Question No. 101 withdrawn.

Widow's Pension Appeals

Questions (102)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

102. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an appeal for widow's contributory pension in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28653/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 26 June 2014. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. When these papers have been received from the Department, the case in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral appeal hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

One-Parent Family Payments

Questions (103, 104)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

103. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of recepients of the one-parent family payment that will lose the payment in July 2014 because their youngest child exceeds the age limit for receipt of the payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28655/14]

View answer

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

104. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of recipients of the one-parent family payment who will lose the payment in July 2014 that are currently combining paid employment with the one-parent family payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28656/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 103 and 104 together.

The one-parent family payment (OFP) scheme has played an important role in providing income support to lone parents since its introduction in 1997. The number of OFP recipients stood at 77,209 in May, 2014, and an estimated €863 million is expected to be spent on the scheme during 2013.

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2012, contains provisions to reduce, on a phased basis, the maximum age limit of the youngest child at which an OFP recipient’s payment ceases to 7 years from 2014 for new entrants and from 2015 for existing recipients.

The next phase of the OFP scheme reform process will commence on 3 July, 2014, when approximately 5,140 customers will see their entitlement to the OFP payment cease as a result of their youngest child reaching the maximum age threshold.

Approximately 850 of these affected OFP customers are also claiming the family income supplement (FIS) by virtue of being in employment for 19 or more hours per week. These customers will have their FIS payment automatically adjusted to compensate for some 60% of the loss of their OFP payment.

It is expected that approximately 3,600 affected OFP customers may apply for the jobseeker’s allowance (JA) payment. Of these customers, approximately 70% are not working and, as such, will not suffer any reduction in their new income support payment as the JA payment pays the same personal and qualified child rates as OFP.

Of those affected OFP customers who are working, they will be advised by the Department if they a working a minimum of 19 hours per week, or if they could increase their hours to that level, to apply for the FIS payment as this is the most financially beneficial income support for former OFP recipients.

Exceptional Needs Payments

Question No. 106 withdrawn.

Questions (105)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

105. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the way she expects a family to survive when her Department will not pay social welfare entitlements in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare who cannot provide an address as the family are homeless; if she accepts that refusing to pay the family is placing them in an even more destitute position; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28671/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

An exceptional needs payment issued to the person concerned on 20 June 2014. On that date the person concerned stated that she is currently residing at an address in Clondalkin. She was advised to make an application to Clondalkin Local Office so that her case could be reviewed as soon as possible. The person concerned has also been advised that if she is currently homeless she should call to the homeless unit in Castle Street where her circumstances can be examined. No contact has been made by the person concerned with either office. The person concerned needs to engage with the Department if she wishes to have her entitlement to a payment assessed.

Question No. 106 withdrawn.

Rent Supplement Scheme Administration

Questions (107)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

107. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will instruct community welfare officers to give rent allowance to housing applicants who apply for rent support in areas other than the functional area of the council with whom they have made their housing application, if such families have been forced to seek private rented accommodation outside their local authority area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28695/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Government has provided over €344 million for the rent supplement scheme in 2014, the purpose of which is to provide short-term income support to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible people living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources. The overall aim is to provide short-term assistance, and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer. There are currently approximately 76,000 customers in receipt of rent supplement. To qualify for rent supplement a claimant must:

- have been residing in private rented accommodation (where at the commencement of the tenancy the person could have reasonably afforded the rent and has experienced a substantial change in his or her circumstances where they are now unable to pay the rent) or accommodation for homeless persons or in an institution (or any combination of these) for a period of 183 days within the preceding 12 months of the date of claim for rent supplement,

or

- have been assessed by a housing authority pursuant to section 9 of the Housing Act 1988 (as amended by section 75 of the Health Act 2004) as having a housing need.

It is the Department’s policy that an assessment of eligibility for social housing support should be carried out by the relevant local housing authority in the area where a claim to rent supplement is made and the person intends to reside. This ensures that the relevant local authorities are made aware of and can take responsibility for the long-term housing needs of rent supplement tenants living within their administrative area. This reflects both the responsibility of local authorities in providing long-term housing supports and the temporary income support nature of rent supplement. Without this measure rent supplement recipients would be unknown to their respective local authority, where they currently reside, with the potential that they may lose out on an offer for social housing including support under the new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) which is currently being piloted in the Limerick area.

Department officials have considerable experience in dealing with customers of the rent supplement scheme and continue to make every effort to ensure that their accommodation needs are met.

