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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien tabled an issue for Topical Issues’ Debate in today’s afternoon session of the Dáil on serious flaws affecting the SUSI online processing of student grants.
Speaking after the debate, the Cork North Central TD said: “When Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) was launched in June, Sinn Féin welcomed this new central online system for grants which we hoped would ensure a more efficient and cost effective way of processing third level applications over the internet.
“In the past, students had to apply to their local authority or VEC for their grants and 66 grant awarding authorities were involved, all using a variety of applications, assessment and payment processes. It was a cumbersome process that often resulted in delayed payments, and confusion. The new on-line system was supposed to make the process of applying for a grant a good deal easier but regrettably, there have been serious flaws within SUSI which have resulted in delayed payments, poor communication and inadequate responses to applications and document submissions.
“Students have experiences difficulties securing approval for grants which often leads to late registration meaning they are unable to access timetables and facilities until registered. Complaints have also been made about the SUSI helpdesk who have been criticised for providing inaccurate or vague information and there has also been poor communication between the colleges and SUSI.

“The consequences for students and their families cannot be overstated and over the number of weeks my office in Cork has dealt with people who have been left in dire straits by the failings of the new online system.

“A number of students who have been attending college for the past month have still to receive their grants and this is causing significant hardship to them and their families as they struggle to make ends meet.

“I know of at least two students whose place at college has been jeopardised as a result of delays in their payments.

“During today’s debate I urged the Minister to introduce a number of measures that would improve matters including the introduction of a clear tracking system that would enable students to know what stage applications are at. A better designed more user friendly website would also help and resources need to be found to improve the briefing and training of Helpdesk staff who are doing their best under difficult circumstances.

“As thousands of families struggle to make ends meet, it is unacceptable that students are having their grants delayed because of flaws in a system that was supposed to improve the processing of third level applications.
ends
For Topical Issue debate:
Delays in student grant applications

11 Oct 2012

To debate difficulties arising from the online Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) system processing of third level maintenance grand applications that is resulting in payments being delayed to students. Deputy Jonathan O’Brien
Flawed online grant system and problems processing third level grants debated in the Dáil

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Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan said that the both the PSNI and the judiciary in Fermanagh appear intent on closing down the pub industry.

He was reacting to a decision by the PSNI to impose a blanket objection to all applications for extending opening hours from pubs across Fermanagh.

Mr Flanagan said:

“I have been contacted by a number of worried publicans across Co Fermanagh who are very concerned about the manner in which licensing applications are being dealt with by both the PSNI and the Courts Service and the damage that the current restrictions place on their already struggling business.

“There is a widely held belief that publicans in Co Fermanagh are facing a different situation than their counterparts in other council areas across the north. Especially given the drastic action taken by the PSNI locally in objecting to all applications for extended opening hours at a recent court hearing.

“These cases are scheduled for a further hearing on October 21st and I am concerned decisions that should be taken by the judiciary or legislators are being taken by the PSNI. This is completely unacceptable.

“It appears to me that the actions by both the PSNI and the judiciary are nothing more than an attempt close down a wholly legitimate industry, which provides extensive benefits for our local economy, on what appear to be ideological grounds.

“I have requested an urgent meeting with PSNI Chief Superintendent Pauline Shields to discuss this matter in advance of the next court hearing and I have also contacted the Minister of Justice to see whether he sees this as an acceptable situation.”

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Speaking at the launch of his party’s job creation plan Sinn Féin spokesperson for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Peadar Tóibín said:

“In the last four years Ireland has shed more jobs than any other western state per capita since the Great Depression. Last year the economy lost 33,400 jobs. In 2011 our communities lost 87,000 to emigration.

“It is clear that government policy is not working. The government has paid lip service to job creation. Their ambitions for this state are limited to Troika-led retrenchment. Private investment has reduced by €30 billion. Government has withdrawn €24 billion.

“We have identified €13 billion which can be sourced to create jobs, improve competitiveness and increase productivity. This would be funded from the National Pension Reserve Fund, European Investment Bank, incentivised investment from the private pension sector and we would end the capital spending cuts of this government.

