Questions Nos. 395 and 396 withdrawn.

Question No. 397 answered with Question No. 358.

Disability Allowance Appeals

Ceisteanna (398)

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

398. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will communicate with the appeals office to ensure that a decision is issued at an early date regarding a disability allowance appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21444/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer on 16 April 2014, who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

Pension Provisions

Question No. 400 withdrawn.

Question No. 401 answered with Question No. 358.

Ceisteanna (399)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

399. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will implement the LCR 19293 judgement and provide for pension entitlements for former community employment supervisors now retired; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21445/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Labour Court recommended in July 2008 (LCR19293) that an agreed pension scheme should be introduced for Community Employment (CE) scheme supervisors and assistant supervisors and that such a scheme should be adequately funded by FÁS, the Agency responsible for CE at that time. Notwithstanding the position of this Department (which now has responsibility for CE) in rejecting that liability for these costs be met from public funds, this matter has been the subject of discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the unions representing CE supervisors.

Given the level of funding that would be required from this Department, the implementation of the claim is not considered sustainable in light of the current and on-going fiscal environment and the requirement to contain and reduce public expenditure. The costs of the introduction of any scheme are likely to be of the order of €3m per annum, with retrospective costs of the order of at least €30m.

It should also be noted that this Department is not the employer of CE supervisors and such employees are not public servants. The responsibilities of the sponsoring organisations and the individuals concerned must also be recognised when considering pension provision arrangements.

Question No. 400 withdrawn.
Question No. 401 answered with Question No. 358.

Farm Assist Scheme Appeals

Ceisteanna (402)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

402. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding a farm assist appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21467/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 29 April 2014. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. When these have been received from the Department, the case in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral appeal hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

Disability Allowance Appeals

Ceisteanna (403)

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

403. Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason for the delay in awarding disability allowance to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare. [21502/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that a disability allowance appeal from the person concerned was registered in that office on 9 April 2014. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought from the Department of Social Protection. These papers were received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 24 April 2014 and the case will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

Rent Supplement Scheme Payments

Ceisteanna (404)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

404. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will review the rent cap in south Roscommon in line with the recommendations of her own local officials, in view of the fact that the adjoining towns of Athlone and Ballinasloe have a significantly higher rent cap, which is resulting in a housing crisis locally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21510/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible people living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources. The overall aim is to provide short term assistance, and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer. There are currently approximately 77,000 rent supplement recipients for which the Government has provided over €344 million for 2014.

For all counties, major urban population centres were tested to ensure access to housing while also ensuring value for money for the State. The Department used information from tenancies registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) to analyse actual costs in each county. The purpose of the rent limit review is to ensure availability and not to provide access to housing in all areas. Despite pressures on the social protection budget, there were increases in the rent limits in some areas, including Dublin and Galway, and reductions or no change in others. The limits for Roscommon reflected the respective prevailing rental markets and analysis shows that there are properties available within these limits. I have no plans to introduce revised limits for South Roscommon.

Any further changes to the rent limits would have to be considered in a budgetary context. A full rent limit review will be commenced shortly and will be completed in time to feed into the budgetary process.

The Department continues to monitor trends in the private rental market and officials have considerable experience in dealing with customers of the scheme and continue to make every effort to ensure that their accommodation needs are met.

Invalidity Pension Appeals

Ceisteanna (405)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

405. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Social Protection if the Social Welfare Appeals Office has received any further information regarding a person (details supplied) in County Mayo, following the decision of the appeals office to refuse them an invalidity pension payment. [21568/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that an Appeals Officer, having fully considered all of the available evidence, decided to disallow the appeal of the person concerned by way of a summary decision on 19 November 2013. Under Social Welfare legislation, the decision of an Appeals Officer is final and conclusive and may only be reviewed in the light of additional evidence or new facts.

I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that the person concerned did not submit any additional evidence for consideration by an Appeals Officer following the disallowance of his appeal.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Benefits Reviews

Question No. 407 answered with Question No. 348.

