School Completion Programme

Ceisteanna (593)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

593. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when funding for the Longford school completion programme will be restored to pre-2012 levels; her views on the fact that successive budget cuts have resulted in a cut of €40,000 to the programme; and if her attention has been drawn to a pre-budget submission highlighting the negative impact the cut in funding is having on the delivery of services through the programme. [37073/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

As the Deputy may be aware, responsibility for the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) was transferred from the Department of Education to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on its establishment in 2011.

In January 2014 Tusla, the Child and Family Agency was established and as part of the remit of the Agency, it took on the functions of the former NEWB: chiefly the Education and Welfare Services (EWS). The EWS comprises the statutory functions relating to Educational Welfare Officers; the operationalisation of the Home School Community Liaison Scheme; and the funding of the School Completion Programme (SCP).

The 124 SCP projects are funded in line with the academic term, commencing in September each year. Funding provision for the SCP in the 2018/2019 school year stands at €24.7 million. Tusla has advised that full-year cost of restoring the SCP to 2010 funding levels would be in the region of €7.3 million per annum.

As the Deputy may be aware, my Department has developed and is currently consulting on the draft Blueprint for the Development of Education and Welfare Services which, for the first time will provide a policy platform to secure and further sustain this valuable work. A substantive area of action in this policy relates to the SCP and the redesign of the School Completion Programme to ensure its development is actively supported.

As part of this process I will be seeking to ensure appropriate and additional funding is secured to support the further development of the School Completion Programme in meeting the needs of children and young people. I can assure the Deputy that my Department and Tusla Educational Welfare Service are fully committed to the future of the School Completion Programme and will continue to work to ensure that it will deliver the best possible outcomes for young people at risk of early school-leaving.

Early Years Sector

Ceisteanna (594)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

594. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans in place regarding a matter (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37215/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The early learning and care sector has been identified as a sector in which low pay and poor working conditions for staff are common, which impacts on the quality of provision to children through its effect on the recruitment and retention of qualified staff. The lack of consistency of care together with high staff turnover levels impacts directly on quality, and low wages are a constraint on plans to upskill the workforce. My support for improved pay and conditions for early learning and care practitioners has been explicit, as their role is critical to supporting children’s development and delivering better child outcomes.

Over the past 4 budgets the level of public investment in early learning and care and school-age childcare services has increased by 117%. The level of investment needs to continue to rise if we are to offer services that are of high quality, affordable and accessible. However, increased investment by itself will not ensure staff wages and conditions will improve.

As the State is not the employer, my Department does not pay the wages of staff working in early learning and care settings, and I cannot set wage levels or determine working conditions for these staff.

I am, however, doing all that is in my power to improve wages and working conditions in the sector.

I have repeatedly called for the sector to pursue a Sectoral Employment Order, which offers a viable mechanism to establish appropriate wage levels. Under the terms of industrial relations legislation, for the process of establishing a Sectoral Employment Order to commence, the bodies commencing the process must satisfy the Labour Court that they are "substantially representative" of either the workers or the employers in the sector. I can assure the Deputy that my Department will readily co-operate with a Sectoral Employment Order process when it is under way.

In the interim, I have introduced a range of measures to support employers to improve pay and conditions. These include a 7% increase in ECCE capitation in 2018; higher capitation payments for graduates and Inclusion Coordinators; annual Programme Support Payments to recognise administrative demands; support for school-age childcare which will make it easier to offer full-time employment contracts; and a pilot measure to fund participation in CPD.

I have set out my vision for the sector, and a roadmap to achieve it, in First 5, which contains a commitment to develop a Workforce Development Plan. This Plan, work on which began recently, will identify measures to ensure appropriate numbers of early learning and care and school-age childcare staff at all levels in the sector, to achieve a graduate-led workforce by 2028, and to raise the profile of careers in the sector. As part of this work, a series of public consultations will be carried out involving those working in the sector and other stakeholders. Plans for the consultation process will be finalised in the coming weeks. First 5 also commits to develop a new funding model for the sector, which may open up new mechanisms to influence pay and conditions in the sector.

Children in Care

Ceisteanna (595, 596)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

595. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the Department that has primary responsibility for the education of children in the care of the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37028/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

596. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the data collected to assess educational outcomes for children in the care of the State; the Departments that have responsibility for collecting such data; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37029/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 595 and 596 together.

