Carer's Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (195)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

195. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason carer’s allowance was refused to a person (details supplied); if the decision is being reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25882/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department received an application for carer’s allowance (CA) from the person concerned on 10 September 2018. The application was referred to a local social welfare inspector (SWI) to assess the level of care being provided, assess means and confirm that all the conditions for receipt of carer’s allowance are satisfied.

It is a condition for receipt of CA that every claimant shall furnish such certificates, documents, information and evidence as may be required for the purposes of deciding the claim. The person concerned failed to provide the SWI with information that was required to determine if her means were below the statutory limit.

The outstanding information requested by the SWI was 3 months financial statements for all financial accounts held including a Credit Union account.

As the requested information was not supplied it was decided that the person concerned was not entitled to CA.

The person concerned was notified on 22 May 2019 of this decision, the reason for it and of her right of review and appeal.

To date no request for a review or an appeal has been received by my Department from the person concerned.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance

Ceisteanna (196)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

196. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the case of a person (details supplied) will be reviewed; the way in which the allowance was calculated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25883/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Following a review of the entitlement of this lady, it was found that she had an increase in her means from her previous assessment. The means were from her spouses employment. Based on the information provided to my department, a reduced rate of disability allowance (DA) was awarded. The reduced rate became effective from 29 May 2019.

Notification of this decision issued on 5 June 2019. The person concerned was given the right to appeal this decision within 21 days to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. No appeal was received in this case.

When assessing means for DA we have to establish an acceptable average pattern of earnings which takes account of fluctuations in earnings. In this case we have taken the average earnings over a period of time by taking the cumulative gross and dividing it over the weeks worked less any applicable deductions.

If there has been a change to the circumstances of the person concerned, she may forward any relevant documentation that she deems relevant and the case will be reviewed.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Treatment Benefit Scheme Eligibility

Ceisteanna (197)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

197. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of a treatment benefit application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25884/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The person concerned has the required number of PRSI contributions paid to qualify for the treatment benefits scheme. As a result she will be entitled to a free optical examination and a contribution towards the cost of Optical appliances. She should contact her Optician who will make the application on her behalf and provide her with the necessary treatment that she requires.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Appeals

Ceisteanna (198)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

198. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the basis on which an appeal for a carer's allowance was disallowed in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25894/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that the appeal by the person concerned was against a decision of a Deciding Officer that they had failed to supply all requested information in relation to their entitlement to carer's allowance and, therefore, they had not fully disclosed their means. An Appeals Officer, having fully considered all of the available evidence including that adduced at the oral hearing, decided to disallow the appeal of the person concerned.

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

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (199)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

199. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason a person (details supplied) will now have to undertake a process for a third year in a row without success; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25905/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection provides a range of activation supports catering for long-term unemployed jobseekers and those most distant from the labour market to secure and sustain full-time paid employment. These supports include the JobPath service, the primary purpose of JobPath is to provide a case management based, employment advice and counselling service to long term unemployed jobseekers. This is the group of jobseekers facing the most significant barriers to entering full-time employment.

My Department selects clients for the JobPath service by means of a random selection process. Protocols for selection currently preclude the selection of anyone who has already completed 52 weeks with the JobPath service within the previous four months. If, however, at the end of this period the jobseeker has not engaged in other activation supports and services, they then become eligible for selection for a subsequent period of activation on the JobPath service. This is necessary to ensure that they continue to receive a case management service.

Jobseekers referred for a 2nd or 3rd time to any of the contracted public employment services, including JobPath will start working with an assigned Personal Advisor to review their development during their previous engagements with the service and together they will prepare a new personal progression plan to build on that progress. The actions and tasks agreed will be based on their previous engagements, with particular focus on any remaining barriers preventing the person from moving into full-time suitable employment.

