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Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 469-485

Weather Events

Questions (469)

Seán Haughey

Question:

469. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the reason his Department advised all early learning and care and school aged childcare services to close on 7 and 8 December 2021; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many parents were unhappy regarding this advice given that Storm Barra turned out not to be very dangerous particularly in the Dublin area; if he will reconsider the policy for the sector in respect of orange weather warnings given that such storms are likely to be more frequent in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61852/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Early learning and childcare services located in counties with red and orange weather warnings were advised by my Department to close on 7 and 8 December.

On 6 December Met Eireann issued a red alert warning relating to severe wind for counties Clare, Kerry and Cork. A status orange warning issued for counties Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Mayo, Wexford, Dublin, Louth, Wicklow, Meath.

Met Éireann also advised that there was a strong possibility that the status of parts of the counties in status orange were likely to change and escalate to status red. On foot of this advice and engagement with the Department of Education, a decision was taken to advise services in affected areas to remain closed on Tuesday, 7 December to ensure that children, parents and staff remained safe.

Included in this communication on 6 December was confirmation that services that closed due to Storm Barra would continue to receive State subvention under the Force Majeure clause in their contracts.

On Tuesday, 7 December, a communication issued advising that early learning and childcare services in counties with red and orange warnings should remain closed on 8 December.

The advice to early learning and childcare services in counties with red and orange weather warnings to close was not taken lightly. The storm was significant in nature and was emerging and changing course over a three day period. The safety of children and staff in early learning and childcare services was of paramount importance and was the basis of my decision to advice closure of services in affected counties.

With regard to future storms, any advice on service closures will be taken in co-operation with other Departments, taking into account the advice of Met Éireann. The safety of children and staff will be the main consideration in any advice which may be given.

Covid-19 Tests

Question No. 471 answered with Question No. 470.

Questions (470, 471, 484, 490, 491)

Seán Canney

Question:

470. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will reconsider the exclusion of students in private higher education sector from the decision to fund rapid antigen tests for students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61664/21]

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Paul Donnelly

Question:

471. Deputy Paul Donnelly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the reason students in institutions (details supplied) are to be excluded from the public health free rapid antigen tests. [61969/21]

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Mick Barry

Question:

484. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on providing an antigen testing scheme to all third-level institutions including the private higher education sector which would allow for all students who wish to avail of tests free at the point of use given the large numbers of students in many of those colleges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61717/21]

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Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

490. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if consideration will be given to extending rapid antigen testing to private third-level colleges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61847/21]

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Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

491. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the estimated cost of extending rapid antigen testing to private third-level colleges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61848/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 470, 471, 484, 490 and 491 together.

The intention of Government is to strengthen the prevention and intervention measures around COVID-19 in response to the changing context. My Department recognises the potential role of rapid antigen testing as one part of a package of surveillance and vigilance measures including self-monitoring and other public health measures.

Following public health advice to the sector from the Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing, advice which is published and available on the Department’s website, a once-off fund of €9m to provide rapid antigen testing kits to students in further and higher education has been announced by my Department.

The purpose of the fund is to encourage the use of antigen testing amongst students and will involve:

- Providing funding to institutions via the funding agencies to make a small number of antigen tests available free to students

- Respecting the autonomy and flexibility of institutions in deciding at institutional level how best to provide these tests to students as soon as practicable

- Developing a communications campaign for students to increase the awareness of rapid antigen testing and their appropriate use.

The fund will be made available to further and higher education institutions through SOLAS and HEA, including to the private institutions represented by HECA, with approximately 20,000 students, to ensure that we promote the use of antigen testing amongst young people.

In terms of costs, at this time it is not possible to provide information in relation to allocations that will be paid to individual institutions or bodies at this time as the process to determine and allocate funds is ongoing. It is the intention that the funding allocation for HECA colleges will be aligned with the allocations to publicly funded providers and from within the ring-fenced allocation for antigen testing as part of the Department’s 2021 Covid allocation.

In addition to this once-off specific fund, the UniCov study continues in a number of universities.

Question No. 471 answered with Question No. 470.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (472)

Paul Murphy

Question:

472. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if private colleges are entitled to free antigen tests for their students; and if so, the way they can access them. [61166/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The intention of Government is to strengthen the prevention and intervention measures around COVID-19 in response to the changing context. My Department recognises the potential role of rapid antigen testing as one part of a package of surveillance and vigilance measures including self-monitoring and other public health measures.

