Social Welfare Appeals

Questions (521)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

521. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of an appeal by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7330/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 7 December 2020. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought from the Department of Social Protection. These papers were received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 8 December 2020.

The case is being considered by an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. Hearings are currently being conducted online or by telephone. Due to the current level of Covid-19 restrictions in-person oral appeal hearings have been suspended.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

Questions (522)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

522. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of applications received for the supplementary welfare allowance in 2020; the breakdown of overall applications received versus those accepted and or processed; the number of applications submitted by county; and the purposes for which funding was allocated. [7332/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme is the safety net within the overall social welfare system in that it provides assistance to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs and those of their dependants. Supports provided under the SWA scheme can consist of a basic weekly payment, a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of certain expenses, as well as single exceptional needs payments (ENPs) and urgent needs payments (UNPs).

The basic supplementary welfare allowance provides immediate assistance for those in need who are awaiting the outcome of a claim or an appeal for a primary social welfare payment or do not qualify for payment under other State schemes.

Rent supplement provides short-term income support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The scheme ensures that for those who were renting, but whose circumstances have changed due to temporary loss of employment, can continue to meet their rental commitments.

Under the SWA scheme, a supplement can be awarded to assist with ongoing or recurring costs that cannot be met from the client’s own resources and are deemed to be necessary. In addition, officers can make a single exceptional needs payment to help meet essential, once-off expenditure, which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. Decisions on ENPs and SWA supplements are made at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case.

Statistics are maintained on the number of applications awarded under the SWA scheme. They are not maintained on the number of applications received or the outcome of those applications.

Table 1 shows the number of Basic SWA and supplement recipients by county, at year end 2020

Table 2 shows the number of ENPs and UNPs paid by county for 2020

Table 3 shows the number of ENPs and UNPs paid by category for 2020

It should also be noted that the urgent needs payments legislative provisions were used as the payment instrument for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment until August 2020. These payments have not been included in this reply.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Table 1 Basic SWA and supplement recipients by county at year end 2020

Basic SWA

Rent Supplement

Other Supplements

Carlow

194

191

56

Cavan

90

192

26

Clare

111

132

100

Cork

998

2,357

356

Donegal

260

142

235

Dublin

4,939

10,018

1393

Galway

333

831

118

Kerry

255

739

77

Kildare

447

879

133

Kilkenny

305

132

65

Laois

150

124

123

Leitrim

57

62

9

Limerick

415

446

585

Longford

72

64

76

Louth

456

165

40

Mayo

208

279

53

Meath

397

277

54

Monaghan

131

117

53

Offaly

213

61

167

Roscommon

196

131

45

Sligo

163

138

25

Tipperary

484

194

254

Waterford

338

116

52

Westmeath

173

392

118

Wexford

331

411

62

Wicklow

608

714

101

Total

12,324

19,304

4,376

Table 2 - Number of ENPs and UNPs paid by county for 2020

County

Number of Payments

Carlow

754

Cavan

589

Clare

1,777

Cork

5,385

Donegal

1,356

Dublin

22,525

Galway

1,825

Kerry

1,970

Kildare

2,931

Kilkenny

1,055

Laois

2,169

Leitrim

850

Limerick

2,530

Longford

1,227

Louth

1,457

Mayo

1,722

Meath

2,350

Monaghan

993

Offaly

1,026

Roscommon

874

Sligo

924

Tipperary

2,958

Waterford

2,201

Westmeath

2,185

Wexford

882

Wicklow

3,074

Total

67,589

Table 3 - Number of ENPs and UNPs paid by category for 2020

Category

Number of Payments

Bills

2,000

Child Related

2,324

Clothing

12,105

Funeral

2,778

General

19,686

Housing

26,077

Illness

1,507

Urgent Needs Payment

1,112

Total

67,589

Social Welfare Schemes

Questions (523)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

523. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of applicants in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment who have also applied for the supplementary welfare allowance from March 2020 to date; and the number of those applications that have been accepted and or processed. [7333/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Government intervention through the introduction of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and other targeted supports has provided key financial assistance to employees and businesses who have been impacted by Covid-19. Since last March over 820,000 people have benefited from the PUP and the total expenditure is approximately €5.7 billion. These figures reflect the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on our economy and society and demonstrate also the Government's commitment to continue to provide effective targeted supports.

The supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme is the safety net within the overall social welfare system in that it provides assistance to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs and those of their dependants. Supports provided under the SWA scheme can consist of a basic weekly payment, a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of certain expenses, as well as single exceptional needs payments (ENPs) and urgent needs payments (UNPs).

Statistics are maintained on the number of applications awarded under the SWA scheme, however they are not maintained on the number of applications received or the outcome of those applications.

The Department matched the details of the 481,300 current PUP recipients against claims awarded under the SWA scheme during the period from March to December 2020. The results show that 12,874 of those currently receiving a PUP payments received a payment under the SWA scheme during that time. There were:

- 3,206 basic SWA claims,

- 10,428 rent supplement claims, and

- 166 SWA supplements awarded.

In addition, 6,676 exceptional needs payments issued during the same period to people currently receiving PUP.

Please note that a person may have received more than one payment under the different SWA schemes. Also, it may be the case that a person may have claimed a SWA payment during a period when they were not in receipt of PUP. It should also be noted that the PUP was paid under urgent needs payments legislation until August 2020. These payments have not been included in this reply.

I trust that this clarifies the position.

Money Advice and Budgeting Service

Questions (524)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

524. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the way in which the funding allocation for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service is determined for each region; and the per capita spend for each county. [7344/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), funded by the Citizens Information Board (CIB), is the State’s money advice service and provides assistance to people, in particular those on low incomes or in receipt of social welfare payments, who are over-indebted.

An annual allocation is provided to the 8 regional MABS companies, by a statutory body, the CIB, on a regional basis - not on a per capita basis. I am advised that the CIB allocates funding taking account of submissions from each of the 8 regional MABS companies and decides on the allocation per company. It is up to each MABS regional company and their Board to determine how best to allocate their resources in order to meet the demand for services from customers in their region.

The table below sets out the provisional budget allocation for each of the eight MABS companies for 2021. Approximately 90% of each allocation corresponds to costs associated with approved staffing allocations and premises. Final budget allocations will be confirmed by CIB in mid-February when the MABS companies make a final submission to CIB, so actual budgets may vary slightly from the allocations below.

MABS Company Funding

Regional Company

*Budget Allocation 2021

Dublin South

€2.88m

North Connacht & Ulster Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan

€1.87m

North Dublin

€2.67m

North Leinster Louth, Longford, Westmeath, Meath and Kildare

€1.85m

North Munster Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford

€2.28m

South Connacht Mayo, Roscommon and Galway

€1.45m

South Leinster Offaly, Laois, Carlow, Wicklow, Kilkenny and Wexford

€2.1m

South Munster Kerry and Cork

€2m

TOTALS

€17.1m

*Provisional figures - final budget allocation confirmed by CIB in mid-February to MABS companies based on final submissions by companies to CIB.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes

Questions (525)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

525. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection if persons participating on a community employment scheme or due to commence a scheme can be self-employed in any capacity, not necessarily in fishing or farming; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7391/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

On clarification with the Deputy, the question refers to the continuing eligibility of a person to participate on the Rural Social Scheme (RSS), in the event that they secure periodic or seasonal employment, supplementary to their primary employment of farming or fishing.

The RSS is a supplementary income support scheme providing part-time employment opportunities for farmers or fishermen/fisherwomen within their local area in community and voluntary organisations. It is designed specifically for those participants whose income falls below a certain limit, and who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments.

Participants on RSS are permitted to undertake part time work and remain on the scheme, provided that it does not interfere with their farming, fishing or RSS scheme employment obligations, they continue to satisfy the eligibility conditions for receipt of the underlying social welfare payment used to access the RSS scheme and, they satisfy the necessary means test.

By working closely in a supportive role with a wide range of community and not for profit groups, RSS helps to create a sustainable community volunteer culture and supports activities that contributes to the character and appearance of rural communities. I am fully committed to the future of RSS, and will continue to support it for the benefit of scheme participants and the valuable contribution being made to their local communities.

Fuel Allowance

Questions (526)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

526. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of a fuel allowance application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7392/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Free fuel (FF) allowance is a means-tested payment, payable to people who either live alone or only with certain other qualified people. The application from the person concerned for FF allowance was reviewed and he has been awarded the lump sum FF payment with effect from 6 January 2021. A letter issued informing him of this on 5 February 2021.

