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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 699 - 716
 Header Item Education Welfare Service
 Header Item Child Protection
 Header Item Counselling Services Provision
 Header Item Juvenile Offenders
 Header Item Youth Services Provision
 Header Item Child Poverty
 Header Item Children in Care
 Header Item Juvenile Offenders
 Header Item Mental Health Policy
 Header Item Youth Services Provision
 Header Item Child Care Services Provision
 Header Item Defence Forces Recruitment
 Header Item Defence Forces Medicinal Products
 Header Item Defence Forces Medicinal Products
 Header Item Air Corps
 Header Item Cyber Security Policy
 Header Item Defence Forces Remuneration
 Header Item Defence Forces Properties

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 938 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 87 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 699 - 716

Education Welfare Service

 699. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone arising from reports her Department may have received from school authorities throughout the country appertaining to the health and welfare of children, her plans to take any particular or specific measures to combat issues arising; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7438/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Tusla has advised that its Educational Welfare Service (EWS) has responsibility to ensure that every child attends school regularly, or otherwise receives a certain minimum education, to support regular school attendance, tackle problems of absenteeism and to provide an educational welfare service. Tusla EWS receives referrals from school authorities, parents and others relating to concerns for the educational welfare of individual children. When a young person is referred to Tusla EWS by a school, parent or another agency the initial work of the Education Welfare Officer (EWO) is to assess the nature, scope and depth of the problem.

Tusla EWS operates three specific programmes. The Home School Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL) provided to 400 DEIS schools to facilitate positive relationships between parents and their children’s school. The School Completion Programme (SCP) provides intensive supports to students at risk of early school leaving to enable these students to complete their education. Both of these programmes intervene at the earliest stage when school attendance or school participation difficulties emerge in order to support parents, students and schools to address any difficulties early. When these interventions fail to address the presenting problem a referral is made to the Statutory Education Welfare Service.

When a formal referral is made action taken then falls into two distinct categories. The first is a brief intervention (provided to 3,751 pupils in 2015/2016 school year) whereby low level intervention proportionate to the need of the individual and the family can often effectively resolve the issue, thus preventing attendance problems escalating. For example, this work includes assistance with finding a school place and advice and support around Section 29 Appeals, suspensions and expulsions.

When brief interventions fail to address the presenting problem Tusla EWS open case files. In the school year 2015/2016 Tusla EWS worked 6,920 such cases. Problems of poor school attendance that are the manifestation of more complex and deep rooted difficulties can take significant time, expert help and on-going support from Tusla EWS to make progress. Such work can involve developing a plan with the family, young person and school to address the various barriers identified. These intensive interventions are used when brief interventions have not been successful, or are not appropriate in the circumstances. Ultimately when all other reasonable interventions fail parents may be prosecuted under the Education Welfare Act (2000) legislation.

Child Protection

 700. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the steps she will take or proposes to take to ensure a more rapid response to reported abuse of children, whether of a physical or sexual nature; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7439/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, holds the statutory responsibility for child welfare and protection, and is the appropriate body to receive reports of concerns relating to children at risk. I wish to assure the Deputy that Tusla deals immediately with emergency cases, including for instance, if a child has been abandoned or is in immediate physical danger or at risk of sexual abuse.

Approximately 60% of referrals to Tusla are of a child welfare concern with the remaining 40% related to child protection concerns. Tusla's policy is to refer child welfare referrals to relevant family and community support services. At any stage, if a determination is made that there is abuse, whether physical, emotional, sexual or neglect, from which there is an ongoing risk of significant harm, the child protection pathway is followed. In a minority of cases this may lead to the child being placed on the Child Protection Notification System (CPNS) or the child being received into care.

