Apprenticeship Programmes

Questions (274)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

274. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of apprentices waiting to access off-the-job training; the number that have been waiting for over a year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38420/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Craft apprenticeships account for 25 of the 61 existing available apprenticeship programmes. The off-the-job training for these programmes is delivered in Training Centres or Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities. It is these programmes which were those most impacted by the shutdown of on-site learning activity in 2020 and 2021 given the practical nature of the apprenticeships; training centres and workshops having been closed for 9 of the past 14 months.

End of May figures indicated that over 10,000 apprentices were waiting for access to Phase 2, 4 and 6 off-the-job training, of these 3,500 craft apprentices had been waiting over 12 months.

Craft apprentices were prioritised for a return to on-site learning on 8 March 2021. Delivery of off-the-job phases is proceeding, and will continue over the summer, subject to public health advice and with restricted numbers. This approach will assist institutions and providers in preparing and organising the safe return of larger numbers in the autumn.

The Government has committed to a significant increase in onsite attendance in the tertiary education sector in the next academic year. Following consultation with sectoral stakeholders and following Government approval, A Safe Return: Plan for a safe return to on-site Further and Higher Education and Research in 2021/22 was recently published. The Plan reflects the essential nature of higher and further education and training including apprenticeships. It provides for comprehensive on-site activity for the next academic year, with almost full scale on-site activities.

To support the Plan, the sector has developed a Pact of actions and commitments to ensure that the return is safe. With specific reference to the issue of backlogs, under this Pact, institutions and providers have committed to addressing backlogs and deferred learning outcomes. Similarly, stakeholder bodies have committed to engaging with institutions and providers to achieve significant increases to on-site teaching, learning, assessment and research, to progress mitigating actions and to address backlogs.

A three-step plan to tackle the backlog in craft apprenticeship off-the-job training over the next 12 to 15 months is currently being worked on between SOLAS and further and higher education providers. Step 1 of the plan includes an increase in the number of training workshops available across further and higher education from September 2021 onwards. Steps 2 and 3 involve tailored emergency approaches to accelerate the throughput of apprentices at Phases 2 and 6 for a designated period of time.

€20 million in additional capital expenditure has been allocated to SOLAS and the HEA to facilitate an additional 4,000 craft apprenticeship places across the system in the coming period and into the future. This is in addition to €12 million which had already been allocated to support additional classes and teaching capacity to ameliorate COVID-19 measures.

Departmental Data

Questions (275)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

275. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the breakdown of the expenditure heading Training People for Employment of the National Training Fund; the full range of course covered, the number of places provided; the average cost per places; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38421/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

SOLAS has declared a spend of €125.5m on training people for employment in 2020. The NTF will contribute €207.3 million in 2021. The increase from the 2020 allocation will allow SOLAS to continue with the provision of the Skills to Compete and the retrofitting programmes which were introduced as a part of the July Jobs Stimulus package in 2020.

Programmes which are funded from the NTF Training for Employment budget line include VTOS, Blended Training, Specific Skills Training and Traineeship.

I attach details of the number of places provided and the average cost per place on each programme of this funding for 2020.

Funding

Third Level Education

Questions (276)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

276. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the impact Covid-19 has had on international students who have attended university here (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38431/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The enrolment statistics for the 2020/2021 academic year, which will include the statistics in relation to international students, have not yet been published. The HEA will publish these statistics later this year.

The financial impact of the pandemic on international students will vary depending on the student, and there is no information available to me on the financial impact on this sector of students as a whole.

Departmental Strategies

Questions (277)

Holly Cairns

Question:

277. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the way his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit are implementing Action 16 of the National Disability and Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 (details supplied). [38482/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

My Department is committed to keeping its website accessible, in line with the accessibility statement available on gov.ie. My Department uses Plain English online, avoids the use of PDF documents as much as possible, and ensures that all video content produced for use online is captioned.

My Department has not developed any mobile applications.

My Department does not hold this information in respect of aegis bodies.

Departmental Strategies

Questions (278)

Holly Cairns

Question:

278. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the way his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit are implementing Action 32 of the National Disability and Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 (details supplied). [38511/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has put in place a Disability Consultative Committee as mandated under Action 32 of the National Disability and Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021. The Committee held its first meeting in June, with the next meeting scheduled for September.

