Other Questions.

Social Welfare Payments.

Bernard Allen


80 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will undertake an awareness campaign to assure people about the new social services card for collection of social welfare payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18708/08]

Phil Hogan


90 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measures in place to assist people in receipt of social welfare payments in using the new social services card to collect payments at the post office as social welfare books are being phased out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18707/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 and 90 together.

The Department supports Government policy which aims to facilitate the greater use of electronic payment systems in the economy in the interests of developing a world class payments environment in Ireland. Our payment strategy is designed to ensure that cost-effective arrangements are in place for making payments to social welfare customers by using a range of payment options and to ensure that new payment facilities are made available to customers as they arise.

The Department is implementing a three year strategy to change paper based payment instruments to electronic payments at post offices, banks and other financial institutions on a phased basis. Currently, some 74% of customers receive their payment electronically direct to their post office or financial institution.

A range of measures are under way to inform customers of the change in payment methods and to address any concerns they may have regarding the use of the social services card to collect their payment at post offices. Each person is being informed by personal letter of the change in their payment arrangement. A social services card, along with a covering letter explaining how to use the card, is also being issued to them. Posters are being displayed in all post offices, citizens information centres and throughout the Department's local office network.

An Post and the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, are committed to assisting customers in the use of social services cards for collecting their payment. In this regard An Post, supported by the IPU, has recently initiated a nationwide publicity campaign informing people about receiving their social welfare payment using a social services card at post offices.

Stakeholders and customers representing the elderly, people with disabilities, the unemployed and other focus groups have already been consulted and have welcomed the move to electronic payment at post offices. In addition, the change from paper to electronic payment is a key element of all public information events, seminars and information briefings being carried out by the Department in the coming year.

I am confident that the planned range of measures to inform customers of the change to electronic payment will ensure a smooth transition for them.

I welcome the clarification on the campaign that will be undertaken, particularly measures to contact people, raise awareness etc. There was genuine concern about the move to this new type of payment, particularly among the small and diminishing numbers who are not used to the electronic world at present.

I want to ask the Minister two supplementary questions on this matter. Has she any intention of using this as an opportunity to push for a greater degree of financial inclusion and to encourage particular groups, such as older people and lone parents, who do not have savings accounts to use it as an opportunity to promote that idea as well, particularly in the post offices?

There has been a degree of confusion on this issue. Elderly people are currently able to sign the back of their book for a couple of weeks and allow somebody else to collect the payment for them. There is concern about how that will operate under the new electronic system. If somebody signs a form, how long will that form last? Elderly people can be abused by others who are supposed to care for them but who are trying to get some financial gain out of the abuse. I want to ensure the system is watertight so that cannot happen.

The potential to use the card would enable all sorts of other schemes to be incorporated in it, such as transferring the money into a savings account and a payment account. It can be examined as it is used over the years. The Deputy mentioned those people who might not be familiar with technology, but 70% of new applicants for State contributory pensions and child benefit opted to use the electronic card. Perhaps older people are not as unable to use the technology as we think.

I am not suggesting they are not.

It is encouraging. Having agents to collect for elderly people was a key issue for them. If an elderly person needs to appoint an agent, those arrangements will be made. Special arrangements will be made from next June and if it must be done in the long term, a letter will issue from the Department enabling the carer or agent to collect the payment.

It is also my main concern that it would be more difficult for the relatives of older people and of people with a disability to access payments for them.

In my usual portfolio of transport, we are pursuing the new smart card for the Dublin transport system. The comment has been made that there is much scope for integrating a transport smart card with other facilities. Have officials from the Department of Social and Family Affairs spoken to the transport authorities or the banks about more streamlined services? There is capacity for many technical activities on cards, such as the Oyster card on the London transport system.

Wide consultations took place regarding electronic payments, but it may well have been with those bodies that represent the recipients. I do not know if consultation took place on a wider basis, but I could certainly envisage that happening once it is up and running. This card enables the payment of money into accounts, as opposed to a card that allows for free travel or an integrated transport service. I would love to arrive at a situation where these cards are widely used, but it is a very specific card for payment at the moment. I believe the aims of this card will be achieved and perhaps we could have more consultation on it with other bodies over the coming years.