Ceisteanna (406)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

406. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a public representative made a written submission to a community welfare officer on 31 March 2014 on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo seeking a review of a decision made on 5 February 2014; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the written submission has not been acknowledged or responded to date; when is it expected that the submission will be acknowledged; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21583/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The representation in question was addressed to an Officer who was on leave at the time and the post was not opened in her absence. However, the letter was acknowledged last week and a review of the person’s entitlements is currently ongoing. The person in question will be notified of the outcome as soon as a decision has been made.

Question No. 407 answered with Question No. 348.

Departmental Bodies Abolition

Ceisteanna (408)

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

408. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of State agencies and public bodies that have been merged or abolished in each year since 2011, under the remit of her Department; the annual savings associated with each body; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21798/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The statutory bodies operating under the aegis of the Department of Social Protection are the Citizens Information Board, the Pensions Authority, and the Social Welfare Tribunal.

None of the bodies under the aegis of the Department have been merged, or abolished since 2011. The Pensions Board was renamed the Pensions Authority on 7 March 2014.

The Public Service Reform Programme provided for a critical review of the integration of the regulatory functions of the Pensions Board with the Financial Regulator and the merging of the Pensions Ombudsman with the Financial Services Ombudsman. The recommendations arising out of the Critical Review on the Pensions Board were approved by Government in April 2013 and were provided for in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2013.

It was recommended that the governance structure of the Pensions Board be restructured with two distinct arms as follows:

- Oversight of the Pensions Board will be undertaken by a three person body called the Pensions Authority. The board of the Pensions Authority will consist of a Chairperson and two officials from the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Finance. The change from the 17 person Pensions Board to the Pensions Authority has realised savings of approx. €100,000.

- Under the strengthened arrangements, the Pensions Board was renamed the Pensions Authority to better reflect its key role of safeguarding the pensions of occupational pension scheme members and also the provision of information on occupational pensions.

- A separate unpaid Pensions Council will be established to advise the Department on matters of pension’s policy which will strengthen governance of occupational pensions and give consumers greater input into pensions policy.

In relation to the Pensions Ombudsman, the Report recommended that this office be merged with the Financial Service Ombudsman and arrangements in relation to the implementation of this recommendation are under consideration.

Ministerial Travel

Ceisteanna (409)

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

409. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide details of all official foreign trips she intends to take between now and the end of 2014; if she will detail whom they will be meeting with on these trips; the purpose of the trip; the duration of the trip; if there are plans to use all of these trips to promote Ireland as a good place for doing business and as a destination for foreign direct investment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21863/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

There are three formal meetings and one informal meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) Ministers scheduled for the rest of the year, together with a possible meeting on the youth guarantee. The business of EPSCO is shared with a number of other ministerial colleagues and attendance at any or all of these meetings will depend on the proposed agenda as well as demands in relation to other Government business which may arise on or around the scheduled dates. At this stage no decisions with regard to attendance at these meetings have been made.

Other than possible attendance at the EU meetings already outlined I have no plans at present for any other foreign travel for the remainder of the year.

Inland Waterways Maintenance

Ceisteanna (410)

Michael P. Kitt

Ceist:

410. Deputy Michael P. Kitt asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht when the Meelick Weir, Eyrecourt, Ballinasloe, will be repaired and reopened; if this will be carried out before the tourism season; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20950/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Arts)

I am advised by Waterways Ireland that Meelick Weir at Eyrecourt, near Ballinasloe in Co. Galway is not closed. It is functioning normally and is currently retaining upstream water levels, as required. However, a walkway superstructure on the weir requires to be replaced, as a result of damage caused by flooding. I am informed by Waterways Ireland that full planning permission will be required for this project. I am also advised that Waterways Ireland is completing an Environmental Impact Assessment and a hydrological study of the weir to allow it to comply with the requirements of the planning process. When this is complete, Waterways Ireland will submit a planning application to restore the walkway and make any appropriate repairs to the weir and weir sluices that may be required. Subject to planning permission and the required funding being in place, it is hoped that work will commence on this project in 2015.

