Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Immigration Policy

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and invite Senator Lawless to proceed.

If the Cathaoirleach will permit me, I am honoured that my sisters, my uncle and aunt and my first cousins are all in the Gallery. They are descendants of my grandfather, Gerald Fitzgerald from Clonakilty, who taught in Clonakilty Agricultural College and whose three sons worked there as well. I am honoured that they are here today and thank them for joining us.

I thank the Minister of State for his attendance today for this most important issue to Irish emigrants living overseas. As the Minister is aware, on 6 March this year it was announced that the spouses and partners of critical skills employment permit holders will be able to access the Irish labour market without the need to obtain an employment permit. This is a very welcome announcement and I applaud the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, for bringing it into being. I am, however, completely bewildered that although this initiative can be introduced with relative ease, the partners of returning Irish emigrants have to wait months before securing an employment permit. Surely to God if we are extending this scheme to individuals of every nationality bar none who have the relevant employment permit, we can do the same for our own. Partners of returning Irish emigrants are waiting anything up to a year to get a work permit. They are our own people and they currently rank below partners or spouses of non-Irish workers in terms of priority. What kind of message does that send to the Irish emigrant community about how welcome they are to return home?

As the Minister of State knows, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade commissioned and published the Indecon economic report on addressing challenges faced by returning Irish emigrants in February 2018. A key challenge identified within the report was the inability of partners of returning emigrants to obtain work permits. According to the same report, in 2017, 529 spouses or partners of returning emigrants applied for work permits and the average processing time was almost six months. The report, published over a year ago now, especially recommends at a very minimum the introduction of a pre-clearance system for applications in order to speed up both information and decisions. This is the least we can expect, but I would ask the Minister of State to go further. Why not allow all spouses and partners of returning emigrants an automatic entitlement to work and get rid of the permit requirement, as the Minister of State has done for critical skills employment permit holders?

As the Minister of State is aware, we lost the Irish E3 visa allocation of 5,000 by a single vote in the US Senate before Christmas, after getting unanimous consent in the House of Representatives. The Irish E3 is a surplus visa that the Australians do not take up. We are in the process of reintroducing it in the US Senate and House very shortly and are hopeful of being successful this time around. Significantly, spouses of these E3 visa holders will automatically receive work authorisation in the United States. If this is passed, Ireland will reciprocate by allowing US citizens and their spouses work authorisation here.

Irish citizens with their spouses are now returning to Ireland after the terrible recession we had over ten years ago. They are returning with new skills and some with a non-Irish spouse. These spouses cannot get work authorisation. That is wrong. We cannot be hypocrites in this. We are talking about 572 people married to or in a partnership with Irish citizens. According to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, in 2018 almost 9,000 people were in receipt of the critical skills employment permit. All of the spouses and partners of those people and future applicants for the permit have now effectively been given an amnesty to work in this country. We must treat our returning emigrants equally. I urge the Minister of State to at least implement the recommendations of the Indecon report. Better still, he should afford partners or spouses of returning emigrants the same rights and opportunities that have been extended to over 9,000 spouses and partners of non-Irish citizens.

Before the Minister of State responds, as Cathaoirleach I would like formally to welcome Senator Lawless's cousins, the Fitzgerald and Lawless clan, including Senator Billy Lawless’s uncle Peadar and aunt Una and his cousins from Darrara, Clonakilty, which is very close to my home place. I live in Schull. I am from a little village called Kilcrohane but I know Darrara and that area very well. They are extremely welcome to the Chamber and I hope they have a lovely day. I hope they will sponge off the generosity of Senator Lawless for the rest of the afternoon.

Before the Cathaoirleach allows the Minister of State to come in, may I join with him in welcoming all of the Fitzgerald clan here today?

It is great to know that Senator Lawless is a Cork man at heart and by birth.

Most of them are now living in Killarney.

They are all welcome.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who sends his apologies, I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I welcome the opportunity to address the position on the spouses and partners of returning Irish emigrants and their access to the labour market. Broadly speaking, spouses and civil partners and de facto partners of Irish nationals have broad access to the Irish labour market. For persons in a marriage or civil partnership, entry to the State and immediate registration with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, and the Garda National Immigration Bureau is possible and these people are granted a stamp 4 immigration permission. Stamp 4 permission holders can work without the need for an employment permit, or indeed can set up their own business. Feedback from the NGO sector has indicated that this is quick and clear to navigate and is inexpensive.

