Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Question No. 32 answered with Question No. 17.

Questions (31)

Marc MacSharry

Question:

31. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will review the legislation with regard to employers who had to cease trading and let their staff go due to Covid-19, repaying statutory redundancy payments paid to their former employees, given that these employers have already paid their portion of the employee social insurance contribution over the years and the fact that the closure of their respective businesses was due to the pandemic and they are not in a financial position to make these payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2792/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Under the provisions of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967, it is the employer’s responsibility to pay statutory redundancy payments to eligible employees. However, in situations where an employer cannot sustain the cost of redundancy payments due to financial difficulties, the Department of Social Protection provides a safety net for both employers and employees and can make the statutory redundancy payment to eligible employees from the Social Insurance Fund on behalf of the employer. When such a redundancy payment is made from the Social Insurance Fund, a debt is raised against the employer. The Department of Social Protection is legally obliged to make every effort to recover the debt owed to the Social Insurance Fund.

That Department engages directly with the employer to ascertain their financial situation and their capacity to repay the debt. Each case is assessed on its own merits and where appropriate, an agreed repayment plan can be put in place to minimise financial hardship; for example, the debt can be recovered by way of instalments over a period of time. Since the start of the pandemic, the Government have been very mindful of the difficulties that employers are facing. For a time, debt reminder letters did not issue and in some circumstances debt repayments were suspended until the business is in a better financial position. If a closure situation arises, the existing debt recovery mechanisms are flexible enough to adjust the repayment arrangements, thus easing the pressures on employers.

The Department of Social Protection’s debt management policy is kept under review but any change to the policy must ensure that employer debt is recovered in full wherever possible. As a safety net already exists as explained above, there are no plans to change legislation in this regard.

Question No. 32 answered with Question No. 17.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (33)

Cormac Devlin

Question:

33. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will consult his ministerial colleagues, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and consider the introduction of legislation to amend electricity standing charges to support businesses, particularly those in the hospitality sector that are currently closed or operating at a very low level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2948/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications have advised that the electricity and gas retail markets in Ireland operate within a European Union regulatory regime, wherein electricity and gas markets are commercial, liberalised, and competitive. Operating within this overall EU framework, responsibility for the regulation of the electricity and gas markets, including the matters raised by the Deputy, is solely a matter for the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), which was assigned responsibility for the regulation of the Irish electricity and gas markets following the enactment of the Electricity Regulation Act (ERA), 1999.

The CRU is an independent statutory Regulator and is accountable for the performance of its functions to the Oireachtas, and not to me as Minister or Government.

The Deputy may wish to note that the CRU provides a dedicated email address for Oireachtas members, which enables them raise questions on energy regulatory matters to the CRU at oireachtas@cru.ie for timely direct reply.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (34, 40)

Robert Troy

Question:

34. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when fibre broadband will be rolled out in Lacken, Multyfarnham, County Westmeath, specifically at a location (details supplied). [2217/21]

View answer

Robert Troy

Question:

40. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the position regarding the provision of fibre broadband to a property (details supplied). [2451/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 40 together. 34 and 40 together.

The Questions refer to premises which are located in the AMBER area on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website www.broadband.gov.ie. The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led intervention.

I am advised by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) that, as of 8 January 2021, over 158,000 premises across all counties have been surveyed which is ahead of schedule. Surveys have been completed in Westmeath in the areas of Mullingar, Sonna, Stonehall, Taghmon, Jamestown, Hopestown and Athlone. Further details are available on specific areas within County Westmeath through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises as works commence. I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding the level of information available on the deployment of the NBI network and I am advised that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans. NBI also has a dedicated email address, reps@nbi.ie, which can be used by Oireachtas members for specific queries.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. As of 10 January, 243 publicly accessible BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. BCP’s installed in Westmeath are Streete Parish Park and Community Hall, Whitehall Community Centre, Milltown Emper Community Centre and Ballycomoyle GAA Club. Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.

Scoil Náisiúnta Bhride and Naomh Michael primary schools are installed by NBI for educational access as part of this initiative. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high speed broadband, within the intervention area for connection over the term of the NBP. In this regard, an acceleration of this aspect of the National Broadband Plan was announced in December which will see almost 700 primary schools connected to high speed broadband by 2022, well ahead of the original target delivery timeframe of 2026. Further details are available on the NBI website at https://nbi.ie/primary-schools-list/.

