Victim Support Services

Ceisteanna (382)

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

382. Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on introducing legislation which will grant victims the right to request a review of decisions by the DPP not to bring forward prosecutions, in view of the fact that such a right is provided to victims of crime in other common law jurisdictions, such as in England and Wales; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48339/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions by statute acts independently when deciding whether to prosecute. This means that no-one can direct that Office in relation to a prosecution. According to the Victims Charter the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions will look again at a decision that Office has made with which the victim does not agree. Where a victim seeks a review of a decision not to prosecute I understand that an officer other than the one who made the original decision not to prosecute examines the file.

The EU Victims Directive states that Member States shall ensure that victims of crime, in accordance with their role in the relevant criminal justice system, have the right to a review of a decision not to prosecute. The procedural rules for such a review are to be determined by national law.

I understand that work is continuing in the Justice system, including in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, to put appropriate arrangements in place to give effect to the provisions of the Directive. My Department is drafting legislation to transpose the Directive into Irish law and I expect that the Heads of a Bill will be published early in 2015. It is my intention to have legislation enacted to comply with the Directive by the November, 2015 deadline contained in the Directive.

Victim Support Services

Ceisteanna (383)

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

383. Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on bringing forward legislation which will require the DPP to provide reasons why a prosecution was not brought forward; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48340/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

While responsibility for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is not within my remit, I will be bringing forward legislation in 2015 to transpose EU Directive 2012/29 on the rights of victims in criminal proceedings. Among the provisions of the Directive is a requirement that victims be informed of the reasons, or a brief summary of the reasons, for a decision not to direct a prosecution in relation to the offence suffered by the victim. I am consulting with the Director of Public Prosecutions on an appropriate provision for the legislation which will give effect to the requirement of the Directive without impinging on the Director's independence in the exercise of her functions.

An Fhoireann Rannach

Ceisteanna (384)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

384. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Dlí agus Cirt agus Comhionannais an bhfuil iniúchadh déanta fós ar na poist agus na réimsí oibre ina mbeidh státseirbhísigh atá inniúil sa Bhéarla agus sa Ghaeilge ag teastáil, de réir mar a thug an Roinn Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe treoir don Roinn a dhéanamh; má tá an t-iniúchadh déanta, cad é líon agus cad iad céimeanna na bpost atá i gceist; cén líon de na poist sin a bhfuil duine leis an gcumas cuí Gaeilge agus Béarla ann cheana féin; cén plean atá ann chun na poist eile a líonadh le daoine a bhfuil na cáilíochtaí cuí acu; cén cháilíocht Ghaeilge atá riachtanach do na poist sin; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [48378/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Níl iniúchadh foirmeálta déanta fós ag mo Roinn ar na poist agus na réimsí oibre ina mbeidh státseirbhísigh atá inniúil sa Bhéarla agus sa Ghaeilge ag teastáil. Cé go bhfuil post amháin ag an Roinn faoi láthair, mar Aistritheoir, a bhfuil sé riachtanach go mbeadh sealbhóir an phoist sin dátheangach go feidhmiúil sa Ghaeilge agus sa Bhéarla, seolfaidh mo Roinn iniúchadh sa bhliain 2015 i dteannta mheasúnú leanúnach na Roinne ar riachtanais foirnithe faoin gcreat pleanála fórsa oibre. Ar ndóigh, tá dul chun cinn sa réimse seo ag brath ar líon na ndaoine san earnáil phoiblí agus sriantachtaí earcaithe a chomhlíonadh.

Ina theannta sin, measann an Roinn gur mór an cúnamh é cohórt de bhreis is 50 oifigeach atá ar fáil chun seirbhísí a sholáthar (is é sin, ceisteanna agus fiosruithe a fhreagairt) as Gaeilge, don Roinn, a bheith á chothabháil aici, go háirithe ag cur san áireamh leibhéal na gceisteanna agus na bhfiosruithe as Gaeilge a fhaigheann mo Roinn.

Criminal Prosecutions

Ceisteanna (385)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

385. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 106 of 18 November 2014, the actions to be taken on foot of the McGinn report; when her report will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48397/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can inform the Deputy that, as stated in my previous reply, my Department has received a report from Mr. McGinn and this is being considered in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.

