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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 407-430
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item School Curriculum
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item School Accommodation
 Header Item School Curriculum
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Departmental Schemes
 Header Item Free Travel Scheme
 Header Item Carer's Allowance
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Exceptional Needs Payment
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Wage Subsidy Scheme
 Header Item Local Employment Service
 Header Item Departmental Data
 Header Item Treatment Benefit Scheme

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1002 No. 7

First Page Previous Page Page of 109 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 407-430

School Transport

 407. Deputy Matt Carthy Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her plans to address the needs of the pupils who have paid for school bus tickets but have yet to secure a seat on their local bus due to lack of capacity in view of the fact that schools remain open; her plans to put on extra buses to cater for these children such as persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44538/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2019/20 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.

The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

All children who are eligible for school transport and who completed the application and payment process on time have been accommodated on school transport services for the 2020/21 school year where such services are in operation. The closing date for payment for the 2020/2021 school year was Tuesday 4th August 2020.

Bus Éireann have advised that the families referred to by the Deputy either submitted their payment after the deadline of 4th August 2020 or did not make a payment.

Late applicants and/or families who pay late are not guaranteed a seat and will only be allocated a seat if capacity is available once seats are allocated to those families who applied and paid on time for transport services for the 2020/2021 school year. In addition, payments or submission of medical card details for Post-Primary seats completed or made after 4th August 2020 will be only considered when 50% capacity, required by Covid19 public health guidelines, is achieved on each route. Bus Éireann continues to offer seats on services where capacity arises.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 408. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the number of schools which have been forced to open against the wishes of the boards of management and principals due to high positivity rates for Covid-19 since the reopening of schools earlier in 2020.; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44551/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley When a covid-19 positive case connected with a school arises, public health contact the school and undertake a public health risk assessment to identify the actions required. The response to confirmed cases or outbreaks of Covid-19 in a school will be led and managed by Public Health HSE. Schools are advised to follow the recommendations of the public health specialists in these circumstances.

This practice ensures that no principal or board of management is burdened with the responsibility of making public health decisions in relation to their school. The public health response to schools this term has been enhanced by the HSE through the increased resourcing of existing School Teams in each HSE area. A dedicated phone number 'HSE live Covid-19 Principal school line is provided by the HSE for school principals to ring in circumstances where they need assistance from Public Health in relation to a confirmed case of Covid-19 within their school community.

The Department of Education will also provide support to the school if they have concerns or are unsure of what course of action to take. My Department engages with schools to provide support when dealing with Covid-19 on a daily basis. In this context my Department is only aware of three schools who sought not to follow public health advice in response to a Covid-19 case.

It should be noted that to date there the public health evidence shows that schools are safe places and that the risk of Covid-19 has been managed very well within the school environment.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 409. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the extent to which her Department has had communication with a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; the dates on, and methods by, which these communications took place; if her Department has spoken with the principal and board of management or had communication with the school outside of the directive sent from her Department to reopen the school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44552/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley Public health specialists have been working with school referred to by the deputy and my official’s engaged with the school principal by phone on 11 September in relation to the decision to close the school.

Public health specialists working with schools and my Department are closely monitoring the situation in all schools to ensure that where schools are open with appropriate infection prevention and control measures, there is no additional threat to public health.

To date the evidence demonstrates that schools are operating safely supported by significant investment to support all infection prevention and control measures recommended by the public health authorities.

When a positive case arises in a school community, the local Public Health team will work with the school and undertake a Public Health Risk Assessment.

Once the risk assessment is complete, the Department of Public Health will then advise the school of the public health instructions which then should be followed by the school.

It is important that such decisions are made by public health experts and that all schools follow public health advice at all times. Schools are also advised to contact my Department’s school’s COVID-19 Helpline for advice in advance of making any decisions to fully or partially close a school or if they are unsure of what course of action to take.

This practice ensures that no principal is burdened with the responsibility of making a public health decision in relation to the closure or otherwise of schools.

My Department has also developed and prepared a comprehensive response to supporting the wellbeing of school communities at this time. The National Educational Psychological Service has been in contact with the school referred to by the deputy to offer support in relation to the academic, social and emotional needs of their students.

  Question No. 410 answered with Question No. 401.

School Curriculum

 411. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her views on making geography a mandatory subject in the secondary school junior cycle curriculum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44565/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley My Department has every confidence that, through the implementation of the Framework for Junior Cycle the place of Geography will be retained and given a new impetus across the Junior Cycle curriculum. As part of the rollout of the new Framework for Junior Cycle, Geography was one of five new subject specifications that were introduced to schools in September 2018.