“An investment of this scale would create about 156,000 jobs and retain up to 15,000 existing jobs. Smart investment will secure sustainable jobs and our national competitiveness into the future.

“Our jobs plan will invest in essential infrastructure; help entrepreneurs by removing obstacles to doing business and supporting them to retain and create new jobs; exploit the potential of existing and new state enterprises particularly in broadband rollout, renewable energy and eco-tourism and invest in agri-food and rural communities.

“As part of this we will prioritise investment to:
•Revive the sugar beet industry and construct a new bio-refinery plant in the South East with the potential to create 5,000 jobs (€350 million)
•Invest in the rollout of next generation broadband across the 26 counties. (€2.5 billion)
•Kick start investment in water infrastructure (€500 million.)
•Proceed with A5 dual carriageway (€400 million)
•Regenerate the Cork dockland area. (€600 million)
•Regeneration projects in Limerick and Dublin. (€960 million)
•Build an additional 100 schools and refurbish 75 more over the next three years in addition to current capital commitments. (€350 million)
•Establish 50 new Primary Health Care Centres. (€250 million)
•Develop an €1billion investment in sustainable energy: wind power industry and wave energy.

“We will seek to support business to create jobs by:
•Introducing a job retention scheme to protect 15,000 jobs (€100 million)
•Delivering value for money and jobs by opening up state procurement to small companies.
•Giving the option to self-employed people to pay PRSI as it is applied to PAYE employees in order to receive the same entitlements in the event that they become unemployed.
•Abolishing upward only rents.
•Capping utility costs for a period of three years.
•Examine a temporary rebate on fuel for transport firms.
•Prioritising prompt payments by ensuring the 15-day rule is adhered to by state agencies.
•Examining the use of tax credits for sourcing local Irish produced materials.
•Tackling the costs of doing business on the border, including credit card transaction fees, telecommunication charges and dual tax and payroll systems.

“Sinn Féin has developed a comprehensive, costed and government-ready proposal to chart a course out of recession and into growth. We want to see the government meet the gravity of the crisis with the appropriate response. Historic levels of unemployment and emigration need a profound shift in government policy.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has called for support for a the farmers protesting in Dublin today to demand a full CAP budget that supports productive farmers and the rural economy.

Martina Anderson said:

 "I fully understand the action taken by members of the agri-food industry who have taken to the streets of Dublin today and to those who halted production in solidarity with the farmers. The agri-food sector is increasingly expected to do more with less and this is simply not sustainable.

"The farmers are putting pressure on the government to get the best CAP deal possible, I hope that, as much of the negotiations will take place under the Irish Presidency that the government will use this position to influence these negotiations on CAP reform to the advantage of agri-food sector"

"A prosperous agri-food sector can play a significant part in economic recovery across the island, however if it continues to be forced to sell produce below the cost of production it will only drive more people from the land with a seriously detrimental effect on the general economy. We need to get serious about protecting our agri-food sector and a healthy CAP is the way to go about this".

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As part of the European Parliament annual Regional Open Day in Brussels this week Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson met with the five North/South cross-border groups and participated along witgh Local Government Association (NILGA) in regional workshops to celebrate good practices in regional development.

Afterwards Martina Anderson said:

"At a meeting with NILGA today I discussed the process required to get the North recognised under the Charter of EU Local Self-Government - which Sinn Féin is keen to take forward under the forthcoming RPA Structure. We also explored the need to draw down more financial support from Europe and what role NILGA could p[lay in helping to access these funding opportunities. We also agreed that all three MEPS should work collaboratively to try to establish the North as an Entrepreunerial Region by 2015.

"In discussion with the five Cross Border groups I highlighted the need for so long as the British imposed Border exists to take advantage of the funding streams available under EU Structural Funds to alleviate the various social and economic problems in our communities often created by the existence of the border."

