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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 537-561
 Header Item State Examinations
 Header Item State Examinations
 Header Item State Examinations
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Special Educational Needs
 Header Item State Examinations
 Header Item Departmental Communications
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item School Funding
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits
 Header Item Youth Unemployment
 Header Item JobPath Programme
 Header Item Treatment Benefit Scheme
 Header Item School Meals Programme
 Header Item Departmental Contracts
 Header Item Pensions Reform
 Header Item Disability Allowance

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 1
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 101 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 537-561

State Examinations

 537. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her definitive plans for the roll-out of oral exams for leaving certificate 2021 students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1784/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations.

  In view of this I have forwarded your query to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply to you.

State Examinations

 538. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if the leaving certificate oral examination will go ahead as planned; if there are provisions for the exam to be held remotely; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1803/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations.

  In view of this I have forwarded your query to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply to you.

State Examinations

 539. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if the leaving certificate oral examinations will take place in 2021; and if so, when the oral examinations will take place. [1807/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations.

  In view of this I have forwarded your query to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply to you.

Schools Building Projects

 540. Deputy Alan Dillon Information on Alan  Dillon Zoom on Alan  Dillon asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if progress has been made on capital works approved in principle for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1814/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I am pleased to inform the Deputy that funding was approved under the Additional Accommodation Scheme 2019 to enable the school in question to build four general classrooms, one Construction room with prep area, along with locker and WC’s space. 

The submission of the Stage 1/2a report (pre planning) was received in my Department in late March 2020 at the start of the Covid 19 pandemic. There was a short period of delay at this stage in terms of co-ordinating a complete review of this report and progressing the project to the next stage of architectural planning.

I can confirm that this project received my Department's approval in August 2020 to go to planning, and the Department currently awaits a Stage 2B (developed design) report from the school for review.

Special Educational Needs

 541. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the steps she will take to ensure that students with special educational needs in mainstream classes will be supported to continue their education on par with their peers during the time school buildings are closed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1879/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan My Department is conscious of the fact that closing schools has hugely adverse consequences at individual, family and societal level and that the effect on children with special educational needs can be even greater. 

  Because of this, my Department sought to prioritise in-person teaching and learning for pupils/students attending special schools and special classes and to allow these facilities to reopen from Monday, 11th January.

  Unfortunately, following a number of meetings with education partners, including trade unions and school management bodies, and despite the confirmation by Public Health that schools remain safe, it has not proved possible to get agreement on the provision of in-person teaching and learning for children in special schools and special classes at this time.

  My Department is continuing to engage with education partners, including parental representative bodies, in relation to this matter. 

  I have also met with a number of disability representative groups in relation to how children with special educational needs can best be supported during the current school closure period. I am grateful for and committed to continuing this important engagement.

Updated Guidance on Continuity of Schooling: Supporting Pupils with Special Educational Needs (for mainstream primary and special schools and for post-primary schools) has also been made available by my Department.

  This revised guidance advises on how schools and teachers can support continuity in the learning of pupils with special educational needs during the school closures associated with COVID-19. The guidance builds on the key messages in a range of guidance materials which were issued to schools and centres for education as they were published. Specific guidance has been published by the Department to support schools in the context of remote teaching and learning in a Covid-19 context:

Guidance on Remote Learning in a COVID-19 Context: September – December 2020; https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/a0bff-reopening-our-primary-and-special-schools/#additional-guidelines-and-procedures   (Department of Education, October 2020)

This has been complemented by the Department of Education Circular Letter 0074/2020 in relation to the establishment of Digital Communication, Teaching and Learning Platforms: https://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/cl0074_2020.pdf   

  This guidance is intended to assist mainstream and special schools as they endeavour to support teaching and learning for pupils with special educational needs through remote teaching approaches. Key themes of the guidance## include:

- The role of schools and teachers in engaging with pupils with SEN

- Teachers and school leaders working to support pupils with SEN

- Keeping in touch with parents and guardians

- Keeping pupils with SEN safe in the distance learning environment

- Resources for teachers.

