State Examinations

Questions (525)

Emer Higgins

Question:

525. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Education if concessions are being considered for the leaving certificate class of 2021; if there will be allowances for the loss of teaching hours in 2020 that affected student class time; if there will be allowances made for students many of whom are self-isolating on multiple occasions and missing class time as Covid-19 cases are detected in their schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38793/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department is acutely aware of the disruption caused to students as a result of school closures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and which led the decision not to run the state examinations this summer.

In the context of the return to schools of students for the 2020/21 academic year my Department published a range of documentation and support material as part of the Roadmap for the Full Return to School, which is available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

On 21 August, I announced a series of changes that would be made to assessment arrangements for both Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations for 2021. This announcement was accompanied by a published document detailing these changes, Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021, and forms part of the Roadmap for the Full Return to School.

These arrangements are designed to take account of the disrupted learning experienced by students during the 2019/20 school year and to factor in for some further possible loss of learning time in the 2020/21 school year as a contingency measure. As the loss of learning through school closures will have affected students’ engagement with their course of study in different ways, the adjustments put in place will play to students’ strengths by leaving intact the familiar overall structure of the examinations, while incorporating additional choice. The adjustments were arrived at through discussions between my Department, the State Examinations Commission (SEC),the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and key stakeholders.

As schools have significant autonomy in determining how to sequence and pace learning for students in their schools, no centrally prescribed adjustment of the curriculum and courses of study would have been effective for students taking the certificate examinations in 2021. Consequently, the most appropriate way to reflect and take account of the challenges for students that have occurred in 2019/20 and may occur in 2020/21 was to incorporate adjustments to the certificate examinations in 2021.

These changes to the national assessment arrangements have been made with due regard for the principles of equity, fairness and integrity, as these principles apply to assessment and examinations and refer to student to-student, subject-to-subject, and year-to-year comparisons over time. The changes provide reassurance to students, their parents/guardians, teachers and schools.

The SEC, which has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations, intends to operate the 2021 state examinations as normally as possible, with appropriate contingency built in, in line with prevailing public health advice. This is my firm intention also. It is not intended that there would be any change to the length of the written examinations. For subjects where the SEC issues project briefs during the 2020/21 school year, the intention is to issue these at least four weeks earlier than normal. For subjects with course work completion dates typically late in the school year, schools will be asked to submit this coursework two weeks earlier than normal as a contingency measure. In this context teachers are being encouraged to plan and undertake these projects as early as possible in the programme of study.

Other documents published by my Department to support the return to school include Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post-Primary Schools and Centres for Education and Returning to school: Guidance on learning and school programmes for post primary school leaders and teachers. These documents provide guidance for teachers and schools that is specific to each practical subject area, so that students can be facilitated to actively engage with their learning. All documentation published is available on www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

The www.gov.ie/backtoschool site also contains information on wellbeing supports for Leaving Certificate students. This includes a series of supports on managing wellbeing, coping with uncertainty and managing stress and anxiety, developed by the National Educational Psychological Service, to support students. The webpage has links to more individualised support for students to access, should these be needed. My Department worked with the Department of Health and the HSE to ensure the most appropriate services and resources are clearly signposted for students.

Promoting the wellbeing of school communities has been a fundamental element of my Department’s overall plan to support a successful return to school as we continue to manage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. We know that most students have been happy and relieved to get back to school, reconnect and prepare to re-engage with learning. My Department is providing for approximately 120 extra posts for guidance to support student wellbeing, recognising the particular importance for this support in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic challenges.

It remains the Government’s and my Department’s key objective for schools to remain open and to continue to operate as normally as possible. However, I recognise that despite the best efforts of all stakeholders, there will be situations where individual pupils or groups of pupils, teachers, or possibly entire school communities, are requested by Public Health HSE to self-isolate or restrict their movements because of a case or cases of Covid-19.

There is an absolute necessity for schools to be prepared for these situations, for them to continue to support their pupils and to provide for continuity of learning. This is particularly important in the context of pupils with special educational needs, pupils at risk of educational disadvantage and pupils at risk of early school leaving.

Schools are aware of the need to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. Contingency planning is required to support continuity of pupils/students’ learning and the use of digital technology, where possible, will be used to facilitate this. It is important that planning and the adoption of approaches are based on a whole-school approach. Given the fluidity of requirements to meet the various potential scenarios that living with Covid-19 entails, it is important that schools review and adapt their plans over the coming weeks and months as the situation evolves and as the experience of schools in providing for continuity of learning increases.

Extensive guidance and supports have been and continue to be made available by my Department and its support services to support schools to plan for a transition to online and remote learning and this guidance is all available at

www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/a128d-back-to-school/?referrer=http://www.gov.ie/backtoschool/.

