Monthly Archives: March 2012
Posted March 15th, 2012
Wicklow groups in line to benefit from new funding allocated to the HSE by the National Lottery
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has invited Wicklow community and voluntary groups involved in providing health or social services to members of local communities to make their case and apply to the scheme for one-off funding.”
Deputy Harris said, “The HSE has announced the latest round of Lotto grants, which can be a huge support for local groups. I know there are many organisations in Wicklow providing excellent supports and services to local communities, and who may be able to benefit from these grants.”
“National Lottery Grants have proven to be a hugely important source of funding to local community groups in recent years. The grant is a one-off payment, which can be used to improve the building, equipment and furnishings of health facilities and clinics, as well as supporting day-to-day running costs.”
“Groups in Wicklow who are interested in applying for this funding should contact Catherine Lynch in the HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster on 01 620 6094, or download an application form from the HSE’s website. I am also happy to meet with any groups looking for more information about the process. The closing date for applications is April 20.”
Posted March 14th, 2012
Accredited Olympians will not require a visa to enter Ireland; visa exemption scheme extended.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has said changes to the visa regime introduced by the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, will boost tourism in Wicklow this summer. Deputy Harris said, “The 2012 Olympic Games, to be held in London this summer, will provide a unique opportunity for Ireland to attract additional visitors. The Minister is taking positive steps now to attract visitors to Ireland, and Wicklow is extremely well-placed to capitalise on this opportunity.”
“The Government intends to encourage teams and individuals attending the Olympics to visit Ireland and to experience our world-renowned welcome. Being highly accessible and convenient for visitors arriving from the UK, Wicklow is extremely well-placed for visitors looking to escape the city and see the ‘real’ Ireland.”
“Under this scheme, Dublin and Shannon Airports will accept the official Olympic accreditation document of competitors, coaches, officials and media representatives attending the Games in lieu of an Irish visa from 30 March to 8 November 2012.”
“This initiative is a further step towards realising the Government’s aim of restructuring the immigration system to encourage and facilitate business and tourist activity. The Minister has also announced the extension of the hugely successful Short-Stay Visa Waiver Programme for a further four years and has introduced a new visa scheme for inventors and entrepreneurs.”
Deputy Harris continued, “There has been a strong welcome from the tourism industry for the reforms introduced to date. I am glad the Minister is continuing to engage proactively on this issue and hope that this new measure will prove equally successful to the reforms already introduced.”
Posted March 13th, 2012
Enterprise Ireland’s Potential Exporters Division will provide new supports to indigenous companies from Wicklow looking to trade in foreign markets.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris has welcomed the delivery of enhanced Enterprise Ireland supports for businesses looking to expand their international trade. Deputy Harris said, “The introduction of a new Potential Exporters Division was a key measure for Quarter 1 under the Action Plan for Jobs 2012. Irish exports continue to grow strongly, and I am glad to see the Government taking steps to ensure that indigenous Irish businesses are able to benefit from this growth.”
“The Action Plan for Jobs committed to overhauling the way the Government supports companies with the potential to trade in foreign markets, and there is a huge potential for Wicklow businesses to get onboard and to look to expand their trade.”
“The new Potential Exporters Division will identify new exporters and provide focussed and targeted supports to these companies. One element of this will be the new ‘Get Export Ready’ programme, encompassing a wide range of practical measures for early exporters.”
“This programme will help businesses assess their export readiness, develop a value proposition and confront the challenges faced by any business moving into the export market for the first time by providing mentoring and advocate support, workshops, seminars and training across Ireland and access to market information and a range of Enterprise Ireland supports.”
“The Government is serious in its commitment to supporting indigenous Irish companies in taking their products to new and growing markets, and I am happy to help any Wicklow businesses or individuals who would like further information about how the new range of initiatives could help their company in this.”
Posted March 13th, 2012
Fine Gael TD for Wicklow, Simon Harris, has called for the Irish taxpayer to be given clarity on when the Mahon Tribunal will report its findings. Deputy Harris has written to the Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barrett, requesting that the Tribunal be asked to provide a date or a timeframe for the expected publication of their final report.
“Speculation has been rife for a number of months, if not longer, about when the Mahon Tribunal will deliver its final report. Barely a week goes by where there not a new rumour, speculation or guess on when this report will be published. Considering the seriousness of the issues which the Mahon Tribunal was charged with investigating, it is not satisfactory that the Irish public, who paid for this costly Tribunal, are left none the wiser as to when it will conclude its work.
“The Oireachtas established this Tribunal of Investigation on the foot of many serious issues. It is therefore only right and proper, in my view, that the Oireachtas is given some certainty as to when the Tribunal will publish its final report.
