Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018

Vol. 258 No. 9

Commencement Matters

Home Care Packages

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank her for dealing with this matter. The question I raise is in regard to homecare providers. A presentation was given recently to a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health that I chaired on 29 May last at which homecare providers advised that they are finding it difficult to recruit people because of full employment and the fact that people now have jobs and are working full time. There is a cohort of people who are prepared to provide homecare for three hours per day but the problem is that if they do so five days a week, they are precluded from claiming a social welfare allowance of any description. One proposal is that the calculation be based on the number of hours worked rather than the number of days. For example, a person working three hours a day, five days a week would amass a total of 15 hours. That is the proposal and amendment which people are now seeking.

We will need between 10,000 and 15,000 additional homecare providers in this country over the next few years. As the Minister of State is aware, the number of people aged over 65 will increase from its current level of 637,000 to more than 1 million over the next ten years. We want to keep more people out of hospitals and nursing homes and the only way to do that is through the provision of adequate homecare services. Such homecare services can be provided by people who are prepared to work part time. It is in that context that I set out my proposal that a person be permitted to work for three hours a day, five days a week without losing all of his or her social welfare allowance as he or she would under the current system whereas a person who works for two days a week is still able to get his or her social welfare allowance for three days a week. The Department should take that proposal on board in planning the social welfare requirements in the coming budget and it should be given very serious consideration at this stage.

I thank Senator Burke. The first part of my answer on behalf of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, will deal with the Senator's question as tabled. I will also address the second part of his question, regarding the day-based system versus the hour-based system.

The main social welfare schemes for jobseekers are the jobseeker’s allowance and the jobseeker’s benefit schemes. Both schemes provide significant support such that individuals who are casually employed or working part-time can work up to three days a week and retain access to a reduced jobseeker’s payment. For instance, an individual can earn a little over €20,190 per year and retain a small jobseeker’s allowance payment, while the equivalent threshold for an individual with a qualified adult is almost €4,700 if they are both working.

In addition to the two jobseeker’s schemes, the Department’s main in-work support is the working family payment, formerly known as the family income supplement, which supports families who have children and where the parents are on low incomes and work at least 19 hours per week. The back to work family dividend scheme allows recipients of jobseeker’s allowance or jobseeker’s benefit who have been jobseekers for 12 months or recipients of the one-parent family payment to retain their full increase for qualified children for the first year in employment, tapering to 50% in the second year.

A long-term unemployed jobseeker who is offered employment of more than three days but less than 24 hours a week may be eligible for the part-time job incentive scheme. Under this scheme a jobseeker can receive a weekly payment of €124.40 per week if he or she is single or €204.50 if he or she has an adult dependant. The combination of schemes available provides considerable income support for individuals in part-time employment by allowing them to retain access to a social welfare payment.

Reflecting the impact of Government policy and the overall improvement in the labour market, long-term unemployment continues to fall. The most recent data show that unemployment has fallen from a peak of 15% to 5.8% in May 2018.

As regards the second part of the Senator's question, it is recognised that a changing labour market has resulted in a move away from traditional work patterns. Any changes to the current criteria, however, such as moving to an hours-based system, could result in a significant additional number of individuals becoming eligible for a jobseeker's payment, with substantial corresponding cost implications for the Exchequer. In addition, if there were a change from the day-based system to an hours-based system, existing part-time workers would lose out if their current hours of work over three days exceeded the new hours threshold, thereby creating a disincentive to working more.

Other schemes to support families on low incomes include the working family payment and the back to work family dividend.

The part-time job incentive scheme can provide assistance to long-term unemployed persons who can only part-time employment for fewer than 24 hours per week.

I thank the Minister of State. There are two sides to this issue. One is about providing home care, which is a major challenge we now face. Home care providers have told me they cannot get people to work because if they employ them for three hours a day for five days a week, they will get no allowance of any description. They have said that if it was an hours-based system, they could get a lot more people into their labour market. There is an actual net saving for the Department as well because instead of making social welfare payments for five days a week, it would only be paying for three days. It is a particular scheme the Department should look at based on people providing home care. It is to encourage people into that area where we have a shortage of workers and a growing demand for care.

I am sure the Minister of State will pass on the concerns of the Senator, who made a strong case, to the line Minister.

I thank the Minister of State.

