Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan has called on the education minister and the Education Authority to ensure children with special educational needs and their families have certainty over school places for September.
The West Belfast MLA said:
“Reports this morning that 300 children with special educational needs are without a school place for September are deeply concerning.
“Given the yearly increase in the number of children with special educational needs, the education minister should have prepared and planned for this eventuality.
“These children and their families need certainty on what arrangements will be in place come September, and I would urge the education minister and the Education Authority to work to address this issue.
“This is why we need an Executive up and running and Ministers in place so that we can invest in education services and ensure young people get the support that they need.
“The DUP needs to end its boycott and join with the rest of us who want to make politics work and deliver first class public services.” Críoch/Ends
Sinn Féin Meath TDs Johnny Guirke and Darren O’Rourke have criticised the government’s failure to back the party’s motion to protect emergency services at Navan Hospital.
In a vote this evening, the government failed to support the Sinn Féin motion to protect and enhance crucial emergency services at Navan Hospital and to publish a plan to end emergency department overcrowding.
Speaking this evening, Teachta Guirke said:
“The government has failed the people of Meath this evening in their refusal to back Sinn Féin’s motion to protect emergency services at Navan Hospital. They have let local communities down very badly.“For all their talk in recent days, when it came down to casting their votes, the government TDs in Meath didn’t stand with the people. Sinn Féin will continue to fight tooth and nail to protect and enhance our health services.”
Teachta O’Rourke said:
“The government’s decision to go against Sinn Féin’s motion is a shameful development which will have far-reaching consequences for the people of Meath. The government had a clear chance here to take a stand and stop these crucial services being dismantled. However, instead of standing with the people of Meath they failed to make their voices count.
“This fight does not end here. Sinn Féin will continue to stand up for emergency services in Meath and for better investment in our healthcare system. Sinn Féin in government would deliver a properly resourced health service, with the investment and staffing needed to ensure patients receive high-quality and timely care.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson for Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, has welcomed changes to the emergency social welfare payment, including the new Additional Needs Payment which includes eligibility based on various income limits.
However, she warned that much more still must be done to ensure that people under financial pressure can get the supports they need urgently and in an accessible way.
Speaking in the Dáil today, Teachta Kerrane said:
“The cost of living crisis is putting people under real financial pressure. People are struggling to keep on top of their bills as prices rise and their income remains the same. It’s clear that the government needs to do much more to support hard-pressed families.
“I welcome the changes made to the emergency payments available through Community Welfare Officers in the introduction of what is now known as an Additional Needs Payment, which includes eligibility based on various income limits which increase depending on household size.
“This is a step in the right direction as there were issues with the current inadequate system which I raised with Minister Humphreys many times, including the fact that those working 30 hours a week or more could not access assistance under the Exceptional Needs Payment.
“However, while this development is welcome we need to make sure this new payment works, that it can be easily accessed and that it is paid out to those who need it.
“In order for this to be a successful and effective measure, it must be widely advertised. The Minister should also meet online with Community Welfare Officers to ensure they are aware of the new Scheme including the income limits, what it is for, the flexibility needed to be shown and the need for discretion to ensure people who need the funds are not locked out of the scheme.
“I have also raised difficulties regarding access to Community Welfare Officers as have many other Deputies in the Opposition. It is no coincidence that the drop in payments made under both Exceptional Needs and Urgent Needs payments followed changes to how the public access these officers.
“The drop-in element is gone and this was important in communities, especially for Older People. This element of Community Welfare Services must be restored and we will continue to push the government to address this.
“There is another cohort of people who are not comfortable with approaching a Community Welfare Officer in the hope of financial assistance. I spoke just this week to a lone parent in her early fifties who has worked all her life and told me she would feel embarrassed and ashamed to have to do this. She should not feel this way but these issues around stigma can be overcome by putting the application for emergency assistance online.
“Today in the Dáil I asked the Minister to make the application available online, as some other social welfare applications are already, and to allow people to make their application online for those who wish to have that option.