The guidance includes links to a range of materials and supports developed by the Digital Technologies team of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), such as learning platforms and online tools which can be used to support remote learning. Those resources continue to be available to schools.

In addition, my Department has issued ICT grant funding to schools to address ICT needs including digital devices, communication/learning platforms, software and other ICT solutions to support the provision of remote learning. Additional grant aid will issue during the current school year.

My Department’s Inspectorate is supporting school communities to provide effectively for the learning and progression of all learners during the first term of the 2020/21 school year.

The situation we find ourselves in is evolving all the time. My Department, in working with the whole of Government, will keep the situation under review and update any advices to schools as required. It is with the work of all our stakeholders together that we will continue to provide the best education for all our pupils/students.

Special Educational Needs

Questions (526)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

526. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education the status of an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit for a school (details supplied). [38804/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for this Government. Next year, over 20% of the total Education budget or €2bn will be invested in supporting children with special educational needs.

This investment will support the provision of over 1,200 additional special class places.

Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of school places.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. Through better planning at both national and local level, it is my objective that specialist education places should come on stream to meet emerging demand on a timely basis.

The NCSE is actively working with schools, including the school referred to by the Deputy, to establish special classes. It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE to open a special class. The active collaboration of school communities is vital to the effective inclusion of students with special educational needs.

My Department understands that the local SENO has had recent communication with the school referred to by the Deputy and the school are considering their capacity to open a special class.

The NCSE has advised that there are currently 10 post primary schools with 18 ASD classes supporting students with autism in Kildare. Information on special class provision for the current school-year can be found on the NCSE website at:

https://ncse.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/List-of-Special-Classes-September-2020.15.09.2020-1.pdf.

Parents should also be advised to contact their local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENO) if they experience any difficulty in getting a suitable placement. SENO contact details are on the NCSE website at : https://ncse.ie/regional-services-contact-list.

Special Educational Needs Staff

Questions (527)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

527. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Education if a decision will issue in respect of an application for a SNA by a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38808/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) through it's network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) is responsible for processing applications from schools for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in special schools and special class settings. My Department does not have a role in making individual school determinations. Accordingly, the query will be directed to the NCSE for direct reply.

The NCSE allocates Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support to schools in accordance with the criteria set out in Department Circular 0030/2014, which is available on the Department's website at www.education.ie, in order that students who have care needs can access SNA support as and when it is needed.

In considering applications for SNA support for individual pupils, the NCSE take account of the pupils' needs and consider the resources available to the school to identify whether additionality is needed or whether the school might reasonably be expected to meet the needs of the pupils from its current level of resources.

SNA allocations to all schools can change from year to year as children with care needs leave the school, as new children with care needs enrol in a school and as children develop more independent living skills and their care needs diminish over time.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource.

The deployment of SNAs within schools is a matter for the individual Principal/Board of Management of the school. SNAs should be deployed by the school in a manner which best meets the care support requirements of the children enrolled in the school for whom SNA support has been allocated. It is a matter for schools to allocate support as required, and on the basis of individual need, which allows schools flexibility in how the SNA support is utilised.

The Department encourages parents and school authorities to engage locally regarding pupils' education. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child’s special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

The NCSE has published guidelines for the 2020/21 application process for Mainstream Schools with Special Classes to apply for SNA support on its website at the following link. https://ncse.ie/for-schools.

Details of the SNA allocations for each school are available on the NCSE website at https://ncse.ie/set-hours-and-sna-allocations.

School Admissions

Questions (528)

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

528. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Education if she will address a matter regarding the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38809/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

It is the responsibility of my Department to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking school places in an area. Parents/guardians can choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted.

It is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to draft, publish and implement a school admission policy in accordance with the Education Acts 1998 to 2018. In schools where there are more applicants than places available a selection process may be necessary. This may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in their school of first choice.

The admission policy, including the selection criterion to be used where the school is oversubscribed, must comply with the Education Acts 1998 to 2018, be non-discriminatory and be applied fairly in respect of all applicants.

Where a board of management make a decision to refuse admission, a parent/guardian can appeal that decision under section 29 of the Education Act, 1998, and an independent appeals committee will be appointed to consider the appeal. My Department has no authority to compel a school to admit a student, except in circumstances where an appeal under section 29 of the Education Act, 1998 has been allowed and the appeals committee directs that the school admit the child concerned.

A section 29 appeal must be made no later than 63 calendar days from the date of the school’s decision to refuse admission.

If a student has been refused admission due to the school being oversubscribed, and the parent/guardian of the student wishes to appeal this decision they must firstly make a written request to the school seeking a review of the board of management’s decision. This request for a review to the board of management is time bound and must be made within 21 calendar days from the date of the decision by the school to refuse admission to the student.

