Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (507)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

507. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of workers who transferred from the pandemic unemployment payment to employment in January 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8714/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Recipients who wish to close their pandemic unemployment payment claim have the option of stating the reasons for closing their account. Based on the information provided by claimants closing their PUP claim in January 2021, a total of 23,127 people stated that they were returning to work. Weekly breakdowns of those in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, along with age, county and sector information for those returning to work are available at the following link:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/f4c60c-covid-19-statistics/

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Payments Administration

Questions (508)

Duncan Smith

Question:

508. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason the new benefit payment paid to persons at 65 years of age is not paid to persons who retired early and are not in receipt of a social welfare payment while having paid ample contributions over the years which enables them to qualify for the contributory pension at 66 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8731/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I recently announced the introduction of the new Benefit Payment for 65 Year Olds. This fulfils a key commitment in the Programme for Government to provide a benefit payment for people who are aged 65 and who are required to or who chose to retire early, without a requirement to sign on, partake in any activation measures or be available for and genuinely seeking work.

This new payment is specifically designed to bridge the gap for people who retire at 65 but who do not qualify for the State Pension until they reach age 66.

Under the Benefit Payment for 65 Year Olds, a person who retires at 65 can complete an online application and, if eligible, receive their payment for one year until they reach the State Pension age at 66.

Applicants must satisfy the PRSI conditionality for the scheme which includes having the required contributions in the Governing Contribution Year, which is the second last complete tax year. For example, for a claim in 2021, the second last complete tax year is 2019. This condition demonstrates a recent attachment to the workforce.

I trust that this clarifies the position for you.

Social Welfare Schemes Data

Questions (509)

Réada Cronin

Question:

509. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Social Protection the amount paid and the number of persons on the pandemic unemployment payment to date; the amount that has been overpaid; the number of persons who have been overpaid; the systems in place to assist persons to repay possible overpayments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8837/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

To date, just under 894,000 people have applied for the Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment. This week, my Department issued payments valued at €144.6 million to over 477,000 people who are currently being paid under the scheme. Since the onset of the pandemic almost €6 billion has been spent on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

In line with all other social welfare schemes, where a revised decision on entitlement to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is made with retrospective effect, any amount overpaid is repayable to the Department. Typically, such overpayments relate to deliberate misclaiming by a customer or new facts or evidence come to light since the claim was made. A person who is dissatisfied with a revised decision may either seek a review of or appeal against the decision.

There is an obligation on my Department to actively seek to recover all overpayments. When repaying overpayments, customers have the flexibility of payment in full, or by regular or instalment payments, by agreement with the Department, taking into consideration their ability to repay, any relevant facts or circumstances, and the amount of the overpayment and how it happened.

To the end of December 2020 almost €6m in respect of overpayments of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment has been repaid to the Department from almost 7,000 customers, using various methods including payment by debit card, standing order, by cheque or directly to the Department’s bank account. Direct Debit repayment plans can also be facilitated, if requested by the customer.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Staff

Questions (510)

Réada Cronin

Question:

510. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Social Protection if special interpersonal or other relevant training has been given to staff dealing with the public in the context of the stress of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8838/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The well-being of the Department's staff has been to the forefront in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. The huge impact on the organisation necessitated a new Well-being policy and associated delivery plan which was approved and supported by the Management Board in July 2020.

The strategic plan was developed centrally by the Department's Human Resources (HR) area with a dedicated unit being established to plan and manage health and well-being for its 6,500 staff. In addition, a staff led approach using information and suggested approaches from staff surveys and regional wellbeing champions has enabled the Department to roll out a focused and targeted programme to all staff in the Department during this challenging time.

The DSP HR Wellbeing Unit has offered supports in terms of webinars and initiatives in areas such as remote working, mental health, parenting during Covid-19, nutrition / motivation and suicide awareness to staff. The Unit will continue to provide similar initiatives in the coming months to support staff wellbeing .

HR also issued support guidelines to managers on how to manage staff remotely with a focus onensuring regular communications individually and in groups to ensure connectivity and real support to staff who may feel isolated, stressed or vulnerable.

Throughout the pandemic period, HR have also communicated the importance of staff taking regular rest periods and annual leave in an effort to help them manage their personal well-being. In addition, the Department works in partnership with the Civil Service Employee Assistance Service to increase awareness of best practice in relation to personal wellbeing and of the supports available to staff during Covid-19.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Jobseeker's Payments

Questions (511)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

511. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding a jobseeker’s claim for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8846/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Departmental records reflect that the person concerned submitted an online application for a Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) payment in July 2020. Unfortunately, due to an error in the online platform, the application was not picked up and remained unprocessed.

