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Tuesday, 29 Sep 2015

Written Answers Nos. 142 - 162

Credit Union Restructuring

Questions (142)

Denis Naughten

Question:

142. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Finance his plans to enhance the role which credit unions play within the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32835/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

My role as Minister for Finance is to ensure that the legal framework for credit unions is appropriate for the effective operation and supervision of credit unions.

The Registrar of Credit Unions at the Central Bank is the independent regulator for credit unions.  Within her independent regulatory discretion, the Registrar acts to support the prudential soundness of individual credit unions, to maintain sector stability and to protect the savings of credit union members.

As I have previously stated, credit unions have a key role to play in providing access to credit and other important services in local communities throughout the country. The Government recognises this and has put in place a number of measures to ensure that credit unions can continue to provide these vital services to their members and to ensure the stability of the sector into the future. These measures include:

- the establishment of the Commission on Credit Unions;

- the publication of the Credit Union and Co-operation with Overseas Regulators Act 2012;

- the establishment of the Credit Union Restructuring Board ReBo;

- the establishment of a stabilisation levy to support credit unions that are undercapitalised but are otherwise viable;

- the availability of €250 million for voluntary restructuring of credit unions facilitated by ReBo; and

- the availability of €250 million for resolution purposes.

The Credit Union Restructuring Board (ReBo) is currently progressing its work plan re the restructuring of credit unions and to date has provided assistance in 21 completed mergers involving 50 credit unions. The ReBo Board has approved a further 11 mergers, involving 23 credit unions in projects which will complete shortly. A further 120 credit unions are being assisted at various stages in the restructuring process. In total ReBo is currently engaged with 193 credit unions at varying stages of the restructuring process with a combined asset value of €9.2 billion.

Credit union strategy is a matter for credit unions themselves and is specifically provided for in Section 17 of the Credit Union and Co-operation with Overseas Regulators Act 2012. The setting of strategy for a credit union is a function of the board of directors and Section 17 provides that this should be carried out in close co-operation with a credit union's management team. However, I am always open to considering new proposals in relation to credit unions, particularly those that would see the development of the credit union business model and an increase in income for the sector. 

The Central Bank has informed me that it is open to working with the credit union sector to ensure that prudent and appropriate business development can be facilitated within the regulatory framework. As set out in its feedback statement on CP88, the Central Bank intends to invite interested parties to discuss business model development in the coming months. 

The safety of members' savings and the security of the credit union sector as a whole are priorities for this Government and I have, on a number of occasions, highlighted the Governments' recognition of the important role of credit unions as a volunteer co-operative movement.

Mortgage Protection Policies

Questions (143)

Michael McGrath

Question:

143. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his plans to request the Central Bank of Ireland to carry out a review of the current mortgage lending rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32863/15]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Central Bank of Ireland put in place new macro-prudential measures for residential mortgage lending effective from 9 February 2015.  These measures apply proportionate loan-to-value and loan-to-income limits to mortgage lending by regulated financial service providers in the Irish market.  The key objective of these regulations is to increase the resilience of the banking and household sectors to the property market and to reduce the risk of bank credit and house price spirals from developing in the future.  In its submission to the public consultation process undertaken by the Central Bank on its proposals last year, my Department recognised that there was a sound rationale for the introduction of macro-prudential measures in Ireland but also indicated that it would also be appropriate to keep the particular measures as adopted under review from time to time. 

While the Central Bank is independent in the setting of such macro prudential measures, this was a point that was recognised by the Bank and it indicated from the outset that it would monitor the impact of the implemented measures on-going basis, in particular with regard to achieving the stated objectives of the measures and monitoring any unintended consequences.  While the macro prudential measures are currently in place for only a short period, I am informed by the Central Bank that this monitoring is on-going and that it will inform any future consideration and decisions in this area.

Mortgage Interest Rates

Questions (144)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

144. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Finance his Department's plans to encourage competition in the banking sector and to drive down variable mortgage interest rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32830/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy will be aware, I have taken steps to ensure that banks provide real options for mortgage holders facing high repayments.  

