Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (153)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

153. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there are persons with severe medical condition that are in the high risk categories such as those with cystic fibrosis that are denied SUSI grants on the grounds that they are online; the steps he will take to address the situation in view of the risk to these persons from Covid-19 and the fact that many traditional courses are now online; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23064/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The Student Grant Scheme, administered by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), provides grant assistance to students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.

Approved courses for the Student Grant Scheme 2020 are prescribed in the Student Support Regulations 2020 and in the Student Support Act 2011. To be eligible for grant assistance, students must be attending an approved full-time course at an approved institution. The Regulations prescribe that an approved course is a full-time course leading to a major higher education and training award which takes a minimum of two years to complete in an approved institution.

Courses that are part-time or that are less than two years in duration or leading to a special purpose/minor award rather than a major award are not approved for the purposes of the Student Grant Scheme. Distance Learning Courses are regarded as part-time courses and, as such, do not qualify for grant assistance under the Student Grant Scheme.

Under Article 15(1) of the Student Grant Scheme, a grant can only be awarded for the normal duration of an approved course, and cannot be paid for any period of study that extends the normal course duration.

In the context of limited public funding and competing priorities, student support funding is currently targeted at full-time students in approved institutions. The potential for reviewing options for existing access funding initiatives to part-time studies in higher education could only be considered in the context of the overall priorities and financial resources for access to higher education, and in the wider higher education funding context. There are no plans at present to extend the scope of the Student Grant Scheme to part-time (online/distance learning) courses.

In terms of policy, planning for models of blended learning is taking place against a backdrop of an evolving public health environment. Changes to courses normally delivered on campus are in response to the evolving Covid-19 pandemic and are a temporary, evolving situation.

In terms of supports for students with disabilities each HEI has an access and disability service in place to support students with disabilities. Students who feel that they may require supports from their institution should contact the access or disability service who will carry out a needs assessment in collaboration with the student. These supports will continue to be provided, as appropriate, where any online or blended learning takes place.

The Fund Students with Disabilities (FSD) provides funding to higher and further education institutions to assist them in offering supports and services to eligible students with disabilities so that they can access, fully participate in and successfully complete their chosen course of study. This supports the overall goals of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education. In 2019 funding of €9.6m was allocated to the FSD (covering both the higher education and further education sectors as well as Irish students studying in the UK and EU). The type of supports covered include:

- Assistive technology;

- Non-medical helpers;

- Academic/learning support;

- Deaf supports;

- Transport supports.

Further Education and Training (FET) Institutions are planning a phased reopening for learners by 29 September and will aim to maximize learner onsite experience and endeavour to provide maximum possible face to face interaction taking into consideration all the risk factors and the requirements of the high-risk learner groups. Learning experience will be enhanced through onsite streaming facilities and blended learning.

The Once-Off COVID-19 Grant (€15m) to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices is part of the package of COVID-19 supports for higher and further education institutions funded by my Department.

The devices will be distributed by the relevant Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Education and Training Boards (ETBs) via appropriate lending schemes. The education institutions are best placed to determine which individual students should be prioritised to receive a device on a needs basis and within the terms and conditions of the scheme. In determining distribution of the devices, HEIs are required to have regard to the target groups, including students with disabilities, identified in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2021

HEIs and ETBs must be satisfied that students who receive a device under this grant have demonstrated a verifiable need for such a device e.g. they or their family do not have the means to purchase such a device themselves. Students should contact their HEI access office for further information.

Technological Universities

Ceisteanna (154)

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

154. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on the fact that Dundalk IT is the only institute of technology not to have formally linked into a consortium to obtain technological university status; the actions his Department and the HEA will take to advance technological university status for Dundalk IT; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23067/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The development and progression of technological universities is an established policy objective of Government in the context of overarching national strategy on higher education landscape restructuring and this is underscored in the commitment in the current Programme for Government.

The 2019 TU Research Network (TURN) Report entitled ‘Technological Universities: Connectedness & Collaboration enabled by Connectivity’ details the case and requirements for a state change in higher education reform whereby TUs will assist in the delivery of national strategic objectives for regional socio-economic development, higher education access, research and skills progression.

On foot of the TURN report, Government announced in Budget 2020 the provision of €90 million over the next three years under a new TU Transformation Fund to support Institutes of Technology (IoTs) to jointly achieve TU designation and to further the advancement of established TUs through implementation of the appropriate TURN report recommendations. This dedicated funding is additional to the €31 million in Exchequer funding invested in TU development and progression to date.