Third Level Education

Questions (279)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

279. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the point at which third-level students will be directly addressed and advised when a return to campus is a likelihood; if a clear pathway to return will be provided to these students; if a decision on the return to face-to-face third-level teaching will be delivered before students have to financially commit to accommodation thus avoiding the uncertainty experienced at the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38598/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The Government has committed to planning for a significant increase in onsite attendance in the tertiary education sector in the next academic year.

Following consultation with sectoral stakeholders and following Government approval, I published A Safe Return: Plan for a safe return to on-site Further and Higher Education and Research in 2021/22.

The Plan reflects the essential nature of higher and further education and training, and research activities, and in that context provides for comprehensive on-site activity for the next academic year with almost full scale on-site activities.

Under the Plan, larger scale lectures may take place on-site depending on the public health situation but some restriction in numbers may still be required. The safety measures which will be in place such as social distancing, face masks, and ventilation will be in accordance with prevailing public health advice taking into account the essential nature of further and higher education and research. Institutions and providers will continue to put in place plans to ensure that the overall number of people on campus at a given time continues to be moderated.

Contingency planning, based on a more restrictive public health environment, is also being prepared by the sector. Even in a more restrictive public health environment, it is envisaged that there would still be significant on-site activities. At a very minimum, workshops, tutorials, classroom based activities and smaller lectures will be allowed and libraries, research facilities and labs will be opened.

My Department has undertaken to provide Government in mid-July with an update on this planning and the associated expected level of on-site activity in further and higher education and research in the Autumn. This will ensure that there is ongoing support for planning in this sector and that planning proceeds in a manner that is aligned to prevailing public health advice.

Following the update to Cabinet in July and taking account of public health guidelines, it is envisaged that institutions and providers will be in a position to communicate their plans for a return to on-site activity to students, learners and staff.

Adult Education Provision

Questions (280)

Mark Ward

Question:

280. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science when a return of in-house, classroom learning for adult education providers can be allowed under the current guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31009/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The Government has committed to a significant increase in onsite attendance in the tertiary education sector in the next academic year.

Following consultation with sectoral stakeholders and on following Government approval, the Minister published A Safe Return: Plan for a safe return to on-site Further and Higher Education and Research in 2021/22.

The Plan reflects the essential nature of higher and further education and training, and research activities, and in that context, provides for comprehensive on-site activity for the next academic year, with almost full scale on-site activities.

Under the Plan, the safety measures which will be in place such as social distancing, face masks, ventilation will be in accordance with prevailing public health advice taking into account the essential nature of further and higher education and research. Institutions and providers will continue to put in place plans to ensure that the overall number of people on campus at a given time continues to be moderated.

Contingency planning, based on a more restrictive public health environment, is also being prepared by the sector. Even in a more restrictive public health environment, it is envisaged that there would still be significant on-site activities. At a very minimum, workshops, tutorials, classroom based activities and smaller lectures will be allowed and libraries, research facilities and labs will be opened.

Further and higher education institutions and providers are enabling provision during the summer period, which includes the resumption of research activity. This is to be managed in line with the discretionary framework to do so and the prevailing public health advice. This will provide an experiential basis for institutions and providers in organising and managing the safe return of students and learners on-site in the autumn through initially modest and manageable levels of provision.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (281)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

281. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that exchange students who will be studying in the coming academic year in the USA cannot sit visa interviews due to Covid-19 restrictions; the steps he is taking to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31114/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The processing of US student visas, and the provision of appointments at US Embassies, is solely a matter for the US authorities.

Officials in my department have brought this issue to the attention of officials in Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Department of Foreign Affairs have informed us that they have raised the issue with the US Embassy in Dublin, encouraging them to process student visas as soon as it is feasible and safe to do so.

The Department of Foreign Affairs have further informed us that, together with other EU countries, Ireland has also written to US Secretary of State Blinken requesting reconsideration of the US travel restrictions currently in place, and that they will continue to maintain regular contact with the Embassy, and with the US State Department via our Embassy in Washington D.C., including with regard to travel restrictions between our two countries.

Wrongful Convictions

Questions (282)

Pa Daly

Question:

282. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice if she will establish an independent review into the conviction of a person (details supplied) as previously requested unanimously by the Tralee Municipal District. [38132/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, this case relates to the murder of a member of An Garda Síochána over 75 years ago. The individual in question was tried and convicted of this murder by the Special Criminal Court, and subsequently executed on 1 December 1944. While I of course do not support capital punishment in any form, I am not aware of any matter of public interest that would necessitate reopening these matters. In addition, the Court found the person in question guilty and it would not be appropriate for me to seek to take issue with the independent decision of the Court in the absence of any clear evidence that a miscarriage of justice occurred.

