Written Answers. - Use of Consultants.

Dermot Ahern

Ceist:

528 Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason his Department requires separate advice on Economic Monetary Union in view of the fact that the ESRI and the Central Bank have previously been providing this advice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16170/96]

Dermot Ahern

Ceist:

529 Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason he has put out to tender a three month consultancy on the effect of the year 2000 on the viability of computer data; if this type of investigation is appropriate to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16171/96]

It is proposed to take Questions Nos. 528 and 529 together.

My Department has a requirement to assess the impact of year 2000 and the introduction of the single European currency, EURO, on its computer systems.

The Department of Social Welfare relies heavily on information technology, IT, for its day to day business. The IT infrastructure supporting the Department's administration is a comlex one, comprising central and local processors, a nationwide telecommunications network linking some 225 offices and customised applications with several millions of lines of computer code. Given the nature of social welfare business, the computer systems make extensive use of dates and monetary amounts for calculation of entitlement to various benefits.

The problems associated with the year 2000 affect the whole computer industry and many organisations, particularly those in the financial sector. Like these organisations, the Department needs to ensure that its various computer systems can adequately cater for the processing of dates at the end of the century. This requires a very detailed examination of the computer code for each system to identify the changes needed.

The proposed introduction of a single European currency will also require changes to the Department's computer systems. It will be necessary to build currency conversion routines into the payment calculation systems. The Department calculates payments many months in advance to produce books of payable orders for a variety of pensioners and child benefit recipients and the computer systems will have to handle two currency types for some time.

The Department will shortly begin a three month impact assessment study which will identify what changes must be made to cater for these changes. Consultants with specialist skills and software tools are being engaged to assist the Department in this assessment. This impact assessment study is at an operational and technical level and some aspects of the results may be of assistance to other Government Departments.