It is a card for payment that will allow a person to get a full entitlement that week at the post office, or wherever. My concern is that elderly people might be vulnerable. Can the Minister clarify exactly how a payment can be collected by an agent? At the moment, a person can sign one, two or seven cheques and allow somebody else to cash them and bring back the money. Therefore, the person retains a degree of control. My concern with this card system is that a form will have to be signed which contains a date specifying how long somebody is entitled to collect the person's payment. What checks are in the system to ensure there is no abuse? Sadly, we could all refer to instances where that has happened in the past. Perhaps the Minister could concentrate on that issue when she is discussing the card with the various interested groups.

A person can claim a pension payment for up to 100 days and this continues to be the case. When payment is made, a receipt is given indicating the amount and what it was for. It includes the breakdown of the payment, such as whether there were qualified adults or children included in the payment. An agent collecting on a long-term basis will have to get a letter from the Department authorising him or her to do that. For people aged over 75, the paper payment is often more comfortable and it continues without question.

I know there will be an agent facility, but I am concerned about the checks ensuring the payment goes to the intended recipient at the end of the day. I am not convinced the checks are there for the swipe card, which is something we need to ensure.

The Department and An Post are jointly working on a system which will facilitate the agent, with a view to rolling it out at the end of next month.

I am concerned about facilitating the person who is entitled to the payment, not the agent.

It will facilitate the use of an agent by the recipient. Safeguards will have to be put in place to make sure the money is going to the right person.

Departmental Records.

Jim O'Keeffe


81 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the guidelines or procedures in place within her Department to safeguard sensitive personal information of the public when lost or stolen; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18706/08]

The Department of Social and Family Affairs administers around 50 schemes and makes payments to 1 million people each week. Due to the nature, scale and diversity of its work, the Department is heavily reliant on ICT and holds detailed information about its customers. The Department takes its responsibilities to safeguard this data extremely seriously.

All electronic data is stored in the Department's primary computer site. The site itself has rigorous control procedures and site perimeter protection. There are arrangements in place for inter-site back-up of data. Security arrangements, including encryption, are in place to cover the necessary transfer of data to other agencies for service delivery purposes. Our systems are subject to standard physical security measures. Industry standard security protocols, such as password protection and security software, are deployed to protect all devices supplied by the Department and to preserve the confidentiality of data.

Given their small size and portable nature, it is more likely that portable devices may fall into the wrong hands than a desktop system. It is the Department's policy not to hold sensitive personal data on laptops. Should we decide that we need such data on these devices, it will be encrypted. Procedures for the management and maintenance of portable devices are currently under review by the Department and revised operational guidelines are at an advanced stage of development.

Every effort is made by the Department to ensure that personal customer data is used solely for business purposes and that it is not compromised in any way. Over the last number of years, the Department has continuously strengthened security and data protection protocols. Policies and procedures governing the use of systems and data have been developed and communicated to staff. These policies and procedures are under constant review and are updated as appropriate. Staff are regularly reminded of their obligations under data protection and security policies and of the penalties applicable in respect of any breach of these policies.

In addition to the policy measures, the Department is also ensuring that higher levels of data protection are built into its latest generation of ICT systems to reflect the increased threats in this area. Considerable resources have also been devoted to increasing the security and monitoring facilities in its older systems.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

A high-level group has been established within the Department to review access management and control. The primary focus of the group is to direct the development of the Department's policy on access to data, ensure that existing measures are co-ordinated across systems and to initiate further work programmes to address emerging issues. In order to preserve public confidence in the operations of the Department, there has been considerable focus on the issue of data confidentiality. The Department recognises that security measures must continually evolve and it will continue to reflect this in its systems and procedures.

It was the issue regarding the banks that prompted me to put down this question. In recent years, eight items have been taken from officials of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Five of those items were laptops taken from civil servants, three of which were taken in the home, one from a car and one from public transport. Were any of these items recovered? Did these events trigger any response within the Department at the time? What kind of information was on these laptops? The Minister stated it is not policy to hold sensitive information on laptops, so can she confirm there was no such information on these stolen laptops?

Is the Minister satisfied that the most up-to-date encryption data is used? We in this House were told there would be examination taking place of the encryption on the equipment we use. I am concerned that the same facilities may be operating in the Department of Social and Family Affairs as operate here and I would not like to think that is the case.