An Garda Síochána

Questions (283)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

283. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Justice the number of gardaí by rank attached to Roscommon-Longford divisional drugs unit as of 31 December 2019 and 5 July 2021, in tabular form. [38192/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the administration and management of An Garda Síochána, including the deployment of Gardaí and their allocation to Garda units.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the number of Gardaí by rank attached to the Roscommon-Longford Drugs unit on 31 December 2019 and on 30 June 2021 is set out in the below table.

Drugs unit in Roscommon-Longford

Drugs Unit Numbers

Inspector

Sergeant

Garda

TOTAL

31 December 2019

1

4

5

30 June 2021

1

6

7

An Garda Síochána

Questions (284)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

284. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Justice the number and age of the Garda vehicle fleet in the Roscommon-Longford division by district. [38193/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is, by law, responsible for the management and control of An Garda Síochána and for the effective and efficient use of Garda resources, including the Garda fleet.

The allocation of vehicles within An Garda Síochána is made by the Garda Commissioner on the basis of identified operational demands, the availability of resources and is reviewed on a continual basis. As Minister, I have no role in this matter.

I have been provided by the Garda authorities with the following table, which outlines the breakdown by age of the Roscommon-Longford Divisional Fleet, as of 9 July 2021.

Age Profile

Castlerea District

Granard

District

Longford

District

Roscommon

District

Roscommon-Longford Division

Total

< 1 year

3

3

4

3

13

1-2 years

2

2

2

2

8

2-4 years

4

1

1

4

10

4-6 years

6

1

4

5

16

6+ years

6

0

5

9

20

Total

21

7

16

23

67

National Broadband Plan

Questions (285)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

285. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice the engagement she or the agencies under her remit has had with the National Broadband Plan in the past two months. [38206/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I wish to advise the Deputy that neither I, as Minister for Justice, nor any of the agencies, offices and bodies under the aegis of my Department has had any engagement with the National Broadband Plan in the past two months.

Seirbhísí trí Ghaeilge

Questions (286)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

286. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Catherine Connolly den Aire Dlí agus Cirt an bhfuil freagraí ar fáil ar cheisteanna uimhreacha 1448, 1449 agus 1450 dar dháta an 21 Aibreán 2021; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [38220/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

Mar is eol duit, faoi fhorálacha an Achta um Sheirbhís Chúirteanna, 1998, is í an tSeirbhís Chúirteanna atá freagrach i mbainistiú na gcúirteanna, agus tá an tSeirbhís sin neamhspleách ag comhlíonadh a feidhmeanna di. Ina theannta sin, is ábhair a bhaineann go hiomlán le hUachtaráin na gCúirteanna agus leis na breithiúna ceannais – atá, faoin mBunreacht, neamhspleách ag comhlíonadh a bhfeidhmeanna breithiúnacha dóibh – iad cásanna cúirte aonair a sceidealú agus gnó cúirte a leithroinnt.

Chuir mé fiosruithe á ndéanamh, áfach, agus tá dearbhaithe ag an tSeirbhís Chúirteanna, cé nach gcoimeádann an tSeirbhís painéal sonrach de bhreithiúna a bhfuil inniúlacht sa Ghaeilge acu, tá breithiúna a bhfuil líofacht sa Ghaeilge acu agus ar féidir leo cásanna a stiúradh i nGaeilge ag na cúirteanna seo a leanas:

- An Chúirt Uachtarach : Is féidir le 5 Breitheamh, ar a laghad, gnó breithiúnach a stiúradh trí Ghaeilge. Rinne an Chúirt Uachtarach achomharc a stiúradh go hiomlán i nGaeilge, gan aistriúchán, le fíordhéanaí.

- An Chúirt Achomhairc : 1 Breitheamh.

- An Ard-Chúirt : 1 Breitheamh.

- An Chúirt Chuarda : 3 Breitheamh.

- An Chúirt Dúiche: 7 Breitheamh.

Tá an Rialtas tiomnaithe d’acmhainní dóthanacha a chinntiú do na cúirteanna chun rochtain ar an gceartas a choinneáil do na saoránaigh go léir, lena n-áirítear na daoine ar mian leo go ndéanfaí imeachtaí a stiúradh trí Ghaeilge. Á chur sin san áireamh, féachann an Rialtas le folúntais bhreithiúnacha a líonadh chomh luath agus is féidir, agus lena chinntiú go leanfaidh ár gcúirteanna de bheith ag oibriú chomh héifeachtach éifeachtúil agus is féidir.

