Dáil Éireann - Volume 654 - 14 May, 2008

Written Answers. - Community Welfare Service.

Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the discussions that have taken place between herself and the Health Service Executive in relation to the moving of community welfare officers to her Department; the number of meetings that have taken place; the persons who attended these meetings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18715/08]

Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the work undertaken between herself and the Health Service Executive to define the role of the community welfare officer if they move to her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18716/08]

Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the rationale for the proposed transfer of the community welfare service to her Department; the research which exists to support such a move; the expected impact of such transfer on the users of the service; and if she will he make a statement on the Government’s objectives in the context of this proposal. [18617/08]

Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action that will be taken in relation to the role of the community welfare officer under her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18717/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: I propose to take Questions Nos. 115, 117, 133 and 138 together.

The decision to transfer certain functions from the Health Service Executive (HSE) to my Department follows on from recommendations made by the Commission on Financial Management and Control Systems in the Health Service. In its report, the Commission noted that over the years, the health system had been assigned responsibility for a number of activities that are non-core in the context of a health service. In view of the range of challenges facing the health sector, it recommended that the Government consider assigning such non-core activities to other bodies.

The Government considered the matter and in February 2006 decided to transfer certain functions from the HSE. The functions to be transferred included the General Register Office and various payments, including supplementary welfare allowances and payments made to or in respect of persons with a disability, namely domiciliary care allowance, mobility allowance, infectious diseases maintenance allowance and blind welfare allowance. The mechanics of transferring dental, optical and other treatment benefits from my Department to the health sector was also to be examined.

The General Register Office transferred to my Department in January this year and plans to transfer dental, optical and treatment benefit to the health sector are being developed. In addition plans are well advanced for the transfer of the domiciliary care allowance scheme and the other disability related income maintenance schemes to my Department.

Provision has been made in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2008 for the transfer of the administration of SWA to my Department to take place. This provision is subject to Commencement Order.

[445] Officials from my Department, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE have met the Superintendent Community Welfare Officers as a group on three occasions to discuss the transfer.

In addition officials are engaged in discussions with the unions representing the Community Welfare Service staff in relation to the transfer proposals. These discussions are being facilitated by an independent chairperson. Twenty one meetings haven taken place since last October and further meetings are expected to be held.

Progress has been made in these discussions in some areas but a number of issues remain to be resolved. The intention is to reach a collective agreement with the Unions which will deal with the concerns of all the staff involved. In this regard, discussions are also taking place with the civil service unions, representing staff in my Department, in relation to the transfer proposals.

During the course of the discussions the Unions have sought assurances about the future role of Community Welfare Officers and the discretionary element of the SWA scheme. Assurances have been given that when the service transfers to my Department the existing flexibilities will be retained. Community Welfare Officers working within my Department’s structure will continue to make discretionary payments under the SWA scheme. They will remain community based and will continue to provide key information advice, advocacy and referral links between agencies.

The integration of the Community Welfare Service with my Department will allow for development of the role of Community Welfare Officers. There is already a significant level of liaison between them and locally based staff in my Department.

I am satisfied that the transfer of the Community Welfare service to my Department is appropriate and timely. It will allow for the development of the role of the Community Welfare Officers and will lead to an integrated and improved service for those in need. The existing flexibilities within the scheme will be maintained and Community Welfare Officers will remain community based and will continue to provide information, advocacy and referral links between agencies.