The five laptops and three mobile phones relate to the six years since 2002.

The data is out there.

None of them was recovered but none contained sensitive information so people need have no worries in that respect.

Encryption is an important aspect where information is being passed from one agency to another. Of all Departments, my Department is conscious that it holds personal information such as identity, PRSI contributions and claim activity. Some 6.8 million datasets are held by the Department of Social and Family Affairs for current and past recipients. Staff who wish to access information need a password, a personal account on a very secure network and authorisation from senior management. For inhouse and external information transfer, the best security measures in information technology are constantly reviewed. A senior unit in the Department monitors this.

Is the Minister saying the disaster in the UK, when 25 million sets of information were transferred between the inland revenue and the work and pension sector, could not happen here? The Minister referred to the data protection section. Have the Minister and her predecessor thoroughly reviewed the procedures in that section in light of the number of cases of improper accessing of data?

Two years ago, it was alleged that 72 officials accessed the data of the winner of a large prize in the Euromillions. Every few months we get a disturbing instance of this. In October 2007 someone was prosecuted for accessing the records of 40 individuals. A recent report includes a serious allegation that an official improperly accessed information and passed it on to people engaged in criminality. Has the data protection unit been reviewed and have its procedures been assessed in light of these disturbing reports on personal information?

Any breach of confidentiality is inexcusable and is not tolerated in the Department. Disciplinary action, up to dismissal, has always been taken in cases over the past few years. Given the number of staff and the amount of information held, the number of incidents is small and few staff have been involved. That is not to excuse it because people need the comfort of knowing their information is secure. The Department is examining the most up to date ways in Ireland and internationally of protecting information. There is a multi-year programme to implement a new information security architecture for the whole system. In so far as people can have confidence that their information is private, the Department goes to the nth degree to ensure confidentiality is maintained and the information is protected, whether the information is kept inhouse or transferred elsewhere.

Does the Minister have a figure for the number of laptops issued to staff in her Department? Bearing in mind that sensitive information is not stored on them, what type of work are laptops used for? Is there a grade of civil servant issued with a laptop or do community welfare officers have them?

I do not know how many are issued but I am quite sure it is more than the five that were stolen over a six year period. I will check if the information is available.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seán Barrett


82 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if, in the upcoming review of the Towards 2016 social partnership agreement, she will ensure that greater priority is given to affording older people greater social protection in the areas of poverty, inequality, access to basic services, age discrimination in employment and social exclusion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13623/08]

The vision for older people as set out in the social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, is to enable people to maintain their health and well-being and to live full and active lives in an independent way in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. The agreement already includes a wide range of commitments regarding older people in the area of pensions, long-term care, housing and accommodation, mobility, health services and education and employment opportunities.

These commitments, which are elaborated in the new national action plan for social inclusion 2007-16, adopt a co-ordinated approach across a range of policy areas, reflecting the complex nature of poverty and social exclusion, which is multifaceted in its causes and effects. The plan, in addition to the 12 high level goals, contains 17 targets focussed on older people.

Responsibility for the implementation of different aspects of the plan, and the commitments in Towards 2016, rest with the appropriate Minister. Access to basic services is a matter for the Minister for Health and Children, discrimination in employment will be dealt with by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment while equality issues are the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. For my part the priority is in the area of income support, and significant progress is already being made in these areas. Increases in pensions granted over successive budgets, which have been consistently higher than both inflation and wages, have made a major contribution to tackling poverty.

The future of our pensions system is a major theme in Towards 2016 with a commitment to publish a Green Paper on pensions and to develop a framework for long-term policy in this area. The Green Paper was published in October 2007 and a consultation process on its contents is drawing to a close. The Government will respond to the consultations by developing a framework for the future of pensions and it is planned to finalise this by the end of the year. The needs of older people have always been a priority for this Government and this will remain the position. I will ensure that the good progress being made on the aspects of the agreement for which the Department is responsible is maintained.

