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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 2 Jun 2022

Vol. 1023 No. 3

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

7. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will provide data on the number of early learning and care and school-age children providers that have closed down in each of the past five years and to date in 2022, in tabular form; if the level of closures has increased and if so, the steps he intends to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28456/22]

Will the Minister provide data on the number of providers of early learning and care to school-age children that have closed down in each of the past five years and to date in 2022 and on whether the levels of closures have increased, and if so, what steps does he intend to take to address this and will he make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy. Every year it is normal for some early learning and care and school age childcare services to close, while other new services open. Services close for a wide variety of reasons, including retirement of owners or other personal circumstances. Tusla is the independent statutory regulator for the sector. Services intending to close must notify Tusla within 28 days of closure.

The numbers of reported closures for the period 2017 to 2021 and to date in 2022 are as follows. The numbers of closures in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and to the end of April 2022 were 117, 138, 196, 197, 141 and 32, respectively. Across that same period, 449 new services opened.

On school age childcare, the data are not available prior to 2020 as there was not a registration requirement. The numbers of closures in 2020, 2021 and to the end of April 2022 were 13, 23 and eight, respectively. From 2020 to the end of April 2022, 1,544 school age services were registered. I reiterate, however, that as 2021 was the first year in which they had to register, that requirement obviously drove that significant spike.

As I mentioned earlier in reply to these questions, my Department is currently leading an ambitious programme of reforms in the ELC and SAC sector. This reform agenda is underpinned by a significant increase in investment with the additional €78 million I secured in budget 2022 bringing investment in the sector to a record €716 million.

We will continue to build on this in budget 2023 and into the future and as I have indicated before, in this year's budget my focus is on reducing the cost for parents by increased investment in the national childcare scheme, which is the direct subsidy each parent receives and which reduces the amount such parents have to pay to their provider.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am pleased to see that the Minister's priority is to ensure improved quality, affordability and sustainability of early learning and care and school-age childcare services. I am also aware of the announcement of the crucial and much-needed support to help parents with the cost of early learning and child care both immediately and as part of a longer process of transformation of the sector. While I welcome the Minister's response, I have concerns.

The Minister stated that 449 new services have opened, yet an awful lot have closed. He spoke of retirement from the sector but what is the Department's strategy to address this? It needs to be examined. We need specific measures to help parents. I have spoken to parents in recent weeks. There are significant concerns about this matter.

The Deputy is absolutely right to put the focus on that issue. I set out three major areas. Core funding will be particularly important for services that are more expensive, such as baby rooms that cater for children under 12 months where the ratio, by its nature, must be higher. In the context of core funding, there is additional financial support recognising the higher cost of delivery. That will make the opening of new baby rooms more attractive to providers. Second, there is a capital investment scheme. We will announce the first part of that later this year for take-up in 2023. The first part of the scheme will focus on the expansion and renovation of existing centres and the second will focus on capital support for the building of new early learning centres. The third aspect involves looking at the planning system and ensuring that the guidelines for the delivery of early learning care are better aligned with the planning of new housing developments. I have already met with a significant number of county planners to discuss that matter.

All of us have been working with parents and childcare professionals. These people are doing their best. It is important that we listen to all stakeholders and ensure that there is affordable childcare for parents and people who need it and that the sector is viable for childcare providers to remain open. I know how committed the Minister is to working on this. There is a great deal of funding coming on stream but I am concerned that the parents see this and that the childcare professionals in crèches or early childcare facilities also benefit. We need to ensure that it is win-win for everyone and that we have a system that is fit for purpose. Ireland is lucky in its childcare professionals. It is important that no one is in a position where they cannot send their child to a place or that one has to close.

The Deputy is absolutely right about the need to listen and engage and I do. I have met organisations and we have an early years forum with which all sectors are engaged. They have a very close relationship with the officials in my Department. We worked very closely during the Covid crisis and met almost daily at some points. That supported the sector to do such a magnificent job, particularly during the worst parts of the crisis.

On the need to reform, we have brought forward the expert group on the funding model report and we are implementing the core funding part now. We have brought forward the review of the working model and support for the workforce planning, nurturing skills. We are implementing that. I attended a very positive event two weeks ago relating to the creation of a new professional body for early years educators. A lot is happening in the sector. It is happening with the Government working in conjunction with providers and employer representatives and looking to support parents and to do more for them in this year's budget.

