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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 198-204
 Header Item EU Directives
 Header Item Agri-Environment Options Scheme Conditions
 Header Item Forestry Management
 Header Item Missing Children
 Header Item School Completion Programme
 Header Item Preschool Services
 Header Item After-School Support Services

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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Written Answers Nos. 198-204

EU Directives

 198. Deputy Paudie Coffey Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the testing facilities and certification systems that are currently in place here to ensure that the testing and use of agricultural sprayers are in compliance with European Directive 2009/128/EC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32368/13]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The Directive in question was transposed into Irish legislation in 2012 under Statutory Instrument 155 of 2012. The principle aim of these regulations is to achieve a more sustainable use of pesticides in both the farming and the amenity/landscaping sectors.

With regard to the "testing and use of agricultural sprayers", these regulations enable me to establish a register of "inspectors of pesticide application equipment" and make it a legal requirement for all pesticide application equipment in use, to be tested by a registered inspector by November 2016. The registered inspectors, when inspecting such equipment, shall apply the standards as set out in EN Standard 13790-1:2003 for Boom sprayers and EN Standard 13790-2:2003 for Orchard and Blast sprayers.

Officials in my Department are currently working on the mechanisms to facilitate this process and it is planned to have a coherent system in place by early 2014, allowing sufficient time for all sprayers to be tested by the timeline prescribed in the regulations.

Agri-Environment Options Scheme Conditions

 199. Deputy Martin Ferris Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the flexibility that is applied in relation to agri-environment options scheme 3 applications by farmers in disadvantaged areas, particularly where the farm is 22.06 ha in size. [32417/13]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The process of ranking and selecting all AEOS applicants was clearly set out in the scheme documentation. Acceptance into the scheme was established using the pre-determined selection criteria as follows:

1. farmers in the Boora region of Co. Offaly who chose Wild Bird Cover Option B (Grey Partridge) as one of their selected options,

2. farmers with a minimum of 0.5 hectares of designated land,

3. farm partnerships,

4. farmers who previously participated in REPS commencing with smallest farms. and

5. others based on farm size (again favouring smaller holdings).

  Because of the funding constraints and as a result of the selection process, farmers that previously participated in REPS and had a farm size bigger than 22.06 hectares were unsuccessful in their applications as were those who had not previously participated in REPS.

Forestry Management

 200. Deputy Michael Creed Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney if he will account for the discrepancy in respect of the calculation on the size of a forestry plantation as determined by the Forest Service in both March 2008 and again in respect of the same plantation in early 2013 in view of the fact that the Forest Service used maps digitised by his Department in its initial calculation; the extent to which this issue is replicated in other cases and the negotiations if any which his Department is having with the company which carried out the digitising process in respect of redress for the errors involved; the number of forestry plantations with problems arising from these digitising errors; if his Department has taken advice as to the liability of individual land owners in respect of his Department's request for recoupment of over payment of premiums and overpayment of plantation grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [32425/13]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney With regard to a discrepancy of any kind on an individual afforestation contract, the Forest Service is not in a position to give a definitive explanation without knowing the details of the contract in question. However, in general terms, the situation as described most commonly occurs where an applicant has made an over-claim on his or her contract and my Department discovers that over-claim.

The forestry schemes administered by my Department and other schemes, such as the Single Farm Payment scheme, use computerised geo-spatial and payments systems. These systems use ortho-photography, which is geometrically corrected aerial photography overlaid onto maps. The systems capture an image of an applicant's claim map and calculate an accurate measurement of the area being claimed. The process of electronically capturing the claim map is called digitisation. This technology has been used internationally for many years. Tolerances are applied when capturing and measuring claims in order to avoid penalising applicants due to minor inaccuracies in their claims. To ensure accuracy and consistency, digitising is performed by the contracted company using well established standards and procedures. My Department has no concerns over the accuracy of ortho-photography and geo-spatial systems for measuring areas. Digitising accuracy depends on the applicant's claim map – if the applicant submits a claim map which does not accurately define the area planted then the digitised image will obviously reflect that.

My Department, including Forestry Division, uses constantly updated ortho-photography to detect potential over-claims and overpayments. A simple example would be where a forestry plantation is initially established, the trees planted are not visible when viewed in contemporaneous photographs. However, when viewed on later photography, maturing trees in the plantation will be visible but the more recent photographs may show gaps where trees have failed, were removed, or were never planted. The updated photography therefore provides an effective audit tool to ensure that claims made under my Department’s schemes are accurate.

Over-claims and overpayments on forestry contracts (and other schemes) are detected in this manner or through random or risk analysis driven inspections; through Single Farm Payment queries by applicants or their neighbours; through forestry queries by the applicant himself; by formal audit of files, etc. Any over-claim and overpayment, regardless of how it was detected, will be similar to the case described, in that the contract will be paid on an area determined from the applicant’s claim from the 1st grant onwards and then, if an over-claim is discovered, the payable area will be adjusted downwards and any overpayment will be recouped.

It is impossible for the Forest Service to predict how many over-claims are made on contracts, as it must first detect each individual over-claim in order to be aware it. In all cases of overpayments, my Department is obliged to recoup any public money that has been overpaid.

