Unfair of government to force administrative burden of procuring HEPA on schools

Unfair of government to force administrative burden of procuring HEPA on schools – Matt Carthy TD

 

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, has said that this week’s government announcement allowing schools to purchase HEPA filtration devices via minor works grant funding is an unfair approach that will add hugely to the workload of school leaders in the days leading up to Christmas.

 

He has supported the calls on the Education Minister to centrally procure and distribute these devices to schools that need them.

 

Deputy Carthy said:

 

“The government have finally been forced to listen to parents, teachers, school leaders and the opposition, and are finally moving in the right direction on ventilation in schools.

 

“However, the manner in which this funding has been presented is incredibly inefficient and the Department of Education has dropped a Christmas present of additional administration on the desks of school leaders who are already under severe pressure.

 

“Instead of government admitting that they were wrong to dismiss the importance of HEPA filtration, they have couched this announcement in terms of a minor works grant, which will add significantly to the workload of school leaders.

 

“In almost every school across the country, there are many projects that could benefit from funding under the minor works grant.  It is unfair to have to put principals in a situation where they must choose between replacing broken sports equipment or fixing a leak, or purchasing HEPA filtration devices.

 

“School leaders will also have to jump through significant hoops if they decide to purchase HEPA filtration.  The guidance produced by the Department on the type of filtration to buy is incredibly technical and unclear.

 

“This is the last thing school leaders needed to land on their desk before the Christmas break.  HEPA filtration would be much better centrally procured by the Department and distributed to schools who need them.  This would likely be more cost efficient also.  I cannot see why the Department have not done this.

 

“Sinn Féin will be challenging the Minister for Education to reconsider this and to centrally procure.”

ENDS

Pressure must be exerted on Cabinet Ministers to ensure communities concerns on North South Interconnector are heeded

“Pressure must be exerted on Cabinet Ministers to ensure communities concerns on North South Interconnector are heeded” – Matt Carthy TD

 

Cavan Monaghan Dáil Deputy, Matt Carthy, has said that the last chance for community concerns on the North South Interconnector to be heeded is for Cabinet Ministers from Cavan/ Monaghan and Meath to bring them to the heart of government.

 

This week, Deputy Carthy said that Ministers Heather Humphreys and Helen McEntee must demand that government deliver a full independent examination of undergrounding the Interconnector.  Those Ministers, he said, cannot remain silent on this matter considering that the issue is heading to a protracted conflict between landowners and communities with EirGrid.

 

The Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson also accused Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members of ‘going into hiding’ since their fanfare announcement last March that there would be a review of the project.  It has since been evident that the review does not have the capacity to amend or alter existing proposals to deliver the Interconnector via pylon-supported overhead powerlines.

 

Carthy reiterated this week that his party remains committed to ensuring that the North South Interconnector is undergrounded.  He said that this was the only mechanism by which the project could be finalised in a cost-effective and timely manner.

 

Carthy said:

 

“The only way that the North South Interconnector can be delivered in a cost-effective and timely manner is by ensuring that it is undergrounded.  The previous report commissioned by the then government in 2018 confirmed that undergrounding is a ‘credible option’.

 

“For our part, we in Sinn Féin are committed to securing the Interconnector through that means.  In every year since 2007 our Ard Fheis has passed motions in that vein.  In the Dáil myself and the Sinn Féin Energy Spokesperson, Darren O’Rourke, raise the matter at every opportunity.  Personally, in the last year alone, I have challenged the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister responsible, Eamon Ryan, Department Officials and EirGrid directly in the Dáil chamber and in Oireachtas committees.  I have pursued every development on this issue as doggedly, as promised, as my predecessor Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.  Previously, as MEP I facilitated a delegation of campaigners to Brussels to raise the lack of ‘public acceptance’ for the current proposals with the European Commission and to visit the headquarters for the AllegRo project, an Interconnector very similar to this but which is being undergrounded.

 

“I will continue to challenge those who believe that the communities affected by the proposed pylon-supported overhead Interconnector can be ignored.  So too will my Sinn Féin colleagues on Monaghan County Council, in the Dáil and in the Assembly.  Our mood has certainly not mellowed and there is zero basis for the question to be even asked.  There may be some in the party that hold a view that the ends are as important as the means, but their position has been rejected by our party membership and leadership at every turn.

