Environment, Community and Local Government Minister Phil Hogan told the Dáil he is to bring proposals to the Government before the Dáil summer recess for an extensive programme of local government reform.
“Subject to the government’s decisions, I propose to publish a comprehensive policy statement setting out a clear vision for the future of local government and proposals to achieve it, with particular focus on strengthening structures generally at regional, county and sub-county levels, expanding the role of local government, maximising operational and organisational efficiency and improving governance, oversight, local political and executive leadership and citizen engagement,” he said.
“The reform programme will, he said, also reflect other work on various aspects of local government, including local authority mergers, efficiency implementation, local government funding and alignment of local and community development with local government. The statement will also outline implementation arrangements for the reform programme and certain issues which will be the subject of further policy development work.
“Work on the development of policy proposals for the Government’s consideration in this area is informed by the extensive analysis, consultation, deliberation and debate that has already taken place on local government reform over many years,” he said. “I have received submissions from, and held discussions with the local government representative associations, with individual local authorities and with other interested groups and individuals. I also recently invited each individual councillor in the country to submit views to me on a number of issues relating to local government reform.”
“I hope we will be able to get a fair measure of agreement on the need for reform, that more functions should be devolved from central to local government and that there should be greater operational efficiency in how we deliver the services,” he said. “There is now also an opportunity to provide a source of funding and it will be interesting to see how seriously councillors will take their responsibility when it comes to providing the necessary funds for the provision of services at local level.”
Phelan makes plea for three Kilkenny mothers
An update on the position of Domiciliary Care Allowance and the way it is to be administered was sought in the Dáil by Kilkenny Labour Deputy Ann Phelan.
This is a monthly allowance which is paid to the parents or guardians of children under the age of 16 who have severe disabilities which require continuous care and attention.
Deputy Phelan said she recently met three women in her constituency to learn about the plight of their children. They also outlined to her the changes they would like to see in the way the Domiciliary Care Allowance is administered and allocated. “These women represent families in my constituency and across the country who are caring for their children as best they can in the face of cutbacks in almost every area,” she said.
Further consideration needs to be given to the way in which this allowance is administered, including the means by which children are assessed and the process through which decisions can be appealed, she said. It must be noted however, that the number of children accessing the scheme has increased by more than 3,000 over a three year period.
“I welcome that the Minister for Social Protection increased the time allowed for preparation of appeals from 21 to 60 days earlier this year,” she said. “I fear, however, that we may not be treating children who receive Domiciliary Care Allowance in this country the same as children in other countries which operate similar allowance schemes. Reviews should be conducted by those who are most knowledgeable about the area, have experience of working with these children and are able to make the appropriate decisions in order to make life easier for those concerned. Any change to the system should be based the input of people on the ground, namely, the parents and guardians of these children, because they deal with the problems arising on a daily basis.”
Replying on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection, Minister of State John Perry said the allowance is currently paid to over 24,000 parents and guardians in respect of 26,000 children at a cost of approximately €100 million in 2011, with the accompanying respite care grant costing a further €45 million.
“The review of the Domiciliary Care Allowance announced by the Minister in May is due to commence in early July,” he said. “The working group to review the scheme will be chaired by Ms Sylvia Langford, retired director general in the former Office of the Minister for Children.”
As part of the review, a consultation process with parents and representative groups will be undertaken to ensure parents and their representatives have an opportunity to make their concerns known in respect of the administration of the scheme, he added.