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Adjournment Debate. - Community Support for Older People.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to raise this matter which concerns the scheme of community support for older people. I tabled a question to the Minister last week, to which he replied, but my query tonight relates specifically to emergency lighting units in an area of north Mayo comprised of the following community alert areas: Bangor Erris, Ballycroy, Belmullet, Kilcommon, Kilmore Erris, Bellacorrick, Barnatra, Glencastle, Doohoma, Geesala, Belderrig, Inver, Pullathomas and Binghamstown.

In each of these areas, the community alert operators have received money under the scheme of community support for older people for small grants for items such as small-scale physical security equipment, window locks, door chains, door locks, security lighting and some socially monitored alarm systems such as the panic button pendant.

The case has been made clearly to me that in this area, which has been independently assessed as suffering from severe voltage collapse, or power cuts, because of the inadequacy of the overhead line and because of weather conditions [760] in recent years, small emergency lighting units attached to the main light in a kitchen or wherever should be provided. They could operate for three to four hours and would be of great assistance to elderly people in darkness. There is not much point in having a sensory security light outside one's house if it does not work in the case of a power cut, and there have been frequent power cuts in recent years in the entire north Mayo area covering those areas.

In his reply, the Minister said that his Department's scheme is specifically designed to provide funding to improve the security and social support of older people. Is it not a fact that an emergency lighting unit in an elderly person's house could be deemed to be social support? Under this community scheme, approximately €1 million is being returned to the Minister's Department, yet the cost of what I propose, as estimated by the people involved in community alert areas in respect of those whom they have identified as being eligible for this, is approximately €50,000, which is loose change.

The Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, has responsibility for older people and I ask him to examine the question of social support in the coming weeks and to allow for a small expansion of the scheme to include emergency lighting units as a social support. The community alert people, who are conscious of elderly people living on their own in isolated areas and do not want them lighting matches if there is a power failure, want them to be eligible for this funding. The ESB wrote to me as a result of my raising the issue and indicated that it intends to carry out major works in this area in the coming years, but that could take a long time.

I ask the Minister of State to re-examine the question of social support and consider expanding the scheme, as he can do under his remit as Minister of State with responsibility for this area, to include emergency lighting units for an identified small number of people in these localities at the minimal cost of approximately €50,000.

Dr. Moffatt: Information on Tom Moffatt Zoom on Tom Moffatt I thank Deputy Kenny for raising this issue on the Adjournment. As a representative of the north Mayo area and the Minister of State with responsibility for older people, I am happy to reply to this debate on behalf of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs who cannot be present this evening.

Since 1996, the Department has operated the scheme of community support for older people, the purpose of which is to provide funding initiatives to improve the security and social support of vulnerable older people. Vulnerability is defined in terms of advanced age, disability, isolation and those who have been the victims of crime. This funding is provided by way of grant aid to voluntary groups and organisations which have undertaken to identify those elderly people in need of assistance. Since its commencement, a total of €32.5 million has been allocated by the Department to the scheme which, to the end of 2001, has assisted some 89,136 individuals.

To ensure the scheme continues to address the [761] security needs of the most vulnerable older people in our society, a sum of €4.4 million has been provided for the scheme in the Department's Estimates for 2002. In general, grants under the scheme cover 50% of the once-off cost of the purchase and installation of the necessary security equipment but grants up to 90% may be made available where circumstances so warrant. Funding is provided for small-scale physical security equipment such as strengthening of doors and windows, window locks, door locks, door chains, security lighting and the once-off cost of installing socially monitored alarm systems such as the pendant alarm system, which is operated via telephone and is worn around the neck or wrist. Funding is not available under the scheme for conventional intruder or burglar alarms.

To qualify for assistance under the scheme, people aged 65 or older must be living alone or in households made up exclusively of older people or older people who are dependent and vulnerable and unable to install or purchase equipment covered by the scheme.

A fundamental review of the scheme was carried out in 1999 to ensure it was achieving its aims. The review concluded that a large number of people who applied have received genuine benefits in the three years of operation, and that the scheme met real security and social support needs. There were no recommendations for further expansion of the type of security measures and devices already covered by the scheme. The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs is committed to allocating the available funds to the most vulnerable older people. However, the provision of emergency lighting units to cover power failures is not provided under the scheme.

The question of funding emergency lighting units for areas which experience above average power failure and overall policy for the energy sector is a matter for the Department of Public Enterprise. As the Deputy has previously been advised in a written reply, details of his concerns have been forwarded by officials of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs to the Department of Public Enterprise to which any further representations related to this issue should be directed.

I fully empathise with the Deputy in regard to the situation in north Mayo, and I will follow up on some of the suggestions he made in regard to both Departments.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I thank the Minister of State.

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