If a student has been refused admission for a reason other than the school being oversubscribed, the parent/guardian may, but is not required to, request a review by the board of management within 21 calendar days from the date of the decision by the school to refuse admission to the student. Where refused admission is for a reason other than the school being oversubscribed and the parent/guardian does not choose to seek a review by the board of management, an appeal may be made to an independent appeals committee no later than 63 calendar days from the date of the school’s decision to refuse admission.

Full details on the section 29 appeals process are available on my Department’s website at the link below:

www.education.ie/en/Parents/Services/Appeal-against-Permanent-Exclusion-Suspension-or-Refusal-to-Enrol/Appeals.html.

In addition, Tusla Education Support Services (TESS) the Educational Welfare Service is the legal body which can assist parents who are experiencing difficulty in securing a school placement for their child.

School Enrolments

Questions (529)

Johnny Mythen

Question:

529. Deputy Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Education the latest demographic information used including figures of projection population growth of secondary level school-age children to analyse the projected need for future second levels schools in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, and particularly pertaining to a school (details supplied). [38810/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a Geographical Information System, utilising data from a range of sources including information on planned and current residential development, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. Major new residential developments in a school planning area have the potential to alter demand in that area. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, my Department engages with each local authority to obtain the up-to-date data on significant new residential development in each area. My Department then makes an assessment of the existing capacity within the particular area and its ability to meet increased demand.

Where data indicates that additional provision is required at primary or post primary level, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may be provided through either one, or a combination of, the following:

- Utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools,

- Extending the capacity of a school or schools,

- Provision of a new school or schools.

The requirement for additional school places is kept under on-going review and work on an updated exercise to assess needs for the coming years, including those which may arise in the Enniscorthy school planning area, is at an advanced stage.

School Enrolments

Questions (530)

Johnny Mythen

Question:

530. Deputy Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Education if she will examine the possible expansion of a school (details supplied). [38811/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department has no current record of receiving an application for additional accommodation from the school in question.

My Department's capital investment programme provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms for existing schools where an immediate enrolment need has been identified. All school capital projects that have been approved, by my Department, under the Additional School Accommodation Scheme (ASA), may be viewed on my Department’s website, www.education.ie, which is updated regularly.

It is open to the school authority in question to make an application under my Department's Additional School Accommodation Scheme, information relating to same is available on www.education.ie.

School Enrolments

Questions (531)

Johnny Mythen

Question:

531. Deputy Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Education when the last review of demographic information including projected growth was carried out in Wexford town particularly relating to the female gender; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38815/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a Geographical Information System, utilising data from a range of sources including information on planned and current residential development, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. Major new residential developments in a school planning area have the potential to alter demand in that area. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, my Department engages with each local authority to obtain the up-to-date data on significant new residential development in each area. My Department then makes an assessment of the existing capacity within the particular area and its ability to meet increased demand.

Where data indicates that additional provision is required at primary or post primary level, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may be provided through either one, or a combination of, the following:

- Utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools,

- Extending the capacity of a school or schools,

- Provision of a new school or schools.

As the Deputy will be aware, since April 2018 the Government has announced plans for the establishment of 47 new schools over the four years 2019 to 2022. This includes a new post primary school to be established in Gorey in 2021.

While there has not been a new school announced for Wexford town, the requirement for additional school places is kept under on-going review and work on an updated exercise to assess needs for the coming years, including those which may arise in the Wexford school planning area, is at an advanced stage.

School Curriculum

Questions (532)

Gary Gannon

Question:

532. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education if the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, primary and post-primary development groups for relationship and sexuality education have begun meeting; and the number of meetings that have taken place to date. [38862/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Access to RSE is an important right for students. Schools have a responsibility to provide for this vital aspect of education to young people. Importantly, a school’s RSE programme should be planned in consultation with parents.

The NCCA conducted a thorough and transparent review, and published its report, “Report on the Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in primary and post-primary Schools” on 11th December 2019.

The Report was developed on foot of extensive consultation which was conducted between June 2018 and March 2019.

The NCCA report makes a number of recommendations. This includes primarily the development of a single integrated curriculum for RSE and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in schools.

Both the relevant primary and post primary development groups have met twice, first on the 20th of October and then on the 11th of November. They will meet again before Christmas and meetings are scheduled for 2021 at a similar pace.

The immediate task being addressed by the groups is the development of interim guidance material for SPHE and RSE across primary and post-primary. These support materials will be made available in the form of an online toolkit. In addition, the groups will be doing some preparatory work in advance of beginning the work of updating the curriculum. The curriculum development work will begin with Junior Cycle in early 2021.