I am skipping some questions as the relevant Deputies are not here.

International Agreements

Verona Murphy

Question:

11. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he has drawn the attention of the Government of the urgency to ratify the optional protocol of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, which would allow people with disabilities to take a case to the United Nations over violation of their rights; his views on whether the State needs to progress the adoption of the optional protocol as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28431/22]

Has the Minister impressed on the Government the urgency of ratifying the optional protocol of the UNCRPD? It would allow people with disabilities to take a case to the UN over violation of their rights. Does the Minister believe that the State needs to progress the adoption of the optional protocol as a matter of urgency?

Ireland ratified the UNCRPD on 20 March 2018. This marked an important milestone in a process to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities in Ireland that has gathered momentum since Ireland became a signatory to the convention in 2007.

Ireland's approach to meeting the obligations of the UNCRPD is one of progressive realisation by each year moving forward on key reforms, with the obligations arising from the convention being met over time. Initial priority has been given to meeting legislative commitments and requirements.

I recognise the importance of the optional protocol, as does the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. As the Deputy will be aware, the optional protocol is an international treaty that establishes procedures aimed at strengthening the implementation and monitoring of the convention. Ratification of the optional protocol is a commitment in the programme for Government following the State's first review period before the UN committee.

Due to delays at UN level, Ireland's appearance before the committee will now be delayed. The Minister of State and I have indicated that we are open to ratification prior to the first review before the committee but we are conscious that we want to have the processes in place domestically so that we do not sign up to something that we are already in breach of because we have not made the changes. I think that is sensible.

In that regard, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act was passed in 2015 but has never been operationalised. We had a lengthy debate at Second Stage debate yesterday, which will conclude today, on the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill. This Bill will operationalise that and make some reforms to that. We see that as a key point in ensuring that we are ready for full ratification.

Alongside that, ratification of the optional protocol requires a comprehensive review of existing domestic remedies for breaches of the convention in order to ensure the state can meet the obligations. My Department is undertaking that review now and examining the final requirements for ratification and we will bring that forward as part of our UNCRPD implementation plan.

Ireland has come in for much criticism by the UN for its failure to ratify the UNCRPD. Mr. Markus Schefer, a member of the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said it gives the impression that Ireland is not confident or comfortable enough to open itself up to international scrutiny. He was speaking to the Joint Committee on Disability Matters. Ireland signed the convention in 2007 but it took us 11 years to implement it. In 2020, the Government promised to sign up to the optional protocol. I understand that we have been delayed by the UN but it is two years further on. When I brought little Leo Dixon to the Dáil, every Member was notified of his visit but only a handful turned up to meet and greet him. A wheelchair user. A person with a disability. Have I had two minutes?

No, that was one minute but the Deputy has a chance to come back with another minute.

Thank you. God bless us. I have so much to say.

Well the Deputy should try and say it in 60 seconds.

I take on board the Deputy's passion in respect of this matter. I agree about the long delay between becoming a signatory and ratification. I see that in the context in the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act, which was passed in 2015 and which is still not operationalised. That is one reason why I am so committed to implementing the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act and removing wardship which is one of the key areas where we are so out of line with what we should be providing for persons with capacity impairments in terms of the UNCRPD. To be clear, however, we set out a timeline in the programme for Government for signing up to the optional protocol after our first review. Our first review has been pushed back by the UN. We are not saying that we still have to wait; we are open to doing it prior to the first review and getting assisted decision-making passed it a key part of that.

I am not so sure that we do have to wait. That is what we committed to but we are not alone. There are ten other countries which have not signed up for it. But 13% of Ireland's population have a disability. I am a new Deputy. When I was canvassing these groups they told me they only see politicians every five years, meaning at election time. In 2020, when we actually said that we would sign up to the protocol, it was an election ploy. That is their feeling and that is discriminatory. Thirteen percent of America's population are African Americans. Do you think that we would get away with discriminating in the same way in that population cohort? No we would not and we should not be doing it here. It is shambolic and we need to recognise the 13% and give them, the Leo Dixons of this world, the right to have somewhere to go to make their complaint when the Government cannot do it.

