School Transport

Ceisteanna (225)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

225. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the additional funding the Minister of State for training and skills is of the view will be made available through his Department will be able to provide a service for students (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39795/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.  In the 2018/2019 school year over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €200m in 2018. 

The purpose of the scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. 

Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school.

All children who are eligible for school transport and who have completed the application process on time have been accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation for the 2019/2020 school year.  

Children who are not eligible for school transport, but who completed the application process on time, are considered for spare seats that may exist after eligible children have been facilitated; such seats are referred to as concessionary seats. Where the number of applications from non-eligible children exceeds the number of spare seats available, tickets are allocated using a random selection process.   

Under the terms of the scheme, the number of spare seats varies from year to year, based on the capacity of the buses running on all of the various routes and the number of eligible children accommodated on each route. Hence there is no guarantee that a non-eligible child who received a place in a previous year will receive a seat the following year.  It is included in the terms and conditions on the Bus Éireann online application that availability of seats may vary from year to year and that concessionary transport cannot be guaranteed for the duration of a child’s education. 

Bus Éireann has confirmed that the pupil referred to by the Deputy is not attending their nearest post-primary centre and is therefore not eligible for transport.  Bus Éireann has also confirmed that the service in question is operating to capacity.

Schools Building Projects Status

Ceisteanna (226)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

226. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress on the delivery of a new school building for a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39817/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

As the Deputy is aware, a project has been included on my Department’s Capital Programme to provide permanent accommodation for the school referred to. 

In order to progress this project, a new site is required. In this regard, officials in Sligo County Council are working under the Memorandum of Understanding for the acquisition of school sites to secure a site for the school.   When a suitable site is identified and agreed for purchase, the project can advance into architectural planning. 

I can assure the Deputy that my Department is making every effort to progress the site acquisition.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ceisteanna (227)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

227. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason a person (details supplied) is not receiving the necessary supports to ensure their full participation in junior infants at a school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39830/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for allocating a quantum of Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support for each school annually taking into account the assessed care needs of children qualifying for SNA support enrolled in the school.  

The NCSE allocates SNA support to schools in accordance with the criteria set out in Department Circular 0030/2014, which is available on my Department's website at www.education.ie, in order that students who have care needs can access SNA support as and when it is needed.  

In considering applications for SNA support for individual pupils, the NCSE take account of the pupils' needs and consider the resources available to the school to identify whether additionality is needed or whether the school might reasonably be expected to meet the needs of the pupils from its current level of resources.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource.

SNA allocations to all schools can change from year to year as children with care needs leave the school, as new children with care needs enrol in a school and as children develop more independent living skills and their care needs diminish over time.

The NCSE Appeals Process may be invoked by a parent or a school where it is considered that a child was not granted access to SNA support because the requirements outlined in Circular 0030/2014 were not complied with.  Schools may also appeal a decision, where the school considers that the NCSE, in applying Department policy, has not allocated the appropriate level of SNA support to the school to meet the special educational and/or care needs of the children concerned.

Where a school has received its allocation of SNA support for 2019/20, but wishes new enrolments or assessments to be considered, which were not taken into account when the initial allocation was made, they may continue to make applications to the NCSE.  

As this question relates to a particular child, I have referred the question to the NCSE for their direct reply. I do not have a role in making determinations in individual cases.

Education Data

Ceisteanna (228)

John Curran

Ceist:

228. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Education and Skills the steps he is taking to address issues raised in a new report by an organisation (details supplied) which shows schools need far greater capacity to meet the learning, language and socio-emotional needs of young refugees and to support them in their transition to school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39869/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

With regard to the report referred to by the Deputy, a number of recommendations have already been implemented by my Department, prior to the publication of the report.

 In 2018, my Department’s National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and Inspectorate conducted an appraisal of the education settings in the  Emergency Reception Orientation Centres (EROCs) and made a number of recommendations. These recommendations were followed up by my Department at the time and arrangements have been put in place to support the education of pupils residing in EROCs, including arranging for supports and transition to mainstream schools.  

The current situation is that, in general, primary school age children are provided with on-site education in EROC schools for an initial period and transition to mainstream schools when school ready. Post-primary students are enrolled in local mainstream as soon as possible.

Access to supports from NEPS and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and access to continuing professional development (CPD) through the Professional Development Support Services is available for teaching staff in the EROCs. My Department has also provided additional resources to the EROCs to support the transition of children to local schools.