  The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is also communicating directly with schools on the range of supports available to special schools and schools with special classes. The following sets out some of the supports available:

- NCSE has created a dedicated phone line for parents to get advice and support from SENOs. The SENO will provide support and advice to parents and where relevant provide specific resources e.g. behaviour strategies, NEPS well-being resources. If necessary, parents can book a subsequent appointment with the SENO assigned to their child’s school.  This new phone number is 01 603 3456 (from Monday,11 January) 

  I would like to reiterate my Department’s commitment to continue to engage with the partners in education with the goal of providing an urgent return to school for these cohorts of children. 

State Examinations

 542. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the steps she will take to support the mental health and well-being of students in examination years during the academic year 2020/2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1880/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The Minister is acutely aware of the challenges faced by examination year students and their families at this difficult time. All decisions taken in relation to schools are based on current public health advice. The welfare of students and that of their families is front and centre in all decision making.

  The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) of my Department is leading on supporting the wellbeing of schools communities. The response to support the wellbeing of all within school communities requires a structured, psychosocial response which is compassionate and largely preventative and proactive.  This requires a whole-school team approach to planning in order to ensure that staff, students and parents feel safe and secure.  This response is aligned with the HSE guidance on such responses, and based on the five key principles of promoting a sense of safety, calm, connectedness, self- and community-efficacy and hope. 

NEPS psychologists continue to provide a service to schools via remote access.  All psychologists have been asked to continue to maintain contact with their assigned schools during this period of school closure.   NEPS psychologists will continue with elements of case work deemed necessary which will be managed remotely to support the learning and wellbeing of children and young people. With the support of schools, this can include:

  - Consultation with teachers and/or teachers and parents (by telephone/on secure on-line platform)

  - Completion of various checklists and measures used to evaluate the needs of children and young people (by telephone/on secure on-line platform)

  - Onward referral to other services

  - Input into Student Support Plans/Reviews (by telephone/on secure on-line platform)

  - Feedback to teachers and/or parents (by telephone/on secure on-line platform)

  - Completion and issuing of written reports

  NEPS will continue to signpost schools to resources and supports for wellbeing that have been made available by NEPS and the Department’s other support services. The resources to support students and parents will be re-circulated and promoted directly via social media over the coming period. NEPS will also continue to provide support to schools in the event of a critical incident. 

  Resources to support the wellbeing of school communities when schools are closed have been revised by NEPS, and include the following for exam students and teachers and parents/guardians supporting students:  

  Students

  - Advice for young people while schools are closed

  - A Plan for the Day – A template to support daily routines

  - Managing Stress and Anxiety – a guide for students

  - Panic attacks – a guide for students

  Teachers

  - The response to stress information for school staff

  - Normalising thoughts feelings and behaviour – a guide for school staff

  - Guidelines for Teachers - Listen, Connect, Model & Teach (This guide has been developed to enable teachers  to talk in a comforting and supportive way with students who may need the support of the Student Support Team at this time

  - Managing Stress and Anxiety in students – A Guide for School Staff

  Parents

  - A Guide for Parents on supporting children and young people with daily routines while schools are closed

  - How to Calm and Support your Child – A Guide for Parents and Guardians

  - Managing Stress and Anxiety - A Guide for Parents and Guardians 

  My Department will continue to signpost schools and students to the HSE/HSE-funded e-mental health services. The Department of Health and HSE have ensured the most appropriate services and resources are clearly signposted for young people. The stepped care approach recognises that at present, there already exists services that offer online text and telephone supports to people seeking mental health information and advice.

  These include the Samaritans; Pieta House; MyMind; Turn2Me; Aware; Crisis Text Ireland; Shine; BeLongTo; LGBT Ireland; Jigsaw; Bodywhys and Childline. The YourMentalHealth.ie website provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ portal for people seeking information, supports and services, including information on accessing urgent help and a mental health text messaging support service which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days each week to connect people with trained volunteers.   