“With this in mind, I have written to the Ceann Comhairle, as the head of the Oireachtas, to ascertain what is the latest contact the Oireachtas has received from the Mahon Tribunal, and if it would be possible to seek a timeframe from the Tribunal as to when it intends to produce its findings.
“There is an obligation to ensure the findings of the Tribunal are published as soon as possible, and if there is a reason for the delay in publication the Tribunal must let the Irish people know what that is. The taxpayer, no doubt, will be left with a substantial bill from this Tribunal, the very least we can expect is that its findings will be made public as quickly as possible. We need to put an end to what has been a long, drawn out and expensive process.”
Posted March 12th, 2012
Wicklow to benefit from €1.5 billion investment in schools nationwide
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has welcomed the announcement today (Monday) by the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn, of a significant capital investment in Wicklow’s education infrastructure. 7 new school buildings are planned over the next four years, with an additional 6 schools to receive extensions.
Deputy Harris said, “I am delighted to see such a concerted effort being made to improve the facilities available for pupils in Wicklow, in line with the commitment in the Government’s Capital Investment Programme. Total enrolment in Primary and Post-Primary schools is expected to grow by roughly 70,000 between now and 2018, and it is vital to ensure we have adequate facilities in place to ensure the needs of each student are met.”
“New school buildings have been announced for the following schools:
• St Catherine’s Special Needs School, Rathnew (planned for 2012)
• Gaelscoil an tInbhir Mhoir (2013)
• Greystones Educate Together (2013)
• The new secondary school for Greystones (2013)
• Wicklow Educate Together (2014/15)
• Gaelscoil Chill Mhantain (2015/16)
• St Joseph’s and St Ernan’s, Rathnew (2015/16).
“Extensions have also been announced for the following schools:
• Gaelscoil na gCloch Liath (2013)
• Arklow Community College (2013)
• St David’s, Greystones (2014/15)
• SN Muire Is Gearard, Enniskerry (2014/15)
• Newtownmountkennedy Primary School (2015/16)
• Kilcoole Primary School (2015/16)
“Rising pupil numbers will put increased pressure on schools over the coming years and I am pleased the Government is standing by its commitment to invest in school infrastructure and taking pre-emptive action to alleviate this pressure.”
“This project follows on from the recent announcement of the €35 million project to be replace prefabs in schools with permanent classrooms. It is anticipated this capital investment will provide approximately 15,000 direct and 3,000 indirect jobs over the programme. Increased school capacity will also allow for the hiring of additional newly qualified teachers when the works are completed.”
Posted March 9th, 2012
Discrepancies in year-on-year costs cannot be explained due to lack of data
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has slammed FÁS for its failure to collect any of the information needed to evaluate the operation of its disability work support schemes. Through a series of Parliamentary Questions Deputy Harris has discovered that basic information is not being collected, making it impossible to determine if the schemes are working effectively or not.
“As part of my on-going work on disability issues, I submitted a series of Parliamentary Questions on the uptake of the various schemes in place to support employers who take on somebody with a disability, or who have an existing employee who needs additional supports. I was shocked to learn that this information is not available as details of those applying for and taking up the grants each year were not collected. In fact, the only records kept relate to the ‘actual expenditure’ under the scheme.
“This lack of transparency and accountability is entirely unacceptable. Not only does it raise real concerns about the quality and availability of the supports in place for people with disabilities and their employers, but there are real implications for the taxpayer also.
“This huge discrepancy raises a number of questions. How can we measure the effectiveness of these schemes without some idea as to how many applications are being made for the grants each year? Are the grants having a positive impact in helping a wide range of people with disabilities to access the work force? Or are a handful of companies availing of grants on behalf of multiple employees?
“As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I am deeply concerned about what this says about the way FÁS spent public monies. Discrepancies in the year-on-year payments made under the schemes cannot be explained without any supporting data. We can take the example of the Disability Awareness Support Scheme*. Expenditure in 2007 was €133,000. It fell to €72,000 in 2008 and to €20,000 in 2009. How can these different rates of payment be accounted for without any reference to the interest in the scheme? How many similar schemes were run across the country without any metrics to evaluate them?
“My primary concern is that the right measures are in place to support people who may require additional supports to take up work. Responsibility for these work support schemes was transferred to the Department of Social Protection on January 1, 2012. I will be taking this matter up directly with the Minister to ensure that everything possible is being done to help people with disabilities to access the workforce in a way that is effective, accessible and accountable.”