 

“There is no question regarding Sinn Féin’s bone-fides on this issue.

 

“It is time that pressure be applied where it can make a difference – at those in government in this state who can direct EirGrid to deliver the North South Interconnector in line with the wishes of the communities who live alongside the proposed route.

 

Fianna Fáil

 

“I can understand the embarrassed silence of Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members since the ‘review’ they announced last March turned into a sham with a predetermined outcome.  But, just as they were happy to grab the headlines they should have the integrity to acknowledge that they were duped.  Instead, they have essentially gone into hiding.

 

“The so-called ‘review’ will not be what was promised, it is just an appraisal of previous ‘reviews’.  The Minister responsible has accepted this and EirGrid have said that they are proceeding as planned regardless that the ‘review’ hasn’t even started.

 

“Has the mood of our local Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members mellowed?  Between them they have hardly uttered a word in either the Dáil or the Seanad since last March’s announcement.  Under the current government arrangements, Fianna Fáil will hold the office of Taoiseach for just twelve more months.  If they fail in the interim to secure an adequate examination of the undergrounding option for the interconnector, as they previously promised, then they will have failed in representing the people of this region.

 

FG Government Ministers

 

“The communities affected by the current North South Interconnector plans are represented by two senior government Ministers, Heather Humphreys and Helen McEntee.

 

“As far back as 2013, Minister Humphreys told an Oireachtas committee that ‘It has been established that the North-South interconnector can go underground’.  When did her mood mellow?

 

“The truth is that those with a voice at the cabinet table have a unique position to ensure that the concerns of those they represent are heeded.  There is no evidence that Ministers Humphreys or McEntee have done so.  They must answer the question, ‘why not’?

 

“Sinn Féin have never considered this a party political issue.  We have worked with representatives of every hue to secure the just outcome sought by landowners and communities along the route of the Interconnector.  I firmly believe that an earlier political intervention would have resulted in the commenced construction of the interconnector via underground technology.

 

“Even now, such an intervention will result in the development in a much more cost-effective and timely manner.  If government and EirGrid persist with the pig-headed determination to ignore the voices and concerns of our local communities then there will be a protracted confrontation that could lead to several years of delay and substantial over-runs in costs.

 

“Those with political power today who remain silent today will be responsible for such a scenario, a scenario that can be avoided by the acceptance of the principle of ‘public acceptance’.

 

“Pressure must be exerted on those who are best placed to ensure that the voices of our communities are heard – namely those cabinet Ministers and the representatives that keep them in power”.

ENDS

Carthy tells Taoiseach that reductions in LEADER funding will impact rural communities

Carthy tells Taoiseach that reductions in LEADER funding will impact rural communities

 

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD has challenged the Taoiseach to address falling levels of LEADER funding.

 

Speaking in the Dáil on a debate on the National Economic and Social Council Deputy Carthy called for recognition for the vital role the LEADER programme has played in rural development and for the €180million allocation to the programme over the next CAP cycle to be increased to €300million.

 

He said:

 

“A report from earlier this year from the NESC highlighted the LEADER programme as a crucial programme for addressing and developing the rural economy.  In fact, in the Taoiseach’s remarks yesterday, he made a similar point and he was right.

 

“The difficulty, though, is that the LEADER programme has been hollowed out in recent years.

 

“In the 2007 to 2013 programme, the allocation to LEADER represented €60 million per year.

 

“Between 2014 and 2020, it was nearly halved to €35 million per year.

 

“The proposed funding for the next round will see, in real terms, a reduction of somewhere between 6% and 10%.

 

“Does the Taoiseach acknowledge and accept that the LEADER programme is crucially important for regional and rural development?  There is not a community that has failed to benefit from it in recent decades.

 

“The €180 million that has been allocated to the programme needs to be €300 million in order for LEADER projects to deliver the type of investment that those communities need.  I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that that money is provided to the programme”.

ENDS

 

“Out-of-touch government doing nothing to address rising Energy and Fuel costs”

“Out-of-touch government doing nothing to address rising Energy and Fuel costs” – Matt Carthy TD

 

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, has called on the government to wake up to crisis caused by rising energy and fuel costs by delivering a financial package to support workers and families.