Following public health advice to the sector from the Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing, advice which is published and available on the Department’s website, a once-off fund of €9m to provide rapid antigen testing kits to students in further and higher education has been announced by my Department.

The purpose of the fund is to encourage the use of antigen testing amongst students and will involve:

- Providing funding to institutions via the funding agencies to make a small number of antigen tests available free to students

- Respecting the autonomy and flexibility of institutions in deciding at institutional level how best to provide these tests to students as soon as practicable

- Developing a communications campaign for students to increase the awareness of rapid antigen testing and their appropriate use.

The fund will be made available to further and higher education institutions through SOLAS and HEA, including to the private institutions represented by HECA, with approximately 27000 students, to ensure that we promote the use of antigen testing amongst young people.

In addition to this once-off specific fund, the UniCov study continues in a number of universities.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (473, 479, 481, 482)

Sorca Clarke

Question:

473. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if it is planned to introduce health regulations in relation to the holding of in-person third-level examinations between the end of November and Christmas 2021 in the Technological University of the Shannon, Athlone in view of the risk that the institute might become a super-spreader events and cause Covid-19 to be reintroduced by students returning home for Christmas to households throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61227/21]

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Paul Donnelly

Question:

479. Deputy Paul Donnelly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to the current situation in multiple colleges across the country in which students have been looking for intervention or support for cancelling in person exams due to fears around Covid-19 and safety precautions in view circulation of packed exam halls; and his plans to deal with the disregard for student safety. [61509/21]

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Brendan Griffin

Question:

481. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding the health and safety in sitting in exam halls with hundreds of students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61666/21]

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Mick Barry

Question:

482. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on the suggestion that all exams in third-level institutions that are due to be taking place in December 2021 and early January 2022 not to be in-person exams given the situation with Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61715/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 473, 479, 481 and 482 together.

Education is an essential service and the Government has agreed that it can continue on-site, in line with Safe Return Plan published in June. The Safe Return Plan and the most recent guidance on the current approach advocate and support contingency planning to ensure that institutions remain flexible and adaptable in response to changes in the public health environment.

My Department does not determine sector specific matters at this level. However, in order to address concerns, I met with management, staff and student representatives on the 19th November and the issue was discussed.

Due to the diversity and autonomy of our higher education institutions, and the broad range of activities they undertake and the different contexts and requirements applicable to examinations, it was agreed that a uniform or one size fits all approach would not be appropriate across the whole of higher education or indeed the tertiary sector more generally.

Management bodies confirmed that they are actively looking at a range of approaches to ensure that end of term examinations will be safe, and that the requirements of students who may have Covid-19 or underlying health conditions can be addressed. It was also pointed out that there are some examinations – such as those related to external accreditation - which are challenging to change to an online format at short notice.

The outcome of the meeting was that Individual higher education institutions will assess the appropriate approach to examinations, taking into account the significant contextual factors that arise in different instances and that individuals who cannot sit exams due to Covid-19 concerns will be offered alternatives.

Since that meeting in November, the sector has confirmed that many institutions have now commenced their end of semester examinations, adopting approaches to their examinations on the basis of risk assessment and the use of precautionary measures as agreed.

In instances where examinations are being held in person, institutions are ensuring that these are taking place in environments in line with public health guidance and at a significantly lower capacity than normal. Procedures are in place to accommodate students who cannot sit an exam as a result of Covid impacting either themselves or close contacts.

The sector continues to carefully consider the balance between the measures, the risk assessments and to engage with staff and students in planning for examinations.

In all instances public health must remain a priority and I know that there will be a continuing focus on the evolving and often quickly changing public health situation overall. I have also recently announced a €9 million fund to enable institutions provide free antigen tests to students. The use of these tests can provide an additional layer of protection, to prevent onward transmission and help to protect students, our third level sector and the community at large.

National Training Fund

Questions (474)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

474. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the estimated projected yield from a 0.2% increase in 2022 in the national training fund levy. [61276/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The National Training Fund (NTF) Act, 2000 provides for a levy on employers to be used to fund the development of and raising of skills amongst those in, or seeking, employment.