Under the statutory framework provided in the Technological Universities Act 2018, two or more IoTs may jointly seek TU designation through a prescribed legislative process. Section 29 of the 2018 Act provides for the application jointly by two or more applicant institutes to the Minister of Education and Skills for an order seeking designation as a TU subject to their jointly meeting specified eligibility criteria. Section 38 of the 2018 Act provides that an applicant institute and an established technological university may apply to the Minister for an order.

As autonomous higher education institutes established under statute, it remains a matter for the governing body of an IoT to set the institute’s particular strategic direction within the higher education landscape, including whether or not to seek TU designation through the prescribed legal processes.

In June 2020, Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) launched a new three-year strategic plan which articulates it’s mission to be a leader for higher education and craft apprenticeships, and the engine for growth and social cohesion in North Leinster-South Ulster through the achievement of TU status and strengthened cross-border alliances. In this context the Department understands that DKIT has been in discussions with a number of TU development consortia.

The HEA is currently involved in a process with eligible higher education institutions to ascertain funding requirements under the new TU Transformation Fund towards 2023. In this context the HEA has indicated its willingness to work with and support DKIT to facilitate a process to place the institute on a trajectory in line with their stated ambition to pursue TU status. Formal submissions under the fund were made to the HEA at the end of August 2020. The HEA is currently reviewing these and considering future funding allocations, with a view to making allocations in October.

Student Accommodation

Ceisteanna (155)

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

155. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the discussions that have taken place with the private purpose-built student accommodation providers in relation to providing flexible arrangements for the 2020-2021 academic year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23068/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

I am conscious of the challenges faced by students regarding student accommodation this year due to financial pressures and the blended learning format of the 2020/21 academic year. Throughout the last number of months my Department has been engaging with representatives from the higher education sector to address the challenges faced by students in this difficult time. My Department, in consultation with these key stakeholders will continue to monitor the situation relating to student accommodation closely.

My Department chairs an Interdepartmental Working Group on Student Accommodation. This group contains representatives from Higher Education Institutions, the Union of Students in Ireland and a number of government departments. It is intended to convene a meeting of this group shortly to discuss the accommodation issues faced by students due to COVID-19. This meeting will help determine any actions necessary in relation to student accommodation, including in relation to engagement with private accommodation providers.

I have asked our higher education institutions, where they have accommodation, to try to show flexibility in terms of its use. Several of them are doing so, while others are constrained by students having already booked accommodation. I would wish for private providers to show the same flexibility, however it is not within my remit to issue instruction in relation to the private rental market.

Apprenticeship Programmes

Ceisteanna (156)

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

156. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the estimated of cost of reducing apprentice fees by 20%, 50% and 100%, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23069/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

An Annual Student Contribution (ASC) is levied on all students attending Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) including those relevant to apprentices - namely the Institutes of Technology (IoTs) and Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) as well as private providers such as the National College of Ireland. The amount of ASC charged to apprentices is calculated on a pro rata basis of the time spent in the institution during the academic year. In cases where training is delivered in an Education and Training Board there is no contribution made by the apprentice.

For craft apprenticeships, the ASC charged is pro-rated to the €3,000 ASC paid by students attending for the full academic year and so amounts to approximately €1,000 per apprentice per period spent in the IoT/TU Dublin. Craft apprentices typically spend two blocks of time (Phase 4 & 6) in a HEI. In the case of the new consortia led apprenticeships the contribution varies for each programme as their off-the-job training has a more flexible structure.

The removal of the ASC for apprentices in full would result in an estimated cost of €4.8 million per annum to the State. A 50% reduction in the ASC for apprentices would cost an estimated €2.4 million and a 20% reduction in the ASC for apprentices would cost an estimated €960,000.

Student Universal Support Ireland

Ceisteanna (157)

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

157. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his plans to decrease the qualifying criteria for the non-adjacent rate of the SUSI grant from 45 km to 24 km; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23070/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The Student Grant Scheme, administered by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), provides grant assistance to eligible students attending an approved course at an approved institution who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.

Student maintenance grants are payable at either the adjacent or non-adjacent rate. The distance to be measured is the shortest non-tolled most direct route from the student’s residence to the institution attended. The adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable in the case of students whose normal residence is 45km or less from the approved institution which he or she is attending. The non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable in all other cases.

