I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing this matter to be taken. I want to raise the issue of the failure to fill a needs assessment officer position in Dublin south west. This is a critical post for families, parents and schools wishing to allocate resource hours. The post has been vacant since March. It has not been filled. I accept that a process was engaged in to try to fill the post which was unsuccessful. I find it strange that it was unsuccessful. The impact this is having on parents and children in Dublin south west cannot be underestimated. I have had parents contact me who have been waiting since November 2015, which is a 12-month delay. I have had schools contact me who are in a situation where they cannot allocate the additional resource hours they know they need. They have children who have not been successful in getting additional hours under the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS and they are still waiting year in, year out. Every year that is missed and every time we go past September, another child loses another year. It is a bureaucratic situation in lots of ways but it is unacceptable that 500 assessments are waiting for this post to be filled and for something to be done to help those children, parents and families. Can the Minister of State tell me when this post will be filled and what will be done to fill it as soon as possible?
Topical Issue Debate
Special Educational Needs Service Provision
I thank Deputy Brophy for raising this very important issue. He has been very supportive of the investment in and development of services for children with disabilities. I am also pleased to take this opportunity to update Deputy Brophy and other Members on the progress under way in developing services for children with disabilities and the current position on recruitment of staff and waiting times for assessments of need.
The HSE has recognised that early intervention services and services for school-age children with disabilities need to be improved and organised more effectively. This process is well under way. I emphasise there has been continual additional investment in this area in order to support the HSE as it faces significant challenges in respect of meeting the statutory timeframes which apply to the assessment of needs process.
In the context of the Dublin south west assessment officer position that became vacant in March 2016, the community health care organisation, CHO7, has been working to recruit this post since that time. Following a recent internal recruitment campaign, a suitable candidate was identified and offered the position. Unfortunately, prior to a start date being agreed, the candidate declined the appointment. That is the problem with the position in question. Given the urgency of the situation, another potential candidate has now been identified. Every effort is being made to progress the recruitment of this person as a matter of urgency. In the absence of the assessment officer, systems have been put in place to process applications and provide for assessments to be conducted. The HSE social care division has requested that the local area provide an improvement plan to address the significant backlog of applications. This implementation plan will be submitted and considered over the next two weeks with a view to implementing the appropriate action plan without further delay. The HSE is endeavouring to fill the position on a temporary basis until a successful candidate is appointed. The HSE will continue to process applications within the capacity and resources available to ensure the backlog of applications is reduced at the earliest opportunity.
I previously met a representative group of parents from the Dublin south-west area and the CEO of Uplift who presented me with a petition calling for this situation on disability assessments to be addressed. I am acutely aware of the difficulties being experienced by families in this area and I want this situation to be resolved. The HSE is currently engaged in a reconfiguration of existing therapy resources to geographic-based teams for children up to 18 years. The objective of the new model of assessment and intervention is to provide one clear referral pathway for all children irrespective of their disabilities, where they live or the schools they attend. It is expected that this reconfiguration of services will have a significant impact on our ability to meet the needs of children and young people in a more efficient, effective and equitable manner and, in particular, on our ability to comply with the statutory timeframes set out in the Disability Act and the accompanying regulations.
The current programme for a partnership Government commits the Government to improving services and increasing supports for people with disabilities, particularly for early assessment and intervention for children with special needs.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I acknowledge and recognise the investment the Government has put into this area. It is worth making the point again that this happened last March. I appreciate the Minister of State has met the parents. We have all, as public representatives, met parents who are caught up in this. It is an incredibly bureaucratic situation that it has taken until now for the need for a temporary person to fill the position to be recognised and for the process to be advanced to the point the Minister of State has outlined. The result of that delay is that 500 assessments are backlogged. I hope that on foot of the Minister of State's words today and what he has committed to there will be sufficient resources and effort by the HSE, when somebody comes into the position, to clear that backlog in a speedy and reasonable way. Each month is a month that is irreplaceably lost to the child and family. I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I welcome his reply and the additional information he has supplied but I make the point that it is about resources. The HSE must support the filling of this post by providing the necessary resources to allow the backlog to be cleared.
It is incredibly disappointing when we know in advance what will happen if someone leaves a role like an assessment officer role. Effectively, it takes a year or perhaps nine months or so before the necessary action is taken to fill that post.
I take Deputy Brophy's point about March as well as his proper points about the bureaucracy and delays. As far as I am concerned, delays are not good enough, especially with regard to assessments for children with disabilities. Long delays are not good for the child, especially the educational, personal and emotional development of the child.
I am giving a commitment to Deputy Brophy that there will be sufficient resources to clear the backlog. There was a problem with a person withdrawing from the process and then with filling the position subsequently. We have a wider problem in certain professions. We seem to have a problem with vacant positions and finding the right people.
At the end of 2015, there were approximately 400 assessment of need applications in process. It is estimated that at the current rate there will be approximately 500 assessment of need applications in the process by the end of the year.