Deputy Barrett had hoped to take this question but he is in a committee meeting. The Minister listed the Ministers responsible for various areas but who is the appropriate Minister for older people? With the appointment of 20 Ministers of State yesterday I hoped we would have clarity on the appropriate person. According to the Taoiseach, the Minister of State dealing with older people is Deputy Máire Hoctor. Can the Minister outline the functions she has from the perspective of the Department of Social and Family Affairs as opposed to the functions the Minister will retain?

I did outline who the appropriate Minister was, stating that basic health services was a matter for the Minister for Health and Children, discrimination in employment is dealt with by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and equality issues are the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The area of concern to my Department is income support and pensions.

Is the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, the person who will co-ordinate that?

The Deputy asked where the areas of responsibility lie. The Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, is assigned to the Departments of Health and Children, Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Social and Family Affairs. Her job is to co-ordinate a strategy for older people, drawing on those three areas.

Will the Minister of State deal with income support for older people within the Department of Social and Family Affairs or will she deal with strategy?

Pensions and income support is a central role of mine. I see the pensions strategy as one of the major items that must be addressed.

I used to stand in this position when Deputy Dermot Ahern was the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. His target was £100 per week for the contributory State pension. In the era of the Celtic tiger we went past that. I tried to get him to commit to having the State pension as a high percentage, perhaps 35% to 40%, of the average industrial wage. Deputy Ahern refused to do so while he was the Minister. I refer to Professor Eamon O'Shea's fine study Older & Bolder. Is it not true that there is a 27% risk of poverty if the older cohort is examined? Are we still not the lowest of the EU 15 in terms of income support? An area that impinges on the Minister's portfolio is the growing danger of fuel poverty. It was stated in that study that senior citizens in Ireland are at greater risk of dying of hypothermia than their counterparts in Finland. It is astonishing that an Irish man or woman is at greater risk of dying of hypothermia than a person living in Finland with its harsh, long and dark winters. This is an indictment of the Government which, following 11 years in power, has not addressed fundamental issues of income support.

Some six, seven or eight years ago there was much talk about our finally coming to grips with the pension issue through the provision of an adequate three-legged pension for senior citizens. Is it not the case that the Government frittered away all of the money of the Celtic tiger on all kinds of madcap schemes initiated by the former Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern? Eleven years on, the Government still has not addressed the fundamental issue of pensions, which will be a serious problem for this country when the so-called baby boomers begin to reach retirement age. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin, now has responsibility for addressing these matters and, in particular, the sufferings of a significant number of senior citizens under her Administration.

I accept that pensions and the development of a long-term pension strategy are significant issues requiring to be addressed. The consultation process runs until the end of this month. A major forum will be held at the end of this month in Dublin Castle following which all ideas will be brought together. I should point out, however, that there is no consistency of approach in the submissions received to date. I do not for one minute imagine this will be an easy issue to tackle. However, it is an issue to which I will afford priority.

It is also worth mentioning, given that Deputy Broughan mentioned the £100 pension, that the contributory old age pension now stands at €223.30 per week and the qualified adult pension is €200. Also, the non-contributory pension is €212 per week while a qualified adult receives €140 per week. This illustrates the Government's commitment during the past few years to ensuring——

What is the average industrial wage?

Pensioners are not in receipt of the average industrial wage.

They live in the same world.

This also illustrates that the rate of consistent poverty for older people in this country has reduced from 3.1% to 2.2% which means that the targets to be achieved by 2012 have already been met. This says a great deal about the Government's commitment in this regard.

The Minister needs to go beyond that now. May I ask a brief supplementary?

We are well over time, but the Deputy may ask a brief supplementary.

I want to make a few suggestions to the Minister in respect of her administration——

I would prefer it if the Deputy asked questions.

I want to ask the Minister about pensioners aged over 80 years. A qualified adult, usually a woman, does not receive further increases in payment when she reaches 80 years of age. Is this an issue the Minister intends to address? Her predecessors failed to address it and many other issues affecting women and, in particular, widows. I ask that the Minister examine these issues.

There has been some discussion in regard to the over 80 age group. Obviously, I would like to work towards ensuring there is equality for women in social welfare services.

John Perry


83 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her Department will continue to use and maximise its usage of post offices for all types of social welfare payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18710/08]

John Perry


89 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the calls by the Irish Postmasters Union at its annual conference for the Government to recognise post offices as the provider of choice for the delivery of social welfare payments; if she will make a commitment on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18709/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 89 together.