National Parks Projects

Ceisteanna (411)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

411. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will address an issue raised in correspondence (details supplied) relating to the Office of Public Works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21200/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Arts)

My Department carries out an annual targeted programme in Ireland’s National Parks to manage the invasive species referred to, which, in some areas, has replaced native shrub and grows in dense thickets, thereby excluding native vegetation and limiting natural tree regeneration. The extent of the problem varies from property to property and, having regard to the very dynamic nature of this invasive species, my Department's targeted management programme is routinely monitored and adjusted with a view to ensuring optimum efficacy. The work involved is carried out by outside specialist companies, staff of my Department and, in some cases, by volunteer groups under staff direction and supervision.

My Department will continue to invest in this important programme of work with a view to creating conditions in our National Parks that are conducive to the protection and re-establishment of native species and, particularly, our native woodlands. To this end, my Department is reviewing current practice to ensure the most effective use of the available resources.

National Monuments

Ceisteanna (412)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

412. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will initiate an independent review into the Moore Street area and planning process to secure this historic area with a proper historical trail which would be an important asset in respect of tourism. [20881/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Arts)

My function, under the National Monuments Acts, relates to the national monument at Nos. 14 – 17 Moore Street, by virtue of the Preservation Order placed on that site in 2007. In that context, I have recently given approval to revised designs, submitted by the owners, for the restoration of the monument buildings and the creation of a commemorative centre to the Leaders of the 1916 Rising on the site. The development of the wider Moore Street area, and related matters, are the responsibility of the planning authority, Dublin City Council.

Semi-State Bodies Funding

Ceisteanna (413)

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

413. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of commercial semi-State companies under the aegis of his Department; the current value of the pension fund assets held by each commercial semi-State company; the latest funding position of each; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20899/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Arts)

I can advise the Deputy that no commercial semi-State companies are funded from my Department's Vote group and, consequently, no pension fund assets are held in relation to such companies.

National Concert Hall

Ceisteanna (414)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Ceist:

414. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht his strategy for the future of the National Concert Hall; if he will provide an update on the success or otherwise of the AGM of the National Concert Hall board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21021/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Arts)

As the Deputy will be aware, Government recently approved my proposal to convert the National Concert Hall from a company limited by guarantee to a statutory body similar to other national cultural institutions. This legislation will mean that the board of the National Concert Hall will have absolute clarity in respect of the position on all governance and operational issues at the Concert Hall. Any future significant developments at the Hall will be framed by the revised legislative provisions. I am confident that all members of the board are focused on helping the Hall to make the transition from company to statutory body while maintaining the highest standards of musical performance for the enjoyment of the public.

Commemorative Events

Ceisteanna (415)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

415. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht his Department’s plans for the commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War; if his Department is liaising with any historical or commemorative societies in arranging these events; and if the relatives of veterans of the First World War will be invited to participate in the commemorations. [21099/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Arts)

The outbreak and escalation of World War I will be remembered with activities envisaged nationally and in Great Britain and further afield. In recent years, the Government has been represented at war memorial ceremonies in Dublin, Belfast and other centres marking the Battle of the Somme in July and the Armistice in November.The government has also been represented at the annual commemorations taking place on the Somme – participating at the international commemoration at Thiepval and the special commemorations of the 16th (Ulster) Division at the Ulster Tower and the 10th (Irish) Division at Guillemont. As the Deputy will be aware, annual commemorations of national losses in the World War are organised by embassies and communities in Ireland, notably Australia, New Zealand and Germany. I believe that special arrangements for official representation at such events would be appropriate in the centenary years of the World War and I attended at the ANZAC commemoration on 25 April.