I am committed to commencing the Children First Act 2015 by the end of the year. As the Deputy will be aware, the Children First Act 2015 will see mandatory reporting by key professionals, mandated assisting, comprehensive risk assessment and preparation of Child Safeguarding Statements by services for children, and the establishment of the Children First Interdepartmental Implementation Group on a statutory basis. Tusla is developing online training for mandatory reporters. Children First guidelines will continue in parallel with the Act. This sets out the roles and responsibilities for all citizens to report child welfare and protection issues to Tusla, and where criminal matters are involved, the Gardaí.

I secured additional funding of €37 million in 2017, bringing Tusla's overall allocation to over €700 million which allows Tusla to continue its journey in building an effective and responsive child protection and welfare system.

Counselling Services Provision

 701. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the extent to which she envisages improved counselling services for children at risk and their families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7440/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, provides funding to voluntary organisations offering a range of counselling and support services to children and families including:

  - Marriage and relationship counselling;

  - Child counselling;

  - Rainbows Peer Support Programme for children;

  - Bereavement counselling and support on the death of a family member.

  In 2016, Tusla provided funding of approximately €5.8 million to support organisations providing counselling services, the majority of which are voluntary. The organisations that are funded vary enormously in size and approach; some are dedicated counselling bodies, others provide counselling as part of a wider range of social and family services. These services provide support to families, children and young people. The funding provided by Tusla focuses on the development of support services in the community for families to enhance stability in family life and to assist children and families and their members in dealing with difficult periods in their lives.

  Tusla's priority is to ensure that counselling services provided support and promote the development, welfare and protection of children and the effective functioning of families. Counselling services funded by Tusla are specifically targeted at children who have been affected by parental separation or who have suffered family bereavement. Tusla’s marriage and relationship counselling funding is instrumental in assisting parents to deal with difficulties they experience in their personal relationships.

  Tusla will continue to work closely with service providers to support vulnerable children and young people and the effective functioning of families.

  Tusla is currently finalising details of the funding to be allocated to counselling service providers for 2017 and will be confirming funding levels shortly.

Juvenile Offenders

 702. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the extent to which adequate accommodation remains available or is likely to become available in respect of juvenile offenders with particular reference to future and current needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7441/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Currently, Oberstown Children Detention Campus (Oberstown) is licensed to provide up to 54 places for young people ordered to be remanded in custody or committed to serve a sentence of detention by the courts (48 boys and 6 girls). This provides places for girls up to the age of 18, for boys up to the age of 18 who are remanded in custody and up to the age of 17 who are sent by the courts to serve a sentence of detention. Boys aged 17 are sentenced to detention in Wheatfield Place of Detention. In accordance with Government policy it is intended to end the practice shortly of detaining children in adult prison facilities when a number of additional units become operational extending the capacity on the Oberstown campus.

Oberstown operates a twenty four hour bed management service for children detention places, with the aim of having the maximum degree of coordination in this area. This service is available at all times to courts, the Probation Service and An Garda Síochána to assess the up to date position with regard to the availability of places. This is a demand led service and every effort is made to meet the needs of the courts in this area.

Youth Services Provision

 703. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the extent to which her Department has received applications for financial support from various youth organisations throughout the country in the current year; the extent to which she expects to be in a position to respond favourably; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7442/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone My Department administers a range of funding schemes and programmes to support the provision of youth services to young people throughout the country including those from disadvantaged communities. The funding schemes support national and local youth work provision to some 380,000 young people and involve approximately 1,400 youth work staff in more than 450 projects and 40,000 volunteers working in youth work services and communities throughout the country. In 2017, funding of €57.4m will be provided to my Department for these schemes.

The schemes include the Youth Service Grant Scheme under which funding is made available on an annual basis to 30 national and major regional youth organisations. Targeted supports for disadvantaged, marginalised and at risk young people are provided through the Special Projects for Youth Scheme, the Young Peoples Facilities and Services Fund, Rounds 1 and 2 and the Local Drugs Task Force Projects Scheme. In addition, my Department provides funding to 20 Youth Information Centres.

