Hands on approach needed toward the insurance industry during public health crisis – Smith

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Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says the Minister for Finance needs to step up his engagement with the insurance industry as local businesses in Cavan-Monaghan say they are being treated unfairly by insurance providers.

Deputy Smith said, “There are businesses across different sectors in my constituency still struggling for basic engagement with their insurance providers. This is very disappointing. There are businesses who do not know if they can afford to reopen when the time is right. To be in a constant fight with their insurance providers just to get some clarity on existing premiums is not something they need.

“Now is not the time for a ‘soft touch’ approach from the Minister for Finance. The insurance companies have clearly demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to implement relief for their customers without oversight.

“Minister Donohoe has informed me he had written to insurance providers and subsequently held a video conference call with Insurance Ireland on April 17th. I believe he needs to ramp up engagement and keep the pressure on insurance providers.  

“Major resistance is still being shown by insurance companies when it comes to legitimate business interruption policies. The Minister must step in and if insurers continue to be disregard to his requests, legislative changes will have to be considered,” concluded Deputy Smith.

Insurance PQ Brendan Smith

 

Frontline workers need alternative childcare plan immediately – Smith

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Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says the government need to work immediately on a new childcare plan for frontline workers after proposed plans on a new scheme fell apart yesterday evening.

Deputy Smith said, “Frontline workers have gone above and beyond for their country over the last nine weeks. During this time, they have made huge sacrifices in their own lives to help others. However, many have had to make huge personal sacrifices as they cannot source childcare services.  

“Yesterday evening the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs announced the proposed new scheme offering childcare for frontline workers would not go ahead due to a lack of providers signing up and other factors.

“It is vital any new scheme is developed with consultation from all stakeholders. Childcare providers, frontline workers and their unions, insurance providers, government and others need to come together and urgently create a scheme that is workable for all involved.  

“We are nine weeks into this unprecedented public health emergency. A scheme should have been established far earlier than this. It is the least our frontline workers deserve,” concluded Deputy Smith.

 

 

ADDITIONAL GOVERNMENT SUPPORT NEEDED FOR CHILDCARE SECTOR – BRENDAN SMITH TD

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Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD, Brendan Smith has again called on the Government to provide much-needed additional financial support for the childcare sector.

“This sector, as a result of Covid-19, faces new and additional difficulties in ensuring the continuation of existing services and, indeed, in some areas childcare places had been in short supply for some time.

I appealed again to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs through Dáil Questions to secure adequate investment in this sector in view of the concerns about capacity problems in childcare from September 2020. Social distancing requirements will also result in the need for additional accommodation provision.

It is essential that sufficient resources are put in place to support parents, staff, community and private providers to ensure that children are not deprived of a childcare place. A clear roadmap in relation to state investment is needed” stated Brendan Smith TD.

Minister Zappone stated in her reply to Deputy Brendan Smith’s Dáil Question:- 

“I am acutely aware of the particular impact the pandemic and the emergency measures have had on the Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) providers. I am also very conscious of the importance of the ELC and SAC sector for positive child development and in terms of supporting parents to return to work to boost our economy.

The Deputy will be aware that the Temporary Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme (TWSCS) was developed to address sustainability issues in the sector. This scheme builds on top of other Government supports available through Revenue, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and elsewhere.

I can confirm that by 5 May 2020, 3,733 providers had signed up to participate in the TWSCS, which is 83% of our providers. The new Government wide package of measures for the sector across my Department, Revenue and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection exceeds the State investment that was previously provided to the sector and compensates for the loss of some of the sector’s parental income. The objective of this volume of investment is to ensure that we retain as much capacity as possible in the sector so that early education and childcare services can resume after COVID-19 and support child development and economic recovery.

There are also a number of sustainability supports currently available to childcare providers. Expert advice on business and sustainability issues are available from Pobal and City/County Childcare Committees for all services, whether community based or private operators.   Financial supports are available for community services presenting with sustainability issues following a financial assessment by Pobal.  My Department has begun to consider whether this sustainability funding can be extended to private services during the pandemic.

Every year a number of services close. The average number closing per annum over the last three years was 150, but their childcare places have been replaced and indeed capacity has grown at a steady pace. COVID-19 however has presented us with major challenges and this is why my Department worked hard to develop the TWSCS. We will continue to work with the sector to try to maintain as much capacity as is possible in these very difficult circumstances.

Work has now begun on the phased re-opening of the sector as part of Government’s Roadmap. The sector has identified six representative organisations to participate on a DCYA Advisory Group to analyse how re-opening can best be facilitated and capacity restored whilst ensuring the public health and safety of children, families, childcare providers and their staff.

