I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Noonan.
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State and I thank the Acting Chairperson for selecting this important matter. Like many public representatives, I recognise the importance of the housing adaptation grant, the housing aid grant and the mobility aid grant for many constituents. These grants can be, and for so many are, life-changing and they ensure many of our older population and those with a disability can continue to live in their homes in comfort, with the continued support of their loved ones. Nevertheless, I have been getting an increasing number of worrying calls from applicants to all the grants indicating they cannot afford to proceed with these grants given the rising building costs and the current limits on the grants.
In many cases the 95% maximum of the €8,000 housing aid grant is simply nowhere near what is needed to replace those ancient windows, those out of date electrics or that leaky roof. The €30,000 available under the housing adaptation grant will not ensure that a loved one can continue to live at home, supported and cared for by those who know him or her best. I am sure I do not have to tell the Minister of State that in many cases I and other public representatives who I speak to are dealing with applicants who have no other option than to consider moving out of their homes or for a family to consider full or part-time care for their children or family members in nearby appropriate facilities. The costs to these applicants and the State are worrying in the extreme.
I also want to raise the situation of tenants who are waiting for work to be done by their local authorities. In many local authorities I know that a system is applied by the council with the A list being the highest priority and those who receive a C listing being the lowest priority. In many local authorities the waiting list for those on the A priority list is growing. I am informed that the allocations to tenant upgrades are far less than what the Government offered to private homes. If a number of extensions are needed in local authority homes this will result in little or no other works being carried out, given the cost of the building of such extensions and the amount of funding allocated to these grants by the Government. Many of us have asked why these are not rolling grants, which would allow local authorities to plan this work as opposed to waiting on a yearly announcement from the Department as is currently the case. It must be difficult for councils to be waiting on word each year on how funding will be allocated in order to plan tenders and associated works, while at the same time, with growing building costs, having to return to the Department for approval for works over certain limits.
I want to thank the local authority officials who work on these apartments. I have always appreciated their co-operation and assistance and they go above and beyond the call of duty for so many people on a daily basis. When I raised these issues last year I was informed that the Department was carrying out a review of these grants. I sincerely hope the Minister of State can bring us some good news today. Building costs have dramatically increased in recent years and I am currently directing many applicants to the community welfare service to try to bridge the gap and allow as many applicants as possible to carry out the work they need to qualify for, and in so many cases, that they desperately need. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.
I will give a general outline and then I will come back to the Senator's specific points. Our Department provides funding to local authorities under the suite of housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability, to assist people in private houses to make their accommodation more suitable for their needs, which also facilitates early return from hospital stays. Our objective in this is to keep older people living at home and independently for as long as possible. The grants include the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability, the mobility aids grant and the housing aid for older people grant, which are 80% funded by our Department, together with a 20% matching contribution from the resources of the local authority. The detailed administration of these schemes, including assessment, approval, prioritisation and apportionment between the three schemes, is the responsibility of local authorities. Funding of €81.25 million is available nationally in 2022 for the housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability scheme. The receipt and processing of housing grant applications has continued successfully throughout the pandemic and the carrying out of such works was specifically exempted from the construction restrictions under the public health regulations which were put in place.
The Housing Options for our Ageing Population policy statement emphasised my Department's commitment to streamlining the application process and ensuring that grants were more accessible to applicants. In this regard, my Department engaged with all 31 local authorities in 2019 to review the detailed administration of the grants. My Department also engaged with key stakeholders, including the National Disability Authority, ALONE and Age Friendly Ireland, which helped to bring greater clarity to the development of a single application form and updated guidelines. Subsequently, a revised single application form to cover the three grants, which was tested for plain English, issued to all local authorities together with revised guidelines for implementation. My Department is working to ensure full implementation of the new process, which will make the grant application process more accessible as well as standardising the individual local authority approach.
In addition to this improved streamlining of the grants scheme, Housing for All commits to undertaking a review of the range of housing grants available to assist with meeting specific housing needs, both for our ageing population and for people with a disability, which includes a review of the existing grant limits and income thresholds applicable to the grant schemes.