 With regard to the needs of pupils at the time of resettlement, my Department provides a range of supports in schools to meet the identified additional educational needs of the children and young people in the primary and post-primary systems.  At both primary and post-primary levels, additional language supports are provided for students who do not speak English as their first language to allow individual students to participate in mainstream education on a par with their peers. Schools should consider how best to support any additional needs in the context of the Continuum of Support if appropriate. If the principal of a receiving school has specific concerns, or requires some advice in relation to observed needs they may consult their assigned NEPS psychologist.

Teachers' Remuneration

Ceisteanna (229)

James Browne

Ceist:

229. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding pay restoration for teachers here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39888/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The public service agreements have allowed a programme of pay restoration for public servants to start. The starting salary for a new entrant teacher in 2012 was €30,702. As a result of the programme of pay restoration, the starting salary of a teacher is now €36,953 and from 1 October 2020 onwards will be €37,692.

Section 11 of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 provides that “the Minister [for Public Expenditure and Reform] shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the cost of and a plan in dealing with pay equalisation for new entrants to the public service.”

The report laid before the Oireachtas on foot of this provision by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform assesses the cost of a further change which would provide a two scale point adjustment to new entrants recruited since 2011. The total cost of such an adjustment across the public sector is of the order of €200 million, of which Education accounts for €83 million. The report also acknowledges that, during the financial crisis, there were policy changes which affected remuneration in different occupations across the public sector (including education).

The matter of new entrant pay is a cross sectoral issue, not just an issue for the education sector alone. The Government supports the gradual, negotiated repeal of the FEMPI legislation, having due regard to the priority to improve public services and in recognition of the essential role played by public servants.

On 24 September 2018, an agreement was reached between the Government and the public services committee of ICTU in respect of new entrant pay.

This agreement will benefit 16,000 teachers and nearly 5,000 SNAs within the education sector. The deal provides for a series of incremental jumps for new entrants.

I am fully aware that the teacher unions have outstanding issues of concern following the September 2018 agreement. These outstanding matters will be given full consideration. This will happen either in the context of any pay review mechanism agreed by the parties to the Public Service Stability Agreement, or in the context of the next round of pay talks. The positions of each of the parties on these matters must be given due regard in endeavouring to reach a mutually agreed resolution.

The current series of restorative measures for new entrants have been achieved through continued engagement and collective bargaining between the Government and the public service unions and shows the benefits that such engagement can bring.

School Staff

Ceisteanna (230)

James Browne

Ceist:

230. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the allocation of a weekly release day for teaching principals; his views on this policy; if he will create national clusters of panels to cover this release; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39889/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Since my appointment as Minister for Education and Skills I have met with a number of Teaching Principals and I appreciate the pressures they face. In Budget 2019, school leadership is again supported with an additional release day for teaching principals in primary schools and a further four additional release days for teaching principals in schools with special classes. These additional release days - 18, 24, and 30 depending on the size of the school - will be effective from 1st September 2019. 

This builds on measures in previous budgets, including €0.4 million made available in Budget 2018 to fund almost 4600 additional release days for teaching principals in primary schools. This funding provided an increase in the number of release days available to teaching principals in the 2018/19 school year to 17, 23 or 29 days depending on the size of the school. 

Since September 2018, there are arrangements in place for schools to cluster their principal release days into a full-time post which will assist teaching principals to more effectively plan their release days for the benefit of the school.

Any additional increase in principal release days will have to be considered as part of the annual budgetary process, alongside the many other demands in the education sector.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Ceisteanna (231)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

231. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the final agreed tender price, the date of the tender for the contract and the final overall amount actually paid and the date of the final payment in respect of each capital expenditure project completed since 1 January 2014 by his Department or an agency under the remit of his Department and which ended up costing €10 million or more in tabular form; the reason the final amount paid exceeded the final tender price; the details available in respect of projects in which construction is not complete to date or in which the final settlement account has not been agreed to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39922/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I will arrange for a response to issue directly to the Deputy in relation to this question.

School Transport

Ceisteanna (232)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

232. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will address a matter regarding school transport (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39934/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department.  In the 2018/2019 school year over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €200m in 2018.

The Bus Éireann audited accounts are available on my Department's website for the years 2006 onwards and they contain the information sought by the Deputy in regard to costs of the school transport scheme.

School Transport

Ceisteanna (233)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

233. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will address a matter regarding school transport (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39935/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.  In the 2018/2019 school year over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €200m in 2018.

The Department has not made misleading statements in regard to the matter referred to by the Deputy and accordingly the question of correcting records does not arise.

Minor Works Scheme

Ceisteanna (234)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

234. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the minor works grant for a school (details supplied) for 2019; if the school is receiving this grant in 2019; when is it likely to be paid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39937/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

My Department's approach in relation to the Minor Works Grant is for it to be paid in either December or January of each school year. 