“Emergency payments are going to continue to be an important support. The cost of living crisis is worsening and we need to ensure emergency payments are easily accessible and can be dealt with quickly and efficiently to get money into peoples' pockets when they are in dire straits
“I have followed up this request in writing to the Minister and I hope she will consider it. I will continue to stand up for people hit by the cost of living crisis to ensure that they get a much-needed break and the financial supports they deserve.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Workers’ Rights, Louise O’Reilly TD, said that a report published by the Financial Services Union on employee experiences of remote working should be another wake-up call for the Tánaiste on the need to strengthen his remote working bill and legislate for the ‘right to disconnect’.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“Today the Financial Services Union (FSU) published a research report into employee experiences of remote working in the financial services sector.
“The report made for interesting reading and as with nearly all research in the area it highlighted the need for significant improvements to the government’s remote working bill.
“Only recently officials from the Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Employment admitted the legislation is flawed and needs to be strengthened.
“The Tánaiste’s remote working bill has been criticised from every quarter, and the FSU report is another wake-up call that it must be strengthened.
“However, the FSU research also revealed the need to legislate for the ‘right to disconnect’.
“Workers flagged issues such as being drained by work and the encroachment of work on private time through ever-present connectivity.
“The current situation where workers are excessively contacted is unfair, unhealthy, and it also hurts productivity as a burnt-out worker cannot perform to the best of their ability.
“It was for this reason that I introduced the Organisation of Working Time (Amendment) (Right to Disconnect) Bill 2020 to ensure proper regulation of excessive out-of-hours contact between employers and staff via email, messaging app or phone, and give workers a legal right to disconnect, or switch off, from work.
“Workers not only deserve a legal right to disconnect which is protected in law, but they absolutely need it, for their physical and mental health, for their wellbeing, and for their productivity.
“The FSU research should be a wake-up call for the Tánaiste on the need to strengthen his remote working bill and legislate for the ‘right to disconnect’.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has criticised the government’s ongoing failure to deliver appropriate special education.
His comments follow the publication of a report by the Ombudsman for Children, which found that the State is failing children with special educational needs who cannot secure appropriate school places.
Speaking today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The Ombudsman's report is shocking and highlights the ongoing scandal around special education school places that has been happening in plain sight under this government's watch for years.
"The government is totally failing these children. This cannot be allowed to continue.
“Just last week, Sinn Féin brought a motion to the Dáil last week on this very issue calling for emergency legislation and improved forward planning to ensure this crisis ends, but the government refused to use that opportunity to act. The government’s excuses on this important issue are wearing very thin and families feel totally let down and unsupported.
"These children are being denied their constitutional right to an appropriate education. Special Education is not being given the respect and place it deserves. Families are being subject to unnecessary stress and uncertainty.
"I welcome the Ombudsman's report, and he and his office's work on this, which I know was informed by complaints made by families affected by this issue, campaigning for adequate provision for special education in September. It adds to the weight of evidence that demonstrates how these children are being failed, and I hope it brings renewed urgency to a severe, and indeed emergency situation.
“The fact is that the Department and the NCSE constantly wait until the 11th hour, before acting far too late. The Department should be planning at least a year if not 2 years in advance for adequate school places. They have the information, they have the powers and they have the budget. There are no excuses for the failures of Minister Foley and Minister of State Madigan to make adequate preparations to ensure every child had an appropriate school place.
“Without emergency legislation to streamline the section 37A process, it is incredibly unlikely new special classes will be ready for September.
“This is an emergency situation, which requires an emergency response.
"Sinn Féin will continue to stand up for children with special educational needs and their families, and ensure that every child has access to education, as is their right. Nothing less is acceptable.”
Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin said it is deplorable that the British government continue to push their anti-rights agenda through plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.
Emma Sheerin said:
"It is a damning indictment of Britain, which will be recognised globally, that Boris Johnson’s government would take such extreme measures to avoid accountability from an independent court.
"The Tories are threatening to revoke the very Convention that protects our right to vote, to freedom of speech and to a fair trial.
''The European Convention of Human Rights underpins the Good Friday Agreement and this is another attempt by the British government to override their international obligations and leave themselves accountable to no one.
"We still don't have a Bill of Rights for the north as promised in the Good Friday Agreement, which would have protected us in this situation. Now, we will lose access to the European Court that has provided key judgements in legacy cases.