Social Welfare Benefits Data

Questions (108)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

108. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons with a travel pass in June 2013 and June 2014 respectively. [28701/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The number of persons in receipt of free travel in June 2014 is not currently available. I am however informed that at the end of June 2013 and May 2014 there were 771,147 and 793,812 free travel passes.

Disability Allowance Payments

Questions (109)

Seán Fleming

Question:

109. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection when arrears will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Laois; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28740/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Arrears of disability allowance due to the person concerned issued by cheque on 30 June 2014 .

Departmental Staff Redeployment

Questions (110)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

110. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the procedure to be followed to facilitate an interdepartmental transfer for civil servants of middle rank wishing to transfer to alternative Departments for whatever reason; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28744/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The only formal structure in place in respect of transfers at Executive Officer level and above is the Central Applications Facility (CAF) that was established for locations included in the Decentralisation Programme. The CAF is administered by the Public Appointments Service.

While my department maintains informal transfer lists for the grades of Executive Officer and above I understand that not all departments do so. If an individual serving in my department wishes to be considered for a transfer to a department or location other than a CAF location, it is open to them to specify the Department or locations which are of interest to them to the HR Division of my department. HR in turn will forward the details to the relevant department asking that the person be included on the transfer list where one is maintained.

Commemorative Events

Questions (111)

Jerry Buttimer

Question:

111. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will consider proposals supporting a public memorial to take the form of a wall of honour in memory of Ireland's World War 1 veterans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28731/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

The centenary of World War I has been acknowledged already this year by several local authorities and academic centres. Regimental associations and ex-service organisations are arranging visits to battlefield sites. National cultural institutions are also organising special events and presentations. One such event will be a special day for the public hosted by Trinity College, in association with the National Library of Ireland and supported by RTÉ, to take place in Trinity College on 12 July next.

Special arrangements relating to the entry into the war are being made in Ireland, Britain and abroad in late July and early August.

In this regard, I would specifically mention the dedication of a memorial "Cross of Sacrifice" at Glasnevin Cemetery to take place on 31 July next to honour the memory of all Irish soldiers lost in the war and particularly those laid to rest there. This cross will be a welcome addition to the comprehensive and inclusive representation of Irish history on the site and is being brought forward in a partnership between Glasnevin Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This will complement the existing memorial walls relating to the dead of two World Wars, which were restored and relocated to a position of greater prominence within the cemetery, consistent with their significance in our modern history. My hope is that this new monument will cause the many visitors who come there to reflect on war and its consequences.

Television Reception

Questions (112)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

112. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if a Saorview blackspot in County Kerry (details supplied) will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28624/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

In accordance with the Broadcasting Act 2009, RTÉ is responsible for the roll-out, coverage and operation of the SAORVIEW digital terrestrial television (DTT) network and I, as Minister, have no function in this matter. Specifically, the Act requires RTÉ to provide digital coverage to the same extent as provided over the previous analogue network, i.e. 98% population coverage, and I am advised by RTÉ that this level of coverage is being provided by the SAORVIEW TV network. For the remaining 2% of the population, RTÉ launched SAORSAT in March 2012. The development and provision of SAORSAT, which is a “free to air” satellite system providing access to the RTÉ channels and TG4, was undertaken by RTÉ on its own initiative and, as in the case of the SAORVIEW DTT network, is not a matter in which I have a function.

Ireland is not the only country to have introduced a national TV network on both a terrestrial and satellite platform. Many countries, including the UK, have developed their digital networks on both the traditional terrestrial platform and also over satellite. The reason for this is simple. It is technically and financially impossible to provide 100% coverage using a terrestrial TV platform. However, through SAORVIEW and SAORSAT, Ireland now has 100% “free to air” coverage of the RTÉ channels and TG4 for the first time in the history of the State.

I would advise the Deputy that any signal reception issues should be directed to 2rn in the first place. Accordingly, I have referred his query to 2rn for direct reply.

Broadband Service Provision

Questions (113)

Brendan Smith

Question:

113. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concerns in an area (details supplied) in County Cavan regarding the poor quality of broadband telecommunications service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28639/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August 2012, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. This will be achieved by providing:-

- a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment; and

- a State-led intervention for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.

Since publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway and in some instances have been accelerated in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. Commercial operators combined have either invested, or committed to invest, over €2 billion in their Irish networks, delivering high speed broadband to homes and businesses.

As a result of this accelerated investment the addressable area required by the State-led intervention has been reduced by 30% since the National Broadband Plan was launched. While the commercial developments are welcome the acceleration of investment is largely contained to cities and towns. Consequently, the speeds that are available in these areas are demonstrably better than those that are available in more rural areas.