"I congratulate all of these cross-border groups for the hard work which they have put in over the years. It is through this sharing of knowledge and expertise that we can seek collective answers to shared problems."

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Peadar Tóibin, Sinn Féin spokesperson for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said:
“This week Kerrygold announced 800 jobs and a further 400 in construction and today Paddy Power announced a further 800 jobs.
“These are to welcomed and demonstrate the potential for Irish enterprise. However we also have the closures of Olhausen plants with the loss of 160 jobs. This is due to the collapse in the domestic market.
“Last year the Taoiseach told us that the Action Plan for Jobs would create 100,000 additional jobs by 2016. It is clearly not working. Over the past year 33,400 net jobs have been lost to the economy and 87,000 people emigrated.
“Kerrygold and Paddy Power demonstrate what Irish business can achieve in the face of adverse economic conditions and policies. We believe that more can be achieved by policies that will put job creation to the fore, that build economic growth and the support enterprise.
“We believe that the potential exist for many more Paddy Powers and Kerrygolds. We believe that with the right policies good products such as Olhausen could and should be supported.
“Today we will launch a policy document that will build on the strength of Irish enterprise and demonstrate that with the political will the government can deliver 156,000 additional jobs.”

ends

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Sinn Féin Public Expenditure and Reform Spokesperson Mary Lou McDonald TD this afternoon called on Minister Brendan Howlin TD to extend the Ombudsman remit to include prisons and all issues relating to asylum, refugees and naturalisation.

Speaking during Ministers Questions Deputy McDonald said:

“For some time now the Ombudsman has sought to have the office’s remit extended to important areas of justice.

“It is Sinn Féin’s firm view that the remit of the Ombudsman office must be extended to prisons and all issues relating to asylum, refugees and naturalisation, as is the norm in other European counties with similar legislation.

“Minister Howlin today ruled out the inclusion of prisons on the basis that the Department of Justice intends to put in place its own a prisoner complaints system. This capitulation by the Minister to the Department of Justice is deeply disappointing and undermines his own reform agenda.

“Complaints with regard to asylum, refugees and naturalisation are also to be left languishing until the Government delivers on its commitment to overall the asylum system.

“When it comes to opportunities for real reforms that take on the corrosive culture that remains within some sections of the civil service Minister Howlin buckles at every turn.”

ENDS

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Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has heavily criticised the Minister for Justice Defence and Law Reform for his decision to close the Lisbrook House accommodation centre for Asylum seekers.

Speaking this evening from Leinster House, the Sinn Féin junior spokesperson on Justice said that this decision would create a great amount of anxiety and worry, and greatly affect the family life of the residents.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh said;

“The Minister’s decision to close Lisbrook House is appalling. These families have created a life as best as they can in this community. They are familiar with the area, their children are attending the local schools, and many of them are working on a voluntary basis in the community.

“Many of them have been living in Lisbrook House for four years or more, and this is the only home that they know. I understand that the community in Lisbrook House is devastated by this announcement.

“In my opinion there has been a lack of discussion on this issue. This decision was made without meeting with a delegation from Lisbrook House, to hear the point of view of the residents. Nor did the Minister meet with the delegation of Public representatives from Galway West who were seeking a meeting with him on the matter.

“This decision will not only affect the community in Lisbrook house. According to the minister a number of the residents will be moved to another centre, the Eglinton. However, there are currently no spaces in Eglinton, and clearly some of those residents will now also have to move.

“Cases and incidents like this illustrate how barbaric the direct provision system is. In 2010, Deputy Shatter, then in opposition, said during the course of a Joint Oireachtas Justice and Equality Committee meeting, that there needed to be a fundamental review of this policy, and that there was a need to see if there was a ‘better way to deal with people’.

“There is little evidence any longer of the minister showing any interest in any such review. I am appealing to the minister to reconsider this decision, and to meet with the residents of Lisbrook, and the public representatives to discuss this matter.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Community & Local Government, Brian Stanley TD has today accused the government of handing over economic sovereignty to the bureaucratic bullies in Brussels.

