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Wednesday, 6 Oct 2021

Written Answers Nos. 66-85

Departmental Meetings

Questions (66)

David Cullinane

Question:

66. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Education if she will arrange a meeting with representatives of an organisation (details supplied) to discuss components of the programme and ensure these are embedded into national education policy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48498/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The role of the school is to provide an appropriate education for all its pupils. A stable, secure learning environment is an essential requirement to achieve this goal. Schools have autonomy in choosing the resources and programmes that best support the work within their own classrooms.

The Yellow Flag programme aims to support primary and secondary schools to become more inclusive of all cultures and ethnicities, celebrate diversity and challenge racism and discrimination. While respecting schools' autonomy to participate in such programmes, my Department has introduced a number of measures to assist schools in this matter.

My Department's ‘Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice (2019)' acknowledges that schools provide opportunities to develop friendships and to respectfully encounter diversity and access support structures. The policy promotes the provision of a whole-school approach at both primary and post-primary level to supporting wellbeing, an approach that has been found internationally to produce a wide range of educational and social benefits for individual children and young people, including increased inclusion, greater social cohesion, increased social capital and improvements to mental health.

Last month, I attended the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to provide an update on a number of issues including the measures that are being taken to prevent and tackle bullying in schools.

During my appearance at the Joint Committee, I announced that my Department will commence a review of its 2013 Action Plan on Bullying and the 2013 Anti-bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-primary Schools.

This review will take account of developments and relevant research since the action plan and procedures were published in 2013 and will specifically consider areas such as cyber bullying and identity based bullying, including gender identity and racist bullying

This work will involve significant consultation and collaboration across my Department, with other Government Departments and Bodies including the Ombudsman for Children, and will also involve consultation with a broad range of education stakeholders, including parents and students.

I also announced that during this school year, my Department’s Inspectorate is prioritising monitoring and gathering information about the implementation of anti-bullying measures in schools across all its inspection types.

As part of this work, the Inspectorate will also identify and report on examples of effective practice in relation to preventing and tacking bullying in schools. This will help provide evidence of the type of bullying that is occurring in our schools and examples of approaches that can be successful in dealing with it. An important part of the Inspectorate’s work will be a focus on the priority actions of schools in relation to promoting a positive school culture and climate.

My Department will continue to address the areas of anti-racism, identity-based bullying and cultural awareness through a suite of supports including the recently revised Stay Safe Programme and the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to teachers at Primary and Post-Primary level and in initial teacher education. It will ensure that such programmes enable teachers to deal with teaching and learning needs of all students from all cultural backgrounds and provide support for pedagogical practices that promote inclusion.

In addition, curriculum at both primary and post-primary aims to foster inclusivity where equality and diversity are promoted. The Primary Curriculum acknowledges the importance of a balanced and informed awareness of the diversity of peoples and environments in the world. Such an awareness helps children to understand the world and contributes to their personal and social development as citizens of a global community. The curriculum promotes tolerance and respect for diversity in both the school and the community. The Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum supports students learning in the areas of inclusion, diversity and counter racism. The SPHE content is complemented by the work carried out in social, environmental and scientific education (SESE) at primary level. SESE enables the child to live as an informed and caring member of local and wider communities.

Under the Framework for Junior Cycle, there are twenty four statements of learning which should inform the programme designed by all schools. One of these statements is: (The student) appreciates and respects how diverse values, beliefs and traditions have contributed to the communities and culture in which she/he lives. This junior cycle short course in CSPE focuses on supporting students in become active citizens through their learning in three strands: Rights and responsibilities, Global citizenship, and Exploring democracy.

As part of the Departments ongoing curricular reform consideration of issues in relation to inclusivity/diversity etc. will be considered as part of the ongoing reviews in relation to the primary curriculum and senior cycle at post-primary.

Mental Health Policy

Questions (67)

Mark Ward

Question:

67. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Education her plans to introduce mental health and resilience modules in secondary education for transition year students and leaving certificate students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48505/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department has an important role to play in supporting the wellbeing and mental health of our young people. As the deputy is aware, my Department’s Wellbeing Policy and Framework for practice has given recognition to the importance of promoting wellbeing in education. It outlines a comprehensive, whole-school approach to the promotion of wellbeing and positive mental health. It focuses on the whole school community, as well as groups and individual young people with identified needs.

