Credit Ratings

Questions (55)

Michael McGrath

Question:

55. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if a mortgage holder who enters into a split mortgage arrangement and honours that arrangement in full and who has never missed loan repayments is deemed to have an imperfect credit history as recorded on the Central Credit Register; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24655/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Central Credit Register (CCR) is established by the Central Bank of Ireland under the Credit Reporting Act 2013 (the Act). Under the Act, lenders are obliged to submit specified personal and credit information on loans to the CCR.  Lenders have been submitting information on consumer mortgages since 30 June 2017.

As part of the credit information, the Central Bank has advised that lenders are required to report ‘restructure events’ to the CCR.  The modification will be made as a result of either of the following scenarios:

1. The borrower and lender agree to put a restructure in place on the basis that the borrower is currently in arrears or

2. The borrower and lender agree to put a restructure in place on the basis that the borrower is in danger of getting into financial difficulties and/or of going into arrears on their credit agreement.

The lender must report the relevant restructure event from a defined list.  ‘Split Mortgage’ is one of the possible restructure events a lender must report and is defined as follows: ‘The credit agreement has been modified to reflect an agreement with the borrower to split the mortgage into two or more separate accounts, with one or more accounts to be serviced and one or more warehoused for a period of time’.  The split mortgage will be visible on the relevant mortgage records of that borrower for a period of five years following the initial reporting of the split mortgage restructure.

The Central Credit Register produces credit reports on request for lenders and borrowers.  The credit report contains information on each loan, such as the type of loan facility, the amount borrowed, the term, and number of missed payments if any. 

If payments are made in accordance with an arrangement entered into with a lender, then the credit report will show that information.  The credit report does not contain a score or a grade or comment on the repayment performance.  If a borrower has applied for a loan it will be a matter for each lender to consider the application, based on their own credit policy.

Property Tax Collection

Questions (56)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

56. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Finance if an anomaly (details supplied) relating to the payment of the local property tax will be examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24660/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

Revenue provides a range of payment and phased payment options that allow property owners to meet their Local Property Tax (LPT) obligations in a manner that best suits individual circumstances. One of the available phased payment options is Deduction at Source (DAS) from various payment schemes operated by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP).

These schemes are suitable for DAS as they are paid on a regular (weekly) basis over the course of the year. This allows recipients pay their LPT liabilities in even amounts over a fifty (50) week period, thereby reducing the financial burden to the greatest extent possible. However, section 189 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 provides that any DAS amounts cannot reduce the personal DEASP rate of payment below €201 per week. Consequently, LPT deductions cannot be applied if they reduce the recipients net payment below this legal ‘de-minimus’ threshold and Revenue has no discretion to operate outside of this position.

For situations where DAS is not possible, Revenue provides a number of payment alternatives. For example, property owners can select a single (annual) debit, a monthly direct debit or can make regular payments through one of three approved payment service providers (An Post, Payzone and Omnivend). These options are provided by commercial entities who charge on a per-transaction basis and Revenue has no role in determining the level of cost imposed. 

I am advised by Revenue that the person in question met her LPT liabilities through DAS from her DEASP payment until February 2015. The arrangement was discontinued after that date because the deduction reduced her net payment below the ‘de-minimus’ threshold. On confirmation of the situation from DEASP, Revenue made a number of attempts to contact the person to discuss possible alternatives but received no responses. In the absence of any contact, Revenue ‘deferred’ the person’s liability on the basis of her income threshold in accordance with sections 131 and 132 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 (as amended).

Deferral is not an exemption and the unpaid charge remains on the property and accumulates interest at a rate of 4% per year. The deferred amount also attaches to the property as a charge that must be paid before any sale or transfer can take place.

Revenue is aware that payment of the outstanding amount could cause financial difficulties for the person, assuming she does not wish to continue on the deferral option. For this reason, Revenue has confirmed that it is willing to work with her to agree a mutually satisfactory arrangement. To advance matters, the person should contact Revenue at telephone number 065 6849081.

Property Tax Collection

Questions (57)

Seán Fleming

Question:

57. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Finance the number of cases that incurred a local property tax generated surcharge in each year since the local property tax was introduced; the amount of such surcharges; the amounts actually paid in respect of these on an annual basis; the breakdown of the surcharge generated with regard to income tax, corporation tax and capital gains tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24669/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

Section 38 of the Finance (Local Property Tax Act) 2012 (as amended) provides that property owners who fail to meet their LPT obligations will be subject to a tax-geared surcharge when filing an Income Tax (IT), Corporation Tax (CT) or Capital Gains Tax (CGT) return.

