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Friday, 3 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 1-20

Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, answered orally.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions Nos. 5 and 6 answered orally.

Questions (4)

Bríd Smith

Question:

4. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will make the changes sought by survivors, to the Mother and Baby Homes Redress scheme to include all survivors within the scheme with no minimum time provisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59477/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I am very conscious of the concerns raised by survivors in relation to the parameters of the Payment Scheme for former residents of mother and baby institutions.  I acknowledge that there is dissatisfaction about the qualifying period of six months for those who were in these institutions as children. 

We will of course be able to discuss the details of the proposed scheme further in this House when the legislation comes before us for debate. There will also be further opportunities to examine any other issues or concerns that have been raised in relation to the Scheme. 

I would note that, in consultations with  children who spent short periods of time in Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions, the overwhelming priority need which has been expressed to me is access to birth information and records.

A lack of information about their origins is deeply troubling to many survivors and the remedy to address this is making sure that they have access to this information. With this in mind, I have prioritised work on legislation that is going to deliver that information for the first time, in the form of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill. 

I would also note that the proposals I have announced for a payment scheme go a good deal further than either the recommendations of the Commission, or those of the Inter Departmental Group that was established to consider a suitable scheme.  The Commission’s recommendations would have applied to just 6,500 former residents, at a cost of €400m, and those of the Inter-Departmental Group would have benefited 19,000 with an estimated budget of €675m.  The scheme I announced extended to some 34,000 people at a total cost of some €800m. 

It is also important to emphasise that the scheme I announced is just one element of the Government’s response to the country’s complex legacy of Mother and Baby Institutions.  The House will be aware that the Government also approved a significant and broader Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions.  

This Plan is inclusive and responds to the diverse needs and priority concerns of all concerned. The actions are designed to support survivors in a number of ways and to contribute to healing and future wellbeing.

Questions Nos. 5 and 6 answered orally.

Legislative Measures

Question No. 8 answered orally.

Questions (7)

Gary Gannon

Question:

7. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the research on conversion therapy to support legislation for banning the practice as committed to in the Programme for Government; the timeline for the research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59510/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to legislate to end the practice of conversion therapy, an objective I strongly support.  

In addition, , the LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018 – 2021 contains a commitment to prohibit the promotion or practice of conversion therapy by health professionals in Ireland, and the National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy 2019-2022 commits to ensuring that the practice of conversion therapy in Ireland is investigated and followed up with appropriate counter measures.  

My Department developed a scoping paper on research into conversion therapy in February 2021.  This paper comprised a literature overview and a high level examination of the banning of conversion therapy internationally, along with any evidence in Ireland of conversion therapy practices.

In May last I established  a sub-committee of the LGBTI+ National Inclusion Strategy Steering Committee to examine the scoping paper developed by my Department, and to agree the next steps in progressing commitments relating to researching, and prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy. 

I am pleased to say that my Department is now commissioning research to capture the views and experiences of people who have been subjected to the practice of conversion therapy in Ireland. A Request for Quotation issued on 16 November 2021 and it is expected that the research will be commissioned and begin early in 2022. This qualitative research will be completed by summer 2022, and will assist the Government in developing legislation to ban the practice of conversion therapy.  

I am pleased that the Programme for Government included this important commitment, and I will work very hard with all involved to ensure that the necessary legislation is enacted.

Question No. 8 answered orally.

Childcare Services

Questions (9)

Denis Naughten

Question:

9. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he plans to take to improve the pay and conditions of childcare workers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57451/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I am very conscious of the need for a significant improvement in pay and working conditions in early learning and childcare sector. In 2020, average pay in this sector was €12.45 per hour. This level of pay does not reflect the value of the work done for children, for families and for the wider society and economy.  

However, as the Deputy knows, the State is not the employer and therefore I cannot determine wages in the sector. That said, I am committed to doing what is in my power. 

My Department has over a number of years provided a range of financial supports to service providers in the sector to support them to improve pay and conditions. Measures, which are still in place, include higher rates of capitation payments to services with graduate room leaders in the ECCE programme, and to services employing qualified Inclusion Coordinators.

The process I began last December, which examined the possibility of regulating pay and conditions and the suitability of a Joint Labour Committee for the sector, culminated in the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee in June this year and members of this Committee have been recently appointed by the Labour Court.

Supported by the new Core Funding stream I announced as part Budget 2022, there is now a real prospect of an improvement in pay rates in the sector through this Committee. 

As well as supporting improvements in pay, the scale of allocation under the new Core Funding stream - which is €69m in 2022 and equivalent to more than €207 million in a full year - will also enable providers to introduce or improve other working conditions, including non-contact time.   

In addition, I will shortly publish the Workforce Plan for the sector, which covers the period 2022-2028 and aims to achieve workforce-related commitments set out in First 5, including commitments to: achieve a graduate-led workforce by 2028; strengthen Continuing Professional Development; raise the profile of careers in the sector; and establish a career framework and leadership development opportunities. 

The Workforce Plan has been developed in parallel with the work of the Expert Group on the Funding Model, and commitments in the Workforce Plan are expected to complement the development of the Core Funding stream that was committed to in Budget 2022.