The current qualifying distance of 45km for the higher non-adjacent rate of student grant, takes into account a reasonable radius within which students may commute on a daily basis.

The Deputy will appreciate that the funding allocation for the student grant scheme is determined in the context of the overall estimates and budgetary process undertaken by all Government Departments. However, all proposals made in relation to SUSI grant expenditure will be considered in the context of Budget 2021, having regard to overall resource constraints and other competing demands in the further and higher education sector.

Student Universal Support Ireland

Ceisteanna (158)

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

158. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the estimated number of students that would be affected by changing the SUSI adjacency rates from 45km to 25km, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23071/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The data provided in the table attached is the estimated number of students that would be affected by changing the SUSI adjacency rates from 45km to 25km.

Maintenance Grant Rate

Students distance is measured between 25km and 45km

Special Rate

2,862

100% Ordinary Rate

3,928

75% Ordinary Rate

225

50% Ordinary Rate

405

25% Ordinary Rate

399

Grand Total

7,819

Further Education and Training Programmes

Ceisteanna (159)

David Stanton

Ceist:

159. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of local training initiatives in operation in 2018, 2019 and 2020; the number of participants for each of these years in tabular form; his plans for the further development of the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23108/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

Local Training Initiatives (LTIs) are training and work experience programmes carried out in partnership with community and voluntary organisations. They provide a basis for the 16 Education and Training Boards to contract with community bodies to provide a service initiative in a locality where there are identified community needs. Training provision is intended to be sufficiently flexible to address the identified need for the initiative and is typically six to twelve months in duration. Training provision organised through this programme is not intended to be permanent and it is this aspect that gives Education and Training Boards the flexibility to use resources in the community in response to emerging needs.

LTI progammes enable local communities to carry out valuable and necessary projects of benefit to their communities, while training participants in areas related to the project work so that they can go on to gain employment or progress to further training. The LTI programme is focused on addressing the training needs of unemployed learners who are economically, socially, geographically or educationally disadvantaged. Learners are primarily between 18 and 35 years of age, with no formal qualifications or incomplete secondary level qualifications. LTIs provide participants with specific vocational skills, as well as broader general and ICT skills and work experience. The context of training delivery is focused on the progression of projects run by local community groups and for the benefit of the local community, which provides the opportunity for learners to apply their newly developed vocational skills in a work based context.

My Department is committed to the continuing development of Local Training Initiatives and the important services that they provide to learners within communities. I enclose attached details of locations relating to Local Training Initiatives delivered in 2018, 2019 and planned for 2020. In addition, the attached also contains details of the LTI reported number of beneficiaries for 2018, 2019 and the projected number for 2020.

LTI

Third Level Admissions

Ceisteanna (160)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

160. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his engagement with colleges and universities to enable the provision of additional places in high demand courses. [23149/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has been engaging with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) on an ongoing basis to determine the number of additional places that can be provided in high demand courses this year. There have also been a number of meetings on this between officials from my Department and representatives from the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) and TU Dublin.

I recently announced the creation of 1,250 places in high-demand courses in order to offset to pressures put on the higher education admissions system this year. I am currently actively engaging with higher education institutions on providing more places, and will provide further information in advance of CAO Round 1 offers being announced.

Third Level Fees

Ceisteanna (161)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

161. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on the campaign by an organisation (details supplied) to reduce student contribution fees in 2020 by €500. [23150/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

Under the Department’s free fees schemes, the Exchequer provides funding toward the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate Higher Education students. Students pay a student contribution of €3,000 per annum which can be paid in instalments.

The state pays the contribution in full or part for an estimated 44 per cent of all students eligible for free fees funding through SUSI. The estimated cost was in the order of €180million for 2019/2020.

Student contribution funded by the state is in addition to over €340million paid for student tuition fees in 2019/20 through our free fees initiative.

The Programme for Government commits to develop a long-term sustainable funding model for higher level education. In addition I intend to specifically examine student supports to ensure all students have access to educational opportunities and supports that will help them to fulfil their potential.

While the balance of costs and benefits of Higher Education will be considered as part of the broader strategic reform of higher education funding, the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on students and families has been the subject of immediate attention.