The HSE social care division has requested that the local area provides an improvement plan to address the significant backlog of applications. I will be pushing strongly for this. The implementation plan will be submitted and considered. I am giving a commitment over the next two weeks to implement the appropriate action plan without further delay. The HSE is endeavouring to fill the position on a temporary basis until a successful candidate is appointed. The HSE will continue to progress applications within the available capacity and ensure that the backlog of applications is reduced at the earliest opportunity.
I will bring the strong message sent from Deputy Brophy back to the HSE and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. We cannot have a situation where delays in providing assessments of need for children, especially in my area of responsibility for children with disabilities, are allowed to continue. We have the resources and they are included in the programme for Government. Now we need to implement strong decisive action plans to deal with these issues.
Ós rud é go bhfuil beirt Theachtaí ag labhairt, beidh dhá bomaite ag an Teachta Connolly agus dhá bomaite ag an Teachta Ó Cuív.
Tá muintir Árann fágtha gan seirbhís farantóireachta. Agus muid inár suí anseo, bhí siadsan i mbun agóide chun a chur in iúl cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an tseirbhís seo agus na himpleachtaí tromchúiseacha a bhaineann leis an gcinneadh a rinne an comhlacht príomháideach deireadh a chur leis an tseirbhís seo. B'fhéidir go bhfuil beagánín dul chun cinn déanta i rith an lae - níl mé cinnte faoi sin fós - agus b'fhéidir go bhfuil freagra ag an Aire Stáit. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil locht ar an gcóras áitiúil agus ar an gcomhlacht príobháideach, ach tá locht ar an Rialtas freisin. Tá easpa eolais, tuisceana agus tola i gceist ó thaobh an Rialtais de. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil a dhóthain déanta ag an Aire Stáit - gach rud gur féidir leis a dhéanamh - ach tá easpa tuisceana ann ó thaobh an Rialtais de. Tá se sin cinnte.
Tá réiteach fadtéarmach ag teastáil go géar, ach tá réiteach gearrthéarmach ag teastáil freisin. Cad é an plean B? An bhfuil an tAire Stáit chun an cabhlach a úsáid? An mbeidh seirbhís eile ann? An gcuirfidh sé in iúl dúinn go bhfuil toil an Rialtais athruithe agus go dtuigeann an Rialtas cé chomh tábhachtach is cé chomh riachtanach is atá an tseirbhís seo? Tá muintir Árann scartha ón mórthír. Tá impleachtaí tromchúiseacha ann ó thaobh sláinte agus oideachais de. Níl gá dom é sin a rá leis an Aire Stáit. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil an t-eolas go léir aige, ach an bhfuil plean B ag an Aire Stáit? Má tá, an ndéarfaidh sé go sonrach cibé is é an plean B sin?
Mar atá ráite cheana sa choiste agus mar a dúirt mé anseo i rith Cheisteanna na gCeannairí ar maidin, fágadh muintir Árann gan aon sheirbhís farantóireachta ó mhaidin inniu. Bhí a fhios againn le fada an lá go raibh an chontúirt ann go dtarlódh sé seo. Go deimhin féin, is beag ná gur tharla an rud céanna an geimhreadh seo caite. Ach oiread leis an Teachta Connolly, ba mhaith liom a fháil amach céard atá déanta le malairt seirbhíse a chur ar fáil agus ní hamháin inniu ná inné ach céard atá déanta le mí anuas le déanamh cinnte go mbeadh seirbhís eile ar fáil dá dtarraingeodh an farantóir siar an tseirbhís atá sé ag cur ar fáil? Cén dul chun cinn atá déanta inniu le malairt seirbhíse a chur ar fáil? Is bónas mór a bheidh ann má thagann an chomhairle contae agus Island Ferries ar chomhréiteach, ach níl aon smacht gearrthéarmach ag an Aire Stáit air sin.
Cuirim go leor den locht ar an gcomhairle contae agus ní i ngeall ar an gcaidreamh leis an bhfarantóir. Cuirim an locht ar an gcomhairle contae mar rinne Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe iarracht a dhéanamh go gcaitheadh na hoileánaigh- agus bhí Roinn an Aire Stáit páirteach anseo - 80 cent a íoc as ucht landáil ar an gcé. Agus má tá sé ráite míle uair agam, bhí sé sin cosúil le ticéad saor in aisce a thabhairt ar traein agus a rá, dála an scéil, nuair a landálann an traein ar an ardán sa stáisiún go gcaithfear 80 cent a íoc as ucht an t-ardán a úsáid.
