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Gnáthamharc

Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020

Written Answers Nos. 79-98

School Transport

Ceisteanna (79)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

79. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education when a special transport grant for the academic year 2019-2020 will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in view of the fact that the payment is overdue by many months and the delay is causing hardship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34029/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

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

In the 2019/2020 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 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 €219m in 2019.

The purpose of the Department's School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children with special educational needs arising from a diagnosed disability.

In general, children with special educational needs are eligible for school transport if they are attending the nearest school that is resourced to meet their special educational needs. Eligibility is determined following consultation with the National Council for Special Education through its network of Special Education Needs Organisers (SENO).

The child referred to by the Deputy is eligible for school transport under the terms of the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs and the family has been approved to avail of a special Transport Grant for the child. The payment of this grant for the 2019/20 school year has now been approved and will be processed in the coming days.

School Patronage

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 76.

Ceisteanna (80)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

80. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Education the reason for the delay in signing a lease regarding a school property in County Mayo; if her attention has been drawn to the delay in signing a lease that is delaying the development of a school that has grown substantially in numbers in recent years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34037/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The school in question opened in September 2014 under the Patronage Divesting Process. The divesting of the school was facilitated by transfer from the Church of Ireland. The Church of Ireland Trustees, who own the property, and the new school Patron engaged directly with each other in relation to the leasing arrangements for the property. A draft lease was drawn up but was not finalised and executed between the parties.

On foot of a request from one of the parties and given that the school has been in place on the property since 2014 and cognisant of the need for additional accommodation to be made available from the property, the Department agreed to engage with the representative of the landowners with a view to regularising the position in relation to the lease.

The Department and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office have been liaising with the property owner and its legal representative on the draft lease, which is at an advanced stage. This is being actively progressed by the parties with a view to finalising the lease as soon as possible.”

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 76.

State Examinations

Ceisteanna (82)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

82. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Education if an appeal will be allowed on the leaving certificate calculated grades for a person (details supplied). [34047/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The results of appeals under the 2020 Leaving Certificate Calculated Grades appeals process were made available to students at 12pm on Friday 16 October through the Calculated Grades Student Portal.

In the processing of the appeals, a total of 33,301 individual subject records belonging to 12,216 students were reviewed. This number excluded students who initially entered for an appeal but later withdrew their application.

As a result of the process, a total of 18 increased grades were awarded to 18 individual students. Eleven of these were upgrades following an appeal by the student. A further seven grades were upgraded following quality assurance checks as part of the appeals process which involved checks on the documentation submitted by schools; the entry of that data on to the schools' data collection system; and the subsequent transmission of the data through the various IT systems used in the generation of calculated grades.

The appeals process was a process review focussed on looking for errors in the transmission and processing of student data through the process. It was not possible to appeal the information (estimated percentage mark or rank order) provided by the school. Due to the nature of the Calculated Grades system the professional judgement of the school was outside of the appeals process. The design of the statistical model and the application of the national standardisation process was also outside of the scope of the appeals process.

The CAO were also notified of changes to students’ results on 16 October. Candidates who are eligible for a new offer as a result of the upgraded mark received following the appeals process will be contacted as soon as possible.

Students unhappy with the outcome of the above process could invoke a separate process to have their appeal reviewed by independent Appeals Scrutineers. These scrutineers are independent of my Department. The independent Appeals Scrutineers will check to ensure the correct procedures were followed throughout the appeals process. The scrutineers will have access to the records and documentation considered in the appeals process. Students who were advised of the results of their appeal on 16 October were also advised that information regarding the next stage of the process was available on the www.gov.ie website. The relevant section of that website stated that the closing date for receipt of completed forms for review by Independent Appeals Scrutineers was 5pm on Friday 23 October 2020. This information, together with further details regarding the Independent Appeals Scrutineers process, was also included under the 'Frequently Asked Questions' section of that website. Details of the process were also available on the Calculated Grades Student Portal.

Following the conclusion of the appeals processes, students who consider that their case has not been processed correctly can make a complaint to the Ombudsman or, in the case of students under 18 years of age, the Ombudsman for Children.

