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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 29-48
 Header Item Employment Rights
 Header Item Further and Higher Education
 Header Item Workplace Relations Commission
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Company Law
 Header Item Ministerial Meetings
 Header Item Employment Rights
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Labour Market
 Header Item Brexit Data
 Header Item Departmental Expenditure
 Header Item Environmental Policy
 Header Item Departmental Offices
 Header Item Prospecting Licences
 Header Item Recycling Policy
 Header Item Prospecting Licences
 Header Item Commission for Regulation of Utilities
 Header Item Ministerial Advisers
 Header Item Departmental Staff

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 5
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 111 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 29-48

Employment Rights

 29. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the steps he is taking to ensure compliance with the construction sector sectoral employment orders by all companies working here. [10008/21]

 30. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he and his officials will meet with an organisation (details supplied) regarding non-compliance with the construction sector sectoral employment orders and bogus self-employment in the construction sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10009/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 30 together.

A Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) is made in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 3 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015. Under the provisions of the 2015 Act, the Labour Court issues a statutory report to me as Minister following an examination of the relevant economic sector and submissions made by interested parties. The recommended SEO provisions are given statutory footing under Chapter 3 of the 2015 Act.

The most recent Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) for the Construction Sector came into effect on 1 October 2019. The Order fixes the statutory minimum rates of pay and other conditions for example, sick pay and pension entitlements for craftspeople, construction operatives and apprentices employed in the construction sector. Any employer in that sector has a legal duty to comply, at a minimum, with those terms.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is an office under the aegis of this Department. The WRC is a statutory office and is independent in the exercise of its functions. The role of the WRC is to achieve compliance with employment legislation. The WRC’s functions include providing information services to employers and employees, adjudicating on complaints and inspecting workplace records to ensure compliance with the legislation. Employees whose rights under an SEO have not been complied with can refer the matter to the WRC for investigation.

On the 23 June 2020, the High Court ruled the SEO making powers as invalid and struck down the parent legislation under which they were made as unconstitutional contrary to Article 15.2.1. The judgement provided a stay on existing SEOs, pending appeal. An appeal hearing has concluded and the ruling is awaited. Any subsequent action will be determinant on consideration of that decision.

Further and Higher Education

 31. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if any of the skill sets on the critical skills occupation list have been removed from the list since it was established; and if his Department will work with the Departments of Education and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to ensure that Ireland is training and skilling students for these areas. [10010/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Ireland operates a managed employment permits system maximising the benefits of economic migration and minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland’s labour market. The regime is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills and/or labour shortages in the State, required to develop and support enterprise for the benefit of our economy. However, this objective must be balanced by the need to ensure that there are no suitably qualified Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is a genuine one. The system is, by design, vacancy led and driven by the changing needs of the labour market, expanding and contracting in tandem with its inherent fluctuations.

The system is managed through the operation of the critical skills and the ineligible occupations lists which determine employments that are either in high demand or are ineligible for consideration for an employment permit. These lists undergo twice yearly evidence based reviews which is guided by available research undertaken by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), the Skills and the Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU) in SOLAS and includes a public consultation process . Account is taken of education outputs, sectoral upskilling and training initiatives and known contextual factors such as Brexit and, in the current context, COVID 19 and their impact on the labour market. Consideration is also taken of the views of the relevant policy Department and the Economic Migration Inter-Departmental Group, chaired by the Department. The Departments of Education and now the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Innovation, Research and Science are active members of the Interdepartmental Group.

Changes to the occupation lists are considered where there are no suitable Irish/EEA nationals available, development opportunities are not undermined, genuine skills shortages exist rather than a recruitment or retention problem and Government education, training and economic development policies are supported. In 2015 was the last time that two occupations were removed from the Critical Skills Occupations List.

My Department is aware that it is essential that Irish enterprise has access to high-quality, adaptable and flexible talent. In order to meet this demand, the Government is committed to building and retaining a highly skilled workforce to serve the needs of the economy. This goal is set out under the framework of an overarching skills development strategy, Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025, which sets out a vision of how Ireland can continue to develop relevant skills and ensure that the supply of skills is activated and effectively used.

This is particularly important in the context of the pandemic, which has accelerated some deep structural shifts that were already in train across the economy, particularly when it comes to the twin transitions- digital and green. We know that many of the jobs that exist today may not exist by the end of this decade, but we also know there will be new jobs and new occupations and new businesses.