This review is currently under way and it will be completed later this year. It is important to highlight the increased allocations for 2022, which were issued earlier this week to each local authority. The increase represents more than 8% of a national increase in allocations, continuing the overall year-on-year increases in the grants since 2014. However, I acknowledge that construction costs have stayed ahead of this 8% figure. This is a significant issue about which there is no doubt. The Department is conscious of it and it will work with the local authorities to resolve it through the review process.
Again, I acknowledge the role of local authority staff. The Senator is correct that they have been, and they continue to be, exemplary in the support they are giving to communities and to families who are trying to steer through this grant application process. The issue of rolling grants might be included in the review and it is something I will take back to the Department as well.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I am very much aware there is one form for the three different grants. That has helped about which there is no doubt. However, the problem at the moment is that I have to direct the majority of applicants with whom I am dealing to the community welfare service, which is another arm of Government, in order that they can complete their grants. The €8,000 limit is simply not good enough. To take the €30,000 limit as an example, the cheapest building costs the person could get amounted to €70,000. Yet, the grant only offers €30,000. The person is still in hospital and cannot leave.
It is like what the Minister of State said in that we want people to return home and to live in the comfort and care of their loved ones. That is what this is all about. The reason I mention those grants is to see if those limits will be increased to reflect rising building costs. I hope that is being looked at the moment. It cannot happen quickly enough for those who need the grants. Many of these grants are stalled at the moment because people simply cannot continue with them, because they do not have the money. That is the problem here. I hope the Minister of State will address this as a matter of urgency.
I agree with the Senator in the sense that we have seen year-on-year, as I know from my own county and my own constituency, that the grants are oversubscribed. This is, in itself, a testament to the success of the grant scheme. There is significant uptake. There is always a waiting list. However, we have to give consideration to the rising building costs. They are unfortunately affecting every sector of Housing for All, as well as all of our plans. I hope the review will give consideration to all these issues and, in particular, the issue of which the Senator speaks about, namely, rolling grants. The critical thing we are trying to achieve here is to keep older people living in their homes for as long as possible, with the support of carers and their loved ones. That should be our ultimate goal. That has always been the aim of this particular grant scheme.
The Minister of State is welcome to the House. I thank him for coming in to answer this matter. I raise this matter because it has been brought to my attention by an Independent county councillor in Cork, Mr. Declan Hurley. Much attention has been paid in recent weeks to the rising cost of living in Ireland. We are not unique in that respect in the western hemisphere. From cuts in excise duty to lump sum payments, the Government is engaging in a suite of measures to aid families and individuals in maintaining their standards of living in the face of inflation. This is to be recognised and to be commended.
One area that has proved particularly problematic is that of energy in its broadest sense, from home heating to petrol to home electricity to broadband. Earlier this month, the once-off payment of €125 to those who are in receipt of the fuel allowance was allocated. This was a bonus to those who are feeling the pinch of rising costs in that area. However, a key aspect of this kind of assistance is the threshold associated with it. The cut off, which is usually based on income, decides exactly how many households can avail of it. As important as it is to raise payments, lump sums or awards to react quickly to changing circumstances in the economy, it is equally important to examine and to appraise the threshold.
Many families find themselves having to pay close attention to their weekly earnings. They are becoming wary of additional sources of income and raises as they may end up losing out on items of State assistance, resulting in a net loss of income. While making this distinction between eligible and ineligible households is flawed, it remains the most efficient way of administering such schemes.
However, this only remains true if that threshold accurately reflects the reality of the experience of families in the country and is raised or lowered to maintain the balance of expenditure and need.
In light of the expenses faced by families in the area of fuel and energy, I ask the Minister for Social Protection to make the necessary arrangements with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to raise the qualifying income threshold for the fuel allowance. The current income levels for receipt of the fuel allowance are as follows: €373.30 for a single person aged under 80 years; €542 for a couple where the qualified adult is aged under 66 years; and €600.30 for a couple where the qualified adult is aged 66 years or over.
My ask of the Government is that the fiscal examination of the effects of the inflation on fuel and heating costs take place and that this informs a raising of these income thresholds by an amount deemed proportionate to allow households with stretched budgets to avail of the support. I ask that the Minister for Social Protection indicate whether this option is one she will investigate. If not, what measures does she have in mind in order to further alleviate the burden of heating costs on the most vulnerable?