Students were also given the opportunity to register for the postponed Leaving Certificate examinations which are due to begin on 16 November.

Schools Health and Safety

Ceisteanna (83)

Steven Matthews

Ceist:

83. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Education her plans to meet with the developers of a school (details supplied) to discuss the ongoing issues that relate to a disputed safety report. [34053/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The building referred to by Deputy has not yet been handed over. My Department is taking appropriate steps to ensure that it is completely satisfied that the building is fit for handover prior to accepting it.

There is currently an engagement underway between my Department and the Contractor in this regard under the contract. Communications are ongoing and the issue is being actively addressed.

Until this process is complete, it will not be possible to provide definitive timelines for occupation of the building. However, as this process develops my Department officials will keep the ETB and the school managements informed of developments

Special Educational Needs Staff

Ceisteanna (84)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

84. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Education if she will address a matter (details supplied) regarding special needs assistants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34056/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Budget 2021 provided for an additional 990 additional Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) for allocation to schools, bringing the total numbers to 18,000 by the end of December 2021. This allocation of SNAs is to meet the care needs of pupils in 2021 and will enable the establishment of new special classes, creation of new places in special schools, support children in mainstream classes and the transition to the new allocation model for the 2021/22 school year.

There are currently 16,969 SNAs allocated to schools. The Budget 2021 increase to 18,000 SNAs posts represents an increase of increase of 70% in the number of SNAs provided since 2011 at which point 10,575 SNAs were available.

A new model for allocating SNAs to primary and post primary schools for students in mainstream classes only was to be introduced in the 2020/21 school year as part of the phased roll out of the School Inclusion Model (SIM). In light of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis the Frontloaded Allocation Model for SNAs was deferred until the beginning of the 2021/22 school year.

Further advice will issue in the course of the 2020/21 school year on the introduction of the frontloaded model with effect from September 2021. This will outline the overall approach, including the professional development and other supports to be made available for schools and teachers.

The change to a new allocation model was recommended by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in policy advice published in May 2018 entitled the "Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme – a new School Inclusion Model to deliver the right supports at the right time to students with additional care needs”.

The Review highlighted the important role SNAs play in assisting students with additional care needs to attend school and acknowledged that the scheme is greatly valued by parents, students and schools. There is evidence of an enduring loyalty and a strong attachment between many schools, students, parents and SNAs.

The Review made a number of recommendations regarding SNAs. While SNAs are very much valued in the provision of care support, the Review recommended that a more broadly based set of supports was required including therapeutic supports.

Under the new model the allocation of SNAs for mainstream classes to primary and post primary schools will be based on the school profile used for the allocation of Special Education Teachers and will not be based on an annual application process, this means that schools will have certainty around their SNA allocation going forward, and it will enable schools to engage SNA’s on contracts of employment for a longer duration than is currently possible. SNA will then have more certainty around their tenure of employment and the new model does not change their roles and functions.

The Review also referenced SNA training. Among the recommendations was the introduction of a national training programme for SNAs currently employed in our schools. Following a public procurement process, University College Dublin (UCD) School of Education, in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, were selected to develop and deliver this important educational initiative. UCD’s wide-ranging experience and expertise will enable the delivery of a broad-ranging and high-quality programme. This programme will begin in January 2021 with 500 participants in the first year. Priority is being given to SNAs working in School Inclusion Pilot Schools.

This major educational initiative will enhance the knowledge, skills and expertise of SNAs whose work is central to the inclusion of students with additional care and complex needs in school life. For some SNAs, this programme may present the first opportunity in recent times for them to engage with the theory and research based best practice underlying their role. There is no cost to serving SNAs working in schools. This course is fully funded by the Department of Education and Skills.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (85, 86)

Emer Higgins

Ceist:

85. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Education if drama students are permitted to attend in person their educational facility that will allow them pre-record their speciality piece as they seek a place in third-level education for that given speciality in view of the fact that this process would normally be face to face in the UK but due to Covid-19 a video recording in lieu of in person is permitted. [34129/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Emer Higgins

Ceist:

86. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Education the basis on which performing arts exam students, vocational students, pre-professional students or recreational students are excluded from training in level 3 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34130/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85 and 86 together.

