Header Item Written Answers Nos. 284-300
 Header Item Legislative Measures
 Header Item Communications Surveillance
 Header Item Garda Complaints Procedures
 Header Item Garda Complaints Procedures
 Header Item Garda Station Closures
 Header Item Courts Staff
 Header Item Public Service Reform Plan Measures
 Header Item Citizenship Applications
 Header Item Communications Surveillance
 Header Item Communications Surveillance
 Header Item Communications Surveillance
 Header Item Garda Operations
 Header Item Garda Complaints Procedures
 Header Item Legislative Measures
 Header Item Early Childhood Care and Education
 Header Item Early Childhood Care and Education

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 904 No. 1

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Written Answers Nos. 284-300

Legislative Measures

 284. Deputy Mattie McGrath Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her efforts to secure the access rights of grandparents to their grandchildren; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3008/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I commenced specified provisions of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 on 18 January 2016 which include provisions to make it easier for grandparents to seek access to their grandchildren. Grandparents will now be able to apply directly to the court for access to their grandchildren. The previous procedure was a two stage procedure whereby the grandparent had firstly to apply to the court for leave to make an application for access and then to apply to the court for access. The provisions that I have just commenced will assist in enabling grandparents to secure access to their grandchildren.

Communications Surveillance

 285. Deputy Michael McNamara Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if the telephone records of any Member of the 31st Dáil were provided to An Garda Síochána, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission or the Defence Forces; if she will authorise telecommunications operators to release such information; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3013/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald It is assumed that the Deputy is referring to the provisions of the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 which governs access by An Garda Síochána and certain other statutory bodies to communications data retained by service providers. Under the 2011 Act access to communications data may be granted to An Garda Síochána in respect of the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of a serious offence, the safeguarding of the security of the State and the saving of human life.

  As I stated in the House last week, as Minister I do not have any role and neither does my Department in the process of requesting or authorising access to records under the 2011 Act. Nor do I receive information relating to specific requests that are made in the course of investigations by the bodies that are entitled to access these records. That would simply not be appropriate in the context of the independent investigatory functions of bodies such as An Garda Síochána, an independence that is provided for in the law.

  The 2011 Act provides for the review of the operation of its provisions in respect or requests for access to data by a Designated Judge of the High Court. The Designated Judge is entirely independent in carrying out his functions. The Designated Judge has, by law, access to any and all persons and records he deems relevant and reports his findings at least annually to the Taoiseach where this matter is concerned.

  The 2011 Act also provides for an independent complaints mechanism whereby any person who believes that data relating to them and that are in the possession of a service provider have been accessed following a disclosure request under the Act may apply to the Complaints Referee for an investigation into the matter. The Complaints Referee has, by law, access to any and all persons and records he deems relevant. If the Complaints Referee finds that the powers in the Act have been contravened he must, inter alia, report this directly to the Taoiseach.

Garda Complaints Procedures

 286. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the costs associated with the independent review mechanism, including to whom the payments were made. [3018/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Deputy is referring to the mechanism established for the independent review of certain allegations of Garda misconduct, or inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations, which have been made to me as Minister for Justice and Equality, or the Taoiseach. A panel consisting of two Senior and five Junior Counsel was established for the purpose, all selected on the basis of their experience of the criminal justice system.

The Panel has provided recommendations to me in all 320 cases submitted to them and has therefore largely concluded its work. Counsel were paid a fee on a case by case basis of €300, €550 or €800 depending on the complexity of each case. Senior Counsel additionally had a brief fee of €30,000 to oversee the operation of the mechanism and ensure consistency of approach across all the cases. Junior Counsel were paid a retention fee of €8,000.

Judge Roderic Murphy was paid approximately €19,000 in respect of his role and a further cost of €4,500 was incurred in the provision of legal assistance to him. Other briefing and case fees have arisen during the course of the Independent Review Mechanism process; however a final figure in respect of these is not yet available.

Garda Complaints Procedures

 287. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald to initiate a statutory inquiry and criminal investigation into the death of a person (details supplied). [3051/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The particular case to which the Deputy refers is amongst those considered under the mechanism established for the independent review of certain allegations of Garda misconduct, or inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations, which have been made to me as Minister for Justice and Equality, or the Taoiseach with a view to determining to what extent and in what manner further action may be required in each case. A panel consisting of two senior and five junior counsel was established for that purpose.

The Panel has provided recommendations to me in all 320 cases submitted to them and has therefore largely concluded its work. The issuing of notification letters to complainants commenced on 29 June. To date, 307 complainants have been notified of the outcome of the review of their cases. Letters will continue to issue to all complainants, until the process is completed which I expect will be very shortly as we are nearing the end of the process.

