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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 369-381
 Header Item Child Care Services
 Header Item Child Care Services Provision
 Header Item Child Abuse
 Header Item Child Care Services Provision
 Header Item Child Abuse
 Header Item Internet Safety
 Header Item Internet Safety
 Header Item Rural Resettlement Scheme
 Header Item Recreational Facilities Provision
 Header Item Local Improvement Scheme
 Header Item Social Welfare Rates
 Header Item Disability Services Funding

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 7

First Page Previous Page Page of 91 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 369-381

Child Care Services

 369. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the reason early years education and child care providers were not included on the closure list as part of the precautionary closure of schools and higher education institutions in response to Storm Ophelia; her plans to include child care facilities in the recognised facilities and or services which are closed as a precaution to adverse weather conditions in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [44749/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Information and advice was provided to childcare providers both on Sunday 15th and Monday 16th October. On Sunday the 15th of October at 19.41, an announcement regarding the closure of childcare facilities was released on the PIP Portal. The PIP Portal is an IT system that enables communication with all 4500 services funded by DCYA. Operated by Pobal, DCYAs funding and administration intermediary, PIP is used for all important communications with childcare service providers. This announcement was based on the advice of the National Emergency Coordinating Group.

It advised that childcare providers should make safety their priority when deciding whether or not to open during the storm, but that if they chose to close my Department would ensure that the funding the providers would receive in the normal course would continue to be provided.

A press release was also issued and shared with key stakeholders who could further share on social media and other platforms. This information was also included in the statement released from the National Emergency Coordinating Group on Sunday the 15th of October. The relevant section from this statement is as follows: "Because of the duty of care owed to children and to avoid the risk arising from travelling, the Department of Education and Skills is instructing all schools to act on the Department's advice and remain closed. Crèches and Montessori facilities should also remain closed tomorrow."

As childcare facilities are independent, privately managed and governed entities it is not possible to issue a directive. My Department and the National Emergency Coordinating Group advised as appropriate and I ensured that where services closed they would not see any loss of public funding.

My Department again took steps to ensure that the same option remained open to providers on Tuesday when schools were closed. This was to facilitate the appropriate safety checks by the crèche owners. It was a matter for the service providers themselves to decide, but again I ensured their funding would still be available. As these childcare services range from very small to more substantial buildings, these checks would not in all instances be as onerous as a very large building like a school. Local decisions were required.

I am satisfied that our advice and support was measured, appropriate and proportionate.

Child Care Services Provision

 370. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone if she will review a case (details supplied); the options available to this provider to accommodate the numbers approaching their centre in the area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44805/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone My Department is committed to further developing the annual Early Years Capital programme in respect of the needs of children and providers. In 2017, for example, a total of €8.4 million was allocated in Early Years Capital funding to create new childcare places as well as increasing the quality of childcare facilities. This funding was allocated in a competitive application process of which 683 providers nationwide received funding. An appeals process for the 2017 Early Years Capital Programme was operated by Pobal where unsuccessful applicants could request to have the decision on their original application reconsidered. These decisions are currently being communicated to individual providers.

In relation to the particular case you reference, following an appeals process the original decision was upheld and this decision is final.

I have secured €6.86 million in Capital funding that will be made available in 2018 across Early Years Capital and School Age Capital Programmes. These programmes are currently under development, the details of which will be announced later this year. I would invite the particular service to apply for the Capital 2018 programme once it is launched and would encourage them to contact their local CCC for guidance.

Child Abuse

 371. Deputy Anne Rabbitte Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the status of Tusla’s draft policy concerning adult disclosures of abuse (details supplied) in view of the fact that the Ombudsman called upon Tusla to publish the policy by October 2017. [44823/17]

 372. Deputy Anne Rabbitte Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone if her Department and Tusla plan to use the publication of Tusla's policy concerning adult disclosures of abuse as an opportunity to proactively integrate the EU victims directive in order to have a policy that is victim centred and to promote the support of victims through the process of disclosure, assessment and beyond.  [44824/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I propose to take Questions Nos. 371 and 372 together.

