Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme

Ceisteanna (119)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

119. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 164 of 4 December 2018, the updated cost of adapting the employment and investment incentive scheme (details supplied) in tabular form. [40109/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that the estimated cost to the Exchequer of increasing the current allowable tax relief cap of €150,000, available to individual investors under the Employment and Investment Incentive (EII) Scheme, in the manner described by the Deputy is set out in the following table.

Threshold

Cost (€m)

€200,000

0.4

€300,000

0.7

€400,000

0.8

€500,000

0.9

€600,000

1.0

€700,000

1.0

€800,000

1.1

€900,000

1.2

€1M

1.2

€1.1M

1.3

€1.2M

1.4

€1.3M

1.4

This costing assumes a maximum of relief of 30% and does not include the additional 10% relief that is currently available under the Scheme after a period of 4 years from the initial investment. It is based on actual data relating to the operation of scheme in 2017 and assumes that there are no behavioural changes as a result of the increased caps on the relief.

Flood Relief Schemes Eligibility

Ceisteanna (120, 121)

Eugene Murphy

Ceist:

120. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the cost-benefit analysis criteria set down by the OPW will be permitted to take loss of income, workable land, payments to farmers and the environment into account when assessing the need for flood relief works in the Lough Funshinagh area of south County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40015/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Eugene Murphy

Ceist:

121. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will instruct the OPW to find a permanent solution to the flooding issues in the Lough Funshinagh area of south County Roscommon in view of the fact that the stringent cost-benefit analysis criteria set down by the OPW has now prevented Roscommon County Council from taking further action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40016/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 and 121 together.

I am advised by my Office that funding was approved in 2018 to Roscommon County Council under the OPW Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection Scheme for a study at this location.

The report prepared by Malachy Walsh & Partners on the flooding of Lough Funshinagh, has been submitted to my officials this week. Following consideration of this report, further contact will be made with Roscommon County Council to establish whether or not there is a viable, cost beneficial and environmentally acceptable measure to provide appropriate protection to properties in the area.

School Admissions

Ceisteanna (122)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

122. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on a matter regarding a school (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39983/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

In relation to school admissions, it is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act, 1998. My Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking school places in the area.

Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted. However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available, as in the case of Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, a selection process may be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. However, this may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.

The question of enrolment in individual schools, including the setting of catchment areas, is the responsibility of the Board of Management on behalf of the school Patron and my Department does not seek to intervene in decisions made by schools in such matters.

A Board of Management may find it necessary to prioritise enrolment of children from particular areas or on the basis of some other criterion, including giving priority to applicants who have attended a particular primary school, commonly known as a feeder school.  The criteria to be applied by schools in such circumstances and the order of priority are a matter for the schools themselves.

School Transport

Ceisteanna (123)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

123. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will address a matter (details supplied) regarding school transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39984/19]

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. 

The Department has not provided wrong or misleading information in the investigation referred to by the Deputy.

School Transport

Ceisteanna (124)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

124. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae 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. [40003/19]

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.

As previously outlined 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 Staff

Ceisteanna (125)

Eugene Murphy

Ceist:

125. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Skills if an increase in the administration days for teaching principals to one release day per week will be allocated to deal with the administrative demands of the job in view of the fact that the role of the teaching principal has not been reviewed, qualified or quantified since a circular in 1973; if additional resources will be allocated to address this issue in Budget 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40004/19]

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. 

€2.75m was allocated in Budget 2017 to restore middle management positions i.e. the equivalent of approximately 1,300 middle management posts (Assistant Principal I and Assistant Principal II) at both Primary and Post-Primary (2,600 in total).

The Department has committed to revising the Posts of Responsibility table in the leadership and management circulars to take into account retirements during the school year.  This ensures that the current level of Posts of Responsibilities are maintained in the school system.

Earlier in the year, I hosted a symposium on Small Schools which gave me an opportunity to restate the Government’s commitment to small schools and to open a dialogue with all the key stakeholders. The purpose of this work by the Department is to develop a policy proposal to help support and strengthen small primary schools throughout the country.

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.

Schools Building Projects

Ceisteanna (126)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

126. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress to date in developing a purpose-built school for the pupils of a school (details supplied) further to the Private Members' debate in Dáil Éireann of 25 September 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40005/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The Deputy will be aware that a major capital project for the school in question is included in my Department's school building programme to be delivered as part of the National Development Plan. This project necessitates the acquistion of a new site and a number of site options were identified by Galway Co. Council.  These were comprehensively assessed and a preferred site option was identified and negotiations entered into between the Department and the Agent for the Vendors.  Unfortunately, the Vendors subsequently withdrew from the process.