Posted March 8th, 2012
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has heralded the establishment of a new Disability Forum as a small, but significant step forward in improving the services available to people with disabilities. Deputy Harris said, “For many years, people with disabilities have been overlooked when it comes to gathering feedback and planning policy in relation to service provision. Decisions with a direct impact on their quality of life have been made on their behalf, without consultation, by the able-bodied. This sounds unbelievable, but has been the reality for far too long.”
“The steps taken today by the Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People, Kathleen Lynch, mark a change of attitude in the way the state interacts with people with disabilities. For the first time, the State will be actively looking to engage with service users, and to capture their views and experiences.”
“This new forum will build on the consultation exercise conducted last year by the National Disability Authority with people with disabilities, their families and their carers. The Disability Forum will publish a report annually to feed into work of the National Disability Strategy Implementation Group.”
Deputy Harris concluded, “It seems bizarre that, in this day and age, genuine consultation with people with disabilities is a new development, but all those who are familiar with the sector, as I am, will recognise that this is the unfortunate reality. While the establishment of this forum is a positive step, much more needs to be done. I will be continue to use my platform as a TD to act as an advocate for people with disabilities, their families and their carers.”
Posted March 8th, 2012
Wicklow stands to benefit from growth in tourism sector, as impact of Government incentives become apparent.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has welcomed signed of growth in the tourism industry, with employment in the accommodation and food industry increasing by 6,000 since the launch of the Jobs Initiative in May last year.
Deputy Harris said, “The latest CSO figures are showing a steady rise in the number of tourism and hospitality jobs. This is a sector the Government identified as a key priority, introducing a special 9% VAT rate last May, halving employers’ PRSI and creating a Visa Waiver scheme. These measures were designed to protect existing jobs, create new ones and help improve the value for money perception of Irish tourism.”
“I am pleased all the evidence suggests these policies are having the desired effect, and there is growth in the tourism industry as a whole. Last year saw the first growth in tourism numbers since 2007, and the challenge will be to maintain this in the current year.”
Deputy Harris continued, “St Patrick’s Day has traditionally signalled the start of the tourism season in Ireland, and a number of initiatives are planned for the coming week to raise Ireland’s profile as a holiday destination, including the launch of The Gathering 2013, Ireland’s biggest ever tourism event. Fáilte Ireland has committed to marketing Kildare-Wicklow as a tourism destination in its own right, and an increase in tourism to Ireland could have significant benefits for our county.”
“I will continue to work closely with local businesses across Wicklow, with my colleague the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar TD, and with Fáilte Ireland, to ensure that the right supports are put in place and that every possible avenue to promote tourism in Wicklow is explored.”
Posted March 8th, 2012
Free access to historic OPW sites, including Glendalough, on first Wednesday of every month to continue throughout 2012.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has confirmed the ‘Free Day’ initiative at OPW sites on the first Wednesday of every month will be continued throughout 2012. Deputy Harris said, “This initiative has proved very successful, with almost 20,000 extra people visiting historic monuments and properties across Ireland in the last six months of 2012. Visitor numbers to Glendalough on the first Wednesday of each month jumped 52%, from 929 in the last 6 months of 2010 to 1,408 in the same period of 2011.”
“I welcome the decision of the Minister of State for the OPW, Brian Hayes, to extend this initiative, which ensures families can continue to access these important historic sites, and boosts local economies with increased visitor numbers. The tourism sector is a key growth area for our economy at present, and I am confident the choice and quality of OPW sites will contribute to this growth through their value for money and excellent visitor facilities.”
“A full list of the many sites covered by this scheme, including Glendalough, Newgrange and Kilkenny Castle, is available on www.heritageireland.ie. Given the popularity of the free entry scheme, I would urge visitors to check this website for the latest updates about the various sites while planning their trip”
Posted March 8th, 2012
Updated maximum rent limits for Bray, Greystones and Delgany published by Department of Social Protection.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has welcomed clarification from the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, on the new maximum rent allowance limits for Bray, Greystones and Delgany. Deputy Harris said, “Since the introduction of new rent limits in January, I have been contacted by many families and individuals living in North Wicklow confused by the lack of clarity about the new rent allowance in their area.”
“The intention of the National Rent Review was to ensure value for money is achieved given the recent decline in rent rates. However, it quickly became apparent that a single rent allowance payment rate for county Wicklow did not take the higher rents in the north of the county into account.”
“The updated rent rates published by the Minister will ensure value for money for the taxpayer while also making sure those in receipt of rent supplement continue to have access to an appropriate standard of accommodation. I hope that these new limits will alleviate the concerns being expressed by those renting in North Wicklow, and I will continue to liaise with constituents and with the Department of Social Protection on this matter.”