For non-visa required persons, the non-EEA spouse or civil partner can be issued with an entry permission on arrival in the State and will generally have a short period of a few weeks to wait for the stamp 4 permission. It is worth noting Ireland's policy to allow de facto partners to apply for residency permission, recognising the changing nature of relationships and family make-up. The decision of INIS to facilitate such applications is progressive and sets it apart from many other jurisdictions. Currently, a non-EEA de facto partner of an Irish emigrant must make a written application to INIS for assessment, which is subject to a processing time of approximately six months, as the Senator has said. When a positive decision is made, the non-EEA person is entitled to a stamp 4 immigration permission that will allow him or her to work in Ireland without need for an employment permit.

My officials are aware of the Indecon report on returning emigrants, its recommendations, and the challenges faced by this group of people as they return to Ireland, which have been articulated well by Senator Lawless. The Department and officials in the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service have ongoing engagement with stakeholders and are working on proposals that will streamline the process for spouses, civil partners and de facto partners of returning Irish emigrants. The aim of these proposals will be to deliver significant customer improvement gains in terms of the time taken to assess applications and in providing greater clarity to applicants at an early stage before travel commitments are made. It is hoped to deliver this under the INIS service improvement plan 2018-20, and this will assist in streamlining the various schemes that permit non-EEA nationals enter and reside in the State.

I have taken note of the other points the Senator has made and will bring them to the attention of the Minister and the officials in the Department.

A brief supplementary question by Senator Lawless.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. I am delighted that he is striving to streamline the process. We have to stop putting obstacles in the path of our returning emigrants. They did the State an incredible service when they left ten years ago. Some 250,000 people left and thank God most of them are coming back, which is great to see. We need them back but they are returning with new skills, and their partners also bring new skills, and obstacles or barriers should not be put in front of them.

I ask the Minister of State to ensure this will be done as quickly as possible.

I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and for his ongoing work in respect of the diaspora. The Minister and his officials in the Department are very aware of the challenges which many returning Irish emigrants face and are actively addressing the removal of the barriers the Senator has described, where possible. It is expect that the revised arrangement will make a significant contribution to the delivery of the Government's diaspora policy.

Wildlife Control

Senator Coghlan will have to accept that it is a Cork Minister of State who will deal with this issue.

Let me assure the House that the Minister is acceptable.

I wish to raise the issue of deer wandering from Killarney National Park, which is giving rise to increasing concern about road accidents. This morning I met a lady, who is in the Gallery, who lost a wing mirror to a deer some time ago near the home of my colleague, Mr. Seán Kelly, MEP at Gortroe. There are pinch points in the Ballydowney- Gortroe area, where deer wander from the national park across to good grazing land.

There is concern that deer numbers are increasing. I hope the Minister of State can give me a breakdown of the numbers of the native Kerry red deer and the imported Japanese sika species. We have had a few hundred of them in the Killarney area for a hundred years or more. We badly need some fencing along part of the road from Killarney to Killorglin, though not along its entirety because a wall runs along a good stretch of it. The fencing on the walkway route is pretty good. However, there are points where there is no fencing. The deer come onto the land between the walkway and the roadway and they are free to cross the road. They are very much tempted to do so.

Some of the accidents have been serious. I have not heard of anyone being killed, thanks be to God, but I have heard of a lot of damage to vehicles, including in a case I heard about this morning. I am looking forward to hearing the Minister of State speak about the management plan. I know there is a new regional manager, whom I look forward to meeting. I believe he is very good on the question of deer and he has already initiated a cull of a hundred or more. A cull is necessary in managing the deer. I am a member of the Kerry Deer Society. We are interested in the conservation of the Kerry red deer, though not so much the sika. The sika are often more difficult to locate. They are smaller animals. I look forward to hearing from the Minister of State. I may have a question or two for him afterwards.