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am taking the question on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. The Government is committed to protecting vulnerable households from the impact of energy costs through a combination of financial supports, energy efficiency awareness initiatives and investment in programmes to improve the energy efficiency of housing stock. Much of the latter is being done through my own Department with regard to the local authority stock.
On the fuel allowance payment, as part of budget 2022, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, announced a €5 increase in the weekly rate of payment with immediate effect. This brought the weekly rate up to €33. A number of expansions to the eligibility criteria for the fuel allowance payment were also announced at that time. The weekly means threshold for the fuel allowance scheme was increased by €20 to €120 above the appropriate rate of contributory State pension. This represented a 20% increase in the threshold and enables more people to qualify for this support. With effect from the start of the next fuel season, the qualifying period for jobseekers and supplementary welfare allowance recipients to access the fuel allowance payment will be reduced from 15 months to 12 months. The Government has, therefore, implemented significant expansions regarding the fuel allowance through budget 2022.
Further Government measures were only recently announced to help mitigate the effects of rising energy costs caused by the war in Ukraine and wider international energy challenges. As part of this package of measures totalling over €500 million, an additional lump sum payment of €125 was paid to all households in receipt of the fuel allowance payment. It is expected this additional lump sum will cost an estimated €49 million in 2022. This means low-income households will see an increase of 41% in fuel allowance support provided during this fuel allowance season compared with the previous one. A recipient household that would have received €735 in fuel season 2020-21 would see an increase of €304 to €1,039 in fuel allowance payments in fuel season 2021-2022. When taken in conjunction with the electricity costs emergency benefit payment, due to be paid in April, this household would have received over €500 in additional targeted Government supports over the course of this fuel season.
The fuel allowance is not the only payment available from the Department of Social Protection to help people with their energy costs. The household benefits package comprises the electricity or gas allowance and the free television licence. In 2022, the estimated cost of the gas and electricity element of the package is €203 million and will benefit over 476,000 households. The gas and electricity element is paid at a rate of €35 per month for 12 months of the year.
Furthermore, the Department of Social Protection operates both exceptional and urgent needs payments as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme for people who have an urgent need that they cannot meet from their own resources. These payments are available through the community welfare officers. The provision of any further additional supports to those in receipt of the fuel allowance payment would have cost implications and could only be considered while taking account of the overall budgetary context and the availability of financial resources.
It is important to note significant interventions have been made by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and across Government to try to tackle this current crisis around energy costs. In the long term the strategy must be to deep-retrofit our homes, including both local authority stock and private housing stock. The general incentives brought in by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, for the local authority stock will, over time, make a significant impact.
However, we are cognisant of the fact that the challenge remains for people now. That is why we are consistently trying to review the situation in order to ensure we have sufficient supports for families to meet the significant crisis we are all facing.
I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate his reply but it is not enough, judging by the way things are going with inflation at the moment. While I know the green agenda means getting rid of coal eventually, the price of a bag of coal has gone up by 50% since last September and it will go up again in May with the increase in the carbon tax. The price of 1,000 l of oil is almost €1,500. What the Government is giving at the moment is simply not enough in the context of current inflation rates. The Government definitely needs to do more with regard to increasing the threshold for the fuel allowance.
On the phasing out of fossil fuels, that is something that all parties in this House and across the Oireachtas have signed up to and it is critically important that we continue that trajectory. That said, there is no doubt that the transition needs to be managed and that is something of which the Government is cognisant. We are mindful of the fact that we need to support families through the crisis that has hit us all.
The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, and her Department have not been found wanting in terms of trying to ensure that supports are put in place to protect vulnerable households. As part of budget 2022, the annual increase of €5 per week in the fuel allowance had an immediate effect in bringing up the weekly rate to €33. This, coupled with the additional measures that the Minister introduced, is part of a broader suite of progressive measures that the Government is considering. The Taoiseach was speaking about this in the Dáil earlier. We are continuing to review the situation to see what additional supports we can put in place to ensure that families can meet these challenges. There is no doubt that this is a real challenge for Government. Our capacity to address these issues is limited but we have been progressive to date. We will continue to evaluate, monitor and support people in whatever ways we can.