"The British Government's agenda not only threatens our human rights, but also our peace agreement."
Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said that the protocol is working and is protecting the north from the worst excesses of Brexit.
Speaking on the publication of research from the London School of Economics and the Resolution Foundation on the impact of Brexit on the economy, the East Derry MLA said:
"This latest analysis highlights once again that Brexit is a disaster economically.
"It is also further evidence that the protocol is protecting the north from the worst excesses of the hard Brexit delivered by the Tories and the DUP.
"The growing weight of economic evidence reflects the experiences of local businesses, that the protocol provides important protections and gives businesses in the north with the unique opportunity to access both the British and EU markets.
"In the middle of a cost of living and inflation crisis, we need to maximise these opportunities to create jobs and prosperity.
"The British government needs to engage in good faith negotiations with the EU to ensure businesses, workers and our local economy here can continue to benefit from these opportunities."
Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has said the Health Minister needs to increase the mileage allowance to help support care workers struggling in the current cost of living crisis.
The North Belfast MLA said:
“The increase in the price of petrol and diesel, which has seen diesel hit new highs of £2 per litre, has our hard-pressed care workers struggling in the current cost of living crisis.
“The Health Minister needs to increase the mileage allowance to support our care workers who are considering whether they will be able to afford to go to work.
“An Executive needs to be formed and a three-year budget agreed which prioritises health immediately.
“Sinn Féin is committed to investing an additional billion pounds in our health service over the next three years to tackle waiting lists, recruit more doctors and nurses, to fund cancer and mental health services and help transform the health service.
“I would urge the DUP to form an Executive to work with the other parties to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and fix the health service.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence John Brady TD has spoken of the need for Ireland to do more on the UN Security Council to raise awareness of the international food crisis, which has the potential to lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.
He added that Ireland must strongly advocate for accountability for those who would seek to weaponise hunger as a tool of war, and to ensure that World Food Programme supply chains are protected.
The Wicklow TD said:
“We are in the midst of a global food crisis which is being increasingly exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine. The failure of the international community to address climate change, the impact of Covid-19, regional conflicts, and now the potential of widespread famine as a consequence of the war in Ukraine is leading to a humanitarian catastrophe.
“Time is running out. The government needs to step up. There is no time anymore to stand on the sidelines. Ireland needs to lead the charge for greater resources to address the food crisis.
“In East Africa alone, in the region of the Horn of Africa, in the countries of Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, there are 23 million people at risk of severe hunger. In Somalia alone, 350,000 children are at risk of death in the months ahead.
“In West Africa a further 38 million people are at risk of hunger. There is one person dying from hunger every 48 seconds.
“The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which assisted close to 10 million refugees across the globe in 2021, has been forced to significantly reduce its rations to refugees across all of its operations. In East Africa, rations have been cut by 50% for 75% of all refugees supported by the WFP. The reality is that food assistance will mean the difference between life and death for many refugees who have no other means of support.
“Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus provide 12% of the world’s traded calories. Grain from Ukraine helped feed 400 million people globally in 2021. Russia is currently blockading 18 million tonnes of grain and oilseed in Ukrainian ports. This is a war crime.
“In Kenya, the price of flour has trebled in six months.
“The UN High Commission for Refugees released figures this week that reveal that 67% of refugees and asylum seekers originated from countries with food crisis in 2021.
“The Irish Government needs to step up. This is why other countries voted for Ireland to be on the UN Security Council. They want to see Ireland capitalise on our country’s moral standing as a military neutral, and non-aligned nation, to call for action.”
Sinn Féin’s Leader in the Seanad Niall Ó Donnghaile has called on government parties not to block a proposal at today’s ‘Dáil Reform Committee’ which would allow MLAs from the North to sit on Special Oireachtas Committees.
Speaking after today’s Order of Business in the Seanad, Senator Ó Donnghaile said:
“A Shared Island must mean a Shared Oireachtas.
“I would call on government members not to fly in the face of the Good Friday Agreement, not to run contrary to Article 2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann by voting against the proposal to allow an MLA or MP from all parties in the North to sit on Special Oireachtas Committees.
