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Thursday, 3 Dec 2020

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Domestic Violence Refuges Provision

Questions (89)

Dara Calleary


89. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the additional supports which will be provided for those seeking places in refuges during the Christmas period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40754/20]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

As the Christmas period approaches, what are the Minister's plans to increase supports for those seeking places in domestic violence refugees? This has been an incredibly difficult and challenging year for that sector. We are in the middle of the 16 days of action highlighting domestic abuse and violence. As this is day nine, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the Minister's plans.

Tusla has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This year my Department is providing €25.3 million to Tusla in core funding for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services. I am also providing an additional resource of €2 million to deal with specific once-off Covid issues.

Tusla is aware that there were and continue to be issues for those experiencing domestic violence arising from the Covid-19 situation. There may be particular concerns for victims around the Christmas period. This is why since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, Tusla has prioritised domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services while actively engaging with all services to support a continuity of service, as well as to provide contingencies around service provision.

Tusla has advised that there are currently 143 accommodation units available. Of these, 103 are within the normal framework of refuge provision. Due to the requirements for social distancing, there was a reduction in 36 of the family units within that framework. In response to that need to reduce, however, Tusla has funded 25 additional off-site units and an additional 15 safe homes. The most recent information we have from Tusla is that 106 units are already occupied, meaning there is capacity in the system for anyone in need. Tusla is keeping the situation under review. It has a systematic feedback and communications mechanism in place with the domestic violence service provider organisations regarding issues and difficulties that arise for organisations during this time. Any specific measures implemented for the Christmas period will be based on feedback from services about pressures arising in December.

I have already confirmed that next year Tusla will be allocated additional funding of €4.7 million to support domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services across the country. A total of €30 million will be made available for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services next year. There is an additional €2.7 million in core funding which will bring it to €28 million, as well as €2 million in Covid contingency funding.

As the Minister is aware, there has been an increase in domestic violence incidents this year with some 3,000 extra incidents reported. They are the ones reported. We do not know how many go unreported. It is important that all of what the Minister just outlined is made available to the public as far as is possible. There are many people who may not be able to access some of the wonderful work and services available to them locally.

What engagement has Tusla with local authorities? In particular, local authority housing services are often the first point of contact for public representatives who may be approached by somebody looking for emergency accommodation. What resource and spaces are available there?

I want to take this time to acknowledge and commend An Garda Síochána on its work through Operation Faoiseamh. It does extraordinary, often unheralded, work right across the country, particularly this year. I would like to see extra resources given to Operation Faoiseamh for the period ahead.

I agree that getting that information out is important. On Monday, I had the privilege to be present at the launch of an information booklet by the CYPSC, Children and Young People's Services Committees, for Fingal and Dublin north city, giving specific and invaluable information - I think is based on one from Roscommon - on domestic violence services in those particular areas.

The Deputy made an important point about local authorities often being the first point of contact. One point discussed during the programme for Government negotiations was that there is an element of fragmentation about the responses to domestic violence with the policy and criminal side based in the Department of Justice, some of the housing elements being in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and with Tusla falling within my Department's remit. An audit is being undertaken to review the overall responsibility and co-ordination for domestic violence services in this country compared with other jurisdictions. It will make proposals on how we can streamline and better focus policy and delivery.

I welcome that review and remember those discussions. Will the Minister give me a timeline as to when that review will be completed and when he hopes to have an action plan around it?

Many of the voluntary organisations in question have had a difficult year in terms of fundraising and their ability to fundraise. This is the time of year when they need those funds mostly. Will the Minister or the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, or the Minister of State in that Department, Deputy Joe O'Brien, be in a position to make extra funding available to them for this period to ensure their services will not be impacted due to a lack of financial resources?

On the matter of extra funding from my Department, as I said earlier, we made Covid contingency funding available. An extra €2 million has been put in this year specifically for Covid-related demands. The final tranche of that is being released at the moment. Tusla held it back for the Christmas period knowing the need for demand. A further €2 million Covid contingency will be available for next year from January.

