The Department operated an outreach Community Welfare Services (CWS) clinic from HSE premises in Dunleer County Louth each Wednesday from 10am to 12 noon. An average of 7 customers attended, but most of these were enquiries that resulted in less than 1 payment a week.
Other claims for Dunleer, such as Jobseeker and One Parent Family Payment, were dealt with by Drogheda Intreo Centre, with some outlying areas dealt with by Ardee Branch Office.
On 21 March 2018, the HSE building manager informed my Department that the condition of the building had rapidly deteriorated and now posed a serious Health & Safety risk to customers and staff. The HSE stated that it did not intend to renovate the premises as no HSE staff were located there.
In light of the Health and Safety risks, my Department had no option but to close the clinic in Dunleer with immediate effect. Customers were directed to the Drogheda Intreo Centre which is 15 km away and on a main bus route. The CWS service in Drogheda is available every day of the week. If a customer is unable to visit the Drogheda office, arrangements are made to conduct a home visit.
The current service is operating well. Customers from Dunleer have access to a service in Drogheda throughout the week and are not confined to a half-day clinic once a week. Most enquires can be dealt with over the phone, saving customers the inconvenience of travelling. Any customers who have a difficulty getting to the office in Drogheda are facilitated with a home visit.
Enquiries were made of my Department’s Facilities Management Unit and the OPW to ascertain whether it was possible to secure alternative accommodation. Potential locations were examined, but all would have required a long lead-in time for the completion of negotiations, planning permissions and necessary alterations to render them suitable. There would also have been cost implications.
Under these circumstances, the use of alternative premises in Dunleer to provide a half-day clinic once a week would not improve service to customers.
I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.