It was open to the review mechanism to make recommendations as they saw fit in relation to each case. I have previously assured Deputies that where further investigation has been recommended by the review then that will occur.

I have accepted counsel's independent recommendation with regard to the case concerning the person referred to by the Deputy and have notified the family accordingly. I will be consulting the Attorney General about all the matters that need to be taken into account in carrying out that recommendation.

Garda Station Closures

 288. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the impact of the closure of almost 140 Garda stations during this Government's term of office; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3076/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The formulation of proposals in relation to the opening and closing of Garda Stations is a matter, in the first instance, for the Garda Commissioner in conjunction with the newly established Policing Authority in the context of annual policing plans, as provided for in section 20 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

The Garda District and Station Rationalisation Programme implemented in An Garda Síochána during 2012 and 2013 resulted in the closure of 39 Garda stations in 2012 and 100 Garda stations in 2013.

The Programme was based on a review of the Garda Station Network by Garda management which concluded in relation to certain stations, many of which were only open part-time and manned by a single Garda, that resources could be better deployed and more effectively used on the front line if those stations no longer had to be staffed and maintained. In reaching these conclusions, Garda management reviewed all aspects of the Garda Síochána policing model, including the deployment of personnel, the utilisation of modern technologies and the overall operation of Garda stations. The Programme supports the provision of a modern 21st century policing service for both urban and rural areas and allows front line Gardaí to be managed and deployed with greater mobility, greater flexibility, and in a more focused fashion, particularly with regard to various targeted police operations. As a result of the Programme, communities have benefitted from increased Garda visibility and increased patrolling hours which has enabled An Garda Síochána to deliver an improved policing service to the public.

It is understood from discussions with the Garda Commissioner that the current consolidation process is largely completed. There are no proposals to either re-open or close any Garda stations in the Policing Plan for 2016.

Courts Staff

 289. Deputy Ciara Conway Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if a court messenger and sheriff have been engaged for Waterford Court; the reason for the delay; when the roles will be filled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3146/16]

 290. Deputy Ciara Conway Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald why County Waterford is still without a county sheriff and court messenger; when these positions will be filled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3147/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 289 and 290 together.

As the Deputy may be aware, County Registrars outside Dublin and Cork carry out the duties of Under-Sheriff for their respective counties. There has been no vacancy for the position of County Registrar in County Waterford and consequently the position of Under-Sheriff for County Waterford has not been vacant.

Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions and Court Messengers are members of staff of the Courts Service. However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have made enquiries and the Courts Service has informed me that they have recently completed a recruitment competition for a Court Messenger for County Waterford and the successful candidate is due to take up duty on 1 February 2016.

Public Service Reform Plan Measures

 291. Deputy Jim Daly Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the number of proposals made during the lifetime of this Government by managerial staff in any agency or managerial body under her remit to alter the roll-out of public services which were delayed, postponed or abandoned as a result of non-co-operation by trade union representatives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3177/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I am advised by officials in my Department, that changes in the delivery of public services where required have progressed as planned. Where necessary, the changes have been managed appropriately through the normal industrial relations channels and in accordance with the various agreements negotiated since 2011 including Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road and that trade unions in my Department have cooperated with the provisions of these Agreements.

Citizenship Applications

 292. Deputy Eoghan Murphy Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will reduce the cost of applications for Irish citizenship and certifications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3236/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Regulations 2011 (S.I. No. 569 of 2011) sets out the prescribed fees to be paid by an applicant for a certificate of naturalisation. An application fee of €175 is payable on application for a certificate of naturalisation and a fee is payable by applicants on the issue of a certificate of naturalisation. The standard certification fee is set at €950, while a reduced fee of €200 applies in the case of an application made on behalf of a minor or in certain cases where the application is made by a widow, widower or surviving civil partner of an Irish citizen. In the case of refugees and stateless persons the certification fee is nil.

The standard fees payable by an applicant are designed to reflect the effort and cost involved in processing applications for a certificate of naturalisation. Every application must be assessed to establish if the statutory requirements are met. As the Deputy will appreciate, the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process. I might also add that following the grant of citizenship it is no longer necessary for the person to register their presence in the State with the Garda National Immigration Bureau which requires the payment of a fee of €300 per registration.

The Deputy will be aware that formal citizenship ceremonies have been introduced at no extra cost to applicants. These have been universally well received by participants as the ceremonies provide a sense of dignity and occasion that serves to underscore the importance to both the State and the applicant of the granting of Irish citizenship.

All of the fees payable under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 are kept under ongoing review by my Department. However, there are no current plans to reduce or abolish these fees.