In the previous Government, a commitment was made finally to ratify the UNCRPD. It happened. At the start of this Government, we made a commitment to put a greater focus on disability by creating a Department and taking disability out of the Department of Health. There is a stronger focus on disability, recognising the specific needs of that 13% of the population. That is happening. We have made a commitment to implement the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. That is happening in terms of legislation. I believe we will sign up to the optional protocol within the lifetime of this Government. However, it is important we have steps to put in place domestically so it can deliver for people through the processes that are established.

Is it a priority?

It is a priority.

Deputy Murphy, I am not sure did you mean anything in relation to your reference to African-American. I am not sure it was necessary but I do not think you meant anything-----

It is the significance that it is 13% of a smaller population but, nonetheless, it would not be tolerated.

I am not sure if it is helpful to make it like that.

Black lives matter. Disability matters.

All lives matter.

I apologise to Deputy Murnane O'Connor. I did not realise she was substituting.

Magdalen Laundries

John Lahart

Question:

9. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the next steps with regard to the establishment of a national memorial and archive for survivors of institutional abuse; when works will commence at the proposed Dublin 1 site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28468/22]

I will ask about the next steps with regard to the establishment of the national memorial archive for survivors of institutional abuse; when work will commence at the proposed Dublin 1 site and if the Minister will make a statement on the matter.

On 24 March, the Government approved high-level proposals for a national centre for research and remembrance. The establishment of the national centre is a core commitment in the action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions. The national centre will be located on the site of the former Magdalen laundry on Seán McDermott Street in Dublin 1. It will stand as a site of conscience and will be a national memorial to honour equally all those who were resident in mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalen laundries and related institutions.

The national centre will include a museum, an exhibition space, a central repository of records related to institutional trauma and a research centre. It will also contain a dedicated place for solemn reflection and remembrance. In addition, as part of the development of the site, social housing units, local community facilities and an educational and early learning facility will be constructed. The inclusion of these facilities will make a valuable contribution to the social and economic development of Dublin's north-east inner city.

While physically situated in Dublin, the national centre will be accessible for all survivors, whether in other parts of Ireland or abroad. It will provide digital access to records and exhibits, as well as developing physical presences elsewhere, including in conjunction with some local museums, to enable survivors to visit more easily. In this way, the centre will be a national institution which achieves a global and national reach, as well as strong connections to and benefits for the local community.

Work is under way to progress the initial planning and development stages of the national centre. This is being driven by a steering group chaired by the former secretary general to the Government and ambassador-designate to the United Kingdom. The steering group has met on two occasions to date and will meet again this month. It is currently establishing a number of work streams spanning various technical aspects of the initiative, as well as engagement with survivors and the local community in Dublin's north inner city. This will ensure that the development of the national centre is directly informed by those most centrally involved, their families and representatives.

The creation of the national centre is a major multi-annual project. While I am not in a position to provide any definitive timeline as yet, an indicative timeline of five years has been provided to me by the steering group. It is hoped that some initial maintenance and structural work to facilitate building surveys could take place on the site this year.

The establishment of the national memorial and records centre is a central commitment in the action plan for survivors and former residents of the mother and baby and county home institutions. It is right we remember, honour and pay respect to those who were resident in mother and baby homes, county homes, industrial schools, Magdalen laundries and related institutions. The Government action plan contains a number of initiatives to respond to the needs of survivors through a variety of commitments, including access to information and records, memorialisation, financial payments, health supports and other key initiatives. In particular, I welcome that the Government is committed to advancing these actions in a survivor-centred manner and to ongoing engagement and dialogue with survivors. I have brought up several times that timing is very important for survivors. I ask that we try to get this through as quickly as possible. I understand that a cross-Government process is under way to advance works on this, as the Minister said. That is really important. I welcome that the Minister said this would be in consultation with survivors.

The Deputy is right that in our response to legacy issues timing is important. This will take longer than some of the other actions. It is a major building project. It will have very positive impacts for survivors, former residents and their families and for the wider community in Dublin's north-east inner city in terms of having social housing, education and early-years elements. We have been moving very quickly on that central right of access to information. Last night, we finished Committee Stage of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 in the Seanad. We will be going to Report Stage of that legislation after the recess. That central legislation to allow immediate access to information will be passed shortly. This longer-term piece, in terms of a place where records can be held and accessed appropriately but where there is also a site of memorial and conscience, is also being progressed.