Youth projects and services in receipt of funding are required to complete an annual application form for my Department. The process also involves the submission of an annual progress report detailing the services provided and the cohort of young people who participate in youth activities.

My Department also funds the Local Youth Club Grant Scheme, which supports youth work activities at a local level. These grants are made available to all youth clubs and groups through the local Education and Training Boards.

The question of additional funding to my Department to support the provision of youth services is a matter for consideration in the context of the annual Estimates and Budgetary processes and having regard to the resources available to the Government. In recent years, my Department has been in a position to provide ‘once-off’ funding to assist youth organisations and projects that were experiencing budgetary difficulties as they approach the end of the year.

These youth organisations and projects came to my Department's attention through engagement with the national youth organisations, youth officers in the Education and Training Boards, through representations and submissions received and through regular meetings with youth services in the course of the year.

I and officials of my Department have met, and continue to meet regularly, with youth organisations and projects. My aim is to see how we can work together to bring about the best possible outcomes for young people, having regard to resources available to us and to ensure that the programmes and services being provided are relevant and responsive to young people’s needs.

Child Poverty

 704. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the extent to which she can foresee the possibility of addressing the underlying issues contributing to child poverty or affecting child welfare and-or abuse; if she expects to see opportunities to address these issues in the short and medium term; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7444/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone My Department is committed to addressing the issues contributing to child poverty and supporting child welfare and protection. In order to effectively address each of these issues, my Department invests a considerable amount in research and data, including the State of the Nation’s Children, Growing up in Ireland, and outcome indicators for the five national outcomes in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. Such information is important in identifying issues and anticipating trends that need to be tackled from a policy perspective.

  My Department is responsible for a number of measures to address child poverty. Firstly, it co-finances, with The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Area Based Childhood (ABC) Programme (2013-2017). With additional funds which I secured in the 2016 budget this programme amounts to €34 million. The ABC Programme is designed to prevent inter-generational poverty through area based programmes with a strong prevention and early intervention focus. My department will hold an open policy debate on 14 February to share learning from our investment in the ABC programme with colleagues in other departments such as the Departments of Health, Social Protection, Education and Tusla with a view to informing a strong focus on prevention and early intervention programmes targeting children at risk of poverty.

  My Department has committed over €3m this year to the development of the Quality and Capacity Building Initiative that aims take a co-ordinated approach to the improve capacity, knowledge and quality in prevention and early intervention services for children at risk of developing poor outcomes.

  My Department also provides significant funding in a range of key areas which support a concerted response to addressing child poverty, and ensuring a strengthening of focus on the well-being and welfare of children and young people. These include the areas of Early Years and Youth. It also includes resources to Tusla services focusing on the welfare, protection and support for children, young people and their families. These are all key to supporting outcomes which assist in addressing contributory factors and reducing the impact of child poverty.

  My Department is fully committed to the protection and welfare of children. There is a clear and compelling duty on us all to protect children and to ensure their safety.

  With specific regard to child protection, the Children First Act 2015 was signed into law on 19 November last year and provides, with the removal of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement, that children now enjoy the full protection of the law in relation to assault. This new legislation will also provide for mandated reporting of child protection concerns and will require organisations working with children to prepare Child Safeguarding Statements. I have approved phased preparations for implementation of the remaining provisions of the Act in the period up to end 2017.

  The legislation will operate side-by-side with the existing non-statutory obligations provided for in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2011. The Guidance is currently being revised and updated to take account of the new legislative obligations so as to provide in one place a comprehensive reference resource for individuals and organisations.

  A statutory Children First Inter-Departmental Implementation Group has been established to promote the importance of Children First compliance across Government and to ensure a consistent approach is adopted.

  I am fully convinced that it is only by strengthening and aligning efforts in the areas of research, policy and service provision that we can effectively address many of the underlying causes that impact on child poverty and children's welfare.