Communications Surveillance

 293. Deputy Seán Conlan Information on Sean Conlan Zoom on Sean Conlan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she has restricted the report which is to be carried out by former Chief Justice Mr. John Murray into the hacking of telephones and the accessing of data to journalists only, given that the director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Mr. Mark Kelly, stated the snooping on the general public must also be reviewed and that he regretted that the review had been limited to journalists; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [3258/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I assume the Deputy is referring to the accessing of retained communications data under the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. No suggestion has been made, other than by the Deputy, as to the ‘hacking’ of phones. The data available under the 2011 Act is subscriber and traffic and location data - not the content of communications - and it may only be accessed by the relevant bodies empowered to do so, for the purposes prescribed and under the terms set out in the Act in accordance with the respective statutory duties of the bodies involved.

There is simply no question of widespread or mass surveillance of the general public. That would be unlawful and does not take place.

Issues of genuine concern have been raised recently as to the balance in the law concerning the important freedom of journalists to pursue legitimate matters of public interest. I recognise fully the legitimate concerns about the issue of access to journalists’ telephone records and it is for that reason I have established an independent review, to be carried out by Mr. Justice John Murray, the former Chief Justice.

There are complex, competing rights in question here that go to considerations of the freedoms of journalists to pursue their legitimate work and, for example, the fundamental right to privacy of every individual.

The purpose of focusing the independent review on the issue of the freedoms of journalists is in order to ensure that particular issue of concern can be addressed quickly.

It is important to keep the general law in this area under review and, indeed, that is exactly what is done on an ongoing basis by my Department.

Communications Surveillance

 294. Deputy Seán Conlan Information on Sean Conlan Zoom on Sean Conlan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if private citizens are entitled to know whether their personal data is being accessed without their consent by An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners, or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; the avenues open to private citizens to determine who has authorised the accessing of their data, the grounds on which access was given and the avenues of redress open to them if they believe the access was granted without sufficient reason; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3259/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I assume the Deputy is referring to the powers to access retained communications data governed by the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. The data available under this Act is subscriber and traffic and location data - not the content of communications - and it may only be accessed by the relevant bodies empowered to do so, for the purposes prescribed and under the terms set out in the Act, and in accordance with the respective statutory duties of the bodies involved.

  The 2011 Act provides for the independent review of the operation of its provisions in respect or requests for access to data by a Designated Judge of the High Court. The Designated Judge is entirely independent in carrying out his functions. The Designated Judge has, by law, access to any and all persons and records he deems relevant and reports his findings at least annually to the Taoiseach where this matter is concerned.

  The 2011 Act also provides for an independent complaints mechanism whereby any person who believes that data relating to them and that are in the possession of a service provider have been accessed following a disclosure request under the Act may apply to the Complaints Referee for an investigation into the matter. The Complaints Referee has, by law, access to any and all persons and records he deems relevant. If the Complaints Referee finds that the powers in the Act have been contravened he must, inter alia, report this directly to the Taoiseach.

  It is important to note that the primary function of this legislation is in relation to the investigation of serious crime, the protection of the security of the State and the saving of human life. Given that the majority of applications under the Act will relate to the investigation of serious criminal activity, it is not the practice to inform those whose records have been accessed as to that fact.

Communications Surveillance

 295. Deputy Seán Conlan Information on Sean Conlan Zoom on Sean Conlan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald where a citizen's private data has been accessed by the Revenue Commissioners, An Garda Síochána or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission who is the data controller responsible for the handling and management of the data; who has access to it; how, where and for how long it is stored; if it is necessary to make a new request each time a person's private data is accessed; if the data can be used for reasons other than the reason given for accessing it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3260/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I assume the Deputy is referring to the powers to access retained communications data governed by the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. The data available under this Act is subscriber and traffic and location data - not the content of communications - and it may only be accessed by the relevant bodies empowered to do so, for the purposes prescribed and under the terms set out in the Act, and in accordance with the respective statutory duties of the bodies involved.

The Deputy should be aware that the Data Protection Commissioner is the national supervisory authority in respect of the 2011 Act - this is provided for at section 4(2) of the Act. The bodies who are entitled to access data under the 2011 Act are subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Acts according to their functions and 'data controller' is defined in law in the Data Protection Acts. The Data Protection Commissioner is independent in carrying out her functions.

I would emphasise to the Deputy Neither I nor my Department are involved in the process of requesting or authorising access to records under the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, nor do I or my Department have any information relating to requests made in the course of investigations. That would simply not be appropriate in the context of the independent functions of these bodies.