I welcome that. I asked the Minister about the timescale of when the works would commence. He was not able to give me that answer. I know there is a planning process to go through. While we are speaking about survivors, I ask the Minister about the enhanced medical cards. I have been asked about this several times. I ask that we work on that straight away. It is of the utmost importance.

What is the progress on the role of local authorities to deliver on commitments to support memorialisation initiatives throughout the country? All local authorities have a role to play. It is important that in terms of survivors in all parts of the country, there is talks and communication with all the local authorities and that we look at something going forward. How is that being addressed? I know that the Minister has worked tirelessly on this and he has worked with all of us within the children's committee. I welcome that. Timing is very important in terms of payment and medical cards.

The enhanced medical card will be as part of the institutional payments Bill, the general scheme of which is being discussed in the Deputy's committee at pre-legislative scrutiny. I know the committee is working hard to get that report. We will be introducing that legislation early in the September term, with a view to getting it passed and operational by the end of the year. Local authority engagement is very important, too. My Department has been engaging with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. There has been a group meeting. I know a report was sent to me at the start of this week. I have not had a chance to go through it in detail. I hope to read it over next week and engage with that group. Maybe I can provide the Deputy with a fuller update at that point. However, work is ongoing on memorialisation and on how local authorities can better support former residents of these institutions.

Youth Services

Niamh Smyth

Question:

8. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of Foróige clubs that are supported by his Department; the number of clubs that are in operation in counties Cavan and Monaghan; the level of activity of each; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28460/22]

I thank the Minister for being here. I am substituting for Deputy Niamh Smith. Will it be possible to get an outline of Government funding towards Foróige clubs that are supported by the Minister's Department, with regard to support provided for Cavan and Monaghan and indeed, nationally?

In total, my Department provided funding to 264 Foróige clubs nationally through the local youth club grant scheme in 2020, the latest year for which figures have been collated. Approximately 1,200 grants were made that year. Data for 2021 will be collated in the near future. A total of 72 grants were made in the Cavan and Monaghan education and training board area in 2020. Of these, 16 were made to Foróige clubs, making it the largest group to receive a local youth club grant scheme in that area.

I secured €2.5 million for the scheme in 2022, which represented a 20% increase on 2021. As the Deputy knows, as part of budgets 2020 and 2021, in each year I have been able to secure an additional €5 million for the youth sector. That means that in 2022, including capital allocations, the overall annual budget for youth funding was €73 million.

The local youth club grant scheme funding supports volunteer-led local youth work activities at a local level. The grants are made available through the local education and training boards.

My Department does not collate information on the activities of individual youth clubs. These will vary according to local needs and engagements with young people. I have been advised that some of the services provided by Foróige local youth clubs include training and education programmes, including ones for potential early school leavers and disadvantaged minority groups, and school holiday programmes, which include activities, courses, workshops and outdoor pursuits.

The local youth club grant scheme has a maximum grant level of €3,000, while the average nationally is approximately €1,500. The scheme supports in the region of 1,400 clubs or groups nationally. In recent years, Cavan-Monaghan reported that 80 or so clubs were receiving grants. As the Deputy knows, we maintained youth funding during the Covid restrictions to support the amazing online work, in many situations, that local youth clubs undertook to support young people. I will continue, in this year's budget, to seek to increase the overall funding for the youth sector, because it does such valuable work.

I will certainly relay that fabulous information to Deputy Niamh Smyth, who has been a keen supporter of the work undertaken in her constituency by youth organisations. Covid-19 has done a lot of damage to the growth and development of younger people. It has made it hard for people who are doing voluntary work with organisations like Foróige to get them back up and running and operating in-person again. I wish them well with it and acknowledge the fabulous work done by that organisation in communities across the country.

What particular supports does the Government plan to provide in the next 12 months? It is important that we get a commitment from the Minister about what he intends to do ahead of the upcoming budget. It is also important that we continue to support youth organisations post pandemic.