Chomh maith leis sin, do lá inniu agus do lá amárach, mar tá a fhios ag Aer Arann cé mhéad a iompraíodh inniu agus glacaim leis nach mbeidh seirbhís ar fáil amárach mura dtiocfaidh athrú intinne ar Island Ferries, creidim féin go mba cheart don Aire Stáit cinneadh láithreach a dhéanamh go ndéanfar fóirdheonú ar Aer Arann le go mbeadh €10 ar thicéad fillte d'oileánach agus €5 do dhuine óg ón oileán agus go mbeadh na pinsinéirí agus na daoine le saorthaisteal in ann taisteal in aisce in áit na táillí ollmhóra atá á ngearradh agus iadsan €35 do thicéad fillte do dhaoine fásta, €23 do dhaoine óga agus €15 do phinsinéirí. Chomh maith leis sin, tá sé oll-chostasach ar fad - €49 - ar dhuine éigin atá ag dul isteach le seirbhís. Tá go leor a bhféadfadh an tAire Stáit a dhéanamh. Tá mé ag súil le freagraí soiléire uaidh tráthnóna faoi céard atá ag dul ag tarlú amárach agus sna laethanta beaga atá romhainn. Pléfimid an cheist fad-téarmach arís.
Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí as ucht an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú. Mar is eol do na Teachtaí, tá rudaí bogtha ar aghaidh óna raibh díospóireacht againn ar an ábhar ag deireadh mhí Dheireadh Fómhair. Chuir an comhlacht farantóireachta siar an fógra a rinneadar go raibh siad ag cur deireadh leis an tseirbhís idir Ros an MhíI agus Inis Mór ar roinnt ócáidí, ach faraor chuireadar an fógra i bhfeidhm inné, 30 Samhain, agus tuigim nach raibh seirbhís bháid paisinéara ar fáil don oileán sin maidin inniu. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil a fhios agam cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an tseirbhís seo don oileán. Is léir ón bplé ar fad atá déanta ar an ábhar le tamall anuas go bhfuil ceithre phríomh-pháirtí sa díospóireacht seo: an comhlacht farantóireachta Island Ferries Teo, mo Roinn féin, Coinhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe agus pobal an oileáin. Ar ndóigh, is iad pobal an oileáin is mó atá buailte ag an gcinneadh atá déanta ag Island Ferries Teo agus caithfimid cuimhneamh ar sin agus muid ag plé an ábhair seo. Níl dabht ach go raibh Island Ferries Teo ag cur seirbhís mhaith ar fáil don oileán le blianta anuas. Tá an comhlacht sin ag cur seirbhís ar fáil don oileán ó mhí Feabhra 2013 gan aon chúnamh ón Stát, rud sílim a léiríonn gur slí bhrabúsach atá i gceist. Chun cinnteacht a thabhairt don tseirbhís, tá iarrachtaí déanta ag mo Roinn trí chomórtas soláthar poiblí conradh a chur ar an tseirbhís ach níor éirigh léi é sin a dhéanamh in 2013 ná arís in 2014. Arís in 2015, chinn an comhlacht a bhí ag cur an tseirbhís ar fáil nach leanfaidís leis an tseirbhis tar éis 31 Eanáir 2016 suas go dtí mí Aibreáin 2016. Deacrachtaí leis an laghad ioncaim ó bheith ag reáchtáil seirbhíse sa gheimhreadh an chúis a thug an comhlacht an uair sin. Chuaigh mo Roinn i mbun plé le geallshealbhóirí ábhartha chun feiceáil an bhféadfaí teacht ar réiteach. Tar éis an plé seo, d’aontaigh an comhlacht farantóireachta seirbhís éigeandála a chur ar fáil ar feadh tréimhse trí mhí ó 1 Feabhra go dtí 30 Aibreán 2016 ach suim €50,000 á íoc leo. Leanadh leis an tseirbhís ag an am ach níor tarraingíodh anuas an fóirdheontas a ceadaíodh.
Is léir ón bplé ar fad nach bhfuil Island Ferries Teo ag glacadh leis an leibhéal táillí atá leagtha ag Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe ar Ché Chill Rónáin ag eascairt as fodhlithe a cuireadh i bhfeidhm ar an gcé. Is ceart a mheabhrú don Teach gur thóg an comhlacht dúshlán cúirte ina n-aghaidh a chuaigh go dtí an Cúirt Uachtarach, agus gur chailleadar an cás. Chuir Island Ferries Teo doiciméad os comhair mo Roinn le deireanaí ina raibh moltaí faoi réiteach ar an bhfadhb mar aon le tuairimí faoi thodhchaí na seirbhíse. Thug mo Roinn éisteacht mhaith do na moltaí agus tá mé sásta a rá go bhfuil Island Ferries Teo bogtha ón seasamh a bhí acu roimhe seo maidir leis na fodhlithe. Is céim mhór í sin. Tá mé féin agus mo chuid oifigeach i dteagmháil rialta le Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe faoin ábhar agus i dteagmháil chomh maith le Island Ferries Teo agus le hionadaithe ón oileán, ach ag deireadh an Iae, pé socrú a dhéanfar maidir leis na táillí a thagann ó na fodhlithe, is gá gur socrú idir an chomhairle contae agus Island Ferries Teo a bheidh ann. Níl mo Roinn ábalta na fodhlithe a athrú ar ndóigh. Ní mór dom a rá freisin nach costas nua é seo ar an gcomhlacht mar gur táille d’úsáideoirí na seirbhíse atá i gceist, amháin. Tá mo Roinn fós ar fáil le haghaidh réiteach a fháil ar an bhfadhb. Tá réamh-theagmháil déanta ag mo Roinn leis an Roinn Cosanta. Leanfar leis na hiarrachtaí ar fad atá ar siúl agus fáiltím roimh mholtaí ón bhfreasúra maidir Ieis an ábhar. Ba mhaith liom an deis seo a thapú chomh maith impí ar Island Ferries Teo an tseirbhís mar a bhí sí a chur ar siúl arís mar bheart dea-thola agus chun deis a thabhairt le teacht ar shocrú do na míonna amach romhainn.