Missing Children

 201. Deputy Joe McHugh Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will update Dáil Éireann as to recent EU dialogue about Finland's position on the EU missing children help line; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [32541/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The 116000 Missing Children Hotline is an EU-wide initiative designed to provide a single point of contact across the European Union for missing children and their families. The number is currently operational in 23 EU countries and the number has been allocated and is soon to be operational in a further three countries.

As part of the recent EU Presidency, Ireland co-hosted an EU conference on Missing Children, in Brussels on the 4th of June 2013, at which all EU countries were encouraged to fully roll out a 24/7 Missing Children Hotline service.

School Completion Programme

 202. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she is committed to retaining funding for the school completion programmes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25499/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The School Completion Programme (SCP) aims to retain young people in the formal education system to completion of senior cycle and to generally improve the school attendance, participation and retention of its target cohort. The SCP is one of three service strands being integrated into a continuum of education welfare services under the remit of the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB). The SCP is a key programme under the Department of Education and Skills DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) Action Plan.

In 2013 an allocation of €26.246 m has been provided for the programme. This supports 124 projects and related initiatives which operate in 470 primary schools and 224 post-primary schools across the country to provide targeted supports to approximately 36,000 children and young people. The Comprehensive Review of Expenditure, published in December 2011, requires the SCP to achieve cumulative savings of €5.5 m over the period 2012 to 2014, of which €1.8 m in savings is to be found in 2013.

My Department has recently written to the Chairperson of each SCP in relation to the next cycle of the programme. Each Local Management Committee, which is responsible for the delivery of services to local students, is currently developing its 2013/2014 proposals for targeted interventions and supports. The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB), which operates under the remit of my Department, is providing assistance to each Local Management Committee in this process. The administrative and financial arrangements for the coming year are being finalised and will be confirmed to individual projects during the coming months.

The savings necessary in 2014 will be further considered in the context of the operational review which is to be conducted during the coming academic year. A core objective of the review will be to ensure that available funds are appropriately targeted to support those pupils most at risk of educational disadvantage and early school leaving. Work is already underway to gather comprehensive information relating to existing organisational arrangements across all local project structures. It is also proposed to procure external expertise to further support the review process. This review will assist to identify the reforms necessary to consolidate the programme on a sustainable footing in the coming years.

I remain committed to supporting the educational attainment of children and young people at risk of early school leaving through a variety of formal and informal support services.

Preschool Services

 203. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the progress she can report on her plans for a second free preschool year; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [32278/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme was introduced in January 2010 and provides a free pre-school year to all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school. In line with the Programme for Government, my Department has made a significant commitment to maintaining this universal programme and some 68,000 children are availing of it at this time. The programme is expected to cost in the region of €175 million this year.

I am aware of the need to further develop the early childhood care and education sector. However, any development that involves further pre-school provision would require considerable additional funding. I am also very conscious that work is continuing on improvement of quality within the pre-school year. All of the available evidence indicates that the quality of the provision is key to good outcomes for children. In particular, I would like to see further progress in workforce development within the sector given the demands which expansion would place on the current pool of trained staff.

Future developments relating to early years care and education are being considered in the context of the National Early Years Strategy.

After-School Support Services

 204. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the steps she intends to take to address the lack of availability of after-school services for children; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [22386/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald As part of Budget 2013 I, together with my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, was pleased to announce a new After-school Childcare initiative which will be targeted at low-income parents availing of employment opportunities. Lack of access to affordable, quality childcare is a significant barrier to many low income and disadvantaged families seeking to avail of work opportunities. This initiative will provide an important support measure to enable parents to avail of job opportunities. This is in line with the Government's overall strategy to support parents of low income families to take up employment and demonstrates how Departments are working together to deliver the Government's agenda on promoting employment and supporting children's development.

The initiative is expected to receive full year funding of €14 million to provide over 6,000 after-school places for children attending primary school in order to support parents to take up employment. This funding has been made possible through savings from the Vote of the Department of Social Protection.

Eligibility for the new After-school Childcare programme is determined by the Department of Social Protection. Officials from the Department of Social Protection and my Department are continuing in close collaboration on the operation of the programme. The first pilot phase has commenced. Up to 500 childcare places are available with Department of Social Protection local offices in Tralee, Mullingar, Dundalk, Cork City, Finglas, Kings Inn and Limerick City participating. The second phase of the pilot will be rolled out in July, with the full roll-out of the programme in September 2013, to coincide with the new school year. The pilot programme will assist both Departments in determining the procedural, quality and practical issues that require attention prior to the finalisation of the programme.

The programme will provide €35 per week per child enrolled in a participating service for after school services and this payment will rise to €100 per week during holiday periods when parents will be availing of full day care. A further €20 per week will be paid by the parent to the provider in both instances.

The new After-school Childcare programme will further augment my Department's programme of childcare supports for low income families. These include the Community Childcare Subvention and the Childcare Education and Training Support programmes, both of which provide subsidised childcare for low income parents, including qualifying parents who are on approved VEC and FÁS education and training courses. In 2013, my Department expects to spend in the region of €70 million on these programmes, supporting over 30,000 childcare places.


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