Magdalen Laundries

I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills to the House and thank him for coming in to deal with this matter. This matter relates to Caranua. We need to rehearse how Caranua come about. It came about as a follow-on from the indemnity agreement formally agreed between the then Government, not a Fine Gael Government, and the Conference of Religious of Ireland, CORI. That indemnity scheme was entered into by the State with the Catholic Church against all legal claims for compensation arising from past child abuse in church-run residential institutions. I took the time this morning to read the debates in the Dáil and the Seanad at the time. Deputy Róisín Shortall described it as a cheap insurance policy for religious institutions that had no effective State oversight. There is no point in rehearsing all that but that is the reality. It was a bad deal for everyone and we know it cannot be renegotiated. We also know that many of the people who were part of that deal did not deliver and simply did not honour what they were meant to do in terms of giving over lands or funding. Again, that is history and we must move on.

What came out of it was this Caranua scheme which was to assist victims, or survivors, of abuse, because that is what they were, who had either come through the redress scheme or through some sort of court or settlement agreement by either arbitration or litigation. A large advertisement appeared in a number of Sunday newspapers - I do not know why it needed to be that size - telling people that they have until 1 August to put in a claim. This advertisement refers to funds, with the implication that it is running out of funds. I put it to the Minister that Caranua should not be scaled down. It needs to be reformed and there are issues about its governance about which the Minister knows. There needs to be a review of it but it would be wholly wrong to wind down an organisation that was set up to support and assist victims of abuse - abuse in its widest form, including sexual abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse. Even in the past few days, we have heard so much about the Magdalen laundries. We have heard so much from men who have come out of the Army with serious mental health issues as a result of them being victims and survivors. We have heard so much about many organisations.

Let us not this week confirm that we are winding down an organisation that was meant to be funded, or co-funded, by Government and by the redress scheme to help victims of abuse. I will be interested to hear the Minister's response.

I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this matter. I will put this into context before I come to the script I have provided. There was an indemnity deal, which the Senator referred to. That meant the Residential Institutions Redress Board awarded €1.5 billion to the victims of abuse in residential institutions, although this figure would need to be checked with the Comptroller and Auditor General. The State funded that, bar €125 million which was the contribution by the religious orders under the indemnity deal.

After the Ryan report, however, a further undertaking was made by the religious orders to contribute additional money. Of that additional money, part was to recompense the redress payments that were ongoing but €110 million was set aside which was money from the religious orders to fund the institution, Caranua, which would provide additional support over and above the residential institutions payments. This was confined to people who had received payments under the redress scheme.

Caranua was established by an Act of the Oireachtas and solely distributes money provided to it by the religious orders. There is no co-funding arrangement for Caranua and it is funded entirely from those contributions made after the Ryan report.

When that legislation was going through the Houses, the then Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, undertook that a review would take place to see whether the coverage of the scheme could be extended. This was one of the issues and that was the backdrop to the review, which was to see if the €110 million which was there would leave scope for some additional inclusions over and above the people already provided for. To date, €72.5 million has been paid, predominantly for housing - 71% - but also for health and education and a small amount for exceptional needs. The review that was undertaken did a number of things. It highlighted that while €30 million remained to be spent at the end of last year, if one looked ahead at the expected drawdown from existing clients - clients who might come from repeat applications - the anticipation was that that money would be fully used and the idea of extending it to relatives or others was not something that should be contemplated.

As adverted to by the Senator, given that it is a fixed amount of money, and there is still a small flow of new applicants coming through, the board, which is independent, decided that it would be prudent to announce a date beyond which new applications would not be received. This is a decision clearly by the board, acting within its own statutory remit, but it is being prudent in the context of commitments it has made and so on that it would be only fair to indicate that there would be such a closing point.

It has distributed posters to organisations that work with people and used other local offices, including social welfare offices, GPs, post offices and libraries, to spread this information. I have also specifically asked Caranua that where exceptional circumstances are brought to its notice beyond the date, it would allow for additional applications. As one will see, the amount of money currently paid for exceptional needs is small - it less than 1% of its fund.

We should use the exceptional need provision to have reserve funds to ensure that even if there is a cut off date there is the capacity to deal with cases that come to attention after that on a hardship basis.