As regards the timeline for the audit, we just put out the tender documents and we are reviewing them. A nine-month timeline was set out in the programme for Government. We are still hoping to meet that. It might go a little bit over that but we would hope that early next year we will have that audit complete. Then we will be able to bring forward the action plan to review it with the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (90)

Martin Browne


90. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his views on concerns that survivors of an institution (details supplied) and their relatives regarding the possibility that unmarked graves and remains may remain at the site; if consideration will be given to enabling digs to take place on land around the site considering the owner of land is willing to allow that; the status of the progress being made relating to the forthcoming report and the data contained within the report of the commission of investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40772/20]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

Survivors of Sean Ross Abbey and their relatives are concerned that there may be unmarked graves and remains at the site that have not been located or identified. Will the Minister give consideration to enabling digs to take place on land around the site? The owner of Sean Ross is willing to allow that. Will the Minister also provide me with the progress being made relating to the forthcoming report of the commission of investigation on how data contained within it will be dealt with?

I appreciate this is a deeply personal and sensitive issue for the former residents of Sean Ross mother and baby home, their family members and supporters. The Deputy has raised this issue with me on several occasions and I am happy to continue to liaise with him on it.

The investigation of burial arrangements of persons who died while resident in mother and baby homes was a key focus in the terms of reference given to the statutory commission of investigation. We already know from the commission's interim reports that it dedicated significant time and effort to advancing its investigations into these matters.

There is a designated child burial site in the grounds of the institution in question. The commission has reported it was made aware of concerns about this burial ground and decided to undertake a geophysical study and subsequently a test excavation of the site.

The results of this excavation were being examined at the time of publication of the fifth interim report. The commission confirmed it would comment further on these matters in the final report. As I outlined in my reply to Deputy Funchion earlier, I received the commission's final report on 30 October and I will publish it in the week of 11 January.

I am sure that the Deputy can understand that I cannot get into specific details in advance of the report's publication.

Once the report is published I am happy to meet directly with the Deputy to discuss those particular chapters of the report relevant to that institution. I am happy to engage subsequently with groups representing survivors. I have spoken to at least one person representing survivors' groups but I am happy to engage further once the report is published and we can discuss on the basis of what the commission has found.

I appreciate that. Some of the residents feel very let down about the lack of engagement on the treatment of their data. We have been giving the Minister an opportunity to speak to survivors and it has now been five weeks. The process needs to be completed quickly. The Minister has given a date to Deputy Funchion. Now that the report has been submitted he must not make the mistake of thinking it is all over. Many of the details of this sorry saga are still hidden from us. Survivors of Shan Ross and their families are concerned about locating graves there that have not yet been identified, if the owner of the land in question is willing to allow digs. I appreciate departmental digs have taken place but the survivors are adamant there are more plots on the site and they want to identify them and, if they are there, to bring those names into this also. Will the Minister give the go ahead for these digs? I spoke to the Taoiseach, who said he would speak to the Minister about commissioning another dig.

It is important that we get the report out and make decisions on anything that happens next as a result of receiving the report. I have committed to engaging directly with the Deputy and with groups he feels should be involved, even prior to the report. I do not know whether the Deputy made specific contact to get me to speak to survivors but I am happy to do so. I have met a significant number of survivors over the past number of weeks and at least one representative of groups from Shan Ross. I am happy to do more. With regard to this being all over, I absolutely do not consider the publication of the report as the end of this matter. We have a large body of work to do on legislation, policy and the long-term treatment of survivors, specifically with regard to mother and baby homes but also on the wider issue of legacy. The statement the Government put out in late October listed many of the issues that need to be addressed in the context of legacy. There is a lot of work still to do and I look forward to my involvement in progressing as much of it as I can within the Department.