"These Special Committees work on important issues which affect people across the island, such as on improving autism services. Including MLAs and MPs would only enhance the work of these committees and ensure better partnership and dialogue to bring forward important solutions to improve the lives of people across this island.
“These Committees don’t vote on legislation, but research, engage and report on a range of issues which have important and deep resonance across Irish life. Our experience of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is improved because MPs from the North are members. Why take a different approach to Special Committees?
“Citizens in the North should not be left behind, Ireland works best when we work together - our Special Committees in the Oireachtas should reflect that.”
Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said as inflation hits a new high, it is time for the British government to do much more to tackle the cost of living.
The party's economy spokesperson said:
"Inflation has hit a four decade high of 9.1% and food, fuel and energy prices continue to rise.
"Over recent days British Tory ministers have been criticising workers struggling to cope with soaring prices rather than tackling the cost of living crisis and helping workers and families.
"Boris Johnson and his Tory government need to do much more to help people who are struggling.
“They should immediately bring down soaring fuel prices by cutting duty and VAT to help workers and families travelling to work and doing school runs and also bring down the cost of doing business and protect jobs.
"The British government must ensure the burden of this crisis is not put on low-paid workers and that big corporations are pulling their weight and not profiteering off the back of ordinary people.
"We also need the Executive to be reformed immediately so we can spend the £435 million sitting in a Stormont bank account and get it out into the pockets of workers and families."
“Political Will” final thing needed to re-open Western Rail Corridor - MacManus
Political will at Government level is the only thing required to reopen the Western Rail Corridor and no more reports or analysis are needed, a public meeting hosted by Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has heard. The online meeting chaired by MacManus and addressed by Mayo Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh TD, Paul Deering, editor of the Sligo Champion and Conor Feighan of the European Rail Freight Association, was well attended with close to 100 participants involved.
Speaking following the meeting, MEP MacManus said:
“It was great to see a large turnout at this public meeting and to see such interest and passion in the room for the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor. The meeting was very constructive, it was very useful to hear people’s feedback on this issue and we’ll certainly be taking on board the various points made throughout.”
“I think it’s clear from this meeting that there is a huge demand in the West and Northwest for the Western Rail Corridor to be reopened without delay. We know from Dr John Bradley’s report that this is achievable and can happen in a short period of time. All that’s missing is the political will to make that decision.”
The Midlands Northwest MEP called for action to deliver the project. “While we hope that the all-island rail review recommends it’s reopening and is not another botched report like EY, it is our firm view that the justification already exists for the reopening of the line and that no more reports or analysis is needed.”
“That justification was outlined clearly at this meeting, whether it’s in terms of addressing regional imbalance, bringing economic development to the West, increasing our freight potential or enabling more people to commute sustainably, there are a huge number of reasons why this project must go ahead.”
“It was also emphasized by several speakers that it is not a binary choice between a reopened railway line and a greenway, and both projects should be developed alongside each other. There are many examples of greenways running alongside railway lines in this country and abroad and we firmly believe that there is no reason why that could not happen in the case of the Western Rail Corridor.”
MacManus concluded, “Sinn Féin will continue to campaign strongly on this issue in the time ahead as we know that this project is vital for the future of our region. It is time for the Government to get off the fence and commit to reopening the rail line.” ENDS
Sinn Fein spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, Mairéad Farrell TD, has called on Minister McGrath to publish the legal advice he received in relation to pay increases for top public servants, after the government abandoned its plans to postpose pay rises.
From the first of July, Senior Civil Servants, Judges and other Senior Public Servants will receive pay increases of up to 15%.
Teachta Farrell said:
“With the government having now abandoned their plans to postpone these pay rises on foot of legal advice that they received, I think we all need to see that legal advice.
"We’ve constantly heard this government talk about the risks of a wage price spiral. Only recently both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste said we can’t have 'wages chasing inflation'.
“It’s funny how they’re only ever concerned when it’s lower income workers getting a pay increase, but when it comes to it comes to the pay top of public servants, somehow concerns for a wage price spiral disappear.
"For those getting the 15% increase, this would be almost twice the rate of inflation.
