I propose to take Questions Nos. 617 to 619, inclusive, together.
The School Meals Programme provides funding towards food services for disadvantaged school children through two schemes: The urban school meals scheme and the school meals (local projects) scheme.
The Urban School Meals Scheme for primary schools is operated and administered by local authorities and is part-financed by my department. The type of food provided under the Urban School Meals Scheme is decided by individual schools and agreed with the local authorities.
The school meals (local projects) scheme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children.
The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The food provided must have regard to the Healthy Ireland - Nutrition Standards for School Meals (2017), which were developed with the assistance of Safefood and the Health Service Executive with my department and the department of Education and skills. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.
The operation and administration of the scheme is the responsibility of the school; this includes the delivery model, choice of supplier to be used and food items to be provided. The scheme can be delivered in a variety of ways and depends on the needs, capabilities and resources, including infrastructure, of the schools or groups. Delivery models can range from the provision of full canteen services to the purchase of pre-prepared meals from specialist school meals suppliers or local suppliers.
As part of Budget 2019, it was announced that DEASP would commence a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing Hot School Meals in 36 primary schools for an estimated 7,200 children at a cost of €1m for 2019 and €2.5m in 2020. Schools participating in the Hot Meals Pilot are expected to provide a menu choice of at least two different meals per day plus a Vegetarian / Vegan option and an option that caters for students’ religious and cultural dietary requirements.
I trust this clarifies the matter.