In 1992, my Department and An Post entered into a five-year contract for the delivery of payments. This contract was renewed in 1997 for a further three years to the end of 1999. The award of a further extension of the contract in 2000 became subject to complaints to the European Commission under competition and procurement law.

On 13 November 2007, the European Court of Justice ruled in Ireland's favour. However, this was on the basis of lack of proofs by the Commission rather than on legal principle. The judgment also indicated that the services which fall under Directive 18/2004/EC, Annex ll B, must be subject to advertising if they may be of interest to undertakings within the member state concerned or in other member states.

Legal advice on the judgment is being reviewed within my Department. In the meantime, the current arrangements with An Post for the delivery of social welfare payments remain in place. The procurement of supplies and services by public bodies is governed by EU procurement directives and by national public procurement policy, as enunciated in guidelines issued by the Department of Finance. In broad terms, public procurement policy is aimed at ensuring that the taxpayer obtains value for money and that the public procurement function is discharged honestly and fairly. Therefore, placing a contract directly with An Post without a competitive process would contravene EU and national procurement rules and could result in further legal action against the State.

With regard to the operation of the post office network and the location of post offices, this is a matter for the board of An Post which comes under the remit of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. An Post and my Department have been partners in the delivery of social welfare payment services since the foundation of the State and there is every reason to believe that An Post and the network of post offices will continue to play a significant role in the delivery of social welfare payments in the future.

The Minister's response, through no fault of her own, has caused me to be more rather than less concerned for the future of rural post offices. I accept An Post does not come within the remit of her Department. However, 500 post offices have been closed in the past eight years. This, coupled with a halving in the past ten years in the number of social welfare payments paid through post offices and the reduction in the number of bill payments at post offices, is a cause of genuine concern.

The Minister stated her Department had received legal advice on the judgment of 13 November from the European Court of Justice. When is it expected the review of that legal advice will be completed? Also, will the Minister give a commitment that she will during her tenure of office and, within the law and European regulations, try to ensure as many payments as possible can be made through post offices, a declining but important part of rural communities?

As Deputy Enright stated, my Department must comply with competition law, European regulations, services directives and so on and cannot do anything that goes against them. At the same time, however, everybody appreciates the value of the post office in terms of accessibility for recipients of social welfare payments. An Post currently plays a major role in regard to the provision of such services and I envisage it will continue to play a strong role in this regard.

The post office has been called the fortress of rural life, the place where senior citizens and others can meet, communicate and keep up to date with neighbours and friends and with what is going on in the community in terms of local events. It is a shocking indictment of the Government that it has since 2002, as my colleague said, closed 500 post offices. I note that Leitrim has lost 41% of its post offices and that Cavan, Sligo and Westmeath have each lost approximately 40% of their post offices. One of the hallmarks of this Administration has been its decimation of the post office network. Did this need to happen?

The Minister continually refers to the European Union, but surely it is the responsibility of the Government to pursue a universal service obligation in regard to postal services notwithstanding the 2009 liberalisation directive. What is happening now is that a key part of rural infrastructure is being removed. The Government is complicit in this and the Minister is not playing a strong enough role in this regard.

I am sure the Deputy appreciates fully that from the perspective of the Department of Social and Family Affairs any future contracting arrangements will have to be in the form of tender and must be transparent. It is significant to note that 46% of payments made to 1.8 million recipients every week are made through post offices.

It was 80% ten years ago.

People now have a wider choice and can have their payments made through the post office, bank, credit union or other recognised financial institution.

That is a big change.

It is interesting to note that people on long-term schemes use their books. Some 384,000 people and 272,000 child benefit customers are paid electronically while others such as job-seekers, one-parent families and early child care supplement recipients receive their payments through the post office. A significant number of people continue to choose to use post offices. I see it as important to give them the choice and, as the Deputy stated, it is important for rural Ireland. I accept post offices play an important role in rural Ireland. Everything we do must be transparent.

Has the Department had discussions with An Post and its partner, Fortis, with regard to the banking system, the orange part of the green, white and orange image of the new An Post? Has the Minister had discussions on linking the small local banking services into the social welfare and post office operation? Will she do this in her administration?