Schools Building Projects
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, for joining us. A year ago I tabled a similar matter and the Minister of State was also kind enough to respond on that occasion.
I am seeking an update from the Department of Education on the status of two school building projects in Ballinasloe in the context of capacity for children at primary level. I am referring to Scoil an Chroí Naofa, with which the Minister of State is familiar and also to the site acquisition for St. Teresa's Special School. The Minister of State has visited St. Teresa's Special School and is familiar with its location in Ballinasloe. I am seeking a response today on the status of these projects.
Since raising the project at Scoil an Chroí Naofa last year, there has been very positive engagement between the design team, the school's board of management, the principal, Ms Christine Connor, and Galway County Council. There were challenges related to access roads for the new school building and Galway County Council was to engage with the Department of Education to reach an agreement on how this would be managed going forward. The design team also had to add three additional classrooms to the plans, which have now gone back to the Department for review.
We need to move this on. I want to see this school building included in the Department's capital infrastructure plans for this year, as a priority project. We need to move this along so that it can be considered in June or July for the 2023 budget. Scoil an Chroí Naofa caters for close to 300 children.
The children have to cross roads to get to the school, which was created in 1996. We are all aware of this. The families have gone through the school. There are parents - mums and dads - who were promised a school and who now have their own children going to the school. I would appreciate any update the Minister of State can give me on the issue.
Second, I am asking about the site acquisition for St. Teresa's Special School, which is dedicated to the education of children with moderate, severe and profound special needs and autism. We are very fortunate to have the school. The 11 students have now increased to 36. In the past week we have also seen an announcement for two extra classrooms for additional accommodation, which was very welcome, because the children there were in the canteen. They now have a space. I got to visit it last week with the Minister of State and the principal, Anita O'Reilly, and it was phenomenal to see the space that is there for children. As well as that, the Minister of State will be delighted to know that they held their own St. Patrick's Day parade a day before St. Patrick's Day. All the children came out festooned with decorations and were walking or in wheelchairs with their carers. It was pure joy for families and children in that school. We need to deliver a proper school and adequate space for the children. The Department of Education indicated that a 4-acre site had been secured with the HSE. Could I request an update on what stage this is at? Has the property been secured and is the process finalised? Is it at stage 1 preliminary design or has it moved to stage 2 design? Who is the contact for the board of management and the principal in the school?
I appreciate the Minister of State's time and her consideration of these questions. I acknowledge the work of the board of management with the special educational needs organisers, SENOs, who put forward the case to justify the need for the space in Ballinasloe. We want to welcome and support families coming to our area from Ukraine in our schools but how are we going to do that when we cannot even accommodate the children who are there at the moment? The schools are already over capacity.
I thank Senator Dolan for raising the matter, which she raised previously. It is a major building project that is planned for Scoil an Chroí Naofa, and there is also the major building project for St Teresa's Special School. I will deal with Scoil an Chroí Naofa first.
As the Senator is aware, it is included in the Department's construction programme, which is being delivered under the national development plan. The brief is to provide for the demolition of the existing school building and the construction of a new school building to include 16 general classrooms, with 13 special resource rooms, two speech and language resource rooms and a two-room special educational needs, SEN, unit. Senator Dolan mentioned that there has been considerable delay. I agree that has been the case. There has been back and forth between the local authority and many different stakeholders regarding the matter, which has been less than satisfactory. However, some of the questions were legitimate and had to be answered. I note that there is a review of the specifications for the provision of the extra three classrooms currently with the Department. Once the review is complete, comments will issue to the board of management and its design team in order that we can bring the project forward. It is unfortunate sometimes that with the best will in the world these things can be delayed. It is going to take everybody to come together to try to resolve all of the issues.
The Department is in communication with the school authorities and its design team and is committed to assisting the school in every way it possibly can. We want to make sure that children have access to a proper building in order that they can learn the various curriculums they need to learn in a satisfactory way. I understand that the design team has been asked to review all of the plans it has been given. Until planning permission is secured, it will not be possible to give a timeline for the project proceeding to tender stage. The planning and building unit is under the remit of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, but she will be aware of the fact that this issue has been raised in the Seanad today. The Department will be aware that Senator Dolan has tabled this matter for discussion in a Commencement debate. That will concentrate minds in terms of delivering on this project.
