Brendan Smith: Once again vulnerable people will suffer due to bank branch closures

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Brendan Smith, has slammed the decisions of Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland to close branches in towns across his constituency, adding that “once again, it is vulnerable people who will suffer”. 

Speaking this week, Deputy Brendan Smith commented, “The Financial Services Union made the very strong point that the Bank of Ireland decision will result in the removal of vital services from elderly people, those with no Internet access, those who lack confidence in doing business online, and people with literacy and numeracy problems. The decision is a hammer blow to staff, customers and communities.” 

The announcement by the Bank of Ireland on Monday last will result in the closure of branches in Arvagh, Cootehill, Kingscourt, Clones and Castleblayney. 

“It is deplorable that the Bank of Ireland is making this decision during a pandemic when, of necessity, there has been a dramatic reduction in footfall in our towns and villages and, understandably, fewer people attending branches owing to public health guidelines.” 

Deputy Smith added: “This means a further dramatic reduction in banking competition and shows no regard for staff and local communities that have been loyal to the Bank of Ireland over many decades.” 

The Cavan-Monaghan TD also spoke about the impact on the border region of the decision by NatWest to exit the Irish market and close its Ulster Bank operation here. 

“The Border region has had a strong presence of Ulster Bank over many years. The recent decision will result in the closure of branches in Ballyconnell, Ballyjamesduff and Cavan town and in Monaghan town, which are four branches in my constituency.  

“This followed on from the bank exiting towns such as Belturbet, Killeshandra, Kilnaleck, Swanlinbar, Clones and Castleblyaney in 2013-2014 and Arvagh and Cootehill in 2017. This shows the dramatic change in the landscape of Ulster Bank services over the past number of years. In a number of months, there will be no branches or presence in many of those towns. It is a dramatic change, and for the worse, unfortunately”. 

Looking to the future, and a post-Covid world, Deputy Smith said these banking decisions will deprive “communities of a necessary banking service”.  

He stated: “When the Covid crisis is over, we all hope there will be an opportunity to create more jobs in rural Ireland through people being afforded the opportunity to work from home and from digital hubs. However, at the same time that we are encouraging private employers and the public service to give opportunities for employment in smaller towns and villages in rural Ireland, major institutions are exiting those towns and villages and depriving communities of a necessary banking service.” 

END

Please see attached comments from Deputy Brendan Smith made in Dáil Eireann debate.

Funding for Greenways/Walkways

Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith welcomes the allocation of government funding towards greenway and walkway developments.

Projects to benefit in Cavan and Monaghan, with grant aid of €600,000 include –

Cavan Way re-routing near the Shannon Pot

Development of Dromore Greenway Cootehill

Walking trail from Lough na Glack

Ballybay Trail/Path Networks

“This government funding will support the work of local community groups and Cavan and Monaghan County Councils in developing worthwhile  recreational amenities which will benefit local residents and visitors to the region” stated Brendan Smith TD

4thMarch 2021

Brendan Smith welcomes over €2.8m in Cavan and Monaghan housing improvements funding

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has welcomed funding of €1,519,168 for Cavan and €1,286,225 for Monaghan to improve homes of older people and people with a disability. 

The fund, which supports home adaptations for older people, those with a disability and people with mobility issues, is 80% exchequer funding through the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, with 20% funding from the local authority. 

Grants of up to €30,000 are available to assist people with a disability in carrying out necessary works to make a house more suitable for their needs, up to €8,000 to assist older people to have necessary repairs or improvements carried out and up to €6,000 for mobility aids.  

Deputy Brendan Smith commented, “I welcome this great news. There is always such a huge demand on these grants. It can be lifechanging for a person to get their home adapted to facilitate their needs.  

“It is really important so that our citizens get the help they need to live safely in their own homes.” 

Commenting, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said, “I am delighted to be in a position to allocate increased funding to each local authority so that they can continue to support older people and those with a disability to live independently. 

