Written Questions Nos. 161-168

Supplementary Welfare Allowance Payments

Bernard Durkan


161. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection if an exceptional needs payment will issue in the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22305/17]

As explained in response to recent Parliamentary Question No. 191 on 6 April 2017, an application form for Supplementary Welfare Allowance has been posted to the person concerned. If she wishes to apply for an exceptional needs payment she should complete the application form and return it to the welfare service in Maynooth where it will be considered.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Pension Provisions

Clare Daly


162. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection his views on the fact that no pension entitlements, other than the basic entitlement to the State pension, accrue for persons that give many years of their lives to working for community employment schemes, in view of the fact that such schemes are publicly funded and provide a vital public service; his plans to remedy this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22340/17]

Community Employment (CE) participants and supervisors are not employed by my Department, rather they are employees of private companies in the community and voluntary sector. Given that situation, the State is not responsible for funding pension arrangements for such employees, even where the companies in question are reliant on State funding. It is open to individuals to make provision for a pension by way of PRSA which all employers are obliged to facilitate.

Nevertheless, the Deputy should note that the issue of pension provision for CE supervisors is currently being examined by a Community Sector High Level Forum under the auspices and chairmanship of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. My Department is represented on this group, as are IMPACT, SIPTU, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and Pobal. The Forum last met on 7 April 2017 and I understand that their work is on-going.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Willie Penrose


163. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social Protection his views on a matter (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22395/17]

The jobseeker’s allowance scheme is a means-tested social assistance scheme which provides income support for people who have lost work and are unable to find alternative full-time employment. The 2017 Estimates for the Department provide for expenditure this year on the jobseeker’s allowance scheme of €2.1 billion.

In the case of persons aged under 25 years of age, the means test for jobseeker’s allowance takes account of the value of any benefit and privilege enjoyed by a claimant as a result of residing with a parent or step-parent and the calculation of such value is based on the level of parental net income. Once the person concerned reaches 25 years of age, the value of any benefit and privilege will no longer be regarded as means.

For means test purposes, account is taken of the income and assets of both the claimant and his or her spouse/partner including the earnings of the spouse. A disregard of €20 per day is applied to the earnings for each day worked subject to a maximum of €60 per week and the balance is assessed at 60%.

Lower weekly rates for younger jobseekers were first introduced in the Supplementary Budget in 2009 and further extended in subsequent Budgets up to 2014. The rationale for these rates is to prevent young unemployed people from entering longer term welfare dependency by providing a strong financial incentive to take up a job, or a training or education programme. It should be noted that jobseekers who are under 26 years of age who have children are not subject to the reduced rates of jobseeker’s allowance.

Unemployment among young people is falling at a faster rate than among the general population and I am determined that we help more young people in the most effective way possible, by supporting them into the workforce, education or training. For that reason, on Budget day 2017 I announced additional incentives for young people to participate in education. From September 2017 when a young jobseeker participates on the Back to Education scheme, he or she will be entitled to receive the full maximum rate of jobseeker’s payment, which will then be €193 per week, as against the €160 which they are currently on. This is the largest single increase in the social welfare package and demonstrates our commitment to young jobseekers who seek to enhance their skills.

Any proposal to increase the rates of jobseeker’s allowance for people under 26 would be a matter for Government to consider in a budgetary context.

UN Commission on the Status of Women

Eamon Scanlon


164. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if Ireland voted in favour of Saudi Arabia getting a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. [22197/17]

At the UN voting on resolutions takes place in public and there is transparency about the policy positions adopted by countries. Since 1947 the rules of procedure governing General Assembly elections provide that UN elections take place by secret ballot. The well-established convention among the 193 Member States of the UN is that votes are not publicly disclosed as to do so could seriously damage bilateral relations between States. It would also likely seriously disadvantage smaller States. Accordingly, I do not propose to abandon a practice that has been in place for over six decades and observed by all previous governments. To do so would be harmful to Ireland’s capacity to engage at the UN and harmful to our capacity to conduct sensitive international relations. It should be noted that in the election to the Commission on the Status of Women, the Asia-Pacific Group put forward five countries for five seats on the 45-member Commission which produces non-binding conclusions on an annual basis.

Ireland has a very strong record on promoting the rights of women and girls at the United Nations. We are a leading voice in this field and we currently chair the Commission for the Status of Women.