The curriculum plays an important role in teaching students about managing their wellbeing. The Curriculum Framework for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) was developed by NCCA in consultation with teachers, learners, parents, management bodies and others.

The framework builds on students’ prior learning in primary and junior cycle SPHE. The aim of senior cycle SPHE is to support learners in making choices for health and wellbeing now and in the future.

The curriculum framework for SPHE in senior cycle is an enabling curriculum. The framework is built around five areas of learning one of which relates to Mental Health.

The objectives of the mental health area of learning are to:

1. develop students’ confidence and competence to act in support of mental health and wellbeing

2. develop students’ self-awareness about the attitudes, values and beliefs that underpin healthy personal lifestyle behaviours and choices

3. develop students’ capacity to empathise with others through a greater understanding of different life experiences, motives and feelings of other individuals and groups

4. examine the factors which impact on mental health and wellbeing and develop young people’s ability to act on behalf of personal and group health and wellbeing

The management authority of each school carries responsibility for making decisions regarding the Transition Year Programme in that school.

Each school designs its own Transition Year programme, within set guidelines, to suit the needs and interests of its students. In establishing its own distinctive programme content, the school takes into account the possibilities offered by local community interests.

The NCCA has undertaken an extensive review of senior cycle programmes and vocational pathways, including Transition Year, the Leaving Certificate Applied, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and the Leaving Certificate Established.

A key theme of this review was the future form and reform of the existing senior cycle programmes. This includes the range of learning programmes and pathways available to students at senior cycle, with a desire expressed that senior cycle should provide adequate supports for whatever progression pathways are chosen by students. My Department is currently considering this and other aspects of the NCCA’s advisory report, which will be published shortly.

Regular monitoring and external evaluation of Transition Year programmes is provided by the Department's inspectorate and psychological service. Transition Year Programmes – Guidelines for Schools (ncca.ie)

School Discipline

Questions (68)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

68. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education the interim arrangements that can be put in place for a student (details supplied) to receive an education in person for a student ); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48546/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

You will be aware that a student cannot be expelled from a school before the passing of 20 school days following the receipt of a notification under Section 24 of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000. The Educational Welfare Service have confirmed that they received the notification of intention to expel, in respect of this student, on 24th September 2021. This student is currently on suspension.

In the interim and in accordance with section 24 (3) of the Education Welfare Act (2000) the Educational Welfare Officer (EWO) shall convene a meeting which may be attended by all parties necessary, to make reasonable efforts to ensure that provision is made for the continued education of a student, for whom the school has notified the Education Welfare Service of their intention to expel.

I understand that this section 24 meeting is currently being arranged by the EWO, and the student’s parent has been advised of this.

In addition the EWO is available to support the parent should the expulsion of this student be confirmed by the school and the parent wish to appeal the decision under section 29 of the Education Act, 1998. Any appeal taken under this section against a board of management’s decision to permanently expel a student must be made to my Department within 42 days of the expulsion confirmation decision.

Departmental Correspondence

Questions (69)

Peter Burke

Question:

69. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Education when correspondence relating to a person (details supplied) will be completed and returned as it is delaying a SUSI application and has been ongoing for some time now. [48572/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I wish to inform the Deputy that the correspondence relating to a person (details supplied) was processed by NTS Payroll and issued on Thursday, 30th September 2021.

National Educational Psychological Service

Questions (70)

Holly Cairns

Question:

70. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education if she will ensure that a young person (details supplied) can access a NEPS assessment as soon as possible. [48728/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In relation to the NEPS service, NEPS Psychologists work with schools using a problem solving model to help schools identify need and interventions to support those needs. Under the special educational needs model, NEPS encourages schools to use a continuum based assessment and intervention process whereby each school takes responsibility for initial assessment, educational planning and remedial intervention for pupils with learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Teachers may consult their NEPS psychologist should they wish to for advice. Only in the event of a failure to make reasonable progress, in spite of the school's best efforts in consultation with NEPS, will the psychologist become involved with an individual child for intensive intervention or assessment. This system is in line with international best practice and allows psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and also to help many more children indirectly than could be seen individually. It also ensures that children are not referred unnecessarily for psychological assessment and have equality of access to support prioritized on their individual needs.

