Dáil Question on extending CSPE for Leaving Certificate Cycle

Uimhir:492

To ask the Minister for Education and Skills when the proposed politics and
society course will be available for the leaving certificate cycle; and if she
will make a statement on the matter.
– Anthony Lawlor.

* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 30th September, 2014.
Reference Number: 36691/14

Minister Jan O’Sullivan

The Politics and Society subject will be made available to schools once the
NCCA has advised my Department on a number of outstanding issues. No date has
been set for its implementation in schools, pending the receipt of advice from
the NCCA.

 

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Dáil Speech on Private Members Motion – Social Housing Provision, Wednesday 24th September

I congratulate Deputies Coffey and Kelly on their elevation to their new positions and I wish them all the best. They have a difficult task ahead. As Deputy Costello mentioned the housing situation is in dire crisis. When I considered what I would say on housing I looked at the figures thrown out by Deputy O’Brien of Sinn Féin yesterday evening. He mentioned that Sinn Féin can identify €1 billion which could be spent on building 6,600 social housing units. This is part of the fantasy budget Sinn Féin goes on with.

I welcome the social housing strategy and I look forward to the report when it is published. We need an overarching strategy for all housing.

I agree that Construction 2020 has some valid points, but we need to build houses across all sectors. That is the problem at the moment. The rental market is increasing because there is a lack of housing for younger couples to purchase at the moment.

When considering the report on the social housing strategy the first thing the Minister of State should consider is the removal of Part V. This was introduced by the then Minister, Mr. Dempsey. It was voted in by most local authorities. I opposed it totally on Kildare County Council; Deputy Catherine Murphy supported it. It provided for the handing over of construction of social houses to private property developers. Since the collapse of the construction industry no social houses have been built anywhere in the country. We need to remove that stipulation and get local authorities back to building houses again, as they should have been doing all the time.

The windfall tax was imposed by the Green Party when in government. It was initiated at 80% and there have been no returns on that at all. It needs to be scrapped because we need to move land from whatever source into building houses again.

I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, when she was Minister of State with responsibility for housing, with regard to getting local authorities to be more active in progressing the land banks they have. Local authorities usually wait for money to be allocated to them and then go through the planning process themselves. The Minister of State should encourage them to go through the planning process and have the land available for building so that when the money is allocated they can start straightaway. In my constituency, Kilcock was the only shovel-ready project available for money that was allocated previously. I encourage the Minister of State to write to local authorities to be more proactive in preparing their available land to be shovel-ready.

Under the land aggregation scheme the Housing Finance Agency purchased land from local authorities. There are 35 sites around the country in which the legal transfer has not occurred between the local authority and the Housing Finance Agency, including four in my county. Every council official looks out the window and sees a 14-acre site which the local authority in Naas has been paid for but the land transfer to the Housing Finance Agency has not legally happened. Those are land banks that are available but they are in a legal quandary meaning that social housing cannot be built. I encourage the Minister of State to be proactive with local authorities to get that moving as quickly as possible.

I wish the Minister of State the best of luck, but we have to look at this from an overall viewpoint. We do not just have a problem with social housing; there is a housing issue for all people as to whether to buy, rent or live in social housing.

 

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Promising young entrepreneurs emerging from County Kildare

26th September 2014

Fine Gael TD from Kildare North, Anthony Lawlor, was delighted to learn from the Kildare Local Enterprise Office that the quality of applicants to the Young Entrepreneurship Fund far exceeded their expectations and they were delighted with the number of applicants. This gives a strong indication for the future of business in the area and the talent that the county has to offer.

“In total 36 strong applicants applied for a share of the €50,000 fund available to Kildare companies. Of those 36 applicants, who have already gone through the bootcamp stage, the list has been whittled down to 18 who are now going through a mentoring programme. There are three prize funds for the successful applicants, €20,000 for the ‘Best New Company’; €20,000 for ‘Expansion’ and €10,000 for ‘Most innovative idea’. The company deemed the Best New Company will go forward to a national competition where a further €50,000 will be awarded to the ultimate winner.

“The Youth Entrepreneurship Fund, which was launched last May, is part of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs 2014 and is supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. A total of €2 million was made available to invest in winning businesses and entrepreneurs in every county in the country.

“As a member of the Oireachtas Committee for Jobs and Innovation, I have been calling for greater supports for young entrepreneurs. I was therefore delighted when the scheme was announced earlier this year and I am thrilled that so many companies in Kildare applied. Judging from the number of applicants and the feedback from the Kildare LEO, the future is certainly bright for Kildare’s Young Entrepreneurs. Lets hope the Kildare Winner can advance and do well in the national competition also.”