“Importantly, home adaptations help reduce the dependency on our health services by supporting independent living for as long as possible and in other instances facilitate an early return from hospital, taking pressure off already over-burdened services.  

“These grants will also provide a boost to local economies, creating employment opportunities for local contractors. While the current shutdown in construction activity remains in place, it is very important that people are aware that housing adaptation works can continue with the consent of the homeowner and once public health guidelines are adhered to,” he concluded. 

END 

ADDITIONAL TEACHING APPOINTMENTS FOR TEAGASC – BRENDAN SMITH TD

Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD, Brendan Smith has welcomed the confirmation by Teagasc that they have now received approval for the appointment of 20 two-year contract teachers.  He added that this will enable the creation of more ‘Green Cert’ places right away.

“I had raised with the Department and with the Director of Teagasc the need to make these additional appointments in view of delays that have been occurring in people getting places on courses.  These new appointments will enable the provision of additional courses to deal with a strong demand for placements such as Ballyhaise Agricultural College” stated Brendan Smith TD.

Brendan Smith calls for increased engagement with Biden Administration on Undocumented in US

Pictured above Senator Billy Lawless and Brendan Smith TD meeting with Congressman Brendan Boyle in December 2019

Fianna Fáil Deputy and Co-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Brendan Smith has called on the Government to increase its engagement with the new Biden Administration in the US to ensure further protections for the Undocumented in the United States.  

Speaking this week, US congressman Brendan Boyle, who has family roots in Donegal, said that Irish immigration was in decline there and that the US Government needed to restore a legal framework whereby Irish emigrants can enter the US successfully.  

Deputy Brendan Smith commented, “I welcome Brendan Boyle’s continued support and I have asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will have discussions at an early date with the United States administration in relation to the need for immigration reform with particular reference to the undocumented Irish following the referral by President Biden of the US Citizenship Act to Congress.”  

Deputy Smith: “I welcome Minister Coveney’s commitment to continue to pursue the E3 Visa Bill option which, if passed, could provide access to thousands of US visas each year to Irish citizens. 

“Urgency must be attached to this important issue with the new Administration and new Congress in place. 

“The links between Ireland and the US have always been strong and our diaspora play a key role in maintaining relationships.  It is vitally important that these connections are supported into the future.”  

Allocations for Cavan and Monaghan for Non National Roads – Brendan Smith TD

Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith has welcomed the allocation of €15.5 Million for Cavan County Council and €16 Million to Monaghan County Council for the Non National Roads Network Programme for 2021.

This funding will enable improvement works to be carried out throughout all of both counties and there are some specific grant allocations including bridge repairs, specific safety works and an allocation of €130,000 towards the East/West Road.  This will enable further preparatory work to be carried out on this much needed project.

Major investment is needed in our road network in both Cavan and Monaghan as the condition of many roads in both counties had deteriorated in recent years.

I have continuously highlighted this important issue to successive Transport Ministers and below is a Dáil reply of last week.

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 11/02/2021
Question Number(s): 55 Question Reference(s): 7843/21
Department: Transport
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________


QUESTION


To ask the Minister for Transport when he plans to make the allocations to local authorities in respect of the 2021 non-national roads programme; if he will ensure a substantial increase in the allocations to Cavan and Monaghan county councils in view of the particular importance of the road network in both counties; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY


The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from local authorities’ own resources supplemented by State road grants.

Following the publication of the Revised Estimates Volume (REV), the allocation for regional and local roads in 2021 is €555 million approximately – €46m Current and €509m Capital.

My objective will be to allocate funding to eligible local authorities on as equitable a basis as possible taking the length of the road network and traffic factors into account.  The main focus of the grants will continue to be maintenance and renewal of the regional and local road network.

Grant allocations for 2021 are being notified to local authorities this week.

RESTRICTIONS ON TRAVEL

“Gardaí stopping motorists from Northern Ireland or from this jurisdiction in the border region does not amount to border checks.  I would be opposed  to having checks at border crossings. As a lay person I believe that random/rolling check points are more effective.