On 25 April last, I signalled the Government's commitment to a major telecommunications network build-out to rural Ireland, with fibre as the foundation of its investment, as part of the State-led intervention under the National Broadband Plan. This commitment is a clear expression of Government’s determination to address the connectivity challenge in rural Ireland in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Central to the strategy will be a fibre build-out to locations in every county in the State identified as having no existing or planned enabling fibre network. It is intended that the fibre will be delivered directly to access points for homes and businesses, where service providers can utilise the fibre to provide high speed services to end users. The fibre build out will be part of an end-to-end strategy that will address all parts of Ireland that cannot access commercial high speed broadband services.

A comprehensive mapping exercise is underway in my Department which will identify those areas that will require a State intervention. I have published a county-by-county list of towns and villages which have already been identified for a fibre build-out. This list is available on my Department's website, www.dcenr.gov.ie . Currently, a total of 38 areas in County Cavan including the area of Milltown have been identified as requiring an intervention. This is an indicative list and is subject to the completion of the mapping exercise. Further locations may be identified as this process continues. Similarly, it may be determined that some locations on the list will be addressed by the commercial sector and will therefore not require State intervention. I expect that this mapping exercise will be concluded in the autumn.

I would point out that the EU Commission’s guidelines on State aid for high speed broadband infrastructure preclude Member States from intervening in regions in which private investors have demonstrated plans to roll out their own infrastructure within the following three years. In this regard, I understand that at least one network operator has published a programme to roll out 20 fibre-based broadband networks in County Cavan, including the area of Belturbet by July 2016.

In tandem with the completion of the mapping exercise, intensive design and planning work is ongoing in my Department with a view to producing a detailed end to end strategy for the State led intervention. It is my intention to conduct a full public consultation on the outcome of the mapping process and the proposed strategy. EU State aid clearance will also be required for the intervention once finalised. This will be followed by a detailed procurement process with a view to commencing construction of the fibre network and provision of services in identified areas as quickly as possible.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (114)

Michael Colreavy

Question:

114. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way positions to the board of Bord na Móna are advertised and filled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28693/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Board of Bord na Móna plc was established under the Turf Development Act, 1998. The Board consists of up to twelve members. Of these, seven of the members are appointed by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The remainder are the Managing Director who is appointed by the Board and is an ex-officio Board member and four Worker Director members, appointed in accordance with the provisions of the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Acts.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has publicly invited expressions of interest from suitably qualified and experienced persons interested in being appointed to the boards of State Bodies operating under the aegis of his Department, including Bord na Mona. As set out in this invitation, appointments are made in the exercise of a statutory discretion and the Minister is not confined to making an appointment from amongst those who have expressed an interest. Proposals for new Board members are brought to Government, prior to an appointment being made.

In line with Government policy on appointments, persons who are proposed for appointment as Chairpersons of State Boards are required to make themselves available to the appropriate Oireachtas Committee to discuss the approach which they would take to their role as Chairperson and their views about the future direction of the body which they would chair. In this context the current Chairperson of Bord na Mona appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications in September 2012, in advance of his appointment.

Public Sector Staff Recruitment

Questions (115)

Stephen Donnelly

Question:

115. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide for a derogation to the public sector hiring embargo in respect of to Greystones Library (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28637/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the Public Service was introduced in March 2009 in response to the financial crisis. My Department operates a delegated sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for implementation of the moratorium in relation to local authorities, and any exceptions to the moratorium in local authorities require sanction from my Department.

Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each Chief Executive is responsible for staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authorities for which he or she is responsible. In this regard, it is a matter for each CEO, in the first instance, to ensure that the moratorium is implemented while the appropriate service levels are maintained.

My Department examines all staffing sanction requests on a case by case basis having due regard to the continued delivery of key services in the context of staffing and budgetary constraints. In considering sanction requests, public safety, maintaining key front line services and economic issues are given precedence.

My Department works closely with Wicklow County Council in relation to the Council’s overall staffing requirements. In June 2014, the Council submitted a number of staff sanction requests for library positions including a request for an Executive Librarian position at Greystones library . This staffing request is being considered and a decision will issue to the Council in due course.