Mar atá a fhios ag na Teachtaí, pléadh an cheist thábhachtach seo ag cruinniú an chomhairle contae inniu. Tá mé ag fanacht ar na moltaí a ghlac an chomhairle contae leis a chloisteáil, ach ghlac siad le moladh chun cead nó treoir a thabhairt don phríomhfheidhmeannach suí síos le mo Roinn agus leis an gcomhlacht farantóireachta. Tá mé sásta an cruinniú sin a eagrú do 9 r.n. ar maidin má theastaíonn. Beidh mé ag plé leis an gcomhlacht agus leis an gcomhairle contae chun an próiseas sin a thosú go luath.
Tá an stair go léir ar eolas againn. Ní bhaineann sé seo le fodhlíthe. Bhaineann sé le cúrsaí sábháilteachta. Tá gá le réiteach práinneach a aimsiú go gearrthéarmach. Níl mé sásta leis an bhfreagra atá faighte againn. Tá stair na ceiste seo leagtha amach ag an Aire Stáit. Caithfear réiteach a fháil. Cad é an réiteach a bheidh ar an bhfadhb seo? Ní féidir le muintir Árann na hoileáin a fhágáil gan an tseirbhís bhunúsach seo. Níl sé ceart ná cóir go bhfuil orthu dul i mbun agóide chun seirbhísí bunúsacha a fháil. Mar a dúirt mé, tá easpa tuisceana i gceist ó thaobh an Rialtais de. Tá gá le réiteach anois. Tá sé de dhualgas ar an Aire Stáit agus ar an Rialtas réiteach práinneach a bhaint amach. Ba cheart go mbeadh an tAire Stáit in ann a rá linn cad a bheidh i gceist ón lá amárach amach. Ní féidir le muintir na n-oileáin taisteal anonn is anall gan an tseirbhís bhunúsach seo. Ba chóir go mbeadh cruinnithe ar bhonn práinne idir ionadaithe na Roinne, na Teachtaí Dála ón gceantar agus muintir Árann. Tá sé ráite agam go bhfuil locht ar an gcóras áitiúil, ach tá dualgais i bhfad níos tábhachtaí ar an Rialtas.
Is náireach amach is amach an rud é gur smaoinigh an chomhairle chontae agus an Rialtas ar tháille úsáide a chur ar phobal Árann. Le linn Ceisteanna na gCeannairí sa Teach seo níos luaithe, d'iarr mé ar an Tánaiste soiléiriú a thabhairt dúinn an bhfuil an Roinn sásta fordheontas breise a dhéanamh le go mbeidh táille á ghearradh ar Aer Arann a bheadh comhionann leis an táille a bhíodh á híoc ar na hoileáin eile ar na báid. Níl mé ag caint ar na táillí a bhí i gceist go hÁrainn mar bhíodar as bealach ar fad ar aon chaoi. Cén uair a rinne an Rialtas teagmháil leis an gcomhlacht i dtosach? Bhí a fhios againn le mí anuas go raibh sé seo le tarlú. An raibh an Rialtas i dteagmháil le comhlachtaí farantóireachta sa tír seo, in Albain nó in aon tír eile le mí anuas, ó fuair siad an fógra go raibh an tseirbhís i mbaol, le féachaint an mbeidís sásta seirbhís a chur ar fáil dá dtarraingeodh Island Ferries as? Más rud é go raibh, cén uair a tharla sé sin agus cé mhéad comhlachtaí a bhí i gceist? Ar labhair an Rialtas leis na comhlachtaí sin inniu, ó tharla nach bhfuil aon fharantóir ag dul go dtí Oileáin Árann níos mó, le malairt seirbhíse a chur ar fáil?