Children in Care

 705. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the total number of children currently in residential or foster care; the extent to which adequate resources remain available to meet the demand in both circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7445/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The latest figures from Tusla, indicates that, at the end of November 2016, there were 6,276 children in care. Of these, 5,839 (93%) were in foster care, either with relatives or a general foster care placement and 325 (5%) were in a residential placement. All of the children in residential care had an allocated social worker and 94% of all children in Foster care had an allocated social worker.

  Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has a statutory duty under the Child Care Act 1991 to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection and, if necessary, to receive a child into the care of the State. The placement of children in care is governed by Regulations. These provide, inter alia, for the welfare of the child, the care practices, care records, accommodation and safety precautions. Tusla has an active procurement policy and keeps its requirements under review and commissions foster and residential services as required. This ensures that Tusla can access specialist services to meet the emotional and mental health needs of children in care.

  Tusla is currently implementing a three-year development plan which includes provision for extra staffing to meet critical service concerns such as addressing children with no allocated social worker. The Government has provided significant additional resources to Tusla, and the Agency have been instructed to expedite the recruitment of staff to address such capacity concerns. During 2016, Tusla has been active in developing its capacity to recruit and retain staff across its multi-disciplinary organisation and this will continue throughout 2017 with a particular focus on areas of highest need. The additional funding of €37 million which has been secured for Tusla in 2017 will provide increased resources to meet identified risks and service demands.

  The Health Information & Equality Authority (HIQA) inspects all Tusla run children's residential centres and foster care services, and publishes its findings on www.hiqa.ie.

Juvenile Offenders

 706. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the extent to which her Department continues to engage with juvenile offenders with a view to providing rehabilitative or educational supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7447/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The Children Act 2001, as amended, provides the statutory basis for dealing with children who come into contact with the criminal justice system. The key principle of the Children Act 2001 is that detention of a child should only be imposed as a last resort. When children come into contact with the criminal justice system there is an emphasis on the promotion of community based options in the first instance. The Irish Youth Justice Service oversees a significant investment in community based programmes to divert young people from further involvement in criminal or anti-social behaviour. In 2016, approximately €17m has been allocated by the Department of Justice and Equality to the Irish Youth Justice Service to administer Garda Youth Diversion Projects, Young Persons Probation Projects and a number of other youth diversion community-based projects. These projects also benefit from support under the European Social Fund.

My Department provides funding to the Irish Youth Justice Service for services relating to the Oberstown Children Detention Campus and the Bail Supervision Scheme which has recently been established.

As part of the Youth Justice Action Plan 2014-2018, a key commitment was the development of a Bail Supervision Scheme. The scheme, which is currently operating on a pilot basis, provides more therapeutic supports in the community for children who are subject to bail conditions. The service provides a ‘wraparound’ service to the young person and their family with a prescribed reporting system back to the courts through the appropriate statutory bodies; Probation Service, An Garda Síochána and Oberstown. The scheme offers greater options to the courts in the knowledge that closer monitoring will take place through interaction with the young people, their families and communities.

If a child is remanded or sentenced to a period of detention in the children detention schools, a range of rehabilitative supports is offered to every child as part of an overall programme, which focuses on the child’s individual needs and provides the framework for each child’s individual journey through detention. The focus is on developing supportive relationships with the main emphasis placed on education and rehabilitation. Each child is the subject of an individual screening to determine any clinical services required, such as psychology, psychiatry or speech and language therapy. A placement plan is developed and reviewed at regular intervals during each child’s stay in detention. The strong ethos of school attendance, education and training, in place in Oberstown, is tailored to each child's individual needs. Education and training services are provided by the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board.

The wide range of rehabilitation, education and support services provided and supported by the Irish Youth Justice Service are detailed in the Tackling Youth Crime: Youth Justice Action Plan 2014 – 2018, and a progress report covering the period 2014 to 2015, published recently can be found on my Department's website.