However, a potential alternative site option has been identified and discussions are ongoing with the Landowner with a view to acquiring this site.  Please be assured that this Department is doing all it can to progress the matter.  The school has been notified accordingly.

National Educational Psychological Service

Ceisteanna (127)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

127. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to ensure 20 extra NEPS psychologists are provided for in budget 2020. [40048/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

As the Deputy may be aware my Department’s National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) provides educational psychological support to all primary and post-primary schools. This involves direct support in the event of a critical incident, access to national and regional support and development work to build school capacity to support students, access to a NEPS psychologist for responses to queries arising, and access to individual pupil casework via a NEPS psychologist or through the Scheme for the Commissioning of Psychological Assessments. (SCPA).

I can inform the Deputy that starting from a level of 173 whole-tome equivalents in 2016 and following increases allowed in Budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019 the sanctioned number for NEPS psychologist currently stands at 204 w.t.e.

Some 193 of these posts are currently filled which represents the highest number of psychologists to be employed within NEPS since the inception of the service in 2000. The filling of the remaining posts is being actively pursued by my Department in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service and a number of new appointments are imminent.

This Government remains firmly committed to the maintenance of a robust and effective educational psychological service and any further increase in the number of psychologists will be a matter for determination in the context of the Departmental Estimates process and forthcoming Budget 2020.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ceisteanna (128)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

128. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to introduce assistive technology passports for persons with disabilities engaged in the education system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40049/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The purpose of my Department’s Assistive Technology Scheme, as set out in my Department's Circular 0010/2013, is to provide grant-aid to schools to allow them to purchase the type of specialist equipment which has been recommended by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) as being essential for students who have been diagnosed as having a serious physical disability and/or sensory or communicative disability to the extent that their ability to communicate through the medium of speech or writing is materially curtailed.

When sanctioning such equipment, it must be clear that existing equipment in the school is insufficient to meet the child's needs without unduly depriving other children of access to the equipment and without such equipment it will not be possible for the students for serious physical and/or sensory/ communicative disability to access the school curriculum.

The recommendation of the NCSE is based on accompanying professional reports, as necessary from relevant professionals, such as Educational Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists etc.

The circular also outlines the type of equipment that is not provided under the scheme including communication devices or medical or therapy related devices which are not specific educational interventions, or equipment that is not specifically required as essential for school educational access.

Although equipment is sanctioned under the Assistive Technology scheme for use by particular students, it is the property of the school, and the school’s management authority is responsible for maintenance, repair, and insurance of the equipment.

While there are no plans to introduce assistive technology passports for persons with disabilities engaged in the education system currently, a departmental working group has recently been established including NCSE, to review the operation of the scheme and the terms of circular 0010/2013.

School Transport

Ceisteanna (129)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

129. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of a Bus Éireann appeal (details supplied); if the response from the transport provider will be reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40062/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. 

The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

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. 

An appeal was lodged with the School Transport Appeals Board on the 28th August 2019.

The Board has requested the School Transport Section of the Department of Education and Skills to provide a report in accordance with the terms of the Board’s Operating Procedures.

When received, the Board will liaise directly with the family regarding the appeal date and their subsequent deliberations.

Living Wage

Ceisteanna (130)

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

130. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of workers employed by his Department and in each office or agency under the aegis of his Department that earn less than the living wage of €12.30 per hour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40074/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

My Department issues Circulars detailing pre-determined salary scales which are negotiated at central level. 

 I am advised that all staff paid on payrolls operated by my Department are paid in excess of €12.30 per hour.

There are also a significant cohort of staff paid directly by Agencies and/or Bodies coming under the aegis of my Department.  Information in relation to the individual hourly wages of all of these staff is not readily available and accordingly, it is not possible to estimate what cost, if any, would arise from implementing a living wage of €12.30 for all employees either directly employed and/or employed in Agencies and/or Bodies coming under my remit.  

I would also like to take this opportunity to outline the current position in respect of two specific categories of staff in the Education and Training sector

1. The position in relation to Secretaries and Caretakers employed and paid directly through grant funding by the managerial authorities of schools is that, on foot of a Chairman’s Note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, officials from the Department of Education and Skills engaged with the Unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015.  The Arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period.  This arbitration agreement was implemented by my Department and covers the period up to 31 December 2019.

2. The hourly rate of pay for Bus Escorts will vary from time to time in line with revised salary rates arising from the various Public Service Stability Agreements[1].  School management authorities are notified of any revised salary rates as they occur by way of circular issued by my Department.  The current hourly rate of pay is €12.85.”