Tusla has informed me that the revised policy is being prepared and is expected to be finalised in November. The Ombudsman has been informed of this time line for completion.

This is a complex policy area and the policy must be subjected to detailed legal review, in order to ensure its compliance with safeguarding children and protecting the constitutional rights of persons against whom allegations are made. If there is any delay to this time frame, Tusla will advise the Ombudsman accordingly.

Tusla's primary focus is always on risk to children that may be identified when a disclosure of abuse is made. Tusla is sensitive to the difficulty a person making such an allegation may experience, and provides information and supports where possible. Tusla must also, under the principles laid out in the Barr Judgement, ensure that a person against whom an allegation of abuse has been made is dealt with fairly and with due process.

Child Care Services Provision

 373. Deputy Joe Carey Information on Joe Carey Zoom on Joe Carey asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone if she will address a matter (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44923/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The Early Childhood and Education Programme (ECCE) programme was expanded from September 2016 so that children may start free pre-school from age 3, and can continue in free pre-school once the child is not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the relevant pre-school year. Currently there are three different points in the year - September, January and April.

Under Budget 2018, the ECCE programme has been expanded further so that all eligible children can avail of a full two programme year. There will also only be one enrolment point each year (i.e September). However, I must advise the Deputy that these will not come into effect until September 2018.

An upper age limit in free pre-school was set by the Inter-Departmental Group on Future Investment on the advice of the Department of Education and Skills. Limiting the diversity in age ranges in primary school is considered to be generally in the best interest of children, in relation to peer interaction in junior infants, as well as other educational considerations.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs does its best to ensure, in so far as is possible, the equitable treatment of all children and families who apply for childcare funding under the ECCE Programme. In order to ensure objectivity and fairness it is essential that clear rules exist for the scheme and that they are applied in a fair manner. The rules for all the Department’s childcare schemes are clearly published to ensure transparency and consistent application. An essential component of the scheme’s rules is an eligibility date to ensure that the scheme can be administered and budgeted for in an appropriate manner.

For the programme year 2017/2018 parents may request an exemption from ECCE eligibility criteria under limited circumstances from my Department; specifically where a diagnosed special and/or medical need exists. This must be supported by a letter from a relevant medical specialist, recommending additional time in pre-school. However, please be aware that my Department is currently reviewing the overage exemption process. I would urge the parents of the child in question to contact my Department to enquire about such an exemption.

Child Abuse

 374. Deputy Joe Carey Information on Joe Carey Zoom on Joe Carey asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone if she is satisfied with respect to the issue of mandatory reporting in view of the fact that abuse victims may not feel able to access therapeutic services due to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44971/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The Children First Act 2015 was signed into law on 19 November 2015, in accordance with a key commitment in the Programme for Government. Section 14 of the Act provides for mandated reporting by key professionals of child protection concerns over a certain threshold to Tusla.

I have directed that all remaining provisions of the Act will commence on 11 December 2017, including those relating to mandated reporting. The categories of mandated persons are set out in Schedule 2 of the Act and include a range of therapeutic service providers such as counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists.

In the course of developing the Act and its passage through the legislature, consultation took place with key stakeholders including those that provide counselling/therapeutic services, and the issue of the impact of mandatory reporting on access to such services was raised.

This issue was fully considered and, on balance, the Government decided that the priority must be the protection of children against current risk of abuse.

Internet Safety

 375. Deputy Alan Farrell Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone her views on the establishment of a statutory digital safety commissioner in line with the recommendation by the Law Reform Commission to enhance cyber security for young persons and to encourage them to become responsible digital citizens; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44979/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Lead responsibility in this area rests with the Department of Communication Climate Action and Environment. I am aware that Minister Denis Naughten announced earlier this year that he is considering the feasibility of establishing a Digital Safety Commissioner as recommended by the Law Reform Commission in its 2016 report on Harmful Communication and Digital Safety. I have not yet seen his proposals in this regard and am not therefore in a position to offer a view at this point. I share his concern along with colleagues in Government about the importance of enhancing cyber security, particularly for vulnerable groups, including children and young people, as well as for parents. I do not underestimate the challenge for this Government and for Governments worldwide to address this significant challenge.