Arrangements are being made to mark the anniversary of the start of the war in early August with a special service of prayer. A memorial "Cross of Sacrifice" at Glasnevin cemetery will be dedicated to the memory of all Irish soldiers lost in the war and particularly those laid to rest there. This cross is a welcome addition to the comprehensive and inclusive representation of Irish history on the site and is brought forward in partnership between Glasnevin Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The National Museum of Ireland hosted a conference at Collins Barracks on 1 February on ‘Remembering World War One in Europe, 1914-2014’ and the National Gallery of Ireland arranged an extensive programme of events commencing on 1 March with a Study Day on War Artists, followed on 2 March by a consideration of War Poetry and Images of the First World War . In addition, the Hugh Lane Gallery is planning an exhibition for later this year.

I welcome also the contributions to the commemorative programme from colleges where conferences are being organised to present research and stimulate consideration of the centenary of the war. One example, the programme prepared by the School of History at University College Cork earlier this year addressed themes such as media, culture, religion, conscription, politics, society and legacy. As Minister, I participated at the conference and was delighted that the programme included a keynote address from the British Minister, Dr Andrew Murrison MP, who addressed important issues of purpose, direction and tone in official commemoration of the war.

Departmental Communications

Ceisteanna (416)

Stephen Donnelly

Ceist:

416. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if any telephone calls in or out of his Department are being, or ever have been recorded, and if so, if he will provide details of the systems used to record and store such calls, the cost to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21228/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Arts)

My Department does not record any telephone calls made to or from any of its offices or staff. In the interests of completeness, my Department's telephone systems include voicemail facilities whereby, in the interests of good customer service, callers to the Department may leave a message if they wish to do so.

National Parks Projects

Ceisteanna (417)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Ceist:

417. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the steps the National Parks and Wildlife Service is taking to tackle the issue of rhododendron and its effect on ecosystems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21420/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Arts)

My Department, through its National Parks and Wildlife Service, has been working with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to fund and manage the Invasive Species Ireland Project since 2006. This initiative provides advice and guidance on the management of a range of invasive species, which can negatively impact on the environment and on property on the island of Ireland. Information and general guidance is provided in respect of species such as Rhododendron. This project is expected to be renewed in partnership with NIEA this year. In 2008, my Department produced, as part of the series of Irish Wildlife Manuals, a comprehensive guide to the management of Rhododendron on nature conservation sites. This publication is available on www.npws.ie. Information on the distribution of Rhododendron is also available on the invasive species section of the National Biodiversity Data Centre website at http://maps.biodiversityireland.ie/

My Department carries out an annual targeted programme in Ireland’s National Parks to manage Rhododendron, which, in some areas, has replaced native shrub and grows in dense thickets, excluding native vegetation and limiting natural tree regeneration.

The extent of the problem varies from property to property and, having regard to the very dynamic nature of this invasive species, my Department's targeted management programme is routinely monitored and adjusted with a view to ensuring optimum efficacy. The work involved is carried out by outside specialist companies, staff of my Department and, in some cases, by volunteer groups under staff direction and supervision.

My Department will continue to invest in this important programme of work with a view to creating conditions in our National Parks that are conducive to the protection and re-establishment of native species and, particularly, our native woodlands. To this end, my Department is reviewing current practice to ensure the most effective use of the available resources.

The European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 includes provisions in relation to controlling the possession and dispersal of ecologically harmful and invasive species of animals and plants, including Rhododendron. Regulation 50 of the Regulations, which include provisions relating to the banning for sale of invasive species listed in the Schedule to the Regulations, is not yet in effect. This is due to the necessity for risk assessments to be carried out on invasive species which are subject to trade before this element of the Regulations can be brought into force. Such risk assessments are presently ongoing and, indeed, draft assessments for many of the species, including Rhododendron, are now available to view on the project site: http://nonnativespecies.ie It should also be noted that three public consultation meetings have been scheduled for the week beginning 19 May and further details in this regard are available on the website. I expect to be in a position to bring the relevant provisions of the Regulations into force during the summer.