I had raised on a number of occasions through Parliamentary Questions the need to ensure that restrictions on travel are strictly implemented regardless of persons being ordinarily resident in this State or not.  People resident in this State are subject to covid-19 related travel restrictions and people visiting this State should have to comply with the same regulations.

People from Northern Ireland or this State can travel on essential journeys.  Non-essential travel is not permitted.  The same legal obligations apply to all.  Under the current covid-19 public health restrictions travel is restricted to within 5km of a person’s home except for essential reasons.

Residents of our State travelling to Northern Ireland for non-essential reasons are subject to on-the-spot fines that have been in place for the past four weeks to ensure people do not travel further than 5km from their homes” stated Brendan Smith TD. 

ENDS

FEBRUARY 9 2021

BELOW IS A REPLY BY THE MINISTER FOR HEALTH TO MY MOST RECENT PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION IN DÁIL ÉIREANN REGARDING TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS.

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 28/01/2021
Question Number(s): 287 Question Reference(s): 4900/21
Department: Health
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________


QUESTION


To ask the Minister for Health further to Parliamentary Question No. 336 of 14 January 2021, if additional measures will be introduced in co-ordination with the authorities in Northern Ireland to ensure that restrictions on travel are strictly implemented regardless of persons being ordinarily resident in this State or not; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY


The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 10) Regulations 2020 (SI No. 701 of 2020) came into operation on 30 December, 2020. These Regulations provide that a person may not leave their place of residence without reasonable excuse. The regulations define place of residence for people resident in the State and people not ordinarily resident in the State. In relation to a person who is not ordinarily resident in the State, the regulations define place of residence as the premises in the State, if any, at which he or she is currently residing, whether on a permanent or temporary basis. The Deputy will be aware that the Government is drawing up measures to tighten restrictions on travel into and out of the State as a matter of urgency.

I am aware of the risks posed to the entire island by international travel during the pandemic and will continue discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government on opportunities for increased alignment and common outcomes on travel issues more generally.

Brendan Smith calls for increased engagement with Biden Administration on Undocumented in US

Pictured above Senator Billy Lawless and Brendan Smith TD meeting with Congressman Brendan Boyle in December 2019

Fianna Fáil Deputy and Co-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Brendan Smith has called on the Government to increase its engagement with the new Biden Administration in the US to ensure further protections for the Undocumented in the United States.  

Speaking this week, US congressman Brendan Boyle, who has family roots in Donegal, said that Irish immigration was in decline there and that the US Government needed to restore a legal framework whereby Irish emigrants can enter the US successfully.  

Deputy Brendan Smith commented, “I welcome Brendan Boyle’s continued support and I have asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will have discussions at an early date with the United States administration in relation to the need for immigration reform with particular reference to the undocumented Irish following the referral by President Biden of the US Citizenship Act to Congress.”  

Deputy Smith: “I welcome Minister Coveney’s commitment to continue to pursue the E3 Visa Bill option which, if passed, could provide access to thousands of US visas each year to Irish citizens. 

“Urgency must be attached to this important issue with the new Administration and new Congress in place. 

“The links between Ireland and the US have always been strong and our diaspora play a key role in maintaining relationships.  It is vitally important that these connections are supported into the future.”  

ENDS

BELOW PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION

FEBRUARY 9 2021

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 28/01/2021
Question Number(s): 134 Question Reference(s): 4904/21
Department: Foreign Affairs
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________


QUESTION


To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will have discussions at an early date with the United States administration in relation to the need for immigration reform with particular reference to the undocumented Irish following the referral by President Biden of the US Citizenship Act to Congress; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

Strengthening bilateral relations with the US is a priority for Ireland as set out in our Programme for Government,as wellin our Strategy for the US and Canada 2019-2025. We continue to maintain close relations with Members of Congress and contacts from across the political spectrum, and will continue to seek opportunities to deepen and strengthen our bilateral relations with the new Administration of President Joe Biden.