The 2022 estimate for NTF income from PRSI receipts is €851.2 million. This estimate is based on a rate of 1% of reckonable earnings in 2022 and forecasted by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection at Budget 2022. On the basis of this estimate, an increase of 0.2% in the rate of contributions would generate €156 million in a full year.

Year

NTF Levy Rate

NTF Levy Income Actuals

NTF Levy Income Forecast

Projected Yield for a 0.2% increase in NTF levy

2022

1%

Not yet available

€851m

€156m

It should be noted that the last increase to the national training fund levy was 0.1% in 2020 which resulted in an increase to the 2020 NTF spending limit of €74m. An increase to the levy is not being contemplated at this time.

Pension Provisions

Questions (475)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

475. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the status of a pension review in the case of a person (details supplied); if he will provide clarity on this matter; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there has been no update provided since 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61296/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Officials have engaged with the Higher Education Institution in question with a view to bringing this matter to a conclusion and I understand that the Higher Education Institution will be in communication with the individual in due course.

Youth Services

Question No. 477 answered with Question No. 476.

Question No. 478 answered with Question No. 476.

Question No. 479 answered with Question No. 473.

Questions (476, 477, 478)

Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

476. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the way in which the youthreach programme operates within Kerry ETB; if the youthreach programme ran in partnership with other services within the county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61318/21]

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Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

477. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the reason the Youthreach programme is no longer available for learners in Cahersiveen and Killorglin, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61319/21]

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Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

478. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the position in relation to the staff that were employed in the Youthreach programmes in Cahersiveen and Killorglin, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61320/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 476 to 478, inclusive, together.

I understand from enquiries made by my officials with Kerry Education and Training Board (KETB) that its Youthreach Programme, which had been provided by a third party under a Service Level Agreement until 31st December 2018, was brought into the Board’s directly provided services from 1st January 2019 with the relevant staff transferred to KETB by way of a TUPE (Transfer of Undertaking, Protection for Employment) process.

Following the reduction in eligible enrolments on the Youthreach Programme in Cahersiveen to two learners in September, 2020, KETB established a Working Group to determine whether a need exists in the Iveragh area for a Youthreach programme to accommodate young people who are no longer engaged in full-time education. The work of this group is ongoing and KETB has assured my officials that the necessary provision will be made available if a further need is identified.

All staff previously assigned to the Youthreach under the South Kerry VTOS/Youthreach Programme, which operated in the Caherciveen and Killorglin area, are fully employed for their contracted hours by KETB in the provision of further education and training courses in the area.

Question No. 477 answered with Question No. 476.
Question No. 478 answered with Question No. 476.
Question No. 479 answered with Question No. 473.

Covid-19 Tests

Question No. 481 answered with Question No. 473.

Question No. 482 answered with Question No. 473.

Questions (480)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

480. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his plans to include students in private education colleges in the free antigen testing programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61535/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The intention of Government is to strengthen the prevention and intervention measures around COVID-19 in response to the changing context. My Department recognises the potential role of rapid antigen testing as one part of a package of surveillance and vigilance measures including self-monitoring and other public health measures.

Following public health advice to the sector from the Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing, advice which is published and available on the Department’s website, a once-off fund of €9m to provide rapid antigen testing kits to students in further and higher education has been announced by my Department.

The purpose of the fund is to encourage the use of antigen testing amongst students and will involve:

- Providing funding to institutions via the funding agencies to make a small number of antigen tests available free to students

- Respecting the autonomy and flexibility of institutions in deciding at institutional level how best to provide these tests to students as soon as practicable

- Developing a communications campaign for students to increase the awareness of rapid antigen testing and their appropriate use.

The fund will be made available to further and higher education institutions through SOLAS and HEA, including to the private institutions represented by HECA, with approximately 27000 students, to ensure that we promote the use of antigen testing amongst young people.

In addition to this once-off specific fund, the UniCov study continues in a number of universities.

Question No. 481 answered with Question No. 473.
Question No. 482 answered with Question No. 473.

Third Level Fees

Question No. 484 answered with Question No. 470.