Child and Family Agency

Questions Nos. 11 to 17, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions (10)

Peter Fitzpatrick

Question:

10. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of private foster carers that have been approved by Tusla in the past 24 months. [59437/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Foster care is the preferred option for children and young people who are brought into the care of the State. Foster carers play an extremely important role in providing a safe and stable home for vulnerable children and young people.  

Depending on their identified need, children may be placed in foster care either with relatives or general foster carers, including placements provided by foster carers recruited by private companies. In all such cases, the safety and best interests of children are the paramount consideration.   

Tusla has approved a total of 734 foster carers in the past 36 months. Of these, 121 (or roughly 16%) were private foster carers. 

The vast majority of ‘looked-after’ children in Ireland reside in foster care. In August 2021, this equated to over 90% of all children in care, a figure that I am proud of and which compares favourably on an international basis.  

The Deputy has requested the number of private foster carers, which I understand to mean the number of foster carers recruited by private companies but approved by Tusla's foster care committees, in the previous 24 months. The most recent data available relates to the first nine months of 2021.  Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, have informed me that a total of 39 of these carers were approved over this period. 

In 2020, a total of 45 private foster carers were approved, and in 2019 a total of 33 of these foster carers were approved.  

These figures comprise the number of approved private foster carers in addition to the number of foster carers under the so-called ‘Brussels II’ provisions. These two cohorts cannot be separated out from the data that is collected by Tusla. 

‘Brussels II’ foster carers are those who have been assessed by another EU State and who have been approved by a Tusla Foster Care Committee and placed on the panel of approved foster carers in line with national policy.

Questions Nos. 11 to 17, inclusive, answered orally.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (18)

Holly Cairns

Question:

18. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will personally assist a survivor (details supplied). [59327/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Commission of Investigation received records relating to the period 1922 to 1998 from a number of Institutions and sources as part of its investigation.  On 28 February last, following the dissolution of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, my Department became the data controller for all the personal data contained in the records that transferred from the Commission.  

While I am not in a position to comment on the particular circumstances of the individual referred to, my officials will be in contact with the person directly to assist them.  

Where a person receives information and documentation in response to a Subject Access Request and considers that the information is incorrect, the person may wish to exercise their right to rectification under GDPR.  

Where a request for rectification is submitted by an individual, my Department will consider all practical options as may be appropriate in each particular case including, for example, appending the text of a data subject’s comments to the record. 

Each request by a data subject to exercise their right to rectification of personal data will be considered on a case by case basis.  

I continue to be committed to vindicating the rights of each data subject in respect of their personal data. I am mindful that individuals may be receiving information from the archive for the first time and the Social worker employed in my Department is available to assist individuals.  

My officials are also available to assist individuals with exercising their rights and a dedicated helpline is available to provide information to individuals. Relevant details are available on my Department’s website.

Asylum Seekers

Questions (19)

Bríd Smith

Question:

19. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of asylum seekers who have been given own-door accommodation since publication of the White Paper for Ending Direct Provision. [59474/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Preparations are well underway on a procurement process to secure own-door and own-room accommodation for residents in our international protection accommodation services. This process will increase the proportion of own-door units available for residents during the transitional period between the current system and the planned move to a  new model as set out in the White Paper to End Direct Provision and to Establish a New International Protection Support System. 

As stated in the White Paper, it is the intention of my Department to have the new supports and accommodation system operational by December 2024. This is an ambitious target, but I believe that it is achievable.  In practice it will mean that accommodation for international applicants after four months will be either own door accommodation for families or own room accommodation for single people.   

In terms of immediate progress on the provision of accommodation in line with the principles of the White paper, I note that my Department’s international protection accommodation service opened an own door accommodation complex in Letterkenny last January, with 60 apartments catering for 236 people. I will respond to the Deputy with further information to this effect in due course.

Looking ahead, I am committed to implementing the White Paper in a co-ordinated, well-planned way.   My Department has a Transition Team which is working on all of the arrangements for moving to the new system, and there is a Programme Board that oversees the process.   

The Board has already met four times and will meet again on 16 December. Implementation will be a challenging task, but it is one that I will work hard on with my Department and other key agencies to achieve.

Traveller Accommodation

Questions (20)

Joan Collins

Question:

20. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he and his Department are taken to ensure that access to basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity are being supplied to all Traveller accommodation sites across the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58099/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) provides a framework for action on Traveller and Roma issues.  It represents a whole of Government approach. 

NTRIS encompasses action on themes such as cultural identity, employment, education, health and accommodation.  I chair the NTRIS Steering Committee, which oversees implementation of this important Strategy.  As usual, individual Departments have responsibility for delivering actions under their respective areas of responsibility. 

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage provides both capital and current funding to support the provision of Traveller specific accommodation through local housing authorities.  In 2021 a total of €15.5m was allocated for capital supports, including Traveller-specific accommodation and services.  This was up from €14.5m in 2020. In addition, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage provided some €4.5m of non capital funding last year. 

The Deputy will appreciate that my Department has no role in the day-to-day provision of Traveller Accommodation including the provision of associated utilities.  However, I will continue to work with my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to ensure that the services referred to by the Deputy are provided to support the Traveller community in Ireland.

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