Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Questions (70, 71)

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

79 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will accept the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission that same sex cohabitants should be treated in the same way as opposite sex cohabitants for social welfare payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15193/07]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The recommendation of the Law Reform Commission arose from one of two important pieces of work which have recently been completed regarding different types of partner relationships and how they should be treated and recognised in Irish society. The first report an ‘Options Paper, presented by the Working Group on Domestic Partnership' to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, focuses on different types of cohabiting relationships, both same and opposite sex, and presents a range of options with regard to giving legal recognition to these relationships. Officials from my Department contributed to the work of this Group. The second report — the ‘Report of the Law Reform Commission on the Rights and Duties of Cohabitants' — makes substantial recommendations for reform of the law concerning cohabitants including both opposite sex or same sex couples who live together. These reports come at a time of wide public debate on the question of according legal status to cohabitants generally, and same sex couples in particular, and will contribute to the informed debate on these important topics.

My own Department is currently carrying out a technical review of the entire social welfare code to examine its compatibility with the Equal Status Act, 2000 (as amended). The review will examine the schemes and services provided for both in social welfare legislation and in the administrative schemes operated by the Department. It will identify any instances of direct or indirect discrimination, on any of the nine grounds under the Act, including: gender, sexual orientation, marital status and family status that are not justified by a legitimate social policy objective or where the means of achieving that objective are either unnecessary or inappropriate. This work, together with the reports I have referred to, will contribute to informed planning and policy making to ensure that the social welfare system reflects the needs and expectations of citizens and is equitable in meeting those needs.

Question No. 80 answered with QuestionNo. 44.

Seán Ryan

Question:

81 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on a national advertising campaign to promote greater awareness of social welfare entitlements, similar to the campaign being run by the Revenue Commissioner to promote greater awareness of tax allowances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15206/07]

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My Department aims to ensure that all citizens are made aware of their rights and entitlements and that they are kept informed of changes and improvements in schemes and services as they occur. The provision of information in a clear and accessible manner is an essential element in the achievement of this objective. My Department takes a pro-active approach in advertising its schemes and services by using a mix of national and provincial media, information leaflets, factsheets, posters, direct mailshots, advertising on television screens in over 60 Credit Unions nationwide, and by distributing information booklets to health centres throughout the country. National advertising campaigns are undertaken periodically to promote greater awareness of a specific scheme or to highlight changes in schemes and services. During 2006, my Department undertook campaigns on the Family Income Supplement, Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, supports for Carers (Carers Allowance, Carers Benefit, Respite Care Grant), the Department's PRSI information mailing service and budget information.

The first targeted advertising campaign of 2007 has been conducted over the last two months regarding All Ireland Free Travel. The scheme enables citizens aged 66 or over to travel free within Northern Ireland with effect from the 2nd of April, 2007.

LoCall numbers are provided for all campaigns from which the public can get further information or application forms. The campaigns also highlight other sources of information available to the public, including my Department's website (www.welfare.ie) and my Department’s network of Social Welfare Local Offices and the information services available through the network of Citizens Information Centres, including the Citizens Information Phone Service and website facility (www.citizensinformation.ie). The responses to the campaigns have been encouraging and resulted in increases in the number of applications received for the various schemes.

In view of the range of services available from my Department it would not be possible to highlight all of them in a single advertising campaign. Therefore, nationwide targeted advertising campaigns, focusing on specific schemes and services, will continue to be a key priority for me in the drive to ensure that citizens are aware of and claim their social welfare entitlements.

Questions Nos. 82 and 83 answered with Question No. 47.
Question No. 84 answered with QuestionNo. 64.