The person concerned has been unemployed for over 15 years, he has already completed two years with the JobPath service - the most recent period of engagement ended in January 2019. He had made some progression during his previous engagement with JobPath, however I understand that he needs additional support in his efforts to find sustainable full time employment. He now has the opportunity to avail of further assistance from the JobPath service which will hopefully result in a full time suitable job for him.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Data

Ceisteanna (200)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

200. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of abolishing the means test for carer's allowance; if in calculating same, an account will be taken of the significant savings that would arise from no longer having to devote resources to administering and evaluating such applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25906/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Government acknowledges the important role that family carers play and is fully committed to supporting carers in that role. This commitment is recognised in both the Programme for a Partnership Government and the National Carers’ Strategy.

My Department provides a range of supports to those who are caring for family members, friends or neighbours. These measures aim to recognise the needs of carers through the provision of appropriate income supports, to enable carers to remain in touch with the labour market to the greatest extent possible and to empower carers to participate fully in economic and social life.

These income supports include the following:

- Carer’s Allowance

- Carer’s Benefit

- Carer’s Support Grant

- Domiciliary Care Allowance

Carers may also (subject to certain conditions) qualify for the Household Benefits Package and a Free Travel Pass.

Spending on these payments in 2019 is expected to exceed €1.2 billion.

Carer's Allowance is a means-tested payment for carers who look after certain people in need of full-time care and attention on a full time basis. The means test for Carer's Allowance is now one of the most generous means tests in the social welfare system, most notably with regard to spouse’s earnings. Since April 2008, the income disregard has been €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple. This means that a couple with two children can earn in the region of €35,400 and qualify for the maximum rate of Carer's Allowance. A half-rate carer's allowance is also payable with other welfare payments e.g. pensions and disability payments.

The conditions attached to payments of Carer’s Allowance are consistent with the overall conditions that apply to social assistance payments generally. This system of social assistance supports provides payments based on an income need with the means test playing the critical role in determining whether or not an income need arises as a consequence of a particular contingency - be that illness, disability, unemployment or caring. Carer's Allowance acts as an income support for those who cannot earn an income in the open labour market due to their caring responsibilities. The continued application of the means test not only ensures that the recipient has a verifiable income need but that resources are targeted to those with greatest need.

Based on the number of carers identified as part of Census 2016, it is estimated that a universal carer’s payment could cost up to €1.2 billion per annum.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (201)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

201. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of a review of a claim for a disability allowance by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25932/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The person concerned has been awarded disability allowance with effect from 18 July 2018. The first payment will be made by her chosen payment method on 10 July 2019.

Arrears of payment due will issue as soon as possible once any necessary adjustment is calculated and applied in respect of any overlapping payments.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Citizens Information Services Funding

Ceisteanna (202)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

202. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the funding provided to the Citizens Information Board in each of the past three years. [25935/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Citizens Information Board is the national agency responsible for supporting the provision of information, advice and advocacy on social services, and for the provision of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service.

The funding provided to the Citizens Information Board in the years 2016-2018 was:

2016: €49.2 million

2017: €53.1 million

2018: €54.8 million (this figure is provisional)

The 2019 allocation for the Citizens Information Board is €59.3 million.

Disability Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (203)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

203. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of an application for a disability allowance by a person (details supplied); and if a decision will be expedited. [25973/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I can confirm that my department received an application for disability allowance (DA) from this gentleman on 1 April 2019.

On 17 June 2019 the person concerned was requested to supply supporting documentation required by the deciding officer in order to make a decision on his eligibility. On receipt of this information a decision will be made on his DA application and the person concerned will be notified of the outcome.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (204)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

204. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the entitlements of a person (details supplied) to a pension will be reviewed. [25983/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Since late September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of approximately 90,000 pensioners, born on or after 1 September 1946, who have a reduced rate State pension contributory entitlement based on post Budget 2012 rate-bands. These payments are being reviewed under a new Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to pension calculation which includes provision for homecaring periods.

All of the HomeCaring Periods applied for by the person concerned have been awarded. The person has 1,105 reckonable paid contributions which when combined with 734 HomeCaring Periods and 128 reckonable credits results in a payment rate of 94.57% of maximum pension (or €234.90). This represents an increase on the person's previous pension payment rate of €223.20.