Questions (483)

Mick Barry

Question:

483. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 142 of 1 December 2021, if he will consider introducing measures such as regulations or legislation that would prevent third-level institutions from passing on debts arising from unpaid fees to debt collectors; his views on the suggestion of a ban on preventing students graduating due to debts arising from fees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61716/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The regulation of debt collection is not within the remit of my Department. Debt collection in Ireland is regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1995, as well as the European Communities (Consumer Credit Agreements) Regulations 2010. The Consumer Credit Act is under the purview of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and any amendments or further regulations in relation to this act would be a matter for that Minister and his Department.

I would not be in favour of debt collectors chasing students for unpaid debts, and would hope that higher education institutions would show flexibility and engage with students facing financial hardship to reach an amicable solution. However higher education institutions are autonomous bodies under the Universities Act 1997, the Institutes of Technology Acts 1992 to 2006 and the Technological Universities Act 2018. They are entitled to regulate their own administrative affairs, including in relation to their finances and the conferring of degrees.

Question No. 484 answered with Question No. 470.

Research Funding

Questions (485)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

485. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the State funding provided to the Tyndall Institute since 2011 either through direct exchequer funding, competitive SFI funding or another source; if there is a commitment to increase Exchequer funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61829/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Tyndall National Institute was established in 2004 as a partnership between Government and University College Cork, to provide a national focal point for excellence in deep-tech research, development and graduate training in ICT.

As a key national Institute, Tyndall works through world-class teams performing ground-breaking research on new materials, devices and systems with an ‘economic impact through research excellence’ philosophy, focusing on the delivery of value from research to the Irish economy. Tyndall sits in a unique position in Ireland (and internationally) at the mid-point between traditional HEI research activities and the demanding industry interface, and over many years through an industry-experienced commercial team, Tyndall has built the required credibility and trust with industry partners which is critical to successful engagements.

Tyndall is a national leader in achieving success within EU funding programmes – and in particular is an acknowledged key player in Europe within the Horizon 2020 ICT programme. It is involved in projects with a value of €782m, with €62m coming to Tyndall, and €53m to other Irish partners.

Tyndall’s research excellence and impact has been acknowledged through prestigious international awards from ERC, Royal Society, IEEE, IoP, and EARTO and also through a number of its staff being appointed as Fellows of the IEEE.

Tyndall is also a national leader in the commercialisation of its technology output and in that regard has generated license income, unrivalled in the sector, from key consumer product manufacturers in recent years. It also commercialises its research through the creation of new spin-off and start-up companies, and Tyndall’s technology has been instrumental in the establishment of 22 such companies to date.

A significant multi-year Tyndall core underpinning equipment upgrade is currently underway, with €26m committed to date through a combination of direct Exchequer funding and competitively won infrastructure funding from SFI.

I am pleased to support Tyndall and I have committed to increase Tyndall’s annual funding to €10 million by 2024.

The Government have fully supported the Tyndall ambition to double in size in the coming years. This expresses strong confidence in Tyndall’s ability to continue to deliver for Ireland on the international stage. It will also allow Tyndall/UCC to draw down the enabling €75m EIB loan to fund the project, and importantly also ensure the project timeline can be maintained in order to deliver the new facility by the end of 2024.

This will result in a national research facility of international scale, which will become a magnet for international research talent and will substantially assist the Governments FDI agenda with consequent significant economic impact.

Related to the Tyndall expansion, in May 2021, I launched what will be an important activity within the expanded Institute – Ireland’s first Quantum Computer Engineering Centre (QCEC) at Tyndall, which will ultimately lead to the creation and retention of high-quality sustainable ICT jobs.

The State funding provided to the Tyndall Institute since 2011 either through direct exchequer funding, competitive SFI funding or another source is as follows:

- Direct funding to the Tyndall Institute from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science: €44.8 m

- Direct funding to the Tyndall Institute from Science Foundation Ireland: €133.5m

- Direct funding to the Tyndall Institute from the Department of the Environment Climate and Communications: €8.1m

- Direct funding to the Tyndall Institute from Enterprise Ireland R&I programmes: €45.0m

While the Irish Research Council have awardees based at the Tyndall Institute, and indeed in other research institutes in UCC, they don’t provide funding to the Tyndall Institute directly but instead provide it to UCC, which is responsible for hosting these awards.

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