The Family and Community Services Resource Centre Programme (FRC Programme), which is operated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, provides supports to 109 communities. Tusla has provided core funding of approximately €13m this year to its established network of 107 Centres nationwide, and two outreach Centres. The primary role of the FRC Programme is prevention and early intervention through family support, by providing guidance and parenting supports, and is a key programme in reducing offending behaviour among children at risk. The Centres emphasise the involvement of local communities in tackling the problems they face, and creating successful partnerships between voluntary and statutory agencies at community level.

In addition, the Educational Welfare Services of Tusla operating under the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000, work together collaboratively and cohesively with schools and other relevant services to promote school attendance and secure better educational outcomes for children and young people.

Mental Health Policy

 707. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the extent to which she and her Department have studied the issue of depression in young persons with particular reference to the identification of early alert and-or subsequent support; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7448/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Growing Up in Ireland, The National Longitudinal Study of Children in Ireland, which is almost wholly sponsored by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, collects some data broadly related to the mental health of children and young people. I note that recent data published from the study found that just under 10% of 17/18 year olds said that had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety by a doctor.

  Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People (2014-2020) recognises that mental health is an important issue, and an essential aspect of children and young people’s social and cognitive development, as well as a necessity if they are going to reach their full potential and truly live a life filled with positive experiences.

  The first of the five national outcomes is that all children and young people should be active and healthy, with physical and mental well-being.  Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures contains a number of specific commitments in the area of mental health. The Department of Health is responsible for this national outcome.

  The National Youth Strategy, a constituent strategy of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, also includes commitments identified by young people themselves, such as access to online youth mental health services.

  With reference to policy and practice in the area of mental health, I note that this falls under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Health.

  The HSE supports timely access to appropriate services to address the mental health needs of all children from a preventive care model and early intervention perspective. The HSE Service Plan 2017 also contains various commitments to support positive mental health measures to support young people ranging from publicity campaigns such as the littlethings campaign to better and more integrated early intervention counselling services at statutory and non-statutory levels.

  Any parent who suspects his/her child may be suffering from mental health issues should bring their child to their local GP who will in turn refer the child to the appropriate Mental Health Services, Primary Care or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). The HSE has a Standard Operating Procedure for both in-patient and community based CAMHS. This should help to ensure that services are delivered consistently and transparently. Most importantly, it helps to ensure that the care and treatment offered reflects the identified clinical needs of the child. However, not all mental health problems are the sole remit of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, depending on the nature and severity of the health need, support services may be also provided by HSE Primary Care or through Tusla.

Youth Services Provision

 708. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the extent to which a co-ordinated youth support service exist throughout the country; her plans to address such issues; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7449/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone My Department administers a range of funding schemes and programmes to support the provision of youth services to young people throughout the country including those from disadvantaged communities. The funding schemes support national and local youth work provision to some 380,000 young people and involve approximately, 1,400 youth work staff in more than 450 projects and 40,000 volunteers working in youth work services and communities throughout the country. In 2017, current funding of €57.4m will be provided by my Department for these schemes.

My Department maintains close contact with the youth services throughout the country, and works closely with Education and Training Boards throughout the country.

My Department works closely with the national and major regional youth organisations, including the National Youth Council or Ireland, which has a representative role for the voluntary youth services. Regular meetings are held to exchange information and the youth services actively work with my Department on the development of coordinated policies and services that meet young people’s needs.

In line with the national Youth Strategy 2015 – 2020, the focus is on the outcomes to be achieved for young people in all developmental aspects of their lives, so that they are active and healthy, achieving in learning and development, safe and protected from harm, have economic security and that they are connected and contributing to their world. These goals are the basis for a coordinated approach across all youth stake-holders, including the youth services, in the implementation of national strategies for children and young people.

Youth Officers of the Education and Training Boards have an important support role to my Department, in the administration and coordination of youth services at local level. Youth Officers engage with local services, on behalf of my Department. They provide support and advice in matters to do with the application and reporting processes for funding and the implementation of quality standards in services for young people. In this context, I am considering providing additional resources to bolster the Youth Officer function during 2017. This will assist my Department in the implementation of the recommendations of the Value for Money and Policy Review of youth funding schemes.