 

Deputy Carthy criticised the government parties for voting against a Sinn Féin amendment to the Finance Bill that would have required them to explore measures to reduce the cost of household energy bills for struggling families.  He also criticised the Taoiseach for repeatedly stating what, in his view, government can’t do rather than bringing forward proposals that will help those who are struggling with increased bills.

 

During a debate on economic recovery with the Taoiseach last week Deputy Carthy told the Dáil:

 

“We cannot talk about economic recovery without talking about a cost-of-living crisis facing many families and workers across an array of areas, whether it be the huge rents and mortgages costs, the insurance costs that are still crippling people or childcare costs.

 

“In particular, the issue that comes up time and again is the cost of home heating and motor fuel, which is putting people over the edge.  I know people who are missing meals in order to be able to travel to work.  Regardless of what you might talk about, whether it is the fuel allowance or anything else, the vast majority of people who are getting up in the morning to travel to work have had no support from the Government.

 

“I acknowledge that the Government is not responsible for the global issues that have led to the high cost of fuel, but it has done nothing to help.  In fact, its response in the budget was to increase those costs further through the carbon tax.  Has the Taoiseach spoken to the European Commission with regard to reducing the VAT rate on motor fuel and home heating costs?  That needs to be done and it needs to happen quickly”.

 

In his response An Taoiseach simply said that he cannot bring VAT rates to zero (under EU rules), but repeatedly failed to answer Carthy’s question as to what government will do.

 

Speaking afterwards Deputy Carthy said:

 

“The government has failed to get a grip on the soaring cost of energy and needs to wake up.

 

“There have been over 35 price hikes announced by energy suppliers since the start of the year. In the twelve months to October energy prices rose by 25 percent:

 

“The cost of home heating oil, the main fuel source for home heating in 37 percent of homes, rose by a staggering 71 percent.

 

“Motor fuel costs are reaching record high levels.

 

“Where other governments throughout Europe have acted, this government is asleep at the wheel.  They have done nothing to support families and workers affected – in fact they have made matters worse through their carbon tax hikes.

 

“In Spain, VAT on electricity bills has been slashed by 11 percent.

 

“In the Czech Republic, VAT on gas and electricity has been removed entirely for the rest of the year.

 

“In Italy, the government has rolled out a €5.3 billion package to slash VAT, remove electricity and gas charges and expand the social bonus that discounts the cost of gas and electricity.

 

“In contrast, this government has failed to act, even as winter begins to bite and energy prices soar.

 

“Last week, government parties voted against a Sinn Féin amendment to urgently examine measures to reduce domestic energy bills for households.

 

“Refusal to act will come at a great cost for workers and families struggling to light and heat their homes this winter.

 

“Sinn Féin has called on the government to take every action possible to reduce energy costs for households – including negotiations with the Commission to remove VAT on domestic energy bills.

 

“They rejected these proposals out of hand.

 

“We have called on the government to explore discount schemes on domestic energy bills that operate in other jurisdictions to protect low and middle-income households from energy price hikes – these too were rejected out of hand.

 

“Sinn Féin have called for the government to expand the eligibility criteria for the fuel allowance to ensure it can be accessed by more households – this too was rejected by government.

 

“Unless this out-of-touch government wakes up to the energy crisis, many workers and families will struggle this winter.

 

“It is for this reason that Sinn Féin is calling for a financial package to be brought forward without delay.”

ENDS

Report from Public Accounts Committee exposes ‘disastrous’ JobPath scheme

Report from Public Accounts Committee exposes ‘disastrous’ JobPath scheme – Matt Carthy TD

 

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy has said that the findings of the report published by the Public Accounts Committee report on the JobPath scheme proves that privatisation of community employment services undermines their quality.

 

Carthy, who is a member of PAC, said that the all-party report concludes that the JobPath model has failed to deliver sustainable, quality employment for jobseekers and has not delivered value for money for the taxpayer.  The report, he said, should serve as a warning to the government that they must abandon plans to privatise community Local Employment Services and Jobs Clubs.