In July I announced €168 million in funding to support the sector and students including a €15million fund for technology supports, a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund and €5 million for mental health supports.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on younger workers and those in lower paid occupations. In the July Stimulus Package we provided €100m in funding for the tertiary education and training sector to help support upskilling and reskilling, which will fund over 35,000 places in 2020.

Covid-19 requirements mean that the delivery of third level education costs more, not less. As a consequence the Government has provided a major increase in funding to meet those costs but also to significantly enhance the range of supports available to students particularly those with the least financial resources.

Student Grant Scheme

Ceisteanna (162)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

162. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on amending the student grant statutory instrument to enable students reclassify as their personal circumstances relevant to the classification change. [23151/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The purpose of the Student Grant Scheme is to provide additional assistance where parental income is below a certain threshold, or in the case of independent mature students, where the level of income of the student and his or her spouse warrants additional assistance by way of a grant.

The scheme operates in the context of competing educational priorities and limited public funding. The aim of the scheme is to make a contribution to the cost of going to college; covering the full cost has never been a feasible option.

For student grant purposes, students are categorised according to their circumstances either as students dependent on parents or a legal guardian, or as independent mature students.

A student may be assessed as an independent student (i.e. assessed without reference to parental income and address) if he/she has attained the age of 23 on the 1st of January of the year of first entry to an approved course, and is not ordinarily resident with his/her parents from the previous 1st October. Otherwise, he/she would be assessed as a dependent student, i.e. assessed with reference to parental income and address.

A student’s status for grant purposes is defined at their first point of entry to an approved further or higher education course or at their point of re-entry to an approved course following a break in studies of at least three years, and continues to apply for the duration of their studies.

However, there are points at which a student may reclassify from a dependent student to an independent student. These are where he/she:

- Progresses from further education to higher education.

- Is returning following a 3 year break in studies.

- Is returning as a "second chance" student after a five year break in studies.

The decision on eligibility for student grant applications is a matter for the centralised grant awarding authority, SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland).

Applicants who do not meet the criteria to be assessed as an independent student for grant purposes, or who cannot supply the necessary documentation to establish independent living for the required period, may still apply to SUSI to have their grant eligibility assessed as a dependent student. The relevant information, including details of parental income, would be required by SUSI to determine grant eligibility as a dependent student.

Further information regarding class of applicant (independent or dependent) and the types of documentation accepted as evidence of living independently from parents is available from SUSI’s website: https://susi.ie/eligibility/applicant-class/.

Social Media Monitoring

Ceisteanna (163)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

163. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his Department or bodies working on behalf of his Department are monitoring social media for those that criticise government policy. [23153/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

My Department is not monitoring social media on the basis referred to by the Question.

The social media operations of bodies operating under the aegis of the Department are a matter for those organisations themselves.

Third Level Education

Ceisteanna (164)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

164. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the engagement he has had with not-for-profit education, information technology and credit organisations such as organisations (details supplied) on the roll out of laptops to third-level students prior to the announcing the €15 million for student devices with a view to maximising the number of devices to be made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23187/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

As part of a package of COVID-19 supports for the higher and further education sectors, my Department has allocated €15 million to higher and further education providers for a once-off COVID-19 Grant to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices.

This initiative addresses concerns regarding the digital divide in the context of the shift to online and blended models of learning as a result of COVID-19 and the importance of supporting disadvantaged students to adapt to these new models.

The €15 million allocation is being provided as grant funding to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Education and Training Boards (ETBs) for the procurement of devices. These devices will then be distributed to disadvantaged students via targeted lending schemes.

Given the unprecedented global demand for laptops, HEIs and ETBs were given the opportunity to use all or part of their grant funding to participate in a bulk purchase of laptops organised by HEAnet. HEAnet, as Ireland’s National Education and Research Network, is responsible for providing internet connectivity and associated ICT services across the Irish education system. The bulk purchase, amounting to over 16,700 laptops, used an existing supplier identified by a tender competition run by HEAnet under a framework established by the Office of Government Procurement (OGP).

HEIs and ETBs which are not using all of their grant funding to participate in the bulk order are procuring additional devices directly.

The Department has not engaged on this issue with the organisations referred to by the Deputy. However, extensive advice has been received from HEAnet and we are satisfied that the devices procured as part of the bulk purchase are appropriate to the needs of the sector and the student.

Probation and Welfare Service

Question No. 166 answered with Question No. 41.