In May I met with senior management of the six main mortgage lenders and outlined my view that the interest rates being charged to Irish customers were too high. The banks agreed to review their rates and products and, by the beginning of July, to have simple options to reduce monthly mortgage payments for SVR customers.

I recently met the main lenders again and the reality is that the majority of the lenders have now put options in place to allow borrowers to reduce their monthly repayments.   

I would therefore encourage borrowers to contact their bank to see what is available to them in their circumstances or consider moving to another bank if the offer is not satisfactory, thereby fostering competition between the lenders.

Central Bank research suggests that 21% of existing PDH variable rate mortgage customers could save by switching their provider. I expect that if financial institutions are convinced that there is a threat that they will lose existing customers, they will reduce the rates that they currently charge such customers.

Competition is the best way to achieve a sustainable long term solution to the issue of high mortgage repayments and the Government has undertaken a number of initiatives in order to promote competition in the market. For example, it introduced the changes to Section 149 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995 in the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement Act) 2013 for new entrants. This section regulates fees and charges and the changes mean that it does not apply for the first three years of operation of new entrants to the Irish banking sector. It is anticipated that new entrants will enter the mortgage market and bring welcome competition to this sector.

Income Inequality

Questions (145)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

145. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Finance the steps he will take to address income inequality in the forthcoming budget 2016, taking into account the widening gap between the wealthy and poor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32874/15]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

As indicated by data and research from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) respectively, income inequality in Ireland has remained broadly stable over the past decade. The Gini coefficient is a measure of income inequality where 0 represents a situation where all households have an equal income and 1 indicates that one household has all of national income. According to the CSO, the Gini coefficient for household disposable income in Ireland was 31.3% in 2013, the latest year for which data is available. This compares to 31.7% in 2004 and the Gini coefficient has remained within a narrow range over 2004 to 2013. In international terms, the Gini coefficient for disposable income in Ireland was marginally below the euro area average in 2013.

Regarding wealth inequality, comprehensive data on household wealth in Ireland, including assets and liabilities, was published by the CSO in early 2015. This is the first time such data has been collected. The same data has been collected across the entire euro area according to a standardised methodology. These data indicate that wealth inequality in Ireland for 2013, as measured by the Gini Coefficient, is lower than the euro area average. The results also show that wealth is less concentrated at the top of the distribution here than the euro area average. Central Bank analysis of these data also indicates that while wealth inequality has increased since 2011, it is lower than in 2006, the earliest period for which data are available.

As regards Budget 2016, the Deputy will be aware that it is not the practice of the Minister for Finance to discuss in advance any measures which may be under consideration.

Post Office Network

Questions (146)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

146. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Finance if he will enact section 67 of the Post and Telecommunications Act 1987 to allow institutions such as An Post to provide financial services, including a standard bank account. [32873/15]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

An Post have been engaged with my Department regarding their proposal to provide a payment account. There are a number of stages in the approval process that the company must complete, including a statutory consultation with the Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources. 

Once the necessary procedures have been completed and following a consultation with the Central Bank of Ireland, a draft Ministerial Order pursuant to Section 67 of the Post and Telecommunications Act, 1983 will be prepared for my consideration. 

I understand that the process is at an advanced stage.

NAMA Operations

Questions (147)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

147. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Finance his plans to make the National Asset Management Agency more accountable, and for its eventual winding down; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32831/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As I have previously outlined to the Deputy, in Dail Question No. 133 on 16th June 2015, in mid 2014 my officials produced a special report on NAMA's activities in compliance with Section 227 of the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009.  This report assessed the extent to which NAMA has made progress toward achieving its overall objectives and whether the continuation of NAMA is necessary having regard to the purposes of the Act. This report concluded that NAMA has made significant progress in achieving its overall objectives; and based on its performance and financial projections in light of the strength of current investor interest in Ireland, NAMA is well positioned to achieve its overall objectives and so continues to be necessary.  