The Department of Education and Skills has responsibility for education. This general responsibility includes the provision of early childhood, primary, post-primary and higher education and the range of related provision and supports. Children in care, with the exception of the very small number in special care centres, access these forms of education on the same basis as their peers who are not in the care of the State. For the very small number of children who require special care (14 children at the end of Q1 2019), specialised educational and clinical services are provided by the special care centre.

Education plays a critical role in every child’s life, none more so than children who are in the care of the State. For children who have experienced disadvantage in their early life education can provide an opportunity to break the cycle of disadvantage and create a different future.

Accordingly, educational needs form a central part of care planning for children in the care of the State. In the same vein, the aftercare provisions of the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended) require the educational needs of the child or eligible young person to from part of their statutory assessment of need for aftercare supports.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, provides a wide range of data relating to children in care and the wider child protection system. National administrative data on the educational experience of Ireland’s care population is made available in Tusla’s quarterly performance and activity reports, which are published on the Tusla website.

This data provides detail on children’s participation in education, including the number of children in care and the number of young adults in aftercare who are in full time education. The aftercare data has recently been developed further, with figures available from Q2 2018 for the number of young adults in receipt of an aftercare service who are (i) in Second Level education, (ii) in Vocational Training (including Youthreach schemes), (iii) in PLCs, (iv) in Third Level College/University, or (v) in Accredited Training (e.g. Solas). Figures for Q1 2019 show that:

- 96% (3,690 of 3,835) of children in care aged 6-15 were in full time education;

- 91% (914 of 1,001) of children in care aged 16-17 were in full time education; and

- 67% (1,221 of 1,825) of young people aged 18-22 years in aftercare were in education or

My officials will continue to work with Tusla to explore how we can improve measurement of educational outcomes for children in care, as a first step toward improving these outcomes.

Child Poverty

Ceisteanna (597)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

597. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans in place to end child poverty and homelessness (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37145/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The reduction of child poverty and homelessness are key political priorities for the Government. In recognition of the higher risks and life-long consequences of child poverty, the Government set a child-specific poverty target in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People (2014-2020), to reduce consistent child poverty by at least two-thirds on 2011 levels by 2020.

Under the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures Framework, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is leading our collective efforts in taking a whole-of-Government approach to tackling child poverty, which includes the issue of child homelessness. My Department is, of course, central to this response as outlined in the following:

First, the Sponsors Group of the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures are advancing five cross sectoral priorities on an annual basis. These include; First 5 Strategy (DCYA), Healthy Ireland (DoH), child poverty (DEASP), wellbeing in schools (DES) and child homelessness (DHPLG).

Second, a whole-of-Government approach is being advanced to tackle child poverty in Ireland. This approach is based on the plans produced by the Sponsors Group and National Advisory Council under Better Outcomes Brighter Futures and detailed in the DEASP’s paper ‘A Whole-of-Government Approach to Tackling Child Poverty’.

The paper deals with many of the issues highlighted by the Deputy including six key priorities:

1. Universal GP care for U6s and the future extension to U12s and U18s

2. Reducing the cost of education

3. Reducing the cost of housing

4. Affordable childcare

5. Labour activation

6. Provision of in-work benefits.

Third, at my request in February 2019, I asked the Advisory Council to refresh and prioritise their proposals in how best the issues of child poverty could be addressed in the immediate term. This draft paper has recently been received. Some of the key recommendations relate to:

1. Building Government capacity though a central lead point on Child Poverty

2. Monitoring and Documenting Trends on Child Poverty

3. Tackling Intergenerational Poverty and Building Strong Communities

I am actively considering the recommendations from the Advisory Council, while also advancing a number of key initiatives that support some of these recommendations. This is being done through focussed research internally within my Department, as well as through our forthcoming National Childcare Scheme. This scheme aims to improve children’s outcomes, support lifelong learning, and reduce the cost of quality childcare for families across Ireland and to help reduce child poverty.

The above developments will inform the work of the Sponsors group and Advisory Council to ensure greater coordination and targeting of our efforts in addressing child poverty and homelessness so as we sustain a cross-government approach.

I will of course be liaising with Cabinet colleagues on these developments and in advancing solutions to these most intractable issues.