The sophisticated skills architecture established in Ireland is key in identifying and responding to skills gaps as identified by enterprise and education and training providers. It constitutes the following elements:

National Skills Council (NSC): The NSC was established in 2017. It provides a mechanism for mediating demands on resources in a manner that facilitates prioritisation of identified skills needs, while at the same time enhancing education and training provider responses to and delivery of these identified needs. The Council draws on the work of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit in SOLAS, and the Regional Skills Fora.

Regional Skills Fora: A network of 9 Regional Skills Fora fosters close co-operation at regional level between education and training providers and regional enterprise. The Fora provide a cohesive education-led structure for employers and the further education and higher education system to work together in building the skills needs of their regions.

Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN): The EGFSN is an independent, non-statutory body, which includes representatives from the business community, trade unions, and a number of Government Departments and agencies. It identifies the skills required by enterprise across occupations and sectors, as well as providing information to education and training providers to allow them to support the alignment of programmes with employers’ needs. My Department provides the EGFSN with research and secretariat support.

The Government is supporting participation in upskilling and reskilling through a range of education and training programmes informed by this labour market and skills intelligence, which are funded through the National Training Fund. These include Skillnet Ireland, the Higher Education Authority’s Springboard+ programme, apprenticeships and digital upskilling programmes such as SOLAS’s Skills to Advance and Skills to Compete. The National Training Fund is also supporting an annual €60 million investment in the Higher Education system, through the Human Capital Initiative.

As part of the July 2020 Jobs Stimulus, the Government also introduced a series of initiatives focussed on workforce upskilling and the skilling or reskilling of new workforce entrants and those made redundant by the pandemic. These include:

- 35,000 additional places in further and higher education

- A Retrofit Skills Training Initiative, to support future expansion of the National Retrofitting Programme; and

- An Apprenticeship Incentivisation Scheme, to support employers to take on new apprentices in 2020. This has been extended into 2021.

Through the agencies and initiatives mentioned above my Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will continue to ensure that an adequate and appropriately skilled workforce remains readily available to meet modern market requirements.

Workplace Relations Commission

 32. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan Information on Pádraig O'Sullivan Zoom on Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the number of cases heard by the Workplace Relations Commission in each of the years 2018 to 2020, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10096/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Since establishment, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has held over 20000 hearings in relation to complaints submitted to its Adjudication Service and, between 2018 and 2020, held some 12220 hearings. The breakdown per year is set out in the table below.

  In terms of complaints submitted, many such complaints are withdrawn or settled prior to, or in the context of WRC hearings, and, in disposing of complaints, the WRC provides a pre-adjudication mediation service to assist parties resolve matters without the need for adjudication.

  The onset of the Covid19 pandemic, in common with many adjudicative bodies, has had a significant impact on WRC service delivery. To address this the WRC in April 2020, carried out an extensive consultation with stakeholders to seek input on alternative approaches to complaint disposal. In this regard, the WRC proposed a service mix of written procedures, virtual hearings and, as circumstances allowed, in-person hearings.

  In terms of the impact of Covid19 on scheduling, some 800 face-to-face adjudication case hearings scheduled to be heard in April and May were cancelled on foot of Covid-19 restriction announcements. A further 750 potential face-to-face hearings were lost during the months of June and July in line with appropriate restrictions on gatherings and travel. In total, over 2000 potential hearings were lost in 2020 which impacted directly on the number of decisions issued.

  However, since S.I. 359/2020, which had the effect of removing the need for parties’ consent to virtual hearings came into force in September 2020, the WRC has been scheduling 100 virtual hearings a week on average, which is similar to the level of face-to-face hearings that pertained in 2019. The WRC has a target of scheduling 130 such hearings a week across 2021. This target is designed to return the WRC to pre-Covid-19 equilibrium in hearings terms by the end of the year and my Department has agreed support necessary to assist the WRC in this regard.   

  Adjudication Hearings by WRC Adjudication Service 2015-2020

  2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Adjudications Heard - 3518 4370 5312 5009 1899

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 33. Deputy Cathal Crowe Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if the period of time an employee has been on the temporary wage subsidy scheme or the pandemic unemployment payment will be taken into consideration as part of their tenure for redundancy packages. [10162/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar In order to qualify for a statutory redundancy payment, an employee must have 104 weeks continuous employment, be an employed contributor in employment which was insurable for all benefits under the Social Welfare Acts and be over the age of 16. An eligible employee is entitled to two weeks statutory redundancy payment for every year of service, plus a bonus week. Compensation is based on the worker’s length of reckonable service and reckonable weekly remuneration, subject to a ceiling of €600 per week.