In the context of that review and as reiterated in his opening address to the Public Accounts Committee on 18 December 2014, the NAMA Chief Executive stated that NAMA aims to redeem a cumulative 80% (€24 billion) of its Senior Bonds by the end of 2016 and that it hopes to have redeemed all of its Senior Bonds by the end of 2018 - two years ahead of NAMA's previous target of 2020.  He stated that these targets are predicated on conditions in the Irish market remaining favourable and on NAMA being in a position to retain sufficient specialist staff to enable it to generate the optimal financial return from the realisation of its residual loan portfolio. To date, NAMA has redeemed €19.35bn, that is 64% of the €30.2 billion Senior Bonds issued. 

The Deputy will also be aware that, entirely consistent with its objectives, the NAMA Board has undertaken to protect its ability to exercise a sufficient level of control to ensure the timely and coherent delivery of key Grade A office space within the Dublin Docklands SDZ and Dublin's Central Business District and more generally to maximise the delivery of residential housing units in areas of most need.

As set out in the NAMA Act, one of the specific purposes of NAMA is to deal expeditiously with the assets acquired by it. I fully endorse the NAMA Board's strategy to take advantage, to the greatest extent possible, of favourable Irish market conditions by increasing the flow of assets to the market.

Given that these commitments were made by NAMA only in July 2014, it is too early to speculate as what date in the future NAMA will have made sufficient progress on its objectives as to warrant consideration of its dissolution.  I will be obliged to conduct another Section 227 review as of year end 2017 and will again take the opportunity to assess whether NAMA continues to be necessary at that point.

As regards accountability, it is again important to point out that NAMA is already subject to a high level of public accountability compared to other commercial bodies, including commercial bodies in the State sector.

In carrying out its functions the Board of NAMA must comply with its obligations under the NAMA Act. The NAMA Board comprises seven members, five of whom, including the Chairman, were Ministerial appointments. The Chief Executive of NAMA and the Chief Executive of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) are ex-officio members of the Board. The terms of office of Board members range between three and five years and no appointed member is eligible to serve more than two consecutive terms.

The NAMA Act (Section 18) sets out the principal responsibilities of the Board, which are

- to ensure that NAMA discharges its functions efficiently and effectively;

- to set strategic objectives and targets for NAMA;

- to ensure that the appropriate systems and procedures are in place to achieve the strategic targets and objectives;

- to take all reasonable steps available to it to achieve those targets and objectives.

The Board has also established four statutory committees, under Section 32 of the Act, to assist in the discharge of its responsibilities and obligations: Audit Committee, Credit Committee, Finance and Operating Committee, Risk Management Committee.

NAMA's Annual Report and Financial Statements are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.  The level of disclosure in NAMA's Annual Report and Financial Statements is comprehensive and professional.  I would encourage anyone interested in the workings and performance of NAMA who have not yet read these reports to take the time to do so as they are a rich source of information regarding NAMA's performance.

NAMA is also required to report to me on a quarterly basis giving detailed information about its loans, its financing arrangements and its income and expenditure. These reports, which also include other information specified under Section 55 of the NAMA Act, track NAMA's progress on a quarterly basis.  I am obliged to lay these reports before the Oireachtas and I endeavour to do so on a timely basis. 

In addition, under Section 53 of the NAMA Act, NAMA is also required to submit to me an Annual Statement by 30 September each year setting out its proposed objectives for the following financial year, the scope of activities to be undertaken, its strategies and policies and its proposed use of resources.  I am obliged to lay these statements before the Oireachtas and I endeavour to do so on a timely basis. 

NAMA's accounts are comprehensively audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. For large parts of the year - typically between September and May C&AG staff are based in the Agency, performing their audit function, with unrestricted access to all its records and files.  If there is concern about a specific aspect of NAMA's work, it is within the power of the Comptroller and Auditor General to scrutinise any aspect of it. The Comptroller and Auditor General has already produced three special reports on NAMA's activities and they have been broadly positive in their assessment of how NAMA is managing its complex business.  I note that as part of its upcoming third Section 226 triennial review of NAMA, the C&AG has confirmed that it will perform a value for money review on various NAMA sales transactions.