The surcharge is set at 10% of the appropriate IT, CT, or CGT liability to a maximum of €63,485 and is in addition to the actual LPT liability plus any interest arising on foot of late payment. The surcharge is imposed from the date the IT, CT or CGT return is filed. Under certain conditions the surcharge can be reduced to the total amount of LPT outstanding. These conditions include situations where the surcharge amount is higher than the outstanding LPT liability, where the property owner files the LPT return or pays the outstanding liability either in full or on a phased basis.

Revenue has advised me that up to 55,000 surcharges have been raised since the commencement of LPT, but almost 70% of these were mitigated following remedial action by the property owners. The information requested by the Deputy is set out as follows:

The total values of surcharges ultimately applied (for all years) are:

IT - €5.7 million

CT - €410,000

The surcharge payments collected are classified as IT, CT or CGT as appropriate and are not included in the LPT receipts. The total values of surcharge payments received to date are:

IT:  €4.4 million

CT: €294,000

A yearly breakdown on the total value of surcharges and the CGT surcharge value and payments data are not available at this time but will be provided to the Deputy as soon as possible.

The following Table sets out the number of cases for which surcharges have been raised.  For the majority of ‘CGT Assessment’ cases, surcharges were also applied under IT or CT.

Year

No. of IT cases

No. of CT cases

No of CGT Assessments

 

 

 

 

2013

6,909

264

88

2014

9,371

328

107

2015

10,346

322

161

2016

8,390

343

181

2017

8,919

387

188

2018

6,238

164

202

2019 (To   April)

1,820

62

72

Total

51,993

1,870

999

NAMA Operations

Questions (58)

Michael McGrath

Question:

58. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if NAMA is prevented from selling properties back to defaulting debtors under section 172(3) of the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009; if this section or other parts of the Act prevent NAMA from selling loan notes back to the defaulting debtor; if so, the reason for the prohibition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24691/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

Section 172(3) of the NAMA Act 2009 is a legal provision that, in broad terms, prevents assets held as security for loans acquired by NAMA from being sold back to defaulting debtors, or persons acting on behalf of defaulting debtors.

The provision concerns property transactions (as opposed to loan sales) where a default has occurred under the loan secured by that property.

Notwithstanding the specific provisions of Section 172(3) of the NAMA Act, I am advised that NAMA also has a policy of obtaining written confirmation from purchasers of loan assets which confirm that, among other things, the purchaser is not a party precluded from completing the purchase, such as would fall within the scope of Section 172(3) of the NAMA Act.

Tax Code

Questions (59)

Seamus Healy

Question:

59. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the payment of PAYE taxation by persons who reside here but have a pension from both Ireland and Germany; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24756/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that there are insufficient details provided to allow the provision of a definitive reply to the Deputy’s question.

I can say that, in general, pensions received by Irish residents from an Irish source are subject to tax under the PAYE system.  However, the taxation of a German-sourced pension received by persons who are resident in the State is governed by the rules of the Ireland-Germany Double Taxation Convention (“the German DTC”).  The purpose of any Double Taxation Convention to prevent double taxation and double non-taxation.  

In the case of the German DTC, the position generally regarding occupational pensions, other than Government service pensions, is that pensions paid to a resident of Ireland are taxable only in Ireland. Pension payments made under the social insurance legislation of Germany are to be taxed only in Germany. Notwithstanding these general rules, pensions are subject to German taxation where pension contributions have been tax-relieved in Germany for a period of 12 years.  However, if Germany does not tax such pensions, then the pension will be taxable in Ireland.  

Government service pensions, i.e. pensions for services rendered to Germany, are taxable only in Germany, unless the services are performed in Ireland by a resident and national of Germany in which case they are taxable only in Ireland.   

The current German DTC exists since 2011. Where persons are in receipt of pensions before the coming into force of that DTC, there are also options for the pension recipients to continue to avail of certain provisions of the previous DTC.  Under the previous German DTC, pensions (other than Government service pensions) derived from Germany by a person resident in Ireland were to be exempt from tax in Germany, subject to conditions.  

If the Deputy has a particular case or cases in mind, then, if he could provide further details in relation to particular circumstances of the pension payments, Revenue will endeavour to give a definitive position on the taxation of the pension(s) concerned.

