The current waiting time for a Carers' Allowance application to be processed is between 16 and 18 weeks, which is nothing short of an insult, Deputy Bobby Aylward told the Dáil.
Speaking during Question Time, he said carers provide 24-hour care for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
“They do so for a fraction of what it would cost the State to provide the same level of care,” he said. “I understand it was recently estimated that it would cost approximately €4 billion a year, which is a lot of money.
“Carers keep tens of thousands of people out of State care and free up crucial beds for those with more urgent or life-threatening health care needs. I shudder to think what chaos the healthcare system would face if carers were not keeping thousands of beds available.”
Deputy Aylward said he has spoken to a number of staff members who had been following up on Carer’s Allowance applications since 2012.
“They told me that the average waiting time back then was 16 weeks, which means that we are seeing no long-term improvement,” he said.
The process is cumbersome and tedious. We force carers to jump through hoops and endure red tape in order to receive payments such as Domiciliary Care Allowance and Disability Allowance. This is consistent across the board.”
In reply, the Minister for Social Protection & Employment Affairs, Regina Doherty said her Department recognises that processing times for Carer’s Allowance and Disability Allowance must be improved and is working to achieve this.
“Staff resources have recently been reassigned to work in claims processing,” she said. “A redesigned application form will be available shortly to try to simplify the application process.
“The new form will allow carers to provide more information on the type and level of care they provide. The aim is to provide deciding officers with the information they need to expedite decisions on entitlement.
“The implementation of a new information technology system to process illness benefit claims, as part of the ongoing modernisation programme in my Department, will support the deployment of additional staff to support the processing of Carer’s Allowance applications.”
There are nearly 35,000 school students with additional needs and it is important that they be supported and allowed to reach their full potential, Sinn Féin Deputy Kathleen Funchion told the Dáil.
In April 2015, she said the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, made several promises to tackle the problems in working conditions for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in schools.
“Unfortunately, we still have no proper job security or permanent contracts for SNAs,” she said.
“There are cases where we know a student will require a Special Needs Assistant from junior infants to sixth class, but there is a crazy process whereby every year the person must apply for the job.
“He or she does not know if he or she will be kept on in the post and this has a knock-on effect for the rest of life. For example, it may be very difficult for such persons to qualify for a mortgage or even a basic credit union loan if there is no job security or a permanent contract.
“We must think of how these elements relate to the issue,” Deputy Funchion added. “It is not good enough to just say we want to try to support students and parents.
"We need to act and ensure Special Needs Assistants are given support and whatever training they believe they need to carry out their role.
“We see a crisis in the teaching sector as teachers are not staying in the role,” she said. “This could potentially happen with special needs assistants too if we do not change the sector.
“We cannot ask people to stay in precarious jobs in which they do not know if they will have a contract. It is not the reality of people’s lives. They need to know as much as possible where they stand. Having a permanent contract is key.”
It is intended to hold the proposed referendum on extending the franchise at Presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State on the date of the local and European elections in late May 2019, Minister of State John Paul Phelan told the Seanad.
Against that background, he said his Department will, in consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, bring forward an appropriate constitutional amendment Bill on extending the franchise at Presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State in good time for the holding of the proposed referendum next year.
He said he had met with several groups, in particular in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, over the past few years.
“There is also the issue of where voting centres will be held,” he said. “In many countries, they are held in consulates or embassies but postal voting is also a possibility. Much work has yet to be completed.
"The Minister of State, Deputy (Ciarán) Cannon, and I will meet with any Member of this House on this issue because the Government intends for the matter to go to a referendum of the people next year.”