I visited St. Teresa's Special School with Senator Dolan. It is a wonderful school environment with a wonderful principal in Anita O'Reilly and her incredible team. It was a very special day when we were able to announce the fact that the school would be moving.
It will be a brand new, eight classroom special school with significant ancillary accommodation on a greenfield site. At the moment it is providing for 36 pupils. It will probably be in a position to expand. At present it is in temporary accommodation in two temporary classrooms to deal with immediate needs. The Department is in communication with school authorities around the appointment of a design team and a progression of the project into architectural planning. I understand it is at an advanced stage of the conveyancing process, which is positive. It is moving, albeit that it sounds slowly, but there is always a process when talking about conveyancing. The i's need to be dotted and the t's crossed. It is happening incrementally. As Minister of State with responsibility for special education I have asked the building and planning unit to make sure that this is expedited as soon as possible because obviously our children with additional needs who are most vulnerable are in less than satisfactory conditions at the moment and we want to make sure that they are rehoused in a more satisfactory way.
I thank the Minister of State. I know there are always reasons for these delays but it is so frustrating because, what do we say to these parents? What do we say to these children when it goes on year after year? What I would ask is that the Department with the design team, having worked with Galway County Council - and again to acknowledge there has been very positive engagement over the past 12 months - submit the application for planning. As the Minister of State said, until it goes through to planning, until we get the statutory approvals through planning permission from Galway County Council, we cannot move to the next stage. I want to see that happen. That has to happen. Last year I believed that was going to happen in April or June. I thought we would be at a different stage right now with this school.
I understand there has been accommodation for extra students and all of this has to happen. However, I am asking for the Department to prioritise this project in particular, that we would support them every step of the way, be it supporting the board of management and the design team which is engaging proactively with Galway County Council. Meetings have been set up on this issue.
I thank the Minister of State for the information on St. Teresa's Special School. It is absolutely crucial that we see that project move and I understand that it is now at stage 2, the design stage. Is that correct? The lands comprising a 4-acre site have been transferred from the HSE to the Department of Education.
To clarify, in terms of St. Teresa's Special School, once a design team has been appointed the project can commence stage 1 of architectural planning which is the preliminary design stage. As I said I am doing all I can to make sure that is expedited because they are children with additional needs. I know the school, the incredible team and staff there and indeed the children. It was wonderful to hear about their St. Patrick's Day festival. I hope that will be expedited as soon as possible.
In regard to Scoil an Chroí Naofa, Galway County Council has had issues with the planning permission but both sides need to resolve the conditions there. The most important aspect of this is communication and that there is ongoing engagement and collaboration to move it forward so that they can get planning permission as soon as possible. There were a number of delays due to the Department having a new team of engineers. For example, there were requests from the local authorities and there were access and planning issues. I think the majority of those have been resolved so now it is a matter of the Department communicating with the school authorities and the design team, and committing to assist the school in every way it possibly can. We are trying to oversee that as best we can.
I thank the Minister of State for taking this item which concerns the pension entitlements of those in the research sector. I am sure that, like me, he agrees that for our researchers it is essential that there is a very strong and clear career path for them and that as part of that, their pension entitlements are clarified and indeed that they are entitled to pensions. One of the things that we have invested a great deal of time in recently is around enhancing the research capacity of the technological sector.
Unfortunately, we still do not have a resolution on the pension entitlements of those researchers working in the technological sector. The Minister of State will be aware of the impact on the former Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, as part of the new Shannon university, of not getting clarity on the pension issues for research there and the concern that is causing.
If a person is to be employed as a researcher in one of the traditional universities as opposed to the new technological universities, he or she is treated in broadly the same way. The same terms and conditions apply across the board with perhaps one significant exception relating to pension entitlements. The pension entitlements of those in the traditional universities, for the most part, have been clarified. It is clear they are treated as public servants for pensionable purposes. Those in the technological university sector are not. Those in other State agencies, such as the Marine Institute or Teagasc, are treated in the same way as the traditional universities for pensionable purposes.