On behalf of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, I thank the Senator for the opportunity to discuss this important issue. Before I begin, the Minister has asked me to address the fire on Torc Mountain in the Killarney National Park over the weekend. I would like to put on official record our thanks to the Kerry fire and rescue service, the staff of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, rangers in Killarney, the regional manager and all the volunteers who came to our assistance on Friday evening and Saturday morning and worked tirelessly through Friday night to put the fire out. Preliminary mapping by NPWS staff has shown that in excess of 70 ha, that is, 175 acres, of priority habitat has been extensively damaged by this fire. There has also been a severe localised impact on flora and fauna. The cause of the fire is still under investigation and the NPWS will be following up with authorities, including the Kerry fire and rescue service, to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the blaze.

In respect of the Commencement debate to hand, the Department recognises that deer form an important part of wildlife on State lands such as Wicklow Mountains National Park and Killarney National Park. It should be noted, however, that while the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department licenses the hunting of deer, the Department does not own the deer population. They are wild animals. As deer species are increasing in range and numbers, there is a significant challenge in attempting to balance the demands of agriculture, forestry and conservation with the need to ensure that deer populations occupying the same land resources are managed at sustainable levels and in a responsible and ethical manner. Killarney holds a special place among our national parks as far as deer population and management are concerned. Killarney National Park contains the largest concentration of red deer, Ireland's only native large mammal, as well as large numbers of non-native sika deer, as the Senator has pointed out.

With regard to Killarney National Park in particular, Senator Coghlan will be aware that as part of its regular ongoing management operations the Department carries out localised annual deer counts on State lands where appropriate. A number of surveys, censuses and reports on the deer population have been conducted in recent years, including a comprehensive survey and report in the winter of 2016 on the distribution, population density and population structure of red deer and sika deer in Killarney National Park. This was followed by further censuses in spring 2017 and winter 2018. The results of the most recent census of late 2018 are being finalised. Preliminary reported results indicate that the population density of red deer is in the region of 11.31 per sq. km, with a population of about 896 red deer. The sika population density is in the region of 6.71 per sq. km, with a population of roughly 532. Certain management issues, such as the need for culling, arise as a result of the increase in the deer population.

Deer also have the potential to impact significantly on woodlands, including the iconic yew, oak and other wet woodlands within the park, for example, by stripping the bark of mature trees and preventing regeneration. Therefore, where deer species are increasing in range and number, depending on the annual count and instances of damage caused to habitats by deer, culls need to be carried out to ensure deer populations do not reach levels that would have negative ecological consequences. More than 120 deer were culled between 2015 and 2017 and more than 120 deer were culled in 2018. The 2019 cull of deer has commenced. Some 210 deer have been culled so far. The aim is to finish culling in April 2019 with approximately 250 altogether to be taken for humane and management reasons.

As deer culling has proven to be an emotive topic in the past few years, the proposed course of action is decided upon following consultation with NPWS professional staff, including scientific input as required. Shooting of deer in the park is carried out only by NPWS professional staff members, who are fully trained, competent, expert and licensed in the use of firearms. The selection of deer to be shot is in accordance with normal deer management protocols. The deer are shot humanely by qualified NPWS marksmen. The remains are processed and disposed of in full compliance with the applicable Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine guidelines, and with the involvement, as appropriate, of departmental officials.

As indicated above, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht does not own the deer population. Deer are wild animals and they roam freely throughout the countryside. The control of deer on private property is the responsibility of landowners. Wild deer in the State are protected under the Wildlife Acts, but there is an annual open season during which deer can be legally shot under licence. The open season for deer operates generally from 1 September to the last day of February, depending on the species and gender of deer. Landowners may also apply to the Department for a permission under section 42 of the Wildlife Acts to cull deer where necessary outside the annual open seasons. These permissions offer a facility whereby a person can obtain a permit, on a case-by-case basis, to prevent serious damage caused by individual deer on specific lands. Permissions are only issued where there is evidence of such damage.

The Senator will also be aware of the issue of fencing, which has sometimes been raised with regard to deer management in Killarney National Park. There are no plans to fence the national park. Fencing it would not be a viable solution and would not achieve the desired results for a number of reasons. First, the presence of deer is not confined to the national parks and, consequently, fencing these properties would serve no practical purpose in wild deer control or management. Deer, albeit larger, are like other wild animals in this country and it is not part of the remit of the Department, nor would it be generally possible, to cordon them onto specific areas of land.