This gentleman's first lump sum FF payment will be made by his chosen payment method on 10 February 2021. FF allowance is paid during the winter months only.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension

Questions (527)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

527. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Social Protection when a person (details supplied) in County Donegal can expect a decision on an invalidity pension application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7415/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Invalidity pension (IP) is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the pay related social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions.

The department received a claim for IP for the person concerned on 27 February 2019. To qualify for IP a claimant must, inter-alia, have at least 260 (5 years) paid PRSI contributions since entering social insurance and 48 contributions paid or credited in the last or second last complete contribution years before the relevant date of their claim. It was decided the relevant date of the claim in question is 2019 and he does not have the required 48 paid or credited contributions in the last or second last year before the relevant date of his claim. The claim was refused under national legislation on the grounds that the contribution conditions for the scheme are not satisfied. As his last employment was under the legislation of the United Kingdom (UK), it was decided under Chapter 4, Article 44(2) of EU regulation 883/04 that his claim for IP was proper to the UK Authorities and his claim was transferred to the UK social security authorities on 21 August 2019.

The Department was informed by the UK Authorities on 23 January 2020 that he did not qualify for UK Employment Support Allowance (ESA) payment due to the contribution criteria and his claim was re examined by the IP section under Article 44(3) of EU regulation 883/04 and a request was sent to the UK Authorities on 03 March 2020 for his UK insurance record. The official documentation required is the E205UK which gives a breakdown year by year of the number of contributions and credits he has in Northern Ireland. This information was requested again on 20 May 2020, 01 September 2020, 11 November 2020 and 06 January 2021. To date the requested information has not been received from the UK Authorities.

Unfortunately, claims processed under Bilateral/EU Regulations are more complex and can take longer to finalise as the Department is highly dependent on receiving necessary information from other states. The Department will continue to endeavour to establish the entitlement of the person in question and he will be notified of the outcome as soon as possible.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance

Questions (528)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

528. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision will be made on a carer's allowance application submitted in September 2020 by a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7416/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Carer's allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment made to a person who is habitually resident in the State and who is providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that as a result they require that level of care.

I confirm that my Department received an application for CA from the person concerned on 12 October 2020.

The file was referred to a local social welfare inspector (SWI) on 15 October 2020 to assess the level of care being provided, assess means and confirm that all the conditions for receipt of CA are satisfied.

It is a condition for receipt of CA that the applicant’s means are less than the statutory limit. The application for CA was disallowed as his means were determined to exceed the statutory limit.

It is a further condition for CA that the applicant be considered habitually resident in this State. A Deciding Officer (DO), based on the evidence submitted, decided the person concerned is not habitually resident in the State and therefore does not have an entitlement to CA.

The person concerned was notified on 1 February 2021 of these decisions, the reasons for them and of his right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Payments Administration

Questions (529)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

529. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Social Protection if a letter can be supplied to a person (details supplied) for the purposes of an education bursary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7417/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

A letter has issued to the person concerned on 8th February 2021, confirming that she is not currently in receipt of a Social Welfare payment.

The circumstances surrounding the Jobseekers Allowance application of July 2020 is currently being examined by an officer of the Department who will contact the person concerned regarding this.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Anti-Racism Measures

Questions (530)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

530. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the ongoing efforts to combat racism by way of speech, electronic communication or otherwise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7153/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I assumed responsibility for policy on anti-racism when the functions transferred to me from the Minister for Justice last October. The Anti-Racism Committee, chaired by Professor Caroline Fennell, is working on identifying the nature and prevalence of racism in Ireland and on the actions required by State and non-State actors to address racism. Its remit includes identifying ways in which racism in speech and electronic communication can be combatted. Its work will culminate in a draft national action plan against racism for the consideration of Government. It has prepared an interim report which I will shortly bring to Government. Separately, the Minister for Justice is examining the steps needed, including in legislation, to tackle hate crime.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (531, 543, 547, 548, 565, 570, 571, 572, 574, 575)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

531. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the 550 audio recordings of testimony given by persons to the Confidential Committee of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7510/21]

View answer

Martin Browne

Question:

543. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he had prior knowledge that the audio recordings of mother and baby homes survivors’ accounts were to be deleted; if so, when he was informed; if the details of same will be provided; if there is a mechanism to recover those recordings; his views on the importance of those accounts in providing information that could lead to the resolution of questions which are thus far unanswered; if survivors, when being interviewed, were all informed of the intention to destroy the records in question; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6753/21]

View answer

Holly Cairns

Question:

547. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Data Protection Commissioner has written to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes over the destruction of recordings of witness testimony; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6907/21]

View answer

Holly Cairns

Question:

548. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his views on extending the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to ensure the full recovery of all evidence received by and all documents created by, or for, the commission, including all recoverable recordings of witness testimony; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6910/21]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

565. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will report on the deletion of survivor testimonies to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes; the follow-up his Department is taking on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7275/21]

View answer

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

570. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the taped records and evidence of 550 survivors that gave testimony to the Confidential Committee of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes have been destroyed; and if he will make a statement on the matter . [7357/21]

View answer

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

571. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the written records and evidence of 550 survivors that gave testimony to the Confidential Committee of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes have been destroyed; and if he will make a statement on the matter . [7358/21]

View answer

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

572. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the evidence in audio and written form of the 19 survivors who appeared before a person (details supplied) will be available to the relevant persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7359/21]

View answer

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

574. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his Department has received an explanation from a person (details supplied) as to the reason the Commission destroyed the audio recordings and the written testimonies given as part of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. [7361/21]

View answer

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

575. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will consider an extension to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in order that a thorough examination can be undertaken to establish the reason 550 recorded and written testimonies were destroyed. [7362/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 531, 543, 547, 548, 565, 570 to 572, inclusive, 574 and 575 together.

I thank the Deputies for raising the important concerns of survivors in relation to the audio recordings made by the Commission's Confidential Committee. This specific module was created alongside the inquisitorial process to facilitate those with lived experiences of these institutions to provide accounts of their experiences in complete confidence and as informally as possible in the circumstances.

The Commission's terms of reference required the Confidential Committee to provide for individuals who wish to have their identity remain confidential. The Commission is independent in the conduct of its inquiries and I had no role in or knowledge of operational decisions taken by the Commission in the course of its work. In its Final Report, the Commission notes that “Witnesses were asked for permission to record their evidence on the clear understanding that the recordings would be used only as an aide memoire for the researcher when compiling the report and would then be destroyed. All such recordings were destroyed after the report was added to the Confidential Committee electronic repository of information.”

Therefore, the decision not to retain these recordings was taken by the Commission to ensure the anonymity it had promised. My Department's understanding is that recordings were made as an aid to the work of the Confidential Committee and that the above reference includes contemporaneous notes taken by the note taker at the same time and used to create the records retained for the Confidential Committee.

In October 2020, Government introduced urgent legislation to protect and preserve the Commission’s records. This legislation prevented the redaction of personal information so that the records can be made available to those seeking access to their personal information.

The only exception to the above requirement was to facilitate persons who voluntarily met the Confidential Committee to decide to have their name and contact details redacted so as to protect their anonymity. This provision reflects the promise of confidentiality and anonymity which was given by the Commission to people who attended the Confidential Committee. No such anonymity applies to the sworn testimony given before the Commission itself.

Many of the mothers and children have undoubtedly had difficult experiences where their agency was taken away and it would be unconscionable to renege on a commitment of confidentiality given to them.

The Commission is due to deposit its full archive with my Department prior to its dissolution at the end of the month. In the interim, the independent Commission continues to be the data controller for its records.

Intensive preparations are ongoing to ensure subject access requests can be processed in my Department in full compliance with the Data Protection Regulatory Framework. In the context of these preparations, I have has sought further information from the Chair of the Commission to clarify whether it may be technically possible to recover any recordings or notes made by the Confidential Committee.

In addition, I am liaising closely with the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure these matters can be appropriately addressed by the Commission prior to its dissolution.

A decision on any further action will be informed by this information gathering exercise and the legal advices of the Attorney General. Any call to extend the timeframe of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes must have regard to the fact that the Commission completed the inquiries it was established to conduct when submitting its Final Report last year. It is not clear at this point that an extension is in fact necessary to clarify these matters, or that extending the timeframe of the Commission would assist in this regard.

Direct Provision System

Questions (532)

Charles Flanagan

Question:

532. Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the protocols and process in place in respect of the administration of vaccinations with particular reference to MMR and Hepatitis B vaccines in direct provision centres throughout the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6334/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The provision of health services to international protection applicants is mainstreamed in Ireland. Accordingly the administration of MMR and Hepatatis B vaccinations in the State is a matter for the HSE and the Department of Health as advised by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee. My Department has no role in this regard.

Direct Provision System

Questions (533)

Seán Canney

Question:

533. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans to cease the use of direct provision centres; his plans to provide independent living for persons living in such centres for a period in excess of six months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6381/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to ending the Direct Provision system and replacing it with a new International Protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach. The Government has also committed to the development of a White Paper which will set out how this new system will be structured and the steps to achieving it.

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.

Good progress has been made on drafting the White Paper and work is now focusing on testing the accommodation proposals that will be contained in it. In view of the extent of change proposed, the White Paper will take some more time than originally envisaged and I now expect it will be submitted to Government later this month.

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 to 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 working to cease our use of emergency accommodation in hotels and guest-houses.

Childcare Costs

Questions (534)

Emer Higgins

Question:

534. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his views on whether crèches should be charging essential workers a full-time rate when they are not utilising full-time care in the crèche; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6382/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Government decided on 6 January that, in order to reduce movement in the population, the ECCE programme would not resume until 1 February. It has now been agreed that the programme will remain suspended during extended restrictions up to 5 March. Other Early Learning and Childcare and School-Age Childcare services (ELC/SAC services) can remain open on a restricted basis, to offer services to the children of essential workers and to vulnerable children only.

Essential workers are those that work in the list of essential services published on www.gov.ie. One parent who is an essential worker confers eligibility on the child to access a service. For the purposes of accessing early learning and childcare services, an essential worker may be working from home.

ELC and SAC services are provided by private enterprises, either privately owned or operated by community organisations. While service providers are contracted by the Department to provide services at a subsidised rate to parents, they are free to set their own policies regarding the charging of fees and contract conditions.

My Department is aware that many providers chose to refund, waive or credit fees for families who did not use services during January and I welcome this.

To further encourage and support providers (some of whom may have a higher reliance on fees), my Department has restructured the provision of funding for the February 1 to March 5 period into standard and enhanced funding with certain conditions for services who opt to avail of this enhanced funding.

Where a provider has opted to avail of this enhanced funding, they are required to waive fees for children not attending, as well as retaining staff, keeping places for families and engaging with children who are not attending. This applies to both open and closed services.

Providers will be able to confirm if they are receiving enhanced funding, and consequently, their fee arrangements. They will also be able to clarify refund or credit arrangements for any pre-paid fees.

The Department’s guidance in full can be found at: https://first5.gov.ie/guidance

I trust you will find this information useful.

Childcare Costs

Questions (535)

Emer Higgins

Question:

535. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his views on whether crèches should be charging fees to non-essential workers whose children are not attending crèche due to level 5 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6383/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Government decided on 6 January that, in order to reduce movement in the population, the ECCE programme would not resume until 1 February. It has now been agreed that the programme will remain suspended during extended restrictions up to 5 March. Other Early Learning and Childcare and School-Age Childcare services (ELC/SAC services) can remain open on a restricted basis, to offer services to the children of essential workers and to vulnerable children only.

Essential workers are those that work in the list of essential services published on gov.ie. One parent who is an essential worker confers eligibility on the child to access a service. For the purposes of accessing early learning and childcare services, an essential worker may be working from home.

ELC and SAC services are provided by private enterprises, either privately owned or operated by community organisations. While service providers are contracted by the Department to provide services at a subsidised rate to parents, they are free to set their own policies regarding the charging of fees and contract conditions.

My Department is aware that many providers chose to refund, waive or credit fees for families who did not use services during January and I welcome this.

To further encourage and support providers (some of whom may have a higher reliance on fees), my Department has restructured the provision of funding during the February 1 to March 5 period into standard and enhanced funding with certain conditions for services who opt to avail of enhanced funding.

Where a provider has opted to avail of this enhanced funding, they are required to waive fees for children not attending, as well as retaining staff, keeping places for families and engaging with children who are not attending. This applies to both open and closed services.

Providers will be able to confirm if they are receiving enhanced funding, and consequently, their fee arrangements. They will also be able to clarify refund or credit arrangements for any pre-paid fees.

The Department’s guidance in full can be found at: https://first5.gov.ie/guidance

I trust you will find this information useful.