Adoption Records Provision

Ceisteanna (598)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

598. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the restrictions now being placed on adopted persons that are tracing information on their birth families and particularly birth parents; her views on the policy of refusing to give identifying information in respect of birth parents particularly birth mothers on the grounds that this is in contravention of GDPR rules; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37158/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Tusla and any other body providing information and tracing services must comply with their responsibilities under GDPR in relation to processing personal data and special category data. This  requires them to take into account the rights of third parties and may require them to seek their consent before their data can be released. I am also aware that GDPR is impacting on the ability of third party organisations to share data with Tusla, which would assist them to identify and locate individuals.

I am aware of the adverse impact that GDPR is having on Tusla's ability to locate individuals for the purposes of information and tracing.  The current difficulties arise because of the absence of a robust statutory basis for sharing of information in the context of information and tracing.  I am planning to address this issue in the Adoption (Information & Tracing) Bill 2016 by putting in place the necessary statutory provisions.

Adoption Legislation

Ceisteanna (599)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

599. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her Department has received counsel from the European Commission in respect of refusing to give identifying information in respect of birth parents to adopted persons that are tracing; her views on whether adopted persons should have access to all of their own information and the full details included on all files in public records relating to their birth, care and adoption; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37159/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

My Department has not received counsel from the European Commission in relation to the provisions of the Adoption (Information & Tracing) Bill 2016.

I have put on record my personal commitment to the greatest possible release of birth information consistent with the constitutional framework. I am aware of the adverse impact that GDPR is having on Tusla's ability to locate individuals for the purposes of information and tracing. The current difficulties arise because of the absence of a robust statutory basis for sharing of information in the context of information and tracing. I will actively be seeking to address these issues in the Adoption (Information & Tracing) Bill 2016.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (600, 601)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

600. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her office has made no contact with the UN special rapporteur, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, for the specific purpose of inviting him here to play a role with the mother and baby home survivors. [37221/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joan Collins

Ceist:

601. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will clarify her remarks in February 2019 in which she stated that she expected an invitation to be issued to the UN special rapporteur, Mr. Pablo de Greiff in the coming days. [37222/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 600 and 601 together.

Ireland recognises that the system of Special Procedures is a central element of the UN Human Rights machinery and we value the contribution of independent human rights experts who hold mandates from the Human Rights Council to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country specific perspective.

Notwithstanding Ireland’s standing invitation to all United Nations thematic special procedures holders, the Government decided to extend a specific invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence to visit Ireland in the context of our on-going response to the legacy of mother and baby homes and related issue of concern.

I sought the support of my colleagues in Government for this course of action in late 2017 as I believe that the principles of transitional justice should inform the State’s response to the experiences of those who spent time in these institutions.  As the term of office of the then Special Rapporteur, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, was coming to an end when these arrangements were being progressed in early 2018, the invitation instead issued to his successor, Mr. Fabián Salvioli in April 2018. Given the many demands on a Special Rapporteur’s time an invitation issued at the start of a term of office presents a better opportunity for a favourable response.

The invitation was issued by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in accordance with his role and competence in managing international relations on behalf of the State.  The invitation did not issue from my Office. The invitation was confirmed in a press release on Tuesday 1st May, 2018. This press release is accessible on my Department’s website. Statements I made in various fora, including in this House, regarding the proposed invitation were at all times consistent with the Government’s deliberations and subsequent arrangements for this invitation to issue.

As I have said previously, I would welcome the engagement of the Special Rapporteur as I believe his Office can assist our shared endeavours to establish the truth and advise on how best we can move forward in appropriately responding to this difficult and painful part of our history.

Voluntary Sector Funding

Ceisteanna (602)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

602. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the estimated full year current and capital cost of a proposal by an organisation (details supplied) for the community and voluntary sector to revert to 2008 and 2009 funding levels. [37319/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The provision of funding and supports for the Community and Voluntary Sector is a key function of my Department. In 2019, funding of €12.687 million has been allocated for supports to the sector.

In 2018, €14.974 million was invested by my Department in the sector. This represented an increase of €2.28 million over the original allocation and reflects my commitment to extending supports to the sector where funding is made available.

In 2009, the Community and Voluntary Sector was supported by funding of €15.8 million in current funding by the former Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. 

The pre-Budget submission in question outlined a proposal for increases in allocations to my Department of five per cent across a wide range of programmes totalling €6.7 million. These include the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme,  Community Enhancement Programme, Community Services Programme, measures under the Dormant Accounts Fund, and supports for Local Community Development Committees and Public Participation Networks.