The Chairman and Chief Executive are also accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) and other Oireachtas committees and to give evidence to those committees whenever required to do so - and most recently attended the PAC on 9th July 2015.  I understand NAMA are scheduled to appear before the PAC again on the morning of October 1st. Transcripts of these appearances are available from the Oireachtas website.  Furthermore, there have been numerous Parliamentary Questions addressed to me on NAMA-related issues and the associated replies are on the Oireachtas record. 

NAMA also recently became subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2014 on 14th April 2015.

Finally, as the Deputy may be aware, NAMA operates a dedicated email address, oir@nama.ie, to enable TDs and Senators to raise any matter directly with the Agency. I would encourage the Deputy, and indeed any member of the Oireachtas with a NAMA-related query, to avail of the email service. I am assured by NAMA that all matters which are brought to its attention via this forum are fully, and promptly, responded to.   

Against this backdrop, I do not accept that there is a need to make NAMA more accountable than is already the case.

Economic Data

Questions (148)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

148. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which the economic indicators continue to remain positive and capable of facilitating continued growth in the economy in the future, resulting in future job creation and the maximisation of opportunities for domestic investment and for foreign direct investment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32883/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

In general, recent indicators have been very positive, indicating that the recovery is strengthening and becoming more broad based.

The latest data show GDP increased by 6.7 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of this year. This comes on the back of a similar increase of 7.2 per cent in the first quarter. As a result, GDP per capita is now above its pre-crisis peak.

Importantly, the recovery is now being felt in the domestic economy with consumption up over 3 per cent in the first half of this year and investment up over 20 per cent. In fact, last year domestic demand made its strongest positive contribution to economic growth since the crisis began. This is very important as the domestic sectors are both jobs rich and tax rich. The external sector is also showing continuing signs of growth with exports increasing by almost 14 per cent and imports up by 16 per cent in the first half of this year.

The economic recovery is also clearly evident in the labour market where we have now had eleven successive quarters of solid annual employment growth. As a result, the unemployment rate has fallen by almost 6 percentage points since its peak in early 2012.

However, achieving a sustained economic recovery cannot be taken for granted and is contingent upon the implementation of the right policy mix. The Spring Economic Statement sets outs a strategy designed to maximise the potential of the economy through a number of growth enhancing initiatives in the areas of taxation, access to finance and debt reduction. These initiatives along with a number of sector specific interventions will help ensure a sustained recovery over the rest of the decade.

Construction Sector Strategy

Questions (149)

Seán Kyne

Question:

149. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider temporarily reducing or removing tax liabilities concerning the construction of new homes, as a measure to stimulate increased construction, but also in a manner which would assist first-time buyers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33010/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

This issue has been brought to my attention on a number of occasions and indeed I have met with representatives of the Construction Industry Federation recently. However the Deputy will be aware that it is not the practice of the Minister for Finance to discuss in advance any measures which may be under consideration as part of the Budget and Finance Bill process.

Freedom of Information Requests

Questions (150)

Micheál Martin

Question:

150. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of freedom of information requests received in his Department which are currently being considered, in particular the requests to which replies have been delayed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32765/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

225 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have been received in my Department so far this year. This is an increase of 30% over the total number of requests received in 2014.

51 FOI requests are currently under consideration by my Department. Of these, final replies in 3 cases have been delayed but will issue shortly.

EU Meetings

Questions (151)

Micheál Martin

Question:

151. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the European Union summit held on 21 September 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32767/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

There were two significant EU meetings on the migration/refugee crisis during the week beginning 21 September.

The first, an extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council, on 22 September, agreed a proposal to relocate 120,000 people in need of international protection. This means that 120,000 people seeking asylum will be relocated to other EU Member States from Greece, Italy and any other State which may be hit by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries. In a clear demonstration of solidarity with our EU partners, Ireland has committed – subject to Oireachtas approval - to opt in to this decision on relocation, as we have also committed to do in regard to the previously agreed programme to relocate 40,000 people. The Minister for Justice and Equality will be seeking the approval of the Oireachtas for the exercise of the opt-in and officials in her Department are following up with the relevant EU authorities on the next practical steps involved.