Better Energy Homes Scheme

Questions (35)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

35. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will consider expanding the applicable criteria of the better energy warmer home scheme to recipients of the invalidity pension considering the long-term nature of the payment and the associated incapacities of the applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2249/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme is funded by my Department and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low income households vulnerable to energy poverty. To date over 142,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme, leaving the occupants better able to afford to heat their homes to an adequate level.

Budget 2021 provided €109 million in capital funding to support lower income households to retrofit their homes with €100 million of this funding allocated to the Warmer Homes Scheme. This represents a €47 million increase on the 2020 allocation and is the highest ever budget for this scheme.

The scheme is currently available to households in receipt of:

- Fuel allowance under the National Fuel Scheme;

- Job Seekers Allowance for more than six months (and having children under 7);

- Family Income Supplement;

- One-Parent Family Payment;

- Domiciliary Care Allowance;

- Carer’s Allowance where you live with the person you are caring for.

The eligibility criteria for the scheme were selected as they represented the Department’s view on those areas where the limited resources available to the scheme could have the greatest impact. They are kept under ongoing review with the Department of Social Protection (DSP) to ensure they are consistent with and complementary to the other income support schemes offered by that Department.

Households in receipt of other DSP allowances, such as Invalidity Pension, may qualify for a fuel allowance payment. The fuel allowance is means tested and is therefore aligned to the income of the household. Many people in receipt of the Invalidity Pension, or others in their household, are currently in receipt of the fuel allowance, meaning they are automatically eligible for support under the Warmer Homes Scheme.

The Deputy may wish to note that there are other grants and schemes available from Government that could assist their constituent if there is an urgent need. These include the Department of Social Protection Urgent Needs Payment available through the Community Welfare Service at local DSP offices and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Aid for Older People Grant Scheme which is administered by the Local Authorities.

Fishing Licences

Questions (36)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

36. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the duration of the draft net season with regard to the Owenea and Owentocker rivers on the Loughros Mór Estuary tidal waters; the duties payable in respect of a special local draft net licence; the allocation of surplus between the rod and line and draft net fishery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2328/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The recent Salmon and Sea Trout Tagging Regulations set out a total surplus of 199 fish available for harvest in the catchment for 2021. This includes fish available for harvest by both anglers and commercial fishermen.

The local Fisheries District Committee, which includes both angling and commercial interests will meet shortly to recommend the division of the surplus available to each sector.

The Commercial fishing season generally opens in May each year and, in advance of this, my Department will set out the annual Control of Fishing for Salmon Order based on the independent scientific advice of the Technical Expert Group on Salmon (TEGOS) and the management advice of IFI.

This order and accompanying legislation will set out the application process and qualification criteria for commercial licences and the specific opening and closing dates for commercial fisheries including Loughros Mór. The statutory duty payable for the relevant special local draft net licence is €400.

Departmental Funding

Questions (37)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

37. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will increase funding to environmental organisations in view of the biodiversity and climate crisis; the reforms he will carry out to streamline access to funding for environmental organisations; when funding from budget 2021 will be granted to an organisation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2330/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I am very aware of the important work done by the member organisations of the Irish Environmental Network (IEN). These national environmental NGOs are active on a broad range of environmental issues, including wildlife conservation, biodiversity and climate change.

I recognise that, in addition to the Climate and Biodiversity challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to communities and society. IEN members have had to adapt quickly in response to the changing landscape, developing new skills and tools to shift activities online.

I understand that in response to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the IEN will introduce contingency plans for 2021 to support its members' activities, which will include virtual events, the roll-out of a web-based communications platform, and grants to offset the costs of remote working. The IEN and its members face increased operating and administration costs to fund these activities.

In this context, I recently approved the 2021 allocation of funding to the Irish Environmental Network from the Environment Fund. I will be providing funding of €1,764,000 for the IEN and its constituent members in 2021. This is an increase of €704,000 on the level of funding provided in 2020. This funding is granted subject to the recipients complying with the provisions of Department of Finance Circular 13 of 2014, “Management of and Accountability for Grants from Exchequer Funds”.

This significantly increased level of funding represents a very strong demonstration of my support for the work of the eNGO's in Ireland.

Proposed Legislation

Questions (38)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

38. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when the climate action and low carbon development (amendment) Bill will be published and introduced in Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2366/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Government is committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, equivalent to a 51% reduction over the decade, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. A key aspect of delivering on this ambition will be enacting the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, which will underpin the on-going development of policies and measures.