I have indicated to Fr. Molloy's relatives that I will contact them directly when the examination of the report is completed.

Garda Deployment

Ceisteanna (386)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

386. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will afford additional resources and supports to Tallaght gardaí to allow for continued effective action to deal with ongoing criminal activity in an area (details supplied) in Dublin 24; if she will provide assurances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48398/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of personnel, including Community Gardaí, among the Garda Regions, Divisions, and Districts. Garda management keep this distribution under continuing review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure that the best possible use is made of these resources.

I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that the personnel strength of the Tallaght Garda station on 31 October 2014 the latest date for which figures are readily available, was as set out in the following table:

Station

Garda

Reserve

Civilian

Tallaght

170

11

12

I recently announced a further intake of 200 recruits into the Garda College, Templemore. The intake will be in two batches, the first was on 15 December and the second in early 2015. This will bring to 300 the number of recruits in the Garda College and is a measure of this Government's commitment to ensure that recruitment to An Garda Síochána continues seamlessly. The first batch of recruits (already in training) will attest as members of the Garda Síochána in May of 2015 and will be assigned to Garda Stations throughout the country by the Garda Commissioner. The Garda Commissioner, will of course, continue to keep the needs of the Tallaght Garda station under review within the overall context of the needs of Garda Divisions throughout the country.

Firearms Licences

Ceisteanna (387)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

387. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the cases or correspondence that the Judiciary have expressed difficulties in interpreting provisions of current firearms legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48404/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Section 8 of the Firearms Licensing Review Report, recently published by my Department, sets out issues raised by the Courts in dealing with appeals in the District Court regarding firearms legislation. The relevant extracts are set out beneath:

"Many District Court Judges who have overturned the decisions of Chief Superintendents have consistently stated the current legislative provisions need to be addressed.

In Limerick District Court, an appeal hearing was heard in August 2013 with regard to two semi automatic, restricted rifles (rifles resembling assault rifles) and two centre fire handguns. This was an appeal against the decision of the Chief Superintendent not to grant licences for these firearms. It is reported that the Judge stated that the Chief Superintendent is being placed in an invidious position, with his concern being the public who he must protect and the possibility that the firearms may fall into the wrong hands. The Judge commented that the legislation has not grappled with the kernel of the issue; are these firearms lawful or not. The decision in this case was that the licences should be granted.

An appeal was heard in the Dublin District Court in October 2013 against the refusal to grant restricted licences for two centre-fire handguns (Thomas Mansfield V Chief Superintendent Coburn & the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána).

The Judge issued a ten page written judgment in December 2013, allowing the appeal, stating the following: “The Court is satisfied that he has a good and sufficient reason and that the guns are appropriate for the purpose for which they are required. The Court is satisfied that he doesn’t take part in practical or dynamic shooting. I am further satisfied that the concerns expressed by the Chief Superintendent on public safety are not enough to deprive the Appellant of his licence, particularly in view of the unexplained 90% who subsequently got their licences on reconsideration”.

The Judge also states: “Arguments about the availability of guns to civilians is a wider political question for the Legislature to address. This is not a question for the Courts; we can only deal with the law as it is”.

"In February 2014, in Bray District Court, the District Justice granted firearms licensing appeals and directed the relevant Chief Superintendent to issue nine restricted firearm certificates for centre fire handguns. The Judge commented that it was open to the legislature to ban these weapons but in the absence of that, he was allowing all of the appeals."

Residency Permits

Ceisteanna (388)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

388. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding residency in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48412/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 283 of 25 November, 2014 (beneath) in respect of the person concerned. The position remains as set out in that reply.

PQ Reply 283 of 25 November, 2014

I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that the person concerned arrived in the State on 20 August 2008 and applied for asylum on the following day. This application was refused and the person concerned was notified of this decision on 28 July 2009.

Subsequently the person concerned made an application for Subsidiary Protection under the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (Statutory Instrument No. 518 of 2006) on 19 August 2009. His application was refused by my Department and the person concerned was notified of this decision on 1 March 2010.

Representations were submitted by and on behalf of the person concerned on 19 August 2009 against the making of a Deportation Order pursuant to Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended). These and subsequent representations were examined and assessed and a Deportation Order was signed in respect of the person concerned on 8 March 2011.