An announcement with regard to the timing of the payment of the Minor Works Grant for the current school year will be made in due course.

A total of just under €29m was paid out from my Department under the Minor Works Grant in 2018 for the school year 2018/19.

Summer Works Scheme

Ceisteanna (235)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

235. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a summer works scheme application by a school (details supplied) will be granted due to the circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39953/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The school referred to by the Deputy has submitted an application for replacement of corroded load bearing PVC windows to front and rear of school (Category 7) under my Department’s multi-annual Summer Works Scheme (SWS) 2020 onwards.

I wish to advise the Deputy that commensurate with the level of funding available for the SWS in 2020, applications will be assessed on a top down basis in accordance with the prioritisation criteria outlined in the governing Circular Letter for the Scheme. This Circular Letter (0027/2019) is available on my Department's website www.education.ie.

School Curriculum

Ceisteanna (236)

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

236. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on placing the time for religious faith formation outside of core school hours; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39974/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Religious education is one of the seven curricular areas of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and schools are currently required to allocate thirty minutes per day for religious education.  However, unlike other subject areas, the content of the religious curriculum provided by primary schools is not set by the Department of Education and Skills. Section 30 of the Education Act (1998) provides that time will be made available in the school day to teach curriculum that arises from the characteristic spirit of the school.  This means that the content of the religious education programme in a primary school is determined by the patron of the school. 

Under the Constitution and the provisions of Section 30(2)(e) of the Education Act 1998 parents have a right to have their children opt out of any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent of the student or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student themself. 

The manner in which any school ensures that the right to opt out of any class including religion is upheld is a matter for the school concerned. The precise nature of the arrangements have to be considered by each school having regards to the particular circumstances  in question including factors such as the numbers of children involved, the ages of those children and the availability of staff and physical space in the school concerned.  

The Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector (2012) acknowledged that denominational religious education, including faith formation and sacramental preparation are long-established features of the primary system. With regard to denominational religious education in primary schools, the Forum’s Report did not recommend that it be removed from the school day. 

However, the Advisory Group had concerns about the amount of time which can be devoted to sacramental preparation in some schools and they recommended that it should not be allowed to encroach on time allocated for the general curriculum.  They also recommended on-going discussion with parents and clergy in this regard.

Multi-denominational schools, such as Community National Schools, teach a multi-belief and values curriculum, which is inclusive of all children. In such schools, faith formation and preparation for religious sacraments takes place outside of school hours.

Parental Leave

Ceisteanna (237)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

237. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the social insurance based parental leave benefit scheme announced as part of budget 2019; if the scheme will be in place by November 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39317/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

 As the Deputy will be aware, on 23 April 2019, the Government announced that it had approved the priority drafting of the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019. The proposed legislation will provide for two weeks of parental leave and benefit for all new parents in employment or self-employment in respect of babies born on or after 1 November 2019. This will facilitate parents in spending more time with their babies in their critical first 12 months.  I expect the Bill to be published shortly.

Visa Applications

Ceisteanna (238)

James Browne

Ceist:

238. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding revised advice to volunteer visa applicants regarding the policy on the volunteering in Ireland scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39374/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am advised by the Immigration Service of my Department that revised procedures for persons wishing to travel to Ireland as volunteers were introduced on 30 April 2018.

These procedures provide for a preclearance process to facilitate and streamline entry to the State. The preclearance process applies to both visa and non-visa required non-EEA nationals.  One of the key objectives of the revised procedures is to provide certainty to all applicants prior to their arrival that they will be permitted to enter the State as volunteers and make their immigration process as straightforward as possible both at the port of entry and on registration of their immigration permission once in the State.

Under the Volunteer in Ireland Scheme, qualifying volunteers are permitted to enter and remain in the State for up to two  years, where there is a demonstrated need for their services and subject to compliance with all other immigration requirements that apply in individual cases.   

Full details of the scheme is available on the INIS website at http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/INIS/Pages/volunteering-in-ireland

Visa Applications

Ceisteanna (239)

Mary Butler

Ceist:

239. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a person (details supplied) can be facilitated with a partnership visa application before their current residency permit expires; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39547/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am advised by the Immigration Service of my Department that the person concerned has an ongoing application for permission to remain in the State based on her De Facto relationship with an Irish national. I am further advised that the person concerned holds temporary permission to remain, which is due to expire on 22 November 2019. 

My Department is currently dealing with De Facto applications received in April 2019. It is envisaged that the De Facto application of the person concerned would be finalised before the expiry of her temporary permission to remain.  