The current situation is that the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 provides that a period of layoff within the final 3 years of service before redundancy is not allowable as reckonable service and is not included as service for the purposes of the calculation of the redundancy lump sum payment. So, as it stands, an employee who is in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is on layoff from their employment and that period of layoff is not allowable as reckonable service. Time spent on the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme is not considered to be a lay-off period.

The Department has sought legal advice on the matter. It is legally complex for several reasons, and the Department is considering the full implications before any decision is made. The Department will continue to discuss with trade union and employer representatives.

Company Law

 34. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will review the powers of receivers outlined in the Companies Act 2014 with a view to ensuring that they act responsibly and in the best interest of the objectives for which they were appointed; if he will legislate to independently regulate receivers; the number of complaints made against receivers; the actions taken to address the complaints; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10172/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Receivers are currently appointed either by:

  - Order of the court;

  - Under a relevant security e.g. a mortgage or a charge which contains the contractual terms in relation to their appointment and their powers under the instrument; or

  - Statute under the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 and the Conveyancing Act 1881.

  The Companies Act 2014 has application only to receivers who are appointed to preserve, manage or sell the property of a company. The provisions of Part 8 amongst other things, disqualify certain persons from being appointed as a receiver, require that the Registrar of Companies be notified where a receiver is appointed, and set out the powers a receiver has following appointment.

  In December 2018, the then Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation requested the Company Law Review Group (CLRG), a statutory advisory body, to examine and recommend ways in which company law could be potentially amended to ensure the better governance of receivers appointed to the property of a company.

  In May 2019, the CLRG submitted its report on the regulation of receivers; this report is available publicly on the CLRG website. The Programme for Government includes a commitment to review the regulation of receivers. The CLRG's recommendations around supervision, costs, qualifications and the provision of information will be considered by my officials with a view to progressing any necessary legislation as soon as is practicable.   

Ministerial Meetings

 35. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will meet with an association (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10249/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The request for a meeting is currently under consideration and my office will be in contact with the Association shortly.

Employment Rights

 36. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if processes are in place to ensure compliance in the construction sector with the sectoral employment order; if the order is mandatory for those in the construction sector; the enforcement measures in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10263/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar A Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) is made in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 3 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015. Under the provisions of the 2015 Act, the Labour Court issues a statutory report to me as Minister following an examination of the relevant economic sector and submissions made by interested parties. The recommended SEO provisions are given statutory footing under Chapter 3 of the 2015 Act.

The most recent Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) for the Construction Sector came into effect on 1 October 2019. The Order fixes the statutory minimum rates of pay and other conditions for example, sick pay and pension entitlements for craftspeople, construction operatives and apprentices employed in the construction sector. Any employer in that sector has a legal duty to comply, at minimum, with those terms.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is an office under the aegis of this Department. The WRC is a statutory office and is independent in the exercise of its functions. The role of the WRC is to achieve compliance with employment legislation. The WRC’s functions include providing information services to employers and employees, adjudicating on complaints and inspecting workplace records to ensure compliance with the legislation. Employees whose rights under an SEO have not been complied with can refer the matter to the WRC for investigation.

On the 23 June 2020, the High Court ruled the SEO making powers as invalid and struck down the parent legislation under which they were made as unconstitutional contrary to Article 15.2.1. The judgement provided a stay on existing SEOs, pending appeal. An appeal hearing has concluded and the ruling is awaited. Any subsequent action will be determinant on consideration of that decision.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 37. Deputy Paul McAuliffe Information on Paul  McAuliffe Zoom on Paul  McAuliffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the number of applications that have been received for the restart fund by Dublin City Council from businesses; the funding that has been allocated to the authority; the number of businesses that have received funding under the fund from Dublin City Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10265/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Restart Grant and Restart Grant Plus schemes were designed to help small and medium sized businesses get back on their feet after what has been an exceptionally difficult time. The Restart Grant scheme was launched on 15 May with a budget of €250 million. The Restart Grant Plus scheme was launched on 10 August with an additional budget of €300m from the Government’s July Jobs Stimulus as a result of the increasing demand for the scheme.