Speaking during today’s Dáil debate on the Fiscal Responsibility Bill deputy Stanley said;

“The current approach to righting our economic woes is not working. There are now 200,000 children living in poverty with the total number of people in poverty now at 706,371 all under Minister Burton’s watch. There are 100,000 households languishing on local authority housing lists under Minster Hogan’s watch.

“These are shocking facts proving that austerity, the key policy of this shambolic coalition, has failed. The facts also dispel the myth that the Labour Party in power provides protection for ordinary people. They do not. They are colluding with every cut, every closure and every job loss.

Sinn Féin supports fiscal responsibility. We have been calling for greater regulation of the markets long before this bill saw the light of day. In recent past those of us who challenged the status quo were branded economic illiterates.

“This bill creates a super structure of budgetary control that is undemocratic and unaccountable. The process is driven by Brussels bureaucrats. And sadly An Taoiseach and An Tánaiste have failed miserably to ever stand up to such bureaucratic bullies.

“This bill will make it virtually impossible for the public to impact on budgetary decisions of a democratically elected government. And government ministers will be able to blame Europe for any unpopular budgetary decisions.

“What we have in front of us is a bad bill which puts into legislation polices that have a failed history.”

ENDS

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Speaking during an Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting on the potential €1.65bn call on the Insurance Compensation Fund following the sale of Quinn Insurance Limited to Liberty Mutual last year Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said “a catalogue of failures involving the Minister for Finance, the Department of Finance, the Central Bank and the administrators has resulted in a potential bill of €1.65bn arising from the sale of Quinn Insurance Limited to Liberty Mutual last year.”

Deputy Doherty said:

“Last September Minister Noonan rushed legislation through the Dáil to amend the Insurance Compensation Fund. At that time I warned that he was being reckless and the outcome would be bad.

“It was clear then that the Government were under pressure from Liberty Mutual and IBRC to pass the legislation in advance of their High Court appearance to conclude the sale of the company.

“In proposing the legislation on the Compensation Fund Minister Noonan said he was ‘satisfied that the appropriate systems and processes were sufficiently robust to ensure that the call upon the fund is kept to an absolute minimum.’ He estimated that the cost to the Fund would be in the region of €700m.

“He was wrong on both counts. What ensued was a catalogue of failures involving the Minister for Finance, the Department of Finance, the Central Bank and the administrators and has resulted in a potential bill of €1.65bn arising from the sale of Quinn Insurance Limited to Liberty Mutual last year.

“The Minister and his Department failed to provide adequate oversight. The Central Bank failed in their regulatory capacity. And the regulators who initially told the High Court that there would be no call on the Insurance Compensation Fund clearly failed to provide an accurate assessment of the level of risk involved.

“As a result ordinary insurance policy holders will end up paying up to €1.65bn. While the primary responsibility for this mess lies with the Minister for Finance none of those bodies involved can claim to be blame free.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has said greater vision must be shown on the part of the government to reduce the costs of sending children to school.

Deputy O’Brien was speaking after presentations were made to the Committee from a number of groups that included the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA), the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), and the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) on the rising costs faced by parents when sending their children to school.

He continued: “Today’s presentations showed that there are relatively simple measures that can be introduced which would reduce the cost of sending a child to school.

“This year’s 3.5% reduction in the school capitation grant is having a serious impact on schools with parents often requested to make voluntary contributions that can amount to €130 on average per child. There is a direct correlation between the funding of schools and the costs borne by parents and the situation for chronically underfunded schools is set to worsen with further cuts likely over the next three years.

“As we face another €77 million being cut from next the education budget, we need now, more than ever, to be imaginative in how we implement policy.

“The CPSMA rightly point out that schools are treated like businesses and pay standing charges without availing of the advantages that businesses enjoy, for example, VAT cannot be offset against purchases.

“Paying for school books has serious implications for parents and a lack of regulation has made the situation worse. I believe there is a great deal of merit in the IVEA’s proposals to move to a school-centred purchasing system that should, because of economy of scale, reduce costs and make essential items such as text books and uniforms more affordable for individual parents.

