Tourism Policy

Ceisteanna (220)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

220. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the degree to which he has put in place plans or provisions to enhance or develop the tourism sector with a view to ensuring the development of the industry notwithstanding Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40153/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

The Government's Tourism Policy Statement "People, Place and Policy – Growing Tourism to 2025" was published in March 2015 and in July 2015, the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport appointed a Tourism Leadership Group, to put in place a series of Action Plans, setting out the actions required to achieve the overall objectives set out in the Tourism Policy Statement.

The Tourism Action Plan 2019-2021, published in December 2018, sets out the actions identified as priorities to be progressed during this period to maintain sustainable growth in overseas tourism revenue and employment, and aims to further build relationships within the tourism industry and encourage collaboration between all tourism stakeholders.

In Budget 2019, I secured a 26% increase in funding for the tourism sector, which represents the largest increase in the tourism budget in 15 years. This increased funding has allowed Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to continue to grow tourism regionally and across the seasons in line with key policy objectives. 

The promotion and development of tourism are primarily matters for the boards and managements of Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. Accordingly I have referred the Deputy's question to the tourism agencies for further reply.  Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within ten working days.

Traffic Management

Ceisteanna (221)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

221. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which outstanding traffic bottlenecks will continue to receive remedial attention on local or regional routes in order to ensure the minimisation of traffic delays after Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40147/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the Councils' own resources supplemented by State road grants.  The selection and prioritisation of projects, within its available budget,  is a matter for each local authority

Traffic management issues are also a matter for the relevant local authority.

Road Network

Ceisteanna (222)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

222. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when upgrading the N4 Maynooth to Dublin can take place in view of the pivotal nature of this route as a commuter link; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40148/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme.  Under the Roads Acts 1993-2015, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. 

Noting the above position, I have referred your question to TII for a direct reply.  Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Rail Services Provision

Ceisteanna (223)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

223. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which it is anticipated upgrades to rail services serving the commuter towns of north County Kildare will be carried out ; if by provision of increased frequency of services the provision of extra carriages or alternatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40149/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.  The National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for the planning and development of public transport infrastructure and services, including the contractual arrangements in relation to Public Service Obligation (PSO) services

 In light of the NTA's responsibilities on this matter, I have referred the Deputy's question to the NTA for a more detailed reply.  Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Bus Services

Ceisteanna (224)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

224. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which he anticipates the electrification of the bus fleet or rail services serving the commuter belt of north County Kildare to continue carbon reduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40150/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding of public transport.  The  National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for the development of public transport in the Greater Dublin Area (including north Kildare) including the purchase of publicly subvented bus and rail fleet.  

Noting the responsibility of the NTA, I have referred the Deputy's question to it for direct reply on the specific issues raised.  Please advise my office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Road Network

Ceisteanna (225)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

225. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the degree to which he expects the completion of the motorway network nationally with a view to ensuring the availability of adequate transport services to all regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40151/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme.  Under the Roads Acts 1993-2015, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. 

The overall plans and priorities for upgrading of the national road network are set out in Project Ireland 2040 which encompasses the National Development Plan (NDP) and the National Planning Framework. TII are responsible for delivering the national road priorities set out in the NDP.

Noting the above position, I have referred the question to TII for a direct reply.  Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Childcare Services Staff

Ceisteanna (226)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

226. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to ensure all childcare workers in the early years sector are paid a living wage of €12.30 per hour; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40035/19]

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 through its effect on the recruitment and retention of qualified staff. The lack of consistency of care together with high staff turnover impact directly on quality, while low wages are a constraint on plans to upskill the workforce. My support for improved pay and conditions for early learning and care professionals has been explicit, as their role is critical to supporting children’s development.

Over the past 4 budgets the level of public investment in early learning and care and school-age childcare services has increased 117%, and the level of investment needs to continue rising if we are to secure services that are of high quality, affordable and accessible. However, increased investment by itself will not ensure that 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. My Department will readily co-operate with such a 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 for service providers to offer staff 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 which will ensure appropriate levels of early learning and care and school-age childcare staff at all levels in the sector. The Workforce Development Plan will establish role profiles, career pathways, qualifications requirements, and associated policy mechanisms. It will set out plans to raise the profile of careers in the sector, establishing a career framework and leadership development opportunities, and it will work towards a more gender-balanced and diverse workforce.

Departmental Strategies

Ceisteanna (227)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

227. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the expenditure on baby boxes; the number distributed to date; if baby boxes are available at maternity hospitals nationally; if not, the estimated full year cost of providing a baby box to mothers on the birth of a child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40077/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The First 5 Strategy was published in November of last year, followed in May of this year by the Implementation Plan for the first phase of implementation in 2019-2021.  

First 5 outlines Government’s intention to pilot the development and implementation of Baby Boxes and Book Bags initiatives to support parenting with a focus on parent-baby bonding, information on baby development and early learning and promotion of baby safety. 

A Baby Box is a package of items and information to assist with the transition to parenthood including safety items, baby clothes, small toys, baby toothbrushes, and books to support early development. The intention behind Baby Boxes is to welcome a new arrival to a family, acknowledging this very significant moment for parents. Baby Boxes offer the opportunity to communicate important child development and safety messages and is an early opportunity to link with parents in need of support services.  