The following day, 23 September, there was an extraordinary meeting of the European Council on the crisis. There is broad agreement that a comprehensive approach is required to this complex issue, one which addresses both immediate humanitarian needs and the various factors which contribute to huge flows of people. Progress is being made on many of the measures agreed at the April and June meetings of the European Council, including on reinforcing internal solidarity within the Union, developing ‘hotspots’ (specific locations for the processing of asylum appeals) and increasing co-operation, with or support for, those countries from which most migrants originate or through which they pass. Increasing our support for the UN and other agencies working with refugees and displaced persons is another priority. Targeting criminal people-smuggling operations is also key. Seeking to end the conflict in Syria itself – and creating conditions to allow for those in exile to return – obviously remains fundamental.

Clearly, however much more remains to be done to implement these decisions and develop them further. Justice Ministers will be working on a range of further proposals recently made by the European Commission and the European Council will return to the issue of migration at its scheduled October meeting. In addition, Heads of State and Government will meet with our African counterparts in Valletta in early November, with a view to agreeing a Declaration and an Action Plan that would support initiatives to tackle the migration crisis more broadly.

Departmental Staff Remuneration

Questions (152)

Robert Troy

Question:

152. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Taoiseach the amount of bonus remuneration paid to staff in his Department and agencies under his aegis to date in 2015; the number of persons to whom these payments were made and their purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32963/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

No bonus remuneration has been paid to staff in my Department or any agencies under the aegis of my Department to date in 2015.

Census of Population Data

Questions (153)

John O'Mahony

Question:

153. Deputy John O'Mahony asked the Taoiseach when positions will be advertised for the 2016 census of population; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32964/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

A total of 5,140 people will be recruited to assist with the field work on the 2016 census. The field staff can be divided into two separate types of contract, the field managers and supervisors, and the enumerators. The 480 census field managers will be employed full time on the census while the 4,660 census enumerators will be engaged in a part-time capacity.

The recruitment process is in three separate phases. Phase 1 saw the recruitment of 50 senior managers made up of 6 Census Liaison Officers and 44 Census Regional Supervisors. The online application competition was open from April 30th 2015 to May 8th 2015. Letters of appointment have been issued. Census liaison officers start on Monday 28th September 2015 and census regional supervisors report for duty on Tuesday 27th October 2015.

Phase 2 is for the recruitment of 430 Census field supervisors. This competition ran from September 17th to September 24th 2015. Shortlisting and interviewing of candidates is now beginning and successful applicants will report for duty on January 25th 2015.

The third and final phase of the recruitment drive will begin in the first week of January 2016. This will involve the recruitment of 4,660 census enumerators and will also be an online recruitment application process. Advance notice will be posted on the CSO website and there will be a publicity campaign to advertise the posts. Census enumerators typically work 22 hours a week, mostly evenings and weekends. The census enumerator contract will run for 10 weeks from 21st March until 27th May 2016.

All of the recruitment for the census field operation is carried out by the CSO under licence by the Commission for Public Service Appointments and complies with their strict recruitment principles regarding fairness, equality, openness and transparency.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (154, 155)

Paul Murphy

Question:

154. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach the annual cost to his Department of fees paid to private for-profit companies to provide public services, for example, waste collection, motorway toll operators, public transport such as Veolia-Luas and private bus companies. [33648/15]

View answer

Paul Murphy

Question:

155. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach the annual cost to his Department of fees paid to private for-profit companies to provide services, such as consultancy work, recruitment services and other outsourced services, for example, cleaning, catering and so on. [33647/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 154 and 155 together.

The following table details the cost to my Department of fees paid to private for-profit companies who provide services specified by the Deputy from 1 September 2014 to 31 August 2015.

