Seanad debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Registration of Births

12:00 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for raising this most important Commencement matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection. I pass on her apologies. I also understand the Senator has had discussions with the General Register Office, GRO, on the issues that she has raised,

We share the concerns expressed by her. The issue is of huge concern to the Government. I understand that some parents have suffered delays in excess of 12 weeks, and perhaps longer, in having their children's births registered. These delays and backlogs are being experienced in the eastern regional registration area. Thankfully, other registration areas appear to be less affected.

The House will be aware that the HSE is responsible for the day-to-day delivery of civil registration services. The Minister for Social Protection has only limited functions with respect to how the HSE delivers the service and has no direct role in the performance of any of the operational areas. I wish to emphasise that what we are dealing with is clearly a performance issue and not a weakness in policy.

The HSE has advised that the cyberattack significantly impacted its computer systems in mid-May 2021, and that it continues to struggle with the impact, particularly in its largest office in Dublin. Allied to these difficulties are those caused by the restrictions on public access and staff of registration offices both in Dublin and nationally. I understand that the cyberattack resulted in the local registration services being out of action for five weeks from mid-May. It was not until much later in July that some of the critical systems were passed fit for servicing, resulting in severe disruption to service provision and backlogs that are proving difficult to clear.

Senators will be aware that many civil registration offices are located within other health services in clinics or close to maternity hospitals that continue to be subject to restricted public access. The staff, to their credit, have continued to maintain the civil marriage services, and continue to manage notifications from couples wishing to get married. Some 1,500 births fall to be registered in eastern areas, placing a continued pressure on the service. Not unusually, the eastern area has suffered some short-term staff shortages due to the promotion and retirement of key staff over the past few months. Recruitment is under way to fill vacancies, but it will take time for new staff to get up to speed. Additional temporary staff have been recruited to tackle the backlogs and provide additional support with respect to its customer service channels. Staff are also working at weekends.

The Senator has identified additional concerns that the Minister wants to address. PPS numbers are automatically allocated once a birth has been registered. Parents do not need to do anything for the PPS number to be allocated. Adjustments follow automatically to child benefit payments and the Minister has committed to ensuring that any delay in child benefit resulting from the backlog will be made good and arrears will be paid quickly. The Senator also asked if there is any relationship between the websites she mentioned and the HSE or the GRO. To my knowledge, there is no connection, contractual or otherwise. My understanding is that they operate as third-party certificate resellers.

I am encouraged by the manner in which the service has recovered, having suffered such a significant setback earlier in the year. It would be useful if communications could be improved so that any person looking for a certificate is encouraged to look to their local registration office or to the GRO, which provide a similar service.


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