As a result of your representation, the person concerned was contacted on 16/02/2021 and asked to submit certain documentation in order to progress his JA application. On receipt of the requested documentation his application will be processed promptly and he will be advised of the outcome.

Separately, following contact made by the person concerned with the Newbridge Intreo Centre on 23/11/2020 an appointment for a Public Services Card (PSC) is being arranged this week.

I trust this clarifies the matter.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (512)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

512. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Social Protection the contracts for public relations advice and consultancy entered into by her Department over the cost of €10,000 since January 2021; the nature of the contract; and the length of the contract in tabular form. [8899/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Department of Social Protection does not have any contracts with public relations agencies or PR consultants.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Ministerial Correspondence

Questions (513)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

513. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Social Protection if there has been any contact with her counterpart in the United States'. [8919/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Strengthening bilateral relations with the US is a priority for Ireland as set out in our Programme for Government, as well in our Strategy for the US and Canada (2019-2025).

While I have not been in contact with my US counterpart directly I look forward to engaging with the US Administration on issues as they arise and in particular on our bilateral social security agreement.

Officials from my Department are in contact with their counterparts in the United States Social Security Administration and visits between them have occurred from time to time in respect of the bilateral social security agreement in place and other matters of mutual interest.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

School Meals Programme

Questions (514)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

514. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will address a matter (details supplied) regarding the school meals programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8935/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,557 schools and organisations benefitting 227,000 children. The objective of the programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.

My Department confirmed that funding for the school meals programme will remain in place during the current period of school closures. This mirrors the arrangements that were in place during the school closures in 2020, when the majority of schools in the school meals programme continued to provide food to children, largely through the home delivery of food parcels by suppliers.

The arrangements have not changed from when schools closed previously: namely that the schools may continue to avail of the funding and they may continue to provide food consistent with normal funding terms and conditions. Schools must ensure that they continue to satisfy all public health guidelines.

Each school is allocated school meals programme funding and has responsibility for administering the programme in their school. Funding is strictly for food items only, which must be of suitable nutritional quality. Funding under the scheme is based on a maximum rate per child per day, depending on the type of meal being provided (e.g. €0.60 per child per day where breakfast or a snack is being provided, €1.40 per child per day where cold lunch is being provided, and €2.00 per child per day where both breakfast and lunch is being provided).

A school providing the cold lunch has funding for a weekly food parcel of €7.00 per child (€1.40 x 5 days). The frequency of deliveries is a decision for the school and the supplier. The majority of schools opt to provide a weekly or fortnightly food parcel.

I trust that this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Personal Public Service Numbers

Questions (515)

James Lawless

Question:

515. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason for the changing of a PPS number of a person (details attached); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8965/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I can confirm that officials of my Department have been in contact with the Deputy's office and with the individual referred to by the Deputy regarding her Personal Public Service Number (PPSN) and the matter has been satisfactorily resolved.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Direct Provision System

Questions (516)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

516. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of a direct provision centre (details supplied) in County Donegal; when the first families will be moving in following the delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7859/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The new international protection accommodation centre in Port Road, Letterkenny is now almost ready to open. The opening is subject to an inspection to be carried out by the International Protection Procurement Service (IPSS) of my Department, to ensure all requirements as per the tendering process have been met.

My officials in IPAS have engaged with all relevant state agencies operating in the Letterkenny area to ensure that appropriate services are in place for the new families including the placement of children in local schools. IPAS has also written to a variety of NGOs and are engaging with local community groups and organisations to assist with the families settling into their new homes.

In addition my Department has engaged with local representatives to arrange for the centre to be visited by them prior to the opening.

I now expect that the accommodation will open in early March, with the first families arriving to their new apartments shortly after that, with further arrivals being accommodated on a phased basis.

Direct Payment Scheme

Questions (517)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

517. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if residents in a direct provision centre (details supplied) in County Donegal will be provided with vouchers for food instead of the points system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7860/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The new accommodation centre in Letterkenny for International Protection applicants was procured through a tendering competition that was conducted through the Government’s Procurement Portal www.etenders.gov.ie. The specifications for this tender included the provision of food and household items through a points system by way of an on-site foodhall whereby residents can obtain the items they need at no cost to themselves. Under the terms of the contract the service provider is also required to consult regularly with residents to help ensure the produce available in the in-house store is both ethnically and culturally appropriate to their needs.