  Each post primary school currently receives an allocation in respect of guidance provision, which is calculated by reference to the approved enrolment.  Counselling is a key part of the role of the Guidance Counsellor, offered on an individual or group basis as part of a developmental learning process, at moments of personal crisis but also at key transition points. The Guidance Counsellor also identifies and supports the referral of students to external counselling agencies and professionals, as required. The Guidance Counsellor is key in developing and implementing innovative approaches to wellbeing promotion on a whole schools basis though the school’s Guidance Plan.

Departmental Communications

 543. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the most appropriate means for second-level students to contact her Department to communicate their experiences surrounding school building closures after students reporting comments being disabled online on social media; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1881/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The Government has decided to pause the limited reopening of schools scheduled for the 11th January to allow for further engagements with education partners to ensure that schools continue to operate safely. The voice of students is represented in those ongoing engagements by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU).

  The Department of Education welcomes public engagement via its Twitter account and enables the comment function under all of its tweets. If comments were disabled for any particular Department of Education tweets, this occurred in error.

  @Education_Ire is an effective ‘broadcast’ tool to share information with people who are interested in education. Unfortunately, we cannot provide replies or other feedback to our followers.

  Contact should be made through our business units, available on our website - Contact Us. Students can also email the Department at: info@education.gov.ie.

  More information on the Department’s Twitter policy is available below: https://www.education.ie/en/Contact-Us/List-of-Contact-Details/Twitter-Policy.html

  It is crucially important that the learning of all pupils/students, especially those with special educational needs and those at risk of educational disadvantage and/or early school leaving, are supported at this time.

Schools Building Projects

 544. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the progress to date or in hand in meeting the school place requirements, replacement of facilities, new school requirements and special needs provision in respect of each school project at primary and post-primary levels in Kilcock, County Kildare; the extent to which each project is on target in line with projections notwithstanding the imprecise previous reply in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [1903/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The following school building projects are being progressed in Kilcock, Co. Kildare to meet expected demand in the area.

  Major building projects included as part of the Capital Programme:

  St Joseph's Boy's National School (RN 16706G)

  - A new 16 classroom school with 1 SEN Base Class commenced on site in March 2020 and the contract is 20 months.

  Enfield Community College (RN 76595N) 

  - A new school was established in Enfield in September 20 and this new school in the Kilcock School Planning Area. This school is to cater for 1,000 pupils and will include for a 4-classroom SEN Base and has opened in interim accommodation. The project to provide a permanent building is currently at stage 2b of architectural planning process which is detailed design. 

  As previously advised details of all school building projects both at primary and post-primary level are available on my Department website www.education.ie and this information is updated on a regular basis.

Schools Building Projects

 545. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the progress to date or in hand in meeting the school place requirements, replacement of facilities, new school requirements and special needs provision in respect of each school project at primary and post-primary levels in Maynooth, County Kildare; the extent to which each project is on target in line with projections notwithstanding the imprecise previous reply in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1904/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The following school building projects are being progressed in Maynooth, Co. Kildare to meet expected demand in the area.

  Major building projects included as part of the Capital Programme:

  Maynooth Post Primary School (R/N 70700A) and Maynooth Community College (R/N 76193Q)

  - A building projects to deliver 1,000 pupils places and 2-classroom SEN bases of both of these schools was practically completed in December 2020 and are ready for occupation. However, there are outstanding additional works to take place to complete a shared PE Hall facility.

  Gaelscoil Ruairí (RN 20527F)      

  - School opened in September 2019 and is currently accommodated in interim accommodation. The proposed new 8-classroom school building plus 2-classroom SEN is at planning permission stage.  A request for further information was received on 18/12/2020.  Until such time as planning permission has been secured, it is not possible to provide a timeline for progression of the project to tender and construction stages.

  Maynooth Boys School (RN 17341U) 

  - This project commenced construction in December 2020 for a new 24 classroom school and a 2 classroom SEN Base. The construction project is progressing satisfactorily on site and the contract duration is 18 months.

  - Maynooth Educate Together (RN 20292E) 

  - This project is currently on site and due for completion in Quarter 2 2021. Phase 1 was handed over in 2019, the project when complete will provide for a 16 classroom school plus SEN classes.