Maidir leis an bpróiseas, chuir mé an Teachta Connolly, an Teachta Ó Cuív agus na Teachtaí eile sa Dáilcheantar ar an eolas faoi chuile rud. Pléadh an t-ábhar seo ag cruinniú le baill Chomhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe coicís ó shin. Ní raibh chuile dhuine ar an intinn céanna. Níor tháinig moladh as an gcruinniú sin. Bhí a fhios againn go raibh na comhairleoirí chun an ábhar a phlé Dé Luain seo caite agus tharla sé sin. Níor tháinig aon mholadh as an gcruinniú sin ach an oiread. D'eagraigh mé cruinniú idir phríomhfheidhmeannach Chomhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe, Paddy O'Brien agus na dlíodóirí Dé Máirt seo caite. Pléadh an t-ábhar ag cruinniú eile inniu agus tá moladh tagtha amach ón gcruinniú sin. Tá na hoifigigh i mo Roinn ag déanamh iarrachta bád eile a fháil. Tá iarracht déanta acu. Sílim go mbeidh bád ar fáil. Tá siad fós i dteagmháil le comhlachtaí sa tír seo. Tá a fhios agam cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an cheist seo. Mar atá ráite agam i gcónaí, is ceist do na comhairleoirí iad na táillí. Rinne na comhairleoirí cinneadh i dtaobh na dtáillí. Ní raibh said sásta an cinneadh sin a athrú ina dhiadh sin. Bhí cás cúirte ann, agus chaill Island Ferries an cás sin. Bhí an bua ag an gcomhairle chontae. Cé go bhfuil an dlí ar thaobh Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe maidir leis na táillí, tá na comhairleoirí fós sásta breathnú orthu mar gheall ar an díospóireacht a bhí acu inniu. Bhí mise lárnach sa phróiseas sin, leis na comhairleoirí, chun rudaí a athrú. Is céim mhór í sin ó Island Ferries. Tá céim mhór tógtha ag na comhairleoirí freisin maidir leis na táillí. Tá sé ráite go pearsanta ag Paddy O'Brien liomsa nach bhfuil sé ag leagan an milleán maidir leis na táillí orm ná ar an Roinn, ach ar an gcomhairle chontae. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil an cheist seo pléite i gceart ag na comhairleoirí agus gur tháinig moladh as an gcruinniú sin. Mar a dúirt mé níos luaithe, tá mé sásta suí síos le haon duine ar 9 r.n. ar maidin chun réiteach ar an ábhar seo a fháil.
I wish this evening to raise a very serious issue regarding the JobPath scheme. The scheme is not fit for purpose. I say so because the nature and level of complaints I am receiving in my office is of serious concern. I appeal to the Minister to take these complaints on board. Many Deputies have previously raised this very issue in the House. Constituents tell me that they feel they are being harassed and forced to take up positions under the JobPath scheme to which they are simply unsuited and which will not allow them to upskill. These are very constrained positions which do not allow them to develop their skills. I have been contacted by constituents of mine who have spent all their lives in a trade, for example, on a building site. They are forced to go to a Seetec office, sit in front of a computer and type up a CV. This is done without helpful assistance and in a manner which demeans and humiliates them. It is completely wrong that this is happening in 2016. Another constituent, who would have had much to offer in the local community under a CE scheme due to his vast local and historical knowledge, was told that he could not avail of the opportunity of a CE scheme. This is crazy. This man has much to offer, yet he is being denied that opportunity. People are being forced to turn down genuine opportunities that would provide them with skills and an appropriate career path so that the private operators behind the JobPath scheme can get their returns. That is what it is about. It is an agenda. It is about achieving results, but it does not matter how they go about achieving those results. They clearly go about it in a very heavy-handed manner.
There is a genuine concern among jobseekers that this scheme is seen as a way to reduce their social welfare payments without meaningful engagement suited to their needs. Figures released by the Minister's Department show that a penalty has been applied to 499 people in respect of the scheme. We recognise that there needs to be a system whereby jobseekers are given appropriate training and support in order to upskill and enter the jobs market.
There must be compassion and understanding. As I have stated, many of these people worked for 30 years and found themselves without employment because of austerity and everything else imposed on the country. The country was wrecked and it is not the fault of many of these people that they have been forced into this system. People have complained about harassment, which is extremely worrying, and having to attend a Seetec office two mornings a week. It is my understanding that at least 140 complaints were lodged in respect of the two companies providing this service.
As I said, many people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. It was the failed policies of propping up the banks that led many to their current position. These people are not criminals but they have fallen on hard times and need our support. This scheme strips them of their dignity, which is unacceptable. JobPath is causing untold damage to community employment, CE, schemes. I attended a meeting only last week in Tullamore hosted by CE-sponsoring bodies in Offaly. They included Offaly Centre of Independent Living and Offaly Local Development Company. Of these two bodies, one supplies workers to support people with disabilities but they are being denied that opportunity. That means people with disabilities are now being affected and communities are being denied the help of community employment schemes put in place by the Offaly Local Development Company. Such schemes bridge the gaps left by cuts in local authority funding. What is happening is absolutely crazy.