Queries in relation to the status of individual Immigration cases may be made directly to the Immigration Service of my Department by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the Immigration Service is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Ceisteanna (240)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

240. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the possibility of increased crime, smuggling and fraud in Northern Ireland and at the Border region was discussed during his most recent meeting with his UK counterparts; and his plans to deal with same. [38505/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, policing in the border region has always presented particular challenges. These necessitate a collaborative approach to policing with law enforcement agencies north and south of the border.

In November 2015, the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures in the agreement A Fresh Start, The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan, as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross jurisdictional crime. These measures included the creation of the Joint Agency Task Force.

Both Governments are determined that, regardless of the political outcome of Brexit, the excellent ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland must and will continue to combat the threat posed by dissidents and criminals that seek to exploit the policing challenges posed by the border.

Last week, I attended the 17th Annual Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime in Co. Cavan, aimed at enhancing cooperation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border, particularly in relation to cross border organised criminality and related issues. I met with the Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI in the margins of this conference, where we discussed matters relating to security in the border region, both now and in the context of Brexit.

I recently spoke to the Home Secretary and have also met the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I can assure the Deputy that I took these opportunities to reaffirm our deep commitment to continuing the close working relationship that we have with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom and we discussed matters including security and risks in the Border region.

It is also important to note that the Garda Commissioner recently made an operational decision to establish an additional Armed Support Unit (ASU) in Cavan which became operational this week. It will complement the work of the Units nationwide, including those in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal and Dundalk, Co. Louth in the Northern Region.

The Northern region also continues to benefit from the accelerated recruitment to An Garda Síochána as part of the Government’s plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, supported by the unprecedented level of Government funding to the organisation. Garda strength in the Northern Region has increased to approximately 1,500, an increase of 150 Gardaí since the end of 2017. These Gardaí are supported by approximately 150 Garda staff in the region, which represents an increase of almost 30% over the past 3 years, which means that additional Gardaí can be redeployed from administrative to operational policing duties where their training and policing expertise can be used to best effect.

Requirements in the region will in the usual way be kept under ongoing review by Garda management. In the event that a “no deal” Brexit gives rise to additional requirements in border areas, I understand from the Commissioner that further resources can and will be provided as needed.

Crime Prevention

Ceisteanna (241)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

241. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the role his Department will have with respect to the newly established National Rural Safety Forum; and the funding that will be provided by his Department to the operating costs of the forum. [39710/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, during the National Ploughing Championships, I launched the National Rural Safety Forum, a new body which brings together the Department of Justice, An Garda Síochána, and the Department of Rural and Community Development alongside national organisations such as City and County Management Association, the NTA, ESB Networks, and local organisations such as the Irish Farmers Association, Muintir na Tíre, and the GAA.

The overall purpose of the Forum is to provide community reassurance, to develop and utilise a nationwide communications network for the distribution of crime prevention advice, to increase engagement within communities and to prevent and to reduce the opportunity for crime.

The members of the forum will first engage at a local level, allowing communities to bring their concerns and priorities to the table. National meetings of the forum will then be held on a quarterly basis, where the forum members will share their findings and collaborate to produce practical messages, information and advice, to be shared with rural communities and through the network of the Forum.

The key first meetings of the Forum have been held. Indeed the first message developed through the work of the forum has also been produced. This message relates to marking personal property for ease of recovery and return in the event of theft or burglary and it is due to be circulated imminently, via email to the combined reach of the Forum, consisting of over 1 million households nationwide.

There will also be a nationwide engagement day in hundreds of locations on Friday 22 November 2019. The full details of this day are still being finalised, but it is certain tobe a great opportunity for members of the public to meet with their local community Garda, who will be able to discuss issues of local concern and offer practical crime prevention advice.

It is not currently envisaged that the Forum will incur significant costs going forward; however, should this change, my Department will re-examine funding of the Forum as the situation calls for it.

The National Rural Safety Forum is an initiative which I am delighted to support, as Minister for Justice and Equality. It is a practical measure which I am confident will make a major contribution to many communities nationwide.

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (242)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

242. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the families in direct provision centres are there on a voluntary basis in view of the comments by the Taoiseach on a television programme (details supplied); if many have applied for HAP to allow them to be accommodated outside centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39270/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can confirm to the Deputy that all applicants for international protection who are residents of accommodation centres are there voluntarily. The offer of accommodation and related services to applicants is just that - an offer. There is no obligation on any applicant to accept that offer and there is no restriction on their freedom of movement throughout the State. Some applicants choose to stay with friends or family who are already living in the State or to source and provide for their own private accommodation if they have independent means.