  In addition the following Additional School Accommodation project has been approved: 

  Presentation Girls NS (RN 00779U)

  - This project is at the design stage. The project is to provide 3 mainstream classrooms (including allowing for conversion of existing classrooms to provide SEN provision), 2 SET rooms and ancillary accommodation.

  As previously advised details of all school building projects both at primary and post-primary level are available on my Department website www.education.ie and this information is updated on a regular basis.

Schools Building Projects

 546. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the progress to date or in hand in meeting the school place requirements, replacement of facilities, new school requirements and special needs provision in respect of each school project at primary and post-primary levels in Celbridge, County Kildare; the extent to which each project is on target in line with projections notwithstanding the imprecise previous reply in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1905/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The following school building projects are being progressed in Clane, Co. Kildare to meet expected demand in the area.

  Major building projects included as part of the Capital Programme:

  - St Raphael's Special School (RN 18988G)

  - Scoil Naomh Padraig (RN 20257C )

  - Celbridge Community School (RN 91614B)

  It is proposed to accommodate the three schools on a campus development in order to cater for the permanent needs of the schools. The Department is presently at a very advanced stage in the process of acquiring a suitable site, located at Donaghcumper. As part of the Department’s appraisal, traffic management analysis is being examined and my officials are continuing to actively engage regularly with both Kildare County Council and the Landowner on all aspects of the future operation of the proposed site.

Schools Building Projects

 547. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the progress to date or in hand in meeting the school place requirements, replacement of facilities, new school requirements and special needs provision in respect of each school project at primary and post-primary levels in Prosperous, County Kildare; the extent to which each project is on target in line with projections notwithstanding the imprecise previous reply in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1906/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The following school building projects are being progressed in Prosperous, Co. Kildare to meet expected demand in the area.

  Major building projects included as part of the Capital Programme:

  St Farnan's Post Primary School (RN 70720G) 

  - A project to increase the capacity at the school from 500 to 1,000 pupils has been devolved for delivery to Kildare & Wicklow Educational Training Board (KWETB). I understand that the design team is preparing the Stage 1 report (preliminary design) and it is nearing completion.

  As previously advised details of all school building projects both at primary and post-primary level are available on my Department website www.education.ie and this information is updated on a regular basis.

Schools Building Projects

 548. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the progress to date or in hand in meeting the school place requirements, replacement of facilities, new school requirements and special needs provision in respect of each school project at primary and post-primary levels in Naas, County Kildare; the extent to which each project is on target in line with projections notwithstanding the imprecise previous reply in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1907/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The following school building projects are being progressed in Naas Co. Kildare to meet expected demand in the area.

  Major building projects included as part of the Capital Programme:

  Mercy Convent, Naas (RN 15040T) 

  - Project is to provide a new 32-classroom school building. This project is in the process of a retender for a contractor to complete this new building.

  St Corban's National School, Naas (RN 17254C )

  - Project to provide an extension to cater for a 16 Classroom School with 2 SEN base classes is currently at Stage 1 of Architectural Planning.

New Naas Primary School -   Proposed new primary school which was due to open in September 2021 has been deferred to open at a later date.

Naas Girls School Roll No 61730I -   A project has been devolved to the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) for delivery as part of a programme of school building projects to provide a new 1,000 pupil school with 1 SEN Base class. As the project is at an early stage in the delivery process, it is not possible at this time to give a date for its completion.

  Naas Community College (RN 76194S)

  - A Project to provide a 1,000 pupil new school has been devolved for delivery to Kildare & Wicklow Educational Training Board (KWETB). Work began on site in November 2019.  

  In addition the following Additional School Accommodation project has also been approved.

  Holy Child National School (RN 19597T) 

  - Project to provide 2 Mainstream and 2 SEN classrooms. The project is the design stage. A stage 1 report has not yet been received by the Department.

  As previously advised details of all school building projects both at primary and post-primary level are available on my Department website www.education.ie and this information is updated on a regular basis.