Déanann an tUachtarán, ag gníomhú dó nó di ar chomhairle an Rialtais, ceapacháin bhreithiúnacha de réir Airteagail 13.9 agus 35.1 den Bhunreacht. Is é an Bord Comhairleach um Cheapacháin Bhreithiúnacha an comhlacht a bhfuil curtha de chúram air iarrthóirí cuí a mholadh lena gceapadh. Tuigtear dom go lorgaítear faisnéis maidir le hinniúlacht iarratasóra sa Ghaeilge, i measc scileanna eile, ar fhoirm iarratais an Bhoird.

Leagtar amach ceanglas i gCeannteidil fhoilsithe an Bhille fá Choimisiún um Cheapacháin Bhreithiúnacha go ndéanfadh an Coimisiún um Cheapacháin Bhreithiúnacha riachtanais lucht úsáide na gcúirteanna maidir le himeachtaí a bheith á stiúradh sa Ghaeilge a chur san áireamh. Tá foráil dá samhail molta maidir le daoine le hinniúlacht sa Ghaeilge a bheith ar áireamh i gcomhaltas na breithiúnachta nuair a bheidh moltaí á gcur faoi bhráid an Aire maidir le breithiúna a cheapadh.

Foráiltear leis an Acht Cúirteanna Breithiúnais, 1924, gur ceart, sa mhéid gur féidir é, breitheamh a shanntar do Dhúiche nó do Chuaird ina bhfuil limistéar Gaeltachta a bheith inniúil sa Ghaeilge. Cuirtear na forálacha sin san áireamh sa phróiseas breithnithe maidir leis na folúntais iomchuí.

Foráiltear leis an Acht Cúirteanna Breithiúnais, 1924, gur ceart, sa mhéid gur féidir é, breitheamh a shanntar do Dhúiche nó do Chuaird ina bhfuil limistéar Gaeltachta a bheith inniúil sa Ghaeilge. Cuirtear na forálacha sin san áireamh sa phróiseas breithnithe do na folúntais iomchuí, lena n-áirítear ceapadh breithimh Cúirte Dúiche i nDún na nGall (Dúiche 1) le déanaí. Tá áthas orm a rá go bhfuil an breitheamh nua-cheaptha inniúil sa Ghaeilge.

Ar deireadh, tá Gasra Oibre, de réir an ghealltanais sa Chlár Rialtais, bunaithe ag an Rialtas chun breithniú a dhéanamh ar líon agus ar chineál na mbreithiúna atá ag teastáil chun a chinntiú go ndéanfar an ceartas a riar go héifeachtúil sna cúig bliana amach romhainn. Breithneoidh an gasra sin an ceanglas maidir le hinniúlacht sa Ghaeilge laistigh den bhreithiúnacht, chomh maith.

Departmental Correspondence

Questions (287)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

287. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice if there are guidelines, written procedures or protocols or key performance indicators for acknowledgement of correspondence received and response to correspondence received, respectively by category of correspondence (details supplied) in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38246/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department is committed to delivering high quality customer service to all of our customers, including members of the public, elected representatives and stakeholders, and my officials aim to interact with our customers in a manner that is accessible, efficient, empathetic and fair at all times.

My officials endeavour to acknowledge all correspondence received within approximately 5 working days and to issue a reply within approximately 20 working days. Where it is not possible to issue a full response within 20 working days, my officials aim to issue an interim reply advising the correspondent of the delay and when a response is likely to be issued. These proposed deadlines apply to all correspondence received, whether solicited or unsolicited.

Unfortunately, as the Deputy will appreciate, there were some delays over the course of the last 12-18 months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with regard to the management and processing of hard-copy correspondence received by my Department. However, I would like to assure the Deputy that my officials are committed to responding to correspondence received as soon as possible and meeting the deadlines as set out above.

Furthermore, the Deputy may wish to note that my Department offers a dedicated facility for Oireachtas members who have queries about specific immigration cases - INISOireachtasMail@justice.ie. This service is monitored by dedicated Department of Justice officials who are assigned to respond to queries in the most efficient and timely way possible. Responses to Deputies or Senators who submit a query to Oireachtas Mail are generally made within 10 working days. However, currently the majority of queries are being answered within a shorter timeframe.