My Department has made considerable investment in the early learning and care sector in recent years. I want to preserve the fruits of this investment for children, families and our valued ELC and SAC workforce and ensure that, when COVID- 19 has passed, we will have retained as many services, staff and places as possible” concluded the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in her reply to Deputy Brendan Smith.

5.449 – Brendan Smith

Minister must ensure adequate supplies of PPE for all health-care workers – Smith

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Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith raised again with the Minister for Health the need to ensure adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for front-line health-care personnel. 

Deputy Smith commented, “The Minister for Health needs to ensure healthcare workers across the board are provided with adequate Personal Protective Equipment. As the country slowly begins to bring back some more routine health services in hospital settings and in the community the Minister needs to ensure all healthcare staff have access to PPE.  

“I have also called on the Minister to ensure that adequate supplies of PPE are made available to all residential care facilities, including public and private, section 39 providers and all front-line personnel working in the community.  

“In his response the Minister did say, “PPE is distributed by the HSE via a central allocation system that incorporates the State’s entire healthcare setting requirements, including nursing homes (public and private), NAS, and Section 38 and 39 service providers. This centralised approach is in line with WHO guidance on coordinating PPE supply during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“It is essential that health-care personnel have the appropriate equipment at all times for their work in these very challenging and difficult times. We all appreciate the inspirational work of so many in dealing with this pandemic and the State has to ensure the best possible support for all front-line workers,” concluded Deputy Smith.

PQ PPE Brendan Smith

 

Brexit Statements – Thurs 7th May

BSdail

Dáil Éireann debate –
Thursday, 7 May 2020

Brexit: Statements

Deputy Brendan Smith

I have a few quick comments to make. In the context of both Brexit and Covid-19, we need maximum co-operation on an all-Ireland basis. I again appeal to the Government, as I did some weeks ago, to amend the recent regulations and enable gardaí to restrict the movements of people where necessary and regardless of whether they are resident outside State. I am concerned that my own Border county of Cavan continues to have the highest incidence of Covid-19 in the country and that the neighbouring county, Monaghan, which is also part of my constituency, has the third highest incidence. Some time ago, I appealed to the Minister for Health to have this high incidence in the two counties investigated as a matter of urgency and, if necessary, provide the additional resources to both our public and private healthcare providers to tackle any identified deficiency in local health provision. I highly commend the inspirational work of our healthcare personnel at local level.

As the Tánaiste knows well, there has been excellent co-operation on an all-Ireland basis over many years in dealing with serious animal disease issues. We need that level of co-operation and sharing of information to fight Covid-19. That would in some way ease the stress and worry endured by the people I represent on this side of the Border and the people I know and speak with every day of the week on both sides of the Border. Covid-19 recognises neither border nor identity.

I understand that contact tracing applications are being developed here by the HSE and by the NHS in Northern Ireland on the basis of different models. We will have the added problem of data transfers to and from Britain after its departure from the EU on 31 December. If there is no extension to the transition period, Britain will then become a third country in the context of data protection rules.

Under the general data protection regulation, the transfer of personal data will be prohibited once Britain becomes a third country. That includes personal health data. The North and the South are very interdependent and need key health tools, such as those applications, to speak to each other in the best interests of the citizens on all of this island. Let tracing applications do what they are supposed to do, namely, help members of the public to protect themselves.

Travel into Airports and Ports must not jeopardise efforts to reduce transmission of COVID-19 – Smith

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Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has said that it is unacceptable that more than a third of passengers arriving at Dublin Airport and a quarter of those coming into Dublin Port who were asked to self-isolate, did not respond to follow up check calls.

Deputy Smith said, “I was shocked to read reports in the news that people who were asked to self-isolate cannot be contacted. The medical advice is that anyone arriving into Ireland is to self-isolate for 14 days by staying indoors and avoiding contact with other people. We need to see more accountability in tracing people and ensuring the forms are truthfully completed by them before they leave the airport and ports.

“The Department of Justice confirmed that over 670 passengers who arrived at Dublin Airport over a six-day period did not complete the form at all. This is entirely unacceptable given the huge effort being made by the people of Ireland in complying with the restrictions.  

“The Department of Justice needs to ensure that people travelling into the State from these points of entry do not undermine our efforts to reduce transmission of COVID-19. The Department needs to put in place, without further delay, a mechanism to secure accountability for those people who have failed to return the forms. In short, we need a system to track visitors that ensures that the spread of the virus is contained,” concluded Deputy Smith.

 

Below is a reply (5/05/2020) by the Minister for Education and Skills to Dáil Questions in relation to Leaving Certificate 2020 Examinations.