Garda Operations

 296. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald while understanding the need for the State to have powers of surveillance in combating various types of crime, how many regulations have been made under section 10(3) of the Criminal Justice Surveillance Act 2009 given the important safeguards for the right to privacy recognised by the European Court of Human Rights, particularly in notifying persons who have been subject of surveillance measures as a deterrent to unwarranted surveillance, and in the provision of an effective remedy in the courts to persons in the cases of abuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [3274/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 provides that an application for surveillance may be made by a superior officer of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, the Revenue Commissioners or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to a judge of the District Court, but only for the purposes of the investigation of serious offences or the protection of the security of the State and in accordance with the respective statutory duties of the bodies involved. No regulations have been made under Section 10(3) of the Act 2009.

The operation of the 2009 Act is subject to a number of statutory safeguards set out in the Act. A serving Judge of the High Court has been designated by the Government to review independently the operation of the relevant provisions of the Act. The Designated Judge may investigate the granting of any authorisation for surveillance under the Act and has full access to all documentation and personnel involved in that process. The Designated Judge reports to the Taoiseach on at least an annual basis and a copy of his report is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The 2009 Act also provides for an independent complaints procedure whereby a member of the public who believes that they have been the subject of an authorisation under the legislation may seek an investigation of the matter by a Complaints Referee. The Complaints Referee is a judge of the Circuit Court and he is empowered by law to investigate complaints, to have access to all persons and records involved in the authorisation of surveillance under the Act. If the Complaints Referee finds a contravention of the Act, he must notify the complainant and report the matter to the Taoiseach. He may also order the destruction of any relevant data and recommend redress for the complainant.

Garda Complaints Procedures

 297. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald why she did not request the exhumation of a deceased person (details supplied); if she will issue an exhumation order; if she will request an independent inquiry into the serious allegations made against An Garda Síochána regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of the person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3275/16]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald A request for an exhumation in the case referred to by the Deputy was made to a former Minister in 2006. The request was made by the Coroner for the Dublin County area under Section 47 of the Coroners Act, 1962. The then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, considered the request, and having weighed up all of the relevant circumstances, decided not to make an exhumation order as he was not persuaded that the making of an order would be warranted, proportionate or justifiable. He issued a press statement to the above effect on 8 June, 2006 which is available on the Department’s website at http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR07000896. In my view, the circumstances have not altered in the interim and I do not propose to make an exhumation order in this case.

  The case was amongst those considered under the mechanism established for the independent review of certain allegations of Garda misconduct, or inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations, which have been made to me as Minister for Justice and Equality, or the Taoiseach with a view to determining to what extent and in what manner further action may be required in each case. A panel consisting of two senior and five junior counsel was established for that purpose.

  The Panel has provided recommendations to me in all 320 cases submitted to them and has therefore largely concluded its work. The issuing of notification letters to complainants commenced on 29 June. To date, 307 complainants have been notified of the outcome of the review of their cases. Letters will continue to issue to all complainants, until the process is completed which I expect will be very shortly as we are nearing the end of the process. The outcome of the review in this complainant's case issued last month.

  I have repeatedly emphasised that the Independent Review Mechanism was not established to act as a Commission of Inquiry or Investigation. Nor was it designed to make findings. Its purpose was to triage the allegations to see whether further action was needed and what that action would be. Accordingly, the question of the exhumation of the remains of the deceased in this instance did not arise.

  I have previously assured Deputies that where further investigation has been recommended by the review then that will occur. However, I have also pointed out that in a large proportion of cases, counsel would be likely to recommend that no further action could reasonably be taken. This has proven to be the case. The crucial point, however, is that every case has been reviewed by independent counsel, who have made an objective recommendation.

Legislative Measures

 298. Deputy Mattie McGrath Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly her efforts to secure the fostering and adoption rights of grandparents with respect to their grandchildren; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3008/16]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly Under the current provisions of the Child Care Act 1991, grandparents may foster their grandchildren.

In cases where parents are unable to provide an appropriate level of care and welfare for their children, they may agree to their children being taken into the care of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency (the Agency) on a voluntary basis. Where the Agency has serious concerns for the care and welfare of a child, and where it is not suitable or the parent is not agreeable to a voluntary care arrangement, it may apply to the courts for a care order.

When a child cannot live with his or her parents either on a short or long-term basis, the Agency will, in the first instance, seek to place the child with a suitable relative - including a grandparent - or person known to the child. All foster carers, including relatives, undergo an assessment and training process to establish their suitability and competence. In making their decision about the relative becoming foster parent to the child, the Agency will decide what is in the best interest of the child.

Overall, of the approximately 6,400 children in State care, 93% are in a foster care placement. Of those children in foster care, almost one third are being fostered by relatives.