 

Deputy Carthy said:

 

“It is clear that the decision by Fine Gael privatise employment services through JobPath has been a disaster.  This approach has only served to hollow out services and undermines the quality of supports for people who need the services.

 

“The Public Accounts Committee’s report is very clear on the poor record of JobPath.   283,826 people used the service, with only 22,000 securing a sustainable job.  That is a success rate of just 7.7%.  In total, €247m was spent on JobPath, which means each job sourced cost the state €11,227.

 

“All of these came with a human impact, particularly for those people who felt forced to take up jobs in sectors that were totally unsuitable for them just to meet the JobPath system’s requirements.

 

“Government must learn from the failure of JobPath and ensure that future attempts to privatise our community employment services do not proceed.  Our communities deserve better than these flawed, box ticking exercises.

 

“Lessons must be learnt from this disastrous scheme.  Unfortunately, the Government ignore the reality staring them in the face.  They have been repeatedly warned of the ineffectiveness of the Scheme and the blatant waste of taxpayers’ money since 2015.

“In 2019, a Sinn Féin Motion was passed in the Dáil calling for an immediate end to referrals to JobPath and for resources to instead be directed at ramping up community based, not-for-profit employment services, something the Government now intend to erode even further by tendering out Local Employment Services and Job Clubs.

“Government failed to listen and now the Public Accounts Committee have confirmed that this scheme did not represent value for money.

 

“Last week the Dáil approved another Sinn Féin motion calling for a halt to the tendering process that will endanger our existing community, not for profit Local Employment Services.  Minister Heather Humphreys has indicated that she will ignore this resolution.

 

“If the Minister and government refuse to change tact then it is highly probable that in a short number of years they will be proven to have failed taxpayers and jobseekers once again.”

ENDS

 

Carthy calls on Minister to save Monaghan Local Employment Services

Carthy calls on Minister to save Monaghan Local Employment Services

 

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, this week made an appeal to Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys to save Monaghan’s Local Employment Service.

 

Deputy Carthy was speaking during a debate on a Sinn Féin motion which called on Minister Humphreys to reverse her decision to tender out the services currently provided by Jobs Clubs and Local Employment services and to protect the not-for-profit and community-based ethos of employment services.

 

In his remarks to the Dáil, Carthy pointed to the successful record of Monaghan’s Local Employment Service since it came into operation in 1998.  Delivered by Monaghan Integrated Development, Carthy said that the Local Employment service had delivered for communities and especially those who have found themselves unemployed.

 

He said that Minister Humphreys could save Monaghan’s Local Employment Service by supporting the Sinn Féin motion, but more importantly by implementing it.  He accused the government of cynicism by indicating that they would not oppose the motion while the Minister clearly stated that she wouldn’t act on it.

 

Speaking afterwards, Deputy Carthy said:

 

“Our communities are not for sale.  We must protect community employment services from privatisation.

 

“Sinn Féin brought this motion to the Dáil to stand up for communities and protect these vital services from being hollowed out by this government.

 

“Time and time again, the Minister for Social Protection has been warned about her poorly-thought out plans to change Local Employment Services (LES) and Job Clubs through a ruthless shift to focusing on profit over people.  This is unacceptable and must not happen.

 

“The government’s model is not the person-centred approach that was successfully fostered by the Local Employment Service in Monaghan.  It will only result in a process of commercialisation which leaves those who need these services behind.

 

“Sinn Féin have long campaigned against the privatisation of job activation services, like the disastrous JobPath scheme, which has cost close to €300 million since 2015.  Putting profit margins above the needs of ordinary people helps no-one.  This short-sighted approach only risks pushing people into unsuitable, short-term positions just to tick a box.  It also risks pricing out LES and Job Clubs which have a strong community approach and walk-in options which meet communities’ needs.

 

“This must stop.  Our motion compels the government to protect not-for-profit services and suspend all plans to tender out employment services.  It sought the establishment of a stakeholder forum between the Minister and Job Clubs and Local Employment Services, to bring forward solutions to allow current services to be maintained.

 

“I am disappointed that Minister Humphreys, despite not opposing the motion, indicated in the Dáil that she would not be implementing its contents.