With regard to the Deputy’s question about guidelines and procedures, my officials are in the process of finalising a written procedure for the handling and management of the various types of correspondence my Department receives. In the meantime, there are informal guidelines and procedural documents used by the team that manages correspondence into my Department. Furthermore, the Deputy may wish to note that a new Customer Service Charter and Customer Service Action Plan is currently being finalised by my Department.

An Garda Síochána

Questions (288)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

288. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice the number of Garda cars and vans attached to each Garda district within Dublin as of 1 July 2020 and 1 July 2021, in tabular form. [38264/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Deputy will be aware that in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána. The allocation of Garda resources is a matter for the Commissioner and his management team, in light of identified operational demands. This includes responsibility for the allocation of Garda vehicles. As Minister, I have no role in these matters. I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimum use.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that the tables in the attachment to this answer set out the number of vehicles assigned to each district within the DMR at 30 June 2020 and 30 June 2021, the latest date for which figures are available. Please note that the category 'others' refers to MPV, SUV, Minibus or Prisoner Conveyance Vehicles.

Fleet

Court Judgments

Questions (289)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

289. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice the number of persons successfully prosecuted for begging in a public place within Dublin city centre in 2019, 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [38265/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I wish to inform the Deputy that having sought the assistance of the Courts Service of Ireland, I understand that they are unable to provide the requested information.

I am informed that the offence of begging does not have a searchable code associated with it and so no report can be furnished. Offences of begging received from An Garda Síochána are in the form of a free text which means it isn't possible to run a report for the specific offence.

An Garda Síochána

Questions (290)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

290. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice the number of vehicles seized by gardaí within the Kildare division for driving without insurance in 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [38266/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including the enforcement of road traffic legislation. As Minister for Justice, I have no direct role in these matters.

I have been provided by the Garda authorities with the below table, outlining a yearly breakdown of the number of incidents where a vehicle was seized under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act in the Kildare Division for the offence of driving without insurance.

2020

2021*

894

391

* 2021 figures cover the period from 1 January 2021 to 30 June 2021.

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that all information contained in this report is based upon operational data from the PULSE system as was available on 12 July 2021 and is liable to change.

An Garda Síochána

Questions (291)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

291. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice if members of An Garda Síochána attached to the Garda armed support unit are fully trained in advanced lifesaving skills. [38269/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the administration and management of An Garda Síochána, including any matters relating to the training of Garda members.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that pre-hospital care has been a skill-set in the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) since 2000, where the basics of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) were developed to allow for a greater level of competence through the delivery of Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS) to a core group of members. I am advised that this situation has evolved over time, with members acquiring certification in the greater skill-set of Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). I am further advised that all Garda members attached to the ERU and Armed Support Unit (ASU) nationally are qualified to Emergency First Responder (EFR) level.

I am further informed that there are a number of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) attached to the ERU, and that these members are registered with Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC), an independent statutory organisation responsible for implementing, monitoring and further developing the standards of care provided by all statutory, private and voluntary ambulance services in Ireland.

Mental Health Services

Questions (292)

Mark Ward

Question:

292. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Justice the status of the establishment of a high level taskforce to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system; the way a person can become a part of this taskforce; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38337/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the establishment of the High Level Taskforce on Mental Health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system is a key goal within the Justice Plan 2021, which was published by Minister McEntee earlier this year.

The Taskforce is chaired by Kathleen Lynch, former Minister of State with responsibility for primary care, Mental Health and Disability.

The first meeting of the Taskforce took place via video conference on Wednesday 28 April 2021 and was attended by Minister of State at my Department, James Browne TD, and Ministers of State at the Department of Health, Mary Butler TD and Frank Feighan TD.

Two further meetings took place on 19 May and 25 June 2021. The next meeting of the Taskforce is due to take place on 29 July.

Three subgroups have now been established on diversion, on Irish Prison Service/Central Mental Hospital capacity and on community issues and through-care from custody. At the last meeting of the Taskforce, held on 25 June, updates were provided from subgroup chairs on their work to date and Terms of Reference.

The Deputy may wish to note that the Chairperson has also met the All Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform, co-chaired by (then) Senator Ivana Bacik and Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, supported by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, on 26 May 2021.