Further representations were submitted by and on behalf of the person concerned on 11 July 2011 seeking to have the aforementioned Deportation Order revoked pursuant to Section 3(11) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended). These and subsequent representations were examined and assessed and it was decided that the Deportation Order be affirmed and the person concerned was notified of this decision on 11 October 2011.

Representations were submitted by and on behalf of the person concerned on 21 November 2012 seeking his re-entry into the asylum process pursuant to Section 17(7) of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended). These and subsequent representations were examined and the person concerned was informed on 19 March 2013 that he be refused re-entry into the asylum process.

The person concerned instituted Judicial Review proceedings on 8 April 2013 challenging the refusal to allow him re-entry into the asylum process.

Again, further representations were submitted by and on behalf of the person concerned on 21 November 2012 seeking to have the aforementioned Deportation Order revoked pursuant to Section 3(11) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended). These and subsequent representations were examined and assessed and it was decided that the Deportation Order be affirmed and the person concerned was notified of this decision on 14 November 2013.

The person concerned instituted Judicial Review proceedings on 16 January 2014 challenging the aforementioned affirmation of the Deportation Order made in respect of him. As the foregoing matters are sub judice I do not propose to comment further.

I should remind the Deputy that queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to INIS by Email using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. The service enables up-to-date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek this information through the more administratively expensive Parliamentary Questions process.

Garda Deployment

Ceisteanna (389)

John Deasy

Ceist:

389. Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of gardaí stationed in each district in Waterford city and county in each of the past five years and to date in 2014. [48428/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of personnel among the Garda Regions, Divisions, and Districts. Garda management keep this distribution under continuing review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure that the best possible use is made of these resources.

I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that the personnel strength of Waterford Garda Division on 31 December 2009 to 2013 and on 31 October 2014, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was as set out:

Station

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Aglish

2

1

1

1

1

An Rinn

1

1

1

1

1

Ardmore

2

2

2

2

2

Ballyduff

2

1

1

0

Closed

Ballymacarberry

2

2

1

1

1

Cappoquin

2

2

2

2

2

Dungarvan

47

50

46

45

42

Lismore

5

5

4

4

3

Tallow

3

3

3

3

3

Kill

1

1

1

0

0

Kilmacthomas

4

5

5

5

9

Kilmeaden

2

2

1

1

0

Leamybrien

1

1

1

1

0

Portlaw

3

3

2

1

0

Rathgormack

1

1

1

1

0

Stradbally

0

0

0

0

Closed

Tramore

41

38

36

36

36

Dunmore East

2

3

3

2

2

Ferrybank

5

7

6

6

5

Passage East

1

1

1

1

1

Waterford

182

173

172

171

167

Station

2014

Reserve

Civilians

Aglish

1

0

0

An Rinn

1

0

0

Ardmore

2

0

0

Ballymacarberry

0

0

0

Cappoquin

2

0

0

Dungarvan

45

2

5

Lismore

3

0

1

Tallow

3

0

0

Kill

0

0

0

Kilmacthomas

8

0

1

Kilmeaden

0

0

0

Leamybrien

0

0

0

Portlaw

0

0

0

Rathgormack

0

0

0

Tramore

34

11

3

Dunmore East

2

0

0

Ferrybank

5

0

0

Passage East

1

0

0

Waterford

167

19

19

Drugs Seizures

Ceisteanna (390)

John Deasy

Ceist:

390. Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of drug seizures in Waterford city and county in each of the past five years; and if he will provide an estimate of the value of same. [48429/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I have requested the information sought by the Deputy from the Garda authorities and I will contact the Deputy again when the information is to hand.

Crime Investigation

Ceisteanna (391)

John Deasy

Ceist:

391. Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the cost in each year to date in 2014 of providing a Garda cold case unit; the successful cases that have been resolved by the unit to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48431/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the function of the Serious Crime Review Team (SCRT) is to assist Senior Investigating Officers assigned to the case in question in bringing investigations to a successful conclusion by identifying further investigative opportunities and ensuring that investigations conform to approved best practice guidelines.