My Department’s allocations for 2020 will be considered and agreed as part of the forthcoming Estimates process. As part of this process, the Department will always seek to secure funding to build community resilience and then work to direct this money where it is needed most.

I have also recently launched Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: a Five-Year Strategy to Support the Community and Voluntary sector in Ireland 2019-2024.  This Strategy sets a general direction of travel for Government policy in relation to community development, local development and the community and voluntary sector and will be implemented in partnership with sectoral stakeholders over the next five years and beyond.

Voluntary Sector Funding

Ceisteanna (603)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

603. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his views on the proposal by an organisation (details supplied) for streamlining of regulation and compliance requirements for the community and voluntary sector; and the estimated annual cost to provide for the cost of compliance in funding agreements as set out in the submission. [37320/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

I recently launched Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: a Five-Year Strategy to Support the Community and Voluntary sector in Ireland 2019-2024.  This Strategy sets a general direction of travel for Government policy in relation to community development, local development and the community and voluntary sector and will be implemented in partnership with sectoral stakeholders over the next five years and beyond.

The Strategy was prepared by my Department with the support of the Cross Sectoral Group on Local and Community Development.  The organisation referred to by the Deputy was an active participant on the Cross Sectoral Group.

Action 4.1 of the Strategy commits to developing a sustainable funding model to support the community and voluntary sector in line with the commitment in the programme for Government. The action  specifically identifies the need to fully consider the cost of compliance and relevant overhead and administration costs when developing such a model. This action will be led by my Department with collaboration from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and other relevant Government departments. 

As the Strategy will entail far reaching changes across Government and the community and voluntary sector, it will require an incremental building of supports over the period of the strategy and beyond. This will be the case particularly for those actions, such as Action 4.1, which will require larger scale and sustained funding support.

My Department officials have begun the work needed to start implementing the actions contained in this strategy and while I acknowledge that the delivery of some of the actions will take time, I am committed to fully achieving the objectives of this Strategy.

Departmental Strategies

Ceisteanna (604)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

604. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the proposed annual budget line for strategies (details supplied); and if a funding provision will be made in budget 2020 for the strategies. [37321/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The two strategies which the Deputy refers to were published in July and August of this year and will support social enterprises and the community and voluntary sector respectively.

The social enterprise policy will help to create an enabling environment for social enterprise to grow and contribute to Ireland’s social and economic progress.  

My Department provides ongoing support for social enterprises from the Dormant Accounts Fund, through a €2 million per annum Social Enterprise measure, and through the Social Enterprise Development Fund administered by Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI).  This Fund is a €1.6 million fund to be delivered over the three-year period 2018-2020.  My Department has contributed €800,000 towards the Fund, on a match-funding basis with SIFI.

My Department also supports social enterprises through a number of other programmes including the Community Services Programme (CSP), SICAP, and LEADER.  

The Strategy to support the Community and Voluntary sector in Ireland will set a general direction of travel for Government policy in relation to community development, local development and the community and voluntary sector over the period 2019-2024.  It will be implemented in partnership with sectoral stakeholders over the strategy period and beyond.

The strategy will entail far-reaching changes across Government and the community and voluntary sector and will require an incremental building of supports over the strategy period and beyond. This will be particularly the case for those actions requiring larger scale sustained funding support.

My Department's allocations to support both of the strategies in 2020 will be considered as part of the forthcoming Estimates process.

Dormant Accounts Fund

Ceisteanna (605)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

605. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount of dormant accounts funding allocated to social enterprises over the 2016 to 2019 period in tabular form; and if a provision will be made in budget 2020 for this funding stream. [37322/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

On 18 July 2019, I launched the first ever National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland. The Policy will help to create an enabling environment for social enterprise to grow and contribute to Ireland’s social and economic progress.  

Support for social enterprises under the Dormant Accounts Fund (DAF) is primarily provided through the Social Enterprise Measure of the DAF Action Plan.  Details of the amounts allocated under this Measure since 2016 are provided on the table below.