“We need to do more to enforce regulation amongst publishers and it remains to be seen if the voluntary code of practise reduces the cost of school books.

“We also need to exam the viability of introducing eBooks to schools as a way of reducing the unit cost of books that the IVEA estimate costs on average €10 - €15.

“It is also important that Education Minister Ruairí Quinn do more than encourage school authorities to ensure that uniforms are available to parents in the most cost effective manner possible.

“A more formal mandatory code of practise is needed to prevent suppliers ripping off parents. It is simply not good enough that arrangements regarding the cost of school uniforms will have to be made between school authorities and parents without direction from the Minister and his Department.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Youth Affairs Senator Kathryn Reilly has said the government needs to start acting on youth unemployment and stop waiting for miracle solutions from Europe.

The recent moves by the European Commission towards a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), which the government has said it will not take part in, is now being linked by the Austrian and French governments to the proposed EU Youth Guarantee.

Senator Reilly said;

“This attempt by the Labour’s Party’s sister parties to link the commission’s proposed FTT with any Youth Guarantee is grossly unfair and smacks of an attempt to coerce countries like Ireland who are opposed to the FTT to give up their objections.

“It is also grossly unfair on the 30% of young Irish people left in Ireland who are not at work to possibly exclude them from any benefits from an EU wide Youth Guarantee.

“This government has tried to hype the possibility of a Youth Guarantee as a solution to our youth unemployment crisis without any details of how the guarantee would work and without knowing if it is to have any financial muscle at all. Now we hear that some governments want to see the guarantee linked to the introduction of a FTT.

"The message should be clear. This government needs to stop waiting for miracle solutions from Europe and start acting here and now to tackle youth unemployment. Last year the government’s Jobs Action Plan mentioned young people only twice in its 126 pages.

“This government has been in power for 18 months now and youth unemployment is as high as it was when they came to power. There may be potential in using EU support to tackle youth unemployment in the future but that is no excuse to not act now through investing in actions aimed specifically at creating jobs for young people as has been proposed by Sinn Féin.”

ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil today on the Fiscal Responsibility Bill Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD challenged the government to explain why it was proceeding with legislation for a fiscal strategy that has already failed.

Deputy McDonald said:

“The Fiscal Responsibility Bill will damage the real economy, undermine delivery of frontline services and will push families into deeper debt.

“If this government continues to pursue policies that attack low and middle income families, policies that cut away the most basic social provisions and supports for carers, the disabled, for our children, policies that makes any chance of growth and recovery possible, then the human cost for many will be insurmountable.

“We need real reform. We need to put equality at the heart of all legislation and decision making that comes out of this institution. We need to start putting our people first.

“Recessions provide opportunities for change. Some of the most progressive social policies were put in place by governments across Europe during and after the Second World War. Standards of living improved and economies recovered.

“Ireland cannot recover without real and radical reform based on equity and justice. This Bill and the policies it embodies will enshrine austerity into law and this makes no economic or social sense.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has accused Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin of “hypocrisy” following the launch of the Fianna Fail Wrong Tax Wrong Time campaign against property tax this afternoon. Deputy Doherty said “if Fianna Fail were in government this unfair and damaging tax would have already been introduced.”

Deputy Doherty said:

“Sinn Féin has consistently opposed the introduction of a property tax. It will increase the financial hardship of hundreds of thousands of families. It will push tens of thousands into serious mortgage distress and significantly increase levels of poverty. It will also damage the domestic economy by reducing consumer spending. This will lead to more job losses.

“Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has some cheek launching a campaign against the introduction of a property tax in 2013. If his party was in government this tax would have been introduced this year.

“It was a Fianna Fail Government that negotiated the first Memorandum of Understanding with the Troika. That agreement contained a clear commitment to introduce a property tax for budget 2012 as part of a revenue raising package of €1.6bn.

“Fianna Fail’s 2012 pre-budget submission included a proposal for a property tax to raise €120 million.