As indicated in the Implementation Plan, an oversight group will be established this year to lead the development of the pilot and scope to project to prepare for implementation and evaluation.   

While resourcing has been secured through the Dormant Accounts Fund to progress the pilot, there has been no expenditure to date as this pilot has not yet begun. 

 The cost of providing a Baby Box will depend on the items selected for inclusion, as well as the design of the box and any logistical costs - all of which have to be determined.  However, by means of international comparison, in Scotland a very well equipped baby box is costed at £160, exclusive of delivery costs.  The equivalent figure in Finland is €170.  There were just over 61,000 births in Ireland in 2018. 

There are some baby box schemes in operation via maternity hospitals and otherwise in different parts of the country but my Department is not involved in funding or co-ordinating these.

Community Employment Schemes Supervisors

Ceisteanna (228, 229, 230, 233)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

228. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if there has been an advance in the position for providing a mechanism to secure a pension for community employment supervisors or to provide an ex gratia payment to those supervisors about to retire or recently retired; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39999/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

229. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of work in relation to addressing the pension situation of community employment scheme supervisors; if she has had discussions with the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39994/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Ceist:

230. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of ongoing meetings with community employment scheme supervisors; her views on pension entitlements for supervisors of the schemes in view of the ongoing negotiations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39995/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Butler

Ceist:

233. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the position regarding pensions claims by community employment supervisors; if high-level meetings have taken place; and when she will issue her findings. [40010/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 228 to 230, inclusive, and 233 together.

I am currently engaging with representatives of Community Employment supervisors and assistant supervisors to discuss issues arising following the 2008 Labour Court Recommendation. All parties to the engagement process have agreed that the detail of the discussions should remain confidential while the engagement is ongoing and I would ask Deputies to respect these wishes and allow the talks to continue free from speculation which might prove unhelpful. I expect that it will take a number of weeks to reach a conclusion.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Review

Ceisteanna (231)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

231. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a carer's allowance review will be completed for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39997/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Carer's allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment made to a person who is habitually resident in the State and who is providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that as a result they require that level of care.

An application for CA was received from the person concerned on 14 November 2018.

It is a condition for receipt of a CA that the person being cared for must have such disability that they require full-time care and attention.

This is defined as requiring from another person, continual supervision and frequent assistance throughout the day in connection with normal bodily functions or continual supervision in order to avoid danger to him or herself and likely to require that level of care for at least twelve months.

The evidence submitted in support of the application was examined and the deciding officer decided that this evidence did not indicate that the requirement for full-time care was satisfied.

The person concerned was notified on 19 February 2019 of this decision, the reason for it and of his right of review and appeal.

The person concerned requested a review of this decision and submitted additional evidence in support of his application on 4 July 2019.

Following this review the decision has remained unchanged.

The person concerned was notified on 25 September 2019 of this decision, the reason for it and of his right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

School Meals Programme

Question No. 233 answered with Question No. 228.

Ceisteanna (232)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

232. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the meals provided for in each school meals programme meets the requirements set out in Healthy Ireland guides and the Obesity Policy and Action Plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40007/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The School Meals Programme provides funding towards provision of food services for disadvantaged school children through two schemes: The urban school meals scheme and the school meals (local projects) scheme. 

The Urban School Meals Scheme for primary schools is operated and administered by Local Authorities and is part-financed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The type of food provided under the Urban School Meals Scheme is decided by individual schools and agreed with the Local Authorities. 

The school meals (local projects) scheme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children. The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.

The ‘Nutrition Standards for School Meals’, which was published in September 2017 under the auspices of Healthy Ireland, is a valuable resource to enable and promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles in schools. These standards complement and strengthen the healthy eating guidelines that were already in place. The standards were introduced commencing from January 2018 and all schools participating in the school meals scheme are expected to fully comply with these standards from September 2018.

In terms of assessing whether schools meet the requirements set out in Healthy Ireland guides and the Obesity Policy and Action Plan, schools and organisations must reapply for funding in advance of each school year and are required to submit detailed records at the end of each school year.  Expenditure on unhealthy food items is deducted from the funding allocation.

In addition, the Department initiated an on-site inspection programme in 2012 to ensure that the scheme rules are being adhered to including an assessment of the type of food provided. My Department recently introduced service level agreements with all participating schools and organisations which sets out the responsibilities of participants.

Question No. 233 answered with Question No. 228.

Carer's Benefit Applications

Ceisteanna (234)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

234. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a decision will be made on a carer's benefit application by a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40026/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Carer's benefit (CARB) is a PRSI based payment, made to persons who are providing full-time care and attention to a person who has such a disability that they require that level of care. 

An application for CARB was received from the person concerned on 8 June 2019.

The carers leave commenced on 2 September 2019. The application was awarded to the person concerned on 27 September 2019, effective from 5 September 2019. The first payment will issue to her nominate bank account on 3 October 2019. 

Arrears of allowance due from 5 September 2019 to 2 October 2019 will issue shortly.