The new Junior Cycle has been developed over several years with the final phase of new subject specifications introduced to schools in September 2019. The new Framework for Junior Cycle gives students the opportunity to develop a wider range of knowledge and skills – to equip them for further learning, for work, for responsible and active citizenship, and for healthy living. It gives students better learning opportunities, and rewards and recognises non-academic performance and achievements, with a central focus on the student’s quality of life, wellbeing and mental health.

The Framework for Junior Cycle focuses on active and collaborative learning. It gives greater flexibility and autonomy to schools in terms of subject selection, and new short courses, to tailor a student’s learning to achieve better outcomes for that student. Students are able to study up to 10 subjects for certification through the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement.

We have a dedicated cohort of Geography teachers in our post-primary schools, who will be promoting the inclusion of their subject within programmes provided to students by their schools. Through the implementation of the Framework for Junior Cycle 2015 the curricular significance of Geography will be retained and given a new impetus across the Junior Cycle curriculum.

School Transport

 412. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if her attention has been drawn to glitches regarding the Bus Éireann online system for the school transport scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44577/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department. In the 2019/2020 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.

The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

The closing date for payment for the 2020/2021 school year was Tuesday 4th August 2020. All children who are eligible for school transport and who applied and paid by the deadline have been accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation.

In agreement with Bus Éireann, the School Transport Scheme Family Portal was temporarily closed for applications and payments on the 20th August 2020. This temporary closure was necessary to complete the work required to issue tickets to families who at that time remained due to be allocated a ticket for school transport services for the 2020/2021 school year. The School Transport Scheme Family Portal re-opened on the 7th of September.

Other than this agreed period of temporary closure Bus Éireann has confirmed that in recent months they have had no reason, of a technical nature, to take the online application & payment system offline for any period of time due to maintenance or other reasons. However they have advised that on occasion, an individual user may experience a connection problem with the site due to individual or device reasons. This is typically resolved over the phone with Bus Éireann's local offices.

School Accommodation

 413. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh Information on Marc Ó Cathasaigh Zoom on Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if her attention has been drawn to the lack of school places for students in north County Wicklow; if actions are being undertaken to address the shortage of places; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44581/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley My Department is aware of increasing pressures and demand for additional post-primary school places in a number of school planning areas including North County Wicklow.

  Where capacity issues arise, it may not be as a result of lack of accommodation but may be driven by the following factors:

  - Duplication of applications – pupils have applied for a place to a number of schools in the area.

  - School of choice – pupils can’t get a place in their preferred school while there are places in other schools in the town/area.

  - Some towns/areas have single sex schools and while places are available in the school, they are not available to all pupils.

  - External draw – pupils coming from outside the local area

  Until these issues are discussed with the relevant school authorities the true extent of any capacity issue will only become known.

  Similar to the process adopted in advance of the current academic year, my Department is engaging with patron bodies, including those in North County Wicklow, to identify particular capacity requirements for the forthcoming year(s) which may necessitate action.

School Curriculum

 414. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh Information on Marc Ó Cathasaigh Zoom on Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the measures that have been put in place to allow students exercise their right not to attend religious education in schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44582/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley Under Article 44 of the Constitution and in accordance with Section 30 of the Education Act, 1998, parents have a right to have their children opt out of religious instruction classes if they so wish. It is expected that this right will be upheld by schools on foot of a parental request.

Under the provisions of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, all schools have new admissions policies, which have been approved by the patron and published on the schools website. The act requires where schools provide religious instruction that they clearly set out in their admission policies the school’s arrangements for students, where the parent or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, has requested that the student attend the school without attending religious instruction in the school.

The manner in which any school ensures that the right to opt out of religion instruction classes is upheld is a matter for the school concerned. Each individual school must determine the particular arrangements which are most appropriate in its individual circumstances having regard to local issues such as available space, supervision requirements and how the school concerned organises classes etc.

It is important to distinguish religious instruction from the NCCA approved Religious Education subject, where it is offered by a school, must be delivered in the timetabled class periods without any religious instruction or worship of any religion forming any part of class activity. This means that any practice or material that would introduce religious instruction or worship cannot be included in class. This clear separation of religious instruction from the NCCA Religious Education syllabus has the effect of ensuring that withdrawal does not arise for students studying the NCCA Religious Education syllabus where the school provides the subject as part of its normal range of subjects.