National Training Fund

Ceisteanna (131, 132)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

131. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on a proposal by an organisation (details supplied); the share and amount of the national training fund budget that was allocated to the Skillnet programme in each of the years 2016 to 2019, in tabular form; the drawdown in funding in each year; and the forecasted share and amount that will go towards the programme in each year over the 2020 to 2022 period. [40102/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Robert Troy

Ceist:

132. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of microsized and SME businesses that availed of enterprise training, workforce learning and upskilling services from Skillnet Ireland in each of the years 2014 to 2018 and to date in 2019, in tabular form; and the percentage share of micro-sized and SME businesses that availed of such training from Skillnet from the number of such sized businesses that operate. [40103/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 131 and 132 together.

Skillnet Ireland is funded by my Department through the National Training Fund (NTF) to act as an enterprise-led support body dedicated to the promotion and facilitation of enterprise training and workforce development as key elements in sustaining national competitiveness.  Its primary role is to increase participation in enterprise training and workforce learning within Ireland’s small and medium enterprises (SME), to upskill the workforce and provide greater access for workers to skills development.

Skillnet Ireland operates a joint funding model where training is funded by combining contributions from employers with Skillnet grants.

As the following table outlines, Skillnet have increased the number of SMEs they fund over the last number of years and continue to engage with enterprises of this size in a collaborative and innovative way, such as through the establishment of the SFA Skillnet.

Skillnet Ireland has drawn down their full allocation since 2016 as outlined in the following table:

 

2016

2017

2018

2019

Allocation

16,200,000

18,200,000

21,700,000

28,000,000

% of NTF Expenditure

5%

5%

5%

6%

The expenditure ceiling for the National Training Fund is set as part of the Estimates process, having regard to the Government's overall budgetary and fiscal stance, and so the amount available for expenditure in any given year would only be decided as part of the budget process.

National Training Fund Budget

School Placement

Ceisteanna (133)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

133. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the pressure for second-level school places in Gorey, County Wexford and the concerns of local schools and parents that there may not be a sufficient number of places available within two years; his plans to provide for the construction of a new second-level school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40113/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a Geographical Information System, using data from a range of sources, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. With this information, my Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level. 

Major new residential developments in a school planning area have the potential to alter demand in that area. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, my Department engages with each of the local authorities to obtain the up-to-date data on significant new residential development in each area.  This is necessary to ensure that schools infrastructure planning is keeping pace with demographic changes as there is a constantly evolving picture with planned new residential development, including additional residential developments arising from the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF).

Where data indicates that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through either one, or a combination of, the following:

- Utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools,

- Extending the capacity of a school or schools,

- Provision of a new school or schools.

As the Deputy will be aware, in April 2018 the Government  announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years (2019 to 2022).  

This announcement follows nationwide demographic exercises carried out by my Department into the future need for primary and post-primary schools across the country and the 4-year horizon will enable increased lead-in times for planning and delivery of the necessary infrastructure.

In addition to the new schools announced, there will be a need for further school accommodation in other areas in the future through either planned capacity increases in existing schools or additional accommodation or extensions to existing schools. 

A new 1,000 pupil post-primary school was established in 2011 to serve the Gorey school planning area and moved into its permanent accommodation in 2014 and this school has capacity to meet demand in the area.

While the announcement did not include a new post primary school for the Gorey school planning area, the requirement for new schools will be kept under on-going review and in particular will have regard for the increased rollout of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040.

School Transport

Ceisteanna (134)

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

134. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding part-time school bus drivers that must compulsorily retire at 70 years of age; if this retirement age can be extended beyond 70 years of age subject to the passing of an annual medical exam; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40140/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

There are currently over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually.

It is Bus Éireann policy that the normal retirement age for all staff is currently 66 years.  Bus Éireann part-time school bus drivers and drivers nominated by private operators as school bus drivers may continue to perform this role, subject to completing an annual medical examination up to the retirement age of 70 years.

This criteria is applied to all drivers who provide services as part of the School transport scheme that is operated by Bus Éireann, on behalf of the Department of Education and skills.  As this age limit has been examined previously and the retirement age extended to 70 years, there are no plans to extend this limit further at this point in time.

Services for People with Disabilities

Ceisteanna (135)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

135. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to ensure the installation of changing places at strategic locations in towns nationally for persons with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40044/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, installing changing place facilities is not at present a requirement under Part M of the Building Regulations. Notwithstanding this, some local authorities have installed changing place facilities and an additional example of a public body going beyond the minimum requirements in Part M is the recent motion passed by Dublin City Council to install changing place facilities in all new build and green field developments. I would certainly encourage all local authorities to be as far-sighted as this to enable the dignity, and indeed safety, of the person with the disability to be maintained at all times.