I appreciate the offer the Minister has made to meet me and other groups who have not already been met. I do not doubt his commitment to it. In reality, some of the groups, particularly survivors of Shan Ross, say even on this issue of commissioning a new dig there has been no engagement, or very little engagement with them. That is all they are asking for. Will somebody in the Department or the Department of the Taoiseach let them know whether they are flying against the wind with regard to a new dig? Please do not leave them hanging. I ask the Minister to get in touch which Shan Ross survivors again and let the group know whether the Government will commission a new dig and see whether there are new plots on the site.

I am happy to engage with them prior to the publication of the report if the Deputy wants. I will not be able to give a commitment on a new dig until after the report is published because it is important to see what the report says. A very extensive piece of the report is specifically on Shan Ross and I do not want to give out bits of it. I do not think it is appropriate to do that to survivors or anybody. We will get the report and the Deputy and I can go through those sections in detail, and I can also go through the sections in detail with survivors, and we can make relevant decisions on the basis of the knowledge we will have then.

Parental Leave

Question No. 92 replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (91, 106, 120)

Louise O'Reilly


91. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the reason the extension to maternity leave is not being introduced until April 2021 as opposed to immediate introduction after budget 2021 or January 2021. [40761/20]

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Aindrias Moynihan


106. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when legislation will be advanced to enact changes announced in budget 2021 on parental leave; the engagement he has had with the Minister for Social Protection to ensure there is no undue delay for applicants to avail of this additional leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40758/20]

View answer

Paul McAuliffe


120. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the reason the extension to maternity leave is not being introduced until April 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40768/20]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Children)

I am taking this on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly. Why is the extension to maternity leave not being introduced until April 2021 as opposed to an immediate introduction after the budget or in January 2021?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 91, 106 and 120 together.

I am pleased to confirm that, in order to support parents of children born during the strict lockdown measures, the Government intends to extend parents' leave from two weeks to five weeks for each parent of all children born or adopted on or after 1 November 2019. The Government also intends to extend the period in which parents' leave can be taken up until that child turns two years or, in the case of an adoption, two years after the adoption placement date of the child. This extension will apply to parents who may have already availed of their existing entitlements. Heads of a Bill to effect these changes are being drafted in the Department and I intend to bring these to Government next Tuesday for approval.

Payment of parents' benefit is a matter for the Minister for Social Protection and I understand that some adjustments will be needed to the relevant IT systems in that Department and time will be taken to make those changes. The estimated timescale for the necessary updates being put in place in the pay systems is April 2021 However, I am examining whether it may be possible for parents' leave to be taken in advance of these changes and the benefit claimed retrospectively, once the legislation has been enacted. I will take advice from parliamentary counsel to ensure that it is possible to draft the legislation in this way. I will ensure that parents are fully informed of their entitlements in this regard as soon as possible.

The Minister for Social Protection, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I have discussed this issue with the view to progressing it as quickly as possible. The extension to parents' leave and benefit follows a number of advancements in parents' leave in recent years, including the introduction of parents' leave and benefit in 2019 and the extension of unpaid parental leave to 26 weeks in September this year for a child under 12 years.

As part of the same legislation that will deal with the issue of parents' leave, I will also bring proposals on adoptive leave. This will allow all adopting couples, whether same sex or opposite sex, to have the right to select which of them would be the qualified adopter for the purposes of taking adoptive leave and benefit. This is an important provision which was committed to in the programme for Government. The proposed adoptive leave proposals will enable married male same-sex adopting couples to be eligible for adoptive leave. As it stands at present, the Adoptive Leave Act 2005 allows only an adoptive mother to take adoptive leave. The new provisions would enable either the adopting mother or the adopting father to be eligible to take adoptive leave once the choice has been made by the couple.

I thank the Minister. As a parent, I welcome any extension in parental leave or maternity leave, although my children are probably past that stage. We did see a number of very genuine calls during the Covid pandemic for an extension, perhaps even a once-off emergency extension to maternity leave, for very valid reasons. People were trying to juggle childcare or get back to work during the pandemic and people felt robbed of certain time in the early years, particularly with extended family. It would have been fantastic if this had been introduced immediately after the budget. I seek clarification on several points. Is the Minister stating he hopes it might be able to be introduced in January and dealt with retrospectively? Perhaps I understood this incorrectly. I have another question that I will ask later.