The person concerned was notified on 27 September 2019 of this decision, the reason for it and of her right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits Data

Ceisteanna (235)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

235. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the processing time for illness benefit, disability allowance, carer's allowance and benefit and invalidity pension applications, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40030/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The information requested by the Deputy is detailed in the following tabular statement.

Table 1. Average weeks to award a claim in August 2019

Average Weeks to Award 

August 2019

 Illness Benefit

 1

 Disability Allowance

14 

 Carer's Allowance

16 

 Carer's Benefit

13 

 Invalidity Pension

10 

Disability Allowance

Ceisteanna (236)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

236. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection his plans to ensure the disability allowance is increased by €20 per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40046/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Disability Allowance (DA) is a means-tested payment for people with a specified disability who are aged between 16 and 66. The disability must be expected to last for at least one year and the allowance is subject to a medical assessment, a means test and a habitual residency test.

The estimated annual spend on DA in 2019 is over €1.6 billion. At the end of July 2019, there were 143,516 people in receipt of DA.  The estimated cost of increasing the weekly personal rate of DA by €20 would be an additional €166.9 million.

My department regularly reviews its supports and payment schemes to ensure that they continue to meet their objectives.  Given the cost implications, any changes to the current payment rates would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

Ceisteanna (237)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

237. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to increase and index link the wage subsidy scheme for persons with a disability to 70% of the minimum wage level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40047/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Wage Subsidy Scheme (WSS) is an employment support to private sector employers, the objective of which is to encourage employers to employ people with disabilities and thereby increase the numbers of people with disabilities participating in the open labour market. 

The scheme provides financial incentives to private sector employers to hire people with a disability for between 21 and 39 subsidised hours per week under a contract of employment.  The contract of employment offered must be for a minimum of 6 months and the employee must be paid the going rate for the job (which must be at least the statutory minimum wage).

Private sector employers may claim a subsidy, subject to certain conditions, against the cost incurred where a productivity shortfall arises from a disability.  The basic rate of subsidy is €5.30 per hour giving a total annual subsidy available of €10,748 per annum based on a 39 hour week.

The financial supports for employers are structured under three separate strands and companies could benefit under one strand or under two or three strands simultaneously, as the case may be, depending on the number of people with a disability employed, as below.

Strand I is a general subsidy for any perceived productivity shortfall in excess of 20% for a person with a disability, in comparison to a colleague without a disability.  The subsidy is based on the number of hours worked.

Strand II subsidy is payable when an employer employs three or more people with disabilities who are supported by a WSS Strand I payment.  Strand II is intended to cover the additional supervisory, management and other work based costs relating to such employees.  This top-up payment is a percentage of the Strand I subsidy and is based on the overall number of employees with a disability employed under Strand I.  It ranges from an additional 10% of wage subsidy for 3 to 6 employees with a disability to a maximum of 50% of wage subsidy for 23+ employees with a disability. Therefore when an employer has 23 or more WSS employees a 50% top up is applied to the hourly rate increasing the payment rate to €7.95 per hour for each employee.

3 to 6 employees with a   disability

 10% top-up of wage subsidy paid

7 to 11 employees with a disability

 20% top-up of wage subsidy paid

12 to 16 employees with a disability

 30% top-up of wage subsidy paid

17 to 22 employees with a disability

 40% top-up of wage subsidy paid

23 + employees with a disability

 50% top-up of wage subsidy paid

 

Strand III subsidy enables employers who employ 30 or more workers with a disability on the Wage Subsidy Scheme to be eligible for a grant of up to €30,000 per year towards the expense of employing an Employment Assistance Officer (EAO) to support these employees.

At end June 2019, there were 1,671 private sector employers availing of the wage subsidy with 2,722 people with disabilities employed. The existing annual cost based on the current number of contracted hours at the €5.30 rate is €26.9 million. 

My Department regularly reviews its supports and payments schemes to ensure that they continue to meet their objectives.  Any changes to the current rate of subsidy would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.

I hope this clarifies the issue for the Deputy.

Illness Benefit Payments

Ceisteanna (238)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

238. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when illness benefit arrears will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [40058/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The person concerned was in receipt of Carers Benefit up to 11/09/2019 and prior to that she was an adult dependent on her spouse's Illness Benefit claim.

To date, no application for Illness Benefit has been received by the person concerned.  

It is open to the person concerned to make an application for Illness Benefit in her own right, if she is unable to work due to illness or injury. Her spouse can also apply to add her as an adult dependent on his Illness Benefit claim, should she meet the qualifying criteria.

 I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (239)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

239. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a decision on a carer's allowance application by a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be expedited. [40066/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Carer's allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment made to a person who is habitually resident in the State and who is providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that as a result they require that level of care.

An application for CA was received from the person concerned on 23 July 2019.

The application was awarded to the person concerned on 1 October 2019 with effect from 25 July 2019. The first payment will issue to her nominated post office on 10 October 2019. 

Arrears of allowance due from 25 July 2019 to 9 October 2019 have issued also.

The person concerned was notified on 1 October 2019 of this decision, the reason for it and of her right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.