My Department has published a suite of helpful guidance for the safe and sustainable operation of schools. Each school is required to have a COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe operation through the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in line with public health advice. This guidance is focused on the practical steps schools must take to minimise the risk of transmission of infection.

My Department does not have responsibility for Higher or Further Education.

Schools have a particular role to play in establishing secure and safe learning environments, in supporting the wellbeing of all, and in planning collaboratively for teaching and learning in a way that enables all pupils to progress and flourish in the 2020/21 school year. Subjects which are being followed as part of the school curriculum, can continue, once appropriate control measures are in place in line with a school’s COVID-19 Response Plan.

The specific focus of planning for individual subjects will vary from school to school in light of the individual school circumstances. Schools are advised to consult with guidance published by my Department is respect of practical subjects ‘ Return to School Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post Primary Schools and Centres for Education’ .

Further information is available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool

Guidelines on undertaking private activities outside of school are not a matter for this Department.

School Enrolments

Ceisteanna (87)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

87. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Education if she will allow a school (details supplied) to provide an additional first year class given the huge demand in the area from parents that wish to send their children to this new school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34140/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The school to which the Deputy refers is currently in interim accommodation on the Grange Community College site pending delivery of its intended interim accommodation on its permanent site on Belmayne Avenue, Belmayne. Work has commenced on site and it is currently anticipated that the accommodation will be ready for occupation by the school in early December.

In addition to the interim accommodation for the post-primary school that site which currently facilitates interim accommodation for a primary school will also accommodate the future construction of the permanent building for the post-primary school. In that regard, there are restrictions on the amount of temporary accommodation that can be placed on the permanent site. Therefore, the Department has informed the school and it’s Patron Body, Educate Together that it will not be possible for the school to increase its enrolment intake beyond the current intake level (which is up to 48 pupils at 1st year intake) for the 2021/2022 academic year.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Ceisteanna (88)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

88. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection the criteria that must be satisfied by a self-employed person who is receiving a pandemic unemployment payment and who may also earn €480 gross per month; the date this was commenced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33963/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

In order to address concerns expressed by self-employed people relating to the difficulties they face in resuming activity, the uncertainty of income streams given the ongoing economic disruption and the fact that in many cases work will be of an occasional or intermittent nature during the initial period of a return to work, the Government introduced changes to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment as part of Budget 2021.

These changes included formal provision to enable self-employed people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (including arts/entertainment sector workers and taxi drivers) recommencing employment earn up to €480 over a rolling 4 week period while retaining entitlement to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. The changes are effective from 13 October 2020.

In effect an earnings threshold of €480 per rolling four week period will be used to assess whether or not a self-employed person is substantively employed/unemployed. Any self-employed person earning below this amount will be considered to be unemployed for the purposes of assessing entitlement to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. The earnings threshold is aligned with the income disregard currently in place for people in receipt of Disability Allowance. A self-employed person availing of this does not need to seek approval from the Department and they do not need to report these earnings to the Department on a regular basis. They do need to keep a record of all income for the period.

The earnings threshold approach will be implemented in the first instance by means of self-assessment, with spot checks of a sample of claims by Social Welfare inspectors and ultimately reconciliation with Revenue earnings returns.

I hope that this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Ceisteanna (89)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

89. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of pandemic unemployment payment applicants that have been refused the payment on the grounds that her Department does not have a recent record of PRSI contributions paid by them at the following classes: A/E/H/P/S; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33972/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment was put on a statutory footing with effect from 5 August 2020 as a social welfare benefit to help mitigate the adverse economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is available to employees who lost their employment on or after 13 March 2020 as a direct consequence of Covid-19. It is also available to self-employed people whose income from self-employment ceased or reduced as a direct consequence of the pandemic to the extent that they would be available to take up full-time employment.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is payable where a person was an employed contributor in the week immediately before he or she ceased to earn an income from the employment concerned. Similarly, a self-employed person must have been in insurable self-employment in the week immediately before the date on which their self-employment income ceased or reduced. It is a long-standing feature of social welfare legislation that individuals who are engaged in employment or self-employment are liable to pay PRSI on those activities. In those circumstances, persons claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment should have no difficulty satisfying these conditions.