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4.880 To ask the Minister for Education when it is proposed to finalise all arrangements for the Leaving Certificate 2020 Examinations and if he will make a statement on the matter. Brendan Smith

Response

Beidh na cinntí maidir le reáchtáil  na scrúduithe Ardteistiméireachta bunaithe ar an gcomhairle ó shaineolaithe sláinte na Roinne Sláinte. Eiseofar Treoir chuig scoileanna agus na hiarratasóirí maidir leis seo.

Agus iad ag gníomhú  ar chomhairle sláinte poiblí ar mhaithe le gach éinne atá bainteach leis, beidh Coimisiún na Scrúduithe Stáit (CSS) ag obair leis na páirtithe leasmhara chun bearta cosanta a chur in áit ag am na scrúduithe chun riosca ionfhabhtuithe na n-iarratasóirí, na bhfeitheoirí agus foirne eile scoile a íodlaghdú.

Tá sé i gceist go bhfillfidh na scoláirí Ardteistiméireachta ar scoil dhá sheachtain ar a laghad sula dtosnóidh na scrúduithe. Tabharfaidh sé sin coicís do na scoláirí socrú ar ais ar scoil, ar aghaidh a chéile sna ranganna lena múinteoirí,  ionas gur féidir leo ullmhúchán a dhéanamh do na scrúduithe, agus an caillteanas oideachasúil a d’fhulaing na scoláirí  le linn na tréimhe inar chaill siad amach ar an scolaíocht, a mhaolú.

Tá imscrúdú á dhéanamh anois ar shaincheisteanna éagsúla a bhaineann leis an bplean teagmhais do na scrúduithe stáit 2020, ag an ngrúpa comhairliúcháin de pháirithe leasmhara a bunaíodh chun cabhrú le mo Roinn-se. Tá an grúpa tar éis bualadh lena chéile arís agus arís eile agus tá cruinnithe breise pleanáilte.

Decisions regarding how the rescheduled Leaving Certificate examinations will be run will be based on current health advice and will put the best interests of students first. Intensive work has been underway at the State Examinations Commission and within my Department to plan for the delivery of the Leaving Certificate examinations in July/August 2020.

As part of planning for the State examinations, I have also established an advisory group of stakeholders, including representatives of students, parents, teachers, the management and leadership of schools, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the State Examinations Commission, and officials of my Department, including the National Educational Psychological Service. A representative of the Higher Education Authority is also attending all meetings of the Advisory Group. This group is providing important advice to me that assists me and the State Examinations Commission in decision-making about the examinations. I wish to acknowledge the positive engagement with unions, management bodies, the further education and training and higher education sectors on all of the issues involved. I met with this group last week to discuss their recommendations regarding the Junior Cycle and look forward to meeting them shortly regarding their discussions on the arrangements for the Leaving Cert.

State Examinations Commission has also engaged with the management authorities of schools to examine the many practical and logistical challenges that would arise in the running of the examinations.

The final arrangements for the Leaving Certificate examinations, including the examination timetable, arrangements at the examination centres, social distancing and other measures, and arrangements for course work and practical examinations, will be determined by the SEC on foot of public health advice prior to the end of the first week in June. Guidance in this regard will be issued to schools and to candidates.

Students with special educational needs can have special arrangements made for them while sitting the examinations, through the scheme of reasonable accommodation operated by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). This can include the provision to undertake the examination in a special examination centre.

The SEC will be working with the school stakeholders to put in place safeguards in schools at examinations time in order to minimise the risk of infection to candidates, superintendents and other school staff, acting at all times on public health advice in the best interests of all involved.

It is likely that some students may be unable to attend examination centres on health grounds, as they may be ill or in quarantine or isolation, or because they have had to return abroad to their family homes. The SEC and the Department are considering appropriate alternative arrangements or contingencies so that candidates in this situation are not disadvantaged compared to their peers.

The intention is that Leaving Cert students will return to school at least two weeks before the exams begin. This will give students two weeks class time, face to face with their teachers, to settle back in to the school, to prepare for the exams and to help mitigate the educational loss suffered by them over the period of missed schooling. The dates for submission of certain project work and coursework were also put back to just before the start of the rescheduled written examinations. My Department, in conjunction with representatives of school management and other stakeholders, is examining the various logistical requirements around the return to school by Leaving Certificate students.

The revised Leaving Certificate examination timetable will be confirmed by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) in early June. I recently announced that these examinations would commence on 29th July.  I acknowledge that running the examinations will be very challenging for all involved and my Department is also looking at options in relation to contingency arrangements. These will also be considered by the advisory group. It is not appropriate to rule any option out given the uncertainty around the pandemic and the associated health advice.