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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 231-248
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes
 Header Item Bereavement Grant
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory)
 Header Item Youth Unemployment
 Header Item Child Benefit
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance Scheme
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Invalidity Pension
 Header Item Crime Prevention
 Header Item Freedom of Information
 Header Item Animal Welfare
 Header Item Horticulture Sector
 Header Item Freedom of Information
 Header Item Beef Industry

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 101 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 231-248

Community Employment Schemes

 231. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if consideration will be given to community employment scheme participants who may wish to continue for an extra period of time in their employment in the context of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19500/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Community Employment Scheme is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a temporary, fixed term basis.

In general, the period of participation on Community Employment is for one year.  However, Community Employment participants who are working towards a major educational or training award or industry qualification can seek to extend participation by up to a further two years.

During the current Covid-19 emergency, my Department continued to provide the necessary funding for Community Employment schemes while also introducing a number of contingency measures.  These measures included the extension of all existing Community Employment participant contracts for the duration of the emergency.

Now that the country has begun the process of returning to normal operations and in keeping with the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, the contingency measures have concluded and the recruitment of new Community Employment participants has recommenced.  

Those participants who had their contracts extended during the emergency period are now finishing up on their schemes on a phased basis over the coming period and further extensions will not be granted.  My Department's priority will be to make CE placements available to long-term jobseekers who could benefit from a placement on a CE scheme to gain valuable work experience and training.

The priority for my Department is to ensure that all employment and activation programmes have the best outcomes for participants. 

Places on these work programmes will continue to be available to support those who are long term unemployed and furthest removed from the labour market while sustaining the role of Community Employment as an active labour market programme.  The Deputy will appreciate that extending the duration of participation on Schemes would have a negative impact on the opportunities available to other long-term unemployed people. 

  Question No. 232 answered with Question No. 37.

Bereavement Grant

 233. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the extent to which bereavement grants or equivalent continue to be processed expeditiously; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19502/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys There are a range of supports available from my Department for people following a bereavement. 

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the Department may make an exceptional needs payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income.  An application can be made under the ENP scheme for assistance with funeral and burial expenses where there is an inability to pay these costs, in part or in full, by the family of the deceased person without causing hardship.

Other supports available include the widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner’s (contributory and non-contributory) pension which is a weekly payment, based on contributions or a means test.  The widowed or surviving civil partner grant is a once-off payment of €6,000 where there is a dependent child. A number of social welfare payments, including State pension, continue in payment for six weeks following a death.  Guardian payments are available where someone cares for an orphaned child.

Provision of a prompt service is a major objective for the Department’s staff, especially for the SWA scheme which is the safety net within the social welfare system.  The ENP scheme is demand led and payments are made at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case in order to ensure that the payments target those most in need of assistance.  ENP applications are examined promptly by the Department given the nature and sometimes urgency of the need presented.

If the Deputy has concerns in respect of a particular case he should bring it to the attention of the Department. 

 I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 234. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the extent to which backlogs in respect of various headings and payments which may have arisen due to Covid-19 are being addressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19503/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers, ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible.

There are no backlogs in most of the Department's scheme areas at present.  All scheme areas are up to date on claim processing with the exception of the jobseekers scheme where there is a  minimum backlog, currently being worked down.  It should be noted that most current applications for a jobseekers payment are already financially better off on the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment.  Priority is being given to processing jobseeker claims for persons who are not entitled to the pandemic unemployment payment or whose circumstances are such that they are entitled to more than the €350 rate on a jobseeker's payment.  

I  wish to reassure the Deputy that claim processing is kept under active review, with all possible steps taken to ensure good customer service. 

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

 235. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the case of applicants for the State pension, contributory, who fall short of the required number of contributions in order to qualify has been examined; if pro rata payments will be considered in such cases in view of the fact that such contributors receive no benefit for their contributions; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [19504/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) contributions finance pension payments to an earlier generation of contributors and also pay for benefits to people who are temporarily economically inactive through illness or short-term unemployment.  In return, contributors build up entitlements which will be paid to them as of right, without having to undergo a means test, when they themselves need them.  It is an important vehicle of income redistribution and solidarity between generations and between those in work and those who are not.  Therefore, it would be inaccurate to suggest that people who do not receive a State Pension (Contributory) because they have made too few contributions to be eligible receive no benefit for their contributions as they have been entitled to or in receipt of other shorter term benefits depending on the contingencies they have experienced.