This model was used in all eight of the regional tender competitions for the provision of such accommodation, of which the Borders Region was the last chronologically to take place. The provision of an onsite foodhall was crucial to the bid from all successful tenderers and would have been factored into their costs. Tenders were evaluated on the Most Economically Advantageous Tender model, whereby bids are assessed on a combination of the quality of the proposal of service delivery and price. Quality of the proposal of service delivery was 60% of overall marks while price was 40%.

It would undermine the integrity of the procurement process if bidders were asked (either individually or collectively) to change the service delivery model from that contained in the specifications following assessment and contract award and would leave the process open to legal challenges from any unsuccessful bidders who could claim that they may have been successful had they been allowed to submit bids based on a voucher system or other proposal rather than a foodhall.

Port Road, Letterkenny will be the 30th accommodation centre to come through the tendering process. All of the accommodation centres that have been procured through this process provide residents with items through the points based foodhall system. The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department understand that the foodhall system works very well and residents are generally satisfied with the system.

Additionally, residents will be in receipt of a daily expenses allowance and many residents will qualify for permission to access the labour market and will do so. Residents are of course free to spend their income wherever they see fit, including in local shops.

Childcare Services

Questions (518)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

518. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if English as a second language students in a school (details supplied) can benefit from a lower ratio setting. [7934/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

All early learning and care (ELC) and school-age childcare (SAC) service providers are obliged to comply with the relevant Regulations. Services are required to operate within regulatory minimum adult-child ratios as set out in 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. The ratios are the minimum number of adults required to supervise, care for and work directly with the children in the service. Once the minimum requirement is adhered to a service may choose to operate at different ratios (e.g. for school age children the ratio is 1 : 12 so a service can allocate no more than 12 children to one adult but they may allocate fewer children if they wish).

Section 14 of the Childcare Support Act 2018 makes special provision for vulnerable children. This Sponsorship arrangement available within the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) offers additional supports for families with complex needs. The NCS will pay the full cost of the childcare for families referred to the Scheme by a sponsor body up to a maximum of €193.95 – €264.15 depending on the age of the child and the hours needed. Sponsored children can qualify for up to 45 hours of childcare per week. The same rates are paid in respect of sponsorship by all of the Sponsor Bodies. The sponsor rates are 15% above the rates set for non-Sponsor NCS awards.

Sponsor

Age

0-1 year

1-3 years

3 years - School-age

School-age

Rate per hour

€5.87

€5

€4.54

€4.31

Max 45 hours

€264.15

€225

€204.30

€193.95

The latest available Early Years Sector Profile fees data indicates that the national average ELC/SAC fees charged for full day care are €195.51 for 0-1 year olds, €189.68 for 1-2 year olds, €186.01 for 2-3 year olds, €184.39 for 3-4 year olds, €183.43 for 4-5 year olds, and €169.64 for 5-6 year olds.

As indicated by the table above, the rates paid for sponsored children under the NCS are higher than the national average fees charged by ELC/SAC providers.

The need for a sponsored referral is a determination for the relevant Sponsor Body and one they make based on the particular need of the child in line with their defined criteria as set out in the Childcare Support Act 2018.

Finally, it is important to note that the primary purpose of School Age Childcare is to provide care for children where their parents are unavailable. While there may be an educational element to the service, this is secondary to the care objective.

Departmental Consultations

Questions (519)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

519. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he had discussions with an organisation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8075/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The matter referred to by the Deputy is first and foremast an internal matter for the organisation involved.

Notwithstanding this, my officials and I engage regularly with the organisation on a range of matters related to governance issues. I met with representatives of the senior management team and the Board on Thursday last (4th February) to discuss governance matters in the organisation.

I received a letter from Scouting Ireland on 8th February notifying me of the Board's decision regarding the matter the Deputy refers to.

The allocation provided to the organisation for 2021 totals €1,192,727.

Departmental Programmes

Questions (520)

Richard O'Donoghue

Question:

520. Deputy Richard O'Donoghue asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of Tusla funded refuge places available in Limerick in 2019, 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8140/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (DGSBV). As the Deputy's question references an operational matter for Tusla, I have requested that Tusla responds to you directly on this matter.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (521)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

521. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation destroyed audio recordings of 550 interviews given to its Confidential Committee; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that section 43(2) of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 provides that before the dissolution of a commission, the chairperson or if the commission consists of only one member, the sole member shall deposit with the specified Minister all evidence received by and all documents created by or for the commission; if he has clarified if the destroyed audio files can be recovered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8145/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Confidential Committee module, and the manner in which it was incorporated into the Commission’s terms of reference, recognised the fundamental importance of the Commission being able to ground its investigations in the lived experiences of those who spent time in these institutions. Given the sensitivity of these deeply personal issues, it was accepted that a bespoke approach was necessary to facilitate and protect individuals who wished to engage confidentially with this module of the Commission’s work.