ENDS

 

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Dáil Speech on Sports Ireland Bill – Thursday 25th September

I will start by giving out to the Minister of State because he is too fair. His predecessors used to curry political favour in the home county of the Minister with responsibility for sport or the Minister for Finance. The Minister of State has been most fair in giving each county a fair share of the funding available based on population. Limited though the funding is, each county has benefited on a pro rata basis and I congratulate the Minister of State on this, even though I am giving out to him for being too fair.

My county received a number of small amounts of funding for various groups which I know will be used to great benefit, as it was on the previous occasion, particularly as the amount of matching funding required by the clubs or organisations was reduced from 30% to 15%. A former Minister from my constituency, Charlie McCreevy, dished out allocations of €700,000, €800,000 and €900,000 and clubs had to come up with 30% of it. As a result some of them are now in financial difficulties because they had to borrow to provide the matching funding. The Minister of State has been smart enough to recognise a small pool of money can go a long way to get more people participating in sport at local level.

I congratulate the Irish Sports Council on its phenomenal work. Everyone speaks about the elite athletes, and I congratulate the two sailors who qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games. However, when one looks at the figures beyond the elite athletes one sees that 700,000 kids participate in sport, which to my mind is a huge success for the Irish Sports Council. The establishment of the sports partnerships in each county, and the annual funding of €5 million allocated to them, has accrued benefits in getting people participating in sport.

There are 685 walking trails throughout the country. Walking trails cater for someone as young as three years of age to someone as old as 100 and are of huge benefit to cross-sections of the population. I will be parochial and ask the Minister of State to examine the canals running through Kildare. I have been pushing hard for many years for these to be opened for cycling and walking. Kildare is bereft of tourism and we do not have a Westport or the glorious sights along the Atlantic Way such as there are in Mayo. We are fortunate to be the thoroughbred county and horse racing is our main sport. I must say to the previous speakers, who are from Tipperary and Clare, that Kildare won more all-Ireland hurling championships this year then either Tipperary or Clare, or Cork for that matter as I see Deputy Creed looking at me.

The canals are a potential tourism facility in Kildare, and if they were opened up to cycling and walking, it would be excellent. I can see huge potential in the long term.

Investment in sport occurs in a number of ways and one way which goes unnoticed is how the Tús scheme works for sports clubs and sports organisations in helping to maintain what they have and allowing improvements to be made.

I am delighted we will amalgamate two organisations. The National Sports Campus Development Authority started off on a bad vein with the Bertie bowl, and thanks be to God this was got rid of years ago. It also had problems with the pool. We will have a national sports centre run by the Sports Council, which has an interest in sport. With the amalgamation of the two bodies will we see a reduction in staff and the associated administrative costs? If amalgamations take place in the private sector, inevitably there are staff reductions. Will we see this in the short term or will it take longer to reach the objective of reducing the costs of running the two organisations?

I have not seen any mention of a board in the Bill. The Sports Council board has nine members and there are 15 on the National Sports Campus Development Authority. Will there be a board? People speak about gender equality. I am very much in favour of putting people on boards who have the capacity to add to the board and are not put on it for the sake of being put on it. I would welcome as many sporting people as possible because they have a knowledge of sport.

My next point is not associated with the Bill. It is with regard to a serious problem with young people, which is concussion in sport. I have written to the Minister for Education and Skills and perhaps the Minister of State will be able to help me in this matter. There is a good programme in Northern Ireland for schools to ensure the implementation of the procedure to be followed when concussion occurs. Perhaps we need to implement something similar in our schools. I have seen it at national sport level but not in school sports and we need to address it.

The Minister of State might contact his colleague about implementing what is going on in the North of Ireland at the moment with regard to concussion in young people.

I wish the Minister of State the best of success with this. He is most unfair in being even throughout the whole county. I hope we will have the next round of sports capital grants as soon as possible.

ENDS

 

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Property Taxation Collection – Topical Issue Debate Thursday 25th September

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his new role. I sat beside Deputy Humphreys on many occasions and engaged in good banter with him on the backbenches. I am delighted to see someone who was up here with me – where the pigeons cannot fly – being elevated to a lower level in the Dáil Chamber. I wish him the best of luck in his new role and hope that he will be able to help me today.

A number of constituents have approached me about this issue and I will relay the story of one such constituent to the Minister of State. This concerns a person who wants to pay the local property tax on a weekly basis. She, like many other citizens, wanted to set up a standing order or have the payment deducted from her social welfare payment. She receives a social welfare payment of €188 per week and her local property tax works out at roughly €4 per week. The Department of Social Protection will not allow her to take the payment out on a weekly basis because her income will then drop below the critical threshold of €186.

