Proposed Legislation

Question No. 382 answered with Question No. 358.

Question No. 383 answered with Question No. 364.

Questions (381)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

381. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the timeline for the adoption of legislation in relation to mother and baby homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2887/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I am taking it that the Deputy is referring to the proposed information and tracing legislation.

I know the absolute importance of access to birth certs and early life information for adoptees. Addressing this issue is a key part of the Government’s Action Plan in response to the Commission’s Report. It is a priority for myself, the Attorney and the Taoiseach.

My Department and I are engaging intensively with the Attorney General to find a solution to the issue of release of birth information based on GDPR, which protects an individual’s right to their personal information. Through this engagement with the Attorney, I am hopeful that we will have Heads of Bill by end March/ early April.

Question No. 382 answered with Question No. 358.
Question No. 383 answered with Question No. 364.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (384)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

384. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of calls made by survivors of mother and baby homes to support services, including mental health services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2890/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department has established a dedicated telephone information line available for people seeking further information about the Commission of Investigation's Final Report. The Department’s information line can be contacted on 01-6473200 from Monday to Friday 9.30am to 6pm or via email at motherandbabyhomes@equality.gov.ie

Between publication of the Report and close of business on 18th January, my Department received 267 calls to the information line and 580 emails to the dedicated mailbox. My officials are working through these contacts to address the questions and requests received from survivors and other stakeholders.

The specific information requested by the Deputy on contacts to mental health services is not readily available to my Department. As these health services are funded by the Department of Health, that department may be able to source the information from the Health Service Executive.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (385)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

385. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when a redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes will be put in place; the steps his Department will take; the position regarding the overall strategic action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2891/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Commission has made clear recommendations in relation to redress on the basis of its extensive 5-year investigation. Notably, the Commission identifies three specific groups for whom it recommends redress might be considered.

The Government has made a very significant and early commitment to accept these recommendations and design a bespoke Restorative Recognition Scheme. An Inter-Departmental Group (IDG), to be led by my Department, will now commence the detailed work to scope the terms and conditions for the scheme. My Secretary General will Chair the IDG and nominations are being sought from relevant departments and agencies. The IDG will examine the three specific groups identified by the Commission, but is not restricted to these.

My Department will lead work on the development of a Strategic Action Plan to advance each of the 22 commitments made by Government in its response to the Commission's report.

It is intended that the scheme will be designed as quickly as possible in 2021. The IDG is tasked with reporting by the end of April to enable specific proposals to be brought to Government.

With regard to the overall Action Plan, the Government has committed to developing a comprehensive Action Plan spanning 22 measures across a number of themes, as follows:

- A survivor-centred approach

- Apology

- Access to Personal Information

- Archiving and Databases

- Education and Research

- Memorialisation

- Restorative Recognition

Clearly, this is a hugely important process for all connected to these institutions. For this reason, I am committed to a survivor-centred approach and I will be working with colleagues and survivors to advance these matters as a priority.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (386)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

386. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the additional resources put in place to deal with GDPR requests related to survivors of mother and baby homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2892/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

In relation to GDPR requests following the transfer of the Commission's databases and records, the Department is working intensively to ensure that it is properly resourced to handle subject access requests from possibly very large numbers of people who were resident in mother and baby homes. In this regard, a new Unit has been established to look after this hugely important and potentially significant volume of work.

There is a considerable amount of work including from an ICT perspective to enable the transfer of the Commission's databases and records. Furthermore, there is considerable preparatory work being undertaken to establish systems and procedures to prepare for the potentially large number of subject access requests which may be made and to ensure that they can be managed in a timely and effective manner. This involves the engagement of suitable in-house expertise, consultation with the Attorney General and the Data Protection Commission.

Department officials are dedicating significant efforts to ensuring the Department is prepared for the transfer of the archives and for the handling of subject access requests in compliance with data protection law.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (387)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

387. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the timeline of the appointment for an archivist in relation to mother and baby homes; the steps his Department is taking to facilitate this appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2893/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

As part of our response to the recommendations of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby homes, my Department has begun the process to recruit a qualified archivist, to lead work on preservation of, and public access to, the records which we hold. The closing date for receipt of applications was 15 January and it is expected that an appointment will be made very soon following the closure of the competition.