Ceisteanna (165)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

165. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice the timeline for the eProbate project to go live in each office; the status of the project; if the Revenue Commissioners have been incorporated and gone live on eProbate; the status of the implementation of each recommendation in the report of the probate services review group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23116/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Probate Office is an office of the High Court and management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions under the Courts Service Act 1998. The Courts Service has received a €10 million increase in its capital budget in 2020, which has given additional flexibility for strategic infrastructural investment including in relation to ICT and accommodation.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that the priority project in the probate area for 2020 is to remove the manual Revenue affidavit from the probate process and to replace it with an online system. This project, which is in partnership with the Revenue Commissioners, will go live on 14 September 2020, and will reduce the waiting times for all applications.

The proposed e-Probate project remains on the Courts Service's list of modernisation projects to deliver a more citizen-centred service. The timetable for its implementation has yet to be determined and it will continue to be considered in the context of other priority projects in the areas of civil, criminal and family law.

The review of the probate process is now complete. All actions which assisted in reducing the waiting times have been taken. The reduction in waiting times for solicitor applications reflects the outcome of the review and the outcomes from other initiatives that have taken place over the past two years.

Question No. 166 answered with Question No. 41.

Consular Services

Ceisteanna (167)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

167. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Justice the steps that can be taken to facilitate and assist a person (details supplied) in distress; and if legal or diplomatic assistance will be provided through an embassy. [23091/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any matter which may be the subject of legal proceedings now or in the future.

By way of assisting the Deputy with some information of general relevance, the International Child Abduction Unit is the Central Authority within my Department that provides assistance to parents and guardians of children who have been removed from the jurisdiction without their consent. This unit is a transmitting and receiving agency for applications for the return of children to the jurisdiction under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003.

The procedures for dealing with situations of international parental child abduction involving countries which are party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction are set out in the Child Abduction and Enforcements of Custody Orders Act 1991. EC Regulation 2201/2003 supplements and supports the terms of the Hague Convention in instances of international parental child abduction between Member States excluding Denmark.

Any assistance provided by embassies overseas would be a matter for our colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Female Genital Mutilation

Ceisteanna (168)

Neasa Hourigan

Ceist:

168. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Justice her plans to develop and implement a national action plan to end the practice of female genital mutilation here by 2030; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23107/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Deputy will be glad to know that female genital mutilation has been an offence in Ireland since 2012. The Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012, sponsored by the Minister for Health, made female genital mutilation and offence and created related offences.

Addressing this serious issue in Ireland falls primarily under the remit of my colleague, Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, T.D., and the Health Service Executive is responsible for addressing the health implications arising from female genital mutilation.

In so far as concerns my remit, the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021 contains a commitment to raise awareness of female genital mutilation within An Garda Síochána. This is being actioned through:

- Delivery of a training module twice a year to frontline Gardaí; and

- Development and dissemination of an Information Guide for all members of An Garda Síochána.

The latest Report of the Monitoring Committee for the Strategy notes that this action is meeting the targets as set out in the Strategy.

Action 61 of the Migrant Integration Strategy, sets out the State’s obligation across Departments to provide intercultural awareness training to staff where it is appropriate to their role. For frontline staff such as medical and Gardaí, this is particularly important as they may be the first point of contact with at-risk women and girls. An Garda Síochána is committed under Action 63 of the Migrant Integration Strategy to continue to implement a victim-centred policy and good investigative practices in racial or other similar crimes.

I note that the first conviction under that legislation was secured in the courts in November of last year and An Garda Síochána took the opportunity to highlight through the national media the dangers and the illegal nature of the practice.

Immigration Controls

Ceisteanna (169, 170)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

169. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice the number of the 7,455 persons that were refused entry here in 2019 that were subsequently detained in a prison or Garda station or transferred to a prison or Garda station. [23135/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

170. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice the number of persons refused entry here from 27 March 2020 to date; the number that were subsequently detained and transferred to a prison or Garda station; and the length of time they were detained. [23136/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 169 and 170 together.

Section 5 of the Immigration Act 2003 (as amended by the International Protection Act 2015), contains the main provisions dealing with the detention of persons refused leave to land. It specifies that a person to whom this section applies may be arrested by an immigration officer or a member of An Garda Síochána and detained in a prescribed place of detention for the purpose of facilitating their removal from the State, which must be as soon as is practicable.

It is the general practice to remove persons from the State on the next available flight or ship.