Service Provided

Cost

Department

-

Consultancy

€23,948.10

Cleaning

€19,018.16

Catering

€67,069.56

Waste Collection

€9,891.47

Managed Print Service

€44,453.36

External Support Providers (IT)

€1,230.00

IT Contractors

€112,485.35

Moriarty Tribunal

-

Recruitment Services

€52,338.96

Waste Collection

€407.98

Commission of Investigation (Fennelly)

-

Cleaning

€6,861.08

Waste Collection

€352.58

Managed Print Service

€16,516.01

External Support Providers (IT)

€3,210.30

Commission of Investigation - Irish Bank Resolution Co-operation

-

External Support Providers

€11,685.00

Constitutional Convention

-

Catering

€3,471.89

Back to Education Allowance

Questions (156)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

156. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans to reintroduce the back to education allowance in budget 2016; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32752/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) is designed to support second chance education. It enables social welfare customers in receipt of certain payments to pursue full-time education courses and to continue to receive income support in the form of an allowance. The BTEA is paid for the duration of the course of study, subject to the customer continuing to meet the conditions of the allowance and remaining eligible for DSP payment. The allowance is paid weekly and replaces the customer’s qualifying payment. In general, most customers will also have certain registration and related college fees paid by SUSI.

The operation of the BTEA has been comprehensively revised over the past two years and there are no plans to further revise the current arrangements given the value of income support already provided. BTEA, similar to Department of Education & Skills/SUSI does not provide additional funding for participation on a course of study. Some €150 million has been provided in 2015 to meet the cost of allowances paid by Department of Social Protection which represents a considerable investment in supporting some 23,000 customers in the past year to acquire skills to re-enter the labour market.

Youth Employment Initiative

Questions (157)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

157. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection with regard to the youth employment initiative, which was established during Ireland's Presidency of the European Council in 2013, the specific amount of European Union funding which has been drawn down by Ireland for this initiative to date; the number of internship places that have been created since 2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32965/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) is being managed as part of Ireland’s relationship with the European Social Fund (ESF) under the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020, for which the Irish Managing Authority is the Department of Education and Skills.

I am informed that the total amount of YEI funding for which Ireland is applying in relation to the years 2014-2018 is €68,145,419 in respect of overall relevant programme expenditure of €204,436, 537 million. It is anticipated that the YEI funding will be matched by a similar amount of ESF funding, with the balance coming from matching domestic expenditure. In the normal course of events, this amount of YEI funding will be drawn down as final claims are made in respect of these years. However, I understand that an advance payment of €21,465,806.99 was made to Ireland under the YEI earlier this year.

Just over 28,700 people, commenced internships under the JobBridge programme from the beginning of 2013 up to the end of August 2015. Of these, just over 8,000 were aged less than 25 years at the time they commenced on the programme.

Rent Supplement Scheme Data

Questions (158)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

158. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection regarding the increase in demand for private rental accommodation and the increase in homelessness in the greater Dublin area, if she will consider increasing the caps for rent allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33054/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Rent supplement plays a vital role in housing families and individuals, with the scheme supporting approximately 65,000 people at a cost of €298 million in 2015. Over 13,700 rent supplement tenancies have been awarded this year, of which almost 4,300 are in Dublin, showing that significant numbers are being accommodated under the scheme.

A review of the rent limits undertaken earlier this year found that the impact of increasing limits at a time of constrained supply will increase costs disproportionately for the Exchequer with little or no new housing available to recipients.

Rather than increasing limits at this time rent supplement policy will continue to allow for flexibility where landlords seek rents in excess of current limits. Flexibility is provided under the National Framework for Tenancy Sustainment for both existing customers of the scheme and new applicants. Staff in the Community Welfare Service of the Department who administer the rent supplement scheme have a statutory discretionary power to award or increase a supplement for rental purposes, for example, when dealing with applicants who are risk of losing their tenancy or in danger of homelessness. Tenant’s circumstances are considered on a case-by-case basis, and rents are being increased above prescribed limits as appropriate.

This flexible approach has already assisted approximately 4,000 rent supplement households throughout the country to retain their rented accommodation. In addition, the Department, in conjunction with Threshold, operates a special Protocol in the Dublin and Cork areas where supply issues are particularly acute, with plans to extend this arrangement to Galway city. The primary objective of the Protocol is to ensure a speedy intervention to ensure that families at immediate risk of losing their tenancy get rapid assistance.

I can assure the Deputy that where Departmental staff are notified of a threat of tenancy loss these measures are implemented as appropriate. Persons in receipt of rent supplement at risk of losing their tenancy are advised to contact the Department’s Community Welfare Service or Threshold’s Tenancy Protection Service without delay.