The Bill will establish a 2050 climate neutrality objective in law and place all relevant climate plans and strategies on a statutory footing. The Bill will define how five-year carbon budgets and related sectoral targets will be set, with every sector contributing, ensuring we continue to work to achieve a broad political and societal consensus on the transition to a climate neutral economy and society. Putting these requirements in legislation places a clear obligation on this and future Governments for sustained climate action.

The Bill also provides for a significantly strengthened climate governance structure which includes annual revisions to the Climate Action Plan to address the need for intensive and regular monitoring and updating of policy actions to ensure we remain on track and within our emission limits. In addition, Ministers will have to account annually for their performance in reducing emissions to an Oireachtas Committee. The annual revision to the Climate Action Plan, as well as enhanced ministerial accountability, will combine to act as a further review mechanism and opportunity to re-adjust or refocus actions, if required.

The Bill has undergone extensive pre-legislative scrutiny in the Joint Committee on Climate Action. I am currently considering the Committee's pre-legislative scrutiny report and recommendations (published on 18 December 2020) with a view to updating the draft Bill and bringing it to Government as soon as possible for approval to publish it and initiate the legislative process in the Oireachtas.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Question No. 40 answered with Question No. 34.

Questions (39)

Holly Cairns

Question:

39. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if employees of his Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department; if so, the rationale for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2399/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Staff in my Department do not currently come under the categories of workers designated for the receipt of Covid-19 vaccination.

Question No. 40 answered with Question No. 34.

Fishing Licences

Questions (41)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

41. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will address a matter (details supplied) regarding the issuing of brown tags in Waterville, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2467/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Salmon rivers are managed by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) in accordance with the annual Salmon and Sea Trout Tagging Regulations which set out the status of each river. Where the available surplus of fish on any river is low, the regulations provide for a brown tag system, in addition to the normal blue tag requirement, to protect vulnerable stocks and, if necessary, the spring run of fish and to assist these stocks to remain within safe biological limits.

From 17 January to 11 May 2021, brown tag regulations apply to the Currane Catchment. IFI uses its established lottery system to facilitate the fair and transparent distribution of brown tags available. Anglers seeking to secure a tag were required to apply by 5 pm on 8th January. 52 applications were received. In advance of the lottery, IFI consulted closely with local angling interests and engaged in an extensive public information campaign on brown tag requirements during the relevant period and the distribution method for tags.

15 tags were issued on 10 January and 5 additional names were drawn as alternates. The lottery draw was made in Waterville by local IFI management and two members of the Waterville Lakes and Rivers Trust acted as independent observers.

An additional 10 tags will be issued on 7 March and the final 9 tags will be issued on 11 April. The closing date for application for the March draw is 5 March and the April draw 9 April. Similar public information campaigns will take place for the March and April lotteries.

Anglers not in possession of a brown tag may still fish in these waters during the period 17 January to 11 May 2021 on a catch and release basis in line with the conservation imperative.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (42)

Robert Troy

Question:

42. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the reason Dalystown, Mullingar, County Westmeath, is not included in the fibre roll-out for 2021 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2481/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Question refers to a townland in Westmeath whose premises are primarily located in the AMBER area on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website www.broadband.gov.ie. The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led intervention.

Eir’s rural deployment of high speed broadband is a commercial undertaking and, as such, decisions regarding the areas and premises served are made by eir. My Department has no role in the matter and has no statutory authority to intervene in decisions of commercial operators as to where they build infrastructure and provide services. Throughout rural Ireland, eir’s fibre deployment is primarily focussed on towns and villages and the premises on their outskirts. Where that network ends is where the National Broadband Plan in effect commences to ensure that nobody is left behind.

I appreciate people's frustration when they are living so close to a fibre network but cannot get a connection to that network, particularly given the heightened importance of connectivity during the Covid-19 pandemic. The NBP will ensure that in all such cases a future proofed high speed broadband network will be built to serve these premises and work to deliver on this is underway.

I am advised by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) that, as of 8 January 2021, over 158,000 premises across all counties have been surveyed which is ahead of schedule. Surveys have been completed in Westmeath in the areas of Mullingar, Sonna, Stonehall, Taghmon, Jamestown, Hopestown and Athlone. Further details are available on specific areas within County Westmeath through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises as works commence. I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding the level of information available on the deployment of the NBI network and I am advised that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans. NBI also has a dedicated email address, reps@nbi.ie, which can be used by Oireachtas members for specific queries.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. As of 10 January, 243 publicly accessible BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. BCP’s installed in Westmeath are Streete Parish Park and Community Hall, Whitehall Community Centre, Milltown Emper Community Centre (which is in the area of Dalystown) and Ballycomoyle GAA Club. Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.