I am not sure whether the other Deputies are in the room.

Deputy McAuliffe is at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts and gave his apologies.

We cannot grant additional leave until the legislation is passed. Once the legislation is passed the leave can be granted. There is a technical issue with regard to the arrangements for payment of the benefit. The Department of Social Protection is under a lot of pressure at present with the Covid payments. It is doing a huge amount more than it normally would. We will try to speed up the process so that benefit can be provided quickly but once the legislation is passed we will try to make it possible for someone to take leave and retrospectively claim the payments once the benefit issue has been sorted. When I bring the legislation through the House I will be able to provide more clarity on it. It is to allow the leave to be taken as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister. On a further point of clarification, let us say somebody is due to return from maternity leave at the start of December and their child is not two years old yet, are they able to take that additional leave sometime next year or is that not an option? While that would be welcome, it can be difficult for many people to try to organise childcare and also try to organise their own job, depending on what job they do. Many people will take some unpaid leave and some parental leave because to take it all together, in reality, is the best way for people to organise this. It can be difficult, if they have a childcare place, to dip out of that childcare place for a number of weeks of parental leave, and that is why people tend to try to take it together in a block. Is the Minister saying that if somebody started back to work on 1 December and their child is one year old, they can take that in the next year?

For either the extra three weeks leave for parents who had their child during the last year, or the full five weeks leave for new parents of children going forward, that can only be taken once the legislation is passed. We have to get the legislation passed first. However, once the legislation is passed, if a parent took their two weeks of original parents leave in January of this year, they will be able to take the additional three weeks leave in the forthcoming year. It is provided to make sure that parents who had children during the lockdown period, and who were only able to avail of two weeks leave in that period, will now be able to enjoy the additional three weeks leave.

Question No. 92 replied to with Written Answers.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (93)

Martin Browne


93. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his views on the Facing the Future Together report which identifies the ongoing and future needs for the survivors of mother and baby homes and those incarcerated in residential institutions, industrial schools and other places of detention; his plans to implement the supports recommended in this report; his views on the statistics and findings contained within the Facing the Future Together report regarding the impacts and consequent needs of survivors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40773/20]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

I ask the Minister to give his views on the Facing the Future Together report, which identifies the ongoing and future needs of the survivors of mother and baby homes and those incarcerated in residential institutions, industrial schools and other places of detention. Will he also outline his plans to implement the supports recommended in this report and his views on the statistics and findings contained within the Facing the Future Together report, which looks at the impacts and consequent needs of survivors?

In May 2019, the Facing the Future Together conference was organised by the Christine Buckley Centre to mark the 20th anniversary of the State apology to survivors and the ten-year anniversary of the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse - the Ryan report. The primary focus of the conference was on persons who had suffered abuse as children in industrial and reformatory schools and other residential institutions which cared for children. In addition to the conference acting as a commemoration, the organisers utilised the opportunity to highlight and advocate for supports for survivors.

The Facing the Future Together report is a snapshot of the presentations delivered as part of the conference by a number of advocates and experts. The report clearly identifies the lasting impact of abuse on many survivors of institutional abuse. It puts forward five key requests for all survivors of institutional abuse: enhanced medical cards and housing supports, easily accessible counselling services for survivors, the provision of advocacy support for survivors in the long term, trauma-informed medical and public service staff and the identification of supports needed by survivors based outside Ireland. I note that these areas broadly mirror the recommendations of the collaborative forum on mother and baby homes, as published in April 2019, and both pieces of work will inform the State's response to the final report of the commission of investigation once published.

It is important to clarify that these issues of concern to former residents of institutions relate to the policy and services provided by a number of Departments, most notably those of the Minister for Health, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is clear to me that we need to address these issues through a holistic approach.