It is important to acknowledge therefore the reported procedural distinctions in the methodologies employed by the Commission across the different modules of its inquiry process – not all testimony was sworn evidence gathered or processed in accordance with the full rigours of the Commissions of Investigation Act. This does not in any way alter the value or truth of the stories captured in the Confidential Committee part of the Final Report, but it is important to acknowledge the different procedures implemented by the Commission.

The Commission is independent in the conduct of its inquiries and I had no role in, or knowledge of, the particulars of its approach. In its Final Report, the Commission states 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 Commission’s position is that the decision not to retain these recordings was legitimately and legally taken by it 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 and used in preparing the final report.

In October 2020, the Oireachtas enacted the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Act 2020 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. Most importantly, 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 the absolute commitment of confidentiality given to them.

Intensive preparations are ongoing in my Department to ensure that once the full archive transfers 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 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 its response, the Commission yesterday clarified that its advice from IT experts is that it is not technically possible to recover the audio recordings. This clarification is important in informing how I need to proceed in giving effect to Article 16 of GDPR, and other related rights of data subjects, when the archive of records transfers my Department.

I have also engaged with the Data Protection Commissioner with a view to supporting clarity on these matters and my Department’s management of the archive once deposited.

A decision on further action, if any, will be informed by these engagements and the legal advices of the Attorney General.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (522)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

522. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of early childhood education and care facilities that have closed permanently since March 2020. [8170/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

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

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (523)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

523. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if a child who is over the eligibility age for the early childhood care and education scheme but cannot get a place in a local primary school reclaim the missed months over the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic for the coming year; his plans to address children in these circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8200/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme is a universal two-year pre-school programme available to all children within the eligible age range. The programme is provided for three hours per day, five days per week over 38 weeks per year and runs from September to June each year, aligned with the primary school calendar.

A child must have reached 2 years and 8 months of age on or prior to 31 August of the relevant programme year to be eligible for the September start date and a child cannot turn 5 years and 6 months of age during the course of the ECCE programme year.

Exemptions for the age requirements for the ECCE programme provided by my Department are considered with regard to three guiding principles:

- the child will not reach 6 years of age before beginning primary education as per the Educational Welfare Act, 2000,

- a specialist has recommended the additional time in ECCE; and

- the child has not already availed of the full two years of ECCE.

The overage exemption ECCE programme is not a mechanism to delay a child’s entry to primary school or to address any issue of non-availability of a school place. If a child cannot get a place in primary school their parents should contact the Department of Education for advice.

With regard to children missing out on ECCE provision due to the current closure of the ECCE programme, ECCE providers are required to make all reasonable efforts engage with ECCE children not attending their service during the current closure period 1 February to 5 March, in order to continue to receive funding from my Department.

To assist providers engage with children remotely at this time, a preschool hub with free online resources has been made available on the First 5 website.

Adoption Data

Questions (524)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

524. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the agency to which the service, wait list, files and records of the Here2Help information and tracing service have been transferred to following its closure in June 2020. [8217/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I understand that Here2Help closed its operations on 30 June 2020 and proposes to transfer its adoption related files to the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

The Authority and Here2Help are currently in the process of finalising the suite of files to be transferred. Once this transfer of files happens, the Authority can provide an information and tracing service for persons whose records were held by Here2Help.

Immigration Support Services

Questions (525, 526, 527, 528)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

525. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the international protection procurement services have renewed the accommodation centre contract with a company (details supplied); the status of the accommodation centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8241/21]

View answer

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

526. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if emergency accommodation outlets have been sourced in County Louth for accommodation services for protection applicants; if so, the location of these outlets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8242/21]

View answer

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

527. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the existing accommodation centres for international protection applicants; and if further offers were accessed by the international protection procurement service in County Louth. [8243/21]

View answer

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

528. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the board basis for international protection applicants in reception and accommodation centres specifically self-catering accommodation centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8244/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 525 to 528, inclusive, together.

There are currently three properties being utilised by the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department in Co. Louth. These are Carroll Village in Dundalk, Setanta Bed & Breakfast in Ardee and the Carnbeg Hotel in Dundalk.