Banking Sector Remuneration

Questions (60)

Michael McGrath

Question:

60. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the report he commissioned from a company (details supplied) on remuneration levels in Irish banks; if he has received and read the report; when he plans to publish the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24772/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Deputy will be aware that Government policy on banking remuneration has remained unchanged since the financial crisis. Extensive restrictions are in place and these are not simply confined to a handful of senior bankers whose pay is restricted by the €500,000 pay cap (excluding a standard pension contribution). These affect c.23,000 workers across the three banks in which the State has a shareholding. The policy dictates that variable pay including bonuses and any other fringe benefits including the likes of health insurance and childcare cannot be paid to any staff members from the most junior lowest paid staff to the most senior ranks.

A new regulatory framework has been put in place since the financial crisis across the EU, the economy has returned to near full employment, the remaining banks are profitable again – and in the case of AIB and BOI sustainably so. The State remains the largest shareholder in AIB, BOI & PTSB but following the successful IPO of AIB in June 2017 all three banks are also now on an equal footing with listings on the main market of the Irish and London stock exchanges.  

The skill set required in the banking sector is evolving with the greatest demand for staff now in areas such as the digital economy, risk management, legal and compliance. These skills are in demand right across the economy and so the banks are competing for this talent against companies who have more flexible and attractive remuneration structures. Brexit has only made this problem more acute.

In the senior ranks of the banks the substantial disparity in pay levels versus other Irish listed companies or peer banks in Europe is stark and introduces an obvious retention risk particularly in AIB and Bank of Ireland. I also need to be advised if this retention risk and a lack of alignment between the interests of executives and shareholders, undermines the Government's objective of recovering the State’s full investment in the banks.  

As a result I undertook last year to carry out a review of Government bank remuneration policy to determine if it remains fit for purpose.  My department held a full open EU public procurement to select a suitably qualified external consultant to assist it in completing this review. The specialist advisory division of International Firm Korn Ferry were subsequently appointed.

Engagement with a broad set of relevant stakeholders was an important part of the process. Stakeholders engaged with by Korn Ferry and my department included the major institutional investors in the banks, proxy advisory firms, the Financial Services Union (FSU), the chairs of the remuneration committee in each of the banks and representatives of the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) in Frankfurt.

I felt it was also important to get the views of the Central Bank on this matter. I note the response from the Governor of the Central Bank in this regard which is available on the Central Bank's website. I expect to receive the report shortly and it is my intention to publish it in due course.

Insurance Industry Regulation

Questions (61)

Michael McGrath

Question:

61. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his plans to regulate so-called claims harvesting websites; the number of such sites active in the Irish market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24773/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

At the outset, it is important to note that while as Minister for Finance, I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation, my Department does not have a role in the regulation of claims harvesting websites in Ireland nor in the collection of data on the number of these websites.  Allegations of companies engaging in such practices were brought up during the Cost of Insurance Working Group’s consultation process, as well as through representations and Parliamentary Questions submitted to my Department. 

My Department has considered this issue and consulted with relevant stakeholders such as the Department of Justice and Equality as well as the Law Society of Ireland.  From these consultations, I am informed that claims-harvesting websites can hold themselves out as solicitor firms and purport to provide legal services.  The websites frequently refer to claims for personal injury and, in doing so, attempt to solicit and encourage site visitors into making claims for compensation.  Information received from site visitors with an interest in making such claims is then offered for sale to solicitors on an anonymous panel for the solicitors to contact the claimants directly.  As far as the referral of claims to solicitors within these types of websites may be concerned, it is my understanding that there are already stringent rules in place, most notably under the following legislation:

- the current Solicitors Advertising Regulations which replaced earlier 2002 regulations and were introduced on 1 June 2019.  These new Regulations retain restrictions specific on the advertising of legal services in respect of personal injury claims.  The prohibitions on non-solicitors advertising services of a legal nature that may induce persons to make claims for damages for personal injuries, together with the prohibitions on unqualified persons from either acting as a solicitor or pretending to be a solicitor, remain unchanged and will continue to be enforced by the Law Society, and

- section 62 of the Solicitors Act 1954 prohibits solicitors from rewarding or agreeing to reward unqualified persons for the introduction of legal business, i.e., payment of a referral fee.

The Law Society has informed my Department that, within the terms of its functions under the Solicitors’ Acts, it actively pursues claims harvesting websites.  From its various consultations, the Department has been advised that the number of active ‘claims harvesting’ websites operating in Ireland has drastically reduced in recent years from approximately 60 in 2016 to around 11 more recently, although this figure can fluctuate.  The Law Society states that unfortunately, the process of identifying the owners of the websites is often frustrated by the sophisticated ways in which the website owners conceal their identity.  For example, it would appear that many of the websites which are operating in Ireland may not actually be located within the jurisdiction nor within other EU countries.  I understand that this factor increases the levels of complexity of investigations, as it can be particularly difficult to establish who the owners of the relevant websites are.  Notwithstanding these challenges, my Department has been informed by the Law Society that 23 websites that have been removed from the internet since 2014 and since last year, a further three websites have been removed from the internet, with another two websites identified as belonging to a company that has gone into liquidation. 