Absolutely. I hope to continue to grow the overall funding envelope. We have grown it by €5 million cumulatively each year and hope to continue to do that. The key scheme we are looking at is UBU Your Place Your Space, which is a targeted funding scheme. We have announced eight new schemes this year and announced six new schemes last year. We will look to continue to grow that. We had a useful discussion with youth groups from the Deputy's own area about providing additional support. We conversed about how that could be progressed at education and training board level and we are seeking to provide the funding. We are also looking at a major reform of the youth services grant scheme, which is the funding scheme for the more general, universal youth funding. Many groups rely on that. When something like that is changed, it has to be done slowly and in consultation so no one feels left out or that their funding is at risk. We are looking to reform that and make it fit for purpose in order that we can continue to expand that scheme as well.

I was delighted to have the Minister speak on a digital call with groups in my constituency recently. He made a point about funding being devolved through the Department to different organisations, including education and training boards. I often find that those organisations have their own agenda. Sometimes, geographical areas are left out. Unfortunately, Youghal, which is a town I am passionate about because I was born and raised there, has struggled to get grant support through the departmental grant mechanisms, because it is devolved to different units which have their own serious priorities in different regions of County Cork, which is extraordinarily large. I can get from my house in Youghal to Leinster House quicker than I can get to the other side of County Cork. That gives an idea of the geographical scale of County Cork. Will the Minister look at whether there is a balanced distribution of funding to different geographical areas, which is really important for a constituency like Cork?

The Deputy made that point strongly when we met. I take it on board. It is good to give some degree of local autonomy when identifying these issues. When my Department and I identify what Youghal, Fermoy or other parts of Cork mean, it is not as good as when local elements do so. We need to ensure there is a wide spread of funding and to recognise the importance of supporting youth in rural areas too. It is not just about supporting what is happening in cities and large towns, but also about supporting rural youth services. At least two of the UBU services announced this year, in Clare and Donegal, are specifically rural services, so there will be a more diffuse model rather than just one youth club somewhere. There are different models to support the different scenarios that young people are in, which I think is really important.

Ukraine War

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

10. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the engagements that he has had to date with the Department of Transport and Connecting Ireland on the actions to be taken to accommodate transport needs for the influx of refugees to rural Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28339/22]

Many parts of the country need upgrades to public transport. The response to the humanitarian crisis has added demand in some places more than others. Have these places been identified to Connecting Ireland? Is an agreement in place to accelerate these services for the benefit of the local population as well as the increased population coming in as a result of the crisis?

My Department is focused on providing short-term accommodation to people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. As we spoke of earlier, more than 23,000 people have sought short-term temporary accommodation from my Department to date. Once accommodation is allocated to beneficiaries of temporary protection by my Department, transport to that location is organised for them. I have spoken directly with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, with regard to the transport challenges faced by those fleeing Ukraine once they are in State-funded accommodation, particularly with regard to access to the supports and services that they need. My officials have engaged proactively with the Department of Transport in providing information about where the short-term accommodation contracted by us is located, and the number of beneficiaries of the temporary protection directive accommodated there, so that this can inform decision making in the Department of Transport.

On 21 April, the Minister for Transport announced that his Department and the National Transport Authority will be providing emergency public transport services to displaced Ukrainians housed in isolated locations across Ireland. New supports include measures specifically designed to reach displaced Ukrainians in rural areas. One is an acceleration of network improvements which were previously committed to, identified through the Connecting Ireland public transport consultation, including additional stops, route modifications, and more services with the aim of increasing connectivity. Additional bus services are to be deployed to cater for those Ukrainians housed away from the existing public transport network. Another is a community transport fund, which is to support occasional travel requests. This will be operated by Transport for Ireland Local Link and will allow groups supporting Ukrainians locally to apply to that fund for once-off trips. Measures include speeding up of the expansion of Local Link, specific bespoke routes for centres which are not near a link, and that fund too.

The Connecting Ireland plan had a public consultation late last year and was due to be published this summer, then implemented over five years with some routes coming in more immediately. Routes such as route 40, which serves Killarney to Macroom, Ballyvourney and on to Cork, and, similarly, route 257, which serves Killarney, Millstreet, Macroom and goes on to Bandon, were identified for improvement in the context of Connecting Ireland. They are needed. More than 300 people have come to Millstreet in recent weeks and transport is needed. Have these routes been identified to Connecting Ireland to be accelerated? I know the Minister was in contact with the Department of Transport? Have those routes been identified to Connecting Ireland for acceleration? Has it acknowledged the need for those and accepted that that kind of route would be accelerated?