Parents/guardians should engage with the Principal of their child’s school or the school’s SEN co-ordinator to discuss their child’s needs and to consider requesting a consultation with the assigned NEPS psychologist.

A NEPS assessment is not required for the pupil concerned to access learning supports. In September 2017 a new model to support pupils with special educational needs in our schools was introduced. The new model differs significantly from the old Resource Allocation Model, in that Special Education Teacher allocation is now frontloaded into schools to support children with special educational needs. This model differs from the previous system whereby pupils were allocated a prescribed number of resource teaching hours on the basis of a named disability. The new model gives schools the capacity to respond to individual needs in a flexible way and pupils do not have to have a psychological assessment, or a diagnosis of a disability, in order to access Special Education Teaching. This means that those with highest level of need can access the highest level of support within the school in a timely manner.

School Equipment

Questions (71)

Gary Gannon

Question:

71. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education if she will provide a CO2 monitor to each ASD classroom in the country; the estimated cost for this provision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48738/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Good ventilation was identified as an important aspect of public health advice on managing Covid-19 risks and this led to the establishment of an Expert Group by the Department of Health. A sub-group of the main Expert Group focussed exclusively on the issue of improving and monitoring ventilation in schools. A copy of the guidance is published on the Gov.ie website.

This report formed the based for the most recent updating of the ventilation guidance for schools and included recommendations in relation to strengthening the message about the importance of good ventilation and the use of CO2 monitors.

My Department arranged for the provision of a number of portable CO2 monitors based on the approximate size of each school. The use of CO2 monitors can provide a useful general indication that areas/rooms within a building may not be adequately ventilated and can enable occupants to become familiar with the impact that activities, outdoor weather and window openings have on levels of good ventilation within a room. This information can be used to inform strategies for improving ventilation. The portable units can facilitate measurements in a wide range of locations in schools including ASD classrooms.

Deliveries of CO2 monitors to schools commenced in the third week of August. In total, it involves over 35,000 CO2 monitors being distributed to primary and post-primary schools with an estimated cost of €4 million. Over 28,000 CO2 monitors have been distributed to schools to date, meaning that CO2 monitors have been delivered to each school in the country. The monitors are portable, simple to use, and will give a digital reading. 96% of primary schools (including all special schools) have received their full allocation of CO2 monitors. Ten CO2 monitors have been provided to schools at post-primary level with the balance of their allocation to be distributed this month. My Department arranged for the provision of a number of portable CO2 monitors based on the approximate size of each school. The mechanism for determining the approximate size of the primary school was the number of mainstream classrooms in the school.

The number of CO2 monitors provided to each school was then determined using the following bands:

Primary Schools (Classrooms)

Monitors per school

Primary Schools (Classrooms)

Monitors per school

1 classroom

2

2 to 4 Classrooms

3

5 to 8

5

9 to 12

7

13 to 16

9

17 to 20

11

21 to 24

13

25 to 30

17

31+

20

Special Schools

Monitors per school

Special Schools

10

Secondary Schools (Free Scheme) enrolment bands

Monitors per school

<500

20

501 to 750

25

751 to 1000

30

1001+

35

The provision of portable CO2 monitors provides schools with the flexibility to focus their use to those rooms where most beneficial to inform strategies for optimising ventilation in the school. CO2 measurements are a less reliable measure of ventilation performance in single or low occupancy spaces or in very large spaces (SAGE UK, 2020, AIVC, 2021).

Where an individual schools identifies an additional need, the Department has put in place a mechanism in place for schools to request additional monitors through a dedicated helpline and email account.

The Department has received a small number of such requests to date, which will be considered and processed after the completion of the distribution of 35,000 monitors referred to above.

Asylum Seekers

Questions (72)

Holly Cairns

Question:

72. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on increasing the weekly allowance for asylum seekers to €58.80. [48727/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Applicants for International Protection accommodated under the system of Direct Provision, operated by the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, are provided with full board accommodation and other facilities and services.