  The purpose of the schemes was to help with the cost of reopening or adapting business premises so that normal business could resume. Grant payments were administered by the Local Authorities via the commercial rates system as this was considered the most effective means to get urgent financial assistance to small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

  The Restart Grant Plus scheme closed to new applications on 31 October and the COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) operated by the Revenue Commissioners is now in place.

  The Government has put in place a comprehensive package to help businesses and workers during the pandemic, including the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), the COVID-19 Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), low-cost loans, the deferral and warehousing of tax liabilities and the waiver of commercial rates. Details of the wide range of COVID-19 schemes are available on my Department’s website at https://enterprise.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

  On 9th February last I announced a new €60m Scheme called the COVID-19 Business Aid Scheme (CBAS) that is being developed to provide grants to businesses ineligible for the Government’s other existing schemes such as CRSS and to help with fixed costs. Wholesalers, suppliers, caterers and events companies down 75% or more in turnover and who are in receipt of a rates bill from their local authority can benefit, including those that commenced at the end of 2019.

  In response to the Deputy’s specific question and as of 12   February 2021, Dublin City Council received a total of 6,645 applications to the Restart Grant Scheme, 5007 of which were approved for payment. The total amount of funding allocated to the Council under the Restart Grant Scheme was €29,700,945.

  In terms of the Restart Grant Plus Scheme, Dublin City Council received 8393 applications, of which 7,276 were approved for payment. The total amount of funding allocated to the Council under the Restart Grant Plus Scheme was €68,321,860.

Labour Market

 38. Deputy Chris Andrews Information on Chris Andrews Zoom on Chris Andrews asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the discussions he has had with the companies that will require significant assistance from seasonal workers during summer 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10281/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar In September 2020, my colleague, Damien English T.D., Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, met with the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland at which they identified a need for a temporary and targeted seasonal employment permit for their sector.

In December 2020, Minister English met with Keelings Ltd in which they outlined that their sector across Europe recruits seasonal workers from other EU/non-EEA states on an annual basis, with workers coming mostly from some eastern EU Member States, though some also come from adjoining non-EEA States, and that these workers are vital to ensuring the food supply chains are maintained.

The 2018 Review of Economic Migration Policy found that there is a clear role for time limited work permissions for seasonal contracts for typically 6-9 months. Ireland is an outlier in not having this form of permission. To meet this demand, the development of a seasonal employment permit is proposed in the new Employment Permit (Consolidation and Amendment) Bill, the drafting of which has commenced.

Brexit Data

 39. Deputy Neale Richmond Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he has considered publishing an impact assessment on the UK-EU trade deal on Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10349/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As the Deputy will be aware, the European Union and the United Kingdom reached an agreement on their future relationship on 24 December 2020, which provisionally entered into force on 1 January 2021. The Agreement delivers on the EU’s and Ireland’s objectives with businesses having access to zero rate preferential tariffs and quotas on goods traded between the EU and UK once the usual rules of origin for the EU-UK Free Trade Area are met. This is vitally important for the agri-food sector, for example, which would otherwise have faced very significant additional costs and barriers when trading with the UK.

The Agreement should also preserve the flow of trade and services with the inclusion of critical elements on energy, public procurement and services. It also contains welcome arrangements on road haulage, cross border bus services, rail, sea and air transport – all of which are vital for the easy movement of people, and delivery of goods and services.

In 2018, my Department, in conjunction with Copenhagen Economics, undertook a comprehensive study to consider the impact of Brexit on Ireland’s trade and economy. The focus of the study was on the long term impact of four Brexit scenarios, including a “Free Trade Agreement (FTA) scenario” for GDP, national income, exports and imports. All results were to be compared to a 2030 baseline had Brexit not occurred.

The FTA scenario used in the model reflected the average of all existing EU FTAs, rather than any single specific existing Agreement. Furthermore, following agreement in October 2019 on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration for the Future Relationship between the EU and the UK, my Department commissioned further economic modelling to reflect the benefits of the terms of the Agreement and Political Declaration/Protocol on Northern Ireland. This Analysis calculated that growth levels would be 3.2 to 3.9 per cent below where it would otherwise be, depending on whether a "best-case" or "worst-case" scenario was modelled. This effectively reduced by half the adverse impacts on the Irish economy that had been forecast for a trading relationship with the UK based on WTO terms, and the study identified a lessening of the negative impacts envisaged for the more generic FTA modelled in the previous Copenhagen Economics analysis.