A review outcome letter issued on 16 May 2019 to the person concerned, detailing their new rate of payment under the new arrangements.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pensions

Ceisteanna (205)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

205. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a person (details supplied) can avail of credits for the period which they stayed at home to mind children. [25996/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Since late September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of approximately 90,000 pensioners, born on or after 1 September 1946, who have a reduced rate State pension contributory entitlement based on post Budget 2012 rate-bands. These payments are being reviewed under a new Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to pension calculation which includes provision for homecaring periods.

A Deciding Officer has examined the entitlement of the person concerned under the new arrangements and determined that even if all gaps in their social insurance record were filled with HomeCaring Periods no increase in rate would result. An advisory letter to this effect has issued to the person concerned. This letter encourages them to contact the dedicated helpline if they want this outcome explained to them in more detail. If the person concerned wants a formal review decision, this will be provided to them, on request, together with an associated right of appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Free Travel Scheme Eligibility

Ceisteanna (206)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

206. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the criteria and rules for entitlement to free travel; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25997/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The free travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by almost 80 private transport operators. There are currently approximately 948,000 customers with direct eligibility to free travel with an annual allocation of €95 million.

The scheme is available to all people aged over 66 living permanently in the State. To qualify for the scheme, applicants who are under age 66 must be in receipt of a qualifying payment. These are invalidity pension, blind pension, disability allowance, carer’s allowance or an equivalent social security payment from a country covered by EC Regulations or one with which Ireland has a Bilateral Social Security Agreement.

The general criteria and rules for entitlement to the free travel scheme can be found on my Departments website www.welfare.ie and clicking on the “Other Supports” link. If the Deputy has a specific query or information that he needs clarification on, my officials will be happy to provide the required information.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Redundancy Payments

Ceisteanna (207)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

207. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way in which it is expected a person (details supplied) can repay liability on the sum of €7,503.66 under the redundancy and insolvency payments schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26002/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Redundancy Payments Act 1967, as amended, provides for the making of payments by employers to employees in respect of redundancy. It is the employer’s responsibility to pay statutory redundancy payments to all eligible employees. In the event that an employer is unable to pay due to financial difficulties, an application for payment from the Social Insurance Fund may be submitted to the Department.

When such a redundancy payment is made from the Social Insurance Fund, a debt is immediately raised against the employer. The Department is obliged to make every effort to recover the debt owed to the Social Insurance Fund, in accordance with Section 32 of Act.

If the employer is a sole trader or partnership, the Department engages directly with the employer to ascertain their current financial situation and their capacity to repay the debt. Where appropriate, an agreed repayment plan can be put in place to minimise financial hardship; for example, the debt can be recovered by way of instalments over a period of time.

I note that correspondence issued from the Debt Management Unit in my department to the person named. However, no response was received from that person. It is important that the matter is discussed between the person and the Department. Further correspondence will issue on the matter and I recommend that the employer engages with the Department accordingly.

I would also like to remind the Deputy that any person who is experiencing difficulties with their mortgage repayments can avail of the Government's Abhaile service which is run by MABS (www.mabs.ie/abhaile.ie ). Borrowers who qualify for this scheme will incur no charge for using this service.

I trust that this clarifies the matter.

Home Loan Scheme

Ceisteanna (208)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

208. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he has received authorisation to obtain more finance for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme; if so, the amount that has been authorised including the amount to be allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26039/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Rebuilding Ireland home loan (RIHL) scheme was launched on 1 February of last year.

When the scheme was initially being developed, it was estimated that the drawdown of loans would be approximately €200 million over three years. The RIHL has proven to be more successful than initially anticipated, with some €140 million drawn down to the end of May. The first tranche of funding has not been exhausted.

My officials have been engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform since October 2018 when higher lending and drawdown volumes were beginning to materialise.

I informed the Dáil on 29 January 2019 of the scheme’s success and of the need for additional funding and indicated that my Department was in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance with regard to the allocation for 2019.

At all times, the scheme remained open and all local authorities were advised to continue to receive and process applications up to and including the issuing of loans.

My Department has consulted in detail with each Local Authority as to the anticipated demand in its area, and the likely level of approvals expected. This information has been submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with request for sanction for additional borrowing by the Housing Finance Agency. The HFA have an ongoing borrowing facility for when sanction is given so that they are in a position to proceed to borrow this second tranche of funding immediately.