In particular, we look forward to working with the new Administration, as well as with the United States Congress, across the aisle, to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in the US. We are pleased to see that immigration issues, including regarding pathways to citizenship, are a priority for the new US President, as demonstrated by the proposed US Citizenship Act of 2021. We will actively engage with the new Administration and Congress on this particular initiative, including through our Embassy in Washington, DC.

The issue of Irish immigration to the US, particularly the status of the undocumented Irish, has been a high priority for successive Governments and continues to be one of my key priorities. Immigration issues have been raised on an ongoing basis in our engagement with US Administrations and political leaders. I have raised these issues in contacts with members of the previous US Administration and both Houses of Congress, including during my visit to Washington D.C. at the end of September last year.

In terms of securing future pathways for immigration, we will continue to pursue the E3 Visa Bill option. If passed, this could allow access to thousands of US visas each year to Irish citizens, providing new opportunities to live and work in the US. Now that the new Administration and new Congress is in place, we will seek the reintroduction of the Bill at the earliest opportunity.

Gaelscoil Lorgan

I welcome the decision by my colleague Norma Foley – TD to approve the acquisition of a 4 acre site to accommodate Gaelscoil Lorgan.

The site is located at Shercock Road, Castleblayney and this is a welcome development. I wish the Board of Management, the Principal and staff every success in progressing this project.


2/2/2021

Below is a reply to a Parliamentary Question I tabled following representations I received regarding the Junior Certificate Examination

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 04/02/2021
Question Number(s): 122 Question Reference(s): 6311/21
Department: Education
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________


QUESTION


To ask the Minister for Education the position regarding the holding of the 2021 junior certificate examinations; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY


My Department is acutely aware of the challenges faced by students, teachers and families as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has brought significant challenges to the education system, and I am acutely aware of the impacts that this has had on those students preparing to sit their final examinations. It is recognised that a flexible and agile approach is necessary in light of the continuing fast-moving environment linked to COVID-19.

The planning work underway in respect of the State Examinations in 2021 is being assisted by an Advisory Group of key stakeholders which has met on a number of occasions in recent months. The advisory group has been convened to advise Government on all of the various issues arising in relation to the holding of the 2021 examinations, including public health considerations and appropriate contingency measures.  The advisory group includes representatives of students, parents, teachers, school leadership and management bodies, the State Examinations Commission, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education, including the National Educational Psychological Service.

At a meeting of the group on 22 January, the Irish Second Level Students’ Union presented its Report on the 2021 State Examinations and Return to School. Following this meeting, the group agreed that there would be an intensive set of engagements in respect of exploring further possible options for the examinations, having regard to the findings of the recent ISSU Report on the 2021 State Examinations.

The sub-group exploring these options has since met on three occasions and has discussed further possible measures that could be taken to address the demands on students preparing for the examinations.  Having regard to the impact of current school closures for face-to-face tuition, there was also discussion on the scope and form of assessment for the various examination components, written and non-written.

All partners are committed to acting in the interests and wellbeing of students, who are at the heart of this process.

A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Education also took place on 1 February which provided an opportunity for consideration of possible options prior to consideration by Government as a whole.

From Monday 11 January 2021, all students, including Junior Cycle students, have been engaging in a programme of remote learning with their schools.

The public health restrictions which resulted in the original closure of schools in March 2020 highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. As a contingency measure against the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department has already provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to mediate the curriculum safely for all pupils/students in a COVID-19 context. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool. This documentation has been complemented by Circular 0074/2020 (Communication/Teaching & Learning Platform) which requires all schools to have in place appropriate contingency measures to ensure that they are prepared to continue to support teaching and learning in the event of a partial or full closure of schools arising from Public Health advice.

Other documents published by my Department to support the return to school include ‘Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post-Primary Schools and Centres for Education’ and ‘Returning to school: Guidance on learning and school programmes for post primary school leaders and teachers’. These documents provide guidance for teachers and schools that is specific to each practical subject area, so that students can be facilitated to actively engage with their learning.  All documentation published is available on www.gov.ie/backtoschool.