Many Youth Officers and local youth services participate in the Children and Young People’s Services Committees, set up by my Department, throughout the country. These Committees provide a forum for joint planning and coordination to ensure children and young people and their families receive improved, coordinated and accessible services at local level.

I, and officials of my Department have met, and continue to meet regularly, with youth organisations and groups. My aim is to see how we can work together in a coordinated way to bring about the best possible outcomes for young people.

Child Care Services Provision

 709. Deputy Frank O'Rourke Information on Frank O'Rourke Zoom on Frank O'Rourke asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone in view of the fact that, currently, school age child care services cannot register with Tusla but are able to avail of schemes offering funded child care to low income families and families availing of education, training and CE schemes, her plans to include non-Tusla registered services into the new affordable child care schemes; and if not, if it will be possible for school age child care services to opt-in to register with Tusla; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7459/17]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Quality assurance will be an absolute prerequisite for participation in the Affordable Childcare Scheme. The Scheme will be open to all Tusla-registered childcare providers, including child minders. In the Heads of Bill and General Scheme for the Affordable Childcare Scheme Bill, it is also proposed that the legislation should allow for the possibility of additional categories of childcare provider to access the scheme, including childminders who are currently exempt from the Early Years Regulations and standalone afterschool services, provided that such providers meet quality criteria that are to be specified in accordance with the legislation. While it is proposed that the legislation should allow for this possibility, no decisions have yet been made on whether, when or by what criteria specified groups of non-registered providers might access the Scheme. The issue will be further considered during the process of drafting legislation and in consultation with stakeholders.

In order to meet the needs of parents whose preference is to use a child minder, and to build capacity to cater for increased demand in future years, the Department has commenced talks with Childminding Ireland (CMI) in recent months to explore a number of options around how quality can be assured within the childminding sector. A Working Group has been established, chaired by CMI, and including officials from Tusla and the DCYA, to make recommendations on reforms and supports for the sector in the short, medium and long term, and the feasibility and implications of the migration from voluntary to mandatory regulation. These will include recommendations in relation to childminders who are not currently eligible to apply for registration with Tusla (those minding three or fewer pre-school children, or those minding school age children only).

My colleague Minister Bruton and I will shortly publish an Action Plan on School Age Childcare which will include actions relating to the development of quality standards for the school age childcare sector, as well as the establishment of a Working Group to recommend a robust quality assurance system for centre-based school age childcare settings.

Defence Forces Recruitment

 710. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the reason persons in receipt of social welfare payments have received letters inviting them to join the Army; the authorisation which was granted in respect of this Army recruitment and by whom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6955/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I want to inform the Deputy that no letter was sent to persons in receipt of social welfare payments inviting them to join the Army. A letter of invitation to attend information sessions on a Defence Forces Employment Support Scheme issued to persons aged between 18 and 24 years selected from the Live Register in counties Clare and Limerick. Relevant details are provided below for the Deputy’s information.

The Programme for a Partnership Government and the White Paper on Defence committed the Government to putting in place a new employment support scheme with the direct involvement of the Defence Forces.

The objective of this scheme is to help develop a path to economic independence for participants, aged between 18 and 24 years, who are at a serious disadvantage owing to their current socio-economic situation. The scheme is designed with the specific aim of equipping participants with life and other marketable and certifiable skills which will assist them both in their capacity to participate fully in society as well as their ability to enter the workforce and or to pursue further education for this purpose. Participation in the scheme is voluntary.

The scheme and the programme content have been developed through detailed discussions involving the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces, the Department of Social Protection and the Dublin and Dun-Laoghaire Education and Training Board. The Department of Social Protection identifies suitable participants. Participants retain any Department of Social Protection benefits that they are currently entitled to for the duration of the Scheme. Participants do not receive any payment from the Department of Defence.