Second, the park is more than 10,000 ha in size, including some rugged terrain. Fencing this area would be an enormous task that is unlikely to result in the desired objective. Third, sika deer are capable of going under fencing that is eight inches off the ground, while red deer are capable of knocking down fences. Finally, the erection of a fence this size could also impact on the sensitive habitats within the park.

I appreciate everything the Minister said about the fire. It was very unfortunate that such an area was destroyed and that insect life, hares and ground-nesting birds were wiped out. Hopefully, officials will find out how the fire happened and where it started.

The Minister of State said the deer was a wild animal, but I referred to deer that were born in the national park and live within the park but encroach on its environs. I appreciate that it would be impossible to fence in the national park. Much of it is high-walled but there are some select points where deer fencing would bring results and prevent them from wandering out. Some of the existing fencing is good but there are gaps and, on the western demesne alone, some 200 deer wander daily from the park onto the Castlemaine Hotel grounds and the Killarney golf courses of Killeen and Mahony's Point. I ask the Minister of State to consider fencing at certain pinch points, especially at Ballydowney and, even more so, Gortroe. I appreciate that only rangers can shoot deer within the park in season and it would be totally irresponsible to license anybody else to do so when so many members of the public wander freely around.

I will bring the points made by the Senator to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Madigan. Deer management is a complex and multifaceted process. There is a significant challenge in attempting to balance the demands of agriculture, forestry and conservation with the need to ensure the deer population, occupying the same land resources, are managed at sustainable levels and in a responsible and ethical manner. I thank the Senator for his comments about the work done in response to the fire.

I thank the Minister of State. Killarney National Park is a wonderful treasure. I was sad when I read that so much damage had been done. It is an amazing feature to have in any county and the Senator is very fortunate to have such a wonderful facility. I hope it can be protected long after we are gone.

It will take a few years to recover but please God.

It is very sad because at this time of the year birds are nesting and all sorts of natural life is being destroyed.

Special Educational Needs Staff

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit chuig an Seanad. It is timely that he is taking this Commencement matter on World Autism Awareness Day and I thank him for coming into the House.

This morning, I joined a group of approximately 40 parents and grandparents in Crumlin, Dublin 12. We have been campaigning for quite a long time for extensions to the services provided for their children. Many of them do not have any services for their children and are relying on home tuition, which is not ideal. If they were lucky, some of them were offered places located miles away in the expectation that a five year old child would take a bus to Maynooth and back again. That is just not feasible. We need to act urgently in this regard.

In terms of this Commencement matter, schools are under a statutory obligation to provide education appropriate to students' needs and ensure the educational needs of all students, including those with a disability, are identified and provided for. That is a statutory obligation on our Government and on the Minister. We know also that there are guidelines for primary and post-primary schools. However, the challenge remains in terms of resourcing and equipping our teachers to deliver on the many expectations placed on them.

One primary teacher I spoke to recently is passionate and dedicated to her role but in her four years of teacher training she was given the bare minimum to deal with pupils with additional needs. The story is replicated when we look at the situation around individual education plans, IEPs, for teenagers with Down's syndrome. The teachers unions - the ASTI and the TUI - advised members recently to stop providing these critical planning processes for children with additional educational needs due to resource issues. IEPs are vital to ensure a positive learning environment for students with Down's syndrome but teachers and, more importantly, the young people themselves are caught in the middle between expectations without adequate support.

It is essential and a no-brainer that our children should have a dynamic, adaptable and inclusive schooling environment that is mindful of their needs. What exactly is the current training offered to teachers? How do we know it is sufficient to meet the needs of our children? How is it evaluated or monitored?

Several teachers spoke bravely and in depth about the pressures they feel in managing their large class sizes with so many individual needs. How do we intend to ensure that teachers' mental health and well-being is monitored within this context of improving responses to additional needs and mainstream education?

The Minister of State knows that there are autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units but they are not adequate. They are excellent when they operate well but our objective would be to move children on to mainstream schooling and have them included and not excluded. The loud, clear and proud chant from the parents this morning was education, not discrimination. It is the education system we need to focus on, one that will equip, enable and support teachers to provide for the individual needs of their pupils in their large classes. That includes those with autism.

On behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, who sends his regrets, I thank the Senator for raising this matter and for her sincere interest in this very important subject.

Inclusive education is a fundamental principle of our education and training system. This principle is put into practice in the policies of the Department and the Teaching Council. That is clearly articulated, for example, in the quality frameworks for primary and post-primary schools, which is entitled Looking at Our School, 2016. These frameworks provide a comprehensive picture of quality teaching and learning and quality leadership and management to schools and teachers.

Under section 38 of the Teaching Council Act, all initial teacher education programmes in Ireland that lead to registration must have professional accreditation from the Teaching Council. The mandatory requirements for accreditation are set out in the Teaching Council's criteria and guidelines for programme providers, which were published in June 2011 and revised in March 2017.

Under these criteria, student teachers in all accredited programmes are required to undertake study of inclusive education, including special education, and this applies to all primary and post-primary teachers. In 2017, the Department published guidelines for primary and post-primary schools supporting students with special educational needs, which provide guidance to schools on the use, organisation and deployment of additional teaching resources for students with special educational needs. In addition to developing and reviewing their whole school policies on the education and inclusion of students with special educational needs, schools should be proactive in providing continuing professional development, CPD, for their teachers. The support service of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, delivers a range of professional development initiatives and support for teachers working with students with special educational needs. Moreover, all the Department's support services, such as the professional development service for teachers, are required by the Department to have regard to the individual needs of all learners, in designing and delivering CPD for teachers.

The Department's policy on school setting is that children with special educational needs should be included in mainstream placements with additional supports provided, unless such a placement would not be in their best interest or in the interests of the children with whom they are to be educated. Most children with additional needs attend mainstream classes but some require the environment of a special class or special school. This decision is based on a recommendation contained within a professional assessment in consultation with the NCSE. Through its network of special education needs organisers, the NCSE is responsible for the development, delivery and co-ordination of education services to children with special educational needs, including the establishment of special class and special school placements. Where parents have been unsuccessful in enrolling their child in a school placement, they should update their local organiser to inform the planning process.

The Teaching Council is in the process of reviewing and redrafting its criteria and standards for initial teacher education programmes at primary and post-primary level. The new edition of the policy draws on research findings, including recommendations and implications cited in a commissioned research report on school placement.

I am interested in the Minister of State's comment on the review of the policy. Will he or the relevant officials email me with an update on it and on when it will happen? It is an urgent matter. The Department should examine the waiting lists and the desperation of parents because the current teacher training is inadequate and is not fit for purpose for the number of children whom teachers are being asked to teach and take responsibility for. We know that mainstreaming in school is the best option and outcome for children.

Later in the Dáil, a Sinn Féin motion on autism empowerment strategy is to be debated. While it is a detailed motion, the crux of it is that we are calling for an all-party Oireachtas committee on autism to be set up in the immediate term and for it to be tasked with developing and publishing a comprehensive autism empowerment strategy within six months. I ask all colleagues to support the motion. In the meantime, we cannot allow children to be offered placements miles away from their home. They need to remain in their communities rather than being isolated or alienated from them, because they will be the communities' next leaders. The children's families, including their grannies and their support network, will live in those communities and the children will determine how their communities progress, but they will not be able to do so when their childhood takes place away from where they grow up.

I will ask officials from the Department of Education and Skills to convey to the Senator the information she has requested. A range of in-service professional development supports has been provided to teachers by the Department since March 2017. The NCSE support service has a remit to develop schools' capacity to include students with special educational needs and to promote a continuum of inclusive and responsive education provision. In addition, as the Senator will be aware, the Department provides funding support for teachers to expand their capacity through courses at the Middletown Centre for Autism and through funded postgraduate qualification provision at a number of higher education institutions for teachers involved in learning support and special education. I agree with the Senator that pupils with special needs should stay in their own communities as much as possible, and I note her point.

State Pensions Reform

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his presence. As he will probably be aware, 86,000 people are awaiting a decision on their entitlement to an increase in the State contributory pension.

These people have lost out financially due to a decision made by the Government in 2012. Most of them are women who took time out to look after and rear their children.