I am not yet aware what talks have taken place in this regard.

Live Register.

Willie Penrose


84 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the large percentage increases in people signing on at certain social welfare offices; the extra resources she will provide for the job facilitation service to meet the growing demand at these offices; and the work of her Department in co-ordinating welfare to work measures with other Departments and State agencies. [18627/08]

I am aware of the increase in the national live register in recent months and I am satisfied that the Department is monitoring the impact of this on local offices on an ongoing basis.

At present a network of 40 facilitators work closely at local level with social welfare customers, including those on the live register, in order to determine training and development needs. They arrange, through direct provision or jointly with other agencies, appropriate training and developmental programmes to equip recipients to progress to employment, enhance their parenting skills or otherwise improve their life opportunities. This service will shortly be enhanced with the assignment of an additional 30 facilitators over the remainder of 2008 as part of a wider activation programme provided for under the national development plan.

This social and economic participation programme is aimed at all people of working age regardless of the circumstances that led the person to require income maintenance. The cost of the programme will be €50 million over the duration. In the first three years €13 million will be invested, following which it will be reviewed and a decision made on the extent and content of the programme over the following years. The enhanced facilitation service will build on the Department's existing experience and income maintenance relationship with the people concerned, in co-operation with other relevant service providers such as FÁS, the VECs, the HSE and other local agencies. The vision is of a single transparent system with a primary focus on the customer and a route map starting at the first point of engagement with the Department.

For those on the live register, the main welfare to work measure is the national employment action plan, NEAP. Under this plan, people who are approaching three months on the live register are referred to FÁS for interview with a view to job placement or an offer of training. Almost 9,400 people were referred to FÁS under the NEAP in the first two months of 2008. Of these, 33%, or 3,060, have left the live register.

There is also a range of support services in place to assist unemployed people, particularly the long-term unemployed, lone parents and sickness-related welfare recipients to return to the active labour market either by taking up employment or becoming self-employed. These are provided through the operation of the back to education and back to work allowance schemes, the technical assistance and training grants and the PRSI exemption scheme.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The activation and family services programme and the second chance education opportunities scheme also offer supports to social welfare customers and other disadvantaged persons to assist them to improve their employability and personal and family circumstances. At the end of March 2008, 43,000 people were availing of employment and training supports offered by the Department.

Overall, I am satisfied that existing arrangements, together with the proposed wider activation programme under the NDP, provide a satisfactory level of co-ordination to ensure that the needs of the most marginalised are met in a positive manner.

The increases on the live register in some districts throughout the country are truly astonishing. Portlaoise has had a 70% increase in people signing on, Monaghan and Kells have had increases of 51%, Trim and Portarlington have had increases of 55%, Navan has had an increase of 41%, Ballybofey has had an increase of 48% and Carlow has had an increase of 44%. Some of these places are in the constituencies of Fianna Fáil Ministers. These are astonishing figures in this downturn and the Cowen recession we are possibly entering.

Does the Minister have any intention of undertaking strong locally targeted initiatives with FÁS in areas such as Portlaoise, Portarlington and the other areas I listed where we seem to have had a massive collapse in employment? This is an urgent matter. It is necessary for the Minister, with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to come up with answers.

The Deputy is being a little bit dramatic. While he is right to state increases have taken place in certain offices, such as Clones, Portlaoise and Macroom, the overall live register saw a reduction on last month.

That is cold comfort to those in Portlaoise.

There is no crisis.

The annual figures——

It is not fair to say the employment situation has gone out of control, far from it as more jobs continue to be created than are lost each time. Having said that, these activation policies to engage with people coming on the live register are a major part of our policy. Facilitators interview them and work with them. During the first two months of this year 9,400 people were referred to FÁS for interview and to have their details checked to establish whether they would be appropriate for support to enter education, work or enterprise.

How many of them were appropriate?

Of that figure, 4,270 were interviewed and not placed, 1,332 remained on the register and the rest, which is more than 3,000, came off the live register.

It shows there is potential. When I entered the Department the first thing I saw was a big sign stating "Interviews for facilitators" on the same floor as the Minister's office. The Department will employ 30 more to actively engage with these people quickly to enable them to take up other options.

There is no embargo in the Minister's Department.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.