The objective of Changing Places Ireland to introduce fully accessible toilets to public places such as shopping centres, libraries and sporting arenas across the country is important and requires careful consideration. As the Deputy is aware, the Government did not oppose the Community Participation Bill 2019, a Private Members' Bill which is currently before Seanad Eireann. The Bill’s objective is to facilitate the inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities and their family and friends in their communities by enabling greater access to public spaces.

Commencement of Legislation

Ceisteanna (136)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

136. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to implement the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40045/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. The Act was signed into law on 30 December 2015 but has not yet been fully commenced.  The Act provides for the establishment of new administrative processes and support measures, including the setting up of the Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission (a body under the Department of Health). 

The Decision Support Service is working towards being operational and ready for the commencement of the main provisions of the Act in 2020.  This lead in time frame ensures that sufficient staff resources, processes, IT system, expert panels, codes of practice and regulations will be in place so that the Decision Support Service will have the capacity to be up and running effectively. There are many complex strands to this preparatory work, including the involvement of multiple organisations.  

A high-level Steering Group comprised of senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the Mental Health Commission and the Courts Service, together with the Director of the Decision Support Service, is overseeing the establishment and commissioning of the Decision Support Service and this work is ongoing.

A number of provisions of the 2015 Act were commenced in October 2016 in order to progress the setting up of the Decision Support Service. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (Commencement of Certain Provisions) Order 2016 (S.I. No. 515 of 2016) commenced provisions of the Act to enable the recruitment of the Director of the Decision Support Service. Ms Áine Flynn was appointed Director of the Decision Support Service on 2 October 2017.  

The commencement of Part 8 of the Act, which provides a legislative framework for advance healthcare directives, is a matter for the Minister for Health.  The Minister for Health, under the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (Commencement of Certain Provisions) (No. 2) Order 2016 (S.I. No. 517 of 2016), brought some provisions of Part 8 of the Act into operation on 17 October 2016. The commenced provisions provide for the establishment by the Minister for Health of a multi-disciplinary group to make recommendations to the Director of the Decision Support Service in relation to codes of practice on advance healthcare directives. In anticipation of the completion of that process, the Minister for Health commenced the remainder of section 91 on 17 December 2018 (S.I. No. 527 of 2018).

The key preparations are being put in place under the oversight of the Steering Group to allow for further commencement orders for the provisions of the 2015 Act to be made when the Decision Support Service is ready to roll out the new decision-making support options.  

Significant progress has been made on preparing for commencement of the remainder of the 2015 Act. In April 2018, the Mental Health Commission engaged the consultancy firm BearingPoint to support the development of a detailed, costed plan to establish a fully operational Decision Support Service. The contract also includes ongoing project management support for the design and establishment of the organisation, business processes, IT systems and risk management framework.  

The Mental Health Commission has also received sanction for the recruitment of a number of staff for the Decision Support Service and also a number of staff to provide shared services for the Mental Health Commission and Decision Support Service. These staff are being recruited on a phased basis by the Mental Health Commission.  

The National Disability Authority is currently finalising its work on the suite of draft codes of practice in relation to non-healthcare matters which are required to be prepared under section 103 of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015.  

In June 2018, my Department recruited an external legal expert to assist in the preparation of draft regulations in relation to decision-making assistance agreements, co-decision-making agreements, certain matters relating to decision-making representatives, and enduring powers of attorney.  These regulation-making powers are provided for in sections 10(4), 31, 45(3), 45(4), 46(3) and 79 of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. Work on the draft regulations is on-going.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (137)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

137. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has discussed security in the Border region with Prime Minister Johnson recently. [39896/19]

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. The Deputy will also be aware of An Taoiseach's discussions with Prime Minister Johnson, as detailed in his responses to recent Parliamentary Questions on the matter.

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.

Stardust Fire

Ceisteanna (138)

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

138. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if adequate resources will be provided to expedite the inquest process as much as possible in view of the length of time families have campaigned further to the recent announcement of a fresh coroner’s inquest into a tragedy (details supplied). [40014/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I sympathise enormously with the families of the 48 young people tragically killed in the Stardust fire 38 years ago for the terrible loss they suffered. The fire was one of the most harrowing events that has ever happened in Dublin and it has left a horrendous legacy of grief and pain.

In April, the Victims Committee presented a formal petition to the Attorney General to direct a second inquest into the deaths of those who died in the Stardust fire. The Attorney General confirmed on 25 September that he will direct the Dublin District Coroner to hold a second inquest in the public interest and in the interests of justice. Once a formal direction is received from the Attorney General, the Dublin Coroner will begin preparations for the carrying out of the inquests.

My Department is fully committed to ensuring that necessary resources are available to the Coroner.