The relevant legislation I have referred to describes a number of services they can cover and over the years they have also sought to extend those services as new needs came to their attention. One of the things Caranua has come under pressure for is that when it first opened it took time to build up its staffing and resources. A backlog grew and there were complaints from some users. Caranua has worked hard to improve service delivery, to clear backlogs, speed up appeals, expand face-to-face meetings and to adapt its supports to better meet those needs and it has extended it to areas like cookers, fridges, floors and home decoration to recognise the needs that were coming to its attention. In order to ensure that the money available was spread fairly, it also introduced a cap of €15,000. That met with some complaints but it felt that was only fair in trying to make sure that money available was equitably distributed.

While this review has been published and Caranua has decided to set a final date for receiving new applications, there are a number of issues and we have worked with survivors who sought the holding of a series of meetings which would serve as a forum for former residents and others with close personal involvement to reflect on their experience, the State's response to the issue of institutional abuse and to make recommendations. I support this proposal and intend to facilitate consultation with survivors, built around their experiences of the measures the State put in place following the realisation of the systematic abuse that occurred in residential institutions. This consultation will be managed by an external facilitator and my Department has sought the views of survivors on how that consultation process should proceed. An online survey form may be accessed via the Department's website. A freefone service operated by Barnardos is also available and allows people to give their views on consultations over the phone.

I also plan to convene an interdepartmental committee to examine how existing mainstream State services can best meet the needs of survivors into the future. This committee will include representatives from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Health. It will hold its first meeting in the near future because we need to ensure that there is a strong level of support from the State services for people who have been the victims of such appalling abuse. That is the backdrop to the review and I hope that answers some of the Senator's questions.

I thank the Minister. It is very comprehensive so I will take it away and have a look at it. All I can say is that the Minister has identified that there is only €30 million left. We cannot put a cost on it. Caranua has been a success. I have spoken to people who come to meet me in Seanad Éireann who have brought their children in here. They might well have been victims or survivors but they are now coming with their children. The Minister now has to break this cycle. It is generational and it takes generations of support.

I note the Minister's final remarks that he will set up an interdepartmental group to talk about it. A lot of people who are survivors of abuse are not represented by any group. It is a very personal and sensitive issue and story for them and their families. Therefore, it is not the same and there is not a uniform group that represents them and I know the Minister knows that but I will say that maybe he should seriously extend it for another two or three months. They are the summer months and furthermore we need to further advertise this in England, Scotland and Wales where we know from our records, engagement and representative bodies that many of them fled this country and are living in these places. It is important to use our organisations that serve Irish communities in the UK. I thank the Minister.

I will bring Senator Boyhan's concern to the attention of the Caranua board that the closing date should not be inflexibly applied. Its intention is to support victims of abuse in residential institutions. Caranua has published this because it recognises that the money is finite so it will have to ensure that it knows as soon as possible the potential new applications that can come on board so it can plan for them with the money that remains. I am sure it will look at that closing date in a flexible way. It is making significant efforts to ensure that overseas networks are used as well as domestic networks to get this information out to people who have been holding out for whatever reason. At this point I should say that 5,000 people have come forward and have been assisted in the fund and there are another couple of thousand applications on hand.

Sometimes, no matter what effort is made to reach out some people never get the information but that is the way the system works. I thank Senator Boyhan.

Garda Resources

I thank the Minister. I know the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is engaged in the Oireachtas justice committee at the moment so I appreciate the Minister staying on to answer this question. I want to talk about the drugs unit in Balbriggan. The Garda district which is known as district Y covers most of north Fingal and includes the towns of Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush, Lusk and the rural areas of Naul and Garristown as well as a number of other areas.

Fingal is the fastest growing and youngest county in Ireland. North Fingal has seen significant increases in population in recent years and this is set to continue. Garda resources in Fingal were decimated over the period from 2010 to 2016 and were down 20% on what they should have been at that time. While I acknowledge that some extra gardaí have been allocated to the area in recent months, this does not go anywhere near the levels that would be considered adequate for the population size.

I also fear that Dublin city is being prioritised in terms of Garda resources ahead of Fingal when allocations are being considered. I am aware from my attendance at the justice committee before coming to the Chamber that an extra 200 gardaí are coming on stream this Friday. I would like to know if any of these are being allocated to district Y. In their recent report on crime figures to the Fingal joint policing committee, gardaí in Balbriggan have stated that the district's drug unit needs more resources and I am asking the Minister to ask the acting Garda Commissioner to give the Garda in Balbriggan the extra resources that are needed urgently. Instances of drug possession for sale or supply have risen by 20% in the first four months of this year compared with the same period last year. This is significant but detection rates have dropped. By detection rates I mean crimes that are either solved or went to court. They have fallen from 100% to 90% and this is a cause of serious concern. The Garda report to the joint policing committee blamed this fall in detection rates on the lack of adequate resources in the district which requires members of the drugs unit to go and assist other units to cover the policing service. It is clear that policing resources are stretched in the area.