The Deputy may also wish to note that the Terms of Reference for the Taskforce include consultation with stakeholders where relevant. In that regard, I understand that the Taskforce currently envisages that consultation will take place in September in collaboration with officials from my Department. Further details of how the consultation will be undertaken will be published on my Department's website when available.

The Taskforce will provide an interim report to both the Minister for Health and I by the end of September and it is envisaged a high level implementation plan will be published by the Taskforce by the end of the year.

Legal Aid

Questions (293)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

293. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Justice the average length of time that persons are waiting for free legal aid in each county; the longest waiting time for free legal aid in each county; the number of persons who are on the waiting list for same in each county; the number who are working in each free legal aid centre in each county; the number who have worked in such centres in each of the past five years; and when the last salary threshold was changed for free legal aid. [38338/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Legal Aid Board is statutorily independent in the exercise of its functions under Section 3(3) of the Legal Aid Act 1995.

In accordance with circular 25/2016, agencies under the aegis of Government Departments have a dedicated email address for the provision of information to members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Legal Aid Board's dedicated address is oireachtas_enq@legalaidboard.ie.

The waiting times in each law centre are published on the Legal Aid Board’s website at www.legalaidboard.ie/en/our-services/legal-aid-services/waiting-times/

As the Deputy may be aware, Justice Plan 2021 contains a commitment to commence a review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme this year. In this regard, my Department is currently in the process of scoping the review and it is expected that it will commence in the third quarter of the year. One of the areas which may be considered in the context of the proposed review is eligibility for civil legal aid.

Since the enactment of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the making of the Civil Legal Regulations 1996, the Regulations relating to financial eligibility have been substantially revised on three occasions. Applicants for Legal Aid must satisfy both financial eligibility criteria and a test of the merits of their case before they can qualify for legal advice and representation in accordance with the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the associated Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996-2017. In general persons must make a contribution also in line with their financial means, that is, the legal aid is not entirely free.

As the Deputy may also be aware, in May, I announced that the Legal Aid Board will no longer include the Housing Assistance Payment in their calculation of entitlement to civil legal aid. This will have a positive impact for those who are of modest means and are in receipt of HAP or any other housing support measure provided by a Government Department or any other public body.

In recognition of the competing demands being made on the legal aid scheme, under Budget 2021, Minister McEntee secured an increased provision of over €2 million for the Legal Aid Board bringing its total funding to €44.6 million for this year representing a 6% increase.

An Garda Síochána

Questions (294)

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

294. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Justice the overtime bill for An Garda Síochána in each of the years 2018 to 2020 and to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38392/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the administration and management of An Garda Síochána and, as the accounting officer for An Garda Síochána, is also responsible for Garda expenditure. As Minister, I have no direct role in this matter.

I have been provided with the below table detailing the total reported overtime bill for An Garda Síochána in the years 2018, 2019, 2020 and to date in 2021. The figures include overtime for Garda members and civilian staff (including the Garda College).

2018

2019

2020

2021 (January - June)

€118,148,000

€106,942,000

€98,958,000

€55,538,000

Citizenship Applications

Questions (295)

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

295. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Justice the number of citizenship applications that were processed in each of the years 2018 to 2020 and to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38393/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The table below sets out the number of citizenship applications that were processed in each of the years 2018 to 2020 and to the end of June 2021, as requested by the Deputy.

Year

Decisions

Ineligible/other

Refusals

Approvals

Certificates issued

2018

11,139

1,261

1,251

8,627

8,221

2019

9,332

504

50

8,778

5,790

2020

5,159

532

8

4,619

5,480

2021 (to end June)

5,357

141

293

4,923

4,435

I appreciate how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it. My Department has continued to accept and process applications throughout the pandemic. However, processing rates have been negatively impacted by the necessary health and safety related restrictions and from a High Court case in 2019, which was subsequently successfully appealed.

As a result, regrettably, there are just over 24,600 applications currently on hand at various stages of processing.

Since opening the statutory declaration system in January, we have invited 6,500 applicants to complete the final steps prior to the granting of a certificate of naturalisation. Over 4,400 people have received their certificates so far.

Additional staff are being assigned to the citizenship team; and a number of digitisation measures have been introduced to increase efficiency in the process, including eTax clearance, eVetting and online payments. These measures will free up staff to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, improving customer service and reducing waiting times. Based on current staff resources, the decision making timeframe is expected to revert to 6-9 months during 2022.