Internet Safety

 376. Deputy Alan Farrell Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the action taken by her Department in terms of the production of guidance material for young persons in order to educate them on the way in which to be safe online and to protect themselves in regard to cyber security; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44980/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone My Department has not produced guidance material of the type outlined by the Deputy, I am not responsible for that topic. The main responsibility for guidance in this regard is with the Office of Internet Safety, an executive office based in the Department of Justice and Equality. Lead policy responsibility in this area is with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I know that the Department of Education and Skills has produced very important guidance in the context of addressing cyberbullying.

I fully appreciate the importance of guidance material for young persons in order to educate them on the way in which to be safe online and to protect themselves in regard to cyber security. I am supportive of efforts to provide such guidance. My Department supports the National Youth Health Programme which is in partnership with the HSE and the National Youth Council of Ireland. The programme's aims are to provide a broad based, flexible health promotion/education support and training service to youth organisations and to all those working with young people in out-of-school settings. The ‘Web Safety in Youth Work’ resource, available on the National Youth Council’s website, provides valuable advice to young people on reporting online behaviour and on passing on concerns about the protection and welfare of a child or young person.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, produced a Child Protection and Welfare Practice Handbook, intended for social workers and other professionals who refer child welfare and protection cases. The Handbook contains advice in respect of online safety and online child sexual abuse in order to heighten awareness of same.

Rural Resettlement Scheme

 377. Deputy Tony McLoughlin Information on Tony McLoughlin Zoom on Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring his plans to introduce as a pilot scheme a new rural resettlement office in north County Leitrim which would act as a point of contact for all persons looking to resettle in this part of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44574/17]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The Government has committed to the revitalisation and rebuilding of rural areas. Equally the Government’s housing strategy, Rebuilding Ireland: An Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, includes a range of measures support of the regeneration and renewal of towns and villages across rural Ireland.

Grant assistance was provided to Rural Resettlement Ireland until 2012 by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. My colleague Minister Murphy has a range of initiatives underway to support the acceleration of social housing, the building of new houses and the better utilisation of existing housing across all local authority areas.

In my own area, I am supporting and incentivising town, village and rural renewal.  Specifically, my officials are examining the potential to develop a pilot scheme to encourage residential occupancy in rural towns and villages. This will consider ways in which properties that are currently not in use in town centres can be renovated to a allow them to be sued for residential purposes. This will help to rejuvenate town centres while also helping to contribute to the housing needs of individuals.

I am committed to working with Minister Murphy on ensuring that the Town and Village pilot scheme meets our dual objectives and provides those who want to live in a rural area have that choice, especially if they are on the social housing list.

I have no plans to introduce as a pilot scheme a new rural resettlement office in north Country Leitrim.

Recreational Facilities Provision

 378. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring if an application (details supplied) is still under consideration in his Department; if so, when a decision will be made; if not, when the application was refused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44994/17]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The application in question was submitted under the Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure Scheme which was launched last April 2017.  The scheme provides funding for the development of new outdoor recreational infrastructure or the necessary maintenance, enhancement or promotion of existing outdoor recreational infrastructure in Ireland.

  Applications were invited under three separate measures:

  1. Small Scale Maintenance/Promotional and Marketing

  2. Medium Scale Repair/Upgrade and New Trail Development

  3. Large Scale Repair/Upgrade and New Strategic Trail Development.

  I announced successful applications under Measures 1 and 3 of the scheme in July and I hope to be in a position to announce details of the successful Measure 2 applications shortly.

Local Improvement Scheme

 379. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring his plans to amend the rules for the local improvement scheme for 2018 to facilitate the upgrading of roads, in circumstances in which there are two households living on a road and remove the requirement that there must be at least two farmers on a road with farms abutting the road to be eligible for the scheme, in view of the fact that the vast majority of persons living in rural Ireland now are not farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45079/17]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring On 21st September this year, I announced the provision of €10 million for a Local Improvement Scheme to support improvement works on private and non-public roads.  Local Authorities were notified that the scheme was primarily subject to the rules laid out in the Local Improvement Scheme Memorandum issued by the Department of the Environment and Local Government in 2002.