The scheme is a training programme of ten (10) weeks duration, consisting of five (5) weeks of training delivered by the Defence Forces interspersed with five (5) weeks of educational orientated training by the Education and Training Board.

A successful pilot programme was held in Gormanston Camp from Monday 20 June 2016 to 26 August 2016 with 25 participants. Following an evaluation of the pilot programme and Ministerial approval, the current plan is to run up to 2 iterations of programme in 2017.

A programme will commence in Limerick on 22 May 2017. The Department of Social Protection invited 1,006 persons selected from the Live Register in counties Clare and Limerick aged between 18 and 24 years to attend information sessions about the scheme.

260 persons attended the information sessions which were held on 16 and 17 January 2017 which were conducted jointly by personnel from the Defence Forces and Department of Social Protection.  There are 30 places on the programme and the selection process is ongoing.

Let me reiterate that the letter inviting people to attend the information session was not an invitation to join the army and does not form part of any recruitment campaign to the Defence Forces.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

 711. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny further to Parliamentary Question No. 292 of 17 November 2016, if he will provide the information promised which has been outstanding for over two months and only involves information in 14 files. [6769/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe In my letter of 8 February 2017 I provided the information sought by the Deputy in respect of twelve of the cases. A further response will issue to the Deputy when the remaining two cases have been considered.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

 712. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the reason primaquine was prescribed to soldiers by the Defence Forces, despite it being unlicensed and unregulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority. [6867/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe Primaquine is prescribed to Defence Forces personnel for two weeks when they return from deployment to a ‘malarious’ area. Primaquine kills the dormant ‘hypnozoite’ phase of malaria parasite which, if not killed, would have the potential weeks, months or years after returning home to give rise to a full-blown attack of malaria. The Director Medical Branch of the Defence Forces has indicated that Primaquine is unique in its action. There is no other medicine available which serves this purpose.

While Primaquine is not authorised by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), I am informed that provision is made under the relevant legislation (Medicinal Products Control of Placing on the Market Regulations, 2007, (SI No 540 of 2007) for medicines that are exempt from authorisation when supplied on the order or prescription of a registered doctor for use by his or her individual patient under his or her direct responsibility in order to fulfil the special needs of those patients. I am advised that the usual circumstance leading to the prescribing of a medication which is not authorised is the non-availability of a similar authorised product.

You will be aware that my Department has reconvened the Malaria Chemoprophylaxis Working Group. The use of the Primaquine drug in the Defence Forces is being reviewed as part of the overall medical treatment process for those deployed to malarious areas. The Group expects to finalise its report shortly.

Air Corps

 713. Deputy Anne Rabbitte Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the reason for the loss of the 24-7 Air Corps air transport service for the national aero medical co-ordination centre to transport Irish children awaiting transplants to the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6873/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe The HSE’s Aeromedical Desk in its National Emergency Operations Centre is responsible for the co-ordination of transport arrangements for paediatric organ transplant transfers to the UK. Air transport for these patients is currently provided in three ways: Air Corps fixed-wing and rotor-wing aircraft; Irish Coast Guard rotor-wing aircraft; and private air ambulance providers.

As one of the components of the Defence Forces, the Air Corps contributes to all roles assigned by Government including responsibilities relating to the provision of Aid to the Civil Power and maritime security tasks. Like other elements of the Defence Forces, the Air Corps also undertakes other roles in accordance with agreed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

In this context, the Department of Defence has an SLA with the Department of Health and the HSE for the Air Corps to use its fleet of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to transport patients and medical teams between hospitals within Ireland and abroad, on an as available basis. In accordance with the SLA, this availability is dependent upon the availability of suitable aircraft, the availability of flying crews and the suitability of weather conditions. The terms of the SLA do not provide for the Air Corps to deliver a dedicated, 24/7 transport service. This approach was maintained in the White Paper on Defence (2015) which stated that the Air Corps will continue to provide an emergency inter-hospital transfer service in support of the HSE on an as-available basis. This means that fixed or rotary wing aircraft are not required to be on standby for this purpose. However, if such aircraft and personnel are available when requested for a mission, they can be deployed.

