emphasised this commitment in their statement of Government priorities for the remaining lifetime of this Administration.

Pathways to Work and the action plan for jobs set out the key frameworks within which activation and job creation policies are developed and delivered. Pathways to Work aims to move at least 22,500 long-term unemployed people into employment this year and a total of at least 75,000 by end of 2015. Therefore, the focus of the Tánaiste is to concentrate resources on the long-term unemployed via the various schemes under her Department. JobsPlus replaces two previous schemes that were seen as complicated and difficult to access for employers. This new simplified incentive scheme is working, as shown by feedback from employers and the fact that the initial target of 2,500 jobs has been exceeded earlier than expected.

JobsPlus provides a direct monthly financial incentive to employers who recruit employees from those who are long-term unemployed and the JobsPlus incentive is biased in favour of those who are long-term unemployed. It provides employers with two levels of payment, €7,500 and €10,000, and is paid in monthly instalments over a two year period, provided the employment is maintained. To qualify for the €7,500 incentive a jobseeker must be at least 12 months on the live register in the previous 18 months. For the higher incentive of €10,000 over two years, a jobseeker must be at least 24 months on the live register in the previous 30 months. These are direct grants paid to the employer if they maintain the employment for the full two years.

From its launch in July 2013 to the end of June 2014, JobsPlus has supported 2,634 jobseekers in full-time employment with over 2,000 employers nationally. Approximately 60% of jobseekers thus supported had been on the live register for over 24 months at the time of recruitment, proving the success for the scheme. A provision of €13.5 million has been included in the Vote for the Department for the scheme in 2014. On the basis of the current pace of applications and expenditure, this provision is considered to be adequate to meet the projected costs of the scheme in 2014.

Special arrangements have been have been introduced to ease the effects of the changes in one-parent family payments, including the introduction of the jobseeker transitional payment. The Minister for Social Protection hopes to be in a position to extend eligibility for JobsPlus to those who qualify for the jobseeker transitional payment in the coming months. The Department is currently completing a review of the initial phase of implementation of JobsPlus. The outcome of this work will inform any proposals for the development and expansion of the scheme. Employer feedback has been positive and the key objective of putting an easy-to-access system in place has been achieved.

While the review will consider a range of matters, including uptake, costs and benefits, altering eligibility requirements and whether changes are needed to improve access and administration, the Tánaiste has informed me that she has asked that the review also consider whether further extension of the eligibility requirements is warranted. However, this, of course, will be subject to budgetary considerations.

I thank the Minister. The Tánaiste's response as outlined became more positive as it went on.

Perhaps allowing a jobseeker's transitional payment recipient to be eligible for JobsPlus is very welcome. Given the Government's thrust towards activation and trying to upskill, educate and motivate people to re-engage in working and seeking work, nobody taking the opportunities afforded to them through education and training should be held back because of a lone parent's payment. The reforms made to the lone parent's allowance means when children reach a certain age, the parent must go on jobseeker's allowance. We will have a limbo for parents who want to get back to work and who may have completed a course or JobsBridge programme as we will ask them to wait until they ratchet up their eligibility while in receipt of jobseeker's payment. This is not the type of proactive social welfare system we want to see. We want to see people who are eager to get back to work being given every opportunity. In financial and real terms for employers, and I agree employers have very warmly responded and welcomed the changes we made to the very cumbersome PRSI scheme which existed, if it comes to employing somebody coming with lone parent's allowance versus somebody with the added incentive of JobsBridge, I can see why they might pick the latter. We need to address this and not allow these parents to linger in limbo.

In her initial contribution the Deputy asked a very straightforward question as to whether JobsPlus was a cynical way to manipulate the live register. I can say this is certainly not the case. I was involved in some of the discussions on this at Cabinet level. The intention was always to give people who have been on the live register for a long period a fair go, because employers are generally less inclined to hire somebody who has been on the dole for a long period. It was really just give them an extra leg up and a fair go when it came to the employment market. As the Deputy knows, with the social welfare and medical card systems, or any such system, every time one does something one creates a new anomaly or potentially a new injustice. What the Deputy is pointing to here is the fact that single parents who lose their one-parent family payment and are trying to get back into work may now be at a disadvantage over people who have been long-term unemployed who are now more likely to be hired because of this. I totally get what the Deputy is saying. It is progress that the Minister, Deputy Burton, has suggested it could be extended to those on the jobseeker's transitional payment. When I see her in the coming days I will mention it to her. Deputy Conway's point is well made. I am not sure how to solve it without creating another problem, but that is the nature of these schemes, unfortunately.