I am happy to engage with the Deputy. I understand that general information was provided by my Department to Connecting Ireland and the Department of Transport about where concentrations of Ukrainian displaced persons are accommodated. The Department of Transport examined the plans for new routes under Connecting Ireland and acted to bring some forward more quickly.

On the two specific routes the Deputy identified, I propose to look at their status to see whether they are being considered in the context of the accelerated delivery of some of the routes set out in the scheme. I cannot answer on the specifics now, but we can find out the position for the Deputy.

I thank the Minister for that. There is a large group of people in Millstreet who are in need of transport. There was always a need to upgrade those services for people who have been there over many years, long-term residents. I will work with the Minister on following up on those routes and link-up routes with them, for example the 233 going on into Cork, to give people access to services. Many of the refugees are keen to work but very few of them have access to transport. If they want to be able to get over to Killarney to work, or into Macroom or anywhere, even to be able to access services and maintain contact with family and friends, there is a need. Those needs were already present in many places that were identified. It is important that Connecting Ireland would acknowledge that these routes are identified as in need of acceleration if that is possible.

I remember during the programme for Government negotiations there was a real focus to ensure that, inasmuch as we were putting significant investment into public transport in city areas, and my own very urban constituency is benefitting from that, there was a real need to focus on enhancing the local network around the country. Connecting Ireland is the roadmap towards doing that and significant funding has been put in place to support it. Perhaps one of the positive consequences of the arrival of a large number of Ukrainians is the highlighting, if it were needed, of the fact that many towns and villages in rural Ireland do not have enough public transport, as the Deputy has just said. We are actually going to be able to get a benefit now in terms of an earlier delivery of better transport routes for those areas, which will benefit Ukrainians and everyone living in those areas as well. I ask the Deputy to come back to me with the names of those two routes.

Child Abuse

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

12. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his Department has any protocols or structures in place for dealing with persons who contact it and who have made retrospective abuse allegations or disclosures relating to their time as children in State care. [27576/22]

We are all familiar with the horrific detail that came to light in the Grace case, specifically with regard to the State's response to the allegations and the abuse suffered by the person known as Grace. Are there any other cases that the Minister is aware of which are similar in nature to that of Grace?

I thank the Deputy. While the statutory bodies with primary responsibility for child welfare and protection are Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and An Garda Síochána, sometimes concerns about a child or a retrospective allegation are reported to my Department. My Department is committed to acting promptly when notified of any concerns and follows the principles of Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children. A guidance document for staff of the Department details actions which should be taken if a concern or a retrospective allegation is reported to them. While staff are not expected to make an assessment of any allegation, they are required to make a report to Tusla, or to An Garda Síochána in an emergency situation.

The term "retrospective abuse" refers to abuse that an adult experienced which took place during their childhood. Information about abuse that happened in the past must also be sent to Tusla because the alleged abuser may have contact with other children, even if he or she no longer poses a threat to the alleged victim. Tusla has a specific retrospective abuse report form for reporting in these cases, available on its website. This form is for use by adults wishing to disclose childhood abuse; mandated persons under the Children First Act, and professionals providing adults with counselling, mental health or other relevant services.

Tusla assesses all child welfare and protection concerns that are reported to it. This includes historic allegations of abuse made by persons who were previously in the care of the State. If there are ongoing child protections concerns, Tusla will take the necessary actions to ensure that a child who may be at risk of harm is protected.

With respect, the Minister has not answered my question at all. Since the establishment of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in 2014, some 13 internal case reviews have been carried out by it. My parliamentary assistant has been handed two of these reports by two women who suffered sexual abuse as children. The reports are deeply upsetting to read. In the 1990s, gardaí and social workers did not act on the disclosures when they were made. I stress that these are two separate cases. These two children escaped their abusers when they ran away from home. In all the internal case reviews, everyone mentioned is given a pseudonym, similar to Grace.

Has Tusla furnished the Minister with copies of the 13 internal case reviews that have been conducted? Was the Minister aware of these reviews or the content of these reports prior to my raising them here?

No, I was not. I am not aware of the two cases the Deputy has spoken about. If he wants to provide me with information about them, I will be happy to examine them.