Maternity Leave

Questions (533, 534)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

533. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education if she will review the maternity arrangements for teachers and school staff who are 28 or more weeks pregnant taking into account the joint occupational health advice (details supplied) for employers from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, which highlights women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond as at increased risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38887/20]

View answer

Catherine Connolly

Question:

534. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education if she will review the Medmark process for teachers and school staff who are 28 or more weeks pregnant, given that this cohort is considered by organisations (details supplied) to be at increased risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38888/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 533 and 534 together.

My Department has an enhanced Occupational Health Service (OHS) in place to provide employers with occupational health advice in relation to employees’ fitness for work. Medmark, the current OHS provider has a process in place for school staff with health concerns about their risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19, through workplace attendance.

A detailed on-line questionnaire is submitted by the employee to Medmark, along with detailed medical evidence to provide clarity with respect to the medical complaint(s) in question. All of this information is reviewed by the OHS specialist occupational health physician, including the combined and cumulative risk that can arise when an employee suffers from more than one health condition. The risk categorisation is comprehensive and follows the same process that is being applied across other sectors. An employee is categorised into one of three COVID-19 risk categories. These are general population risk, higher risk, and very high risk. The outcome of the risk categorisation is governed by the HSE guidance.

Under the current HSE guidelines, a pregnant employee is not deemed to be at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19, unless suffering from a serious heart condition.

If this, or any other relevant medical matter, is reviewed and updated by the HSE, Medmark will be informed as the occupational health service provider, by the HSE, and will adjust their decisions accordingly.

Where an employee considers the OHS ‘COVID-19 Health Risk Categorisation Report’ places him/her in an incorrect risk category, a review can be requested by the employee where Medmark will re-evaluate the medical evidence provided. The employee may provide additional medical evidence as part of the review process.

Youth Unemployment

Questions (535)

Alan Dillon

Question:

535. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Social Protection the way in which she plans to address the youth unemployment crisis, specifically for the Mayo, Galway and Roscommon region. [38098/20]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and resulting phases of public health measures, has greatly impacted economic activity in the State. Young people are particularly affected by the current crisis, given their tendency to work in sectors most greatly impacted (retail, hospitality, tourism and arts). I am acutely aware of the reliance on these sectors to provide employment opportunities for young people in the West of Ireland.

Latest CSO data indicates that at the end of October over 45% of young people in the labour force were unemployed based on the COVID adjusted rate, with just under 20% of this age cohert on the live register. While many of these young people, in particular those in receipt of PUP, will return to work when restrictions are eased, some may not. Therefore these young people displaced by the pandemic will require State support to re-enter the labour market, while not forgetting those who were unemployed prior to the pandemic.

My Department, and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, are developing a range of educational, training and support measures to assist young people on their journey back to employment. Measures announced under the July Jobs Stimulus include:

- Expanding the capacity of Intreo Centres to provide enhanced employment services and supports through the allocation of 300 additional staff, to include 100 Job Coaches.

- Extending the benefit of the JobsPlus recruitment subsidy to employers who hire young people from the Live Register.

- Facilitating access to the Back to Education Allowance and Back to Work Enterprise Allowance to those who have lost their jobs during the COVID pandemic by waiving the waiting period.

- Allowing persons who have temporarily lost their job during COVID public health restrictions to avail of part time education programmes while continuing to receive the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

- Providing additional places on State Employment Schemes in 2021 for those furthest from the labour market and unemployed for over a year, allowing them to gain valuable work experience and new skills while providing valuable services to local communities.

- Providing incentives to employers to take on more apprentices, with the provision of a grant of €3,000 to employers for each new apprentice recruited.

- Providing access to additional fulltime and part-time education, including targeted short-term courses with over 35,000 new education and training places for the unemployed.

Building on the Youth Employment Support Scheme (YESS), my Department is developing a new work experience placement programme for those out of work for at least six months. This programme, which will incorporate a training and development plan, will provide jobseekers with the necessary workplace skills to compete in the labour market. I expect to launch the Programme in early 2021, subject to public health restrictions.

I am fully aware of the differing regional impacts of the pandemic and the need for targeted, localised employment measures. My Department operates a team of Intreo Case Officers in the West Division (Galway, Mayo and Roscommon), who provide a one-to-one career advice service and tailored employment supports to young jobseekers

The Intreo service is supplemented by the capacity of contracted employment service providers in the Division, such as the Local Employment Services (LES), which will be expanded in 2021 to cater for an increase in the number of referrals from Intreo. Many of these referrals will be those who are recently unemployed and may require additional support to re-enter the workforce.

My Department continues to utilise the existing Youth Employment Subsidy Scheme (YESS) which has proven very effective in providing work placement opportunities to 46 young people in the West Division to date. Furthermore, my Department continues to work closely with the local Education Training Boards advising them on course provision and the specific requirements of the local youth labour market.