My department administers the daily expenses allowance (DEA) which is paid to protection applicants who live in the direct provision system.

The Government has provided €13.1 million for the allowance in 2021. The current weekly rates of payment are €38.80 per adult and €29.80 per child. There are approximately 3,820 adults and 1,530 children residing in the system of direct provision in respect of whom daily expenses allowance is being paid.

Any increases to the rate of daily expenses allowance would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

Pension Provisions

Questions (73)

Robert Troy

Question:

73. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on whether the way the pension recalculation introduced by the former Minister for Social Protection (details supplied) that took effect from 29 March 2018 is denying a full rate of pension to citizens born before 1 September 1946. [48412/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Budget 2012 introduced contributory pension rate band changes from 1 September 2012 that were less favourable than those prior to that time.

In January 2018, the Government announced an Interim Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to calculate the entitlement of pensioners who reached state pension age on or after 1 September 2012 (i.e. those born on or after 1 September 1946) and who have a reduced rate pension entitlement based on those post Budget 2012 rate bands.

Work began on examining the social insurance records of over 94,000 pensioners in September 2018. Where these reviews resulted in an increase in the pensioner’s rate of payment, the increase was backdated to 30 March 2018 or the pensioners 66th birthday, as appropriate. As at the end of October 2019, with the project completed, 94,258 reviews had been finalised; of these, 53,092 (56%) were women and 41,166 (44%) were men. Of the 53,092 women reviewed 28,528 (54%) received an increase while the rest remained on their existing rate. Of the 41,166 men reviewed, 9,956 (24%) received an increase and the remainder continued to receive their same rate of payment. No pensioner had their pension payment reduced as part of this review.

People whose pensions were decided prior to 1 September 2012 were not affected by the Budget 2012 rate band changes. As a consequence, people whose pensions were calculated under the 2000-2012 rate bands were subject to a significantly more generous regime than those who qualified before or afterwards, as a Yearly Average of only 20 contributions per year could attract a 98% pension.

There will be some people who have contributed less frequently into the Social Insurance Fund (which pays for contributory pensions), and who will, therefore, be below the threshold required for a maximum rate of the State Pension (Contributory). However, for those with insufficient contributions to meet the requirements for a State Pension (Contributory), they may qualify for a means tested State Pension (Non-Contributory), the maximum personal rate for which is €237 (over 95% of the maximum rate of the contributory pension). This rate of payment does not include rent allowance, household benefits or fuel allowance. Alternatively, if their spouse is a State pensioner and they have significant household means, their most beneficial payment may be an Increase for a Qualified Adult, based on their personal means, and amounting up to 90% of a full contributory pension.

I hope this clarifies the matter.

Financial Services

Questions (74)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

74. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on whether credit unions and other financial institutions should be allowed the option of accepting the public services card as one of a number of possible identification documents when opening an account; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48414/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Since 1998, when legislative provision was first made for the PSC, it was always intended that it would be used widely across the public service to assist people in their dealings with public sector bodies. The list of public bodies that are authorised to use the PSC is set out in Schedule 5 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended).

Credit unions and other financial institutions are not specified bodies for the purposes of the PSC, so it is not possible for a person to offer their PSC as proof of identity for this purpose.

There are no plans to amend legislation to allow for the use of the PSC by non-public sector bodies.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Employment Schemes

Questions (75)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

75. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason she is proceeding to a new model of local employment service delivery; the cost basis on which the new model will be delivered; the relevant technical and previous experience necessary for a potential tender applicant; the proposed timeline for the process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48415/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

My Department is now at an advanced stage in its first phase of procuring new employment services. This phase involves the procurement of regional employment services for seven counties in the Midlands and North-West across four lots. These counties do not have an existing local employment service and represent the first phase of an expansion of similar employment services across.

This procurement process follows extensive consultations by my Department with the existing service providers over the last number of years.

The Phase two procurement, which will see the Regional Employment Service model rolled out across the State will take on board the learnings of the first phase. This is a significant expansion of employment services and will result in State-wide coverage of employment services for those furthest from the labour market for the first time.