I can confirm that the level of availability of Air Corps aircraft for inter-hospital transfer tasks has reduced. This is largely because the Air Corp has experienced retirements of highly experienced personnel which is outstripping the recruitment and training of replacement personnel. This has led to a shortage of experienced pilots which has reduced the number of available flying crews. Due to these crew shortages, aircraft availability for the inter-hospital air ambulance service is reduced. Every effort is being made to address these personnel shortages faced by the Air Corps. A plan is in place, which it is currently working through, to increase the number of pilots. There are 28 cadets, in 3 classes, undergoing the various stages of the Air Corps cadetship to become pilots. However, this will only yield results in the medium term.

My officials will continue to keep the Department of Health and the HSE fully informed of the situation in the Air Corps so that the HSEs Aeromedical Desk can ensure the arrangements they have for the transport service are as robust as possible.

I can assure the Deputy that the Air Corps will continue to provide as much support for emergency inter-hospital transfers as possible, having regard to available capabilities and its primary responsibilities.

Cyber Security Policy

 714. Deputy Noel Rock Information on Noel Rock Zoom on Noel Rock asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the actions his Department is taking to protect against cyber attacks after the NTMA website was temporarily down for several hours after a suspected hacking attack; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6878/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe Cyber security, cyber crime and internet security represent challenges that are constantly evolving and require vigilance and appropriate responses. Cyber security is multi facetted. The nature of the threat and the potential impact also varies considerably depending on the approach and objective of those with malicious intent.

  My Department implements a programme of continuous review in relation to ICT security in order to keep up to date with current threat levels.   

  Details of measures taken are not publicised for security reasons.

Defence Forces Remuneration

 715. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny his plans to improve pay levels for new recruits to the Permanent Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7456/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe Rates of remuneration and conditions of employment in the Irish public sector have traditionally been set by reference to relative levels of pay across the various sectors of the Irish public sector.

  You will be aware that the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts of 2009-2015 and the Public Service Stability Agreement 2013-2018 (Lansdowne Road Agreement) currently define the pay policy for public servants. I can advise that PDFORRA (Representative Association) have yet to ballot their members in relation to the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2013-2018 (Lansdowne Road Agreement).

I am advised that PDFORRA raised a number of issues on which it sought clarification in advance of balloting its members on the agreement. These are issues of interpretation and technical issues on the savings to be achieved through the agreement rather than substantive issues of principle.    

  I can confirm that PDFORRA members are complying fully with all of their obligations under the public service pay agreements and the commitments they entered into in those agreements.  PDFORRA has not repudiated the LRA.

  Officials from my Department and PDFORRA are actively working through these issues in a very positive and collaborative process within the C and A Scheme. As the outstanding issues are currently being resolved within the Department of Defence Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

In terms of remuneration going forward, the new Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC), announced by my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, has been tasked with providing objective analysis and advice on the most appropriate pay levels for the public service, including the Defence Forces. 

Defence Forces Properties

 716. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny his plans to regenerate the area of the Curragh Camp taking into account its many historical areas of interest; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [3955/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe The Department is engaged in an ongoing building programme designed to modernise and enhance the training, operational and accommodation facilities available to members of the Defence Forces within the Curragh Camp. As part of the White Paper implementation a comprehensive assessment has been undertaken of the infrastructure within the Camp. From this assessment a development plan is being completed which will inform the regeneration programme for the Camp. A number of projects have already commenced. In 2017 the projected spend on infrastructure within the Camp is approximately €8m. Projects include a secure storage facility, accommodation upgrade, gas conversion programme and upgrade of locker facilities.


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