The content of these reports is deeply shocking. I want to know what happens to these reports. Where is the oversight and accountability in respect of them within the Department? Can the Minister confirm to me, if somebody comes forward to report retrospective child abuse pertaining to a period when they were in State care or in foster care, whether all other adults who were previously in foster care in that home where the alleged abuse took place tracked down? Are they interviewed by social workers? Can the Minister confirm that this happens? It is really important. It is especially important that we focus on the person who brings the alleged abuse to light but also that we investigate whether there was other abuse in those families.

Have people ever contacted the Minister's office directly to report retrospective abuse? If so, has his office handled those phone calls or emails? This is not the last the Government will be hearing about this issue. We need an immediate, robust commission to investigate child sexual abuse that happened in the foster care system past and present. A full, unconditional State apology needs to be given to the victims of the State who for decades have said that nobody has believed their stories.

It is my understanding that when an allegation of retrospective child abuse is being investigated, the full processes of Children First are implemented. I will come back to the Deputy in writing on what exactly that means in terms of whether every single adult is contacted. I do not have the absolute detail on that. It is a fair question and I will come back to the Deputy on it in writing.

As I said, in respect of the two cases the Deputy identified, I am happy for him to bring them to my attention and I can look at them in more detail. I cannot speak with any more certainty on next steps until I have actually seen them. Like the Deputy, I treat issues of child sex abuse with the greatest significance and particularly if that has happened in a situation where someone was in the care of the State. That makes the situation in terms of the State's responsibility all the more grave.

Questions Nos. 13 to 33, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

It looks as though Deputy Tóibín will be on his feet again because no other Deputy is present.

Direct Provision System

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

34. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of Ukrainian nationals who have entered the direct provision system in each of the past ten years and to date in 2022. [27575/22]

This is the first time in the 11 years I have been in the House that there has been no other Deputy present to ask a Minister a parliamentary question. The Minister will agree with me that the direct provision system has been a disaster. In a country that looks back continuously at wrongs the State has done, the fact that the direct provision system is currently still functioning is a reflection on ourselves. How many Ukrainian nationals have entered the direct provision system so far?

The Deputy is correct about the direct provision system.

He knows of my efforts to end direct provision. We have the White Paper. We had a quite substantive discussion about that during the taking of questions earlier today and I set out what we are doing. I have been honest about the impact of the war in Ukraine, which has affected my Department's ability over the past three months.

Fourteen Ukrainian nationals sought international protection here in 2012. There were seven in 2013, 36 in 2014, 33 in 2015, 11 in 2016, eight in 2017 and five in 2018. I will provide the remaining figures to the Deputy after these questions. At the start of the current crisis, in late February, we saw an uptake in the number of Ukrainians seeking international protection, but once the temporary protection directive was introduced, the vast majority of Ukrainians arriving here have not been seeking international protection; rather, they are seeking the rights under the temporary protection directive.

I want to give credit to all the various community organisations and groups, including churches and State organisations, that have so far made resources available to people from Ukraine who have come to this country. There has been an enormous amount of work. It is important to give credit and recognition to those who have offered the céad míle fáilte to people fleeing what is a terrible war.

There is no doubt that there are already significant pressures on society and that many are feeling the pinch as a result, but in a time of war it is really important that we hunker down and do our best to ease the suffering of people being targeted. The danger is that the Government's plan for direct provision could in many ways come a cropper if it uses the system to house people who are fleeing from war. I am trying to get a sense of how the Government plan for direct provision and the current reality in the Ukrainian war are meeting each other.

I thank the Deputy. I echo his praise for the huge national effort that has been made by communities, local authorities, State agencies, charities and NGOs. An amazing effort has been made to extend a welcome and send practical supports to Ukrainians. The provision of accommodation to Ukrainians is imperfect. It is something we have had to put in place in such a short period for an influx the like of which we have never seen before, and that is at a time when we are trying to end a system that we have all identified as not fit for purpose. I am doing work in my Department in this regard. Last week I met the advisory group, including Dr. Catherine Day and Dr. David Donoghue, overseeing the implementation of the White Paper. I met them to determine how we can continue to respond to the needs of Ukrainians while at the same time ending direct provision. We will be introducing a revised schedule for the implementation of all elements of the White Paper shortly.