Schools Building Projects

 549. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the progress to date or in hand in meeting the school place requirements, replacement of facilities, new school requirements and special needs provision in respect of each school project at primary and post-primary levels in Clane, County Kildare; the extent to which each project is on target in line with projections notwithstanding the imprecise previous reply in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1908/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The following school building projects are being progressed in Clane Co. Kildare to meet expected demand in the area.

  Major building projects included as part of the Capital Programme:

  Hewetson National School (Roll No 13920O) 

- This project has been devolved to the school management authority for delivery. As the project is at an early stage of the delivery process, it is not possible at this time to give a date for its completion.   This project will provide for accommodation for a 6-classroom school and 1SEN Base when completed.

  St Patrick Boys National School (Roll No 19796C) 

  - The Detailed Design Stage has been approved and the project will now progress to the next stage of architectural planning. The project when complete will provide for 24-classrooms plus 2-classroom SEN base.

  In addition the following Additional School Accommodation project have been approved for a school in Clane. 

  Scoil Mhuire Community School (Roll No 91372D)

  - A project to provide the replacement of 5 Mainstream 38.5m prefab, 2 science labs & Shared prep area, WC for assisted users and 1 class SEN base. The project also includes the provision of interim accommodation for a SEN class for 2021/22. The project is at the design stage.

  As previously advised details of all school building projects both at primary and post-primary level are available on my Department website www.education.ie and this information is updated on a regular basis.

Schools Building Projects

 550. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the position regarding the replacement of a school (details supplied); the degree to which progress has been made to advance the three-school project campus; the degree of negotiation with Kildare County Council to address road traffic management, new bridge provisions and a second river crossing given the undoubted impact traffic management is likely to have on the school proposals and the unworkability of the plans in this regard to date; when it is expected the three schools in question are likely to receive indication of major progress given the urgent pressure on school places in the area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1909/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley As the Deputy has been advised previously, a new site will be required for a school campus development, in order to cater for the permanent needs of St. Patrick’s National School, Celbridge Community College and St. Raphael’s Special School. The Department is presently at a very advanced stage in the process of acquiring a suitable site, located at Donaghcumper.

I can confirm that agreement in principle has been reached with a landowner for the acquisition of the site and that ongoing work is progressing in respect of technical matters crucial to the delivery of the acquisition. These matters are being addressed at a technical & procedural level - as a priority. As part of our appraisal, traffic management analysis is indeed being examined and we are continuing to actively engage regularly with both Kildare Co. Co. and the Landowner on all aspects of the future operation of the proposed site.

As previously advised - due to the very specific commercially sensitive nature of this site acquisition - I am unable to elaborate further but please rest assured that this project is considered a priority and is being given our full attention.

School Funding

 551. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the position regarding the funding for a school (details supplied) given that the project is nearing completion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1910/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The project for the school referred to by the Deputy commenced on site in March 2020 it is progressing satisfactorily with a contract duration of approximately 20 months.

Schools Building Projects

 552. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the position regarding the completion of schools (details supplied); the extent to which previously made commitments in regard to the alternative use of the existing school sites remain positive with particular reference to the sharing of part of the site with a school for the provision of a public swimming pool and the commitment given in respect of a school; if, in the meantime, access and use of part of the site on a temporary basis can be made available to the authorities at a school while construction on their school takes place given the need to ensure the highest possible health and safety standards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1911/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley While there are certain outstanding additional works to take place on site, the new school buildings referred to by the Deputy were practically completed in December and are ready for occupation.

The existing school site referred to by the Deputy is not in the Minister’s ownership and queries in relation to any arrangements regarding this site should be referred to the owner of the property Kildare & Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB). Any requests in relation to the site will be appraised by KWETB in light of the overall educational needs of the area.

Social Welfare Benefits

 553. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if matters raised in correspondence by a person (details supplied) regarding the early retirement allowance will receive a response. [1699/21]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Programme for Government “Our Shared Future” commits to introducing a Retirement Payment for 65 year olds paid at the same rate as Jobseeker's Benefit without a requirement to sign on, partake in any activation measures or be available for and genuinely seeking work.   