With the application of section 218 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, solicitor advertising will no longer be regulated by the legal professional bodies as happens at present.  Instead, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority will maintain the restrictions of any advertisement which, in the opinion of the Authority, “expressly or impliedly solicits, encourages or offers any inducement to any person or group or class of persons to make claims for personal injuries or seek legal services in connection with such claims.”  The Authority will be undertaking consultations for the making of regulations for the advertising of legal services by legal practitioners, whether solicitors or barristers, under section 218 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.  It is my understanding that the new advertising regulations are planned to come into operation in Quarter 1 of 2020.

In light of the above, it is clear that the regulation of claims harvesting websites is a complex matter but that the existing solicitor regulations have helped prevent such websites to evolve to become a more prevalent feature of the Irish personal injuries environment, in the way that they are in the UK, for example.  I am satisfied that the relevant professional bodies are pursuing such websites to the extent that they can in light of the challenges that exist.  Notwithstanding this, my officials will continue to monitor the prevalence or otherwise of this issue.  In addition, I would suggest that if anyone is of the view that particular solicitor firms are using such claim harvesting websites, they should report the matter to the Law Society/ Legal Services Regulatory Authority for investigation.

Tracker Mortgage Examination

Questions (62)

Michael McGrath

Question:

62. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the position with regard to the Central Bank ensuring there is individual accountability in the retail banks subject to current enforcement investigations relating to the tracker mortgage examination; if there is a further phase to the investigation in respect of a bank (details supplied) following the recent announcement of a fine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24775/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Central Bank currently has a number of ongoing enforcement investigations arising out of the tracker mortgage examination.  These investigations are considering all possible angles, including potential individual culpability.  However the Central Bank has advised that it cannot comment further on any possible investigations into individuals without the risk of prejudicing the ongoing investigatory work.

Central Bank of Ireland Staff

Questions (63)

Michael McGrath

Question:

63. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of vacancies in each functional area of the Central Bank in tabular form; the percentage the vacancy rate represents of the staffing allocation for that function for each vacancy; the date each position has been vacant since; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24776/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am informed by the Central Bank that it currently has 64 open vacancies across the Bank, at varying stages of the recruitment process.

A full breakdown of the number of vacancies in each functional area of the Bank is detailed in Table 1. The number of vacancies in each Pillar as a percentage of that Pillar's complement is detailed in Table 2.

The current average time to hire for open roles in the Central Bank is 9.2 weeks.

Table 1  

Pillar

Directorate

# open roles

Central Banking

Economics and Statistics

3

Central Banking

Corporate Affairs

4

Central Banking

Financial Operations

1

Central Banking

Financial Stability

4

Financial Conduct

Consumer Protection

2

Financial Conduct

Enforcement

5

Financial Conduct

Policy and Risk

2

Financial Conduct

SMSD

3

Prudential Regulation

AMSD

0

Prudential Regulation

Credit Institutions

1

Prudential Regulation

Insurance

0

Prudential Regulation

SEM (Snr Mgmt)

1

Prudential Regulation

PAID

5

Chief Operations Officer

HR

0

Chief Operations Officer

IMTD

23

Chief Operations Officer

Direct Reports

7

Chief Operations Officer

Currency and Facilities

2

Chief Operations Officer

SEM (Snr Mgmt)

1

Overall total

 

64

Table 2  

Pillar

Vacancies as % of Pillar Complement

Central Banking

2.80%

Financial Conduct

2.40%

Prudential Regulation

1.30%

Chief Operations Officer

5.40%

Central Bank of Ireland Data

Questions (64)

Michael McGrath

Question:

64. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of applications for authorisation the Central Bank has received on foot of the enactment of the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2018 by firms that hold the ownership of Irish mortgages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24777/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Deputy will be aware that the Central Bank is independent in the performance of its functions. I have been informed by the Bank that it has updated its public register of Credit Servicing Firms to include details of the 37 persons who met the relevant requirements to avail of the transitional arrangements provided for under Section 34FA(1) of the Central Bank Act, 1997 (i.e. each relevant person is recorded as being a ‘transitional firm’ on the Register of Credit Servicing Firms which can be found on the Bank’s website). The Bank has also confirmed that it does not comment on the number of individual applications received.