Non-Principal Private Residence Charge Exemptions

Questions (116)

Clare Daly

Question:

116. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide an exemption from the non-principal private residence charge for properties with pyrite; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28702/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009, as amended, broadened the revenue base of local authorities by introducing a charge on non-principal private residences. The Non- Principal Private Residence (NPPR) Charge is set at €200 and liability for it falls, in the main, on owners of rental, holiday and vacant or additional properties that are not an individual’s principal private residence. The NPPR Charge, which has since been discontinued, applied in the years 2009 to 2013 to any residential property in which the owner did not reside as their normal place of residence. It is a matter for an owner to determine if he or she has a liability and, if so, to declare that liability and pay the Charge and any late payment fees applicable.

Under the 2009 Act “residential property” is defined as a “…building that is situated in the State and that is occupied, or suitable for occupation, as a separate dwelling.” There are a number of indicators as to what makes a property suitable for occupation for the purposes of determining liability to the Charge. The indicators include the structure of the property, whether or not it has a roof, whether or not it is so affected by dampness as to render it unsuitable for habitation, and whether or not it has sanitary facilities, including a water closet and water supply. Under the 2009 Act, there is no specific exemption for residential properties affected by pyrite. A property that is not suitable for occupation should not be regarded as a residential property within the meaning of the 2009 Act and would not therefore be liable for the Charge.

It is a function of a local authority to collect non-principal private residence charges and late payment fees due to it, and all charges and late payment fees imposed and payable to a local authority are under the care and management of the local authority concerned. In this regard, application of the legislation in particular circumstances is a matter for the relevant local authority.

Water Charges Exemptions

Questions (117)

Finian McGrath

Question:

117. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a water allowance for very ill persons (details supplied). [28709/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I refer to the reply to Question Nos. 295 and 322 of 1 July 2014. The position is unchanged.

Local Authority Housing Mortgages

Questions (118)

Michael McGrath

Question:

118. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 520 of 30 April 2014 if he will provide data on the number of local authority mortgages that are more than 360 and 720 days in arrears; the way the number of cases in arrears by this amount has changed over the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28586/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department publishes a wide range of housing statistics, including the number and value of local authority mortgages with a breakdown of those in arrears for more than 90 days. The statistics are available on my Department’s website at: http://www.environ.ie/en/Publications/StatisticsandRegularPublications/HousingStatistics/FileDownLoad,15295,en.xls

by clicking “Mortgage Data/Arrears in Local Authorities” under the Housing Loans contents. My Department does not have data on loans in arrears for more than 360 and 720 days.

My Department issued guidelines to local authorities for dealing with mortgage arrears within the local authority sector in August 2012. Dealing with Mortgage Arrears – A Guide for Local Authorities is available on my Department’s website at:http://www.environ.ie/en/Publications/DevelopmentandHousing/Housing/FileDownLoad,30943,en.pdf

An Bord Pleanála Remit

Questions (119)

Brian Stanley

Question:

119. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on whether there was a conflict of interest in the decision by An Bord Pleanála to approve the Cullenagh wind farm, and the fact that one of the board members (details supplied) worked for a company that drew up the proposal for the wind farm. [28600/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I have no role or function in relation to decisions taken by An Bord Pleanála on individual cases. An Bord Pleanála operates under a Code of Conduct as required by section 150 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, one of the purposes of which is to ensure that any potential conflicts of interest relating to its statutory functions are dealt with in an appropriate manner by it. This Code is available for viewing on the website of An Bord Pleanála.

Section 13 of the Code contains procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest in the context of meetings of An Bord Pleanála where appeals and other planning cases are determined. Section 15.2 of the Code also requires that a Board member shall not deal with any case in any capacity on behalf of the Board where the member had any involvement at any time in the matter, either on a personal basis or on behalf of a previous employer or as a member of any other organisation or voluntary body. Furthermore section 15.4 requires that a Board member shall not knowingly deal with a file relating to a planning authority or a private practice where he/she was previously employed during the previous 2 year period or any voluntary or professional organisation of which the person is or was a member during the previous 2 year period.

My Department has been assured by the Chairperson of An Bord Pleanála (who was part of the Board of An Bord Pleanála which determined the case referred to in the Deputy’s question) that the relevant procedures were followed in this case and that no conflict of interest arose in relation to any of the five Board members who were present at the meeting at which the case was determined.

Proposed Legislation

Questions (120)

Robert Dowds

Question:

120. Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he expects the climate change Bill to be brought before Dáil Éireann. [28646/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

On 23 April 2014, I published the General Scheme of the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Bill.

The General Scheme has been referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the Bill will be published as soon as drafting has been completed. My objective is to introduce the Bill and progress its passage through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible.