Social Welfare Benefits

Questions (166)

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

166. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Social Protection the steps she and her Department are taking to ensure that older persons can access affordable broadband (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7709/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The telephone support allowance (TSA) is an allowance of €2.50 which is paid to over 135,000 customers weekly. The estimated full year cost of the scheme in 2021 is over €18 million. To receive the allowance a customer of my Department must be in receipt of a qualifying payment such as the State Pension and also in receipt of the Living Alone Allowance and the Fuel Allowance. The scheme supports recipients by assisting with the cost of communications and/or home security solutions.

The TSA is one of a number of supports that recipients of State Pension payments may, subject to satisfying eligibility conditions, have access to. Other supports include the living alone increase (€19 a week), household benefits (€35 a month and the free TV licence element), fuel allowance (€28.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €784 for the fuel season)) and free travel.

During the COVID-19 emergency, the Government has been seeking to implement and operate supports that are targeted where most needed, to ensure continued economic activity and reduce the risk of poverty.

In Budget 2021, the Government decided to allocate one third of additional carbon tax revenues to boosting the incomes of the poorest in our society. The Government commissioned ESRI research which identified three key payments by the Department of Social Protection to channel carbon tax revenues towards this cohort. These were the Qualified Child Allowance, the Living Alone Allowance and the Fuel Allowance.

Therefore, effective from January 2021, the weekly Fuel Allowance payment has been increased by €3.50 per week to €28 for a period of 28 weeks. Also from January 2021, Qualified Child payments have been increased by €2 per week, from €36 to €38 per week, for children under 12 years of age and by €5 per week, from €40 to €45 per week, for children aged 12 and over. It is estimated that this will benefit 419,000 children who are most in need. The Living Alone Allowance was also increased in Budget 2021 by €5 from €14 to €19 at an overall cost in 2021 of €57.5 million.

Furthermore, my Department operates both Exceptional and Urgent Needs Payments as part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme for people who have an urgent need, which they cannot meet from their own resources. These payments are available through our Community Welfare Officers.

All proposals, including any proposals to introduce a new support allowance, whereby older people are provided with a weekly allowance towards broadband, could only be considered while taking account of overall Government policy and in a budgetary context.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Disability Support Services

Questions (167)

Michael Lowry

Question:

167. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Social Protection if additional funding will be provided to continue the ability programme beyond June 2021 (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7486/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Ability Programme was introduced in June 2018 and is a pre-activation programme for young people with disabilities. The funding for this programme will amount to around €16 million over a three-year period and is being provided jointly under the EUs ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning Operational Programme, 2014-2020 (PEIL, 2014–20) and the Irish Exchequer.

The programme will support over 2,600 young people with disabilities aged between 15 – 29 years of age. The objectives of the programme are:

- To bring young people with disabilities who are not work-ready closer to the labour market using a range of person-centred supports.

- To assist young people with disabilities to develop life-skills required to participate in education, training and employment.

- To assist young people with disabilities at key transition points between education, training and employment.

- To support young people with disabilities who are not in education, employment or training to access and participate in education, training and employment.

- To build the capacity of mainstream employment services, education and training providers to support the progression of young people with disabilities.

- To build the capacity of employers to recruit and retain young people with disabilities within their workforce.

The programme is being delivered by 27 community and voluntary groups from around the country and will run up to the end of June 2021. Pobal have been contracted by my Department to manage the programme.

It is a condition of the current 3-year funding arrangement that the programme must end at the end of June 2021, and this was clearly indicated to all of the selected projects at the start of the programme. The provision of Exchequer funding was contingent on certain conditions, including that an evaluation of the projects would be undertaken following the three-year cycle. An on-going programme evaluation, aimed at evaluating the extent to which the programme has met its stated policy objectives, is being undertaken, with a contractor having been appointed by Pobal to undertake this work. The evaluation will also explore the effectiveness of the different approaches and measures applied in bringing young people with disabilities, who are not work-ready, closer to the labour market in addition to examining the range of impacts on the participants of the programme. The evaluation is being conducted over the duration of the programme and it will conclude in June 2021. An interim evaluation report has been submitted to the Department.

I met recently with the Ability Providers Sub-group, which I found to be a very informative exchange. I am currently considering a number of options on how to meet the needs of participants in the Ability Programme and also progress the various pre-employment supports for young people with disabilities, so that they have the opportunities they need to transition into employment.

This consideration includes:

- the outcomes of the current programme, including the effectiveness of the programme in achieving objectives;

- the findings of the ongoing evaluation of the programme and the recommendations arising from this;

- the potential co-funding availability under the new EU programme ESF+ 2021-2027. This successor programme is in active planning phase, coordinated by the ESF authorities in Ireland; and,

- how subsequent programmes would fit within the suite of existing employment supports targeted at people with disabilities provided by the Department of Social Protection and broader national strategies for employment of people with disabilities, including the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Fuel Allowance

Questions (168)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

168. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection if a review in respect of eligibility for the fuel allowance will be undertaken in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7493/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

As requested in your representation, the fuel allowance application for the person concerned will be reviewed. In this regard, a deciding officer has requested further information in order to reassess his eligibility for the fuel allowance. As soon as this information has been received, his entitlement to the fuel allowance will be reviewed and he will be notified directly of the outcome.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Ministerial Correspondence

Questions (169)

Niall Collins

Question:

169. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on matters raised in correspondence by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7528/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

My Department administers over 80 separate schemes and services, which affect the lives of almost every person in the State. The Department is committed to ensuring that members of the public and employers are fully aware of the welfare supports and services that are available to them.

During 2020, the Department ran a number of public information campaigns which encouraged employees to maintain links with their employer and to close their Pandemic Unemployment Payment on their first day back at work. Five such campaigns were undertake between April and December 2020 , in line with the change in restrictions. These public information campaigns spanned national print media, national and reginal radio, as well as across a range of digital and social media channels.

It is important to note that in 2020, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment was placed on a statutory footing as a stand-alone social welfare scheme in accordance with the provisions of the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act, 2020. The conditions for receipt of this scheme will not be satisfied where a person:

(a) has lost the employment concerned through his or her own misconduct or has voluntarily left his or her employment,

(b) refuses an offer to return to the employment concerned,

(c) has refused an offer of suitable employment

The Department has been in direct contact with a number of business representative organisations to provide information on these requirements, as well as on the process of closing a PUP claim, and arrangements have been put in place by my Department for employers to report an individual who may be mis-claiming a social welfare payment. A dedicated mailbox (c19employerreports@welfare.ie) has been established for this purpose and is monitored by the Departments Control Division who follow up on any reports made by employers.

While the Department had a small number of enquiries from employers in December 2020 about how to manage situations where staff, who were in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, were reluctant to return to work for any number of reasons, these cases were very rare and the vast majority of individuals are happy to return to work.

Furthermore, if any employer is seeking assistance in recruiting for vacant positions, the Department's Employer Relations team are available to help and support them, and can be contacted by email (employer@welfare.ie).

Throughout 2021, the Department will continue to provide important public information in line with any changes in restrictions or related income supports through a variety of channels including formal communications campaigns, stakeholder engagement, and social and digital media.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance

Questions (170)

Michael Ring

Question:

170. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Social Protection when an assessment will be carried out to progress a disability allowance application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7568/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I confirm that an application from the person concerned for disability allowance (DA) was received by the Department on 19 November 2020.

The processing time for individual DA claims may vary in accordance with their relative complexity in terms of the three main qualifying criteria, the person’s circumstances and the information they provide in support of their claim.

The application has been referred to a Social Welfare Inspector (SWI) for a report on the person’s means and circumstances. Once the SWI has submitted his/her report to DA section, a decision will be made on the application and the person concerned will be notified directly of the outcome.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (171)

Gerald Nash

Question:

171. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of UP38 forms that have been received relating to the temporary wage subsidy scheme and a company (details supplied); the number that have been processed; the number of cases that were awarded back-payment; the average level of back-dated payment awarded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7576/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Department is reviewing 2,698 claims for a jobseeker's payment from employees of the company concerned and is writing to the individual employees requesting that they contact their employer for the information that is required to complete the review. The employer is required to complete a UP38 form in respect of the employee, providing details for each day in the review period on whether the employee was employed/remunerated.

A total of 1,705 UP 38 forms have been returned by employees to my Department so far and the review team has processed a total of 1,520 of these claims to date. Just under 600 of the claims reviewed have been awarded or partially awarded for periods within the review timeframe March to August 2020. The information requested by the Deputy with regard to the average level of back payment awarded is not available.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Fuel Allowance

Questions (172)

Johnny Guirke

Question:

172. Deputy Johnny Guirke asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons who received the fuel allowance in counties Meath and Westmeath in each of the years 2016 to 2020, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7584/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Fuel Allowance Scheme is a means tested payment to assist pensioners and other long-term social welfare dependent householders towards their heating costs during the winter season.

The payment is made at the weekly rate of €28.00 over the winter season (28 weeks in the 2020/2021 fuel season) to over 372,000 low income households.

The numbers of Fuel Allowance recipients in Meath and Westmeath in each of the years 2016 to 2020 are set out in the table below.

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Meath

8,377

8,649

8,955

9,405

9,632

Westmeath

5,747

5,789

6,050

6,393

6,548

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance

Questions (173)

John McGuinness

Question:

173. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection if the review of a carer’s allowance claim in the name of a person (details supplied) will be expedited and approved; and if the correspondence from her Department on 19 January 2021 will be withdrawn as the applicant is not separated from their spouse but lives apart as a precautionary measure to protect their elderly parents given that the spouse is a front-line worker. [7644/21]

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.

Means are any income belonging to the carer and their spouse, civil partner, or cohabitant, property, (except their own home) or an asset that could bring in money or provide them with an income, for example occupational pensions, or pensions or benefits from another country.

I can confirm that the person concerned was in receipt of CA from 14 July 2011 to 25 November 2020.

Following a means review, the person concerned was notified that his payment was terminated as his means were determined to exceed the statutory limit. He was also advised of his right of review and appeal.

A review of this decision was requested and, following that review, the decision remained unchanged.

The person concerned then advised that he was no longer living with his family and was experiencing financial hardship. An information request issued on 19 January 2021 requesting proof of separation and details of any maintenance payments.

Following receipt of your representation, this information requested is no longer required and the review is now complete. The outcome of the review is that the person’s means still exceed the statutory means limit.

The person concerned was notified on 8 February 2021 of this decision, the reason for it and of their right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Labour Activation Programmes

Questions (174)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

174. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Social Protection if a person (details supplied) in County Kerry who recently turned 62 years of age will be removed from her Department’s activation schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7662/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The person concerned is now 62 years of age and he will no longer be selected for Activation through Intreo and he will not be selected for Jobpath. He can however contact a Case Officer at his own request if he has any queries on courses or TSG ( Training Support Grant ) funding, whilst he is receiving a Jobseekers Allowance payment.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance

Questions (175)

John McGuinness

Question:

175. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection if an appeal by a person (details supplied) for a carer’s allowance will be expedited. [7671/21]

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

An application for CA was received in respect of the person concerned on 13 November 2020.

It is a condition for receipt of CA that that the person being cared for must have such disability that they require full-time care. The evidence submitted in support of this application was examined and the Deciding Officer (DO) decided this evidence did not indicate that requirement for full-time care was satisfied.

The person who applied for CA in respect of the person concerned, was notified on 6 January 2021 of the decision, the reason for it, and of her right of review and appeal.

A request for review of this decision was received on 28 January 2021. Following this review the decision has remained unchanged.

The person who applied for CA in respect of the person concerned was notified on 6 February 2021 of this decision, the reason for it and of her right of appeal.

To date no request for appeal has been received.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits

Questions (176, 177)

Bríd Smith

Question:

176. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection if a worker on a banded-hours contract whose contract is formally such that he or she would earn less than €151 per week is automatically excluded from the pandemic unemployment payment; if employees in a situation in which employees may routinely have exceeded the €151 per week payment prior to the pandemic will be included; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7763/21]

View answer

Bríd Smith

Question:

177. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection if an employee who is excluded from the pandemic unemployment payment by virtue of earning less than €151 per week but who is receiving less than his or her normal payment from his or her employer as a top-up can access supports from her Department or has an entitlement to seek jobseeker or other payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7764/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 176 and 177 together.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is a statutory scheme which is available to support those who have lost their employment due to the pandemic and where they were not being paid by their employer.

In cases where a person's working hours have been reduced employees may claim part-time jobseeker payments or Short-Time Work Support payments for days of unemployment where they are not being remunerated.

To qualify for a jobseeker’s payment a person must be unemployed for at least 4 days out of 7 consecutive days. Jobseekers Benefit is available to people who have sufficient social insurance contributions paid and satisfy the other qualifying conditions of the scheme. Where a person does not qualify for Jobseekers Benefit they may be eligible for the means tested Jobseekers Allowance scheme.

Assistance may be available under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance depending on an individuals circumstances.

I would advise that the individual(s) involved contact their local Intreo Centre for advice.

I hope that this clarifies the position for you.

Registration of Births

Questions (178)

Gary Gannon

Question:

178. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Social Protection if a PPS number is required by a parent to register the birth of a child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7786/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSN) of each parent are required particulars set out in Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Civil Registration Act 2004, as amended. The PPSN of the parents should be provided by a qualified informant (usually the parents of a child) in order to complete a birth registration.

Registration of a birth can be completed where either or both parents do not have a PPSN. This arises in cases where the parents would not ordinarily be expected to have one (as in the case of births in the State to non-Irish nationals parents who are not ordinarily resident in the State) or to a person waiting to be assigned a PPSN. Parents are not required to apply for a PPSN for the purposes of birth registration. If a parent has already applied and is awaiting allocation of a PPSN, or has been refused a PPSN, they can submit confirmation of this fact with their application to the local civil registrar to register the birth of a child.

The General Register Office, which operates under the aegis of my Department is available to offer advice and guidance if required.

I trust that this addresses the question raised by the Deputy.

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

Questions (179)

Gary Gannon

Question:

179. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of applicants for and total payments of the supplementary welfare allowance made in 2019, 2020 and to date in 2021. [7801/21]

View answer

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 dependents. 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, however 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 and expenditure for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Table 2 shows the number of payments made under the ENP and UNP schemes and expenditure for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

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

2019

2020

2021

Scheme

Recipients

Expenditure (€000)

Recipients

Expenditure(€000)(Provisional Outturn)

Recipients

(End Jan)

Expenditure(€000)(End Jan)

Basic SWA

16,884

120,175

12,234

115,210

11,670

7,470

Rent Supplement

16,781

125,248

19,304

133,088

19,657

11,150

Other Supplements

5,490

6,600

4,376

4,942

4,278

353

Table 2

2019

2020

2021

Scheme

Payments

Expenditure (€000)

Payments

Expenditure(€000)(provisional outturn)

Payments

(End Jan)

Expenditure(€000)(End Jan)

ENPs/UNPs

92,198

43,200

67,589

41,987

3,974

3,411

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

Questions (180)

Gary Gannon

Question:

180. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Social Protection the amount spent on communications and publicity in respect of the supplementary welfare allowance in 2020. [7802/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

My Department administers over 80 separate schemes and services, which affect the lives of almost every person in the State. The Department is committed to ensuring that members of the general public are aware of the welfare supports and services that are available to them.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department has delivered 18 public information campaigns designed to promote and increase public awareness of the available income supports and related Department services, as they evolved in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A further aim of these campaigns was to direct customers with questions or concerns to the Department's Income Support Helpline where trained Department staff could, through a protocol in place since March 2020, arrange for a Community Welfare Officer to engage with any person who urgently required financial support and assistance. This was a new route to access supports available from Community Welfare Officers in addition to the usual route availed of by people wishing to access these supports - i.e. by contacting their local Intreo office by phone.

The Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme incorporates a number of supports, as well as urgent and exceptional needs payments for those in urgent financial need. During 2020 the Department issued 5 press releases related to Supplementary Welfare Allowances. In addition, there were 144 social media posts shared from the Department's Twitter account highlighting Supplementary Welfare Allowances last year. These included, but were not limited to, tweets relating to Rent Supplement support for those at risk of domestic violence, Back to School supports and flooding relief support. The Department also issued related social media posts on Instagram and LinkedIn. This clearly demonstrates the Departments strong efforts to get this information to the public through media and social media channels. The Department continues to promote supports available through the Supplementary Welfare Allowance to members of the public in 2021.

My Department is very aware of the importance of Supplementary Welfare Allowance payments and, as ever, urges any person who considers they may have an entitlement to an exceptional needs payment to contact the Community Welfare Service by phoning their local Intreo office or contacting the Department's Income Support Helpline.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance

Questions (181)

Gary Gannon

Question:

181. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Social Protection the estimated amount an increase by €5 in the disability allowance would cost the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7803/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The estimated full year cost of a €5 increase in the weekly rate of Disability Allowance is €43.1 million, based on the estimated number of recipients in 2021. This costing includes a proportionate increase for qualified adults.

It should be noted that this costing is subject to change in the context of emerging trends and associated revision of the estimated numbers of recipients.

Direct Provision System

Questions (182)

Robert Troy

Question:

182. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps being taken by his Department to end the system of direct provision; and his views on whether health and safety risks at such facilities have increased during the course of the pandemic. [7478/21]

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 I now expect it will be submitted to Government later this month.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges to maintaining the health and safety of residents living within International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) as it did for many aspects of Irish society at the time and still does to the present day.

In order to safeguard our residents many measures have been put in place by IPAS in conjunction with the HSE. These measures were first implemented from the time that country-wide restrictions were imposed in March and April 2020 and they continue to be implemented and added to for all our accommodation centres.

- Provision for self-isolation facilities Centres and offsite self-isolation?

- Provision of a free, confidential and independent support line for residents operated by the Jesuit Refugee Service?

- Increased capacity to support physical and social distancing ensuring no more than 3 non-related persons share a bedroom?

- Enhanced cleaning regimes and provision of PPE to all accommodation centres?

- Regular communications and information on public health advice to residents and centre managers?

- Cocooning of all medically vulnerable and over 65 residents?

- Accommodation scheme for healthcare workers?

- IPAS Living with COVID Plan which clearly explains how each of the five levels of restrictions in the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021 affects residents and visitors to centres?

My officials in IPAS have at all times cooperated fully with the HSE in respect of any testing that Public Health may decide to undertake. Any resident who tests positive is moved offsite for self-isolation, along with their close contacts in the centre, until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre. The HSE operates two off-site facilities and IPAS has also provided one isolation centre.

The second quarantine facility is used to accommodate people who had been residing in IPAS accommodation and left their accommodation of their own volition. Where such persons seek to return to IPAS accommodation, they are requested to quarantine for 14 days in the quarantine facility as an additional precaution before being re-accommodated.

PPE also continues to be distributed to the centres.

Direct Provision System

Questions (183)

John McGuinness

Question:

183. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the action taken to date to resolve the issues at the Mosney direct provision centre; the status of plans to change the direct provision system; and the timeframe for the implementation of a new scheme. [7673/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

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

The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department 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.

The Deputy will be aware that 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 and I expect that it will be submitted to Government later this month.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (184)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

184. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the manner by which persons who gave testimony to the confidential committee of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes were notified that the recordings of their testimony would be destroyed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7513/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Confidential Committee report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes states that recordings of Committee interviews 'were destroyed after the report was added to the Confidential Committee electronic repository of information'. It is my understanding that the Commission did not take verbatim transcripts of oral testimony given by persons to the Confidential Committee.

The Commission has stated that all people being interviewed for the Committee were told at that time that audio recordings would be destroyed. The decision to destroy these recording was taken by the Commission in order to ensure the anonymity that they had promised interviewees. The Commission of Investigation is independent in the conduct of its inquiries. Government had no role in the operational decisions made by the Commission in the discharge of its functions.

I am committed to having robust processes in place for management of the archive when it transfers prior to the end of the month and I have sought further information from the Chair of the Commission. In particular, I have sought to establish whether it may be technically possible to recover any recordings or notes made by the Confidential Committee and not retained after each account was added to the electronic repository of information.

I am liaising closely with the Commission of Investigation and the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure these matters can be appropriately addressed by the Commission. Decisions on any further action will be informed by this information gathering exercise. At this point, it is not clear that an extension is in fact necessary to clarify these matters, or that additional time would assist in any way.

It is important to state that 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.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (185)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

185. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the enquiries he has made about the possibility of the retrieval and-or recovery of audio recordings of testimony given by persons to the confidential committee of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes destroyed by the commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7514/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Confidential Committee report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes states that recordings of Committee interviews 'were destroyed after the report was added to the Confidential Committee electronic repository of information'. It is my understanding that the Commission did not take verbatim transcripts of oral testimony given by persons to the Confidential Committee.

The Commission has stated that all people being interviewed for the Committee were told at that time that audio recordings would be destroyed. The decision to destroy these recording was taken by the Commission in order to ensure the anonymity that they had promised interviewees. The Commission of Investigation is independent in the conduct of its inquiries. Government had no role in the operational decisions made by the Commission in the discharge of its functions.

I am committed to having robust processes in place for management of the archive when it transfers prior to the end of the month and I have sought further information from the Chair of the Commission. In particular, I have sought to establish whether it may be technically possible to recover any recordings or notes made by the Confidential Committee and not retained after each account was added to the electronic repository of information.

I am liaising closely with the Commission of Investigation and the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure these matters can be appropriately addressed by the Commission. Decisions on any further action will be informed by this information gathering exercise. At this point, it is not clear that an extension is in fact necessary to clarify these matters, or that additional time would assist in any way.

It is important to state that 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.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (186)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

186. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans to amend section 7 of the commission of investigation records Act 2020 to extend the term of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes in order to resolve the issues arising from the destruction of the audio recordings of testimony given by persons to the confidential committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7515/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Confidential Committee report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes states that recordings of Committee interviews 'were destroyed after the report was added to the Confidential Committee electronic repository of information'. It is my understanding that the Commission did not take verbatim transcripts of oral testimony given by persons to the Confidential Committee.

The Commission has stated that all people being interviewed for the Committee were told at that time that audio recordings would be destroyed. The decision to destroy these recording was taken by the Commission in order to ensure the anonymity that they had promised interviewees. The Commission of Investigation is independent in the conduct of its inquiries. Government had no role in the operational decisions made by the Commission in the discharge of its functions.

I am committed to having robust processes in place for management of the archive when it transfers prior to the end of the month and I have sought further information from the Chair of the Commission. In particular, I have sought to establish whether it may be technically possible to recover any recordings or notes made by the Confidential Committee and not retained after each account was added to the electronic repository of information.

I am liaising closely with the Commission of Investigation and the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure these matters can be appropriately addressed by the Commission. Decisions on any further action will be informed by this information gathering exercise. At this point, it is not clear that an extension is in fact necessary to clarify these matters, or that additional time would assist in any way.

It is important to state that 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.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (187)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

187. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes has been delivered to persons in cardboard boxes, unbound, loose-leaf, being almost 3,000 loose pages; the instructions given to the external company engaged to deliver the reports in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7516/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I thank the Deputy for informing me of this matter, which my Department will investigate with the printing company and distributor. In the meantime, my Department would be happy to arrange for the report to be collected and another supplied if the individual concerned wishes to contact my Department.

The contractual agreement in place with the printing company is for the 3000 page report to printed in 6 volumes. Each of the volumes is individually thread bound for additional robustness and the set of 6 is appropriately boxed for distribution.

My Department has engaged the services of a separate distribution company to deliver the boxed report directly to individual households. I am advised that hundreds of the reports have been successfully delivered.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (188)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

188. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if 30 copies of the report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes will be provided to this Deputy to distribute to persons personally affected by same, many of whom do not wish to provide their names and-or addresses to an external company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7517/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I understand the Deputy’s wish to assist in her role as a public representative.

In line with the public notice issued in this regard, my officials are arranging the issuing of hard copies of the Commission's report to survivors that have requested these directly from my Department. There is a large demand for these copies and we are working to meet this demand. My Department has limited stocks of the full report, and the separate abridged version, and I have asked my officials to arrange for copies of the report to be forwarded to the Deputy as requested.

My Department secured the services of a distribution company specifically to deliver the report to households. I want to assure the Deputy, and any persons concerned as to the confidentiality of their person data, that we have put in place a robust contract of confidentiality with the distribution company in compliance with GDPR. The names and addresses being shared will be appropriately processed by the provider, used only for the purpose provided and not retained after delivery of the report.

This distribution channel was developed taking account of the size of the full report (comprising six volumes of almost 3,000 pages and weighing 8.5kg) and as a consequence of the public health restrictions currently in place.

My Department has understandably received a large number of requests from individuals within the Deputy's constituency area so it is important to avoid duplication of requests in so far as possible.