Additional information to the Deputy’s query can be found in my previous replies to PQs 24539/19 and 24540/19 for answer on 12 June.

Government Expenditure

Questions (65)

Michael McGrath

Question:

65. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if Ireland breached the expenditure benchmark limit in 2018; his views on whether Ireland will breach the expenditure benchmark limit in 2019; the amount of expenditure permitted under the expenditure benchmark for 2019; the current expectation of the actual expenditure for 2019; the implications from the European Commission if Ireland were to breach the expenditure benchmark limit for two years in a row; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24793/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The permitted rate of spending growth, set by the Commission, for 2019 is approximately 7 per cent. As per the 2019 Stability Programme Update, the overall level of general government expenditure this year is projected to be €85.345 million up from €81.985 million in 2018. My officials are preparing the Summer Economic Statement 2019 which forms the next stage of the budgetary process. This will include a medium-term economic strategy and narrative and also provides an updated assessment of the fiscal policy parameters.

In June, the Commission published its assessment of Ireland’s 2019 Stability Programme Update (SPU). On an ex-post basis, Ireland did not achieve its Medium-Term Objective (MTO) in 2018 with an estimated structural deficit of 1.4 per cent of GDP.  However, there are important caveats to this. First, the Commission have acknowledged the very open nature of the economy and the difficulty in estimating the output gap (needed to assess the structural budget position). Partly for this reason, they prefer to use the expenditure benchmark as a guide to fiscal policy.

In 2018, the rate of increase in spending exceeded the limit applicable under the expenditure benchmark. However, the mechanical assessment of the expenditure benchmark takes no account of the non-indexation of income taxation in Ireland (which would permit higher levels of spending, all other things being equal). This is accounted for in an overall assessment and thus the breach of the expenditure benchmark was not adjudged to be significant by the Commission. In simple terms, the Commission’s overall assessment is one of broad compliance in 2018.

For 2019, the forecasts underlying the Stability Programme are compliant with the expenditure benchmark limit. When the years 2018 and 2019 are taken together, the Commission also adjudges Ireland to be compliant with the expenditure rule. The Commission acknowledges some risks of non-compliance with the fiscal rules but concludes that the overall assessment is one of compliance. As regards the MTO (-0.5 per cent structural deficit), the Commission’s assessment is that Ireland will be compliant in both 2019 and 2020.

European Central Bank

Questions (66)

Michael McGrath

Question:

66. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his role in deciding which candidate Ireland will support to succeed Mr. Mario Draghi as President of the European Central Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24794/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The President of the European Central Bank, Prof. Mario Draghi, is due to step down on 31 October this year.

The selection process to appoint a candidate to succeed Mr Draghi will open in the coming months when the President of the Eurogroup will invite nominations for the position. Following receipt of nominations the name(s) will be discussed at Eurogroup and agreed at ECOFIN. The European Central Bank and the European Parliament will also be consulted. Finally the nominee will formally be appointed by the European Council. 

Help-To-Buy Scheme Data

Questions (67)

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

67. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Finance the number of first-time buyer help-to-buy scheme applicants and approved recipients, respectively, since its inception by county; the value of the scheme by county in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24821/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that persons considering availing of the Help-to-Buy scheme can make a ‘first stage’ application at any time to determine the level of tax relief they may be entitled to if they decide to proceed with the purchase of an eligible property. The number of ‘first stage’ applicants by county is not recorded.

The applications only progress to the ‘claim stage’ when the person decides to proceed with the purchase of an eligible property. The following table sets out the number of applications that progressed to the ‘claim stage’, the number of approved claims and the cost to the Exchequer of the approved claims, by county, to June 2019.

County

Total Claims

Approved Claims

Value of Approved Claims

Carlow

94

87

€1,020,500

Cavan

96

88

€1,013,900

Clare

171

159

€2,005,100

Cork

1,310

1,247

€18,720,100

Donegal

128

114

€1,188,900

Dublin

4,319

4,116

€67,753,300

Galway

538

502

€6,673,200

Kerry

119

109

€1,365,100

Kildare

1,208

1,173

€18,462,300

Kilkenny

118

106

€1,458,900

Laois

186

175

€1,992,800

Leitrim

33

29

€315,000

Limerick

417

391

€5,049,400

Longford

46

43

€567,500

Louth

404

388

€4,615,100

Mayo

192

178

€2,272,100

Meath

1,543

1,479

€21,009,200

Monaghan

100

87

€1,069,300

Offaly

111

101

€1,197,100

Roscommon

84

77

€984,200

Sligo

93

86

€946,400

Tipperary

223

201

€2,400,100

Waterford

290

280

€3,207,900

Westmeath

168

159

€2,000,000

Wexford

243

225

€2,712,100

Wicklow

591

561

€8,646,600

Total

12,825

12,161

€178,646,100

Civil Service Staff Data

Questions (68)