The numbers of persons refused leave to land by the Border Management Unit (BMU) of my Department at Dublin Airport since 27 March 2020 are as follows:

Month

Total

27/03/2020 – 31/03/2020

2

April

30

May

26

June

34

July

188

August

246

01/09/2020 – 08/09/2020

60

Total

586

The BMU has responsibility for frontline immigration services at Dublin Airport only and other ports of entry are the responsibility of the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB).

I have asked An Garda Síochána to compile the necessary information from the individual districts. It has not been possible in the time available to provide these details and I will communicate the information to the Deputy once it is available from An Garda Síochána.

Should any person who has been refused leave to land in the State seek entry to the State at a future point, their application will be assessed on its own merits taking all relevant information into consideration at that time. Their prior immigration history is a matter of record but it does not preclude them from seeking permission to enter the State in the future.

Social Media Monitoring

Ceisteanna (171)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

171. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice if her Department or bodies working on behalf of her Department are monitoring social media for those that criticise the direct provision system and Government policy. [23137/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, the spread of Covid-19 is unprecedented in almost every aspect for every sector, both private and public, and this includes communications.

A key objective of Government throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been to be able to provide regular updates in uncertain times to the public.

As part of my Department’s initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic, my officials implemented social media listening as part of their communications duties, to ensure that the Department could react effectively to issues as they arose in relation to services being provided across the Justice Sector.

To do this my officials followed “hashtags” and keywords that related to An Garda Síochána, prisons, family law, domestic violence, stillhere.ie, family courts, immigration, asylum and, as noted by the Deputy, direct provision. This work meant the Department was in a position to respond earlier to issues that were arising online, when most of its workforce was working remotely.

It also enabled my Department to respond to, or investigate issues, that were being raised on social media platforms that were not being raised directly with the Department, its service providers, or through the various helplines or supports put in place for various agencies. Understanding the conversations that were happening online also assisted my Department in responding to queries raised by national and regional journalists on behalf of the public. This initial response to the pandemic is not now required and has been discontinued.

The Deputy may also wish to note that my Department has not engaged any external bodies or companies as part of the social media evaluation reports being prepared.

Citizenship Applications

Question No. 173 answered with Question No. 6.

Ceisteanna (172)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

172. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice if applicants for citizenship are required to have a valid GNIB card in view of the fact the cards are not currently being issued. [23138/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Citizenship Division of the Immigration Service of my Department are accepting new applications. As part of the application form, a copy of the applicant's current IRP (GNIB) card is required and must be submitted.

The one and two month periods of automatic renewals of immigration permissions announced during the pandemic will count as reckonable residence for citizenship purposes where the person already held a type of permission that counted as reckonable residence.

The reckonable residence permissions granted are endorsed in the applicant's passport, which must also be submitted with the application. Applicants should not submit their application unless the form is fully completed and accompanied with the original current passport, application fee and all the required supporting documents.

Question No. 173 answered with Question No. 6.

Garda Strength

Ceisteanna (174)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Ceist:

174. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Justice the number of gardaí assigned to the drugs and organised crime unit in County Louth in each of the years 2018 to 2019 and to date in 2020, in tabular form. [23178/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, the Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management and control of An Garda Síochána. This includes responsibility for the allocation of all Garda resources and I, as Minister, have no role in these matters. However the Garda authorities have informed me that the allocation of resources is kept under continuous review, in light of crime trends and policing priorities, in order to ensure their optimum use.

The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (D.O.C.B.) leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. Working closely with international law enforcement partners, the Bureau is having significant success in disrupting drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland, as well as organised crime groups. For the Deputy's information, the table below, as furnished to me by the Garda authorities, sets out the number of Garda members attached to the Drugs and Organised Crime Unit from the years 2018 to 31 July 2020, the latest date for which figures are available.

D.O.C.B.

Total

Jul-20

97

Dec-19

103

Dec-18

112

Divisional Drugs Units, to which Garda personnel are assigned, tackle drug related crime on a local basis throughout the country supported, as needed, by the National Bureau. For the Deputy's information, the table below, as furnished to me by the Garda authorities, sets out the number of Garda members attached to Louth divisional drugs unit from the years 2018 to 31 August 2020, the latest date for which figures are available.

Drugs Units - Louth Division

Total

Jul-20

12

Dec-19

4

Dec-18

2