UN Commission on the Status of Women

Eamon Scanlon


165. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the fact that Saudi Arabia now has a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women in view of its horrendous human rights record, especially on women rights. [22198/17]

The UN Charter defines the purpose of the organisation as to achieve international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion, and states that the UN is to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends. There are many countries with which we have important policy differences, including in the area of human rights. The UN provides us with an important forum to discuss these differences. Ireland is fully committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of women and girls, and has a strong track record as a champion of human rights at the UN, including through deep engagement with the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

The CSW is an open and transparent forum, with all 193 member states having a voice in its work. While formal membership of the Commission does grant certain procedural rights, the nature of multilateral negotiations at the UN allows perspectives and priorities to be presented by all 193 member states.

Ireland recently took up a seat on the Commission for a four-year period to 2021 and we will chair the annual sessions in 2018 and 2019. During its term on the Commission, Ireland has pledged to work to strengthen the voice and functioning of the Commission and to promote the participation of civil society in its work. In 2018 the Commission, under our leadership, will attach particular priority to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. In 2019 our priority will be to advance equality of access to public services. We will use our Chairmanship to facilitate dialogue with all UN member states, civil society and other stakeholders to agree the strongest possible outcomes which deliver on the Commission’s mandate to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The Commission is one of several fora which Ireland can and does use to discuss human rights issues with fellow UN member states. Ireland has consistently raised human rights, including the human rights of women and girls with Saudi Arabia. In my visit to Saudi Arabia in November 2016, I raised the position of women in Saudi society with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Ireland also made recommendations regarding the status of women at Saudi Arabia’s last Universal Periodic Review in 2013.

Ireland will continue to uphold our values through taking advantage of such opportunities to promote dialogue on human rights, including on those of women and girls. Our membership and chairmanship of the CSW provides us with another such opportunity.

Northern Ireland

Clare Daly


166. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has read the testimony of a person (details supplied) given to the Good Friday Committee on 6 April 2017; and if he has made representations to demand their release. [22202/17]

I am aware of the testimony given in private session to the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on 6 April last and of the family impact of the imprisonment of the relevant individual, which was outlined in that evidence. As the Deputy will be aware, my officials have raised the circumstances of the case in question with the Northern Ireland Office. I understand that a Parole Commissioners hearing was adjourned last week to the end of this month, with a decision expected soon afterwards on whether the person in question can again be released on licence.

My officials continue to actively monitor the case.

Middle East Issues

Thomas Pringle


167. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of representations which have been made regarding the 6,500 Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons and detention centres, 300 of which are children; if he has made representations regarding the recent hunger strike which commenced on 17 April 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22242/17]

The incidence and conditions of detention of Palestinians by Israel is an issue which has consistently featured over recent years in our dialogue with Israeli authorities, both here in Ireland and in Israel, as well as in our discussions at EU and UN level. Within those representations, there has been a particular focus on detention of children, and Ireland raised this question in our intervention at the Universal Periodic Review of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council in 2013. In relation to the current situation, we cannot support the use of hunger strikes as a means of exerting pressure. There is a real risk of attitudes hardening on either side, leading to tragedy. We do not want to say anything that could add to that risk. I am aware that previous hunger strikes have been resolved, allowing a tragic outcome to be avoided.

I will not comment therefore on the specific issues which the strikers have apparently raised. However, I would reiterate our essential position – which should be an obvious one – which is that detained Palestinians should have the same protections and conditions that Israel affords its own citizens.

My Department raised this issue with the Israeli Ambassador on 9 May.

The EU missions in Palestine issued a statement on Saturday concerning the hunger strikes and issues related to conditions of detention, and calling on Israel to respect fully the rights of prisoners.

UN Human Rights Council

Darragh O'Brien


168. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the current members of the United Nations Human Rights Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22342/17]

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva. The Human Rights Council comprises 47 member states, with membership based on the equitable distribution of seats across the United Nations’ regional groups. Members are elected by the majority of members of the UN General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. Members of the Council serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The current member states are:

13 African States: Botswana, Burundi, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia.

13 Asia-Pacific States: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar.

6 Eastern European States: Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia.

8 Latin America and Caribbean States: Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador*, Panama, Paraguay, Venezuela.

7 Western Europe and other States: Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America.