My Department continues to work closely with the Local Employment Office (LEO), Galway rural Development (GRD), Mayo LEADER program and SICAP to support young people who decide to avail of self employment opportunities as a route back to the labour market.

I am confident that the national and local policy measures outlined above will assist young people who are seeking jobs to find a pathway back to employment.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance

Questions (536)

Seán Canney

Question:

536. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider amending the current means-tested disability allowance regime to allow persons with a disability to access payments in their own right (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38345/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Social welfare legislation provides that, for social assistance schemes such as Disability Allowance, all income and capital (such as savings, investments and property other than the family home) belonging to the claimant and his or her spouse/partner, where applicable, are assessable for means assessment purposes.

If a claimant is married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting, the Department will assess the couple's means when carrying out a means test for a social assistance payment. This is the case even if only one of the couple is actually claiming a payment.

The purpose of the means test is to ensure those individuals and couples with limited or no income or assets receive the most support from the State, while those with higher levels of income or assets provide for their own needs to a greater extent. It is in the nature of means-tested schemes that there is no entitlement to a payment once the means of an individual or couple exceed a given amount.

Disregarding a claimant's partner's income in the means test for Disability Allowance would give rise to a situation where a person with significant household income would have an entitlement to the payment. This would lead to inconsistencies in how the means test is applied across social welfare schemes, and would not be compatible with the overarching policy of ensuring that social welfare expenditure is targeted to those who need it most.

Any changes to the means test for Disability Allowance could have significant cost implications and would have to be considered in an overall budgetary and policy context.

Education Policy

Questions (537)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

537. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Social Protection the supports available for children diagnosed as gifted; and if she will consider adding gifted children to the diagnosis that enables carers and parents to apply for the domiciliary care allowance (details supplied). [38373/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Department of Social Protection operates the Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA), a monthly payment for a child, aged under 16 with a severe disability who requires ongoing (continual or continuous) care and attention, substantially over and above the care and attention usually required by a child of the same age. While the Department does not provide any specific supports to sup-groups of children based on diagnoses, children in the category referred to by the Deputy might qualify for DCA depending on the extent of their additional care needs.

Any parent/carer who feels that a child may qualify for DCA is welcome to submit an application which will be considered by a Departmental Medical Assessor before a formal decision is made by a Deciding Officer.

There is no list of diagnoses which automatically entitle or exclude an applicant from receiving the payment and each application is decided based on its own merits, taking account of the additional care needs of the child involved.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (538)

Carol Nolan

Question:

538. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Social Protection the details of contracts of €25,000 or more that have been awarded by her Department or bodies under the aegis of her Department that were found to be non-compliant with procurement guidelines from 1 January 2019 to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37805/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The procurement of supplies and services is essential to support my Department and bodies under the aegis of my Department in providing high quality services to the public, in a cost effective and efficient manner.

The tables below set out details of contracts over €25,000 for my Department and those bodies under the aegis of my Department that were found to be non-compliant with procurement guidelines in 2019 and those that my Department consider to be non-compliant to date in 2020.

Details of the Department’s non-compliant procurements are published annually on the Comptroller and Auditor General’s website and details of the Citizens Information Board’s non-compliant procurements can be found in the Financial Statement of the Annual Report which is published annually on the Citizen Information Board’s website.

My Department and bodies under the aegis of my Department ensure that the corrective action is undertaken to make non-compliant contracts compliant in a timely manner.

Details of Non- Compliant Contract 2019

Company Awarded the Contract

Full Value of Contract (excl. VAT)

Supply of Stationery and Office Supplies

Codex Ltd.