"Contrast this with what the government offered on Friday in the public sector pay talks, which would cover the majority of lower paid Public Servants. They were offered 5% which is below the rate of inflation, meaning a cut in real terms.
“In this state if you are on a salary of over €189k, you are in the top 1% of income earners.
"This salary increase will mainly benefit those, whilst the majority of people are left to struggle on with this cost of living crisis.
"We don’t have wages chasing prices, we have a government that’s chasing its tail."
Sinn Féin National Party Chairperson Declan Kearney has accused the Tories and the DUP of using a wrecking ball against the Good Friday Agreement and insists now is the time to begin preparations for constitutional change in Ireland.
In a blog for An Phoblacht the South Antrim MLA wrote:
''Over £430 million immediately available to tackle the cost-of-living pressures is frozen in a bank account because the DUP is vetoing the restoration of the northern power sharing Executive which it collapsed last February.
''The DUP position is reckless and irresponsible. But it is also deeply damaging to power sharing and the political process.
''There is no evidence that the DUP is committed to proper power sharing unless it is on DUP terms.”
And Declan Kearney said that the Tories were giving cover to DUP to run the northern power sharing institutions into the ground and that the Good Friday Agreement was under sustained attack
''In the meantime, this present Tory government in London acted last week to unilaterally break international law, by effectively tearing up the Protocol and, by extension, Britain’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.
''The Tories are giving cover to the DUP for running the power sharing institutions in the north into the ground; and the DUP’s stance provides cover for the Tories in its ‘cold war’ stand-off with Europe.
“The DUP, with the support of the Tories, is not only vetoing the strand one, power sharing institutions of the GFA, it has already been blocking the strand two, North-South Ministerial Council from working since October 2021.
''When all of these factors are put together, it is undeniable the Good Friday Agreement is under an unprecedented and sustained attack.”
However, the Sinn Féin Chair said that the political landscape has changed and that there are new unimaginable opportunities emerging for a new agreed Ireland.
''The days of the DUP and unionist extremists dictating the terms of democracy, power sharing, or implementation of the GFA are long finished.
Previously unimaginable opportunities are emerging in Ireland. Momentous change with the scale and significance of decades has been happening.
''The political landscape has changed irreversibly.
''We have arrived at a new historic moment. It is time to begin planning for the next phase of the peace process, and preparing for a new, agreed Ireland.’’
You can read the full text of Declan Kearney’s blog here
Sinn Fein Senator Paul Gavan has raised the plight of Palestinian children with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney during Questions at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Senator Gavan said:
"The Irish Government has taken over the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe until November, and has identified as a key priority the importance of youth participation and engagement in participatory democracy.
"Palestinian children and youth have known no other life than that lived under military occupation. Many Palestinian children are exposed to dangers on a daily basis due to attacks on schools, and other threats including military checkpoints and the conduct of Israeli military around their schools.
“As the Minister knows, the Norwegian Refugee Council reports an average of ten attacks on education per month by Israeli Authorities and settlers in Palestine.
"Today the Occupied Palestinian Territories is regarded as one of the riskiest places on earth for children to go to school. Fifty-four schools in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have demolition orders held against them by Israeli Authorities.
“Is the Minister's intention to ensure that the Council of Europe brings its considerable influence and expertise to bear in support of Palestinian children, and hold the Government of Israel to account for perpetuating these crimes against children?”
Minister Coveney, who was responding on behalf of the Committee of Ministers, acknowledged that the occupation of Palestine was both illegal and immoral, and emphasised the need for all countries to speak with one voice on the issue.
However he made no direct reference to the dangers facing Palestinian children. He also appeared to question whether the Council of Europe as a forum could be of particular use with regard to this topic, despite a long history of engagement by the Parliamentary Assembly with this issue.
Speaking after the exchange Senator Gavan expressed frustration at the Minister's response, saying:
“As an organisation that champions Human Rights, Democracy, and The Rule of Law The Council of Europe has taken an interest in the plight of Palestinians for many years now.