Noel Rock

Question:

68. Deputy Noel Rock asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of civil servants at work here in each of the years 2015 to 2018 and to date in 2019. [24665/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The number of civil servants, excluding civil service industrials, (on a full-time equivalents or FTE basis)  employed across the Civil Service in each of the years from 2015 to 2018, and in the first quarter of 2019, the most recent quarter returned, is set out in the following table.  

Civil Service employees

2015

2016

2017

2018

Q1 2019

Numbers employed (FTE)

35,032

35,851

37,118

38,455

39,708

Office of Public Works Projects

Questions (69)

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

69. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the public consultation on the draft Phoenix Park visitor experience strategic review; when the final document will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24640/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review, which was on display in the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, was commissioned to examine how visitors currently experience the facilities on offer within the Phoenix Park. The purpose of the review was to identify areas for potential future enhancement of the Phoenix Park that would improve the visitor experience for all users. It was developed in line with the core principles of the ‘Conservation Management Plan for the Phoenix Park’, which remains unchanged by this process.

It should be emphasised that the draft review is not a formal development plan or strategy for the Phoenix Park. It is not part of a formal statutory document of any kind and not part of a statutory public consultation process.  

 The Draft Review was on public display for ten weeks in order to facilitate observations and comments from the public. It was considered that the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre was the best, most centrally located, venue for a public exhibition of information in respect of the Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review.  The full Draft Review and an executive summary were also available to view at the Visitor Centre. For those who were not in a position to view the exhibition in person, a comprehensive Executive Summary of the Report and a pdf of all the exhibition panels has been available for download from the Phoenix Park website.  OPW remains open to, and indeed welcomes, any further observations and comments from any party.

OPW is currently considering all the comments and observations received to date following the period of public information.  It is not yet in a position to say when this will be completed. 

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (70)

Michael Fitzmaurice

Question:

70. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the previous tender for the provision of external workplace investigation services for Departments and other public bodies established in March 2015 provides for scenarios (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24714/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The Office of Government Procurement (OGP), on behalf of the Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform, carried out a competitive tender process for the establishment of a Framework Agreement for the provision of External Workplace Investigation Services, available to central government departments and other public bodies. This framework went live in March 2015 and expired in March 2019. Mediation services were not included.

Separately, the OGP conducted a tender process to establish a Framework Agreement for Receipt and Investigation of Protected Disclosures.  This framework includes service providers that can provide third party investigative and recipient services to public bodies seeking to meet their obligations under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. This Framework went live in April 2018.

While the OGP facilitated competitions under these frameworks for both Central Government and non-Central Government bodies, the particular scenarios giving rise to investigations required by individual public bodies and any subsequent contracts are a matter for the relevant Contracting Authority.

Civil Service Accountability

Questions (71)

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

71. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of meetings held by the Civil Service accountability board per annum since its inception to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24825/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The Civil Service Accountability Board has met four times to date; in Q2 and Q3 2015 and Q2 and Q4 2016.  The minutes of the Board’s meetings and the 2016 Annual Report of the Board are available on the website of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform at https://www.per.gov.ie/en/accountability-board/.

School Transport Provision

Questions (72)

Seamus Healy

Question:

72. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of school transport for children (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [24638/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

There are currently over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually.

The purpose of the scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. 

Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school.

Children who are eligible for school transport and who complete the application process on time will be accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation for the 2019/20 school year. 

The children referred to by the Deputy are not eligible for school transport as they are not attending their nearest education centre.

Children who are not eligible for school transport may apply for transport on a concessionary basis only and will be facilitated where spare seats are available on existing services after eligible children have been accommodated.

In this regard the family in question should complete the online application process and liaise with their local Bus Éireann office if they wish to avail of transport on a concessionary basis for the next school year.

The terms of the School Transport Schemes are applied equitably on a national basis.

School Services Staff

Questions (73)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

73. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the timeline for talks to commence with school secretaries; if a date will be set for commencement of negotiations with representatives of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24600/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I recognise the very important work done by school secretaries, and indeed by other support staff, in the running of our schools and I am grateful to them for the contribution they make to our education system.  I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.