€292,680

Employability Service 2019

Contractor Name

Total Value

Monaghan-Cavan EmployAbility Services

Monaghan Supported Employment Support Agency CLG

€619,639

Midlands EmployAbility Services

Midland Employment Support Agency Company

€554,211

Cork EmployAbility Services

First Employment Services CLG, T/A EmployAbility Services Cork

€547,966

West Cork EmployAbility Services

Workstart West Cork Ltd., T/A EmployAbility Service West Cork

€515,112

Kilkenny-Carlow EmployAbility Services

Kilkenny/Carlow Area Supported Employment Service

€498,058

Dublin West EmployAbility Services

EmployAbility Ltd. Dublin West

€492,976

Galway EmployAbility Services

Galway Supported Employment Consortium

€473,769

Donegal-Sligo-Leitrim EmployAbility Services

Employment Response North West Ltd

€461,433

Kildare EmployAbility Services

Kildare Coalition of Supported Employment

€439,794

Clare EmployAbility Services

Clare Supported Employment Service Company Ltd

€429,500

Dublin South EmployAbility Services

Dublin South Supported Employment CLG

€423,442

Kerry EmployAbility Services

Kerry Supported Employment CLG

€413,526

Limerick EmployAbility Services

Work Access Ltd., T/A EmployAbility Limerick

€409,811

Roscommon EmployAbility Services

Co. Roscommon Supported Employment Service Company

€398,024

Mayo EmployAbility Services

Work Web West

€394,113

Wicklow EmployAbility Services

The Wicklow Supported Employment Network

€393,314

Louth EmployAbility Services

Co. Louth Supported Employment Partnership

€387,532

Dublin North EmployAbility Services

Work4U Company Limited by Guarantee

€375,710

Waterford EmployAbility Services

Waterford Employment Support Agency

€342,061

Meath EmployAbility Services

Jobmatters

€331,413

South Tipperary EmployAbility Services

South Tipperary Supported Employment Project

€277,297

Wexford EmployAbility Services

Wexford Consortium for Supported Employment (W.C.S.E.)

€275,984

North Tipperary EmployAbility Services

North Tipperary Supported Employment

€262,136

Business in The Community EmployAbility Services

Business in The Community Ireland

€146,556

Details of Contracts considered to be non-compliant to date 2020

Company Awarded the Contract

Estimated Full Value of Contract (excl. VAT)

Covid-19 PPE Equipment &Supplies

Energy Distribution

€190,000

Printing services

Azure Ltd

€84,020

Covid-19 PPE Equipment &Supplies

Codex Ltd.

€81,002

Covid-19 PPE Equipment &Supplies

J&C Hendrick Ltd

€46,780

Covid-19 Signage

The Printed Image

€36,552

Employability Service 2020

Contractor Name

Total Value

Monaghan-Cavan Employability Services

Monaghan Supported Employment Support Agency CLG

€621,727

Cork Employability Services

First Employment Services CLG, T/A Employability Services Cork

€580,285

Midlands Employability Services

Midland Employment Support Agency Company

€555,731

West Cork Employability Services

Workstart West Cork Ltd., T/A Employability Service West Cork

€519,180

Kilkenny-Carlow Employability Services

Kilkenny/Carlow Area Supported Employment Service

€500,832

Dublin West Employability Services

Employability Ltd. Dublin West

€481,965

Donegal-Sligo-Leitrim Employability Services

Employment Response North West Ltd

€479,977

Galway Employability Services

Galway Supported Employment Consortium

€473,769

Kildare Employability Services

Kildare Coalition of Supported Employment

€442,480

Clare Employability Services

Clare Supported Employment Service Company Ltd

€431,600

Dublin South Employability Services

Dublin South Supported Employment CLG

€427,339

Kerry Employability Services

Kerry Supported Employment CLG

€413,526

Limerick Employability Services

Work Access Ltd., T/A Employability Limerick

€412,742

Roscommon Employability Services

Co. Roscommon Supported Employment Service Company

€399,198

Mayo Employability Services

Work Web West

€394,113

Louth Employability Services

Co. Louth Supported Employment Partnership

€388,957

Wicklow Employability Services

The Wicklow Supported Employment Network

€386,783

Dublin North Employability Services

Work4u Company Limited by Guarantee

€376,488

Waterford Employability Services

Waterford Employment Support Agency

€341,986

Meath Employability Services

Jobmatters

€339,138

South Tipperary Employability Services

South Tipperary Supported Employment Project

€278,345

Wexford Employability Services

Wexford Consortium for Supported Employment

€277,182

North Tipperary Employability Services

North Tipperary Supported Employment

€262,136

Business in The Community Employability Services

Business in The Community Ireland

€147,474

Local Employment Services (LES) 2020

Contractor

Total Value

Limerick LES

Paul Partnership Limerick.

€1,458,325

Northside LES

Northside Partnership Ltd.