As regards undertaking a further impact assessment of the concluded EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), I believe it is too early to commence a meaningful economic and environmental impact assessment at this point as certain parts of the TCA and the Northern Ireland Protocol have grace periods or temporary derogations attached to them before they take full long-term effect. For example, by 31 March 2021 the 3-month derogation from the requirement to provide export health certificates on food supplies from Great Britain to Northern Ireland ends. On the other hand, a framework for regulatory cooperation in financial services between the EU and the UK is to be agreed by March 2021 and the EU is assessing the UK’s data privacy regime before deciding whether to grant a data adequacy decision in favour of the UK. Therefore, we will not have sufficient statistical data available to assess the totality of the impact of the TCA until such temporary derogations and all elements of the Agreement are fully in force, including any further easements or derogations that may be agreed under the TCA Joint Committee structures. However, I am fully committed to such post-implementation evaluation at an appropriate point.

In the meantime, I should note that my Department and the Enterprise Agencies are in constant contact with industry bodies including through the Enterprise Forum and the Retail Forum to identify where sectoral and regional impacts of the TCA are emerging at an operational level. We have a large number of Brexit supports including planning vouchers, consultancy and mentoring supports, the Enterprise Ireland Ready for Customs Grant of up to €9,000, as well as financial supports for adapting and restructuring business models and grants for research into new markets to assist companies respond to the new TCA dispensation. In addition, Budget 2021 provided contingency funding for COVID-19 and for all Brexit outcomes and the Government is committed to assisting firms on a dynamic basis in responding to Brexit, especially those firms that are in the most severely impacted sectors.

Departmental Expenditure

 40. Deputy Sorca Clarke Information on Sorca Clarke Zoom on Sorca Clarke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the expenditure by his Department to date on awareness raising campaigns of Covid-19 in national newspapers, regional newspapers, national radio, regional and local radio stations and across social media platforms; and the amount committed to expend under any current contracts or agreements with same in tabular form. [10469/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As part of the broader Government’s COVID-19 Communications campaign, my Department promoted COVID-19 supports for business, as well as raised awareness around the Return to Work Safely Protocol and safe reopening of the retail sector through a Shop Safely campaign.

  The following tables set out both the funding spent to date by my Department on Covid-19 awareness raising communications campaigns and on further monies my Department will spend under current contracts and agreements.

Funding spent

Environmental Policy

 41. Deputy Steven Matthews Information on Steven  Matthews Zoom on Steven  Matthews asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his views on a potential mechanism that would encourage businesses that operate online under an Irish domain name to indicate the provenance of items for sale, which could assist customers in making informed choices regarding the environmental impact of their purchase due to air miles and to support Irish producers. [10522/21]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Deputy has raised an interesting question. Certainly, the more information that consumers have the better in terms of them being able to make buying decisions informed by the values that they consider important. We all know that price, quality, design and other considerations are factors in buying decisions but there is a growing and welcome focus on other factors such as the sustainability of the product and the impact that well informed consumer behaviour can have on the environment.

As Minister with responsibility for consumer protection, my focus of course is on protecting consumers and ensuring that products are safe to use and that they have rights to refunds, replacements, etc., in certain situations. In this regard, the issue of displaying information about the origin of a product for consumer protection purposes is not simple as it involves an interplay between the Directive (EU) on Unfair Commercial Practice Directive (UCPD) and the EU Consumer Rights Directive (CRD). Traders who sell their goods online are required to provide particular information at the pre-contractual stage to consumers who may be considering whether or not to purchase a product from that trader. The information requirements are contained in Schedule 2 to S.I. No. 484/2013 - European Union (Consumer Information, Cancellation and Other Rights) Regulations 2013. Schedule 2, paragraph (a) of the Regulation provides that prior to the conclusion of a distance contract, the trader will provide information in relation to the main characteristics of the goods or services, to the extent appropriate to the transaction medium and to the goods or services being purchased. What constitutes the main characteristics is set out in the European Commission’s guidance note on the operation of the CRD. It makes the point that certain pre-contractual information requirements in the CRD are also found in the UCPD.

The UCPD provides that the geographical origin of a product can be considered a main characteristic of the product and whilst the UCPD does not provide any formal requirement to indicate the geographical origin of a product, traders are prohibited from providing false or misleading information to consumers about this characteristic. However as the guidance refers, such information could be considered material as under Article 7 of the UCPD. If consumers consider the geographic origin of a product to be a material characteristic to their purchasing decision and if it is not obvious from the trader’s website, they can enquire from the trader as to its origin. The trader is prohibited from providing false or misleading information in relation to that question. There is no relevant EU legislation requiring goods originating outside the single market to display a country of origin label other than foodstuffs which are listed in relevant EU legislation and are required to display information about their place of origin.