Dormant Accounts Social Enterprise Measure - funding 2016-2019   

Year   

Amount allocated   

2016

0

2017

€1.6 million

2018

€2.0 million

2019

€2.0 million (Estimates provision)

On 2 September, I announced €800,000 in funding for the provision of training and mentoring for social enterprises throughout Ireland which will be provided from the 2019 DAF allocation for the Social Enterprise Measure.  This funding will support one of the key policy commitments in the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland.  The closing date for this pilot scheme, which is managed by Pobal on behalf of my Department, is 30 September 2019.

I intend to make a further announcement shortly regarding the allocation of the balance of funding available this year under the Social Enterprise Measure.

My Department also provides match funding from a separate measure under the DAF Action Plan, which supports the 2018-2020 Social Enterprise Development Fund established by Social Innovation Fund Ireland. My Department contributed €800,000 to this three year initiative in 2018, representing 50% of the €1.6 million fund.

In addition to funding from the DAF, my Department also supports social enterprises through a number of other programmes including SICAP, LEADER, and the Community Services Programme.

My Department's allocation for social enterprises for 2020 will be considered as part of the forthcoming Estimates process.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Ceisteanna (606)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

606. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the projected increase in the gross capital expenditure ceiling applying to his Department in 2020 over 2019; and the projects this increase has been earmarked for. [37458/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The Mid Year Expenditure Report was published in July 2019  by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The Report set a 2020 capital expenditure ceiling of €150 million in respect of my Department. This represents an increase of €12m in capital funding compared to the capital allocation set out in the Further Revised Estimates 2019.

The increase will support additional funding of the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund in 2020 in line with commitments in the National Development Plan.

My Department's final 2020 current and capital allocations will be considered and agreed as part of the forthcoming Estimates process.

Mountain Access Schemes

Ceisteanna (607)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

607. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the progress made on the mountain access programme to provide insurance indemnity to landowners that provide access for hillwalkers; the interim measures being considered in view of the delays with progressing the issue of legislation in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37619/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

My Department has been working for some time to develop a scheme to indemnify private land owners, particularly in upland areas, with regard to the use of their lands for recreational purposes.  This is a complex issue and the legal rights of landowners must be respected, while trying to facilitate access to their lands for recreational users on a permissive basis. 

My Department has been advised that an indemnity scheme such as the one envisaged will require legislative provision.  In this context, my officials met with the Attorney General's Office to explore the various options open to the Department and to identify the precise legislation which would require to be introduced to implement such a scheme.  It appears that a number of separate pieces of legislation could require amendment.

In light of the complexity involved, I am also considering other options that might be available to address the matter as an interim measure.  My officials have been making enquiries into alternative options and will continue to work to find a solution that meets the concerns of landowners who provide access to their lands for recreational purposes.

Mountain Access Schemes

Ceisteanna (608)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

608. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if consideration has been given to the preparation of an economic appraisal on the benefits of hillwalkers in certain areas to strengthen the case for the mountain access programme in view of the high level of tourists this activity brings here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37620/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

Comhairle Na Tuaithe (The Countryside Council) was established in February 2004 as a non-statutory body with a primary focus on the priority areas of access to the countryside, developing a countryside code, and developing a countryside recreation strategy. 

Under a Comhairle na Tuaithe initiative, in 2011, a Mountain Access Scheme to facilitate access to the uplands for hill walking and similar activities was developed in two pilot areas; one at Mount Gable in Connemara and the other in the MacGillycuddy Reeks in Co Kerry.

Comhairle na Tuaithe went on to establish a Mountain Access Project Steering Group in 2014, which was tasked with reviewing progress in respect of the Mountain Access Pilots, developing signage for Mountain Access Pilot areas, and issues around a National Indemnity Scheme. Since then, tendering has taken place for the design of a mountain access logo, and mountain access signage and information panels for the two pilot areas, which are now in place.

On 6th June last, I announced the appointment of Dr. Liam Twomey as the new Chair of Comhairle na Tuaithe and presented a new mandate to the Council which will reinforce and strengthen its advisory role in relation to the sustainable development of the outdoor recreation sector in Ireland, which includes hill walking.  

Comhairle will act as a forum for consultation and collaboration between stakeholders and advise on matters relating the use of the countryside for recreational purposes. I have also asked Comhairle to identify opportunities to develop rural enterprises based on outdoor recreation activity, and to consider the scope for the development of a new National Strategy for Outdoor Recreation, taking account of recent developments and investments across the sector.