Garda Vetting

Questions (536)

Patrick Costello

Question:

536. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if a legal lacuna (details supplied) which is causing serious issues for early years providers will be addressed; if he will instruct his officials to engage with the relevant officials in the Department of Justice in order to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6389/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Garda vetting in Ireland is governed by the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016, which falls under the remit of the Minister for Justice.

The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 provide a legislative basis for the mandatory vetting of persons who wish to undertake certain work or activities relating to children or vulnerable persons or to provide certain services to children or vulnerable persons. Garda vetting is conducted in respect of any person who is carrying out work or activity, a necessary and regular part of which consists mainly of the person having access to, or contact with, children or vulnerable persons.

Under the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 and the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) (Registration of School Age Services) Regulations 2018, registered owners/ board members and/ or managers of early learning and care and school age childcare services are required to submit Garda vetting disclosures to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) when making an application for registration.

My Department has been advised by the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate that the National Vetting Bureau has confirmed that there is no provision in the relevant legislation to conduct vetting in respect of such persons where that person is not engaged in relevant work or activities as defined in the legislation. Where such persons clearly state on their application for vetting that they have regular access to children as part of their duties, the National Vetting Bureau will process such applications.

Tusla has put in place a number of interim measures in response to this issue. For example, they have issued a notice to all Early Learning and Care and School-Age Care services advising that such persons, who have not been processed for vetting by the National Vetting Bureau but have regular access to and contact with children, should submit a new vetting application expressly clarifying that they have such contact with children. Furthermore, they have notified all services that such persons, who have access to and contact with children and who have been refused vetting, should not be allowed to carry out their duties when children are present.

My Department will continue to engage with both Tusla and officials in the Department of Justice on this matter.

In addition to the above, my Department provides funding to both Early Childhood Ireland (ECI) and Barnardos to act as an “authorised signatory" and process Garda vetting applications on behalf of the Early Learning and Care and School-Age Care sector. Regular liaison takes place between officials in my Department and ECI and Barnardos and this allows the Department to be aware of any potential difficulties concerning Garda vetting for the sector and to act accordingly.

Direct Provision System

Questions (537, 569)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

537. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the case of a person who is on hunger strike in a direct provision centre (details supplied); the support being provided to the person; if he will examine the mental health needs of persons in direct provision, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6420/21]

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Thomas Pringle

Question:

569. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will report on the hunger strike by a person (details supplied) in County Meath; the procedures for such instances; the reason An Garda Síochána would be involved; if reports are filed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7309/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 537 and 569 together.

I am aware of the incident in the accommodation centre as referred to by the Deputies which I understand has now ended.

The IPAS worked closely with the accommodation centre staff, relevant state agencies and other service providers with regard to the resident’s needs and situation for the duration of the incident. Such engagement will continue to ensure that the required health needs are met through the onsite medical services at the centre which includes a full primary care service and nursing staff.

I can assure the Deputies that the health and wellbeing of all people who avail of accommodation provided by my Department is of the highest priority to my Department.

Where a protection applicant chooses to accept an offer of accommodation from my Department, they will, in normal circumstances, be first brought to the National Reception Centre in Balseskin, Dublin. At Balseskin, they will be offered a health assessment by the on-site HSE team, which comprises a nurse, nurse specialist, area medical officer, general practitioners, social worker and psychologist. This ensures that applicants can be assessed for any special reception needs that they may have before they are designated an accommodation centre. The IPAS work closely with the HSE screening team to ensure that Protection applicants are moved to locations where their medical needs can be met.

It is important to note that services for all International Protection applicants (including health services) are mainstreamed. Protection applicants are linked with primary care services (GPs). They are entitled to a medical card while residing in International Protection accommodation and have a waiver of prescription charges. Applicants access health services through the same referral pathways as Irish citizens including referral to disability and mental health services. Every effort is made to ensure that residents' specific needs are met.

Social Workers Register

Questions (538)

Thomas Gould

Question:

538. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the estimated annual cost of peer supervision in the social work setting. [6462/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I wish to advise the Deputy that my officials have asked Tusla to respond directly to you on this matter.

Social Workers Recruitment

Questions (539)

Thomas Gould

Question:

539. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of social workers employed currently. [6463/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I wish to advise the Deputy that my officials have asked Tusla to respond directly to you on this matter.