At the conclusion of each review a substantive report is provided to the Senior Investigating Officer who considers the opportunities for further investigation for dissemination back into the investigative and operational units. Recommendations with organisational relevance are disseminated within An Garda Síochána to improve overall investigative capability.

I am advised that the SCRT continues to review serious unsolved cases, including homicide and missing persons cases, and continues to identify evidence and witnesses to assist in the investigation of these cases. Currently a number of cases, which have been reviewed, have been returned for further attention by the Senior Investigating Officer and the local investigation team. A number of other cases are under preliminary consideration to evaluate the viability of a full review by the SCRT.

The Garda authorities have provided the following information detailing the annual costs directly attributable to the Unit since 2007

Year

Cost

2014

€585,864

2013

€499,508

2012

€197,531

2011

€299,069

2010

€342,873

2009

€313,716

2008

€359,539

2007

€86,239

Extraordinary Rendition

Ceisteanna (392)

Michael McNamara

Ceist:

392. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on whether the State was complicit or has any legal liability in respect of the rendering of a person (details supplied), who, according to the rendition project reprieve, travelled on aircraft that had stopped in Shannon on the way to or from picking them up and rendering them elsewhere but did not travel through Shannon and have been at Guantanamo for ten years and eight years, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48457/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am aware of recent reports and of concerns that Irish airports, particularly Shannon, have been used for the unlawful inter-state transfer of detainees (‘extraordinary rendition’) by the US authorities.

The Government has repeatedly made it clear that extraordinary rendition is an illegal practice which Ireland will not accept. The US authorities have provided clear and unambiguous diplomatic assurances, at the highest level, that Irish airports have not been and would not be used for the purpose of extraordinary rendition. The Government is fully entitled to rely on these assurances.

There is no question of the State having been complicit in the practice of extraordinary renditions.

Statutory powers of search and entry are bestowed upon the Garda Síochána under various legislative provisions and when authorised by a judge. However, these powers are exercised in circumstances where a member of the Garda Síochána reasonably suspects that an offence has occurred. These powers can only be used, therefore, where a Garda has a reasonable suspicion supported by some evidence. The mere assertion of wrongdoing by a member of the general public is clearly insufficient in this regard. The Garda Síochána has investigated a range of complaints of alleged unlawful activity at Shannon Airport and, where appropriate, files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In all these cases, no further action was found to be warranted, owing to a lack of any evidence of unlawful activity.

Any person with credible information that Irish airports have been used for any alleged unlawful purpose should report their concerns to the Garda Síochána.

Firearms Licences

Ceisteanna (393)

David Stanton

Ceist:

393. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 589 of 18 February 2014 and relating to the number of licensed firearms that have been reported stolen or missing in the past five years, if she will provide the relevant information in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48478/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I have asked the Garda Commissioner for a report in relation to the matter and will write to the Deputy when I have further information.

Garda Promotions

Ceisteanna (394)

David Stanton

Ceist:

394. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No.127 of 13 November 2014, if she has the information sought regarding the Garda promotion interview boards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48479/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

In so far as is possible, the information requested by the Deputy is being compiled and I expect to be able to provide a further response in the very near future.

Public Sector Staff Redeployment

Ceisteanna (395)

John Deasy

Ceist:

395. Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide a breakdown of the number of public sector workers under the aegis of her Department who have been approved for inter or intradepartmental or agency work transfers, both to and from County Waterford, in each of the past five years. [48810/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

My Department has direct responsibility for the Probation Service office in County Waterford and no inter-Department or intra-agency transfers to or from that location are recorded.

Youth Services Provision

Ceisteanna (396)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

396. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide the details of current aftercare provision; if the fact that aftercare funding for foster parents, residential units or for direct accommodation provision, dependent on a young care-leaver being in full-time education, is to be reviewed; his views that the most vulnerable children are also the most likely to have difficulties remaining in full time education and so lose funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47846/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Aftercare is a term used to describe the planning and support put in place to meet the needs of a young person who is leaving statutory care at 18 years of age, to assist him/her in making the transition to independent living. It is essential that all young people leaving care are provided with the type of transitional support that their individual situation requires.

The Child Care Act 1991 provides that the core eligible age range for aftercare is from 18 years up to 21 years. This can be extended until the completion of a course of education and training in which a young person who has left care, or is leaving care, is engaged, up to the age of 23 years.