Domestic Violence

Questions (388)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

388. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the additional supports being provided to assist women and children facing domestic abuse under the current lockdown; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2900/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (DGSBV). Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tusla has prioritised DSGBV Services as one of its key service areas.

In 2021, a total of €30m in funding will be made available by my Department to Tusla, for the provision of DSGBV services. This includes a €2.7m increase in core funding to €28m, with an additional €2m of once-off contingency funding also being made available to help services cope with the ongoing effects of COVID-19. Since the announcement of the latest Level 5 restrictions Tusla has advised the sector of the immediate availability of support from this €2m allocation.

This increase in funding for DSGBV services reflects my personal commitment on this issue. I am hopeful that these additional resources will enable organisations to continue their valuable supports for victims and their families at a very vulnerable time in their lives.

Tusla made specific immediate funding available to the sector before Christmas, including an increase in funding to the national helplines operated by Women’s Aid and Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to help manage capacity in light of anticipated extra demand.

Tusla will continue to keep the situation under ongoing review, and has systematic feedback and communication mechanisms in place with DSGBV service providers to ensure that it is made aware of all issues and difficulties that may arise for front line organisations at this time.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (389)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

389. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if essential workers who decide not to put their children into childcare in order to reduce movement during the current level 5 restrictions are compelled to pay for that childcare service regardless of whether they use the service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2903/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Early learning and care (ELC) and school aged childcare (SAC) services are provided by private enterprises, either privately owned or operated by community organisations. While service providers are contracted by my Department to provide services at a subsidised rate to parents they are free to set their own policies regarding the charging of fees.

If a parent of an eligible child chooses not to take an available place, the service providers’ fee policy will apply.

I am aware, and welcome that, many ELC/SAC providers have refunded or credited fees for parents who cannot access services at this time. I have asked that services take this step, where possible, in light of the significant State supports provided to the sector.

Childcare Costs

Questions (390)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

390. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the financial supports available for teachers who must teach online in a live capacity, resulting in the need to put their children into childcare, but whose childcare costs are now more than their incomes due to the fact that their children are no longer in school owing to school closures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2904/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Children's eligibility to access early learning and childcare services during January is restricted to those whose parents work in essential services or who are considered vulnerable. As per the gov.ie list, education is considered an essential service. For the purposes of accessing early learning and childcare services, parents who work in an essential services may be working from home. In addition, just one parent who is working in an essential services confers eligibility. Therefore, teachers who are teaching online during this period are eligible to access early learning and childcare services.

Depending on their family circumstances parents, including teachers, may be eligible for financial supports to access these early learning and childcare services through the National Childcare Scheme.

The National Childcare Scheme incorporates two kinds of subsidy towards the cost of quality of early learning and childcare.

The universal subsidy is available to all parents of children aged between 24 weeks and 36 months (or until the child qualifies for the Early Childhood Care and Education programme if later). The universal subsidy is set at a rate of €0.50 per hour and is available for up to 45 hours per week.

Income-related subsidies are available to families with net family incomes of up to €60,000, with higher subsidies for families with lower incomes. During this period of school closures, NCS subsidies have been extended to non-term-time arrangements, allowing for subsidies to apply for up to 45 hours per week.

Direct Provision System

Questions (391)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

391. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when the White Paper on direct provision will likely be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2908/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department is currently developing the White Paper, which will set out options, together with the recommended direction, for the new model of accommodation and services for International Protection applicants and the transitional processes needed to implement the model. Options for developing a not-for-profit approach are currently being examined in this regard. In view of the extent of change proposed, the White Paper will take some more time than originally envisaged and it is now expected to be published in the second week of February.

It is recognised by all involved that the replacement of the current system is complex and it will take some time. Therefore, in order to meet our legal obligations to provide accommodation and other support services for protection applicants, existing accommodation centres will continue to operate in the short to medium term while we progress the new model. However, in doing so we will be focusing on the provision of own-door accommodation and facilities to allow for independent living (access to cooking and laundry facilities and communal family areas outside bedrooms) and greatly reducing our need for the use of hotels and guest-houses as an emergency measure.