The first tranche of funding has not been exhausted, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan remains open to new applicants, and local authorities are to continue to receive, process and issue loans.

Home Loan Scheme

Ceisteanna (209)

Declan Breathnach

Ceist:

209. Deputy Declan Breathnach asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of Rebuilding Ireland home loans drawn down in County Louth; if funding for Rebuilding Ireland home loans has been exhausted in the county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25897/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Rebuilding Ireland home loan (RIHL) scheme was launched on 1 February of last year.

My Department publishes information on the overall number and value of (i) local authority loan approvals and (ii) local authority loan drawdowns. Information up to Q1 2019 is available on the Department's website at the following link: http://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/statistics/house-prices-loans-and-profile-borrowers/local-authority-loan-activity , and this information will be updated on a quarterly basis as additional data is compiled.

When the scheme was initially being developed, it was estimated that the drawdown of loans would be approximately €200 million over three years. The RIHL has proven to be more successful than initially anticipated, with some €140 million drawn down to the end of May. The first tranche of funding has not been exhausted.

My officials have been engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform since October 2018 when higher lending and drawdown volumes were beginning to materialise.

I informed the Dáil on 29 January 2019 of the scheme’s success and of the need for additional funding and indicated that my Department was in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance with regard to the allocation for 2019.

At all times, the scheme remained open and all local authorities were advised to continue to receive and process applications up to and including the issuing of loans.

My Department has consulted in detail with each Local Authority as to the anticipated demand in its area, and the likely level of approvals expected. This information has been submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with request for sanction for additional borrowing by the Housing Finance Agency. The HFA have an ongoing borrowing facility for when sanction is given so that they are in a position to proceed to borrow this second tranche of funding immediately.

The first tranche of funding has not been exhausted, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan remains open to new applicants, and local authorities are to continue to receive, process and issue loans.

Water Charges

Ceisteanna (210)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

210. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the reason Irish Water treats householders as if they are businesses and charges them for all water used in their property in cases in which the householder has a rain water harvesting system which they rely on exclusively for agricultural purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25946/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Water Service (No. 2) Act 2013 includes provision that Irish Water shall collect charges from its non-domestic customers in receipt of water services provided by it in accordance with a water charges plan, as approved by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities. If a customer considers that his or her charges are not in line with the regulatory regime this should be raised with Irish Water in the first instance.

In its statutory role the Commission also has the power to investigate a complaint made by a registered customer of Irish Water and to issue a decision that is legally binding on Irish Water. These are responsibilities that are assigned to Irish Water and to the CRU and in respect of which I have no role.

It may also be helpful to note that Irish Water has established a dedicated team to deal with representations and queries from public representatives. The team can be contacted via email to oireachtasmembers@water.ie or by telephone on a dedicated number, 1890 578 578.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding

Ceisteanna (211)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

211. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he is in receipt of an application from Mayo County Council for the provision of a water scheme (details supplied) under the multi-annual rural water programme 2019-2021; when a decision will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25988/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

On 8 February this year, I announced details of the measures being funded through my Department under the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021. Local authorities were invited to submit their bids for the funding of schemes or projects in their functional areas, with the deadline for receipt of proposals set as 14 March 2019.

Mayo County Council has included the scheme in question in its application to my Department under the new Programme.

My Department is currently considering local authorities' bids for funding allocations. An Expert Panel has been put in place to support the evaluation process. In addition to providing an expert perspective, the Panel brings independence, openness and transparency to the bids evaluation process which is done on a national prioritised basis. The Expert Panel’s membership includes Departmental, stakeholder and independent representation.

The Expert Panel will make recommendations to my Department on the suitability of schemes and projects for funding based on objective criteria which are set out in the framework document issued to local authorities when requesting proposals. My Department will then consider the recommendations of the Panel, and based on these, will propose allocations for my consideration as Minister. I expect this process to be completed in the coming weeks.