The timeline for commencement of the new Regional Employment Services under Phase two was originally January 2022. This has now been postponed to the end of June 2022, giving potential tenderers additional time to prepare collaborative joint bids.

My Department is therefore in the process of offering current Local Employment Service and Job Club providers, in the Phase two areas, a new contract for a short period into next year. This will enable continuity of service to our customers, while providing potential tenders additional time to work collaboratively on submitting joint bids. The Requests for Tenders for Phase two will issue prior to the end of this year and my Department has written to relevant service providers outlining the revised timelines.

The reasons for proceeding with this procurement of employment services are two-fold.

Firstly, the existing LES contracts are no longer consistent with current best practices. The new model entails moving to multi-annual contracts with enhanced key performance indicators and a funding model that allows more autonomy on how best to deliver enhanced services and greater visibility of the performance of all service providers.

Secondly, the Department is in receipt of legal advice from the Attorney General's office that it must procure its employment services in an open and competitive manner in order to meet its legal obligations arising from EU and national procurement rules.

I understand and appreciate the concerns of the sector at the changes to the existing model. However, current service providers with a strong track record and a willingness to cooperate with others in the sector will be well-placed to submit high-quality tenders for the new services.

The new model and its associated procurement process is accessible to the community and voluntary sectors given the model's significant emphasis on service quality and the need to harness local networks and linkages to best support the clients of the new employment service.

Social Welfare Benefits

Questions (76)

Michael McNamara

Question:

76. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Social Protection if a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be reconsidered for an application for fuel allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48487/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Fuel allowance is a means-tested payment to assist householders on long-term social welfare payments towards the cost of their winter heating needs.

The main eligibility conditions for receipt of fuel allowance are that a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, satisfy a means test and live alone or with other qualifying persons. The fuel allowance means test is linked to the maximum rate of State pension (contributory). An individual can have a weekly income of up to €100.00 above the maximum rate for State pension (contributory) and still be eligible for fuel allowance.

An application for fuel allowance from the person concerned was registered by my Department on 10 September 2021. A member of their household is currently in receipt of Illness Benefit, which is not a qualifying payment for fuel allowance.

Since the qualifying conditions for the scheme are not satisfied, the person’s application for fuel allowance was disallowed and they were notified in writing of this decision on 18 September 2021.

If the person’s circumstances change, it is open to them to reapply for fuel allowance.I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits

Questions (77)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

77. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason an application for the back to education allowance by a person (details supplied) was refused; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48503/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Back to Education Allowance scheme (BTEA) is an educational opportunities scheme for customers in receipt of certain Social Protection payments wishing to pursue second or third level courses of education. The objective of the scheme is to raise educational and skills levels to enable successful applicants to improve labour market opportunities by providing them with income support while they study.

In order to qualify for BTEA the applicant must meet the qualifying criteria for this scheme. These criteria include that an applicant, if over 21 years and in receipt of a Jobseekers payment from this Department, must have been in receipt of this payment for 9 months (234 days). The customer's Jobseekers Claim commenced very recently and as a result she does not qualify for a Back To Education Allowance.

Although the customer previously had a Carer’s Benefit claim with this Department, Carer’s Benefit is not a qualifying payment for the Back To Education Allowance scheme.

The customer was previously informed in writing of the Department’s decision that she does not qualify for BTEA and was also informed that if she was unhappy with the decision that she could request to have her case reviewed by another officer. This review was requested in a letter received by the Department on September 27th last. A reply to this letter will issue to the customer in the coming days but I can confirm that the review has upheld the original decision.

If the customer wishes to discuss other training options with a Case Officer from this Department she should contact the Wexford Intreo Office at 051 9165400 to arrange a phone call.

Social Welfare Payments

Questions (78)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

78. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection if the decision to refuse a carer's allowance will be reviewed in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48545/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 15 June 2021. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought from the Department of Social Protection.

These papers were received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 21 September 2021. The case will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if necessary, hold an oral hearing.

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

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Questions (79)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

79. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection if second year students that were in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment are eligible to apply for the back to education allowance considering many students will have lost their job as a result of the pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48547/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) provides income support for jobseekers and others in receipt of certain social welfare payments who pursue courses of education at second or third level. Government has provided €96.5 million for BTEA in 2021.