School Transport

 415. Deputy Matt Carthy Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if a dangerous school bus pick up point (details supplied) will be addressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44606/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2019/20 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.

The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

Bus Éireann is responsible for the planning and timetabling of school transport routes. Bus Éireann endeavours, within available resources, to ensure that each eligible child has a reasonable level of school transport service in the context of the Scheme nationally. Parents are responsible for ensuring that children are brought safely to and collected safely from Bus Éireann designated pick up and set down points.

Bus Éireann has advised that the pick-up point referred to by the Deputy has been assessed as being suitable as a pick-up point under the School Transport Scheme.

Schools Building Projects

 416. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the extent to which ongoing discussions have taken place or are taking place with the various stakeholders with a view to providing new or extended schools in Celbridge, County Kildare, given the urgency of the situation and the need for a new school at a school (details supplied); the degree to which discussions have taken place with traffic management in Kildare County Council with particular reference to clear traffic routes to facilitate schools in an area of rapid population expansion; the extent to which progress has taken place in the past three months in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44612/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley As the Deputy is aware, building projects for the schools to which he refers are included in my Department's school building programme.

A new site will be required for this school campus development to cater for the permanent accommodation needs of these schools and the Department is presently at a very advanced stage in the process of acquiring a suitable site, located at Donaghcumper.

I can confirm that agreement in principle has been reached with a landowner for the acquisition of the site and that ongoing work is progressing in respect of technical matters crucial to the delivery of the acquisition. These matters are being addressed as a priority. As part of the appraisal, traffic management analysis is being examined and the Department is actively engaging with Kildare County Council and the landowner on all aspects of the future operation of the proposed site.

Due to the commercially sensitive nature of the site acquisition, I am unable to elaborate further but I wish to assure the Deputy that my Department is anxious to progress the campus development.

Schools Building Projects

 417. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of the upgrading of facilities, extension or replacement of facilities at a school (details supplied); the total accommodation requirements being met; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44613/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is included in my Department’s Construction Programme which is being delivered under the National Development Plan. Following completion of the project the school will have a total accommodation of 16 mainstream classrooms and a 2-classroom Special Educational Needs Base.

The project is currently at Stage 1 of Architectural Planning, Preliminary Design and Site Investigations. A Stage 1 Stakeholders Meeting was held between the Board of Management, Project Manager, Design Team and officials from my Department earlier this month. Following that meeting, the Design Team have been requested to submit a Stage 1 Addendum in relation to the preferred design option, for review by my Department.

Upon receipt and review of the Addendum, my Department will contact the Board of Management and its Design Team in relation to the progression of the project.

Departmental Schemes

 418. Deputy Pauline Tully Information on Pauline  Tully Zoom on Pauline  Tully asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will review the Tús scheme to allow persons who have been participating on the scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic to extend the time they can remain on it by the same time they missed out due to restrictions, if they so choose, in order that they can benefit from the experience gained on this work placement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44277/20]

 425. Deputy Pauline Tully Information on Pauline  Tully Zoom on Pauline  Tully asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the Tús scheme will be reviewed to allow persons who have been participating on the scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic to extend the time they can remain on the scheme by the same time they missed out due to restrictions, if they so choose, in order to benefit from the experience gained on work placement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44283/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection (Deputy Joe O'Brien): Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien I propose to take Questions Nos. 418 and 425 together.

Tús is a community work placement initiative that commenced operation in 2011 as a response to high levels of unemployment, providing short-term work opportunities for those who have been unemployed for more than a year, in community work placements. The duration of each Tús contract is 12 months.

During the first phase of public health restrictions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, my Department continued to provide funding for Tús and introduced a number of contingency measures to support this scheme and participants. These included the extension of employment contracts for those Tús participants who were due to finish during this emergency period, enabling Tús schemes to continue to deliver a range of services to the community. When Level 5 restrictions were introduced in October 2020, the Department again continued to fund the Tús schemes and extended contracts for those Tús participants who were due to finish up over the Level-5 restrictions period.

In keeping with the Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol, centralised recruitment of Tús participants recommenced in July, 2020 and continued until the introduction of the Level-5 restrictions last October. Local recruitment and self-referrals have continued throughout the period including the recent level 5 restriction period. Department officials have continued to liaise with Tús Implementing Bodies in filling active placements where it is safe to do so, in compliance with public health restrictions.

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 this scheme's role as an active labour market activation programme.