I have recently relaxed the moratorium for those C&C and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more which allow them to employ an additional School Secretaries up to a maximum of two per school. There are 91 schools in the C&C and ETB Sector who meet this criteria, based on the information currently available to this Department. This is an initial step and has taken immediate effect.

Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of Clerical Officers and Caretakers in schools.  The schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008. 

These schemes have been superseded by the more extensive capitation grant schemes.  The current grant scheme was agreed in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, published in 1991. 

The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools now receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under these grant schemes.  It is a matter for each individual school to decide how best to apply the grant funding to suit its particular needs. Where a school uses the grant funding for caretaking or secretarial purposes, any staff taken on to support those functions are employees of individual schools.  Specific responsibility for the pay and conditions rests with the school.

On foot of a Chairman’s Note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, my Department engaged with the Unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The Arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period.  This arbitration agreement covers the period up to 31 December 2019. 

The arbitration agreement was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower-paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a Secretary or Caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015 prior to the arbitration has from 1 January 2019, been paid €13 per hour which is a 50% increase in that individual’s hourly pay. 

Officials from my Department attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills on 9 April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.

Officials from my Department recently had discussions with FÓRSA trade union representatives as part of a planned meeting. FÓRSA took the opportunity to formally table a claim.

This was tabled as a follow-on claim from the current pay agreement for this cohort of staff which lasts until December 2019. The Department will seek to establish the full current cost of the trade union’s claim. This is standard practice.

FÓRSA's claim will be fully considered once the current costings had been determined on completion of a survey.  My Department is fully open to having further dialogue with Forsa once this work has been undertaken.

School Admissions

Questions (74)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

74. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills if guidelines will be introduced to ensure secondary schools have a policy in place to accept students from local feeder primary schools in order to ensure no child is left without a secondary school place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24601/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In relation to enrolment generally, it is my Department's responsibility to ensure that schools can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking school places in an area. Parents can choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted. In schools where there are more applicants than places available a selection process may be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. However, it may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in their school of first choice.

In this regard, a Board of Management may find it necessary to prioritise enrolment of children from particular areas or particular age groups or on the basis of some other criterion. For example, some schools give priority to applicants who have attended a particular primary school (known as a feeder school).  The criteria to be applied by schools in such circumstances are a matter for the schools themselves.

As the Deputy may be aware, the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, was signed into law by the President on the 18th July 2018. The overall objective of the Act is to provide a new framework for school enrolment that is designed to ensure that every child is treated fairly and that the way in which schools decide on applications for admission is structured, fair and transparent.

New schools established to cater for demographic demand are required to prioritise enrolment of children in the school planning area(s) for which the Department has identified the need for a school.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (75)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

75. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied with the level of access to education for children with special needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24602/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department's policy aims to ensure that all children with Special Needs can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in mainstream school settings.

In 2018, in the region of €1.75 billion was invested in Special Education, nearly one fifth of the overall Education budget, and up 43% since 2011.

This funding includes provision for over 13,400 Special Education Teachers in mainstream schools.

It also provides for 15,000 Special Needs Assistants to support the care needs of pupils with disabilities in an educational context, up 42% since 2011.  

Provision is also made for special school and special class placements for pupils who require more specialist interventions.

There are now 1,459 special classes, with over 140 new Special Classes opened for the 2018/19 school year. This compares to 548 special classes in 2011.

I am satisfied that the level of provision we have made in recent years has ensured that all children which special educational needs can particpate in education, and that most children with special needs have been able to be enrolled in the school, or placement of their choice.

There are circumstances where it can be difficult for parents to obtain the school, or special class, placement of their choice, where increases in population, or other issues, have led to pressure on school places.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is actively engaging with schools, patron bodies, parents and other staff to try to ensure each child has a school placement appropriate to their needs for the 2019/20 school year.

Ensuring every child has access to a suitable school placement is a priority for me and my Department and we will continue to ensure that this can be provided for.

Schools Establishment

Questions (76)

Joan Burton

Question:

76. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the negotiations between City of Dublin Education and Training Board and Educate Together in respect of the delivery of a multi-denominational co-educational second level school for the Dublin 7 area to be based at a school (details supplied); if the multi-denominational co-educational school will open ahead of the 2020-21 academic year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24634/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Cabra_Phibsboro_Dublin 7 school planning area is currently served by eight post-primary schools, including the school referred to by the Deputy which is currently under the patronage of City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB).