Applicants who have been granted a labour market access permission and are employed or in self-employment now have the economic independence to allow them to make further choices regarding their accommodation situation. To date, the Minister for Justice and Equality has granted over 3,100 labour market access permissions.

International protection applicants have a temporary permission to remain in the State while their application is being examined and are therefore ineligible for social housing supports like HAP.  

There are, however, approximately 850 people with an international protection status or a permission to remain who continue to reside in our accommodation centres. These people are no longer applicants and are no longer in the international protection process. They have the same right to housing assistance and supports as Irish nationals and EEA citizens. The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department does not record how many of these people have applied for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). People with status or permission to remain seeking accommodation in the wider community can choose to apply for HAP, or they may wish to use other means to pay for their accommodation.

My Department has engaged DePaul Ireland, the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Peter McVerry Trust to provide assistance to them to find accommodation. Information supplied to us by these organisations indicates that most people who find accommodation are availing of the HAP. In addition, my Department is working with other Government Departments, local authorities and the City and County Managers’ Association to help these people to transition to longer-term accommodation in the community.

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (243)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

243. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if there has been a reduction in the number of adults or families that live in direct provision centres since the rules to allow them to work have been changed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39271/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018 came into effect from 30 June 2018. One of the key provisions of the regulations was to give broader access to the labour market for International Protection applicants. 

Eligible applicants can apply to the Labour Market Access Unit (LMAU) of the Immigration Service of my Department, for a labour market permission. The permission covers both employment and self-employment and is granted to eligible applicants for six months. The permission is renewable until there is a final decision on their protection application.  Eligible applicants have access to all sectors of employment, with the exception of the Civil and Public Service, An Garda Síochána, and the Irish Defence Forces. 

I am advised by the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) of my Department that as of 26 September 2019, there are a total of 7,355 persons residing in accommodation provided by IPAS. This represents an overall increase of 1,827 persons from the date of the signing of the The European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018.  

In this regard the Deputy may wish to note that direct provision services are offered to those who come to Ireland and apply for international protection (asylum). These services are demand led and generally it is difficult to predict demand far in advance. Therefore, it is not possible to link the introduction of the right to work for protection applicants with any change in the number of adults or families living in direct provision centres, as application numbers are impacted by a number of factors, including international developments.

Asylum Applications Data

Ceisteanna (244)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

244. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the average length of time it takes to review and assess asylum applications for those families being accommodated in direct provision centres on a long-term basis; if changes have been introduced to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39272/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

On 31 December 2016, I commenced the International Protection Act 2015. This was the biggest reform to the system in twenty years and it introduced a single application procedure where all aspects of a person's application (refugee status, subsidiary protection status and permission to remain) are examined and determined in one process. Prior to this, the three strands were examined sequentially and this could lead to long delays in obtaining a final decision.

Upon the commencement of the 2015 Act, approximately 3,500 legacy cases were carried over to be dealt with under the new single application procedure (1,500 of these cases were from the former Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and 2,000 from the former Refugee Appeals Tribunal).  A further 500 cases transitioned in the months following commencement.  These cases would have been the longest in the system at the commencement of the Act. 

The International Protection Office (IPO) committed to scheduling these legacy cases for interview by the end of 2018 and for completion by the end of Q2 2019, where possible.

The IPO achieved the first part of this commitment in 2018 by scheduling all transition cases for interview, where it was possible to do so. The vast majority of the legacy cases have now been processed to completion in the IPO, and the focus is now on post commencement single procedure cases. 

Some legacy cases will continue to be dealt with including transition applicants who have not co-operated up to this point and are now re-engaging with the process, applicants who have come back into the process through Judicial Review, or for other reasons.  These cases are prioritised and scheduled for interview at the earliest possible opportunity and processed accordingly.

New applicants arriving today at the International Protection Office (IPO), who complete their questionnaire, are being scheduled for interview as follows:

- for prioritised applications, within 5 months of application; and

- for non-prioritised applications, within 8 to 10 months.

Prioritised cases include applicants from refugee generating countries like Syria or Eritrea or from especially vulnerable groups like unaccompanied minors.  

The IPO target is to issue its recommendation within 8 weeks after the interview.  This is, however, dependent on the complexity of the case. The overall median processing time for applications processed under the International Protection Act 2015 to end August 2019 is 15.7 months with prioritised cases being processed in 8.7 months.

Processing times are being monitored on an ongoing basis and the IPO continue to work on means to further improve them. The aim is to reduce processing times for first instance recommendations to 9 months.