The State Pension (Contributory) is a PRSI-based pension, financed by contributions made by current workers and their employers, and paid to pensioners, at a rate based upon their PRSI record when working.  A person is required to have a minimum of 520 paid reckonable PRSI contributions in order to qualify for the State Pension (Contributory).  The actuarial value of the State Pension is estimated at over €300,000 which requires people who claim a contributory pension to have made at least 10 years of paid contributions over the 50 year term of a working life.  It is reasonable to require people who seek a contributory pension to have made at least 10 years paid contributions into the Social Insurance Fund which finances it.

Those with few or no PRSI contributions paid over the years may alternatively qualify for the State Pension (Non-Contributory), which is a means-tested pension, financed by the Exchequer, and paid at up to 95% the maximum rate of the State Pension (Contributory).  There are significant disregards in the household means test for the State Pension (Non-Contributory).  Alternatively, if their spouse has a contributory pension, they may qualify for an increase for a Qualified Adult (based on their own means), amounting up to 90% of a full rate State Pension (Contributory).  The most advantageous payment for a pensioner will depend upon their individual circumstances. 

The new Programme for Government “Our Shared Future” includes a commitment to introduce a Total Contributions Approach (TCA).  This is intended to be a fairer and more transparent system where the person’s lifetime contribution will be more closely reflected in the benefit received.  Officials in the Department are designing the scheme, with a view to including significant recognition for home caring periods in the new model.    

The public policy and social issues in relation to funding a sustainable and adequate State pension system are complex.  Therefore, this Government is also establishing a Commission on Pensions to examine a range of issues including contributions, calculation methods, sustainability, eligibility and intergenerational fairness, which is expected to report by mid 2021 with recommendations.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Youth Unemployment

 236. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the extent to which youth unemployment continues to be specifically targeted by way of ensuring the availability of the maximum number of training places, internships, apprenticeships or temporary employment opportunities particularly in the context of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19505/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of this year, Ireland has witnessed unprecedented levels of unemployment.  Research published by my Department found that young people in particular have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and are over-represented in the sectors most affected by public health restrictions (hospitality, retail and accommodation).

Even though the situation is improving, over 45% of our young people remain unemployed and rely on some form of State income support to make ends meet; traditional jobseeker support payments, the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support (PUP) and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS). 

I am focussed on giving our young people the best chance to find their footing in the labour market, including our disadvantaged youths who were unemployed prior to the pandemic and face barriers to accessing employment opportunities.  I welcome the publication of the July Jobs Stimulus which will build on existing supports to deliver a €200 million investment in training and education, skills development, work placement schemes, recruitment subsidies, and job search and assistance measures, designed to help those who have lost their jobs find a new one, retrain, or develop new skills, in particular for emerging growth sectors.

My Department, along with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science  will deliver on a number of key actions to address the youth unemployment challenge, including:

- Extending and expanding funded job placement and work experience programmes to give young people the necessary workplace skills to compete in the labour market. This will be particularly beneficial to our young people who face barriers to accessing employment opportunities; 

- Equipping young jobseekers with the skills to compete in the labour market by ramping up transversal skills development, digital capabilities, increasing the use of fast turnaround specific skills training and providing education and training that targets growth sectors and occupations.

- Providing employers with incentives to recruit apprentices. This will ensure an apprentice pipeline as the labour market recovers, providing skilled, sustainable career opportunities for young people.

- Working with and encouraging employers to hire young jobseekers from the Live Register – in particular through the use of targeted recruitment subsidies.

- Extending access to Back to Education Schemes so that young people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, who are not already in education, can avail of education opportunities at the start of the 2020/21 academic year.

- Increasing the capacity of our State Employment Schemes to take on and provide occupational activity to young people who are long-term unemployed.

Targeted funding programmes for higher education will also be available for young people to develop skills for the future world of work, including Springboard Plus and Human Capital Initiatives.  

My Department continues to develop the next iteration of Pathways to Work for the period 2020-2025. Complementing the  measures in the Stimulus Package, the strategy will commit to ensuring that positive labour market outcomes are achievable for all groups in society, including young people.

These measures are just a start. They will build on the work achieved by the temporary measures introduced in the early days of the pandemic. An ambitious work agenda lies ahead but we will not be found lacking in our response.

Child Benefit

 237. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if a review of eligibility for child benefit will be undertaken in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19517/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Eligibility to child benefit has been reviewed in this case as a claim was received from another party in respect of the child in question.  As there was conflicting information provided by both parties, the file was assigned to a Social Welfare Investigator (SWI) in March 2020.  Following an investigation into the residence of the child, the SWI submitted a report and the deciding officer awarded payment child benefit to the other party.  The person concerned was notified of this decision and advised of her right of appeal.   