Can the Minister give us some information on the number of pledges by the general public of accommodation for people from Ukraine and the number of pledges that have been accepted in this regard? Has the Minister any information on the number of vacant homes repurposed to allow Ukrainian refugees to live in them? The issue of vacant homes has been a serious bugbear of mine for a long period. In my constituency about 4,000 people are on the housing waiting list and there are 3,000 empty homes. There are towns in my constituency where you could play hurling on the main street at midday on Friday because everybody commutes to Dublin. Most of the homes on the streets are empty. The solutions to ease the pressure regarding accommodation for Ukrainians are exactly the same as those to address everybody else's accommodation issues in the long term. If the Minister has any information on that, I would be grateful.

I share the Deputy's concern about the vacancy level in certain parts of the country, particularly in the smaller urban areas and small towns and villages. When the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, announced a package to respond to the Ukraine crisis and the wider housing crisis in April, he changed the measures under which people can apply for funding to refurbish vacant homes. He made it easier to access the funding. I hope that will allow the work to start in this regard.

There are now over 1,200 Ukrainians living in pledged accommodation across the country. Some 2,500 vacant units are being considered by local authorities at the moment. We notified the local authorities of these and they are working to move Ukrainians into them.

On shared accommodation, the vetting process is under way. Protection is obviously important where it is proposed to move a child or vulnerable adult into a house. Zoom calls, during which people show their identification to a vetter, are taking place.

Questions Nos. 35 and 36 replied to with Written Answers.

I am going to move to Question No. 37.

I appreciate that. Things have moved on a lot faster than I expected this morning.

Youth Services

David Stanton

Question:

37. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his Department has, or plans to introduce, a funding scheme to support youth clubs and organisations with the purchase of minibuses to facilitate youth activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28356/22]

This has to do with youth services. I realise the great work going on in this regard and the funding the Minister has made available, but one of the issues youth services have raised with me is the need to have minibuses to bring young people from A to B. Is there any funding stream that could be used to assist with something like this?

We had a good discussion about the funding of youth services earlier. Unfortunately, there are no plans for a specific funding stream for transport right now. I realise it is an issue. It is raised with me by those in the sector. We have a capital budget for youth services, amounting to €2.7 million, but the vast majority of these funds are for small grants to help services to maintain their buildings and youth clubs. As the Deputy knows, over the past two years we have been able to grow the overall youth services budget. An additional €5 million was made available in each of 2021 and 2022. I hope to do that again in this year's budget. It is primarily focused on current expenditure but youth services are very mobile and flexible in repurposing funding.

A transport scheme has to have multiple benefits. There is no point in having a bus vacant all day and used only for a youth club between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. We see this in the disability sector and with school transport. Work has to be done, particularly in rural areas, on using existing transport mechanisms more thoroughly and efficiently and to ensure they are being used all day. I am aware that the National Transport Authority is considering a project in this regard. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte, is very committed to determining whether the transport vehicles of various State-funded NGOs and charitable organisations can be linked to Local Link to ensure they provide a benefit all day.

I support what the Minister is saying. Many school buses are used during the day by schools and in the evening by youth services. Maybe synergies could be considered in this regard. When I was a Minister of State, I was involved with the youth justice strategy, which referred to integrating services and maximising the benefits, as the Minister has said. I support him in the work he is doing in this area. Perhaps he could talk to other Ministers and service providers to see whether there can be collaboration to maximise the use of existing services, as he has mentioned. It would make a massive difference to some, especially in the youth justice area, if they could get out and about and engage in sailing and activities in the hills and elsewhere.

Much of the time, however, they are stuck in one spot. To get them out can make a massive difference and be of huge help.

I agree with the Deputy. I do not want to let this opportunity go by without referencing the young adult travel card that the Government has introduced, which will benefit young people between the ages of 19 and 23. This was an initiative brought forward by Comhairle na nÓg to me. I and Comhairle approached the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and got the funding for that, and it applies as of two weeks ago. All young people between the ages of 19 and 23, whether they are students or working, or whatever their position in life right now, will get 50% off public transport, not just for this year but going forward. It is a great initiative, one I am very proud of and one the Government should be proud of. Particularly at a time when, first, we want to get people back onto public transport post-Covid and, second, the cost of living is high for young people, this is a big help.

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