Court Judgments

Questions (296)

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

296. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Justice the number of persons that were jailed for not having a television licence in each of the years 2018 to 2020 and to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38395/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Deputy will be aware that the management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998. The Courts Service is independent in exercising its functions, as of course are the judiciary, including the imposition of sentences for any offence. As Minister for Justice I have no direct role in these matters.

I can inform the Deputy that the offence of not having a TV licence under section 148 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 does not carry a penalty of imprisonment. A term of imprisonment may however be imposed for not paying the fine incurred for the offence of not having a TV licence.

I am informed by the Courts Service that the below table details the number persons who received an order of imprisonment under the Fines Act for not paying the fine imposed on foot of not having a TV licence, in the years requested.

Year

No. of Persons

2018

13

2019

6

2020

1

Jan – May 2021

1

TOTAL

21

Departmental Strategies

Questions (297)

Holly Cairns

Question:

297. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice the way her Department and public bodies and agencies under her remit are implementing Action 16 of the National Disability and Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 (details supplied). [38496/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department is committed to ensuring that accessibility is a core element in the design and build of our websites and systems by default. My Department regularly perform evaluations against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standard.

My Department's website will shortly be moving to Gov.ie, which is built and maintained by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER). Accessibility is embedded into the design phase of all website migration projects.

My Department is also currently progressing a project to assess all other websites in its remit with a view to either retiring or migrating them to a more modern platform, with a built-in accessibility component for reading impairment.

I am informed that the Data Protection Commission (DPC) and Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) websites are regularly reviewed to ensure compliance with WCAG. In redeveloping its Online Legal Aid Application system in 2020, the Legal Aid Board followed the EU Directive on the Accessibility of Public Sector Websites and Mobile Applications.

An Garda Síochána is committed to achieving compliance with the harmonised European standard, EN 301 549 (Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services) which replicates the more commonly known Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) and has made amendments accordingly, including updating the Accessibility Statement to reflect its level of compliance and providing information on how to provide feedback on the website.

Numerous changes have been made to ensure that the Garda website is accessible to all, including the provision of an accessibility assistive toolbar solution called Recite Me which allows website users to customise their experience on the site in a way that suits their needs. Recite Me provides features to enable accessibility such as text to speech functionality, customisable display and styling features, reading aids and a translation tool with over 100 languages, including 35 text to speech voices. The toolbar provides website users with greater accessibility with a PDF Reader solution.

The Garda website has also been updated to comply with the use of cookies in line with the GDPR requirements. The website uses cookies to enhance the browsing experience and to collect information about how visitors use the site, to improve the service.

The current Courts Service website was fully redesigned and launched in Summer 2020, and has been built from the ground up based on user needs, including extensive end user engagement and in line with the principles of universal design.

Within budget parameters, the Courts Service is iteratively updating external and internal digital touch points in a user-centric manner, to ensure that those who interact with its services can do so across a diverse range of abilities and preferences.

Through the Courts Service Modernisation Programme in 2021, capability and capacity has been increased in terms of service design, user interface, user experience and customer experience expertise to ensure that the modernisation and digital transformation of existing services are being carried out in a user-centric manner and will adhere to universal design principles and the Web Accessibility Directive.

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is committed to making its website accessible in accordance with the POUR (perceivable, operable, understandable, robust) principles outlined in SI No. 358/2020 and is working towards compliance with these principles in the current upgrade of content of its website.

The Irish Prison Service is committed to achieving a conformance level of triple-A WCAG on the irishprisons.ie website and compliance with the National Disability Authority IT Accessibility Guidelines.

Some of the website aids include keyboard shortcuts; documents in formats to enable easier reading and printing offline, navigation aids at the top each webpage to help with navigation, content and decorative images on website include ALT titles to explain the content or the purpose of the image in question. For colour-blind or partially sighted users there is a facility to increase and decrease the font size or override it completely, and site fonts and background colour combinations for the different colour-blindness conditions to ensure that items are not referenced by colour alone.

The Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI) operates two websites, ISI.gov.ie and Backontrack.ie, a debtor-facing website used for ISI information campaigns. Work to make this website more accessible and user-friendly is underway and appropriate accessibility features and tools will be incorporated as part of that project.

All business applications developed for and used by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority are developed in accordance with the accessibility standards set out by the NDA and the recently redesigned website includes accessibility features.

In redeveloping its online Legal Aid Application system in 2020, the Legal Aid Board followed the POUR principles to make web content access easier. The Board's website currently has level AA conformance to the WCAG 2.0.