These bodies argue that many local organisations that provide vital services to vulnerable people in the community cannot fill CE vacancies because of JobPath. In Offaly, there is annual expenditure of €10 million across 22 projects for CE schemes, supporting 349 bodies across 160 local groups. They provide vital services like meals on wheels, child care, after school services, men's sheds, senior citizen activities and many more. In many cases these schemes shore up the shortfall in public services due to the cuts that have ravaged the sector. CE schemes are vital in rural Ireland and many community projects do fantastic and invaluable work. They Minister may not be aware of them.
The Deputy has exceeded her time.
Helping to keep those communities together and ensuring that essential work is carried and vital programmes are implemented should be the Minister's responsibility.
JobPath is a relatively new approach to employment activation whereby my Department has procured additional resources, under contract, to enable us to provide a high quality case-managed service to people who are long-term unemployed. JobPath supplements the internal case management capacity of my Department's Intreo service and the local employment service, LES. Over the past year, this additional capacity has enabled my Department to provide an intensive one-to-one employment support and advisory service to over 60,000 long-term jobseekers who would otherwise not have received such a service.
All jobseekers are required to engage with my Department's activation service irrespective of whether the service is provided directly by my Department through Intreo or branch office, the LES or by JobPath. The period of engagement with JobPath for individuals is typically 52 weeks. During that time they receive intensive individual support to help them overcome barriers to employment and they are also provided with a range of training and development supports, including online modules, career advice, CV preparation and interview skills. During the year, if a person gets or is placed into a job, he or she will continue to receive assistance for at least three months and up to an additional 12 months while in employment to ensure the job can be continued. If someone has completed the 12-month engagement with the JobPath service and is still unemployed, participation on community employment, CE, and other schemes remains an option that can be considered at that stage.
So far over 60,000 jobseekers have engaged with JobPath since the service commenced in July 2015 and 145 complaints have been recorded. This is 0.2% of the total. The majority of the complaints were about people's initial reluctance to engage with the service or about an adverse customer experience. All complaints are taken seriously and have been resolved or are in the process of being resolved.
Legislation provides that sanctions in the form of reduced payments may be imposed by a departmental deciding officer where a person fails without good cause to co-operate with activation measures. These measures include attendance at group or individual meetings with case officers, willingness to avail of suitable education, training or development opportunities and also specified employment programmes that may be appropriate to a person's circumstances. JobPath providers do not have the authority to impose sanctions or penalty rates on anybody. My Department does not facilitate or encourage people to switch from one activation programme to another mid-stream. That applies both ways. The reason for this is to effectively manage the allocation of jobseekers to all services. It also ensures that there is continuity in the activation service provided, which enables the person concerned to follow a progression plan to employment and move from a dependence on a jobseeker's payment.
There have been some cases where people have sought to leave JobPath to take up a CE placement. There is a protocol in place whereby an individual has the option of taking up a CE placement if it is offered before the referral date to JobPath, with a confirmed start date within four weeks. CE schemes provide temporary work in communities as a stepping stone back to employment for people in receipt of a range of social welfare payments, including those on a long-term jobseeker's payment. However, CE placements are not full-time, sustainable jobs and do not pay as well as a minimum wage job. People should never be diverted from a regular job in favour of CE, Tús, Gateway, JobBridge or any other such scheme.
Under JobPath, client engagement is more frequent and more intensive. Some people may have difficulty in adjusting to this, especially those who have not had any meaningful activation support for a considerable period. JobPath tries to give people a sense of structure, which they will need if they are to re-engage with the workforce. The companies are subject to regular checks and inspections. In addition, my Department has commissioned a client satisfaction survey to ensure that services are being delivered satisfactorily. The results of this survey are expected before the end of the year. Overall, the response to JobPath has been quite positive and initial indications in terms of employment outcomes, such as getting people off welfare and into work, are also very encouraging.
I thank the Minister for his response but I am disappointed because there is a lack of clarity about what action will be taken by the Government on this issue. The Minister mentioned that there were 145 complaints but are people made aware of the mechanism for making complaints? Many people who came to me were not sure of that mechanism at all. I assure the Minister he would have thousands of complaints if he lets people know about that mechanism, as he should. He has the responsibility to let people know they are entitled to make the complaint.
At a local meeting in my constituency, local CE operators put forward a number of suggestions that could be considered and I appeal to the Minister to do so. They suggested reducing the criteria for CE schemes to nine months so those in receipt of jobseeker's benefit may take up positions. They have also suggested that jobseekers could have a choice, as they should do, if they received offers under both schemes. The Minister mentioned that there was some flexibility in this respect but I know of one case where a man was turned down but should have been on a CE scheme. These operators request that a referral to a CE scheme from JobPath should be an option and call for a new referral scheme, as the previous one has collapsed.