Carroll Village, is a dedicated international protection accommodation centre that was initially contracted in 2005 on an annual basis with contract renewal every January since. My Department has a contract for accommodation services in 23 apartments in the Carroll Village complex and we are currently in discussions with the provider for continued use of these apartments for 2021. The remaining apartments in the complex are not contracted to my Department.

Self-catering accommodation provided by my Department normally provides an on-site shop or foodhall where residents may obtain food and household items free of charge under a points based system. This facility is a contractual requirement for contractors for such accommodation centres. In addition, a weekly allowance of €38.80 per week for adults and €29.80 per week for children is paid by Community Welfare Officers (CWO). This allowance is a cash supplement for incidental expenses.

However, Carroll Village was chosen as a pilot project to provide self-catering facilities with weekly payments from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to cover the normal day to day living costs associated with living independently. Since 2017, International Protection residents of Carroll Village have been required to cover the costs of utility bills and to facilitate this, prepay meters were installed in the apartments.

Due to lack of capacity within the IPAS accommodation portfolio and continuing high demand for accommodation services, my Department contracted a number of hotels and guesthouses to provide accommodation and board to protection applicants. My Department is currently using the Setanta Bed and Breakfast in Ardee as temporary accommodation in Co. Louth. In addition, as a measure to deal with the impact of Covid-19 on those persons seeking international protection, my Department has also contracted the Carnbeg Hotel in Dundalk to operate as a quarantine centre for applicants before they are re-accommodated within the Department’s accommodation centres.

The forthcoming White Paper on the future direction of the provision of accommodation to International Protection , due to be published this month, will inform the type of accommodation that my Department will contract in the future.

Childcare Services

Questions (529)

Neale Richmond

Question:

529. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if it is a requirement of childcare providers to offer fee credits to parents for weeks in which the childcare provider setting is closed due to a Covid-19 outbreak; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8321/21]

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 be postponed. 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.

My Department is aware that many providers have chosen to refund, waive or credit fees for families not using an early learning and childcare services and I welcome this.

During the February 1 - March 5 period, to enable parental fees to be waived, along with other objectives, I have introduced revised and enhanced funding arrangements to support providers. Funding is now structured into standard funding and enhanced funding.

Where a provider has opted to avail of this enhanced funding, they are required to waive fees for children not attending. This applies to both open and closed services.

One element of the enhanced funding is the Covid Support Payment which is available for services that have a high degree of reliance on parental fees. This payment is subject to providers agreeing not to charge parents who don’t attend.

If providers do not access the conditional funding, they may still request fees from parents. Contract terms between providers and parents may stipulate specific obligations of both parties and I acknowledge that the relationship between a service and parent is a private one based on a contract between those two parties.

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.

Childcare Services

Questions (530)

Neale Richmond

Question:

530. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the details of his engagement throughout 2020 and to date in 2021 with au pair organisations in relation to the childcare duties many participants provide to parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8322/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

There has been a limited number of engagements between au pair organisations and my Department during the period from 2020 to date. Engagement took place specifically in relation to Covid-19 guidance. Officials in my Department provided information, advice and best practice guidance on Covid-19 to those offering childcare in a child’s/family’s own home. In addition, officials in my Department worked with Childminding Ireland to develop Childminding Guidelines for operating during Covid-19, which includes guidance for childcare in a child's/family's own home.

It should be noted that the provision of childcare in the child's/family's home does not fall within the scope of early learning and care (ELC) or school-age childcare (SAC) regulations under the Child Care Act 1991. Responsibility for au pairs lies with parents/guardians as their employer.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (531)

Neale Richmond

Question:

531. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his Department considers au pair participants to be essential workers; if so, if specific provisions are in place to allow them to enter the country through essential travel provisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8323/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Au Pair participants are deemed as essential workers and can continue to operate, like all other childcare providers. Childcare is essential for a parents ability to balance work with family responsibilities, especially those in the workforce on whom we rely to deliver essential services. In addition, a household of an essential worker, without an existing childcare arrangement, can form a bubble with another household for the purpose of providing childcare.

However, insofar as international travel is concerned, there is a Government Advisory in operation against all non-essential international travel, reinforced by legal measures to protect public health and to mitigate the risk of new variants of COVID-19 entering the country. Travellers arriving into Ireland must complete a passenger locator form, have evidence of a negative or ‘not detected’ result from a pre-departure PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel upon arrival, and undertake mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Travellers who arrive without a relevant test result are required to take a test within 36 hours of arrival. Further information including the very limited exemptions applying, which do not extend to au pair participants, is available on the gov.ie website: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/b4020-travelling-to-ireland-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/”