I understand that a review is under way in relation to the post-budget 2012 band rates. While I welcome the review, I am disappointed to learn that as of 8 March 2019, only 4,254 reviews have been completed out of a total of almost 90,000. That is less than 4%. It is disappointing to learn of such slow progress. Fianna Fáil has pushed the Government hard to address the anomaly in the contributory State pension scheme which resulted in people losing out financially. These changes have resulted in thousands of people losing out on entitlements they thought they would get in their full State pension. While the good news is that the review is under way, progress is disappointingly slow. I appreciate fully that there is a significant job of work to do here. I also acknowledge that some additional staff recruitment has taken place in the Department to carry out the review. However, notwithstanding the fact that the commitment to undertake the review was made 15 months ago in 2018, only 4% of the 90,000 reviews are complete. That is very disappointing.

As I said earlier, people, most of whom are women, have lost out financially due to the measures adopted by the Government in 2012. They have lost a great deal of money for no other reason than that they took time out to rear their children. The additional delay adds to what they have lost already and is very disappointing for many. Many people have contacted me to express their disappointment and, indeed, anger at the continuing delay. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, can tell me today how the review is progressing, when he expects it to be completed and when people can expect to receive renewed payments in the form of increases in the State contributory pension.

I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this important matter and for his continued interest in the area. Since late September 2018, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has been examining the social insurance records of approximately 90,000 pensioners who were born on or after 1 September 1946 and who have a reduced rate State pension contributory entitlement based on the post-budget 2012 rate bands. These payments are being reviewed under a new total contributions approach to pension calculation, which includes provision for home-caring periods. The reviews commenced on 13 February 2019, the day after the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, signed the regulations required, together with provisions in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registrations Act 2018, to permit the increased payments to be made. As of 28 March 2019, 11,646 reviews have been completed. Of these, over 8,850 have resulted in an increased payment for the pensioners concerned. Pensioners who did not qualify for an increase in payments will continue to receive their existing weekly rate. As such, nobody will lose out as a result of this review.

The Minister has stated from the outset that it will take a number of months to complete all the reviews due to the numbers involved and the individual nature of social insurance records. In some cases, it is necessary to engage in correspondence with a pensioner in order to clarify contribution histories and periods of caring and work. To date, over 34,000 requests for information have issued to pensioners. In order to process these reviews, 121 temporary staff members have been recruited to the Department's offices in the north west. Regardless of when a review is conducted, the person's rate of payment will be adjusted without delay where an increase in payment is due and arrears will be issued, backdated to 30 March 2018 or the pensioner's 66th birthday, if later. Where a person's rate does not increase following a review, the person will continue to receive their existing rate of payment. Given the scale of the work, which involves 90,000 pensioners, the fact that each case requires close individual examination and that some cases are more complex than others, it is not be reasonable to expect all reviews to be processed immediately. While this work will take a number of months to complete, it will continue until all pensioners have been notified of the outcomes of their reviews in writing. The Minister urges anyone who has yet to provide additional requested information to the Department to do so as soon as possible so that his or her review can be processed.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I welcome that some progress has been made with an increase on the 4,254 figure I gave to 11,646. I welcome also and accept that 121 temporary staff members have been recruited to tackle this job. That said, it will continue to be a time-consuming and slow process.

Can the Minister of State, give me, or more important, the pensioners concerned any indication of timeframe as to when the Department expect this review to be to be completed? I will not hold him to the last day.

As stated in the reply, the Minister said it would take a number of months. Some 34,000 people have been written to and he is anxious that they would respond, if they have not done so already. Where a pensioner is awarded an increase, it will be backdated to 30 March 2018 or the person's 66th birthday, if later than that, and arrears will be paid, which is important.

Following the Government decision in 2018, work began on the significant system changes and legislative requirements to cater for new measures. A system change was delivered in November 2018 and January 2019, in time for reviews to commence from 13 February 2019. Reviews began the day after the Minister signed the necessary regulations, which together with the provisions in the Social Welfare Pensions and Registration Act 2018 allowed the increase in payments to be made. In September 2018, work began on identifying people to be reviewed and examining social insurance records of those born on or after 1 September 1946 who have a reduced contributory pension element. Because of this work, not all of those reviewed will need to provide additional information, which makes the process as easy as possible.

The Minister said that the first payments would be made in the first quarter of 2019. This has been achieved and work on reviews will continue until all the reviews that have been completed over the coming months.