The Tús programme remains an important employment and activation programme for my Department, providing valuable opportunities for Tús participants and supporting the delivery of essential local community services throughout the country. The scheme is a key support and one that complements the range of employment support services and activation programmes delivered by the Department.

There are no plans to extend participant duration on Tús at present, beyond the contingency support measures introduced during COVID 19 public health restrictions, as outlined previously.

Free Travel Scheme

 419. Deputy Joe O'Brien Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if consideration will be given to extending the applicability of the free travel pass to taxis for persons who do not have access to a public transport route but need to travel for medical or hospital appointments. [44334/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The free travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators. There are currently approx. 981,000 customers with direct eligibility. The estimated expenditure on free travel in 2020 is €95 million.

The objective of the free travel scheme is to ensure that older people and people with disabilities remain active within their community. The Free Travel Scheme was never intended to provide additional transport options to travel pass holders but to allow them access to existing services available from transport providers who participate in the scheme.

One of the key aspects of the free travel scheme is that the service provided is via open, publicly available services. Taxis are private hire vehicles and any decision to allow free travel pass holders to use their free travel passes on a category of private hire vehicles would lead to similar requests from other groups that provide private hire vehicles. This would place significant extra costs and additional administrative complexities on the free travel scheme. It would lead to a fundamental change to the nature of the Free Travel Scheme and would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.

The provision of accessible public transport in rural areas is a matter for the Minister for Transport. In this regard, my Department provides an annual funding contribution of €1.5 million from the Free Travel budget provision towards the Transport for Ireland Local Link Programme, which is administered by the National Transport Authority under the auspices of the Department of Transport. The Programme provides services to people whose travel needs are not met by existing bus or train services. The Programme aims to enhance and sustain nationwide accessibility through community based participation, particularly for those at risk of social exclusion. Services provided include door to door services on certain routes.

Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) Scheme supports may be available to assist with necessary travel costs. The support can either be on a once-off basis as an exceptional needs payment or as a supplement where there is an ongoing need. There is no automatic entitlement to such payments. Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned. At the end of 2019, 141 persons were in receipt of a Travel Supplement. In addition, over 17,200 exceptional needs payments were made in 2019 to assist with travel costs, at a cost of almost €1.2 million.

I hope this clarifies the matter.

Carer's Allowance

 420. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when a decision will be made on a carer's allowance review for a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44185/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Carer's allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment made to a person who is habitually resident in the State and who is providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that as a result they require that level of care.

  An application for CA was received from the person concerned on 20 October 2020.

  Following a request for further information, the evidence submitted in support of this application was examined. The Deciding Officer (DO) decided to disallow the application for CA on grounds that the person concerned was taking part in a Community Employment (CE) Scheme. Section 247 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, as amended, prohibits a person engaged in a CE Scheme from claiming Carer’s Allowance.

  The person concerned was notified on 16 November 2020 of this decision, the reason for it and of his right of review and appeal.

  A review was requested on 27 November 2020. Additional evidence was submitted, including a letter of cessation from the CE Scheme provider. On examination of this evidence, CA was awarded to the person concerned from 3 December 2020.

  The first payment will issue to his nominated bank account on 17 December 2020. Arrears of allowance due from 3 December 2020 to 16 December 2020 will also issue on 17 December 2020.

  The person concerned was notified on 14 December 2020 of this decision, the reason for it and of his right of appeal.

  I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 421. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the reason a person (details supplied) has not received full pandemic unemployment payment arrears. [44214/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Unfortunately, due to a technical problem, arrears did not issue to the person concerned on the date previously advised. According to my officials arrears totalling €8,057 for the period 03/04/2020 to 05/11/2020 will issue to the nominated bank account of the person concerned by Tuesday of next week.

  The Christmas Bonus payment of €203 will also issue to the person concerned with his weekly payment next Tuesday, 22/12/2020.

  I trust this clarifies the matter.

Pension Provisions

 422. Deputy Paul Kehoe Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the introduction of the auto-enrolment pension during the course of 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44247/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce a pension auto-enrolment system. The objective of this commitment is to address the low proportion of employees in Ireland with supplementary pension cover, which includes both occupational and personal pensions. In this regard, Ireland is the only OECD country without a mandatory or automatic enrolment supplementary pension system.

  The rate of supplementary pension coverage in Ireland is just over 50% of the working population (CSO, Pension Coverage Survey 2019) and this reduces to less than 35% when the private sector is considered in isolation. Many of these people will become reliant on the State pension for all or most of their income in retirement and accordingly, may face a significant unwanted drop in income.