It seems these are reasonable and common-sense proposals so will the Minister commit to supporting community employment schemes? Will he commit to a full review of the JobPath programme, with a full public consultation process and detailed consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, including local employment services and CE operators taking place as soon as possible. I appeal to the Minister to ensure people are aware of the complaints mechanism as in my experience they are not.
People are made aware of the complaints procedure, or at least they should be. I will instruct my officials to ensure that is the case. I get some complaints to my office and they vary in nature. They go from people who just did not like the case officer or had a communications or personality clash to people who are just shocked that somebody is engaging with them one-to-one for the first time and trying to procure a job for them. Some people just do not like that. There are people who have become institutionalised, going from welfare to training scheme to CE scheme and repeating that process on a carousel of dependency. For some of these people it is quite a shock when somebody tells them they will find a job.
I should point out that jobseeker's allowance is conditional on a person seeking full-time work and a job should be taken if it is on offer. If a person does not want to work, it is always possible for him or her to sign off. There are many people who get up in the morning every day, going to a job they may not like because that is how they get the money to pay bills and look after their family. These people pay taxes and fund the CE and welfare system. It is not okay for some people to say they do not want to work or they will keep claiming welfare until they get a job they believe they want or suits them.
JobPath is not the overriding reason for the real and genuine difficulty in filling places on community employment schemes. Community employment supervisors have got it all wrong if they think JobPath is the main reason. We are finding it difficult to fill community employment places because unemployment has halved in the past four years. In the same period, the number of community employment, Tús and Gateway placements has almost doubled. The number of people who are available has halved and the number of placements has doubled.
Waste Disposal Charges
Earlier this summer, in response to widespread concern about the way the domestic pay-by-weight system was being introduced, Fianna Fáil called on the Minister to implement a transition period for the system to ensure householders were fully informed and were able to plan financially for the expected charges. One of the key features of the agreement that was put together in June of this year was that the prices being paid by customers would be frozen for 12 months on the basis of their current plans. It was also agreed that no later than 1 January 2017, customers would receive dual pricing bills listing the amounts of waste they are disposing of and, for comparative purposes, details of how much they are paying under their current plans and how much they will pay under the pay-by-weight system. The aim of this approach was to provide clarity for customers and to enable them to make more informed choices. However, what we are seeing on the ground is very different.
Residents of areas I represent, including Farran, Ovens and Killumney, have seen their bills increasing since September, when the local waste collection company, Wiser, introduced a charge on refuse weighing more than 30 kg. This is happening even though the new legislation in this area is not due to come in until next year. These customers have not received dual-pricing bills and therefore have been unable to make comparisons. They have merely been given advice on how to reduce the weight of the refuse they are leaving out for collection and some information on the charges they must pay. This is how they were told about the new arbitrary figure of 30 kg. These customers never expected such a situation to apply in light of the agreement that was reached earlier this year. It is not acceptable that this company, under the guise of a fair usage policy, is flouting the agreement so soon after it was announced by the Minister, Deputy Coveney.
When the Minister outlined his plans for introducing a pay-by-weight system, he said it was being done "in a way that builds acceptance and understanding of the benefits of Pay-by-Weight over time". The customers in my constituency were given no time to make decisions on how they would like to pay their future bills. The Minister assured us that "the operation of the price freeze by the industry will be closely monitored by Government and, in the event of evidence of it not being honoured, [he] will ensure that primary legislation is brought forward to legislate to enforce the freeze". What powers does the Minister have to enforce this agreement, given that companies like Wiser appear to be flouting it? If he does not have those powers, does he have plans to bring such powers about?
Tá costais bhreise á ngearradh ar theaghlaigh thart ar An Fearann, Cill na hOmnaí, Na hUamhanna agus áiteanna eile. Is cosúil go bhfuil an comhlacht atá ag bailiú an bhruscair tar éis an córas nua íoc-de-réir-meáchain a chur i bhfeidhm go luath, in ainneoin an tsocraithe a rinne an Rialtas chun an córas seo a chur siar go dtí an bhliain seo chugainn. People who live outside the larger population centres are suffering the most because they do not have separate bins for their food and biodegradable waste. They are forced to put such waste in their general waste bins and are consequently charged at the general waste rate. This contradicts the Government's policy of attempting to meet targets for food segregation and biodegradable waste. Customers should be given the opportunity to divert waste from landfill. If waste providers are breaking the agreement that was drawn up earlier this year, they must be held accountable. I understand the Minister is meeting the various groups. What enforcement measures will be taken against waste companies that are flouting the agreement and dumping on householders?