A person wishing to pursue a course of study under the BTEA scheme must satisfy several conditions, including commencing the first year of a course of study. In the case of Jobseeker payments, a Department Case Officer or Job Coach must have considered and recommended the application prior to a decision to allow BTEA as an appropriate progression path for the individual. Any person planning to undertake an education course should engage with their local Intreo Centre to assess the options available to them.

Full time students do not have an underlying entitlement to Jobseekers and therefore do not qualify for BTEA. Under normal jobseekers terms, full time students are not available to apply for and receive jobseeker payments. The Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) Grant, payable by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, represents the primary support for people pursuing third level education.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Employment Support Services

Questions (80)

Joan Collins

Question:

80. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection if a scoping exercise has been carried out to test whether there are sufficient competent entities such as private for profit, non-profit, limited by guarantee companies and charities to constitute a competitive market for the intended provision of employment services. [48587/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

My Department is now at an advanced stage in its first phase of procuring new employment services. This phase involves the procurement of regional employment services for seven counties in the Midlands and North-West across four lots. These counties do not have an existing local employment service and represent the first phase of an expansion of similar employment services across.

The Phase two procurement, which will see the Regional Employment Service model rolled out across the State will take on board the learnings of the first phase. This is a significant expansion of employment services and will result in State-wide coverage of employment services for those furthest from the labour market for the first time.

This procurement process follows extensive consultations by my Department with the existing service providers and employee representative over the last number of years.

The presence of an existing vibrant market of disparate service providers strongly indicates that the necessary capacity for procuring the Regional Employment Service is present. The large turnout of potential tenders at an online procurement information session for phase 1 of RES confirms that position.

Social Welfare Payments

Questions (81)

Robert Troy

Question:

81. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Social Protection if a carer’s allowance payment will be awarded to a person (details supplied) following an appeal. [48597/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

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

I confirm that my Department received an application for CA from the person concerned on 2 July 2020 in respect of both parents.

The evidence submitted in support of these applications was examined and the Deciding Officer (DO) decided this evidence did not indicate that requirement for full-time care was satisfied for both care recipients.

The person concerned also failed to provide financial information as requested

Two reviews were requested by the person concerned. He also appealed the decisions of 3 March 2021 to the Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO)

Following these reviews, the full-time care condition was determined to be satisfied in respect of the person’s father only. However, the decisions of 3 March 2021 remained unchanged as the person concerned did not disclose all financial information.

Following appeal, the original decision in respect of the person’s mother was upheld. However the AO awarded CA in respect of the person's father with effect from 2 July 2020. This decision was implemented on 14 September 2021, with the first payment issuing to his nominated post office on 16 September 2021.

Arrears for the period 2 July 2020 to 15 September 2021 issued on 14 September 2021 via cheque.

The person concerned was notified of this outcome on 14 September 2021.

I hope this clarifies the position.

Pension Provisions

Questions (82)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

82. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason that recipients of the invalidity pension living in the North do not qualify for free travel; if it is planned to review the SmartPass on an all-island basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48604/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Free Travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators. There are currently approx. 1,007,000 customers with direct eligibility. The estimated expenditure on free travel in 2021 is €95 million.

The objective of the free travel scheme is to ensure older people and people with disabilities remain active within their community. In general, access to a free travel pass for those aged under 66 is linked to a person being in receipt of certain primary Social Protection payments such as Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension, Carer’s Allowance, Blind Pension and Partial Capacity Benefit.

While a person in receipt of Invalidity Pension may satisfy the qualifying payment criteria for a free travel pass s/he must also satisfy the residency criteria. An applicant must be legally resident and living permanently in the State (i.e. on an all-year-round basis). Therefore, a person in receipt of Invalidity Pension who resides in Northern Ireland will not qualify for a free travel pass from this State. Entitlement to a travel pass in Northern Ireland is dependent on the rules there.

The all-Ireland Free Travel Scheme for seniors resident in all parts of the island was introduced in April 2007. The scheme enables seniors (over 66) resident in the Republic to travel free of charge on all bus and rail services in Northern Ireland. Likewise, seniors (over 65) in the North can travel free of charge on bus, rail, air and ferry services participating in the Free Travel scheme in this State.