This is a person who is budgeting on limited funds. She has been asked why she does not pay it on a weekly basis. If she pays it on a weekly basis in cash through the post office, she will be charged a service provider charge of €1, which is an additional €52 per year.

This is a person who would find it difficult to put money aside, as has been suggested. Come the end of the year, in particular last year when only €2 was taken off her on a weekly basis, she has to come up with an additional amount. She gets an additional living alone allowance of €7, which brings her total payment up to €195. If she is allowed pay the €4 off that, she would be above the threshold of €186.

These are situations where recipients are trying to do their best to live within their means and they do not want to be a burden on the State with regard to the local property tax. It is an anomaly within the system. What we should look at is the total payment being given to this person and other such individuals which would bring them way above the threshold of €186 so that they could have a deduction taken directly out of their social welfare payment. They pay their ESB bill and gas bill by direct debit when they come in where none of this seems to come into effect, but social welfare has dictated the €186 threshold. Claimants receive a living alone allowance which brings them way above it. We should look at the total payment from a social welfare perspective that they receive rather than the individual payment that may put them in the difficulty that they are in at present. The Minister should allow that supplementary payments be taken into consideration when calculating the supplementary welfare allowance which, in this and other cases, would allow them to pay directly their local property tax from their social welfare payment without having to make alternative arrangements.

   Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection (Deputy Kevin Humphreys): I thank Deputy Lawlor for his kind words. I am sure we will see him down in these low elevations as well at some stage.

The Deputy will be aware that the Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill 2012 allows for a person who is liable for the local property tax, and who is in receipt of certain social protection payments, to have local property tax deducted from their payments. The Revenue Commissioners have agreed with the Department of Social Protection a number of schemes from which the deduction at source facility for this tax can be made.

Deductions of local property tax, LPT, from social protection payments commenced in July 2013. With effect from 5 September 2014, there are 23,562 customers having deductions for local property tax from social protection schemes.

In order to maintain statutory minimum incomes and in order to ensure that a customer is left with enough resources to live on, the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 provides that deductions from social welfare payments in relation to the local property tax will not breach the statutory minimum income guarantee as set out in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. That rate is currently set at €186 per week. The maximum personal rate of pension for someone under age 66 on a widow’s, widower’s or surviving civil partner’s (contributory) pension is currently €193.50, thus only €7.50 per week can legally be taken from this payment in order not to bring the recipient below the basic social assistance personal rate of €186 per week. For those aged 66 and above, with a maximum pension of €230.30 per week, the total amount that can be deducted is €44.30. This amount is calculated after any deduction is made for recovery of any existing court orders or social protection overpayments and is based on the primary personal rate only.

Secondary payments which cover specific benefits are not taken into account in determining whether a claimant’s scheme payment is greater or less than €186 per week. This is provided for in section 92(2) of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012. Where a customer is not eligible for the deduction at source facility or where the deduction level allowable will not meet the customers LPT liability in full, he or she will be contacted by the Revenue Commissioners so that an alternative payment arrangement can be made from the payment options available.

The Minister for Social Protection appreciates the convenience for social welfare recipients of having the deduction facility in place but her overriding obligation is to have safeguards which ensure that a customer is not left without sufficient income. The Minister is reviewing the implications of allowing customers to have deductions made from their welfare payment on a voluntary basis which has the effect of bringing their payment below the basic rate in some clearly defined instances. This is a complex area with intertwined policy and legal implications and it requires careful consideration before any final decision is made in this regard.

   Deputy Anthony Lawlor: I thank the Minister of State for his response. I reiterate the basic payment that this person and others receive is €188 and from the perspective of the €186 threshold, they are snookered.

I take comfort from a sentence of the Minister of State’s reply that, “The Minister is reviewing the implications of allowing customers to have deductions made from their welfare payment on a voluntary basis.” If they were allowed do it on a voluntary basis, and go into the Department of Social Protection and make the case, whether through me or themselves, would the Minister accept that being taken into consideration instead of having to go through legislation? It is commonsense. Where someone goes in there voluntarily to make the payment, would the Minister take that into consideration?

   Deputy Kevin Humphreys: I thank Deputy Lawlor. I am happy to engage further with him on this after the debate to see can we come to some resolution. As I outlined in the reply, it is quite complex and there are clear guidelines in relation to it. We will have to look at it extremely carefully because we do not want to push recipients below a minimum rate.

As I stated, the Minister indicated that she will review this. I will certainly take Deputy Lawlor’s concerns and suggestions to the Minister and I will talk to him further after the debate to see can we work out a satisfactory resolution. In saying that, I am not making any promises because, as I outlined in the reply, this is extremely complex. I am happy to take this to a further discussion with Deputy Lawlor and I hope he will be happy with that.

ENDS

 

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