“Today’s campaign launch is typical of the hypocrisy of Fianna Fail in opposition. They are constantly opposing things they agreed to when in Government and criticising the Government for continuing the failed social and economic policies they they pioneered.

“Micheal Martin has absolutely no credibility when it comes to issues such as the property tax. If he were Taoiseach he would be faithfully implementing the Troika agreement agreed by the cabinet of which he was a part.

“People should not be fooled by this kind of dishonest politics. It has been the hallmark of Fianna Fail for many years and despite all their claims to the contrary is central to their style of politics today.

“There is a better way to solve the state’s economic problems – problems that were created by Micheal Martin and his Fianna Fail colleagues from the last Government. We need to abandon the failed policies of austerity slavishly followed by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour.” ENDS

Text of December 2010 MoU agreed by Fianna Fail

“The government will provide a draft budget for 2012 aiming to further reduce the genera government deficit in line with the National Recovery Plan and the programme and including the detailed presentation of consolidation measures amounting to at least €3.6bn.
- Revenue measures to yield €1,500m in a full year will be introduced, including:
- A lowering of personal income tax bands and credits.
- A reduction in private pension tax reliefs.
- A reduction in general tax expenditures.
- A property tax.
- A reform of capital gains tax and acquisitions tax.
- An increase in the carbon tax.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness along with fellow MLAs Sue Ramsey, Mickey Brady, Pat Sheehan, Bronwyn McGahan, Cathal Ó Oisín and Megan Fearon today showed their support for Action Cancer's unique breast screening service during the charity's Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

 West Belfast MLA Sue Ramsey and Chair of Health Committee said:

 “October has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month around the world and charities like Action Cancer carry out great work to raise awareness about this devastating disease as well as running screening programmes.

 “Last week in Leinster House Sinn Féin elected representatives, including party President Gerry Adams and MEP Martin Anderson showed their support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

 “Over 4,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year across the island of Ireland. Around 40 of these or, one per cent, will be men. In the North, around 300 women die each year as a result of breast cancer.

“I urge anyone with the slightest concern to immediately contact their doctor or any of the campaign organisations, all of whom provide extensive information and support.”

 Anyone interested in obtaining a breast screening appointment should contact Action Cancer on 028 9080 3344, visit www.actioncancer.org, download Action Cancer's BreastAware app or call in to your local Gordons Chemist and fill out a breast screening request form.

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Sinn Féin’s enterprise, jobs and innovation spokesperson Peadar Tóibín TD will launch his party’s new job creation policy document tomorrow Thursday, 11 October 2012 in the Buswells Hotel at 12 noon.

Deputy Tóibín will be joined by party president Gerry Adams TD, deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald TD and finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD.

For more information contact Shaun Tracey on 0877735218.

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD says more than €500,000 spent by NAMA on the recruitment of staff since 2011 is an “outrageous waste”. Deputy Doherty received the information in response to a parliamentary question last night.

He said the wasted half a million euro would pay for the equivalent of 28,000 home help hours.

Deputy Doherty said:

“In a parliamentary response to me last night, it was revealed that NAMA spent €316,000 in 2011 and a further €197,000 this year to date on recruiting staff. So far this year NAMA has recruited 28 staff members – that works out at €7,035 per staff member. This is recruitment costs alone – it’s not salaries.

“This is an utter squander of public money at a time when allegedly every cent is being counted in government departments. It harks back to the early part of the last decade when waste was glossed over and over-spending was the norm. Here we have 460,000 people on the live register and NAMA is spending €500,000 on recruiting staff.

“To put it in perspective, that €500,000-plus, if redirected, could save 28,000 home help hours for some of the most vulnerable people in this state. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition is slashing €8 million-worth of home help hours, yet NAMA appears to be permitted to spend taxpayers’ money at will.

“The government and the management at NAMA have to answer why such waste is occurring with public money, public money which would be far better spent elsewhere.”