The Department of Education has established an interdepartmental working group, on which my Department is represented, specifically to examine the future needs of former residents in the context of the anticipated closure of Caranua. The Department of Education is circulating the Facing the Future Together report to all the Departments involved in this working group. I understand the group is due to complete its important work shortly and my Department will fully engage with any of the recommendations which fall within my area of responsibility.

I thank the Minister. When this report is published, it will have huge consequences for former residents of these homes and their families. The report points out the types of abuse that the former residents have suffered in these institutions and the consequences it has had for many of those concerned. How to help them through the difficult times is the big thing at this stage.

The Minister pointed out the five requests that were identified. How far along are the arrangements that would meet the requests contained in the report? There are massive consequences coming down the road for the survivors and they need all the help they can get at this stage. How far along is the Minister in terms of addressing that?

When the report of the commission of investigation is published in the second week of January, the Government will also be publishing its action plan on how it is responding to the various recommendations and a number of these recommendations will be in the field of health and supports. We are working to ensure that the immediate recommendations are immediately in place at that stage and in particular to ensure there are strong counselling services in place for what is going to be a very difficult time for many survivors and adoptees on the publication of this report. There are other supports and health services that have been referred to by the commission of investigation in its report and the Government will be publishing, at the time of publication of the report itself, how it is responding to these wider recommendations as well.

As has been said, the consequences and contents of the report and the publicity that has surrounded it to date make it harder on survivors. It outlines what the survivors have been living with for decades and the trauma that has manifested itself through all of the impacts, in particular the anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol problems, educational disadvantage, work-related problems and homelessness that have been experienced by survivors.

Will the Minister commit to taking an approach that is victim-led, not one based on financial concerns alone? One of the biggest issues for survivors is that monetary considerations should not be put in the way of services being put in place for survivors.

I would be conscious, from my own engagement with survivors over recent weeks, of that wide range of impacts, including very profound impacts, that time in these institutions has had on survivors. One of the points we committed to in the Government statement made in October of this year was to advance a piece of research on the actual impact on survivors, and that is something we are undertaking in conjunction with the HSE. We have a very clear understanding of the types of impacts that have been faced by survivors, so we can shape the responses that we will be providing to survivors appropriately. It is particularly important that our response to this group of survivors is appropriate to their particular needs.

Equality Issues

Question No. 95 replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (94)

Brian Leddin


94. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the level of funding allocated for LGBTI+ services in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40777/20]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

I ask the Minister about the level of funding available for LGBTI+ services in 2021.

In line with the commitments in the national LGBTI+ inclusion strategy, my Department continues work on mapping of LGBTI+ community services. Last week, I announced 29 projects around the country that will receive funding to a total amount of €700,000 under the 2020 LGBTI+ community services fund.

The fund comprises two schemes, one dealing with community services and the other with visibility and inclusion. The applications received were of a high standard and the application process was extremely competitive. Some 58 applications were received and, of these, 29 were successful. Ten of them will receive funding for measures supporting community services for LGBTI+ people, while 19 projects will receive funding to promote visibility and inclusion.

The fund provides for initiatives that will promote inclusion, protect rights and improve quality of life and well-being for members of the LGBTI+ community, enabling them to participate fully in Ireland's social, economic, cultural and political life.

The initiative is very much in keeping with the aims and objectives of the national LGBTI+ inclusion strategy. We are seeking to achieve tangible outcomes that will transform the lives of LGBTI+ people across Ireland. The community services fund is designed specifically with that aim in mind.

Services and initiatives that work to promote inclusion and visibility for the LGBTI+ community have an increased importance at a time when many LGBTI+ feel disconnected from their community. I am confident that these projects will be successful in ensuring members continue to feel supported in 2021.

In addition to the funding for the current year, I am pleased to confirm that I have increased the funding allocation for LGBTI+ initiatives in 2021, which will increase to €920,000 next year.

