Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Ceisteanna (33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39)

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

101 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the creation of an all-Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners. [7895/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

103 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the implementation of an all-Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7810/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

120 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made to put in place an all-Ireland travel scheme for pensioners resident in all parts of this island. [7867/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

124 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will consider extending free travel here for British based Irish senior citizens, especially in view of the significant economic contribution that many of these made to this country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7825/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

135 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding proposals for reciprocal arrangements for free or concessionary travel for pensioners throughout this island and the European Union. [7745/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

159 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the implementation of an all-Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners; and the progress made in bringing this about. [7894/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101, 103, 120, 124, 135 and 159 together.

My Department's free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over. It is also available to carers and to people with disabilities who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments. The scheme mainly applies to travel within the State but was extended from 1995 so that free travel pass holders who reside on both sides of the Border could undertake cross-Border journeys by bus or rail free of charge.

The Government intends to introduce a system of all-Ireland free travel for pensioners and other eligible social welfare customer categories. This would involve a further extension of the existing scheme so as to enable travel pass holders in the South make point to point journeys within Northern Ireland. It would also mean that northern pass holders could undertake similar journeys in the South. Officials from my Department have held initial discussions on this proposal with their counterparts in the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland. There are a number of policy and operational issues to be developed, including resourcing the scheme and the options for joint funding. Among the technical matters involved is the question of using some form of card based pass system, as already operates on Translink services in the North but which is only in the initial stages of development in the South.

My Department will continue to progress this matter with the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland. However, it is likely to take some time to sort out the various technical issues, agree transport operator contracts and finalise budgetary arrangements for the scheme between the two Departments.

I have no plans at present to extend arrangements for free or concessionary travel for pensioners to other European Union countries. At EU level a report commissioned by the European Commission in 1997 recommended that member states should establish a senior euro pass card which would entitle older people to concessions on various services, including travel, cultural and social activities. No proposals have been put forward by the Commission on foot of that report.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

102 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of invalidity claims in the most recently available year that have been overturned after recommendations of her Department’s own doctors against the original advice of general practitioners. [7930/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Invalidity pension is payable to persons who satisfy certain PRSI contribution conditions and are regarded as permanently incapable of work. A person is regarded as being permanently incapable of work if he or she has been continuously incapable of work for a period of one year before the date of claim and is likely to continue to be incapable of work for at least a further year. Alternatively, a person is regarded as being permanently incapable of work if he or she has been incapable of work and the nature of the illness is such that the likelihood is that the person will be incapable of work for life.

In 2003, a total of 6,782 invalidity claims were decided and 12% or 861 of these claims were refused by deciding officers on the grounds that the medical eligibility criteria were not satisfied. The claimant's own doctor does not provide a recommendation or an opinion regarding the claimant's possible entitlement to invalidity pension. They provide a diagnostic report regarding the person's medical condition. In the context of determining a person's entitlement to invalidity pension, medical assessors of my Department provide a second opinion to that of the claimant's own doctor for the guidance of the Department's deciding officers who ultimately make the decision in these cases. All medical assessors are fully qualified and experienced medical practitioners with registration in accordance with Medical Council criteria.

At a medical examination, the medical assessor will have available to him or her the initial medical diagnosis, supplemented, where applicable, by relevant specialist and other reports. The primary task of the medical assessor is to evaluate the overall medical condition of the claimant having regard to the prescribed medical criteria for entitlement to the particular illness related scheme. In the course of this evaluation all relevant and available medical information is taken into account.

Where a person is dissatisfied with the decision of a deciding officer, they may appeal this decision to the social welfare appeals office. Accordingly, all decisions in invalidity claims are made by deciding officers and appeals officers who are statutorily appointed for that purpose. The reports of medical assessors represent an important part of the evidence on which determinations are made.

Question No. 103 answered with QuestionNo. 101.
Question No. 104 answered with QuestionNo. 99.