In the case of employees, the Department uses earnings data supplied by the Revenue Commissioners for 2019 and 2020 in the case of employees, and 2018 and 2019 in the case of self-employed people. Data is updated as often as practicable, and in the case of employees on a daily basis.

Where the Department cannot find any record of contributions or earnings in the reference period (for example because returns have not been filed with Revenue or are filed late) it contacts the people concerned and asks them to submit evidence of employment in the form of recent payslips etc. When this is received and verified, claims are put into payment as soon as possible. Dedicated teams are in place to follow up on replies as quickly as possible.

I can assure the Deputy that my Department is doing everything in its power to process payments efficiently and quickly and, since Level 5 restrictions were introduced, has processed and paid over 100,000 new claimants.

It is always the case when processing such a large volume of claims in such a short period that there will be some cases where claims are not paid due to incomplete or missing information or because a person does not satisfy the eligibility criteria.

In general, the numbers concerned are relatively low. This week, for example, 330,000 claims were paid while just 8,600 (just under 3%) were held where the Department could not validate entitlement using Revenue records or where the information provided by the applicant was incomplete or where it is clear that the applicant does not meet the eligibility criteria. As I have outlined, the Department has contacted the people concerned and asked them to submit evidence of employment or other information required.

I hope that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Guardian's Payment

Ceisteanna (90)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

90. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Social Protection the financial supports to grandparents that have direct responsibility for caring for their grandchildren as guardians. [33982/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Guardians Payment is made to a person caring for a child who satisfies the definition of an "orphan" under social welfare legislation. A child is considered an orphan if they are under age 18 (or up to age 22 if in full time education) and both parents are deceased; or one parent is either dead or unknown or has abandoned and failed to provide for the child and the other parent is unknown or has abandoned and failed to provide for the child.

Child Benefit may also be payable to a person caring for a child where the child normally lives and is supported by them.

Guardian's Payment is not payable in respect of a child for whom Foster Care Allowance is being paid.

Further information and an application forms for Guardians Payment can be downloaded directly from the government website at www.gov.ie/guardians

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Personal Public Service Numbers

Ceisteanna (91)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

91. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason there are such lengthy delays in issuing PPS numbers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33994/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The SAFE registration process, which my Department uses to authenticate a person's identity when they apply for a PPSN is a face-to-face process, carried out in PPSN Centres across the country.

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, my Department temporarily postponed the SAFE registration process. This decision was taken to comply with HSE and WHO guidelines in respect of social distancing.

To help ensure that those who required a PPSN could get one, my Department introduced an email and postal service through which applications could be made.

My Department has received, and continues to receive, significant volumes of email and post in relation to PPSN applications from people living in and outside the State. Data on the processing times of these applications are not currently available.

The Level 5 restrictions currently in place mean a full resumption of the PPSN allocation service in local offices is not possible at this time.

The Deputy will appreciate that my Department has had to re-allocate significant resources to dealing, in particular, with the huge volume of claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment over the past months and that this priority work will have had an effect on other areas of work. Nonetheless, additional resources are also being assigned to deal with the PPSN applications on hands and I expect this will result in an improved service for PPSN applicants.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Rural Social Scheme

Ceisteanna (92)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

92. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason the rural social scheme has a reduced allocation for 2021; the effect this will have on the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34068/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The 2021 Budget Estimate for the Rural Social Scheme is €52.2m. While this represents a reduction of €1.9m on the 2020 Revised Estimate, it is in line with the 2020 emerging outturn which is now estimated to be of the order of €52.3m.

The Rural Social Scheme is paid on a Thursday and there are 53 Thursdays in 2020. As there will be 52 Thursdays in 2021, this will result in expenditure in 2021 being some €0.85m lower than that in 2020.

In 2020, the scheme is expected to have an average of 3,160 participants. The 2021 estimate is providing for a similar number of participants in 2021, having regard to the expected demand for the scheme.