  Although the Roadmap for Pensions Reform 2018 to 2023 provided for the development and implementation of an Automatic Enrolment (AE) retirement savings system by 2022, this Government recognises the exceptional strain that both employers and employees are now under. Therefore, the Government will now seek to gradually deliver an AE system, based on the following principles:

  - There will be a phased roll-out, over a decade, of the contribution made by workers.

  - Matching contributions will be made by both workers and employers and the State will top up contributions.

  - There will be an opt-out provision for those who choose to opt out.

  - Workers will have a range of retirement savings products to choose from.

  - There will be a charges cap imposed on pension providers.

  A phased introduction of the system is believed to be achievable in the current situation. As part of this phased introduction, the Automatic Enrolment Programme Management Office (AEPMO), based in my Department, is currently working on developing options for Government to consider in 2021. There are five main areas where work is ongoing so as to produce design options. These areas relate to:

  - the scope and role of a central processing authority for the system;

  - the nature and functions of registered providers of savings products;

  - the investment framework and funds to be offered by registered providers, including the design of the default fund and the pay-out phase;

  - the design of the State financial incentive; and

  - the phasing of implementation.

  In progressing this work, the Department is receiving technical support from the European Commission’s DG Reform which assists EU member states implementing administrative and institutional reforms and this support will continue to be provided next year.

  In addition, the Interdepartmental ‘Automatic Enrolment Programme Board’ will be meeting regularly in the coming months to provide the strategic direction for the development of the AE system.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Exceptional Needs Payment

 423. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the progress to date in the determination of an application for an exceptional needs payment in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44276/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The person concerned submitted an application for an Exceptional Needs Payment (ENP) to my officials on 20/11/2020.

  This application was refused as the person concerned had failed to provide all of the requested documentation. A decision letter dated 7/12/2020 issued to the person concerned advising her of the outcome and affording her the option to request a review of her case to the reviewing officer whose contact details were provided.

  If the person concerned wishes to have her case reviewed she should include the required documentation in support of her request.

  It is open to the person concerned to submit a new application for an ENP in the future should her circumstances change.

  I trust this clarifies the matter.

Social Welfare Benefits

 424. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the correct rate of benefit is being paid to a person (details supplied). [44281/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I am advised that the person concerned is not currently in receipt of a payment from this Department.

  An application for Illness Benefit was received from the person concerned on 9 November 2020.

  One of the qualifying conditions for Illness Benefit is that a person must have 39 weeks of PRSI contributions paid or credited in the relevant tax year, of which 13 must be paid contributions at class A, E, H or P. Alternatively, a person may have 26 weeks of PRSI contributions paid in the relevant tax year, and 26 weeks of PRSI contributions paid in the tax year immediately before the relevant tax year with all such contributions at class A, E, H or P.

  I am advised that the person concerned does not satisfy the contribution conditions for payment of Illness Benefit and a letter has issued to him explaining the position. He can continue to send in medical certificates in order to receive PRSI credited contributions for the duration of his illness.

  Should the person concerned be in need of urgent financial assistance, it is open to him to contact the Community Welfare Service at his local Intreo Centre.

  I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

  Question No. 425 answered with Question No. 418.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 426. Deputy Colm Burke Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if provisions or supports have been put in place for persons who have contracted Covid-19 and as a result have been unable to work due to prolonged ill health and who require an indefinite period of work leave; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44298/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department provides a suite of income supports for those who are unable to work due to an illness or disability. It is important to note that entitlement to these supports is not contingent on the nature of the illness/disability but on the extent to which a particular illness or disability impairs or restricts a person’s capacity to work.

In March of this year, under the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (No. 1) and subsequent regulations, the Government provided for entitlement to illness benefit for persons who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or are a probable source of infection with Covid-19.

The rate of payment of the enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of Covid-19 is higher than the normal maximum personal rate for a limited period. The measures were designed to ensure that where a registered medical practitioner or a HSE medical officer diagnoses a person with Covid-19 or identifies him or her as a probable source of infection of Covid-19, the person can comply with medical advice to isolate, while having their income protected. This is essential to limit and slow down the spread of the virus, to keep the number of people affected to a minimum, and to reduce a peak of cases which would cause extreme pressure on the health system.