I thank the Minister for that. It is very welcome news. I want to raise the issue of LGBTI+ services in the mid-west. Following the suicide of two men in Limerick in the 1980s, a group of volunteers set up the Gay Switchboard in 1986 in the St. Vincent de Paul building, later joined by the Limerick AIDS Alliance in the same building. Those two services, with other services in Limerick, merged to form GOSHH, which stands for gender, orientation, sexual health and HIV, in the past decade. GOSHH provides a vital range of services in the mid-west, including counselling, training and operating as a focal point for the community. Can the Minister provide additional details on how he plans to support the GOSHH service in the mid-west in the next few years?

I thank the Deputy. I would be aware of the huge amount of work GOSHH does in the mid-west. It combines a range of services that add a community element to those vital health-based supports. GOSHH submitted an application under the funding call and I am pleased to be able to say that it received funding for its rainbow development project of €75,500. It is a significant investment and recognition of the very important work that organisation does in Limerick and in the mid-west.

On the smaller scale of things, but equally important, I am aware the Croom Family Resource Centre received a grant from the same funding stream of €2,800 for a youth group and café. While that amount of money is smaller, and the focus might be smaller, they are equally valuable, particularly for the ideas of participation and inclusion of LGBTI+ people, particularly young LGBTI+ people.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I will finish by asking about the status of the gay men's health service. I know many gay men, trans men and men who have sex with men have been waiting for the resumption of that service since it closed in March. Can the Minister given any clarity on when services will resume and what he is doing to expedite the opening of that much-needed service?

I thank the Deputy. As we celebrated World AIDS Day on the first day of this month it is an important time to raise the need for this very important health service to be reopened. It was an issue that was discussed at the steering group of the national LGBTI+ strategy, of which I am a member. A number of representatives in the group raised their concerns about the continued closure of the gay men's health clinic due to the Covid-19 restrictions. To update the Deputy, I have written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, on that particular point and asked that he would expedite measures to open those services. They are crucial in the fight against the spread of HIV and in addressing a range of health issues for this community. I am engaging with the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, and I will continue to do so. I can provide the Deputy with an update on my engagements with the Minister for Health.

Question No. 95 replied to with Written Answers.

Childcare Costs

Question No. 97 replied to with Written Answers.

Question No. 98 answered with Question No. 96.

Questions Nos. 99 to 137, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (96, 98)

Dara Calleary


96. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans to reduce childcare costs for parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40755/20]

View answer

Neale Richmond


98. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the measures he is considering to make childcare affordable for all parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39966/20]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Children)

The whole area of childcare costs is a major issue for families and parents. The phrase one hears regularly is that it is a second mortgage. The Minister outlined very interesting proposals in the Irish Examiner some weeks ago in terms of his reviews of childcare, the status of working conditions within childcare and also the role of the State. He mentioned that if he were to start again we would have State-funded childcare. I want to know the Minister's timeline and plans for reducing childcare costs and enhancing the terms and conditions of pay and employment for childcare workers.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96 and 98 together.

Among the range of commitments in the programme for Government, addressing affordability in early learning and childcare is a priority for me. I am confident that work under way through First 5, including the national childcare scheme, NCS, and new funding model, will deliver on that.

Annual investment in early learning and childcare has increased by 141% since 2015. This funding has been directed towards improving accessibility, quality and affordability. It has, for example, funded a second year of the free preschool programme.

The two years of the ECCE programme are considered to save parents who use early learning and care services more than €5,700 on fees. The increased investment has also enabled the introduction of the national childcare scheme. The national childcare scheme represents the first ever statutory entitlement to financial support towards early learning and childcare costs.

Since it was launched in November 2019, and despite closures and reduced demand caused by Covid-19, 44,000 children have received subsidies under the NCS. Subsidies can be as high as €225 per child, per week.

The OECD's 2017 Faces of Joblessness report compared early learning and childcare costs for lone parents before and after the NCS. It found that the NCS will bring net costs down from being the highest across the OECD, to the 11th highest. This analysis did not take account of NCS enhancements in budgets 2019 and 2020.

Notwithstanding this progress, the cost of early learning and care and school age childcare remains unacceptably high for parents.