There is an equity question with respect to researchers. There is also the question of allowing our technological universities in a very competitive market to be able to build their research capacity. They must be able to ensure their research staff are treated in the exactly the same way. I understand, because of some of the historical questions, why this issue has not been resolved until now but this has been on the desk of the current Department and the previous Department, the Department of Education and Skills, for quite a number of years. There have been individual queries and the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA, has raised this on a regular basis. I do not know why it cannot be solved.
Even in situations where those researchers are funded by some of our State agencies, if they receive their funding from Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council or the Health Research Board, part of the funding or grant allocation includes allowing for pension coverage. This is a question of equity and of allowing higher education institutions to be able to compete on a level playing field in respect of researchers but, most importantly, it is about giving those researchers who have been impacted some level of certainty. THEA has estimated that approximately 450 people are impacted by this. This issue has been doing the rounds for years. I would be grateful if the Minister of State could give us some clarity and certainty with regard to the final decision that will be made on these pension entitlements.
I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for raising this important issue. The question relates to the fact that researcher grades such as postdoctoral researchers, for example, have access to public service pensions in some higher education institutions but this access is not universal across the sector. My Department is currently working to support that standardisation of researchers’ pensions access in the higher education sector and has been engaging with the management bodies in the higher education institutes affected on the issue for some time.
Researchers in the institutes of technology and technological university sector do not have access to public service pension schemes. Researcher grades in traditional universities and other public sector bodies do have access to these schemes, as the Senator outlined.
My Department has been engaging positively with the management bodies in the higher education sector, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Education to establish the requirements of a business case to support access to the single public service pension scheme for this group. Significant data have been sought by my Department in order to make a comprehensive and supportive case to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which will made a final determination in this case. Most recently, further engagement with the sector took place with a view to establishing forecast data for future researcher numbers in the institutes of technology and the technological universities. These data will be incorporated into the overall business case, which is advancing well at this stage, and I expect it to be finalised shortly.
The enablement of greater research capacity in the technological sector is a key factor in the technological university agenda, as Senators will know, along with other critical issues my Department is working on, such as the OECD review of academic contracts.
The Technological University Act was enacted in 2018. Since then, we have seen huge growth in the sector. We are soon to have five technological universities with the establishment of Atlantic Technological University on 1 April. That will followed soon after by the establishment of South East Technological University on 1 May 2022, about which Senator Malcolm Byrne knows very much.
Previously, the focus of the former institutes of technology was on teaching and regional engagement. The need for research in the sector is now more prominent. The Technological Universities Research Network, TURN, report was published in 2019. The report made 12 recommendations that will provide the technological universities with a solid foundation for their development. These recommendations fall within three thematic areas that the report has identified as being key building blocks for successful technological universities. One of these thematic areas relates to building research capacity. The report identified that research capacity would be enhanced through increased funding in human capital development, such as staff development and recruitment among other areas, for human capital growth. I am satisfied that this will be key in achieving strategic objectives for the sector under the Technological Universities Act 2018. The business case that my Department is working on will support this development.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. There is very little I would disagree with, except that the answer that has been prepared for him does not respond directly to my question other than to say that his Department is continuing to work on this matter and that there will be an answer shortly. The researchers who are impacted by this situation are concerned because many of them have heard that the issue will be resolved shortly for quite a long time. The institutions that are impacted also have a difficulty. The Minister of State will be very familiar with one of them because it is on his doorstep. To localise this matter, what is happening means that the University of Limerick, UL, and Shannon can offer researcher posts with the same job description. However, UL can provide certain guarantees regarding pension entitlements for the researcher that Shannon cannot. That is unfair, and the situation is replicated right across the country. The Minister of State indicated that the matter will be resolved shortly, but a timeframe would be very much appreciated.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. What he has articulated encapsulates the issue. I shall take as an example, as the Senator has done, the city that is closest to me. In Limerick, two organisations can offer the same job but with hugely disparate terms and conditions. The Department and I fully get that pension entitlements are fundamental to people taking up jobs. I assure the Senator that while I do not have a timeline to give him now, this matter is a priority within the Department and it is being worked on.