Scoil Náisiúnta Bhride and Naomh Michael primary schools are installed by NBI for educational access as part of this initiative. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high speed broadband, within the intervention area for connection over the term of the NBP. In this regard, an acceleration of this aspect of the National Broadband Plan was announced in December which will see almost 700 primary schools connected to high speed broadband by 2022, well ahead of the original target delivery timeframe of 2026. Further details are available on the NBI website at https://nbi.ie/primary-schools-list/.

Fishing Licences

Questions (43)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

43. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will address a matter regarding a salmon licence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2482/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Commercial salmon fishing licences are issued annually by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) under the conditions and criteria for licence application and issue set out in the Control of Fishing for Salmon Order each year.

These are public licences which must be applied for each year. An annual commercial salmon fishing licence does not, therefore, confer a permanent or ongoing entitlement to fish and ceases to have effect at the close of the annual fishing season. Such licences do not confer rights on the annual holder and are not inheritable. Anyone seeking to obtain a licence can apply to the IFI when the Control of Fishing for Salmon Order 2021 is finalised in advance of the fishing season commencing in May 2021. All applications are considered in line with the statutory licensing criteria set out in the Order.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (44)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

44. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when fixed high-speed broadband will be provided to persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2488/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Question refers to a premises located in the AMBER area on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website www.broadband.gov.ie. The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led intervention.

I appreciate people's frustration when they are living so close to a fibre network but cannot get a connection to that network, particularly given the heightened importance of connectivity during the Covid-19 pandemic. The NBP will ensure that in all such cases a future proofed high speed broadband network will be built to serve these premises and work to deliver on this is underway.

I am advised by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) that, as of 8 January 2021, over 158,000 premises across all counties have been surveyed which is ahead schedule. Surveys have been completed in Kildare in the areas of Killashee, Oughterard, Naas Rural, Rathmore, Kill, Kilteel, Carnalway, Gilltown, Ballymore Eustace, Bodenstown, Naas Urban, Newtown and Donaghcumper. Further details are available on specific areas within County Kildare through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises as works commence. I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding the level of information available on the deployment of the NBI network and I understand that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans. NBI also has a dedicated email address, reps@nbi.ie, which can be used by Oireachtas members for specific queries.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. As of 10 January, 243 publicly accessible BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. BCP’s are installed in County Kildare at Lullymore Heritage Park and Bigstone Community Hall. Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.

Rathmore National School is installed by NBI for educational access as part of this initiative. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high speed broadband, within the intervention area for connection over the term of the NBP. In this regard, an acceleration of this aspect of the National Broadband Plan was announced in December which will see almost 700 primary schools connected to high speed broadband by 2022, well ahead of the original target delivery timeframe of 2026. Further details are available on the NBI website at https://nbi.ie/primary-schools-list/.

Postal Services

Questions (45)

Joe Carey

Question:

45. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if his attention has been drawn to the long delays and considerable frustration being encountered by residents of new homes in order to secure an Eircode; if he will ensure that a necessary exemption during level 5 restrictions is included in a statutory instrument to provide those who have responsibility for carrying out property inspections to assign Eircodes to carry out this essential work at the highest level of restrictions (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2536/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Capita Business Support Services Ireland, trading as Eircode, manages the National Postcode System, Eircode, on behalf of the State. Eircodes are assigned to new property addresses using a valid postal address and verified geo-locations. An Post collects information on new and existing buildings, as well as changes to existing addresses and Ordnance Survey Ireland provides the geo-locations for these buildings. An Post GeoDirectory issue a new release of the GeoDirectory database file on a quarterly basis to Eircode, in accordance with their licence agreement.

Each new postal address assigned an Eircode is published on the free to use Eircode Finder website, a notification letter is issued to the property occupant containing the Eircode of that address and an updated Eircode Database is provided to licensed businesses for their use. Eircode have informed my Department that over 128,700 property addresses have been assigned an Eircode since the launch in 2015.

Once the Eircode database is updated on a quarterly basis it is then a matter for individual Eircode database providers to provide updates to commercial businesses in accordance with the terms of their licence agreements.

I understand the importance of people being in a position to work remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly at a time where restrictions are in place and when people are relying much more on electronic communications services.

In recognition of the fact that earlier assignment of Eircodes to new builds is desirable my officials are working with An Post, Ordnance Survey Ireland, An Post GeoDirectory and Eircode to expedite the process of assigning Eircodes for new properties with postal addresses and geo-locations.