Current aftercare provision incorporates advice, guidance and practical (including accommodation and financial) support. Advocating on behalf of young people to support their development as fulfilled adults in their community and, when necessary, to link them to targeted adult services, are also crucial elements of an aftercare service.

Between 450 and 500 young people leave care annually upon turning 18. The Child and Family Agency advised that at the end of June 2014, 1,614 young people aged 18-23 years (inclusive) were in receipt of an aftercare service. Of those, 884 (55%) were in full-time education.

The Child and Family Agency has advised that they are in the process of establishing interagency aftercare committees at local level bringing together Local Authorities, HSE and other statutory and voluntary agencies. These committees will develop interagency wrap around aftercare plans for young people, particularly for those with complex needs, including housing requirements. The situation regarding the establishment of these committees varies nationally but it is expected that all committees will be operational by mid-2015.

As the Deputy is aware, the legislative provisions regarding aftercare are being strengthened to respond to past concerns that there was insufficient focus in this area and that such planning was not taking place on a properly structured and consistent basis. The approach adopted is to impose a statutory duty on the Agency to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child or eligible young person. The aim is to create an explicit, as opposed to implicit, statement of the Agency’s duty to satisfy itself as to the child’s or young person’s need for assistance by preparing a plan that identifies those needs for aftercare supports.

It is anticipated that the Aftercare Bill will be published in the early part of 2015.

I have also asked the Child and Family Agency to respond directly to the Deputy in relation to those elements of his question for which they have responsibility. In this regard I have been informed that a reply will issue shortly.

Preschool Services

Ceisteanna (397)

Jerry Buttimer

Ceist:

397. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the average waiting time for payments under the early childhood care and education scheme; the longest period that a service provider has been waiting for payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47717/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme is implemented by my Department and provides a free pre-school year to all children before they commence primary school. There are in the region of 4,200 childcare providers participating in the programme, providing the free pre-school provision to approximately 68,000 children each year. This programme represents an annual investment of almost €175 million.

An advance payment is made to participating childcare providers at the end of August each year and is based on the number of children which were enrolled in that service for the free pre-school programme in the previous academic year. This payment provides for the first 8 weeks of the new school year. In the case of new participants in the programme, a similar advance payment is made but in respect of a maximum of 3 children only. There is provision under the programme to make an additional advance payment if a provider has a significantly higher number of children than that provided for in the initial advance payment.

In previous years, a further payment was made in mid-October following the submission of the annual parental returns detailing the number of eligible children enrolled in each service, based on the actual number of children enrolled and covering payments up to the first week of December.

A new Programmes Implementation Platform (PIP) is currently being introduced which is expected to streamline the payment process for all of the childcare support programmes implemented by this Department. Due to some initial difficulties experienced in relation to the registration of eligible children on the new system, it was not possible to issue a payment in October based on actual numbers of children enrolled. A further advance payment was issued, covering a further 5 weeks. Service providers were advised that they could apply through their local City or County Childcare Committee to increase or decrease the number of children for which an advance was being paid.

The payment which issued to service providers in the first week of December reflects the amount due up to 23rd January 2015 in respect of actual number of children registered.

Where childcare providers are in contract with my Department to provide the free pre-school year and have satisfied the terms and conditions of the programme, payments in general issue in accordance with the draft payment schedule which is published on the Department's website at the beginning of each school year. There are exceptions where, for example, an up to date tax clearance certificate is not provided or where bank details or some other information has not been submitted. As well as the payment dates covered in the payment schedule, a payment batch is processed every week to ensure that funding issues to providers who submit tax clearance certificates or other details after the date of the major payment.

Preschool Services

Ceisteanna (398, 401)

Jerry Buttimer

Ceist:

398. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his views on the increasing regulation and inspection regime applicable to providers of early childhood care and education services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47718/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jerry Buttimer

Ceist:

401. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide details of the inspection regime for providers of early childhood care and education services; if he will outline any proposed changes to this inspection regime; the model upon which such changes have been made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47721/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 398 and 401 together.