In addition to further investment, and First 5 has committed to a doubling of investment, a key project to address affordability is the development of a new funding model. An expert group is leading on this work, with a central objective being to consider a mechanism to control fees.

Extensive research has already been commissioned to inform the group's work. The research identifies international practice and learning that will be of value for the reform of the funding model in Ireland. Recommendations from this group are expected next autumn. Bearing in mind that the budget takes place in autumn, I contacted the group when I took over as Minister and suggested that we might support some of its initial key proposals earlier next year, towards the end of the summer, to shape what we were bringing forward for budget 2022, and it agreed to try to bring forward some of its final work. It has published very interesting work on models to control fees and how funding would be targeted, in particular in disadvantaged areas. That research is on the First 5 website and it is available to read should any Deputy choose to do so. There are about five detailed research papers and I would advise any Deputy for whom this is a particular issue to go to the First 5 website and read some of that research. I am happy to engage with all Deputies about this issue.

I thank the Minister. I acknowledge the progress of recent years by the Minister and the previous Minister, Katherine Zappone. However, that burden is still very significant for families and parents across the country. The Minister mentioned the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme but the difficulty with that scheme is that it does not operate outside term time and does not work for many parents.

We also have to address the issue of the workforce, not in terms of the workforce development plan but a workforce that is properly paid for the kind of qualifications they are now bringing to the services. They are minding, caring and nurturing our most precious resource, which is our children. We have to acknowledge that in terms of working with providers but also with State agencies to pay them appropriately without having to pass on that burden to parents who are already paying over the odds, in terms of the OECD figure the Minister mentioned, for childcare costs. When will parents will be able to see some specific actions or a reduction in their fees? When does he anticipate that his budgetary decisions will be reflected in fees?

I do not want to repeat anything Deputy Calleary said. Needless to say I agree with all of it but it is important that I declare an interest, not only as the father of two young children, including one currently in an ECCE scheme, but also as someone who is married to a Montessori teacher. It is not an underestimation to say that during the general election last February, which seems like ancient history now, this was the No. 1 issue in my constituency.

I imagine the demographics in the Minister's constituency are not too different. It was significant for the Minister too. Addressing the combination of cost and the lack of services and, crucially, as Deputy Calleary said, making sure that providers and staff working in these facilities are respected are important. Most people working as Montessori teachers and in childcare have level 8 and level 9 qualifications and deserve to be paid accordingly and, crucially, to have that security. It is unfair that they can work for nine months of the year and have to go on jobseeker's payments for two months of the year.

We are currently providing a €638 million investment in childcare. With that money, we have three core aims, which are affordability for parents; quality for the children in these services, which means ensuring that childcare professionals are well paid so that they continue to enhance and grow the care they are providing; and keeping services sustainable. When we see the amount of money we are providing and we see the dissatisfaction from parents, which the Deputies both spoke about, and when we hear the concerns about providers and the concerns of childcare professionals, we are not delivering on those objectives. That is why I am doing this research. Sometimes people roll their eyes at another piece of research. We have acted in an ad hoc manner on childcare up until this point and we need some firm research on which to base the decisions we make in the next and subsequent budgets about where the extra money goes and how we can deliver on those three objectives.

I thank Deputy Calleary for giving way. The Minister talks about the three key areas and I agree with everything he says. We need to look at the geographic constraints, with the costs in certain parts of the country, the requirements such as where a child cannot be put in for a half day, it has to be a full day, or quite simply the place is not there. The waiting lists for childcare in my constituency are through the roof. It is extremely worrying. It is not just putting a burden on the families and the parents, but on the grandparents, employers and the providers themselves. The extra work that childcare professionals have put in during these stressful months needs to be recognised. When the Montessoris and crèches were closed, they did more than just FaceTime the kids. They did drive-through Hallowe'en events and other wonderful things. We need not just to recognise that but to have a direct resolution and we need it soon.