 

“I will continue to press the government and Minister to get their act together, to stop hiding behind legal advice and to start listening to local communities and to save our Local Employment Service.”

ENDS

 

Government must force Insurance companies to reduce premiums

“Government must force Insurance companies to reduce premiums” – Matt Carthy TD

 

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, has accused the government of failing to hold the Insurance Industry to account.  He said that insurance companies must be forced to reduce their premiums to consumers.

 

Deputy Carthy was speaking following the publication of the Central Bank’s 2020 Motor Insurance Report which shows clearly that the insurance industry pocketed savings made from Covid-19, instead of passing them on to customers.

 

The National Claims Information Database also shows that motor insurance premiums have gone up by 26 percent since 2009, despite the claims cost per policy falling by 29 percent over the same period.

 

Teachta Carthy said:

 

“This week’s Central Bank publication of the 2019 Private Motor Insurance Report shows clearly that the insurance industry decided to pocket the vast savings it made during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

“Despite traffic falling by 37 percent in 2020, the number of claims falling by 26 percent and the cost of claims per policy falling by 20 percent, premiums only fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the industry made profits of €163 million – a margin of 12 percent.

 

“The facts are clear – insurance companies are choosing higher profits over fair value for their customers, while a government that fails to hold them to account looks on.

 

“The insurance industry cannot be let off the hook any longer.

 

“Figures from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board show that the average award has fallen by 40 percent since the new Personal Injury Guidelines were introduced in April.

 

“These savings must be passed onto consumers, but as this report shows, we cannot trust the industry to do the right thing.

 

“Pearse Doherty introduced legislation on behalf of Sinn Féin in April that would require insurers to show if and how much of these savings are being passed onto consumers in the form of lower premiums.

 

“The government have blocked it while also frustrating my attempts to ban the loyalty penalty, the so-called practise of Dual Pricing.  They are letting consumers down and the industry off the hook.

 

“The report also makes clear the need for the role of PIAB to be strengthened.

 

“Settling claims through PIAB delivers similar compensation but is much cheaper and faster.

 

“The report shows once again that the biggest winner from court settlements is the legal industry, not the consumer.

 

“All of this simply underlines the need for reform – to hold the industry to account in reducing premiums, to reform the duty of care, strengthen PIAB and ban Dual Pricing.

 

“For far too long this government’s agenda has been to block change and delay reforms, undermining the interests of consumers.  That has to change right now.”

ENDS

 

Audiology Waiting Lists ‘spiralling out of control’ in Cavan Monaghan

Audiology Waiting Lists ‘spiralling out of control’ in Cavan Monaghan – Matt Carthy TD

 

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, has said that ‘spiralling’ audiology waiting lists in his constituency are representative of a ‘pending localised crisis’ that demand a response from the Minster for Health.

 

Figures released to Deputy Carthy by the HSE show that while there are no waiting lists for audiology treatments in some part of the country, some regions have seen the lists grow by multiples in recent years, with Cavan Monaghan seeing by far the most dramatic level of growth.

 

Deputy Carthy said:

 

“While there are no waiting lists for audiology appointments in many parts of the country in recent years, there are a some regions that have seen significant deterioration.

 

“Of these Cavan Monaghan has the unhappy distinction of seeing Audiology waiting list climb from 146 to 524 people since 2017 –over three-and-a-half times growth, and a deterioration in service almost twice as bad as next local service area.

 

“These waiting times have a real life impact as delays in treatment can lead to irreversible hearing loss.

 

“The unacceptable audiology waiting lists is a clear example of local service failure.  Once again, under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, we see that where a person lives can determine the level of service they receive.  It is geographical discrimination in healthcare.

 

“While the figures do point to the situation having worsened over the course of the pandemic, they also clearly point out that this situation has been developing since at least 2017.

 

“Our community deserves a response from the Minister for Health and HSE as to how they intend to address this specific backlog.

 

“I intend to raise this matter directly with the Minister for Health in the coming weeks.”

ENDS

Carrickmacross Group Home set to be opening shortly

Carrickmacross Group Home set to be opening shortly – Matt Carthy

 

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, has said that the Group Home for people with physical disabilities, at the Convent Lands, in Carrickmacross, is due to become operational within weeks, according to a commitment he has received from the HSE.