This school, which has a current enrolment of some 120 pupils in the 2018/19 school year, is co-educational and multi-denominational in nature and provides for the local community and could potentially bring additional capacity of this nature to the area. 

I understand that CDETB and Educate Together have started discussions in relation to possible partnerships with a view to Educate Together involvement at second level in existing schools in both the Dublin 7 and Dublin 12 areas. I am supportive of this initiative which has the potential to add to and enhance the availability of additional choice in these areas and my Department is engaging with the bodies concerned in this regard. This represents an opportunity to increase diversity of provision in existing schools in areas where a new school is not required.

I can confirm that CDETB and Educate Together have been working together in relation to extending the co-educational and multi-denominational educational provision at the school referred to by the Deputy in a partnership patronage arrangement. I understand that significant progress has been made in this regard and work is planned to continue over the summer period.

School Staff

Questions (77)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

77. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the guidelines provided to primary schools regarding job sharing of teachers; if there are limits to the number of job sharing posts a school can have; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24635/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In accordance with the Education Act, the terms and conditions of employment of teachers employed in approved posts funded by monies provided by the Oireachtas are determined by the Minister for Education and Skills with the concurrence of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.  

The Teachers Conciliation Council (TCC) is the recognised forum for dealing with matters relating to the pay and conditions of service for teachers. The Council is comprised of representatives of teachers, school management, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Education & Skills and is chaired by an official of the Workplace Relations Commission.

Following negotiations under the auspices of the TCC the booklet “Terms and Conditions of Employment for Registered Teachers in Recognised Primary and Post Primary Schools – Edition 2” issued by my Department sets out the general terms in Chapter 1 and the more specific terms for Job Sharing in Chapter 9.

The employer of teachers in recognised schools is the Board of Management/Manager/Education and Training Board and Chapter 1 of the ‘General Provisions’ states that:

“1.1 Each employer shall develop and maintain a policy on teacher absences, including non-statutory schemes i.e. Job Sharing, Career Breaks, Unpaid Leave, specific to the needs of the school authority.

1.2 In drawing up this policy, the welfare and educational needs of the pupils shall take precedence over all other considerations.

1.3 This policy shall have due regard to the capacity of the school to meet its obligations to its pupils and may therefore apply a limit to the number of teaching staff that may avail of non-statutory leave schemes at any one time. Employers must consider applications in the context of other non-statutory leave and statutory leave and also take into account the availability of an appropriately qualified replacement teacher.”

Education and Training Provision

Questions (78)

Michael McGrath

Question:

78. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the replacement of the fire training unit at an educational facility (details supplied) in County Cork; the person or body responsible for its replacement; when it will be replaced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24653/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

A Public Private Partnership (PPP) Project was completed at the education facility referred to by the Deputy in October 2004. The PPP contract is between the Minister for Education, the relevant Institute of Technology and the PPP Operator.  This was the first third level PPP Project to be completed and begin operating in Ireland.  State of the art education and training facilities are provided to service the needs of the relevant institution and the non-military needs of the Irish Naval Service. 

The Fire Training Unit referred to by the Deputy is a specialist unit used to deliver firefighting training to professional seafarers and to students undergoing education and training to become professional seafarers.

Maintaining the Fire Training Unit is the responsibility of the PPP Operator under the PPP contract.  The PPP Operator have engaged a sub-contractor to deliver the facilities management functions, including responsibility for maintaining the Fire Training Unit.

 A contract for the remediation of the Fire Training Unit is currently being negotiated between the sub-contractor and a specialist supplier.  Once a contract is agreed between these parties, it is anticipated that the remediation works will take approximately ten weeks to complete.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (79, 86)

Michael McGrath

Question:

79. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills when an official from his Department last visited and inspected the condition of a special needs school (details supplied) in County Cork; his views on whether the conditions at the school are acceptable; when a school building will be put in place; the process and timeline in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24657/19]

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Michael McGrath

Question:

86. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills when an official from his Department last visited and inspected the condition of a special needs school (details supplied) in County Cork; his views on whether the conditions at the school are acceptable; when a school building will be in place; the process and timeline in that regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24706/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 79 and 86 together.

I can confirm to the Deputy that an official from my Department visited the school in question in June 2017 and in light of this visit, my Department is looking at options to provide improved accommodation for the school.

My Department is also exploring options to address special needs provision in Cork City and has recently met with Enable Ireland and the intention is to meet with other patron bodies shortly.

If the school in question has emergency needs, the school authority is advised to contact my Department directly.