The position with regard to .ie domain names is that where a website has a .ie domain name, this does not necessarily mean that the entity which owns and operates the website is based in Ireland. ComReg appointed We Are Ireland Online.ie as the relevant authority to register domain names in accordance with Section 32. (4)(a) of the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007. In order to register a .ie domain name, traders must apply to We Are Ireland Online.ie through their online application process. As part of their registration requirements, applicants must have a connection to Ireland and be able to provide documentation to prove that connection. Therefore, websites with a .ie registration may not necessarily prove that the trader is based in Ireland.

A new initiative by the European Commission will impact on the area of sustainable consumption in the future. In November 2020 the European Commission launched their New Consumer Agenda which presents a vision for EU consumer policy from 2020 to 2025. The agenda complements other Commission initiatives such as the Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan. The Agenda puts forward priorities and key action points to be taken in the next 5 years together with Member States at European and national levels. This will, among other things, include a new legal proposal aimed at providing better information on sustainability to consumers and envisages that businesses, including SMEs, could play an important role in this transformation. The Commission plans to put forward a legislative initiative in 2021 on sustainable corporate governance to foster long-term sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour. Ireland supports this agenda and will play an active part in its development including the provision of better information to consumers and supporting cross EU standards in this regard.

I think a powerful motivator for progress in this space is increasing consumer awareness and changing consumer behaviour. It makes good business sense for retailers to respond to changing preferences in customer demand and to offer goods and services which meet such demands. It is therefore important that everyone involved, be they Government, non-governmental organisations, educators and advocates continue to raise awareness of the issue so that everyone takes into account environmental considerations when purchasing including ethical sourcing. Businesses may need assistance in meeting consumers expectations.

I am acutely aware that COVID-19 has brought considerable challenges for retailers - large and small, across the country. Trading online is a very important route for retail businesses to grow and improve their business offerings in the current crisis and it will be an important element in their recovery over the longer term. My Department proposed the COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the urgent need for retail companies to achieve a step change in their online capability. The Scheme is administered by Enterprise Ireland. Applicant companies must be indigenous retailers, employing 10 or more people, have an existing online presence (e.g., website or social media), and have a retail outlet through which they derive the majority of their revenue. Successful applicants will be awarded funding to support a maximum of 80% of the project costs. Grants ranging from €10,000 to €40,000 will be awarded under the competitive scheme.

Departmental Offices

 42. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan the facilities available in his Department to facilitate breastfeeding breaks in accordance with WHO guidelines of two years for women in the workplace and as part of the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9370/21]

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I understand that the part of the question relating to legislation will be answered by the Department of Health.

  My Department provides private and comfortable rooms in each of its locations that can be used by staff for breastfeeding breaks in the office if they so choose. It is also an option for a staff member to have their working hours reduced by 1 hour each day. These options may be availed of without loss of pay.

Prospecting Licences

 43. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan the status of a licence (details supplied); when a public consultation will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9405/21]

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The licence granted over Prospecting Licence Area 3820 is currently held by Connemara Mining Company Plc, owned by Arkle Resources Plc. and runs until the 9th April 2021.     

  Where a licence holder seeks to have a licence renewed, the application will be evaluated by my Department and, if deemed acceptable, an offer is made to the holder, setting out the terms and area of the prospecting licence. If the holder accepts the offer, legislation requires 21 days' notice of the Minister's intention to renew a prospecting licence and for the receipt of any submissions. My Department keeps the consultation period open for a total of 30 days' consultation period.

  Notification is given through a printed notice in the newspaper that is most relevant to the prospecting licence area under consideration. The Minister’s Intention to Grant Notices is also sent for public display to the appropriate Garda station(s), local authority office(s) and the Geological Survey Ireland.    

  Additional information on the process of granting prospecting licences and making submissions is available online on my Department's website.