The decision to deem a person suitable and eligible to adopt is a matter for the Adoption Authority of Ireland and is taken against criteria outlined in Section 34 of the Adoption Act, 2010. These criteria include that an applicant or applicants be of good health and of an age so that he or she has a reasonable expectation of being capable throughout the child’s childhood of providing the necessary health, social, educational and other interventions for the child, and having financial means to support the child.

In order to get a declaration of eligibility and suitability to adopt, prospective adoptive parents should apply to Tusla for an assessment under Section 37 of the Adoption Act 2010. Grandparents may apply to be assessed and the special nature of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is acknowledged as part of the assessment process. The best interests of the child is the paramount concern in the adoption.

Early Childhood Care and Education

 299. Deputy Jerry Buttimer Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly the provisions he will make for children with special needs given the extension of the free pre-school year; if additional funding will be provided for increased personal assistant hours for children with special needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2696/16]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I have been conscious for some time of the difficulty experienced by some children with a disability in accessing and benefitting fully from the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme. With this in mind, I requested that an Inter-Departmental Group, led by this Department, be established with a brief to bring forward recommendations to address this issue.

The Group has concluded its work and its recommendations were fully accepted and funded by Government. I announced, as part of Budget 2016, the necessary funding to implement the new model with costs estimated to be €15m in 2016 and with full year cost estimated to be €33m from 2017 onwards. This Group has identified a practical, workable model for meeting the needs of children with a disability and the allocation of funding is clear evidence of the Government's commitment to supporting vulnerable children.

When established, the new model will focus on the developmental level of children with disabilities, their functional ability and their needs. It will not focus on diagnosis, recognising that many children may not have a formal diagnosis at the time of presenting to pre-school.

The model, when fully operational, will deliver seven levels of support to enable the full inclusion and meaningful participation of children with disabilities in the ECCE Programme. These supports, which move from universal to highly targeted supports based on the needs of the child, include: enhanced continuing professional development for early years practitioners; grants for equipment, appliances and minor alterations, increased capitation for children with very complex needs, as well as access to therapeutic intervention.

Two groups have been established to oversee and implement the new model; a Cross Sectoral Implementation Group will oversee and monitor implementation, while the second group, the Project Group, will implement the model for roll-out by September 2016. Further details in relation to this measure are expected to be available in June this year.

Until this new model is introduced, the ECCE programme continues to make special provision for children with a disability to access it. Measures include an exemption from the upper age limit for qualification where a child would benefit from starting primary school at a later age. The County Childcare Committees continue to provide information and support for parents, and on some occasions assist in accessing supports locally and providing training for early years providers.

There is no additional funding available to this Department to support the employment of special needs assistants in pre-school services. The HSE, on an ad hoc basis, does make some supports available and it is expected that these arrangements will continue until the new model has been established.

Early Childhood Care and Education

 300. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly further to Parliamentary Question No. 358 of 24 November 2015, the assumptions used to cost the additional expenditure required for an increase in capitation to providers of the early childhood care and education scheme; how many weeks of free preschool it was assumed that each of the 127,000 children would undertake to arrive at the €20 million full-year cost in 2017; if this cost estimate assumes that each child will undertake 61 weeks of preschool, the current 38 week provision plus his estimated average of 23 additional weeks of preschool; and if not, the reason.  [2717/16]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly The extension to the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme which was announced in Budget 2016 will allow children to access the free pre-school programme from the time they are 3 years of age until they start primary school. The measure will come into effect from September 2016.

The extension to the programme will cost an additional €47m in 2016. The full year additional costs of the extended programme will be in the region of €114m. These estimated costs include the restoration of capitation fees to pre-2012 levels with effect from September 2016 (i.e. €64.50 standard capitation rate and €75 higher capitation rate per child per week).

My response to Parliamentary Question 358 of 24th November 2015 referred to an estimated additional cost of €20m in 2017 arising from the hypothetical increase of the standard and higher capitation rates to €67.50 and €82.50 per child per week respectively.

Currently, around 67,000 children participate in the ECCE programme. It is estimated that the Budget 2016 initiative will increase the number of children benefitting from the programme to over 127,000 in a given year. However, this increase will not happen immediately. It is estimated that the maximum enrolment of 127,000 will not occur until the April 2017 enrolment. The additional cost of increasing the standard capitation rate from €64.50 to €67.50 and the higher capitation rate from €75 to €82.50 was calculated on the basis of the additional numbers of children expected to be enrolled in the programme in January 2017 and in April 2017. It should be noted that the extension to the programme will provide children with additional pre-school weeks, but the maximum number of pre-school weeks in a particular year remains 38.


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