  Officials in my Department are currently considering how the Government commitment could be implemented and are assessing and designing the ICT system changes, legal provisions and administrative processes required to do that.  It is hoped to finalise these arrangements later this quarter.  

  In the meantime, the Deputy should note that a person aged 65 or over who is retired and qualifies for a jobseeker's benefit payment may retain that payment in full (assuming they don't return to work) until they reach the state pension age of 66, i.e., the payment does not exhaust after 6 or 9 months as it normally does. 

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Youth Unemployment

 554. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the plans in place to ensure the high numbers of youth unemployment are reduced as Ireland comes out of the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1770/21]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As the Deputy will be aware, and based on experience from past recessions, youth employment tends to be disproportionately impacted by any labour market shock.  This is because many employers operate a "last in-first out" protocol when reducing their labour force and also because young people tend to work in occupations and sectors such as retail and hospitality, for example, that are most immediately affected by economic downturns.  The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on youth unemployment has been no different in this regard.

Youth unemployment stood at just over 10% in Q1 2020 based on the Labour Force Survey data, with approximately 20,000 persons aged under 25 on the Live Register.  By Q3 2020 these figures had increased to 20% and 25,000 respectively.  If PUP recipients at the end of December are included, just under 45% of young people in the labour force were unemployed at that stage.

It is important to note that the Government extended access to PUP to students who worked part-time.  Of those under 25s in receipt of PUP, almost one quarter have self-certified as students. Using internationally recognised standards set by the International Labour Organisation, these students would not normally be considered, or counted, as unemployed.

While the employment of young people is significantly affected by the pandemic, we also know from past recessions that youth unemployment levels typically fall quite quickly once economic activity resumes.  In addition, the jobs of many persons currently on PUP will not be permanently lost due to the pandemic. Many will return to previous employment once restrictions ease, as they did during previous easing of restrictions during 2020. 

However, others will require assistance and support to return to employment, reskill and to find new jobs.  My Department is supporting initiatives to assist  people, including young people, get back to work, once COVID restrictions and their impact on the economy and labour market begin to ease. Under the July Jobs Stimulus, my Department, along with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, are putting in place the following measures:

- Expanding the caseload capacity of Intreo Centres during Q1 2021 with the assignment of 100 job coaches to provide enhanced employment services and supports. Case officer support to help people with job search advice and assistance is shown to be the most effective means of helping people move into employment. 

- Extending the current contracts of existing contracted public employment service providers into 2021. In particular, the Local Employment Service is being extended into four new areas and the capacity of the service increased by 50%. 

- Expanding the benefit of the JobsPlus recruitment subsidy to employers who hire young people.  Under this scheme an employer receives the JobsPlus subsidy of €7,500 once they employ a young person (under 30 years of age) who has been unemployed for just 4 months. A higher subsidy of €10,000 is paid for recruitment of a person who was long term unemployed (over 12 months).  This will help make it more attractive to recruit young people who face difficulties in securing a footing in employment. 

- Providing access to additional full-time and part-time education, including targeted short-term courses, with over 35,000 new education and training places for those currently unemployed.

- Providing incentives to employers to take on more apprentices, with the provision of a grant of €3,000 to employers for each new apprentice recruited until June 2021.

- Facilitating access to the Back to Education Allowance and Back to Work Enterprise Allowance to those displaced by the pandemic by waiving the usual qualifying period of 3-9 months. My Department will actively promote this scheme to suitable candidates and although it is not budget capped, additional provision has been made in Budget 2021 of €3.5million – equivalent to an extra 700 places.

Furthermore, building on the success of the Youth Employment Support Scheme (YESS), my Department is at an advanced stage in developing a new work placement experience programme for those out of work for at least six months. This programme will seek to encourage businesses  provide jobseekers with the necessary workplace skills to compete in the labour market and to help break the vicious circle of “no job without experience, no experience without a job”.  There is a target of over 10,000 persons, regardless of age, to be placed on this six-month scheme by end of this year. I expect to launch the Programme  as soon as public health restrictions allow in 2021.