The enhanced rate of Illness Benefit was brought in as a short-term public health measure and is not a long-term income support payment. It is payable for 2 weeks where a person is isolating as a probable source of infection of Covid-19 and up to 10 weeks where a person has been diagnosed with Covid-19. The purpose of the enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of Covid-19 is to encourage people to not go to work due to financial constraint when they should be in isolation.

In a case where a person continues to be ill beyond 10 weeks, standard Illness Benefit may be paid for an extended period, based on the person’s continued eligibility. Illness Benefit is the primary income support payment for people who are unable to attend work due to illness of any type. Additional payments may also be made in respect of a qualified adult and qualifying children.

Apart from these income supports, my Department also provides means tested supports under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme for people who are ill but who do not qualify for Illness Benefit. The Department may also 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.

I trust that this clarifies the matter.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

 427. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will clarify the previous assurances given to workers (details supplied) relating to payments to them as a result of short-time working; if claims dating back to the time of the operation of the temporary wage subsidy scheme have been dealt with; if these claims can be fast-tracked for the Christmas period; if her Department has been in contact with the company about its employees who have not received any payments or have been underpaid for days on which they were laid off due to the miscategorisation of their position by the company on the UP38 form; if workers, in the period before the EWSS was initiated, are entitled to some payment if they were only working for some days in each week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44324/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys A review team has been set up in the Department to systematically review claims from Aer Lingus employees for the period between March and end-August when the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme was in payment. The Department is writing to individual employees of the company requesting that they contact their employer for the information that required to complete the review. The employer is required to complete a UP38 form in respect of the employee, providing details for each day in the review period on whether the employee was employed/remunerated.

Entitlement to a casual jobseeker's or short-time work support payment for any day during the review period depends, among other things, on whether or not a person received remuneration from their employer, including TWSS, for that day. Each case needs to be examined individually to determine if the remuneration paid by the company concerned was in respect of a complete period or only specific days within a period. This will determine if a person may be entitled to a casual jobseeker's payment in respect of the days on which a person did not work and were not remunerated.

My Department has continued to engage with the company and has also made an arrangement with the company that, if my Department asks its employees for particular information, the company is aware of what is required and will immediately supply it to the employee via email.

Unfortunately, because of the volume and complexity of claims involved and the need to go back to individuals, the process will take some time. My staff are committed to keep processing them until a decision is reached on each one and it is intended to get through the claims in the coming weeks.

It should be noted that all of the cases under review are currently in payment and, as only the March to August period when TWSS was in operation, is under review, current payments should not be affected.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Local Employment Service

 428. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to ensure there is delivery of a local employment service in County Galway by a company located in County Galway; when tenders will issue for such a service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44341/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As the Deputy is aware, existing local employment services were recently notified that their contracts would be renewed until end-2021. There are many parts of the State, including County Galway, where there has never been a local employment service provision.

I recently received the report from external consultants which reviewed my Department's entire Public Employment Services provision, including local employment services. This report addresses, among other things, the gaps in the provision of employment services in the State.

Any expansion of employment services would need to be in line with EU procurement guidelines and legal advice to my Department and therefore would be through an open competitive procurement process.

No specific request for tender is currently under preparation by my Department for an expansion of employment services in County Galway. However, officials in my Department are preparing to commence a broad procurement of such services during 2021 and it is fully anticipated that such a service will be procured for County Galway with these services becoming operational in 2022.

Departmental Data

 429. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of persons who are currently engaged with the JobPath scheme. [44348/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As the Deputy will be aware my Department provides a range of activation supports catering for long-term unemployed jobseekers and those most distant from the labour market to secure and sustain full-time paid employment. These supports include the JobPath service, which assists people who are long-term unemployed to obtain and sustain paid employment.

  There are two phases to the JobPath service. During the first phase, of 12 months duration, a personal advisor (PA) provides practical assistance in searching, preparing for, securing and sustaining employment. The second phase starts if the jobseeker is successful in finding work. During this phase the PA continues to work with the client for a further period of up to 12 months. In addition to the two phases, jobseekers may also undertake training while with the service and this may extend the period the jobseeker is supported through the service for up to a further 6 months.

  There are currently some 39,691 people engaged with the JobPath service across the two phases.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Treatment Benefit Scheme

 430. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if a person (details supplied) qualifies for optical benefit under the treatment benefit scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44364/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The person concerned has the required number of PRSI contributions paid to qualify for the treatment benefits scheme and is qualified for life. According to the Department's records, he received a free optical examination and a contribution towards the cost of Optical appliances in January 2020.

   I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy


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