Parental Leave

Ceisteanna (93)

Marian Harkin

Ceist:

93. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider bringing forward the date parents can access the extra three weeks parents leave which is due to commence in April 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34124/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Parent’s Leave and Benefit will be extended from 2 weeks for each parent to 5 weeks as announced in Budget 2021. This extension will be made available retrospectively to parents in respect of children born or adopted on or after 1st November 2019. The period during which this leave can be taken will be extended from 12 to 24 months so it can be taken up to a child's second birthday or within two years following adoption.

There is a necessary lead-in time following the announcement of this extension to facilitate its implementation. Firstly, legislative change is required by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth which has responsibility for parents leave policy. This legislation needs to be carefully prepared and drafted before being brought through the Oireachtas, given that it extends a statutory leave entitlement that, in addition to benefitting workers, has implications for employers.

It will also be necessary for parallel amendments to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended) to be drafted and brought through the Oireachtas to provide the legislative basis for the extended payment of benefit.

In addition, significant changes are required to the Department's systems to administer this extension, including the provision of retrospective entitlement. This work needs to be undertaken in such a way that is does not compromise existing supports in an environment where there are unprecedented levels of demand on the Department’s services due to Covid-19.

The extra weeks of leave will be made available as soon as the necessary legislation which is being drafted by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is enacted.

Once the new application and payment system goes live in April, my Department will then process and issue benefit payments - to include backdated payment of benefit as appropriate - in respect of Parents Leave taken from the date of enactment.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Ceisteanna (94)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

94. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Social Protection the current position regarding self-employed persons such as taxi drivers working and claiming the pandemic unemployment payment; the changes announced in budget 2021 in respect of this situation; when these new provisions will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34131/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Budget 2021 provides measures for the self-employed so that they can engage in limited self-employment and retain income support.

The Budget provided that recipients engaging in self-employment can earn up to €480 over a rolling four week period and continue to maintain entitlement to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. The €480 limit is based on gross income, before tax and PRSI, minus expenses. This measure is already in place.

Where a self-employed person exceeds this threshold and works up to 24 hours per week they may be eligible for support under the Part Time Job Incentive scheme which, as part of Budget 2021, has been extended to the self-employed who transition from the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. The weekly rate of payment for a person transferring from the Pandemic Unemployment payment is €128.60.

It should be noted that a person also has the option of applying for means tested jobseeker's allowance where they are engaged in regular employment depending on their individual circumstances. The maximum weekly personal rate is €203 and increases may be paid for qualifying adults and children.

A self-employed person may also be eligible for support under my Department’s COVID-19 Enterprise Support Grant which provides support of up to €1,000 with business re-start costs where a person transitions from the Pandemic Unemployment Payment back into employment. Further information on these supports are available on www.gov.ie

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Ceisteanna (95)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

95. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason the eligibility criteria for the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment has changed to only include those that have paid PRSI contributions; her views on whether this has negatively affected self-employed persons and small businesses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34132/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was introduced as a statutory social welfare benefit scheme on 5 August 2020 to continue to mitigate the adverse economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To facilitate customers, streamline processes and improve payment integrity the Department has, since PUP was first introduced in an emergency manner last March, implemented system checks to validate a person’s prior employment and earnings using PAYE and self-employment returns made to the Revenue Commissioners. The Department checks Revenue records to validate prior employment and to assess earnings for the purpose of establishing the correct earnings-related PUP payment rate. The vast majority of claims can be assessed quickly, and payment issued promptly, using this process.

In cases where there are no earnings data available, which represent a small percentage of the overall claims, the Department contacts the people concerned and asks them to submit any evidence that they may have attesting to their employment and earnings. In cases where supplementary information is provided the issue is generally resolved with payment issuing within a week of the information being received. Financial support is available via the Community Welfare Service under the means tested supplementary welfare allowance to any person facing an urgent income need during this period.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Early Years Sector

Ceisteanna (96)

Jennifer Whitmore

Ceist:

96. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the provisions in budget 2021 for the establishment of new pre-schools in response to current demand for pre-school places; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34067/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

My Department operates an annual capital funding programme for which €8.3 million has been allocated for 2021 for Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Aged Childcare (SAC) services.