Work is also at an advanced stage by my Department to develop Pathways to Work, the national employment services strategy for the period 2021-2025. The strategy will seek to build upon those support measures outlined above as we assist young people on their journey to work.  Publication is expected in early 2021, following the launch of the Government's National Economic Plan.

In developing these programmes and services the Department is working closely with, and being advised by, the Labour Market Advisory Council which is composed of leading market experts, representatives of industry and workers and representatives of unemployed people.  We will keep these programmes under review and report progress on a regular basis.

JobPath Programme

 555. Deputy Seán Canney Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to close down JobPath; if a new contract will go out to tender; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44703/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys On the 22nd of October, I announced the extension of referrals to the JobPath service for a further twelve months until the end of 2021.  This was announced in conjunction with similar commitments to ensure contracts for the Local Employment Services, Job Clubs and EmployAbility would also be extended into 2021. 

These measures were taken in order to expand the capacity of my Department's public employment service to ensure that we are in a position to support all those who have lost their employment arising from the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.  In light of these circumstances, it was therefore necessary for my Department to not only retain but expand existing capacity of our public employment services .

It was originally envisaged that new services would be procured from 2021.  However, this has been delayed due to the impacts of Covid-19.  Given the volume of people impacted by the pandemic, a premium has been put on having stable, well-established employment services in place in 2021, when a significant number of additional jobseekers are expected to need the support and advice of the public employment service.   

My Department is continuing to examine procurement options for all contracted public employment services and is preparing to issue requests for tenders for contracted employment services during 2021.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Treatment Benefit Scheme

 556. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if her attention has been drawn to instances in which a company (details supplied) has been charging patients for eye tests despite these same patients qualifying for free eye tests under the treatment benefit scheme, that is, PRSI optical benefits; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44716/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys A standard eye examination is available, free of charge, under the terms of the Optical Benefit scheme, to all qualified PRSI contributors and their dependent spouse/partners on a biennial basis. 

  Some optical providers can now provide additional eye checks using new technology as an optional extra and these may incur an additional fee payable directly by the customer.  The costs associated with these tests should be advised to the customer in advance and the customer given the option to choose to proceed with the additional test or not.  The company referred to has been contacted and has confirmed that the process as outlined above represents their policy in this regard.

  It should be noted also that where a customer has an optical examination more frequently that every two years, they may incur a cost for the additional examination. 

  If the Deputy has details of a situation were a person believes they have been incorrectly charged for an optical examination, she should forward these details to my Department and the matter will be fully examined. 

  I hope this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

School Meals Programme

 557. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan Information on Pádraig O'Sullivan Zoom on Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of primary schools that provide school meals by county in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44745/20]

 558. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan Information on Pádraig O'Sullivan Zoom on Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of post-primary schools that provide school meals by county in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44746/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 557 and 558 together.

The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,557 schools and organisations benefitting 227,000 children.  The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them.  The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.

  The programme is operated through the Urban School Meals Scheme and the School Meals Local Projects Scheme.  The Urban School Meals Scheme is a statutory scheme that is operated in conjunction with Local Authorities and is available to primary school children.  The department jointly funds the food costs on 50/50 basis with the Local Authorities who are responsible for the administration and operation of the scheme.  298 primary schools received funding through the Urban School Meals Scheme in 2020 and a breakdown by county is shown in Table 1 of the attached Tabular Statement. 

  The School Meals Local Projects Scheme is an administrative scheme which is operated directly by the department and provides funding to primary and secondary schools, local groups, voluntary organisations and community-based not-for-profit preschools which operate their own school meals projects.

  868 primary and 283 post-primary schools provide school meals through the School Meals (Local Projects) Scheme and a breakdown by county is shown in Table 2 of the attached Tabular Statement.

   Table 1: Primary Schools that receive funding through the Urban School Meals Scheme

Local Authorities Nos.
Carlow County Council 3
Cork City Council 31
Dublin City Council 177
Dun-Laoghaire - Rathdown 10
Fingal 9
Kerry County Council 3
Limerick City Council 13
Louth County Council 6
Mayo County Council 1
Meath County Council 1
South Dublin County Council 22
Tipperary County Council 2
Waterford County Council 7
Wexford County Council 7
Wicklow County Council 6
Total 298


   Table 2: Primary and Post-Primary Schools providing school meals through the School Meals (Local Projects) Scheme by county: 
County Primary Schools Post-Primary Schools
Carlow 19 6
Cavan 13 3
Clare 20 6
Cork 54 26
Donegal 122 20
Dublin 189 77
Galway 48 13
Kerry 37 8
Kildare 14 7
Kilkenny 7 6
Laois 13 2
Leitrim 12 1
Limerick 26 10
Longford 11 7
Louth 15 10
Mayo 75 17
Meath 11 5
Monaghan 16 6
Offaly 20 5
Roscommon 21 5
Sligo 22 5
Tipperary 31 11
Waterford 14 6
Westmeath 13 6
Wexford 34 11
Wicklow 11 4
Total 868 283

Departmental Contracts

 559. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if her Department or State agencies under the aegis of her Department have awarded contracts to a company (details supplied); if so, the value of such contracts; if the contracts were tendered for; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44793/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I understand that the Deputy's question relates to the past five years. 

  No contracts have been awarded by my Department, or by State agencies under the aegis of my Department, to the company referred to, during the period in question.

Pensions Reform

 560. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan Information on Pádraig O'Sullivan Zoom on Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the progress made in providing community employment supervisors access to pensions in line with the 2008 Labour Court recommendation to provide access to an occupational pension scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44802/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection (Deputy Joe O'Brien): Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien As the Deputy will be aware, Community Employment (CE) supervisors and assistant supervisors have been seeking for several years, through their union representatives, the allocation of Exchequer funding to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation relating to the provision of a pension scheme for CE supervisors who are employed by CE schemes.  

  CE sponsoring authorities are the legal employers of their CE supervisors, CE assistant supervisors and CE participants. There are no plans to change this status of CE supervisors. The Department’s role continues to be that of CE funder.

  This issue was examined by a Community Sector High Level Forum, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.  A number of Departments, including my own Department, were represented on this group, as were the unions and Pobal. 

  As part of this process a detailed scoping exercise was carried out with input from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) on the potential costs of providing Exchequer support for the establishment of such a pension scheme for employees across the Community and Voluntary sector in Ireland.  This exercise estimated a potential cost to the State of between €188 million and €347 million per annum depending on the numbers involved.  This excluded any provision for an immediate ex-gratia lump sum payment of pension as sought, which could entail a further Exchequer cost of up to €318 million. 

  In its findings, the High-level Group stated that while CE supervisors and assistant supervisors represented only a very small part of the wider community and voluntary sector, any explicit provision of State funding for such a scheme in respect of CE Supervisors could potentially give rise to claims for funding for employees in the broader sector.  The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform stated that it had to have regard to the full potential Exchequer exposure associated with setting such a precedent when dealing with the specific issue as regards CE supervisors arising from the Labour Court recommendation..

  At this point, I wish to acknowledge the valuable and dedicated service that CE supervisors provide in running CE schemes delivering local based community services while providing a valuable training and development opportunity to the long-term unemployed and to those often furthest removed from the labour market.

  The current position is that officials from my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the unions representing the CE Supervisors continue to engage in discussions and I am hopeful that, with goodwill and flexibility on all sides, a resolution can be found in the near future.

The Deputy should note that funding of any potential pension provision for CE supervisors will ultimately be a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and will need to be considered in the wider economic and budgetary context in which any such scheme will need to operate.  

  Nevertheless I, and my colleague the Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform are keen to find an approach that will resolve this issue in the near future.

Disability Allowance

 561. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when a decision on a disability allowance claim will be made for a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44826/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The person concerned has been awarded disability allowance (DA) with effect from 26 August 2020. The first payment will be made by her chosen payment method on 6 January 2021.

  Arrears of payment due will issue as soon as possible once any necessary adjustment is calculated and applied in respect of any overlapping payments (if applicable).

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.


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