This Memorandum stipulates that eligible projects include those which provide access to parcels of land, of which at least two are owned or occupied by different persons engaged in separate agricultural activities, or provide access for harvesting purposes for two or more persons. Projects which, in the opinion of the Local Authority, will be used by the public - for example to access amenities - are also eligible.

I have no plans at present to change the criteria for 2018.

Social Welfare Rates

 380. Deputy Joan Burton Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans for reforms to improve household incomes to ensure indexation of budget changes in welfare changes in future budgets; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44788/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I was pleased to announce on Budget Day that the maximum rates of all primary weekly social welfare rates will increase by €5 per week from the end of March 2018, with proportionate increases for qualified adults and those on reduced rates of payment. This represents a 2.1% increase (at a minimum), and builds on a similar €5 weekly rate increase in Budget 2017, and a €3 increase in the weekly rates of pension payments in Budget 2016.

In recent year therefore social welfare rates have increased in excess of prices and increases in average earnings.

  Any system of indexing welfare rates would have to take account of not just the need to preserve value but also whether this value should be preserved in relative terms (compared to incomes in the economy generally) or in purchasing value terms (indexed to prices).

  In this regard the recently published Actuarial Review of the Social Insurance Fund considers the impact of indexation of the State Pension Contributory (SPC) on the Social Insurance Fund. It finds that indexation of SPC in line with the Consumer Price Index would be likely to result in projected expenditure of the Fund broadly equalling projected Fund receipts in the projection period (up to 2071). However it also finds that indexation of SPC in line with average earnings growth would be likely to result in a substantial and increasing shortfall in the Fund from 2020 onwards – amounting over time to over €400Bn.

  These data indicate that the selection of an indexing approach could result in widely varying levels of payment dependent on the approach taken and also that the selection of an indexation approach would also have to have regard to the affordability and sustainability of the welfare system taking into account other demands on the public purse.

In addition any system of indexation would need to take account of the need to make structural changes from time to time in order to respond to emerging challenges and to improve equity within the system.

  For these reasons the approach in Ireland has, until now, been to set welfare rates on an annual basis in the context of wider budgetary and economic policy.

Nevertheless I do believe that there may be merit in indexing rates as is done in some other countries and intend to consider the matter further in coming months.

Disability Services Funding

 381. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if funding will be allocated to programme (details supplied) in County Louth from the budget 2018 disabilities allocation; the amount of funding that will be allocated in this case; and if this scheme forms part of the stated commitment that all school leavers with disabilities should have access to supports and services which meet their needs as they make the transition from school to adult life.  [44963/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Engaging with young people with disabilities at a time when their disability threatens to keep them out of the workforce is critical if we are to create the best possible opportunities for people with disabilities to fulfil their potential. One response to this situation is a new pre-activation programme for young people with disabilities, called the Ability programme, which was launched in September.

The aim of the Ability programme is to bring young people with disabilities who are not work-ready closer to the labour market. The programme will promote employment prospects and meaningful social roles for young people with disabilities and in particular, young people who are distant from the labour market using a range of person-centred supports. The focus of the programme will be on projects aimed at young people with disabilities (aged 15 – 29) designed to assist in their transition from school to further education and employment.

The funding for this programme will amount to some €10 million over a three year period and is co-funded by the Irish Exchequer and the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning operational programme, 2014-2020 (PEIL, 2014 – 20). At the launch of the programme, national, regional and local organisations that have experience of working with people with a disability were invited to submit proposals for funding to Pobal, who are the administrative agents of the programme for the Department. The minimum grant that can be applied for will be for €200,000, while the maximum grant will be for €750,000 over the funding period. Organisations, such as the one for which the Deputy provided details of, can submit an application for funding, either in their own right or as a part of a consortium, through Pobal’s website between the 4th December 2017 and 31st January 2018. Organisations will also be able to register on the Pobal website to attend information events about the application process, two of which are to be held in Dublin tomorrow. Following the closing date for applications in January, Pobal will appraise the applications and successful applicants will be notified by April 2018.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.


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