The purposes for which this funding can be used are determined on an annual basis by my Department.

I will announce details of the 2021 capital programme in the coming months.

My Department funds a national network of County Childcare Committees (CCCs) who provide support and advice to parents and childcare providers with all aspects of my Department's funding programmes.

The contact details for all CCCs can be found on www.myccc.ie

International Protection

Ceisteanna (97)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

97. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if work will commence on the recommendations of the Report of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support including accommodation to persons in the international protection process before this portfolio is transferred; the way in which these recommendations will be progressed in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34123/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Responsibility for the provision of accommodation for applicants for International Protection transferred to my Department from the Department of Justice on 14 October, 2020.

On 21 October 2020 I published the report by the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support, including Accommodation, to Persons in the International Protection Process. The report had been submitted to Government the previous day and the Government accepted the Advisory Group’s conclusion that the current system of Direct Provision is not fit for purpose and must be replaced.

The Programme for Government contains a committment to ending the Direct Provision system and replacing it with a new International Protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach. The Government has also committed to the development of a White Paper which will set out how this new system will be structured and the steps to achieving it.

My Department is currently developing the White Paper which I expect to publish by the end of the year. The recommendations of the Advisory Group will inform the White Paper. We will also consider a number of other relevant reports including the Inter-Departmental Working Group Report on Direct Provision (November 2019) and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice & Equality, Report on Direct Provision (December 2019). Consultations will be undertaken with relevant Government Departments and agencies, with the Ombudsman, the Ombudsman for Children, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, NGOs, housing bodies and with residents of Direct Provision centres.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (98)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

98. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the dates and topics discussed at meetings of the Mother and Baby Home Collaborative Forum in 2020; when the details of the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 was outlined and discussed with the forum; when the issues raised in the sixth interim report of the mother and baby home commission was outlined and discussed with the forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33985/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Collaborative Forum process was established by my predecessor as a representative body to advise on the issues of priority for former residents of the institutions under investigation by the Commission.

The Collaborative Forum last met formally in December 2019. The process was unfortunately interrupted by the general election and subsequent change in Government. In addition, it was necessary to put these meetings on hold from March 2020 in the context of the restrictions introduced in an effort to reduce the spread and impact of COVID-19. A number of members travel from outside the jurisdiction and, given the age profile involved, some members would also be categorised as being in the 'at risk' groups identified by public health authorities.

From our experience to date, it is evident that remote meetings based on the use of technology would present additional challenges for an engagement process as sensitive as this one.

However, throughout 2020, the members of the Forum have been appraised of developments and updated on any matters related to the Commission of Investigation by the Secretariat to the group. It is the practice and policy of my Department to issue updates and announcements to the Forum and other relevant stakeholders before they are issued more generally. With regard to the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Act 2020, the Forum and other stakeholders were the first to receive news of the Government's support for the development of legislation to address the difficulties and opportunities raised by the Commission, and the subsequent news of the publication of the Bill.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters has now submitted its final report, and I recognise the importance of consultation and dialogue with those who have lived experiences of these institutions. I have commenced direct engagement with Forum members and other former residents and their advocates.

The Commission investigated the lived experiences of mothers and children in Mother and Baby institutions and I am acutely aware that this is not simply a historical or legal matter, but that these experiences continue to impact the lives of many women, children and their families today. I am committed to effective stakeholder engagement on all matters that impact former residents of these institutions.

The Deputy may wish to note that a copy of the Collaborative Forum's report was provided by my Department to the Commission of Investigation for its appropriate attention and consideration in the context of its statutory investigation. Now that the Commission has submitted its final report, the Government will be in a position to examine its findings and conclusions and engage with former residents and their advocates in formulating an appropriate State response. The significant work of the Collaborative Forum to identify the priority concerns of those most centrally involved will greatly assist to inform this process. It will also be possible to reconsider the question of publishing the Forum's report, subject to any further advices of the Attorney General.

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