 

Deputy Carthty said this week that the families of those who will be residing at the group home have been treated scandalously by the HSE and successive governments and it is imperative that this latest commitment be delivered upon.

 

The home was first committed to in 2006 but has been subject to ongoing delays from that time.  It was finally constructed in 2016 but has remained idle ever since because the funding necessary to operate it has not been released.

 

Deputy Carthy has been raising this issue on behalf of families since 2007 when he was a member of Monaghan County Council.  Throughout his time as a local councillor and even while in the European Parliament he engaged with the local authority, the HSE and government representatives.  Since his election to the Dáil in February 2020 he has consistently raised the issue with the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for Disabilities.

 

This week he received a written response from the HSE that their previous operation date of Quarter 4 2021 remains in place.

 

Ms. Edel Quinn, Head of Service Disability CHO1 for the HSE informed Deputy Carthy that:

 

“Cavan Monaghan Disability Services have confirmed that the group home will be in operation in Quarter 4, 2021. It will accommodate up to five adults with Physical and Sensory disability. The group home will be a social model of care facility with 24 hour nursing input supported by Social Care Workers. The staffing levels will be determined based on the needs of the residents and may change as care needs change”.

 

Speaking afterwards Deputy Carthy said it that the delays in this project have been disgraceful.

 

He said:

 

“It is simply not acceptable that this state-of-the-art building has lay idle for five consecutive years.

 

“It is an indictment on successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments that the families of those people with disabilities who will reside in this home have had to fight every step of the way.  Their ordeal must end now – the home must become operational this year; I am hopeful that the HSE have reaffirmed that it will be so, but I will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

ENDS

Carthy slams delays with passport services

Carthy slams delays with passport services

Response of Junior Minister criticised as Coveney absent

 

The absence of Minister Simon Coveney at a debate on passport services and the stock response of a Junior Minister were described as ‘outrageous’ in the Dáil by Matt Carthy TD last Thursday.

 

Deputy Carthy had secured a Topical Issues debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs to discuss the ongoing delays with passport services.  However, the Minister responsible, Simon Coveney, was unable to attend and was instead represented by Green Party Junior Minister, Malcolm Noonan.  Minister Noonan proceeded to read from a prepared script, even following supplementary questions from Deputy Carthy, much to the frustration of the Cavan Monaghan representative.

 

During his contribution Deputy Carthy said that delays in passport services were unique to Ireland and that previous commitments to resolve the backlog had not been delivered upon.

 

The Sinn Féin representative also described some cases that had been raised with his office.

 

He told the Dáil:

 

“One of the most bizarre aspects of Irish politics is the engagement that elected representatives often have with the passport service.  It is not something that I am terribly comfortable with.

 

“I should make it clear that people should not have to contact their TD to get their passport on time.

 

“In my experience, those who do get in touch with me on passport inquiries generally do so out of desperation.  Their stories in recent days and weeks have been disappointing, to put it mildly.  They have recounted their engagement with a system that can only be described as dysfunctional over the past number of months.

 

“In April, Minister Coveney told the House that the then backlog of 89,000 applications would be cleared by the end of June.  A fortnight after that deadline had passed the backlog had grown to 95,000.  As of late September, the backlog had increased to 130,000.

 

“I am sure that the staff in the Passport Office have been working exceptionally hard through all of this but there is a serious systems failure that has led to this point.  It seems incredible that the Department claims that more than one in five applications is incomplete or requires further information.

 

“I want to put on the record the experience of one of my constituents.

 

“This gentleman and his wife were due to travel to Meugorje yesterday and were going on their own personal pilgrimage.  They submitted their passport applications on 15 September.

 

“In his wife’s case, it was a simple renewal.  She received an estimated issue date of 14 October. As his passport had expired 11 years ago, which shows how unique this trip was, his was treated as a new application and he was told his passport would not issue until 23 November.