Refugee Resettlement Programme

Questions (392)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

392. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the transfer of families and unaccompanied children from the Moria camp, Greece, to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2909/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Ireland strongly supports the principle of solidarity and recognises that assistance is required for Member States who face a disproportionate number of applicants and particularly where incidences such as that which occurred in the Moria camp in Lesbos can cause additional hardship.

I am working to accelerate the reception of these additional refugees which we have committed to accept, in particular the unaccompanied minors. However, the arrival of refugees in Ireland may not occur until the Greek authorities have completed their assessment of the situation on the ground in Greece. To date no refugees from the Moria Camp have departed Greece for Ireland. Ireland has committed to accept 50 individuals, comprising family units, and additional unaccompanied minors.

I was pleased to secure an additional €5 million in budget 2021 to support the intake of unaccompanied minors from Greece under the International Protection Programme and a number of options are being progressed by Tusla and my officials to expand the number of available care placements. These include the development of specialised foster care placements and the provision of aftercare supports when children turn 18. The intention is that any rapid expansion does not negatively impact the quality of the service provided.

My officials continue to engage with Tusla to prepare for the arrival of the unaccompanied refugee children formerly living in the Moria Camp. Tusla was also allocated an additional €61M in Budget 2021. A portion of these additional resources will support Tusla to meet our commitments to transfer an additional 28 unaccompanied minors in Greece to Ireland as quickly as possible. I am confident that we will be in a position to fully achieve our existing commitment and the additional resources provided in Budget 2021 will ensure such transfers can take place on a consistent and sustainable basis.

Child and Family Agency

Questions (393)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

393. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the position regarding a Tusla adoption file issue in the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2932/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

As the subject matter of the Deputy's question relates to an operational matter for Tusla, I have referred the matter to them for a direct reply.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (394)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

394. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if an issue (details supplied) in relation to music classes will be reviewed; if clarity will be provided regarding these classes for education purposes under the current level 5 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2643/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19 was published by the Government on 15 September, 2020. Ireland is currently at Level 5 of the Plan and under this level the public health risk means that we are all being asked to stay at home, with certain exceptions. Information on the public health measures in currently in place in relation to the different Levels can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/

The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No.8) Regulations 2020, which give effect to the level 5 restrictions under the Plan, provide the list of essential retail and essential services which may operate under level 5 restrictions. This list does not include private or commercial music, drama or dance classes.

Education is, however, considered an essential service under the regulations. Under Part 2 of the schedule to the regulations, essential education encompasses primary and post-primary schools, and higher and further education where remote learning is not possible. Where a service provider considers that they fall into the essential education category e.g. as part of the national curriculum or as part of a specific, state-sponsored course of study, they should refer to the Department of Education’s guidance in relation to the operation of education services under Level 5 restrictions. My Department does not have sufficient information to determine if the music classes being referred to fall under this category.

Separately, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has published guidance to support the funded youth work sector. Where a service provider meets the definition of youth work, as defined under Section 3 of the Youth Work Act 2001 and is part of the state funded youth work sector, they should refer to that Department’s guidance.

SOLAS Training and Education Programmes

Questions (395)

Neale Richmond

Question:

395. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the reason SOLAS will not permit courses to be taken online for those in the building industry to renew or receive their licences to work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2236/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations 2013, all construction workers in Ireland are required to hold a valid Safe Pass Registration Card in Ireland. In March 2020 the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation amended these regulations to extend the expiry dates of valid Safe Pass cards due to expire after the 1st March 2020 for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency period. The delivery of Safe Pass courses is currently suspended in accordance with public health measures.

It is necessary to ensure that any alternative delivery model is equitable with existing Safe Pass, CSCS and QSCS course delivery, in being accessible to all eligible workers, providing real time course participant supports and ensuring assessment integrity. SOLAS is actively examining alternative delivery methods to deliver on these requirements.