There are a number of drugs gangs operating in north Fingal and communities need to be assured that the Garda can adequately tackle this type of crime. Rush Garda station was closed by the last Government and while this is earmarked for reopening there is no clear timeline for that and no clear commitment that extra gardaí will be allocated to the station if and when it eventually reopens. Some towns in north Fingal have no community garda who would prevent a lot of young people getting involved in drug crime in the first place. I call on the Minister to make it Government policy that Garda resources are allocated in terms of the population spread of the country and rapidly expanding populations like we have in north County Dublin would get priority when the extra resources are being allocated.

I thank Senator Clifford-Lee for raising this issue.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, apologises for not being able to attend. He has provided data that show that the strength of the Dublin metropolitan region, north division, is 678, of whom 80 are assigned to Balbriggan Garda station. There are also 42 Garda reserves and 40 civilians attached to the division. The Minister has also provided information that shows that the divisional drugs unit has a strength of 224, of whom 19 are allocated to the Dublin metropolitan region, north division.

All gardaí have a responsibility in the prevention and detection of criminal activity, whether it be in the area of drug offences, crime or otherwise. The Minister wishes to assure the Senator that An Garda Síochána continues to proactively and resolutely tackle all forms of drug crime in the jurisdiction. In 2015 the Garda Commissioner established the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau which brought together the organised crime unit and the Garda national drugs unit. The bureau leads the policing strategy for tackling drugs by way of demand and supply reduction strategies. In that regard, the bureau continues its policy of working with Garda divisional drugs units nationwide in tackling supply reduction at local level. This work is further supported by other national units, including the Criminal Assets Bureau, in targeting persons involved in the illicit sale and supply of drugs. The Minister has been informed that this approach allows for the co-ordinated use of Garda resources in tackling all forms of organised crime, including illicit drug activity nationwide.

We have seen unprecedented international co-operation between An Garda Síochána and policing services in other jurisdictions and this has led to important arrests and drug seizures. Underpinning all of these measures is the Government’s commitment to ensure a strong and visible police presence throughout the country. There have been 1,800 new recruits since the Garda College reopened, 140 of whom have been assigned to the Dublin metropolitan region, north division. Therefore, a significant allocation has come from the new recruits. The expansion is continuing and the target is to bring the overall Garda workforce up to 21,000, a net increase of 2,000. Apart from this, there is additional planning on the capital side to invest in technologies, the fleet and other modern, effective policing facilities.

The allocation to an individual station or division is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner, not the Minister. The Garda Commissioner will have to decide the respective strength requirements in different parts of the Dublin metropolitan area. While I will bring the Senator's comments to the Minister's attention, I understand the Garda has to look in a broad sense at the needs of different Garda districts to ensure effective policing. Nonetheless, it is not a decision made by the Minister; ultimately, it is one made by the Garda Commissioners for operational reasons.

I thank the Minister for the response. I note the figure of 1,800 recruits, 140 of whom have been assigned to the Dublin metropolitan area, north division. However, that represents only 7.7% of the new recruits, which is wholly inadequate in an area which is expanding as rapidly as north County Dublin. I hope more than 7.7% of the 200 recruits who are due to pass out on Friday will be allocated to the north division. I will continue to raise the issue in the House because communities in north County Dublin are worried that they are being left behind, while other areas are prioritised ahead of them.

Clearly, people will always cite statistics to suit their own case, but we have to bear in mind that the policing of north Dublin, as indicated in the reply, is influenced very much by the operation of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. As indicated by the Minister, 140 extra gardaí have been involved in some of the special crime operations since 2017. Therefore, in allocating extra resources, the Garda Commissioner has to be aware of the balance to be struck between specialised units which have a broad remit and allocations within individual local areas. Ultimately, the Garda Commissioner makes these calls. While I can understand the Senator's comments and I am sure the Garda Commissioner will heed them, it is not a decision made by the Minister; it is made by the Garda Commissioner for operational reasons.

I do not think there is a Garda division that would not like more gardaí. However, the Senator has made her case. I thank the Minister.

Sitting suspended at 11.05 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.