Any extension to the scheme would have to be agreed with the Northern Ireland authorities and would require additional funding to be put in place.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Legislative Process

Questions (83)

Patrick Costello

Question:

83. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the timeline of the full commencement and implementation of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. [48496/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (the 2015 Act) is a very important piece of legislation that changes the existing law on capacity from the status approach of the wardship system to a flexible functional approach, whereby capacity is assessed on an issue and time-specific basis. It will abolish the wards of court system for adults by repealing the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871. Adults currently in wardship will transition to the new decision-making support arrangements on a phased basis over 3 years from the date of commencement.

The Government made a commitment in the Programme for Government to commence the 2015 Act, recognising the importance of the much needed reform that it represents. We are working towards a date of June 2022 for commencement of the 2015 Act and establishment of the Decision Support Service immediately thereafter. An inter-departmental steering group is meeting regularly to prepare for commencement of the Act.

Amendments are also required to the 2015 Act before full commencement can take place. Work is actively taking place on an Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill, which will address a number of issues required to streamline processes and improve safeguards for those who will rely on the provisions of the Act. I expect to be in a position to publish a Bill by year-end, and to see it enacted next year.

Childcare Services

Questions (84)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

84. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his proposals to improve childcare provision under the national childcare scheme for children whose parents are not working or in education or training; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48416/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) provides financial support to help parents meet the cost of childcare and to support better outcomes for children. The NCS is designed to be highly inclusive and to meet the needs of families who need it the most. The NCS is based on the principle of progressive universalism and has regard to the best interests of children.

Within this framework, an income-related subsidy is payable for children up to 15 years of age. The subsidy level is determined by the family’s income and the child's age. The number of hours subsidised is determined by the parent's employment or education arrangements.

The definition of work or study is broad, covering all forms of work or study arrangements: full-time, part-time, week-on/week-off and zero hour contracts. Moreover, the minimum hours required to engage in work or study to qualify for up to 45 hours per week is very low – at just two hours per week. In this way, the NCS encourages parents to exit poverty and deliver better outcomes for their children.

The NCS attempts to strike the right balance between enabling access to early learning and childcare services given the benefits this confers to children, and, supporting parents to engage in work or study, given the impact this has on alleviating poverty.

Notwithstanding this, my Department and I are committed to monitoring and reviewing the operation of the NCS. My Department has procured independent researchers to undertake a 12 Month Review of the NCS.

My Department will be considering the findings from the research reports with a view to ensuring the NCS meets its policy objectives, of improved children's outcomes, parental engagement in work or study and reduced child poverty, and support those most in need. The review will consider usage by socio-economically disadvantaged families and providers serving socio-economically disadvantaged communities. The reviewing body will also consider international evidence of the efficacy of the work-study rule.

I will consider any changes as may be required on foot of the evidence derived from this review.

Additionally, I have convened an Expert Group to develop a new funding model for the sector. As part of this, the Expert Group will make recommendations for additional supports for learning and childcare settings that operate in the context of concentrated disadvantage in order to mitigate the impact of disadvantage on children.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (85)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

85. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there is only one intake per year for the ECCE scheme and that some children can only avail of one year due to their birth date; his plans to return to two intakes per year to ensure an equitable system; if not, the reason; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48417/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme is a universal free two-year pre-school programme available to all children within the eligible age range.

The minimum eligibility age of 2 years and 8 months for the ECCE programme was chosen based on national experience and a review of international practice. It also had regard to the regulatory environment for early years education and care in this country and issues such as child development readiness and adult-child ratios.

Prior to September 2018 there were three entry points to ECCE. This lead to a situation where there was variation in the number of ECCE weeks a child could qualify for, ranging from between 61 and 88 weeks depending on the date of birth of the child. The introduction of a single entry point a aligned to the start of the primary school year ensured that all children could receive 2 full years of ECCE, or 76 weeks. This also ensures that all children can experience the full pre-school curriculum.

A single entry point has also streamlined the administration process for providers, making it easier for them to operate and budget for the programme year. In addition it has made it easier parents to secure places on the ECCE programme for their children.

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