In light of the enhanced role and work programme of Comhairle, I do not have any plans at present to commission a separate economic appraisal of the nature referred to by the Deputy.  However, available data indicates that in 2014, 1.5 million overseas visitors engaged in hiking, cycling and angling during their visit, and spent €900 million while in Ireland.  It is clear from these, and other statistics available from State Agencies, that countryside outdoor recreation infrastructure and services make an important contribution to the national, regional and local economies.

Disability Allowance Payments

Ceisteanna (609)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

609. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated amount it would cost to increase the disability allowance payment by €20 per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36984/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The full year estimated cost of increasing the rate of disability allowance by €20 per week is €166.9 million.  

This cost is based on the estimated number of recipients in 2020 and is subject to change in the context of emerging trends and associated revision of these estimates.  This cost includes proportionate increases for qualified adults.

Rent Supplement Scheme Data

Ceisteanna (610, 611, 612)

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

610. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of persons receiving rent supplement support in each municipal district (details supplied) in County Clare in each year since 2017, in tabular form. [37137/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

611. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of persons receiving rent supplement support for each County Clare municipal district (details supplied) in each of the years 2000 to 2017, in tabular form. [37139/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

612. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the amount paid in rent supplement in each municipal district (details supplied) in County Clare in each of the years 2000 to 2017, in tabular form. [37140/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 610 to 612, inclusive, together.

Rent supplement continues its vital role in supporting families and individuals in private rented accommodation, with the scheme supporting approximately 18,600 recipients for which the Government has provided €132.4 million for 2019.

The strategic goal of returning rent supplement to its original purpose, that of a short-term income support, has been primarily facilitated by the introduction of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). The “Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness (July 2016), reiterated in the “Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021” (September 2018), is to provide 87,000 flexible housing supports through HAP and Rental Accommodation Scheme between 2016 and 2021. 

Since the introduction of HAP on the 29th June 2015 for the County, rent supplement recipients have fallen from some 1,900 to approximately 60 (sixty), as at end of August 2019.  The identification of recipients for the County with long term social housing needs for transfer to HAP remains a key goal for the Department. 

Rent supplement recipient statistics for the County from 2000 to 2017 are provided in the attached tabular statement; the tabular statement also includes recipient numbers for the year 2018 and end August 2019.  Recipient statistics are not maintained on a 'municipal district level': expenditure statistics by county / municipal district are also not recorded.

Table: Rent Supplement Recipients for County Clare 2000 to End August

Year

No. of Recipients

2000

928*

2001

979

2002

1,175

2003

1,228

2004

1,207

2005

1,233

2006

1,120

2007

1,144

2008

1,441

2009

1,780

2010

1,937

2011

1,961

2012

1,722

2013

1,547

2014

1,336

2015

1,024

2016

423

2017

177

2018

114

2019 (End of August)

 63

* Recipients for 2000 'by County' were not maintained, previous statistical summaries were based on Health Board Regions, the 2000 figure supplied is an estimate for the County based on trends for the County's overall share of rent supplement recipients at that time.

Disability Allowance Payments

Ceisteanna (613)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

613. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if arrears in relation to an application by a person (details supplied) will be awarded and expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36965/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

This lady was in receipt of another social welfare payment.  Consequently, the amount of social welfare already paid required calculation and was deducted from any arrears due. 

This process was completed by my Department as quickly as possible.  Disability allowance arrears issued to the person in question on 7 September 2019.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility

Ceisteanna (614)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

614. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the financial assistance and-or social protection payments available to unmarried couples with children that live together (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36966/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The social welfare system treats spouses, civil partners and cohabitants in the same way for the purposes of determining entitlement to income support and other payments.  The full range of social protection schemes are available to unmarried couples with children on the same basis as married couples with children.

The Working Family Payment, for example, is a weekly tax-free payment available to employees with children. The combined income of a couple (married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting) is taken into account when calculating income limits and rates of payment.

Information about the range of schemes and services operated by the Department is available at a customer’s local Intreo Centre or Citizens Information Centre or on the Department's website www.welfare.ie .

State Pension (Contributory) Applications

Ceisteanna (615)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

615. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will address a matter regarding the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36974/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

In late September 2018, my Department began examining the social insurance records of over 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.

The person concerned applied for and was awarded a reduced rate State pension (contributory) from January 2017.  As their spouse was already in receipt of an increase for qualified adult for them at a higher rate, their state pension (contributory) was withdrawn.