Social and Affordable Housing Data

Ceisteanna (212)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

212. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of social houses built in circumstances in which the State is leasing the house from a private developer in each of the past five years; the number of social houses funded through housing agencies that are leased from private development companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25995/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP) supports the delivery of social housing by providing financial support to local authorities for the leasing of houses and apartments from private owners and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs). Dwellings may be leased from private owners by either local authorities or AHBs. Dwellings owned by AHBs, including those constructed or acquired with an element of capital funding support under the Capital Advance Loan Facility (CALF), are also funded under SHCEP. Where a dwelling is leased from a private owner, the, Department does not record whether that property was newly built or details of the ownership structure.

The number of dwellings leased by local authorities and AHBs from private owners, each year from 2014 to 2018, is set out in the Table below. This includes dwellings leased under long term leases and availability arrangements, Part V leases and the Repair and Leasing Scheme. Data for 2014 and 2015 is only available on a cumulative basis and represents the total number of dwellings leased by both local authorities and AHBs in those years.

Table: Dwellings Leased from Private Owners 2014-2018

Year

Leased from Private Owner by LA

Leased from Private Owner by AHB

Total

2014

N/A

N/A

504

2015

N/A

N/A

518

2016

493

10

503

2017

329

173

502

2018

586

159

745

Mortgage to Rent Scheme Data

Ceisteanna (213)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

213. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number mortgage to rent agreements put in place in each year since the establishment of the mortgage to rent scheme and each month to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26040/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

From the introduction of the Mortgage to Rent (MTR) scheme in 2012 to the end of 2018, 445 MTR cases have been completed.

A breakdown of these completed cases by year is detailed in the table below.

Number of MTR transactions completed per year 2012 to 2018

Year

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Total

Number of MTR transactions competed

1

21

29

96

70

91

137

445

A further 75 MTR cases were completed in the period January to end May 2019, a monthly breakdown of which is detailed in the table below. At the end of May 2019, there were 1,034 MTR applications being actively progressed by the Housing Agency.

Number of MTR transactions completed per month in 2019

Month

Number of MTR transactions completed

January

4

February

6

March

4

April

38

May

23

Total

75

The Housing Agency who administer the MTR scheme on my Department's behalf publishes, on a quarterly basis, detailed statistical information on the operation of the MTR scheme. This information is available on the Agency's website at the following link: https://www.housingagency.ie/our-services/housing-supply-services/mortgage-to-rent.aspx .

A Review of the MTR scheme, published on 8 February 2017, introduced a range of amendments to the eligibility criteria and administration of the scheme in order to improve its operation. The Review, which is available at http://rebuildingireland.ie/news/changes-in-mortgage-to-rent-scheme/, explored the avenues and impediments to participation in the scheme and recommended a number of actions to make the scheme work better for borrowers. My Department and the Housing Agency are working with all stakeholders to ensure that the actions set out in the Review are being effectively implemented to benefit a greater number of households. The eligibility requirements of the scheme were widened to include a greater number of borrowers and a larger number of property types. Increasing awareness and understanding of the scheme has been a priority and a new website, www.mortgagetorent.ie , dedicated to guiding and advising borrowers has been developed. In addition, new structures and arrangements have been put in place to encourage a greater number of entities to take part in the scheme.

While it will continue to be the case that not all MTR applications will develop into completed transactions for varied reasons, the implementation of the resulting actions from the Review means that MTR is available to provide a long-term solution for more households in mortgage distress, where appropriate.

The Abhaile service is a national mortgage arrears resolution service, provided free of charge to mortgage holders in arrears and its aim is to help these borrowers to find the best solutions and keep them, wherever possible, in their own homes. The unique element of Abhaile is that it brings together, for the first time, the full range of supports and services required by borrowers in home mortgage arrears. A dedicated adviser will work with the borrower and their lender to find the best solution for their particular situation. The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) acts as the gateway for the service and can be contacted by telephoning (076)1072000 or by accessing their website at: www.mabs.ie/abhaile.