   I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy. 

  Question No. 238 answered with Question No. 37.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 239. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the breakdown of spending of the €200 million investment in training and education, skills development, work placement schemes, recruitment subsidies and job search assistance measures; the amount that will be directed to the 35,000 additional places in further and higher education and the apprenticeship incentivisation scheme (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19536/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I welcome the publication of the July Jobs Stimulus which will build on existing supports to get Ireland's businesses back on their feet and as many people as possible back to work quickly.

  As part of this effort, my Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Innovation, Research and Science will deliver a €200m package of income, employment and training supports to help people maintain a strong income support and access new job opportunities.  This package of supports is in addition to €12m in Enterprise Support Grants that I announced in June to support self-employed micro-enterprise. Details of these measures and estimated expenditure is detailed in the following table.

Detail of Measure 2020 2021 Total
Skills to Compete: This programme is tailored toward those who have lost jobs as a result of Covid 19 and targeted at emerging growth areas and occupations. €37m - €37m
Skillnet: Broadly similar to existing Skillnet interventions as well as a blend of other outreach/recruitment, career advice, upskilling and mandatory work placement. €3m - €3m
Apprenticeship Incentivisation scheme: This is a time-limited incentive scheme designed to incentivise employers to take on apprentices. Employers would receive €2k up-front per apprentice and a further €1k after 12 months if apprentice is still on their books. €12m - €12m
Retrofit Skills training to support the expansion of a National Retrofitting Programme. €0.5m - €0.5m
Springboard+ and HCI Pillar (1,500 places)  HCI and Springboard+ courses are at Level 6 (Certificate) to Level 9 (Masters) on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) €10m - €10m
Postgraduate Skills Provision: create additional places across the full range of existing part-time and full-time postgraduate taught programmes €22.5m - €22.5m
Modular Skills Provision:  shorter, more focused courses that can be offered in a flexible manner and could allow people to gain important skills without taking a considerable period away from the labour market. €15m - €15m
Work Placement and Experience Programme:  Work placement programme for jobseekers unemployed for over 6 months. Estimated 10,000 places €10m €20m €30m
Short Term Specific Skills Training:  Extend the Training Support Grant (Estimated recipients 12,500) €1m €7m €8m
Job Search Advice and Assistance:  Increase Public Employment Service (PES) staff capacity across INTREO system. €13m €30m €43m
Enhance Recruitment Subsidies:  JobsPlus- increase the ‘youth’ age limit from 25 to 30 years of age (with a 6 month duration of unemployment) with a subsidy of €7,500 payable over 2 years. €3m €4m €7m
Back to Work Enterprise Allowance: Additional provision to support jobseekers establish self-employment opportunities:  €2m €3m €5m
Back to Education Allowance:  access to the BTEA scheme extended to PUP recipients in light of the timing of the 2020/21 academic year:  Estimated €1m €4m €5m
State Employment Schemes:  Additional provision on community employment and TUS schemes.  €0.2m €1.8m €2m
Total New Measures €130.2 €69.8m €200m
Enterprise Support Grants via Department of Social Protection for self-employed micro-enterprise (already announced in June 2020).  Estimated 12,000 recipients. €12m - €12m
Total Stimulus Package €142.2 €69.8m €212m

Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance Scheme

 240. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the increase seen or expected in the back to school allowance as a result of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19537/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme provides a once-off payment to eligible families to assist with the costs of clothing and footwear when children start or return to school each autumn.  The Government has provided €152.9m for the scheme in 2020 which operates from June to September.

The allowance is payable for eligible children between the ages of 4 and 17 in respect of whom a qualified child increase is being paid. It is also payable to those between the ages of 18 and 22 who are in full-time second level education and in respect of whom a qualified child allowance is being paid. 

Similar to previous years, the majority of customers are awarded back to school clothing and footwear allowance automatically and notification of the awards issued to these customers in late June.  This year 115,000 families have been approved for the back to school clothing and footwear allowance in respect of 211,000 qualified children automatically.  Payments amounting to €43m were made to these families in the week commencing 13 July 2020.

This year, the eligibility criteria for back to school clothing and footwear allowance has been extended to include the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment as a qualifying payment for the allowance. Recipients of this payment will also need to satisfy all the other qualifying conditions in order to qualify.

The scheme opened to new applications on 6 July 2020.  To date a further 23,500 applications have been received.  The comparable figure for applications received in 2019 is 22,000. This represents a year on year increase of 6.8%, however, it is too early at this stage to assess whether this increase is solely as a result of Covid-19 pandemic.