"The Irish Presidency could be an opportunity to encourage the Committee of Ministers to take a greater focus on this issue and in particular crimes perpetrated by the Israeli State against Palestinian children, but there was little indication from the Minister that this would be done.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Employment Louise O’Reilly TD has said that evidence of the need for a Living Wage in Budget 2023 is insurmountable after another report showing Irish customers are paying the highest prices for goods and services across the EU.
Data from the European statistics agency has shown that price levels here were 40% higher than the EU average in 2021.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“The evidence of the need for the introduction of a Living Wage in Budget 2023 is insurmountable.
“Inflation and increases in the cost of living has pushed workers to the brink, especially low paid workers.
“Fuel costs, food costs, rent and housing, and energy costs, to name but a few, have skyrocketed.
“Indeed, data just published by Eurostat, the European statistics agency, showed that Irish people pay far more than the EU average for food, drink, energy, healthcare, transport, communications and restaurants.
“On average price levels here were 40% above the EU average in 2021, with combined housing costs such as rents, mortgage rates, gas and electricity a shocking 89% higher than the EU average, food and non-alcoholic beverages in Ireland 19% above the EU average, and transport services 39% higher than the EU average, to name but a few.
“With skyrocketing prices putting massive pressure on workers and families, the evidence of the need for a move to a Living Wage in Budget 2023 is insurmountable.
“Workers can’t wait - they need a Living Wage now.”
Speaking following Leaders Questions today, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD said:
"The Taoiseach's refusal to introduce an Emergency Budget to tackle the soaring cost of living will push many families beyond breaking point.
"We have a government that has closed its ears to the plight of workers and families being hammered by an avalanche of rip-off prices and costs right across the board. We are now at a stage where working people cannot afford the very basics. We are talking about clothes for their children, food on the table and a roof over their heads.
"The Taoiseach hiding behind an alibi of complexity is not helping anyone. This is about choices. If the government wants to protect ordinary people from the sharpest edge of this crisis, it will. If it doesn't, it won't. It is as simple and as clear cut as that.
"The fact is that many households face the very real prospect of going under in the next few months if the Government doesn't act now. This is a state of emergency for households the length and breadth of the country. The only sensible response is for the government to respond with an Emergency Budget before the Dáil rises for the Summer."
Sinn Féin spokesperson for health Colm Gildernew has commended the courage and determination of victims of the Neurology Scandal and he said that the failures of the health system to end their suffering earlier was shocking and appalling.
Speaking after the publication of the Independent Neurology Inquiry into the recall of over 5,000 patients – the biggest recall of patients ever in the north – Colm Gildernew said:
“What we heard today in the report from the chair of the Independent Neurology Inquiry Brett Lockhart about the failures in the health system which led to thousands of neurology patients being misdiagnosed and mistreated by Dr Michael Watt over many years was both shocking and appalling.
“Multiple opportunities to bring the suffering of these patients to an end were missed, prolonging their suffering for years.
"The courage and determination of those neurology patients is remarkable.
"They deserve to know how the failures in their care were allowed to happen and continue on, often for years, unchecked and unaddressed by the Belfast Trust.
"This has had profound effects on their lives, their livelihoods and their families, and some of those affected have since passed away.
"Today must mark the beginning of work to address these system failures so that neurology patients, and patients in other areas of health, receive the care they need and deserve from those they put their trust in to deliver it.
"These patients have had to wait too long for the right diagnosis and care, and while time must be taken to study the findings and recommendations of the Independent Panel report in detail they must not endure long waits for the compensation and redress they deserve.
“The families are also calling for accountability given there were so many red flags in the system about their mistreatment and misdiagnosis.
"The Minister of Health must act to provide clarity and support for victims to access the redress and compensation they deserve and avoid patients having to face long legal proceedings going forward.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, has today raised concerns that the number of Exceptional Needs Payments (ENPs) and Urgent Needs Payments (UNPs) paid by the Department of Social Protection have "plummeted".
This is despite the cost of living crisis and the Governments' insistence that financial support is there.
A recent PQ response received by my party colleague, Maurice Quinlivan TD, showed that as of end of April 2022, just 18,927 ENPs and UNPs had been paid by the Department of Social Protection.