National Concert Hall

Ceisteanna (214)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

214. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the timeline for the renovation works at the National Concert Hall; her plans to secure an alternative venue for the National Symphony Orchestra during the course of these works; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25886/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

As part of Project Ireland 2040 - the National Planning Framework - the Government has approved a ten year plan - Investing in our Culture, Language and Heritage 2018 to 2027 -  which sets out the Government's objectives for capital investment in Ireland's culture, language and heritage. The plan provides for an investment of €725m in the Culture sector of which €460m relates to investment in our National Cultural Institutions and of which €78m relates to the re-development of the National Concert Hall.

Together with the Office of Public Works, the National Concert Hall (NCH) has prepared a development plan for the Earlsfort Terrace Complex which is scheduled to be completed between now and 2027. 

The plan provides for the complete refurbishment, upgrading and extension of the main auditorium, together with improved and extended back-stage and public spaces, and the conversion of an existing space into a dedicated rehearsal hall for the resident National Symphony Orchestra. It is planned that this phase of the work will be completed over a three year period commencing no sooner than September 2021, subject to compliance with public procurement procedures, and will entail the closure of the Hall and possible re-location to another site. The question of securing an alternative venue for the National Symphony Orchestra during this period is also being examined.

National Orchestras

Ceisteanna (215)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

215. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the timeline for the proposed transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra to the National Concert Hall; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25887/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

Following the publication of the report by RTÉ that it commissioned from independent consultants Helen Boaden and Mediatique on the RTÉ Orchestras entitled RTÉ Orchestras Ensuring a Sustainable Future, the Government  agreed in principle that the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (RTÉ NSO) should come within the remit of the National Concert Hall (NCH). The Government  also authorised the initiation of discussions on the implementation of the recommendations of the report. 

The overall aim  of the Government decision in relation to the proposed transfer of the RTÉ NSO is to enable the orchestra to be established as a world class orchestra which would, with the NCH, provide a creative and imaginative programme strategy that would greatly enhance the offering of the combined organisation to the public.

An Oversight Group and Working Group have been established with formal terms of reference, with a view to identifying and addressing the relevant issues to be addressed to enable the successful transfer of the NSO from the remit of RTÉ to the remit of the NCH.

The work of the Oversight Group is continuing. At this point, it is considered that 2020 would be the earliest date for the completion of the proposed transfer.

Re-introduction of Grey Wolf

Ceisteanna (216)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

216. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her Department or an agency under her remit will carry out a feasibility assessment on the reintroduction of the grey wolf species, utilising the criteria provided by an organisation (details supplied) in view of the number of potential benefits to ecosystems and endangered species and arresting biodiversity loss; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25900/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

My Department has no plans to reintroduce wolves to Ireland.

Reintroducing a species back into its former range is fraught with difficulties. The reintroduction of a large predator which has been absent for almost 250 years is particularly challenging: the wolf is a large, mobile and adaptable predator. Wolves travel in packs and require vast home ranges.

As the Deputy has noted, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (the IUCN) have developed Guidelines on Reintroductions and Conservation Translocations. These guidelines were developed by conservation experts and practitioners and they provide the benchmark for international best practice in this field.

Before going into the details of what a reintroduction programme might entail, the IUCN document  sets out an initial checklist for those considering a reintroduction project. One of the first requirements is that:

“There should …. be strong evidence that the threats that caused any previous extinction have been … removed.”

The National Parks & Wildlife Service of my Department have advised me that any feasibility assessment for the reintroduction of the wolf to Ireland would fall at this first hurdle.

The wolf became extinct in Ireland towards the end of the 18th century. Its demise was brought about by a number of factors including deforestation, the expansion of agriculture, and persecution. There is limited evidence that those causes of its previous extinction have been removed.

While the area under forestry in Ireland has been expanding, at approximately 11% it remains amongst the very lowest in Europe. Meanwhile, the area under agriculture has continued to expand and has also become more intensive and less hospitable to wildlife.

In addition, our urban and suburban areas have expanded significantly since the end of the 18th century. The current challenges faced by the native pine marten, a relatively small and unthreatening predator compared to a wolf, as well as the ongoing poisoning and shooting of reintroduced birds of prey, indicate that the threat of persecution, particularly for a large predator, remains a concern.