€1,122,059

Dublin City NW (Tolka Area) LES

Dublin North West Area Partnership

€1,104,718

Kildare LES

Co Kildare Local Employment Service Network

€1,038,664

Blanchardstown LES

Blanchardstown Area Partnership

€1,036,273

Tallaght (Dodder Valley) LES

SDC South Dublin County Partnership

€948,668

Mayo LES

Mayo North East Partnership

€944,002

Ballymun LES

Ballymun Job Centre Co-op Society Ltd

€916,601

Dundalk and Drogheda LES

Louth Leader Partnership

€904,288

Clondalkin LES

SDC South Dublin County Partnership

€884,995

Wexford LES

Wexford Local Development

€858,545

Cork LES

Cork City Partnership

€849,495

Ballyfermot LES

Ballyfermot & Chapelizod Partnership Co Ltd

€803,959

Southside LES

Southside Partnership

€786,686

Monaghan LES

Monaghan Integrated Development

€682,510

Tralee LES

North & East Kerry Leader

€664,575

Dublin South City (Canals) LES

Dublin south city partnership

€660,275

Galway LES

Galway City Partnership

€651,964

Waterford City LES

Waterford Area Partnership

€603,555

Dublin City Docklands/Eastside LES

St. Andrews Resource Centre

€596,802

South Kerry LES

South Kerry Development Partnership

€521,974

Dublin 12 LES

Dublin south city partnership

€473,923

Bray LES

Bray Area Partnership

€445,047

Waterford Leader (County) LES

Waterford Leader Partnership

€341,250

Dublin City SW LES

Ballyfermot & Chapelizod Partnership Co Ltd

€316,041

JobsClub 2020 Contractor

Total Value

South Dublin County Partnership (SDC)

€296,601

Offaly Integrated Development Co Ltd

€255,752

Crann Support Group

€214,580

Jobcare Ltd Pearse St

€206,938

Carlow County Development Partnership Company Ltd

€139,969

South Kerry Development Partnership Ltd

€139,111

Glin Jobsclub Limited

€136,350

Laois Community and Enterprise Dev Co t/a Laois Partnership Co

€132,083

Saints Mary and Peter CE Scheme Arklow Ltd

€130,756

Northwest Roscommon CDP

€129,353

Westmeath Community Development Ltd

€127,528

Inishowen Development Partnership

€126,842

Southside Local Employment Service/Southside Partnership DLR

€126,695

North Tipperary Leader Partnership

€126,092

North and East Kerry Leader Partnership TEO

€125,592

Portarlington Community Development Association Ltd

€125,435

Donegal Local Development Company

€124,762

People Action Against Unemployment Ltd

€124,614

Mayo North East Leader Partnership TEO

€124,256

Monaghan Integrated Development Ltd

€123,390

Cumann Iosaef Teoranta

€122,864

Drogheda Job Club Ltd

€122,577

Blanchardstown Area Partnership Ltd

€119,827

First Employability Services Ltd t/a Employability Service Cork

€118,820

Northside Partnership Ltd

€118,650

Fingal LEADER Partnership Co Ltd

€117,233

Dublin South City Partnership (BIIKR Partnership Co Ltd)

€116,918

Ballyhoura Development Ltd

€116,240

Congress Information & Opportunity Centre

€114,204

Louth Leader Partnership

€114,106

Ballyfermot/Chapelizod Partnership Co Ltd

€113,098

Ballinasloe Community Resources Ltd

€111,350

Dublin North West Area Partnership Ltd

€111,200

Leitrim Integrated Development Co

€109,996

Ballymun Job Centre Co-Operative Society Ltd

€96,456

Ferdia Community Development Co Ltd

€82,908

West Limerick Resources Ltd

€81,658

Bodies under the aegis of my Department

The Pensions Authority, the Pensions Council, Citizens Information Board, Low Pay Commission and Social Welfare Tribunal had no non-compliant procurements in 2019. To date in 2020, The Pensions Council, Citizens Information Board, Low Pay Commission and Social Welfare Tribunal have had no procurements deemed to be non-compliant. The Pensions Authority have one which is listed in the table below.

Pensions Authority Non-Compliant Contracts 2020

Company Awarded the Contract

Estimated Full Value of Contract (excl. VAT)

Accounting Support Services

Mazars

€65,000

Pensions Council

Questions (539, 552)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

539. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Social Protection if representatives of organisations that represent and advocate on behalf of women and older persons will be included on the newly established Pensions Commission. [37822/20]

View answer

Paul Murphy

Question:

552. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to ensure that the Pension Commission includes representation of those who would be most affected by an increase in the State pension age by including representation from organisations (details supplied) in the membership of the commission; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37998/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 539 and 552 together.

I am pleased that the Government approved the establishment of the Commission on Pensions in fulfilment of the Programme for Government commitment.

As the Deputies will be aware, I announced on Budget Day that the planned increase in the State pension age from January of next year will be deferred, in line with our Programme for Government commitment. In this regard, it will remain at 66 years pending the report of the Pensions Commission and I will introduce legislation shortly to give effect to this.

The Commission's Terms of Reference includes the examination of sustainability and eligibility issues with the State Pension and the Social Insurance Fund. More broadly, it will also consider the issue of retirement ages in employment contracts and consider how the pension system can further accommodate carers, who are predominantly women.

The membership of the Commission, approved by Government, reflects the need to have subject matter experts to deal with the complex social and public policy issues arising in pensions, as well as stakeholder representation which will keep the work of the Commission grounded. This includes representation of workers, employers, civil society, academics and those with technical and policy expertise. In this regard, the membership also includes those with involvement in organisations supporting older people.