 

“He contacted me to plead that something be done.  On 1 October, I sent an urgent passport query, attaching his flight details, but did not receive any response.  Following numerous attempts to call the Passport Office phone line, I re-sent the urgent passport query on 13 October – again, no response.  On 15 October, I contacted the Minister’s office and a very helpful official undertook to contact the Passport Office on behalf of this man.  Only then did I receive an acknowledgement by email, which just told the applicant to monitor his phone and emails.

 

“Both my constituency secretarial assistant and I again tried numerous times to contact the Passport Office in regard to this case.

 

“On 19 October, the day before the couple’s trip, we once again contacted the Minister’s office. On this occasion, we were referred back to the public phone line, which we had not been able to get through to up to that point.  My SA eventually got through to the public line, at 4.25 p.m. on the day before the scheduled flight, but the person who answered would not provide any information and, in fact, terminated the call.

 

“The man did not get his passport in time.  In fact his wife, who had been provided with an estimated issue date of 14 October, did not receive hers either.  They still have not received their passports.

 

“It is difficult to describe the upset this ordeal has caused the couple without detailing their very personal reasons for wanting to travel to Medjugorje.  I can only say their upset and hurt is very real and will be long standing.

 

“Can the Minister ensure no other family will have to go through such an ordeal in the coming days and weeks?”

 

Ministers response

 

Minister of State Malcolm Noonan sympathised with the circumstances of the referenced family and offered the following response on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney.

 

“As the Deputy will be aware, the operations of the passport service were severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, as were many other Government services.  Emergency passport services were maintained during the pandemic, which required staff to be on site to process and issue passports.  On that basis, and taking account of the Covid protocols in place at the time, 67,000 passport books and cards were issued between January and May of this year.  Since May, more than 400,000 passports and passport cards have been issued, meaning that in total almost 500,000 passports and cards have been issued to date in 2021.  Almost 45% of passports for simple online adult renewals issue within one business day, while more complex applications take a bit longer.

 

“As regards turnaround times, the current passport processing times, provided that all required documentation has been provided and is in order, are ten working days for simple adult renewals, 15 working days for complex renewals, 40 working days for first-time applications on Passport Online and eight weeks for An Post’s mail-in Passport Express service.  The passport service is experiencing high demand for first-time passports.  Of the 140,000 applications on hand, more than 65,000, or 45%, are first-time applications.  These first-time applications take longer to process than a renewal application.  To protect the integrity of the Irish passport, first-time applications require careful processing to validate the identity of the applicant and his or her entitlement to Irish citizenship for the first time.  Additionally, in the case of children, the consent of guardians must be validated.

 

“In line with the continued scaling-up of services, the Passport Office, in Mount Street, Dublin 2, opened its urgent appointment service for the renewal of passports on 27 September 2021.  This service is available to people who require passport renewal at short notice and opt for this fee-based service to do so.  To avail of this service, members of the public can visit the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs.  The urgent appointment service ensures that for those who unexpectedly require an urgent turnaround or a passport renewal, an option is available that is transparent, predictable and clear.  It means applicants can book their appointment, safe in the knowledge they will have their passport within a day or a few days.

 

“Turning to staffing, the Department of Foreign Affairs has assigned 126 officers to the passport service to date in 2021.  In addition, 50 officers were internally reassigned to the passport service during the period of peak demand in the summer.  The requirement for social distancing in the workplace continues to have a significant impact on the capacity of the service to operate at normal levels.  The Department is currently focused on recruiting additional staffing to meet expected demand for passports in 2022 and ensuring adequate staffing levels in the passport service.  This work takes account of evolving requirements related to Covid restrictions and includes engagement with the Public Appointments Service and a number of internal HR processes.  Budget 2022 included an investment of an additional €10 million in passport services in response to the increasing demand for passports both at home and abroad.

I urge citizens to check their passport well in advance of any planned travel to ensure they can apply for a passport in plenty of time. The Passport Online service continues to be the fastest and most efficient channel for passport applications”.

 

Disappointed

 

In his supplementary question, Deputy Carthy said:

 

“I am disappointed the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is not here.

 

“While I thank the Minister of State for his response, it was not even up to date.

 

“I am dealing with a family who are due to travel on Thursday next.  They have been told their baby’s passport will not issue in time, even though it will have been in the system for eight weeks.  My office was told earlier by the special helpline that has been set up at the Department that the current timeframe is actually ten weeks.