The closing date for receipt of applications for this years back to school clothing and footwear allowance is 30 September 2020. 

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 241. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the decision to reduce the pandemic unemployment payment for a person (details supplied) will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19544/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys An official of my Department reviewed this case and I can confirm that on completion of the review it was determined that the PUP rate will be restored to €350 per week.  Any arrears due will be paid to the person concerned next week.

  I trust this clarifies the matter.

Invalidity Pension

 242. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the requirements will be revised for invalidity pension that includes a claimant having to have 48 contributions in the two years prior to applying if they have the other requirement of not less than 260 contributions in total (details supplied) and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19546/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Social insurance benefits are made available on the basis that when a certain contingency or risk materialises the person involved will need a replacement income. Benefits are intended to replace lost income where a person is, for some reason, not able to engage with the labour force.  Where there is no recent history of contributions being paid or credited then there is no entitlement to most benefits.

Invalidity pension is a substantial and long-term payment for persons who are permanently incapable of work and who satisfy the social insurance conditions. A total of 260 weeks contributions paid and 48 weeks contributions paid or credited in the last complete tax year before the relevant date or in the tax year before the last complete tax year are required to satisfy the PRSI conditions for Invalidity Pension. The reckonable contribution classes are A, E, H and S.

A person on reduced working hours may continue to access social insurance. Currently, there is no set number of hours per week that must be worked to access social insurance. Until 1991 the threshold for access to social insurance was based on hours worked – 18 hours. From April 1991 onwards, a person was insurable at the Class A rate of PRSI if their income equaled or exceeded £25 per week.  This threshold was increased to £30 per week from April 1994 and upon conversion to Euro the £30 threshold became €38.

Therefore, based on the current national minimum wage hourly rate of €10.10, an employee working under 4 hours per week gains access to the full range of social insurance benefits.

A person who is not working may keep up their contribution record in a number of ways. One of these is by credited contributions. A credited contribution is a PRSI contribution awarded to an insured person under certain circumstances, such as proved unemployment. Credited contributions are an integral part of the social insurance system. For the most part they are linked to having an underlying entitlement to a social welfare payment while temporarily detached from the labour force or having entitlement to statutory leave. The primary purpose of credited contributions is to secure social welfare benefits and pensions of employees by covering gaps in insurance where they are not in a position to pay PRSI such as during periods of unemployment, illness, etc. Credits ensure that a person’s insurance record is maintained and can be helpful at a later stage to qualify for other social welfare benefits, such as pensions or to increase the rate of pension that may become payable.

 Appropriate social insurance contributions paid in another European Union Member-State can count for the purpose of bridging a contribution gap – provided that one social insurance contribution is made in Ireland.

Persons who have an insufficient contribution record to qualify for a social insurance benefit may apply for the appropriate means-tested social assistance scheme. For example persons between the ages of 16 and 66 who are suffering from an illness or disability which is expected to last at least 1 year, may qualify for Disability Allowance. Disability Allowance recipients must be habitually resident in the State.

Given that people can count contributions in a range of ways as outlined above, and that credited contributions are awarded in a wide range of circumstances, I do not have plans to change the contribution conditions for Invalidity Pension at this time. 

Any changes to scheme qualifying criteria would have to be considered in a budgetary context. 

Crime Prevention

 243. Deputy Mattie McGrath Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if her attention has been drawn to an article in a newspaper (details supplied); if no public funds provided to an organisation by her Department were used to pay the award of €43,470 as outlined in the article; if an audit will be carried out in order to clarify the issue; if programmes at the organisation will continue to receive funding; if not, if a public tender process will be considered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19249/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department has not provided funding to the organisation referred to by the Deputy for the specific purposes of paying the award mentioned.

In the past, my Department has provided funding to the organisation to cover a portion of its operational costs.  The most recent funding provided in respect of these costs was for the period August 2018 to July 2019.

My Department has also provided funding to the organisation to fund an initiative to support the installation of carbon monoxide alarms in the homes of elderly, isolated and vulnerable people throughout rural Ireland.  Funding in respect of this initiative was provided on the basis of the vouched costs of the alarms and a small administration fee for the organisation concerned.

My Department has requested financial reports from the organisation in respect of the periods covered by the funding and is awaiting receipt of these reports.  My officials will consider whether any further action is necessary when these financial reports are received.

Freedom of Information

 244. Deputy Mairéad Farrell Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of freedom of information requests being processed by her Department; the number that have had the deadline for reply extended; the number that are at least one week, two weeks, one month and over one month overdue, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19357/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department is processing one Freedom of Information request at present. It is not envisaged that the deadline for response to this request will be extended.