The Government is progressing the Early Years Quality Agenda which represents a programme of measures to support, monitor and regulate the improvement of quality standards in pre-school services in Ireland. A key element of the Agenda is to strengthen the national pre-school inspection system. This will result in a change of practice in a number of areas relating to pre-school inspections.

A number of changes have been made to the Child Care Act 1991 to underpin these reforms. The amended legislation strengthens the current inspection regime and provides a statutory basis for the registration of early years services. The new registration system, which was introduced by the Child and Family Agency on foot of the Child and Family Agency Act, requires that anyone seeking to open an early years service will be required to register with the Agency prior to the facility being opened. The proposed facility will then be inspected to ensure that it meets all the necessary criteria before registration is granted. A similar inspection will be carried out at three year intervals thereafter to ensure continued compliance.

The second and separate phase of inspection, which will monitor the child care-related criteria, will be carried out after the service has become operational and children are attending.

In addition to the above inspections, the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills has been asked to lead and organise focused inspections of the quality of education provision in the 4,200 early childhood education settings participating in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme. Early childhood education is a crucial period in the development of young children and a key focus for Government is to promote best outcomes for children participating in the free pre-school programme. These inspections therefore will have a developmental focus looking in particular at the quality of children’s learning experiences.

To support the childcare sector in improving quality, the National Early Years Quality Support Service - Better Start- is being introduced as part of the Early Years Quality Agenda. The Better Start programme is a national approach to quality improvement supports. One element of this, the Early Years Specialist Service, is employing 30 graduates in early childhood care and education who will work directly with services to improve quality, including assisting services in the implementation of the Síolta Framework and the Aistear Curriculum.

It is considered that these initiatives, together with the reforms being implemented under the Early Years Quality Agenda, will provide for a more robust and consistent inspection regime that will address the future needs of the childcare sector.

Preschool Services

Ceisteanna (399)

Jerry Buttimer

Ceist:

399. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his plans for investing in the early childhood care and education sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47719/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Approximately €260 m is invested annually by the Government to support the provision of early childhood care and education through three childcare support programmes, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme and the Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) programmes. This funding supports the provision of early childhood care and education to more than 100,000 children who enroll in approximately 4,300 childcare services throughout the country.

Despite the difficult budgetary position that has prevailed in recent years, the Government has maintained the investment in these childcare support programmes. I am committed to maintaining this level of support and, as the economy improves and the public finances recover, consideration will be given to increasing the level of funding for all of the childcare support programmes.

Preschool Services

Question No. 401 answered with Question No. 398.

Ceisteanna (400)

Jerry Buttimer

Ceist:

400. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his views on the financial burden caused by the application of commercial rates to providers of early childhood care and education services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47720/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I am aware of the concerns of childcare providers in relation to the levying of commercial rates on childcare services.

The issue of local authority commercial rates comes within the remit of the Department of Finance, which has responsibility for fiscal policy, and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, which has responsibility for the local authorities.

The Valuation Office, which comes under the remit of the Department of Finance, is responsible for the implementation and interpretation of the Valuation Act 2001 under which commercial rates are levied by the local authorities. The Valuation Office prepares valuation lists of commercial properties, as required by the Act, and local authorities are obliged to collect rates on properties which are listed.

Following concerns expressed by childcare providers throughout the country, the issue of commercial rates on pre-school services was raised with the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan T.D. who confirmed that, in line with existing legislative framework, local authorities have no discretion in the collection of commercial rates on properties which are on the Valuation List. The concerns of childcare providers in relation to commercial rates were also brought to the attention of officials in the Department of Finance.

Officials from my Department also met with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the context of the Valuation Bill currently going through the Houses of the Oireachtas and discussed the issue of commercial rates on pre-school services. The purpose of this meeting was for the provision of information, both historical and contextual, in relation to the childcare sector and at which my Department took the opportunity to express provider's concerns.

The Seanad did recently approve an amendment to the Valuation Bill to exempt not-for-profit childcare providers from commercial rates. However, private commercial childcare providers continue to be subject to commercial rates except those whose funding is derived only through capitation provided under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme.

As stated, responsibility for the Valuation Acts and the Valuation Office falls within the remit of the Minister for Finance and therefore any change to the Act including any provision for exemptions is a matter for that Department.

Question No. 401 answered with Question No. 398.