A request for information about time spent out of the workforce for parenting or caring reasons was sent to the person concerned on 14 August 2019, with a response period of 3 weeks.  A dedicated helpline to support and assist the person making their online application, or to request a paper application was also provided. 

No response to the request was received.  On 11 September 2019 a deciding officer carried out a review of the pensioners rate of pension based on the information already held by my Department.  Based on this information, the person concerned has 834 reckonable paid contributions, which when combined with 561 HomeCaring periods and 428 reckonable credits, results in a payment rate of 87.64% of the maximum rate of pension.  As the person is already the beneficiary of a rate equivalent to 89.6% of the maximum rate of pension, (or €222.50 per week), they are financially better to remain as a qualified adult on their spouse's pension.

A review outcome letter has issued to the person concerned, which includes a copy of their social insurance contribution record.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits Payments

Ceisteanna (616)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

616. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will commission the establishment of a minimum social welfare floor set against the minimum essential standard of living once her plans are established to introduce a revised benchmark of social welfare payments; if this will be indicated in budget 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36986/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

As the Deputy is aware, the Roadmap for Pensions Reform, published last year, commits the Government to examine and develop proposals to set a formal benchmark of 34% of average earnings for the State Pension and to institute a process whereby future changes in pension rates of payment are explicitly linked to changes in consumer prices and average wages.  My Department is currently considering options to implement this commitment.

Section 19 of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Act 2018 provided that I, as Minister, would arrange to "...consult with stakeholders on examining ways in which social welfare rates are increased with the aim of ensuring adequacy for all recipients...".

In this context, my Department met with numerous interested stakeholders to solicit views on how the adoption of a benchmark, and a system of indexation, might apply to social welfare rates.   This involved bilateral meetings with certain stakeholders and roundtable meetings with a range of groups.  The organisations consulted included the community and voluntary pillar, ICTU, IBEC, the ESRI and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.  Various views were put forward as part of the consultation process including adopting an earnings link for social welfare payments, benchmarking and indexing to the Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL) measure produced by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, adopting a twin-lock approach to indexation (wages and prices), and maintaining the current system of adjusting rates in line with available resources at Budget time.

Any change to the current process of setting social welfare rates of payment would require Government approval and would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.  This would include taking account of stakeholder views, as well as considerations of cost, work incentives, poverty alleviation, policy alignment and the administration of any proposed system.  No decisions have yet been made, in this regard.

Treatment Benefit Scheme Eligibility

Ceisteanna (617)

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy

Ceist:

617. Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way in which a person that is estranged from their spouse can access dental benefit on the basis of the PRSI contributions of their spouse without having to have their spouse complete and sign form D2; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36993/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

A person can qualify for treatment benefit in two ways, either using their own PRSI record if they have the required contributions or by using their spouse’s/partner’s record if they are financially dependent on their spouse or partner.

When a person wishes to claim treatment benefit under the dependent spouse scheme, based on their spouse’s/partner’s PRSI record, they are required to complete a dependent spouse application form)eligibility check form (DE2), available from the service provider they intend to use or directly from the Department.  In order to determine eligibility the Department has to confirm that the insured spouse/partner satisfies the PRSI contributions requirement and that the person seeking treatment benefit is financially dependent on the qualified person.

To ensure data protection compliance (including the General Data Protection Regulation legislation) the Department seeks the written consent of both parties to their data being used to make the necessary enquires to check eligibility.   The “qualified” PRSI contributor is asked to consent to the use of their PPS number by the Department, so that their PRSI record can be accessed to potentially qualify their dependent spouse/partner for treatment benefits.

It should be noted that the “qualified” spouse/partner is not asked to consent to their spouse getting the treatment, but is asked to consent to the use of their PPSN by the Department.  Where a dependent spouse/partner indicates to the Department that they do not wish to, or are not in a position to ask their spouse/partner to sign the form, the Department can still proceed to determine eligibility.  A protocol is in place to cover such instances and is in operation in relation to all schemes and services of the Department.

The person concerned should complete the DE2 form and indicate on part 2 that they are separated from their spouse.  In such circumstances the spousal declaration need not be completed. On submission of the form the Department will proceed to take the necessary steps to confirm eligibility. 

I hope this clarifies the matter for the deputy.