I thank Deputy Moynihan for raising this issue, to which I am responding on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Naughten. The charges applied by waste management companies are matters for those companies and their customers, subject to compliance with all applicable environmental and other relevant legislation, including contract and consumer legislation. The mandatory pay-by-weight per kilogramme charging structure for household waste collection was due to be introduced in mid-2016. As the waste industry began releasing its proposed pay-by-weight prices in June 2016, the Government relayed to the industry its concern about the reported escalation of waste bills for customers of certain companies. As a result, on 30 June last regulations were signed to remove the requirement for a mandatory pay-by-weight charging structure. A review of the pricing structures used for the collection of household waste, with a focus on encouraging households to prevent, separate and recycle waste and reduce residual waste going to landfill, is due to be completed by July 2017.
My understanding of the case raised by Deputy Moynihan is that a collector has identified that a small percentage of customers consistently and repeatedly present extremely heavy residual waste bins, in some cases weighing over 120 kg. The presentation of this amount of waste for collection presents risks on a number of fronts, most significantly in terms of the health and safety of the staff collecting the bins. If every household presented such large volumes of waste, the capacity of collectors to deal with the material would be called into question. Our capacity to manage and treat the waste we produce has been called into sharp focus this year. A serious problem with regard to waste operators' access to outlets for the disposal of residual waste has been encountered in 2016. This issue will be further compounded if our society does not seek to change its behaviour in terms of the amount of waste it generates. I understand that heavy users will not be charged on a pay-by-weight basis if they present less than 30 kg of residual waste per fortnight - this is an allowance of over three quarters of a tonne per annum - or less than 22 kg of recyclable waste per fortnight - this is an allowance of well over half a tonne per annum.
I am informed that the collector is in the process of rolling out food waste bins. This will give householders an opportunity to further reduce the waste going into their residual bins. Measures that incentivise a change in behaviour, especially by encouraging a reduction in the generation of waste and particularly residual waste, will not only lessen our impact on the environment but will also help to ensure we have the capacity and capability to manage our waste appropriately today and into the future. If householders are not happy with the service they are receiving, it is open to them to take their custom elsewhere if they believe they can obtain better value with a rival collector. I appreciate that this is not always possible in rural areas where there may be just one provider. The more serious issue here, and the reason the changes that were intended to come into force in July of this year were originally mooted, is the ongoing concern about capacity in landfill facilities. I am sure no politician in this House would like to have to attend a public meeting to make the case for new landfills around this country to deal with a growing waste problem as our economy and our population grows.
I put it to the Minister of State that enforcement is needed. Waste companies are either charging under the pay-by-weight system or they are not. It is a black and white matter. It is clear that waste companies are charging by the kilogramme even though they are not supposed to do so until next year. I suggest the Government needs to take action in this respect. The Minister of State referred to bins "weighing over 120 kg". We are not talking about massive loads in the order of 120 kg. We are talking about those customers who are described by providers as average customers with bins weighing 30 kg. They are being charged for weights in excess of that average. Half of the customers are going to be over the average without coming anywhere near an unreasonable weight like 120 kg. Many of those who have weights in excess of 30 kg will have weights of less than 40 kg. No credit towards the average is given for occasions when bins are not put out.
I am pleased that providers will be coming forward with an additional bin. That needs to happen sooner rather than later. There is no dual billing in place, but there is weighing. People are being charged for weights in excess of 30 kg. They are not huge bins by any stretch of the imagination. What kind of enforcement does the Government intend to put in place in respect of this form of charging? I understand that there will be a meeting. An issue arose in June and July because of the uncertainty and confusion that was being felt by customers.
They felt they had breathing space until next year. It is only adding further to the confusion to think that some are allowed to charge and others are not, and that confusion needs to be cleared up. They are not supposed to be charging. The Government is supposed to be introducing legislation and dealing with it.
As I have stated, my Department is reviewing how we can best encourage households to segregate and recycle their waste by using appropriate charging structures. In terms of our impact on the environment and our potential to exploit the value of the waste that we cannot avoid producing, particular pricing mechanisms have been shown to be very effective in terms of changing our behaviour. My understanding is that per-kilogramme pay-by-weight is not being introduced in the Cork area. I have been informed that a small number of customers who produce consistently high levels of waste are being offered an opportunity to bring their waste-----
I have one example where it is 30 kg.
I will be happy to bring that example to the attention of the Minister if the Deputy will provide the information. As I said, I have been informed that a small number of customers who produce consistently high levels of waste are being offered an opportunity to bring their waste presentation more in line with average figures in an effort to reduce the health and safety issues associated with collecting excessively heavy bins, to reduce the amount of waste being produced and to reduce the amount of waste placed in the residual bin through the provision of food waste bins.
I acknowledge this is something that needs to be rolled out in many different areas. The whole purpose of this process has been to reduce the amount of waste entering landfill. As our population grows, that will be more of a problem. The idea of encouraging recycling and composting was to reduce the amount of weight in the bins and, therefore, reduce the cost. As I said, there are serious capacity problems in landfills throughout the country and serious issues that we have to tackle. That is what this measure is about. If the Deputy provides me with examples, I will ensure the Minister responds to him.