Animal Welfare

 245. Deputy Alan Dillon Information on Alan  Dillon Zoom on Alan  Dillon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary his plans to recruit an animal welfare investigator for County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19230/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Dara Calleary): Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary Veterinary Inspectors and Technical Agricultural Officers of my Department around the country are tasked with striving to ensure that animals are being farmed ethically, developing initiatives aimed at cultivating best practice, particularly in relation to animal health and welfare, and conducting disease control related inspections at farm level under Animal Health and Welfare regulations.

My Department does not employ animal welfare investigators.

Horticulture Sector

 246. Deputy Matt Carthy Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary if the horticulture sector will be supported; if the mushroom production and processing industry and all related food production entities will have continued access to Irish peat which is an essential raw material for their viability into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19239/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Dara Calleary): Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary The extent of any commercial impact on the horticulture sector arising from a decision by Bord na Mona to suspend all peat harvesting will depend initially on the level of domestic stocks of horticultural peat on hand, alternative suppliers of peat and the development of alternative growing mediums.

My Department is participating in a cross-departmental working group led by the former Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht which is evaluating the use of peat in the commercial horticulture sector. Future options around the role and use of peat in the horticulture sector are currently under discussion in the working group.

My Department recognising the importance of the horticultural sector and continues to provide a range of dedicated supports. These include the Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Commercial Horticulture which provides support to all sectors within horticulture at a rate of 40% on capital investments.

On a broader level, the EU producer organisation scheme operated by my Department provides EU assistance at a rate of 50% to Producer Organisations implementing measures that support competitiveness, market development and research and innovation through approved operational programmes.  Indeed, in relation to the question posed, my Department is funding research projects examining the scope for peat reduction and peat alternatives through one of the Producer Organisations operating in the fruit and vegetable sector.

Freedom of Information

 247. Deputy Mairéad Farrell Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary the number of freedom of information requests being processed by his Department; the number that have had the deadline for reply extended; the number that are at least one week, two weeks, one month and over one month overdue, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19343/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Dara Calleary): Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary So far in 2020, my Department has received 191 valid requests under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2014.  All valid requests have been dealt with within the statutory timeframe except for those set out in the following table and which are currently being processed. 

Number of FOI requests extended by… 2020
2 week 1
3 weeks 2
4 weeks 9


  One further request is currently just over a month late without a formal extension having been sought, however, the decision-maker has been engaging with the requester who has advised that he is happy to wait for records that are still being collated and the reply is expected to issue in the next week.

Beef Industry

 248. Deputy Martin Browne Information on Martin Browne Zoom on Martin Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary the progress made to date by the beef market task force; the intended role of a beef ombudsman; the way in which the role of same will be of potential benefit to producers; his plans to meet with meat processors and producers; and his views on the effectiveness of the task force in producing tangible benefits for beef farmers. [19391/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Dara Calleary): Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary Last year, the Beef Taskforce was established to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. The Taskforce is providing a robust implementation structure for commitments entered into in the Beef Talks Agreement of 15th September 2019, with timelines and stakeholder engagement.  Substantial progress has been made to date in the implementation of the actions under the agreement. The Beef Taskforce offers a suitable platform for strategic engagement with all the key stakeholders, including retailers and regulatory authorities, and thus has the capacity to provide long term benefits for the entire sector.  The Programme for Government states the commitment and support of the Government for the Beef Taskforce and its work.  

  There is a specific page on my Department's website dedicated to the Beef Taskforce at https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmingsectors/beef/beeftaskforce/.  This webpage contains the agreement reached on 15 September, the Terms of Reference for the Taskforce and updates on progress to date. 

  The Programme for Government includes a commitment to the establishment of a new authority to be called the National Food Ombudsman to enforce the provisions of the Unfair Trading Practices Directive, which must be transposed into Irish law by 1 May 2021.  Any proposed measures that extend beyond the minimum harmonisation requirements of the UTP Directive would require primary legislation.

  My Department has been in consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in preparation for the transposition into national legislation of the Directive. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), under the aegis of that Department is the enforcement authority for S.I. No. 35/2016 (Groceries Goods Undertakings Regulations, 2016). 

  The legal and operational matters associated with the transposition of the UTP Directive and the associated Programme for Government commitment are currently being assessed.   

  I have had initial meetings with Industry and farmer representative organisations, and I look forward to ongoing constructive engagement.  My Department officials have regular engagement with sector stakeholders on a range of issues.


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