The Policing Authority has developed a highly accessible website with a conformance level of Triple-A and WCAG compliance as well as compliance with the Irish National IT Accessibility Guidelines.

Departmental Strategies

Questions (298)

Holly Cairns

Question:

298. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice the way her Department and public bodies and agencies under her remit are implementing Action 32 of the National Disability and Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 (details supplied). [38513/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

My Department and the offices, agencies and bodies under my remit are fully committed to the implementation of the National Disability and Inclusion Strategy (NDIS) and are aware this can only be achieved with active engagement and collaboration with people with disabilities.

The Departmental Consultative Committee (DCC) provides a forum for engagement between Departmental officials, representatives of the National Disability Authority (NDA) and representatives of the Disability Stakeholders Group, particularly in relation to implementation of the National Disability Inclusion Strategy. It also provides an opportunity for my Department to update on current issues of interest and for the groups to raise issues that are of concern to them.

The DCC recently met to consider actions, ahead of reporting on Departmental NDIS actions at the NDIS Steering Committee meeting in June and will meet again in the autumn.

In a recent public consultation on hate speech, my Department drew significant learnings from a consultation workshop for people with disabilities and the input of those with lived experience of disability was extremely valuable in the consideration of policy and legislation measures.

The Department of Justice’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) Committee is currently working to develop an ED&I strategy for Department. The draft objectives will focus on:

- Improving the accessibility and quality of our services;

- Supporting the development of a skilled and diverse workforce;

- Building and embedding a workplace culture which facilitates, supports and encourages contributions from all.

We are working to publish this strategy in the autumn. Simultaneously, the Customer Insights team are developing a Customer Service Action Plan for the Department and are working to include more ways to actively engage with people with disabilities.

The Deputy may wish to note the following examples across offices, agencies and bodies under the remit of the Department:

An Garda Síochána has a dedicated unit - the Garda National Diversity and Integration Unit - with responsibility for all external-facing issues relating to diversity and integration that require a policing response. Disability is one of the nine strands of diversity under the remit of the GNDIU.

The unit engages with stakeholders on an ongoing basis and is a point of contact for advice, guidance and support for all representative groups advocating on behalf of those with disabilities.

The GNDIU established a National Diversity Forum to monitor and review the implementation of the strategy and to act as a critical friend. The forum is made up of 15 representatives of communities and key stakeholders including the Policing Authority.

This forum has met on five occasions and is chaired by the Director of the Irish Network against Racism (INAR). The founder of the Irish Criminal Justice Disability Network (ICJDN) is a member of the forum and represents the interests of those with learning, intellectual and physical disabilities.

The Garda National Diversity Forum will continue to review progress on the implementation of all strategic objectives contained in the Diversity and Integration Strategy 2019-2021 over the lifetime of the strategy. While the monitoring function of the forum is to ensure An Garda Síochána carry out the commitments outlined in the strategy, it also provides a link to minority communities and provides a voice for those with concerns within those communities.

The Garda Síochána Inspectorate regularly engages with NGOs including those who represent people with disabilities to ensure that the rights and needs of people with disabilities are considered in the course of the Inspectorate fulfilling its statutory function.

The Legal Aid Board established a Consultative Panel a number of years ago to provide a forum to keep external stakeholders informed and updated , to facilitate stakeholders to provide feedback and assistance to the Board on its services from a user’s perspective.

The Panel meets three times a year. Current membership is published on the Board’s website and includes representatives from, among others, the Citizens Information Board and Sage Advocacy, whose engagement assists the Board in addressing how the legal needs of people with disabilities may be better met within the statutory framework in which the Board operates.

Disability Inclusion is included in the Policing Authority’s 2021 Stakeholder Engagement Plan. During the past year, the Authority has met with organisations who work with vulnerable adults on safeguarding issues, including people with disabilities.

The Probation Service is committed to supporting the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 and is focused on fostering a strong culture of equality, diversity and inclusion.

This is reflected within the Probation Service Strategic Statement which identifies inclusion as a key strategic priority for the organisation and outlines its ambition to deliver fair and accessible services to all. Specific measures include liaising with the Irish Criminal Justice Disability Network (ICJDN) to develop a bespoke training programme for probation staff in relation to disability awareness, and raising awareness and understanding of various forms of disabilities and promoting inclusive practices through the role of its Disability Liaison Officer (DLO) .

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) is focusing on actively engaging with persons with disabilities through its statutory reporting activities and associated research.