ENDS

PQ and response are below:

DÁIL QUESTION
NO 145

To ask the Minister for Finance if he will quantify the fees paid by the National Asset Management Agency for the recruitment of staff in 2011 and for the nine months ending 30 September 2012..
- Pearse Doherty.
* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 9th October, 2012.
Ref No: 42679/12
REPLY

Minister for Finance ( Mr Noonan) : I am advised that the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has incurred recruitment costs in respect of employees assigned to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) of €316,000 during 2011 and €197,000 for the nine months ending 30 September. Such recruitment costs include fees paid to recruitment agencies, pre-employment medical tests and psychometric testing, and advertising. The NTMA and NAMA have sought to minimise recruitment costs through the direct advertisement of staff vacancies on their websites. Under Section 42 (4) of the National Asset Management Agency Act, NAMA is required to reimburse NTMA for the costs incurred including the recruitment and assignment of staff to NAMA.

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Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill has ruled out a local fishing vessel decommissioning scheme and reaffirmed her commitment to providing financial support to assist with fleet modernisation and improved operational efficiency.

Commenting on her decision Minister O’Neill said: “The justification for having a decommissioning scheme is that the financial performance of fishing vessels that remain in the fleet would improve because they would benefit from the fishing quotas released by those vessels that opt for decommissioning. However, to ensure that these benefits are maintained for the long term the scheme must have safeguards to prevent the fleet sectors from subsequently growing in size.

“Controlling the future size of the fleet is absolutely fundamental to the proposal for a decommissioning scheme and failure to limit future fleet size would completely undermine the purpose of the public investment. The industry is opposed to this but without such a control mechanism it would be impossible to have a robust business case that would demonstrate that public investment in fleet restructuring represented good value for money. As a consequence I have decided not to proceed with a decommissioning scheme.”

Referring to the funding previously earmarked for decommissioning, Minister O’Neill continued: “There are opportunities available currently to the local industry to obtain grants to modernise their vessels. This funding measure is worth some £2.5million and to date grants totalling around £0.5million have been awarded. I’m aware that some vessel owners may have deferred their plans to modernise their vessel pending a decision on decommissioning and it is anticipated that further grant applications will now be made. My Department is completing a review of all funding allocations within the European Fisheries Fund to ensure that they are fully utilised and reallocated to other measures where demand for financial support is likely to exceed the approved budgets. This review will include consideration of how best to utilise the funding that had been earmarked for decommissioning for the benefit of the fishing industry and the communities in which they are based.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Regional Development committee Cathal Ó hOisín has, along with the other Sinn Féin members of the committee, met with a number of visually impaired lobby groups who were in Stormont to highlight the training and usage of Guide dogs.

Speaking following the event Mr Ó hOisín said:

“This was a constructive and informative meeting where many issues that affect this section of our community were raised.

“Many of these can be rectified with a common sense and inclusive approach to planning our infrastructure. Issues include the lack of dropped curves with tactile paving slabs, shared spaces which allow for both pedestrians and vehicles, street furniture and the fact that electric cars are so quiet it is hard to hear their approach.

“It is through engagement such as these that we develop an understanding of what others in society need and issues that sometimes we take for granted, but can have a huge impact on sections of our society.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard has said that the announcement today by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister unveiling a scheme that will guarantee employment to 230 newly qualified teachers is a step forward in ensuring that young teachers get on the rung of employment.

 Mr. Hazzard said,

“One of the biggest criticisms of the past few years coming from newly qualified teachers is that they cannot access a placement in a school that will allow them experience to compete for jobs within the profession.

 “This scheme is excellent in that it will employ 230 teachers to deliver one to one tuition in order to raise standards in English and Maths. 

“Many young people are leaving school without achieving a basic qualification in either English or Maths and putting extra resource into addressing this should help reduce this number. 

“It will also allow schools who are struggling under budgets constraints to have access to a teacher to provide extra tuition to those pupils who need a helping hand to fulfil their potential.

“It is important that we higher standards right across the board and allow newly qualified teachers to gain employment and this announcement today will help achieve both objectives.”

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