One of the disadvantages of the system, which is a privately driven system, is that where there is a gap in provision in a geographic area, unlike in a primary or secondary school where the State steps in and sources a site, the State does not have the capacity to do that right now. It is about putting in place a funding model that supports new services and some of the organisational infrastructure that can co-ordinate that. We have city and county childcare committees at the moment. They do great work. The idea of identifying core demand in a particular geographic area and being able to act on it is not a capacity that we have right now. We are looking at how we target money to the right geographic areas to make sure that we are delivering the necessary services. We need to do that work. Our building up of childcare through extensive investment has been quite ad hoc, and it is important to plan, particularly if, over the next seven to eight years, we are going to be putting an additional €450 million into the area as was committed to under First 5.

Question No. 97 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 98 answered with Question No. 96.
Questions Nos. 99 to 137, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Direct Provision System

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Questions (138)

Steven Matthews


138. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he will take to ensure that persons being moved from direct provision are provided sufficient notice and adequate translation services to ensure this transition is as seamless as possible (details supplied). [39271/20]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Children)

What steps will the Minister take to ensure that persons being moved from direct provision are provided with sufficient notice and adequate translation services to ensure that this transition is as seamless as possible?

Where a person or a family are in temporary emergency accommodation, the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, endeavours to move them to more suitable permanent accommodation in the shortest time possible, notwithstanding pressures on the IPAS accommodation portfolio. It is IPAS's policy to prioritise the movement of family units from emergency accommodation when suitable accommodation appropriate to their needs becomes available. In addition, IPAS is working towards all families being in some form of own-door accommodation which will meet their needs more appropriately than congregated accommodation.

Residents are generally provided with at least ten days of notice before being moved to new accommodation. The letter of transfer is issued in English. However, where a person makes a request for this letter in another language, this can be arranged. A confidential freephone telephone support service funded by my Department, but operated by the Jesuit refugee service, may also assist residents in this regard. I will consider whether further measures are needed to translate this information into languages other than English.

While it is appreciated that a move to a new home is difficult for anyone, particularly where a family may have started to establish connections within a community, most moves occur as part of a wider programme aimed at ending the use of temporary accommodation as recommended by the advisory group on the provision of support, including accommodation, to persons in the international protection process. While it would be preferable to give a longer lead-in time prior to a move, the limited availability of accommodation and the need to make space available to new arrivals mean that moves to more suitable accommodation must be done quickly.

This question has arisen from what was broadly a good news story and comes from my colleague, Deputy Matthews, whose office dealt with the case. The family, who I will not name, lived in direct provision in Wicklow. They were offered own-door accommodation in Galway. The way in which this was handled was, unfortunately, problematic. I am not blaming the Minister personally. The family ended up being extremely distressed as they did not speak English and therefore did not understand why they were being moved. Eventually, after a number of days, a letter was provided to them in their own language, which eased their concerns by a small amount, but at no point was a translator provided to explain why they were moving. This family has come from a situation where people being moved by government has a much more serious connotation and they were understandably distressed. It required the intervention of a schoolteacher known to the family, a local Deputy and a local county councillor to get information to this family. As we move towards ending direct provision, which I know we both support, I encourage the Minister's Department to work on communication with people in this situation to make the transition from these centres as seamless as possible.

I am aware of the case and I am grateful to Deputy Matthews for drawing it to my attention. It was a situation where there was a good story, with a family being moved from emergency accommodation in a hotel to own-door accommodation in another location, but they did not fully understand the positive nature of the move because of the lack of translation. I am aware of that and understand that we need to improve our engagement with residents, particularly where the English language is an issue.

We have the Jesuit refugee service, representatives of which I have met recently. It does great work in supporting families and individuals in direct provision, particularly those for whom English is not their first language. I take the Deputy's point on board. We will consider how we can better support the provision of translation services to residents in the international protection process.

I thank the Minister. We have run out of time but if the Deputy wishes he can make a final comment.

No, but I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I thank the Deputy for his co-operation. That completes questions to the Minister.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.