I am keeping this matter under close review.

Employment Data

Questions (159)

Finian McGrath

Question:

159. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection the employment positions available during the upcoming general election in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33100/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Information relating to General Election vacancies in the Dublin area will be advertised on the website of the Dublin Returning Officer whenever the next election is announced. The website and postal addresses are as follows: http://www.dublincountyreturningofficer.com and Dublin County Returning Officer, Unit 17, Tolka Valley Business Park, Ballyboggan Road, Dublin 11.

National Internship Scheme Data

Questions (160)

Robert Troy

Question:

160. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her views on a matter (details supplied) regarding the JobBridge process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33256/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The JobBridge Scheme was introduced in July 2011 with the aim of providing unemployed people with an opportunity to secure work experience and to prove their competence to prospective employers. Participation on JobBridge is wholly voluntary and is open to all jobseekers who meet the qualifying criteria, irrespective of their skill levels.

JobBridge caters for new entrants to the labour market following education or training, and also unemployed workers whose existing skills are not appropriate for the types of jobs that are emerging in post- recession Ireland. It offers an opportunity both for people with very low levels of education or skills who do not wish to return to school or college and those who have gained very high levels of education, but who need some practical work experience under their belt to compete effectively in the labour market. To date, JobBridge has attracted voluntary participation from over 42,000 jobseekers and has encouraged over 17,000 host organisations to offer work experience opportunities to them.

In order to provide a JobBridge internship however, a host organisation must agree to abide by the Terms and Conditions of the scheme. These conditions include the requirements that the internship not be used to displace full-time paid employment and that the host organisation does not offer an internship in the same area of activity that they have made an employee redundant. The Department has a robust screening and monitoring process in place, and each host organisation must agree to the Terms and Conditions at the outset of the scheme process, before their application will be validated.

The Department also undertakes on-going monitoring of internships to ensure compliance. This involves the regular review of monthly compliance reports and conducting random monitoring site visits to facilitate discussions with both parties to the internship. In cases where any breaches of the scheme are uncovered, remedial action is taken immediately. An independent evaluation of JobBridge found only minimal instances of displacement.

The Department fully investigates any allegations of non-compliance. If the Deputy is aware of alleged instances of displacement he should inform the Department immediately by e-mailing qcs@welfare.ie so that they may be fully investigated.

Treatment Benefit Scheme Administration

Questions (161, 162)

Paul Murphy

Question:

161. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection in light of the impact of the changes made to the treatment benefit scheme, her plans to review the decision to cut benefits that can be availed of under the scheme; her further plans to revise the eligibility criteria, especially for those of over 66 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32730/15]

View answer

Paul Murphy

Question:

162. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if she will provide, in tabular form, the number of persons who have availed of the treatment benefit scheme for each year since 2008; the information, by those aged under 21, 21 to 24, 25 to 65 and over 66 years of age; and by the treatment availed of, that is dental, optical, and aural. [32731/15]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 161 and 162 together.

The services available under the treatment benefit scheme were restricted in Budget 2010, due to the prevailing economic situation at that time and the urgent need to reduce public expenditure. Any future expansion of the schemes will be considered in light of available resources and competing priorities.

If a customer is qualified for treatment benefit at age 66, that person remains qualified for life. There are no plans to change the eligibility criteria for persons over 66 years of age.

Data regarding the age breakdown of customers is not routinely collated, as this information is archived after claims have been processed and a period of time has elapsed.

The overall numbers of claims paid under the treatment benefit scheme, (broken down by dental, optical and aural), in each year since 2008 is set out in the following table:

Year

Dental

Optical

Aural

Total

2008

676,000

220,000

6,500

902,500

2009

734,000

241,000

7,500

982,500

2010

389,000

163,000

7,600

559,600

2011

273,000

136,000

8,000

417,000

2012

271,000

140,000

8,500

419,500

2013

299,000

142,000

7,800

448,800

2014

311,000

149,000

8,400

468,400

2015

244,000

117,000

6,400

367,400 (to date)

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