 

“I have been listening to the excuses relating to Covid since April, when the Minister gave that commitment in respect of the then backlog.

 

“This is not happening anywhere else in the western world that I am aware of and I have checked with former colleagues in the European Parliament.  No other European state is dealing with such a backlog.  It is unfathomable to most of the colleagues I spoke to that people would have to contact their elected representative to find out when their passport will issue.

 

“In respect of the information the Minister sent us earlier about a Department helpline, that helpline will be pointless if cases such as these cannot be addressed.  If the responses to queries are simply a rehashing of information on the website, it will be a waste of resources and will only add to the frustration people are going through.  The purpose of such a line must be to assist the Department in receiving details of urgent cases and then being able to act accordingly.

The Minister of State, on behalf of the Minister, stated additional staff were assigned to the Department during the summer.  Will he tell the Minister to reassign them to the Passport Office to clear this backlog?

 

“These are tragic human stories.  It might sound mundane, given we are, in some cases, talking about holidays, but there are reasons behind all this and people should be able to expect a reasonable service, which they pay for in terms of their passport delivery.

 

“I ask that the Minister of State bring that message as forcefully as he can to Minister Coveney”.

 

“Outrageous”

 

In his final response the Junior Minister again recited from a prepared script, much to the annoyance of Deputy Carthy.  The exchange went as follows:

 

Minister of State Malcolm Noonan:  “The Passport Office continually examines how to improve processing times, including by examining the process for the verification of supporting documentation for first-time applicants and addressing delays that have been experienced by customers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the high demand seen in recent months as international travel has resumed.  There has also been an ongoing process of reform within the Passport Office since 2016. Enhancements over recent years mean that Passport Online can now be accessed by first-time applicants, both children and adults, in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. All Irish citizens, including children, can use the online system to renew passports from anywhere in the world.

 

“The Irish passport is one of the most secure in the world and one of the most effective in granting our citizens visa-free access to most countries.  Recent reforms have improved our fraud detection capacity following the introduction of new facial recognition technology, which improves the efficiency and integrity of the passport system. In addition, the passport card has recently been upgraded with a SealCrypt barcode strip on the back. The next major element of reform in the programme is to replace the core technology underpinning the passport service. The current system was launched in 2004 and will be replaced by a more modern integrated system.  Detailed design—–

 

Deputy Matt Carthy:  “With respect to the Minister of State, he is not answering the question”.

 

Malcolm Noonan:  Detailed design and implementation will begin in the coming months—–

 

Matt Carthy:  That is a joke. It is not answering the question I asked.

 

Cathaoirleach:  The Minister of State to continue without interruption.

 

Matt Carthy:  He is talking about facial recognition. I am talking about families who are waiting for their passports.

 

Cathaoirleach:  The Deputy is out of order.

 

Matt Carthy:  No, that is outrageous.  It is not what I asked about.  A Deputy has raised genuine questions and he is getting an answer to a question he did not ask.

 

Malcolm Noonan:  “I ask the Deputy to allow me to conclude.  I know the response I am giving in my concluding remarks does not give him the answer he requires.  Certainly, I will take these matters back to the Minister and the Department.  The Deputy made his case very well on behalf of the applicants.  It is deeply upsetting for families when they are making plans and travel arrangements.  I said in my opening remarks that it is very important that people make their plans early and ensure their passports are in date.

 

“With regard to the specific case, the backlogs are there and it is vital that they are cleared. The staffing issue is one I will refer back as well. It is vital that all resources are put in place to ensure that members of the public have access to their passports in the time that has been directed and set out in the recommendations. However, I take the point the Deputy is making about this specific case”.

 

Improvements

 

Speaking this week, Deputy Carthy said that it was scandalous that people who had paid for their passport services were treated as he described in the Dáil.

 

He reported that there has been some improvements since he raised the matter in the Dáil.

 

“The advice remains that people should apply for their passports as early as possible.  Where people do find themselves in urgent situations my office is on hand to offer assistance.  We can be contacted by email matt.carthy@oir.ie or by phone 047-82917/ 042-9674001 for those who need to get in touch.”

ENDS

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