The Government was keen to ensure that the Commission had strong female representation in its membership, and I am pleased that the majority of confirmed members – 6 out of 11 – are women. It will be chaired by Ms. Josephine Feehily. I am satisfied that the Commission, with its gender-balanced membership and extensive experience of social and public policy, will be keenly aware of the gender dimension of pensions policy and delivery and will bring this perspective to bear in its work.

The Commission will also engage with a range of key stakeholders to ensure that it has a genuine understanding of not only the fiscal sustainability challenges involved, but also the associated social sustainability challenges of implementing potential policy reforms. The exact mechanisms for this engagement will be shaped by the Chair and by Commission members.

It should be noted that while this Government is acutely conscious of the need to consider the sustainability of the State's finances, this is not the only consideration when thinking of the State pension age. The State Pension is the bedrock of the pension system in Ireland. It is extremely effective at ensuring that our pensioners do not experience poverty. The Government is committed to ensuring that this remains the case.

The Commission will be holding its first meeting shortly. In line with the Programme for Government, the Commission will report to Government by 30 June of next year and the Government will take action having regard to the recommendations of the Commission within 6 months.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.

Carer's Benefit

Questions (540)

Emer Higgins

Question:

540. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Social Protection if the anomaly will be corrected by which a 0.5 full-time equivalent teacher is currently categorised as working 11 hours a week based on a full-time teacher working 22 hours a week and on that basis is not eligible for the carer’s benefit as they do not meet the criterion of working 16 hours per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37825/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Government acknowledges the important role that family carers play and is fully committed to supporting carers in that role. This commitment is recognised in both the Programme for Government and the National Carers’ Strategy.

My Department provides a number of income supports to carers such as Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance and the Carer’s Support Grant. Combined spending on all these payments to family carers in 2020 is expected to exceed €1.3 billion.

Carer's Benefit is a PRSI based payment, made to an insured person who leaves the workforce or reduces their working hours to provide full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has a disability that requires that level of care. It is payable for a maximum of 104 weeks for each person being cared for.

The main legislative provisions relating to Carer's Benefit are contained in Chapter 14 of Part 3 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended, and S.I. 142 of 2007, Social Welfare (Consolidated Claims, Payments and Control) Regulations 2007.

Under the provisions of the legislation, to be eligible to claim Carer's Benefit, a person must have been in remunerative full time employment for a minimum of 16 hours in the week, or 32 hours in the fortnight, for eight weeks out of the previous 26 week period immediately prior to the first day on which a claim is made. There is no provision in legislation to waive this requirement.

Any changes to the eligibility conditions for any of the statutory schemes operated by the Department, including Carer's Benefit, would require legislative change and would need to be addressed in a budgetary context.

The Deputy will appreciate that the number of remunerated hours worked by an employee is a matter for themselves and their employer.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Illness Benefit

Questions (541)

Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

541. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection if Covid-19 illness payments affect entitlements to full sick leave; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37856/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

In March of this year, under the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (No. 1) and subsequent regulations, the Government, provided for entitlement to illness benefit for persons who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or are a probable source of infection with Covid-19.

The rate of payment of the enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of Covid-19 is higher than the normal maximum personal rate for a limited period. The measures were designed to ensure that where a registered medical practitioner or a HSE medical officer diagnoses a person with Covid-19 or identifies him or her as a probable source of infection of Covid-19, the person can comply with medical advice to isolate, while having their income protected. This is essential to limit and slow down the spread of the virus, to keep the number of people affected to a minimum, and to reduce a peak of cases which would cause extreme pressure on the health system.

The enhanced rate of Illness Benefit was brought in as a short-term public health measure and is not a long-term income support payment. It is payable for 2 weeks where a person is isolating as a probable source of infection of Covid-19 and up to 10 weeks where a person has been diagnosed with Covid-19. The purpose of the enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of Covid-19 is to encourage people to not go to work due to financial constraint when they should be in isolation.

In a case where a person continues to be ill beyond 10 weeks, standard Illness Benefit may be paid for an extended period, based on the person’s continued eligibility. Illness Benefit is the primary income support payment for people who are unable to attend work due to illness of any type. Additional payments may also be made in respect of a qualified adult and qualifying children.

There is currently no entitlement to statutory sick leave in Ireland. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is currently engaged in a public consultation process on the introduction of statutory sick pay. Any entitlement to sick leave and payment for that sick leave is a matter between an individual employer and their employees and should be set out in the contract of employment. Many employees agree to mandate Illness Benefit payments to their employer where they receive full or partial pay when unable to attend work due to illness – this is a matter between the employer and the employer.

I trust that this clarifies the matter.