This compares to 112,514 ENPs and UNPs made in 2018 and 92,198 made in 2019, both pre-Covid with 67,589 made in 2020 and over 55,000 in 2021.
Teachta Kerrane said:
“While the 2022 figures provided represent only a portion of the year so far, it is concerning that the number of approved ENPs and UNPs is so low in comparison to previous years.
“Similarly, that the spending for 2022 so far does not come close to matching the same amount for the previous two years is of real concern.
"Given the sharp increase in energy costs, it is worrying that the number of ENPs made to assist with heating and household bills has been falling year on year, with just 1,000 payments made in 2022 up to April.
“Considering the ongoing effects of the cost of living crisis, I would expect both the number of approved ENPs and UNPs applications, and the spending, to be significantly higher for this year to date.
“As well as this, the Minister and her Cabinet colleagues have been advising people who are struggling with making ends meet to seek support from their local social welfare office. This has been said repeatedly.
“That the Government are actively directing households to this fund and the numbers are as low as they are does not indicate that people are getting the support they need at this time.
“I am concerned that the recent removal of Community Welfare Officers has put support out of reach of communities, particularly for vulnerable people, including the elderly. This is also something that has been raised with me by Family Resource Centres.
“I recently raised my concerns with Minister Humphreys that a shift away from the community-focused application process for ENP and UNP would be detrimental for families and workers seeking support.
“The last thing we need is for the only emergency social welfare payment available to most families and workers to be made less accessible. We need to ensure households are supported during such a difficult time.
“The Government knows that people are struggling right now, but have made it clear they intend on deferring further action on the cost of living crisis for as long as they can.
“If the Minister and her Government colleagues are going to advise people to seek support from their local social welfare offices, then these supports should be available in the community as they were before.
"The figures speak for themselves - the current system for accessing emergency payments is not working."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, has offered his congratulations to Gustavo Petro on his victory in the Colombian Presidential election.
The election of Petro along with his running mate, Vice-President elect Francia Márquez, represents an important opportunity to inject fresh momentum into the Colombian peace process, and address human rights issues and those of workers.
The Wicklow TD said:
“I want to welcome the election of a new Colombian President and Vice-President.
“President-elect Petro is the first leftist President of Colombia and his running mate, Vice-President elect Francia Márquez, is an award-winning defender of human and environmental rights, and the first black woman to be elected to fill the post of Vice-President.
“I recently visited Colombia as part of a ‘Justice for Colombia’ observer delegation of parliamentarians and trade union leaders. We met with a wide ranging and representative array of groups, including members of the Colombian government, signatories to the 2016 peace agreement, which ended five decades of a civil war that had resulted in over a quarter of a million deaths and had left seven million people displaced.
“We also met with members of the UN Verification Mission, representatives of the Truth Commission, along with Ambassadors from Ireland, Britain, and Norway, one of the guarantor countries to the peace agreement, and victims of reported cases of state violence committed under the outgoing government.
“What was and remains clear is that the Colombian peace process faced considerable challenges under the Iván Duque presidency. Some 320 former combatants have been murdered since 2016 peace agreement along with countless human rights and environmental defenders, who have faced violent suppression throughout Colombia.
“Implementation of the peace agreement has advanced far slower than hoped, particularly in the area of comprehensive rural reform. Advancing the rural reform programmes has the potential to contribute to easing extreme inequalities.
“But to date, insufficient change has materialised in the specially-designated-zones, selected due to their historic state abandonment and high levels of conflict. There are opportunities for the Perot government to make significant advances in this area.
“It is critical that Ireland faces up to its human rights responsibilities in Colombia, and that the government does not use the war in Ukraine as an excuse to ignore previous human rights abuses at the Cerrejon coal mine to allow the ESB to revert to importing coal from a mine that has been implicated in horrendous instances of human rights abuses.
“There has also been significant state violence. Last year’s violent suppression of popular protests during the national strikes which took place in Colombia led to state implication in murders, sexual assaults, and serious assaults, with many protestors left with permanent injuries.
“There is no doubt that the incoming government faces serious challenges. But I believe that it is a time for optimism. It is a time to look forward with hope, and renewed vigour and commitment to the peace process.”