Recycling Policy

 44. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan the initiatives currently operating and those planned to encourage domestic recycling. [9456/21]

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, Ireland's National Waste Policy 2020-2025, which I launched in September 2020, contains some 200 measures which will be delivered on a phased basis over the 5 year lifetime of the Plan. A number of these measures specifically address the need to improve our recycling practices, including;

  - Incorporating municipal waste recycling targets as conditions of waste collection permits;

  - Working to improve waste segregation in the commercial sector;

  - Delivering sustained and visible public behavioural change campaigns, targeting individuals, business and the public sector, to encourage waste prevention and recycling;

  - Revisiting the current national standardised list of items acceptable in the mixed dry recyclable bin with a view to expanding the list to capture more recyclable materials;

  - Driving higher levels of segregation to support investment in treatment capacity;

  - Examining how segregated waste and recycling bins using uniform labelling could be provided on street, and at public events and festivals.

  Implementation of the Waste Action Plan is underway, including through extensive engagement with key stakeholders, and I am confident that we will continue to meet and exceed our EU targets for municipal recycling.

Prospecting Licences

 45. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan the checks and scrutiny processes his Department carried out when it considered and subsequently endorsed a company (details supplied) for prospecting licences in Connemara, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9550/21]

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan All applicants for prospecting licences must provide an appropriate exploration programme for the minerals of interest, demonstrate their technical and financial capabilities and agree to licence terms which includes a condition of undertaking work with due regard for the environment. Specifically, my Department assesses:

  - the basis of interest in the licence,

  - the applicant’s planned work programme,

  - estimates of expenditure,

  - names, addresses, qualifications and experience of technical experts or advisers,

  - insurance details,

  - evidence of funds available, and;

  - character, financial and technical references.

  Additional information on the process of granting prospecting licences is available on my Department's website.

Commission for Regulation of Utilities

 46. Deputy Neale Richmond Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan if he has considered engaging with the Commission for Regulation of Utilities to introduce a measure to ensure that utility companies must contract persons when their contracts are up; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9562/21]

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The electricity and gas retail markets in Ireland operate within a European Union regulatory regime wherein electricity and gas markets are commercial, liberalised, and competitive. Operating within this overall EU framework, responsibility for the regulation of the Irish electricity and gas markets is solely a matter for the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). CRU was assigned this responsibility following the enactment of the Electricity Regulation Act (ERA), 1999. It has a wide range of customer protection functions under the above framework which are implemented via the various Codes of Practice set out in CRU’s Supplier Handbook.

As part of its statutory role, the CRU monitors energy retail markets to ensure that competition continues to develop. It also oversees non-price aspects of competition, and continues to take steps to increase transparency and consumer engagement in retail markets. Measures introduced by the CRU include a stipulation that electricity suppliers provide customers with an Estimated Annual Bill, highlighting the yearly average electricity bill for a particular electricity supplier rather than just the discounted offers. Additionally, suppliers must issue a written notification on an annual basis to prompt consumers who have been on the same tariff or on a non-discounted tariff for more than 3 years to consider switching.

CRU has a statutory role to ensure that suppliers provide customer charters to customers prior to making any contractual commitment. These customer charters set out the minimum stipulations regarding a customer’s right to a contract with a supplier, including the duration of the contract and conditions for renewable and termination.

The ERA states that the CRU shall account for the performance of its functions to a Joint Committee of the Oireachtas and not to me as Minister. Given this CRU statutory accountability to an Oireachtas Committee, the Deputy may wish to note that CRU provide a dedicated email address for Oireachtas members, which enables them raise questions directly to CRU, including on its customer protection functions, at oireachtas@cru.ie for timely direct reply.

Ministerial Advisers

 47. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan the names and contact details for each special adviser requested for appointment by him in tabular form. [9595/21]

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The following Special Advisers are appointed to my Department:

Name Title Contact Details
Paul Kenny Policy Adviser Paul.Kenny@decc.gov.ie
John McDonald Policy Adviser John.McDonald@decc.gov.ie
Margaret Ward Press Adviser Margaret.Ward@decc.gov.ie


  All appointments have been made in line with Public Service Management Act, 1997 and have been approved by Government.

Departmental Staff

 48. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan the number of staff employed in his Department by gender and by Civil Service salary scale in tabular form. [9660/21]

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The information requested by the Deputy is outlined in the table below:

Grade Female Male
Secretary General   1
Assistant Secretary 1 4
Principal Officer 14 24
Assistant Principal 53 78
Higher Executive Officer 34 23
Administrative Officer 22 31
Executive Officer 33 28
Clerical Officer 32 16
Services Officer 1 6


  The current Salary Scales are available in Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Circular 12/2020, a copy of which is attached for convenience.


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